Thursday, September 12, 2013

Phenology: Pale Brown Bear, Dark Cloud...

As regular readers know, the "pale Brown Bear" I'm talking about was one of those shaggy early-autumn caterpillars that are known as Bear Caterpillars until they mature into Tiger Moths. I saw one in the garden today. Its hair was uniformly pale tan, like pine wood. I have no idea where to start looking up its species identity. Some of this kind of information remains unknown even to scientists.

The caterpillar was moving around at the base of the flybush, which bloomed today. Beautiful, lacy-looking little white-and-pink-and-red flowerets are naturally designed to fall off the bushes and lie on the ground, looking pretty, for a few days after the flowers have been pollinated.

Some of these flowers may be doomed to fall off prematurely, though, because the heat has finally broken with a "thunder shower." A brief but intense shower hit the computer center during the time I've been here. The lights blinked. Will there be lights at the house tonight? Gives me something to wonder about.

Many plants and animals aren't thriving on this series of extremely wet summers (all summer long, it's been not the heat but the humidity, but it's been frightful). The road below the Cat Sanctuary has been lined with what look like autumn leaves for a couple of months now. They are not autumn leaves; natural color changes are still a few weeks away. The leaves that have turned brown and fallen off trees are casualties of fire blight. Nature has its ways of dealing with tree overpopulation, and when Nature gets done, we humans will have to deal with the air pollution from which we hoped all these trees would protect us.

Nevertheless, some species are thriving on this weather. I've never seen goldenrod bloom so profusely. Whole hillsides are yellow with it. Mercifully, although goldenrod used to be blamed for all respiratory allergies, it's not actually an allergy trigger for many people. (If you see areas of vegetation with a burnt, blighted, poisoned look, and you have allergy symptoms that may be life-threatening, don't blame goldenrod. You're probably reacting to toxic chemicals the Virginia Highway Department has very foolishly allowed lazy workers to spray alongside various roads.)

Also flourishing on the humidity are flies and mosquitoes. I stood outside for five minutes taking a quick population count and was able to whack seven tiger mosquitoes; a few others got away. (I'm well qualified to count tiger mosquitoes because, while native mosquitoes will bite anyone else before they bite me, tiger mosquitoes want to bite me first.) Sometimes the price of knowledge is a bit of itchiness, but that's all--mosquitoes usually bite only two mammals and it's easy to tell whether you're the first or the second; I was these mosquitoes' first victim.

Meanwhile, the tins of food I'd opened for the cats attracted enough green flies to attract the White-Faced Hornets. I think these are descendants of the ones who actually nested on the porch one year. Hornets, like paper wasps, learn to recognize people who don't bother them, especially people who swat a few flies and mosquitoes and then step back and let the hornets remove the bodies. They can be good friends to have. While dogs are likely to decide that a burglar who carries a few dog treats is a friend their humans should cultivate, wasps and hornets recognize sudden movements, loud noises, and the odor of cold sweat as evidence that someone approaching their human friends' home may be dangerous. Wasps and hornets are thriving on the warm, damp weather and the gnats, flies, and mosquitoes who thrive on it.

We've had better summers for pretty little tweetybirds and butterflies, summers when most of the ones we saw were not suffering from fungus infections, but for gnats, flies, mosquitoes, fireflies, woodlice, wood roaches, carpenter ants, and everything else that feeds on waterlogged plant material, this has been a wonderful year.