We had a visitor the other day – a katydid in the kitchen. It was hanging out near the sink where we have a potted green onion plant. It’s a beautiful and elegant creature with long thin legs, even longer and thinner antennae (that can be 2-3 times the length of the insect’s body!), and a body that looks exactly like a leaf. Nature’s good like that – if this katydid hadn’t been in my kitchen, it would have been perfectly camouflaged in a tree.
Of course our visitor prompted a few questions on my part. So, yes, research. Did you know that there are more than 6,400 different species of katydids, living on every continent except Antarctica in a variety of habitats? And while most are green like my visitor, they come in many different colors, shapes, and patterns to match their environment. They are also nocturnal, which may explain why our visitor disappeared late morning. Either that or it was tired of being watched.
I had considered carefully taking the katydid outside since that’s where it belongs. But that brought up the question, what do katydids do in the winter? Well, in Colorado and places with a similar climate, they die (in warmer climates they may live a couple of years). Around here, females lay and bury their eggs in soil, bark, or plant stems in late summer or early fall. The adults die in the first freeze and the eggs survive the winter. In the spring they hatch as nymphs. At that point they look like mini-adults, except they don’t yet have wings. As they grow they shed their exoskeletons several times, which is known as an incomplete metamorphosis. During the last molt they get their wings and are full fledged adults.
So did I take the katydid outside? No. I decided to let it live out its days in relative warmth. Who knows, it may even survive the winter.
I should not be surprised when research reveals something amazing about topic I was previously not all that interested in. But when researching sharks recently, I was once again surprised.
Photo Credit – Eric Heupel
The word “shark” likely conjures up an image of a great white. And yet there are more than 500 species of sharks that come in all shapes (think hammerhead shark) and sizes. There’s the aptly named dwarf lantern shark which is the size of a human hand. Then there are whale sharks that grow to 40 feet long (roughly the size of a school bus).
Sharks live in oceans around the world in a variety of marine habitats from coral reefs to deep open water and even under Arctic ice. But what is perhaps most interesting about sharks is that they are keystone species. As apex predators, their job is to hunt, which keeps their prey populations in check. Without them, ecosystems become unbalanced. For example, the number of sharks in the ocean near Australia dropped. As a result, the grouper population grew because fewer sharks were around to eat them. But the grouper eat the fish that eat algae. So without the algae-eating fish, coral reefs were smothered and struggled to survive.
A different example of sharks’ role as a keystone species is the tiger shark. They hunt in shallow waters near seagrass looking for birds, turtles, stingrays, and more. But when the sharks are lurking, prey animals skedaddle. This limits how much time these prey animals spend grazing in an area which prevents overgrazing. Thus more seagrass grows. For coastal communities this is an essential ecosystem service because seagrass helps prevent erosion.
Finally, sharks eat unhealthy and injured animals, removing the weakest animals and allowing only the healthiest ones to reproduce. And by eating diseased animals, sharks keep disease from spreading. So next time you hear the word “shark,” try not to think of a toothy, fearsome predator, but of marine ecosystem managers.
‘Tis the season. Many animals in the northern hemisphere are preparing to migrate toward warmer places. Smart animals. There is one migration in Colorado that is particularly interesting. It is called a migration, but is more of a love march. It’s the annual tarantula migration in the southeast part of the state near La Junta.
Photo Credit – James Marvin Phelps
Every year in September, male tarantulas begin their march across the grasslands in search of love. When male tarantulas reach maturity at 7-10 years of age, they leave the safety of their burrows to find a female. Some will travel up to 20 miles.
Once a male finally finds a female’s burrow, he will drum his legs at the entrance. Then wait. After hearing the courting male’s knock, the female may come out to mate. Or she may just come out to eat him. And sometimes, she’ll do both.
Photo Credit – Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
I had the privilege of seeing not one, but two great horned owls near my home. Not only that, they stayed put so we could watch them. In general great horned owls are nocturnal and prefer forests, but these two were just hanging out mid-morning on a grey day. And while we have trees around, I certainly wouldn’t consider my area a forest. But we do have lots of little critters for owls to hunt.
Great horned owls are large, stocky birds. To me, those two sentries seemed huge. But they only weigh between 3 and 4 pounds…hollow bones, after all. Despite this slight weight, they are fierce predators able to take on prey much larger than themselves. Their talons grip so tightly they can sever the spine of their prey. Short, wide wings allow these owls to maneuver between the trees effortlessly and they fly almost silently, like a ninja. Unsuspecting prey never hear them coming.
Of course these birds have excellent eyesight and are well-adapted to night hunting. Interestingly though, their eyes don’t move in their sockets. Instead, great horned owl heads can swivel more than 180 degrees to see in every direction. These birds have excellent hearing, aided by their facial feathers which direct sound toward their ears.
Although I’ve been on the lookout for those owls, I haven’t seen them again. But they’re around. We hear them at night.