18 8 / 2014

This broad-winged skipper butterfly (Poanes viator) is perched at the intersection of nature and human culture. Native to eastern North America, its caterpillars thrive on common reed, a notorious introduced wetland plant that obliterates cattail marshes. In this photo it’s nectaring on purple loosestrife, another wetland invader. This delicate little fuzz-face has a lot of stories to tell.

This broad-winged skipper butterfly (Poanes viator) is perched at the intersection of nature and human culture. Native to eastern North America, its caterpillars thrive on common reed, a notorious introduced wetland plant that obliterates cattail marshes. In this photo it’s nectaring on purple loosestrife, another wetland invader. This delicate little fuzz-face has a lot of stories to tell.

16 8 / 2014

Young raptors like this Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) are out in full force, and since their parents are still feeding them, they’re spending most of their time demanding food with piercing, plaintive wails. Cooper’s hawks originally lived in forests, but have spread into cities, where they especially like dining on pigeons and doves.

10 8 / 2014

Just by looking for two quick clues, you can tell that this is a green frog (Lithobates clamitans), and a female. Do you see those two long ridges running along its back? Green frogs have them, and bullfrogs don’t. To sex this frog, check out the circle behind its eye. In males, this hearing organ, called a tympanum, is huge, but in females it’s only about as large as the bulging eye itself.

Just by looking for two quick clues, you can tell that this is a green frog (Lithobates clamitans), and a female. Do you see those two long ridges running along its back? Green frogs have them, and bullfrogs don’t. To sex this frog, check out the circle behind its eye. In males, this hearing organ, called a tympanum, is huge, but in females it’s only about as large as the bulging eye itself.

09 8 / 2014

Recently I stopped by Montréal’s Botanical Garden, where I saw a ton of these beautiful little butterflies that shouldn’t be here. They’re common blues (Polyommatus icarus), native to Europe. The first sightings of this species in North America were in 2005 at Mirabel Airport—perhaps they hitched a ride here on a jet. Their current distribution is very limited, but how far will they spread?

29 7 / 2014

True to its name, the fruiting body of the painted suillus (Suillus spraguei) looks like a beautiful impressionist sunset. When you see one, take a step back and look at the nearby pine trees. This fungus’ underground tendrils intertwine with pine roots, taking moisture and other substances and giving the trees a wider net through which to gather nutrients.

True to its name, the fruiting body of the painted suillus (Suillus spraguei) looks like a beautiful impressionist sunset. When you see one, take a step back and look at the nearby pine trees. This fungus’ underground tendrils intertwine with pine roots, taking moisture and other substances and giving the trees a wider net through which to gather nutrients.

27 7 / 2014

Summer beach time is also a great time to look for insects. Here are two spicebush swallowtails (Papilio troilus) on a freshwater beach. They’re “puddling,” consuming moisture and/or minerals. Butterflies become worm and battle-scarred as the season progresses, and these two have lost much or all of the long tails that give them their name, but they’re still pretty dang spectacular.

Summer beach time is also a great time to look for insects. Here are two spicebush swallowtails (Papilio troilus) on a freshwater beach. They’re “puddling,” consuming moisture and/or minerals. Butterflies become worm and battle-scarred as the season progresses, and these two have lost much or all of the long tails that give them their name, but they’re still pretty dang spectacular.

26 7 / 2014

Clubtail dragonflies, like this black-shouldered spinyleg (Dromogomphus spinosus), are shaped like elite helicopters. This one was patrolling a beach where I was swimming. The name “spinyleg” comes from the many spines that run down its legs and help it capture prey.

Clubtail dragonflies, like this black-shouldered spinyleg (Dromogomphus spinosus), are shaped like elite helicopters. This one was patrolling a beach where I was swimming. The name “spinyleg” comes from the many spines that run down its legs and help it capture prey.

25 7 / 2014

National Moth Week is almost over, but you still have the weekend to find a program near you. At a moth night, people set up lights and shine them on white sheets, and then they wait and see which of the many, many moth species stop by. It’s endlessly beautiful and exciting, really, even if the term “moth night” doesn’t sound like a rockin’ time. Here’s one find, a joyful virbia (Virbia laeta).

National Moth Week is almost over, but you still have the weekend to find a program near you. At a moth night, people set up lights and shine them on white sheets, and then they wait and see which of the many, many moth species stop by. It’s endlessly beautiful and exciting, really, even if the term “moth night” doesn’t sound like a rockin’ time. Here’s one find, a joyful virbia (Virbia laeta).

23 7 / 2014

Here’s a ragged fringed orchis (Platanthera lacera). There are many orchid species in the northeast, but most are rarely seen, since they often grow in inhospitable places. That’s probably for the best: orchids are frequently targeted by poachers. This delicate beauty is pollinated by moths.

Here’s a ragged fringed orchis (Platanthera lacera). There are many orchid species in the northeast, but most are rarely seen, since they often grow in inhospitable places. That’s probably for the best: orchids are frequently targeted by poachers. This delicate beauty is pollinated by moths.

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.