Field Notes

Field Notes
3:26 pm
Fri February 27, 2015

What Good Are Bugs?

(CC BY 2.0)
Credit Flickr user, Tim Pierce

"I realize that many people do not like insects. The fourth graders are almost always exuberant, though, and when it comes to nature, there are no "ewwww"s in my class! Still, I do like to give a nod to the fact that bugs are not always appreciated. There are excellent reasons for this, reasons the kids can usually figure out: mosquitoes bite; wasps sting; beetles can eat corn, fruit and potatoes; bark beetles can kill many trees and destroy forests; insects sometimes carry diseases, which can infect people and livestock; termites can eat our homes.

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Field Notes
11:25 am
Fri February 20, 2015

Dormancy And Deep Freeze: Insects In Suspended Animation

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) chrysalis. (CC BY 2.0)
Credit Flickr user, Sid Mosdell

When it comes to surviving winter, insects in temperate regions like Montana can be divided into two groups: freeze-tolerant insects that can survive if their body fluids freeze, and freeze-avoiding ones that can't.

Certain flies, wasps, beetles and moth and butterfly larvae and pupae produce chemicals that control the rate and size of ice crystal formation in their bodies, so that freezing doesn't damage their cells. The pupae of one species of swallowtail butterfly has survived laboratory temperatures of -385 degrees F.

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Field Notes
5:00 am
Sun February 15, 2015

All About Leeches

A (fed) Australian leech. (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Credit Flickr user, Michael Jefferies

"Some people seem surprised that I don't keep fish in the large aquarium in my home. Instead I have mud and debris, plants, insect larvae, beetles, hydras, scuds, crawdads...and leeches. I collected all these goodies from ponds and sloughs in the area. This fall, I noticed that one of the leeches, a good-sized sucker, was clinging to the side of the aquarium, out of the water. I wondered if it was trying to escape to find a winter home in less soggy mud. To find out, I went to the library and came back with a three-volume set of books all about leeches.

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Field Notes
5:00 am
Sun February 8, 2015

The Short-Tailed Weasel: Life Sped Up

Short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea) in its summer phase
Credit Steve Hillebrand, USFWS

"While some animals get off comparatively easily in the winter by hibernating, or by gorging and then fasting, the short-tailed weasel has to hunt every day to keep its blast-furnace metabolism stoked. With a heart rate of several hundred beats a minute and little in the way of fat reserves on its long and slender body, the animal must consume half its body weight daily.

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Field Notes
4:08 pm
Sun February 1, 2015

Are All Snowflakes Unique?

Snowflakes on carpet. (CC BY 2.0)
Credit Flickr user, Alexey Kljatov

"It almost makes you dizzy to look straight up into falling snow. People love watching things fall through the air: autumn leaves, fireworks, even skydivers wafting to the ground on their parachutes. On this winter day, I begin to wonder if the grammar school adage is true. Are all snowflakes unique?

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Field Notes
5:00 am
Fri January 23, 2015

Not With A Howl But A Whimper: Wolf Calls

Dakota, a grey wolf at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust, howling on top of a snowy hill.
Credit Retron

"Take a dozen railroad whistles, braid them together, and then let one strand after another drop off, the last peal so frightfully piercing as to go through your heart and soul." According to biologist Stanley P. Young, that's a stockmen's take on the sound of a howling wolf pack. But it'll come as no surprise to any dog owner that while howling is the most recognizable of four different wolf vocalizations, under various circumstances, wolves also growl, whimper, and bark.

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Field Notes
5:00 am
Fri January 16, 2015

Natural History Under A Microscope

Daphnia, a genus of small, planktonic crustaceans. (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Credit Flickr user, Chris Moody

"Not long ago, I grabbed my boots, a small cooler, and a turkey baster from our kitchen. In just a few minutes, I had broken through the ice on the shore of the Bitterroot River, sucked up some water from under rocks, and squirted it into the cooler. I moved on a bit and watched two muskrats, while I listened to chickadees singing with the sounds of the river behind. This was natural history at its best, almost. It was about to get better. I returned home where my microscope was waiting to show me what minute life forms I had captured.

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Field Notes
5:00 am
Fri January 9, 2015

American Dippers: Singing From Montana's Icy Streams

American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus), near Moulton Falls, Yacolt, Washington. (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Credit Flickr user, Teddy Llovet

"Skiing next to a creek north of Missoula on a morning so cold that ice crystals dance in the air, the world seems silent, asleep. Then a brilliant melody pours forth like a breath of spring. The sound seems to come from the water itself. I ski closer to the ice-lined creek and a splash in the shallows reveals a stub-tailed, plump little bird whose dark coloring blends perfectly with the drab gray rocks. This is a dipper, or water ouzel, a year-round native of Montana's rushing, forested streams.

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Field Notes
2:27 pm
Fri January 2, 2015

The Trouble With Trumpeters

Flying trumpeter swans, Harriman State Park, ID. (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Credit Flickr user, Charles Peterson

"By the 1930s, conservation groups across North America teamed up to help save the trumpeter, of which only 69 were known to exist. Various projects restored and increased breeding, wintering and wetland habitat, including the new Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Montana. Trumpeter populations rebounded and reached almost 35,000 swans by 2005.

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Field Notes
5:00 am
Sat December 27, 2014

The Hornaday Bison: Killing Buffalo In Order To Save Them

Hornaday Smithsonian Buffalo and Western Art Gallery in Fort Benton, MT. (CC-BY-2.0)
Credit Roger Wollstadt

"By the 1880s, bison numbers had dropped from millions to scant hundreds. Few people in the densely populated East viewed the coming extinction of the bison as an ecological and cultural loss. Naturalist William Temple Horaday was one of the first people to call for the conservation of bison, along with his friend, Theodore Roosevelt. Hornaday, chief taxidermist at the Smithsonian Institute, was outraged that the slaughter of bison was allowed to occur.

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