Sunday, June 28, 2009

Would YOU Eat That?

Warning: This post is not for the squeamish!

Ahhh, Summer Camp. At Southeastway, we have been conducting summer camp since the beginning of June. Each week we host a different age group of children and different themes. This past week was Survivor Camp and the kids were grouped in teams and faced various challenges each day. I think a great time was had by all.

One of my favorite activities to plan is the eating challenge. We find some of the grossest food possible and have the teams take turns eating it. Each team sent a member of their team up to the front to face off. One member would pull a piece of paper out of a cup indicating "How Many Bites" and the other would select "What" they were eating. Sounds like torture? Oh, no! These kids are die-hard!!! So here is a pictorial of the menu. I found almost all these goodies at the Oriental market in Castleton. So if any these nuggets look appealing to you and you live in Indy, you can pick some up for yourself! Bon appetit!

I bet your mouth is watering right now! This is sardines mashed up. Smells yucky, looks gross, but the kids actually said it wasn't bad at all.

One of the more repugnant choices: Silkworm Pupae. Ughhh! Yep, comes in a can at the oriental market.

Here is a closeup of the delicacy. One of the kids almost puked on this one. But Ben was a real trooper and choked it down. I was nice and let them bring their water bottles. And if you are wondering, yeah, I tried them. Not a fan, they are pretty rough.

Looks gross doesn't it? But deceit and trickery is part of the game, too. Some thought this was worms, some thought squid tentacles. But really is is just oriental mushrooms. One of the kids passed and gave the other team a point on this one. Just looked too awful to eat. Of course I was going on about how sorry I was that they had picked it. What a stinker, I am!

This is eel. And it actually was not bad at all. The kids took this plate to lunch with them and finished it off and wondered where they could get more. I was really surprised.

Liver pate'. Smelled like cat food. Nuff said.

Yes, those are what you think they are. Crickets. We buy them from a specialty store that carries flavored bugs. These are bacon and cheese flavored.

What is this??? Actually, the ingredients are simple: Bean dip, cottage cheese and pickle relish.
This was another psych out.

And the grossest of the gross. Squid in natural ink. Very, very, very, very, very disgusting.

Our teams had a tie, so a tie-breaker was in order. Miss Linsi made a lovely hors d'oeuvres for a challenge. The contestants scarfed it down like it was nothing. Unreal! So they ended in a tie-both teams were winners in this contest. And now I need to come up with something a little more challenging for the next Survivor Camp!


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Hitchhiker

On the way home from work the other day, I noticed what at first glance looked like a spider on my driver side mirror. A closer look when I got to a stop made me realized it was a true bug of some sort. I hoped the little critter would hold on until I made it home to inspect it. And it did! It endured a 15 minute ride at speeds up to 50 miles an hour. What a trooper!

Here is the little guy. I jumped out of the car at my place and clicked a bunch of pictures. I heard the neighbor kids wonder out loud what I was doing and soon they sent a scout to wander by and take a peek. I heard the report in the distance-"She is taking pictures of a bug, eeewwww!"

My hithhiker was a young Wheel Bug nymph. It must have climbed on my car at the park.

Wheel Bugs are fascinating animals. I found the adult shown above last summer. They are predatory members of the order Hemiptera. Other members are stink bugs, cicadas, leaf hoppers and leaf bugs. Even though they look scary, they are a significant players in the food chain game. I am glad he stopped by for a visit.

My cat Peach shoved her body THROUGH the blind to let me know she was quite annoyed with the whole thing. "Why are you out there looking at a bug and not in here taking care of me? I want nums!!!"

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Robber fly

I found this creature Saturday while on a hike with my sister, Joyce Hornsby. At first I thought it was a large bumblebee, but it landed on a leaf and stayed there. Bees might stay for a while on a flower to consume nectar, but they rarely stay on a leaf for long before moving on. I also noticed it was holding another insect. This was not a bee, but a robber fly!

Robber fly in the genus Laphria holding

what looks to be a large flying ant.

Robber flies in the genus Laphria are bee mimics. This fools predators into believing it is a bee and animals that have already had an unpleasant experience with a bee will shy away from the robber fly and leave it in alone.

Robber flies are in the insect order Diptera, where most flies are found. They have a characteristic mystax which is like an insect moustache. They have three ocelli, extra simple eyes on top of the head that probably aid in catching prey and sensing predators. They have the amazing ability to catch most of their prey on the wing, Once the prey is in its grasp, the robber fly will jab its mouthpart into the unlucky individual and fill it with saliva that has neurotoxins and proteolytic enzymes, enzymes that break down protein. This renders the prey motionless and liquifies its insides. Not the way I would want to go! Then the robber fly slurps it all up like a tasty milkshake. You think the Sopranos were violent? They've got nuthin' on the insect world!!!StumbleUpon

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Nerodio! Lake Erie Water Snake Wrasslin'

Yep, now I know what it feels like to be Elly May Clampett. Wrasslin' critters and all. Earlier this month, June 1st and 2nd to be exact, I ventured up to Kelleys Island to help out with the Nerodio, the annual Lake Erie Water Snake roundup. Nerodio (a play on the word Nerodia, the genus of Lake Erie Water Snakes) is a two-week census where the snakes are captured, weighed, measured and tagged. It takes place during mating season when the snakes are out and about. The census helps keep track of the population as a whole and individual snakes, as well. The census has been going on for nine years. The group of scientists/snake enthusiasts are crazy and a lot of fun! And I had a blast!

During my visit, the group caught almost 70 snakes and 59 of those in one day. This is considered a slow day! On good days they catch upwards of 200 +. Unfortunately, I don't have any pics of any of us catching the snakes. But if you would like to watch Kristin Stanford work her magic, there is a great video here. She is known as the Island Snake Lady and was featured on Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, catching these critters.

I will share with you some pics of the sciencey stuff-the measuring, tagging and weighing stuff.

The snakes are measured from their head to their vent or cloaca (where they poo, for my non-sciencey friends). This is Dr. Richard King from Northern Illinois University taking the measurement.

The snakes are scanned to see if they are tagged. The pit-tag is a little ID microchip that is inserted under the skin of the snake and gives them an unique identification. Since information on where it is captured, how much it weighs and its length is taken on each snake, this can be compared from year to year if the snakes are captured again.

Here is a pic to show how small the pit-tags are. They are the small copper colored pellets. Notice how tiny they are when compared to the pencil.

This is the scanner showing the unique number that is read when the snake is scanned.
The microchip is inserted just under the skin of the snake with a syringe.

The snakes are marked so we will know which ones have already been captured. This mark is not permanent; it will disappear when the snake sheds its skin.

How do you weigh a snake when they won't sit still? Place them in a container, of course!

Here is Andrew Moore, a student of Dr. Rich King showing his skills.

This is one of the big boys, or more accurately, girls. The female snakes are usually bigger than the males. What a whopper!

Many of my friends have asked me if I was bit. Yes, I was. Tis, but a scratch....just a flesh wound. It looks much worse than it is. Water snakes have anti-coagulants in their saliva which make their prey bleed quickly. This helps the snakes subdue their dinner. The snakes' diet is mainly fish and amphibians. The bite was completely gone only a week later.

Lake Erie Water Snakes are only indigenous to the Lake Erie region. Why should we protect them and study them? Because everything in nature is interconnected and has its place. This animal is a key player in the ecology of this region and who knows what kind of impact would be felt if the animal disappeared. Even if one is not a snake admirer, one should realize the importance of such an amazing animal.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Baby Muskrat

On a recent jaunt to Kelleys Island, OH, I found a baby muskrat that was not at all afraid of people. I was able to get very close and take some shots while it snacked away on a plant. Common Muskrats, Ondatra zibethicus, are mostly herbivores, usually eating plants. They feast on aquatic vegetation, but will occasionally eat small fish, frogs, clams, mussels and crayfish. This one was seen later in the day chowing down on a fish that had washed up on shore. They normally do not eat in the water. They will drag their food up on the bank or to a feeding platform they have constructed. This allows them to eat and still be wary of predators.

Num, Num, Num- I am not looking at you, human! You cannot share my nums.

Muskrats have some amazing features. The tail is bilaterally flattened. While a beaver's tail is flat on the top and bottom, a muskrats is flattened on the sides. The rudder-like tail and the slightly webbed feet allows the muskrat to swim effortlessly backwards and forwards and at speeds up to three miles an hour. Their dense fur coat is waterproof and traps air that contributes to their buoyancy.

Look at that face! But it also built for living in the water. Their small ears can be closed under water and their lips can close and seal behind their incisors. This feature allows them to nip vegetation under the surface without getting a mouthful of water. They can stay under water up to fifteen minutes!

They are fairly common in Indianapolis, but are crepuscular mostly, meaning they usually come out at dusk and dawn. Check out the waterways near you for this amazing little critter!

Check out more Camera Critters at Misty Dawn's site here.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bold Jumping Spider

I have been on a mini-vacation for a few days. I went to Ohio for a couple of great adventures. On Saturday, I visited Cave Lake, A YMCA camp in Pike County, near Latham, OH. We had lots of interesting plants which I will put up soon on my other blog. We also had this critter, a Bold Jumping Spider, Phidippus audax. Such a beautiful and curious little beast. My friend Tom Arbour has a video of me holding it on his awesome blog. Just look for the June 3rd post of "Janet and the Jumping Spider". Anyway, here are some shots of this amazing creature.

Bold Jumping Spider can be distinguished by its dull black spots on its abdomen. There are many different phases and colors of this spider and you can view another one that is more of a brown phase on Jim McCormac's blog. There is an gallery on a page on Bugguide that has the many different phases. Bold Jumping Spiders have iridescent green chelicerae, the covering of their fangs. In the picture above, they are showing up with a gold color.

Above the curious beast is checking out my watch. Jumping spiders supposedly can see color and may have been attracted to the brightly colored band.

Jumping spiders in general have fairly good sight, with eight eyes. Four are very prominently displayed in front with two more located on each side of the head. This gives it an ability to see whats going on in the surrounding area, yet focus intensely on what is in front of it. Jumping spiders do not spin a web, but instead are hunters that scurry along until they find suitable prey and then pounce upon them.

When they wish to jump from one area to another, they will use a safety line made of of spider silk that they spin from their spinnerets. Similar to a rock climber, the jumping spider will secure a line of strong silk then leap over to the other area. If it misses its mark, it will climb up its safety line and try again.

Check back tomorrow for my adventures with Kristin Stanford, Dr. Rich King, Kent Bekker and crew at the Nerodio. Kristin was featured with Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs. We had an amazing time catching Lake Erie Water Snakes on Kelleys Island.