Members of the moth Family Sesiidae (clearwing moths) are wasp mimics, and often incredibly good ones. The easiest way to tell them apart is by the body scales (frequently there are tufts at the tail-end of the abdomen) and thickened antennae. Clearwing moths are day-fliers and can sometimes be encountered nectaring at flowers, but rarely come to lights at night.
The mimicry affords them protection from some daytime predators. The caterpillars bore through the woody stems or roots of plants, and can sometimes be significant crop pests - a familiar one to home veggie gardeners might be the Squash Vine Borer (Melittia cucurbitae). These ones are Western Poplar Clearwing (Paranthrene robiniae), which target poplars, willows and birches throughout the west.
“I never would have guessed that I would be earning college credits while swimming with local trout and salmon populations!”
- Travis Hendrick, USFWS intern & Evergreen State College student.
From stream electrofishing and snorkeling to youth education and estuary sampling, USFWS interns often find themselves trading university classrooms for schools of fish or books for hiking boots. Read more about the adventures of Travis and learn more about USFWS internships:
Altamira Orioles (Icterus gularis) tend to their nest at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Southern Texas. Their nestlings are just days away from fledging and emerging from the hanging grass nest.
* Just like Monarchs, this species lays its eggs on poisonous milkweed. The caterpillars feed on the plant and become mildly poisonous themselves, and the adults retain that poison in their bodies, as well. Can you tell how I knew this individual was a male? (paxon)
Today the U.S. and the state of Arkansas filed a joint enforcement action against ExxonMobil Pipeline Company and Mobil Pipe Line Company (ExxonMobil) in federal district court in Little Rock, AR. The complaint addresses ExxonMobil’s unlawful discharge of heavy crude oil from a 20-inch-diameter interstate pipeline —the Pegasus Pipeline—that ruptured in Mayflower, AR, on March 29.
The movement patterns of these two species are not well documented and, although they are not protected under the Endangered Species Act, they are species of high concern.
To help fill the information gap, BOEM recently awarded a $292,000 study to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to research the movements of these birds over the next 12 to 18 months using VHF (very high frequency) backpack transmitters…
Reddish Egrets fish like no other birds. They dart here and there, twisting and turning from side to side, then spreading their wings in what appears to be a struggle for balance. But this seemingly strange behavior is actually a very effective hunting strategy: As the bird spreads its wings, it creates a canopy of shade, which attracts its fish prey.
The Reddish Egret occurs in two color phases — one with slate-blue body plumage and reddish head and neck decorated by shaggy plumes; the other completely white. This handsome egret was nearly extirpated by plume hunters in the early 20th century. Numbers have rebounded since this hunting ended, but it is still an uncommon bird. In the United States, there are roughly 2,000 pairs, with the largest colonies in Texas.
Coastal development and climate change pose the biggest threats to this bird’s wetland habitats.
* You can help the Reddish Egret by joining our Spring 2013 Fundraising Challenge. We urgently need your support to conserve coastal marshes and other critical bird habitats!
Widespread across moist forests of eastern North America, jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) are unique and distinctive. The flower spike (spadix) inside the “pulpit” (spathe) produces a faint odor that lures in its primary pollinator, flies. The spike is composed of many flowers; the first ones to bloom are male, but as the plant ages later flowers are female. The plants are quite variable, ranging from all green to heavily striped with dark purple, sometimes in the same population.
Three subspecies have been recognized - two diploid forms with two sets of chromosomes, and one tetraploid form with four sets of chromosomes that may have originated from a hybridization of the first two. (Humans are diploid. Tetraploids are typically the result of a cell-division error, and usually either don’t grow or are infertile. Fertile tetraploids such as this subspecies are relatively rare.)
This stunning beetle is a Golden Buprestid (Buprestis aurulenta, or sometimes Cypriacis aurulenta), a member of the family Buprestidae, the Metallic Woodboring Beetles - the group responsible for those scribbled grooves under the bark of your firewood. Despite the group’s name, not all are as metallic in appearance as this species.
Golden Buprestids are mostly western in distribution, and are evergreen specialists - their larvae mine the wood of dead or dying pines, Douglas-firs and Western Redcedars. From the egg being laid to the adult emerging, their life cycle takes about four years, though if their host tree is harvested or salvaged during this time it’s possible for adults to emerge from the processed wood years or even decades later (some records of 50 or 60 years!). Fortunately, the beetles are never numerous enough to become a pest species, and the damage they do is largely cosmetic.
We’ve all seen little Venus Flytraps in the grocery store or garden center, but do you know where they come from?
This unique species is actually native to a small area of the Carolinas - specifically, within a one to two hour drive of Wilmington, North Carolina. Like all carnivorous plants, they grow in nutrient-poor habitats such as bogs.
They’re one of just a handful of plants capable of rapid movement - the traps, once triggered, can close in less than a second. The captured prey is digested in about ten days using enzymes secreted once the trap is closed. In the spring, healthy plants will put up a long scape topped with small white flowers, but they also reproduce vegetatively by growing new plants as offshoots from the underground rhizome. An individual plant will never grow more than 7 trap leaves - clusters with more than 7 leaves are actually a parent and its cloned offspring.
… is the only venomous lizard int he United States. Their fearsome claws are used mostly for digging (they spend the majority of their time underground or otherwise out of the hot desert sun) and climbing, rather than hunting. Eggs make up the largest portion of their diet, as well as baby birds and mammals, and the reptiles have a keen sense of smell to track them and other prey items down. They are binge eaters, eating large amounts (up to a third of their weight) all at once, followed by a prolonged fast; they may only eat five or ten times a year.
Their tail acts as fat and water storage, like a camel’s hump, helping them survive long periods between meals. Unlike snakes, Gila Monsters are unable to inject their venom, instead relying on capillary action and the clenching of the jaw muscles to draw the venom out. Because they are slow movers and hunt mostly helpless prey, the venom most likely serves a primarily defensive role - a hypothesis also supported by their aposematic salmon-and-black warning coloration. However, while you still don’t want to be bitten by one, a Gila Monster’s venom is unlikely to kill you - with improved treatment techniques, there have been no reported deaths as a result of a Gila Monster bite since 1939.
North America’s longest snake is the Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi); males can reach 8 ft (2.5 m) or more in length. Found through much of the southeast, these nonvenomous snakes live in different habitats depending on the season. In the winter they prefer sandhill habitats, where they den in gopher tortoise burrows (sometimes cohabiting with the burrow’s owner). In the spring they shift to their summer breeding locations in riparian and wooded creek bottoms. When startled or threatened they’ll flatten their neck, hiss and rattle their tail, but they’re actually fairly docile and don’t often bite.
The largest of North America’s buteo hawks is the Ferruginous Hawk, Buteo regalis. It is found throughout the western arid and semi-arid regions of the central deserts, where it preys on medium-small mammals such as jackrabbits and prairie dogs. It is one of only two species of hawk where feathers go all the way down the leg to the ankle, instead of stopping at the knee - the other is the Rough-legged Hawk.
There are two color morphs: the more common is light red-brown with a pale belly, and the other is dark brown with a dark belly. The word “ferruginous” is taken from the latin word for iron rust and refers to the color of the light-morph hawk’s back.
Found across most of the continent’s western and central interior, Yellow-headed Blackbirds (X. xanthocephalus) nest in loose colonies in cattail marshes, often alongside the smaller Red-winged Blackbird. Males of both species defend territories to attract mates; several females may choose to nest within a single male’s territory.
The two species belong to different genera (Yellow-headed in Xanthocephalus, Red-winged in Agelaius), and have very distinct voices - the Yellow-headed is often compared to a rusty hinge and you really have to hear it to believe it. They spend the winter in Mexico and the southcentral US, returning to their breeding territories in early spring.