‘Sumer is icumen in…’ So says an anonymous English poet, in an 800-year-old song, thought to be one of the oldest songs ever written. All around us, it is easy to tell that we have shifted from spring to summer. Wildlife families are busy raising their young. Sounds of birds are nice to hear these days, and just this last week, snapping turtles laying eggs have been seen all over the island. These large turtles are fun to watch, but NEVER try to touch one or get very close. Just enjoy watching what they are doing and don’t bother them. After their eggs are laid, they will go back into their lakes and ponds. This is the best time to see them out of the water. Each female lays up to 50 eggs, so it’s a good thing many other creatures do find these eggs and eat them for otherwise we would be overrun with snapping turtles and the chain reaction would not be a good one.
When I think of summer and wildlife, one of my favorite memories is of fireflies flitting about over the lawn near our house years ago. What fun it was to see them flashing their lights and creating a magical scene. Actually, these lights are for drawing prey and sex partners to them and to warn off predators. They are constructed so as to enable them to produce light without wasting heat energy. Fireflies are bioluminescent, meaning they are living creatures that can produce light. Only a handful of creatures can do this. Birds and other predators do not like to eat fireflies, for they have a bad taste.
The male flashes a light, and an interested female in the low vegetation flashes a reply, and he goes to find her. The color of the lights we see varies with the kind of firefly. The only time humans pay much attention to lightening bugs is during this courtship when their lights flashing over a field look quite magical. The rest of their lives take place in moist, terrestrial habitats.
It is interesting to me that scientists can use the enzyme that produces bioluminescence in fireflies as a marker for detecting blood clots and to monitor hydrogen peroxide levels in living organisms.
Do you know what a froghopper is? I’m sure you’ve seen them or brushed your bare legs against their ‘foamy balls of spit’ on blades of grass in fields. I always knew them as spittlebugs. The little bug is bright green and makes his house out of ‘spit.‘ The creature really caught my attention when I was in the tropics and saw one of the larger varieties. If you went under a tree where quite a few were living, it actually felt as if it were raining. I’ll never forget that encounter with tropical spittlebugs. The ones here on MDI are very small and mostly go unnoticed. Spittlebugs nymphs have a very unusual way of protecting themselves as they feed. They produce a foaming ball of froth (that does looks like spit) from their back end and they hide in this foam so their enemies can’t see them. This frothy bubble also protects them from both heat and cold. The adult froghopper does not need this ‘spittle house.’ It has a face that resembles a frog, and these adults can jump long distances. Unless you are very observant, you’d probably not pay much attention to the adult. The frothy bubble around the nymphs is easy to find.
I received a nice photograph of a small plant this week for identification. The plant was very tiny with heart–shaped leaves and beautiful blue flowers. It turned out to be Kenilworth ivy, Cymbalaria muralis, an escapee from Europe that is well established in this country now. It particularly likes rock walls and rocky crevices. Look online for some photos of this plant. A great many of the plants we see in this country were brought here by settlers or found their own way here and are now well established. Sometimes it’s a disaster; other times it’s just annoying. Invasive plants have been a big problem in many parts of this country.
Dirt roads and unpaved driveways are always good locations for seeing wildlife happenings. A Luna moth hatching on my driveway one June day caught my attention. This strikingly beautiful moth is outstanding in both color and shape. It reminds me of a ballet dancer in a lovely gossamer costume. They are becoming increasingly hard to find since they are very susceptible to any insecticides. The large green caterpillar of the Luna has a yellow stripe on either side and red tubercles (spots). They are very beautiful. Their time as a beautiful moth is short in the span of their life cycle and special to see.
This is a lovely time of year to enjoy the flora and fauna of our island.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.