One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

Plain white flowers are hard to identify!

Mystery #158

Give us your guesses for what this one is!

~~~

So this little toughie is Yarrow, Achillea millefolium. It’s native in North America and across most of the Northern Hemisphere.

Common Yarrow

The delicate, feathery leaves are the best way to identify it. The last part of the scientific name–millefolium–literally means ‘thousand leaves’. Mz. Flora believes the white flowers are the original wild species, and the colorful yellow and red blossoms you humans plant in your yards are ones you have cultivated.

An interesting fact I learned researching Yarrow is it was used historically to staunch bleeding, so a common name was Soldier’s Woundwort. I have not discovered if the part of the plant used was the leaves, so if anyone knows, send us a note!

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One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Mystery #158

Maybe you know what kind of butterfly it is, but is it a male or a female, and how can you tell?

I’ll check back later for your guesses!

~~~

We had correct guesses today! I’m chasing my tail in excitement that so many of you humans leaped in to guess!

Yes, this is a Monarch butterfly, and it’s a…male. The thin veins and the two black spots on the hind wing identify it as a male. Those black spots are scent-producing organs. They are actually tiny pouches, containing scent scales or ‘androconia’, the term entomologists use meaning ‘male dust’. It’s where they produce their pheromones to attract the females.

For comparison, here’s a female Monarch laying eggs.

Monarch female laying eggs

Her hind wings have wider bands of black scales. But here’s the tricky part–you can see the veins on either side of the hind wings, but the scent pouches on the male are only visible from the top of the wings!

So good luck identifying your Monarchs, you quick-eyed humans!

It’s a detrivore!

We squirrels though we’d heard most words associated with nature, but this one was a new one on us. Here’s what I–Nutmeg–was looking up:

Biggest Slug

Yep, a slug. The slug itself isn’t a detrivore; it’s a Limax maximus, which means ‘biggest slug’, but detrivore is a group, like herbivore and carnivore. Detrivores clean up dead stuff and fungi.

And we all know slugs do that. They hang out in the garden, the compost, any place damp.

But back to the slug–We’re sure you’ve seen them and this big guy, sometime called the Leopard Slug, is the common kind where we live, Virginia. We discovered this species was brought over from Europe, where it’s not always associated with human dwellings, but in the U.S. it is.

Which prompts two questions for our readers:

Do you have the Biggest Slug where you live?

Have you ever seen one away from human habitation?

Ok, maybe three questions If you don’t have this slug, what slugs do you have?

Bluebird Nestbox Invaded

Well, this is a hard story to tell, folks. Our reader friend, Nancy, wrote that the Eastern Bluebirds in her yard had laid a second set of eggs.

Eastern Bluebird female

Eastern Bluebird hatchlings 1-2 days old

They hatched, but twelve days later the parent birds were forced to abandon the nestlings.

Note: Nancy began documenting this local bluebird nesting and shared it with The Squirrel Nutwork in April. Search ‘bluebird’ if you wish to see the older posts!

First, we are pleased to say the fledglings from the first nesting  had continued to stay with the parent bluebirds, and were helping to feed the second set of hatchlings.

Eastern Bluebird with juvenile

Eastern Bluebird juveniles

Nancy reported it was wonderful to see all three return.

Eastern Bluebirds juveniles

Then one evening a raccoon tried to get into the nest box…

Raccoon stalking bluebird nest box

…including climbing the nearby fence. Lucky for the bluebirds, he got stuck and gave up.

Raccoon on a fence

But the next day, a House Sparrow was spotted entering the nest box. You readers may remember that the House Sparrow entered the nest box after the first set of fledglings left.

House Sparrow invading bluebird nest

These aggressive–and non-native!–birds must have been harassing the bluebirds all along. Despite the help from another male bluebird and the three juveniles, the female was looking thin and worn out the day the raccoon appeared.

Eastern Bluebird female thin and worn

All of the bluebirds disappeared, leaving the 12 day old nestlings.

Eastern Bluebird hatchlings 12 days old_1

Nancy and her family tried to feed them.

Feeding bluebird hatchlings

Mealworms, egg whites and soaked dog food were recommended by the Wildlife Rescue League–but with work, these humans couldn’t feed the same amount of food that six birds could, and the nestlings didn’t make it. Nancy and her family were quite upset when they wrote us.

As soon as the nest box was empty, a House Wren tried to use it, and in fact, was rather insistent!

Carolina Wren trying to use bluebird nest box_1

The solution has been to leave it open to discourage the other birds.

Bluebird nest box open

Unfortunately, this nature story isn’t unusual. Even with this much help from humans, wildlife have a tough time of it. The competition for food and nesting sites is fierce. The more docile songbirds like the Eastern Bluebirds can’t compete with critters who are more aggressive.

Nancy wrote us that even with the loss of the second hatchlings, the positive part of having the nest box in their yard was the success of the parent birds raising the first three chicks through to being able to fend for themselves. They will go on to raise families of their own next year.

Thirsty Thursday

Nutmeg and Hickory have both shown you humans the Common Milkweed plant. Well, Ol’ Wally here has a milkweed a mite better.

Swamp Milkweed

How do you like them blossoms?? ‘Pretty in pink’ as I’ve heard humans say. This is Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, which is sometimes known as Pink Milkweed–but you know how Miz Flora hates common names, so we’ll stick to the proper one.

Aside from the brighter color, this milkweed flower doesn’t form a ball like Common Milkweed, but is more like the orange Butterflyweed in shape. And I bet you readers have already guessed–since this old squirrel is featuring this plant on the water column–that Swamp Milkweed likes a wet soil. Only wet, though, it won’t grow in standing water. Like the other milkweeds, it is highly attractive to nectar feeders, and the sap in the leaves (that the caterpillars eat) even contains the same toxins as Common Milkweed.