One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Here’s a common sight in nature–do you know what it is?

I”l check the comments for your guesses and return later with the answer. By the way, Nutmeg wants to put the blog on hiatus for the winter, which means we’ll soon stop our regular posts. You can always access our archives!

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It’s definitely an oak leaf, which many of you many have realized…and we had a correct guess today! We have so many different oaks in the neighborhood–white, pin, black, willow and chestnut! Because they blow all round, we can’t always identify the fallen leaves by the closest tree, which is the case with this leaf that was found beneath a chestnut oak.

Only the pin and the black oak have the deep lobes with pointy tips between, and the Pin Oaks have the deeper lobes of the two.

Here are black oak leaves for comparison:

But really, any of the oak species are great trees to us squirrels!

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One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Here’s a tricky one–can you actually see the thing we’re asking you to identify?

I’ll be back to check your guesses later!

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That was decidedly hard to see. How about this?

This little critter camouflages really well!

Its a walking stick–the kind that’s an insect. And look at the size of him! Compare him to the oak and maple leaves–about 4.5 inches long. It’s so cool that the body is speckled like tree bark and the undersides of the flat legs are orange. Maybe that’s to make it look like stems coming from a twig, or to break up the look of a body. The color perfectly matched some Virginia Pine needles the walking stick was walking over.

Walking sticks or stick-bugs are members of the insect order Phasmatodea, which includes many different species. We aren’t sure which this is, but we squirrels do see them often in the treetops where they feed on leaves. In fact, we understand that in the warmer climates of the American south, walking sticks can endanger trees by defoliating them if the insects overpopulate.

This one might have fallen with the leaves, or, if it’s a she, it may have actually descended on purpose to lay her eggs in the soil. They usually only live one season, and appear large in the autumn just like wolf spiders and praying mantids because they have had all summer to grow.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

It’s mystery number 222! We squirrels feel like there should be some sort of celebration when we hit match numbers, but we don’t know what. So on with the mystery…

Do you know this plant?

Give me a guess in the comments and I’ll be back later to verify answer!

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These late leaf hangers-on are the leaves of the American Beech, Fagus grandifolia. This striking tree doesn’t grow in our close neighborhood, but is in the Northern Virginia area, often in stands (meaning that’s all that’s growing there) that are striking this time of year–silver bark and gold leaves. It’s intolerant of urban pollution, salt and soil compaction, so we’re not surprised it’s gone from suburban neighborhoods.

We did a little look-see online, and read that beeches love rich bottomland soil–the bottom of the hill where all the good soil slides down and collects. They tolerate shade really well, so will grow up with the other trees, then keep going and become the only species there, or with a mix of maples, birch and hemlock. So a beech may have out-lasted the other trees that started growing on that land.

Of course they flower–pretty small ones–and produce beechnuts! We squirrels love them, as do wild turkeys, raccoon, deer, rabbits, fox, pheasant, opossum…I think you get the idea–a lot of animals eat beechnuts!

Plant one if you can! Moist, rich soil that drains well, and not prone to foot traffic or snowplowing with salt.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize this?

No hints this week, other than it is seasonal.

I’ll check your guesses the comments!

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A wider shot…

It’s a woolly bear caterpillar! Of course, they are around all summer, growing to their full size, but you humans seem to notice them the most in the fall. Is it because they are rumored to be weather predictors?

Caterpillar bodies are formed in segments–a little hard to tell with the woolly bear’s bristles– and the number of rusty ones in the center supposedly determine how long winter will last. The more rusty ones the milder winter will be, the fewer (more black) means winter will last longer. It’s hard to tell, but there are 13 segments. According to this caterpillar, 6 rust segments( or 5.5 if you look at his back, because one segment is half rust, half black), as opposed to…black ones that are harder to count, but we guess those fuzzy head and tail ends add up to 7.5 segments. So, a middling to bad winter?

For more information the scientist who studied wooly bears in the 1940s, visit the woolly bear article in The Old Farmer’s Almanac, a classic for weather prediction!

When they grow up, woolly bears become Isabella tiger moths, Pyrrharctia isabella.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize this butterfly? Top side…

Bottom side…

Give us a guess in the comments–I’ll be checking back later for your answers!

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See the little white mark on the underside of the wing? The ‘comma’? This is a comma butterfly, which should certainly not be confused with this butterfly:

The question mark butterfly! Okay, honestly they look very similar, from the bottom and the top…

The undersides of both are described as being brown mottled, but the question mark we saw seems to be unusually orange. The photos we saw on Butterflies and Moths of North America vary, too, and the mottling is there.

Hope you enjoyed your nature punctuation lesson for today!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Have you ever seen leaves this pretty?

Know what it is?

I’ll check in with your comments later for guesses but below is a tiny hint if you like…

Most plants we squirrels feature on The Squirrel Nutwork are native. This one is not.

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Need another hint? The bark peels into speckles…

This patchy bark belongs to the kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa, a native of East Asia.

Its leaves are very similar in shape to our native flowering dogwood, but the colors tend more to red and yellow than the natives purple tones, as seen below:

The amount of yellow and red varies intriguingly vary from tree to tree. Nutmeg and I will have to make a run-around to see if this is due to the amount of shading, or if the red advances as the season progresses.

Enjoy the show of these small trees!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Here’s a little plant we see coming up in any corner humans leave alone–and it’s still blooming, which is good for the bees.

But what is it?

I’ll check in for your guesses later!

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This is one of those plants you see everywhere, but don’t really bother to find out what it is.Unless you are like Miz Flora. In fact, it grows really well in some areas.

This is a smartweed, thought some humans might tell you it’s a knotweed. They are both members of the Polygonum family. 75 different species of smartweed grow in North America, and they all have those little pink flowers at the ends of the growing stems, like this Polygonum we leaped across.

If the flowers were  growing from the leaf axils–like every spot a leaf emerges from a stem–it would be a knotweed. So keep your eyes peeled the next time you see a smartweed and see if it’s knotweed!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

We’ve still got flowers around, and with no hard freeze, the insects are still visiting them.

Do you recognize this flower and / or the insect?

Give us a guessing the comments and I’ll pop back in to check your answers.

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We had a correct guess today–this is a hoverfly (to the best of a squirrel’s knowledge about insects!) They are also known as syrphid flies, named from their family name, Syrphidae. Hoverfly tends to be an easier name to remember because it describes what they do–hover.

And they look so similar to bees! See, the black and yellow body is screaming Danger, get back! But the big eyes were a dead giveaway for Nutmeg  and I to figure out that this had to be a fly.

Hoverflies, in the adult fly form, eat nectar and pollen, feeding on wildflowers like these late-blooming asters. Since we are nearing that gruesome holiday that you humans love–Halloween–lets talk a bit about the larvae, which have a much more interesting feeding habits. Fly larvae are…do you remember? Maggots! Different species of the Syrphidae prey on other insects, very much like ladybugs eat aphids, while others eat decaying plants and animals, very much like vultures. That’s quite a family!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Bees that aren’t honeybees can be quite confusing.

Give us a guess what you think this stunning insect is in the comments!

I’ll check back later with the answer.

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We squirrels learned something today by questioning you humans about this wasp. This is a red and brown paper wasp (we gather that is a common, descriptive name!) and common in our area. Our mistake is that we always assumed paper wasps (these guys) made those giant oval paper nests that we find secreted in trees and other odd places.

 

 

Not so! These large, intimidating nests are made by hornets–either the black and white bald faced hornet, or the European hornet.

According to a wasp guide hosted by the Kentucky Pesticide Safety Program and the North Carolina Extension Service’s publication on Non-Honey Bee Stinging Insects in North Carolina, this particular paper wasp, with the brown spots on its abdomen, makes just the small, open, umbrella-type nest, with no covering.

 

 

If you read further, both articles do say that wasps are beneficial in nature, eating numerous pesky caterpillars that destroy crops. If a nest is in a non-hazardous area, consider leaving these natural predators alone to do their jobs!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

Another week has come that it is going to be difficult for me–Hickory squirrel–to post the answer to a mystery. But I hate to leave you without a mystery to solve again, so hope this works for all our human readers. I will post your nature mystery…here it is, the colorful leaf.

You decide if you know what it is… or not. And once you have, you can check your answer by clicking on this prior post of ours that features this mystery from nature!

Here is the ‘answer post‘.

Hope that works for everyone!