Month: September 2012

An inconspicuous woodland blossom

While building brush piles for small animals and birds to use as winter shelter in the woods surrounding our property I came across these beautiful, understated blossoms near the forest floor. Their common name is beechdrops.

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Their scientific name, Epifagus (epi = under, fagus = beech) virginiana tells that they only grow under beech trees. They are parasites of beech tree roots, that do no harm, but provide an interesting form of annual undergrowth.

According to the Connecticut Botanical Society, beechdrops are a native plant that blooms in Connecticut woodlands from August through October. The plants have no leaves.

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The entire plant grows from 6” to 20” tall, so it’s easy to overlook shorter beechdrops. The plants often remain standing, in dried form, through the winter. I’m anxious to look for them again after a light snowfall. I expect the skeletons of beechdrops will stand in beautiful contrast to freshly fallen snow.

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If you find one, or some, stop to enjoy the 1/2 inch-long blossoms. They remind me of tiny orchids.

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I’m regularly amazed by the new-to-me discoveries that reveal themselves on my own property. Autumn is a great season to walk Connecticut woodlands, they are wonderful classrooms for learning. All we have to do is visit and open our senses.

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Praying Mantis Pays a Visit

Look what I found clinging to a window screen when I turned on an outside spotlight to check the progress of last night’s wind and rain storm.

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I don’t know if it planned to just hang out there, when the light came on it began scrambling up the screen and, briefly, clung to the outside of the transom window above.

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It seemed curious about the woman pointing the camera in its direction and posed for a portrait.

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With only illumination from the outdoor spotlight, the camera caught a nice close-up.

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The European or Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) is Connecticut’s state insect, a fact I did not know until I did a bit of research for this post. The European mantis is not native to Connecticut so I’m not sure why it is the state insect. If you know why, please share.

According to Bugguide.net, it was introduced, accidentally, in 1899 via nursery stock from southern Europe. The insect was quickly recognized as a predator of gypsy moth caterpillars and grasshoppers and is now sold commercially as a beneficial insect. It’s been Connecticut’s state insect since October 1, 1977.

I don’t think this is a European mantis, though. It better matches photos of the Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia subspecies sinensis), also commonly sold, in the form of egg-cases, for release into gardens as a beneficial insect.

All mantis have voracious appetites, feeing on aphids, caterpillars, and whatever insect it can catch … even other mantids. They don’t feed on plant material, just meaty creatures, making them the gardener’s dream predator.

If you find this insect fascinating and want to learn more, there’s an org for at.  ThePrayingMantis.org has more facts and even videos of different types of praying mantis catching and devouring a spider, cockroach, and even birds.

Kind of makes me wonder if this mantis was sizing me up as a potential meal or just decided to stop for a Kodak moment.

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