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May is one of those most incredible months when the birds are singing their hearts out to maximize their reproductive potential. By the time official summer rolls around on June 20, it is a lot quieter but there is still a great deal of activity going on behind the scenes. For one thing there are the summer flowers to enjoy. One of my favorites, the buttonbush displays a remarkably complex flower made up of many individual flowers arranged in a ball. This is quite attractive to insects as well as to humans and as an obligate wetland species this shrub is an important component of healthy wetlands that are dry part of the year. We also look forward to this time of flowering of the purple coneflowers- and the butterflies such as this great spangled fritillary also seem to relish the appearance of this spectacular flower in our simulated prairies. The amazingly green mason and orchard bees are out in force to obtain pollen from flowers, in this case a beautiful yellow evening primrose.
A couple of somewhat bizarre creatures I came across were a camel cricket and a harvestman. The camel cricket is an insect often found in basements; this one was under a rock under more natural circumstances. The daddy long legs or harvestman is actually an arachnid (spider relative- note the 4 pairs of legs) but is harmless to humans.
Some of the summer breeding frogs are rather obvious due to their persistent calling day and night. Two that are commonly confused are the green frog and the bullfrog. Green frogs have a distinctive "boink" call (I have named it the rubber band frog) whereas bullfrogs give the familiar "jug of rum" call. But can you tell them apart if you see them? It is easily done if you look for a fold on the side of the body starting near the eye, taking a side turn around the eardrum, and then down the side of the body or not. Note that this male green frog (ear drum larger than eye) has a fold around the ear drum and then extending some distance down the side of the body. Both the male (large eardrum) and female (small eardrum) bullfrog have the fold around the ear but not down the body.
Another sign of summer is the occurrence of turtle nests. I have seen some box turtle nests which were unfortunately dug up and eaten by skunks. In this photo you can see several egg shells remaining near the excavated nest. I have also occasionally come across mating box turtles and you can see from this photo of their plastrons (under sides of the shell) that the male has a more concave plastron, the better to get a grip on the female while mating with her.
So do not despair, just because May is gone we still have many wonderful natural events to witness before winter comes again. But the seasons are moving forward inexorably and we need to treasure each day and the natural marvels it reveals.
Galax, VA & Englewood, FL