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Tag Archive | "Ranger Steve Mueller"

Porcupine and Cougar


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

Two North American porcupines in a tree in Quebec, Canada. Photo by Wikipedia user Mattnad.

Two North American porcupines in a tree in Quebec, Canada. Photo by Wikipedia user Mattnad.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

When working as a ranger at Bryce Canyon National Parks, I conducted field research on the mountain lions (cougars) in the park. During the summer months, the highest plateaus in North America were home to the lions, porcupines, and me. At 9000 feet elevation, I found tracks in one of the few areas with a surface water pond on limestone bedrock. It was a rare drinking hole for deer, lions, and other wildlife.

During the seven years I worked there, I never heard of unattended cows being taken by a lion in the national forest where ranchers grazed cows in summer. Come fall the ranchers drove cows to 6000 feet elevation. Deep snow, lack of food, and excessive cold would leave cows high, dry, and dead in winter on plateau tops.

South from the park’s Yovimpa Point one can see 80 air miles across a near wilderness to the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park. One paved road crosses the south expanse and unpaved trails zigzag the terrain. It is precarious and unknown whether a vehicle other than those with four-wheel drive and high clearance will safely succeed.

Lions follow deer south into the wilderness, or they move east off the Paunsegunt Plateau or neighboring Aquarius Plateau (10,000 feet) into Tropic Valley. Lions have legal protection but poaching occurs by ranchers who think laws do not apply to them. Lions heading east have a better chance of being poached but those heading south have better poaching avoidance. Energy companies desired to strip mine coal to the south of the park for more than 50 years instead of developing alternative energy sources. Coal proposals have been blocked but renewed pressure to strip mine is expected. Coal strip mines could eliminate lions from Bryce Canyon.

Life is difficult for predators in nature niches where they need adequate food, accessible water in an arid landscape, and places to hide. People have fears that have some justification but dangers from predators are unlikely compared to other health threats. Driving, falling from a ladder, and other threats are more likely.

Lions have few threats from animals except people but starvation and dehydration are dangerous. Ranch water impoundments can be valuable but bring lions close to people. They tend to seek water in night stillness.

While tracking a lion, I found scat and broke it apart to discover what it had been eating. Porcupine quills were present. Literature reports lions prey on porcupines and I had found physical evidence. They avoid quills by eating from the belly where no quills are present. First the lion must kill the porcupine while trying to avoid being struck by a tail swing or quills raised high on the back. Quills cannot be thrown but they dislodge easily.

Porcupines move slowly but their armor helps protects them. When quills enter skin, mouth, or tongue, the quills puff up like a balloon because air sealed inside cannot escape. Pressure from the quill’s squeezed end in the skin causes quill swelling. The sharp end that entered the skin is covered with scales like shingles on a roof that face away from the quill point. Those scales prevent easy removal because the shingles hold it fast.

To remove quills, clip them to release air pressure and pull with pliers. Do not try this with a lion because you might not survive. Pets do not seem to learn to avoid porcupines. Every dog in our family has gotten quills at least once. Ody Brook, who the sanctuary is named after, bit one in our yard one night in Bemidji, Minnesota. I did not notice until he came into the house. It is important to remove them soon. The delay allowed quills to work deep and were difficult to remove. One in his gum worked too deep to remove. One year later, I noticed something sticking out of his eyelid. A close look revealed it was the gum quill emerging. I pulled it despite Ody’s objection. That story ended well without it entering his eyeball.

I read some quills migrated into a lion’s heart and were deemed a likely cause for its death. Porcupines are moving south as forests reclaim this region. One has been seen at Ody Brook and some are resident at the Howard Christensen Nature Center. More than one has been killed on Red Pine Drive. Walk the forests at HCNC with attention to the conifers or aspens where you might see the dark lump of a porcupine.

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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Whooo cooks for you?


n-owl-barred

Have you ever heard a sound in the woods or forest that sounds like a barking dog or the hooting call “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” That is the call of the barred owl, a creature that lives in mature woods and mostly comes out at night to hunt. So it was a rare sight for Jean Smith, of Kentwood, when she spotted one during the day in Courtland Township.

According to Smith, she was recently out on Russell Road east of Northland Drive and looking to capture photos of the leaves turning color. “To my surprise, I looked up and saw an owl in the afternoon daylight,” she said.

Ranger Steve Mueller confirmed to the Post that it was a barred owl.

According to allaboutbirds.org, their preferred habitats range from swamps to streamsides to uplands, and may contain hemlock, maple, oak, hickory, beech, aspen, white spruce, quaking aspen, balsam poplar, Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, or western larch. They prey on many types of small animals, and hunt by sitting and waiting on an elevated perch, while scanning all around for prey with their sharp eyes and ears. They may perch over water and drop down to catch fish, or even wade in shallow water in pursuit of fish and crayfish. Though they do most of their hunting right after sunset and during the night, they sometimes feed during the day.

Thanks, Jean, for sharing your photo with us!

Do you have a wildlife photo you’d like to send us? Email it to news@cedarspringspost.com, and include some info about what’s in the photo, when and where it was taken, and your name and contact info. We will use as space allows.

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Tracks 


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Take a walk in the sand and discover new sounds and sights. When walking along Lake Michigan’s Shoreline or an inland lake find a place where the sand sings to you. If too close to water’s edge or too far away, the land will not speak. Find the correct location between wet beach and dry sand where the sand sings. It requires the exact ratio of water to sand to create sound. You can force sound production in any location but when you walk the right path, the sand will speak freely in a narrow band of beach.

It is up to you to interpret what singing sand has to say. Use your imagination and include family members or friends to discuss meaning. Examine scientific details of the sound creation or just have fun with the phenomenon.

While enjoying time on the beach with sun, waves, color, and ever changing surroundings, begin exploring your own tracks. It will be a great introduction into the world of animal tracking. Shed shoes and walk in areas covered and uncovered by lapping waves. You will have little time to examine your tracks before they are erased by the next oncoming wave. Step inland from wave-covered areas where track details will remain longer. Notice your foot print details. Dry sand does not produce good track detail.

In damp sand, what parts of your print show detail? Are parts of your foot missing? Are toes evenly spaced? Are toes of equal length or show equal impression? Compare your print with those of others. Can you recognize your footprint from that of friends? Do you walk with more or less pressure on your heel or ball of foot? Is there greater imprint pressure along the side of the print? Zig-zag and see if print impressions change.

Once you notice human foot print details of depth, shifting directions, size, and speed of movement, one can make better sense of animal tracks.

Animal size is one of the first things that can be determined but one can be fooled. Karen and I were portaging a canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota when we encountered a moose track that was almost a foot long and six inches wide. This is about double the normal size. Had we discovered the “Big Foot” of the moose population? No. The moose was walking in mud and the print expanded in the soft mud. I have done the same with my footprints in light snow where my tracks appeared twice normal size.

If animals are moving in groups, recognize heavier animals from lighter animals by the depth of imprints if the ground is soft enough to hold imprints. Exploring animal prints on wet shorelines of lakes or streams helps. Tracking on fallen leaves through the forest is nearly impossible.

What can be followed through the forest are animal paths.  Animals often use the same path and create a trail just wide enough for their movement. When I walk deer paths, I am amazed how narrow they are and how low branches hang. It seems the deer must be very short. The narrowness seems too close for a buck to travel without snagging antlers. Along the trail, I discover this is not true because buck antler scrapes are evident on small trees.

Bucks stop to scrape velvet from antlers as blood vessels in the skin covering begin to die and itch. They also battle with small saplings to make noise to announce breeding territory. It is easy to find scrapes when one follows a deer trail. I find some scrapes that are many years old. When a tree is not damaged too severely, it grows in diameter and the deer scrape scars grow with the tree bark. When people carve initials in aspen bark, the initial scars grow as the tree grows. Take time to look for tracks and signs of animals.

Begin tracking discoveries with your own tracks along beautiful lake or stream shores and then discover nature niche nuances created by animal movements. One will never become bored with wild outdoor wonders. Fall tracking practice will lead to fun winter snow adventures with mice to large mammals and birds.

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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Insect or wind pollinated


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Showy attractive flowers tend to be insect pollinated. Flowers that do not capture our attention are typically wind pollinated. The size of pollen is a critical factor between the wind and insect pollinated flowers. Large pollen weight causes it to fall to ground near the parent plant when dislodged. An insect or bird is needed to carry heavy pollen from flower to flower in order for the plant to have successful fertilization. Tiny pollen is easily carried long distances by wind to improve chances for pollination.

When a bee, butterfly, beetle, other insect, or hummingbird carries pollen from one flower to another, the pollen sticks to the top of a pistil if it is ripe and receptive. Male pollen is equivalent to sperm in animals. When it is released from a flower’s anther, an animal carries it to another flower. Animals that carry pollen improve the chances for pollination because pollen on their bodies has the best chance of reaching a flower of the same species. Wind carried pollen rides the wind wherever it goes.

We notice yellow pollen on a honeybee’s body. Showy flower petals attract the attention of insects. When insects approach a flower, they see “lighted runway” landing strips. They are not as noticeable to our eyes because petals reflect ultraviolet light we do not see. Insects see a broader visible spectrum. We might see dark or light lines on the petals that lead toward the center of the flower.

Those lines are runways that direct the travel of insects like airport runway lights help a plane’s pilot on the landing strip. As the insect walks toward the center of a flower to probe for nectar, it brushes against an anther that sits atop a thin string-like filament that bends when bumped. If the anther is ripe, pollen will be released onto the body of an insect and sticks to its “hairy body.”

The female part of the flower usually ripens later than its flower’s anthers and is not receptive when the pollen is released. This helps prevent inbreeding. The part of the flower pistil that captures pollen has a sticky top called the stigma. Pollen on it digests its way through a long neck called the style and when it reaches the ovule (egg) in the ovary it will fertilize it. The fertilized ovule becomes a seed.

The same process occurs in wind-pollinated flowers like corn, grass, sedges, and ragweed. Ragweed blooms at the same time as showy yellow goldenrod flowers in a field. The pollen on goldenrod is large and fewer in number than minute pollen cells released from ragweed. Goldenrod pollen will not be carried far by wind and falls to the ground. It is insect dependent for pollination. Ragweed pollen, like corn pollen, can float in a gentle light breeze. It will go wherever the wind goes and is less efficient at reaching a flower of its own species. More pollen is produced by wind-pollinated plants and compensates for the lower efficiency.

Pollen from the nondescript green ragweed flowers makes it to our nose and sinuses where it causes an allergic reaction we call “hay fever.” People unjustly blame goldenrod for “hay fever.” Goldenrod pollen is unlikely to get in our noses unless a bee enters our nose. If that occurs, the bee will be of greater concern than the pollen.

Some insect pollinated flowers are green but the insects find them. I wonder if they reflect ultraviolet light. Some flowers can utilize both wind and insect pollination. How I wish I knew more about the secret workings in nature niches. There is always something new to discover outside. Do not blame the insect-pollinated goldenrod for “hay fever.”

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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Ant stories


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Ant stories abound. Some are good and then there are others. I hope children still watch ants carrying sand grains and sticks as they tend to their house keeping. It was always interesting to watch ants march one by one in a long row carrying food bits to the nest while others walked in the opposite direction to a food source that an ant found and trail marked.

The ant finding a food source laid a trail of pheromones for ants to follow and a great chain of ants began work. I’ve watched them walking over cement following an invisible trail. I rubbed a finger across the trail about three inches wide. It removed the trail scent. On both sides of the rub, the ants came to a stop and did not know where to go. They piled in mass about three inches apart.

After I watched and waited for about 30 minutes, an ant found a way to reconnect their road. The new trail was about three feet long instead of three inches. It made a big loop like a bypass we might encounter when a road is closed for repair. One would think they would have found a short route but they did not. I had read about pheromone marked trails and wanted to verify it. Science requires observation that is repeatable with verifiable physical evidence. I do not need to personally conduct every science experiment to accept it but some are great learning experiences. When food is depleted, the ants cease placing pheromone drops on the trail. It evaporates and the trail is abandoned.

It was sad for a beetle when a group of ants discovered it for a meal. I was tempted to save the beetle by shooing ants and moving the beetle to safety. Instead, I allowed the ants to continue their predatory role. The beetle fought for its life as long as it could but the ants chewed off its legs. Once the beetle could not move, ants proceeded to kill it for a hearty meal. I suppose it is like humans fishing, hunting birds, mammals, or slaughtering cows and pigs for our sustenance.

Our daughters were raised to respect life and to avoid causing needless or cruel harm or death. When Jenny Jo was in second grade, she told her teacher that kids were stepping on ants and killing them in the playground. The teacher acknowledged but did nothing until she realized how traumatic it was to Jenny Jo and decided to stop the students from needlessly killing ants going about their daily work. It was new experience for the teacher to encounter someone valuing ant lives.

We each raise our children with different values regarding a “Reverence for Life.” There are times when it is appropriate to kill insects and times when we should not. I have written about the importance of insects as pollinators, predators of other insects, and their importance for maintaining healthy ecosystems. Many kinds of butterfly caterpillars require ants for protection in order to survive to the winged adult form. The Endangered Karner Blue butterfly in our region is one example. In Karner Blue habitat one will find large ant mounds and without the ants, their survival would be greatly reduced.

Preventing ants from causing houses to collapse is important. Carpenter ants found our home and began hollowing support beams. That was unacceptable and we hired a treatment company to save the house.

Most insect activity provides direct or indirect benefit for society. We should make intelligent decisions to live with most insects. They do not know the difference between carrying food they found, a hapless beetle, or beams in a house. We can selectively control problem ants to protect our homes. Value ant roles in nature niches and support life when reasonable. Spend time outdoors with family members to discover the biodiversity of life sharing our yards and encourage a reverence for life.

Few wildlife are harmful to us or property so I suggest we do not to use excessive control, pesticides, or herbicides that kill the approximate 99 percent that are beneficial. Selectively target the 1 percent causing damage.

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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Big Timbers Fall


By Ranger Steve Mueller

We each have our own mentors, heroes, and life guides.

As a young person, we latch on to experienced seniors in areas of interest or professions. Interestingly, as we age, we learn many younger than us surpass our own skills and knowledge in specialty subjects. Our mentoring leaders become younger people that model how to complete our work more effectively.

Despite the concept of “in with the new and out with the old,” it is important to build on foundations forged by those that came before us. They redirect our lives. Each of us have special mentors. Most often they are people we interact with personally or have secondary connections with through others.

I began college at Ferris State where an emphasis was on pharmacy and bio-chemical education. I wanted to focus more on wildlife management and ecosystem analysis. I decided to transfer to Michigan State, which is well known for its wildlife management programs. It was a much larger institution than I desired with 40,000 students but it focused on skills I hoped to achieve.

I happened to meet Wakelin McNeel, professor at Central Michigan University. Camping with him in the wilds of Michigan and discussing education opportunities offered at MSU and CMU, he redirected my college selection. Some aspects of MSU education would provide better education and narrow my focus, while opportunities at CMU would develop and improve teaching and field biology skills.

Classes at CMU involved more outdoor instruction and experiences than MSU. Upper level science class sizes were smaller with greater individual instructor interactions during the 1970’s.

I chose to be mentored at CMU by a variety of skilled instructors and students. At MSU, I expect I would have forged some great mentors but I particularly liked the smaller education community at CMU. My career opportunities would have been different and great at MSU but CMU guided me to a wonderful career. Fellow CMU field biology graduates acquired careers that suited their interests and life desires. We maintain contact and they continue to mentor me from afar and when we get together.

The take home message is we each need to direct our own lives in a manner the matches our skills and desires. My career path took me to many jobs and places before settling into a career nature niche as director at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, Director at the Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center and now Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. Major unexpected occurrences interfered along the way but mentors helped me develop despite challenges.

My advisor, Dr. McNeel, was hit and killed on his bicycle when a college student passed another vehicle on a double yellow line. A second car came over the hill, saw the student passing and went onto to the road shoulder to avoid a head-on collision. Wake was biking there and was killed at age 45 in 1970.

Despite his death, he continued to mentor to me through his legacy. I became an unofficial “Big Brother” for his three young children Ted (8), Amie (7), and Ross (4) by spending every other weekend with them while I finished my college years. A good friendship with their mother, Katie, helped me learn more about Wake’s personal life. That mentored my development.

I have great stories to share and continue to maintain a causal relationship with Ted, Amie, and Ross. We will all pass but maybe beforehand we will become a mentor for someone and it might continue when we become a fallen timber. Live a life as an important big tree. Be a person someone chooses as a mentor. You might not know it but you could already be a Big Timber for someone.

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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Arrowhead Spiketail


 

This Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly photo was taken at Ody Brook, the property owned by Ranger Steve Mueller. Photo by Jerry Belth.

This Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly photo was taken at Ody Brook, the property owned by Ranger Steve Mueller. Photo by Jerry Belth.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Standing on vegetation in sunlight, an Arrowhead Spiketail allowed us to see its bright yellow arrows that appeared to have been painted on its black abdomen by an artist. The spiketails are large dragonflies and the Arrowhead is striking and beautiful.

My colleague Jeff Belth, who wrote the book Butterflies of Indiana, was able to photograph one while we explored Ody Brook (see picture). Dragonflies are active insects pursuing small insects for a meal. The agile flyers are perhaps the best insect flyers and it is difficult to get looks at details. Venture out early in the day and the dragonflies might still be perched and sleeping with dew covered wings.

I tend to be a late sleeper so I do not beat the sun up for its morning rise. If you go out when the sun is above the horizon and warming the day, a watchful eye might find various dragonflies perched. My first experience with the Arrowhead Spiketail was in Porcupine Mountains State Park and I was elated to see such a magnificent creature.

It is generally difficult to approach this species but I have seen them perching in grassy in fields where I could get a great look with binoculars. Generally, they are a northern species so I did not expect them here. It is wonderful that so many life forms share Ody Brook. The down side is that is difficult to observe everything. I have not given adequate attention to dragonflies and have only documented a few species here. This year we first noticed the unexpected Arrowhead Spiketail at Ody Brook. They have probably been here since I joined this community of nature niches in 1979. For 37 years I have lacked adequate focus on who my neighbors are but we have shared the property in harmony.

Many dragonflies are fairly small (1.5 to 2 inches long) but the spiketail is three inches long. Its wings are clear except for a small black stigma near each wing tip. The stigma is a dark thickened wing membrane near the tip appearing as a dark spot. It helps provides weight and flight stability.

It is hard to notice body pattern details when dragonflies zip about the yard. Patient observation provides an opportunity to see details when the insect hunter takes a break and lands. When we are lucky, it lands in a field, but in forested areas this species will perch in sunlit tree tops.

Dragonflies, like other insects, have three body sections (head, thorax, and abdomen). A long, black abdomen with yellow arrows pointing toward the tail make this one an easily identifiable dragon. The abdomen is long and thin. Between the wing bases is a large thorax with powerful muscles attached to the inside of the exoskeleton. Unlike vertebrates that have an internal skeleton, insects have their skeleton on the outside. Muscles in the thorax pull the two sides of the exoskeleton together in alternation with muscles that pull the top and bottom together. The alternation of contraction and relaxation, in rapid sequence, forces wing movements to create flight.

Pay attention to colors and patterns on the thorax that are helpful or essential for identification. The Arrowhead Spiketail has two yellow thorax stripes. On the head, how the eyes meet with each other is important. All spiketail species have eyes that only touch the other eye in one small spot. Many species of dragonflies have eyes completely separated or touch along their length on top of the head.

Associate dragonflies with habitat. Little Cedar Creek at Ody Brook has many spring seeps, with soft bottoms in the west part of the sanctuary, that keep water flowing all year. The creek headwaters in the east portion of the sanctuary dry in summer. The spring seeps with small persistent pools and muddy bottoms covered by shallow water, is where female Arrowheads lay eggs. After eggs hatch, the small aquatic naiads feed on insects in the water before transforming into the gorgeous adults. Look for adults in June and July. Always expect something new.

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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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: New pollinator guide


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A new Michigan State University pollinator publication PDF is available for free download titled “Protecting and Enhancing Pollinators in Urban Landscapes for the US North Central Region.” This 2016 publication (MSU Extension Bulletin E3314) is the complete guide to protecting pollinators while gardening, growing flowers, or managing trees, shrubs, or turf grass in urban areas.

The extension service encourages people to plant native species and also suggests use of non-native species. Non-native species plants spring up in the lawn. Like the extension service, I encourage allowing them to live among the grass. They attract nectar seeking butterflies and insects. The Extension Service provides a list of non-natives for the garden; also I suggest New pollinator guide use of non-natives. They point out that cultivars and non-natives often do not attract insects well.

Though I strive to encourage native plants, I am not a purist and tolerate some exotics. Part of the reason is because it would be necessary to use herbicides and fertilizers to eliminate broadleaf plants in the carpet of monocot grasses. A pure grass yard has nice appeal but supports little diversity of life. I encourage the greatest diversity of insect life and that in turn allows more birds to thrive.

Regularly I see an Eastern Phoebe fly from a tree perch into the yard to eat insects. Ground feeding birds walk or hop in the lawn searching for insects. That is not as common in manicured pure grass lawns. Karen commented that our yard looks like something out of a Disney movie. When we look out the window, we see two or three rabbits nibbling on clovers, deer, birds and squirrels. Many birds and mammals are present in our yard because it is not excessively manicured.

When the Wild Ones Native Plant Group comes for field trips, I share that I am not a purist and allow some non-native plants to live. I try to restrict most planting to native species. I realize most people do not have the books that identify species as native or non-native. I encourage landscape nurseries to sell native genotypes but they sell what people buy. Request nurseries to sell native species genotypes. That might affect healthy change that encourage maintenance of native biodiversity in your yard.

In sections of the yard that I mow, I leave areas unmowed until July to allow wildflowers to brighten the landscape. Two species that provide dense beauty, color, and food are Maiden Pink and Cat’s-ear. The pinks form a wonderful layer of pink flowers with Cat’s-ear making a towering layer of bright yellow above them. They are present because of delayed mowing. Both have flowers that open in sun and close in shade or night. Butterflies and other insects visit for nectar. When the pinks go to seed, I mow them but summer garden flowers have begun blooming and provide continued nectar.

I greatly appreciated the volunteer work from the River City Wild Ones that prepared the butterfly garden for the past two springs. They are Meribeth Bolt, Tammy Lundeen, Mindy Miner, Deanna Morse, and Gretchen Zuiderveen. My oncologist has stated my gardening days are through because I am not fungus protected. The cancer and three chemo chemicals limit my body’s immune system. The limitation does not prevent me from exploring, enjoying, and discovering something new every day in nature niches. Use the new pollinator guide will help liven your yard with flowers, insects, and birds.

Download the Pollinator Guide PDF:

<http://msue.anr.msu.edu/uploads/resources/pdfs/ProtectPollinatorsInLandscape_Final-LowRes.pdf>

I met with with Extension Agent Erwin (Duke) Elsner at his request this spring to provide sources for pollinator data. He had most sources for our region identified but I was able to assist with a few more.

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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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Bowl and doily in your yard


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Look for dozens or hundreds of cups and saucers, as I like to refer to them, tied to vegetation in tall grassy areas of your yard in the morning. They are only visible on special days.

The name one uses is not important unless you try to look up information in books or on the Internet. Scientists use the standardized English name Bowl and Doily Weaver (spider) and Frontinella pyramitela for its scientific name to communicate clearly with Arachnologists around the world. I have not confirmed which species lives at Ody Brook. Two Bowl and Doily Weaver species live in Michigan.

Several bowl and doily spider’s webs wet with dew, on a trail in the Adirondacks, between Long Pond and Bessie Pond, St. Regis Canoe Area. By Marc Wanner

Several bowl and doily spider’s webs wet with dew, on a trail in the Adirondacks, between Long Pond and Bessie Pond, St. Regis Canoe Area. By Marc Wanner

Webs are invisible to us and to prey during most of the day and night. If you take an early morning walk, you are likely to get wet shoes and see massive numbers of two parted webs covered with dew. When the dew evaporates, the webs disappear from view but are still present to capture prey.

The upper portion is largest and looks like a bowl that has many threads stretched to plants above the bowl. The threads create a sloppy appearance but those guy wires cause small insects to collide and fall into the bowl. Beneath the bowl is a flat doily where the spider sits belly up waiting. When an insect falls into the bowl, the tiny spider reaches up, bites the insect and pulls it through the bowl for a meal.

The spiders are about as long as a dog tick. Males are only two tenths of an inch and females are about three tenths of an inch long. Most insects and spiders are tiny but we notice the big ones like honeybees, June beetles, butterflies or big moths that hit our screens at night. Most of the insect world remains hidden to us unless we look for minute organism nature niches. The little Bowl and Doily Weaver is not easily seen on its doily beneath the bowl shaped web. They often stand toward the web’s edge.

My brother and his wife live in a rural area outside of town where a plane flies over and sprays for mosquitoes. Mosquitos are food for many organisms we like to have in our yards. Very few insects are bothersome to people and most are beneficial in a variety of ways. About three of every five bites of food we eat are present because of insect or other pollinators.

More insect pollinators means larger bird, mammal, and wildflower populations.

Some people prefer to live in a sterilized environment. They do not recognize the negative impact pesticides have by reducing necessary insects that pollinate and maintain ecosystem health. I see a commercial on TV showing a man spraying a family’s yard with mosquito pesticide. He is wearing a mask and protective clothing. This is meant to look good for eliminating mosquitoes but many pesticides also eliminate pollinators and organisms like the Bowl and Doily Weavers that eat mosquitoes. Many pesticides are not healthy for people.

If you maintain a portion of your yard as field with grasses and wildflowers growing one to three feet tall, you have ideal conditions for weaver webs. They occur in shrublands and forests but my experience indicates fewer numbers. I’m amazed with the abundance of webs scattered throughout the field on wet mornings and then suddenly there are none seen. They have not gone anywhere but without dew droplets they become invisible.

Their abundance increases all summer but dewy mornings are less frequent in July and August. September and October provide the best opportunity for seeing the webs and finding the spiders. My colleague, Diantha, has focused attention on spiders and she tells me we are never more than three feet from a spider even in the house. Most are so small we never notice. I pick up spiders in the house and carry them outside because I think they will find more food so they can “live and be happy.” Let spiders do the killing instead of poisons. If you do, you should get to see more butterflies and interesting insects.

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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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Silver beads of guttation


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Shining silver that does not tarnish glistens at the tips of wild strawberry leaves early in the morning. Instead of tarnishing, the silver evaporates in the morning warming sun. Humidity in the air determines how long silver beads will persist.

Guttation is responsible for water drops developing in rows along leaf edges and tips. At strawberry leaf tooth tips are microscopic spongy cells surrounding a tiny pore that allows water to ooze from the leaf. Water is drawn into plant roots like corn, grasses, and many other plants by uneven water pressure between high soil moisture and low moisture within the plant.

When soil is dry, water does not enter the plant. Avoiding dehydration is essential and all plants have adaptations in their nature niche to help them survive. In the Great Lakes region, it seems we have plenty of moisture but even within sight of the Great Lakes, some plants live in an arid environment.

The sand dunes have large coarse sand particles where water flows through rapidly. Without drought resistant adaptations, dune species would not survive. Plants living in constantly wet soils or in shallow standing water would drown without special adaptations for such conditions.

To some degree plants regulate water flow through their bodies. Leaves have massive numbers of tiny pores on the surface called stomata. Surrounding each pore are two bean shaped guard cells. When the plant is full of water, the guard cells swell. The inner side of each guard cell by the pore has a thick inflexible wall and the outer side has a thin wall that bulges when the cell fills with water. The more inflexible side arches to make the pore opening bigger as the outer side bulge increases outward.

The tips of the two bean-shaped cells touch but the opening between the two cells enlarges allowing water to escape to the air. When water evaporates from the surface, it tugs on water molecules and pulls more up through the root, stem, and leaves. It helps transport nutrients for plant tissues. The plant controls water content by opening and closing stomata based on moisture in the guard cells.

Guttation is different and is not regulated. The pore at the leaf edge is always open but these pores are limited in number. During the night when water vapor is high in the atmosphere (high humidity), evaporation is reduced. Large drops form and grow to form the silver beads we see in the morning.

During the Memorial Day weekend, it was a great pleasure to venture in the naturalness of Ody Brook to see any and all special things. Hopefully everyone spent time outdoors between infrequent rain showers. Much of the weekend was rain free but both ground and air humidity were high. As water was drawn into roots by uneven water pressure, it accumulated on leaf tips as it leaked from the always open pores. The result was beautiful silver water beads shining in the early day’s sun along leaf edges.

For eons this natural process occurred before our presence. It moves valuable nutrients like potassium and nitrogen through the plant. If we add too much nitrogen to the soil, fertilizer burn can occur. During the past 20 years’ a new danger to life has been added. Neonicotinoid insecticides have been added and become concentrated in guttation water beads. When bees drink guttation water from plants grown from neonic treated seeds, they can die within minutes. It is increasingly difficult for farmers to purchase seeds that have not been treated. Neonics are thought to be a cause of bee colony collapse disorder. Research continues but scientific confirmation takes time and repeated verification.

We can enjoy the natural wonders in our yards but we should learn to live in harmony with the lives of bees and other insects that make our lives possible by their daily work in gardens and farm fields.

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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