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Squirrels

Sciurus carolinensisSciurus carolinensis.Sciurus carolinensis

Pyrrharctia isabella

Pyrrharctia isabellaWhat is Autumn without a Wooly Bear crossing your path?

Flying

Insect-summer is over. But last week I was in Prospect Park and saw masses of dragonflies over the Butterfly Meadow, in a patch of the Nethermead, and then in two clusters along the Long Meadow. They all seemed to be Common Green Darners, the large migrating species. And they were hunting on the wing. Gnats, for want of a better description, filled the air.

And hunting for the dragonflies, a Kestrel, swooping in great deep arcs before briefly perching way up on a tree-top.falco

Drey

dreyA large clump of leaves in the branches of a tree is often mistaken for a bird nest. It’s actually a drey, or squirrel nest. More specifically, it’s a summer nest. Winter will find them squirreled away in warmer, sturdier spots, like your attic.
Quiscalus quisculaThis Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula), helping to perpetuate the impression that this is a bird’s nest, was rooting around in the leaves, which had no doubt attracted various invertebrates over the months.

My Shorter OED and Webster’s 3rd both throw up their hands on the origins of “drey,” which may also be spelled “dray.” The OED has it going back to the early 17th century. Also, it should be noted that, given English’s often multipurpose flexibility, there are no other definitions for the word.

Update: I am in error. See comments. THere is another definition for dray.

Seen on recent saunters

FagusBeech nuts and the pods they come in on. bumblestump1At another beech tree, this time a stump, some funky fungus.I like the way one of these “organ pipe” mud-dauber-wasp nests follows the arch here. Colaptes auratus
leavesIt will be some months before we see the trees this leafy again.

Mantid

Tenodera aridifoliaChinese Mantid, Tenodera aridifolia, on Elvira’s window. Easily four inches long. This is a late summer classic, at least since 1896, when these Asian natives were first introduced into North America. There have been many introductions since, as these all-purpose predators will eat anything they can get their “preying” hands on; of course, that also means insects beneficial to your garden, too.

Nicrophorus

NicrophorusA carrion beeetle, also known as a sexton beetle, of the genus Nicrophorus, from the Greek for “carrier of the dead.” Found this on a mammal corpse on a path at Dead Horse Bay. The carcass was in curious state; some exposed bones were already whitened, but the main part of the body still had leathery skin/fur and did not smell pleasant. (Nothing like the Götterdämmerung of rotted chicken used to bait for carrion beetles here, though.) Not sure what the animal was: didn’t look big enough for adult raccoon; perhaps a feral cat, of which there are plenty in the phragmites.

So these Nicrophorus beetles — there are some 15 species in the U.S. — are remarkable for providing not just a nest egg of carrion for their young, but sticking around to help feed the wee larvae when they are just starting out as squirmy little rotten-flesh eaters.

The mites — you can spot two adults and see some young ones clustering on the beetle body as well — are symbionts, not parasites. Sources of carrion are extremely variable and unpredictable: so the beetles range throughout the landscape searching for it, carrying the mites (of at least four families), who eat fly larvae and couldn’t get around so well otherwise; the fly larvae is competition for the beetle larvae.

Nicrophorus marginatus is the most wide-spread of these beetles, but it’s very similar looking to N. obscurus and N. guttula, and they evidently can’t be separated based on overall appearance according to Bugguide.


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