Groundhogs are one of the few animals that really hibernate. Hibernation is not just a deep sleep. It is actually a deep coma, where the body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing, the heart barely beats, the blood scarcely flows, and breathing nearly stops. Although the definition of hibernation is slowly changing to include bears, technically they do not hibernate but enter a state called torpor.

Groundhog - Marmota monax
Groundhog – Marmota monax

Virginia Opossum

There are plenty of myths about the natural world; but “playing possum” is not one of them. Virginia Opossums really do “play dead” when threatened or injured. It is an involuntary reaction much like fainting and can last anywhere from 40 minutes to several hours.

This critter is not “playing”. If it were, its lips would be curled back to expose its teeth. At such times they also emit a foul odor. Another interesting fact about opossums that has nothing to do with “playing dead” – they are immune to the venom of pit vipers, including rattlesnakes.

Virginia Opossum - Didelphis virginiana
Virginia Opossum – Didelphis virginiana

Hummingbird Moth

The first time I saw a Hummingbird in a wild setting I thought: “Wow … look at the size of that bug!”  Of course I soon realized that it was really a bird.

Some years later I thought I saw a Hummingbird – but it turned out to be a moth. As they say: “What goes around comes around!”

Hummingbird Moth – Hemaris thysbe
Hummingbird Moth – Hemaris thysbe

Common Earwig

Earwigs love dark and damp places so most people think of them in the same manner that they think of Silverfish or Cockroaches. They have wings but rarely fly and are harmless to people despite the dangerous looking pincers (cerci) at the rear. They certainly do not crawl into people’s ears and bore into the brain to lay eggs – which is how they got their common name. If it is any consolation, they are one of the favorite foods of Yellow Jackets.

Common Earwig (Male) - Forficula auricularia
Common Earwig (Male) – Forficula auricularia

Copepod – Harpacticoida

When you search through a drop of pond water it is natural to do it systematically. I start in the upper-left corner, go to the bottom, move the slide over one field-of-view and search from the bottom to the top; move the slide again and keep repeating the process. I can’t imagine why anybody would do anything else (starting at the right instead of the left doesn’t count as doing it differently). Being systematic, however, is not the same as being thorough.

What I feel compelled to emphasize is the importance of taking your search all the way to the edge of the cover glass. It is easy to almost reach the end, assume there can’t be anything of interest in that final few millimeters, and start the next sweep.

This image proves my point. This Copepod was at the extreme limit of the search area; easily missed if I had started the next sweep prematurely. The edge of the cover glass (the black area) is at an odd angle because I rotated the camera to get a better placement of the subject.

This Copepod is loaded with protozoans that find him to be a convenient place to anchor themselves while they feed on passing bacteria.

Copepod - Order: Harpacticoida - Family: Canthocamptidae
Copepod – Order: Harpacticoida – Family: Canthocamptidae

Lunar Wrinkle Ridges

Maria are large areas of the Moon that were flooded with dark lava millions of years ago. When these regions sank under the weight of the heavy lavas, elevated ridges were formed, much like what happens when you cup your hand. These formations were understandably called wrinkle ridges. Those shown in the image below are on the eastern “shore” of Mare Humorum (Sea of Moisture).

Eastern Shore of Mare Humorum
Eastern Shore of Mare Humorum

Eastern Bumblebee

Wings are major identification features for insects, especially when trying to distinguish between two specimens that are very much alike in all other respects. I have always found insect wings to be quite interesting in their own right, but photographing them can sometimes be rather difficult. What I discovered a few years ago is that very nice images can be obtained by simply scanning them with a high definition flat bed scanner. The most important features of wings are the vein patterns, and they show up very nicely using this method.

Common Eastern Bumblebee - Bombus impatiens
Common Eastern Bumblebee – Bombus impatiens
Wings of Common Eastern Bumblebee (scanned)
Wings of Common Eastern Bumblebee (scanned)

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

One of Newton’s Laws of Motion says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. One could almost say that something similar holds true for evolution – that for every advantage there is also a disadvantage. However, it would not make sense if the disadvantage was equal to the advantage since, if that were the case, it might not be worth passing onto the next generation.

In any event, rabbits have a most striking and peculiar set of features. Rabbits can see behind themselves without rotating their heads but they have a blind spot directly in front.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit - Sulvilagus floridanus
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit – Sulvilagus floridanus

Crown Vetch

When our state highway department cuts away a hillside to build a new road or widen an old one, it covers the newly exposed ground with Crown Vetch. It is less than two feet tall (needs no real cutting), is fast growing, crowds out any competing plants, and has wide ranging roots that prevent soil erosion. A near-perfect ground cover. In addition to its practicality it is a rather attractive plant. On the dark side – it is toxic to horses.

Crown Vetch - Securigera varia
Crown Vetch – Securigera varia

Kooser Lake Diatoms

Although I was initially drawn to epilithic diatoms because they could be found in rapidly moving streams, I soon learned that they also exist on rocks submerged in quiet lake water. Of course the only rocks that are easily accessed (at least for me) are those in shallow water near the shore. Even then, they are usually quite small, about the size of a book of matches. These are two of the diatoms from a rock in Kooser Lake in a state park about 30 miles south of me.

Epilithic Diatom - Genus: Pinnularia
Epilithic Diatom – Genus: Pinnularia
Epilithic Diatom - Genus: Gomphonema
Epilithic Diatom – Genus: Gomphonema