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Features (Creature Feature)

The very thirsty Silvery Checkerspot

     After being tethered and tightly wrapped since last autumn, checkerspots in the garden are like tiki bar openers, brightly dressed and very thirsty.
    I see the silvery checkerspot,  Charidryas nycteis, feeding in groups at everything: bee balm, summer phlox, Shasta daisies — blooming or not, even experimenting with the artificial woodgrain of vinyl siding on our house.
    Larvae feed on turtlehead, both Chelone glabra (white) and lyonii (pink). Turtlehead requires constant moisture, so populations of checkerspots tend to wet meadows.
    Checkers feed summer and fall, then lay eggs in clusters. The eggs hatch and partially develop as pupae, then hang suspended, literally and figuratively, in brown-speckled white cases over the winter. This period of suspended growth is called diapause, a useful tactic to survive inhospitable seasons whether cold or long and dry. Warm weather triggers full development and liberation.
    Silvery’s larger cousin is the ­Baltimore Checkerspot, Maryland’s official state butterfly, a rarer sight.

Great Spangled Fritillary

     Fritillary butterflies may be the original social butterfly. Dozens appear in June when butterfly weed dazzles into bloom, affably sharing landing space and lunch with tiger swallowtails and clusters of bumblebees.
    Focused on the abundance of summer, the Great Spangled Fritillary — Speyeria cybele — is not unnerved by an amateur photographer. Its stained-glass wings glow bittersweet orange with ornate black tracings. Silvery-white oval spots on the underside inspire its name. The Great Spangled can be nearly four inches across and is seen in most of the United States and southern Canada. It manages two generations per season in the southern part of its range, the second overwintering as larvae. Caterpillars feed at night on violets and milkweed. Tufted wiry spines, set in rows of three, promise any hungry bird a serious case of indigestion.
    Fondness for pink coneflowers and any sort of mint will extend this beauty’s presence in your garden. Leave wild violets to spread and start a patch of milkweed to be your hatchlings’ bed and breakfast next spring.
    Pictured is Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed. Very popular with monarch butterflies is Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, with pale pink flowers; it blooms a bit later.

Our flowering gardens are butterfly way-stations

     The butterflies nectaring around your garden took wing from the caterpillars nibbling there a few weeks back.
    Fewer black swallowtails are flashing their wings in my garden. Many summers, all the leaves are eaten down to the stalk by the hungry white, black and yellow-stripped caterpillars that pupate black swallowtails. This summer, I’ve seen only one such caterpillar.
    But I have hopes for other caterpillars, other butterflies.
    My yard is one of many in Chesapeake Country hosting monarch gardens, planted with butterfly weed, black-eyed-Susans, bee balm and boneset plus milkweed, ironweed and Joe Pye weed. Day by day, the plants have grown. The black-eyed-Susans are blooming; and all of us butterfly gardeners are hoping for monarchs.
    The plants will sustain the long-distance flyers with nectar. The caterpillars produced by those butterflies will eat the milkweed. Milkweed is their one and only food. I cheer their rise, for the caterpillars that eat this milkweed are like the generation that will fly all the way to Mexico to begin next year’s repetition of the ancient flight of the monarchs. The annual migration from Mexico to Canada and back takes four generations.
    Monarchs usually reach our latitude in September, when I’m hoping my spring plantings will be ready to welcome them with flowers. Together, we butterfly gardeners are hoping for big returns, a regular irruption.
    Once you see an irruption of monarchs you’ll never forget it. My thrill came in September, 1970, when a swarm — called a kaleidoscope in the colorful language of groupings — crashed a backyard picnic in Springfield, Illinois.
    Since then, lost habitat, less milkweed and climate change have pushed the species toward extinction. The current migrating monarch population is as low as two percent of original levels.
    If you see an irruption, let me know: editor@bayweekly.com.

Summer’s darlings, winter’s pests

Three seasons of the year bugs are pesky. But summer has fun bugs as well as pests.
    I have a strong dislike of bugs, especially stinkbugs, verging on fear. Those little stinkers freak me out with their buzzing around hitting anything in their path. They and their evil eight-legged or beetle-y friends rule my house, and many other peoples’ too, when they come in from the cold.
    In the summer, however, bugs are like everything else: alive, green and refreshing. I’ve seen a bright green praying mantis scaling the wall at Bay Weekly, a blue and purple dragonfly buzzing around my grandparents’ pond and colorful butterflies fluttering.
    Dragonflies have inhabited earth since the dinosaurs roamed and continue to thrive in our developed world. Their grace, power and magic bring even more joy to a beautiful summer day.
    These vibrant bugs don’t scurry from the cold along with us into our houses, or sneak in through the slightest crack. Summertime greeters are pretty, colorful and born every spring, unlike their bothersome, freeloading cousins that board with you when the weather gets chilly.
    I have always been a fan of summer bugs. When I was younger, I played outside with bugs, capturing caterpillars by day and chasing fireflies by night. I never squirmed away from worms while baiting a fishing hook. Summer bugs I like.
    Come winter when bugs break and enter into my home, we might have issues. For now I enjoy them in their habitat. They were here before us.

Encounters with wild neighbors

The creatures of Chesapeake Country are out in force. Since the last full moon on June 13, critters of every make and model have been hopping, waddling, crawling, slithering, walking, meandering and flying out of cover and into view.
    Since that moon, treetops flash with male fireflies signaling their mates. Closer to ground, females flash in their own code. Strange flying things come nearer still.
    Luna moths hang around my porch light in pairs, glowing in iridescent shades of green. Through a door left open after dark, a Pandora sphinx moth of many more shades of green visited editor Sandra Martin’s home, staying long enough to be photographed and drawn.
    A bunny sits alone in the yard and watches me with caution, then hops off to safety. Old Man Toad — who arrives every year in early summer — visits me in the evening on the patio and poolside. A family of geese swims in a neighborhood pond.
    At our Bay Weekly office, a lone praying mantis nymph the size of a thumb-pad, scales an enormous wall.
    These are safe entrances into the world we share. More often, encounters involve risk, usually for a wild thing not yet evolved to avoid human machines.
    Since the last full moon, I’ve seen four box turtles survive road crossings. The last one made me a hero as a school bus full of kids cheered as I carried the turtle out of the way of the oncoming bus and to safety.
    Eight ducklings haphazardly waddling without Momma Duck on Route 2 were scooted to safety on a nearby patch of grass by two human mommas.
    A wild turkey mother and chick scampered across a winding country road, then climbed an embankment to safety. Families of deer — three after moonset June 30 — looked left and right before crossing.
    But too often roadways mean death: deer, frogs, possums, raccoons, skunks, snakes, squirrels, turtles lie killed, often crushed, along our roadways.
    Drive carefully; we’re not alone here.
    Send us your sightings with photos: calendar@bayweekly.com.

Find best friends for bargain prices at Anne Arundel County SPCA

With small sighs of relief, volunteers and workers celebrated a bit more room in the inn.
    Filled to the brim with more than 50 adoptable dogs and 150 adoptable cats, the Anne Arundel County SPCA held two adoption events to make room for more needy animals.
    The shelter houses, cares for and feeds up to 4,000 animals a year while seeking to find them homes.
    Four-year-old beagle mix John Wall, who’d been homeless since December, was one of 14 Lonely Hearts dogs adopted. Four, including John, have moved in with their new families. Ten more applications are in the approval queue.
    So far, 9 Lives for $9 has found homes for 16 adult cats. Here’s hoping the third time is a charm for Franco Magic, adopted again this week after eviction from two earlier homes. He’s been waiting since August.
    The shelter had “a big influx of foot traffic the whole weekend,” says Rita Melvin, development and programs manager. One guinea pig was also adopted.
    Many more animals are waiting.
    There’s still time to take advantage of the 9 Lives for $9 cat adoption special, which runs through Tuesday, June 22.
    “We have so many great cats waiting for homes,” Melvin says.
    All prospective adoptees are up to date on their vaccines, flea protected, spayed or neutered and microchipped. Cats are tested for feline leukemia and FIV. Dogs are tested and protected for heartworms.
    To see the feline bargains and home-seeking animals of other species, visit the SPCA at 1815 Bay Ridge Ave., Annapolis: 410-268-4388; www.aacspca.org.

June 13’s full moon brings the living dinosaurs to a beach near you

The Atlantic Flyway bird migration route passes over Chesapeake Bay. In the months of May and June, the full moon brings bright light to the sandy shores of the Bay, enticing horseshoe crabs to come and lay their eggs. These eggs mean new generations in more ways than one. Some develop into new crabs; migrating shore birds drop into the café to devour many others.
    At dawn during May’s full moon, horseshoe crabs made shallow lumps in the surf at Sandy Point Park.
    These amazing creatures are living dinosaurs. Like sharks, these sea animals have evolved very little over the 250 million years of their existence. With their helmet-like shells, they move faster in the water than seems possible.
    This time of year, the females come to the surf’s edge. Males pile on top in hopes of fertilizing thousands of eggs laid in the sand.
    Then comes the red knot. This shore bird migrates over 9,300 miles from southern South America to the northern Arctic, making one of the longest migratory trips in the animal kingdom. Stopping along the shores of the Delaware and Chesapeake Bay, these birds depend on horseshoe crab eggs to continue their long journey.
    Red knot populations declined as horseshoe crab harvests increased. Now the relationship between the red knot and the horseshoe crab is carefully watched by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission. Harvest limits are set annually to restore red knot populations. Populations have stabilized, but the bird remains under review as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
    A red knot tagged B95 has been nicknamed Moonbird because he has flown the equivalent of the distance to the moon and halfway back during his lifetime of over 20 years. B95 inspired Phillip Hoose’s book Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95. This May 25, Moonbird was sighted on Reeds Beach, New Jersey by Patricia Gonzalez.

Life is determined and abundant. Keep your eyes open and you, too, may spot representatives of the latest generation of Chesapeake waterfowl, as these Chesapeake neighbors did.


At 8am late May, here swims a honker out of a finger of my creek. Closely following is a silent one. Not far behind are one, two … 36 little ones, half-grown already. But they won’t enter the larger creek, instead milling around as the steadily honking Canada steadily leads his silent follower out to the river and disappears.
 
Back go the three dozen, now alone. But wait! Sitting still halfway out is another silent Canada, showing them that it’s okay to enter the larger space. Who is this?  The au pair? After half an hour, the goslings are still in the comfort of the smaller water but coming out to survey the greater expanse before retreating.
 
Just think, 36 new resident Canadas for the West and Rhode rivers.
    –Margaret Gwathmey, Harwood
Two days ago, I found a duck egg in my cockpit. I thought a friend was playing a prank. The next day, another. Today, another egg and the female duck. I read up on it. She should lay nine more eggs, and then sit on them for 28 days until they hatch. She didn’t get scared off when we got on and off the boat today, but if there isn’t another egg tomorrow, she probably won’t come back …
    –Zaid Mohammad, Herrington Harbour South

Calvert Marine Museum chips away at 58 million years

Persistence pays off. That’s the case with retired farmer Bernard Kuehn of Accokeek.
    After 30-plus years combing the stream bed running through his farmland for fossilized sharks’ teeth, Kuehn hit the jackpot this month.
    He discovered the soft-shell turtle fossil that lived over 58 million years ago in the Paleocene epoch.
    Heavy rains this spring exposed new layers in the creek bed, revealing the significant paleontological find on Kuehn’s farm, which was under water millions of years ago.
    The reptile would have inhabited fresh water near the ocean.
    Kuehn’s rare find, which he donated to Calvert Marine Museum, is one of only three known specimens of this species.
    Paleontologist Peter Kranz from Dinosaur Park in Laurel investigated the fossil, then asked Calvert Marine Museum for help in quarrying it.
    Joe and Devin Fernandez from Diamond Core Drilling and Sawing Company had the special equipment, a diamond-blade chainsaw, to cut the turtle out of the rock while preserving most of its shell. The turtle was delivered to the museum wearing a coat of rock.
    Unlike a normal turtle’s smooth shell, the fossilized soft-shell turtle’s shell is bumpy from a skin over the living shell.
    The ancient two-by-two-foot reptile appears to be whole.
    The inch-thick hard shell — like a coat of armor — would have protected the turtle from most predators all those millions of years ago.
    It will take many hands — and months — to remove the rock from around the bones as Calvert’s marine paleontologists study the rare specimen.
    Stop by to see the fossil and the work in progress in the Museum’s Prep Lab.

Help stomp out Emerald Ash Borers and Hemlock Wooly Adelgids

You don’t want to know the hemlock wooly adelgid. The invader — no bigger than a period — is terrorizing towering trees, both hemlock and spruce.
    These pests threaten to wipe out eastern hemlock forests, a loss that could be as dreadful as the loss of American chestnuts. The bug is loose in half the evergreen’s geographic range, 11 eastern states from Georgia to Massachusetts.
    The fight is on, with two Maryland agencies injecting insecticide into thousands of hemlock trees and soil on public lands across the state. The wooly adelgid, which leaves telltale white, woolly wax spots on young hemlock twigs, is at its worst in our western counties.
    The pencil-tip adelgid joins the ranks of Maryland public tree enemies. The emerald ash borer, here a decade, gets special attention May 18-24, days designated by Gov. Martin O’Malley as Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week.
    The iridescent beetle that can fit on a penny has been eating its way through Maryland’s ash trees — and ash in many states east of the Mississippi. To stop its decade-long advance, Maryland foresters have set up a movable quarantine barrier with sentry traps hung in trees throughout susceptible areas.
    The ash tree is a popular city tree as well as an important woodland tree in the Chesapeake watershed and a mainstay of the timber industry. Ash contributes wood for furniture, flooring, bowling alleys, church pews, guitars and baseball bats.
    Losses from the ash borer could exceed $227.5 million in the Baltimore metro area alone.
    What can you do to help?
    In all counties west of the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River it’s against the law to transport firewood because ash borers could have infiltrated the wood. So far, the Eastern Shore is uninvaded. If you have ash trees, look alert. Ash borer infestation shows up in eaten leaves, diminished tree canopy and shoots or sprouts emerging below dead portions of trunk. Woodpeckers are drawn to the trees to feed on the borers. Beneath the bark, D-shaped exit holes tell you the borer was there.