Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Fragrant Frangipani

IMG_2628

Indigenous to this area (Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean), frangipani is technically in the Plumeria family. The beautiful flower and sweet scent may beguile you. Be warned though, the milky sap of the tree is poisonous. To be honest, that is not Frangipani’s worst trait, I award that honor to the sneaky little trick that it pulls on moths.

The pale, white blooms open at night, enticing sphinx moths with their intoxicating scent. Yet they have no nectar. So, the moths crawl in but leave hungry, covered with pollen that they then spread to the next deceptive flower. Pretty sneaky!

Shiny

IMG_1861

Lettered Olives, Mustang Island, Texas August 2019

This photo doesn’t do these pretty Lettered Olives (Americoliva sayana) any justice. Sadly, the shine really isn’t showing well. You might be asking, how does a mollusk that lives in the shifting sand of the shallows maintain a shine? Weirdly enough, instead of the shell protecting the soft body, the soft body of this mollusk is often wrapped around the outside of the shell, thereby preserving the shine.

While these are not good examples of this feature, the brown swirls on the shells sometimes look like writing (hence, the common name).

 

No Fish For You!

IMG_1781

White-banded Fishing Spider, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Tivoli, Texas September 2019

While all the other species in this genus are semiaquatic, the White-banded Fishing Spider (Dolomedes albineus) stands out as the only arboreal member. The first part of the binomial is Greek for wily or deceitful. I imagine it has something to do with their freaky ability to walk on water (thanks to the hydrophobic hairs that cover their bodies). Some of the species have a leg span of three inches and are known to capture small fish.

Armadillo Afternoon

I spent a hot afternoon recently out at Aransas National Wildlife. There’s a small copse of oak trees near the bay where I set up my hammock and swing in the breeze while waiting for the sun to dip in the sky. Last time I was thrilled to receive a visit from a curious young deer.

This time I was fortunate to have a close encounter with a Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). Though not nearly as cute as a fawn, this otherworldly-looking creature was fascinating to watch. The “little armored one” appeared unconcerned by my presence as it snuffled the ground for insects. That is some serious soil aeration!

Aptly Named!

I was mesmerized by these gorgeous berries the other day when I visited Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) certainly lives up to its name! Appropriately, the name is not yummy berry since the fruit is tart and astringent.

The berries are eaten by birds in the fall (after other food sources have dwindled) while the foliage is browsed by deer. The roots and leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans and the berries can be made into jelly (add enough sugar and anything tastes good).

Shine On

In the past couple weeks one tiny green light has flitted around my yard in the dark hours. The cheery twinkle never fails to make me smile and brings back memories of laying in a field and watching their aerial ballet overhead.

Last night I spent a few minutes trying to photograph my glowing friend. A relatively dull looking individual at first glance…

IMG_1402

My Lightning Beetle

…but, man, is he spectacular when he lets his little light shine!

Note: I did not try to identify the specific species from my less than stellar photograph as there are 36 firefly or lightning bug species in Texas. Technically, it would be more appropriate to refer to these creatures as lightning beetles (since they aren’t true bugs nor flies).

“Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.”
Robert Frost

 

Macroalgae

IMG_1326

Sargassum, Mustang Island, Texas August 2019

My beach strolls have been less interesting of late (though no less fun). I presume it has to do with lack of stormy weather, we have been woefully dry here along the Coastal Bend. Tempests usually stir up the water and deposit all manner of random items on the sand.

A while back I read that it might be possible to find small seahorses (or other fascinating creatures) tangled in sargassum. So, I usually stop and peer through the clumps of seaweed. I haven’t had any luck thus far but I remain optimistic.

Thankfully, there hasn’t been as much sargassum washing ashore here as one might think based on the discovery of the largest documented sargassum bloom in the Atlantic Ocean. As with most things, some sargassum is good but too much can be problematic. Out in the open ocean it serves as a safe haven for many of the smaller marine creatures. In thick mats, like those spotted recently in satellite images, however, it can trap sea turtles and damage coral.

Lucky Me

IMG_1292

Moon Jelly, Rockport Beach, Texas August 2019

I found a marine version of a four-leaf clover on the beach yesterday, a Moon Jelly (Aurelia aurita). While this is not a traditional symbol of good luck the pretty pink loops look enough like a clover to me. Though perhaps this is an entirely different kind of luck as the loops are actually part of the reproductive system (wink, wink).

A recent study found that the swarms of Moon Jellies we find beached are actually correlated to the lunar cycle. The masses typically peak a week after a full moon, though no explanation was provided. These brainless blobs have been undulating around the world’s oceans for over 500 million years. Clearly, they are tough little survivors.