Friday, July 25, 2008

Urban Wildlife Watch: Winged Ants

The other day, I was swatting away in the kitchen at flies. For some reason, flies have been getting into my house - big flies...and some small ones. But one fly looked a little different. After I swatted in dead and it landed in the tub, I realized, this is no fly...It's an ant.

Yes, some ants are winged, but only the reproductively active ones - in other words Queens and males. This isn't my picture. Regrettably, I don't have a macro lens on the digital camera (bummer). But this is what it looked like. What distinguishes a winged ant from a fly is its body shape. The ant's body is overall much thinner than a fly. And unlike most flies, the ant doesn't have any of that iridescent coloring on its head. And it you look very closely, the ant has that characteristic thin waste and fat abdomen with a stinger. It looks a lot like a tiny wasp. That's because Wasps and Ants are in the same insect family - Hymenoptera.

Keep your eyes open very wide and look closely and you too might be able to spot a rare Winged Ant.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Urban Wildlife Watch: Fireflies

About a week ago, the backyard was newly cut and it was filled with fireflies. I mean, lots of them. My friend and I sat and recollected our adventures catching fireflies as children. I would catch them and hold them in my hand. He would collect them in mason jars stuffed with lots of grass. He would place the jar next to his bed and use the fireflies as a night light.

My years of studying animal behavior have introduced me to lots of interesting things about fireflies. Did you know that there several different species of fireflies? And that the lighting frequency and pattern is indicative of the species? The lighting frequency helps males find females for mating. Now, that I think back, I was interfering with the love life of many fireflies in my youth. Oh, well. Chasing and catching fireflies is a summer time ritual. I encourage kids (of all ages) to look out for fireflies in the early nightfall hours. It's relaxing and a perfect way to spend time with your family.

There is a species of predatory fireflies, the Photuris firefly that feed on other, smaller firefly species. Female Photuris flies actually mimic the light pattern of other species and attract males who think she is available for mating. Then, womp! She pounces on the deceived males and eat them. Crazy, huh?
I also joined an online Firefly Watch Project sponsored by the Museum of Science in Boston. It's a Citizen Science Project that asks volunteers to catalog their nature observations and submit them to a database. It's fun. It's easy. Sign-up now. And for high school students, I recommend keeping notes on your contributions and let your science teacher know. You might be able to earn community service/service learning credit from your school.
Fill me in on your Urban Science Adventures!

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