Don’t Worry, Make Flowers!

How to make an origami Tulip.

It’s Time For The Tulips To Bloom:

I bet you, as I, love the Spring Time when all the flowers begin to bloom. One of my favorites is the tulip. I thought you would enjoy learning how to fold some origami Tulips that will last a little longer than the beautiful ones in your garden. You can make a bouquet for your inside table while leaving the real ones on display outside.

By the way; this makes a great Mother’s Day gift.

What You Need:

To make this project you will need a sheet of green copy paper, some colorful paper (either origami or copy paper), some white glue, scissors, a straight pin, and a pencil.

First Things First:

You will have to cut a square from the copy paper unless you are using a square sheet of origami paper.

Fold the square into the traditional water balloon base by folding an X on one side of the paper, turning it over and folding a cross on that side. It should look like this:

Next you will fold up the right side top wing portion like this:

Do the same on the left side but leave a little gap vertically between the two wings. Then turn the paper over and repeat on the backside.

Save Yourself From Frustration!:

This next step was the most frustrating for me when I first tried to fold the model. If you don’t do this correctly the petals will not fold down later.

Take the top right hand side and fold it to the left, then do the same on the backside. It should look like this:

Next, place the model so that the flat point is at the bottom. Fold the right hand top portion diagonally to the left like this:

Next, fold the left side over to the right diagonal edge:

Next, you will insert one wing into the pocket of the other like this:

Repeat on the backside.

Now for the Fun Part:

In order for your flower to bloom you will have to breathe into it a breath of life. (I doubt if your breath will make it alive, but it will make it more life-like.) If you have ever made a traditional origami water balloon it’s the same process. Just be sure not to blow too hard. You just want to inflate the model not blow it apart. You will need to blow into the hole at the bottom of the model like this:

Petal Power:

If you look closely on the outside of the model you should find four petals. These need to be rolled down to make the bud bloom. Carefully pull out the top of a petal and roll it around a pencil like this:

Repeat on all four petals:

Now for the Stem and Leaves:

Take your sheet of green paper and cut off of one side a long skinny rectangle. Cut out a couple leaves as well.

Let’s Make It 3-D:

For the stem portion you will just keep folding the rectangle in half as many times as you can so it will support the weight of the flower head.

The more times you fold the stem in half the stronger it will be. Use a straight pen or the tip of your scissors to lightly scratch a crease in a curved fashion down the middle of each leaf. When you bend the sides of the leaves together the crease will follow your scored line. Just be careful not to scratch too hard or you will tear through the paper. Now let’s curl the leaf tips. Open your scissor blade and use the flat side against the paper. Pull the paper down over the blade like this:

You Are Almost Done :

Now we will glue the leaves to the stem and top the stem with the flower like this:

Helpful Hint: if you put some glue on the top of the stem before putting the flower on, it will hold the flower place once it dries. Otherwise it is just gravity holding it in place.

It Takes More Than One to Fill the Vase:

In order to have a nice bouquet you will need several flowers and a vase. You can use a nice flower vase or make your own with a Mason Jar. Here are a couple pictures of my bouquet:

Notice the difference in the above pictures. The bottom one still has the label showing on the jar. Above that you can see how I covered the bottle with a ring of colored paper to make it more attractive. You might also see some irises mixed in with the Tulips. You can find origami models for several types of flowers on-line or in books you can find at the library. There are also several YouTube videos available.

As You Think About the Flowers, Think About This:

If you were successful in folding your bouquet, you are probably going to be pretty protective of your finished project. Did you know God cares for us in a similar way, only much more.

Are You Worried? Check This Out:

Matthew 6:28-34

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat? or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Notice that this is a conditional promise of God to His Children. If you are not in His family you can be by acknowledging Jesus Christ as LORD of your life. Believe on Him (His death, burial and resurrection) and you will be saved.

For those of us who know Him, the flowers can be a constant reminder of His care for us.

Origami Covid-19 Model

With all of us practicing “Social-Distancing” and staying in our houses during this epic 2020 pandemic, I thought I would amuse you with a fun project and bring you a word of encouragement.

It is amazing to think that a tiny virus has been able to effect changes throughout the whole world. Though we need to respect the potential dangers of this disease and follow the directions given to us by our government leaders, we do not need to live in fear. God is still in control! One way to face our fears is to visualize our enemy. Let’s make a paper model of the virus.

To make this model I made an Origami Quadra-Sphere. You can find the directions for folding this in my April 4, 2019 post. Once you have constructed a Quadra-sphere you just need to add some spikes.

Easy to Fold:

It is really easy to make the spikes. Just cut some long rectangles and fold them in half lengthwise. It takes quite a few spikes to complete the model, so make a lot! You can add as many as you like but I glued one on each corner of the Quadra-sphere.

If Want More Drama:

To make your model more dramatic use bright colors like red, yellow, and orange.

You can make your model any size, but the smaller you make it the more it resembles the real thing. Just think about how small real viruses are. It takes a powerful electron microscope just to see them!

Once you make your model you can place it on a bright paper base or hang it by a string to make a mobile. Guess what? This model won’t hurt you.

If You Are Fearful, Listen to This:

 

For those of us that have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, our LORD, we can take courage from the promises in Scripture given to by our Savior.

Isaiah 43:1

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”

 

I John 4:18

“Perfect love casts out fear.”

 

Psalm 18:2

“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and deliverer.”

 

Romans 8: 38-39

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither Angels or demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If you do not have this peace of mind, you can by asking God to give you eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ.

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Is This an Alien Invasion?

 

What Is This?:

A friend of mine found one of these in her yard and sent me an email asking if I knew what it was. I had seen the later stage of this creature last year when I was mowing my lawn out back growing on a cedar tree. After a little research I found that it was Cedar-Apple Rust fungus.

Is This Christmas?

After seeing her picture, I decided to go out an see if my tree had any of these growing in my yard. When I reached the large cedar tree in my backyard I found what looked like a Christmas tree ornamented in orange and brown spiky balls. Needless to say, I was impressed with how successful this group of fungi is in reproducing more of its own kind.

Here are some more pictures of what I found:

It Takes Two to Tangle!

While doing research on this organism I found out it takes two different hosts for it to complete its reproductive cycle, one from at least two different families of plants. Some of the plants that can serve as hosts are the Chokecherry, Mountain Ash, Service Berry, Hawthorn, Pears, Crab Apples, Juniper, Cypress, Quince, Service Berry, Apples, and many members of the Rose Family.

So Where Do They Come From?:

Even though these unusual creatures look like aliens from outer space, they are actually common residents of the Eastern United States. They actually look very different in their various stages of development. It usually takes two years for them to complete a cycle. They start out with tiny spores that drift on the wind once they are released from another host’s parasitic infection. Once they land on the plant the spores send out little root like structures that bury into the stems of other plants. It takes about 7 months until the organism is noticeable. The stem region starts to swell up to form a gall. After about 18 months these swellings start to form gelatinous golf ball like structures. These are brown, as you can see in some of these pictures.

They Turn Orange With the Spring Rains:

After a couple warm Spring rainfalls the little brown balls start to depress around the surface. From these depressions come little finger-like projections. These eventually turn bright orange on the outermost ends of the extensions. Scientists call these reproductive structures Telial Horns”. It is this part that holds the spores that will be released after they are formed. Interestingly these structures can emerge several times on the same gall, ( 5-7 times) during the course of the Spring and early summer.

Are They Dangerous?:

Though these creatures look dangerous they actually do no harm to humans and little harm to the trees they infest. It is the fruit that suffers. Those that tend  apple orchards are the ones that fear this fungus the most. They would not be happy if you planted a Cedar tree near their orchards. When the spores travel to the apple and pear trees, as well as the others mentioned above, they become noticeable first on the leaves.

Easy to Spot:

If you were to see red, or brown spots showing up on the leaves of your trees you would know that the fungus has arrived. Most farmers will have already sprayed their trees with fungicide prior to this development. Others prune out the infected branches quickly to prevent its spread. Most farmers select fungal resistant varieties of fruit trees to also slow its progress.

What’s In a Name?:

These creatures go by a variety of names but the most important one is the scientific name: “Gymnosporangium juniper-virginianae” .

They are in a Family of fungi known as “Pucciniaceae”. The most common name is “Cedar-apple Rust”. The rusty part is how they look when they start to dry out and release the spores.

Why Not Do Some Further Research?:

If you live in the Eastern part of the United States, why not go out and check the trees around your neighborhood? You can also see many pictures  of this fungus and find more information on many of the agricultural web sites on-line.

Consider the Design:

Whenever I discover something new in God’s Creation I’m reminded of just how well designed each organism is in relation to its survival. Some organisms have very complex life cycles. All organisms are dependent on their relationships with others.

Irreducible Complexity:

There is also complexity in all the parts that make up the whole: the cells, tissues, organs, and systems that combine to form the organism.  For each step of this design to work there is irreducible complexity. The organism could not survive unless all the parts were there at the same time. This is why I believe it was all designed by the Master Creator. As you go through the next week, think about this concept every time you see another living organism. God designed it all as a way of showing us His divine power and purpose. He enjoys seeing us considering His care in how everything He created functions. He wants all of us to know He loves us and has a purpose for our lives. Do you know Him?

 

 

Let’s Make An Octagonal Box:

The Product of Much Experimentation:

While exploring origami it is fun to create your own original models. These Octagonal boxes are one of my favorite creations. The most difficult part was to figure out how to lock the edges in the final folds.

Here Is How To Do It:

You will need two pieces of paper. If you are using two sided paper, start with the colored side down.

Use the water balloon base. Fold an X on one side of the paper and a cross on the other side.

Pinch in two opposite sides to collapse the paper into the above base. Do this with both sheets of paper.

Take one of the four wings and fold the outside edge to the center vertical crease. Bend this same crease back and forth like a door hinge to prepare the paper for the next move. Pull up this section like a shark fin. Put your finger inside the fin and push down. It should look like the form above on the right side of the picture.

Now you need to fold the outside edges of the tail section so they meet in the middle as shown in the picture above. You can do this on each of the four sections as you fold them or after you have all four formed. It seems to be easier to align the folds when you have the outer wings in place so you can see the horizontal alignment. Crease these folds well so shaping the box later will be easier.

Fold the paper to lock the previous folds. Repeat this on all four wings.

Now your project should look like the one above.

Bend up the bottom point to the center of the top horizontal edge. Again, hinge this fold back and forth several times so it will open correctly in the following folds.

Insert your finger into the top of the fold and push outward on the inside panels to open the box. Be sure to push out where the crease lines are already in place. This part seems strange until you see the box shape pop out.

Now Let’s Lock The Edges :

Lift up one of the folded down points. Fold out the side flaps like door hinges. Be sure to keep the creases on top of each other when you swing the hinged sections into place. To lock this section, fold the point inside at the horizontal crease.

Repeat on all four sides. Check that all of your creases are the original ones you folded in the previous steps.It’s Time To Collapse The Form:

In this next step you will be straightening all the creases to form a symmetrical octagon. Some people use these collapsed forms as containers to store stamps and other flat objects. These are sometimes called origami tattoos.

Observe the process in the above pictures. By pushing in the center of any two opposite sides you will collapse the form. This can be a tricky step since you have to bring in all the sides to the center at the same time. Fold each of the little shark fins to the right so they overlap and the form is flat. Run your fingers over and push down on the outside edges to straighten all the folds. Use your fingernail to indent the outer edges of the octagon all the way around the circle. This will start to create the crimping you will do with the edge of an ink pen.

Reopen The Boxes:

Now that all the creases have been set you can reopen the box by placing your fingers inside and pressing out on each of the V joints. They will still slightly bend in like the pictures above. Use the end of a pen cap to carefully crimp down the bottom outer edges. Be careful not to tear through the paper. Slide the pen cap left and right on each of the 8 sides to create a lip on the bottom to receive the lid. This forms the bottom half of the box.

Forming The Top:

Now let’s crimp the top section. Place the box on its side and use the pen cap to crimp the edges as shown in the pictures above. If done properly your lid will rest on the bottom crimped edge. Adding these crimps gives the fold strength as well as form.

You Can Stack Them Up:

Use Them For A Gift Box Or Storage Container:

Depending on the size of paper you start with you can make boxes of various sizes. Using a standard 8 1/2″ X 11″ piece of paper your box will hold four standard size chocolate truffles. If using the boxes to hold food items, line them with cellophane or tin foil so the oils don’t soak through and ruin your fold. You can use them to wrap up presents, jewelry boxes, and more. You can stack several of decreasing sizes to form a Christmas tree. What other ways can you think of to use them?

Where Did Form And Design Originate?

As I look around me at all of the designs I see in creation I’m reminded that there has to be a Designer of these wonderful forms. Just like I have designed this box, each designed shape has function as well as beauty. If you see similar patterns in many things you can assume there is a common Designer. It’s like being able to tell which cars are Chevys and which are Fords by seeing similarities in each model. We see the same things in God’s creation. Some animals have four legs while others have two. Many animals are bilateral having two eyes and two ears. Having two of each of these gives us depth perception. No matter which creature you observe you will see that each design has function. How each creature functions has a greater purpose in its survival as well as its place in the whole of creation. I hope you, like I, have come to know this Creator. He is the giver and sustainer of life.

Psalm 36: 9 “For You are the one who gives and sustains life.”

Colossians 1:16a “For by Him all things were created…”

Best Day of Fishing:

That’s Cool!

The temperature dropped from the recent summertime heat. Fall weather is coming. It seems like the catfish like to feed when the cooler mornings drop the water temperature. Today was my best day of fishing at the lake near my home. I caught three large catfish weighing in at 8lbs., 11lbs., and the largest at 13 lbs.

Know What They Like:

The trick to fishing is, you have to get smarter than the fish! One of the most important things to know is what they are feeding on. In the lake where I fish there are tons of bluegill. After catching a few this morning one swallowed the hook and I knew it had a poor chance of survival if I threw it back into the lake. I decided to use it as bait. I was able to get several nice pieces of bait for my hooks from the one small fish.

Double Up the Hooks:

A good way to increase the likelihood of catching fish is to have more than one hook on the line. I like to use two. Be sure to check the regulations in your state to be sure it is legal to use more than one hook per pole. In some waters you can only use one! I like to put one hook on the end of the line with a couple split-shot about a foot above and then the second hook about a foot above the weights. That way the hooks don’t get tangled very often. Be sure to hide the hook inside the piece of fish! The nice thing about having two pieces of bait on the line is that if one gets pulled off there is a second one still waiting to be eaten. In fact, one of the fish I caught today actually had swallowed both pieces of fish.

Know Their Fighting Tactics:

If you are trying to catch a big fish you have to know how to keep them from breaking the line or shaking the hook. Be sure to set your drag so that they can pull off some line when they make a run (Believe me, if it’s a big one it will make several attempts to swim away with all its might!) If the fish is headed toward a tree branch in the water or some other potential snag, you have to turn it. Put extra tension on the line and aim your pole tip in the direction you want it to go. Reel in when ever you have any slack in the line. Let the fish work against the drag. Don’t reel too fast or pull too hard or it will break your line. Be patient! The fish will eventually tire. Consider the strength of the line you are using. Lighter weight line breaks easily. I had some lighter line on my pole a couple weeks ago and lost two big ones. I learned my lesson! After putting on heavier line I knew had a much better chance of landing these monster catfish.

Consider Catch-and-Release:

I know most fishermen like to show off their big fish. The best way to do it is with a camera. If you have ever eaten a large catfish you, like I, have discovered they don’t taste as good as the smaller ones. The big mature catfish are also important in the reproduction of more catfish to catch in the future. I return the large ones to the water to catch again. I figure other fishermen would like to catch a big fish too!

One of the Best Survivors:

Of all the kinds of fish I have caught I think the catfish are the best survivors. I used to fish with the California legend, “Mr. Catfish”: George Powers. He could catch catfish when nobody else was having any luck. He often shared his catch with others like when we had an annual fish-fry at our church. He taught me a few cool tricks for catching and preserving the fish we caught. He would catch catfish and keep them fresh for hours by placing them in a Gunny-sack. When he would pull them out later, after a day of fishing on the lake, the fish were still alive and kicking as if they had just come out of the lake. I also remember as a kid, while riding in a pickup with my Grandpa who worked for the irrigation district, watching catfish still alive while buried in the mud of a irrigation channel that had been scooped out with a Backhoe to improve the flow of water. The fish were in great shape. Even though they are durable, it is still good to get the fish back in the water as soon as possible when you plan to return them to their water home.

Notice the Design:

As you look closely at a catfish you can clearly see it is designed for function. Each part of the catfish anatomy shows intentional strategy for what the catfish must do to survive. Catfish are bottom feeders and must have ways to detect their prey even in cloudy water and darkness. The whiskers are great sensory organs. Down the side of the fish is the lateral line which also tells the fish what is in the water around it as it swims around looking for food. Catfish seem to be attracted to smelly bait. They have a very keen sense of smell and can also detect movement in their surroundings. How did the catfish acquire all of these amazing features? I believe the catfish, like all other creatures, was designed by the Master Creator, the LORD Jesus Christ.

Colossians 1:16-17

“For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all thing hold together.”

 

Keep Your Eyes Open:

If you take the time to carefully observe everything around you as you go through life, you can clearly see that everything was designed with a purpose. Each kind of creature is uniquely designed for where it lives and what it needs to do. Have you ever considered your purpose? When God created mankind He made man the object of His love. We will only find fulfillment when we become part of His family through the Salvation He offers through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through Him we have access to God the Father. I hope you have or will come to know Him too.

Northern Watersnake: Often A Case of Mistaken Identity

Let’s Go Fishing:

As I often do, I like to go down to the lake to go fishing. When I go I am not the only one fishing there. Yesterday I met a grandpa fishing with his five year old grandson. It was fun to see the little guy reel in a few bluegill. Soon we discovered we we not the only ones fishing there. While casting out my line I saw the grandpa taking a quick step back from the edge of the lake startled that he might be seeing a poisonous snake.

At first sight one might think “water moccasin!” But that would be a wrong assessment and might endanger the snake more than the one trying to make the identification. This is a Northern Watersnake: Norodia sipedon. It is not poisonous and poses little threat to man. Many times these snakes are wantonly killed by those who think they are doing everybody else a favor by removing an unwelcome visitor.

Actually A Great Benefit:

Rather than being harmful, these snakes are an important part of the ecosystem. As you can see in these pictures it has an appetite for fish. It also eats frogs, salamanders and toads, as well as other small creatures along the shoreline. If you are not familiar with the group of fishes to which this bluegill belongs, they are known to release chemicals into the water that regulate the growth patterns of other fish of its species. This mechanism is designed to help the overall population to have enough food to go around. I remember fishing a lake in California where the bluegill were over-populated. All of the fish were about 2-3 inches long. There were so many you could catch them with a bare black fishing hook. Though you could easily catch fish there wasn’t much good in the effort since they were all so small. The best way to rectify the problem would be to remove many of the fish. This would allow the remaining fish to grow larger. In a similar way snakes also keep other species in check.

 

Watersnakes, birds, and many other predators help naturally regulate the number of species in lakeside communities. By killing snakes you can quickly upset the balance with lasting consequences.

Fun to Watch:

If you have a natural fear of snakes you might be missing out on a lot of fun! Snakes are actually very beautiful animals with many interesting behaviors. As an example, these snakes often find homes in muskrat holes along the shore where they hide in the sticks and leaves inside. They often can be seen lurking along the shoreline seeking out minnows and larger fish. As you can see in these pictures, many times their prey is even larger than the size of the snake’s head. No problem for the snake, however, since its jaws can expand to allow the whole fish to slide in. A muscle action pushes the fish down where it is eventually digested. It’s fun to see a snake just after swallowing a large meal. It reminds me of the many cartoons I’ve seen of snakes.

Food for Other Animals:

Not only do these snakes help in the ways mentioned above, they also provide food for many other animals. Raccoon, Skunks, Eagles, Herons, Egrets, and large fish prey on watersnakes. I guess it’s fair play for a large fish to return the favor after the snake has consumed many of her young. The majority of the snakes eaten are the young. Fortunately watersnakes can produce quite a few babies. They also bear their young alive. A mother can produce up to 30 young in one birthing though more commonly far less. I remember watching as about fifteen newly born little watersnakes swam by one day while I was fishing. I bet that very few of them made it to adulthood.

Can You Tell The Difference? Heads or Tails, You win!

The poisonous snakes with which watersnakes are confused actually have several distinguishing characteristics. One is the much broader body shape. They also have elliptical pupils whereas the Watersnake has round pupils. Another feature found on the poisonous snakes are the heat-sensing pits on their heads. These are found below and between the eyes and nose. If you look at the other end of the snake you will find that watersnakes have long slender tails whereas water moccasins have short and thicker tails.

Overcoming Fear:

One helpful way to overcome your fears is to face them. In many cases just acknowledging your fears can lead to solutions. Learning the facts about what you fear can also help alleviate a lot of the tension. Find someone knowledgeable and they can help answer your questions. You will find that after conquering your fears you will enjoy the outdoors to a much greater extent. Do some research, talk to an expert. Don’t let your fears ruin your life.

A Bigger Purpose:

While you are spending time outdoors experiencing God’s Creation consider the part you play in His overall plan. We can learn a lot about ourselves and our Creator by exploring His Handiwork. If He has a purpose for watersnakes He surely has a purpose for your life and He has created all things for you to enjoy.

Here Are Some Good Sources for Further Research:

National Wildlife Federation

Tennessee Watchable Wildlife

Wikipedia

Virginia Herpetological Society

Robber Flies: The Winged Assassins

Not Just Another Fly:

When one thinks about flies we usually picture those annoying house flies that seem to want to buzz in an land on your food when you have an outdoor picnic. But not all flies are the same. Can you think of a fly that is known as an Assassin?  One such creature is the Robber Fly.

AKA

Not only are they known as “Robber Flies” but they also are called “Bearded Flies“, “Assassin Flies“, “Hanging Thieves“, and “Bee Killers“. That’s quite a rap sheet!

They Live Up to Their Reputation:

These aggressive flies are known for their sneaky tactics. They are airborne attack artists. They usually sit in wait hanging from a perch near areas where flying insects travel. When one is sighted they zoom out at grab the unsuspecting insect with their long hairy legs. They then puncture the body of their prey with their long pointed mouth part. When this enters the body of their prey it quickly immobilizes and paralyzes it with special enzymes included in the fluid injected into the bite. The saliva injected contains a powerful neurotoxin that attacks the muscles of the insect prey. This fluid not only subdues the prey, it also begins to digestion. The flies then travel to a nearby perch and suck out the fluid from the dissolved protein within the bodies of the insects consumed. When done with their meal, they drop the outer remains of the body and move back to their perch to wait for another victim.

 

Classification:

Interestingly there are over 85 species of these flies in North America and thousands world-wide. They range in size and coloration. Some even mimic bees for protection and stealth when chasing their prey. Some are as small as 3/8 ” but range all the way up to 1 1/8 ” in size. They are members of the Animal Kingdom, the Phylum Arthropoda, the Class Insecta, and the Family Asilidae, and Order Diptera (the flies). One characteristic of all flies is that they possess two wings instead of two pair as in other flying insects.

Why Not Pick On Someone Your Own Size?

Believe it or not, Robber Flies are not shy when taking on other insects. They can easily capture insects their own size and even larger. They specialize in capturing members of the order Hymenoptera (the bees, wasps, hornets and bumblebees). Even though these opponents have powerful weapons to fight back, the Robber Flies usually win the competition. They also buzz out and grab dragonflies and butterflies. One amazing thing experienced by some observers was when a large Robber Fly actually capture a small hummingbird. **

This Looks Like a Good Hangout!:

One interesting behavior of Robber Flies is where they like to hang out. They often perch themselves near nectar producing flowers. Seems like a good idea because that way their food comes to them. Another by-product of this behavior is the opportunity to augment their diet with a little sugar nectar from the flowers. It seems that female Robber Flies need a little sugar when  producing their offspring.

Is That A Stinger?

If you look at the end of the abdomens of some Robber Flies you will see a long pointed structure that looks like a stinger. It is actually an ovipositor, (and egg laying device). If you have ever been bitten by a robber fly, however, you will think you’ve been stung. The bites are painful but rarely experienced unless you are handling them roughly or traveling through an area where food is scarce. I remember being bitten by one while hiking in the Sierras. Their bites are not pleasant but are of no lasting concern.

Are They Helpful or Harmful?

A good question often asked by gardeners is whether or not these creatures are helpful in the garden. The answer is a of mixed opinion. They seem to have a taste for grasshoppers  and leafhoppers which cause a lot of damage to crops. Since they feed on these and a lot of other pests that feed on your veggies they are helpful in that way. However, they are not selective in which insects they eat. They also consume a lot of the pollinators that transfer pollen from one flower to the next allowing the production of the fruit and veggies that you are growing to harvest in season. For the most part, scientists believe their overall presence is helpful in maintaining balance in the food webs and providing food for other animals. Those who raise bees for honey and wax would say, “We don’t want them around our hives”. They aren’t called “Bee Killers” for nothing!

Do They Have Any Enemies?

Robber flies are often part of the diets of birds, bats, praying mantises, centipedes, assassin bugs,  Ground Beetles and  other Robber Flies. They are also occasionally trapped in the webs of spiders.

Long Live the Young:

Robber flies, like many other insects, go through complete metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. They begin as eggs which hatch out into larvae. The larvae are worm-like grubs which spend up to 3 years developing. In this stage they are usually living in decaying plant material or the deteriorating bark of fallen trees. In this stage they are also active predators feeding on the many other insect larvae developing along side of them. Once they get big enough they form into the pupa stage and later emerge as adults. As adults they only live for about three months before they mate and die. The females deposit their eggs in the soil to start the whole process over again.

I’m Feeling a Little Depressed:

One distinctive characteristic of these flies is the depression between their large compound eyes. This can be seen more clearly if you look down on them from above. Below you can see what they look like from the bottom side of the body. Notice that their antenna are very short. Their beak-like mouth is held in a slot under their chins and can easily be swung out when needed to pierce the prey.

Did You Hear That Buzz?

One way to know these flies are around is the loud buzzing sound they produce as they fly by.

They Have Quite a Following:

Did you know there are many people who find these insects so interesting that they have formed groups to study them?      If you want to read more about these insects you might check out the following web sites:  The Asilidae Homepage,  and Roy Beckemeyer’s Asilidae Homepage. One of the most interesting blog post I read was the one that described the hummingbird incident. It was http://www.hilton pond.org. **You can also check out the National Geo, Wikipedia, and the Audubon web sites. 

They Are Part of the Big Picture:

As I observe and research the many creatures I find in the wild I am always trying to get a view of the bigger picture of life’s purpose. When I look at the many specialized features of this insect I am reminded that there had to be an Amazing Designer. The many features these insects possess reveal an intentional design by a Master Creator. They were designed to fill an important role in the overall environment. The closer we look at Creation the more evidence is found of the bigger picture. God also has a plan for your life. Do you know what it is? You can learn more about this by reading God’s Word, the Bible. It tells us everything from the original Creation of living things to the future of mankind.

Make You Own Observations:

I hope you will take some time to explore God’s Creation yourself. There are so many interesting things to discover.

Sandhill Cranes: A Model of Faithfulness

Known for Their Faithfulness:

As we look throughout Creation we often find examples that model Godly character traits. One of these animals is the Sandhill Crane. These birds mate for life and also share the responsibilities for raising their young. Let’s take a closer look at these birds.

Gray, Red and Black:

The Sandhill Crane is a large bird that has a gray body, a long pointed black beak, and a bright red crimson capped head. Notice too, the long legs that it uses to move about the wetland habitats where it builds nest and raises its young.

Migration:

Sandhill Cranes are known for their migration patterns from the extreme northern part of Siberia all the way down to the South in Florida. They travel through many states along the way where there are prairies, wetlands, grain fields and expansive grasslands.

Let’s Dance and Sing:

One of the interesting things about this species is how they celebrate courtship. The males and females are very active in performing a ritualistic dance in which they bob their heads up and down, leap upward into the air, and then descend. This energetic dance is accompanied by a duet. The female first emits a rolling call that sounds a lot like someone rolling their R’s. This deep sound arises from their long necks and allows the call to have a deep resonant sound. The male quickly joins the female and the sound can be heard miles away. If this isn’t enough, they often grab sticks and toss them into the air. This behavior is fun to watch.

Let’s Share the Work:

Not only do these cranes mate for life but they also demonstrate how working together has its benefits. Both parents share in the incubation of the eggs. Usually the female lays two eggs in the nest. These nests are built by both parents and are composed of mud and vegetation. Usually they are built upon the mud in the wetlands. Sometimes they are actually created on top of the water like rafts. Being surrounded by water has both its benefits and hardships. many enemies don’t like the water so that helps insulate them from attack. However, other animals have no problem moving through the watery wetlands. Some of their enemies include foxes, mink, coyotes, lynx, bobcats, cougars, wolves, and raccoon. They also experience aerial attacks from great-horned owls, crows, hawks, and eagles. These primarily target the young so the parents need to be constantly on the vigil. Once the babies emerge from the eggs the young are protected by their parents until they reach the age of about 9-10 months. After about 65-75 days the young are able to fly. They then accompany their parents on the rest of the migration path.

Designed with a Purpose:

Their body design is just what is needed for where they travel and live during the course of the year. The long legs allow them to move about in the marsh lands where they make their nests and raise their young. Their long sharp beaks allow them to harvest grain from the fields as well as capture frogs, small rodents, nesting birds, snails, worms, snakes, lizards, berries, and other food stuffs. Their bright red caps help identify them by their companions. Their wing spans can reach above six feet which allows them to fly with ease. In fact, these birds are masters at using thermals in their high altitude flights across the nation. Many times they rarely have to flap their wings because the thermals allow them to soar great distances thus reducing the need to burn up their fuel reserves from the food they have eaten.

Long Lived:

Since the parents mate for life this can be a long commitment. One crane was banded and recaptured and found to be 36 yrs and 7 months old. Their usual lifespan, however, is about 20 yrs. The chances of not making it to that age are many. Most that die before that time are taken when they are young. Adults also face the possibility of being brought down by a shotgun blast. It seems that man has acquired a taste for these birds and they are readily hunted in many areas for their “beef-like” meat. This meat is often referred to as the “Rib-Eye of the Sky“. Some of the states that allow the harvest of Sandhill Cranes include: Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. Some argue that by harvesting some of these birds it helps reduce the damage done to their crops. Others say that reduced numbers allow the rest to have more food during migration. Needless to say, this practice has to be heavily regulated to maintain the species.

Important In The Environment:

Sandhill cranes serve an important role in the overall balance of nature. They are involved in many interesting food webs. Not only this, but they provide us with great entertainment and opportunities to witness God’s handiwork in Creation.

Check It Out Yourself!:

I took the pictures in this blog post while visiting the Zoo in Queens, New York. I have also observed them in the fields near Davis, California when we used to live in Sacramento. We would often see large flocks of these birds flying overhead in the fall of the year. Most of the information I have found on these birds came from the Queens Zoo Blog, Wikipedia, the Audubon Field Guide, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the National Wildlife Federation. Why not take some time to see if you can learn more things about this amazing species. As you learn more remember that we, like the cranes, were designed to remain faithful to our families and friends. If the birds can stay committed, we also can with the help of our Loving Father, God.

Faithfulness:

I am reminded of the Scripture that reads, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” It is only with God’s help that we can remain faithful to others. How faithful are you? Do you know God and allow His Spirit to fill you with these godly character traits? If not, turn to Him and He will surely help you. Let’s be known for our faithfulness.

Andean Bears: Quite a Spectacle!

 

Bear with Me:

Recently we spent some time in the Zoo in Queens, New York. Among  the interesting creatures we saw there were the Andean, AKA: “Spectacled Bears”. These animals are the only bear species found in South America. They are the only remaining species of the group of bears to which they belong, the Tremarctos Bears. There used to be a species in Florida but it has been extinct for a long time.

Quite a Spectacle:

If you look at the picture above you might be able to see why they are called “Spectacled Bears“. The white markings around their eyes make it look like they are wearing large glasses.

Let’s Take the High Road:

These bears also go by another name, the Mountain Bears of the Andes. This is because these bears prefer the high jungle mountains of South America. They are found living between 6,000 and 8,800 ft. Now that’s the “high road”.

Small But Mighty:

Though these bears are generally much smaller than their Northern counterparts they are remarkable creatures. Their range includes many parts of South America including: Western Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Western Bolivia, and North Western Argentina.

Threatened Species:

Because these bears are often hunted for their body parts, there are suspected to be only about 18,000 left. The bears are killed by poachers and the body parts are sold for folk medicine and religious rites. Many steps are being taken to reduce poaching and provide protection for this species.

Eat Your Veggies!:

One of the strange things about these bears is that their diet is primarily made up of plant foods like berries, grasses, bromeliads, bulbs, and fruits. Only 5% of their diet is meat. The animals they eat include small rodents, rabbits, and birds. It is noteworthy to see that they are the most vegetarian of all bears.

Stay Away From My Babies!

For the most part these bears pose very little threat to man unless the mother is with her young. She will take on pretty much anything that threatens the safety of her young. We saw a mother bear watching over her young at the Zoo there in Queens, NY. The young animals seemed very curious and playful but were always under the watchful eye of their mother.

Designed with a Purpose:

As I discover new species and observe the diversity of Creation I am thrilled to see just how important each creature is to the whole of the environment. When God created these as well as all the other animals and plant species He had a specific role for each to play. The food webs and balances in the environment are healthy when all the species are allowed to do their part. When man over harvests the environmental resources there is always a consequence. It is important for us to consider our role in the preservation of the species.

Observe Them Yourself:

If you ever get the opportunity to travel to New York I highly recommend that you include a stop at the Zoo in Queens. You will not only get to see these bears but many other interesting creatures. You can also watch videos of them on-line and read all about them by doing a Google search. Most of this information was available at the Zoo and on their web site. Other good sources are the Smithsonian and National Geographic web pages. Why not take a look?

                                                       Scientific Name:   Tremarctos ornatus

 

American Alligator: Quite a Come Back Story

“See You Later Alligator”

You have probably heard the expression. “See you later, Alligator.” Believe it or not, it almost became true of these amazing creatures. Back in 1973, due to over harvesting and wanton killing,  these historic American reptiles were threatened by extinction and placed on the Endangered Species list. What a shame it would have been to lose these interesting creatures from their natural habitats. As a result of careful management, they have made an amazing comeback and were removed from that list in 1987. They are still carefully managed, but have come back in impressive numbers.

What’s On the Menu?:

We found this warning sign while observing birds around a lake in Alabama.

After viewing these creatures you develop a great respect for their powerful jaws. It’s interesting to note, however, that it usually isn’t people that are eaten by alligators. Rather, it is people eating alligators. Their meat is highly sought after and cooked in many interesting ways. Besides their meat, one of the reasons for their reduction in numbers was their skins. Many items used to be made from their hides. They also got a bad rap! Many movies and books portrayed these animals as a great threat to mankind. Though they are to be respected, they rarely threaten humans unless they are approaching them in their nesting areas. Most areas where viewing is provided have ample warning of their presence and suggest you watch where you go while watching them from a distance. You can also go to places where alligators are raised commercially and watch shows where they demonstrate their abilities to snap onto and devour their food. Alligator meat can be found on the menu of several restaurants that have been raised commercially for harvest.

 

                     The Two Signs Pictured Above Were In the Audubon Bird Sanctuary in Alabama

They Can Be Hard to Spot!:

Can you see me now?

Though alligators can hide well in vegetation, as above, they more commonly like to rest on the shoreline where they absorb the warmth of the sunshine on cold mornings. After they warm up, they may then crawl back into the water to cool down and look for food. Being reptiles, basking is a form of temperature regulation.

My, What Big Teeth You Have!

Just like in humans, the teeth of the alligators change as they mature. When very young,  they have needle-like teeth well adapted for capturing insects and other arthropods as well as young fish and crustaceans. As they grown older, their teeth also enlarge. With these big teeth they can crack open even hard-shelled turtles and break bones of other animals. Their jaw force is amazing. Interestingly, the force of their jaws is greatly minimized by placing a hand or a band of duct tape around their snouts, which is often the tactic used when subduing these animals in zoos and in the field when the trapper plans to release the animals after collecting data on their length, health, age, and other factors. Once the tape is removed, you better watch out! When they clamp down they have one of the greatest bite forces in the Animal Kingdom.

That’s Twisted!

One unique feature of alligators is their habit of capturing their prey on shore and dragging it into the water to drown it. Once it is dead, they grab on to part of the body and do an “Alligator Roll” which twists off pieces of the animal for more easy swallowing. They have even been known to work in groups to tear apart larger animals with each getting their share of the food. Since they really don’t actually chew their food they have been equipped with gizzards, just like the birds. In these organs they can grind down the meat and derive the energy in this food through further digestion. I consider all these amazing traits as a sign of their unique design by a thoughtful Creator.

Using Tools?:

Of the many members of the animal kingdom that have been observed using tools, the alligator is included. This is highly unusual in the ranks of reptiles! “What tools do they use?”, you might ask. Well, they have literally figured out a way to really “Stick It to” their prey. They have been observed holding branches of trees in their mouths while waiting for unsuspecting birds to descend and lite on the branches offered as perches.   When the birds land they are surprised when the large mouth opens and clamps down on their bodies: I guess this is the Fast Food of the alligator’s life.

 

Be Fruitful!

Interesting studies of alligator’s stomach contents have revealed that they are not totally carnivores. Though, to my knowledge this has never been witnessed by man, within the stomachs there have been elderberries, wild grapes, and citrus fruits taken directly from trees. This again, shows the great adaptability of these creatures to use the food available. Their diets are very diversified.

Infrasonic Communication: “B Flat”, Now That’s Music to My Ears!

Like other animals alligators have some interesting ways to communicate with others of their own kind. The males can create bellowing sounds by sucking air into their lungs and then emitting it quickly. This seems to be a way to warn off other males invading the mating territories where the females are during the mating season. Those who have observed these sounds say that they are more felt than heard. They even create vibrations in the water around the gators when they are emitting them. The sprinkling effect is even called the “Water Dance” by those who have witnessed these things. In one experiment, tubas were used to stimulate the large males into producing their own vibrations. When checked with the musical scale, the vibrations register a B Flat on the scale. Baby alligators also vocalize with a chirp-like sound to let their mothers know when they are ready to emerge from their eggs buried in the vegetation by their mothers for incubation. The mothers then dig up the babies and watch over them for some time until they are ready to fend for themselves in the wild.

Who Is The Hottest?

If you have ever wondered who is the hottest between males and females, it’s the males. At least in the Alligator world. You see, the temperature during the incubation period has a direct effect on the gender of the babies. At 93 degrees F. you will have males. At 86 degrees F, you will have females.

Helpful In Removing Unwanted Guests:

Alligators have an important role in the environment by regulating the populations of the creatures living there. If there are too many of some species there will not be enough food to go around. Besides the native species that over produce, non-native species create an even greater danger. Man has messed up this critical balance frequently by bringing in unwanted non-native species. One of these creatures, the Nutria, was brought into the U.S. from South America back in the mid- 20th century. They quickly multiplied and became a nuisance species burrowing into the banks of levees causing floods and eating up the food that the other species depended upon for survival. Give a shout out to the alligators! It seems that the alligator is one of the most important factors in regulating these animals. Another group of terrible invaders are the Burmese Pythons that have been released into Florida by some who found their newly acquired pets were getting too large to manage. Soon, pythons were taking over the environment. Alligators seem to have a taste for these creatures as well.

Every Creature Is Important!

One of the things man has learned over the many years of observation is that every kind of animal is important in the balance of the ecosystem. When God created all things He had a purpose for each one. It is important as Earth’s Caretakers, to realize how it is important that we acknowledge this balance and work to maintain it for the preservation of the species. This requires careful observation and management by taking time to consider the ramifications of our activities in the natural world.

Interesting Alligator Facts:

Like other reptiles, alligators are cold-blooded.

Alligators can weigh over 1000 lbs.

Alligators live in the South-Eastern part of the U.S.

The scientific name of the American Alligator is Alligator mississippienis.

Alligators have a third eyelid that covers their eyes underwater like built in “diving masks”.

Alligators have 80 teeth when mature, 40 on top and 40 on the bottom.

Alligator teeth are aligned so that the upper teeth fit into the bottom ones for a tight grip.

Baby alligators have an “egg tooth” located on the tip of their noses to use to get out of their eggs when fully developed.

Strangely, alligators have 5 toes on each of the front feet while only 4 on the rear ones.

Scientists believe that alligators live up to 35-50 years in the wild. In captivity they are known to live  from 60–80 years.

Alligator meat really does taste a lot like chicken.

Why Not Do Some Further Research?:

Some of these facts come from Avia Trivia, Wikipedia, Peterson’s Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians, Reptiles of North America, Animal Fact Files: Reptiles and Amphibians by Chris Mattison, Val Davies and David Alderton.  

It’s not hard to find a lot more information by simply doing a Google search on-line. Check it out!