Wingless Winter Moths

20141109KPMcFarland

November at dusk with the temperature barely breaking 40 degrees I could see my breath. Yet, all around me moths fluttered through the woods. They were one of two species in the genus Operophtera,  visually drab, but physically magical.

Whether these were the native Bruce Spanworm (O. bruceata) or the introduced Winter Moth (O. brumata), devilishly hard to identify by photograph alone, I couldn’t discern. Either way, both of these small, cold weather moths are thermo-conformers. Incredibly, they can fly with air and body temperature ranging from just 27 up to a balmy 77 degrees. Continue reading

Living the Good Life

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

Each fall day he appeared with a skinny face and left with ballooned cheeks. Over and over he filled his cheeks and ran away to empty them. Our eastern chipmunk was living the good life. There was an endless supply of sunflower seeds spilling from the bird feeders.

Impossible to count as he gathered them, I wondered how many seeds he carried on each trip. University of Vermont biologist, Bernd Heinrich, pondered the same question. He found that he could insert 60 sunflower seeds into one cheek of a road-killed specimen, about a heaping tablespoon worth. Continue reading

Salamanders Going Deep

Spotted Salamander

In the spring Spotted Salamanders crawl to vernal pools, temporary woodland ponds that fill with water but then dry out later in the summer and provide a fishless environment for larval salamanders, where they mate and lay eggs. But for 90% of the year they are somewhere in the forest. Sometimes you can find them by flipping over a large stone or rolling a rotting log, but for the most part, they are impossible to find. Continue reading

Turn Red or You Are Dead

I have often wondered why on one hillside the trees have muted autumn colors, while nearby on another they are radiant red. Recent research might be shedding some light. Continue reading

You Birdbrain

The next time you are rushing around your house looking for your car keys, you might think about the chickadees at your bird feeders. Each fall, black-capped chickadees grow new brain cells that seem to help them remember the locations of things. Continue reading

A Flower Trap

With its foot stuck in a milkweed flower like a Chinese finger trap, the European Skipper was struggling to free itself. On another flower nearby only a leg remained from a previous struggle. Survey enough milkweed flowers and eventually you’ll find a few dead insects, usually small species, left dangling from a leg or two. Continue reading

A Water Lily’s World

Water Lily Beetle (Donacia sp.)

At the height of summer many ponds are covered in lily pads with beautiful white or yellow flowers spread across the water. Moose munch on them. Beaver and muskrat devour them. Deer consider them delicious. But peer a little closer and you’ll find an amazing miniature world inhabiting each floating leaf. Continue reading