Archive for the Category ◊ Insects ◊

• Friday, March 29th, 2013

On March 24th, 2013 Pam led a program on dyeing eggs with natural dyes at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve. While the eggs were soaking in the dye, she taught the kids and adults about the different kinds of creatures that lay eggs.
Link to photo story from the Bucks County Herald.

• Friday, May 11th, 2012

Last summer, some neighborhood kids brought me a shoebox. The youngest of them, about 4 years old said it was a monster. Now I was really intrigued. Let me just say, I love that the neighborhood kids think of me when they find sometime fantastic in their yard. Not only does that mean they are out exploring, but they know enough to carefully package their find and bring it to me who will share their enthusiasm and interest.

Carefully, I lifted the lid to discover a marvelous creature. A caterpillar as long as my hand and two fingers wide. This lovely specimen had horns, projections and bumps all over it. It did indeed look like a monster from another world. In fact, it was a hickory horned devil, or Royal walnut moth caterpillar.

Hickory horn devil caterpillars are harmless formidable looking creatures that grow to be 6” long. They eat the leaves of hickory and walnut trees as well as a few others.
After a few weeks of eating and growing, they bury themselves into the ground and pupate. Their coccoon looks like a thick oval bullet. It is there that they will stay, resting, growing and hoping not to be found for two years. A gorgeous moth with orange and yellow stripes will emerge the second year.
Like most of the large silkworm moths, adult royal walnut moths don’t feed. After emerging, they set out to find a mate. The females will lay a massive amount of eggs hoping some will hatch and feed on the leaves of hickory or walnut. They grow, shed and grow all summer until they are big enough to pupate. Hopefully, some neighborhood kids will find one again and think of me to share in the joy of nature.

• Friday, May 27th, 2011

I’ve never been a good reader.  In school, it was painful and slow.  If I tried to push myself to go faster, I’d end up not understanding what I just read and invariably have to start again.  I didn’t read much as a result and reading out loud was worse.  I’d stutter and get hung up on words like “is” or “that”.  Maybe I’d have been diagnosed with ADD, but it wasn’t described yet.

Even today, if a book doesn’t grab me by the throat and threaten not to let go, I am very quick to put it down. So when I come across one that really catches a hold on me, I want to tell the world.

I’ve recently read two books that I can honestly say changed my life. Doug Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home” has given me a new perspective on what I do.  For nearly 25 years, I’ve been a naturalist in and around the mid-Atlantic region.  I’ve helped educate and mold children and adults on the decisions they make and the impact it has on the environment.

I’ve always been an advocate for using native plants in the landscape, but never fully understood the ecological principles behind those choices.  That is, until I read Mr. Tallamy’s book.

“Bringing Nature Home” describes the relationship between native plants and the insects that depend on them. How native insects haven’t evolved to feed on non-native plants and therefore, can’t survive on them. This spirals out to talk about the birds and animals that depend on the insects that are depending on native plants.  I knew everything was connected, I guess I just didn’t realize to what extent those relationships existed.

The other book that I want everyone to read is Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. It scared, enlightened, and thrilled me and set my resolve to do better by the animals I eat and prepare for my family. I read the young readers edition since I was assigning it to a class, but I’m sure the grown up version is just as good. Mr. Pollan describes where our food comes from, how it is processed, and why certain ingredients are so pervasive in the foods we eat. Why fast food burgers are so cheap and why it seems to cost more to eat healthy. With concise, easy to understand language and straight forward facts, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is a great read for the food shoppers, cooks and consumers in your family. Be prepared to be first horrified, then inspired to take a stand.

So throw out your high fructose corn syrup and your pappas grass and enjoy the summer.

• Friday, March 05th, 2010

So, here it is, early spring. The birds have just started their territory songs, frogs will start to sing soon and snow birds will return. But right now, hiding patiently are animals that have been here all winter. They’ve endured the amazing snow falls, sheltered themselves from the gusting winds and 33 degree rains; wrapped in their natural blankets, waiting. You probably never noticed them, or mistook them for dead or damaged leaves, but they are there, waiting.
I’m not describing some mysterious creature that sits in wait for unsuspecting victims. I’m talking about certain insects that are dormant through the winter, but soon will wake to begin a new life.

Many insects such as certain butterflies, beetle larva, moths, and others, over-winter as a pupa or adult. When temperatures rise, they stir and soon will reveal themselves. On a recent walk, I discovered some of these beauties.
On a spicebush plant, I found what appeared at first glance to be a dead leaf hanging from the branch. On closer inspection, I discovered this dead leaf was actually rolled up and sheltered a developing Promethea moth. The caterpillars of these large silk moths spin their cocoon using leaves of trees and shrubs.

Looking closely at a few white pine trees, I found several bundles of needles stuck together. The tips of clusters had been nibbled off, revealing a tunnel. This is the winter home of a pine tube moth pupa. These moths will emerge in spring and mate. The female will lay her eggs on new pine needles. The eggs hatch and the larva will tie a few needles together into a new tube and feed though the summer.



On a recent walk through Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve’s meadow, the brown and tan remains of last years’ grasses offered a great back ground for praying mantis egg cases. These hard, foamy sacs house 100-250 eggs that will hatch. The young mantids make their escape through a specially created section called the “zone of issue”, since the sides of the egg sac are impenetrable.

So next time you’re out and about, take a closer look at familiar things. There might just be something hiding in plain site.

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• Sunday, September 06th, 2009

IMG_0196The monarch butterfly is probably one of the most recognizable insects, but many people are unaware of a mysterious life they lead at the end of the summer.
For its size, no other insect, bird or mammal migrates like this butterfly. A North American monarch can travel up to 80 miles a day, totaling nearly 3000 miles over the course of 2 months.
Monarchs caterpillars hatch from an egg laid on their host plant, milkweed and proceed to eat the leaves, absorbing the toxins within the plant. These toxins persist in the caterpillar’s body and are transferred to the adult butterfly. Depending on where the caterpillar is from, there may be as many as 3 broods or generations in a season.

After going through a series of molts, the caterpillar sheds its skin for the last time into a chrysalis.
The butterflies that emerge in the fall are biologically and behaviorally different from those that emerged earlier in the season. They are called the Methuselah generation and live 7-8 months instead of the normal 4-5 weeks. In human terms, that is equivalent to having your children live to be 525 years old!

IMG_5413The Methuselah generation don’t mate right away, but begin their trek south to the mountains of central Mexico, feeding on nectar plants along the way. Arriving between mid October and early November, these monarchs will hibernate en masse until mid February.
As temperatures rise and humidity falls, they wake, mate and begin to travel north again laying eggs on milkweed along the way.
Those that return to Mexico the following year will be the great, great, great grandchildren of those that left the previous year.