Monday, October 31, 2016

a green lynx?

If you are a naturalist, the little things can be fascinating. That's the way it was for my Spider-ology class last week at the nature center.

Green lynx spider hiding in plain sight
The most interesting spider we discovered was a mother green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) caught by Lisa and correctly IDed by Jackson. We knew she was a mom because she was covered with tiny spiderlings.

This garden spider is lanky and green to better blend into its surroundings, but as we move into fall its color becomes a paler yellow, typically with streaks of red or terracotta, so its camouflage changes with the season. Their eight legs are also masked, covered with spots and spikes. 

Lynx spiders eat a lot of garden pests, so farmers appreciate their choice of diet. They do not spin webs about rather merely sit and wait, attacking their prey like a cat, hence the name "lynx." But perhaps their most fascinating uniqueness is their ability to squirt venom up to 8 inches from their chelicerae (mouth parts below their eight eyes). Now that's a super power. 

For more photos from our class click: Spider-ology

My next Ology class is Hawk-ology, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2 p.m. to register call Ijams: 577-4717, ext. 110.

 Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

thank you Wild Birds!

Thank you to all who attended my "Secrets of Backyard Birds" talk this afternoon at Wild Birds Unlimited, 7240 Kingston Pike, Suite 164.

And thank you, Liz & Tony, Tiffiny & Warren for inviting me!

I look forward to visiting Wild Birds U because I always find something I want to try for my own backyard birds. They depend on me, as your birds do you. To get ready for the upcoming cold weather, I bought a roosting box. Inside are multiple perches for my wrens, titmice, chickadees and bluebirds to huddle together and stay warm on cold winter nights. Tiffiny calls it canoodling, click: wrens. I've already put my new bird bungalow on my front porch where the Carolina wrens like to hang out in winter. (I am assuming that we do have some cold winter nights in our future.)

And in addition to seed and suet feeders, don't forget a heated birdbath for the winter. On very cold days when the water is frozen everywhere else, your birds will use it as a gathering place and spa. Très chic.

Secrets of Backyard Birds #1: Female cardinals are intensely aggressive in defending their territory and mates. Would you mess with her? She's got panache!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

spider-ology 101

We will be looking for you!

Yesterday afternoon was my third Invertebrates class for the Ed-Ventures home school families. After a short indoor formal class on insects, spiders and myriapods we did outside biological field work with swept nets and little cups to hold our catches and we found more arachnids than any other group. 

WBIR Live@5@4 reporter Emily Stroud dropped by Ijams to check out the activity and talk about our upcoming Spider-ology 101 class open to the public scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow. To register call 577-4717, ext. 110. Fee: $5 for Ijams members, $8 for non-members. Children under three are free.

Ijams Nature Center has been connecting kids and their parents with nature since 1968.

Rumor has it that Emily actually touched a tarantula. Here is her WBIR report. Click:

Thank you to all!.

Nothing brings a bigger smile than catching a really cool bug.

Monday, October 17, 2016

familiar monarchs

Group facilitator Angelique shows Sara Cate a monarch up close

We still have monarch butterflies migrating through the Tennessee Valley.

Yesterday Jennifer and Wayne Roder with their four-year-old wee one Sara Cate went to Cades Cove to tag the orange and black lepidopterans (place numbered stickers on) with a group organized by Tiffany Beachy's citizen science program at Tremont in the Smokies.

Wayne caught one and Sara Cate (with a little help from Mom) caught two ornate moths, a common buckeye butterfly and a skipper. 

Jennifer is education director at Ijams and knows it's beneficial to get young ones tuned into nature at an early age, especially if it is in league with their parents. Bonds are formed, both familiar and universal. Jennifer is the creator of the new home school program for kids and their parents at the nature center.

Sara Cate had a memorable time, undaunted, even though her net was just a bit overwhelming. 

While they were there the group caught 15 monarchs including WJX869 three times. It happens.

For my monarch adventure, click: tagging

"I take this evanescence and lubricity of all objects, 
which lets them slip through our fingers 
when we clutch hardest, 
to be the most unhandsome part of our condition."  
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, October 14, 2016

monarch tagging

Oliver with one of 14 monarchs he caught

Last Friday found me on Sparks Lane in Cades Cove. We were there to net and tag monarch butterflies.

Clare Datillo and Aimee Davis are both volunteers for Tiffany Beachy in the Tremont citizen science program and it is monarch-tagging season. With us were several parents with children from the home school classes I lead at Ijams: Marie with sons Carpenter and Auzlo, Amy with daughter Kylie, Christina with son Malachi, Aimer with son Will, Clare with Oliver, Annabel, and Fern, plus visiting New Yorker Annie Novak, author of "The Rooftop Growing Guide," in Tennessee chasing and tagging monarchs on her own researching a book on monarchs

Monarchs have been tagged with tiny numbered stickers for decades in order to learn their migration patterns and get a sense of their overall population which has been in decline of late. 

For a creature that flutters and stutters, moving along rather capriciously, they can be remarkably difficult to catch. Their overall behavior is certainly not aimless. To catch one, I knew I needed to fall in with a master. Therefore, I followed 10-year-old Oliver who has the necessary lepidopteran expertise. I’ve worked with him at Ijams. He’s focused and, indeed, soon he spotted one.

“It’s yours,” he said.

Nodding at his selfless act, I made it so. Swish! Later it was tagged with the number WJL735, just in case you see it.

The flowering colony of white asters proved to be a sweet spot, an oasis. That plus a favorable breeze that had kicked up from the northeast made the late morning and early afternoon bountiful. After my initial catch, Oliver caught three in one net, then four in a second, then five in a third, each time trying to outdo the catch of the one before. Others from our group began to join us. Multiple monarchs were caught then taken to Clare and Aimer to tag and record.  

In all, 34 monarchs were netted, tagged and released by our group. Oliver caught 14 of them.

“This was the best trip I was ever on,” said volunteer Aimee. “Many times we come out and do not find a single one.”

“Best day of the year!” said Clare.

- Supplied photos by Clare Datillo and Amy Roberts

Sparks Lane

Clare Datillo and the difference between a monarch and a viceroy
To the hunt

Field of white asters

My first catch, tagged with number WJL735
Our group

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Thank you, Citywide

Thank you to Mike Nichols and the Citywide Service Club for inviting me to speak at their noon luncheon

I spoke about the University of Tennessee Press, publishing and the publication of my first book Natural Histories plus some of the curious tidbits of natural history it contains. 

Topics included chickadees and language, Lewis and Clark's encounter with pawpaws, hedge apples at the Battle of Franklin and possum pelts in the Lost State of Franklin. What does any of these have to do with the other?

Well, it's in my book.  

Natural Histories: Stories from the Tennessee Valley published by the University of Tennessee Press.

Coming in 2017
And watch for my new UT Press book Ephemeral by Nature coming in 2017.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

meet and greet

Photo by Chuck Cooper
It's a splendiferous day to visit Ijams. Today you can meet one of the injured animals the education department cares for at the top of every hour beginning at noon.

Today's featured animals include our albino black rat snake I call Frostbite and Stay Puff our partially blind male barred owl. The Meet and Greets are free but donations are always appreciated. The money is used for the care and feeding of the animals and an adult barred can eat $3 worth of mice a day. Yummy. The snake? About $2 a week.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

blending in

Where's Waldo?

Can you spot the bird? 

Those that survive are those that better blend into their environs. 

Ijams regular Jason Dykes writes, "I was recently looking through some of my photos and remembered a warbler I photographed that I never did identify. I was hoping you might be able to help me out or perhaps point me in the right direction. 

It was taken in October at Norris Dam State Park on the birding trail. There was someone there who had come specifically to see the bird who pointed it out to me. Unfortunately they weren't familiar with it either, just that it was an unusual warbler. Also, do you happen to know what type of plant the bird was eating from?"

The plant is easier. It's a beautyberry, probably American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).

The warbler is harder, it's in winter plumage, very confusing. But an educated guess with the help of my Peterson's field guide, would seem to indicate that it is a yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia) in drab non-breeding plumage. Another clue. Warblers primarily eat insects but yellow warblers sometimes eat berries. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

hedge apples?

My friend Tamera Partin from Mast General Store sent me this photo of her niece Nora taken near Fort Loudoun State Park in Monroe County. Nora is holding the fruit of an Osage orange tree, a.k.a. hedge apples. They actually look like green brains but do not let the moniker "apples" fool you, absolutely nothing currently living on earth will consume one of these. It is believed by some that dinosaurs may have eaten them but there is not a single Ankylosaurus, a low-to-the-ground herbivore, left alive for me to interview.  

Tamera had heard the odd looking things repel insects and wondered if this was true. 

Osage orange is a topic I know well, I wrote about the curious tree in my first UT Press book. Here's an excerpt:

"The wrinkled fruit has a distinctive citrus smell. It’s filled with a foul-tasting sticky white latex; a sap that looks like Elmer’s Glue. Cut up sections of the fruit were once used as a natural insect repellent. They contain the chemical 2,3,4,5-tetrahydroxystilbene which has been proven to drive away household pests like cockroaches, ants, spiders, fleas, and crickets. A single fruit placed under a sink or other problem area will last for up to two months and force the roaches to relocate."

Excerpt from my book Natural Histories: Stories from the Tennessee Valley published by the University of Tennessee Press.

Coming in 2017
And watch for my new UT Press book Ephemeral by Nature coming in 2017.