Wood Duck Family

A few summers ago I got an excited phone call from one of our neighbors. “Quick, get your camera. There’s a mother duck and her babies crossing your yard!”

Such phone calls are not uncommon; I mean – Who ya gonna call?

Female Wood Duck - Aix sponsa
Female Wood Duck – Aix sponsa

As soon as I got outside the mother duck saw me and went into her act of pretending to be injured. A ploy utilized by many birds to draw the attention of predators away from her young. She flipped and flopped and limped across the yard, always in a direction away from the ducklings.

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When she was out of sight I looked around and found the ducklings in the well of our basement window; a natural place for her to hide them.

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After several minutes of “baby-quacking” they fluttered out of the window well and huddled together as if trying to decide what to do next. Then, one of them headed off in the same direction that they had originally been traveling and the rest followed suit.

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About 15 minutes later they came back to the spot where they had last seen their mother; not a bad strategy.

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Impatience got the better of them again but this time they headed for our driveway; not a good strategy.

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They learned the error of their ways when a couple of cars passed by; at which point they headed to the neighboring yard which has plenty of shrubbery.

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I kept an eye out for an hour or so but didn’t see them again. I can only assume that the family was reunited at some point. I’m sure that mother ducks are good at that sort of thing.

Red Fox

When you live in the sub-suburbs, you quickly learn that the local wildlife sometimes comes to you. Recently a Red Fox had a litter of pups somewhere on our neighbor’s property. Hopefully, in the coming weeks I will be able to get some better photos.

Juvenile Red Fox - Vulpes vulpes
Juvenile Red Fox – Vulpes vulpes

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Differences in the outward appearance of males and females can vary greatly from one species to the next. Perhaps the one that impresses me the most is the Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. The male is quite distinctive with his bright yellow and black markings. It took me several years to realize that the black butterfly I had been seeing was not a different species but was a female Tiger.

This mating cluster of Tiger Swallowtails (1 female and 3 males) appeared before we had even left our car at the Linn Run State Park this morning.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies - Papilio appalachiensis
Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies – Papilio appalachiensis

Lost Ladybug Project

I recently heard about something called the Lost Ladybug Project  but thought that it wouldn’t be of much interest to me; we have plenty of Ladybugs here. I went to their website anyway and was quickly enlightened. I learned that the Lost Ladybugs are the native variety, the 9-Spot Ladybug (Coccinella novemnotata), which is being forced out of its usual habitats by various invasive species. The problem may be so widespread as to lead to its possible extinction. As a point of identification, the 9-Spot Ladybug has 4 spots on each elytra and one split in the middle to make nine.

I knew that I had an old photo of a Ladybug and dug it out. Sure enough it is not a native species but an invasive one. This one has 9 spots on each elytra and one split in the middle.

Native species = Coccinella novemnotata
Native species = Coccinella novemnotata
Invasive species = Harmonia axyridis
Invasive species = Harmonia axyridis

For more information, the project’s website is at:

http://www.lostladybug.org/index.php

Micrasterias americana

This Desmid (an algae) is one of the more plentiful “large” organisms in our local vernal pond. Desmids appear to be two cells but are really one cell comprised of two semi-cells joined in the center (the isthmus) which holds the single nucleus that the two halves share.

Although algae conduct photosynthesis they are unicellular and do not have specialized tissues. Therefore, most authoritative sources (which does not include Wikipedia), do not classify them as plants but places them in the Kingdom Protista.

Desmid - Micrasterias americana
Desmid – Micrasterias americana

Penicillium Mold

A plentiful mold genus, and certainly the one with the most famous name, is the Penicillium; source of the anti-biotic Penicillin. Although primarily a soil dweller, this example was cultured in a Petri dish (containing potato dextrose agar) exposed to the outside air for only ten minutes. Quite suitably, the genus gets its name from the Latin root word meaning “painter’s brush”.

Mold Spores – Genus: Penicillium
Mold Spores – Genus: Penicillium

Common and Scientific Names

Many people roll their eyes when someone uses the scientific name for a critter. If it’s an ant, why not just call it an ant? Perhaps James Arness summed it up best in the 1950’s sci-fi movie “Them” (about giant ants) when he said to a scientist – “Why can’t you just speak English?” 

One reason is that there are approximately 22,000 different kinds of ants in the world. Another is that common names are not universally applied. For instance, what we locally call a Daddy Longlegs is known by others as a Harvestman. They use the name Daddy Longlegs for what we call a Crane Fly.

I guess that is why, when it’s really important, we use our given & surnames and not just a nickname.

Daddy Longlegs
Daddy Longlegs
Crane Fly
Crane Fly