Polyphemus moth. PHOTO COURTESY OF RUTH GRIERSON

Nature: Nature has ways to look fierce when necessary  



One of the most beautiful moths we see here is the Polyphemus moth. It is one of the silk moths and it is a big one with a wingspan of 6 inches. Not only is it beautiful but it can also look quite fierce. It was named the Polyphemus after the giant cyclops in Greek mythology.  

To our eyes, the large eye spots on the wings are very beautiful but they would be intimidating if you were another tiny creature. 

The adult moths are attracted to lights. All butterflies and moths have sucking mouth parts with which to drink the nectar of flowers and juices of fruit. These mouth parts never develop so they can eat.  

Look at their antennae and feelers to tell the moths and butterflies apart. Moths are pointed and resemble feathers. Butterflies may be like feathers and end in knobs. Butterflies usually move about in the daytime while moths fly at dusk and at night. Both come in very small and very large sizes. Take time to look at them carefully. 

Pickerelweed is a beautiful plant now on island ponds as spikes of flowers surrounded by arrow-shaped leaves rise above the water. Although attractive to look at, the plant has an unpleasant odor. The glossy leaves are large and shaped like an arrowhead and very easy to identify.  

The seeds of pickerel are eaten by black ducks, wood ducks and muskrats. My late husband planted them in our small pond in Bass Harbor and birds have been enjoying them for years. 

Bees and flies congregate about the blossoms to feed and become a tasty tidbit for any fish nearby. Pickerelweed provides birth sites for dragonflies and damsel flies and a roosting place for adult dragonflies. The leaves are eaten by muskrats and white-tailed deer. Look at most any small pond or wet area and you’ll probably find it. 

Pitcher plants are usually nicely visible from June to October. This fascinating plant grows in island ponds and sluggish streams. The pitcher plant is another very interesting plant to try and see in our island bogs. Sometimes where a road goes by a bog, you can see it from your car. Binoculars help to get you closer to the plant. This plant is quite common on the island and is one of three carnivorous plants found growing here. The leaves of this plant are actually catching insects for the plant to eat.  

The leaves are hollow like curving pitchers with a huge pouring lip and a protecting flange or wing that might serve as a handle. The flowers are stiff and a warm, rich, red wine color. 

The pitcher plant seems to need more nitrogen than most flowers and this it gets from decaying bodies of imprisoned insects. With pitcher plants, the need for animal supplements seems to be associated with flower and fruit development. Look at one of the large leaves shaped like a pitcher and you will find decaying bodies of insects as well as those recently trapped and still trying find an escape route. 

Insects are not the plant’s only food for the roots are in the ground. I have counted over 50 plants in some bogs. It’s well worth seeing them growing in the bogs. They are worth seeing in spite of your wet feet. 

When you are out and about now in the woods, watch for a great little plant called American twinflower. It’s hardly ever abundant but very beautiful. The bell-shaped flower is low to the ground. Its small, round leaves are bright green and glossy and grow opposite each other. The actual stems trail along the ground and up and over fallen logs. The pink flowers hang like bells from the forked slender and fragile stems. When the blossoming is done, a single red fruit is formed from the twin flowers.  

Wherever you come upon this unique flower, it will attract your attention. The last time I found it was in just before COVID. I was in Newfoundland in the woods near an old lighthouse. My eyes were always scanning the woodland floor and there it was like an old friend in all its glory at the base of a large tree. You’ll not forget the plant once you know it. The twinflower is named Linnaea borealis after the great Swedish botanist Linnaeus since it is said to be his favorite flower. It blooms from July through August. 

Money on the beach? No, not really, but it’s called a sand dollar. Sand dollars can sometimes be found here. The tides are full of surprises. They have little monetary value for the most part, but they are very interesting creatures. They are round and flat and have a rigid shell (test), 2-4 inches in diameter, covered with a multitude of spines. They move solely on their spines, which are hairlike structures surrounding the mouth on the lower surface of the test or shell. 

Sand dollars are filter feeders taking in organic particles wafting into the mouth that is located in the center of the underside of its body. It is also armed with a set of five teeth to help scrape off algae from the rocks to eat. 

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] 

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.