Summer Marches On

 

As July starts, the nature lover can continue to enjoy some breeding birds and observe an increasing number of interesting insects. New flowers are blooming, such as day lilies and catalpa trees and we are starting to be bothered by some of the less desirable critters such as Japanese beetles and ticks. I spend a lot of time watching our ponds, some with and some without fish. The pond in the first two photos is next to our house and our grandson Sam enjoys catch and release of our “pet” bass and sunfish. A second pond I watch has no fish but far more species of dragonflies and damselflies. For example a type of clubtail dragonfly, the black-shouldered spinyleg (note long spines on the third leg- the better to hold prey) is somewhat of a generalist and is found in both the fish and non-fish ponds. In contrast the beautiful azure bluet damselfly is primarily found at ponds lacking fish.

Another example of how a small change in habitat conditions supports a new species is the eruption of Jimson weeds on the soil around our landscape debris burn pile. The seeds in the ground perhaps were stimulated to germinate by the recent burning of the debris. Jimson weed flowers are striking examples of the nightshade family and are quite toxic due to the presence of atropine and scopolamine. The flowers are pollinated by night flying sphinx moths. A very different flower of the catalpa tree was blooming nearby. I planted these to observe the “bean worms” or catalpa sphinx moth caterpillars which are used as bait by fishermen. The unusual flowers are primarily pollinated by large bees and the resulting long seed pods are the “beans.”

A toxic insect that gains protection from its poisonous food is the red milkweed long-horned beetle which is now common in our grasslands. If you look carefully you may notice why this is called the four-eyed beetle, since the antennae on both sides bisect the eyes into two parts. Milkweeds support a number of such interesting specialist insects in addition to the monarch butterfly. A second aposematic long-horn is now found on our elderberries, the elderberry borer, and is also brightly colored to advertise that it is toxic due to its diet. Few realize that aside from the edible flowers and fruit, the rest of the elderberry plant is dangerously poisonous.

So as summer progresses, birds will complete their breeding, new flowers will appear, and insects will generally become more prevalent. Observe and enjoy the changing panorama of life.

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