Tuesday, September 30, 2014

poo beetle dances


Humpback dung beetle. Photo by Sammi Stoklosa

"The richness of the biological world is the most wonderful feature of the biosphere, and every story is worth telling, no matter how humble, or indeed insular, is the organism concerned," writes author Richard Fortey.

Dr. Louise discovered this curious large black beetle with extra long back legs in the vulture enclosure at the nature center. AmeriCorps member Sammi Stoklosa pulled out the beetle book and quickly IDed the odd thing which brought to mind the importance of dung beetles. They help clean up the environment, carrying away the mess left behind by all sorts of creatures.

Does a bear poo in the woods?

Well, sure it does. So who cleans it up?

Ambling about in search of poo, a dung beetle finds its fecal treasure at night while we are asleep. The droppings are used as brood chambers and food for the beetle's developing young. To each its own, we all have a role to play. 

Mine is just a bit more refined.

Dung beetles eat poo, a good thing, because it keeps us from stepping in it. (One report states they prefer herbivore excrement to omnivore.)

Some dung beetles are known as tunnelers (they bury it on the spot), others are rollers. A third group actually live inside the scat, but we won't go there for now.

The rollers are interesting navigators. They roll the dung into a ball for the trip back to their homes, but how do they find their way? It's hard enough to push the lump, little on navigate, just how do they move it along on a true and proper course?

Well, it seems, it does a little orientation dance and consults the stars or position of the sun. What else can they do? There's no road maps that small. Video: beetle gets its bearings.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hawk Watch Brunch

Look Rock in the Smokies. Photo by Jimmy Tucker

A special thank you to all who attended the Ijams Birding & Breakfast Club: Hawk Watch Brunch yesterday morning at Look Rock on Chilhowee Mountain. Beautiful day, excellent view, warm camaraderie, yet, more vultures than hawks, although we were serenaded by a sprightly pine warbler.

"If you could have been lucky enough to be at Look Rock with Barbara Stedman on September 19, 1981 you would have seen a tsunami of broad-wingeds riding the cold front winds southeast. Stedman tallied 5,632 in nine and a half hours. Her big day firmly set a record and established the Tennessee location as a go-to site to watch for hawks in late September." * 

Funny how nature has a mind of its own. 

* From my article "Free and Easy: Hawks of the Great Smoky Mountains" in Smokies Life magazine: Vol. 8, No. 2.

Hawk's eye view

Thursday, September 25, 2014

hummer of a moth

Larry Hendrix sent me some nice photos he took in his yard of a mysterious flying thing. Although it flew like a small hummingbird it more closely resembled a large bumblebee.

Larry had been watching the insect in his yard he had never seen before. It bewildered him, so he grabbed his camera.

“It hovered at the blossoms of my lantana bush and drank eagerly,” he e-mailed. “It has repeated these visits three or four times. I am attaching several pictures. Can you tell what it is?”

The wings of the mystery hoverer moved so fast, they were hard to see, and its behavior was much like a hummingbird, bobbing and weaving from flower to flower, but it was much too small to be a nectar-sipping bird.

Larry’s insect was a hummingbird in name only. There are roughly 17 species of hummingbird moths found around the world, but only four in the Americas. Larry’s is known as a snowberry clearwing, a pretty name for a very unusual creature. As Alice in Wonderland cried, it’s “curiouser and curiouser!”

Unlike most moths, the curiouser clearwings are active during the day but may also continue to fly into the evening, particularly if there’s a good source of nectar.

But like all moths, clearwings go through metamorphosis: egg to caterpillar to cocoon to adult. The caterpillars feed on plants that include honeysuckle, viburnum, hawthorn, snowberry (hence the name), cherry and plums. The adult, small chunky moths resemble bumblebees but are often mistaken for hummingbirds because of their erratic flight patterns.

Straight out of the cocoon, their forewings are covered with scales, but these are shed during their first flight, making the wings appear transparent. The moth’s antennae are strongly clubbed, with small, re-curved hooks at the end, and their abdomens have yellow and black segments much like those of a bumblebee, while their bristly caboose ends resemble lobsters’ tails. Yes, curiouser and curiouser!

Larry was correct to be bewildered. We are talking about one very odd, higgledy-piggledy little creature that seems to be straight out of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy wonderland. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

a hard mast's a-gonna fall

I am sitting outside enjoying my morning coffee—somehow I made it just right today—reading a wonderful book about living fossils by British paleontologist Richard Fortey. As he writes in the prologue, "Evolution has not obliterated its tracks as more advanced animals and plants have appeared through geological time. There are, scattered over the globe, organisms and ecologies which still survive from earlier times." Fortey then travels around the world to find living examples of ancient creatures that still survive today.

So my mind is pondering deep time as I tempt my own time, i.e. fate.

The early morning sun is peeking in from the east, skies are clear but a hard rain is falling. So heavy, in fact, I hear each and every single raindrop crash and rip its way through the canopy as it drops to the ground with a thud. Occasionally, one hits nearby to ricochet "POW" off the wooden deck around me. The slightest breeze triggers a loud barrage like cannon fire at Shiloh. 

If I stop in mid-sentence...it only means that I have been ka-bonked on the head by one of these hefty raindrops. I should go inside to find my hardhat but I choose to toss caution to the morning wind like those base jumpers. We all have to push the envelope every now and then, besides a headline in the Knoxville News Sentinel that read Local naturalist KO'd by falling acorn might be amusing to some. 

This is going to be a good fall to be a squirrel. Bellies will be fat. Larders stuffed. Globular treasures hidden.

What did Dylan sing? "It's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard mast's a-gonna fall."

Indeed. Like the Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) Fortey writes about, this advanced boney head, squashy bodied animal has somehow survived another morning. 

I made it to the end of this post with my noggin intact.

Friday, September 19, 2014

yellow fuzzy

Looking at this fuzzy thing, you'd never suspect it would grow up to be called a dagger moth, so called because the adult moths have markings on their wings that look like tiny stilettos.

The caterpillars look more like one of those plush stuffed animals you win at the county fair ring-toss game, or try to win to impress a girl. (Yes, I've done it and never won or impressed.)

There are well over 100 species worldwide in this group. This fuzzy-wuzzy will spin a cocoon and emerge next spring as an American dagger moth, Acronicta americana.

- Photo taken at Ijams Nature Center

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

little shadow

What is life?

It is the flash of a firefly in the night,

It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time.

It is the little shadow which runs across the grass

and loses itself in the sunset.

- Crowfoot, or Issapóómahksika, Native American, 
chief of the Siksika Nation

Thursday, September 11, 2014

bath time for screech

Truly, no one likes to be photographed as soon as they step out of the shower. Uncurried. Unfluffed. Unpreened.

The education birds at Ijams have places to perch to avoid getting wet when it rains but they often prefer to enjoy a refreshing shower. 

Also, the little red phase eastern screech-owl at the nature center has been a bit sickly, we've been giving her oral antibiotics for a few weeks, so she wasn't at her best.

She's improving. Thank you for asking. 

So, why did I whip out my cell phone and snap her photo? I couldn't help myself. She was so adorable like one of Jim Henson's creations.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

but one tree

If you could have but one tree in your yard near your home, but one tree to look at through the window when you were ill, but one tree to sit beside when your life is grand or not so, what would that one tree be?

Speak now. What would your tree be?

For me, it would be a Southern magnolia, green and beautiful 365 days, season to season to season. Voluptuous fecund blossoms in the spring. Crimson seeds in the fall. And at this of the year, the leaves develop the most lovely cinnamon-colored patina.

Goodness. But one tree.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Next Tuesday was today

OK. I read this last Tuesday on the NPR website: Has Next Tuesday Already Happened?

And wondered, is my life that predetermined? Birth, death and all the points in between. So I decided to mix things up and do something totally unexpected, unplanned, unscripted, unorganized, un-me. I was searching for spontaneity. Lightning in a bottle, once-in-a-lifetime-kind-of-things like a spectacular sunset or a regal mating in the woods, rare moments in nature, recherché and exquisite

But now I have to ask, Is this what I was predetermined to do all along on September 2, 2014?