One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Our mystery today comes to us from regular reader, Connie. Thanks, Connie!

Mystery #179

Yes, it’s those little blobs, about the size of a small acorn.

I’ll check back later for your guesses, but if you’d like a hint, scroll down:

|
|
|
|

Hint: Connie found these on her pontoon boat.

~~~

One brave reader guessed that these particles were the stuffing from the boat. No, but that was our first guess, too! No mice or insects were burrowing inside. This was deposited on the boat and appears nearly every morning, Connie tells us.

And every morning someone visits the boat.

Great Blue Heron on Lake Audubon Paul Hartke 2016

If the light is a bit too dim for you, here’s another photo.

Great Blue Heron on Lake Audubon

That’s a Great Blue Heron. A very old one, we believe, because his beard–the feathers trailing from his neck–is full. Now we squirrels had heard of owls regurgitating pellets of fur and bones after they eat, but not herons, so we did a bit of research. Turns out herons do as well, and it’s called “casting.”

fish bones in a Great Blue Heron casting

fish bones in a Great Blue Heron casting

If you look closely, this deposit, or regurgitation, contains small fish bones and scales!

Herons also have a throat pouch. When they have young in the nest, they swallow a fish or two and carry them back to the nest and regurgitate them for the young birds. Young birds might do the same if a predator attacks their nest to frighten it away.

Want to learn more about Great Blue Herons? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a camera on a heron nest and answers many questions about these birds on their Bird Cam FAQ website.

When is a stick not a stick?

When it’s a stick insect!

Walking Stick

Can you believe that’s what human scientists call these? We kits grew up calling them walking sticks, but when I was doing a bit of research, I discovered you humans also run those words together: walkingstick.

As much as we are in trees, stick insects are good at camouflaging themselves, and move soooo slowly that we squirrels don’t see them that much.

“We’re too busy!” Hickory shouts, his words garbled by an acorn.

Still, I know what he’s saying, because he says it every day. Luckily, one of our human readers saw this stick insect away from a tree and was able to catch a photo of it. (Thank you!) Kind of fun to see how their legs each bend at different angles and the antenna fold to hide the head and make the bug even longer. Great disguise!

The Monarch emerged!

This morning we happened by those Passion Flower plants again and look what we saw!

Monarch chrysalis about to emerge

The Monarch was close to emerging. We got a few acorns hunted down and by the time we came back, the butterfly had broken out of her chrysalis.

newly emerged Monarch butterfly female.

She hung there while her wings expanded. Look at the fluid that dripped off of her.

Fluid from newly emerged monarch

Another time we ran by, she had moved into the open and was spreading her wings.

female Monarch butterfly

That’s how we knew this was a girl–no spots on her hind wings.

female-monarch-butterfly_2

It’s a great feeling to see one be able to succeed at making it to the butterfly stage!

Warm fall days in the Passion Flower leaves

variegated-fritilary-caterpillars

With these warm days, we still have active Variegated Fritillary caterpillars around the neighborhood. And they must be getting enough to eat!

variegated-fritelary-chrysalis

This monarch chrysalis is well on its way to maturing, too!

monarch chrysalis

Ladybugs

Folks, we are falling behind. The chillier mornings make us squirrels want to stay in our leaf nests longer. Then we eat to get warm. Then we need to run around and collect acorns, and that makes us tired again. It puts other tasks out of our heads. I’m sure you humans experience this from time to time.

So let’s go simple today: a little photo sequence of ladybugs, from larvae growing to adulthood.

ladybugs mating with ladybug larvae

ladybug larve shedding exoskeleton

plump ladybug larvae

ladybug with exoskeleton

Ladybug

Pretty neat, huh? Though closer looks at those Milkweed leaves makes us squirrels wonder why any animal would eat them–meaning Monarch caterpillars, not ladybugs. They live on the Milkweed leaves because of the aphids–look for the smaller orange dots–which both ladybug adults and larvae eat.

Bees like composite flowers!

What are we talking about, you may ask? This!

Yellow Bumble Bee on Mexican Sunflower

Composite flowers look like one flower, but are actually many small flowers grouped as one. See the teeny little petals sticking up in the middle? Each is a flower! And if you know sunflowers, each flower makes a seed. Composite flowers actually evolved to be like this as a strategy to attract bees.

“What?” Hickory popped his head up from digging a hole. “Flowers think?”

Not really, but Mix Flora says they tend to change according to what works. Like some flowers smell a particular way–sweet, or like rotten meat–to attract insects to pollinate them, others like Lady’s Slipper make a very small passage to push pollen on the bees.

But back to composites! A flower that is really many flowers is very efficient if you’re a bee. I’m sure all you humans have heard the phrase “busy as a bee”, and it’s true. They work hard, but they also like shortcuts.

You can give bees two shortcuts in your garden:

Plant composites, like zinnias, which are easy to grow.
bee-on-a-zinnia

Group your flowers in masses of color.

agapostemon-sp-sweat-bee

This sweat bee will go from this yellow flower to the next and the next and the next. It’s like going to the biggest oak to gather acorns, instead of running around to a bunch of small ones. They see that huge patch of color and know they can collect what they need in one visit. We think you humans do this, too, when you go to stores.

Planting flowers to bloom throughout the entire growing season will help bees find nectar and pollen for the longest possible times they are active.

One of the earliest composites to bloom in the spring is–wanna make a guess?

dandelion seedhead

Dandelions! Yes, each of those seeds was a flower on a dandelion, so don’t pull them if you want to help bees! The latest composites to bloom are likely asters or goldenrod.

Goldenrod

We could give you a flower list, but other blogs have done it for us: Please visit The Peace Bee Farmer’s post on The Composite Family.

The University of Sussex’s Goulson Lab has a picture directory of The best garden flowers for bees.

Or go back to @helpthebees to see this great list they have pinned on their twitter feed.

flower list from @helpthebees

Bees–learn more about them!

So…bees. Last year, we squirrels began to notice more human news stories about bees. None of us here at The Squirrel Nutwork can claim to be bee experts, but we like them. We like that they cause good things to eat to grow. We’ve featured posts and photos about our neighborhood bee sightings.

Hickory poked us all with his column’s small tribute to the death of millions of bees in South Carolina, and we decided it’s time to just have some bee awareness here on our blog.

Did you know humans talk about bees on twitter? Back on July 30, 2016 we saw this post by @helpthebees.

@helpthebees

Yo-boy, Lamb’s Ears, a plant that is easy for you humans to grow, and in fact, we had seen and talked about it in our neighborhood–in 2012 and 2013!

Lamb's Ears full plant

Seeing that tweet about Lamb’s Ears and the Wool Carder Bees led us to http://www.buzzaboutbees.net and a lot more information about bees!

Stop in and visit them! In the meantime, here’s a different bee on Lamb’s Ears, we think a Carpenter Bee. (Correction! It’s a Common Eastern Bumble Bee!)

Bee on Lamb's Ears

And this one below is also a Common Eastern Bumble Bee–see how the yellow goes down onto the abdomen, and it’s fuzzy?

Carpenter Bee resting

These two are Carpenter bees on Passion flowers. They have a dot of black on the center of the thorax.

Carpenter Bees with pollen on their backs

Can you see the pollen on their backs?