Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Winter Leaf Squeezing

Winter walks provide a perfect opportunity for a little leaf squeezing. Yes, it will probably never become so popular it becomes an Olympic sport, but it is an excellent exercise in natural history.

Look closely among those dried leaves remaining on the trees and understory shrubs. Sure, go ahead and squeeze them... just don't squeeze them too hard! Wrapped inside their safe cozy, leafy cocoon a moth may be spending winter.

.....................Photo provided by Dave Lewis

And if those moth cocoons are fortunate enough to be over-looked by the hungry woodpeckers and the migrating wood warblers, they will be hatching out one of these balmy spring days.

Many of the larger cocoons protect members of the giant silk moth, or Saturniidae, like the Promethea in the photo. Once the mature moth emerges from its cocoon, their life expectancy is but a few days. Silk moths have no mouth parts, and cannot feed. Their only order of business is finding a mate and producing eggs to continue the species.

Once those eggs hatch out, hungry hoards of caterpillars eat or are eaten. It is a tough life as an early instar of an insect. And these gooey protein sacks are a primary food source for many species of birds. Unfortunately, our native silk moths have suffered great losses from pesticides, invader insects which were introduced to control gypsy moths, and the general loss of habitat. And in a trickle-down economy, that means it is harder for the birds to find dinner.

If you like birds, and butterflies- plant a native tree. Cherries, oaks, walnuts, elms... these are the native tree species our moths and butterflies have co-evolved to feed upon.

And if you are interested in learning more about the relationships between lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) and native plants, be certain to hear Dr. Doug Tallamy on March 26th at the Ohio Botanical Symposium. You find his program fascinating!

Go here for all the details. Deadline for registration is March 22nd.

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