Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mistaken Identity

Non-venomous corn snake and venomous copperhead. Superficially similar snakes; perhaps an advantage for the corn snake in some settings, but a significant disadvantage in encounters involving humans. Fear, fueled by a lack of knowledge and awareness, often leads to the indiscriminate killing of reptilian wildlife.

Corn snake from the Sandhills area, exhibiting the vivid orange and black markings often associated with corn snakes from the coastal plain. Corn snakes are powerful constrictors which still play a significant role in controlling rodent populations throughout their range.

Copperhead from the same area with its distinctive "hour-glass" banding (wide on each side and narrowing significantly in the middle of the back). This juvenile still retains its green tail which is used as a "caudal lure" to attract small lizards and other prey.

Snakes are a vital part of a healthy ecosystem, consuming large quantities of insects and rodents, and providing food for larger predators such as owls and bobcats. Venomous snakes in close proximity to human homes can be a problem, but with common sense, education, and awareness, encounters with snakes need not have a negative outcome for either party.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hickory Horned Devil - Transformation

Midday, August 22, 2012

Equal parts bizarre and brilliant, still mere weeks in existence...

Over six inches in length and a girth of three quarters of an inch...

Not much room left in this skin...

Early Morning, August 25

Going underground...

 Late Evening, August 29

 Goodbye green skin...

The pupa(e) will quietly develop in its subterranean surrounds for ten or so moons.

Here's hoping we're around to witness its emergence.

But in any event, we'll cherish this experience...

"When we try to pick out anything by itself 

we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible 

cords that cannot be broken

to everything in the universe. "

-John Muir

First Encounter with the Devil

Accidental Apple Tree

Grandma's apple tree in August. Bowing under its burden of all-natural organic produce. Or yard apples, as the old-timers call them.

Grandpa says it's a volunteer; came up years ago from a pile of kitchen scraps.

Old southern heirloom or grocery store variety? Read somewhere that each apple seed is genetically distinct - perhaps that makes this one an entirely new breed?

Either way, it seems to like it here. Old Johnny Appleseed would be proud.

They sure clean up nice!

Fun to cook, and even more fun to eat, 'specially with a little cinnamon and sugar in the mix!

Maybe tonight we'll make us an old-fashioned apple cake with brown sugar glaze.

Old apple tree grows smiles as well as fruit!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Born and Bred in the Briar Patch

Briar Patch, Briar Patch, What do you see?

Trumpet Creeper, Hummingbird Vine, Cow Itch Vine.

Japanese Honeysuckle, Madreselva, Alien Invader.

Catbrier, Greenbrier, Smilax, Transfigured woodland nymph.

Blackberry, Dewberry, Bane of Brer Fox.

Come closer, Peer deeper...

Green snake, Tree snake, Predator.

Infant Snowberry Clearwing, Juvenile Bumblebee Moth, Prey?

Briar Patch, Nursery. Briar Patch, Haven. Briar Patch, Diner. Briar Patch, Jungle...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Riddle of the Sphinx

See! A stirring in the leaves. See! A tasty morsel. See! 

Tersa Sphinx Larva

Flee! Enormous eyes! Flee! Venomous viper! Flee!

Another disaster diverted; another day of dining; another young Sphinx foils the avian assault.

Tersa Overhead View

Eyespots gone. Wings of your own. The riddle remains...

Adult Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth

Saturday Saturniids

Hickory Horned Devil has gone underground...

While the transformation continues, here's a peek ahead at a few of its Giant Silkmoth kin...




Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing...Hickory Horned Devil

Nature, master of deception...

Fearsome Dragon... Demon Seed...

Gentle Giant... Hungry Child...

The Regal Moth, splendid scion of the Saturniids, like its kin the Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna moths, has only vestigial mouthparts. It emerges each summer from months of slumber with no means of nourishing itself, and barely a week to live...

Fly, fly, mate and die.

From a tiny egg deposited on the leaves of the persimmon tree, or perhaps a hickory, a caterpillar hatches. Ravenous, it feasts on the bounty of greenery... for hours, for days, for weeks, it taps into the energy of the sun itself, bound up in the leaves of its host.

It eats, and it grows. And, as it grows in girth, it grows in hideous ferocity, daring any other living thing to touch it, glaring in the face of danger, staring down the winged, would-be predator.

At last, sufficiently fed to ensure its readiness for the task ahead some ten months hence, it slips from its perch in the trees into the soil below, where it will begin its tranformation from demon to glorious queen of the night.

Sweet dreams, gentle giant.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Have You Noticed the Butter-Colored Flies?

                                    Animagus with a taste for Butter?
Zuni Harbinger of Sunny Weather?
Milk  Thief?
                                                                               Butter-coloured Fly?


Today the traveler spied two yellow butterflies. Ubiquitous August ephemera, flitting about unseen amidst the visual white noise of summer; brief lives passing unnoticed in the cacophony of color and shimmering heat waves of the highways and parking lots.

A thousand generations of cabbage whites and cloudless sulphurs have traversed this land; planting the seed of a thousand more among the radishes and clover.

Are there fewer this year than last, or haven't we noticed?

Butterfly link:

Monday, August 20, 2012

North Carolina Emeralds

Jay's weekend emerald hunt in NC has generated a bit of buzz about North Carolina emeralds. To view some of North Carolina's finest emeralds, check out these images from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences collection.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Minecraft for Dummies-Jay Mines for Emeralds in NC

Jay, becoming bored with game-world emeralds, developed a hankering for the genuine article. So he put on his real-world geology hat and did a little digging in the reference books. According to the experts, most of the world's finest emeralds are found in Colombia, with others from India, South Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Zimbabwe, and North Carolina. What?!

Jay registers at mine office

That's right, the Old North State is the only place in North America where gem quality emeralds are regularly found. And, as luck would have it, Jay lives in North Carolina!

Old mine "craft" at the Crabtree Emerald Mine

The North Carolina mountains are full of wonderful, tourist-oriented gem mines which offer "salted" buckets of ore for sifting, but Jay wasn't interested in any more "pretend" mining. No, he wanted to find a real emerald mine.

Mining for the "green"

In a rare and ancient text, published circa 2005, Jay discovered a reference to the Crabtree Emerald Mine, located somewhere high in the mountainous region of Mitchell County.

Once owned by the world-famous jewelers at Tiffany & Co., the mine followed a vein of gem-rich pegmatite hundreds of feet below the surface.

Sifting the ore for emeralds

What's this?!

Since it opened in the late 19th Century, it has yielded thousands of carats of high quality emeralds, with the legendary 1400+ carat "Lineberger Emerald"being discovered as recently as the late 1970's.

After a period of inactivity, the mine is now open to anyone with the wherewithal to find it, the strength to wield a rock hammer, and the gumption to fight the gnats, mosquitoes and occasional ravenous opossum.

For a first-timer, Jay made out pretty good this trip. Quite a bit of green, and not a single Creeper!

Emeralds in matrix with tourmaline 

More of the green stuff!

Emeralds and yellow beryl crystals

Cool tourmaline crystals

Spotted Jewel Weed Surrounding the Mine

Friday, August 17, 2012

Indian Lemonade and Cashews - Amazing Sumac

Smooth Sumac, with its spiraling cascades of deep red drupes, is sure to catch the eye of the late summer sojourner. For all their aesthetic appeal to we bi-peds, the brilliant red berries provide a gastronomic boon for the feathered fauna here in the South.

While not ubiquitous, this head-turning shrub is rumored to be the only tree native to all 48 of the contiguous United States.

 Smooth Sumac is part of the cashew family, perhaps most famous for its nut-bearing tropical namesake and the skin-irritating trio of poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.

Following the tradition of the earliest Americans, some brave souls fancy a lovely pink beverage brewed from the crushed ripe berries of smooth, staghorn, or winged sumac, referred to as sumac-ade or Indian lemonade. 

Others might prefer just to catch a few rays while lounging among the mounds of radiant fruit. 

Karma Chameleon, Carolina Anole

What shall I wear? Brown... green... yellow...?

Does it really matter? Nobody ever notices anyway...

Percher, leaper, solitary hunter, not-a-bird...

Color-changer, leaf-surfer, chameleon, green anole, Anolis carolinensis

One could live a lifetime in the Carolina heartland and never see this remarkable lizard. But it is there...

For the keen observer, August is alive with anoles. Recent hatchlings are in the weeds and waste places, waiting for a meal, trying out their colors, quickly learning the way of survival.

So keep an eye out this month, perhaps you'll spot a neon neophyte still struggling with this coat of many colors thing...