Saturday, June 25, 2011

Kingbird on a wire

The second in my utterly pointless "birds on barbed wire" series. (See also "Dove on a wire".)

(Taken June 22 along a sand road in the Pine Barrens, Ocean Co., NJ)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Grasshopper season

This monster was laying eggs (it seemed to be, anyway) in the middle of a sand road in Ocean Co., NJ, yesterday. I think it is Pardalophora phoenicoptera, the orange-winged grasshopper.

Grasshoppers have recently become more noticeable in the grasslands of south Jersey. I never thought of them as a seasonal animal before, but I guess most insects have their seasonality just like plants do. And insect timing, I suppose, often coincides with plant timing.

Adding to my theory that "grasshopper season" is upon us is this: I have found plenty of shed skins from aquatic insects before (exuviae, technically speaking), but yesterday was the first time I've found a shed grasshopper skin...completely intact too! If I remember correctly from the time I raised crickets (for an insect class), they usually eat the skin after they shed it. The one that molted the skin shown was still a juvenile at the time, identified by the still-short wings. I think the strings and stuff visible in the photo may be the linings of air tubes and other "internal" organs, the skin of which also gets molted.

Shed grasshopper skin. Taken yesterday in Lakehurst, Ocean Co., NJ.

Here is the large grasshopper from two more angles. Even his eyes look sandy...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mole crossing 2

Following up on my previous (and portentious) "mole crossing" post, I actually saw a mole crossing a paved road today! It was small and looked like an eastern mole as it didn't seem to have a starry nose. The road was over 100 feet wide! It skittered awkwardly forward, and looked nervous (if I can read mole body language as well as I think I can) a fish out of water. Same site as last time, so it may have been same kind that made the tunnel across the sand road. No time for a photo unfortunately.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A successful copulation...

The five eggs perhaps fertilized in part during this "copulation event" (described here) just hatched yesterday. When I peeked in the box, there were four of the typical tiny, wriggling, pink, weird-looking creatures, and one as-yet-unhatched white egg. Much more parental activity in and out of box now.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Goat's rue and other plants I've never heard of

There are about 1861 plant species native to New Jersey (Anderson 1997). So it isn't really surprising that I keep running into new ones. This one (Goat's Rue, a type of pea, photographed June 1 in Lakehurst, Ocean Co., NJ) was particularly strange in its "bicoloredness": yellow and pink. Mustard and ketchup. And it was providing food for an interesting little weevil. Weevils incidentally are the most species-rich family (~60,000) in the most species-rich order of insects (beetles). So I won't attempt to identify it. Anderson (1997) lists 48 native "peas" in NJ (family Fabaceae), not including introduced or extirpated species. Many more peas left to meet.

Another plant I met this spring that I'd never heard of is "Cut-leaved Toothwort." It is in the mustard family, and was growing along the Musconetcong River in Warren County. It seems to be fairly common, but I was excited because it wasn't listed as occuring in Warren County in the great NJ plant-atlas book by Mary Hough. "A discovery!" thought I.

Cut leaved toothwort, photographed April 17 in Musconetcong WMA in Warren County.

Lit Cited
Anderson, K. 1997. A checklist of the plants of New Jersey. Self published. Mount Holly, NJ.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mole crossing

Mole directions for crossing sand road: Go straight past the grass clump. Take a sharp left at the tire track. Then swing right at the other grass clump.

(Taken June 4th in Ocean Co., NJ.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Striped eye

Thanks to the miracles of digital photography and cropping, I now know that painted turtles have...striped eyes. This strikes me as bizarre. Although I suppose "breaking up" the appearance of the eyes (or creating false "eyes" elsewhere) is a main function of camouflage in many species. Admittedly, having stripes on your eye does serve to make the face more cryptic. Especially since the face is often all that is showing on this mostly-aquatic species. (Taken today in Hamden Co., Massachusetts)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Butterflies eating poo

Lovely tiger swallowtails feeding on fresh raccoon poo (taken a few years ago in Hunterdon Co., NJ). This behavior apparently allows butterflies to gain extra nitrogen and sodium which are needed for reproduction and are scarce in their typical sugary fare of flower nectar (Lederhouse et al. 1990).  These nutrients can also be found in rotting animals (scroll down on this link to see one eating a dead raccoon!) and also puddle margins. I've seen great clouds of them gathering on the mud of drying ponds - it can be quite spectacular!
Here is a red admiral drinking nutrient soup from the manure on an amputated lamb's tail (the tail had been "docked"). (Photo taken a week ago in Warren Co., NJ.)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bird sex

Bird sex must rank high on the list of strange animal reproductive positions (although see this video of slug sex and the series by Isabella Rossallini). It is simultaneously awkward and graceful. This weekend, a pair of not-modest tree swallows that live near my doorstep in Warren Co., NJ provided a good illustration of this.

1) First the male lands and plants his feet on the female's back.

2) Then, he grabs a mouthful of her head feathers for balance!
3) Then, he puts his wings up and performs an impossible twist of his tail to line up cloacas. 
This whole process lasts about 1-2 seconds, according to my camera's time stamp. The pair was observed mating several times over the course of a few days. It seemed to happen in the morning and evening more (too hot mid-day?), in short "frenzies" with the male going in for several tries each time. This timing coincided with their recent take-over of a birdhouse after some house sparrows vacated for unknown reasons. I could be wrong, but I think mating only occurs during egg-laying, as there has to be a relatively recent mating to produce a fertilized egg each day. I supposed that's why she always indulged the male, though she didn't always seem into it...

"That was awkward."

As an aside, this is the first time I've realized that male and female tree swallows are quite different looking, the female being much less shiny.