One of Nature’s Mysteries to solve

Hey there,

Sometimes you humans leave things on your outdoor tables that are good to eat. I usually convince Nutmeg to check them out. Well, today, the treat was under the table!

What do you see? (Don’t worry, nobody was hurt in the making of this mystery!)

Late addition: I decided you humans probably would guess the above, and that I should let you in on the fun of what Nutmeg and I saw from under the table:

 

Give us a guess in the comments!

~~~

This little caterpillar–only about the length of my back paw–is a White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillar. Or so we believe. Since it was on a table, we aren’t sure which of the nearby trees it was feeding on, but when we looked it up, I discovered that the tussock moths are much like squirrels–very opportunistic. They feed on 116 different genres of plants, including both the cherry and oak that hang over this yard.

They don’t get bothered either. Not only do they have strange looking hairs that clump together called ‘pencil hairs,’ but those hairs sting! The four shorter tufts on the back are called setae

Word to the wise humans: Never touch fuzzy caterpillars!

We thought this one was making a webbing to cocoon, but when we came back the next day, he was gone. If he had cocooned, it would be two weeks until a small brown moth emerged. Definitely one of those insects that stand out more in larval form than adult form.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

What has happened to these leaves?

Put your answer in the comments and I’ll be back later to check them!

~~~

No guesses today, and that webbing around green and browning leaves should be a clue.

The tree is an Eastern Redbud, and though we squirrels have never seen them in it before, these have to be Eastern Tent Caterpillars. The silk webbing around the food leaves leads us to think that, but the websites think the caterpillars should be reddish. These aren’t.

Nutmeg and I are wondering if they aren’t big enough yet to have their proper color?

 

They sure are eating enough to get there–look at how they are lines up and eating the fleshy parts of the leaves–the sugary parts!–between the veins. Incredible!

The results of their digestion are also collecting inside the webbing–caterpillar frass, as it is politely called.

The skeletonized leaves will not recover. They will eventually drop off the tree, that is, once they get loose of the silk webbing. Many humans believe tent caterpillars will kill the tree. A small tree, maybe, but in general, trees of all species will recover from having a branch or two of leaves eaten.

These caterpillars are fairly well protected by their webbing, but birds that eat insects and feed them to their young keep an eye out for any straying from the nest. Tent caterpillars are valuable for this food source, so it’s best to let them eat a few branches of leaves–which is usually no more than you humans might randomly trim!

J is for Jewelwing

If you find yourselves skirting along a stream in the woodlands, keep an eye out for the Ebony Jewelwing.

It’s a delicate little thing, a member of the damselfly’s ‘broad-wing’ group. The male has a metallic-bluegreen body and black wings, as seen above. So where to the ‘jewel wings’ come in?

You need to find a female. Her wings are a duller brown, but they each had a white spot at the tips!

Or maybe you’ll find both!

It is spring!

 

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

This guy has a perfect target on his ‘bee-hind’. But do you know what this insect is? Or the flower, if you prefer!

Give us a guess in the comments!

~~~

This was a tricky one for us to identify.

Black and white wasps aren’t too common, but we had to have some help from a friend’s photo–thanks, Martha–to verify we were seeing all we needed to see.

Yes, this wasp has a very skinny middle. and all of the white markings add up to it being a Fraternal Potter Wasp. This is a type of mason wasp that, as you probably guessed, used mud to make its nesting sites. In this case, a little ‘pot’. We squirrels haven’t seen one of these, so if you have, we’d be ever so grateful to see a photo to share!

Another tricky part of the identification is that potter wasps can be black or brown and have white, yellow or orange markings.

Potter wasps are apparently predators, and collect beetle larvae, caterpillars or spiders that they paralyze and seal in the mud brood chamber with their eggs so the young wasps may feed on them. SO can someone explain to us why these wasps were fervently feeding on these flowers?

This late summer plant is well-named: It’s late-flowering boneset

Eupatorium serotinum, a giant of a plant at 7 feet high and 7 feet wide!

It is massive and covered with dozens of different types of insects, wasps, bees and butterflies. We’ll show you more soon!

Coneflowers and Bumblebees

Last year we told you about the humans in our neighborhood planting more native plants in a common space, including coneflowers. Those are coming along and the additional flowers seem to be attracting more bumble bees.

Or maybe it’s that we are on the lookout for them more since hearing they are in trouble.

Anyway, here’s one that Hickory and I watched and then made a second stab at looking up on Bumble Bee Watch.

As we said before, you have to see the head, the thorax and all the segments of the abdomen to make an identification. And those bees move fast! Unless they are taking a nap…this one wasn’t. But he was very intent on getting his nectar so we were able to sneak around the flower.

We discovered that this one’s ‘black’ abdomen wasn’t.

See those two segments that are brownish-red? We think this is a Brown-belted Bumblebee, not only from our Bumble Bee Watch identification, but also from this poster put together by Pollinator Partnership.

It’s nice to see all of the bees in our area at once. On paper, we mean, not in real life!

Here’s the link to the Pollinator Partnership posters. They are out of this one, but it’s still there to look at and read more details about each bee to help with your identifications.

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!

~~~

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!

Recognize this?

No hints this week, other than it is seasonal.

I’ll check your guesses the comments!

~~~

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.

Spiders, the first decorators!

It’s that day you humans have been building up to with your fun and gruesome decorations.

So while we watch from afar–and maybe have a nibble of your pumpkins!–we squirrels would like to put out a gentle reminder that nature did it first!

Have a safe day–don’t get caught in a web of your own making! Happy Halloween!