Monthly Archives: August 2014

Weekly Puzzler #24

Can you identify this snake? What is the reason for the yellow tail? Click HERE to learn the answer.




Weekly Puzzler Answer #23

puzzle-3736Last week’s puzzler was two different kinds of LICHENS.

In North America alone there are 3,600 different kinds of lichens; worldwide there are more than 20,000 species of lichen!

So what is a lichen? A lichen is a symbiotic partnership of two organisms– a fungus and an alga or a cyanobacteria. The fungus holds water and provides the shape and  structure, while the alga makes food from the sunlight. Together they form a lichen and can be found all over the world, from tropical rain forests, to the wilderness of the Arctic to dry deserts. Unlike plants, lichens have no roots, stems or leaves.

Lichens grow super slowly–some only a fraction of a millimeter each year–and are a great indicator of clean air. Because they absorb everything in their environments, including pollution, scientists can learn a lot by studying them. Some lichens are over 4000 years old!

Lichens are used by many animals. In North America, more than 50 species of birds, including hummingbirds and golden plovers, use lichen for their nests. For other animals such as the caribou, spruce grouse, and wild turkey, lichen provides an important source of food. Many insects and spiders resemble lichen so they can hide from predators or some use the lichen to hide in or under.

People have traditionally used lichen too, for dyes, clothing, decoration and even supplementing their diet. puzzle-3731

To read more about lichen, check out this link:

Wildlife use of lichen in NA



Wisdom for your Wednesday: August 27th




Do whatever it takes to make your life a reflection of your truest, deepest self. The happiest people in the world are those that find what they love, and then make this their life’s work.

Ten Cool Things about Snakes

A common GARTER snake. (Not a garden snake as some people call it!)

A common GARTER snake. (Not a garden snake as some people call it!)

Snakes, like spiders and bats are not the cute and cuddly animals that everyone loves. Somehow our society has made these creatures out to be something scary and bad and many people grow up with this fear instilled in them. We LEARN to fear snakes–from movies, TV, our parents, other adults in our lives.

As is true with spiders, I was very afraid of snakes as a girl growing up.

I spent a lot of time alone, or with my brothers, outside and so seeing snakes was not that unusual. We had lots of wild land around our house, including a wide, shallow creek that had lots of sunny rocks where snakes could bask. When I spotted a snake sunning itself, I  detoured WAY around them, afraid as many are, that the snake would “come and get me.” I know now that this is a ridiculous idea based on nothing more than ignorance. Snakes that we have here in the United States are small compared to us and certainly don’t perceive humans as a possible prey animal. To them we are merely a giant predator that they need to escape from.

Over the years I have learned a lot of things about snakes that has led to my fascination with them replacing my fear. I am proof that people CAN change and that fears CAN be overcome!

Here are ten cool facts about snakes:

1. Snakes smell with their tongues. You know how snakes flick their tongues in and out? Have you ever looked closely at a snake’s tongue? It is forked at the end. This helps them determine the direction of the smell.

A water snake basking

A water snake basking

2. Snakes don’t have eyelids. Instead they have clear, protective membranes that are a bit like contact lenses. These membranes protect the eye, refract light and are replaced when the snake sheds its skin. In this way, scratches that have gotten on the eyes will disappear, giving the snake essentially brand-new eyes each time it sheds!

3. Snakes swallow their prey whole and can eat things that are much larger than their heads. They are able to do this because of flexible jaws.

4. Snakes don’t have external ears. Have you ever seen a snake charmer work with a snake? The snake is responding to movement, not sound. Snakes can feel vibrations but don’t hear the way we do.

A ring-neck snake

A ring-neck snake

5. There are 3000 different kinds of snakes and they live on all continents except Antarctica. Like lizards, turtles and crocodiles, snakes are reptiles. Reptiles have dry, scaly skin, backbones and are cold-blooded.

A hognose snake just before shedding its skin

A hognose snake just before shedding its skin

6. Snakes grow by shedding their old skin and replacing it with new skin. They will do this a number of  times each year, depending on the species. When they are about to shed their skin, their eyes get cloudy and they retreat to a safe place until after the shed is complete. When they are about to shed their skin they are at a disadvantage against a predator.

7. All snakes are carnivores. Most snakes have teeth and some have fangs and venom to kill their prey. Others kill their prey by wrapping around it and squeezing until it dies (called constrictors.) Snakes have rear-facing teeth in their mouths that prevent prey from escaping.

8. Most snakes lay eggs (oviparous) but some give birth to live snakes (ovoviviparous) that develop as eggs internally and then hatch just before the female gives birth. Snakes that are ovoviviparous include copperheads, rattlesnakes, garter snakes, boas, and water snakes.

9. The longest snake in the world is the reticulated python. It can grow 30 feet long!

10. The heaviest in the world is the green anaconda which can weigh up to 550 pounds!

Did you know there’s a snake that plays dead to escape predators? Read about that HERE.



Weekly Puzzler #23

Have you ever seen this when you were taking a walk in the woods? Do you know what it is? To find out the answer, CLICK HERE.


Weekly Puzzler Answer # 22

puzzler-In a photography adventure recently I was able to get a full-frame shot of a gorgeous dragonfly. Later, sitting at the computer, I couldn’t help but notice–and appreciate– the intricate pattern on the wings, seen here. What perfection there is in these tiny details!

Have you ever watched a dragonfly zoom through the air? They are able to move each of their four wings independently so that their flight is absolutely accurate.

They can hover, fly forwards, backwards, sideways, even upside-down.

In flight they can make small adjustments to each of their wings, allowing them to fly with the precision of a helicopter!dfly-

This level of accuracy makes them one of the most efficient predators out there, allowing them to be successful 95% of the time! Neither sharks nor lions can come even close to being that deadly. (Sharks are accurate about 50% of the time and lions about 25%) Dragonflies feed on insects, catching them in mid-air. Amazingly, scientists studying them discovered that they don’t track the prey in the way we might expect. Instead, they calculate the velocity of the prey and then make predictions as to where it will be so they can put themselves there.

Then when they grab some unsuspecting insect, they might feast on it in mid-air, or may land to devour it from a perch. Either way, they use their spiny legs like a cage, trapping their prey while their hinged jaws extend to chow down. It is easy to see why scientists gave dragonflies the latin name Odonata– or “toothed ones,” as their serrated jaws prove deadly to most everything they come in contact with.eye-0387


In addition to having wings that they can operate independently, another factor that influences their accuracy is their eyes. You probably have seen dragonflies and noticed their giant compound eyes.

Did you know their eyes have 30,000 individual facets? (a facet or ommatidia, as they are called, are the individual optical units that make up the compound eye of insects)

In comparison, a fly, who also seems to have big eyes, has only 6,000. dfly-040With this many facets their vision borders on extra-terrestrial! They can see in all directions at the same time and have no “blind spot” like most other insects. This makes them not only amazing predators, but amazing at avoiding getting eaten by birds or other animals who might want to make them dinner.

Who knew such a lovely creature has so many amazing adaptations that make them so deadly? And there’s more! To read more, check out my weekly creature feature about dragonflies, HERE. Or, even better, check out THIS POST with ten surprisingly brutal facts about dragonflies. You might never look at them the same way again.




The Big-Eyed Curious Spider with the Bizarre Dance

spiderjump--2When I sit down and disappear into the grass, getting eye-level with a variety of creatures who live there, I get excited when I spot a jumping spider, my favorite of all the spiders. Recognizable by the two large middle front eyes, these spiders appear almost child-like in what I can only describe as curiosity. spiderjump-0202

When I see one it almost always sees me too (because wow, they have good vision) and will quickly dash behind a leaf or plant stem, oblivious that their legs might be hanging out on the sides and that they haven’t actually disappeared. I take this as my cue to quickly get my camera and tripod situated, knowing from experience that the chances are high he will wait a few minutes, and then, very slowly, turn and peek around the obstacle, to see if I am still there. Usually what I will see as he is looking back my way are his four front eyes, hairy pedipalps and often iridescent fangs. Like a child hiding behind the couch, this action makes me smile. Sometimes I may move my hand close to him, hoping he will leap onto it so I can bring him closer for a better look. Surely realizing I am WAY too big to eat, the spider scurries around, keeping me in view with his big eyes. I don’t worry that he will bite me–this is rare for spiders to do despite popular belief to the contrary. After I have watched him long enough and gotten my share of pictures, I will set him back where I got him and go on my merry way. spiderjump--5

Here are some interesting things you may not know about jumping spiders:

  1. Like all spiders, jumping spiders have two body parts–one called a cephalothorax, where 4 pairs of legs are attached, and the other an abdomen. They also have a pair of what looks like mini legs–called pedipalps. These grab prey, maneuver it into the mouth and in males, become sexual organs when mating. Like other spiders, they produce silk and have 8 eyes, four in front and two tiny eyes on each side of their cephalothorax.
  2. Many spiders are hard to identify without a microscope, but all jumping spiders have two big eyes set between two smaller eyes in the front of their bodies. These eyes are often iridescent, especially colorful when the sunlight hits them just right. spiderjump-0229
  3. The latin name of jumping spiders is Salticidae, from the latin word, Salto, which means to dance. This is a great name for them as they partake in a funny and sometimes bizarre dance before mating. The males, who are generally more brightly colored than the females, will wave their legs, move their pedipalps and sometimes shift from side to side. A watching female, if interested, may dance back, seemingly to communicate that she likes his moves and wants to see more! There’s a FABULOUS video of an amazingly colorful jumping spider that lives in Australia doing this–Click HERE to see. It is the most colorful spider I have ever seen!
  4. Jumping spiders are small in comparison to some other kinds of spiders, just 3-17mm in length.
  5. Despite their small size, they are capable of bringing down much larger prey. They do not build a web to catch their prey, instead they are the tigers of the invertebrate world. Active during the day, they stalk and then pounce on creatures like butterflies, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and other insects, quickly injecting them with a fast-acting venom. Of course, just in case, they secure a safety line of silk before jumping so they can easily return to safely should the need arise. Sometimes called a dragline, this is typical of spiders.
  6. Jumping spiders are the largest family of spiders, with more than 5,000 species. Scientists have named 50,000 different kinds of spiders, though they believe this is only about 1/10th of all those that exist. 
  7. Like other spiders and insects, jumping spiders grow by molting, or shedding their skin. Most jumping spiders will molt 5 or 6 times before becoming adults.
  8. Some jumping spiders are capable of jumping 50 times their height! This is amazing considering that they do not have extra long legs like a frog or cricket. Scientists have learned that they accomplish these big leaps by creating a sudden change in blood (called hemolymph in insects and spiders) pressure. When they want to jump, they contract muscles in the upper and lower plates of their cephalothorax, thus decreasing volume of blood in that region and instantly pumping a surge of blood to their legs. This cause them to spring forward suddenly. 
  9. Jumping spiders see in color and have acute eyesight. With their 8 eyes in the front and on the side of their cephalothorax, they can see well in most directions. It is hard to sneak up on a jumping spider!
  10. Jumping spiders do not build webs but do produce silk. They use this to protect their eggs, as draglines and to create silken chambers in which they will sometimes hide during the night.

If you are interested in learning more about spiders, check out my Spider Myths Debunked page or CLICK HERE to look at some spiders that I captured with the lens of my camera.