Monthly Archives: July 2016

Weekly Puzzler #122: Large, Flat Tail

Speaking of TAILS let’s do another one about an animal tail. Look at the photo below. Whose tail is it? And how does this animal use its tail?

122-5017Click here to learn the answer and don’t forget to use the comment box below to give your guess. All correct answers will be eligible to win the next prize.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #121

Did you know the mysterious blue object in last week’s puzzler?

121answer-4701It is the TAIL of a one of eastern North America’s most common lizards–the American five-lined skink or Plestiodon fasciatus. When this lizard is a juvenile it has a bright blue tail and is often referred to a blue-tailed skink. But as it ages the blue tail fades and the lizard looks a bit different. Adult males will eventually lose their stripes altogether and just look olive brown, while females retain their stripes throughout their lives. Five lined skinks can be 5 – 8 inches long.


Adult males lose their stripes and their blue tail


The bright blue tail fades as the lizard ages

If you’re wondering how it is I came to find and photograph the TAIL I can tell you. If you’ve been following me for any length of time you may recall MANY, many posts ago I mentioned that I have two cats that I trained to wear a harness and walk on a leash outside. This allows them to go outside–a fact that they LOVE!– but also gives me the peace of mind that my cats are not wandering freely out there, killing everything in sight. In case you didn’t know, cats are amazing predators and even well-fed and well-loved cats will kill smaller animals–insects

Hobbes LOVES going outside!

Hobbes LOVES going outside!

, salamanders, frogs, rodents, birds, and you guessed it, lizards, when they get the chance.

So I was outside with one of my cats, named Hobbes after the lovable and wise tiger in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. He was on a leash when all of a sudden he raced forward a few steps and grabbed an unsuspecting young lizard that was crawling near a stone wall. I intervened but not before Hobbes grabbed the lizard–and guess what? Its tail came off! And continued to thrash around wildly on the steps for several minutes, as if it were a live creature! It was moving wildly, like a worm suddenly set on pavement. Mother Nature is truly amazing right? I mean how perfect is that? Some bird or other predator, or in this case, my cat, saw the lizard and imagined lunch but the lizard had other ideas–offering up its tail while it scurried away to safety. What a great adaptation! The lizard lives to see another day and in time the lizard will regrow the tail and hopefully be a little wiser.


A young lizard with its bright blue tail suns itself on a wall.

Want to see some more puzzlers about animal TAILS? Here’s a puzzler that I did about another reptiles TAIL— –remember this one? Or another one–A  puzzler about the NOISE another animal’s tail makes?

Check out the next puzzler!

Weekly Puzzler #121:Skinny Blue Worm?

Check out these two photos below. What is the bright blue “thing” in the middle? The two images were taken about 30 seconds apart–notice that the object in question moved.121-4867


As always if you think you know or want to guess, use the comment box below. All correct answers will be put into the next drawing for the free give-a-way–coming up on the first day of fall. Good luck!

Click HERE to see if your guess was correct… have a FABULOUS day and a fabulous weekend! See you again soon.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #120

What are these small globs?

What are these small globs?

Did you have any idea what these tiny globs were on the damselfly’s body from last week’s puzzler?

When I first started noticing them I thought they were eggs that had somehow gotten stuck on the female’s body rather than left behind in the water. But after a little investigating, I learned that they are actually water mites–a tiny critter that rides around on the larger insect, feeding on the damselfly’s body fluid before falling off and going about its life.

Have I mentioned how many odd and awesome animals there are in the world?

There are 1500 species of Hydrachnida–water mites, in North America and over 5000 in the world. Many of these remain fairly unknown to scientists. Water mites are TINY, most only 2-3mm long! Most go unnoticed.

There are mites that live in the water, soil, in birds’  nests, in animals’ homes, on plants and animals–more than 50,000 different kinds! Many mites are specialists–that is they have one animal they parasitize– be it honey bees, dogs, cats, water boatman, damselflies or dragonflies, etc. There is a mite that lives in the tropics that is among the STRONGEST animal on earth, able to lift 1,182 times its weight! And you’ve probably heard of dust mites? Well these are just another kind of mite–these feed on the dead skin and hair shed by humans… yes, I know–gross!

…So back to the water mites.

They go through 4 stages–egg,larva,nymph and adult. In the immature stages they have only 6 legs but as adults they have 8. (Same is true for ticks, which are related to mites) Most are brightly colored to warn fish and other animals of their terrible taste. Check out the red mites on this dragonfly below.

Here are some water mites on a dragonfly--look closely under the wings.

Here are some water mites on a dragonfly–look closely under the wings.

Do the water mites harm the insect hosts? Usually not though if there are enough of them, they could make it hard for the insect to fly or may get in the way of reproduction. Mostly they just feed on the body fluids, ride around some and then drop off to become adults. Sound like fun? I can’t imagine how they know when to drop off–but if it’s over water, imagine the ride!

Check out the next puzzler.

What do you Know about Spiders? Test Your Spider IQ

spider-9275Are you one of the many people afraid of spiders? Do you cringe when you see one or run the other way? Have nightmares about them?… or, do you LIKE spiders?

In the two weeks that my nieces and nephew were here this summer, we spent a lot of time outside. I learned early on that both girls were afraid of spiders and so I did my best in my short time with them to teach them about spiders, though I have to say that even at their young ages–9 and 13, a lot of “knowledge” has already been accumulated and it was difficult to convince them that I was right and what they knew was wrong.

If their Mom or Dad said so, then surely it HAD to be true. Same of their teachers at school. 

As their Aunt–and one who lives far away– I fall low on the list of people to believe. How could what I say be different from what they have already learned! How could these trusted adults in their lives be wrong!?

People LEARN to be afraid of spiders

People LEARN to be afraid of spiders

People aren’t born afraid of things, they learn to be afraid–from other people, from TV shows, movies, videos etc. I am sure a huge part of fear comes from watching how others react. If your parents are afraid of spiders, snakes, bats and other animals, so too in most cases will be the kids. As a child I too was afraid of these things, mostly from watching how my Mom reacted to them–to say she was terrified of snakes, and likely spiders too, is not an exaggeration.

Luckily I have changed since then and no longer fear these fascinating animals. I am proof people can change! (Read more about overcoming a fear of spiders)

When asked to elaborate on what I do or what my mission is, I often say I am a Nature Photographer, Naturalist, Writer, Teacher, Lover of all things wild, and unofficial Spokeswoman for bats, spiders, snakes, and other creatures Hollywood has convinced us to fear. There are SO MANY myths out there surrounding some of our common animals. And it really is too bad because the results are needless fear and persecution.

sc2-4385And so, in thinking about this, I decided it would be fun to do a short quiz on spiders, just to see if what you know is fact or fiction. Years ago I did a post on this but I realize that many of you are new subscribers and likely did not read that post. So here it is! Click on each one to see the correct answer.

True or False:

  1. All spiders are poisonous.
  2. Spiders are hard to identify and to figure out the species, a microscope is required.
  3. Spiders don’t eat their prey, they “suck” the juices from it.
  4. Spiders are insects.
  5. All spiders make silken webs to catch their prey.
  6. Spider bites are uncommon.
  7. Tarantulas are not the deadly creatures Hollywood makes them out to be.
  8. Black widow females always kill and eat their mates.
  9. Brown recluses are common throughout the United States and are easily identifiable by the violin on their carapace.
  10. Medical professionals can easily identify spider bites by twin punctures and from the symptoms described by their patient.

How did you do?

If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to read all of the answers, but want to know how you did, Click HERE for the quick version with NO explanation of the answers.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #119


A female dobsenfly

Have you seen this insect from last week’s puzzler? Are you a fisherman?

If so, you may be more familiar with the nymphs of these giant insects than the adults. Known as hellgrammites, they, like the adults, can get to be quite big and are pretty intimidating-looking when you find them. As larvae they hide under rocks in unpolluted streams or rivers, searching out soft-bodied invertebrates that they can feed on. They go through 10-12 molts before transforming into winged adults. Depending on the species, they may live in the water for 1-3 years. They are prized bait for many fisherman… though caution is advised since they can deliver a wicked bite with their strong jaws.

Nymphs of dobsenflies are known as hellgrammites

Nymphs of dobsonflies are known as hellgrammites

Hellgrammite adults are called DOBSONFLIES. When it is time to pupate, they leave the water and find a suitable spot under a rock, log or other protective structure. There they spend 1-14 days in the soil before shedding their exoskeleton to become a pupa. They will remain in this stage for 7-14 days. Interestingly the emergence of adult dobsonflies in a given area is synchronous –and often  comes immediately after a thunderstorm. This is sometimes called “hellgrammite crawling” It is thought that the vibrations stimulate the emergence.

A hellgrammite in the stream with two dusky salamanders (these are tiny!)

A hellgrammite in the stream with two dusky salamanders (these are tiny!)

As winged adults, they are often attracted to lights at night. As adults they live only a few days, males shorter than females. Males live only 3 days while females might live as many as 10. In this short time, they do not eat, but simply seek mates. Females lay their eggs on the surfaces over water–such as tree leaves or bridges. When the eggs hatch the nymphs fall to the water and start the first stage of their lives.

Check out the photos below– the male is on the left. Look at those jaws! Yikes! They can inspire fear in even the strongest nature-lover!– but they do not use these to bite people, they use them to hold onto their mates and when jousting with rival males. In fact, you are safe to hold a male dobsonfly as they cannot bite! Females on the other hand can inflict a painful bite if handled incorrectly or if the female feels threatened. Maybe best just to leave them alone if you see them!


Photograph by Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida.

Click HERE to check out the next puzzler!

Weekly Puzzler #120: Damselfly Hitchhikers

One fact that summer means for me is I spend a lot more time outside; I suspect this is true of many people. Woo hoo, isn’t it great! What’s not to love about summer?

A favorite pastime of mine is wandering around a meadow or field, especially beside a pond or stream to see what interesting animals I might encounter. I love the anticipation of this, never knowing what the day might bring, only that if I look closely enough, I will find SOMETHING worth photographing.

Look closely at the abdomen of this damselfly...

Look closely at the abdomen of this damselfly…

A common photographic subject for me is dragonflies and their smaller cousins, damselflies. You may recall I featured them in a puzzler recently and then did a follow-up on 10 Things You May Know Know about Damselflies. Well recently when I was looking a some images at home later on my big screen, I noticed some tiny, round globs on the abdomen, and sometimes the thorax, of several of the damselflies. Were these eggs from the females? Eggs from someone else? Hitchhikers of some kind? What ARE these tiny globs?

What are these small globs?

What are these small globs?

Look closely--see the tiny red globs?

Look closely–see the tiny red globs? Three on the abdomen and at least one on the thorax (where the legs are connected)

It was a fun question to research! And now that I know the answer, I thought it would be fun to feature it as a puzzler. Do YOU know what these tiny “balls” are? If you want to guess, use the comment box below! I hope to hear from you soon. If your guess is correct your name will be entered in the next drawing; Good luck!

Happy weekend!