Hey! I know I haven’t posted for a while, I recently came back from a trip to Massachusetts & Rhode Island. The weather’s a whole lot warmer there. (It’s in the 50’s here – brrrr.) I saw a bunch of new animals, mostly birds (salt water means a lot of species I don’t normally see), such as mute swans, sanderlings, & common terns. But surprisingly, some of the most interesting species were also the smallest. Getting closer to winter, caterpillars are becoming active. In the holes in tree trunks and other little cozy & protected spots, it’s easy to find wooly bears. These fuzzy orange & black caterpillars live a long time, wintering underneath bark & in hollow logs. When spring comes they spin cocoons & transform into the yellow & black Isabella tiger moth. It used to be thought that you could predict the harshness of the coming winter by the thickness of the wooly bear’s orange stripe: the thicker the stripe, the milder the winter. There’s a lot of skepticism over this, but there’s also some good evidence. There are also monarch caterpillars – not-fuzzy yellow & black caterpillars you almost always find on a milkweed plant. Since it’s September, these caterpillars are eating up for their long flight to Mexico when they become butterflies. There are several generations of monarchs born each year – the fall generation lives the longest: 6-8 months! It’s pretty cool the things you discover when you pay attention to the smallest things in life.
A few monarch butterflies have decided it’s spring, & are flitting around busily. Their bright colors are so pretty to watch, & they are pretty much fearless, so they’ll fly right past you on their way to a flower. They don’t seem to mind the heat. Monarchs make their way to & from Mexico each year, flying in huge orange clouds (or so I’ve heard – I’ve never seen one). It’s neat to think that the little orange insects in you garden have thousands of miles across the globe!
Warm weather this week has brought out the first bugs. I’ve seen a couple of flies, & some flying ants. Winged ants usually appear when the ant colony is doing well, & the female winged ones (they’re mostly males) are the future queens. It’s kind of confusung, so here’s a link that explains it: http://www.colostate.edu/Dept/CoopExt/4dmg/Pests/flyant.htm. Ants are incredibly smart insects, & also very strong (they can lift 40 times their body weight). They have been known to use a leaf as a boat to sail across a puddle, & they even breed special “war ants” to defend their colony. I thought this website had some really neat facts about ants; check it out: http://ezinearticles.com/?Facts-About-Ants—Amazing-Things-About-Ants-You-Probably-Didnt-Know&id=1315206.
Butterflies are loving this August heat. They love all the flowers, & they flutter around between people’s gardens, looking for the blossom with the most nectar in it. Mostly I get Monarchs, which thrive off all the milkweed that grows here, but there are some smaller white ones too. & of course there are plenty of moths at night. The moths are generally super small, white moths that hop around in the grass, & larger brown moths that somehow find there way into your house whenever you turn on a light. I’ve yet to see any really large moths, but they could be around.
During late summer, young cicadas morph, & change into adults. They leave there old exoskeletons (their hard outside, that’s like their skin) behind, & now they’re all over, hanging on trees, street signs, anything that they attach onto when morphing. It’s tan & translucent, & it looks just like a hollow cicada.
Bees are buzzing around all the time, hopping from flower to flower. It’s super hot, which I think the bees like, as they tend to come out in scorching, dry weather instead of cooler & damper. All the clover & flowers make them happy. (-: There’s just about every bee species out, collecting nectar
The rhubarb plants went to seed a few weeks ago, & when they do, a big stalk shows up in the middle of the rhubarb bush, & it has a huge cluster of tiny round seeds on it. It dried up a while ago when the rhubarb stopped growing, & the stalk became brittle & hollow. A few days ago I cracked it open, & earwigs started just pouring out of the stalk. It was completely stuffed with them! A lot of people hate earwigs, because they can destroy gardens, & earwigs do eat some plants, but they are also a big predator of mites & aphids, which are probably worse for your garden than earwigs are.
Berries are everywhere! Raspberry bushes are in full bloom, Mulberry trees are leaving purple stains on the ground from fallen berries, & Current bushes are beginning to grow their little red fruits. The birds are having a great time with the new food supply, & for some reason spiders are attracted to raspberries. I often see them crawling around on the berries.
It’s been really hot around here – the sun’s out all the time now, it’s about 78° F at the hottest. The bugs are loving it, especially the bees. (I’ve had more than one of them in my house in the past few days.)
A pair of sparrows that has been building a nest in a birdhouse in my yard finally finished after over a month of flitting around collecting twigs, string, reeds, & all sorts of ‘comfortable’ things to nest on. It’s awfully messy, but the sparrows are very proud of it.
Bees constantly buzz around all over now. They dash from plant to plant, looking for a bit of nectar. They never notice me when I walk by, too busy in their search for nectar to notice anything else. Bees are responsible for much of the worlds pollination, because when they walk on flowers to get at the nectar inside, the pollen sticks to their legs & they carry it to the next flower they land on. Butterflies & a few other insects do this too.
I saw one of the 1st dragonflies of spring today. As nymphs, they live underwater, & once they become adult dragonflies, they fly away & live on land. They still spend much of their time near water though. Dragonflies eat on the go, using baskets formed on their legs to catch insects while flying. They can fly so fast this is usually not a problem for them (but it is for the other insect). They are predators from nymphhood, eating smaller insects & even tadpoles & small fish. They can be virtually any color, & different species often look nothing alike.
Mosquitoes are getting more numerous as the weather warms up. I’ve seen whole swarms of them floating around. They lay their eggs in standing water, where the mosquitoes will live until they are adults. There are 4 stages in the life cycle of mosquitoes: egg, larva, pupae, & adult. The egg, larva, & pupae stages must have standing water to complete developing. The type of standing water varies, however,with the mosquito species. Some species prefer permanent water sources, like waste lagoons, marshes, catch basins, ponds, & the shallow margins of reservoirs & lakes. Other species prefer to lay their eggs in water collected in tires, tree holes, cans, or other man-made containers. Others develop in temporary rainwater pools. Some mosquitoes, instead of laying their eggs in standing water sources that are already there, choose to lay their eggs in places where water is likely to accumulate. (How they can figure out where water is likely to accumulate beats me, as their brain is smaller than this star *.) Their eggs can hatch within 2 – 3 days of being layed, or lay dormant for months, & hatch minutes after being rained upon. A female mosquito lays a batch of 50 – 400 eggs every time she feeds. It seems like with this many mosquitoes hatching, they would just overrun Earth, but mosquitoes may live only a few days, & about 1/3 of the population die daily.