What Are These Little Green Snakes In My Yard?

Great Snake To Have In Your Yard!

This little snake, a Smooth Green Snake, is a great find if it shows up around your house. Guess what it eats?  Spiders and bugs!

Friendly Little Guys:

These snakes rarely bite and are quite tame when you pick them up. If they do bite they rarely break the skin and they are not poisonous. They just enjoy snacking on the spiders and insects in your yard and are fun to watch, if you can spot them.

 

Excellent Camouflage:

Though quite common, they are rarely seen. Of all the snakes in Tennessee these probably have the best camouflage. They are green like a branch and spend a lot of time above the ground crawling through the vegetation. Animals that climb in trees and vegetation are known as “arboreal” creatures. They even sometimes coil up on branches to rest without being seen. They also are quick to stop moving if activity is going on around them so they do not give away their position to animals that use motion to detect their prey. They would be good at the game “Freeze Tag”. This disguise is not merely for protection, it also allows them to wait for their prey to come to them or to sneak up without being detected.

 

Call Me What You Will, I’m Just A Helpful Neighbor.

These snakes go by several different common names. Sometimes called “Grass Snakes” and “Vine Snakes”, because they resemble the vegetation they crawl through. Unlike the true Vine snakes that are found in tropical regions and are mildly poisonous, these are not. Their scientific name is Opheodrys vernalis. 

Small and Skinny:

These snakes usually range between 11 and 20 inches in length and are very skinny. They are sometimes confused with the  Rough Green Snake which often live in the same territory. However, its easy to see why these snakes are called “smooth Green Snakes”. The other variety has rough scales on its skin.

Shake Your Head:

One of the interesting behaviors of this snake is to watch its head. While zeroing in on its prey it often shakes its head back and forth. It also uses its keen sense of smell to locate its prey. They use their tongues to smell, flicking them in and out and withdrawing them back into their Jacobson’s organs to analyze the chemicals in the air. They are very good and finding their dinner in this manner.

 

Water Loving:

These snakes are often found near the water or at least living in moist environments. They also like rocky boarders and areas with lots of grass and vegetation to hunt in. They are important in the ecosystem controlling the amount of insects and arachnids living their.

 

So…..If You See Us, Be Thankful!

As I discover new creatures in God’s Creation I am so thankful to know that each was designed with a specific purpose and is a testimony of the greatest of the Creator that designed them. I thank God for creating such a wonderful variety of creatures for us to discover and study. The more we look, the more we can praise the One who made them all for us to enjoy.

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Colossians 1: 16

“For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him and for Him.”

Let’s Catch Some Shellcrackers!

Spring Has Sprung The Time Has Come!

One of the best times of the year for fishermen is the Spring Time. That is when the fish are the most active! One of my favorite fish to catch at this time of the year is the Shellcrackers.

 

Largest of the Centrachidae family, they fight aggressively as you bring them to shore. (I personally think they outfight the bass in the lake where I fish!) 

Bottoms Up!

One of the most important things to know when targeting this species is to put your worm on the bottom of the lake where you are more likely to find them. I like to use a sliding sinker with a small split shot beneath so when the fish take the bait you can feel the tug and set the hook before they completely swallow the bait.  Since they often take the bait deep before you have a chance to set the hook, it’s good to have a pair of long-nosed de-hooker pliers handy to remove the hooks.

Great Eating!

Of all the sunfish varieties, I think these are the best tasting as well as the largest. Catch a few and you will have more than enough meat for a meal. One of my favorite ways to eat them is in fish tacos.

                                     The meat is flaky and sweet! 

 

Helpful Fish:

Since these fish specialize in feeding on Mollusks they rarely compete with the other sunfish species that feed at the surface. In addition, they help control the rapid growth of many native species of water snails and especially are helpful in keeping many invasive species in check (like the infamous quagga mussels). Since they are equipped to crack and crush the hard shells of these creatures they are often introduced into waters infested with these alien species. They have been found to be very successful in this venture as well as providing an excellent sport fishing species.

Spring Spawn:

If the water is clear you may see them sitting on their nests near the shore in the Spring Time. This is where they congregate in the Spring.

Daddy Does His Job!

The male builds the nest, and if he does a good job, the female will come and lay her eggs there. Understand that they will be very active at this time.

Don’t Forget The Future!

When I catch them in the Spring I often carefully remove the hooks of the large females with swollen bellies full of eggs. In this way I help insure a healthy population next Spring. This is a good practice with other species as well, but it’s all right to keep some for dinner!  They reproduce well and taking a few won’t cause a problem.

Call Them What You May:

Shellcrackers, Red-Earred Sunfish, Chinquapins, Mollusks Eaters, Georgia Bream, Cherry Gills”, are some of the names given to these fish. No matter what you call them they will make your fishing trip a success. Why not get out there and catch some?

                       Bright Yellow Breast.

 

This Fish Is Full of Eggs. She Went Back In The Lake.

When Wiggling In The Light They Are Like Peacock Feathers.

They show off their many colors.

When God Created These Fish He Used A Colorful Pallet! The colors change as they move in the light.

Baby Cottontail Rabbits In My Garden

What’s That Growing in My Garden?

 

I had an interesting experience this afternoon. As the weather has finally changed to Spring Time, I decided it was time to clear the weeds out of my garden. All was going well until I noticed some fur at the base of one of the large weeds I removed. All of a sudden the ground began to move and out popped the head of a tiny bunny rabbit. In fact, there were five little cottontails inside the shallow fur lined depression. I learned that these are called “forms” and are used as nest for baby rabbits in the Springtime. Apparently, cottontails don’t dig burrows in the ground for homes. Instead, some find old holes dug by skunks, squirrels, and other animals. Since the mother only feeds her baby cottontails twice a day, they choose the best time to avoid detection, morning and evening. The grass, weeds, brush, and other plants around the “forms” provide great concealment during the day.

 

Many Enemies

Rabbits are very productive. They pump out babies in bunches of five or so, and just keep bringing new ones into the world. The number of individual babies an animal produces is usually directly related to their mortality rate. Since very few of the babies will ever reach maturity the mothers produce many litters every year during their short life spans. Dogs, coyotes, owls, snakes, foxes, cats, many birds of prey, raccoons, weasels, crows, man, and even squirrels attack baby rabbits and their parents. Cottontails are classified as a game animal and rules are established by the Department of Fish and Game for their protection. Farmers are allowed to kill them if they are causing agricultural problems.

 

 

 

Live and Let Live

I don’t mind sharing some of my vegetables with wildlife in my yard. I think it is interesting to observe the creatures that live in my area. In the hope that these little rabbits survive I pushed a little of the dirt around the form and replaced one of the weeds I pulled to partially cover the bunnies. I’m hoping the mother will come back and move them to a more secure place this evening.

Interesting Rabbit Facts

Why the White Tails?

Scientists have studied animals with white tails to try to figure out their function. Most conclude it actually confuses prey animals chasing them as they dart to and fro in their bouncy escape. It’s sort of like a bull fighter waving a red flag.

Wow! That’s a Lot of Babies!

Each batch of babies is called a “kit”. A mother rabbit can produce up to seven kits a year. That potentially would be about 35 bunnies in all, however, most only produce about five kits. A lot depends in the environmental conditions, food, water, and rate of predation.

What’s Been Chewing On My Tree?

Sometimes these rabbits can develop a taste for the bark of certain trees and can cause damage or even death of the trees that they gnaw on. Many tree experts put metal or plastic guards around the bases of trees to prevent this kind of damage.

Worldwide Distribution

Of the more than 60 species of rabbits the kinds of cottontails make up 13 of them. There are nine species of cottontails in North America and Mexico. Cottontails are found all around the world in both cold and warm regions.

And In This Corner We Have The Lightweights

A fully developed Eastern Cottontail is about 15-19 inches long (38-49 cm). They can weigh from two to four pounds.

Speedy Rabbits

Cottontails can run a speeds of 18 mph for up to a half mile. They have to be fast to avoid capture.

 

 

The pictures above are two days later. Notice the hair starting to form.

Now That Smells!

They have excellent ability to smell having about 100 million sensing receptors in their noses. (That compares to about 5-6 million in humans).

Specialized Teeth

Rabbits have teeth that just keep growing. The grasses and other vegetation they feed on and their gnawing on tree trunks help keep their teeth trimmed. These unique teeth enable them to maintain healthy teeth for all their dietary needs.

Consider the Evidence for Design

As I observe these, and other creatures, I am called to consider how all this specialized design came to be. I personally believe it all points to a common Designer. How about you?

The picture below was taken on April 19, 2018. Note that one of the original bunnies died. He was the runt of the litter. The others seem to be doing well in spite of some really cold evenings and a couple down pours. 

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I finally caught the Mother with the babies in the morning.

 

Below are some more pictures a few days later:

Notice that they are getting bolder. This one left the nest when I lifted the weeds from on top. He stayed close and went right back into the shelter once I stood back. Not long from now they will have to fend for themselves.

Baby Snapping Turtles

 

You Must have Been A Beautiful Baby!

Isn’t it fun to look at baby pictures and try to guess who they are many years later? The same is true with animals. Some go through dramatic transformations and look totally different as they go through metamorphosis. Isn’t  it amazing how different a butterfly is from the caterpillar it was formerly? Other animals go through dramatic growth stages. One such animal is the Snapping Turtle.

This last week I received the pictures that are in this post. This little “snapper” was found while my friend, Danae Was cleaning out the garage in Arlington, Texas. You probably remember the blog post about the turtle survey we participated in at Spring Lake. The two large snappers that were seen in that blog are what the turtles look like when they grow up. You can also see pictures of even larger snappers in my earlier blog post. (I’ve included one at the bottom of this post.) So……let me show you the baby one:

Isn’t It A Cutie?

Notice Its Size In Relation to the Quarter.

Bottoms Up! Notice It Already Has Long Claws.

 

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Wow! You’ve Changed A Lot Since I Last Saw You!

Notice how the ridges on the back smooth out as the turtles grow. Turtles have very long life cycles. Some live to be 100 years old. Wow! It’s best to leave the turtles to grow in their natural environments and go and observe them in their home territories. Turtles do best in the wild and you are more likely to observe their natural behaviors there. 

As you look at these turtles and consider their amazing design, just think of the amount of information that must be stored in their DNA for this growth process to occur over the turtle’s life span. Amazing design demands an Amazing Creator. I thank God for designing these amazing creatures.

Why don’t you see if you can find out more about these wonderful creatures? There are many articles on turtles on the internet. See if you can learn something new through ongoing research. You won’t be disappointed!

 

 

 

Turtle Survey at Spring Lake, Texas

 Snapping Turtle

 Red-eared Slider

 

How we captured, measured, weighed, and collected data on the turtles:

I just returned from an exciting trip to Texas where we were invited to participate in a turtle survey at the small lake at my Son’s house in Arlington, Texas. I learned a lot in the process and thought you would love to see how it was done.

The girls around the lake have a club that is interested in studying and preserving wildlife. Three of the turtle specialist from the university there came to show the girls and the rest of us how to conduct a scientific survey of turtle species. They plan to follow up this study with future visits to the lake.

It all began late in the afternoon. Many traps had to be set up and baited. We had to punch holes in plastic bottles and fill them with bait: sardines, chicken liver, chicken legs, chicken breasts, various kinds of fruit, and more. Each bottle then had to be placed inside the nets and hung so they could attract turtles.

Next, the nets had to be placed in the water. It is important when setting nets to keep the top part out of the water so the turtles can come up and take a breath and not drown. Here are some pictures of the process: The girls used kayaks and well as waded in the water to get them in place.

Once the nets were in place it was time to wait. The girls had a camp out by the lake and got up early the next morning to inspect the traps.

Early risers with their turtle pajamas.

The first turtle found in a small net was Cracker. This turtle was the rescued turtle that helped the girls get in contact with the turtle experts. The turtle was near death when first found last year and it was captured and rehabilitated and returned to the lake where it is thriving. Good thing the girls found it before it died in the lake.  It’s interesting that this turtle was the first to be captured in the survey.

This is Cracker. See the broken shell on the left side by the head.

Next, they pulled the other traps. They found two more turtles, both snappers.

Collecting Data:

Once the turtles were captured and placed in containers, it was time to do the measuring, weighing and examining of the turtles. The girls recorded their data in small field logs indicating the species, whether or not they were male or female, their weight, the measurements of their carapace length, width and depth. They also measured the plastroms and checked the female to see if she were carrying eggs. No eggs were found. The two larger snappers were both males. Calipers were used for the measurements.

After measuring, the shells were inspected for damage and any markings. We discovered some of the turtles were missing claws on their feet and others had part of their shell damaged. This data was recorded using the turtle shell maps given the girls for this purpose.

Releasing the Turtles:

After all the data was collected the turtles were released back into the lake and were rewarded with all the left over bait. It was fun to watch them crawl back into the water and know they were living in a safe place where they would be appreciated.

The Celebration:

After all the excitement it was time to celebrate with turtle pancakes for breakfast. 

Clean Up, Clean Up, Everyone Lend a Hand:

After the celebration all the equipment had to be gathered up to be taken to the next survey over at the river. Many hands made light work.

Thank You to Our Leaders:

We would like the thank all the people from Texas Turtles who helped us, especially Viviana Ricardez  , Andrew Brinker, Carl J. Franklin, our turtle experts. We would also like to acknowledge all the residents of Spring Lake who helped set up this adventure and Calvin and Danae and Barbara at whose house we did the survey.

We learned a lot and have a deeper appreciation for these reptilian creatures.

Slithering Snakes: Origami Serpents

SSSSSS-Snakes!

 

One of the interesting things you can make with the left over scraps of paper is snakes. These were all made with left-over strips of paper from other origami projects. All you need is a long strip of paper and knowledge of how to fold pop and hood folds, and snakes are in your future.

Bend Them Any Way You Want To:

As you can see in the above photographs, you can make the folds bend in many ways to create just the look you want. Some are just up and down diagonal hood and pop folds. Others, like the pink one, are developed by combining folds that bend back over previous folds and then back out again. Experiment and you can create several different snake types. I even made some with Cobra Hoods.

Stick Your Tongue Out!    Add A Tongue and Eyes:

If you take a small piece of red or pink paper and slit it down the middle, leaving only a tiny section still attached, you can make a tongue. Curl it up and add a drop of glue and insert it into the head to make the tongue. The eyes can either be added with a felt tip or you can cut smaller pieces of paper and glue them onto the form. You can also add spots by using hole punched paper. Just a tiny drop of glue holds them in place.

You Can Vary The Sizes:

Depending on where and how you want to use them, you can make them any size depending on the piece of paper you start with. I recommend you start with a long strip of paper. Once you reach the size you want you can cut off what’s left and have a snake just the right length and shape.

Use Them To Illustrate a Story:

It’s interesting to note how many stories involve snakes. Usually the snake is the villain! One of the most interesting stories is found in the Book of Genesis at the beginning of your Bible. It is the story of the Garden of Eden and the fall of man. We also see snakes on a pole as Moses raised them up to ward off the plague that was harming the Children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. The serpent being lifted up was a type of the future raising of Christ on the Cross. All who looked on the serpent in faith were healed. (Have you ever seen the medical symbol with a snake on it?) All who turn to Christ as their salvation receive eternal life. In the New Testament we read the story of Paul in the Book of Acts, who was bitten by a poisonous snake after surviving shipwreck and an amazing storm. After he was bitten, the natives of the island where they landed stood around waiting for him to die believing that he was bitten at the direction of an angry god because he was a prisoner. Little did they know that he was only a prisoner for sharing his faith, not for a terrible crime like many of the other prisoners on board the ship. Of course, our loving God (not the angry pagan gods) was quick to use this as an opportunity to allow Paul to share his faith with others on the island. As a result of this snake encounter many came to know the Savior as LORD and Master of their lives.

Isn’t it interesting to note that God can use even creatures despised by many to teach us important lessons. Take some time to look at some of the snake types and recognize their creative beauty. So many interesting patterns and behaviors. Just remember that the reason so many despise them had to do with man’s original sin in the Garden. Even snakes were created with a purpose!

Don’t Stir Up A Hornet’s Nest!

 

 

Not Just an Old Saying! “Don’t Stir Up A Hornet’s Nest!”

Have you ever heard this expression? It is often said to discourage people from entering an argument or engaging with an angry person. However, there is some substance behind the origin of the saying. How do I know? Personal experience!   On two occasions I have accidentally stirred up a hornet’s nest.

 

I remember several years ago in Idaho, walking down the edge of the creek while fishing. My pole tip was out in front of me and I was watching the stream looking for a likely place to catch a nice big trout. Next thing I know I hear a lot of buzzing. I discovered that the tip of my pole had run into the large hornet’s nest that was clinging to some branches near the shore. I took off trying to avoid the mad hornets out to get me for disturbing their nest. The only safe place I found was the creek where I submerged for a bit hoping the hornets would leave. After holding my breath for as long as I could in the cold water I emerged and the angry creatures had returned to try to repair what was left of their nest. Needless to say, I am much more careful when walking along steams these days.

Too Close For Comfort!

I recently had an even more dangerous encounter here in Tennessee. Our Community Group from church was helping a person in our neighborhood who has cancer. We were working to clean up and care for his yard around the house. While cutting back the brush way back near the house I accidentally struck another hornet’s nest. These guys were even bigger than the Baldfaced Hornets I had encounter in Idaho. These were the largest hornets in Northern America, the European Hornets, AKA “Giant Hornets” They got to me before I noticed their attack. I was stung a couple times right through my gloves and on my arm. Painful!  The pain lasted for the rest of the day and the next day the spots where they had stung me itched terribly. Eventually the pain went away.

After doing some research on these hornets I discovered some interesting things about their behaviors and life history.

They Are Not Called European For Nothing!

These Hornets came from Europe via New York. They were first discovered in New York in 1840. Since then they have spread to all the states East of the Mississippi River and have even extended their range to parts of South America. Their nickname “Giant Hornet” has to do with their size. Many are as large as 1 1/2 ” (2-3.5 cm).  Interestingly they are not as aggressive as some of our native wasps and hornets….unless……..you threaten their nests! When they are in close proximity to homes they can pose some danger. If you find them near your house it is probably wise to call a professional to deal with them since they know how to manage them without getting harmed.

 

Brown and Yellow and Red

As you might be able to see from the pictures these hornets have more of a yellow and brown striped look. Sometimes their heads are more reddish than brown. If you are familiar with the Bald Faced Hornets, they are usually more white and black banded. Our native Yellow Jackets have yellow and black stripes.

They Eat Big Things!

These hornets like to eat larger insects and spiders. One of their favorites is grasshoppers. They also prey on dragonflies, mantises and robberflies. They also like to eat other types of meat….Spiders.

A Neat Trick:

Scientists who have observed them for many years have discovered that these hornets like to specialize in preying on the large orb weavers (like the Zipper Spider in my earlier blog). Here is what they have observed them doing. They sometimes intentionally run into a spider’s web and pretend to be trapped. They actually have cut through the webbing that usually holds the spider’s prey until it is bitten and  then eaten. As soon as the spider comes out to enjoy his freshly trapped meal the tables are turned and the hornet strikes the spider and paralyzes it and then carries it off to the nest to be eaten.

What’s With the Rings on the Trees?

Another interesting behavior of these hornets is what they do to trees near their nests. They go out and chew the bark and mix it with their saliva to build the paper for their nests. They have a habit of returning to the same tree over and over again creating rings around the trees where they have stripped off the bark. The paper they make is very good at protecting the nest from water and cold and heat. If they build their nests outside  they also build a wall around the nest to protect the cells inside. Since they often build their nests inside of hollow trees and in the walls of buildings they do not always have these external protective walls, however. You might see the paper around the openings where the insects enter and exit the nest. I wonder how they learned to make this paper. I think it was a talent given them by God.

Watch Out for the Females!

Interestingly it’s the females that sting you. The males do not. So…….how do you tell the difference? Well, if you really want to know, there are several differences. The males are usually smaller in size than the females. The males have seven segments on their abdomens while the females only have 6. I doubt that you could see these differences until it was too late to avoid the stings however, unless they were already dead. Apparently their antennae also have a different number of segments but you would need a magnifying glass to see this characteristic. Best to observe them from a distance and photographs!

Often Harmful to Honey Bees

One of the draw backs of these hornets is their appetite for the common honeybee. Did you know the honeybees also came from Europe so there seems to be some history here. If you are raising honeybees you probably don’t want these guys around. Even though they eat many harmful insects that might threaten your garden they also eat many beneficial ones.

Best To Leave Creatures Where You Find Them!

When God created the many different creatures He put them in areas where they were helpful. It seems man has often moved creatures thinking they might benefit them in places other than their native habitats. This almost always creates a problem as time goes on. Many times the non-native species compete with the native ones, sometimes even leading to their extinction. Non-native species often are brought into the country accidentally attached to food products and plants. This is why there are many people employed to check items brought across state and country borders. We need to be careful to check our items carefully and help prevent unwanted pests. Though they are not so great out of place they were created for their native environment and serve a purpose there in controlling the populations of harmful insects. They are interesting creatures to examine up close…when they are dead! I suggest you look at pictures of them online and read all about them in the many articles you can find written by experts who have studied them for some time.

Here Are Some Things to Research:

Find out how the females over-winter to start new nests in the Spring.

What are Pheromones and how are they used by these creatures?

How painful are their stings compared to other bees and wasps?

Do hornets die when they sting you like honeybees?

A Special Thank You:

I would like to thank my friend Heather Davis for capturing this specimen for me. She lives near the house where I was stung earlier this year. She also is a blogger with interesting posts.

 

Here’s a Walking Stick Not Used for Hiking

Stick With Me!

 

One of the most interesting of all insects is the Walking Stick. It so closely resembles a stick that it can hide in plain sight. It is good that  God has given these insects this talent for hiding since they are considered fine food  for birds and small mammals. Could you find it when hiding in the sticks?

Hint: Look for antennae.

With the Sticks Gone:

 

When alone, it looks like this:

Family Ties:

The walking stick insects belong to the family of insects known as the Phasmidae. These insects are mostly found in the southern regions of the United States and many forms exist in the tropical regions of the world. Some grow to immense sizes. Some are as small as 1/2 inch, but others reach sizes over a ft. in length. One of the newest species, found in Borneo, out-did the others in length. It was actually 22 inches when its legs where extended. Wow!

I’d Give An Arm or a Leg for That!

One of the most interesting things about these insects is that they often drop a leg when some other creature is attacking. They have an amazing God given ability to regrow these parts through regeneration. Since these insects must shed their skins several times during their development, whenever a new skin is in place it is complete with the missing legs that were broken off in the earlier stages. This process is known as molting and is used by most insects in their development.

Why Are You Eating Your Old Clothes?

Immediately after molting is the most dangerous time for walking stick insects. At that time their skins are very soft an need to harden in the air for a time before they become more durable. Many of the tiny nymphs actually eat their cast off skins since they are a sure sign to predators that their owners are nearby. In this way the protein that makes up their old skin gets recycled as well.

That’s Nothing! Wait Until You Learn About This Trick!

One other amazing feature of these insects is their ability to reproduce parthenogenetically, without the need for males. Since this is possible, the majority of stick insects you will find are female. However, they still can mate with the few males that are out there. When they do only about half of the babies will be male. A captive walking stick insect can give birth to around a hundred female babies. “Why so many?” You might ask. Even though these insects are good at camouflage, they still are eaten by a wide variety of other creatures. Only a small portion of the offspring will make it to maturity.

Here is a baby one I found on a Coleus plant on my front porch. It is only 1/2 ” long.

Another Cool Trick:

It has been observed that these insects further their deception as twigs by moving back and forth with the wind like the surrounding vegetation. By rocking back and forth they look just like part of the plants they are on.

What About Offensive Weapons?

Though the walking sticks are exceptionally good at hiding they still are not defenseless! Some species, mostly tropical, even have the ability to shoot out a foul-smelling fluid that is also very bitter and in some instances even irritating to the skin of the predators seeking to eat them. This fluid is often aimed at the eyes and can cause discomfort though usually not lasting effects on the creatures sprayed with it. The species in the U.S., however, are not usually known for this behavior. 

As you can see in the above and below picture, this walking stick is not harmful.

We Don’t Bite….Just Tickle!

Is It Raining?

In some areas of the forests the dropping “seed-like” eggs of the walking sticks are so numerous that it sounds like rain drops falling. The tiny eggs fall into the leaf litter below and hatch out in the Spring time. (It has been discovered that a few species of walking sticks actually produce a glue-like substance which they use to attach their eggs to stems and leaves.)  When they emerge, those on the ground,  crawl up trees in the surrounding forest and feed on leaves. Walking sticks are vegetarians, herbivores.

Calling All Ants!

Some walking sticks have a neat way to get ants to protect their young. So how do they do it? The eggs of some species of walking sticks are covered with a fatty tissue called a capitulum at one end. This substance is highly desired as food for ants. When an ant finds the egg she takes it back to the nest where just the capitulum is eaten. The rest of the egg stays inside the ants’ nest where not many predators will wander due to the stings of the insects in the nest. In this manner the walking sticks remain protected until they hatch and climb out of the nest and into the trees around.

If All Else Fails….Just Play Dead!

Some walking sticks actually have another trick up their sleeves. They have discovered that by playing dead birds and other creatures find them uninteresting as food.  This behavior has a special name. It is called “thanatosis”. Now there’s a word you don’t hear every day!

What Else Can You Find Out About These Strange Insects?:

Some of this information was found by reading an article written by Debbie Hadley entiltled: 10 Interesting Facts About Stick Insects. You can find this and other articles on line with a simple search. Why not do some research on your own to learn more. See if you can find some in your neighborhood. Hint: I often find them in the fall on the outside of my house. It seems they are near the end of their growing seasons then and climb high to drop their eggs. They are much more visible against the siding of the house. 

 

Hairy Little Monsters and Skeletons? What?!!

This picture and question came my way this week via Facebook. I recognized it immediately! These little guys have caused me grief on more than one occasion in the past. So, what are they and what do they do? Let’s take a closer look.

What’s In A Name?

This creature is the larva of the dermestid beetle. The adult beetle has many common names: Skin Beetle, Skeletonizing Beetle, Carpet Beetle, Larder Beetle, and Khapra Beetle. No matter what you call them, they are usually a cause for a response.

A Pest?

If you are an insect collector, you will only want this creature in your collection if it is dead; otherwise it will eat up your entire collection! How do I know? I’ve had a few collections devastated by these remarkably hungry creatures. Most of the time collectors of insects include a tiny bit of protective poison inside their collections to deter these invaders. I used to take a mothball and heat a straight pin and insert it into the mothball so I could then place the pin inside the box to emit fumes that kept the little beasts away. After awhile, however, the mothball would run out as it kept shrinking in size when exposed to the air. By that time I had almost completely forgotten about its insertion into the box. Once the fumes stopped the beetle larvae soon smelled the dead bugs and made their way into the box. They can enter even through tiny holes and gaps in the box. I came back later to show off my bugs only to find a box full of powder and broken body parts. As you can guess, insect collectors are not fond of dermestid beetles!

Some See Them As Helpers:

Did you know some people even pay good money for a container of these insects? That’s right! They have found a way to use them to help them clean skeletons so they can be displayed in museums. When used this way they are called skeletonizing beetles. Just put the dead animal’s skull in a plastic box full of these larvae, snap it shut,  put it in a dark place, and wait. Eventually you will find that the skull has been completely stripped of skin and flesh.

They Even Help Solve Crimes!

Forensic specialists have discovered that these beetles can be used to determine the time of death in murder victims. It seems that scientists have learned the amount of time after death when the beetles usually appear and this provides an important timing device.

Feathers and Fur, Beware!

As a fisherman who has tied up a lot of trout flies, I know these beetles also like to snack on the materials used to make these trout attractors. Most of us have a lot of feathers, fur, and animal hair in our tool box. Though these materials are great for tying on a hook, they also are a fine meal for demestid beetle larvae. If you find holes in your feathers or chewed up hair and fur you won’t have to look far for the reason. They also enjoy feeding on fur coats and feathered hair pieces.

Lovers of Darkness

Though you may not need to look far, you will need to look closely to find these little bandits. They like to hide in dark places and only come out to eat when it is dark.

Very Important Creatures!:

Though these beetles can be destructive in many ways they actually have a very important ecological function! Can you imagine being buried under several feet of dead insects and seeing tons of dead, smelly animals all around you? That’s what would be the case if it were not for these little guys and other creatures that recycle dead things. Thank God that He created such natural recycle agents  and placed them in the environment to help sustain a comfortable living space.

Interesting to Study:

I have only told you a little about these amazing creatures. You can discover much more by doing a little research. See if you can find out how many different species of these insects exist. How big can they be? How small? How do they vary in color? How long do they live? Why are they called “dermestid” beetles? That’s only a few of the things you can learn. Have fun learning more.

I’m a hairy little Beast. My favorite poem is:

“Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair! Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he? ”

                        Of course this was after I removed all his hair as he sat in the museum.

The Insect Methusalah: The Cicada

Do You Know?

What insect can make a noise louder than a rock concert, equal to a chain saw, and  be heard up to half a mile away?

What insect lives up to 17 yrs. underground before emerging as an adult?

What insect buries itself up to 8 feet underground where it sucks on tree roots?

What insect emerges every 17 yrs. in plague-like numbers in the Eastern United States?

What insect is often fried up and eaten and called the “ground shrimp”?

Cicadas are one of the most interesting of all insects. They come in many varieties. There are more than 2,500 species world-wide. The only continent where they are not found in Antarctica. These insects are often called the insect Methuselah’s because of their longevity.

Now That’s Odd!

Some species can live up to 17 years underground before emerging as adults. These Cicadas are known as the Periodic Cicadas. Other Cicadas have one year annual cycles,  3 yrs. , or 13 yrs. cycles. Did you notice these numbers are all odd numbers? Scientists are not sure why but this seems to be consistent with all the species.

Life Cycle

Where does the cycle begin? The female Cicada makes slits in the outermost twigs of tree branches. She then inserts her eggs. One female can lay up to 600 eggs. About 6 weeks later when the nymphs come out of their egg cases they fall to the ground and begin digging. They can dig up to 8 feet underground to find the juicy roots of trees from which they feed. Their long needle-like mouth-parts stab into the roots from which they extract a constant flow of sap. Depending on their species, they can stay underground for a year or up to 17 years (the Periodic Cicadas). Once they burrow their way back up to the bases of tree trunks, they climb up and split their nymphal skins down their backs and crawl out as adults. This old skin remains attached to the tree. When they first emerge their wings are all crumpled up, but after a few hours they pump up their wings and dry them out and become strong fliers. They then go to the tops of the trees where they spend the adult portion of their lives. This is a short period of time compared to that underground. Usually they are adults for only 5-6 weeks if they survive the many predators that feed on them.

Who Eats Cicadas?

Cicadas have many enemies that feed on them. These include: birds, many kinds of rodents: like squirrels, moles, mice, and rats. Other mammals, like bats, also feed on them. Lizards, and even fish will eat them. Believe it or not, even people eat them! Ever heard of stirred fried Cicadas? About every 17 years when the Periodic Cicadas of the Eastern United States emerge, many restaurants will offer special meals of Cicadas prepared by some of the finest chefs of the world. I have never tried them, but some people call them “ground shrimp”. They usually fry up the nymphal stage when they emerge in large numbers.

Noisy Males

If you hear the noise of the Cicadas you are hearing the males. They have special noise boxes, that are similar to drums, on the sides of their abdomens. These structures are known as “tymbals”. They make noises to attract females as well as other sounds to warn other males to stay out of their territory. Each species has its own unique sound. They can collectively create the noise up to 110-120 decibels. That is equivalent to that of a chain saw, or a rock concert! That’s a lot of noise! Interestingly, if you hold a live male in your hand it will often make this sound to try to scare you away. It is amazing how God designed these insects so they could emit such a loud sound.

Hard to Locate

You would think that anything that made that much noise would be easy to locate. Believe it or not, it is not easy to locate a singing Cicada. This is partly due to the fact that more than one of them are singing at the same time.They are a lot like ventriloquists that seem to send their voices elsewhere. I once heard a Cicada and was only about three feet away and didn’t see it until it moved. The sound seems to come from everywhere at the same time. It’s interesting that the females can distinguish where the males are and find them quickly even when their are several different species in the same location. They can find their mates and reproduce their young. This is the primary purpose of adult Cicadas.

The Better to See You

As you can see in the above photo, Cicadas have two large compound eyes on the sides of their heads. In addition, they have three small simple eyes right in the middle of their heads. If you look closely, you will also notice that they have a tiny pair of antenna. Their legs are jointed and they have claws on the ends of their feet with which to grasps branches and the bark of trees.  Look closely, you may also see the long, needle-like mouth tucked up under their belly. It looks a lot like a bird’s beak. These sometimes are up to a half inch long.

Not Harmful to Man

Though they might look menacing, they actually cause no harm to man. They are very interesting to examine up close.

Interesting Experience

I recall one summer while serving as a camp counselor in Northern California. I heard a cry coming from the mountain top where summer campers were sleeping in a large Teepee. One of the girls woke up and saw a monster crawling up the side of her tent. Because the light from the outside came through the cloth the image of an emerging nymph was magnified and appeared to be many times its actual size. It really did look scary from the inside of the tent. Once I removed it and showed it to the girl and her tent- mates and explained that it was harmless,  all again was calm on the hill. 

Half Wing

Cicadas belong to the insect order Homoptera. This term means “same wings”. The Cicadas have one large pair of wings and one smaller pair. The smaller pair are one half as large as the front pair. Their wings are transparent and veined.  Other members of this order include the aphids, tree hoppers, and leaf hoppers.

 

Waxy Coat

Cicadas are covered with a waxy coat that helps shed water. Their wings also are hydrophobic, and repel water. This is a good thing for the Cicadas because they often live in very moist places. It also keeps their wings ready for flying when necessary to avoid predators or find a new location. God gave these insects everything they would need to survive.

Plague-like Numbers

One of the most amazing things about Cicadas is the vast numbers that can emerge in a matter of weeks! The Periodic Cicadas of the Eastern United States, which emerge every 17 yrs., can come out in numbers that equal up to tens of thousands to 1.5 million insects per acre. That is like the Biblical plagues of the Old Testament times. In these numbers they can be a nuisance, getting squished on the pavement, covering branches of trees and sidewalks. These vast numbers provide a feast for many animals that take advantage of their appearance. In just a short while all of the remnants of these creatures will be gone, eaten and recycled. Their bodies provide nutrients for the soil and food for many fungi and bacteria in the soil.

Now It’s Your Turn to Take Time to Look at and Study Them!

So….the next time you encounter a Cicada, take time to take a closer look. They are marvels of design and very interesting to observe. The closer you look the more amazing they are. They definitely demonstrate the marvelous design of their Creator.