Naturespeak

December 20, 2014

Bullets and Bagworms

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 2:30 pm
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The Christmas season has gotten me in the mood to talk about things hanging on trees. Un-natural tree ornaments abound in the form of Christmas tree decorations inside and gaudy light creations draped on yard trees outside. We don’t do the yard light thing at our place, but we do tend to put quite a few atypical ornaments on our Christmas tree. I am constantly reminded on how unusual some of them are. For those raised within the low oxygen atmosphere of our family they make perfect sense but for those “outside” this tradition they invoke odd questions. For instance, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t have a few squirrel chewed walnuts or miniature muskrat skinning boards (decorated as Santa) hanging on their tree.
This year, my son-in-law had the audacity to ask my why we had a badminton birdie as an ornament. My silent reaction was one of slight shock – as in “and you ask this why?” Fortunately I recovered in time to explain that, first of all, this was a vintage badminton birdie of the type that used real chicken feathers as opposed to the modern plastic fringed examples, but seeing that was equally inexplicable I went on to explain that it looked like a shooting star – or the Star of Bethlehem. That worked.
In nature, ornaments of all types are evident. Like the birdie they require some explanation to achieve appreciation. Oak Bullet Galls and Bagworm cases are two good examples.
Rough Bullet Galls are the creations of a tiny big-butted wasp labeled with the tongue-twisting name of Disholcaspis quercusmamma (a species name literally meaning “oak tits”). They afflict Burr Oak Trees. The galls are clustered, woody, and acorn-like with pointed tips. Some trees are covered with these structures and retain them for years. Most of the winter galls are punctured by a neat little hole indicating that the adult insects have successfully pupated and emerged.

Rough Bullet Galls photo RoughBulletGalls_zps67e6468a.jpg

The simple version of the gall wasp story is that they chew their way out in October or November, seek out the winter buds, and lay their eggs on them. The larvae emerge the following spring and their activity stimulates the tree to form a new gall which grows larger over the course of the summer. The more detailed version of the story is slightly odder. Wasps emerging in the fall are all female. These gals produce their eggs without the benefit of male intervention (a horrid thought if you are a male reader).
The final details of this story have only recently been uncovered by researchers. Apparently they’ve discovered an alternate generation in which both males and females are produced. These sexual forms issue from little galls, mate, and proceed to lay their eggs in the usual fashion. So, you see, Oak Tit galls offer much more than their initial appearance would suggest.
Bagworms offer yet another ornament with a story. Winter bagworm bags fall into two categories: empty ones, with pupa casings sticking out, and those containing egg clusters. I present a single example here which I can confidently say was built by a male Bagworm. The bag itself was constructed out of cedar scales by the developing larva as it fed upon the leaves and this structure served as a mobile retreat until late last summer. At that point the creature secured the thing to a branch with stout silk lashings, reversed direction to face downward, and split its skin to form a pupa.

Male Bagworm Casing photo BagwormCase_zps3cc9da5c.jpg

Look carefully at the lower end of this bag and you’ll see the empty skin of the old pupae sticking out. The resident emerged sometime in September or Early October and sought out a female.
Female bagworms never leave their bag immediately after pupation due to the fact that they are wingless. In fact, they are among the ugliest of natural females with no eyes, no working legs, and no functional mouthparts. Grub like and pale, they have an odd fringe of glossy “fur” around the terminus of their ample bottom which adds absolutely nothing to their appeal. Male Bagworms locate the females and mate with them through the opening at the bottom of the bag. They never actually see their mates and this is probably for the betterment of bagworm fertility (no jokes about bag ladies here). The impregnated female eventually lays her load of eggs inside the bag and dies. Usually she crawls out and drops to ground to complete her unglamorous life.
Two natural ornaments, two fascinating life stories that would make even an antique badminton birdie blush.

December 14, 2014

Early Ice is Not Lice

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:12 pm
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The best time to write about ice is early in the winter season when it is still a novelty. It loses much of its magic “fairydust” quality by mid-season and becomes downright evil by the time January is laid to rest. In short, ice rhymes with nice in December and with lice in February. Ice also photographs better early in the season before the rest of the landscape becomes coated with whiteness and all waters become solid. This perception is purely personal, I suspect, but don’t expect that many folks would disagree with me.
There is no deadlier combination than an amateur digital photographer and a frigid December day. Such a mix leads to multiple useless “Art Shots” suitable only for computer screen backgrounds and postings by amateur nature photographers. Thus, I explain the images attached to this chapter of Naturespeak.
My December day, and resulting shots, issued from the banks of the Red Cedar River in Williamston, MI. I’m not sure how I ended up there, but it had something to do with a car and a half day to kill. There might have been a talking Chipmunk involved, but I can’t fully recall the details. The temperature was hovering in the low twenties and the earth was covered with a carpet of heavy frost. Even the trailside garbage looked attractive ornamented as it was with hoar frost, but I chose more photogenic subjects. A small South American monkey could have taken these shots, but no diminutive forest primate is capable of describing them properly. A talking Chipmunk could, but that is beside the point.

Shoreline Ice photo IMG_7341_zpsa5442ea8.jpg

Another side effect of art photography is the use of overly poetic descriptions. As you can see I was intrigued by the shoreline ice which sent steely blue bayonets marching out to conquer the yet unfrozen water of the river. You see, that is what happens. Here are a few shots of shore ice and I am talking about bayonets. Sad, isn’t it? One must suffer for his art.

Shoreline Ice photo IMG_7339_zpsd8527cd2.jpg

Sun is the enemy of frost. As the morning waned, old Sol was rising and melting the work of old Jack (frost). Shadows tried in vain to shield the morning ice from the warming rays but without hope of success. Of course, vain means without hope of succeeding and it was totally unnecessary for me to have said it in the same sentence but art required of me to do it. You must read this and feel the suffering of art as represented by repetitious sentences. Yes, repetitious sentences that repeat over and over like frost forming and dying day after day repeatedly.
Frost shadows hang onto the perimeters of the real shadows until they eventually lose the race and are vaporized. You can see this phenomenon dramatically depicted in a series I call my “Bottom Edge of a Chicken Wire Frost Shadow on a River Board Walk in December” set. I like the temporary nature of frost shadows. It’s too bad I caved into my South American monkey instincts and made them permanent.

Frost Shadows photo IMG_7349_zps77cc5aa3.jpg

My last shot is the least remarkable in terms of artiness, but I post it here because of what it represents. It is an effort to salvage some sense of scientific value to this blog. You see large fuzzy green Mullein leaves remain fuzzy and green throughout the winter months. Part of their resilience stems from the fact that they never indulge in art photography, but their fuzziness also has a role. Liquid water cannot freeze directly on the leaves because it is held above the surface by velvety hairs. Here you can see frozen beads of so ice suspended on a Mullein leaf. And you’ll notice that the ice beads have hoar frost attached to them – ice on ice. Nice.

ice Beads on Mullein Leaves photo IMG_7343_zps85ed2f90.jpg

Come to think of it, South American Monkeys have soft short hair too. I suppose they could also avoid freezing just like Mullein leaves do but they’d have to keep still and close to the ground in order to pull it off. Come to think of it, a minor monkey lying still on the winter ground and covered with hoar frost is called a dead monkey, so we’d better get off this line of narrative and put this one to bed. Art has reared its head high enough for now. Sleep well my digital camera; your human will take you on another adventure soon.

December 7, 2014

Home Sweet Maple

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 7:13 pm
Red Squirrel Tree Cavity photo IMG_7294_zps22fe5635.jpg
I’ve addressed the personal life of my backyard maple tree several times over the years. The Red Maple stands within clear view from the house and is situated directly opposite the back door. Sadly, the tree is slowly dying from within. It is riddled with cavities and rains down dead branches with every passing wind storm. Someday it may take out a corner of my ramshackle back porch if the wind spirits deem it so. Even so, I appreciate it too much to have it removed. Not yet. Even in slow decline it is full of life.
Some of the life present in, on, and around the tree are present only because the thing is in decline. A regular stream of woodpeckers, from tiny Downies to medium Red-bellies freely peck away at the dead branches to retrieve grubs. Large laughing Flickers hop about the base to lap up carpenter ants. Upside-down Nuthatches probe bark crannies from above and right-side up Brown Creepers investigate them from below.

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Huge Horntail Sawflies show up from time to time to deposit their eggs deep into the wood. The hatching larvae spend several years tunneling through the trunk on their way to eventual maturity – spreading fungus as they go. The adults appear to be armed with a formidable horn off the end of their abdomen. They are not wasps, however, and this is not a stinger. It is only an ornament. The well-named horntails will assume a menacing pose and flaunt this pseudo-stinger in the air if threatened. It’s a good act and one certain to deter all but the most determined of predators and timid people.
One large cavity located in the main trunk has hosted a parade of alternating tenants over the past five years. The first major occupation, beginning about five years ago, was a family of Red Squirrels. This active little gang enlivened the tree with a half dozen little squirrelets which poured into and out of the cavity all summer long. The tenants enlarged the entrance to suit their needs and brazenly stole cardboard and paper from my shed (trashing it in the process) to fill it.
After a lull in the squirrel action the following year, a colony of honeybees established themselves in the hole. They re-altered the hole to fit their needs. By applying thick layer of resinous “bee glue” (propolis) around the edges, they narrowed the opening according to the honeybee pattern book. Inside they constructed intricate hanging combs, according to the same book, and filled them with eggs, stores of honey, and pollen.
The colony thrived into the following autumn but was stopped cold – literally – by the intensity of last winter. It appears that they were doing fine as of mid-season, but the prolonged and intense cold was too much for them to handle and the entire colony died.

Winter Red Squirrel photo IMG_7290_zps3eec3725.jpg  Winter Red Squirrel photo IMG_7285_zps1508ea20.jpg

After a summer of vacancy, Red Squirrels moved back into the cavity this past fall. I doubt they were the original squirrels, but probably the offspring with a nostalgic opinion of cavity life. Pieces of the old bee comb began appearing on the ground at the base of the tree as the squirrels cleaned up the mess. Most of the old combs were simply cast out whole. Starvation drove the bees to completely empty the combs so there wasn’t even enough honey remaining for a squirrel tongue to probe. One of the pieces revealed the beautiful freeform design typical of a wild hive unconstrained by frames and supers.

Honeycomb from Tree Cavity photo IMG_7317_zpsa60980a2.jpg  Honeycomb Detail photo IMG_7318_zps237bb6e9.jpg

Chewing away most of the old bee glue, the squirrels further altered the cavity to meet the requirements outlined in their design book. So, it looks like the Reds will once again rule the maple tree hole this winter. Out with the old and in with the renew.

Red Squirrel Tree Cavity photo IMG_7294_zps22fe5635.jpg

November 30, 2014

Out of the Ends of Turkeys

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 12:28 pm
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I spotted a group of Wild Turkeys sneaking about the back woods of a Grand Rapids condo complex on Thanksgiving Day. Although they are totally unaware of the significance of the day and its deadly consequences, they somehow looked more worried than usual. That, of course, is purely a figment of human imagination. As a responsible naturalist, I suppose I should go on with this thread and discuss the importance of the turkey in human culture etc. etc. but I am not feeling responsible at this moment (perhaps it is the dose of triptipaine, or triptoknick-nack, or whatever you call it, that comes from a thanksgiving turkey meal).No, I feel like talking about turkey poo.

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There were several specimens of the kind lying about the place for examination. Unlike their creators, these subjects sat very still for their portraits. As even marginal wild Turkey enthusiasts will tell you, the sex of an individual depositor determines the shape of its deposit. In other words, hen poo is different from gobbler poo. Gobbler and Jake (young males) droppings are “J” shaped while Hen or Jenny (young females) droppings tend to be spiral or just plain piled.
Unfortunately this is not an exact science and it leads to some interesting descriptions when discussed. For instance, male poo is also labeled as “walking cane” or “straight” shaped and females as “curly cued.” One website gets it a_ _ -backwards and attributes the “J” terds to the females. While it appears to be a fact that there is some sexual differentiation in Turkey feces, there is enough gray area between curly cue and j-shaped to create confusion. Diet also determines appearance. A bird eating lots of fruits and green plants will lay down a shapeless poo pile that would make any diarrhea ridden yip-yap dog proud. A good “fun fact” needs to be black and white, but nature rarely allows this. So, in this case it is best to use phrases such as “tend to be” to cover your own a_ _.
It is even funnier to track down some of the explanations offered to explain the difference between gobbler and hen poo. I offer these as someone who does not truly know himself, but is smart enough not to attempt one. One published account basically claims than hens have bigger butts – stretched out from egg-laying -and this creates less constriction and thus looser lay-downs. Given that hens don’t deposit their eggs through their poop chute, this is a problematic theory at best. Some claim that the gals wait longer between “deposit events” and therefore make larger creations when they do doo. The males, on the other hand, just let it go whenever and wherever they feel the need. They also claim that the males perform a little dance when finishing off their pooping event – like putting that final swirl on a soft-serve cone.
Again, allow me to state that I don’t really know anything in this fecal matter, but I would suggest that the latter explanation is wrong because turkey droppings, like all bird droppings, are pee-poop packets. Bird droppings are both No. 1 and No. 2 combined into a neat (or not so neat) package. The white part of the dropping (the uric acid or pee part of the dropping) comes out first as far as I know. This is the part that creates the curl when present. Unfortunately for the “dancing gobbler” school this means that a final twist of the rear would create a curl in the solid, darker portion of the poo – not the white portion. If slow motion photography shows a gobbler doing the dance during the initial, rather than the final, phase of deposition, then I will stand corrected in this matter.

Wild Turkey Doo (Male?) photo IMG_7309_zps058656f7.jpg  Turkey Doo (Male?) photo IMG_7310_zps04ab3013.jpg

I do believe that I’ve irresponsibly beaten this topic into the ground sufficiently to cut it off with a little dance step myself. I can not claim that the turkeys I photographed had anything to do with these droppings because they were old examples and because the birds in question were hens. I leave you with two poo portraits which I would claim to be male deposits – one due to its straightness and the other to its J-hook. Either way, however, this is good sh_ _.

November 23, 2014

Belly-buttoned Snappers

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:57 am
Hatchling Snapping Turtle photo IMG_6883_zpscc93f89f.jpg
One of the un-expected sights of late fall, framed within the background of burnt umber oak leaves and the lemon yellow Tamaracks of Northern Michigan, are baby snapping turtles. Such a thing really shouldn’t be unexpected, however. It is true that most baby snappers emerge in late summer and early fall, but a substantial number don’t surface until very late in the season. Some, in fact, overwinter inside their eggs and hatch the following spring.
I guess it’s all about counting backwards. It takes 11-12 weeks of incubation to produce a hatchling turtle. Snapping Turtles females do not attend to their eggs after they are laid so the incubating is performed by Ma Nature and the warmth of her soil. The peak time for adult snappers to lay their eggs is in June (at least in Southern Michigan), but individuals will lay their clutches throughout the summer. Those depositing their eggs in the latter part of August are responsible for the late autumn crop of young snappers. Those who opt to choose later dates (if a wild animal can be said to “opt”) will produce either frozen little turtles or spring babies.

Hatchling Snapping Turtle photo IMG_7012_zps370815cb.jpg

On two consecutive late fall weekends up north, I encountered hatchling snappers. One was lingering in the shallows right at my dock on Dollar Lake and the other was traversing across a sandy hill, headed for the water, in Alpena. Hatchlings like this are distinctive due to their finely sculpted little shells – still soft and pliable at this stage – and their extremely long tails. No other native turtle comes close in the tail length department. I’m guessing this was evolution’s way of making up for the embarrassing lack of bottom shell on this species.

Hatchling Snapping Turtle photo IMG_7011_zps0b7fc3c3.jpg  Hatchling Snapping Turtle photo IMG_6874_zps41cffb16.jpg

All hatchling turtles have a belly button – an umbilical scar indicating where the egg yolk was formally attached. This scar eventually disappears as the scutes of the plastron (lower shell) converge on the growing turtle. In other words, adult turtles do not have belly buttons but babies do – which could make for an interesting true/false question if you wish to trick someone or simply want to be an intolerable pain in the asterisk (just ask “do turtles have belly buttons?” A “No” or “Yes” answer would be equally wrong without explanation). My backyard turtlelet, as well as the sandhill individual, had fresh umbilical scars. They were both about the size of the egg from which they had recently escaped, which was about 1 inch in diameter. Most importantly they both still retained their egg tooth.
Take a good look at my pictures and you’ll notice the egg tooth as a whitish bump located just under their pig-like noses. It gleams like a date night pimple. This temporary structure is believed to assist the emerging turtle to cut open the leathery skin of the shell when hatching. Made of keratin (the same material that constitutes the tough body scales) the egg tooth drops off soon after the hatchling enters the big world.

Hatchling Snapping Turtle photo IMG_7010_zpsfc42690e.jpg

Both of these little fellows are to be celebrated because they have successfully beat the odds so far. Sometimes nearly 90% of a yearly crop of snapper eggs are destroyed by raccoons, skunks, and other nest predators. Hatching is only one of the hurdles that a baby turtle has to clear on the way to adulthood. Since their parents can lay eggs as far as a mile from water, their young must undertake a dangerous overland trip to the nearest water. Crows, foxes, coyotes and all manner of beasts will eat tender young turtles. Even in the “safety” of the water large fish, herons, and even muskrats will feed on the turtles as long as they remain small and their shell soft. Once passing through this initial gauntlet, the rest of a snapper’s life is relatively free of trouble save for automobiles and turtle trappers. At this point they have the potential to turn the predation tables around, although they actually tend toward the herbivorous side of the scale.
My Dollar Lake snapperlet had reached the water on its own by the time I found it. I returned it to the water after subjecting the patient beast to a series of fashion shots. My Alpena hatchling was walking over a patch of open sand and was about as exposed as a turtle could be. The surrounding sand was littered with turtle shell pieces which had been scattered over the surface by nest robbing raccoons. I could not resist posing a fake hatching picture, shown below, before I was finished. Call it artistic license. The actual egg shell remains below the surface within the old nest.
Just to set your mind at ease, I did deliver the creature down a substantial hill to the river before leaving. I’ve no doubt that the next time we meet this belly-buttoned Snapper will be more than happy to bite the hand that once helped it. I would expect nothing less.

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November 15, 2014

One Pic Post: Stiff Upper Lip

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 2:06 pm
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A few weeks ago I spotted a minor buck – a meager example of a four pointer (actually a three and a half pointer) – approach a small herd of does in a field south of West Branch, MI. The sun was setting and the fellow obviously had high hopes for a wild party night. The big bucks were elsewhere and he was performing a bit of Cervid Carpe Diem. Unfortunately, the gals were not about to allow him to seize their day, or night, for that matter. One by one they scooted away as he approached.
My intention here is not to document the exploits of a frustrated buck and risk embarrassing him back at the dork buck club. Rather, I’d like to focus on one aspect of his behavior called the Flehmen response. Our minor buck frequently stopped to smell the “Eau de Doe” in order to determine the reproductive status of the females surrounding him. He lifted his head up, curled his upper lip into what could be described as an open-mouthed sneer, and held that pose for extended period. He was processing the air-borne pheromones which charged the air with sexual energy.
It is not enough to just sniff the air through the nostrils to detect pheromones. The Flehman response allows for a direct shot of scent laden air to enter the vomeronasal organ (aka Jacobson’s Organ) located between the upper palette and the nasal opening. The nostril openings are closed during this action and the air stream enters via a pair of openings located on the roof of the mouth just behind the lips. Sensory endings in the Jacobson’s Organ are quick to read the phermonal message and relay the information to the buck’s brain. It conveys either a green light or a stop sign for the buck’s aspirations.
All manner of mammals, from cats to horses, perform the Flehman response. In fact, if you have a few minutes and are looking for a laugh, just Google the term “flehman” and you will get a flood of ridiculous smiling horse pictures. A flehmening buck lacks the upper row of front teeth found on horses, so their appearance is slightly less cheesy looking but presents an equaling interesting picture.

November 9, 2014

Down in the Mouth

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 12:02 pm
Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7212_zpsc1f973df.jpg
It was early morning on Dollar Lake and the dawn light highlighted the converging lines of a wake trail out in the icy water. I assumed it was the mark of a muskrat swimming across our end of the lake. The little rodent had been especially busy over the last few days and his antics provided some small entertainment as of late. All muskrats have the habit of raising their tail out of the water when they eat aquatic vegetation. Front paws occupied on the foodstuff, they assume a swayback posture that causes their tail to arch out of the water like a ladle handle. This Dollar Lake ‘rat habitually holds his tail at such a high angle that it appears to be the head of a miniature Lock Ness monster (see below).

Feeding Muskrat photo IMG_7105_zps69295ac2.jpg

Grabbing the binoculars (it was too cold to run out in my pajamas) I scoped the wake-causing creature through the window and was pleasantly surprised. Instead of the expected form of a muskrat, the unexpected lines of an Otter came into focus. This was only the second time I’ve seen this creature in the lake – the last time being a few years ago. Needless to say it was no longer too cold to run out in my pajamas, but I threw on a few layers of clothes anyway.
The Otter performed a periscope move to assess me when I arrived at the end of the dock. It apparently determined that I was harmless and opted to continue as if I weren’t present. Normally otters are fish-eaters but on this morning it was seeking an alternate form of seafood. The thing was crayfish hunting and obviously working a good spot. Over the course of twenty minutes I personally saw him nab at least eight crawdaddies and eat them with great gusto.

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7186_zps324eb18d.jpg Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7176_zps73fbd74f.jpg

The sequence usually started with a contemplative full body float at the surface. They are long animals – ranging between 31”-51” in length -and appear very snakelike. The tail alone makes up nearly one half the body length. Plunging headfirst into the drink, the creature then dove down and rooted through the bottom debris. Rafts of bubbles marked the underwater search path as it sought the quarry.
If a catch was made, the otter bobbed to the surface and dispatched the prey with wide-mouthed bites. Occasionally rolling over on its back, sea otter style, it often handled the “cray” with nimble front paws. The sun highlighted the pink palette and substantial teeth of the predator as it gnawed away on the mudbug.

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7217_zps0a355d78.jpg

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7232_zps959d3921.jpg

Sometimes, instead of immediately eating the crayfish, it swam with it to the Northwest corner of the lake. There it dove under at a spot near the shore where it probably entered a bank burrow and finished the meal there. Oddly enough this was the same location where the muskrat also dives under and I wonder if the two were sharing this entrance to a common burrow. Muskrats and otter do not traditionally get along (as in – otters can eat muskrats), however, so I’m not sure what was going on there. The muskrat was active at the same time the otter was out so perhaps the two have come to terms somehow (aided by the fact that the otter was satiated by a more than ample crayfish supply).

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7257_zpsff1475d3.jpg

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7253_zps163d6882.jpg

Otters are not un-common in Michigan but they are widely scattered and rarely seen. One study in Northern Michigan showed their distribution to be about one per every 4.8 miles of river shore. Every sighting, therefore, is special. One doesn’t get the chance to look down the mouth of a Michigan Otter very often. Unfortunately I was somewhat down in the mouth because we were closing down the cabin for the year and this was our last day for the year. I can’t tell you how long the creature worked the lake or if there was any drama between the muskrat and the otter. The morning sun was still breaking over the trees and the otter was taking a break in its burrow by the time we left. We otter be back by next March to continue the story.

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7140_zps4a685a35.jpg

October 31, 2014

A Haunting Hemipteran

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 12:12 pm
Masked Hunter photo MaskedHunter6_zps4d96c0aa.jpg
There may be a masked killer lurking in your bedroom or in the deep recesses of the closet under the stairs. He is an ashen ghost who moves slowly and deliberately yet will strike with frightening speed at the appointed time. He is the dust bunny you will never see until it is too late. Don’t look under the bed or shine a light into the closet unless you are prepared. Bwa ha ha ha! BWA HA HA HA! BWA H (cough, cough, hack…). Darn I hate these dusty places.
The Masked Hunter is a real creature. It lurks in the very places mentioned in my cheesy Halloween introduction but is not a threat to humankind. Rather, he is a beneficial beast that has taken up life in our abodes and feeds on un-wanted insects – some of which can be a threat to our existence. A member of the Assassin Bug clan, they are equipped with hollow stiletto mouths with which they drain the life juices out of their prey. Although ants, beetles and other unwelcome guests form the bulk of their fare, bedbugs are targeted when present (note the words “when present” – the presence of masked hunters doesn’t mean bedbugs are about).

Masked Hunter photo MaskedHunter4_zps8775b396.jpgMasked Hunter photo MaskedHunter5_zps5e08a2c8.jpg

A full grown Masked Hunter does not wear a mask. As an adult it is a stealthy predator that needs no disguise. As a nymph, however, it becomes a living dust bunny and covers itself with a mask of dirt and fibers. Long sticky hairs cover the body and accumulate the necessary material. The overall look is so well done that it is difficult to pick out individual features other than the six legs. The eyes are mostly covered and the antennae bent so as to look almost twig-like.
To enhance his appearance, the masked Hunter employs some method acting. Dust bunnies do not move so this dust clone moves very little. When prompted with a touch or a slight breeze it will advance with stilted stop-motion steps but only goes a short distance before freezing once again. The act is of Oscar quality. As a Halloween costume it is much better than any of the “Breaking Bad” or “Olaf” costumes that appear at your door, although a child acting like a masked hunter would take forever to get around the neighborhood and dearly try the patience of the attending parent.

Masked hunter photo MaskedHunter_zps4880d9cf.jpg

The Hunter pictured here, although photographed within the setting of my house, did not come from it. It was found within the coat room of a very new and non-dusty church! Against the dark short carpet the thing stood out like a sore thumb. I will release it again so that it can continue to do good, but haven’t decided whether to bring it back to the church or let it go here. The more I think of it, I’lI put it into the bag of the child that comes to my door dressed as a bedbug….bwa ha ha ha HA HA HA H (cough, wheeze, hack).

Masked Hunter photo MaskedHunter2_zpsdd70b875.jpg

October 25, 2014

Here Comes the Witching Sun

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe,Plants — wykes @ 1:13 pm
Box Elder Bug in the Morning Sun photo BoxElderBugintheMorningSun_zps89d80891.jpg
Box elder bugs are year-round insects but we don’t usually notice them until the “witching season” in late autumn. At that time they gather around the cracks and crevices that will eventually become their winter home. Until freezing temperatures force them to descend into the deepest recesses of their hibernaculum (that’s “scientific” for winter hibernation chamber) they pretty much spend all their time sun-worshiping. The low morning sun is especially relished.
I have a cedar shingled house offering plenty of potential hibernacula. The entire east side is bathed by the rays of the morning sun on early bright fall days. You could call it a Box Elder Bug palace; although I doubt that particular phrase would enter into the realtor’s description should we opt to sell the place as we enter the autumn of our lives.
The Box Elder B’s greet the sun with a collective sigh of relief – clustering into small social clubs where they talk about how much life sucks. As sucking insects this topic is a positive one. In the spring they will emerge to feed on seeds and low plants until the local female Box Elders trees (or occasional maple) come to flower. There they will suck Elder sap and raise new little suckers.

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The only question remaining for the next year’s elder Box Elder Bug population is what to call the new Box Elder Bugs they create. Should they be called Box Youngling Bugs or perhaps Box Baby Bugs in order to separate them from the older and wiser winterers? Fortunately this never poses a real problem because the elder Box Elder Bugs die before they can gather into focus groups.
We superior humans, of course, know that this is a stupid question because the plant is called Box Elder not because it is older than the rest but because, um, well … because of… Oh, yes because the wood resembles that of the Boxwood tree and the leaves that of the Elder tree. And we ALL know that Elder trees are guarded by witches and, according to an old European chant (“And I myself an eldern tree”) some are actually witches themselves!
Silly insects, they believed that they were feeding on witches’ blood all summer but were actually taking in fake witches’ blood. As half-wing insects (true bugs are hemipterans), it could devastate the other half of their lives should we let them in on this devastating secret. I for one do not want to listen to the collective sobs of a million Box Elder Bugs through my wall all winter long.

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October 18, 2014

One Pic Posting: Art Imitating Nature Imitating Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 3:58 pm
Geometer Moth with na Enhanced Ragged Leaf Look photo IMG_6611_zps4c238cb8.jpg
The natural world is ripe with imitation. It is the ultimate form of flattery (and self-preservation) to look like something else – especially if that something else is inedible. Take a dry leaf, for example. Only a low life decomposer would even consider a dead leaf as food, so many insects wear a dead leaf costume in order to convince hungry predators to overlook them. Moths are especially prone to this disguise tactic because the structure of their wings lends itself well to such fakery.
On a day when brown windblown leaves were tousling about, I spotted this Geometer Moth clinging to the rough bark of a Red Maple. The adult form of twig-imitating “inchworms,” geometer moths extend this youthful deception to become grown up leaves.
It might seem that such a disguise fails when it is exposed against the dark background of a tree trunk. After all, I spotted the thing from a dozen feet away. But, then again, it had such a good leaf look that I doubt that even a savvy predator would discern this from the millions of other leaves blowing about. This individual had the additional effects of age to enhance its outfit. Multiple tears – not part of the original wing design – gave it the truly authentic worn look of a crackled October leaf.
Because the tears are not genetic parts of the camouflage look, this moth will not pass on these traits to the next generation. Probably the result of a short life of heavy use, they will likely insure that this critter will survive its full short life before succumbing to a natural death from the chills of autumn.
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