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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Another Bubbling Fly

I saw this fly today while walking in a park in Moorestown, New Jersey. Click to enlarge and you will see that it is blowing a bubble. As I watched, it blew the bubble about twice as large as pictured above and then sucked it in and then blew it up again and sucked it in three times! Then it flew away. It's the third insect I've found bubbling.
 I wrote blogs previously about a fly and then a bee I saw bubbling. There are theories about why they do this but no agreement. Based on the number of times I've seen it in just a few years I'm beginning to think it must be common -- or else I'm just freakishly lucky.  You can go to my bubbling insect blogs by clicking on this sentence.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Happy Columbus Day!

A holiday is a good time for a day trip to the country. Seems like Autumn is coming slowly and subtly this year, yet cicadas are calling loudly and there's a constant hum of crickets in the woods. Reminds me of this from E. B. White in Charlotte's Web: 

"The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change."

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Carnivorous Plant Edition

I've been in the New Jersey pine barrens a few times recently, at Whitesbog in Browns Mills and at Brendan T. Byrne State Forest. While I was there I saw three kinds of delightful carnivorous plants: pitcher plants, sundews, and floating bladderworts. The picture above is of a group of pitcher plants. Click to enlarge.
The soil in the pine barrens is poor in nutrients. Up to the challenge, these plants supplement their diets, especially with nitrogen, by trapping insects. Those little pitchers contain water and digestive enzymes. When an insect enters a pitcher it is guided down and in by downward facing hairs on the interior surface which prevent its escape. It eventually falls in and its soft parts are dissolved and consumed.
This lovely but dangerous pitcher beckons with insect-attracting red lips. Pitcher plants and sundews grow in acidic conditions near water with lots of sun. You can find them by slowly walking along the shore of a pine barrens pond.
This sundew plant has sticky drops of liquid on its leaves that can trap an unwary insect and hold it while the leaf slowly curls around and then digests. If you search you can sometimes find empty empty insect victims still stuck to sundew leaves.
This is a floating bladderwort. The spoke-like arrangement of leaves at the water surface is inflated and floats the plant.
Underwater leaves have bladders that can trap tiny aquatic creatures using a trapdoor system activated by trigger hairs that respond to the touch of prey. Amazing, no? You will find these floating in still water.
Cranberries grow in the New Jersey pine barrens, and blueberries too; both are cultivated and can be found growing wild. It is worth a trip for the plants alone and the ecology is fascinating. In fact, a pine barrens special edition is coming soon.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Autumn has begun!

A mockingbird with persimmons. Click to enlarge.
I'd like to think that if Walt Whitman were here right now, he'd say: 

"Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling, 
 Give me juicy autumnal fruit ripe and red from the orchard."

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Insects at Work

This week I noticed a lot of insects working. The honeybee above, for instance, is checking for pollen or nectar in a touch-me-not blossom. Click on the photos to enlarge.I also saw a few insects doing less common jobs.
Like this sand wasp digging at the door of its nest. That blur behind the rear legs is sand flying into the air. Adults typically visit the occupied nest to drop off captured prey like flies for developing wasp larvae to eat.
I also saw this yellow jacket scraping fibers off this wooden post. Note how shaggy the wood looks? It seems like such a popular spot for this activity that the wasps have worn it ragged. This wasp flew away when I approached but it or another just like it returned for more. They use wood fibers for nest building and repair. So many interesting insect jobs being performed all around us!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Summer Azure

I was walking on the sandy shore of the Delaware River in South Jersey right across from Philadelphia when I noticed this little butterfly sitting on a shell. The butterfly is the summer azure, Celastrina neglecta. If you click to enlarge you can see its proboscis extended and lying on the shell so I think it is obtaining moisture and perhaps minerals. Butterflies in its family Lycaenidae are well known for a behavior called puddling; gathering in muddy places to drink and obtain minerals from the soil. 
I usually see summer azures on flowers like this, but I guess they sometimes just get an appetite for seafood.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Happy Labor Day!

Have a wonderful holiday. Maybe make like this Zebra at the Cape May County Zoo and put your hooves in the air like you just don't care? Click to enlarge.