urbpan: (dandelion)
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This summer has been unusually dry--we've had something like 2 inches of rain the entire summer (we average over 3 inches per month). As a mushroom guy, I've found it quite depressing. One day I woke up and the yard was a bit damp. I quickly moved from place to place to try to find live revived by the moisture. This may be Mycena corticola.

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The north facing side of the shingle roof of our shed is thickly decorated with British soldier lichen.

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A nearly hexagonal raft of infinitesimal bubbles on our bird bath.

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Ants in general don't seem to be suffering in the drought, at least it seems many species are doing fine.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I'm sure I've written about his before, but my first encounter with a hummingbird moth was magical and disorienting. I was a child very much into insects, mostly the crawling kind easy to find under logs and rocks. The scaly-winged order--the moths and butterflies, were sometimes pretty, usually drab, and took to flight before a young naturalist could closely examine them. Then this being appeared--a chimera that flies like a hummingbird, has the face of a moth, and bears the ruddered tail of a swimming crustacean. (The individual pictured here has a worn and damaged tail).

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This is the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe)--the wings are clear and without scales like a wasp or a fly. Colorful scales might slow down the buzzing wings, or detract from the wasp-like illusion that gives some predators pause.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I stood with another naturalist (actually a bona fide scientist who I admire and feel honored to hang out with sometimes) waiting for a third to arrive, when we noticed this wasp. Neither of us felt threatened, as she was extremely busy digging about in the sand. The sand was left over from the winter road treatment, and so was shallow and not very hard packed--not great for the wasp's purposes. She dug in one area and then another, occasionally picking up a pebble larger than her head with her mandibles and placing it away from her work zone. She was trying to find a place to dig a burrow in which to lay her eggs. Once she found one (she'll have better luck over at the baseball infields across the street) she'd then go find caterpillars and sawfly larvae (which humans often mistake for caterpillars, so I guess, close enough?) sting them to paralyze them, and stuff them down the hole with her eggs.

This genus of moth is Ammophila which means "sand-lover," and the silvery dashes on the thorax indicate that this is probably A. procera.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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The plant is a black cherry Prunus serotina, a weedy little tree found throughout the New World. The leaf bears the mushroom-like galls of a tiny arachnid, the mite Eriophyes cerasicrumena. The animals are living inside the protuberance.

The white discoloration patterns on the leaf are feeding marks left by leafhoppers--small (but enormous compared to the mites) insects that puncture the leaf and feed on the fluid within.

Thanks always to Charley Eiseman, who expertly divines animals from the marks they make on plants. He rears galls to identify the adult insects--I think he has discovered new or locally unknown species doing this.
urbpan: (dandelion)

The last two in the project were flies pretending to be wasps. Hard for this one to pretend to be anything but what it is--the largest wasp in the northeast, or at least the longest. That thread protruding from her abdomen is her ovipositor, and it brings her length to about four inches. This is the giant ichneumon Megarhyssa macrurus. She'll stab that thing into a rotting stump right into the body of a pigeon horntail larva and deposit her egg. Her baby then feeds on the horntail baby and, as they say, the beautiful cycle of life continues.

Despite her warning coloration and her terrifying (to many people) appearance, the giant ichneumon is not at all harmful to humans.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This guy lives up to the name--it's the most frequently seen dragonfly in the yard. This is a male, with his bluish white abdomen; females are the same shape but have brown "tails" marked with light diagonal dashes. (As seen here.) All dragonflies are predators that catch other insects in flight, including biting flies. You should always be happy to have dragonflies around.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Looking like a wasp is an adaptation assumed by many different species of flies. Looking like a really huge wasp is more rare, but this Mydas fly Mydas clavatus has it down. It has a wasplike flight and measures a full inch in length, making it one of the largest true flies around. Its larvae feed on beetle grubs in the soil, and adults visit flowers for nectar. It may look scary but its one of the most beneficial insects in the yard.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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When I saw this animal I wasn't sure if I was seeing a wasp or a fly or some other kind of insect. The illusion is intentional--well, maybe not--the illusion has resulted from evolution. This fly resembles a wasp because it helps it survive. The illusion extends to the fly's front legs, which are marked with white segments, and moved in a way to suggest that they are the wasp's antennae. This is the entirely harmless stilt-legged fly Rainieria antennaepes.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Until the drought killed them, our nasturtiums were a food source for many. This bejeweled true bug (hemiptera) is unidentifiable, but was probably drinking plant juice.

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Likewise these candy-stripe leafhoppers were using their beak-like mouthparts to jab holes in the plant and sip its fluid.

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And then underneath the leaves these black aphids were also settled in to drink.

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Enter the cavalry: ladybeetle larvae specialize on soft-bodied plant-feeders like aphids.

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Off they go to eat some aphids--ultimately the plant succumbed to the combined stress of drought and bugs, but it was fun to record the events.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Without a daily blog project I've been letting photos build up a long time: these are from a walk we went on in the Stony Brook Reservation on July 8th. This is one of the only mushrooms I've seen all summer.

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Not far away, feeding on the sugars shared between tree and fungus, are a group of ghost flowers, or monotrope.

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These parasites need no chlorophyll, so dot the forest with ghostly white instead of green.

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A distant relative in the same family, striped Pipsissewa is found from Canada to Panama, but is endangered across some of its range.

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The plant is sometimes called striped wintergreen, or more confusingly, spotted wintergreen. Some government agencies have taken to calling it "striped Prince's Pine" in the misguided idea that this is somehow less confusing.
urbpan: (dandelion)
If you haven't taken a look at Why Animals Do The Thing you should.

"We're here to yell at the bad stuff, explain the confusing bits, and pull out the cutest, coolest, most unknown content - all while putting animal behavior in its own proper context. "

This blog (mostly written by a friend of mine, full disclosure) is an exhaustively researched collection of articles, debunkings, and answered questions. I started showing it to everyone I know when it featured the best description and explanation of the Harambe debacle at Cincinnati Zoo.

There's a lot of debunking of Animal Rights Activism, explanations of pet animal behavior, and answers to questions like "why do lactating elephants appear to have human breasts?"
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Our June Urban Nature Walk was at Savin Hill Beach in Dorchester. This sun-bleached European green crab shell on dry seagrass is a good symbol of how hot and dry it's been.

more than 4 pics means use a cut )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) is a surprising sight for most people who don't expect to see a cactus in New England. This plant seemed abundant on this Cape Cod visit, but is state listed as Endangered.

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Considering the long dry period we've been experiencing this summer, the last thing I expected to see was mushrooms. Instead I was greeted with these fresh but very sturdy polypores--in fact a species I had never seen before, Cryptoporus volvatus, produced by a fungus that feeds on dead conifer wood.

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I don't have an identification for this dragonfly, but I could tell she was female, because she kept dipping the end of her abdomen into the water--a sign that she was releasing eggs.

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And on a little black cherry tree, these fingerlike projections are galls that protect minuscule Eriophyes mites.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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If you visit a Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary at certain times of year, you are likely to encounter these small exclosures.

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If you are lucky, you might encounter a small group of naturalists carefully digging out, marking, and relocating turtle eggs. They mark the eggs to make sure they are relocated in precisely the same orientation they were in previously.

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If you are remarkably fortunate, you will encounter a diamondback terrapin in the act of laying her eggs in a hole she dug in the sand. This species is listed as Threatened in Massachusetts, in part because of their very particular habitat needs. They are neither pond nor sea turtles, rather they require the brackish water of our relatively scarce salt marshes.

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A hundred years ago this species was nearly wiped out due to being collected as a food animal. Every nest counts toward bringing it back to a stable population.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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As we walked the high tide line in Wellfleet, we couldn't help notice the large number of dead horseshoe crabs. At first I assumed some had to be molted shells of growing animals. But no, every crab I encountered was a full carcass.
more deads )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Who's that in the hole in the mud of the salt marsh in Wellfleet Mass?

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And who's that in the shallow pool at low tide?

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Who's congregating in the muddy water by the hundred?

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Why it's the Atlantic salt marsh fiddler crab! (Scientific name: Uca pugnax) These adorable little scavengers were very abundant when my dad and I went walking by the shore on our recent visit to Cape Cod. Sexual selection by the female crabs has driven the evolution of one oversized claw on the males.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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A calliphorid fly (bottle fly) warms up on a leaf.

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The reproductive parts of a daylily beckon luridly.

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Japanese honeysuckle ready for a chance encounter with a hummingbird.

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A tiny grasshopper nymph (subadult that hasn't molted into a winged adult) just hours or days old, ready to eat soft tender vegetation.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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These little black aphids are feeding on our nasturtiums. I was aiming to get a good sharp view of them and ended up with something softer and more impressionistic.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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A common grackle caught and killed a fledgling house sparrow, brought it to our yard to dismember and feed it to its own chick.
urbpan: (dandelion)
I posted to facebook saying I need to express my rage and grief but that I didn't want to pollute my friends' social media pages.

so here I go )

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