Weather, water, wildlife, and well-being

As I continue to go through my photos from Yellowstone National Park (a lengthy process!), I will post on a few other topics that you will hopefully enjoy. ūüėä

I just wrote a column for a local newspaper about climate and water. All life on our earth needs water to exist ‚ÄĒ plants, animals, and humans. Water contributes to respiration, processing nutrition, photosynthesis, regulating temperature and providing a living environment for many organisms. Scientific studies are documenting the benefits for our well-being of spending time in natural areas and beautiful places for this include nature reserves and parks with ponds, wetlands, lakeshores, creeks, and rivers.

The diversity of wildlife around ponds can be delightful, especially in the summertime. You may be lucky to see mammals coming to the shoreline or pond’s edge to get a drink or have the good luck to catch sight of beavers, muskrats, minks, or otters.

Or perhaps there will be a yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea) standing atop a beaver lodge, surveying its surroundings, and taking time to preen.

Reptiles and amphibians clamber onto rocks, snags, branches, and boardwalks to sun. Turtles lay their eggs close to ponds and rivers. At this the time of year, you may come across the remains of leathery eggshells left by hatched turtles (or dug up by predators).

Damsel- and dragonflies, like these amber-winged dragonflies (Perithemis tenera), are interesting to watch; they don‚Äôt even need natural water sources but will come to tubs of water containing plants like pickerelweed. Butterflies, such as these cabbage whites (Pieris rapae), ‚Äúpuddle‚ÄĚ in mud, carrion and dung alongside creek and pond banks to obtain amino acids and salts in the fluids they suck up.

                 

The bugs do risk ending up as bird food. Northern rough-winged swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) and purple martins (Progne subis) skim above and over the water, snapping up insects as they swoop and soar.

   

The tiny insects on vegetation near water can be remarkably interesting, so taking along a magnifier can increase what you see. Most leaf- and planthoppers are quite small but the glassy-winged sharpshooters (Homalodisca vitripennis) are about fingernail-sized. They consume the fluids in water-carrying tubes in plants, called xylem, and then need to expel excess water from their bodies by shooting out fluid droplets into the air.

   

The vegetation near water can also be fascinating. Indian pipes, also known as ghost plants (Monotropa uniflora), are saprophytes (not fungi) with no chlorophyll. These white, leafless plants obtain their nutrients by tapping into other plants’ resources through mycorrhizal fungi. They usually grow in clusters but can still be difficult to see. My friend Ace spotted one and introduced me to the species, for which I was quite grateful!

Many birds nest near water. Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) and brown-headed nuthatches (Sitta pusilla) will raise young in boxes we put out for them, but they and other birds also like to use holes in snags near or in water. Those nests are much more difficult for predators to reach.

Birds also like to nest near water because they’re primarily insectivores in the spring and summer and there are plenty of bugs in such areas. The only hummingbird nests that I’ve been able to find were all near water; up to 60-80% of their diet comprises spiders and other bugs.

This year, I had the good fortune to see a female ruby-throated hummingbird building her nest and raising her young (previous blog). The first time I visited this wetland after the babies fledged, mama hummer came and hovered about 2 feet in front of me, as if she were greeting me. I’ve seen her on subsequent days as well.

The larger water birds, such as geese and ducks, like to bathe in ponds and rivers.

Other birds enjoy taking a bath in streams and creeks. American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) and house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) enjoy company with other species. Blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) like some solitude or sharing space with a fellow jay.

           

Birds living further away from natural water resources also need to drink and bathe and that is where we can help them out. Small birds like Carolina chickadees and brown-headed nuthatches like to drink from the ant guards on which hummingbird feeders are hung.

     

Bird baths can become very popular. Eastern bluebirds and European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) very much enjoy two of mine in the front yard.

 

House finches, American robins, cedar waxwings, Carolina chickadees and gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) tend to like my backyard baths. And then they appreciate branches and nest boxes as platforms to shake out those water-laden feathers. Birding friend Ylva commented that the vigorous fluttering of this catbird would be worthy of an audition for the musical Cats!

Even if you don’t have a yard, you can put out shallow dishes or plant pot saucers in your outdoor space (steps or patio) as a place for birds to drink and cool off. If you have a balcony, it might take a while for birds to find your water source, but if you stay inside, you may see them come to sip and splash.

If you are luckily mobile, I encourage you to take some outings near waterways. The wildlife and plant diversity can be wonderful and entertaining. And in the meantime, we can all take action to conserve and preserve water:

Hoppers ‚Äď insects not frogs!

leafhopper IMG_7673¬©Maria de BruynMuch of the insect world consists of animals that we usually don‚Äôt even see or notice because: a) we don‚Äôt know they exist and therefore don‚Äôt look for them and b) they are tiny and only well visible with an enlarging lens. But once you get a good look at them, they turn out to be fascinating and sometimes quite attractive. One group of these insects is the hoppers ‚Äď leaf- and planthoppers, that is, like the gray lawn leafhopper (Exitianus exitiosus) to the left.

As their name indicates, leaf- and planthoppers jump to get around, but they also move by flying, scuttling sideways like crabs, or walking slowly or quickly along plant stems and leaves. Both juveniles and adults are very aware of what is around them and if you do manage to spot one, you’ll see that they are watching you and, for example, may move underneath a leaf to get away from you.This broad-headed sharpshooter (Oncometopia orbona) stayed still for a moment.

Broad-headed sharpshooter IMG_9350©Maria de Bruyn (2)

Acanaloid hopper nymph IMG_8738©Maria de BruynLeafhoppers are only 1/16 to 5/8 of an inch (2-15 mm) long. About 20,000 different leafhoppers have been described around the world; they feed by sucking plant sap from grass, shrubs, or trees. Planthoppers, some of which look like leaves and may be a bit bigger, also feed on plants.The nymphs (juveniles) are tiny, too, as seen in this photo where you see my fingertip above the nymph of an Acanaloid planthopper .

Leafhoppers, such as the speckled sharpshooter (Paraulacizes irrorata) below generally have wide, flattened and pointy heads with large eyes.

speckled sharpshooter IMG_1059©Maria de Bruynsigned

Planthoppers come in different forms and, in tropical countries, some of them are quite unique. While many keep their wings flat against their bodies, the derbid planthopper (Mysidia mississippiensis) looks like Derbid planthopper IMG_0717©Maria de Bruyn (2)a delicate little fly while resting.

Leafhoppers’ hind legs are covered with hairs that help them spread a secretion over their body which is water repellant. Some planthopper nymphs’ back legs have gears that help them jump away in the blink of an eye.

Versute sharpshooter IMG_1179©Maria de Bruyn (2) Versute sharpshooters (Graphocephala versuta) in love

 

 

 

Broad-headed sharpshooter 772©Maria de Bruyn

The female broad- headed sharpshooter (Oncometopia orbona) develops white spots on her wings, which are egg brochosomes; these indicate she is ready to oviposit (lay eggs). These spots are made of a white waxy secretion that she places there; they dry to look like “chalky” spots. After she inserts her eggs into a plant, she uses her hind legs to scrape off the brochosomes onto the oviposition site as a way of hiding the eggs from predators.

 

Leaf- and planthopper nymphs can look as if they are completely different insects from the adult forms. As they mature, they begin to look similar to adults but are often of a different color and don’t yet have full wings. Below you see the colorful adult glassy-winged sharpshooter (Homalodisca vitripennis) and below that some nymphs of this leafhopper.

glassy-winged sharpshooter IMG_8955©Maria de BruynGlassy-winged sharpshooter IMG_8996©Maria de Bruyn

Glassy-winged sharpshooter nymph IMG_9008©Maria de BruynGlassy-winged sharpshooter nymph IMG_8910©Maria de Bruyn

As juveniles, hoppers go through a process called ecdysis. They pass through several stages to reach adulthood, molting and leaving behind their old exoskeleton in order to grow. They are called instars during these stages.

Leafhopper ecdysis IMG_9286©Maria de BruynLeafhopper ecdysis IMG_9325©Maria de Bruyn

Leafhopper ecdysis IMG_9379©Maria de BruynThe instar stages of the same hopper can look very different from one another, including color changes. Some of the nymphs, with their striped faces and big eyes, look to me as if they’d be great models for cartoon characters or Halloween masks like these coppery leafhopper juveniles (Coelidia olitoria).

Coppery leafhopper nymph IMG_9631©Maria de BruynCoppery leafhopper nymph IMG_2058©Maria de BruynCoppery leafhopper nymph IMG_2070©Maria de Bruyn (2)

Acanaloniid planthopper nymph Acanalonia bivittata IMG_8201©Maria de BruynresPlanthopper nymphs, like the two-striped planthopper (Acanalonia bivittata) and the Acanalonia servillei below, are known for producing waxy strands from their bodies which repel water. These strands also help protect them from predators, who might grab onto the showy white hairs, which break off so that the hopper can escape. The nymphs can ultimately be entirely covered in white wax.

Two-striped planthopper nymph IMG_9517©Maria de BruynAcanaloniid Planthopper nymph Acanalonia servillei IMG_8943©Maria de Bruyn

The colors and patterns on the adults can be quite beautiful, especially on the leafhoppers in the area where I live. The planthoppers tend to be white, gray or green. The colors on the coppery leafhopper are wonderful and varied.

Coppery leafhopper IMG_9646©Maria de Bruyn resCoppery leafhopper IMG_2160©Maria de Bruyn

Citrus flatid planthopper IMG_3201©Maria de BruynFlatid planthopper IMG_8772©Maria de Bruyn

Citrus flatid planthopper (Metcalfa pruinosa) and flatid planthopper (Acanalonia conica)

Sharpshooter Sibovia occatoria IMG_0126© Maria de BruynRed-banded leafhopper IMG_6376©Maria de BruynsignedLeafhopper Texananus IMG_1546©Maria de Bruyn

Sharpshooter (Sibovia occatoria), Red-banded sharpshooter (Graphocephala coccinea) and leafhopper (Texananus)

Leaf hopper Chlorotettix IMG_7677 M de BruynLeafhopper - Coelidia IMG_2649©Maria de Bruynhopper 4 IMG_8029©Maria de Bruynsigned
Leafhopper (Chlorotettix), leafhopper (Coelidia) and leafhopper (unidentified species)

As tiny as these insects are, they can be parasitized and play host to even smaller insects. This flatid planthopper (Ormenoides venusta), for example, was carrying red mites that weren’t harming it but hitching a ride. It must be annoying though.

Flatid planthopper Ormenoides venusta IMG_9737©Maria de BruynFlatid planthopper Ormenoides venusta IMG_9763©Maria de Bruyn

hopper 4 IMG_8036¬©Maria de BruynsignedI imagine there are many more interesting behaviors to observe with the hoppers. Maybe one day I will get a macro lens so that I can really get some good photos of these cute little insects. In the meantime, as there are several thousand species in North America, I can look forward to finding new ones ‚Äď with my camera in hand as I wouldn‚Äôt be able to see anything but specks on plants without it!