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The Infant

the infant mothThat early little orange and brown flier found last week has been identified. It is a moth. I first thought it was a butterfly for a few reasons, 1. It was out during the day 2. It flew zig-zag like a butterfly 3. It was orange, white and black and moved too fast to get a good look at it. Yesterday after noticing three flying in the forest, one landed on my hand! What luck. It is called “The Infant” species: Archiearis infans, its a geometer moth, AKA an inchworm moth. These little moths overwinter in the chrysalis and emerge late March to early May and fly during the day. So keep an eye out for these little beauties if you are near a stand of birch trees.

 

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Earwigs

earwigsMy 4 year old niece wanted to know why earwigs have to pinch. I told her they have those big ‘pinchers’ so they HAVE to use them. Right? But really evolution gave them those pincers, which are modified cerci, for catching prey and for fighting over females thus the males have bigger pincers. They are also used by the insects to fold their wings back under the elytra. Yes, wings. Earwigs are their own order made up of over 2,000 species, called Dermaptera. Loosely translated that means “skin-wings”. Their wings are not often seen, but are thin and resemble skin thus the name. These thin wings allow them to fly similar to a rove beetle or June bug. They are night fliers, so most people don’t see them flying. I remember when I was younger I saw a male earwig using its cerci to fold its wings under the hard fore-wings, it was a sight to see. Captivated me for the whole 60 minutes, all the tucking and folding, twisting and turning using those forcep-like cerci at the end of its abdomen.

earwig nestWhat makes earwigs one of my favorite insects, though, is how the mother takes care of the young. She makes a nest in a damp spot such as under a log or rock, and rolls and licks the eggs keeping them free from fungus. She also keeps them safe from predation by moving them if a predator is near. After the young are born they stay with the mother through the first 2 instars (first two molts) when she feeds them regurgitated food. It has been recorded that after these two molts, the mother dies or not, either way the offspring eat her*. This is called Matriphagy and is rare in the insect world. All in all, though, Agatha Christi was right, earwigs make good mothers. (If you don’t know what that means, read Agatha Christi’s books until you do. Then finish reading all the rest if you haven’t yet, then read them again in 10 years. I will do your brain good.)

As an added note, earwigs rarely pinch. You have to put your hand down on them or threaten them in a manner that they will retaliate with a small pinch, but overall they won’t go out of their way to pinch you. Nor do they have any venom or poison in that pinch, so the pain won’t last.

 

*Suzuki, S. Kitamura, M. Matsubayashi, K. (2005). “Matriphagy in the hump earwig, Anechura harmandi (Dermaptera: Forficulidae), increases the survival rates of the offspring”. Journal of Ethology 23 (2): 211–213.

 

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Dissecting Flowers

dissecting a flowerLast week Dr. Augie’s had the pleasure of helping some Girl Scouts get their flower badges.

The requirements were:

1. Uncover the science of one flower
2. Look under the petals
3. Find out how flowers help people
4. Have fun with flowers
5. Send a message in flower code

To that end the girls dissected some early season flowers, snow drops. They turned out to be wonderful specimens having all the parts in the diagram and having full ovaries. Once the girls read about the parts of a flower and discussed what they knew about flowers, they then each dissected and labeled their flowers. After that they took turns viewing their flower parts under the microscope.

To have fun with flowers they built their own flowers out of coffee filters, paper and pipe cleaners. The results were beautiful as well as educational.

 

 

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Berkshire BioBlitz 2016

imageTentative dates and locations for Berkshire BioBlitz 2016 are Saturday June 18-Sunday June 19, 2016. This year’s bioBlitz will take place at the base of Mt. Greylock and is sponsored by the Berkshire Environmental Action a Team, BEAT, the Massachusetts Geological Alliance and Dr. Augie’s.

 

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Baby Slugs

imageFor the past few days there were some white blobs on the side glass of the terrarium. I inspected them with my magnifier, but it didn’t look like anyone was home. Should I wipe the glass clean or leave it?

 

 

 

 

imageToday I looked close and saw eye stalks. Baby slugs! there looks to be about 8 of them, making at least 10 slugs if you include the parents. Lots of feeding to do this winter!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2016 in backyard science, terrarium

 

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Natural History of the Berkshires-A Field Course for Teachers and Adults

natural history specimensIf you would like to learn about the natural history of Berkshire County, this is the course for you. We will be exploring the natural world of birds, bugs, mushrooms, lichens, reptiles, amphibians, algae and so much more. There will be experts and naturalists along the way to show us how we can tell if a bird has a nest of eggs or how a little beetle larva can devour a bull frog. And we will be checking out some specimens that are not natural to the Berkshires–the invasives.

yellow warblerSponsoring Organizations: MCLA, Cornell University, Dr. Augie’s Science Programs

Course Location: Pittsfield/Lanesborough

Schedule: July 5-8, 2016

Time: 8am to 5pm

Cost: $250 for 4 days, $125 for 2 days

Target Audience:
Youth and adults over the age of 16 and science educators who teach 6-12th grades or the general public.

You can participate for 4 days or 2 days. I promise all days will be fun and exciting learning experience.

Instructor: Lisa Provencher, M.S. Entomology. B.S. Environmental Science, co-instructors, Scott LaGreca Ph. D. Botany, John Wheeler, Berkshire Mycology Society.

aquaticsThroughout this course we will meet with scientists and local naturalists as we explore and learn about the natural world in which we live. The course will include several ways everyone can contribute to science including programs such as: Citizen Science, biodiversity days and the fast and furious bioblitz.

When given the opportunity to observe nature deeply, people of all ages often develop an in-depth understanding of the importance of environmental and ecological issues that impact their lives and the lives of those who will live on this earth after us. The purpose of this course is to cultivate a community of well informed, educated, and concerned teachers, who will foster within their students a passion for the natural world.

The curriculum will afford educators and all who attend the opportunity to learn about the natural history of local plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and archaea through inquiry and observation. These topics can also be integrated with math, history, language arts and social studies. Given the current concern with global climate change. We must recognize that all living things, not just humans, represent part of the existing biodiversity. It is crucial that we, as informed citizens of this planet, are able to recognize and identify living organisms and understand that they almost certainly hold solution to biodiversity loss and the key to global sustainability.

Natural History class application form

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2015 in Adult education, backyard science, Berkshire BioBlitz, events

 

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Mating Dance

slug slimePart 2:
Two slugs mean business. As we all know from watching David Attenborough, slugs are hermaphrodites. The trails on the glass, sides and even top of the terrarium, this morning give a clue that there might have been some elaborate mating dance going on last night–and some actually mating.

If these two did mate, there may be a clutch of up to 30 eggs and then…a new terrarium will be in order.

To see mating slugs check this out. Its not Attenborough, but its pretty amazing. I know we all feel sorry for the third slug.

To learn about weird slug behavior check out this Slate article on slugs.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2015 in backyard science, terrarium

 

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