Discover the Mystic Mist Flower

One of my favorite Fall blooming flowers here in Tennessee had been a mystery to me. I finally decided to look for an answer to its identity. After looking at about 50 pictures of flowering blue to purple native plants I finally found an answer. It is the Blue Mist Flower.

What’s In A Name?

To be more exact, the scientific name is Eupatorium coelestinum. The Latin genus name means “coned-shaped, nodding Flowers” while the species name means “sky blue”. It also goes by many other common names like: Wild Blue Ageratum, (though it is in another family than the Ageratums), Break-bone, Blue Bonset, and many others.

A Butterfly and Bee Favorite:

One thing you will notice quickly when these flowers start to bloom in late Summer and early Fall is the many kinds of insects that feed on this plant. You will see lots of different kinds of butterflies, bees, moths, beetles, and flies landing on the flower tops gathering nectar. For this reason they are often planted in Butterfly gardens by those who love to watch their Lepidoptera friends.

Often Comes in Multiple Colors:

It’s interesting to note all the variations you can find in the coloring of the flowers on these plants. Some times they are bright blue. Other times they are more purplish in color and they even come in white. I found it interesting that on some plants you could find all three colors.

Some Identifying Characteristics:

Blue Mist Flowers can be planted by seed but more often a gardener may find rhizome root cuttings to get a quicker result. As the plants grow and spread their underground root system insures they will be ready to spring up and flower in the years to come since they are Perennial plants. They usually grow up in large clumps of closely spaced stalks. They have opposite triangular leaves and usually grow to 1-4 ft. in height. They have composite flowers like other members of the sunflower family. The flowers almost look fuzzy when viewed in their flower heads. They have multiple, long, skinny petals. The flowering heads often tend to droop as they mature. When the leaves are crushed they smell similar to tomato vines.

Water Lovers:

You will often find these flowers growing anywhere where there is an abundance of water, like along ditches, creeks, rivers, lakes, low moist meadows, roadsides, and fence-lines. It is also interesting to note how important these plants are in preventing erosion from the water that runs over the surface on its way downhill. Their root system nets through the soft soil holding it in place.

Found to Be Useful in Many Other Ways:

While reading many different articles about these plants I found that they have been used medicinally for hundreds of years. Native Americans and early settlers used the crushed leaves to prevent ticks and mosquitoes from biting. They also used the essential oils to treat sore throats, coughing and skin conditions. One of their common names, Bone-break, comes from their use in treatment of broken bones. It seems that this plant’s rich antioxidants promote calcium production helping bones heal and become stronger more quickly. The oils from these plants have been used as an insecticide to prevent damage from nematodes in the soil that cause crop damage as well as being used in grain storage areas to prevent pests that can destroy the crops. It also kills and repels many kinds of mites and spiders.

It is important to note, however, that any medicinal use of these plants be guided by doctors and scientists that have tested these measures.

Some people are allergic to the pollen and oils of these plants. It is best to leave it to the experts to find new applications to the use of these plants. It’s interesting to note that the oils from these plants are often used in cosmetics for their antioxidants when mixed with other ingredients.

Often Used In Flowering Arrangements:

Since these flowers bloom in the Fall when many other types of flowers are scarce, you will often find them mixed in flower arrangements to add a little color and texture. Since they have long stalks they can easily be added to add height to and arrangement.

Thinking of Flowers:

While learning so many interesting things about these flowers God created, I was also reminded of the promise in Matthew 6: 25-34. How important it is to let God remind us through his creation of his love, care and purpose for us.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 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 is 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 these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and 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.” NIV

Tricky Triggerfish: Designed for Defense

Early Morning Discovery:

Get those lines down! The Triggers are waiting!“, was the cry we heard from the Captain of the Party boat, the Destiny, two hours out in the Gulf of Mexico from Destine, Florida in the early October morning.

I was in for a treat. I was about to hook into my very first Triggerfish. These amazing creatures have unique design and behavior that demonstrate the careful way in which a God made them. They have amazing defensive strategies.

Finally up and in the basket. Take a closer look and see how these fish differ from the ones you have caught over the years.

My fish was only 2″ smaller than the one that won the 2020 DestinFishing Rodeo daily contest when we got back to the dock.

Above you can see The Daily Winner that was Bigger than My Fish.

The Destin Fishing Rodeo is an annual event in Florida to bring in fishermen to extend the tourist season into October. There are daily and overall prizes in several different categories of kinds of fish and age divisions. When you come in for the weigh in, expect a large crowd of onlookers. You will also meet the current reigning Miss Destin Beauty Queen who poses with those who catch the big ones.

Fancy Fins

One of the most fascinating behaviors of the Triggerfish is the way it uses its fins. Triggerfish have two spines on the front of their dorsal fin that are designed to help the fish escape predators. When a shark, Amberjack, Grouper, Sailfish, Marlin or other large fish comes in to attack, the Triggerfish flees into a crack or crevice in the rocky bottom. They then slide into the opening and spring their trigger fins to lock themselves in. The spines interlock when sprung and this makes it almost impossible to remove. When you get one on the line, be sure to maintain pressure so they don’t drop down and use this same trick on you. The name “Triggerfish” comes from this behavior.

Put On Your Armor!

When God created the Triggerfish He gave them a suit of armor. The outer skin of the triggerfish is so strong that when you try to clean them with a knife, you cannot cut through their outer skin. While watching the deckhands that cleaned my fish I saw that they had to cut through the thinner skin around the upper dorsal fins or enter through the vent at the bottom of the fish. They then peeled back the skin while ripping it away from the flesh beneath. The guy that cleaned mine kept the two large pieces of skin to take home, cover with salt, then scrape away any remaining flesh to create leather to use to make knife sheaths. While thinking about how much protection God gave these fish, I was reminded of the Armor God has given to His children to ward off the attacks of Satan. (You can learn more about this in the Bible, Ephesians 6: starting at verse 11.)

How to Out Trick The Bait Stealers:

One thing we had to learn quickly was that the Triggerfish are masters at bait stealing. The deckhands told us that, if we had no bites within 30-45 seconds, we needed to reel in and rebait. So, how does one out trick a tricky Triggerfish? Use circle hooks and the fish will often hook themselves. These special hooks are designed to curve into the lips of the fish as soon as they bite down on the bait. Don’t jerk the line, just reel up as fast as you can. You can also bait your hook with pieces of squid which stay on the line better than the other cut fish bait.

Be Ready for a Battle!

Of the five kinds of bottom fish I caught during my three days of fishing in the Gulf, the Triggerfish were the hardest to bring in. They put up quite a battle. The oval shape of the body of this fish creates a lot of surface tension and resistance when traveling through the water as the fish swims sideways while trying to escape.

Make Sure It’s a “Keeper”!:

Only one of the six Triggerfish I caught was a keeper. Triggerfish, at the time of my trip had to be at least 15 inches long to be “keepers”. The one that I was able to keep was 20 inches long. Depending on the area and season restrictions you may not be able to keep any of these fish. Fortunately for us, they had reopened the season in October due to the lower number of fish harvested this year because of the Covid crisis. Be sure to check the current fishing regulations if you go out to fish in the Gulf of Mexico. If you go on a registered Party Boat the Captain and Crew will help you know which ones you can harvest.

Tricky Teeth:

Triggerfish have an amazing set of “choppers”. Their front teeth are very well developed and are used as chisels to bore holes through hard-shelled prey.

Above is a picture of a Triggerfish skull that shows you what these teeth look like. Since the mouths of these fish are so small, the teeth extrude out through the lips. Even though Triggerfish can chisel through thick shells they have other tricks that make acquiring food quicker.

Be Like a Helicopter:

Two food items Triggerfish like to eat are sand- dollars and sea urchins. To get to the meat inside these creatures requires a strategy. The Triggerfish uses its fins to hover in the water vertically above the sandy bottom of the sea floor. They then squirt out a stream of water through their mouths to blow away the sand exposing the sand-dollars hiding in the sand. Next, they grab their prey in their teeth and swim up and drop it until in lands on its back. The bottom side of the sand-dollar is much softer than the top making access much easier. Once flipped, the fish will descend rapidly and ram the inverted sand-dollar with its hard front teeth cracking the shell. They then quickly gobble up the soft creature inside and repeat the process again and again.

I’ve Got My Eyes on You:

As you have seen in the pictures in this blog, the Triggerfish has eyes high up on the sides of its body. These are placed in just the right place for the Triggerfish to locate and target its prey as well as keep an eye out fir predators.

Just One of Many Bottom Dwelling Fish:

In the above picture you can see only one Triggerfish in the Cooler. If you compare how many snapper fish there are in relation to the Triggerfish you get a pretty good idea that it is pretty special to catch a Triggerfish.

Triggerfish are usually caught when people are trying to catch grouper, Amberjack, snapper, and other game fish since they all live in the same areas. Don’t be disappointed, however. The triggerfish is one of the tastiest of them all!

Fish Family Matters:

While researching these fish I discovered some amazing things about the roles of the parent fish as well as the behaviors of their young. The male Triggerfish actually build and prepare the nesting sites before the females arrive during the nesting season. The males actually prepare more than one nest because one male may mate with several females. The males create depressions in the sandy bottom and guard their territories aggressively. They have even been known to attack scuba divers if they invade their territory, though they pose very little danger to humans. The females will deposit hundreds of thousand eggs and the males then supply the milt to fertilize them. The mothers will stay close by the nests until the eggs hatch. They frequently use their fins to oxygenate the eggs to help the embryos develop. After the eggs hatch the young will rise to the top of the water column where they feed amongst the sargassum (a type of brown seaweed that floats in masses on the surface of the ocean). Within the sargassum the baby fish find all kinds of tiny crustaceans and other food items. When the youngsters mature they drop back down to the bottom of the ocean to live out the rest of their lives.
Triggerfish have been known to grow as large as 30 inches and weigh up to 13 lbs., however these large triggerfish have had to survive for about 16 years to reach that size. As you can guess, most are much smaller, more in the 14 to 17 inch range.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed learning about Triggerfish. Maybe you can go out and catch some yourself.

Let’s Catch Some Mingo Snappers!

Out to Sea from Destin, Florida

It was early in the morning when I got up to go deep sea fishing in the sports fishing village of Destin, Florida. Once you arrive and board the party fishing boat, you are off for a two hour ride into the Gulf Bay. I went out on two different boats during the three days I was there: The Destin Princess and The Destiny.

Ready to Catch Some Fish?

Once the captain located a good fishing site the deck hands gave us instructions on how to catch the fish. To catch Mingo you have to lower the bait to the bottom and then bring it back up about nine cranks of the reel. It doesn’t take long to get a bite! They told us that if you were not getting bites within 30 seconds you have probably lost your bait. It seems the larger fish like to be just above the bottom.

These fish were often caught two at a time on the two hooks on the line. When you get into a school of them you have to quickly get your bait down while they are still biting before the captain tells you to bring up your lines to move to a better location.

What’s In A Name?

At the first stop some of us were a little confused when they called out the names of the fish we were catching. We could only keep the White and the Vermillion Snappers, but not the Red Snappers which were out of season. Sometimes they called the Mingo Snappers Vermillion and sometimes they called them Beeliners. After asking a few questions we learned that these fish have several nicknames. No matter what you call them, they are plentiful and will fill your stringer fast.

Scientists are more specific when naming creatures and use Latin names for each species. The scientific name of the Vermillion Snappers is Rhomboplites aurorubens. As you can see, the nicknames are easier to pronounce and remember.

What Bait Do You Use?

We were offered two types of bait: cut up mackerel and squid. Each piece of bait was about a 1 inch square. We found that the squid stayed on the line better, but the fish will eat just about anything you offer them.

Special Hooks So They Catch Themselves:

I learned that fishing for deep sea fish is much different that fishing for fresh water fish like bass and catfish. When fishing deep in the ocean you use circle hooks.

Don’t Be A Jerk!

When the fish bite you do not jerk back to set the hook! If you do you will just rip the hook from their soft mouths. what you should do, however, is reel in the line like crazy. I discovered that if you brought them up slowly you were likely to have them bitten off by sharks and dolphins. One of the times I was bringing up what must have been two Mingo fish when all of a sudden my line jerked down and then went loose again. When I reeled it up I was missing both hooks which had been cut off by the razor sharp teeth of a shark. Another time my line came up with just the head of a fish.

Here was one day’s catch of snappers. Notice that most are Vermillion/Mingo Snappers. I also caught some of their cousins the White Snappers. Notice the forked tails which help you know they are not Red Snappers which have a square tail.

These Are Great Fish to Catch!

As you probably know, many fish species have been over harvested to the point that they are endangered. When you go fishing you need to know the rules and regulations for the species you are likely to catch. You might even want to choose what time of the year you go to target specific types of fish. I was disappointed that I had to return my largest Snappers because the Red Snappers were out of season. Fortunately the Mingo fish are currently in season all year round which makes them a favorite target fish for the captains of party boats. Catching a big stringer of Tasty Mingo Fish seems to keep everybody happy while you still have a chance to catch other varieties of fish that live in the same environment. Since the Vermillion Snappers reproduce many times a year and produce thousands of eggs, it is assured that this species is a very sustainable catch. They are also tasty! They have a mild sweet tasting flesh that is low in sodium and fat, yet high in protein. They are easy to filet and one fish gives you about the right amount of fish for one person’s meal. You can cook them up several ways: fry them in butter or olive oil, bake them or grill them. They also taste great in fish chowders when cut into small cubes.

The Majority Rules

In my thee days of fishing I caught a total of 56 pounds of fish. The majority of those fish was by far the Mingo Fish.

This is the catch of one side of the boat. Notice how many Mingo fish are in the ice.

Other Interesting Mingo Facts:

Vermillion Snappers are reddish orange on the top and slowly fade to pink as the color goes toward the bottom of the fish. The bellies are silver white. Sometimes you can see some streaks of yellow in stripes on their sides.
Vermillion have very large red eyes.
Mingo fish have small mouths unlike their bigger cousins the Red Snappers.
This species can spawn anywhere between 23 to 93 times a year. A typical 7 inch fish can produce as many as 20,000 eggs. A larger 15 inch fish can produce up to 350,000 eggs a year.
Once hatched, baby fish rise up to the surface to feed on small creatures inside the seaweed mats toward the surface. When they get larger they descend to the bottom where they hang out over reefs, banks, artificial reefs and shipwrecks. They also like to be near where the banks drop off on the sea floor and around oil platforms.
They grow very slowly. It takes about a year for them to reach 5-7 inches in length. They can live up to 21 years and reach weights up to 7 lbs. the world record is 7 pounds and three ounces caught by John Doss in the Gulf of Mexico in 1987.
The average size caught is between 1 and 2 lbs.
Their diet includes crab, worms, squid, smaller fish, plankton, and shrimp.
Fishermen call them “Bull Mingo Fish” when they reach about three pounds. Most of the fish this size are males.
Most Vermillion are caught between 80 and 350 feet deep.
The dorsal fins of Vermillion are rose colored with yellow edges.
They are native from North and South Carolina, the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Caribbean Sea all the way to Brazil.

A view from the Destine Princess on the way out to the fishing area.

Variety Is The Spice of Life!

As I discover new creatures in God’s creation I am reminded of how many different kinds of creatures He has created that live in many different kinds of habitats. Just think of how carefully He must have thought through the design of each species. Some live in the deepest oceans. Others live in to top water. By creating them with different adaptations He assured they could all survive and balance out the food and territory requirements for survivor ability. It is important to realize that He has given man the responsibility for how we treat and manage these resources. When we use common sense and more carefully study a His creation we can enjoy what He has provided for us as well as insure that the supply can be enjoyed by others in years to come. When was the last time you thanked Him for creating the fish we like to catch, eat and study?

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I Thessalonians 5: 17

I often just take the time to speak out, “Thank you, LORD” as I am fishing. If you have a thankful spirit of gratitude you will find yourself enjoying your fishing time more. Someone else might also hear you and you might have a chance to share your testimony of how God is working in your daily life.

Most Frequently Eaten Poisonous Mushroom

Don’t be fooled!

Since moving from California, I have been having to learn a lot about the living creatures here in the south-eastern part of the United States. One thing that I have noticed is that the varieties of mushrooms are much different than those I was familiar with in the west. One of my favorite mushrooms when we lived in Sacramento could be found growing in the grass at the neighborhood park. It was the Shaggy Mane. It was delicious when fried in butter with some onions. I felt very confident that I could identify it and not confuse it with other types of fungi.

My California Favorite:

Now let’s compare with another Mushroom:

Here in Tennessee, where we currently live, there is another Mushroom variety that looks similar when it first emerges from the ground. Both this Mushroom and the Shaggy Mane often appear above ground almost magically after the Spring, Summer, and Fall rains. But don’t let that behavior fool you. This Mushroom is the most frequently eaten poisonous mushroom in North America. It’s scientific name is Chlorophyllum molybdites.

AKA’s

It also goes by these common names: “False Parasol“, “Green-Spored Lepiota“, and the “Vomiter.” Guess what? It is called that for a very good reason.

Below you see the top of the caps of the Vomiter:

In the picture below you see the gills on the underside of the cap.

Some Things Seem To Look Really Edible…but :

It is interesting to note that those who have carelessly eaten this Mushroom found it tasty going down. It was a couple hours later that they knew that had made a terrible mistake. The symptoms of the poisonous effects include: severe gastrointestinal pain, sweating, weakness, diarrhea, and vomiting. Some who have eaten them actually vomit up to 20-30 times in two hours! That would be no fun!

How Can You Be Sure?:

The most difficult time to tell the two types of mushrooms apart is when they first emerge from the ground. As the Mushroom fruiting bodies continue to grow it is rather easy to see the differences. The “Vomiter” (Chlorophyllum molybdites ) opens up like an umbrella into a large circle. The Shaggy Mane remains like a closed umbrella, tall and skinny and begins to dissolve into an inky liquid from the bottom edges of the cap. The gills of Vomiter turn from white to a greenish-gray color.

In This Case, Green Doesn’t Mean “Go”!

Mycologists, scientists who study mushrooms, have learned that the best way to identify mushrooms is by making a spore print and checking the color of the image the spores leave on a piece of paper as they drop from the bottom side of the cap from the gills.

To make a spore print you should remove the stem of the Mushroom and place the cap, gill-side down on a piece of white paper. Put a jar or other cover over the cap to keep it moist within which activates the spores to fall from the gills. Though an individual spore can not be seen with the naked eye, when they fall on the paper by the thousands they create a image that is very visible. Different kinds of mushrooms have different colors of spores that help in identification. You can also use a microscope to look more closely at the spores. Spores vary a lot in size and shape as well as color. If your spore print is green, Stop! Don’t eat it! Chlorophyllum molybdites is the only Mushroom in North America with green spores. The Shaggy Mane has dark black spores. If you look at the spores of the Vomiter under a microscope with high magnification, the spores will look like lemon seeds in shape with a greenish color.

Making a Spore Print:

Separate the cap from the stem and place the gill side down on the paper.

Cover the caps with a bowl to keep the moisture and the spores inside.

Check the Ring Around the Stem.

The annulus, the ring around the stem of the Vomiter can easily be moved up and down the stem when moved with your fingers.

Fairy Rings: Have the Fairies Danced Here?

In the above picture you can see part of a circle of these mushrooms. Amazingly, these mushrooms often pop up over night making it seem almost magical. In the past, the superstitious thought that it was magic, that fairies had danced there the night before they appeared. How else could they be there? Well, the part of the fungus we call the Mushroom is actually the reproductive part of the creature. These fruiting bodies only appear when the conditions are right for spore dispersal. Under the surface of the ground is the actual creature. It will look like tiny strands of hair, (mycelium), with an appearance much like cotton. When the conditions are right, tiny nodules called primordial, which look like tiny balloons, will appear upon the strands. These absorb water and swell up by turbo pressure (water pressure). It would be as if you buried a balloon under the soil and then blew it up. It is marvelous to see the power of turbo pressure in Mushroom development. Though mushrooms seem so fragile they are able to penetrate the soil as they emerge for spore dispersal. You see them first above ground in the button stage. They then open up like an umbrella to expose the gills beneath to release their spores.

Recycling the Nutrients:

The fruiting bodies of most gilled mushrooms are short lived. Once they have done their job of releasing spores, they deteriorate and return to the soil. You can see this in the earlier picture in the post. Often the nutrients from their breakdown are reabsorbed by the mycelium underground to be used again in growth of the organism.

Who Created These Creatures?

One of the most basic questions asked by mankind is, “Where did all the creatures we observe around us come? ” Those who have read the Bible find the answer right away in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We also find this truth in the Book of Colossians: “For by Him (Jesus Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth” . As a believer myself, I believe that this is true and I find more and more evidence of this fact through my study of His creation.

The Big Question of Origins:

So “Why, you may ask, did He create poisonous organisms that could be harmful to man? You can find that answer in the first few chapters of the Bible and throughout the whole 66 Books therein. It was man’s sin that led to the curse of nature. Because man disobeyed God’s command this has happened. Fortunately, God has given mankind the ability to observe what He has created and draw conclusion that can help us learn to avoid the dangers around us. Every creature was created for a purpose and some of those most feared by man offer many blessings to us. Just consider the bees. They possess stingers which are very painful if you do not respect these insects. So how many ways do these same bees help us! They pollinate our crops and produce honey. They provide food for many other creatures as well as many other benefits. The mushrooms that are harmful to us when eaten also produce benefits. Many other creatures can eat them with no harmful effects. Mushrooms help breakdown dead and decaying animal and plant material and recycle it into the soil to be used again by other organisms. *There are many other ways they are helpful that you can learn through research and observation.

I hope you will take some time to carefully examine all the creatures around you. How many ways do they benefit us? “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Why not take some time to thank Him for His gifts to mankind. If you do not know Him as Savior and LORD, He offers to take away the barrier between God and man through believing on Jesus Christ and His work on the cross to pay the debt we owe for our sins. You can be a child of God too. It makes a world of difference in how we view creation and our ability to understand His purposes for our lives.

*Why not do some more research?:

If you find these mushrooms interesting you can discover a lot more about them by doing some research. I had help in the identification of these mushrooms when I posted pictures of them on the Mushroom Identification Page and had mycologists from around the world identify them for me. I also Googled the scientific name and found many articles about them. You can also find many books in the library about mushrooms and their identification.

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?

 

 

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!

Bald Eagles: Symbol of the United States of America

Do You Know Me?

 

One of the most well known birds, recognized in photographs, is the Bald Eagle. These interesting birds have been studied for hundreds of years while uncovering many of their habits and characteristics.

 

 

Let’s take a closer look.

If you look closely you will notice that these eagles are chocolate brown in coloration. The adults have white heads and tails. You will also notice the yellow eyes, beaks and legs. Notice the powerful hooked bill which is designed for tearing meat apart and can also be used as a weapon.

Second Largest Bird of Prey in U.S.

Though these birds are very large, they are only the second largest in the U.S.  Can you name the largest? It is the rare California Condor. Have you ever heard of the Bergman’s Rule? This general rule relating to the size of Eagles predicts that the farther North you go, the larger the birds will be. It seems to stand true when comparing specimens from the North compared to those found father to the South. The larger females range from 35-27 inches long with a wingspan of 79-90 inches. That is a big bird! The smaller males are between 30-34 inches long and have a wingspan of 72-85 inches. That makes the females 25% larger than the males.

Are They Really Bald?

Strange as it may seem, the eagles are not bald as one would think. The term “Bald” actually doesn’t come from a word meaning “without hair“. It actually  comes from a word that means, “White Headed“. Interestingly, they do not acquire their white heads and tails until they reach maturity around 4-5 years of age.

Controversy Over Naming the Bald Eagle As National Symbol:

If you look at the Presidential Seal, and on many U.S. coins, you will find the Bald Eagle as a national symbol of the U.S.  This has been the case ever since 1782 when it was declared the official emblem of our great country. Not all of those present at this time thought the Eagle was a good choice. One notable exception was Benjamin Franklin, who thought the Eagle’s reputation and character was far beneath the dignity of the U.S.   He noted that they were cowardly and of low moral character since they often steal food captured by other predators and will flee from the little  King Bird when being chased by them.

It Takes a Thief: “Kleptoparasitism”

Bald Eagles are often seen swooping down and stealing the prey from Osprey, foxes and other smaller predators. Have you ever heard the term “kleptomaniac” used to describe one who compulsively steals from others? Well, scientists use a similar word to describe animals like the Eagles that steal the food from others. This term is “Kleptoparasitism“.

They Eat What?!!!

Did you know, that in addition to stealing food from others they also eat dead things found along the road or in the field or beside the streams. This is known as “Carrion”. In many places and when the opportunity arises the large portion of the eagle’s diet comes from these sources.

They do, however, take wing and work for some of their food. It seems their favorites come from the ocean or fresh water. If you have ever watched an eagle for very long you may have seen it swoop down and snag a fish from the water with its talons. They then fly to a nearby nest, rock or tree top to tear the food apart for storage. They store it up in a large crop at the bottom of their necks until they further process and digest it later. Sometimes eagles go for several days without hunting, processing the food they captured earlier. They are known to feed on many different types of animals being opportunistic hunters. Some of these include: ducks, coots, auklets and other small birds. They also eat rabbits, raccoon, muskrats, skunks, opossum, armadillos, arctic foxes, baby beavers, and even baby seals when available. They augment their diet with shellfish, turtles, crabs, and small birds.

What’s In A Name?:

The scientific name of the Bald Eagle is Haliaeetus leucocephalas”. The Genus and Species names are written in Latin. They mean “Large Sea Eagle with a white head“. Scientists use this universal language for all their classification of living things. Apparently this name came from Linnaeus clear back in 1766.

Nesting Characteristics:

One of the most outstanding characteristics of the eagles is their ability to construct huge nests. One of these was calculated as being almost two tons in weight and was 20 feet deep in the middle.. Another nest was  measured at 9.5 feet across. These are built high above the ground often on tree tops. We saw one high in a tree when we visited Yellowstone National Park several years ago. Nests more often are about 4-5 feet in diameter. Since the nests are reused for several years they get bigger as the years go by when new building materials are added to the original. Eagles often use man-made telephone poles and radio towers as places to build their nests.

Finally Removed From the Endangered Species List:

One of the sad historical events associated with the Bald Eagles was when they were dying out and threatened with extinction. This was primarily due to the introduction of the deadly pesticide, DDT. When this pesticide was used it eventually got into the food chain. The poison caused damage in egg shell formation and when the eggs were laid they broke before the chicks could develop. This not only hurt the eagles but many other animals in the environment. The government declared its use illegal and it has taken several years for its effects to be removed from the environment. In 1940 Congress passed  the Bald Eagle Protection Act. Since the poison also threatened other birds of prey, in 1962 an amendment added the Golden Eagle to the mix. In 1963 there were only estimated to be 487 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles. Much regulation and active protection helped the bird’s numbers to recover. In 2007 the Bald Eagle was finally removed from the list of threatened and endangered species.

 

It’s Our Duty to Care for Them:

Though these birds have recovered, it is important to realize how careful mankind must be in how we treat the environment. God gave man the Dominion Mandate way back in the Book of Genesis. He gave man the responsibility to care for His Creation. It was created for man to use but not abuse.

Considered a Sacred Bird:

Many of the Native American tribes have considered Eagles sacred birds for thousands of years. Today true Native American tribes can still harvest the feathers of these birds which are illegal to possess by others. They use them in many of their religious ceremonies and include them in their clothing and head wear. If you have ever seen a picture of an Indian Chief you have probably noticed the large feathers in his headpiece. The feathers were also waved through smoke while brokering agreements and treaties with others.

Why Not Learn More?:

Much of this information came from reading books and blog posts including National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America and web sites, Smithsonian Institutes National Zoo, Wikipedia, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Blog.  There are many more that you can easily find by looking on line.

 

Note: The pictures I took of these birds were from Queens, N.Y. at the Zoo there. The eagles on display had been brought to the zoo injured and after they recovered were unable to be released to the wild since their wings were damaged.