Saturday, July 11, 2009

Weekly Species Highlights

Sorry for the lack of posts. I was out of town for a week. Here are the weekly species highlights for the second week of July:

Bird: Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) - A tern-like seabird, the Black Skimmer breeds in North and South America. They is primarily found in bays, estuaries, lagoons, mudflats, beaches, shell banks, spoil islands, and coastal marshes. Chicks are semiprecocial and leave the nest as soon as they hatch. They lie inconspicuously in a nest depression where they are shaded from the sun by their parents. On adults, the basal half of the bill is red, the rest mainly black, and the lower mandible is much longer than the upper mandible. On young birds the mandibles are of equal length, but they rapidly become unequal during fledging.

Skimmers have a light graceful flight, with steady beats of their long wings and usually feed in large flocks. They fly low over the water surface with the lower mandible skimming the water for small fish, insects, crustaceans and mollusks.

Black skimmers are seen as far north as New York and in the south along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. They occurs along the west coast of North America, from California through Mexico. In South America, they occur virtually throughout the continent. They are a social species forming colonies that consist of flocks containing both young and old birds. Colony size can vary between a small number of pairs to several thousand pairs.

Butterfly: Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) - The Silver-spotted Skipper is one of our most common and familiar butterflies. The spot on their wing for which they are named, however, is white, not silver. They frequents roadsides, fields, and backyard gardens throughout North America. The name "skipper" refers to their habit of dashing quickly from flower to flower, as if they are skipping around a meadow. It is the largest skipper in North America where they can be found in open parks, fields, gardens, and meadows, and where larval food plants are available.

The yellow-greenish striped caterpillar with a large head and two orange eye-spots eat foliage of leguminous plants, including locust trees, wisteria, alfalfa, and stick-tights. Black locust is the favorite host plant.

Dragonfly: Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) - Feeding mainly on tiny flying insects, the amberwing is primarily a summer species but are active all year in the far southern U.S. It is the only tiny dragonfly with amber wings on the male. They can be found in many habitats from streams to lakes to ponds and marshes. It is one of the smallest dragons in North America and it is sometimes called a "wasp mimic" since it can look very wasp-like in flight.

Amphibian: Northern Diamond-backed Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) - This turtle was recently in the news in New York City as a group of 78 individuals caused the closing of one of JFK airport's runway. The diamondback terrapin is the only turtle in North America that lives entirely in brackish water. Diamondback terrapins can be found from southern New England to the Gulf of Mexico. In New York they can mostly be found on Long Island. They are a moderate-sized estuarine turtle reaching a maximum length of about 9 inches.

It is sometimes seen in the Atlantic Ocean, but are mainly found in coastal rivers as far as tidal influence. It inhabits brackish water, saltwater estuaries and tidal marshes. They feed mainly on estuarine mollusks, crustaceans and worms. They breed and lays eggs in the spring and summer. Nests are usually constructed in sand, but may also be in fill dirt. These turtles usually overwinter in the mud in channels and tidal flats.

The word terrapin is derived from an Algonquin word meaning "edible turtles that live in brackish water." In the late 19th century many populations were decimated for the food industry.

Diamondback terrapins can have a life expectancy of about 40 years.

Wildflower: Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) - The ripe seedpods of Jewelweed or "touch-me-not" pop open at a gentle touch. Water drops bead up on the leaves, and a leaf held underwater has a silver sheen. They are a native North American native summer annual that can grow to 2-5' tall. The blooming period is mid-summer to early fall, and lasts about 2 months. Preferring light shade to partial sun, wet to moist conditions, this plant often forms large colonies by reseeding itself.

The flowers attract hummingbirds and long-tongued bees, including bumblebees and honeybees. The caterpillars of several moths feed on the foliage, including Obtuse Euchlaena, Pink-Legged Tiger Moth, White-Striped Black, and Toothed Brown Carpet. White-Tailed Deer browse on the foliage, while the White-Footed Mouse eats the seeds.

The Jewelweed's sap is supposed to be a cure for Poison Ivy and Stinging Nettle rashes. This sap also has fungicidal properties and has been used to treat Athlete's Foot.

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