Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nature's Signposts

As I walk around the Museum grounds I'm fascinated by the many small signs of nature that perhaps go unnoticed by casual passersby.  For example, near the front entrance to the Museum, there are some witch hazel plants--and if you look closely you may notice some odd looking cone-shaped bumps on the tops of some of the leaves.  Hundreds of people walk by these plants every day--and they probably don't even see them.  So, what are they?  They're insect galls made by cone gall aphids.  Well, technically, the plant grows around the aphid as a defensive response to being bitten by the aphid.  Anyway, the gall becomes the perfect place for the aphid to live in and reproduce:
Here's another sign that an animal has been here--even though you don't see the animal.  Look closely at the small holes that are in a straight line on the bark of this pine tree.  They're holes made by a woodpecker, a yellow-bellied sap-sucker, if I'm not mistaken.  The woodpecker eats the sap as well as insects attracted to the sap.  Sorry I wasn't able to catch the woodpecker in action, but if you want to see a photo of a sapsucker has some amazing photos.  But, here are the tell-tale holes:
Next, thanks to very observant students from Lee Jackson Elementary School that came here on a field trip, I was able to photograph these giant leopard moths the students found in our picnic area.  In the first photo, the two moths are mating.  The "leopard spot"  coloration is fantastic:
In the second photo, you can see the ring pattern that distinguishes the female's head and also the metallic blue color of her antennae and forelegs.  Many thanks to my friend and co-worker, Judy Molnar, for being my extra set of hands while I took the photos:
I get a lot of help from my colleagues who are always on the lookout for interesting "small things" for me to photograph.  My friend and fellow-educator, Bo Baker, spotted this gorgeous Betsy beetle. These are flightless beetles that eat wood and are often found under and in rotten logs.  Don't worry--they won't eat your house!  They are in fact great decomposers, and as such are vital components of forest ecosystems:
There are some faithful Museum guests that regularly walk our Outdoor Trail and while doing so watch out for interesting things for me to photograph--thank you Marnee and Lynn!  Last week they spotted three mallard ducklings on the pond--these critters are now almost fully grown.  Here they are stretching a bit before taking a plunge into the pond:
Well, I suppose it's appropriate to mention one of my favorite organizations that has the same conservation concerns as I do.  Recently I had the pleasure of talking to David Lauthers with the Boy Scouts of America.  As a Council Outdoor Ethics Advocate and a Leave No Trace Master Educator, he helped spread the Leave No Trace message to our guests during our Earth Day celebrations held on April 21, 2012.  Another great organization that is helping our local area to "go greener" is the Newport News Green Foundation whose mission is to preserve the green spaces here in the City of Newport News, Virginia.  It really helps to have people involved in conserving natural habit--that way, we can all enjoy the small pleasures--and treasures!--of nature.  Thank you David for your tireless efforts!:
As usual, I'll post again in two weeks.  Until then, I hope you'll find and enjoy the small wonders of nature in your area.  Be on the lookout for "nature's signposts," the small traces that reveal that animals are here all around us, even though we may not be able to see them.


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