What in the Mantis World?!

If I haven’t already told you, I’m a bug nerd. It’s one of those things I can’t explain. Hopefully you at least find them mildly interesting and maybe someday you will be converted into a full nerd.

This beauty was discovered at our office a couple weeks ago. Notice the enlarged abdomen–this is a pregnant female. Praying mantis females lay 100-400 eggs in the fall. Nymphs (baby insects) will emerge in the spring, grow all summer, mate in the fall, and then die after laying eggs. The cycle starts over. Now, praying mantis may be most well known for their mating…ritual, I suppose it could be called. Female mantises often eat their mate after (or sometimes during) mating. Why would she do such a thing? She is about to produce over 100 eggs. Maybe having a source of protein so easily caught is just too hard to pass up, even if it is her mate. Male mantises don’t pass on this information (through genes) to their off-spring though. So they continue to fall into the same trap year after year. No matter, males that survive mating die very soon after anyway.

Praying not Preying

Even as a bug nerd, I sometimes forget which one is it. These insects are veracious predators:

  • they have two compound eyes and three simple eyes (between the compound eyes)
  • their head can rotate 180 degrees
  • they are green which is an excellent camouflage when you live outdoors among green plants
  • their reflexes are so fast that they are difficult for humans to see
  • those long front legs are also lined with sharp spikes

So why praying mantis and not preying mantis? First, insects were named way back in the day, when religion was a state institution. The front legs fold up and even though insects don’t have hands, per say, the legs appear bent and held as one would do so in prayer. Hence Praying Mantis. It seems funny to think of this lethal (and cannibalistic) insect to be praying when it’s prey are the ones who should be doing so instead.

Keep an eye on egg sacks in the spring for emerging youngsters. These insects are also a common “pet.” A good starter pet since they’ll only live 6-12 months, but loads of fun to watch–just keep feeding them crickets and grasshoppers. Scout out an egg case this fall and make the transition to full bug nerd!


Get Batty

Bats have had it rough. From being associated with the spooky story of Dracula (1897, Stoker) to being consistently characterized as blood suckers, the stigmas surrounding the species have been tough for them to shake. I’m not sure if Batman was trying to help make a case for bats or feed the stigma…that one is a little fuzzy. Those are just pop culture misnomers, there are plenty of real ways they’ve been shunned from the cuddly wildlife scenes. Rabies, living in our houses, dirty, get tangled in your hair, pests, attacking people.

  1. Now, less than 1% of bats have rabies, and other animals carry rabies as well–it was rabid wolf that bit Old Yeller, but wolves don’t need to take any more heat either. Be smart about wildlife you come in contact with, we don’t call it wild for no reason.
  2. Bats may seek shelter, especially in high population areas, inside a house–generally an old, wood-sided house and in areas where there are few trees for them to roost.
  3. It’s true, wild (and domestic) animals are dirty…just like we would be if no one had invented soap, shampoo, showering, etc.
  4. Getting tangled in hair sounds like a myth that was developed by someone who had a phobia associated with both bats and getting things caught in their hair. Bats are animals that fly at night, in the dark, they will no sooner fly into you (or your hair) than they’ll fly into a tree.
  5. Pest is a difficult word. You can use it for anything that bothers you. My sister was a pest when we were growing up…but everything has a purpose and labeling it a pest has a negative effect and leads many to disregard all of the qualities that give something it’s purpose.
  6. Attack? They’ll only attack you if you are a juicy insect, also see #4. A fish swam into my foot once, should I say that fish attack people?

Bats are amazing creatures–they are the only mammal capable of true flight. As a mammal, they have similarities to humans: long life span, few offspring, and their wings are actually modified hands. The last one there is pretty cool–when you look up close at the skeleton of a bat, the “arm” bones are all very short and the phalanges (bones of the fingers and hand) are elongated and modified. So, from #5, what is the purpose of a bat? Many are pollinators which is an incredibly important purpose, especially for us food mongers. It would be an enormous amount of work if we had to pollinate all our own food; luckily we have birds, butterflies, bees, and these lovely mammals to do the work for us. They are also excellent insect controls. The bat species in Michigan are all insectivores (something that eats insects, I’m sure you guessed). They can eat an incredible amount of mosquitoes, which I know are no one’s favorite neighbor. They disperse seeds. In areas of the world where bats eat fruit (generally tropical forests) they play a very important role in dispersing seeds to restore logged forest lands. So, will you help them breakthrough the negativity and into the light of cuddly wildlife that we revere and protect?

Visit Bat Conservation International to learn more!

Bat educational programs are available from our Conservation Educator, Kelly Hansen. Visit our Education page to learn more or call for details, 231.839.7193.

Fire in the Sky

Campfires are an every season occurrence for some…enthusiasts. A cool fall evening, a glowing winter night, or a warm summer evening, all sound excellent to me! Fire culture is probably different depending on geographical area and upbringing and there is also this mystical feeling that comes with fire–people seem to think it’s easily controlled. However, there are many factors that can change a well controlled fire in a matter of seconds. This brings me to another popular fire activity–burning yard debris.

What do you do with those piles of fallen leaves and broken branches? Well, fire is fun, but it’s also dangerous. While fires rage out west all summer long from hot, dry conditions (and human mischief and/or mistake), the fire season in the Northeast is actually during the spring and fall months when the most leaves are on the ground. Those are also the months when homeowners generally burn yard waste. Burning a little pile of leaves seems so harmless but, did you know that an ember can travel up to a mile (or more) depending on conditions. Meaning: there is a chance for your small yard pile to start a wildfire. These uncontrolled fires can cost hundreds of thousand or millions of dollars…a steep price tag for burning your yard debris.

I will also say here, that there are two kinds of “forest” fires: wild and prescribed (or controlled). ‘Wild’ are those that were started by accident (campfires left unattended…fireworks, etc), by lightning strikes, or intentionally but without a plan (aka arson). ‘Prescribed’ are those designed by fire experts and carried out by trained firefighters. They have a plan, a contingency plan, multiple resources, and are designed to be low intensity in order to replenish understory growth, encourage new tree sprouts, and benefit wildlife.  

So what are the options for the humble landowner? Well, today is a good day to burn because it rained in the last 24 hours and the temperature isn’t high enough to dry everything out quickly. You should make sure, before doing any burning, the city/township/county ordinance allows burning in your area–are there permits required, is it prohibited during certain months, does Smokey say “fire danger High today”? Metal barrels are useful for containment burning. Fire pits that are dug out and have stone or brick around the edge are also useful. Burning in an open area without any type of containment is tricky. Walking away from an uncontained burn pile is not a good idea. Have a shovel or hard-tinned rake ready and maintain the fire while it’s burning, dig a 1-2 foot barrier around the burn area (fire cannot travel through non-vegetated soil) and be sure all the embers are out before walking away–just like Smokey says.

Call 1.866.922.2876 or visit www.michigan.org/burnpermit for more information.

Bigfoot’s Been Doing it for Years!

Have you been for a walk in the woods recently? I sure hope so, or maybe you’ve floated down the river…camped…gone out berry picking. There is so much to explore and do in the woods/nature this time of year, and really all times of year. Northern Michigan forests are full of beauty, wonder, and surprises during all seasons! One of those surprises though may be the amount of trash along trails and streams. Less beauty and more wonder there (as in “that’s a real thinker”).

The past week+ has been prime for outdoor sports as we enjoy an extension of summer weather (odd, just two weeks ago I was ready to embrace the cool weather, pre-fall…funny how that works) and I was lucky enough to do a little kayaking recently. I was not so lucky to find an abundance of trash. **insert super-duper sad face here** As a kid who grew up not in the city, but not immersed in outdoor recreation, I was naive enough to always believe that nature was just that–natural, nothing added. Also, we were taught that you put things back the way you found them or better. It is surprising, then, to find trash in the woods, because you know the trees didn’t put it there…so someone(s) has forgotten their golden rules. Respect, treating others as you wish to be treated, etc. I doubt the trees, wildlife, fish, lichens (because they are a separate group too) and others appreciate garbage left in their homes. Maybe golden rules are “old-fashioned” now…I really don’t see why they would be though. It seems common courtesy to follow simple guidelines: I like this stream/trail/camping spot therefore I will take care of it so that when I return it is as magical as the first time I came here. Being stewards of our natural resources should never go out of style and can never be replaced by technology–it’s up to you and me and everyone else to be chivalrous to Mother Nature.

Leave No Trace is an outdoor ethics organization with easy to remember guidelines about how and why we return our fun weekend spot to the state it was before we arrived. They have also enlisted Bigfoot as their mascot…if they could ever find him! That is really the point–who doesn’t want to be as cool and elusive as Bigfoot? I guess it’s not the whole point, but it could be a fun game with your kids: who can be the least traceable on your camping trip, your hike, your float? Maybe Bigfoot is too Northwestern and you are more familiar with Dogman…the reported, yet elusive “bigfoot” of the northwestern quadrant of Michigan. Never heard of or seen Dogman? Perhaps more of these creatures that leave no trace of themselves exist…and maybe you can join their legendary ranks. Will you accept the challenge?


Tour of Change

Summer days are gone too soon. Autumn equinox isn’t until September 22, but for the last week or more the weather has been sending all kinds of fall signals. Personally, it felt like summer didn’t last very long. I do love fall, it’s just that my cantaloupes have struggled to ripen over this very mild summer. Enough whining, time to embrace pumpkin, apple, and cinnamon flavored things; pull out the boots, scarves, and various plaid items; get pumped for football, volleyball (if you have a family of girls), and homecoming; and go for a fall color drive or ten.

Now, don’t be embarrassed if the elementary question “why do leaves change color” befuddles you. I’m sure at one point we all learned about the phenomenon, especially since color change is such a celebrated fall event in our region. As a science major, I have a general idea of what color change entails, but if you asked me without research I wouldn’t be able to give you a very scholarly answer.

Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, and Anthocyanins. These are our color producing elements, and most are probably familiar with chlorophyll. Carotenoids and anthocyanins produce colors other than green. In the fall, similar to people of the northern states, energy production slows down. The longer, cooler evenings slow down chlorophyll production until it stops all together. This is when the other two elements are unmasked. Much like we unmask our various plaid and flannel items in the cooler months. As I mentioned before, carotenoids and anthocyanins do not produce green color–they produce a myriad of exciting “warm” colors (you may remember from art class, or home make-over shows). Certain tree species’ elements produce different colors:

  • Oak: brown, red, or russet
  • Aspen/Poplar : yellow
  • Dogwood: purplish-red
  • Beech: light-tan (kind of like beaches…is that where the name came from?)

Maples are the most colorful; therefore areas with a high density of maple trees are highly sought after for fall color tourists. From blazing reds to brilliant oranges and golden yellows, the maple species really wow us and make fall one of the most beautiful seasons. What sets our hardwoods apart? They often grow in close proximity to pines. The contrast between red and green elevate the colors (another lesson from art class, but brought to realization by nature).

Temperature and moisture have a major effect on the intensity and length of colors. The perfect combination: warm, sunny days & cool (but not freezing) nights in succession. Warm, sunny days produce more sugars, and cool nights close the leaf veins so those sugars are unable to escape–like eating too many cinnamon sugar donuts and not exercising (except color change is not what we experience). High sugar + high light= high production of brilliant anthocyanins! AKA, reds, oranges, and purples. Carotenoids are yellows, and are a constant in the leaves, so years where the warm-sunny-day-cool-evening succession is low, the color display will be mostly yellow.

Maybe this information will be forgotten by next fall, but you can at least use it this year to bore your kids or entertain your friends at cocktail hour. The Cadillac area has self-guided fall color routes available in brochures. The district has brochures (we fall under Route 4 Lake City to Manton) and they are available at other various locations, just look for the signs. Staying local is always fun and supportive, but living in the area we may tend to overlook the beauty when we drive these routes everyday. Venturing out during the fall color season can be a great reminder of how amazing our own state is–Virginia, West Virginia, Maine, Vermont…there are so many options. For me, home is where my color tour starts and ends. Happy touring.

Year of the Worm

Before you search for the Chinese zodiac, this is not one of those. It’s one of those delightful Michigan seasons such as construction season when orange barrels are in full bloom; tourist season…which fuels a good deal of Northern Michigan economy so I can’t say much else. Mother nature experiences different seasons or years. Last year saw a spike in honeydew, which is actually produced by aphids and/or scale insects. Most animal populations go through cycles with peaks and valleys. This is the year of the forest worm.

  • Spring: Eastern Tent Caterpillars making their “tents” in cherry and apple trees.
  • Summer: Forest Tent Caterpillars feasting on maple leaves. These caterpillars do not actually make tents, and are sometimes called “armyworms”
  • Late summer: Gypsy moth eating oak leaves.
  • Fall: Fall webworms (fittingly named) feed on a variety of hardwood trees. They create large, loosely woven, silk “tents” that are really more like webs. These webs wrap around on or more shoots enclosing both leaves and twigs, see the photos below.

The defoliation from such frenzied eating can be quite alarming, especially if it’s happening to your landscape trees. However, all of the above mentioned leaf eating caterpillars pose no serious threat to the life of the tree. If they all ate the same species or had a peak population two or three years in a row, a scenario such as that may cause serious stress or death of the tree. You can help your landscape hardwoods through the defoliation by making sure they are well watered.

For additional help and information contact Larry Czelusta, district forester, at larry.czelusta@macd.org or call 231.839.7193 to leave him a contact number (he is often traipsing around the woods).

It is also the year of the Fire Rooster, year of Jubilee…among other declarations.

The Hunt for Tom

Meleagris gallopavo commonly known as the wild turkey. There are five species of wild turkey in the U.S., only one of which has a native range in Michigan–the Eastern Wild Turkey. You may have seen quite a few of them recently as the hens are traveling in large flocks with their young. They are typically 3.5 feet tall with a wing span of over 4 feet.  Their life span is typically 4 years.

Name that Turkey: The wild turkey has many names for the different stages of both male and female turkeys.

  • Poult or a chick: male and female turkey recently hatched from eggs.
  • Jenny: The young female turkey.
  • Jake: a young male turkey.
  • Tom: a mature male. Distinguishable by their “beard” which is not on their face, it grows from their chest. Combine that with a perfect 18-feather fan display, and they are pretty easy to pick out.
  • Hen: a mature female. How dull for her, plus about 10-20% of the time she also has a beard. Ouch.

The wild turkey has made an astounding come back from the 1930’s when the birds were nearly extinct due to deforestation and hunting practices.  Today the number of turkeys is nearly 7 million birds.  In order to keep the wild turkey population in the green, we as landowners and hunters need to play a part in providing essential and needed habitat for the species.

Who’s Hungry?

The wild turkey’s diet is more than 80 percent plant food, with 10 to 20 percent insects–making them omnivores (eating both plants and animals).  Young chicks need insects, berries and seeds, while adults will eat anything from acorns and berries to insects and small reptiles.  Turkeys are very opportunistic birds and will acquire nutrients from many sources.  A few recommendations to increase the wild turkey foods on your property: plant native oaks, nut and berry producing plants or shrubs, and native grasses (which produce seeds that turkeys gobble up).  Some common trees and shrubs to plant are red oak, crap apples, and beech nut.

Grit: turkeys also need small pebbles to grind up the food they eat. Who doesn’t enjoy a little gravel in their food? Always essential: a source of open water. They need something to wash down those pebbles!  A dependent, reliable source of water near foraging, nesting and cover areas is critical for any wildlife.   

Nesting and Home Range 

Although Turkeys roost in trees, they nest on the ground.  The hens will remain on the ground for 1 month until the chicks or poult mature.  Ideal roosting trees are mature, open-crowned trees with branches spaced 18 inches apart that run parallel to the ground. Can you picture it? There is a maple tree in my front yard that would be perfect…but may be too close to my own nest for their comfort.

A wild turkey flock can range from 350 acres to over 60,000 acres. Smaller tracts of land can be managed for wild turkey as long as they have at least one habitat requirement. Nesting & roost cover as well as brood range are some of the more important requirements.

Fall Hunting

Now that you have some background information about Tom & Co., you are ready to hunt. Wild turkey season is September 15 through November 14 (no rest between turkey and deer). Now, if you didn’t apply for a license you will have to wait until August 28 to buy one over the counter–that is if there are any left. Confused? Maybe revisit the section about turkeys making an “astounding comeback.” The populations are closely watched by natural resource agencies to keep the populations from plummeting. If you can’t get a turkey license, there are other game birds in season around the same time: ruffed grouse (a personal favorite), quail, and woodcock.  


Geeked about wildlife? Talk to Jeff Fewless, CTAI, and learn how to enhance your property for wild turkey or other wildlife, or create a conservation plan for your property: jeff.fewless@mi.nacdnet.net   


Star Crossed Lovers

Wait, that’s astrology…here we are going to talk astronomy!

The solar eclipse is getting major news coverage this month.  Do a quick search and a multitude of videos, maps, news stories, celebration ideas, and more will pop up and make you want to have this as a national holiday. For many astronomical gazers though, it’s more than an excuse to step outside for 30 minutes (the total process of the eclipse is about 2 1/2 hours) during work time. There are many who travel the globe to witness total solar eclipses, which happen every 18 months on average. There are too many stories to give examples here, so I’ll just say that you don’t have to be an astrophysicist to appreciate a total solar eclipse–it’s science phenomenon and awe-inspiring all in one. Here in the U.S., a total solar eclipse hasn’t crossed in almost 40 years and won’t cross again for almost 10 years. So, the mania ensues, as only it can in the United States. We won’t be able to see…actually, don’t look right at it what with the whole “staring at the sun will make you go blind” stuff…we won’t be able to experience a total solar eclipse here in Michigan. Looking at the eclipse map from Great American Eclipse we will be experiencing a 0.8 magnitude between 1:15pm and 2:30pm. Here is the link to the map.

Have I used the word “eclipse” enough yet? Change of pace then, meteor shower. The Perseid Meteor Shower is an annual occurrence that peaks during the month of August. The video below has a great description of meteor showers, in particular the Perseid MS. As seemingly common as meteor showers are they are still a great astronomy event. Peak nights for the shower are August 11, 12, and 13 (that’s this weekend, by the way). If you miss it, the showers will still be visible, albeit at a lesser rate, until the end of August. The moon phase (waning gibbous) may hinder the view-ability of the meteor shower on it’s peak nights, though. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying a summer evening outdoors, staring up at the sky, and unraveling the mysteries of those star crossed lovers.


Let’s Talk Birdie

Specifically–Raptors. Why is this order of birds so fascinating? Granted, I enjoy watching the cardinals, yellow finches, and other song birds eating at the window feeder while I sip my morning coffee. People pull over in their vehicles and gaze, unmoved for several minutes (or sometimes hours) when they see an eagle or hawk. This spring I shared a link to the Platte River Eagle cam…not many other birds receive this kind of attention and admiration. So what is it? Their fearsome cry? Their majestic glide? Their almost prehistoric features? Maybe it’s their secretive nature–sightings of many raptors are rare. So, we stick a camera in their nest just to keep an eye on them and revel at the mystery of the species.

There is another group of people, and “fascinated” is probably the wrong word to use with this group. “Threatened” is probably more accurate, but I can’t really say because I do not have any of the unifying factors that make up this other group of raptor-watchers. Now, before I go any further, I would just like to say that all of the blog posts here are meant to be informative. I wouldn’t say I am neutral, but the intent is not to scold people or cause argument with opinions that are the opposite or disagree with mine.

Okay. Now, I never realized the threat that livestock farmers and gamekeepers feel from the raptor order of birds (Falconiformes, which is divided into six families). By livestock, I specifically mean chickens. I guess I can somewhat identify with this group as my family has chickens. Free-range chickens can often become stranded in the middle of a field without cover. Yikes. Chickens may not have a reputation of being intelligent, but they can sense danger and will look for cover–I’ve seen the family chickens run into the coop or duck under the wooden structure in their yard when they feel threatened. “Free range is great for the chickens but also puts them at risk because you’ve concentrated prey in one location. Easy fixes include providing cover for the chickens during raptor migration season when you have more birds coming through. Cover includes trees, bushes, and awning/roofs,” explains one ornithologist. There are a few instances about free-range farmers shooting at raptors to ward them off. Warning shots can sometimes hit the mark though, and probably a time consuming management practice.

The link here is a story about raptors in Scotland and their disappearance around game lands.  What solutions are available for those game land managers whose “livestock” doesn’t follow domestic animal practices? Game bird hunting is a popular sport, especially in open prairie lands (like South Dakota) where many game birds live (pheasants, grouse, etc.), but birds of prey are quite intelligent. I suspect that once they find a hot spot of prey, they continue to visit that area and pass along the knowledge to offspring. Back to the original question–what are the solutions? Would providing man-made cover take away from the hunting experience, and would that be practical? If I knew, I would probably be writing a “did you know” educational piece rather than a “what can we do” piece. For us backyard chicken farmers that wish to free-range, providing cover is a good solution. It may not be a perfect solution, but neither is farming–loss happens.

Monarch Month

If you are a bug nerd like me, you have probably been following the progress of the Monarchs this summer. Or maybe you enjoy Monarchs and no other bugs, either way, this is an exciting time for the butterflies. I have included a few videos below from sources around Michigan who are also super geeked about Monarchs. The videos are not in chronological order, which is interesting in itself–while many Monarch butterflies are emerging from eggs that were laid in June, there is another generation of caterpillars that is just hatching (we have Micky at the office that hatched this past Sunday). The videos show the last instar of a Monarch caterpillar as an eating machine, the process of cocoon creation, and the beauty of emerging after 10-14 days of transformation from wiggly, striped caterpillar to bright orange, majestic butterfly.

Monarch butterflies, their migration, and their loss of habitat have been big topics lately, for several reasons.

  1. There is a current campaign to make the Monarch butterfly the State Insect. Yes, the same as we have a state bird, tree, flower, wildflower, stone, gem, reptile, fish, fossil, game mammal, and soil (really?). Why is there a state soil and no state insect? I have nothing against Kalkaska sand, especially since the area I live is quite rich with it, but insects are much more fascinating than dirt. Also, how did rocks get two representatives?
  2. Many insect pollinators are declining and a major reason (per research, not just hear-say) is due to the loss of habitat. I don’t really want to get into the details here, but the Monarch is a recognizable symbol to represent all pollinators. Every campaign needs a pretty face, or at least a lovable personality.
  3. While many other insects can utilize several different plants, Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed. The eggs are laid on the plant and the caterpillars eat until they are so fat they have to turn into a butterfly. This point goes back to the loss of habitat, but it is even more important for Monarchs than for many of the other insect pollinators because they are so specific. Talk about a picky eater!
  4. Their migration is a scientific marvel, trust me, I’ve done the research. How does a 5th generation Monarch know to travel south for the winter? That’s right–the generation that travels north in the spring is not the same generation that will travel south in October. 4 other generations grow up, have babies, and die before the migrating generation is born. Birds will migrate each year–the same bird–and that bird teaches it’s young to do the same. However, a Monarch butterfly’s knowledge is passed on through genes rather than hand holding and teachable moments. Amazing, to say the least.


Want to tag your own Monarch and track it’s travel south in the fall and back north in the spring? Join Missaukee Conservation District on August 25th for a Monarch tagging event! Call for more details: 231.839.7193.