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.

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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!

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.

~~~

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!

Still safe to visit the flowers!

After Ol’ Wally’s dramatic tale from yesterday, I decided the blog needed an uplifting moment–and butterflies seem to still fit that idea. No spicebush swallowtails or monarchs died during the time Hickory and I visited these flowers!

But we did find one juvenile hiding!

“As he well should!” Hickory chittered. “Birds. If you can’t trust them to stay out of your sunflower seeds, then when can you trust them?”

Thirsty Thursday

Folks,

I headed over to the big pond today, accompanied by Miz Flora. Because of that dear, plant-loving squirrel’s presence, her–I mean, our–attention was drawn to the purple flowers of the Pickerel Weed, Pontederia cordata. Now this common pond plant has been blooming all summer, with its stalks of tiny purple flowers, and I…*ahem*…must admit, Ol’ Wally here was not inclined to include it in our weekly posts about water in nature.

Miz Flora had other ideas.

And so we leaped over to see the pickerel weed up close.

Several little skippers were fluttering over the flowers, dipping in to gather the nectar of the many flowers. Well, that is nice, I thought, something Nutmeg would certainly like for the blog. I followed along behind Miz Flora, admiring the flowers as she chattered. Then, before our eyes–WHAM!

A praying mantis darted from the stalk and grabbed a skipper. The poor thing had no chance to escape the wicked barbs of its front feet and was devoured within a minute. The body, at least, not the wings, which the mantis let flutter into the water…

I had no idea viewing flowers could be so dramatic, and said so.

“That’s nothing,” Mis Flora said with a dismissive flick of her tail. “Not for nature.”

This old squirrel will be retiring to his drey for a rest and reflection on how lucky he has been to survive all these years.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Anyone recognize this caterpillar?

I’ll check back later for your guesses in the comments!

~~~

Okay, we squirrels agree, that this is a very nondescript caterpillar. And it becomes a very nondescript moth! Except…

It’s an underwing moth. Which is a bit confusing, because you would think the bottom of the wings would have the color on them. No, it’s the upper side of the hind wings.

And why, you may ask? The bright color is there to scare a predator away, in a quick flash of color