Sunday, March 17, 2013

Teach Me Something New

Every day in the piney woods is exciting. You never know what interesting people, places, things and critters you will encounter. Now that it is spring, all I have to do is step outside to enjoy another marvel of nature. Nature is always there – morning, noon and night. When I see something new, I must stop, watch and identify.

‘Come forth into the light of things. Let nature be your teacher.’ 
William Wordsworth

Last night as I was reading, strange little sounds were coming from the screen on my open window. Going outside with the flashlight, I saw a unique moth. Now I love nature - a lot. But that doesn’t mean I was going to stand in the cold with a flashlight, an iPhone app and a moth ID book to try to find out who this little guy was. So, I was hoping it would still be here in the morning and sure enough, it was and several friends had joined it on the screen. After many hours of trying to pin down the species of moth, I turned to my friend, Sonnia, who knows almost all things nature for the ID. And, she came through!


Lettered Sphinx Moth
Courtesy of the Bug Guy
So what we have here is the Lettered Sphinx moth, Deidamia inscriptum. Having the word sphinx in the name, you will recognize other members of its family – the Hummingbird and Clearwing moths. The Lettered belongs to the Sphingidae family of moths (Lepidoptera) which includes about 1,450 species. You will know their caterpillar as the hornworm.  The Lettered is one of the earliest sphinx moths to emerge in the spring. That is what confused my ID. I mean – what moth is out when evening temps are still in the upper 30’s?

Black/white spot
Looking at the outer margin of the wing you see that it is deeply scalloped. The top is light brown with dark brown markings and there is a small black and white spot near the tip. The top of the hindwing is orange-brown with a dark brown outer margin. Males rest with their abdomen strongly curved upward. Show off! 

Pheromone plume
Females lay translucent green eggs on the leaves of host plants grape (Vitas), Peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea), and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus). Also, the females call at night and the males fly into the wind to pick up and track the pheromone plume. Double show off!

So gentle readers let Nature be your teacher. Stop, look, listen! Find a good source of identification books, apps or internet sites. Or, better yet, find great go-to friends like Sonnia and Cecil. Memorize! Become a life-long learner! We can never learn all that Nature has to teach us but we can always learn something new.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Suddenly Spring!

Fifteen days until spring! Hurry, please hurry! The Farmers’ Almanac states that on March 20th, the vernal equinox is at 8:02 a.m. (CDT). But, I don’t think I will sit and watch to see if spring will begin precisely at that time. I can smell it, hear it and see it. And, yes, it is 32 degrees at night.

All winter I have been looking at the bleak landscape trying to perceive it full of bounty and color. I have been rethinking the plants, moving the plants, and reading gardening catalogs. So it is pure joy to see, hear and smell the first signs of upcoming spring.

Red maple
Have you seen them? Most people are looking on the ground for the signs of spring. Look up!! See that little bit of scarlet red on the limbs of those trees along the side of the road. Those are the red maples that are budding out. Not only does the Red Maple (Acer rubrum) give us a wonderful show in the fall but it is one of the first trees to flower in the spring.

And then there is the flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa), which brings back memories of my Mother’s gardens. It is one of our earliest flowering shrubs and is in the rose family. Seasoned gardeners may also know this plant simply as japonica. It is long-lived plant; you can still see it flowering on properties where old homesteads were. It is especially lovely blooming among the Wild Plum (Prunus Americana). And then there are the Snowflakes, Little Sweeties and Redbuds. Sigh!

Flowering Quince and Wild Plum
Little Sweeties

Edmond, Oklahoma redbuds

The birds are singing again -a sure sign of spring. There is a big difference between a bird's song and its call. Singing usually is a more melodious sound, while calling often is sharper and more direct and usually a sign of alarm. Spring is the time when most birds are busy mating and building nests. As female songbirds arrive to nesting grounds, they hear the males singing. If a song attracts them, a female will stop to look over the male, check his plumage to determine if he has desirable genes, and then explore his territory. It is the female that selects a mate. Wonder if we women should have our future partners sing?

What is the smell of spring like? It is earthy and composty. Sorry that is the only way I can describe it. You know it is one of those smells you can only describe but not name. It is kinda like the rain on the hot pavement smell. But the smell of spring has a name! Scientists call the chemical that makes dirt smell fresh geosmin.  It is caused by plant munching bacteria that live in the soil. Not very romantic.

Ah, spring - new life, little buds, increasing daylight, and warming temperatures. So stop for a moment, look up, take a deep breath and listen closely. Spring!