The most beautiful butterfly I have ever seen lives in the jungles of Central and South America.
The blue morpho (Morpho menelaus) is as large as my open hand, iridescent blue above and patterned brown below. When it flies, sunlight winks blue on its open wings. On the upstroke it shines gold.
In Panama we were transfixed when blue morphos appeared one by one above the road, floating toward and over us. They defied our efforts at photography so I looked for a video on YouTube.
But only the slow motion videos matched my memory of morphos. (We did not see the black-blue butterfly in this video, only the all-blue one.)
In fact they flew rather fast. You can see in this video how hard it is to keep up with one.
My memory of these butterflies is in slow motion because my brain was busy processing the new and beautiful experience. This happens to all of us when we focus on new information. (Read more here about our perception of time. )
Perhaps that's why I enjoy the beauty of nature.
When I watch blue morphos time slows down.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original. All videos from YouTube; click on the YouTube logos to see the videos full screen)
Like other predators northern pike lie in wait, camouflaged and motionless, until their prey comes close. They then burst out of cover, grab the animal, and swallow it whole. Most of the time they eat fish but will also eat other animals in the water including birds, small mammals, snakes, frogs and even their own young.
Northern pike are loners except during the breeding season when the males and females hang out together and splash a lot in shallow weedy places. Spawning is triggered by water temperature and runs full tilt when the water reaches 50 degrees F. The female is larger than the males who swim close by her side as she broadcasts 3,000 to 120,000 sticky eggs over the vegetation. Her eggs hatch unattended in 10 to 12 days. (Read more about their life cycle here.)
This short GoPro movie from Ontario shows what spawning looks like above the water and what the fish looks like underwater.
Two weeks ago I lamented that fall color is disappointing this year but I should have waited. The trees in Schenley Park looked better last week with red maples, yellow hickories, and this small tree reminding me of what we've lost.
Those pale green, yellow, orange and violet leaves are on a small ash tree whose trunk diameter is too small to be plagued by emerald ash borer ... and now I've found out why.
Before the emerald ash borer (EAB) invasion, mature ash trees added pastel violet to the splash of color on our hillsides but now only the saplings are left.
Just across the trail from the ash sapling stands a mature ash that's alive, though struggling. Some upper branches have died back and there are sucker branches below them. An old emerald ash borer hole shows what the mature tree was dealing with.
"Woodpeckers, native and introduced parasitoids, intraspecific competition, disease, innate tree defenses, and reduced ash abundance contributed to the collapse of EAB populations."
Notice that woodpeckers are at the top of the list!
Second on the list are four tiny parasitic insects that kill emerald ash borer larvae. Two native insects target emerald ash borers through the thin bark of saplings and at Michigan study sites scientists introduced two more parasitic insects from China, the emerald ash borer's homeland, to get through the bark of mature ash trees.
Thanks to the hard work of scientists and arborists we may hope that our ash saplings will grow into mature ash trees.
On warm fall days look up and you might see swarms of flying ants. Flying high, they're annoying at hawk watches. What are these ants and what are they doing? The answer is more interesting than you might think.
Flying ant swarms are the mating dance, the nuptial flight, of winged male ants and virgin queens. Each species has its own time of year for mating.
If you've never seen a swarm here's what it looks like, filmed at a tall grass prairie in Nebraska (20 seconds).
The ants are so preoccupied with mating that they don't pay attention to what's nearby and are easy prey for migrating dragonflies, cedar waxwings, and even ring-billed gulls.
Don't worry. The swarms are not termites. Termites make their nuptial flights in the spring and, if you look closely, they're different from ants. Ants have pinched waists and "nodes" at their waistlines. Termites do not. Here's a visual comparison -- not to scale -- of fire ants on the left and eastern subterranean termites on the right.
Citronella ants spend their whole lives underground except when they emerge to mate. They're actually "farmers" who tend their livestock -- aphids -- and harvest the aphids' honeydew. This video describes a citronella ant colony.
After the nuptial flight the male ants die and the fertilized queens shed their wings. They don't just shed them, they yank them off! Watch this citronella ant use two of her six legs to pull off each wing (7 seconds).
And then the queen walks off to find an underground place to nest.
There are so many ant species that it takes an expert to identify them. If you know which ones fly at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch in September, please let me know.
(photo credits: wooly bear caterpillar by Christopher Jones from Wikimedia; click on the photo to see the original. hickory tussock moth caterpillar by Kate St. John. promethea moth caterpillar by Kate St. John)
Autumn is a good time to look for unusual leaves. They used to be boring until something happened to them. Like this.
There's an elaborate squiggle on this coltsfoot leaf (Tussilago farfara) made by a leaf miner, an insect larva that makes a path as it eats within the leaf tissue. Eventually the larva settles down to pupate and the path comes to an end. When the adult insect hatches it leaves a hole.
What makes these lines? I had no idea until I googled "leaf mine on coltsfoot"and found the answer. A blogger at Nature Post collected similar coltsfoot leaves, put them in jars, and waited for the adult insects to appear. It turns out his leaf mines were made by tiny moths called Phyllocnistis insignis.
In the spring we saw tents in the trees. Now we see webs. Though similar in concept, the structures aren't made by the same species.
The springtime tent, located in the crotch of a tree, is made by eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) who emerge from their tent to eat young leaves as they unfurl. The webs, located on the branches, are made by fallwebworms (Hyphantria cunea) who hide in the web and eat leaves that will fall off in a month or two.
Since late summer female moths have been laying egg masses on deciduous trees.
After a week the eggs hatch into tiny caterpillars who build a web to completely enclose themselves and their food. As they eat, they build the web larger to enclose more leaves.
Fall webworms avoid coming out of the web until they're ready to pupate. Then they hide their cocoons under flaps of bark to overwinter and emerge next year.
Though the webs look ugly they don't harm the trees because the leaves will drop soon anyway.
See webworms in action in the video above from The Capitol Naturalist in D.C. Read more in this vintage article from 2011: Coming Soon To A Tree Near You
(photo of fall webworm moth from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)