The American Bittersweet vine, Celastrus scandens, is native to central and eastern North America, but is unfortunately being replaced by a non-native invasive species, the Oriental Bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus. Our native species has alternate, oval, fine-toothed leaves and berry-like fruits that start out green, change to yellow then orange, then finally split open to reveal the 3-part fruit interior shown below. The fruits are poisonous to humans but eaten widely by birds and mammals, from wild turkeys to eastern cottontails. When growing up a young sapling, bittersweet vines can choke out and even kill their host, but typically it causes no real damage.
The stickpins or stubble lichens are 30 species in the genus Calicium, which often grow on live branches of trees such as giant redwoods. Below is a closeup of the fruiting body of Calicium adaequatum, sometimes called the “tiny daisy” lichen. Click the links below the pic to see just how minute these bodies really are…! Our Creator sure likes to put a lot of detail into tiny structures! 😀
This uniquely patterned flower goes by several names including Checkered Lily, Snake’s Head Fritillary, and Guinea Hen Flower. It is Fritillaria meleagris, the genus name meaning (basically) checkered and the species name referring to guinea fowl. This plant is native to Eurasia from the UK across into western Russia. It is also widely grown as a spring bulb in gardens all across the USA. Certainly planting a few of these bulbs would provide a new conversation starter for any garden!
Two days in a row, when I went to my mailbox there was a Zelus nymph — a young assassin bug — on the handle. Each time, I gently lowered the door on the box, trying not to disturb the unique creature that graced my front yard. Each day, it was a different species, too! One day it was the red one shown below, Zelus longipes. The other day it was a smaller, little green guy, Zelus luridus. While some say they look like their adult forms (due to incomplete metamorphosis), I could not find these nymphs in any of my insect books because there is no ADULT insect that has this body shape. My research began by googling “skinny bug”! 😀
American Insects: Zelus longipes — Zelus luridus
Reduviidae: Assassin Bugs (Austin Bug Collection)
Bug Eric blog — Nature at Close Range blog
Arthropods of Maine (blog page on Z. luridus)
Featured Creatures: Zelus longipes
Beneficials in the Garden (mostly on Zelus longipes)
The Oriental Sweetlips, Plectorhinchus vittatus, lives in reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, near Indonesia. They have rather puffy lips, hence the name. 😛
This species really looks different between its juvenile and adult form! Young sweetlips are rather speckled with dark splotches on a light background. Eventually, these markings morph to black and white stripes with yellow tail, fins, and face. The bright yellow shows the splotches of youth, although they are smaller overall, more like spots. Check out the links below the pic to find out more about this unique species of grunt fish.
The tufted capuchin, Sapajus apella, is a social little monkey living in the dry canyons of the Amazon river basin, in South America. This little primate is somewhat famous for its use of stones to break open hard nuts. It also eats a variety of fruits and small animals such as insects and even rats! You can watch a family of tufted capuchins survive and thrive throughout one whole year in the BBC Earth movie, Wild Brazil. Highly recommended viewing!
Most red-eyed vireos (Vireo olivaceus) breed in North America and overwinter in the Amazon basin of South America. During the breeding season, a single male may sing constantly, up to 10,000 times each day! Because of this and their canopy-feeding lifestyle, these little birds are often heard rather than seen, and their song is part of most forest soundtracks. If you can zoom in on an adult, you may be able to see its bright red eyes, but most commonly you will have to settle for its song and its olive green body with grey, black, and white head pattern for identification.
This is one of the greatest moments of nature film history: BBC and David Attenborough introducing one of the world’s best bird mimics, who can even immitate human sounds such as cameras and chainsaws: the superb lyre bird!
Best Bird Mimic
The Crucifix Toad, also called the Holy Cross Frog, Notaden bennettii, lives in the dry outback of eastern Australia. When it gets too dry, this little guy burrows deep underground and goes into a semi-hibernating state, like many of his neighbors. However, it is the substance secreted by this little amphibian that makes it special. When disturbed by insects or other threats, the Crucifix Toad secretes a sticky substance known to be one of the strongest natural adhesives in the world. It will even stick metal to metal! Even more valuable, it is being used inside human bodies for medical purposes, far exceeding the usefulness of limited protein-based and synthetic bonding agents currently being used. Check out the links below for more interesting tidbits!
Kaziranga National Park lies in the far northeastern portion of India, just south of the Himalayan Mountains. It is home to two-thirds of the world’s population of endangered one-horned rhinoceroses and has the highest density of tigers of all protected areas in the world. This area also protects Asian elephants, water buffaloes and swamp deer, along with thousands of birds. Check out the links below to learn more about this ecological hot spot!
The crown-tipped coral fungus is white to yellowish and about an inch or two tall with little spikey crown-shaped tops on its “branches”. It grows on long-dead wood in North America and is edible, with a peppery taste that tends to disappear when cooked. The video below describes where to find this fungus species, how to identify it, and how to harvest and cook it. The links below the video feature more pics and species information.
Crown Tipped Coral Fungus
The fishing cat, Prionailurus viverrinus, lives in the wetlands of India and southeast Asia, where its natural habitat is being replaced with homes and farmland. This endangered species of wild cat is about twice the size of most domestic house cats, about 10 to 12 inches at the shoulder and very stocky. Just like its name implies, this feline is an avid swimmer and hunts fish and other aquatic animals in rivers, streams, and swampy areas.
The Pied Butcherbird, Cracticus nigrogularis, has an AMAZING song! And if that wasn’t enough for this Australian songster, he also copies songs of other birds and even imitates human sounds!
Click play to hear this bird’s amazing song. You may enjoy this duet! 😀