Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Skinks, Lizzards, and Lyme Disease

 This Northern Prairie Skink was on the pavement a few feet in front of the entry doors at Springbrook a few days ago.  I put it on some tree bark to photograph it and was surprised to notice a Deer Tick, or Black Legged Tick, attached and behind the right front leg. These ticks transmit Lyme disease to humans.

Prairie Skinks are fairly common lizzards found in this area.
 This one is an adult and about 8 inches long.  I was surprised to see the Deer Tick on this lizzard, as I was not aware that these ticks feed on reptiles. 

With a little research I discovered it is common for them to feed on reptiles, and even more surprising, researchers have discovered that western fence lizzards have a protein in their blood that kills the Lyme disease bacteria.

So, if an infected tick, as a young nymph, first feeds on a lizzard, it will be free of Lyme bacteria and will not transmit the disaese to us, or anything else, later on, according to the researchers.

I hope more research proves skinks have the same bacteria killing protein, since western fence lizzards don't live around here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Butterfly Count at Springbrook

 This past Saturday was the 20th annual butterfly count at Springbrook Nature Center.  It was a humid, warm, overcast day.  Not the kind of day butterflies enjoy, and the numbers seen reflected that.

29 people participated, so lots of eyes were looking with nets at the ready.

This American Lady butterfly was one of 17 species we spotted.  Over 20 years the number of species has ranged from 10 to 24 so this year was right in the middle for the number of kinds of butterflies seen.
 This Eyed Brown was another species we saw several of.  In addition to species we also count how many of each kind we see.  This year was the lowest ever, and by quite a bit.  We saw only 40 butterflies!  The lowest years prior to this were 69 in 2008 and 72 in 1997.  The highest year was 2001 with 313 butterflies counted.

 So the drought last year, the late, wet, cold spring this year, and other factors have combined to make it a rough year for butterfly survival.
 This Common Wood Nymph was another species we saw several of.  Notice none of the butterflies have their wings open.  Butterflies like to warm up with the sun on their wings.  But there was essentially no open sun on Saturday until late in the afternoon as we were finishing up. So I had to use flash for photography, as it was so dark.

So the butterflies kept their wings closed, making it harder to see them, since the bright colors are mostly on the inside surface of the wings.
We also saw 2 Common Buckeye butterflies in the south prairie, where we have seen them before. 

The books say these butterflies do not overwinter here, but migrate up here from the south in the summer.  But we have seen them every year for the last three years in the south prairie, making me wonder if they are not somehow here all year now.

I'll try to go out on a sunny day and see if I can photograph some butterflies with their wings open.  Then I can post some bright colors instead of these subdued butterflies here.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Monarch Butterfly Emerging From Chrysalis

 On July 1st, the Monarch Butterfly that I have posted earlier as an egg and then a caterpillar, emerged from its chrysalis.  This picture is from two days after it formed the chrysalis, and shows the beautiful jade green color that the chrysalis has.
 This picture was taken on day eight as a chrysalis.  Tiny areas of color are beginning to  show where the feet and antennae are.

The gold decoration spots are just that and serve no purpose other than camouflage, although they don't look like an attempt to blend in.

The forming butterfly inside is itself green, as the outer skin is completely transparent.  So it needs to make big changes in the next 48 hours to have the bold colors of a Monarch Butterfly.
 Here is the chrysalis on day 10.  Once the skin looks this clear the butterfly will emerge within an hour.  Lots of color change did happen!

The chrysalis is completely still for the entire ten days, making no movement after the first few hours when it formed.

Now, just before it emerges, small movements can be seen through the camera lens around the legs and head.
Very quietly the chrysalis skin splits and the butterfly begins to emerge. It hangs on with its feet and pushes its body and wings out of the skin.  

In the pictures below the new butterfly drops completely out and struggles to get a leg hold outside the chrysalis skin.

From the instant the chrysalis skin breaks open the butterfly is pumping fluid from its abdoman into the wings, even while it emerges from the chrysalis.

Note how big the abdoman is and how small the wings are in the pictures below. 

Within an hour the wings are fully extended, but are very limp, and need to harden. The butterfly turned and moved around quite a bit on the old skin while pumping fluids into its wings.

 Four hours later the butterfly was opening and closing its wings.  The wings were hard enough for short flights.

I took the butterfly outside and  put it on the wild Vervain in the garden.  After a few seconds it flew off into the sky.

I only had time for a couple of pictures, one below, before it was gone.

It took 27 days for the entire process from egg to flying away as a butterfly.  3 days as an egg, 14 days as a caterpillar, and 10 days as a chrysalis.  With luck, the butterfly will live for several weeks.  Enought time to start the next generation.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Orchard Orioles Nesting

Orchard Orioles are nesting now in the Twin Cities area.  I took these pictures yesterday, on July 4th, early in the morning. 

Orchard Orioles are closely related to Baltimore Orioles, in fact were considered the same species until recently.  The male Orchard Oriole is quite dark though, with a rusty red breast instead of bright orange and yellow like the more common Baltimore Oriole
 The female (and male) was busy catching food for the four hungry babies that were constantly calling for a meal.

She obviously does not have the black head color, or the rusty red of the male.
 Both adults were hunting in the low bushes and wildflowers in the prairie near the nest.  They had no trouble finding caterpillars, moths, and katy-dids for meals for their hungry brood.
 The nest is courser and more sturdy than the hanging nest of the Baltimore oriole, and made of grasses woven together.

They weave the living leaves into the nest as well, making it very difficult to see the adults and babies when they feed.  I had to stand on a ladder to get to the one opening that existed to see the young and adult at the same time.

 Here you can see this baby is ready to fledge, or leave the nest.  It is standing on the edge of the nest, and almost jumping out of the nest when the parents come with food.  It was actually off the nest on a branch once, but hopped back in.
The adults know that the babies are ready to fledge, and are beginning courtship behavoir for their 2nd nest of the summer.

Here the male has brought food for the female, and she has accepted it.  A few seconds later they were observed mating, and then he brought her food again.

I thought they would wait until a week or so after fledging occurred, but this suggests they will move right into a second nesting quite quickly.