Eastern poison ivy with its white berries, found as a vine climbing a tree.
I do not remember ever getting a poison ivy rash when I was younger. Maybe I never was exposed, maybe I never really got into the woods, I certainly never learned to identify it ….but the past few years I have developed an allergic reaction to posion ivy AND have quickly learned to identify it.
Eastern poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and western poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii) are native to North America. Other familiar species that belong to the same genus include: poison oak (not really an oak) and poison sumac. These species all belong to the family Anacardiaceae (the cashew or sumac family). Many members of this family contain the oil urushiol which is the cause for the itchy, blistery rash when you come into contact with poison ivy. Other important members of this family include mango, cashew, pistachio and the Marula tree of South Africa. Mangos and cashews can also contain urushiol oil and can cause contact dermatitis if the skin of the fruit is touched. The cashew nut’s shell contains urushiol oil as well, which is why cashews are sold unshelled.
Urushiol oil from poison ivy can get on clothing, gloves, and gardening tools. If those do not get washed off the oil can then transfer to you, leading to an allergic reaction. The best advice is to immediately wash with warm water and soap any clothing or equipment and skin that may have come into contact with the plant. Do not burn poison ivy, as the oil will be carried in the air on smoke particulates and if inhaled can cause a severe allergic reaction. Many other animals do not seem to have the same reaction to the oil, and in fact the leaves and berries of poison ivy are food for many.
I got a pretty, nasty poison ivy rash on both arms last year that I attribute to my dog having picked up the oil and me hugging her. I make this assumption because I am pretty sure I was not hugging a pile of poison ivy and could not figure out how else I would have gotten that pattern of a rash.
So how to identify poison ivy in order to avoid it? The old saying goes: Leaves of three let it be. This is perhaps the safest way to avoid touching it, but then a lot of plants have 3 leaves. Phenologically poison ivy is highly variable. Eastern poison ivy is found in most of the eastern half of the US, ranging a bit into the southwest. It is a vine forming plant, often recognized by its hairy roots that are used to help it attach to and climb up objects ( see pictures below). Western poison ivy is found in the western Uas well as portions of the Midwest and eastern US. It grows more as a bush, rather than a vine. As a bush it can grow up to 6 feet in length and as a vine it can reach 150 feet.
Poison ivy I think can be best identified by looking at the pattern of the 3 leaflets. The middle leaflet has a long stem from the main branch and the other 2 leaflets look more like they come straight out of the stem. Also the 1st and 3rd leaflets are directly opposite of one another.
The sites below have some helpful diagrams and more information on how to ID poison ivy.
Eastern Poison Ivy (poison-ivy.org)
Western Poison Ivy (poison-ivy.org)
Western Poison-ivy (fs.fed.us)
Plants that LOOK like poison ivy,,,,but are not!
Over the past few years, there has been more and more information coming out on the decline of insect populations. Of particular interest, monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), known for their incredible migration of up to 3,000 miles (Monarch Butterfly Migration and Overwintering (fs.fed.us)). In general, a major reason of species declines is loss of habitat, and for monarchs a large portion of that is loss of its host plant, milkweed.
Plants of the genus (Asclepias) are called milkweeds and are named for their sticky, white, latex sap that you will quickly notice after cutting a stem or leaf. This sap contains a cardiac glycoside which can act as a toxin in high doses. This toxic effect can act to prevent predation and browsing on milkweed plants; however, some animals (such as the monarch caterpillars) actually feed off these plants and have the ability to store or sequester the glycosides without harming themselves. These stored toxins in turn make the caterpillar and butterflies toxic or at least very bad tasting to potential predators such as birds.
Although the relationship with monarchs and milkweed is fascinating, I think one of the most remarkable traits of milkweeds is their flowers. I have always been amazed by their beauty and structural intricacy. I have found a quote on a couple of websites that say the complex structure of milkweed flowers is second only to orchids. Now I cannot find a citation to this claim and I am not a floral morphologist, so I cannot really say anything about this, but they are pretty. They can also be very fragrant, and different species have different colorations, including white, green, purple, pink, orange, yellows and reds. Once pollinated these flowers then turn into elongated fruits or pods, containing seeds. Milkweed seeds are attached to silky, white filaments or hairs that get blown and moved by the wind.
In my yard I have started growing a few species native to the area.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). This one has broad oval shaped leaves with clusters of flowers forming balls, light purplish in color. Having planted this one in my front yard, I now know why this plant has the name weed in it…..be careful where you plant these becase one you have it in your yard it will sprout everywhere. They spread with rhizomatous roots, new shoots pop up everywhere. This might be better planted in an area that you do not mind getting overgrown.
Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) has more slender leaves compared to the common milkweed, with bright orange flowers. Apparently, they contain less of the glycosides compared to other milkweed species and are thus not used as much by the monarch butterflies as a host plant to lay their eggs on; but they will still feed off the nectar. These do not spread as aggressively as the common milkweed.
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) as shown above, has bunches of pink to mauvish flowers (photo on left), however; some plants have white flowers (photo on right). This species does well in wet, dense soils like clay…which I have a lot of.
There are over 73 species in the United States with a huge diversity in flower coloration and well as habitat preferences. I think if I were a botanist this would be the group I would study.
An African milkweed species, note the large seed pods.
(Danaus chrysippus) The African Monarch (also known as the African Queen or Plain Tiger butterfly) found throughout Africa and parts of Asia.
It may come as a surprise or is not something you regularly think about, but milkweeds, though native to North America are also native to other parts of the world including Africa. This milkweed plant above is one I spotted on the side of the road when I traveled to Madagascar. I immediately knew it was a milkweed, because of the large seed pods that looked like… well milkweed seed pods I had seen back home. In fact there is a species of butterfly (Danaus chrysippus) related to the North American monarch butterflies that feed and lay eggs on this milkweed. During my visit to Madagascar I also came across this incredible insect, the rainbow locust ( genus Phymateus), their bright colors like that of the monarch…..Although in the photo here they are not feeding on milkweed but on another plant. Nevertheless they are known to feed off of milkweed and like monarch caterpillars store the toxins (Monarchs and Milkweed in Madagascar – Insects on Plants, Chemical Ecology, and Coevolution (cornell.edu)). Our guide mentioned that the plant they are feeding on in this photo is also extremely toxic.
Rainbow locusts also feed on milkweeds and other poisonous plants and sequester the toxins.
Now I have come across some websites that mention you can eat milkweed, and many of friends will cry foul and say but its toxic, you cannot eat it! And indeed it is toxic, but toxic effects on the body depends on the amount consumed. The concentration or amount of toxins in an individual plant depends on the age and species. Regardless, I would not recommend trying to eat some, personally I am plenty happy with my vegetable garden or what I find in the stores. Interestingly, the amount of toxins from a plant that gets consumed can also depend on how you prepare or cook the plant. In fact when I lived in West Africa there was a cheese (Wagasi) made by the Fulani (or Peul) herders and they used the latex sap of the plant Calotropis procera to help curdle the milk. I remember this plant having similar flowers and leaf shape as those of milkweed plants here in North America, and in fact this genus of plants belongs to the same group as the milkweed plants I have been discussing, Asclepiadea. I believe the boiling of the plant helps to remove the toxin before it is added to the milk. Check out this video on the making of this delicious cheese! Wagashi Cheese Production in Northern Benin - Bing video
Given my love for bright colors, I adore orioles and have been trying to attract them to my yard for three years. These brilliantly orange and black birds are stunning. In Missouri we have the Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) and the Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius). Further west you can find Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii) and in the southwest the Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus), Scott’s oriole (Icterus parisorum), and Audubon's Oriole (Icterus graduacauda). All these birds are brightly colored in shades of orange and yellow along with striking black markings.
Male Baltimore Oriole yelling at the female oriole below that just wants some grape jelly.
The female Baltimore Oriole, not the duller shades of orange and lack of black markings compared to the male.
As mentioned, I have been trying to attract Baltimore Orioles to my yard as they migrate through each spring. Last year I was able to entice a couple to stop for a slice of orange and a bit of grape jelly. This past May I was able to attract several more: three to four males and one female arrived in early May and stayed about a week. After they moved on another one or two males and a female stopped by for another week, as well as a young juvenile male. Baltimore Orioles breed in the southern US into southern Canada. During migration, you can attract these birds by proving orange slice, purple grapes and grape jelly. They also like to drink nectar from hummingbird or oriole specific feeders. They seem to prefer hanging out in the tops of trees, but will cautiously come down for a tasty snack. Once used to your feeders, they will become more bold. According to Audubon and Cornell’s bird websites, orioles prefer open woodland and are often found around cities and parks as well as more rural areas. Males have the brightest colors, with females generally being a more washed out orange and yellow coloring and without the bold black markings. Young males (less than 2 years old) have the duller coloration similar to that of a female, but they gain their bright, bold plumage around their second year. Females weave hanging nests of woven plant material high up in the treetops. Baltimore Orioles make the trip up north relatively short, they usually start migrating back to their wintering grounds around July, so I will be putting our more oranges in July hoping to catch them on their journey back south.
I believe this is a young male Baltimore Oriole, with the duller coloration, but note the dark spot on the chest, I noticed some of the adult males had this dark spot as well (but all black) so I think it is a male and not a female.
People often wonder if any of the conservation measures including rules, regulations and laws that are put into effect actually do anything. One of the best cases of conservation success that comes to mind is that of several birds of prey including the osprey, bald eagle, and peregrine falcon.
Habitat destruction is the major driver of species loss (species extinction), but other stressors such as hunting or wildlife trade, disease and pollution also lead to species loss. Habitat destruction and hunting were impacting bird of prey populations in the early 1900’s. However, it was the negative impacts of certain pesticides and pollutants that is believed to have brought populations of these birds to the brink. In the early 1900’s new pesticides were found to be useful against a wide variety of pest species (they were broad spectrum). DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) was used during World War 2 to successfully prevent the spread of insect borne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever and is credited for the eradication of malaria in the U.S.. However, between the 1950’s to 1970’s several bird species’ populations crashed, particularly birds of prey such as the osprey, bald eagle, and peregrine falcon as well as the brown pelican. It was estimated that between New York and Boston during this time that 90% of nesting pairs of ospreys disappeared. Studies found that this pesticide would accumulate in the tissues of animals that ingested plants or insects that had been sprayed. Predatory birds eating these smaller animals would thus accumulate larger and larger loads of this pesticide, leading to either poisoning or reproductive failure. It was discovered that DDT led to the birds’ eggshells becoming too thin, causing eggs to crack and leading to the death of the embryos and young birds. Since no young were being hatched (reproductive failure, no new birds were able to replace the older birds (i.e. there was a decline in recruitment), and thus populations of these species rapidly declined.
With the discovery of the connection between DDT and inability of these species to successfully reproduce, DDT was banned in 1972 in the U.S., Canada and parts of Europe. Unfortunately, by this time the populations of these species were so low in number, that all were placed on the U.S. federal Endangered Species List. This listing afforded additional protections of these species. The listing of these species as endangered and the reduction in DDT usage enabled the species to recover.
Since then, populations of these species have rebounded. For instance, bald eagle populations in the lower 48 states of the U.S. are estimated to have over 10,000 nesting pairs today, compared to the less than 500 nesting pairs in the 1960’s. All three raptor species have been downgraded or completely removed from the Endangered Species list. Osprey were placed on the list in 1976 and downgraded to species of special concern in 1999. Peregrine falcons were listed in 1970 and delisted in 1999. Bald Eagles were put under protection in 1967 and removed from the list in 2007.
If you are unfamiliar with them, osprey (Pandion haliaetus) are large hawks, with distinctive coloration, a dark eye stripe and bright yellow eyes. They can be found worldwide on all continents except Antarctica. Within the U.S. they can be found along costal areas and estuaries, including the Great Lakes region and even along large rivers and wetlands. They feed almost entirely on fish. They can be seen hovering over water searching for a tasty fish and then plunge feet first to grab their meal. The build large stick nests usually on top of poles or dead trees near or over water.
Growing up, I remember the excitement whenever someone said they saw a bald eagle, peregrine falcon or an osprey. These were rare and endangered species, so seeing one was a big deal. In college and beyond, the reports of sightings grew and now they are really rather common place. For instance, while visiting a dog park in Florida this winter we saw a bald eagle soaring above us, then it swooped down maybe 20 feet from us and landed briefly. Not exactly sure what he was doing, but he took off soon after that. In Utah, there are signs on the road to look out for eagles…. eagles will often scavenge food and can often be seen at road kills especially in the winter, so the sign are a warning to be on the look-out for a road kill eating eagles, to avoid hitting them. Where I live now, I would see them daily at my place of work during the spring and summer. As for osprey I have seen them in Florida and as far north as Alaska. Check out these pics from Florida, I could not count how many osprey nests we saw, there were so many.
These species show that the Endangered Species Act and other regulations and laws do work, and when given a chance, species can make amazing recoveries.
Early spring is not my favorite time of year. The growing sunlight on the seemingly dormant, dull world just irks me. The sunny blue skies and warming winds against a bleak backdrop does little for me. But signs of life slowly start to emerge, and the early flowering trees suddenly explode in shades of pink and yellow…. finally, some color. The magnificent magnolias, the explosive redbuds, the crabby crabapples, and the soon to be tasty fruit trees like apricots and cherries. But even before these, bloom the Red Maples (Acer rubrum). Though not nearly as showy as the other early spring flowering trees, the Red Maple has clusters of tightly packed red flowers all along their branches. One of the earliest bloomers, you might notice them because the flowers are not competing with any leaves, or you might just notice a red “presence” against the silver barked trees and wonder what it is. Take a closer look and you will see this.
Flowers of the Red Maple tree.
Though small in comparison to other tree’s flowers they are nonetheless showy in their own right. The male flowers contain several stamens dotted with yellow pollen that extend beyond the short red petals. The female flowers contain a stigma, to which pollen sticks to and leads to the pollination and thus reproduction of the Red Maple. From this pollinated flower forms the winged samaras or fruits of the Red Maple, you may know these as helicopters or whirlygigs or spinners. These are two winged seeds that fall and spin to the ground, seed dispersal in action. Young seedlings will then begin to grow from each of the seeds. Unlike Sugar Maples where the seeds do not drop until the fall, the seeds (and fruit) of the Red Maple fall in the spring before leaves fully emerge. You might not think of them as a fruit, but botanically speaking a fruit is simply a structure that holds the seeds of the flowering plants (angiosperms), leading to the dissemination and spreading of the seeds and thus new plants, or in this case new Red Maples.
Fruits (winged samaras) of the Red Maple.
Early spring is not my favorite, thank goodness for the Red Maples.
A European starling in its winter plumage. In summer the white spots disappear and they are a sleek, iridescent black.
This month’s blog I am sharing some more trail camera photos of my bird feeder. Specifically, I am going to talk about the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). As you can tell from the name this bird is not originally from North America. Starlings were introduced to North America in the 1800’s with the first successfully introduction documented in 1890, when approximately 80 starlings were released into New York City’s Central Park. Today there are an estimated 150 million starlings in North America (USDA), where the European starling is considered both an invasive and a nuisance species. Being highly adaptable and versatile they have expanded their range across all North America (Cornell). They are considered to be a nuisance species because they damage fruit crops, they congregate in concentrated animal feeding operations where they are believed to be disease vectors to livestock and they gather in large numbers in urban areas where their excrement can cover buildings and structures. Finally, they are thought to out-compete native bird species, especially bluebirds and others that use cavities for nesting locations (woodpeckers), possibly leading to declines in the populations of these native species (Cornell). However recent research suggest that even though they compete for nesting sites, they may not reduce the reproductive output (i.e. baby birds that successfully grow to adulthood) of native species (Koenig 2003, Ideas.Ted.com).
Given the problems that have risen from their introduction you may be wondering why they were even brought over from Europe. In the 1800’s a group called the American Acclimatization Society was founded with the purpose of introducing European wildlife to the new country for cultural reasons. Such societies were popular during this time when many European countries colonized other nations and felt either the need for the familiar or thought that the local wildlife were just not as good as that back home. It is even believed that one member of the American Acclimatization Society and a huge fan of Shakespeare, desired to bring to the USA all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works.
Two starlings fighting it out over some mealworms.
Regardless of their reputation here in North America, the starling is striking, with its jet-black color and iridescent feathers and bright yellow beak. In the wintertime they develop spots speckled across most of their body feathers. Many people do not welcome them at their feeders, as they are larger sized songbirds that crowd out other birds at a feeder. I usually have 5 -6 of them hang around my feeders in the winter but do not take much notice of them and they do not monopolize the feeders. In fact I often see then feeding quietly along with doves, sparrows, cardinals, juncos, titmice, downy wood peckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, a Carolina wren, and even my family of bluebirds.
One thing I like about starlings is their ability to mimic and copy different bird songs an even the searing scream of a red-tailed hawk. They will mimic human associated sounds as well like motorcycles and can even learn to say words. European Starling mimics words ("Talking" Starling) - YouTube
Even better than vocal mimicry, in my opinion, is the large flocks that they form and their “murmurations”, when they fly in large groups swirling back and forth in various undulating formations, dividing and then coming back together. They are always fun to watch. Check out this video, it is one of my all time favorites, plus I like flugelhorn music:
Murmuration, Birds various - Bing video
Finally, evolutionarily speaking the starling has spread across North America in a very short period of time and has been able to adapt to a variety of conditions. Interestingly starlings introduced from the UK to Australia have not spread across Australia as fast or as well as those in North America. A biologist is investigating what has allowed the North American starlings to become more adaptable relative to those introduced into Australia. Check out the story here: European Starlings’ Global Success Reveals Evolution Doesn’t Always Take Millions Of Years (forbes.com)
So, whether you are a fan of these birds are not, you must admire them in their beauty, tenacity, and adaptability.
USDA: European-Starlings-WDM-Technical-Series.pdf (usda.gov)
Cornell: European Starling Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Koenig 2003 https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1523-1739.2003.02262.x
Ideas.Ted.Com: Even if we don’t love starlings, we should learn to live with them | (ted.com)
What blooms in the middle of winter? Witch-hazel!
Witch-hazels are a group of winter flowering shrubs with 3 species (Hamamelis virginiana, H. vernalis and H. ovalis) native to the North America and 2 species native to parts of Asia. Witch-hazels are small trees or shrubs generally only growing to 10 -25 feet tall. American witch-hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, blooms from September through December, whereas the other species, including the Ozark witch-hazel (H. vernalis) bloom from January through March.
Witch-hazel flowers are small but showy, with colors ranging from yellows, oranges and reds. They have thin, ribbon shaped petals. Witch-hazels flower after all their leaves have dropped, and so, even though the flowers are small, the flowers can be readily seen against a barren winter landscape. The pictures I post are of the Ozark witch-hazel that I planted in my backyard.
Given this seemingly strange trait of blooming when most pollinators are gone or hibernating, the question arises, what pollinates witch-hazel?
Bees and flies have been observed visiting witch-hazel but more likely in the warmer portion of their blooming period. The flowers are sweet smelling and contain nectar, which is used to attract pollinators, so it is unlikely that they pollinate via wind. One possibility might be a group of Noctuid moths known as owlet moths. The brown rather non-descript moths were studied by Bernd Heinrich who observed them feeding off of witch-hazel flowers in the winter. These moths are known for vibrating their wings (or shivering) to increase their body temperature, allowing them to be active in cold weather. This trait of shivering to increase their body temperature is not unique to this group, many other moths and butterflies are known to shiver. What is interesting is that they can initiate shivering a temperature much colder than other Lepidoptera (moths or butterflies).
In the winter these moths seek shelter under leaf litter, which is considerably warmer than winter air temperatures, and if it snows, the snow adds an additional layer of insulation. The moths also have an insulating layer of fur (actually modified scales). Heinrich also found that they only need to warm up and their thorax (the body part that contains the wings) and not their abdomen during flight. They can maintain a large difference in body temperature between the two main body parts. (Check out Bernd’s paper to see his cool experiments here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24979345 ).
One more cool thing about with-hazels is that their seeds are in long capsules, as the pods dry they explode open, shooting the seeds up to 30 feet away from the parent tree. Seed dispersal is fascinating….check out this video with David Attenborough to learn more about the cool adaptations plants have to ensure their seeds get a good start in life.
I bought a trail camera to set out by my peanut bird feeder to see if I could get a photo of the racoon that I suspected was raiding it at night. I would also hear strange, high-pitched squeaking sounds from the yard in the middle of the night, and I suspect it was racoon noises. Being lazy, I left the camera trap up during the day as well.
I did get one picture of a racoon at night, but what I am going to be sharing for the next few posts are the daytime photos of birds that the camera captures. The camera traps (or trail cameras) are a great way to get truly candid photos of animals and often you can get some pretty amusing pictures and surprises.
The first set of photos are of a tufted titmouse on the peanut feeder.
Titmouse determined to get a peanut
The tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is a year-round resident of Missouri and much of the eastern half of the United States. They are insectivores in the summer but can be found commonly at feeders in the winter enjoying sunflower seeds, suet and peanuts, as this one that I caught with the camera trap is doing. They have a gray back and head with a buffy, white belly and peachy sides. Their distinctive crest or tuft can be a quick way to identify them. They are pretty agile and like the trail camera shows full of acrobatic antics.
Now that I see the potential in using the camera trap to get these fun shots, I am working on figuring out the best location for the camera trap and the feeder to get sharper more clear photos, and also playing around with different feeders to attract different bird species. It is also great because instead of standing out in the cold of winter to get photos, I can let the camera trap take them for me. Obviously you have less control but like I mentioned you can also get more varied behavior.
In the next set of photos I have a meal worm feeder specifically set out for bluebirds, and as you can see I have a nice family of bluebirds that visits every year. They are the cutest and very pretty, I will write more about them later. They particularly like the dried mealworms. But I also get a variety of other birds checking out this feeder including, titmice, chickadees, and even this female cardinal and female red-bellied woodpecker.
A bluebird family munching on mealworms
Female cardinal checking out the feeder
A female red-bellied woodpecker missed out on all the mealworms
The red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is also a common, year round resident of the eastern United States. They are striking birds, with their barred, black and white backs, yellowish belly and red cap. I learned that males have a red cap that extends from their beak down to their neck , whereas the females have a bit of red near the beak and then at the back of the neck but not on the top. So the one in the photo is a female. You might be tempted to call this a red-headed woodpecker, but that name already belongs to another species found in Missouri. The red headed woodpecker ‘s entire head is read with black wings and white belly.
So where is the red belly on the red-bellied woodpecker? Well it is there, it is just not very prominent and hard to see as they are usually perched with their belly to the tree.
A fun fact for those less inclined to keep their yard overly orderly, most woodpeckers nest in dead trees and make new cavities each year in the same tree. So if you have dead trees in your backyard, it might not be bad to keep one around for these cavity nesters. We have one in our back yard just for this purpose.
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
For most in the Midwest and Northeast fall is a time when the leaves change colors. The bright reds, oranges, burgundies and yellows are from pigments in the leaves that are actually there all year long, we just do not see them because during the rest of the year the green pigment, chlorophyll, is most abundant. This is the pigment that allows the trees to capture sunlight and produce its own food (photosynthesis). But when fall and winter come around, the chlorophyll breaks down as the nutrients used for plant growth move from the leaves into the stems and roots for storage. With the chlorophyll gone, we now see the other pigments in the leaves before they fall to the ground.
Maple trees have some of the showiest fall foliage. Maple trees are native to North America, Europe and Asia, with the most number of species in Asia. Here I have what I believe to be a sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Sugar maples are native to eastern North America, and are best known for they sugary sap that is used to make maple syrup. As can be seen on this photo sugar maple leaves (like most other maples) have 5 lobes in a palmate pattern, that is the veins and leaf lobes extend from the base of the leaf.
Maples are really pretty in the fall, especially with a bright blue sky behind them. Maples are also one of the earliest flowering trees, at least in my yard. Usually in March, small, tiny flowers appear before any leaves do. This provides a great source of nectar for early spring insects. The fruits and seeds of the maple are the 2 seeded, papery-winged, whirlybirds or helicopters seen whirling from the trees in spring time.
The next tree is an oak tree. There are around 400 to 500 species of living oaks in the genus Quercus , and they are native to the northern hemisphere. The highest species diversity of oaks can be found in North America, with Asia having the second highest number of oak species. I do not know a lot about trees or oaks. I always assumed that oaks generally do not display a lot of fall color. From my experience oak leaves generally turn brown and either fall off the tree or remain on the tree over winter. When I saw this oak with is beautiful red/ burgundy colored leaves, I had to find out what it was. I assumed it was a red oak tree, because of the coloration….but was I wrong!
This oak species has leaves with rounded lobes, meaning it belongs to the white oak group.
There are about 60 species of oaks in the United States. These can be divided into 2 groups, the white oaks and the red oaks. White oaks (such as the white oak, burr oak, post oak and chinquapin oak) generally have rounded lobes on their leaves and red oaks (such as the red oak, black oak, willow oak, and pin oak) have pointy-end tipped lobes on their leaves. So, from this picture I can guess that this tree belongs to the white oak group based on the rounded lobes of its leaves. There are other differences between the groups, for instance the white oak group's fruit (acorns) mature on the tree in one season, whereas those of the red oak group take up to two seasons before they mature. Unfortunately, I am unable to identify this tree species any further, I will have to go back and visit in spring time to take a closer look at the leaves and stems. The acorns of the oaks are really important source of food for wildlife, and like the leaves come in various forms.
Credit: University of Minnesota Extension
Credit: Trees: A Golden Nature Guide
(Illustrators: Dorothea and Sy Barlowe)
While I was doing some research I came across this similar blog. According to the Back Yard Biology Blog team, oaks can be pretty colorful in the fall, check out their post and pictures! Apparently I will have to keep a keener eye out next fall on the oaks!
And Leeloo says don't forget to enjoy the fall leaves, whether they are still on the trees or on the ground!
The woolly bears are out and about this time of year. Those cute fuzzy black and rusty brown,orangish caterpillars found traipsing across the lawns and sidewalks.
All moths and butterflies belong to the insect order Lepidoptera, meaning scale wing, because when you look up close at the wings you will see they are covered in tiny, flattened hairs or scales (check out this neat close up pic of a butterfly wing https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/images/543-butterfly-wings-are-covered-with-scales “Science Learning Hub – Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao, University of Waikato, www.sciencelearn.org.nz). But back to the caterpillars.
Why do these guys always seem to appear in the fall? And where are they going?
Woolly bears are the caterpillar (or larval) form of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia Isabella) which is found from northern Mexico into southern Canada (bugguide.net/node/view/154649) . The caterpillars themselves are covered in short bristles or hairs, unlike some caterpillars, these hairs do sting or hurt when touched. They usually have a black front and back end with a band or rusty orange in the middle.
In the fall they are out searching for more food or perhaps a nice, cozy spot under some fallen leaves or under a decaying log to overwinter.
Unlike the monarch butterflies which migrate during winter, the caterpillars of the Isabella tiger moth will overwinter in northern regions. This species can be found all the way up into the Arctic. The caterpillars of this species can literally remain frozen over winter, using cryoprotectant to help protect its tissue and organs from the effects of freezing. Cryoprotectants are sugars, proteins and other chemical compounds that can help protect organs and tissue from freezing. Different compounds act in different ways to accomplish this. One way is to the lower the actual freezing temperature so that the cells and tissue never actually freeze and maintain their integrity. Many insects, amphibians and fish can produce these anti-freeze compounds when the temperatures get chilly, so as to survive in cold weather and habitats. The woolly bear caterpillars can thus safely overwinter, and in the spring time they will spin a fuzzy cocoon before emerging as an adult tiger moth.
Legend has it the woolly bear caterpillar can predict the severity of a winter.
The wider the rusty, orange band of hairs in the middle, the milder the winter. However, researchers believe that the amount of black versus orange depends more on the age of the caterpillar. The caterpillars molt several times before reaching adulthood and with each molt they shed their skin and bristles and change color.
Regardless, they are a pretty cute and always a treat to see.
According to legend we should have a mild winter, but I do not know, maybe he is just old. I moved him away from a busy street and placed in some nice leaf litter in our backyard, good luck little dude.