Friday, June 24, 2011

Small wonders

Mike Garcia has been taking photos of animals, plants, and all things wild at the Center and Norm's Island. This morning he shared this fantastic photo of a wolf spider. Can you count all the little legs on her back? Those are her young spiderlings, freshly hatched! Wolf spiders carry their egg sacs by attaching them to their spinnerets. After the young spiders emerge, they climb up onto their mother's abdomen, where they will live for a few weeks until they can hunt on their own.

There are more than 2000 species of wolf spiders! Their name derives from their superb hunting ability. Unlike web-weaving spiders, wolf spiders actually chase their prey. They live mostly solitary lives, and hunt alone. Some wolf spiders will defend a territory while others are free-roaming. Like all spiders, they have eight legs, fang-like mouth parts (chelicerae) and two body parts (an abdomen and a cephalothorax). They can be distinguished from other spiders by their stout build and arrangement of their eyes (8 total).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New resident, or a transient?

Yesterday we celebrated the summer solstice, also known as the official first day of summer. This is the longest day of the year, which happens because planet Earth spins on an axis that tips toward and away from the sun over the course of twelve months. On June 21st, the northern hemisphere of the planet is tipped closest to the sun, meanwhile the southern hemisphere is farthest away from the sun. The opposite happens on December 21st, our darkest day of the year and the longest in the southern hemisphere.

With the arrival of summer, we had a new species arrive at the Center! This morning I caught a quick glimpse of a Richardson's Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus richardsonii). This is one mammal that hadn't yet recolonized the restored habitat here at the Center. Ground squirrels are primarily herbivorous, but will occasionally eat insects and carrion. They are a great prey item for our eagle, osprey, and hawk populations. They are 7 - 9 inches long as adults, and are buff-colored overall, with white hairs on the tip of their tail. They are typically found in open fields and prairies that are well-drained. Populations occur in Minnesota to Montana and north into Canada.

We hope the ground squirrel stays, and brings some friends along. They occur in other areas of Billings so it is possible they have finally found their way here to our fields.

Stop on by to welcome this new addition to the Center!