Nature: Regardless of season, insects are fascinating creatures 



A small parade of eight wild turkeys wandered by my house this week. I like wild turkeys. They give off the air of being on important business. Seeing them on the island is a common occurrence nowadays, but it was not so a few years ago. Their numbers have greatly increase here on the island in recent years. 

Turkeys are considered upland game birds. They usually live on large tracts of mature hardwoods containing oak and beech trees and mature pine trees. They also like grassy open land for their young. They have keen eyesight and acute hearing. Despite their size, they are agile fliers, but they often run or walk away from danger.  

My small dog and I surprised a full-grown tom one day as we came up over a bank near the seashore and we were all startled. When the big turkey took off into the air, it was an impressive sight! Wild turkeys can live as long as 10 years. In flocks of 6-25 birds, they cover several miles every day searching for food. Enjoy watching them. Give them time to decide what to do if you meet a flock on the road and just enjoy the encounter with these large, interesting birds. 

White-winged scoters are being seen now in ponds and on the salt water. As soon as the fresh water freezes, all activity will be on the salt water. This scoter is the largest one. They are often found together in mixed flocks of other scoters. I suggest you look at all three scoters seen here in a good bird book and notice the differences. You often really need binoculars to identify some of the ducks you’ll see. The three scoters you need to look at are the surf scoter, the black scoter and the white-winged scoter. It’s not always easy to identify ducks. Pay attention to details on the bird, and where and when you saw it. This is prime time to see scoters. 

I’ve had some reports from people seeing some fuzzy blue butts floating about in their interesting little groups. These woolly aphids gather in a mass and float about in the air at this time of year. Their coating resembles cotton or woolly covering like children use to decorate things with on Halloween. The blob of insects looks ethereal. This mass floats about in the fall on a mission of reproduction. Everything about these creatures is a bit different. It has a seemingly crazy life cycle. If you go online, type in “blue fuzzy butts.” I think you’ll find it interesting to read about these aphids that you may encounter now. They are an autumn insect not to be missed. 

As the trees lose their leaves and become bare, you often discover nests that you had not known about. This is the best time of year to look for bird’s nests for they are exposed for all to see. I think it wise not to bother insect nests. Definitely wait until a wasp nest has been exposed to very cold weather.  

As the leaves fall off the trees, you can easily see where squirrels have had a nest in the crotch of a tree. Often other birds or mammals may build on top of another nest and make it their own. Squirrels and mice often move into old birds’ nests and create a nice home for themselves. I well remember learning this years ago when a naturalist showed me a bird’s nest that had been adapted by other birds and mice –sometimes by the two at the same time as the nest was adapted each time to suit a new owner. At one time, a small bird was on the top nest and mice were living in the ‘basement.’ I was impressed by that! 

Getting ready for winter is a must for any creature surviving a Maine winter. Whirligig beetles winter over in the water and sometimes get air from air pockets under the ice. Woolly bear caterpillars often spend the winter curled up in a grass clump. Learning how wild creatures of all kinds survive a northern winter is a fascinating topic to explore. 

The praying mantis is not seen often but every once in a while someone calls me about this interesting creature. They do live here. I think the last one I saw was living in a window box in Southwest Harbor. To survive a Maine winter, this female mantis carries her eggs in a remarkable ball of fluff she creates herself. Carpenter ants winter in galleries of wood. One ant may wall itself up before winter in a little sawdust room beneath the bark of a tree. 

When cold weather comes, ants often fall into a stupor while clustered together in masses in tunnels below ground or in galleries excavated in decaying trunks above ground. Grasshoppers perish with the arrival of winter but their descendants survive through carefully laid eggs or as nymphs. Insects are indeed strange and fascinating creatures, in both summer and winter.  

Send any questions or wildlife observations to [email protected]. 

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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