Sunday, January 27, 2013


I found this katydid in Brooklyn Bridge Park on June 1, 2012. It's the only one I've seen there -- they can be hard to spot. 
It was sitting in a locust tree where it blended in extremely well with its leaf colored body and leaf-shaped wings. Click to enlarge.

I suspect it knew something about the partially eaten leaves all around. After noticing me, it slowly walked away and disappeared into the foliage. Great camouflage!

Nothing to see here! Leaves, just leaves...

Brooklyn Bridge Park Blog has written a feature about me! Click here to read it. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tiny Praying Mantis

A praying mantis nymph on my thumb. I found the insect on a bush by a path in the water garden in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Click on it!
I took this photo in June 2012. A miniature praying mantis is sitting on my thumb. It is a praying mantis nymph, an immature stage, and a very cute example of how insects grow.

There are two kinds of insect metamorphosis: complete (also called holometabolic) and incomplete (also called partial or hemimetabolic). The monarch butterfly is a well-known example of an insect that undergoes complete metamorphosis. Its life stages are egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult. Caterpillars have several stages, growing larger and shedding their skin for each.

The praying mantis grows by incomplete metamorphosis in which its appearance changes less dramatically. Its life stages are egg, nymph, and adult. Nymphs resemble adults but are smaller and lack adult features like wings and functioning genitals. A praying mantis grows through several nymphal stages, increasing in size and shedding a skin for each.

The insect in the photo will have completed its life by now. Adults die when the cold weather comes. But with luck it mated, if male, or, if female, mated and left an egg case to overwinter. Next summer I'll check the bush where I found this one and look for its children.

Ogden Nash wrote this poem called The Praying Mantis:

From whence arrived the praying mantis? 
From outer space, or lost Atlantis? 
glimpse the grin, green metal mug
at masks the pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous, 
And faintly whisper, Lord deliver us. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ring-billed gull eats pizza

A ring-billed gull, Larus Delawarensis, in non-breeding plumage, sitting on a fence by the East River in Brooklyn Bridge Park. 
Mmmm... Pizza.
Click on the photos to enlarge. 
On second thought, make that to go. 
Wait. There's pizza?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Amish Mules

Handsome mules! 
I'm going rogue this week and writing about animals that are neither urban nor wild. Mules! I saw these in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, this summer. Amish farmers there use them instead of some modern farm equipment.

Mules are hybrids of two equine species; the mule's father is a donkey and it's mother is a horse. Mules themselves can be male or female, but they are almost always sterile -- it has something to do with the different number of chromosomes their parents have: horses have 64, donkeys have 62. Mules end up with 63. Pennsylvania farmers breed a large female draft horse like a Belgian or a Percheron with a big male donkey to produce the huge lovely and powerful mules pictured.

We need a special vocabulary to talk about mules. A less commonly successful cross between a male horse and a female donkey produces an animal called a hinny. A male donkey is called a jack. A female donkey is called a jenny or a jennet. Male mules are called horse-mules or jack-mules, but if castrated, john-mules, although that term is sometimes also applied more generally to all male mules. Female mules are called mare-mules. Some female mules have estrus cycles and are called mollies, but that term is sometimes applied to all female mules. On very rare occasions a stallion can impregnate a mollie to produce a hule!

Mules may be sterile but they are not sexless or celibate. They can and do copulate, they just can't make little mules. Aside from not being able to breed, they inherit good traits from both parents. They are strong, smart, patient, surefooted, and beautiful.

Click to enlarge. 

Mules have a reputation for being stubborn. But that may just be a well-developed sense of self-preservation. They will not willingly put themselves in danger and will stop to evaluate new situations before jumping in. And they famously stop dead if an attempt is made to overwork them or get them into trouble. Harry S. Truman said this: "My favorite animal is the mule. He has more horse sense than a horse. He knows when to stop eating -- and he knows when to stop working."

A donkey. Check out the tail. 

It almost never comes up in Brooklyn, but you can tell a mule from a donkey by looking at its tail. A mule tail looks like a horse tail. The donkey's looks like a cow's -- most of it is covered with short hair and it has a tuft at the end, like that thing you used to play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey with.