Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Funnels are Tunnels

For those who have not seen enough spider-web shots, here are a few more.  Ah, but who could tire of them, really?
Funnel in the sun--empty and elegant.
A closer look.
A more tangled web...

And an uninviting scene, with scraps from a last meal at the door, and an abdomen sticking out of the funnel.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

More Properties

The second lecture/lab of our geology class:  Properties 2, magnetism and conductivity.
We began with a scavenger hunt, looking for materials to test.  The list suggested rocks, but it also included some natural materials, including grass, leaves, twigs, and more.

Lessons learned:  Metals conduct electricity.  Some metals and alloys are attracted to a magnet, but not all. Most other things do not conduct electricity.

Big lesson:  A negative result is as worthwhile as a positive result.

Some highlights in photos:

Selecting some test specimens.

The magnet and specimens
The test site for conductivity:  Switch, C cell, light and clips.  The specimen will complete the circuit. 

Wax does not conduct.

Data collection is neat and organized.

Do leaves conduct?


But aluminum foil does!

 Next session:  Testing rocks and minerals for hardness, streak, etc.  By the time we are done, identifying rocks and minerals will be a simple, practical exercise.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Way In

I'm currently reading Waiting for Aphrodite by Sue Hubbell, which details the life histories of some invertebrates, but not always the ones I was expecting--the author lives in coastal Maine, but few of her chosen inverts are marine. It's quite an enjoyable tour of the phyla, though Hubbell can't resist the cliched digressive passage about evolution, where she recounts verbally thrashing an open-minded teen (!) who is (or was...) interested in the many facets of the evolution discussion.  But the experienced reader of natural history can take or leave those few paragraphs, and still enjoy the excellent narrative provided by an author who enjoys observing the organisms around her.
Orb-weaver--primitive, but pretty!

 After photographing a lovely orb-weaver the other night, and shunning the ragged work of the funnel-weavers, which resemble little more than cob-webs in a corner, I read the bit about spiders in Hubbell's book, and was intrigued by the notion that orb-weavers, despite the beauty and order of their webs, are actually (or, rather, theoretically) the more primitive arachnids of the two groups. So I went hunting for the funnel-weavers in my brush pile, and tried to see the beauty in their messy webs.  Getting a closer look, it seems, is the key. They may not be as beautiful, but it seems to me that they are very efficient and strong--a good plan for a predator that lives by trapping prey in a net.

 Here are some photos of the many funnel webs in my brush pile. (Do you have a brush pile?  It's a great way to attract wildlife!)

Collects more rainwater than an orb...

Is more densely built...
Is attached to everything nearby...
It's more like a sheet than a web, and even catches dusty droppings from a wood-boring beetle.

Hello funnel-weaver! (Agelanopsis) Look carefully to the left and see the funnel it has begun to weave.

Welcome to my parlor...

Can't get enough spiders?  Check out some books and field guides.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Properties of Matter

More about my new career as a "teacher" later.  Ha!

A fine class of young geologists began their lab work today.  Here are some highlights from the first lab, wherein we examine the Properties of Matter:

Sometimes writing up a lab report.

Sometimes examining the specimens.

Sometime drawing the sample.

Checking the equipment list.

Preparing specimens for assays.

HCl!  Our favorite acid!
Recommended books for geology:
The Practical Geologist
Seashell on the Mountaintop
Field guides
Rock pick
Specimen bag

Have fun!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pests and Pollinators

Welcome to the garden!  It's 61 degrees, and the mosquitoes have given up trying this morning.  But for those insects who like the brisk weather, the Jerusalem artichokes have bloomed, and are waiting.  Native plants attract native pollinators?  Maybe.  Let's take a closer look.

The humble native Jerusalem artichoke, not an artichoke at all, but a tasty tuber with a tall, yellow flower, is inviting visitors by pretending to be one large bloom.  Click on the photo to admire the multitude of tiny true flowers awaiting visitors.

What is this?  A bee?  No!  It's the transverse flower fly, Eristalis transversa, collecting pollen. 

A fruit fly has landed nearby for perspective.  

A closer look.


Bumble bees are a common visitor to the Jerusalem artichokes.

Crickets?  I guess so.

A smaller pollinator--a hoverfly?
 I actually got a photo of it hovering, but it was too blurry to use to identify the creature.

Another shot.

Rhagoletis completa?  The walnut husk fly.  Probably taking a break from the walnuts on the other side of the yard. That would make it a European invader.  Pretty pest.
I'm reading Waiting for Aphrodite right now, and the author has some interesting things to say about native pollinators.

For the younger crowd, try these:

The Bee Tree
The Life and Times of the Honeybee

And a family project:  Attracting Native Pollinators
Or why not install a mason bee lodge?