Friday, September 27, 2013

The Goldenrod Gang

 As fall begins, a whole lot of things seem to happen at once:
monarch butterflies migrate south;
apples ripen and fall to the ground;
leave turn glorious shades of russet and red and rose.

 Leaves aren't the only thing changing color. Perhaps you've noticed that the roadsides and fields are changing hue as well. As summer colors fade, roadsides and fields burst with the brilliant yellows of goldenrod.

There are more than a hundred kinds of goldenrod in the US alone. If you take a close look at their flowers, you'll see that they are relatives of the sunflower family. Spend time with goldenrod and you'll find that they support an interesting community of insects: the "Goldenrod Gang".

One of the beetles that visits goldenrod is the "locust borer" - a bright yellow-and-black longhorn beetle. It's a native beetle that gets its name from its habit of boring into black locust (you can learn more about it here). 

Another beetle I find on the flowers is the ladybird beetle, aka "ladybug". There are many kinds of ladybugs, but we seem to have more of the non-native multi-dotted Asian Lady Beetles around our house.

Look down on the stem, and you might find some grasshoppers hiding under the leaves. And then - back on the flowers - there are some wasps: dainty black wasps barely larger than an ant, and larger paper wasps sipping nectar and collecting pollen. And of course, bees: honey bees, bumblebees, and bees I don't even know the names of.

Grab your nature journal and head out to a goldenrod patch
What do you see?
What sorts of beetles are hanging out on your goldenrod flowers?
How long do they stay there - and what are they doing?
What kinds of wasps and bees visit your plants?
Is there a difference between what insects visit in the morning and which visit in the afternoon?
What happens when one insect meets another? Do they ignore each other?

Check out other cool science posts and STEM resources over at STEM Friday.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Get the Scoop on Animal Poop!

Get the Scoop on Animal Poop!

From Lions to Tapeworms, 251 cool facts about scat, frass, dung, and more!
By Dawn Cusick
80 pages, ages 8-12
Imagine (Charlesbridge imprint), 2012

At the very beginning of this book, author Dawn Cusick warns her young readers that they have a very important decision to make:
"How will you deal with the adults in your life when they see this book?"

It's a fair question, because some adults get disgusted by the cool-yet-gross things that interest kids. Poop being one of those things. Fortunately, Cusick is one who doesn't get disgusted by such things and dives right into the topic head first. Metaphorically.

The subtitle of this book says it all: 251 cool facts about scat, frass, dung.... and more! The first chapter is appropriately titled "Watch your language" - because there are precise and scientific words used to describe the body waste of animals, and there are silly words and other words that will get your mouth washed out with soap. My favorite word from Cusick's list is "Coporology".

Though it sounds gross to us, some animals eat poop. They roll in it. They use it to mark their nests and protect their families. Turns out that poop is an integral part of the food chain and can be its own little ecosystem.

Animals aren't the only ones to use poo.  People use dung to heat their homes, cook dinner, and even make jewelry!

Cusick's also included a detective's guide to poop - to help budding naturalists determine who's "gone" there. Altogether a fun book. You can read a previous interview with Dawn Cusick here.
Review copy provided by publisher.

Check out other science resources at STEM Friday.

And on Monday, join Archimedes and other blogs for the Nonfiction Monday round-up, hosted this week by Sally's Bookshelf.

Friday, September 13, 2013

If you Want to See a Grass Spider

On late summer and early fall mornings, my lawn is covered by a patchwork of grass spider webs. They're secretive - hiding in their funnels until a hapless insect gets tangled in their web. Then quick-as-a-flash! The grass spider hustles from one end of the web to the other to snag dinner and then it's back into the hole.

The other day I managed to catch one out on the web. It took some waiting... but the spider came out to check on some web movement. They're about the size of wolf spiders, but very shy.

If you want to see a grass spider, you have to be patient. Walk slowly. When you see one poking its head out, sit and wait. And wait. And wait some more.

Things to do while Waiting for a Grass Spider:
  • sketch its web 
  • make a map of all the webs - how close are they to each other? 
  • what sorts of insects walk over the grass spider web?
  • how big is a web? 
  • is it square like a quilt patch?
  • what kinds of things get caught in the web?
 Welcome to STEM Friday. You can find more resources on the STEM Friday blog.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fall Butterflies Fill the Air

Leonard's Skipper (photo by Colleen Wolpert)
Soon the Monarch butterflies will be migrating south, filling the air with fluttery wings of orange and black. But they aren't the only fall fliers.

Right now is a great time to head outside and see what butterflies are flitting through the neighborhood. Lep-lover and naturalist Colleen Wolpert, who takes people on butterfly walks,has seen lots of skippers this past week. The Leonard's Skipper has only one brood each year, and the caterpillars overwinter. They munch on their host plants: Little Bluestem, Bent grass, Switchgrass, Poverty Oat grass and other grasses. The caterpillars build tube-like structures out of rolled leaves, and line them with silk. When they're not eating, they hide in their tubes. That's where they overwinter as well - and emerge in the spring.

While the caterpillars make do with grass, the adults feast on nectar. You'll see them flying amongst goldenrod, asters, and bee balm.

Sulphur butterfly (photo by Rick Bunting)
 Another group of yellow butterflies fluttering about are the sulphurs. Lep-lover and photographer Rick Bunting, shared some photos from this past week. The sulphurs are busy on thistles, and any other purple flower blooming this time of year.

(photo by Rick Bunting)
If you're patient, you can get to know these butterflies up-close-and-personal.

Turns out there are a whole bunch of butterflies that migrate in the fall. Fiery skippers spend their summers in the southern US and migrate to Argentina for winter. Long-tailed skippers summer as far north as New York state and then make the long flight to Central America and Argentina to avoid the icy cold and snow. Red Admirals summer in Canada and winter in Guatamala and Painted Ladies get as far as Texas or northwestern Mexico.While the Monarchs go to Mexico for the winter, Queen butterflies fly all the way to Brazil.

So this fall, grab your nature journal, pencils, camera... and head out to see what butterflies are flying around your region. Check out more science resources at STEM Friday.