Thursday, October 13, 2016


One of the things that I am interested in is Biomimicry. Bio=life, Mimic=to copy. It's trying to solve problems by looking to nature to see how it has solved it. In a previous post I mentioned how Velcro was developed after George de Mestral in 1941 looked at the burrs he pulled from his trousers, and his dog's coat, under a microscope.  
My desk mate is an animal that is being studied because of it's ability to regenerate, not just it's tail, but can recover from catastrophic injuries such as limb loss, major organ loss, and even injuries to it's brain! This is my pet Axolotl. They were originally from a lake near Mexico City. But, due to urban sprawl and pollution (which they could not survive in) they are extinct in the wild. There are thriving populations of captive bred Axolotls.
Axolotls are a type of aquatic salamander. Most salamanders will develop lungs, and be able to go on land. Axolotls will continue to use gills, and never go on land. Keeping a characteristic of 'infancy' is called neoteny.
The average Axolotl will grow to be around 10 inches...give or take. When he wants something to eat, he will swim over to the side of his tank that I store his food on, and stare at it. He follows it as I move it towards me to get some out, and then looks up waiting for me to drop it. They seem like such a slow animal, but can move very quickly when catching a meal, or trying to escape.
My son named mine Sashimi 

Disney Nature "Wings of Life"

This is one of my favorite short clips from Disney Nature 'Wings of Life' by Louie Schwartzberg. Absolutely stunning. Towards the end, you can even see a bat drinking nectar while carrying her pup!
"Wings of Life" now streaming on Netflix! This video was shown at the TED conference in 2011, with scenes from "Wings of Life", a film about the threat…

What do you mean Daddy Long Legs are not spiders?!?

Daddy Long Legs are not spiders.
Daddy Long Legs lack venom glands, so their bite doesn't have "the most powerful venom, but their fangs are too short to penetrate your skin".
Did I just destroy everything you ever believed about them? Well, let me explain.
Think about the word Arachnid as an umbrella. All 100,000+ named arachnids share common basic traits: they are invertebrates (no backbone), and have 8 legs that are jointed.
But, then they are divided into groups: Scorpions, Spiders (Pholcidae), Harvestmen aka Daddy Long Legs (Opilione), Ticks, Mites, and Solifuges.
So, if we just compare Spiders to Daddy Long Legs (DLL), this is what we find. Spiders have 2 distinct body parts: head (cephalon), and an abdomen (thorax). With DLL their 2 parts are fused into one.
Spiders have 8 eyes. DLL have 2.
Spiders make silk, and have spinnerets, DLL don't.
Spiders have venom glands, DLL don't.
Spiders catch and eat prey. DLL mainly eat decomposing matter.
Here's where it can get a little messy. The term 'Daddy Long Legs' is so well known, that it is sometimes used to describe some spiders that also have unusually long legs. For example, the ones that you might find in your house that live up along the corners of your ceiling. Some people refer to those as DLL, but they are really a type of cellar spider, or cobweb spider.
There are currently over 6,500 species of DLL (Opilione) with more continually being discovered!
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Daddy Long Legs. Notice the jointed legs, and single body part that is pill shaped.

Jumping spiders are usually very tiny (1/4").

This is a crab spider. Easy to see how it got that name.

Jumping spiders have great patterns, and personality.

Marbled Orb Weaver

One of my favorite Far Side cartoons

Daddy Long Legs

Zombies and Mummies

This post is for my husband. He loves 'The Walking Dead'. Me...I've never seen it.  
Well, it's not quite zombies, but it's close: mummies.
I have a lot of Oleander Aphids on my milkweed. I do have some natural pest controls though. I've told you about Ladybeetles, and their larva, and Lacewing larva. They just start munching away on aphids. But, there is another creature out there that I have an 'It's complicated' kind of relationship with. It's a very tiny, parasitic black wasp, aphidius matricariae. This wasp will inject an egg inside an aphid's body. The aphid will begin to die as the larval wasp grows. Good thing. Bad thing: they also will parasitize Monarch eggs and caterpillars. That is part of the reason I go out a couple of times a day and look for Monarch eggs. I hope to find them before the wasps do.
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This wasp emerged from a tiny, unknown moth cocoon I found. It's on a paper towel. Notice the dimples of the towel for size reference.

2 Mummy Aphids next to healthy ones.


Some of you may remember that I collected American Toad eggs from my pond back in the middle of May. Well, at long last, they are beginning to become toadlets!  
Twice a day I check the aquarium for toadlets. As the tadpoles begin to grow and get their legs, they become less graceful in the water. They will sometimes struggle a bit as they try to keep up with the tadpoles.
Tadpoles do not lose their tails by them falling off. Think of it like this: a long skinny balloon. As you start to blow it up, you get the body, but it still has a 'tail'. As you continue to blow, the 'body' expands until you reach the end. What is in the tail, is absorbed by the growing toadlet. Once they no longer have a tail, they can just tumble around in the water. There is a lot of cannibalism that also occurs. Limbs are easy to grab. So, I pull them out of the main tank, and transfer them to a safer habitat, before letting them go outside. I feed them flightless fruit flies. I keep them for a bit so my granddaughters can hone their animal observation skills.
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Still has a long tail, but was being very clumsy.

This one hardly has a tail.

Climbing on the edge of their shallow 'pond'.

4 little toadlets sitting on a rock.

A total of 10 toadlets today. Can you see that one on the rock that doesn't look as shiny? He was pulled out of the tank 2 days ago. They are only as big as 1/2 of my little fingernail.

Pics from a day in the yard

I will oftentimes say to myself, ' I'm not taking my iPhone, and macro lens outside with me today. I'm going to focus on mowing the lawn'. And, then I see something cool, and run back into the house, grab my iPhone, lens, and run back out quickly to get a pic. This is why it takes me longer to do yard work than it should. But, I love it. Here are last night's finds.
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Tiny Harvestman aka 'Daddy Long Legs'

This Harvestman's body was the width of a blade of grass.

Green Leafhopper

Lacewing eggs suspended by thin filaments under a milkweed leaf.

When the Ladybeetle larva hatch out of these eggs, they will feast on the Oleander Aphids that are surrounding them.

Ladybeetles are a very good garden buddy.

I've seen lots of Tree Crickets this year. This one is on the underside of a milkweed leaf.

This Tree Cricket, on my house siding, is much smaller, and looks like it freshly molted.

This is a Leafhopper nymph.

This Leafhopper was on my front door. Top view.

Tummy view 


Monarch raising season

It's finally Monarch season here! Raising Monarchs can be very time consuming, yet rewarding. There is a lot of debate out there both pro, and con about raising and releasing them. I can see valid points on both sides. However, as someone that is an educator that understands how important making personal connections are, I choose to raise them as a means to educate people, and to give them an up close, and personal experience. When those important connections are made, the desire to do something to help can be triggered. Even a TV show can produce those feelings. I remember falling in love with the dolphin 'Flipper' as a child. As an adult, when I heard about dolphins being caught in tuna nets, I joined the boycott on canned tuna. Would I have been so inclined if I had not had fond memories of Flipper?
So, I raise Monarchs. I use them to help people become aware of what has happened to their environment, and hopefully cause them to planting milkweed (host plants for monarch caterpillars), and nectar plants for the butterflies.
The world's problems are huge today. We can feel helpless, and hopeless. With planting butterfly gardens, we can feel empowered. This is a problem each of us can do something small to help fix. Matter of fact, I believe that individual landowners are going to be the key to solving this problem. Butterflies can restore hope 😊
On a fun note, here is a new word for you: Instar. No, it's not what you use when your car breaks down😄 Instar, is another word for stage. A lot of insects will go through 4-6 installs before becoming an adult.
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Monarch egg

1st instar caterpillar is only a couple of millimeters long

With each progressive instar, the caterpillar will more than double in length.

The final instar as a caterpillar, it will be a couple of inches long!

The caterpillar will hang upside down, in a 'J' formation for nearly a day, before it sheds its' yellow, black, and white stripes, for a jade colored chrysalis. It will remain in the chrysalis for approximately 10 days (varies with climate), before it emerges (ecloses) as a butterfly.

These are Stinkbug eggs

These are stink bugs at about the 2nd instar. Unfortunately, I can't find my pic of the 3rd instar. When I get one, I will edit this post, because they are really cool, and I want you to see them.

Adult Stinkbug

Red Admiral

Just a little 'Moment of Nature' for you. Here is a Red Admiral butterfly getting nectar from a Purple Coneflower.
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