One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize this late nester?

I’ll check back later!

~~~

We admit this is a tough one–only a dark-feathered back and a broad yellow beak. And maybe you can see a hint of her nest, made of twigs.

This little lady is a common songbird in our part of northern Virginia–an American Robin.

See the similarities?

Fun facts: robin nests are constructed of approximately 350 twigs and pieces of grass, each about 6 inches long. The robin uses mud, collected one beak at a time, to ‘cement’ the nest together, then lines the inside with more grasses.

Want more information? This American Robin page on Learner.org helped us with its good facts.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Any idea what kind of butterfly this is? And…notice anything unusual about it?

Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be back later to check your guesses!

~~~

Well, we have shy readers today, or…? No responses and we thought this was one of our easier mysteries. But hey, we’re all busy in real life today!

This Monarch butterfly has positioned it abdomen to…

lay an egg!

The plant is Common Milkweed, a favorite food of the Monarch caterpillar. Butterflies always lay eggs on the particular plant that its caterpillar eats, so if you really wish to attract butterflies to your yard, you need to have both the nectar flowers they like and the preferred caterpillar foods.

So, we had good question come into the blog today that relates to butterflies. However, it was posted as a comment on an unrelated post from a few years ago–we assume the human reader was going back through our archives and reading more about nature–yay! This question was a bit embarrassing for Nutmeg, but she answered it honestly and we decided the fate of it being posted today meant that we should share it with all our readers, rather than let it get buried in the archives.

Mike asked:

Do squirrels search out and eat butterfly chrysilis’?
I could have sworn one of my bandits went into my pondside blackeyed susan yesterday and emerged with a bright green chrysilis he then proceeded to chow down on!
I am willing to share my tomatoes but NOT my butterflies!

And Nutmeg answered:

Em, yes we–er, they do. We are quite opportunistic in our food choices and insects are a favorite. Especially the juicy ones. Thanks for writing in with your observation, Mike, despite how much it embarrasses us.
Nutmeg

Seeing as we are squirrels and have done our best to promote humans helping wildlife, this was hard to admit. But who better to ask about squirrel habits than a group of squirrels?!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

We haven’t had a flower for a mystery lately, so here’s one!
Give your guesses in the comments and I’ll check back later with your answer!

~~~

Yay, we had a correct guess today–even though I didn’t show the flower from its most telling side. Look here:

It’s Trumpet Creeper Vine. As our faithful reader said, hummingbirds love gathering nectar from this deep tube–and we squirrels are thinking it’s likely they have little competition.

That said, Miz Flora stands firm that this is a plant you should plant on a trellis and keep contained! Remember, it’s a vine. It will travel everywhere, and those large compound do tend to cover other plants.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

We have a tiny mystery for you this week!

 

Yes, these are on a window screen. Sorry the resolution isn’t better!

Any guesses what it is? Put ’em in the comments and I’ll check in with you later!

~~~

We had several correct guesses best guesses of insect eggs!

Our best guess after comparing images is these are likely stink bug eggs. There are many types of stink bugs; this is one species.

See the little round mark at the ends of the eggs? Please let us know if any of you have any further ideas, and we will try to catch the bugs hatching–versus a bird!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

For today’s mystery, I’m asking if you know what kind of turtle this is?

I’ll check back later for your answers!

~~~

We’ve had a few correct guesses, so I decided to pop in and confirm that the turtles are Red-eared Sliders. That red mark along the side of the head is quite distinctive, as is their ability to ‘slide’ into the water when danger approaches.

Red-eared sliders are now a common turtle in ponds even outside their normal range, and are considered invasive. Unfortunately, this is because many have escaped or been let go as pets. They eat both plants and animals in the water, preferring still water of ponds, but also slow-moving streams and rivers. With high numbers and more rugged ability to adapt, the red-eared sliders replace shyer, native turtles and might be one of the reasons frogs are on the decline.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Ever seen a creature like this?

For this week’s mystery, what is it, and do you see anything unusual about it?

I’ll check back later!

~~~

The scale here is terrible, but this spider’s legs spread about an inch in diameter, and she will continue to grow all summer, making the wolf spider the largest in our area. They are agile and see well with their eight eyes (eight!), two of which are large at the top of the head.

And how did I know that was a she?

Look closely. The white thing below her abdomen is an egg sac. The wolf spider carries it to protect her young, attaching it to herself with thread from her spinnerets because she does not build a web. Instead, wolf spiders hunt to catch their prey.

 

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Any idea why this looks like a centipede fossil in this piece of not-fossilized wood?

I’ll be back later to check your guesses!

~~~

The simple answer is bugs.

The long answer is that the long bumpy center–or body of the centipede–is where a beetle laid eggs back when this branch was alive and had bark. Each of the eggs hatched into a larvae, and each little bug began chewing its way into the softer cambium layer under the wood, and we suppose a little into the wood, making the ‘legs’ of the centipede.

Did you notice that those legs grow larger as the bug chewed along? It was growing bigger! Eventually they matured enough that the larvae chewed a hole to the outside of the bark, metamorphosed into a beetle and left!

So this is like a natural apartment house!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

If you have a weak stomach, don’t look… because today’s mystery is scat. In other words, poop. (Nutmeg is making me post this warning!)

So you humans may not think that makes it much of a mystery, but it is! Two mystery questions, in fact:

Can you guess what animal left this in our neighborhood parking lot?

And what did he eat? (Hint: It’s out now!)

I’ll check back with you later!

~~~

We believe a fox left this little deposit, and from the looks of it, he ate fruit. What’s ripe now?

Mulberries!

They are ripening and dropping less that fifty feet from where the very full fox left his mark!

 

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Any idea what these things on the leaves are?

Check back with you later!

~~~

Guess we should have clarified that these things are not ‘on’ the leaves but are growing out of them. That’s what happens when something gets into the leaf tissue and the leaf doesn’t like it. This might be an insect laying an egg or a fungus spore getting into a wound. The tree cells rally and create a ‘gall’ around the invader. Different plants create different galls, the most famous and noticeable being the Oak Apple Gall. (Squirrel kits have to learn that those are not  food, since they grow where we expect acorns!)

We had to write back to our reader to learn what kind of a tree this was…by the way, thank you to Jeanine for allowing us to use her photos for today’s mystery!

The tree looks like a type of wild cherry, but we’re not sure which.

So with that information, we were able to narrow our search and came up with spindle galls. Viette’s Views gardening blog has an excellent photo essay on galls which includes notes on spindle galls, caused by microscopic mites called eriophyid mites.

Ok, that sound like a bug you can’t stop, and the tree is dealing with it the best it can!

One of Nature’s Mysteries To Solve

Hey there!

This little guy interrupted my nap…and I remembered it’s mystery day!

What is he?

Check back with you later!

~~~

This little Spring Azure butterfly–about a half inch across–can vary in it’s gray to whitish coloring, but the underwings are usually gray with darker markings. They might have marks along the edges or not. The females are the same coloring on top, but the males are a bright blue. If they are sitting–which is even hard to catch them doing!–the wings are up, so the blue or gray upper wings are mostly seen in flight–and they are quick!

We’ve noticed the Spring Azures flying in our neighborhood for years, but only looked them up this year. The adults like the nectar of Dogbane, which we have nearby, and the caterpillars feed on the leaves of spirea…which we also have! So we squirrels will be checking for eaten leaves this summer and reporting back!