Last summer I brought you some incredible views of a Spurge Sphinx caterpillar from Northern Michigan. Later in the month, after the leathery burrowed into the soil to complete its third stage of metamorphosis, I peeled back the moss to reveal the equally fascinating pupa at the end of the tunnel. The adult emerged last month, after a long frigid winter at the bottom of a dirt filled coffee cup, and it was worth the wait.
I was afraid of missing the moment and came close to doing so. One can never tell when the moth will emerge after months of non-activity. There was even the possibility that the winter would prove too much – especially given how low the thermometer plunged at times– and that the pupae would perish. Let’s just say that it was an incredible relief to finally peel off the lid last month and see the empty pupal skin (see above) and its former occupant clinging to the side.
I missed the actual emergent moment by a day or so and could see that the moth had been out for at least one night of activity within the container. Many of the scales were worn off the back of the thorax and the ends of the wings were slightly worn, but it was in pretty good shape otherwise. Spurge Sphinxes, like most of their clan, are subtle beauties to behold. The rosy flush evident on the body and undersides was especially magnificent on this individual.
Taking it outside for a better look in the low evening sun, it began to vibrate its wings in preparation for takeoff. Moths need to raise their body temperatures up to near human levels in order for the thorax muscles to work and they do so by shivering. This one began with a staccato flutter of the wings (see movie here) which evolved over the course of a few minutes into a blurry all-body tremor (see second movie here).
Just before takeoff, the thing was shaking so much that it was perpetually out of focus – or appeared so. With a final wipe of the eyes and a twist of the head it rose off my finger and flew off (see final departure here). Yes, it did seem to motion with the foreleg, as if giving a wave, but I won’t go there. I’m the one that eventually waved, saying “it’s been good knowing you.”
The skinka – the five-lined skinka to be precise –do what it hasta do to stay alive and healthy. A big part of this survival strategy involves keeping the inside fires burning and because lizards like skinks don’t have inside fires they depend largely upon the generosity of the sun. For them life is all about generating warmth, keeping it, and turning it down when necessary. An overly warm or dangerously cool skink is a lifeless skink. Cold-blooded creatures are not held hostage by solar power and ambient air temperatures, however. They can play the micro-habitats within a habitat like a fine-tuned instrument. A deeply shaded spot will allow for cooling, a lightly shaded location permits a slight elevation in body temperature, and a bright patch of open sun will, well, you get the idea. They move around quite a bit over the course of a day, an hour, and even a minute to exploit the mini spots within their macro domain.
The word to cover this life skill is behavioral thermoregulation, is only slightly shorter than the length of the creature itself. I promise not to use it again except in passing.
My Dollar Lake dock is part of the range of a cluster of Five-lined Skinks who use it from time to time for sunning. I never know when I’ll spot one and will go many months between sightings. Last week I nearly stepped on one. The individual, an adult male, was only slightly perturbed by my presence. Adult Skinks lose the five line blue-tailed look of youth as they mature and attain a bright reddish hue about their heads – looking as if they were victim of a head cold.
The skink did a surprising thing within my view. Rather than run off, it pressed its belly and chest flat against the dock wood and folded his feet back as if in a strait jacket. In this legless pose the thing absorbed heat from the warm surface. Within a moment or two it rose up and flitted across the dock and jumped into the shoreline weedery. This being the first time I’ve actually observed a behavior other than fleeing I was fascinated by this deliberate little act of thermoregulation. It was a tiny peek into the skinkas daily do…ings.
Woodpeckers will come to earth, so to speak, for the purpose of getting liquid refreshment but many of them avoid this potentially dangerous trip by frequenting tree top watering holes. Certain shallow tree cavities regularly accumulate rainwater and serve nicely as natural reservoirs. One such drinking establishment exists on a Red Maple overhanging my shed at Dollar Lake.
I managed to catch a Red-bellied Woodpecker in the act one fine late June morning. It spent several minutes dipping into the reservoir and raising its beak to let the refreshment obey the laws of gravity and slide gently throat-ward. Based on the obvious look of satisfaction the bird’s time was well spent. It left with a red(dish) belly full.
Such tree water probably has a strong “woody” taste in the best of conditions but this might be a preferred essence for discriminating woodhammering fowl.