Sunday, July 31, 2016

milkweed suckers

Monarch butterflies are the beloved insects that rely on milkweed but another reddish-orange and black bug is equally dependent on the plant. 

The milkweed in front of the nature center has been active for weeks, mostly with milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus). Each bug has a long proboscis and is a piercing sucking insect that feeds on the seeds, leaves and stems of milkweed. Each plant can host a village of these bright medium-sized hemipterans (true bugs). They produce several generations during the season. The reddish young ones are called nymphs.

Their eggs are laid in milkweed seed pods or in crevices between pods. About 30 eggs are laid a day or about 2,000 over a female's lifespan of about a month during the summer. One to three generations per year depending on the climate.

I'm reminded yet again of what Thor Hanson writes in his book Feathers, "I'm never at a loss for things to study or topics to write about: everything in the natural world is fair game. If I'm not intrigued and excited every time I step outside, it just means I'm not paying attention."

Adult with two young nymphs

Saturday, July 30, 2016

early morning paddle

The best way to start a Saturday morning? 

Go on an early canoe paddle up the river with a group of Boy Scouts. Just saying. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

turk's cap

I’m working on completing my collection of photos of orange-flowers. Why? It’s such a finite set; there are so very few of them.

To locate the native orange lily, you have to drive up into the mountains. (I’ve already posted on two non-native imports: tiger lily and orange daylily.) Although it looks something like a tiger lily, the Turk's cap lily has been here all along, it's not an import. It predates even my hillbilly ancestry and grows in the higher elevations of the national park in mid-summer, essentially on top of Old Smoky.

The petals of this statuesque wildflower curve sharply backward on themselves. This once gave someone the impression of the caps worn historically by the Turks, hence the name.

For some reason, in the floral world, nature eschews the color orange. 

Even UT orange was originally picked because of the center color of the ox-eye daisies that grew on the Hill (that's where I took my science courses). And if you know your flowers, that's more of a Pittsburgh Steelers golden-yellow than orange. 

From the UT Traditions website, "The school colors of orange & white date to April 12, 1889, when Charles Moore, president of the University's athletic association, chose the colors for the first field day. His inspiration came from the orange and white daisies which grew profusely on the Hill. In 1891, students again wore orange and white to the Sewanee football game. In 1892, students endorsed the colors at a special meeting called for the purpose, but two years later were dissatisfied with the choice and voted to drop the colors. After a heated one-day debate no other colors proved satisfactory, so the students returned to orange and white."

Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). There were no "orange" flowers growing on the hill when UT picked out their uniform colors.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

spider 101

Photo by Shirley Andrews

The best way to teach basic spider anatomy—pedipalps, carapace, cephalothorax, chelicera, abdomen, spinnerets, etc and don't forget, most of them have eight eyes—is with a large living spider, in this case a Chilean rose hair tarantula.

This was so at last Saturday's Creepy Crawly: Insect and Spider class for this year's group of TN Naturalists @ Ijams.

We also ventured outside in the heat to sweep net insects in the meadow. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

big weekend, big bug

We have two big programs planned for this weekend at the nature center.

First: Our first ever Scout Weekend open to both Girl and Boy Scouts, ages 8 to 12, or even non-scouts that age. The activities planned—canoeing, rock-climbing, team building, etc—fit badge requirements, yet even non-scouts will love them. Two days plus an overnight camp out. To register call 577-4717, ext. 116.

Second: Our annual Bug Night. Bring plastic containers and we'll catch insects at various locations around the park and come inside after dark to have a Bug Beauty (or Ugly) Contest. To register call 577-4717, ext. 110. 

To promote the events, our Giant Stag Beetle made a guest appearance on WBIR's Live@5@4 yesterday. For three minutes, it was the most famous beetle in town.
To see the interview with Beth Haynes, click: Big Weekend.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

it's what I do

Photo by Karen Claussen

Some people race cars or repair cars or build skyscrapers or sell apples or put out fires or work in banks or hospitals.

I'm a naturalist. And some days I show snakes to kids and tell them about their life histories and what to be wary of and what not to worry about. Like most of us, snakes need something to eat, a safe place to sleep and ultimately, they want to be left alone.

In this case, today it was an albino rat snake that had been found locally in someone's basement. It now lives at the nature center where we feed it, give it a safe place to sleep and, generally, we leave it alone.

It's what I do.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

bee bars open on top of old Smoky

This time of the year, Indian Gap on the Smokies crest can be a very busy place, a regular honky-tonk district. Very close to where I once found a cloaked knotty-horn and often hear saw-whet owls in late May, the bee bars (or in this case wasp-bars) are opening for business.

Filmy angelica is a robust wildflower that grows at the high elevations of the national park in early August. Although angelicas are in the culinary herb parsley family, by contrast, they are dangerously poisonous. Despite the angelic name, they do not belong anywhere near your kitchen. 

Bees and wasps apparently become intoxicated after feeding on the toxic flowers. It is reported in “Wildflowers of the Smokies” that they have been observed behaving crazily after a visit to angelica.

The only odd insect behavior I usually see is lethargy but I don't get too close. I'm OK with bees, my Dad was a beekeeper, but wasps I avoid because could there be anything more agitating or agitated than a drunken yellow-jacket?

Could this be the origin of the term “getting a buzz on”?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Chinese students visit

Local fitness expert Missy Kane led a group of visiting Chinese college students to Ijams last week.

The students from Shanghai University of Sport (SUS) were in this country taking classes at the English Language Institute (ELI). The group is hosted in Knoxville by UT professor Rob Hardin. His department (Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport Studies) is providing a Sports Studies Seminar for the 14 students and 2 faculty.

One of the classes was outdoor recreation. They visited with me at Ijams and met two of our educational animals then Missy led the group on a hike to the sunflower fields at Forks-of-the-River WMA.

Welcome to Ijams and Tennessee! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


 Sunday, July 17, 2 p.m.
Cicad-Academy at Ijams

Join me for this fun and lighthearted look at some of the creepy crawlies that live in East Tennessee. These programs are great for families and the young-at-heart. This month we’ll take a special look at the noisier buzzy-bugs like katydids, crickets and cicadas. We’ll venture into the meadows to see which bugs can be found and learn more about our talkative buggy buddies. If you’ve been to our “ology” programs before, you know there will also be some fun, bug-themed food. Feel free to bring something to share, or just come partake in our creepy crawly snacks! The fee for this program is $5 for Ijams members and $8 for non-members $8 (Children under 3 are free). Space is limited; to register call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110.

Here's the Live@5@4 report, click: Sunflowers and Cicadas

Friday, July 8, 2016

visiting royalty

Regal moths, a.k.a royal walnut moths (Citheronia regalis)
One of the great things about summer are the visitors that show up on your backporch at night, attracted by the bright lights. Two weeks ago it was a giant stag beetle.

This morning, I had a twofer. 

It would be tempting to think that these royal walnut moths are the adult version, several generations removed, of the caterpillar I found and blogged about in August 2010: junior devil. It's probably not, odds are overwhelming against such an occurrence, but it's fun to imagine that I could be so lucky to be visited twice by the same creature in two different forms, although in this case the incredible green hulk morphed into handsome physicist Dr. Bruce Banner, although I don't remember him being a redhead.  

The adult royals have the largest body (not the greatest wingspan) of any moth that's found north of Mexico. The caterpillars ARE incredible hulks—the legendary, green and over-sized hickory horned devils.

Hickory Horned Devil

Thursday, July 7, 2016

You go girl!


Congratulations, Starbuck! You slew the beast!

Rachael Eliot, you just finished Differential Equations, or “equations that involve derivatives of a function.” Don’t ask me, it’s advanced, advanced math that doesn’t use numbers but only Native American petroglyphs or Egyptian hieroglyphs, or something like that

This wraps up your sophomore year at UT. You be a junior now! You go girl!

To celebrate, we went to Forks of the River WMA to look for meadow birds: chats, blue grosbeaks, yellow-throats, indigo buntings and field sparrows. But the oceans and oceans of planted sunflowers overwhelmed our sensory inputs. We were bedazzled.

It was a day to be heady with golden achievement. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

raptor anniversary

I was just a puppy when it all began.  

Happy anniversary! Today, celebrating 18 years of working with the birds of prey at Ijams Nature Center. A major milestone and great turning point, one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Thank you my friend, Pam Petko-Seus! 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Happy Holiday

Happy Fourth of July Holiday Weekend!

Ijams Visitor Center will be open with free animal presentations and chats at the top of the hour. Bird, snake, opossum, turtle, spider, what will it be? 

Drop by for a visit and see.

Gray ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides) named Grandpa (the snake not the naturalist)