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Did space aliens spray every inch of east central Wisconsin with wild cucumber seed or is there something peculiar about this spring and summer's weather that accounts for the kudzu-like explosion of this weed along every roadside in this part (and for all I know, other parts) of the state?
Kelly Kearns (invasive plant specialist with DNR's Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation) replies: Populations of annual plants like wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) tend to fluctuate greatly depending on site and weather conditions. The natural habitat for this native vine is along stream corridors, where it colonizes moist soil disturbed by flooding. In wet springs like 2013, roadsides provide a similar habitat, with a high degree of disturbance and sufficient light and moisture for the vine to thrive. Most people don’t notice this prodigious vine until it produces its showy white upright flowers. Although it looks aggressive, this vine will die with the cold weather, leaving its large seeds to wait for another wet spring to germinate. By the way, we received an incredible number of calls and emails on this plant over the late summer months!
ST. LOUIS RIVER RESTORATION IS GRATIFYING
I read with interest the article regarding the St. Louis River in the August issue ("Healing our rivers and harbors," page 6). Having grown up in the area I can say that the St. Louis was a dead river for a long time but not because of the mining industry as the article seems to suggest. North of Cloquet, Minn., where the Taconite industry was operating, the river was clear and a good fishery, while the area down river from Cloquet to Lake Superior was foul smelling and filthy. This was due in large part to the industries in Cloquet which for years dumped raw industrial waste, including highly acidic waste liquor from Northwest Paper and pollutants from Conwed and Diamond Match. The waste liquor was also used as "road binder" to reduce dust on rural roads for many years. It is very gratifying to see the steps already taken to restore a marvelous resource. Where 50 years ago there was little living in the river, there is now a renewed sport fishing opportunity.
FIREFLY LARVA AS INTERESTING AS ADULT
Insects have always intrigued me and when I recently read the article on the Flash Mob by Amanda Laurenzi (August 2013, "Blinking beetles") it reminded me of an experience I had with the larva stage of this beetle. As a volunteer teacher naturalist at Riveredge Nature Center in Newburg, I was approached by fellow naturalist Lesley Ammonds two springs ago who had captured a strange looking insect. It turned out to be the larva stage of the firefly, the first firefly larva I had ever seen. I observed it walking with its six legs assisted by its abdomen. When I gently touched its head, amazingly it appeared to retract into its thorax for protection. I also learned that this carnivore preys on things like earthworms, slugs, snails, centipedes and millipedes. Its feeding adaptation, two hollow tubes in its mandibles, not only injects a numbing fluid to immobilize its prey, but the fluid also assists in digestion. Breathing at this stage of its life cycle is accomplished by gills on the underside of its abdomen. The firefly truly is more than meets the eye or should I say more than lights the sky! Here is a photo I took of the larva stage of a firefly.
BACK PORCH DRAMA
We have a south-facing sun porch (four-season) and I like to sit and watch the birds at our feeder. The other day I witnessed something I've never seen before. I was the first park naturalist at High Cliff State Park and now volunteer at Mosquito Hill Nature Center (after 30 years teaching environmental education and history in a public school) and I thought I knew a lot about birds. A blue jay came screaming across in front of the windows with a small bird in its beak. The small bird was fluttering like crazy. The jay was followed by three to four robins and they, in turn, followed by several other small birds. The jay lit on a branch of our Norway spruce and was buzzed by the robins. The jay dropped the small bird but immediately flew down to the ground and began to peck it. Robins continued to buzz the jay and the jay would just duck its head away. It was as if the robins were trying to save the life of the small bird. The jay continued to eat this small bird. Only a small pile of feathers remained. I watched all this from less than 15 feet away, inside the porch. I knew blue jays would rob eggs from nests but did not think they’d take a live bird. I know that Coopers hawks will (and we have them here too), but was astonished when I witnessed this event. Thought your readers might find this interesting and make some comments about it.