22 7 / 2014

The harvester (Feniseca tarquinius) is our only carnivorous butterfly. No, I’m serious. Dead serious. As a caterpillar, the harvester preys on other insects: certain wooly aphids. As an adult, it ignores flowers and only drinks honeydew, a sugary substance secreted by those aphids. Tiny, voracious, adorable - why isn’t there a harvester movie? I’d watch it in 3D.

The harvester (Feniseca tarquinius) is our only carnivorous butterfly. No, I’m serious. Dead serious. As a caterpillar, the harvester preys on other insects: certain wooly aphids. As an adult, it ignores flowers and only drinks honeydew, a sugary substance secreted by those aphids. Tiny, voracious, adorable - why isn’t there a harvester movie? I’d watch it in 3D.

21 7 / 2014

A snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) peers through the underbrush. I’ve followed these animals’ tracks many times, but it took me years to find one in the flesh. They mostly feed at night, and they’re camouflage experts, changing to white in the winter and brown in the summer. With snow coming later and later due to climate change, these hares are finding themselves woefully overdressed.

A snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) peers through the underbrush. I’ve followed these animals’ tracks many times, but it took me years to find one in the flesh. They mostly feed at night, and they’re camouflage experts, changing to white in the winter and brown in the summer. With snow coming later and later due to climate change, these hares are finding themselves woefully overdressed.

20 7 / 2014

My butterfly-watching friends have let me in on a secret: when butterflies are backlit by the sun, they turn into glowing stained glass. Here some of my favorite backlit butterflies: an orange sulphur (Colias eurytheme), a silver-bordered fritillary (Boloria selene), an eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), a viceroy (Limenitis archippus), a bronze copper (Lycaena hyllus), and a Harris’ checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii).

16 7 / 2014

It’s World Snake Day, and here’s my favorite species in the Northeast: the eastern black racer (Coluber constrictor). It’s not venomous and can’t harm people, but it compensates with sheer bravery, bluff, and as much smarts as a snake could possess. I like to think that it’s the inspiration for the beloved snake Louise the Larger from Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wind in the Door and others.

It’s World Snake Day, and here’s my favorite species in the Northeast: the eastern black racer (Coluber constrictor). It’s not venomous and can’t harm people, but it compensates with sheer bravery, bluff, and as much smarts as a snake could possess. I like to think that it’s the inspiration for the beloved snake Louise the Larger from Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wind in the Door and others.

12 7 / 2014

We often think of butterflies as denizens of sunny, open areas full of flowers. But the northern pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon) is a true forest butterfly. Rather than drinking nectar, it sips tree sap, as well as rotten fruit, mud, and other unsavory things. It’s an expert at weaving through the trees to dodge predators - this one has a triangular snip on one hindwing from a bird bite, but it lived to see another day.

We often think of butterflies as denizens of sunny, open areas full of flowers. But the northern pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon) is a true forest butterfly. Rather than drinking nectar, it sips tree sap, as well as rotten fruit, mud, and other unsavory things. It’s an expert at weaving through the trees to dodge predators - this one has a triangular snip on one hindwing from a bird bite, but it lived to see another day.

10 7 / 2014

This white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) was settling down for the night, and she didn’t even budge when I walked by. If you want to learn about deer and their complex relationship with people, I can’t recommend the book Deerland enough. You’ll discover the market for deer-related real-estate and people who landscape to attract deer, forests full of video cameras, and much more. It’s an incredible read.

This white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) was settling down for the night, and she didn’t even budge when I walked by. If you want to learn about deer and their complex relationship with people, I can’t recommend the book Deerland enough. You’ll discover the market for deer-related real-estate and people who landscape to attract deer, forests full of video cameras, and much more. It’s an incredible read.

08 7 / 2014

The chrome-footed bolete (Harrya chromapes) looks like it’s being lit from below by blazing yellow lights. This fungus’ species name chromapes means “chrome-colored foot”. Although many of us associate “chrome” with a shiny silver coating, chrome yellow is a pigment made from chromium and lead that was historically used for painting; it was later replaced with less toxic options.

The chrome-footed bolete (Harrya chromapes) looks like it’s being lit from below by blazing yellow lights. This fungus’ species name chromapes means “chrome-colored foot”. Although many of us associate “chrome” with a shiny silver coating, chrome yellow is a pigment made from chromium and lead that was historically used for painting; it was later replaced with less toxic options.

06 7 / 2014

It’s easy to identify an ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) because no other northeastern damselfly has all-black wings. This is a male, and he’s guarding a territory and looking for mates. If a female comes by, she’ll signal her opinion of him using her wings: spread wings mean “Nope” and a wing flip means “Hey, hot stuff”.

It’s easy to identify an ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) because no other northeastern damselfly has all-black wings. This is a male, and he’s guarding a territory and looking for mates. If a female comes by, she’ll signal her opinion of him using her wings: spread wings mean “Nope” and a wing flip means “Hey, hot stuff”.

03 7 / 2014

I spent a blissful morning hanging out with dozens of Baltimore checkerspot butterflies (Euphydryas phaeton). Their caterpillars generally feed on a flower called turtlehead, but about 40 years ago they expanded their tastes to include a widespread invasive plant from Europe called English plantain.

01 7 / 2014

If you’re not a fan of snakes, the eastern worm snake (Carphophis amoenus amoenus) might change your mind. It’s tiny and shy, and only eats worms, slugs, and other invertebrates. Vulnerable to habitat destruction and insecticides, the worm snake spends its days underground, where it presumably stares at dirt all day with its adorable puppydog eyes.

If you’re not a fan of snakes, the eastern worm snake (Carphophis amoenus amoenus) might change your mind. It’s tiny and shy, and only eats worms, slugs, and other invertebrates. Vulnerable to habitat destruction and insecticides, the worm snake spends its days underground, where it presumably stares at dirt all day with its adorable puppydog eyes.