Posts Tagged ‘insects’

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wood Nymphs In The Garden

the outsider wood nymphBy mid-July, the oregano in my herb garden has grown tall and tatty, and I want nothing more than to cut it back into a tidy mound. But I don’t. Doing so would deprive the flurry of common wood nymph butterflies that swarm the plants every year. The messiness is a small price to pay for the sight of them flitting around en masse.

I have learned to expect their arrival, having witnessed it every summer, since I planted gardens around my home six years ago. At first, just one or two appear, but within days there are dozens. Soon, the oregano’s purple flowers are covered in butterflies. But this brief visit is a only a part of the story of the common wood nymph butterfly (Cercyonis pegala). What are they doing for the other eleven and a half months of the year?

Not much, it turns out. At least, not at first. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Adirondack Monarch Butterfly Tag Found In Mexico

800px-Monarch_In_MayThe journey of the monarch butterfly from the northeastern United States to the tropical forests in Mexico every fall is considered a magical one. How could such a lightweight, delicate looking insect survive a journey of more than 3,000 miles?

The feat has drawn the admiration of naturalists and others, including Dan Jenkins, who lives on the shores of Upper Saranac Lake. Jenkins’s property is located on what, he says, is a monarch flyway between Upper Saranac Lake and Raquette River. Because of that, he consistently sees monarchs passing through his yard in the fall as the insects head south. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Paul Hetzler: Black Flies Bite, Spiders Burn

spidersSpiders can be dangerous, but mostly in ways you would never imagine.

A couple of years ago a guy in Seattle burned his house down trying to kill spiders with a blowtorch. In 2015 at a Michigan gas station, a man tried to kill one with a lighter and burned up a pump island, narrowly escaping injury. And Mazda had to recall 42,000 vehicles in 2014 because spiders could clog a small fuel vent line with silk, potentially cracking the gas tank and causing a fire. It’s no wonder we are afraid of spiders, right?

Fear of spiders is so common and widespread, it may well be encoded in our DNA. Obviously it would have behooved early humans to learn to be wary of spiders, as a few species are poisonous. Mind you, it’s a tiny minority, but spiders can be hard to tell apart. If something with way too many legs and eyes scurries up our leg, most of us will swat first and ask questions later. It’s a rare person whose first reaction is “Great—hand it over so I can key it out!” when their partner announces there’s a big spider in the bed. You know that person is a hardcore nerd. And that they probably have a relationship issue to work out if they don’t want to sleep alone that night. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How Bees Make Different Honey Flavors

The sun is climbing higher each day and I know that it won’t be long until my honey bees are out seeking nectar and pollen.

From early-blooming red maple trees. Then sugar maples, apple trees, dandelions. From blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. From clover, staghorn sumac, and basswood trees. From milkweed in the abandoned field. From the coneflowers, thyme, and sage in our perennial garden. From asters and goldenrod; jewelweed and Japanese knotweed. For a bee, the warmer seasons are a Mardi Gras parade of nectars.

The European honey bee has been in North America almost as long as the Europeans who brought it. It is a miracle of nature, pollinating plants with abandon, while turning their nectars into one of nature’s most delicious substances. In a good year a hive can produce 60 pounds or more of surplus honey. But mileage may vary, as they say. Much about production, and flavor, depends on weather and location. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Yellow Jackets Beat the Cold — Without Jackets

WaspNest01A naked, living critter fully exposed to below-zero temperatures for 24 hours – with a pleasant, stiff breeze tossed in for good measure – should by most reckoning be dead. We know there’s science behind surviving such conditions, and that some creatures manufacture their own anti-freeze, which lowers the freezing point of their body fluids and allows them to survive. Still, seeing it happen firsthand is sort of like watching a good magician: the eyes and mind are saying, “I see it, but I don’t believe it,” even though we know there’s a rational explanation behind it all. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

How A Warm Winter Impacts Local Wildlife

20160104_tdpt_decDuring a mild winter in our northern forests, there are those of us who cheer our lower heating bills and those who scan the forecast, hoping for cold and snow. In a classic El Niño year like this one, when we often get unseasonably mild weather well into February, there are winners and losers in the natural world, too.

El Niño refers to a natural warming of Pacific waters. This phenomenon occurs every three to seven years, when prevailing trade winds, which drive the direction and force of ocean currents, slow down. As a result, cold water from the depths doesn’t get mixed with surface water, the ocean’s surface temperature rises, and global weather patterns can be altered. This year’s strong El Niño is being complemented by a low pressure system in the far north – called the Arctic oscillation – that’s keeping polar air trapped around the North Pole. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Under Water December Is Peak Leaf Season

Leaves In Stream - John Warren PhotoBy December, foliage season is long over for us humans, but it’s peak season under the water. Last month, fallen leaves accumulated in our streams and rivers, starting a process that’s critical for the nourishment of everything from caddisflies on up the food chain to eagles and even people. In fact, most of the Northeast stream food supply originates in the form of fallen leaves.

The bright yellow and red piles that accumulate on river rocks and fallen branches are not nearly ready for consumption by discerning invertebrates. The witch’s brew of natural chemical compounds that discourages insects from eating green leaves on trees, can be just as repellent to creatures that scavenge freshly fallen leaves under water. First, cold water must leach out those chemicals. Imagine the process as soaking and re-soaking a teabag. During this period, the leaves are also colonized by microscopic organisms. For a hungry invertebrate, the cleansed layered leaves, covered in fungi, bacteria, and algae, make a sandwich Dagwood could be proud. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

When Mushrooms Attack: The Fungus Among Us

Oyster MushroomsThe oyster mushroom: delicious, frequently spotted on veggie pizzas, and predatory. That’s right. The hyphae of many fungi, including the oyster mushroom, attack and paralyze prey. Then, as R. Greg Thorn of Western University enthusiastically described, the fungi “grow down their throats and digest them from the inside.”

Oyster mushrooms live in the trunks of dead or dying hardwoods. A couple different species grow in the Northeast, each preferring different tree species. Pleurotus ostreatus, the oyster mushroom that you find in the grocery store, is the least picky about where it grows, and it puts out its fruiting bodies from spring to fall.

Because they live on dead trees, these fungi have limited access to nitrogen. Dead wood has plenty of cellulose and lignin, but very little nitrogen-containing protein. So, like carnivorous plants (which are actually omnivorous, despite the label), oyster mushrooms have evolved a bag of tricks to supplement their diet by attracting and consuming nitrogen-rich prey. » Continue Reading.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Asian Lady Bugs: Unwelcome Halloween Decorations

Asian lady bettleWhat’s round to oval-shaped, mostly orange, and is a common sight leading up to Halloween? Everyone knows the answer to that: Harmonia axyridis, obviously. Better known as the multicolored Asian lady beetle, this insect, while beneficial to gardens, is no treat when it masses by the hundreds on, and inside, homes in the fall.

Lady beetles, or lady bugs, are the darlings of small children everywhere. There are a number of native lady beetle species, which tend to be more reddish than orange, and they aren’t known to be nuisances in homes. Multicolored Asian lady beetles, however, are not as polite. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Black Swallowtails Have Many Disguises

TOS_Black_SwallowtailIt was the dotted, orangey-yellow and black stripes that stood out, drawing my son’s gaze to the edge of the sandbox. A small caterpillar clung to the goutweed, munching away on the green leaves. At first we thought it was a monarch caterpillar, but the stripes weren’t quite right. Out came the field guide, where we discovered our caterpillar to be a future black swallowtail butterfly. After that first discovery, we suddenly noticed more caterpillars, both in that patch of goutweed and on the greens of the carrots in our late-summer garden.

The black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) is one of more than 500 swallowtails flitting about throughout the world. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Snakes and Toads Provide Garden Pest Control

TOS_Toad_houseEncountering a snake in the garden causes many people to shriek or even panic. Yet snakes and another often unloved creature, the American toad, are among the most effective forms of pest control.

If you tolerate these herpetological visitors – or better yet, encourage their presence – you’ll be less likely to share your garden with ravenous bugs, or bottles of pesticide. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Afflictions Of Late Summer Tree Leaves Only Skin Deep

330px-RhytismaAcerinumDetailUBeing an arborist, I’m of course very mindful of complexion. Things like bruises and blemishes catch my eye, in addition to scabs, cuts, and even those out-of-place whiskers that appear out of nowhere. It sounds like a description of my aging skin, but I’m talking about blotches, warts and cuts that accumulate on tree leaves over the summer.

I suppose if we had to stand outside day and night all season, our skin would develop issues too. Those who work or play much outdoors need to be concerned about skin spots that suddenly show up. With tree leaves, that’s not the case – even the ugliest “skin” condition is generally no cause for concern. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Electroreception: The Buzz of Bees

TOS_Honey_beesImagine you had a power that allowed you to pick up nearby objects without actually touching them. Imagine this power could help you find and choose the best foods while shopping. Imagine you could use this power to communicate with your family. Bees have just such a power. It’s called electroreception, and it gives them the ability to perceive and respond to electrical fields.

Scientists have known since at least the 1970s that flying bees can pick up electrostatic charges as they move, but they didn’t know whether these charges had any practical value. Today, some suspect that electrostatic charge may be very useful to bees. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Jewelweed: Definitely Not A Weed

JewelweedBy definition, a weed is any plant growing where you don’t want it. To clarify, this holds true only in the garden beds or acreage under your cultivation. “Weeding” flowers in a park planter because they offend your sense of aesthetics is frowned upon.

To a plant, having “weed” embedded right in its name is probably akin to having a “Kick Me” sign on your back. Right out of the box there is bound to be a bit of prejudice against you, fair or unfair. Spotted knapweed, goutweed and Japanese knotweed are all pernicious invasive species, and deserve all the bad press they get. But occasionally an innocent bystander suffers from this name game. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Understanding Spider Silk and Spider Webs

TOS_Spider_SilkThere is an all-natural material, produced at room temperature, that can be used to build homes, to make protective coverings, to hunt and trap, and even to swing through the air. It’s hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, and waterproof. On a per-weight basis it’s stronger than steel and more elastic than nylon or kevlar.

What is this remarkable material? Spider silk.

If it sounds impossible that a single material can be used for so many purposes, well, in a way it is. Depending on how you want to count them, there are seven or eight kinds of spider silk in the world, and any given spider species may make as many as six different kinds. » Continue Reading.


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