Monthly Archives: July 2015

Hot Bugs

Cicada photo by Tom Murray

Cicada photo by Tom Murray

My cousin asked me the other day what real name of the insect that makes the loud buzzing sound in the summer. She told me her husband calls them “hot bugs’ because they make the sound during the hot days. They have to have a real name. They do: Cicadas.

And they are hot bugs, they don’t start buzzing around here until the summer heat hits around 4th of July. They like the hot weather. The buzzing is the sound the males make to attract mates.

There are only 170 species of cicadas in North America and Mexico. And only 10 species in Mass according to current research.*

Cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) are true bugs. They spend much of their lives under the ground where they suck sap out of roots of plants. Some live under the ground for 17 years–hence the 17 year cicada. I was going to write about the cyclical cicadas, but its complicated. I thought I’d simplify it, but there is no simplifying it, its a complicated cycle and that’s that. If you want to try and make some sense of it you can find more information and anything you ever wanted to know about cicadas here:

*Biogeography of the Cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) of North America. Allen Sanborn and Holly Philips

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Posted by on July 25, 2015 in backyard science, insects


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Leopard Slug

leopard slugWhile at the BioBlitz some kids found a big old gastropod Limax maximus: the Leopard Slug. Its Latin name literally means the ‘biggest slug’. This had a leopard pattern, but some are all grey in color. Such a fascinating animal for many reasons.

For starters, these creatures like humans. Yeah, they are almost always found near places people live. And they are aliens, they are not native to America, some think this slug was introduced from Europe, when they were first recorded to be found in cellars in Philadelphia in 1867. From there they migrated across the country. To be fair, other populations may have around the same time been introduced to California.

And although the Leopard slug is a ‘slug’ not a ‘snail’, it is still in the phylum “Mollusca” and it has a shell, you might not notice it at first because the shell is internal. Kind of weird little trick of evolution there. If threatened the animal will pull its head under the shield of its internal shell, like pulling your head into your turtleneck sweater.

Photo of dorsal view of internal shell of Limax maximus. Scale in mm. Locality: N Germany: Kiel. Date: 08-1951.

Photo of dorsal view of internal shell of Limax maximus. Scale in mm. Locality: N Germany: Kiel. Date: 08-1951.

Of course being a slug they makes slime, or ‘mucus’ as scientist call it. If you have the opportunity to pick up one of these bad boy/girls (slugsĀ  are hermaphrodites, being both male and female at the same time) be ready to get sticky. The slime is not easily removed from your skin. But still its worth holding them once in your life, just to say you did. Then you can spend the next hour peeling off the slime like rubber cement glue. Lots of soap and water and nail polish remover should do the trick.

To make things even more interesting, scientists have found these slugs have a sense of home, like homing pigeons. They wander during the night, but will go back to their original crevice they consider home before morning. The diet of these slugs adds more intrigue. They eat detritus, dead leaves and organic matter, kind of boring but useful, but its little known they are also amazing hunters being able to move at 6 inches per minute, and cannibalistic eating other slugs. Think rasping mouth parts on a speeding giant slug–and then try not to ever think it again.

Just look at them in awe–because they are amazing creatures living in your own back yard.

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Posted by on July 19, 2015 in Uncategorized


Frog Blog

holding frogToday the weather was perfect- for catching frogs. Dr. Augie’s set up a gig with the Boy Scout camp exploring the stream by the camp. Unfortunately the path to the stream was bordered in poison ivy. So plan B went into action. I hiked over to another part of the stream and found some neighborhood kids, and asked them to catch me some frogs. They were happy to oblige. I even put on the water boots and did some collecting myself.

We were amazed by the caddisfly larva on the bottom of the stream, thousands of them. We scooped some out and put them in bowls. The bowls were writhing with larva. Very fun to watch. We caught one mayfly naiad, a dragonfly larva, and two species of water striders. We did see lots and lots of watercress. The kids told me that the water in the stream this spring was roaring, but then the watercress grew in and slowed it down. Great observation.

Back to the Boy scouts (there were girls there too! with the Venture Scouts.) When I arrived the group was waiting their turn with target practice and didn’t seem to interested in frogs. (I know how cool is that, you get to shoot BB guns during camp.) But the frogs were jumping and diving in their container making themselves pretty darn interesting. Then I showed them the container of stream organisms and there were lots of questions and answers and looking at the aquatic keys to see what they were looking at. No leaches they decided, to their disappointment. They did key out the frogs as ‘mink frogs’ (Lithobates septentrionalis).

After everyone had their fill of observing, three boys walked over and braved the path of poison ivy so we could release the frogs. They seemed content to be back in the swampy stream.

me holding a frog netting frog looking at frogs caddisfly in stream releasing a frog frog

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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in backyard science, Camps, Children's Art & Science Classes, events


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Mini Bioblitz with the Berkshire Museum

museum bioblitz 2015This June the Berkshire Museum held a small bioblitz at Onota Lake with Egermont Elementary School students. It was a great day, lots of collecting and sharing. The weather was perfect the kids were well behaved and the teachers were great to work with in the field. Thanks to Joann Batman for inviting Dr. Augie’s to participate.

pond collecting kids collections crawdad collecting pond

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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in backyard science, Berkshire BioBlitz, Children's Art & Science Classes, insects, Science, science in the parks


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Year of the Daddy Long-Leg

If there was a year dedicated in insects, 2015 would be the year of the Phalangium opilio (Arachnida: Opiliones, Phalangiidae) AKA Harvestman, Daddy long-legs or Harvest Spiders. They are EVERYWHERE this year!

This time of year, July, they are still immature so not as tall and big as they are full grown. But this just means they can find more places to hide, like under the latch of the shed door, in the silverware drawer, between the curtain and the windows and in every inch of the garden (this last place is a good thing).

Contrary to popular belief, they are not deadly poisonous to people, but they do have short fangs. They use these fangs to inject poison into their prey.

daddy long legThey are predators on insects, thus good for the garden and home, good to eat all those dust mites under your couch. Since they have no spinning organs, they don’t spin webs, no cobwebs from these spiders. Also if you look close, they don’t have antennae. But instead use their second set of legs as they would antennae. Do check it out next time you see one, it will feel around with that second set of legs, which is cool to watch and cannot be unseen.

If you find these delicate creatures in your house, scoop them up, yes you can use your hands, they won’t bite humans and release them outside. They are the good ones.

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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in backyard science, insects, Nature Curios


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