Tag Archives: predators

Weekly Puzzler Answer #115

So did you have any ideas for last week’s puzzler? This aquatic insect can be found throughout the world, with the most species occurring in North and South America, Eastern Asia and Northern Australia.

A giant water bug out of water

A giant water bug out of water

It is a Giant Water Bug or Lethocerus americanus. Some species can grow more than 4 inches long! but most are around 1.5 inches. Some other common names include”toe biter” and “electric light bug.” Of course the first name is easy to explain and should make you wary of handling it! I have never been bitten by one, but I have heard they have a painful bite. Their other common name, electric bug light comes from the fact that they are often attracted to lights and may show up on your front porch some hot evening.

Giant Water Bugs live in water but have wings. Many people are surprised to learn they can fly (like water striders, another aquatic insect) and will do so to find new bodies of water.

hh-2The one pictured in last week’s puzzler is a MALE. Interestingly, females glue their eggs onto the backs of their mates and the male will carry these around with him, protecting them from predators, until they hatch into nymphs. This is an unusual habit in the world of insects!

Giant Water Bugs are fierce some predators, able to kill a variety of aquatic animals including minnows, dragonfly, damselfly, stonefly nymphs, tadpoles and other invertebrates. They usually sit motionless and wait for something to come by but will also actively stalk and capture prey. When they grab something, they use their sharp beak to inject enzymes that will dissolve the body tissues of their unfortunate prey.

Do you know your animal sounds? Test your knowledge with the next puzzler!

Have a great weekend! Happy Father’s Day to all of those Dads out there!

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10 Things You May Not Know about Wolves

elk-0382When I was a teenager, my parents took my two younger brothers and I to a vast wilderness park in eastern Canada called Algonquin. Most of our vacation there was spent “car camping” beside lakes in the front country, but for two nights, we ventured into the wilderness with two canoes and lots of gear. I can still remember being awakened in the night by the calls of loons… and the howls of wolves. And my feeling of pure joy and wonder. Hearing those sounds THRILLED me! Nothing is more symbolic of wilderness.

Not everyone would feel similarly, as for many, wolves play a much more sinister role. In our culture, there is a lot of fear and hatred towards wolves as well as plenty of myths and stories portraying the wolf as “the big, bad predator.”

So let’s talk about wolves: (And for the record let me just say I have never seen a wolf in the wild and have no photos of them)

elk2-65091.We often say that wolves are members of the dog family, but actually, dogs are members of the wolf family. All domestic dogs descended from wolves. Gray and timber wolves are the same thing–their latin name is Canis lupus. And they don’t have to be gray–they can be black, white, brown, gray or any combination in between.

2. In the United States we have two kinds of wolves, timber and red wolves. Red wolves are smaller and live only in eastern North Carolina–today there are about 50 red wolves.

3.There are 10,000-20,000 gray wolves in Europe, 60,000 in the former Soviet Union and around 60,000 in North America. In the United States, gray wolves live in Alaska, Minnesota, northern Michigan, northern Wisconsin, western Montana, northern Idaho, northeast Oregon and the Yellowstone area of Wyoming. Years ago they were the most widely distributed land mammal.

A bull elk

A bull elk

4. Wolves are carnivores. They feed on primarily on large animals such as deer, elk moose,bison,caribou, Dall sheep, bighorn sheep, musk oxen but will also eat ptarmigans, hares, beavers, mice, fruit, carrion and other small animals. As is true of other predators, they will take advantage of circumstances, killing what they can.

5. Wolves howl to communicate. (They make other sounds too, like barks, yips, growls, whines) They howl for a variety of reasons including to communicate with other pack members their location, to announce and defend their territory, to gather members before or during a hunt, to celebrate and sometimes, just because they can. Listen to wolves howling:

6. Wolves live in tight social groups called packs. Packs consist of the alpha male and female–who generally mate for life– along with a number of family or other members. Pack size varies but is usually between 6-10 animals, though there have been records of packs as large as 20 or 30. (If one in the pair dies, the other will find another mate)

7. Packs live in territories and defend them aggressively. The size depends on many factors such as prey abundance, the nature of the terrain, climate and presence of other predators. In the lower 48, a wolf pack territory is around 100 square miles whereas in Alaska and Canada, the territory of a timber wolf pack could be 300-1000 square miles.

8. Male wolves are 20% larger than females. In the lower 48, females usually weigh in between 50-85 pounds, males 70-110. In Alaska and Canada, males weigh 85-115 pounds.

A dead elk

A dead elk

9. After a gestation of 63 days, the young pups, weighing in at a pound, and born in the den, are blind and deaf. After two weeks, the pups’ eyes open and they will begin hearing about a week later. By the time they are a month old they begin to leave the den and at 6 months, they are close to their full size. Pups are fed by their parents and other pack members, who consume food elsewhere and then regurgitate it for them.

10. If you live where wolves live, you are not likely to be attacked and eaten! Wolves are shy and elusive, and like many wild animals, avoid people when possible.  More people in the United States are killed EACH YEAR by each of the following– dogs, lightning, ATVs, bee stings, cows and car collisions with deer– than have died from wolves in the last 100 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the United States, 4.5-4.7 million people are injured by dog bites each year, with 20-40 of those resulting in death. On average 27,000 dog bites require reconstructive surgery. According to the Weather Channel, lightning causes around 18 deaths EACH YEAR. And get this–according to the Centers for Disease Control, cows kill about 22 people EACH YEAR. In contrast, there are only 2 documented cases of human deaths from wolves in the United States in the 21st century, and both were wolves that had become habituated to humans.

A beaver dam

A beaver dam

Have you heard about the wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone National Park? In 1995, 31 wolves from Canada were relocated to the park, despite heavy controversy and protests from local ranchers– who feared the wolves would kill all of their livestock–and hunters–who feared wolves would kill all of the “big game” like elk and moose. Twenty years later, the wolves are doing well, as it seems, is the entire ecosystem, including beavers. Many articles have been written about it and especially, about the ways the wolves have had direct and indirect consequences. Here are a few that I found especially interesting:

For more information about wolves, check out the following:

International wolf center in Ely, MN

Great article about wolves by Discovery News

Books about wolves in Yellowstone

A great book about one wolf who became famous in Juneau, Alaska–A Wolf Named Romeo. And HERE is an article about this story and the book by Nick Jans, from Outside Magazine.

And one more! If you have kids or spend time with kids, this is a FABULOUS and funny book–Called The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, written by A. Wolf. HERE is the book read in a Youtube video. Good for a laugh or two!

What are your thoughts about wolves? Do you like them? Have you ever seen one? Would you like to? As always, I would love to hear from you! Use the comment box to share your thoughts!!

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Weekly Puzzler Answer #95

Did you have a guess for last week’s puzzler? How about if I gave you this hint:

I bet that made it really easy, huh? Yes, it’s true, gray or timber wolves used to be the most widely distributed land mammal in the world. Of course things have changed now. Wolves still are abundant in eastern Europe and parts of Asia but there are only remnant populations in western Europe and the Americas. In our country, seeing a wolf would be challenging. In Minnesota wolves are listed as threatened and are endangered elsewhere, except Alaska where the are more common, but with all the land to roam in, the likelihood of seeing one there is not very high.

I just finished a fascinating (and disturbing) book about a wolf that coexisted with people in the capital of Alaska for several years. It is an amazing story and if you like wolves, I highly recommend it. However I will warn you that some parts were difficult to read–especially when he talks about the history and methods of killing wolves. I simply cannot relate to the thinking of some people, especially those who kill something just because they can or who think we humans are the only creatures on the planet who matter. The book is called A Wolf Called Romeo and is written by a wonderful writer by the name of Nick Jans. If you read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts and whether or not you enjoyed it. Use the comment box below the post to respond.

If you weren’t lucky enough to be in Juneau, Alaska when Romeo was there, your next best chance of seeing a wild wolf is by visiting Yellowstone National Park, especially in the winter. Many people watch with scopes from the road along the Lamar Valley. In 1995, 41 wolves were reintroduced into the park. Do you know why they reintroduced wolves? Or whether the program was a success?

Do you know much about wolves? For instance how big their territory is or why they howl, how long they live or what their family life is like? Next week they will be the Creature Feature, so check back to learn about these amazing animals.

Meanwhile, Here is an interesting article that was recently featured in Backpacker Magazine about hugging a wolf (safely). (Thanks to Bill for sharing this with me)

Happy weekend! HERE is the next puzzler.

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Weekly Puzzler Answer #76

eggs--4So at some point before these eggs hatched, I thought, ‘gosh, I really don’t know what will come out of here. Maybe it won’t be a docile caterpillar like the Monarch. I should separate them, just in case.’ And I did. Which turned out to be a really good thing because guess what came out of those two beautiful eggs?

Two small–but fierce–assassin bugs! Even without having ever seen or heard of this insect, I am sure you can guess a bit about their habits! They are of course ASSASSINS! They are predators, feeding on other insects and invertebrates. assassin--5

There are 6,000 different kinds of assassin bugs in the world. All are predators that have a long beak that consists of 3 segments plus a single tube. Unlike many other animals, they do not have internal digestion, but rather external digestion.

An assassin bug approaches a fly

An assassin bug approaches a fly

They use their beak to inject a paralyzing toxin into their unsuspecting prey. Then they suck out the body fluids. Yum, right? I hope you’re not trying to eat breakfast as you read! If so, my apologies!

An assassin bug feeding on a soldier beetle.

An assassin bug feeding on a soldier beetle.

The toxin works quickly, able to kill a cockroach in only a few seconds and a caterpillar in less than 10. Probably a good thing for the animal about to be sucked dry.

Check out the long beak!

Check out the long beak!

Assassin bugs will molt 4 times before becoming their adult size and color.

Have you ever seen one of these bugs? If not, be on the lookout as they are pretty interesting to watch.

Want to try your luck at the next puzzler? Click HERE!

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Weekly Puzzler Answer #59

squirrel-2833So is THIS a sound you’ve heard before? Maybe when you were out hiking in the woods. If you looked for its source you would have found a GRAY SQUIRREL! They often make this noise when potential danger is nearby, be it a bird of prey like a hawk or a ground predator like a cat or fox. The noise is often associated with a waving of their tail. Do they make it to warn other squirrels that danger is nearby or to let the potential predator know that they’ve been spotted? A study by some folks at the University of Miami  shed some light on those questions, discovering that squirrels actually have three different calls. The biologists conducting the study– McRae and Green- found that “the squirrels have an alarm system with different degrees of specificity. Some, but not all, of the alarm signals were associated with predator type, and combinations of tail signals and vocalizations were more strongly associated with threats than either type of signal alone.” Read more from their research HERE.

squirrel-6542Next time you’re out in the woods and hear this, you’ll know it’s a sure thing you’ve been spotted by a Gray Squirrel! The forest has eyes–someone always seems to be watching!

Happy trails! Check out the next Puzzler HERE or if you’d like, here’s a past puzzler that addressed how gray squirrels spend the winter or another one that talked some wart-like growths they sometimes have.



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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.




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Weekly Puzzler Answer #4

mystery-3673This is the egg case from a praying mantis. aspid-0278Before winter, females mate and deposit their eggs on the undersides of leaves, or more often, on the stalks of golden rod or other meadow plants. The styrofoam-like substance surrounding the eggs, helps camouflage and protect them from birds and other predators. In the spring when the temperatures are consistently warm, the eggs will hatch out into tiny mantids–from 100-200 of them! These tiny creatures, like their adult parents, are fierce predators from day one.

Do praying mantids have ears? Do the females eat their mates? Are they endangered? Find out these answers and more as I feature the praying mantis this week in my weekly creature feature, published on Mondays.

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