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.

 

 

 

Let’s Learn About Zipper Spiders

What’s This In My Yard?

Have you ever gone outside your house and come across one of these amazing spiders? Have you ever wondered why God made spiders? After all, many people are scared of these creatures!

These spiders are our friends. They help control the insects in our gardens and around our houses. They specialize in flying insects. They also are fun to watch and feed. They have many interesting habits that make them a favorite of many people.

Many Common Names

These spiders are known by many common names. Some people call them black and yellow garden spiders while others call them banana spiders,  corn spiders, and writing spiders. Why so many names, you might ask? Well, people have a tendency to name things for what they observe the spiders doing. These spiders seem to “write” in their webs. Though not words, like in the movie Charlotte’s Web, The designs do suggest writing. Sometimes you will find the letter X , other times just a long zigzag line down the middle of the web. Those that make the X shape are often called St. Andrew’s Spiders. One way to name these spiders with a name used all over the world is their scientific name: Argiope aurantia. This Latin name means “orange spider“, as they often have an orange tint with the yellow and black. Sometimes they even appear silvery when the sun reflects off their hairy bodies.

Zip It Up

If you look closely you can see a zipper shaped pattern down through the middle of their web. There are many ideas about its purpose but it seems that it helps prevent larger creatures from running into the net-like web. It also reflects ultra-violet light that is visible to insects. Some scientists believe it attracts insects into the web.

Good Vibrations

One interesting behavior you might experience with these spiders is when you approach their webs. They have a tendency to vibrate their webs by swinging up and down in the middle. This apparently startles some predators and makes the spiders appear even bigger than they are….And they  are big for spiders!  If the vibrations don’t scare off their enemies they have a habit of dropping off the web and running into a leaf nearby. They sometimes hide in these places until a hapless insect gets caught in the net, but usually they sit right in the middle of the web, head down, ready to run and wrap up any insect that get caught in the web. When an insect hits the web it send signals through the web to the waiting spider. It runs out and shoots out webbing on the victim. It then rolls it up into a package to secure it and immobilize it from fighting back. Sometimes the spider is ready for a meal immediately and it sinks its fangs through the package and starts sucking out the juice from the insect that has been liquified by the poison injected into it. The poison also affects the nervous system of the insect putting it to sleep. Other times the spider keeps its meal for later to consume at its leisure. Once the insect is drained of its nutrients the spider cuts the insect loose to fall to the ground to be recycled in the soil or eaten further by other creatures.

 

Not Harmful to Man

 

Though these spiders are poisonous to insects, they pose little danger to man. I have often held them in my hand without being bitten.  Some people do have allergic reactions to insects and spider bites, but these spiders have rarely caused any concern. I recommend that you watch them without trying to hold them in your hand. It’s good for the spider and allows you to see their unusual behaviors.

Circular Reasoning:  Orb Webs

One of the most amazing things about spiders is their web making abilities. They have several tiny spinnerets on their abdomens that shoot out various types of webbing. Some of it is sticky and some is not. This type of spider is called an Orb Weaver. It makes a circular or oval shaped web. Orb weavers actually have an extra third toe on their feet for handling the webbing. They create beautiful designs with the protein based substance ejected from their spinnerets.  They have special webbing to make their egg cases as well.

Egg Sac

This picture was taken by my friend, Heather Davis. Thank you.

 

The Night Shift

One thing that amazes me is how they redo their webs every night. Did you know they recycle the webbing by eating it and then reusing the protein in future webs. Webbing is very important to spiders. The patterns they make are a testimony of their God given talent for making designs that are not only beautiful but very functional. Most of their web building takes place at night after a day of sitting and waiting for prey. They are born with this ability and need not learn how to make a web. God equipped them so they would be ready right from the get-go! If you think this is a simple task, just try making a web from string. It is a difficult task and it won’t function as well as the spider’s web.

Watch for Tiny Males

One thing that is harder to see is the tiny male spiders. They often build smaller webs near the female’s large web. After mating with the females they quickly die off. Their primary purpose is providing sperm for the females to fertilize their eggs.

 

How Many Babies in One Egg Case?

Talk about having all your eggs in one basket! The female creates a brown papery egg case that is full of eggs. 400 to up to 1400 eggs are found in one egg case! These egg cases are about 1 inch in diameter. The females can create two or three of these egg cases which hold their young. The babies hatch out in the fall and remain inside the egg case until the springtime. “Why so many?” You might ask. Only a few of the spiderlings will make it to maturity. They are eaten by other spiders and other creatures when young. By having so many young, the spiders can insure that some will survive to carry on the species.

Do You Want to See Them in Action?

One of the funnest things to do is to feed the spiders and watch what they do. Catch small insects and toss them into the web. Sometimes they will pass right through without hitting a strand of webbing, but when they do, you will see a lot of action. The spider will quickly feel the vibration of the struggling insect and run out to subdue it. I like to catch grasshoppers and crickets to feed them but they also love flies, moths, butterflies and other insects. If you find a large spider you can feed it several times a day.

 

Don’t Be Afraid of Me!

Though I might look scary to some, I really am your friend. I help keep the bugs in your yard under control and love to provide entertainment for a meal.

 

 

The Doodlebug: Avoid the Pit!

What are all these little pits in the sand?

 

Have you ever seen a Doodlebug? They are also known as Ant Lions. They have an amazing way to catch their food. You can learn a lot from these creatures. Have fun learning about the Doodlebugs.

Strange Creatures:

Ant lion adults look a lot like tiny dragonflies, however, if you look closely, you will notice several differences. If you look at their antennae you will notice they have little clubbed-shaped nodules on their ends. If you see an ant lion adult flying you will also notice that they are weak fliers compared to the mighty dragonflies.

Scary Looking Larvae:

If you use a spoon to dig under the larvae in the pits you will notice they are hard to see since they are the same color as the sand around them. Watch for movement and you will find a creature with long sickle-shaped mandibles  and a very hairy body. In one of the Star Trek movies a similar looking creature was created as a parasite that entered the ears of their victims. Well, the ant lions don’t harm humans, so don’t be afraid to handle them. They are, however, a real threat to ants and other small insects and spiders.

How They Capture Their Prey:

Rather than hunting their prey, they trap them by digging little funnel-shaped pits in the sand by going backwards in little circles while flipping out sand as they dig. This is why they are called Doodlebugs because they seem to doodle in the sand. Once the pit is dug the larvae stay just under the surface with the tips of their mandibles slightly sticking out. When an unsuspecting ant crawls by it creates a small vibration. When the ant lion feels this it shoots out tiny grains of sand that knock the victim off the edge and into the pit. Once in the pit the ant lion further disturbs the sand so the pit collapses around the ant trapping it. Next, the long mandibles are inserted into the ant and a digestive juice is injected into the victim’s body. This chemical also paralyzes the prey. The ant lion then sucks out the fluid inside the ant like sucking soda through a straw. Once the ant is drained of fluids it it flung out of the pit and the Doodlebug reconstructs a new pit for another victim.

If you find these tiny pits in the sand you can catch an ant and drop it in to watch the action. If you want to see the larvae you have to dig them out.

Do You Want To See Them?:

 

If you Click below  you can open the Power-Point presentation which shows some I caught in Idaho while visiting. You can also open it in Keynote, if you have that app.

 

 

The Doodlebug

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.