Tiny Wonders

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.

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Butterflies

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!

Bugs are Back

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.

Bugs Gone Away

All the insects have mostly disappeared for the winter. It hasn’t gotten too cold yet, but they seem to know winter is coming, & have packed up & gone elsewhere. (Or died.)  For the most part, that is. Every now & then the bugs (mostly ants) will find their way indoors & show up in large colonies. But the bees, flies, & mosquitoes have all left.

'paper wasp nest I saw last month'

Spring News

'the sparrows nest'

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

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.

Dragonflies

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.