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Pandora Excitement

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The sight of a pandora moth is an exciting event. We live in the northern reaches of its range. Adam N. saw one of these sphinx moths perched at a local gas station. It most likely flew to lights at dusk where it remained motionless under bright lights. Adam was observant to notice this spectacular animal. They have a long proboscis used to probe deep into evening and night flowering plants for nectar. They mate and lay eggs that hatch to feed on grapes and Virginia creeper. They are colorful caterpillars and have a row of brilliant eye-like spots along their body. The eye spots have a black ring enclosing white, with a central dot like a pupal. A small horn projects at the caterpillar’s tail end. If you read this account Adam, please call me again. Somehow the number I recorded when you called to share was recorded incorrectly so I could not return your call. I would love to discuss your wonderful discovery. I appreciate hearing from readers and try to respond.

Pandora sphinx moth by Patrick Coin, CC BY-SA 2.5 Wikimedia Commons

Excitement is an everyday occurrence during fall. Each year we expect the front yard sugar maple to retain leaves until October 20th when they seem to drop almost overnight resulting in the tree becoming winter barren. This year as November arrived, the tree still held leaves. Trees tend to drop leaves on schedule, but that is modified by weather. The warmer than normal fall allowed trees to delay leaf shedding. 

Oaks keep the countryside green while other species change color. Most oaks become maroon before the leaves turn brown. Many oaks, especially young trees, hold dead leaves through winter. Sassafras leaves turn yellow early and gradually transform to red before dropping. They are trees that provide extra excitement by displaying different leaf shapes. Some look like a mitten with the thumb projecting to the right and others to the left like right- and left-hand mittens. Others have what appears to be two thumbs and some are oval with no thumbs. Excitement has small nuances of discovery on crisp fall walks.

Red Maples are among the showiest fall trees. They have an abundance of anthocyanin red pigment. Most sugar maples turn yellow instead with an abundance of xanthophyll pigment. A collage of colors blend making a beautiful forest mosaic as we wonder through stands of trees. Look down and pick up a red maple leaf and then find a sugar maple leaf. Compare the feel and texture of each. Red maple leaves are thin and papery. They have removed much of their substance and shipped nutrients to the roots. Sugar maple leaves are thick and leathery. They dropped nutrients with and in the leaves. Their fallen leaves rot and release nutrients to the soil where they will be gathered by minute root hairs when spring growth resumes. Each of the maples has its own nature niche method for nutrient retention. 

Recently, raindrops stood on fallen leaves to create a rainbow of colors when light refraction in the droplets separated light rays into individual colors as sun rays poked through clouds. On frosty mornings, glowing ice crystals brighten the chilly start to our day.

The excitement does not end with the setting sun. The fall harvest moon shines orange and appears larger than normal around the fall equinox. Do not fret because the late fall full moons continue to make evenings worth a stroll with a lover or friends. Engage fall’s seasonal excitement with the thrill of living among nature’s wonders.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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