When Are Lice Nice? When They Are Barklice!

When one hears the word “lice” several scary thoughts enter your mind. “Blood sucking creatures”, “Creepy crawlers” , and other unpleasant images. Did you know there are some insects called “lice” that are not harmful? They are even helpful! Meet the Barklice.

I discovered these interesting creatures while we were walking around the yard of our friend’s house that had recently moved to a house out in the country on a large lot. My wife and a couple other ladies saw them on the trunk of a Mimosa tree and called me over to identify them. When I took a look I did not know what insects they were. I only recognized that they must be some type of “true bug” because of the way their wings overlapped on their backs. I had to do some research to find out what they were.

Move Around In Groups:

One characteristic that sets these insects apart is the way they travel around on the bark of trees. They wander like a herd of cattle. Traveling in groups makes them appear larger than they are so that predators have to think twice before taking on the large group. Like cattle, these creatures are grazing as they move around. Guess what they eat?

Nature’s Clean Up Crew:

These tiny little insects are beneficial because they feed on fungus, lichen, algae, and decaying plant scraps that grow on the surface of the bark of trees. So…if you find them on your trees, don’t be alarmed and definitely don’t grab a can of bug spray! No insecticide is needed. They are here to help!

Two Major Groups:

While reading up on these creatures I discovered there are two primary varieties of Barklice: Aggregating and Web Spinning. As these common names imply, one group travel around in groups while others wrap the trunks of trees in silky webbing while feeding on the bark beneath. The ones I viewed were the Aggregating variety. Apparently there are many species in each of these two larger groups. Some have wings while others do not. Some are black (like the ones pictured here), while others are yellow, green, gray or brown. Most have striped abdomen with banding similar to the bees. Some have very long antennae and others of varying size.

The Web Spinning group is classified in the Achipsocas group while the Aggregating group is in the Cerastipsocas group.

So What Should You Do If You Don’t Like Bugs on Your Trees?

For those who don’t like creatures crawling on their trees, rather than using insecticides to banish them, just grab a high pressure garden hose and spray them away. That way no poisons need to be inserted into the environment. Most people, after they learn more about the creatures they fear, are quick to change their view of things with a little education. Before taking knee-jerk reactions it’s good to take a little time to gather facts to make better decisions.

Think About It:

Have you noticed that all creatures, great and small, have a purpose in the larger scheme of things. This is by design! When God originally created every thing He placed each in just the right place within the world. It was only when man sinned in the Garden of Eden when nature was cursed and it became more difficult for man living in relation to the creation around him. Man’s role as caretaker of the Earth remains and we should recognize our responsibility to use the natural resources wisely.

If you take the time to investigate you can discover your purpose as given in God’s Word, the Bible. The more you look around you the more you will find He left a lot of evidence in His Creation to direct man to see there is a Creator and Sustainer.

Why Not Go Out And See If You Can Find These Insects In Your Neighborhood?:

If you would like to see these little guys in action, go out and find a tree. The easiest trees to find them on are the smooth barked trees like Crepe Myrtle and Mimosa trees since the insects stand out against the smooth background. They also can be found on oak trees and other hardwood trees, though they are harder to see there because of the texture and coloration of the bark.

Look in moist places on the trunks of the trees since the humidity helps the fungi, algae and lichen to grow. That is where they will be feeding. Move your hand over the group and watch them move away in a herd. They are really interesting little creatures.

Largest Native Moth in North America: The Cecropia Moth

What a Beauty!:

“Big” and “beautiful” are great words to describe this species of the Silk Moth Family.

Adult specimens can reach wingspans of from 5 to 7 inches. (Look at the hand under the moth for perspective.) Their fuzzy wings seem almost like velvet in texture. Notice the mixture of colors that combine to give them such a distinct look. This one is a female. Her antennae are much thinner than those of their male counterparts.

Release Your Perfume:

You might wonder why God created the males with larger antennae than the females. The antennae of the males are extremely sensitive so that they can use these organs to locate the females. The females emit very small droplets of pheromones which are a biological perfume that attracts the males for mating. Males can detect these pheromones from up to seven miles away.

You Better Find Her Quickly!:

There is a very short window for Spring mating since the adults do not have functional mouthparts. They don’t eat at all in this stage of development. Their only task is to find a mate and produce offspring before they run out of the stored food in their bodies.

Beware of Imposters!:

One of the predators of these moths is the Bolo Spider. This arachnid has his own bag of tricks. One of these is emitting an odor that closely mimics the female pheromones of the Cecropia moth. When an unsuspecting male moth comes in tracking this odor he gets snatched up by the sneaky spider. The poor female moth has to hope another male will replace him if she ever hopes to have her eggs fertilized.

Other Dangers:

Scientists have theorized that these and other moths navigate by the light of the moon. Since house lights are often brighter than the moonlight off in the distance, many moths zero in on porch lights and end up on the walls or windows near the light sources. This is where most people encounter them. Some nocturnal creatures like to catch and eat the moths as they fly through the air. Bats and Screech Owls especially enjoy them. Besides these dangers in adulthood the young also face many perils. Many parasitic wasps and flies lay their eggs on either the eggs or larvae of the young. These parasitic eggs usually hatch out when the caterpillars go into the pupae stage. The larvae of the flies and wasp feed on the pupa when it is all wrapped up waiting for metamorphosis to complete its life journey to adulthood.

Colorful Creatures:

You have already seen how beautiful the adults are with all their amazing colors. The other stages of these creatures are also colorful! The eggs, when placed on the tops or bottoms of the host plants, are reddish brown and cream colored. When the little caterpillars emerge they are totally black. As they continue to shed their skins while growing larger ( scientists call these instars) the caterpillars change colors. They go from black to yellowish green to almost blue green just before they cocoon. The caterpillars reach sizes up to five or more inches in length! That is a big creature!

The Cocoons Are Vulnerable:

If the parasites mentioned before haven’t attacked the caterpillars, the pupae in their cocoons are also in potential danger. Guess who likes to eat these fast food tidbits? Squirrels and Woodpeckers. Fortunately for the moths the cocoons are camouflaged to look like part of the branches to which they are attached. Most go into the cocoon stage in the early fall to remain inside until the warm Spring weather returns. They are wrapped up well in their winter jackets that insulate them from the freezing temperatures of the winter months. The silk used to weave the cocoons traps air between the strands that function like a warm sleeping bag to keep the pupae at just the right temperature for development. When Spring comes the adults emerge and pump up their wings and take flight to find their mates.

Strength in Numbers:

It is amazing how successful these creatures are when you see the many dangers they face. One way they survive is in the vast number of eggs that the females produce. Females can lay hundreds of eggs. Because there are so many scattered around she can be sure some of them will survive to carry on the species.

Keep Your Eyes Open!:

I hope you have enjoyed learning about these amazing creatures. Why not look around your neighborhood to see what creatures are out at night. Look around your porch lights and windows. You will find many other insects are attracted to lights. If you look carefully you may even find some that were caught by the spiders that have learned that house lights are good at bringing in their meals. As you look at the beautiful designs and behaviors of these creatures recognize that this didn’t happen by accident. Each creature is testimony to an Intelligent Designer. I believe this Creator is Jesus Christ. Consider the evidence of design. Consider what else you can learn about our loving, living God.

Special Thank You:

I would like to offer a special thank you to my neighbor, Brooke Thompson, who took this amazing photo of the Cecropia Moth that visited her house this week. She gave me permission to use her photo. Three of us in the neighborhood have posted pictures of different moths we have found around our windows this week. We live in a friendly neighborhood where most people enjoy the wildlife that abounds here in the Oak Lake area of Spring Hill, Tennessee.

The Lovely Luna Moth:

A Wake Up Call:

Who is knocking on the window at midnight? I had to investigate. I slowly opened the front door and went out to see a large green moth banging up against the window. It was attracted to the light coming through the window shades.

What a Beauty!

As you can see in the photos this is a large moth. It has semi-transparent lime green wings with eyespots of yellow and magenta. Scientists believe these eyespots confuse predators that think they are the eyes of larger animals. Each wing is covered in tiny scales that reflect the light and give the sings a shimmering effect.

The Tale of the Tails:

One thing you probably noticed right away are the long slender tails of this moth. Unfortunately this one had one tail broken off from banging into the window. Scientists have theorized that these long tails contribute to the moth’s survival by messing with the echolocation of one of their enemies, the bats. When a bat zeros in on the moth in flight it often misses the body of the moth and just gets a piece of the tail allowing the moths to continue on their way to find a mate.

No Time To Eat!:

A strange things about the adults is they never eat another meal. As young larvae they are ravenous gluttons eating as much as they can to grow in size before going into their pupal stage, but once they emerge as adults their life span is only days or hours. Their only parental duty is to find a mate!

Where and How Can They Find a Mate?:

Ever heard of pheromones? Pheromones are a biological perfume generated by the females to attract the males. Though emitted in microscopic proportions, they are very powerful attractants. A male can sense this odor from miles away and he follows it to where the female is waiting for his arrival. Once he finds her they mate and then the females finds leaves of host plants on which to deposit her eggs. She can place 200-400 eggs on the bottoms of these leaves. After that, she has done her duty, and she dies.

Tricky Larvae!:

What would you do if hundreds of predators were out to get you? Well, these little caterpillars are not without a few tricks up their sleeves. One strategy is their coloration. They are camouflaged to match their surroundings. If that does not work, they also can bang their mandibles (chewing mouthparts) together to make a noise loud enough to be heard by man. This clicking sound makes the predators pause long enough for their next trick. When a predator is about to take a mouthful of their body the larvae squeeze out some of the noxious stomach content which smells terrible and is very distasteful! This is like when someone is sick and barfs up the last meal they ate. It is not a pretty sight! This usually deters the animals seeking to eat them. If they do become a meal there are a lot more larvae than the predators can ever find. In this way there will be more Luna Moths in the future.

That About Wraps Things Up:

When the larvae reach the desired size they search for some dry leaves. They crawl inside and start to spin a tiny silk web. Just before they bind up the leaves to form their hiding place they emit any unnecessary food still left in their stomachs. This reduces their size do they can fit comfortably into the skin of the pupa for the next stage of their life. While inside the cocoon they undergo a marvelous transformation to become winged adults.

How Are We Going To Get Out of This One!

When it comes time for the adults to emerge from the cocoon they have to have a way to get out! Imagine if you were tied up in a whole lot of rope. It would be hard to escape. Well, these little creatures have been given special abilities to free themselves. One of these is tiny sharp spurs of chitin. This substance is like the stuff your fingernails are made of. These tiny knife-like structures allow the creatures to cut a circular ring that weakens the outside of the cocoon. They also have a special dissolving agent (like acid) that acts on the proteins in the silk to weaken its strength. After employing these two tactics the adults emerge from their bindings. When they first come out they are a gnarly sight, all wrinkled up and shriveled looking. They then start to pump fluid into their wings and they swell up and start to dry out hardening them for flight. The whole process is an amazing plan designed by our amazing Creator, God.

Ladies First?….Not!

One interesting thing about the timing of the emergence of these insects is that the males seem to come out well in advance of the females. This way they are already scattered around waiting for the ladies to arrive on the scene. As soon as the females start giving off their perfumes they are ready to find them. The window for mating is very short since neither the males or females have long to live after coming out of their cocoons.

Feathered Antennae: A Moth Characteristic:

If you look closely at the pictures in this blog you can find the antennae. Notice that they are much different than the long smooth antennae of butterflies. Moth antennas resemble feathers. This are designed as very sensitive sense organs to find their mates. The males have much larger antennae than the females. This is probably because they need them to detect the pheromones of the females.

Actius luna is the Scientific name of these insects.

These Creatures Point to Their Creator:

As you have seen in this post, these creatures are equipped with so many things necessary for survival. They are beautiful in design and suggest a marvelous Creator. If you have ever looked at a beautiful painting you probably wished you could have met the artist that created the piece. It was apparent that to make such a beautiful picture required a great deal of imagination and skill. As I look at the creatures I discover around me I can’t but notice these creatures could not have come to life without an intelligent powerful Creator who designed each with care and purpose. I hope you can see this evidence as well. He has not only left evidence in the things He created, He also has given us His Word, the Bible where we can learn more about His purpose for all things. He designed you with a purpose as well.

Cope’s Gray Treefrogs, The Original Tree-Huggers:

Mostly Hidden Wonders:

It was a real treat to find this little frog yesterday when I was weeding and trimming brush around my house in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Though these frogs are usually unseen they are often heard when making their mating calls usually in May and June of the year here in the Eastern part of the United States. Their call is a high pitched trill and can be heard from a great distance. (If you want to hear what they sound like you can find several examples on Google) .

Amazing Winter Survivalists:

Though we live in the south eastern portion, they are found even farther north on this side of the U.S. They can even survive the cold winter months using an amazing survival strategy. When God created these little amphibians He provided them with the chemical glycerol in their blood. Glycerol is like a biological antifreeze. When the cold winter months arrive the frogs go into a state of hibernation. Up to 80% of their little bodies can freeze up and their heart rate and breathing decrease to a minimal state. The glycerol allows them to survive by keeping their organs and membrane from breaking up. As soon as the temperatures rise to safe levels they thaw out and become active again.

Usually Live Alone:

These little frogs spend the majority of their lives in solitude. They only come together during the mating season. So where would you usually find them if you were to go out looking for them? Well, they don’t call them treefrogs for nothing! They are excellent climbers and have specialized toe pads which allow them to adhere to the bark of trees. Their moist bodies also help in keeping them in contact with the branches and trunks of the trees where they make their homes. Scientists use the term “arboreal” to describe creatures that live in trees.

Important Part of the Ecosystem:

Believe it or not there are a lot of food items up in the trees. They feed on flies and mosquitos and other small insects. The adults have a different diet than the young. In the early stages of metamorphosis the tadpoles/pollywogs are vegetarians feeding on algae and decaying plant material. After they shed their tails and emerge on land they subsist on a diet of smaller creatures like insects, worms, spiders, etc. These frogs are in turn eaten by many other creatures like birds, small mammals, larger frogs and salamanders, snakes and even giant water bugs.

Defensive Strategies:

Though they have many enemies, they also are equipped with some very effective defense mechanisms. One of these is their ability to change color and skin patterns to adapt to various surroundings. Though most often found in gray tones, they can also turn green and various shades of these colors. The one I found was a perfect match to the lichen growing on the wooden fence post. They can make this color change fairly quickly and even vary from dark to lighter shades depending on the surrounding temperatures. Warning! If you ever find one and decide to handle it, keep your hands away from your eyes and nose! They emit a toxic slimy substance from glands in their skin. It can cause a lot of discomfort if it gets in eyes or the mucus linings of your nose. It can also cause skin irritation in some individuals. It’s best to just observe them and not handle them in the wild.

If You Want to Win You Better Sing a Good Song!

When the mating season comes with the spring rainfall the males begin singing their songs trying to draw in a mate. He better sing a good strong song or he will be avoided by the picky females. They only go for the best performers.

Once a female is attracted the male grabs her and she lays her mass of jellylike eggs. (The female can lay a cluster if eggs from 100 to 200 in number in a single clutch.) The male then fertilizes the eggs and returns to his tree top existence. Shortly thereafter the little tadpoles emerge and begin feeding in the water. After a couple weeks they gain their front legs and drop their tails and crawl out onto the land to continue their life cycle.

Notice the Warty Surface of the Skin.

In the above picture you can see the texture of their skin. Like other amphibians their skin must remain moist so they can absorb air through their skin. They have receptors in their skin that can let them know about their surroundings. They are very sensitive to vibrations as well. Like other frogs they can hop away if danger approaches or crawl into crevices or under bark and into moss and lichen to hide.

Every Creature Has Its Place and Purpose:

When exploring your surroundings looking for creatures to study and watch their interesting behaviors, take time to consider the evidence of design. When God created the world and everything in it He had a reason and purpose for every thing He made. Each creature was given the built in features it would need to adjust to changes in its environment. Those creatures that would be food for others were designed to reproduce in greater numbers so that there would be enough food for the predators and enough survivors to carry on the species. You will find an incredible interdependent relationship between all creatures, great and small. The balance between how one organism affects the others can easily be knocked out of balance if we, God’s caretakers of His creation, don’t do our part in preserving the environment around us.

Do You Know Your Purpose?:

If you have never taken time to consider this important life question, it would be important to consider it now. According to God’s Word, the Bible, we were created to glorify God and enjoy His creation forever.

Colossians 1: 16 “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and earth, visible and invisible…..all things were created through Him and for Him.”

Hebrews 11: 1 and 6:

” Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see…..And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”

God has given us so much evidence of His existence in creation. The closer we look the more we see. He also gave us His Word, the Bible with the recorded history of the world and the prophecies of the future. So many of the prophecies recorded there have already come true and there is so much more to come. Be sure you don’t miss the opportunity to personally have a relationship with your Creator.

Cave Salamanders: Creatures of the Night

Have You Seen Me?

This morning I discovered this little salamander when I went to move the trash can down to be picked up on garbage day. When I rolled the can away I saw the bright orange color and stopped to take a closer look. We had a good rainfall the night before after several days with little moisture. Since I am not familiar with the salamanders of the south eastern states I had to do some research and sought advice on its identity from some herpetologists friends. They believe it is Eurycea lucifuga, the Cave Salamander, AKA: Spotted-tailed Salamander. It’s interesting to know that these two common names are often used to describe other species of salamanders as well. This is why scientists use the universal Latin names of the creatures they identify.

What’s In A Name?

Interestingly the scientific name of this creature reveals a lot about its behavior. Its Latin scientific name is Eurycea lucifuga. The species name “lucifuga” comes from two Latin words: Lucis= light, fuga= flee. In other words these creatures flee from the light. They are nocturnal and will crawl under objects to avoid the light.

Rarely Seen Unless You Go Underground:

I was very fortunate to encounter this interesting creature since they are usually underground in cave systems or outside them only at night. Some spend their whole lives underground moving around in the caves where they live. Others live outside in moist environments where they usually are hiding under rocks and logs and in crevices of outcropping of limestone. Where we live there are several underground Spring systems within the rocky underground. In talking with others who have seen them in our area it was usually after the Spring rains when they were moving rocks or boards on the ground. I find it interesting that there are several creatures we rarely see since they are nocturnal and come out at night. I wonder how many other creatures live in my neighborhood that I have never seen? Think about the advantages of having some creatures active at night while others rule the day. By having this arrangement many creatures can live in the same area sharing the same environment.

Faster Than You Think:

One thing that surprised me about these little guys was the speed at which they can crawl away. When I went to capture this salamander for a closer look it took off in its attempt to get away. While doing research I learned that they have other defensive strategies as well.

Lift That Tail!:

When threatened these salamanders often raise their tails diverting predators line of site. They intentional draw attention away from their heads which is where the majority of attacks come from their enemies. Some of these include birds, small mammals, snakes, lizards, and fish. If this tail – lifting does not work, their enemies may be likely to release their prey once they get a mouthful of noxious fluid secreted from glands in the skin of the salamanders. God has equipped these creatures well for their survival.

Unique Navigation Design:

Think of how hard it would be to move around in an underground cave with little or no light. How do they do it? Scientists have discovered that these creatures actually use the Earth’s magnetic field as a compass to navigate around the caves where they live. Some actually move to different places in the caves according to the changing seasons of the year. They also have ways of finding their mates using chemical pheromones. Pheromones are like perfume released into the air to attract their mates. Each salamander is equipped with organs called Jacobson’s organs. These are very sensitive to even microscopic particles of these substances.

It’s Time To Rub Noses:

One strange behavior witnessed during the mating season of these amphibians is when they first make contact with their potential mates. After the male rubs his nose against the female new pheromones are released which stimulate the mating process to begin. After mating they go the separate ways. The female will eventually return to the underground streams where she will lay her eggs on the bottom of the stream bed. Sometimes the eggs are laid singly and other times in small clusters. Scientists still have a lot to learn about their life stories.


As you have probably learned in your science classes, the amphibians are the only vertebrate animals that undergo metamorphosis, the changes in form from birth to adulthood. Like frogs, salamanders also go through change. The newly hatched young have gills and often are completely different in color and shape from the adults. In this stage of their lives they feed on microscopic crustaceans and insect larvae, especially the larvae of flies and mosquitos and other Diptera species. Just think how many more annoying mosquito bites we would face if these little guys were not on duty! After anywhere from 6 to 18 months the young change into their adult stage. Being larger and able to move around out of the water allows the salamanders to widen their diets. As adults they eat arachnids like spiders, ticks, and mites. They also chow down on many kinds of insects and crustaceans. They also like worms.

Beneficial Indicator Species:

If you find frogs and salamanders in the areas where you live it is a good sign of the water quality. Since amphibians have moist skin they absorb what ever chemicals are in the water. If you start seeing fewer amphibians you should take notice. This may be an indicator of potentially harmful substances like pesticides and toxic chemical waste substances in our streams, lakes and rivers. It is important for all of us to be careful in disposing of wastes so they do not end up in our water supply. Many laws have been established to prevent this from happening, but each one of us is a steward of the environment in which we live. As a Christian who believes God created the world in which we live, I take the Biblical dominion mandate to heart. God created man as the caretaker of His creation and made us responsible for how we take care for what He has given us. It’s a big responsibility in which the small things we do each day can insure the continuance of the beautiful world in which we live.

Think of the Bigger Picture:

As you explore your surroundings keep an eye out for things you have never noticed before. There are so many wonderful creatures in God’s creation. As you see new things, think of the bigger picture. Someone had to design each creature for where it would fit into the scheme of things. Each has a purpose that affects all the others. Just like God has a purpose for the salamander He has a bigger purpose for your life. Take a little time to consider what the Bible reveals about this plan. It will make your life more meaningful as well as open the door to everlasting life with the One who crested you.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches

Unusual Pets:

In the picture above you see my grandsons and I holding these calm friendly creatures.

Don’t Have a Hissy Fit:

What is the strangest pet you have ever had? One of mine was the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. I actually had three of them for a couple years when I lived in California. I was able to pass them on to one of my students when we moved to Tennessee.

That Sounds Creepy!

Many people are creeped out by cockroaches, especially if they have had an infestation of the ones commonly found in the United States. If you find these in your house, you better call the exterminator! They can be very destructive and smelly. If they were to show up in your restaurant or hotel it might force a shut down until they were removed. Fortunately the Madagascar variety will not infest tour house or cause damage.

Movie Stars:

Since so many people are afraid of cockroaches, many movies include them to produce creepy special effects to catch your attention. You may have seen them in Men In Black as well as in shows like Fear Factor where a contestant is placed in a room with hundreds of these creatures which crawl over them creating a fearful looking stunt. Some shows even dare a contestant to eat them.

Really, Nothing to Fear!:

So why do the call them “Hissing” Cockroaches? These large insects are the only known insects to actually produce a Hissing sound by expelling air through their spiracles (tiny respiratory openings on the sides of their bodies). Three different kinds of hisses are produced by these Arthropods. One hiss is to scare away and startle enemies that get too close. Another hiss, produced by the males, attracts females. And a third hiss is the call to battle when two males encounter one another. As someone has said, “Their bark is worse than their bite”. As scary as this sounds, there is nothing to worry about (unless you are a cockroach). These insects are harmless to man and make excellent pets.

Low Maintenance:

If you want a pet that is not demanding constant attention, these guys are the ones you want. You will need a terrarium (fish tanks with a screened top work well), with a place to hide. Since these creatures are great climbers some people put a few inches of Petroleum Jelly around the top of their containers to prevent the creatures from escaping their enclosures. Though they are great climbers, they do not fly like other types of cockroaches. These ones are wingless. They do require a warm environment. If it is too cold their bodies shut down and they could die, so some people have a artificial heat source to keep their housing warm, though most of our homes stay at a reasonably stable temperature at or near 70 degrees. In their natural environment, in Madagascar, they live on an island just off the coast of South Africa.

These insects are a favorite pet for kids as well as adults. They are often featured at zoos and science centers where kids can handle them and learn more about insect behavior.

So What Do They Eat?

These insects remind you to eat your veggies. They are vegetarians and love to eat small portions of fresh vegetables as fruit. You can also get special pellets from your pet store that provide needed nutrients for their development. Some people feed them the same dry pellets they feed their dogs. You should have a small shallow source of water as well.

My cockroaches rarely hissed unless they were startled. They seemed to enjoy crawling around on our fingers.

Other Interesting Facts:

These guys have a life span of from 2 to 5 years.

About 99% of cockroach species are not pests and do not infest human habitats.

Cockroaches provide food for other organisms as well as help keep the environment clean by removing dropped fruit and leaves.

Cockroaches were created by God with a purpose.

The Scientific name of the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach is Gromphadorhina portentous.

These roaches are 2-3 inches long when they mature.

The male Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches have horns called “pronotum” as well as thicker hairier antennae than the females.

Cockroaches go through incomplete metamorphosis after emerging from their mothers as nymphs. They undergo many skin shedding (Molting) when they progress in size.

Mothers actually stay close by their young when they start their lives.

These roaches actually have companions that often live with them throughout their lives. These tiny mites (Gromphadorholaelaps schaeferi) are unique to the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches and live in a commensal relationship with these insects and help clean the surface of their bodies while feeding on the mold that often grows on the Cockroach due to its moist environment. By removing the mold it extends the roaches life span. Both creatures benefit from this relationship.

Some states, like Florida, require a special permit for you to keep these creatures as pets, though most states do not.

Some people raise and sell Cockroaches to be used as food for reptiles.

You can often purchase a mated pair of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches for around $12.

I got my cockroaches at a Reptile show in Sacramento where they were displayed along with many snakes and lizards. Some people were purchasing them for food for their pets while others wanted them to keep as pets.

Consider This:

The more I study God’s amazing creation the more I appreciate His care in design. Every creature has a purpose and place within the larger scheme of order. I believe He desires all mankind to look closer at His creation and consider His plan for our lives as well. Did you know He created all of these things for us to enjoy? Many times we fear things in creation that we don’t understand. By taking the time to observe carefully and do a little research we can overcome our fears and appreciate seeing a larger perspective of our place in the plan He has for our lives.

Special Note:

My grandsons are much older now than when these pictures were taken about six years ago. You may see these same kids in many of my other blogs. We enjoy exploring God’s creation together whenever we have the opportunity.

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

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.


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


Virginia Herpetological Society