Toad ghosts, literary butterflies, and coyotes

Dearest Readers,

I hope you hadn’t lost any faith if you visited Spokes and Petals yesterday to find a lapse in my Thoreauvian record. I was thinking of him, and you, and this, but had to go straight from work to a delightful burrito place by North Station to wish a friend safe Irish travels, and by the time I got home it was to bed with me. I listened and looked, though, and here’s what I found:

August 5th:

tiger swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtails. Source.

Almost enough yellow butterflies (grown from a lovage cradle) to make up a Marquez novel.

Wispy ghosts that ran like tiny soot sprites in the ancient root cellar, “the peach pit,” at work. As I walked through to get one thing or another the sprites would flutter fast and strangely, swinging under pallets piled with seeding trays, gasoline, and clutter. Despite my disbelief in such things I froze, wondering what spirits I’d seen. Because obviously they were spirits, and apparently ones that were a part of the Boston ecology. They kept moving, scattering below old wood, as I proceeded, cautiously, through the cellar. Finally I considered that if I looked ahead of my step I would see whatever supernatural being was there before it snuck out of sight. So I squatted and looked and found a “penny frog,” which is not a frog at all but actually a toadlet. (Toadlet: one of the most unexpected darlings of the English language.)  Not spirits after all. Oh well.


A type of toadlet, on loan from Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

Rabbits; eastern cottontails. More rabbits than you could shake a stick at. Rabbits devouring the sacred basil I grew from seed, the dahlias that sprang there from their jellyfish tubers, and, shockingly, the bark that wraps the life within the Roxbury Russet sapling that I planted in May. The Victory Gardens have been taken over this year by the velveteen things, colored in shades of brush and ambling around without a fear, perfectly exemplifying the need for more carnivores in the urban landscape..!

August 6th:

dragonfly - eastern amberiwing (Perithemis tenera)

Eastern Amberwing, on loan from Glenn Corbiere

Dragonflies, spun and encrusted in amber, turquoise, emerald and ebony. Lace and wire, spots and eyes and darning needles. They glide over the potted perennials out back, perch on bags of garden soil, and hover, hunting, on thin woody branches.

Galansoga, one of the most impressive of the weeds, is blooming and setting off its seed throughout the farm, blending in trickily with the shape and structure of the sacred basil leaves in the herb patch.

I found evidence of mice in the kitchen and heard them scratching around after midnight. Between them and the tree-chewing rabbits you’d think it was November.

Lastly, I wasn’t lucky enough to see this, but my friend and coworker Itzi saw a coyote cross the road on the edge of the city. Its head was down, she said, as if it was trying to be as clandestine as possible.


Unfortunately I didn’t see this guy, either. Source

(Often) Urban Invertebrates in the News

As July draws to a blissfully breezy end I offer a collection of the most insectually interesting articles that I’ve come across this month.  moth-er

Elena Tartaglia with some moths of New York and New Jersey. Source: @SciFri.

NPR’S Science Friday did a lovely little story on National Moth Week (which just ended on Saturday). In it Flora Lichtman interviews the adorably awkward Elena Tartaglia on why moths are worth our appreciation (in case you weren’t already aware). She also explains why they are so obsessed with the light over your door. Flora asks Elena about her new favorite moth: the Rosy Maple! Hooray. Also of interest–a Science Friday video that explains how hummingbird moths are able to so resemble their avian counterparts.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). Source:

Xerces is helping to present a free webinar on dragonfly life and conservation which will take place on August first–tomorrow! There is a possibility of obtaining education credits, too. If you love dragonflies you can also participate in some citizen science for the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, which is working to better understand their migrational patterns. 


ALB. Source: Wikipedia.

These dog days of summer mean that the Asian Longhorned Beetle is out and about. If you live in New York state and have a pool you can participate in a survey to help control the spread of this destructive insect.

Bees have been big newsmakers lately, primarily due to tragedy. In the wake of the largest poisoning of bumblebees ever, Xerces has called for the end of the cosmetic pesticide that caused it, dinotefuran, aka Safari. There is also a congress-bound petition to stop Safari here

An article from Treehugger sums up new research regarding the increasingly disastrous relationship between chemically-ridden America and honeybees.

The researchers…collected pollen from hives on the east coast, including cranberry and watermelon crops, and fed it to healthy bees. Those bees had a serious decline in their ability to resist a parasite that causes Colony Collapse Disorder. The pollen they were fed had an average of nine different pesticides and fungicides, though one sample of pollen contained a deadly brew of 21 different chemicals. Further, the researchers discovered that bees that ate pollen with fungicides were three times more likely to be infected by the parasite.


Bumblebee all up in a tomato blossom. [Highly fascinating] source: 

 In less dire news, the Times published a truly fascinating story in which Carl Zimmer artfully describes the bumblebee, the pollen that it feeds upon, and the effect that this culinary act has on pollination. In short, when a bee lands on, for example, a tomato flower (or a blossom from one of the other tens of thousands of plants which rely upon bumblebees for pollination), it immediately starts working to find pollen to eat. “‘It sounds like a bee is giving you a raspberry'” as it is

“in fact…creating resonating vibrations to loosen the pollen grains inside the [flower’s] tubes. ‘The bees are turning themselves into living tuning forks.'”

As the bee holds and shakes the flower, it causes microscopic pollen within to pinball against the tubes’ walls. Eventually they “gain so much energy that they blast out in a cloud that coats the bee.” The insect then gathers the grains to sacks on its legs so that it may feed the hive’s larvae later. Some pollen, however, remains on the bee’s fur and will dust off when the creature alights upon another blossom, hopefully leading to the inception of a brand new Brandywine, Sungold, or other blessedly summery fruit.

monarch drawing

Source: etsy.

Lastly, I have a detailed post cooking on the current state of the monarch butterfly. Until it’s published, however, here’s a link to a board that I’ve put together on Pinterest, Monarch Life Support. It’s a growing resource on monarch education which includes plenty of information on ways that we common folk can help this beloved, yet struggling, creature survive. Please let me know of other resources to add to the board and I’ll pin ’em up.

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