Backyard Nature is Coming Alive!

First, and most importantly, I made a mistake on the Quarantine Quiz I posted earlier today. It’s fixed now, but if you get blog posts via email or looked at the quiz right when it was posted the answer to #2 was wrong. Both A and C are butterflies and B is a moth… Sorry about that – I got in a hurry and was sloppy.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to a backyard or similar small area and it’s currently safe for you to spend time there, now is a great time to become more intimately familiar with its inhabitants. Here in Nebraska, spring has progressed just enough that early garden flowers (crocus and daffodils) are blooming, weeds are germinating in the vegetable garden (two are even starting to flower!), and invertebrates are starting to move around.

A small fly feeds on pollen from gray field speedwell (Veronica polita), one of the first garden ‘weeds’ to bloom each spring. We have some lovely patches in our yard right now.

I spent a couple hours outside yesterday, taking advantage of some high thin clouds and a surprising gap in my video conference call schedule. Most of that time was spent lying prostrate in the garden, suffering the laughing and pointing of my kids through the windows and the occasional double take from the few people out walking past our yard. At first glance, there wasn’t much happening, other than the obvious crocus and daffodils, and birds hopping around looking for food. Once I stopped moving and really looked closely, though, that changed, and I had no trouble finding subject matter for my camera’s macro lens.

A juvenile wolf spider, which also paused just long enough to get a shot of it. This spider was only about 1/2 inch in diameter (including legs).
A false milkweed bug (Lygaeus turcicus) pauses just long enough for me to photograph it.
The same kind of small fly shown earlier, but this time feeding on shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris).
There were quite a few of these little bugs, but I don’t know what they are – apart from being true bugs (Hemipterans)
This speedwell flower fell off (wind?) and landed in a photogenic way.
The prairie wild rose (Rosa arkansana) in our prairie garden is just starting to leaf out.
This brand new little plant (probably Cannabis sativa) had a lot of character as it began to emerge from its seed beneath the ground.
There was a lot of this going on between false milkweed bugs yesterday.
Another fly on another speedwell. (I have hundreds of these from yesterday, but limited myself to sharing just two.)

If you have safe access to a yard, park, or other place where you can experience the coming of spring in person (without other people nearby), I encourage you to do so. Here in Nebraska, at least, there really is a lot of action out there, although most of it is hard to see until you go looking for it. Don’t be fooled by the apparent absence of life when looking from a distance.

My short time in the garden yesterday sure made me feel better. I hope you can find similar solace.

Be safe, friends.

Quarantine Quiz #3

Here’s another quiz for your enjoyment. I hope you’re all staying safe and finding ways to remain productive and sane. My access to natural areas with few to no other people is something I’m valuing more than ever right now. I recognize how fortunate I am in that respect, but I’ve also been enjoying some photography in my yard lately – documenting the coming of spring. As readers of this blog have surely gleaned by now, there’s an awful lot of nature that can be found in small areas right in or around your home. I hope all of you have opportunities to explore your own backyard (literally or figuratively) in the coming weeks.

In the meantime – good luck with this week’s quiz! (Spoiler – I’m not even close to running out of great moth names…)

1) Choose the most accurate description of what is happening in this photo.

A. This green darner dragonfly just killed a big aquatic insect (a bog deltote) and carried it to this leaf, where it will shortly consume it, starting (as always) with the head.

B. This green darner dragonfly just killed a big aquatic insect (a gray furcula), injected it with a venom that both paralyzed and liquefied it, and then sucked out its innards.

C. This green darner dragonfly just molted and the second ‘creature’ is actually the empty exoskeleton of its aquatic larval form. Somehow, that dragonfly, wings and all, broke out of that shell, unfolded itself, and will soon fly off as a newly emerged adult.

E. The pink-flowered smartweed in the background is responding to variable water levels that prevent the establishment of perennial vegetation and is flourishing as an annual plant in the absence of competition from long-lived grasses and sedges.

F. What happened to D?

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2) Which of the below creatures are moths and which are butterflies?

A. A and B are butterflies. C is a moth.

B. A is a butterfly. B and C are moths.

C. A and C are butterflies. B is a moth.

D. These are all butterflies.

E. All these letters are confusing. You should have numbered the animals instead of lettering them, you doofus…

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3) Which of the following is NOT an actual name of a moth species?

A. Canadian Giant

B. Cinnamon Sunrise

C. Western Carpet

D. Swag-lined Wave

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4) What is the flowering plant shown below?

A. Ragwort (its genus, Packera, was chosen because it packs so many blossoms into a tight space.)

B. Dodder (this is a parasitic plant that wound itself around its host.)

C. Spirogyra (named for its spiral-shaped flowering heads, which lengthen over its several weeks of blooming time each year.)

D. Plants can’t be parasites.

E. Wait, is it ‘spirogyra’ or ‘spyrogira’? You know how sometimes you write a word that you’ve known for a long time but it suddenly looks like its spelled wrong? Good grief. And don’t even get me started on ‘micorrhizae’, which I have to look up EVERY TIME.

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5) One of the following is the common name of a moth, one is a mushroom, and one is a seashell. Label them correctly.

A. Artist’s Conk

B. Sparse Dove

C. Elegant Prominent

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6) What would be the best name for this invertebrate, given the kind of invertebrate it is?

A. Aunt Bee (Ant Bea?)

B. Leafhopper Ericson

C. Bug McGraw

D. Weevil Knievel

E. Tick Springfield

F. Dennis Hopper

G. Insert a better name here_____________________________

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7) Which of these is NOT the actual name of a moth species?

A. Dotted Sallow

B. Red Twin-spot

C. Speckled Bun

D. Ursula Wainscot

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8) What’s the deal with the spiky balls on this wild rose plant?

A. They are insect-formed galls.

B. They are fruits.

C. They are a fungal infection. Once they mature, they will dry, split open, and release millions of spores into the air.

D. They are really weird leaves.

E. A blockage formed in the xylem of the plant, increasing pressure in the stem, and that pressure caused these ‘bubbles’ to form in the thorny stem.

F. WINONA SPIDER!!! How did I miss Winona Spider??!

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9) What do you call an insect that jumps over cups?

A. Huh??

B. A glasshopper

C. Oh… It’s a joke.

D Good one.

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Answers below:

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Answers:

  1. Technically, both C and E are correct. A and B are obviously wrong because the names of the ‘aquatic insects’ in those answers are actually the names of moths (that’s absolutely true.)
  2. C and E are both correct. The easiest way to tell moths from butterflies is usually to look at the antennae. Butterflies have long skinny antennae with little knobs at the tips. Moths tend to have ‘fuzzy’ antennae, though sometimes they are skinny enough that it’s hard to tell. However, moths don’t have little knobs at the tips of their antennae. (I had this wrong in an earlier version, by the way, but C is the best answer.)
  3. B.
  4. B. Dodder is a really cool parasitic plant, though there are a number of different species of dodder, and some are also crop pests. You may have seen this plant and not realized what it is because it often looks like a mass of orange plastic twine tangled up in the vegetation. Hubbard Fellow Mary Parr wrote a post about it last year.
  5. Elegant Prominent is the moth, Artist’s Conk is the mushroom, and Sparse Dove is the seashell.
  6. Since the pictured invertebrate is a weevil, D is probably the right answer here, but if you come up with a funnier invertebrate name pun, you can count it instead. (Share good ones in the comment section please!)
  7. C.
  8. A. Read more about them here.
  9. Hardee har har

Be safe, friends.