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Weekly Puzzler Answer #155

Last week’s puzzler was a shrub seen in the eastern United States called, appropriately, eastern sweetshrub; other common names include Carolina sllspice, strawberry shrub,, sweet-scented shrub, bubby blossom, sweet bubby, sweet bettie, and spicebush. (A note here, as one of my subscribers, Barb, wrote this in her comment and I thought she might be talking about another eastern shrub called spicebush. When I searched for common names for the eastern sweetbush, spicebush was listed on one of the sites I visited.  So your answer was indeed correct! Thanks for the lesson!)

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The Latin name of this plant is Calycanthus floridus. If you’ve ever stood close to one, you may have noticed the sweet fragrance–said to smell like strawberry, melon and pineapple– the shrub gives off. Its leaves, twigs and flowers are very fragrant, especially as the plant matures.

Endemic to North America, this pretty shrub grows 6-9 feet tall. The flowers may last over a month! In the fall the shrub will be full of seed pods that hang down and will eventually release seeds, which need to go through stratification (a period of cold and moisture in order to germinate)before they can grow a new plant.

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Here is some more information if you are interested, from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)

And, just as a reminder in case you missed my last post, I will be traveling for a while, putting some of my regular columns, including the puzzler, on hold. See you again in a few weeks!

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Weekly Puzzler Answer #154

Hello and Happy Saturday! Happy July! Also happy 4th of July weekend! I hope you are having a great weekend filled with lots of memorable events. Were you one of the ones who recognized the fern in last week’s puzzler as MAIDENHAIR fern? Have you seen this in a forest near you?

Maidenhair ferns can be found in forests along the east coast. With their distinctive black stems and delicate, fan-shaped fronds, they are hard to miss. These ferns spread by rhizomes and spores, which they produce in spring and summer. Worldwide there are more than 20,000 species of ferns!

Also something I learned when doing research for this post is that there is a southern and a northern maidenhair fern. Here are some photos of each. Can you see the differences?

Southern maidenhair fern

Southern maidenhair fern

 

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Northern maidenhair fern

Northern maidenhair fern

Interestingly, just because you find a maidenhair fern in the south doesn’t mean it’s a southern maidenhair fern! Southern maidenhair ferns can grow in the northern states and northern maidenhair ferns can be found in the south! Go figure. Talk about confusing!

So here is our next puzzler–another one about an interesting plant.

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Weekly Puzzler Answer #153

Greetings friends. Were you able to identify last week’s mystery plant? A handful of people correctly identified it as Galax, or Galax urceolata, which is also called beetleweed and wandflower. Wandflower is easy to understand when you see the white flowers at the tops of long stalks, in bloom mid May-early July.

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This plant grows in the eastern United States, particularly the Appalachians. The wide, shiny, thick and heart-shaped leaves are often used in floral arrangements. Something that I learned while researching this post is that revenue for harvesting this plant, according to a National Forest Service site, runs from $10-25 million dollars annually, with 99% of the harvesting in North Carolina. As with any wild plant, there are restrictions on collection of this plant and a permit is required to harvest on National Forest land. Like other native flowers such as ginseng and ramps, poaching has become a real problem in many areas, with people wanting to harvest the plant to sell, but not wanting to acquire proper permits.

Galax beside a trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Galax beside a trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Here is our next puzzler–another commonly found plant in the eastern US…. see if you recognize it.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Weekly Puzzler Answer #149

Did you recognize the handsome bird in last week’s puzzler? It is a Reddish Egret.

Reddish egrets eat fish, crayfish and other crust

Reddish egrets eat fish, frogs, crayfish and other crustaceans

The rarest egret in North America, this bird is found in extreme southern Florida and along the Gulf Coast to Texas. It can also be found in coastal Mexico and the West Indies. Have you been lucky enough to see one? They have a dark and a white morph though I have only seen the dark one so have no photos of the white morph.

The reddish egret has a wingspan of 46-48 inches and is 27.6-31.5 inches tall. As you can see from this photo, they have a distinctive black-tipped beak that is pink at the base and blue black legs and feet. (Wasn’t it nice of this one to pose so perfectly for me?)

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Reddish egrets are smaller than great blue herons (3.2-4.5 feet long with a wingspan of 5.5-6.6 feet) but larger than the little blue heron.(29 inches long with a wingspan of 41 inches)

A great blue heron

A great blue heron

A little blue heron

A little blue heron

Here is the next puzzler–a small creature that makes a BIG noise.

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