I’m Sharon, and I’m so glad you stopped by!
Nature For My Soul
- I am Sharon Mammoser, author of this blog and lover of all things WILD. Welcome! I hope you enjoy your visit and come back again soon. Happy Trails!
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- 1 Minute Meditation: Water Art
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #144
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- Happy Earth Day!
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- One Minute Meditation: Spring Rains Fill Stream
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #143
- Weekly Puzzler #144: Bubbling Song
- Weekly Photo Challenge Theme #2
- Quote of the Week #80
- He Cleans...Then He Dances! Watch this Amazing Bird.
- Weekly Puzzler #143: Spring Greens
- It's Spring...Have You Done This Yet?
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- Hello Again!
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- Weekly Puzzler #139:Tangerine-Sized Nuts
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- Weekly Puzzler #138: More RED Berries!
- Quote of the Week #78
- Weekly Puzzler #137: Tight Red Cluster of Berries
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- Weekly Puzzler #136: Red Berries
- Quote of the Week #77: Some Quotes about Leadership and the Power of One
- ► October (15)
- The Creatures of Halloween...10 Things You Might Not Know
- Weekly Puzzler #135: Bats and Rum?
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- Quote of the Week #76
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- 10 Things You May Not Know about Sandhill Cranes
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- ► September (11)
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- 10 Things That May Surprise you about Turkey Vultures
- Quote of the Week #73
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #128
- Weekly Puzzler #129:Another Long-Necked Bird
- 10 Amazing Things about Ospreys
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #127
- Weekly Puzzler #128: Riding the Wind!
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- ► August (12)
- Quote of the Week #72
- 10 Things You May Not Know about White Pelicans
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #125
- Weekly Puzzler #126: Another Striking White and Black Bird
- Quote of the Week #71
- 10 Things You May Not Know about Swallow-tailed Kites
- Weekly Puzzler #125: White and Black
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- Weekly Puzzler #122: Large, Flat Tail
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- What do you Know about Spiders? Test Your Spider IQ
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #119
- Weekly Puzzler #120: Damselfly Hitchhikers
- On Those Hot Summer Days, Don't Forget...
- Quote of the Week #70
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #118
- Weekly Puzzler #119: Winged Giant
- Do You See What I See?
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- Weekly Puzzler #117: Foster Parents...but Not by Choice!
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- Weekly Puzzler #113
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- Amazed By My Dog's Ability to do This
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- Weekly Puzzler Answer #110
- Weekly Puzzler #111: Nature's Needles
- 10 Things That Might Surprise you about Ring-Necked Pheasants
- A Shout Out to Moms Everywhere!
- Weekly Puzzler #110: Another Mystery "Ball"
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- Weekly Puzzler Answer #108
- Weekly Puzzler #109: Who Says Churrrr, churrr?
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- Earth Day Inspiration, Plus 5 Ways to Help our Planet
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- Weekly Puzzler #107: Shades of Purple
- 10 Things You May Not Know about Prairie Chickens
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- Quote of the Week #58
- Ten Things That May Amaze You About Frogs & Toads
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #103
- Weekly Puzzler #104: Yellow Petals and Spotted Leaves
- If You're NOT Doing This, You May Be the Cause of Hummingbird Deaths: 8 Things You Need to Know
- Quote of the Week #57
- 10 Things You Might Not Know About Salamanders
- Weekly Puzzler #103: Painted Flower Petals
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- Quote of the Week #57: Spring Fever
- Weekly Puzzler #102: A Truck Backing Up?
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- Weekly Puzzler #101: Mysterious "Ball" on the Forest Floor
- 10 Things You Might Not Know about Beech Trees
- Quote of the Week #55
- ► February (13)
- Weekly Puzzler #100
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- Quote of the Week #54
- Weekly Puzzler #99
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- 10 Things You May Not Know About Spotted Salamanders
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- 10 Things You May Not Know about Wolves
- Is Spring Coming Soon?
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- Weekly Puzzler #89
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- 10 Things You Might Not Know about Wild Turkeys
- Quote of the Week #45
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- Weekly Puzzler #87
- 10 Things You May Not Know about Dolphins
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- Weekly Puzzler Answer #85
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- What do Yeast, Mold and Mushrooms have in Common?
- ► October (17)
- Weekly Puzzler #85
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #84
- What do Bananas, Tequila, Figs and Chocolate have in Common?
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #83
- Weekly Puzzler #84
- Quote of the Week #42
- 10 Things You May Not Know about Loons
- Weekly Puzzler #83
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- The Bird that Can Change its Mind
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- Weekly Puzzler #82
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- Have you Noticed?
- Weekly Puzzler #81
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- ► September (16)
- Quote of the Week #39
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #79
- Weekly Puzzler #80
- Quote of the Week #38
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #78
- Weekly Puzzler #79
- Monarch Day at The NC Arboretum!
- Quote of the Week #37
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #77
- Weekly Puzzler #78
- Why You Should Refuse to use This Product!
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- Weekly Puzzler #77
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #76
- 10 Things You May Not Know about Butterflies
- Quote of the Week #35
- ► August (17)
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #75
- Weekly Puzzler #76
- Nature For Your Soul
- Quote of the Week #34
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #74
- Weekly Puzzler #75
- Quote of the Week #33
- Sure to Make You Smile!
- Weekly Puzzler #74
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #73
- Quote of the Week #32
- Weekly Puzzler #73
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #72
- Hummingbirds Get Crazy!
- Quote of the Week #31
- Weekly Puzzler #72
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- ► July (18)
- Soul Food
- Quote of the Week #30
- Weekly Puzzler #71
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- Weekly Puzzler Answer #69
- Weekly Puzzler #70
- 10 Things That May Surprise You about Goldfinches
- Quote of the Week #28
- 10 Facts About Great Blue Herons
- Weekly Puzzler #69
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #68
- Hidden Drama on an Ordinary Morning
- New Meaning for the word Redneck
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- Weekly Puzzler Answer #67
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- A Thought to Start the New Month
- ► June (18)
- Quote of the Week #26
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #66
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- Quote of the Week #25
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #65
- Weekly Puzzler #66
- 10 Things That Might Surprise you About Ladybugs
- Top 10 Ways to Determine if Someone is a Thru-hiker
- Quote of the Week #24
- Weekly Puzzler #65
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #64
- 10 Things You Didn't Know about Fireflies
- Can There be a Soundless Music?
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- Weekly Puzzler #64
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #63
- 4 Things We Can Learn from Carolina Wrens
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- ► May (20)
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #62
- Weekly Puzzler #63
- 10 Things You May Not Know about Rattlesnakes
- Quote of the Week #21
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #61
- Weekly Puzzler #62
- Sure to Make you Smile...
- Quote of the Week #20
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #60
- Weekly Puzzler #61
- Safe Sex? Not for this Insect.
- Quote of the Week #19
- Happy Mother's Day!
- Weekly Puzzler #60
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #59
- Training a Cat to Walk on a Leash?
- 3 MORE Things You Would Stop Doing if you Knew the Consequences
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- Weekly Puzzler #59
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #58
- ► April (22)
- What is the Relationship Between Sapsuckers and Hummingbirds?
- Quote of the Week #17
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #57
- Weekly Puzzler #58
- Awakened at 3AM By Guess Who?
- Moth Quiz Answers
- Moth Quiz--Is What You Know Fact or Fiction?
- See What Had My Heart RACING Recently
- Ten Things You May Not Know About Honey Bees
- Quote of the Week #16
- Weekly Puzzler #57
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #56
- Quote of the Week #15
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #55
- Weekly Puzzler #56
- 3 Things You WOULD STOP DOING if You Knew the Sometimes DEADLY Consequences
- Guess Who I Saw at the Pond Last Night
- Quote of the Week #14
- Weekly Puzzler #55
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #54
- What's Special About NA's Largest Woodpecker?
- If You Love Hummingbirds, Do This Soon!
- ► March (19)
- Quote of the Week #13
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #53
- Weekly Puzzler # 54
- More About Earthworms--Are They Good or Bad?
- Quote of the Week #12
- Welcome Spring! A One Minute Movie
- Weekly Puzzler #53
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #52
- 5 Sayings You've Probably Heard... but Did You Know They're False?
- 10 Earthworm Facts that may Surprise You
- Quote of the Week #11
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #51
- Weekly Puzzler #52
- 7 Positive Things about Rainy Days
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- Weekly Puzzler Answer #50
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- Ten Things You Didn't Know about Red-shouldered Hawks
- ► February (17)
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #49
- Weekly Puzzler #50
- Quote of the Week #8
- 10 Facts About the N.A. Owl with the Most Varied Diet
- Weekly Puzzler #49
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #48
- The Bird with the Tiny Body but Large Brain
- Quote of the Week #7
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #47
- Weekly Puzzler #48
- If You Love BIRDS, Here is Something You Can Do This Valentine's Weekend
- 10 Things You Didn't know about Opossums
- Quote of the Week #6
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #46
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- Quote of the Week #5
- 10 Things You May Not Know about Today's Famous Animal (The Groundhog)
- ► January (18)
- Weekly Puzzler Answer # 45
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- Quote of the Week #4
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- How to Get Free Therapy
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- Weekly Puzzler Answer # 43
- Weekly Puzzler #44
- What to do for a Stunned Bird that has crashed into a Window
- The Mammal with the White Chin
- Quote of the Week #2
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #42
- Weekly Puzzler #43
- How a Plant Can Help you Decide What to Wear
- Quote of the Week #1
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #41
- Weekly Puzzler #42
- ► 2014 (203)
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- The Playful River Otter
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #40
- Weekly Puzzler #41
- What is luck?
- A Gift for Mother Nature: 7 Small Changes that make a BIG Difference
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #39
- Weekly Puzzler #40
- 5 Things to Remember This Holiday
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #38
- Weekly Puzzler #39
- How to Attract More Birds to Your Yard
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- Weekly Puzzler Answer #37
- Weekly Puzzler #38
- ► November (17)
- Weekly Puzzler #37
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #36
- What's the FASTEST Growing Tissue of Any Mammal?
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #35
- Weekly Puzzler #36
- Wow! National Geographic Outside of my Window!
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #34
- Weekly Puzzler #35
- Friday Gift
- Glorious Day on the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Nature's Master Engineer: 10 Things You Might Not Know about Beavers
- Weekly Puzzler #34
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #33
- Not Your Average Evening....
- The Halloween Gift
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #32
- Weekly Puzzler #33
- ► October (17)
- Answers to the Halloween Quiz
- Creatures of Halloween QUIZ
- An Amazing Discovery
- A Lesson From a Deer...
- What NA Bird Makes the Biggest Nest?
- Weekly Puzzler #32
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #31
- Do This Today!
- Kayaking on the French Broad
- What Makes This Insect Amazing and Why it's inTrouble
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- What This Tree Can Teach
- Weekly Puzzler #29
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- ► September (14)
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #27
- Weekly Puzzler #28
- Schedule this regularly
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #26
- Weekly Puzzler # 27
- What is Rejuvenating, Cheap and Awe-Inspiring?
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #25
- Weekly Puzzler #26
- Find this Each Day...
- 10 Things You May Not Know about Copperheads?
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #24
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- Have the Courage to do this...
- A Wading Bird with a 6 Foot Wingspan
- ► August (20)
- Weekly Puzzler #24
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #23
- Wisdom for your Wednesday: August 27th
- Ten Cool Things about Snakes
- Weekly Puzzler #23
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- The Big-Eyed Curious Spider with the Bizarre Dance
- What's Hiding in the Grass?
- What Inspires You to Skip?
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #21
- Weekly Puzzler #22
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #20
- Why the Monarch Butterfly is in Trouble
- How You Can Help the Monarch Butterfly
- Weekly Puzzler # 21
- Miniature Worlds Tempt Me...
- A Collection Everyone Should Have
- What Bird has a Barbed Tongue and Loves Ants?
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- Weekly Puzzler Answer #19
- ► July (12)
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- What Animal on Earth has the Fastest Metabolism? 10 Things You Might Not Know about Hummingbirds
- Ways to Attract Hummingbirds
- Weekly Puzzler #15
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #14
- What is it about Summer?
- Can you Spread the Poison Ivy Rash?
- Do Dragonflies Sting or Bite?
- Weekly Puzzler #14
- Weekly Puzzler Answer # 13
- If you love animals, Please don't do this!
- Unpleasant jobs
- How to Be Rich
- What do Black Bears NOT do all winter?
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #12
- Weekly Puzzler #13
- The Future
- What Salamander Turns Bright Orange as a Teenager?
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- Weekly Puzzler Answer # 11
- Being Different
- Eastern Bluebird
- ► May (24)
- Weekly Puzzler #11
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- Alone Time
- What to do if you encounter a turtle crossing the road
- Spiders in Focus
- What Amazing Ability do Female Box Turtles Have? 10 Things You May Not Know
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #9
- Weekly Puzzler #10
- Which Female Butterfly has Two Forms?
- Spy Camera Captures Hatching Eggs!
- Weekly Puzzler #9
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #8
- Look What I Found along the Blue Ridge Parkway!
- Afraid of Snakes? Read this...
- Which Snake Resembles a King Cobra?
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #7
- Is a Daddy Long Legs a Spider?
- Weekly Puzzler #8
- Magic Comes to a Backyard Near You
- What is a Fairy Shrimp?
- Weekly Puzzler #7
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #6
- Ah ha! So that's Why My Female Bluebird is not Incubating...
- Will Mama Bird Abandon the Nest if you Touch it?
- ► April (23)
- Finding Beauty in my own Backyard
- Does Touching a Toad Give you Warts?
- Why are Ants on Peony Buds?
- Spy Camera Shows All!
- Weekly Puzzler #6
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #5
- Do Male Praying Mantises get Eaten after Mating?
- Why I Love Rainy Days
- Weekly Puzzler #5
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- Extra Clean Raccoons?
- Outside on April 14th
- Do Raccoons Really Wash Their Food?
- Woo Hoo, Guess Who's Back!
- Stop doing this
- Weekly Puzzler #4
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #3
- Weekly Puzzler #3
- Weekly Puzzler #2 Answer
- Outside on April 3rd
- 10 Things you may not know about Dandelions
- ► March (20)
- Can You Find the Frog?
- Joyful Herald of Spring
- 10 Things You Didn't Know about Spring Peepers
- Weekly Puzzler Answer #1
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- What is Beauty?
- What I Learned about Barred Owls
- Weekly Puzzler #1: What are these?
- Get your feeders ready!
- Guess What I Found At the Pond Today...
- Who Cooks For You?
- Photos from Corkscrew Sanctuary
- Corkscrew Sanctuary
- We all have them...
- Dad was right...
- Note to self:
- Just like Janet Jackson...
- Life Partner
- ► February (17)
- The Lovely Luna Moth
- Spider Myths Debunked! 10 Things You May Not Know about Spiders
- How I know that Spring is Here!
- What DOES the Fox Say?
- What's that Quacking Sound?
- Are you Stuck in a Rut?
- Words of Wisdom for Future AT Thru-Hikers
- Introducing the RED FOX
- Are Bats Blind?: 10 Things That Might Surprise You
- Introducing the BOBCAT
- 5 Ways to Help Bats
- Two Ways to Attract Moths to Your Yard
- Comparing the JMT to the AT
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Tag Cloudadaptations advice amphibians animals animal sounds answer aquatic animals awe bats beauty birds butterflies creature feature frogs hibernation hummingbirds insects inspiration invertebrates lepidoptera mammals migration mystery myths nature night nocturnal plants pond predators puzzler quote quotes reptiles spiders spring spring ephemerals ten things trees weekly puzzler wildflowers winter wisdom wisdom for your wednesday wonder
Monthly Archives: June 2013
Today when I was exploring Asheville, I found one of our most spectacular moths resting on the ground, in the corner, against the cement near a pedestrian overpass over I-26.. I bent excitedly for a closer look and was THRILLED to see it was a Polyphemus moth–one of our largest and most attractive moths. It rested quietly, looking for all the world like it was dead, but I knew it was only sleeping.
The Polyphemus moth has a wingspan of 6 inches and is just one of more than 300,000 species of what’s called Lepidoptera–meaning butterflies and moths. Amazingly, more than 90% of these are MOTHS, though this fact is unknown to most people. The Polypheus has a distinctive yellow and blue eyespot on its hind wings–the reason for its name which comes from a one eyed giant in Greek mythology. I could see right away that this one was a female, as the male would have larger and more feathery antennae–in order to smell the pheromones that the female produces in order to attract a male for mating. I gently moved this sleeping female to the grass where I was sure no one would accidently step on her, took some pictures and then went on my way–happily, and filled with wonder at getting to see a creature most never even know exists.
What was the most colorful or cool moth you’ve ever seen?
Click HERE to read how you can attract moths to your yard so you can observe them closely.
In 2008 when I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, I stumbled upon a mass cicada emergence…
There is such peace in the quiet moments of night and often I didn’t want to spoil the mood with the harsh light from my head lamp. Instead, I moved away from the fire, content to be swallowed by the blackness, to stand cuddled by the nothingness that veils the forest nightly. Away from the snap and crackle of the fire I stood for a moment in the darkness, slowly becoming aware that it wasn’t quiet. But what was it I was hearing? It wasn’t wind or rain. I remained motionless, listening to the soft sounds of what sounded like tiny animals moving through the carpet of leaves. The crunching noises came from all directions, making me feel surrounded. Curious, I flicked on my headlamp, squatting to direct the beam onto the ground.
I recognized them as cicada larvae and knew they had spent the last 17 years underground feeding on the the sap in tree roots. Imagine what it would be like to live underground for 17 years!
And now under the cover of darkness, using their enlarged front legs as shovels they had dug their way out, preparing for their last and final molt that would transform them into winged adults.
I was witnessing a true miracle of nature.
In every direction that I flashed my light I saw them, saw the army of cicadas all moving towards the same goal: a safe place for their transformation. Slowly, but with persistence, the fat pasty creatures shuffled along the ground, crunching through the leaves and moving around obstacles. When they arrived at a bush, shrub, tree trunk, stick or even my leg their journey turned upward as they gripped the rough surface with their clawed feet. Up and up and up they crawled, making tiny noises as their feet moved higher. When satisfied, they stopped and became perfectly still.
I watched as one rested motionless on a fat tree trunk in front of me. After a short time I noticed a line along the top of the creature’s back where it split and the exoskeleton cracked open.
And then! A tiny beast within the hard shell broke free and began to slide out, silently emerging like something in a science fiction movie.
Seconds ticked by and I watched, mesmerized by the amazing moment happening inches away. Out and out and out came the new creature until it seemed certain it would pop clear out of the old skin and fall to its death on the forest floor. With its back and deformed-looking wings aimed at the ground and its beady eyes facing the heavens above, its inch-long body was almost exactly perpendicular to the ground and it seemed at an impossible angle to save itself., But then, when I had no faith at all, it bent its odd pale body, reached forward with its strange legs and gripped the discarded skin of its former life.
I felt like cheering when it successfully completed the maneuver, freeing itself completely from its nymphal skin, moving to position its pale body against the tree. And again, it rested, still and silent. What a bizarre looking creature! With beady red eyes, two tiny hair-like structures on its head I knew were antennae, a rectangular spot of black on its back behind each eye and pale body, thick, grub-like body and transparent wings lined with orange veins, it looked like a fictional creation from someone’s nightmare hanging there in the light of my flashlight.
Standing in the forest that night I was stunned by the activity going on around me, cicadas at every stage of their transformation process: crawling along the ground, up tree trunks, just starting to emerge as adults, in the middle of emerging, just finished emerging and even adults that were fully changed, their bodies no longer white, but black with red eyes and clear wings lined with orange veins.
And, as is the way of the world, not all those who tunneled their way from the depths of the earth after 17 years of darkness were successful in their transformations. All around me was evidence of deformities and death. They fell when climbing a tree or exiting their old skin. Their new delicate wings touched something before they could dry. They fell on their backs in the leaves and couldn’t right themselves… It was sad to realize cicadas that had lived all that time underground met with disaster before their final stage of life. But such is nature’s way and I knew many animals would feast on the insects’ remains and that nothing would go to waste.
Shed skins fell from the treetops, dislodged by the emerging adult. It sounded like rain and everywhere I shined my light I spotlighted moments in the life cycle of a cicada. Tomorrow as I continued my long walk, all those adults that had emerged successfully would fly off in search of a mate. Males would vibrate the tiny drum-like organs on the sides of their bodies to produce a high-pitched buzz, the loudest noise of any insect in the entire insect world. Each cicada’s call would blend with the hundreds of others, creating a deafening swirl of noise in the treetops. Most hikers or visitors to the forest would surely hear the cacophony of song but few would know its source or of the amazing details of their transformations.
As sure as I know my own name I know such stories of insects in the night will inspire nightmares for some. And others who might stumble upon this ordinary event– they might run wildly through the woods, shrieking and terrified of such madness. But in doing so they will miss out on a true miracle of nature. The cicadas are harmless creatures that don’t sting or bite or transmit disease.
Eventually, even amid the excitement of the evening, the weariness of hiking all day set in and after a few minutes of relaxation by the fire, I retired to my tent, leaving the emerging cicadas in darkness again. My tent was set up on several inches of leaves and pine needles, making my bed a haven of comfort, soft as a mattress.
As I closed my eyes and prepared for the sweet relief of sleep, I listened to the songs of frogs at the pond and the call of a whip-poor-will from somewhere deep in the forest. I felt grateful to be lulled to sleep by the music of wild things.
For what more could a person ask?
To learn more about cicadas, click here.
Several summers ago, I witnessed two of the most amazing natural phenomena that I have ever seen, though sadly, I must report that I have pictures from neither.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, but both events were a bit on the magical side and perhaps better left to be witnessed firsthand.
The first took place in Great Smoky Mountain National Park which is located in Tennessee and North Carolina. Seeing the display of a particular firefly there–called Synchronous fireflies– has been on my “bucket list” for a long time and when I relocated from New York to North Carolina in March of 2010, my proximity to GSMNP could not be ignored.
I am very much a spur-of-the-moment kind of girl and so headed north in my car one June afternoon, not knowing exactly what I would do about sleeping arrangements. An hour later I arrived in the park, beneath an overcast sky that threw a few raindrops on my windshield in a non-committal way. I made a bee-line for Elkmont Campground, knowing from research that this was the best base camp for seeing the fireflies. I also knew it was almost always full in the summer and reservations were definitely required. Even so, I stepped into the small room beside the road with my fingers crossed and smiled my best smile, asking if there has been any (miracle) cancellations for the evening. To my delight, the woman said that yes, there was one tent site available. Whoo hoo! Another example of things falling into place despite complete lack of thought and worry.
After setting up my tent and eating dinner, I packed my camera into a backpack and headed out towards the trailhead, aware that there was a steady stream of people heading in the same direction. I took a narrow path up through the woods to the main road and followed the crowd. The firefly display has become so popular in recent years that the park actually closes the road for two weeks at the peak of the firefly cycle which is usually around the middle of June. People who want to see the display and are not camped at Elkmont must ride one of the free shuttles from nearby parking lots.
At the end of the road, there was a crowd resembling that at a fourth of July fireworks display. People of all ages and from all walks of life were on the trail, beside the trail, ten feet off the trail. Some were comfortably resting on blankets, others lounged in lawn chairs, some had coolers and picnic baskets, radios and toys for the children. All were there to see the fireflies! Imagine! Such attention bestowed on an insect. (Perhaps there IS hope after all)
I quietly started down the trail, wanting to find my own spot of peace where I could sit with my book until dark. Wide and devoid of obstacles, the trail hugged a river decorated generously with rounded rocks and bubbling cascades. Soon I was alone, walking off trail to choose a flat rock near the edge of the river where I could sit until “the show.”
It was a long time until it was pitch dark but I can’t remember a time that I been so rewarded. The flashing of the fireflies is a bit like those Christmas lights that all flash on, then flash off, flash on… In one moment I was engulfed in utter blackness, not able to see anything, blanketed by dark. The sound of the river flowing was constant, soothing in the background. Then! All at once, the darkness was pierced in thousands of places by the tiny white lights of creatures we call fireflies. On! and then Off! On and then off!
It brought to mind music–a soundless music that gave me goosebumps and left me feeling like I was witnessing a most magical event. Perhaps the definition of music needs to be altered.
I stood rooted to the ground that night for a long time, not wanting to do anything but BE in the moment. On and then off! On and then off! Dark and then not, dark and then not. The flashes were in perfect synchronicity… on and then off! On and then off! But how could it be? It truly boggles the mind, wondering how those tiny beetles barely the side of a dime can possibly know when is the right time.
I eventually used my tripod and camera to take some time exposures, but when I looked later, there was nothing in the frames but black. Only a square of black. I am disappointed, but there is a part of me that thinks perhaps it is just as well. Perhaps the magic is meant to be experienced firsthand.
The second phenomena I witnessed from a kayak in the San Juan Islands. Again, it was night. Pitch black and not a time most people venture outside, much less outside in a kayak on water! But for me, the thought of this was as thrilling as telling me I’d just won an all-expense paid trip to the destination of my choice. Kayaking at night? Where do I sign up!
Before the kayak trip I had heard of bioluminescence in the ocean. I had listened to a description from a friend who had seen it while in Costa Rica. It sounded a bit far-fetched–that the water “lights up” when you touch it or when you drag a hand or paddle through it. I had to see for myself!
West, my kayak guide, assured me that it was real, caused by millions of microscopic zooplankton in the water that emit light when disturbed. West assured me that I would see it. So while many from our group slept soundly in nearby tents, West, Joe and I stealthily moved through the darkness, carrying the kayaks down to the beach. In silence, we got in and headed out into the bay.
And immediately, it was obvious all of the hype WAS indeed true! It was pure magic! As the paddle moved through the black water, a swath of light followed. Dipping my hand in the cool water, I spread my fingers and watched in awe as five matching paths of light sped through the water. I arched my hand up and watched as the light followed. I curved back toward the boat and again, watched the light follow.
Exclaiming in total wonder, I scooped some water and tossed it, watching as pinpricks of light danced across the surface, like fireflies in the night.
Magic. I know it exists for I have seen it with my own eyes.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in the magic will never find it. “
-Roald Dahl, from the Minpins
What magical things have you witnessed lately?
A day I have fond memories of came in Virginia, just north of Wayneboro. The Appalachian Trail crossed a section of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, with wide swaths of grass lining the road and beyond that, a corridor of taller plants and what most people would call weeds. Milkweed was the dominant plant, mixed in with the orange blooms of butterfly weed, black-eyed-susans, queen anne’s lace and other tall grasses.
It was such a joy to capture the moments with my camera, freezing the creatures when they stopped on the fragrant blossoms. There were so many different insects it was hard to choose! Cars whizzed by behind me as I inched along the corridor, taking pictures of butterflies and moths, of bees and beetles, of flies and bugs and wasps, ants and spiders. Such variety!
So many different shapes and sizes and colors of insects, each more odd than the next with their feathery antennae and their iridescent eyes, their hooked feet and hairy legs. I loved them all! Couldn’t get enough of them. I felt addicted to the task of representing each one, a spot of beauty most wouldn’t even notice.
People in their air conditioned cars slowed down to check me out, likely wondering what I was photographing. A bear? Fawn? Fox? I could feel their eyes, almost hear their thoughts wondering what I was talking pictures of. Something exciting? Their vehicles idled along behind me and I did my best to ignore them.
“What are you taking pictures of? Something exciting?” I knew they would ask.
My answer would be funny, as I would say “YES! It is something exciting! It’s a painted lady! A monarch! A tigerswallow tail! A milkweed beetle! A honeybee! A garden spider.” Most people don’t even think insects ARE animals.
But each one fascinated me and I longed to stay there all day and watch them, learn their habits, see how they interacted with the other visiting invertebrates. After a few seconds of watching me, the people would drive on down the road, probably wondering why on earth I was standing in the hot sun (it must be 95 degrees!), with a loaded backpack (that looked heavy!), photographing bugs(those bothersome pests!) Was I completely nuts?
Of course the answer to that would be yes, I am nuts. Only a nut would want to walk from Georgia all the way to Maine. But I was proud of my ambition, not embarrassed to stand beside the road in my grimy clothes and do what I love more than anything in the world: nature photography. I was in my element, prepared to enjoy the fruits of my labor and make time to smell the roses. Or in this case the milkweed.
I walked beside the road a while, enjoying the cushion of grass beneath my feet, the obvious lack of obstacles to step over and the plethora of photo opportunities right beside me at my fingertips. It was heavenly and I was powerless to step away and leave it behind to get back on the trail. Instead, for a while I inched along, snapping and snapping and snapping photograph after photograph.
I captured the proboscis of the painted lady, a long thin, hollow coil that rolled up in a swirl of black when not being used. Like a straw it is used for sucking nectar from the flower’s center. I captured the brilliant green iridescent eyes of a type of fly and the transparent wings of a lacewing. I found a crab spider among the blooms, perfectly camouflaged amid the pink flowers. I knew if I stayed long enough I might see it grab an unsuspecting insect.
I spotted the smooth striped bodies of the monarch butterfly caterpillars and the hairy bodies of bumblebees. Among the vegetation, when I looked really carefully, I could find the long narrow bodies of an insect called a walking stick and the green katydids whose songs would fill the night air on evenings in late summer. I saw spiders with bodies like marbles, hanging still and upside-down in their invisible webs, waiting for unsuspecting prey to flutter into their silken traps.
Farther on down the road I found a gentle honeybee, her back legs loaded with pollen that she collects, sticking the tiny grains to her hairy legs, making giant bundles. Despite this new weight, she will fly back to her hive and once there, with a dance, she will show the other worker bees where the food is and they will leave the hive, flying there as though with a map. Amazingly, the dance will tell the other bees the quality, quantity and direction of the flowers. The bees will travel back and forth all day between flowers and hive, leaving their pollen baskets at the hive each time–food for the growing larvae. And though it was likely above 95 degrees that day, I knew the honeybee hive would be a constant 93 degrees. Amazingly, honeybees can control the temp in their hive, bringing water drops in to cool things on hot days and flapping their wings rapidly together on cold days. Such incredible little creatures!
As if the flowers and insects weren’t enough, there were berries too! So many ripe blackberries, perfect for picking. It was always a pleasure to pick them right off the plant, set them on my tongue and slowly enjoy their sweetness. Yum, nature’s perfect food, free of pesticides and chemicals, left to grow wild without pruning or weeding. And yet! Perfectly tasty, a delicious treat on a hot summer day.
I had lunch at a great overlook where I sat beneath a tree on warm rocks facing the valley. I could see the parkway below, winding like a snake through the tunnel of green, the cars silent from this distance. More than just food, my lunch on the trail was frequently an event, like a celebration of sorts, unhurried and relaxing, worth savoring. I had walked all the way from Georgia to get there, darned if I was going to be like other thru-hikers and shovel it in as I walked along so I wouldn’t “waste time.”
I sat back and stretched my legs out, relishing the air on my bare feet and the warmth of the rock, flat and decorated generously with lichen. That day I enjoyed my treat of grape kool-aid, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and combos. Then, like a soak in a hot bath on a cold day, I enjoyed a bit of dark chocolate, eating it slow and letting it melt in my mouth. The trail would wait! No one passed by and I reveled in the solitude, content with my rocky floor and ceiling of brilliant blue sky, dotted with clouds and the occasional turkey vulture soaring silently on invisible currents.
One summer day years ago when I was living in eastern New York state at a house on the edge of an immense wetland called The Great Swamp. This was a place that I was intimately familiar with, having spent many, many days in all seasons exploring. In my adventures I had seen mink, beaver, muskrat, deer, turkeys, fox, coyote, raccoon, opossum, skunk, more birds than I could count and lots of amphibians, insects and other invertebrates. I had never seen a bobcat, though I had followed bobcat tracks, especially in winter.
I had spent the day watching and photographing a family of woodchucks in the field in front of the house. The mama woodchuck–who could be distinguished from the male by her tail with half of its fur missing so that it resembled a broom, was keeping a close eye on her family of 5, who had one of their den entrances under the front deck.
At some point something made all of the young woodchucks rush to the safely of the den while the mother hurried down the slight dip of the yard to the gravel driveway. When I looked there to discover where she’d gone I was surprised to see what at first looked like an ordinary house cat, sitting on the driveway. But within a second, I recognized the animal as a BOBCAT and my heart began to pound in my chest. I was so excited I could hardly function, but managed to get my camera turned and aimed on the woodchuck and the bobcat, who were now only feet apart and facing each other suspiciously. The woodchuck had puffed herself up to seem bigger and she was hissing at the bobcat, who at this point appeared curious and even baffled by the noisy woodchuck.
They continued the stare-down for several more tense minutes. The bobcat sat down now and then, eyeing the woodchuck with mild interest. I was certain the bobcat would grab the woodchuck and make her lunch, but thankfully, this did not happen. Instead, the two circled each other, the bobcat even going so far as to bat the woodchuck with its front paw. This only made the woodchuck hiss more. Finally, the woodchuck backed away and disappeared into the tall weeds beside the driveway, leaving the bobcat alone.
More pictures for me as I shot the bobcat stretching, sitting down and then ambling across the driveway as if he had no where to be and no idea what to do. Several minutes went by until he too disappeared in the grass and I was left alone, my heartbeat just returning to normal.
What an amazing encounter! I was stunned at my good fortune of being in the right place at the exact right time. It will be remembered as one of the most amazing wildlife moments I have ever witnessed…and how great to get pictures!
Read more about Bobcats on my Weekly Creature Feature.