Sensational Sharks

One animal that is feared by many is the shark. Though they do need to be respected for the potential harm they can cause, they often are greatly misunderstood. These animals can actually show us a lot of specialized design features that God built into their bodies to increase their ability to survive in the oceans of the world.

Bodies Covered With Teeth!

Let’s take a  closer look at some of these features. Have you ever held a shark in your hand or felt their skin? It feels like sandpaper. If you run your finger up one direction and then the other you will feel quite a difference. Shark skin is actually very different than other fish. It looks like thousands of tiny shark teeth overlapping one another. These are called placoid scales. In a sense, the shark’s entire body is covered with teeth. When I caught these fish several children and adults wanted to touch them before I returned them to the sea. It is quite and experience. 

This design has a function. It actually reduces the resistance of the water’s drag on the fish as it swims. Mankind has even taken lessons from the shark and used this surface feature in wet-suits and the surfaces of submarines and other water vessels. It also provides a protective surface on the shark’s exterior. Shark skin is actually used as sandpaper in many seaside communities around the world. This type of sandpaper is called Shagreen.

Crystal Eyes:

Next, let’s look at the shark’s eyes. These can vary a lot between the different species of sharks according to where they live and how the feed. The two I caught have eyes like this:

Did you know shark’s eyes actually have crystal inside them? These are Quanine crystals that are highly reflective. This enables the sharks to see in darkness.  In addition, some sharks actually have special eye coverings that cover the eyes like goggles.

No Bones About It!: Sharks Are Very Flexible!

Did you know, sharks do not have bones in their skeletons?  Instead, they have a skeleton that is very flexible composed entirely of cartilage. Cartilage is like the material in your nose and ear that holds the shape of these body parts. Imagine if your skeleton was composed of cartilage instead of bone. You would not be able to stand up. Sharks, of course, live in the water and cartilage is a great material for animals that do not need to bear the weight of their bodies like land animals. God knew just what would make the best skeleton for these creatures.

Designed for Speed:

Notice also their streamlined bodies. They have a pointed head and an extremely long tail.

Five Kinds of Fins:

Most people actually identify sharks by their pronounced dorsal fins, the ones on their backs that stick up out of the water at times. Some sharks actually have two different dorsal fins. The various fins act along with the tail to provide direction and propulsion. The tail is asymmetrical.  The top part of the tail is much longer than the bottom. Besides the dorsal fin, they also have pectoral fins. These are the two on the front just behind the head. These are the primary ones used in steering. Most sharks also have anal, caudal and pelvic fins which provide stability. Sharks are very fast in the water and can change directions in an instant in order to chase down their prey.

The various fins of the shark allow them to be very graceful swimmers that can turn on a dime to pursue their prey.

Sharks Are Very Sensitive!

If you look closely on the bottom of the head you will find some very sensitive nasal passageways that allow the shark to smell blood and other body fluids in the surrounding water. Having two of these sensors, one on each side of their head,  allows them to sense the direction of the source of these fluids so they can track down their food. In addition to their nostrils, sharks also have special sensors in their heads that are collectively called Ampullae Lorenzi. With these sensors they can even detect animals buried in the sand. It’s kind of like a metal detector only it works to find living things.

 

Two Toned With a Purpose:

As you can see in the pictures in this post, sharks are white on the bottom and darker on the top. This protects them from would be predators that might see them from above, and from larger sharks that might see them looking up from the bottom of the ocean. This color arrangement also conceals them so they are not seen by the animals they prey upon until it is too late to escape.

 

I caught these sharks while fishing of the end of a pier in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They seemed to like the shrimp and squid I was using for bait. After removing the hooks I returned them to the sea. While we were fishing we saw a large shark cruising by the front of the pier.  Apparently the sharks have learned they can find some good feeding out where fishermen dump their fish carcasses after cleaning their fish. Some fishermen actually chop up bait fish and dump it into the ocean as chum to attract fish. Since the beaches next to the pier are used by swimmers, this practice is regulated in many areas to protect those swimming nearby. Sharks can be very aggressive when there is blood in the water. Sharks, however, have been feeding in these waters for thousands of years. Some varieties swim in schools that patrol the shallow waters near the shoreline. Others are found far off shore feeding on smaller fish, crabs, lobsters, squid and octopus. The large Great White Sharks can even capture and eat sea lions and seals! Some have been known to even attack whales.

Important Creatures in the Sea.

Sharks are important creatures in the food chains of the sea. They help regulate populations of other creatures, that if unchecked, would over populate the region. Sharks also help remove some of the dead organisms in the water as well. Because of the bad press they get and their portrayal in films like Jaws, they are often feared and hunted and killed. Sharks used to be hunted for their fins which are used to make shark fin soup which is a delicacy in many places. Some shark species have been hunted almost to extinction. Many rules have been established by the fishing industry to help remedy this problem.  Recently, however, the sharks have been making a come back. Much education about sharks has changed man’s perception of these interesting animals. Most fishing services encourage those fishing on their boats to release the sharks if caught while trying to catch other fish species. Some scientists actually go out and catch sharks and place special tracking devices on them and then release them. In this manner they can find out a lot about the shark’s life style and movement around the ocean. With so much attention on the sharks, public sentiment has changed greatly over the last 20 years. Interestingly, you are much more likely to die from being stung by bees, hit by lightning, be in an auto accident or some other means than ever being attacked by a shark. It is important, however, to heed the warnings of the beach patrol if several large sharks are seen cruising near swimming areas. Let them eat the fish and move on to other waters.

 

The Eastern Box Turtle: An Open and Shut Case!

What Happened here?!!

To the Rescue!

 

On a hike up the hill today, in the wooded area of Middle Tennessee, I came across an interesting situation. Apparently a battle had just occurred and the loser was upside down near a mating pair of Eastern Box Turtles. The smaller male as well as the larger one had come looking for the female following the pheromones she released into the air signaling that it was time for mating. The unfortunate loser was trapped on his back and couldn’t right himself. With legs kicking in the air, he quickly withdrew into his shell and snapped the door shut when I came near. After taking several photos and watching the process for awhile, I righted him and left him in the forest to fend for himself. Hopefully the next time he seeks a mate he will be a little bigger and wiser.

Here you see the mating couple.

 

Nearby was the loser of the battle trapped upside down in his shell.

 

Here is the loser in my hand showing the bottom side of his shell. As you can see, God gave these turtles an excellent way to protect themselves by not only having a shell, but a trap door to shut to keep their enemies out. This is an amazing example of God’s “bio-engineering”. We can learn a lot from creation about how to design our own projects. This is quite a suit of armor for these little turtles!

How Big Do They Get?

As you can see, he is just a little guy. Interestingly, these turtles are usually between 4.5 and 6 inches long. Sometime, since they grow to extreme ages, some over a hundred years, they have a long time to develop, some have grown to over 7 inches.

 

Here is the same turtle from the top side. As you can see, he fits comfortably in my hand.

So how do you tell the males from the females?

 

Generally the males have red irises (eyes) and the females have brown irises. The males also have a concave plastron (bottom of shell), this allows the males to stay on top of the females during the mating process.

So What Were They Doing on the Mountain Top?

 

You might think it funny that I found these three turtles on top of a hill far from the water. They are actually terrestrial turtles. They live on land. These turtles have been found at altitudes as great as 6,000 ft. They prefer forests made up of both evergreens like conifers and cedars, and deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves annually) where the soil is moist and full of insects, worms, snails, slugs, and vegetation.

 

Omnivores: We Eat Our meat and Veggies!

 

Box turtles have a varied diet and will consume both plant and animal material. They will even eat mushrooms. One of their favorite foods seem to include a lot of beetles and their larvae. They like berries, flowers, grasses, and many other types of vegetation as well that grows in this habitat.

  

Do They Make Good Pets?

 

Though many people keep box turtles as pets its important to check with the local laws to see if this is allowed in your state. Some states even require documentation of where you bought your pet turtle, if purchased in a pet store. In Tennessee it is unlawful to have any turtle in captivity, so leave them where you find them. (This law was passed due to the danger of illness caused by the bacteria that is often found on turtles that can be passed to handlers causing food poisoning and other illnesses. It also prevents people from getting them as pets and then releasing them into the wild that destroys the natural food chains and balance there.  If you can keep them as pets in your state, remember that having a pet requires you to maintain their habitat and provide food. You need to make sure that your pet gets lots of sunlight, or artificial UVA and UVB light. A full spectrum of light is required to keep them healthy. They acquire their vitamin D3 from exposure to these light rays. You also need to regulate the temperature in their dwelling place at between 85-87 degrees F. Remember also, that they will probably outlive you, if cared for properly, so you have to plan ahead for their upkeep when you are gone from this earth. And yes, even though they are terrestrial, they need water!

If you keep these turtles you will also have to provide lots of insects, like beetles, and their larvae (like mealworms),  jumping insects, like crickets and grasshoppers, as well as worms. The ratio of their diet should be about 10% dark leafy greens, 40% vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, and 50%, the high animal protein foods listed above. Most people also augment their diet by sprinkling calcium powder on the food so the turtles can ingest it and have stronger bones, claws, and shells.

One common problem of those that keep box turtles is when the turtles get a respiratory disease. If your pet starts wheezing, has labored breath or clogged nostrils, you may have to take him to the vet to get a treatment to make him healthy again. If your turtle gets these symptoms you will also have to change the substrate in the bottom of the cage with new and realize that the turtle environment must remain moist. To keep it moist and not soggy, use a mister spray frequently.

If you find them in the wild, as I did, it’s probably best to leave them there then  go and visit them to study and enjoy these amazing creatures for years to come. In some regions their populations have declined due to over-harvesting and road kill as they frequently cross the road to get to the other side.

Catching Panfish: Shellcrackers, Crappie, & Bluegill

Probably one of the first fish a person will catch will be one of these fun hard-fighting fish. These fish are plentiful and can live in a wide variety of waterways.  Let’s take a closer look at these fish and learn more about their habits and importance in God’s creation.

One of the Fishermen’s Favorites

One of the fisherman’s favorite panfish is the Crappie. These are sometimes called “Slabs” (especially if they are big!). In other parts of the country they are called “Papermouths” due to their thin easy to break loose mouths. Others call them “Bachelor Perch“. Whatever you call them, they are worth the time to catch. One of the neat things about fishing for Crappie is that if you catch one, you know there are many more about! They school up in the same areas. One of the best times to seek Crappie is the Springtime when they are spawning. They come in close to shore to build their nests in about 1 to 5 ft. deep. In the summer they seek deeper water where the temperature is cooler and there is more oxygen. Look around structure! They are often found under docks, fallen trees, and brush piles. Some fishermen actually drop their used Christmas trees into the lake to create a spot to come back to in the Spring and Summertime for a stringer of fish. In one lake, not far from where I live, the fish and game department has sunk a series of pipes and spaced them just the right distance apart to create an artificial brush pile habitat. These are marked so fishermen know where to drop their jigs and bait.

Be Aware of the Laws!

Since Crappie are so popular it is an economic boost to those who sell fishing gear, provide overnight accommodations, and food to feed the fishermen near where the fish are caught. Some lakes have strict laws governing the size of Crappie that can be kept by the fishermen. Be sure to know the regulations for your area! In most regions there is also a limit of how many you can catch a day. In Tennessee, the statewide creel limit for Crappie is 15 fish and they must be at least 10 inches long to keep. However, at some lakes, like Percy Priest Lake, (this is the one with the sunken pipe habitats mentioned earlier), you can catch twice that number, 30 a day. These size limits and creel numbers often change from year to year depending on the populations available.

Many Different Techniques

One of the interesting ways these fish are often caught is called Spider Rigging. This technique is used widely in shallow lakes like Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. Fishermen set up their boats with multiple poles all the same size, usually about 12 ft. long. The poles are set in rod-holders about 8 to 10 inches above the water all around the boat. The lines are rigged with jigs and sunk only about 1 to 2 ft. deep. The fishermen use a trolling motor and move around the edges of the lake. When a fish grabs the jig they flip it up into the boat, unhook it and place it in the live-well or bucket and then reset the pole and line for another fish. In lakes like this fishermen can catch a whole freezer full in a day’s tine. I’ve never tried this yet since I have neither a boat or that many poles. I can still catch fish from the dock or shore. Some people use a  minnow under a bobber and others trail a Crappie jig behind a bobber and just roll it in slowly until the bobber sinks and set the hook. Be very careful when setting the hook, however! They don’t call them “Papermouths” for nothing!

Crappie are highly prized for their pure, white, flaky flesh. There are tons of great recipes for cooking them up. Since you usually catch a bunch it is well worth your while to fillet them up. Others just scale them and fry up the whole fish, bones and all. Since the meat is flaky it is easy to remove it from the bones.

The fish below went back in the lake to grow up. It was fun to catch, however.

 

Strong Fighters and Meaty

 

Another large sunfish is the Shellcracker, also known as a Red-ear Sunfish.

 

These fish put up a good fight and have a lot of meat on them. I caught one yesterday that was bigger than my large hands and fought harder than a bass. These fish also breed near the shore in the Springtime. Last year I caught a half dozen large ones in a half an hour in the same General area near the shore. I almost always catch them on worms. They are masters at stealing the bait so I usually only use part of a worm and bury a small hook totally inside the worm. Sometimes it will take a couple worms to get them on the line because of their sneaking worm grabbing abilities.

 

Create a Memory with this Old-Time Favorite: Bluegill

The final sunfish we will talk about is the most dependable species that can be caught year round in most freshwater lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds. These feisty little fish are the Bluegill. I rarely go to the lake without hooking into a number of these. I love to show kids fishing for the first time how to catch these fish. I used to work at a camp for the mentally disabled and they all seemed to enjoy fishing since it wasn’t long before they had one on the line. These are the fish to target if you are taking a child fishing for the first tine. They will be hooked on fishing for the rest of their lives. I remember taking my own kids down to the lake in California in the early Springtime, baiting up their lines with two hooks on each pole, and spending the whole time baiting hooks and removing fish while they kept bringing them in. In many places there is no size of creel limit on Bluegill. Just remember, however, that if you keep them you have to clean them! They are a good eating fish and a great fish to introduce someone to the wonderful taste of fish. I still remember my Grandpa cooking up a batch for me when we used to catch them out in the irrigation canals in Northern California when I was a kid. Why not take a kid fishing and create a wonderful memory of your own?

An Important Part of the Environment

These fish eat insects, other fish, spiders, snails, crayfish and other crustaceans, worms and insect larvae. They are often eaten by other animals including: larger fish (like bass), many birds (like herons and egrets, osprey, and eagles), raccoon, mink, and other mammals, as well as reptiles like snakes and turtles. They are part of many food webs and support a wide variety of animal life around and in the water.

Self-Regulating

Interestingly, if there are too many of these fish in a given area, their growth rates are diminished  and all the fish will be about the same size and very small. It’s important that their numbers be regulated and monitored in smaller lakes and ponds. Some fish, like these ones, secrete a chemical hormones that affects the growth rates of other fish in the area. Size is also related to the amount of food per fish available. 

 

Have You Heard the Carpenters? No, Not the Singers…the Bees!

Back in the seventies one of my favorite singing groups was the Carpenters. They truly created some beautiful music. This post, however, is not about this singing group but some other creatures that create some good vibrations.

So, What’s the Buzz?

Every Spring at our home in Tennessee, we hear a lot of buzzing around our house. If you walk out on the porch you will see hovering bees about the size of the bumblebee, but these bees don’t “bumble”, they bore!

 This is an Eastern Carpenter Bee.

If you look under the railing you will find large piles of sawdust where they have drilled round holes on the bottom of the boards. These little creatures can cause a lot of damage if your porch is constructed of pine or cedar, their favorite nesting material. Interestingly, They don’t eat the wood! They just use it to create nests where they can raise their young.

When You See the Sawdust Piles You Know the Bees Are About!

 

Notice that the holes they bore are round and about a half-inch in diameter.

Though they make a lot of noise and will buzz at you if you move something through their space, they rarely cause any harm to people other than the destruction of their wood edifices. The males, which are the most aggressive, do not even have stingers, so they can’t sting. The females do have stingers but rarely sting unless someone is trying to get into their nest.

Below You Can See Them Hover.

Speeders Beware!

Scientists have conducted several studies and found that these bees can actually identify one another. They have also discovered that they rarely respond to an invasion of their territory unless the invader is moving quickly. They tied several bees to strings and slowly lowered them into the territory or just let them hang there, and the bees showed no aggression. If, however, the strings were moved quickly, there was an immediate response. I have noticed that when I wave my arm or a butterfly net through their space they aggressively buzz about. Since I know the males can’t hurt me, I pursue those doing damage to my house. I have also treated several of the existing holes with bug spray. We will eventually have to replace the wood railing with a plastic or metal substitute that the bees can’t destroy.

Not All Bad!

Though many don’t appreciate their burrowing tendencies they should recognize their beneficial characteristics. Each and every creature God created has a purpose! Carpenter bees actually do more good than harm. They are excellent pollinators and especially good at helping your garden production of tomatoes and eggplants and many other crops and ornamental flowers. They can pollinate flowers that others cannot. These bees were created with special mouth-parts for cutting through the outer membranes of flowers to access the nectar inside. As they perform  this operation, they become covered with pollen which then gets transferred to the next flower.

“Good Vibrations”

They also pollinate by vibration! Their buzzing near the flowers causes the anthers of the flowers to vibrate thus releasing pollen. This is similar to what some farmers do to increase their tomato production by using an electric toothbrush to shake the flowers. Others just shake the stalks holding the flowers to accomplish the same results. The bees get it done musically. I guess that is what is known as “Good Vibrations“!

Food for Others Continue reading “Have You Heard the Carpenters? No, Not the Singers…the Bees!”

Have You Ever Eaten Lotus Seeds? AKA “Cajun Peanuts”

One of the interesting plants that God created for man to enjoy was the American Lotus Plant. It not only provides beauty, it is also very useful to man and other creatures providing both food and shelter and even a bathing place for birds. Let’s learn more about these unusual plants.

 

  

Last Fall my son-in-Law, two grandsons, and I went for a boat ride on Reelfoot Lake. Our guide for the day let us experience a new tasty treat that grows right in the lake. Though I had often seen the the seed pods of the American Lotus plant in flower arrangements, I didn’t know that they contained edible seeds. They are often harvested in the months of August and September just after they flower, the petals fall off and when the pods are still tender. When you break open the pods you can find about 20 seeds inside. Squeeze one out of its outer skin and pop it in your mouth. They taste sort of like a water chestnut. They can also be boiled and eaten. Some people boil them down and turn them into paste that can be used like flour or as a thickening for soups.

 

 

 

The young leaves of this water plant can also be sliced up and cooked like spinach. I also learned that the long roots, about as long as your forearm, can be sliced up and fried like pancakes. These plants were a mainstay in the diets of Native Americans who lived near ponds and lakes where they grow in abundance.

The larger leaves of this water plant were often used to wrap food for cooking, keeping the food contained and moist until unwrapped and eaten.

 

When God designed the leaves of this plant He gave them a waxy surface so they would float on the surface of the water providing a natural bird bath as they collect fresh rainwater and create small pools in the centers of the leaf. The leaves also provide shade and protection for the fish that make nests under them. Fishermen like to throw their lures up into a bunch of these plants knowing that their lures will usually slip right through them and that the big fish can be found there. Many small animals can actually use the leaves like a raft out in the open water.

 

 

If you want to see the flowers of these plants you only have a short time to do so. The flowers bloom and in two days time they have dropped their petals. The nectar and pollen from these flowers provide food for many insects. Fortunately they don’t all bloom during the same two days so there can be different fresh flowers providing food for several days.

 

The next time you go boating in a lake full of water lilies, look for these plants. You will be glad you took the time to investigate these amazing gifts of God.

Turtles Everywhere!

Turtles make up one of the most interesting groups of reptiles. I seemed to find them everywhere I go fishing, especially since I moved to Tennessee. In this post I will show you several that decided to take my fish bait.

Some of the others I saw sitting around the lake or in the waterways nearby. One even traveled up to my yard to lay her eggs last Summer.

 

 

This unfortunate snapping turtle got snagged on my fishing lure as I brought it back to the shore. He wasn’t happy to be so rudely taken. After snapping and hissing, I was able to remove him with my hook pliers and set him free. This is just one of three snapping turtles that I have caught down at the lake so far. One of the others snapped out and jumped toward my camera and hit the lens. It got my attention and taught me to respect these aggressive turtles.

These turtles can grow to massive sizes. Below is a picture of one I saw in a stream-bed under a dam at Radnor Lake State Park in Brentwood, Tennessee. It was about three feet long.

Interestingly, the Snapping turtles are actually good fishermen. They actually use a lure, part of their tongue that looks like a worm. As they wave it in the water with their mouths open, along come fish trying to eat the worm. Snap!  Guess who becomes dinner?

Here are some more pictures of snapping turtles I caught since first publishing the first post. This snapper tried to bite me a couple of times. Needless to say, I moved quickly! I was able to flip the biggest one over and get some pictures of its belly. Notice also the long claws.

I caught one on chicken liver and the other on a hunk of bluegill. I was trying to catch a catfish. This big one is about two feet long.

 

 

 

Here are some more turtles. Notice that most of these are Red-eared sliders.

 

Time to lay some eggs.

The turtle below laid eggs under a tree in my front yard. It traveled about a quarter mile from the lake to my yard.

Can you see the area behind her? She dug a hole and carefully laid and buried the eggs.

 

Red-Eared Sliders

                 

Worms and cut up bluegill were too tempting to these turtles.

 

One day I caught seven turtles in just a couple hours. The picture (above right) with three turtles, shows three of the seven still on shore before I let them all go back into the lake.

Below is a softy!

One of the turtles was much different from the others. It was a soft-shelled turtle. The picture above shows the underside of a Soft-shelled turtle.

Keep Turtles Where They Belong!

Though most turtles spend most of their lives in the water, some types are more terrestrial, like the box turtles.  The majority of water turtles are the Red-eared sliders. Unfortunately many of these have been introduced into the environment by people with good intentions but a poor knowledge of the environment.

When I was a child, red-eared sliders were sold by the thousands to people wanting a cute pet. Practically every kid had one in a plastic container. What they didn’t tell you when you bought one was that they grow up and often outlive their owners. When the turtles got bigger and people didn’t like maintaining a suitable habitat for their pets, they took them to the nearest lake or stream and released them. This caused a lot of problems for the native turtles in those regions. Competition for food and space created a difficult situation for the natives. Unfortunately many of these species were threatened and some were completely wiped out in certain areas. Today there is an over-abundance of this species. Go to any park pond and you will probably see what I mean. The turtles are often stacked on top of each other on the logs in the pond and on the shore-line.

Turtles do serve a purpose in the areas you find them. They are the clean-up crew. They will eat dead and decaying fish, help control the insect population, and regulate the fish if there are too many of a given species.

Enjoy Them Where You Are!

  

When God created the turtles He designed them well for where they live. Their hard shells, ( for most turtles), provide great protection from predators who seek to eat them. When the enemy comes they just withdraw into their shells and hide until the threat passes. Many also have offensive weapons to use to drive off other animals or each other. The snapping turtles are probably the best example of this. They can literally snap off a broom handle with their powerful beaks. Turtles also give off warning hisses when they think someone or something is getting too close.

 

Below are a couple pictures from Texas of some large turtles that come up and sun-bathe on shore at my son’s house on Spring Lake.

 

 

Just Hanging Out In The Sun!

Notice that more than one species can occupy the same area. This big guy must be at the top of the pecking order. Turtles love to lay out in the sun to warm up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look For Turtles Near You.

Why not take some time to watch the turtles in your area. They have many interesting habits and are sure fun to watch while sitting lake-side and fishing. You may see a head pop up out of the lake when they come up for air. Look along the shore-line. They will often be sunning themselves on a the ground, a rock or a log. Just be sure to take along a pair of pliers to remove the hook if they decide to eat your bait!

Looking for Gold…..Golden Trout, That Is!

One the most fun types of fish to catch are the trout. There are so many different kinds of trout and they all are so interesting to observe. Trout also a very yummy if you decide to keep them. Just watching them is a thrill. In this blog post you will learn about several different kinds of trout. I hope you find pleasure in learning about these amazing fish God created for us to enjoy.

Click below to open the Powerpoint presentation. You can also open it in Keynote, if you have that app.

Looking for Golden Trout

“If It Quacks Like A Duck” …What If It Doesn’t Quack? Can It Be A Duck?

 

Have you you ever seen a duck like these? I had not until my son sent me some pictures of these strange birds. Apparently you have to be in the Southern- most part of the United States to see them. These ducks were photographed in Texas feeding in the lawn next to a lake. They often go unseen in the areas where they live because they do most of their feeding at night. You will probably hear them before you see them, however. They are very loud. Don’t expect to hear quacking! They aren’t called “Whistling Ducks” for nothing. These are Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks. They are more similar to the swans in behavior than the ducks you and I are most familiar. So how are they different?

Black-Bellied Whistling ducks spend more time on the ground than in the water. They also are monogamous: they mate for life with just one partner. They, in addition, are difficult to tell  apart by gender since both the females and the males look alike, which is quite different than other ducks. They usually nest in trees or other high structures that offer cavities for the eggs to be placed. If you look at them closely you will notice they have much longer legs than other ducks. These ducks usually stay in the same areas throughout the year. Though they might move around within that space, they really don’t migrate.

Some other interesting things about these ducks is how they often practice “egg dumping“. What does that mean? The females occasionally  sneak into another Whistling Duck’s nesting area and dump the eggs already there and replace them with their own eggs. I guess this is a sneaky way out of having to feed the ducklings when they arrive. These ducks eat mostly plant material being primarily Herbivores. They often augment their diets with a little protein by consuming small aquatic insects, snails and spiders. They also may raid a farmer’s field to feed on rice and corn though usually this is after the primary harvest where they are actually serving as clean up duty for the remaining grain.

Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks have a number of natural enemies.These include animals that feed on their eggs like: raccoons, skunks, rat snakes, and bull snakes. Other animals prey on the baby ducklings including: Bass, catfish, gar, and even fire-ants. The adults are occasionally snatched up by great-horned owls.

These ducks are very colorful. Note their pink beaks, gray heads, black legs and chocolate brown wings. If you watch them in flight you will notice they have white wing patches which are mostly out of sight when on the ground.

So…if you are in Texas and if you hear a loud “Waa-Choo” whistling sound, you might find these ducks nearby. I can’t wait to return to my son’s house to observe them first-hand!

 

Here you see a pair sharing the shore with a Great Egret.

 

 

                        
    

All of the above pictures were taken by Calvin Gluck in his yard inTexas. Thank you, Calvin.

Below are a couple pictures taken at the same lake by a neighbor of Calvin, Jamie. Thanks for letting me include them in my blog.

 

 

A Rarely Seen Creature: A Springtime Beauty!

While walking in Dogwood Canyon in Missouri this past week I discovered a creature I had never seen before. Apparently it is only seen in its adult stage in the months of March through May. It is often mistaken for a butterfly when it is actually a moth. It fooled me until I took a closer look. Let’s learn about the Grapevine epimenis.

 

 

Click below to open Powerpoint presentation. If you have the Keynote app, you can also open it there.

 

Diurnal Moth Grapevine epimenis