Early October in NC Piedmont

October 12, 2015

Nature Notes by Bill Dunson

As we headed south from our VA mountain farm to our eventual destination in SW FL, we visited family in the Piedmont of NC (Chapel Hill). Early October in the piedmont has some cool nights and warm days so that there is still considerable animal activity although much of bird migration is finished. But bird song is minimal and it is clear that a major decrease in animal activity is underway. However we did find some interesting natural events occurring at two of our favorite places to hike at the NC Botanical Garden/Mason Farm Biological Reserve and the Carolina North Forest along Bolin Creek.

There were a few monarchs still moving through and this one was finding some nectar on a beautiful orange Mexican sunflower. Some native cardinal flowers were still in bloom and they were attracting cloudless sulphurs; note that the male and female are rather different in color and pattern.

A number of large female orb weaver spiders had their remarkable webs placed to trap insects- this one was festooned with dew early in the morning. The marbled orb weaver is brightly colored if seen out on the web, but when hiding in its leafy retreat it is well camouflaged. I also noticed one large Arabesque orb weaver with a very different brownish color out in the open on its web. It seems remarkable that these large spiders are not quickly eaten by birds although if they perceive any large vibrations they will quickly hide. They may also be large enough to defend themselves against small predators.

One of the cryptic inhabitants of the leaf litter in forests that have vernal pools that flood during the winter rains and lack fish is the striking marbled salamander. My grandson Peter found one under a moist log and I found another nearby. They are unusual among terrestrial mole salamanders in that they breed in the fall, guard the eggs, which then hatch when flooded during the late fall and winter. They then grow quickly as gape limited predators and are ready to swallow anything that will fit into their mouth including young spotted salamanders when they hatch in spring. The unusual white and black coloration may be a warning to predators that their tail skin has a toxic secretion.

The cool nights and warm days encourage reptiles to bask and this yellow bellied slider is doing its best to raise its body temperature before it enters a long period of winter inactivity.

So enjoy the Indian Summer that is so beautiful during the autumn and observe how quickly the activity patterns of animals change. Some species migrate, some enter a period of dormancy, and some adult invertebrates die while their progeny over-winter as eggs. As a “snowbird” I am migrating soon to our winter home in FL.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

View all posts by Bill Dunson