Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) walk with a bumbling gait and have poor eyesight and hearing so when they finally notice danger it’s very close at hand. They’ve evolved a pretty good solution to protect themselves. Possums fall over and play dead.
Playing dead is triggered by extreme fear and it’s involuntary — like fainting. The possum enters a near coma, lying on its side with its mouth and eyes open and tongue hanging out. Meanwhile it exudes a putrid green fluid from its anus that’s unappetizing to predators.
The possum in this video was probably shocked when the big black dog showed up. Boom! He fell over.
But how to remove him?
Wait and he’ll wake up and walk away. Put the dog indoors and he’ll do it sooner.
By August each fertilized flower has turned into a fruit, a mayapple.
The entire mayapple plant is poisonous but there’s a brief window in August when the fruit is ripe and safe to eat. Chipmunks and deer know this, too, so if you want to risk tasting a ripe fruit, you’ll have to beat them to it.
Every fall this bird performs an amazing feat of physical endurance. It flies non-stop over the ocean for 2,500 miles.
The whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a long distance migrant that occurs on every continent except Antarctica because it breeds in the far north and winters in the southern hemisphere.
Most North American whimbrels spend the winter in coastal South America. To get there, some travel the western route down the Pacific Ocean to Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.
Others take an eastern route, flying across northern Canada in mid-July to spend two weeks fattening up on the shores of the U.S. and Canada. Then they launch over the Atlantic and fly non-stop to Venezuela, the Guianas and Brazil. What’s the air distance from Cape Cod to Venezuela? 2,500 miles.
Ripe elderberries (Sambucus genus) are hard to find this month. They’re so popular with birds that the ripe ones disappear immediately.
The cluster, above, was the only purple one I found last week. The rest were carefully picked over, leaving green berries and bare stems.
Other fruits await birds, too: black raspberries (Rubus genus) in the thickets, hackberries (Celtis genus) in the trees, and porcelain berries (Ampelopsis glandulosa) on the vine. Unfortunately, the porcelain berries are invasive.
It won’t be long before the poke berries turn purple.
It’s a colorful conspiracy to tempt birds to eat the fruit and disperse the seeds, perhaps far away on migration.
August 12, 2018: The Live Stream will stop but camera Snapshots will still be on.
Summer is a lazy time for peregrine falcons. The adults are molting and the young have left home.
At the Univ. of Pittsburgh I usually find a peregrine snoozing in a nook on the north face of the Cathedral of Learning. As expected the birds shun the nestbox except for a short spurt in late July. So we won’t miss much when …
Ozolio’s six month contract for streaming the National Aviary‘s falconcams ends this week on August 15.
The Cathedral of Learning and Gulf Tower live streams will go dark but you can still see snapshots at the links below:
Yellow flowers are abundant in the summer while some of the rarest flowers are purple. Here are four rare plants I’ve never seen.
Dianne Machesney visited Lynx Prairie in Adams County, Ohio in late July to see scaly blazing star (Liatris squarrosa), above. It doesn’t occur in Pennsylvania though we have it’s cousin dense blazing star (Liatris spicata) at Jennings Prairie. The two plants differ in this way: “Scaly” flowers are clustered at the tip, “dense” flowers coat the long spike.
This phantom lives in freshwater wetlands from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains. Gliding on the shady edge of dense vegetation he usually goes unseen. It takes practice to notice a phantom crane fly.
I first learned about phantom crane flies (Bittacomorpha clavipes) in Newfoundland when our guide David Trently pointed one out. “There it is.”
I couldn’t see it. “Where is it? How big is it? What should I look for?” I was so frustrated! The bug was flying right in front of me but he was invisible.
The phantom landed and Bill Anderson took his picture. I followed Bill’s camera lens and found the fly. Aha!
When the phantom took off, I followed him with my eyes as he floated among the shadows. Here’s a video that shows what that’s like. (Note: If you don’t like snakes turn off the video before the 2:20 mark to avoid seeing one.)
Phantom crane flies can move like this because they’re very lightweight, their long legs are hollow, and their tarsomere (foot segments) are swollen and filled with air. They spread their legs to catch the breeze and barely flap their wings.
Their long crane-like legs make them phantoms in the air.
On a recent trip past Exit 163 on Interstate 70, I was intrigued by the name Amaranth. Two towns in Canada, one in Portugal, and one in Fulton County, Pennsylvania have that name. What does it mean?
“Amaranth” is a flower that never fades, a reddish dye, or — primarily — a grain-like food native to the tropical Americas. It was a staple of the Central American diet until the Spanish Conquistadors outlawed it when they conquered the Aztecs in 1521.
Back then the grain played a supporting role in religious human sacrifice. Eerily similar to the Eucharist in which Jesus told his disciplines to consume bread and wine symbolizing his body and blood, the Aztecs performed human sacrifices and ate cakes of amaranth mixed with real human blood.
The Spanish abolished all of that. The penalty for growing amaranth was death. But the plant survived. It became a weed.
One of the weediest in the Amaranthus genus is red-rooted pigweed or green amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus), a 1-6 foot annual whose flowers bloom in bristly spikes in August (photo at top). This patch is in a German asparagus field.