Polyphemus Moth

Named after the one eyed giant in Greek mythology the Polyphemus Moth is just about the most beautiful moth in our area. They range from here into the Midwest and likely beyond. They spread those four inch plus wings to reveal not just one eye but four; often enough to startle a would be predator. Larger than a monarch butterfly this is a very distinctive insect as is its bright green caterpillar.

 

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Odd New Gecko Species

I’ve been studying these reptiles for a long time yet I never even knew this species existed:

New Found Gecko – Literally Jumps Out of its Scales!

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Camp Murray Honey Bees

I was strolling along a walkway/running track in Camp Murray, Washington a while ago and noticed a very hard not to notice warning about a bee hive. Naturally I was prompted to take a closer look. It was a hive of honey bees, and a fairly new one judging by the furious activity going on. The queens of these bees live 2 to 5 years and produce colonies of well over 60,000 workers. When she’s had enough of that she lays a few eggs destined to be new queens and then takes off with a swarm of loyal workers to found a new colony, generally in their favorite setting, a hollow tree like the one in the photo.

The deep hole in the middle of this oak tree provides a perfect home for honey bees. During the warmer weather they are extremely active, but in the winter things slow down considerably. The bees retreat into their hive and pretty much wait it out. That’s one method of getting photos inside of a bee hive, by the way – wait for winter. Not surprisingly bees have a higher mortality rate in the cold weather. But as seen in the last picture nobody can beat a honey bee for collecting and distributing pollen.

Meanwhile back in the old hive the first new queen to emerge quickly assassinates her rivals, and takes up the task of producing thousands of new workers. This, of course, after mating with a lucky mail (drone) bee. (I say lucky because the remaining drones are shut off from food and starved to death by the female workers in the hive. At least the “lucky” guy got something out of life before expiring.) Despite their present ubiquitous appearance honey bees are not native to North America; they were brought here sometime in the 17th century for the same purpose they are cultivated and raised for now. You kind of wonder why they had to do that since, according the Audubon Field Guide, about 3,500 species of bees are native to North America, all of which specialize in flower feeding and are by default pollinators. Unfortunately, the death rates of these extremely valuable insects continues to rise. Check out the article in Modern Farmer to learn more about that.

References:

Audubon society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spider

National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Bug Guide

Modern Farmer

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Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

How does an incredibly pleasant afternoon where you can see the ocean, the ocean floor, a forest trail with pond life, a huge array of bird life, plus animals from muskrats to reptiles sound? Make it a very exciting walk for kids yet an easy one for the elderly members of the family. There’s a gift shop, too, of course. And all of it for three bucks? Yep we’re talking about Nisqually National Park in Washington State.

Also known as the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Area this place is a wonderful surprise that does not get the publicity it deserves. You’ll see a little brown sign advertising the park along Interstate I-5 between Olympia and Fort Lewis. You can actually see the park from the highway it is so close. Get off there and take a short drive to the park entrance. Put your three bucks in the drop box and cross a small bridge into a natural wonderland. You can stop at the gift and book shop before you head out but be sure to gaze out over the marsh first. (I also recommend a stop at the latrine – it’s a long boardwalk.) From there stroll the forest path along the waterway until you reach the boardwalk. Here you’ll see the Nisqually River as it meets Puget Sound.

Bird lovers will be in heaven. But there is a plethora of other land dwelling mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Take a closer look at the mud flats and you’ll see an extraordinary number of sea creatures as well. Bring a camera! A pair of binoculars is a good idea, too.

ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD

When we think of hummingbirds we think of flowers, spring, summer, sunshine, and warm weather. But here in the Northwest we have a unique species of hummingbird that breaks the rules. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna, is found up and down the West coast into British Columbia. Oh they love the warm weather alright and you’ll see them throughout the summer, but this tiny hummingbird is a year round inhabitant that toughs out some real frigid winter temperatures. This is a fairly recent development. Depending on the source consulted Anna’s hummingbird began to extend its range northward from California in the 1950s or 1970s. What exactly contributed to this is unknown but one reasonable explanation is the increase in human population in the area and the resultant expansion of feeders and backyard gardens the bird is so fond of.

The first photo with the puffed up feathers was taken in January 2017 at a temperature of about 20 degrees. This tough little bird was out there every day for about a week in these same low temperatures. Hummingbirds are able to tolerate this by going into a semi hibernation state. Other photos show a male displaying color and a female displaying the common metallic green of the species.

If you have a feeder or have been around these hummingbirds for any length of time their noticeable and constant twittering is unmistakable. They are vocal little things. Every now and then, however, you’ll hear a puzzlingly loud, sharp chirp. I am familiar with the calls of just about every bird in my Northwest backyard and this strange chirp confused me for some time. One day I was absolutely determined to locate the source of it. Much to my surprise it turned out to be an Anna’s hummingbird. According to one source the males make this sound during their dive bombing mating display. At the conclusion of their high speed descent they suddenly spread open their closed tail feathers and mechanically produce this unique sound. I cannot say that this matches my observation, however. The bird I observed seemed to produce this sound while sitting on a branch. Was it made by a sudden expansion of the tail feathers? Perhaps. I hold open the possibility as well that my own observations were mistaken; maybe a male hummingbird was “chirping” somewhere nearby and the bird I was watching reacting to that. We have a lot of hummingbirds around here. More to follow when the weather warms.

One final note about this tough little avian. The bird was named after Anna Debelle who later became Anna Massena by marriage and “Grand Maitresse” to the Empress of France in the 1880s. Exactly how this relatively unknown woman became associated with the bird that now bears her name requires further research but I suspect it has something to do with whoever first described the bird. I leave it to the reader to look further into the history of Anna Debelle. I’ll look further into her hummingbird.

References:

Our Pacific Northwest Birds and Habitat, Craig and Joy Johnson 2011

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Audubon Guide to North American Birds

Hummingbirds.net

SF Gate

Wikipedia

Northwest Wildlife News

There have been some interesting incidents going on concerning our wild friends recently in the Northwest, and not all good news, either:

Wildlife Samaritans Rescue a Moose

Mountain Lion Attacks

Huge Elk Herd Falls Through Ice With Fatal Results

Illegal “Hunters” Kill 20 Geese

Aquarium of Boise

The other day I read and posted an article about the problems the Aquarium of Boise was having with its roof. Despite several visits to Boise I had never heard of the aquarium before.  Last week during a snowy afternoon I decided to fix this oversight and I was very pleasantly surprised. Below is my review of the Aquarium of Boise:

Where can you watch a stingray ballet, pet one of their marine cousins, observe a crocodile, enjoy an aviary of exotic birds, stick your hand into a tide pool – and do it all indoors? The Aquarium of Boise, of course!

This zoological gem of unique animal exhibits is located in downtown Boise, Idaho just off the Highway 84 Cole Road exit and is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Encompassing 10,000 totally indoor square feet the aquarium, as the name implies, primarily focuses on ichthylogical species from marine and freshwater environments. But visitors are in for a pleasant surprise thanks to the imagination and vision of the aquarium staff. In addition to aquatic species the aquarium features a reptile exhibit, an aviary, educational posters, and hands on lectures with live animals. It is truly a mini zoo.

These photos do not adequately relay the scope of the aquarium. Go here for more:  Aquarium of Boise

Several of the aquatic exhibits encourage physical contact with the animals but the most unique is the bat ray exhibit. Bat rays, Myliobatis californica, are members of the ray fish family but are distinguished by a far more prominent head. This feature combined with the outstretched fins of the animal give it a bat like appearance, hence its common name. The Aquarium of Boise has a number of these fascinating animals in a large, waist high enclosure. Stand close to the side of the tank and the rays will swim right up to you and pop their unique heads out of the water like puppies waiting to be petted. And you can pet them, too! It is an amazing experience.

There are numerous other aquatic exhibits from tide pools to enormous aquariums bursting with brilliant color. Reptile enclosures feature a variety of snakes and lizards plus a dwarf caiman crocodile, a species not normally encountered in any zoo. The aviary is alive with the sound of lorikeets, small vividly colored parrots. Every single exhibit is generously spacious for the animal and immaculately clean. Every animal is in vibrant health and obviously well cared for. Staff members are not only extraordinarily knowledgeable about the creatures in their care they are very present and eager to talk about them.

With its indoor setting the Aquarium of Boise is truly unique yet it is spacious enough for children and adults to comfortably walk about and explore its numerous zoological features. And there is more to offer still. Lectures are provided for school and outreach programs, and the aquarium is open for special events from “weddings to corporate parties, graduations, to community gatherings.”

I’ve seen many other small city aquariums but none compare to the Aquarium of Boise. During your next trip to the city I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful facility. In fact, you ought to go to Boise just to see it.

Aquarium of Boise

Pacific Fisher Comeback

Read this very good news story here:

Pacific Fisher Comeback in Washington State

 

fisher2cmp fisher1cmp

Here’s a little guy I photographed at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. Not the same fisher species in the story but fairly hard to tell apart. Hard to tell apart from a mink at first glance, too. But minks are notably distinguished from fishers by their pink nose.

 

Boise Aquarium Roof May be a Big Problem

According to this story the Boise Aquarium could be facing an eviction notice over an inadequate roof:

Boise Aquarium Roof Damage

Here’s the link to the aquarium. I have never visited there but I’ll try to pay a visit soon and report back. Seems like an exceptionally interesting facility. I hope this turns out alright for them.

Boise Aquarium

The Garden Centipede

The Garden Centipede

The most common type of Chilipoda (the class of invertebrates we call centipedes) is the Garden Centipede Lithobius forficatus. They are, in fact, the most common centipede in our country. Seldom more than 2 inches long (50 mm) these little arthropods are often found under logs, leaves, or rocks throughout forests and backyards. Our moist Northwest climate does not bother the Garden Centipede at all as it prowls about its subterranean world hunting other small invertebrates. Like all centipedes they have venomous fangs called forcipules which are actually legs, a adaptation unique to centipedes. Thanks to my new tripod I was able to get several nice macrophotography shots that display the various parts of centipede anatomy. The first picture gives an idea of the relative size of the centipede, the second shows the body plates with one pair of legs per segment as opposed to millipedes which have two. Photo number three is a head shot. Note the antenna and dark eyes. The eyes are simple sensors of darkness or light. Centipede antenna, however, are very sensitive physical and biochemical detectors. They are the animal’s prey detector and the primary instrument by which the centipede senses its environment. The fangs are the rounded appendages at the side of the head. The last photo (in which the centipede decided to prop itself up on a worm) shows the extended rear legs. These legs are not used for walking. In some species they are used to grasp and hold prey.