Category Archives: Animals

Weekly Puzzler Answer #152

Hello and happy Saturday! Did you know last week’s insect?

It is a Click Beetle. Click beetles get their name from the slight clicking noise they make when righting themselves.

Check out this video of another kind of click beetle in Kansas, “righting itself.”

Did you know that BEETLES are the largest group of animals in the world? Or that their are MORE species of beetles on Earth than their are species of plants?? Scientists estimate that there are more than 400,000 named species of beetles (with millions more yet to be discovered!)

Beetles are different than other insects in that their first pair of wings is hardened and thickened to protect their fragile second pair of flying wings, which is folded beneath the hard covering. Their latin name, Coleoptera, means, “folded wing.”

Check out some of these beetles–when the light hits some of them just right, they look as beautiful as jewels!

Stag beetlePotato beetleJune bugFireflyFlower beetleWater beetlesGoldenrod soldier beetleSexton beetleOrnate checkered beetleMilkweed beetles matingDung beetleUnidentified beetleTiger-spotted flower lepturineJapanese beetleHercules beetleLadybird beetlesTiger beetleEyed click beetleBeetle on milkweedFireflyCommon eastern fireflyBlister beetleBeetle on milkweedLadybird beetleBeetleLadybird beetle

Here’s the next puzzler…have a great weekend! And Happy Father’s day to all of our Dad’s out there!

Weekly Puzzler Answer #151

If you’re easily grossed out by insects with gruesome life cycles, this post might not be for you. The insect pictured in last week’s puzzler was a kind of Ichneumon Wasp, a parasitoid insect. In the world there are more than 24,000 species of ichneumon wasps(some sources cite more than 60,000); In North America, there are 5,000 species.

That VERY long “tail” at the end of the insect’s body is actually an ovipositor, or egg laying instrument. Females have dramatically long ovipositotm2-rs that are often much longer than the insect’s entire body.

The most amazing thing about this wasp in my opinion is its remarkable ability to locate a good spot to lay her eggs. To have success she must lay an egg INSIDE the body of another insect–be that the larva of a beetle, caterpillar, bug or other invertebrate.  She first lands on the outside of a tree, dead or alive, and uses her long antennae to feel the tree and listen to what’s under all of that thick bark. Amazingly she listens for vibrations to detect where a fat grub of a beetle is feeding deep beneath the bark. She then turns around and maneuvers her body into a position that allows her to drill into the bark and lay her eggs INSIDE the body of the grub. When the larvae hatch out, they feed on the grub, eating it alive from the inside out!

Yikes. I told you it was gruesome! Some kinds of ichneumon wasps select specific prey and some are more generalists. It can take a female over a half an hour to drill more than 4 inches into the solid wood of trees!

The wasp larvae will continue to feed on the grub or other insect larva until it is time to transform into an adult, at which time the host insect is dead or close to dying.

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A different species of ichneumon wasp laying eggs

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A giant ichneumon wasp laying eggs

Check out a video of this amazing wasp, laying eggs deep inside the bark of a giant tree, into the larva of a wood wasp:

Here is the next puzzler–another insect, but thankfully, without such a gruesome lifeclycle. See if you recognize it.

…and have a fabulous weekend! See you again soon.

Weekly Puzzler #152: What BIG Eyes You Have!

Check out this striking insect. Have you seen it? Know what it is?

I was sitting in my sunroom recently when this insect landed on the hot tub steps. I ran out and shot a few photos before he flew off. It is only the third time I’ve ever seen one, though I suspect they are not uncommon–it’s just that there are a lot of insects and a lot of land for them to live in.

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Use the comment box below to give your guess. There are only two chances left before my next drawing–on the first day of summer. All correct answers will be entered! Good luck.

And enjoy your weekend!

Quote of the Week #82

If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you will likely recall my talking about seeing a special kind of firefly that lives in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park–the synchronous firefly. I have written several posts about my experience witnessing the hundreds of these fireflies that light up night for two weeks every year in early June–Magic for your Soul, Soundless Music and 10 things you didn’t know about fireflies.

q-4278Recently I backpacked 4.4 miles to a remote campsite in the backcountry of the park with my husband and two new friends. We arrived at our site in late afternoon, set up our tents and sat back to relax until dark. We drank lemonade rum, snacked on cheese and crackers before our dinners and played a dice game called Farkle. All was well in our world.

Later, as darkness approached, anticipation was high. Our new friends had never seen the fireflies and I badly wanted them to experience the awe I felt the first time I’d seen them, many years ago after I moved to Asheville. With a nearly-full moon already high in the sky, darkness came slowly. At 9:00, I left everyone sitting by the empty fire circle, walking back down the narrow path, looking hopefully for signs of the fireflies. I saw only a few lights. Next I explored the area behind our tents, towards the wide, rock-filled river that provided constant music. Still only a handful of lights. Growing discouraged I ventured farther up the trail, hoping perhaps that would be the “spot” where the fireflies would be gathering. Again, nothing.

I walked back to the group, wondering how it could be that the fireflies were not here. Were we too early? Too late? Was the ranger who gave me advice wrong about this spot?

My friends were quiet, looking around like me.

And then! Here a light, there a light. Here a light, there a light! Tiny lights began flashing in the darkness, low to the ground. We made our way away from our open site, to another spot just on the other side of a small stream, in a denser part of the forest. There, in the silence of the woods, surrounded by darkness, the flashing lights surrounded us! They were everywhere!

Synchronous fireflies are different than other fireflies in that they all flash, flash, flash, flash and then somehow, a signal is communicated and they all stop flashing in unison, making the night black again. It remains black for a few seconds and then the lights start up again. And this goes on and on and on until somewhere between 11:00 and midnight.

Our small group of 4 stood silently in the forest, surrounded by flashing lights. At times they seemed to all dance forward, towards us before growing still again. Blackness all around.

Then the flickering of tiny lights again, decorating the darkness and creating a silent symphony of dancing light.

Later, after we all had our fill, we moved off to settle in our tents, which were by then surrounded by flickering lights. We took off the rain fly, lying in the tent and watching contentedly the dancing lights of tiny insects gathered outside of our temporary home in the forest. It is hard to describe. Difficult to convey the emotion I felt as I watched this. Impossible to communicate why I am moved to tears by this most simple natural event that happens at this time of year in this place every year and has for many, many years. It is magical. It is special. It is food for my soul…

And so, this week’s quote–two actually because as is often the case, I could not decide.

“Silence is life’s most sacred melody,” and:

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“Life is passing rapidly. Fiercely commit to every moment you find beautiful and remember it. Record it. Fully, whole-heartedly inhabit it. Awareness is one of the greatest things you can possess in this life as it is as important as the very air we breathe and water we drink to stay alive.” –Victoria Erickson

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Do you agree? What magical moments have you been a part of lately? Have you ventured to the Smokies to see these fireflies? What was your experience like? Have you seen fireflies in a meadow or forest near you? What was it like? Use the comment box below to share your thoughts–I always enjoy hearing from my readers.

…Here’s to making time for a magic moment near you in the very near future.

One Minute Meditation: N.A.’s Largest Rodent: The Beaver

I recently spent some time in Western New York state, outside of Buffalo visiting my Mom. We started nearly everyday with a walk at a park nearby called Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve. This small, 292 acre park has numerous ponds, many of which have evidence of beavers and muskrats in them.

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So now, put yourself in my shoes at this park…. it is getting close to dark. You are listening to lots of birds including Canada Geese and Red-winged Blackbirds. As you are walking down the narrow trail, a huge beaver climbs out of the water on one side of the trail and ambles across to the other side–right in front of you! Wow, what a cool animal. You look out across the water and watch a beaver tooling around, then see another feeding on the aquatic roots of the water lilies. He is chewing loudly! On another visit you watch a beaver feeding in a patch of willows, submerged by the recent rains. Every once in a while he pulls his heavy body out of the water to bend down another stalk, to reach its fresh leaves.

Check it out here:

Have you ever watched a beaver? Where were you? Have you seen evidence of them where you live? To learn more about beavers, check out this post I wrote a while back–ten a things you may not know about beavers  or this one, about how beaver’s use their long, flat tails. (Hint, they don’t use it to pack down mud in their lodges! But what do they use it for? Find out HERE!)

See you again soon! Have a great day!

Weekly Puzzler #151: Really looooonngg “Tail”

Hello and happy weekend!

So yes, we’ve been talking a bit about insects. Let’s do another. I found this one the other day when I was in South Carolina at a lovely park called Jones Gap. Someone looking at this insect might ask about its very looooooonnnnnng tail? Stinger?

What IS that long thing at the end of this insect’s body? Is it a tail? And for that matter, what is this insect? Have you ever seen one?

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If you know the answer, or just want to throw out a guess, use the comment box below. We have just a few more puzzlers to go before the next drawing–June 21, for a photo prize. All correct answers will be entered in the drawing.

Enjoy your weekend and I will see you again soon.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #150

Did you recognize the odd-looking creature in last week’s puzzler? It is a Cicada exuvia or shed skin. Some insects, like cicadas, go through incomplete or gradual metamorphosis. This means that they have 3 stages–egg, larva or nymph and then winged adult. Their transformation from larva to adult is extraordinary!

c-3586If you live in western NC and have been through Arden or Skyland in recent days, you’ve probably heard the deafening drone of cicadas in the treetops. And these are not your regular, ordinary dog-day cicadas, these are the amazingly long-lived 17-year cicadas or periodical cicadas.

Here is what they sound like.

Can you imagine living underground in the soil for 17 years? During this time you never see the light of day. You spend your time sucking sap from the roots of a tree, growing and sleeping. Sound fun? Imagine the changes the world can produce in 17 years! When I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail I came upon an emergence of the 17 year cicada. It was one of the most incredible natural moments I have witnessed. You can read more about it here. 

I used to think cicadas were had the longest lifecycle of any insect, but I have since discovered that is not true. They ARE the longest lived insect in North America, but not the world. Long-horned beetle larva, which live in dead wood, can remain there for 35-50 years before emerging as an adult. But they are not the longest lived either, amazingly! That award goes to the African queen termite who can live for more than 50 years, though some scientists suspect they live closer to 100 years. Imagine!! Such a tiny creature living so long.

Amazingly, scientists actually know where and when our periodical cicadas are going to emerge and have the broods named. If you live in the eastern US and want to know when a 17-year emergence will occur, you can put in your zip code on this site and see a map giving the locations.

There are also what people refer to as dog-day cicadas that live in these same places and have shorter life cycles. They are most likely the ones you hear towards the end of the summer. Their time underground in only 2-5 years, not 17! And they sound and look a bit different too. Some years ago I did a puzzler featuring dog-day cicadas, and then another featuring 10 things you may not know about cicadas.

That’s it for me for now. Have a good weekend. See you again soon!