Some Sights From the Wild

Hearts a bursting or strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus) is showing off its namesake fruit. There are a dozen or so of these plants across the campus. The easiest to see and photograph is on the Dinosaur Trail, on the right side of the path just past the Albertosaurus.

The hearts are busting open and releasing their seeds.

While on the Dino Trail, keep an eye out for a flatworm or land planarian, especially on warm, rainy days. Most people are familiar with planarian worms from biology lab back in middle or high school. The planarians of your biolab days were aquatic creatures known for the ability to regenerate body parts and are very common in most locales.

Flathead worm or land planarian crossing path on Dinosaur Trail.

The Dino Trail planarians, which are terrestrial, are not of this continent. They’re most often encountered in this country in greenhouses, arriving via potted tropical plants. They’re southeast Asian in origin. I suspect they arrived on our Dino Trail via new plantings on the trail.

Close view of head.

The planarian pictured here is the first I’ve seen in about a year and a half when there were dozens seen during a particularly wet spring. In wild situations, like our DinoTrail, the planarians often die out during the winter. This individual is either a survivor or a new arrival from a recently planted tree or shrub.

The planarians eat earthworms, slugs and insect larvae. Their mouths, and ani, are located halfway down their bodies. Planarians crawl atop their prey, cover it with a sticky mucus, effectively pinning the victim in place, then suck the bodily fluids from the worm, slug, or insect.

While standing alongside the garden next to the cafe I noticed two butterflies in close proximity to one another. They were clouded skippers, and they were mating. These grass skippers are common and widespread in North Carolina.

Backlit clouded skippers mating.
Here, you can see the identifying characteristics of the butterflies (light “frosting” on outer portion of wings and dark central area).

While standing at the railing of the boardwalk in Explore the Wild I saw a tiny bump on a fallen willow branch near the edge of the water. A closer look revealed a juvenile common musk turtle, or stinkpot. The adults grow to about 4.5 inches. The one pictured is about an inch (carapace length).

Can you see the “bump” on the branch?
Tiny stinkpot.

As I watched the little turtle bask, I noticed a medium-sized blueish dragonfly light on the fence grating on the railings of the boardwalk. It was a male eastern pondhawk. Young males and females are bright green.

Male eastern pondhawk.
Female eastern pondhawk.

A light-colored millipede legged its way across the path in front of me as I made my way towards Catch the Wind. We have two species of millipede that I see regularly here at the museum, the common millipede (the one that’s brown and round in cross-section) and the flat-backed millipede (the one that’s flat, black-backed and has yellow legs). This looked to be neither. Oh, it was flat alright, but it wasn’t black.

Common millipede.
Flat millipede, but not black and yellow.
Rear view.

The millipede seems to be a flat-backed millipede that has recently molted. It should darken soon.

And we finish our walk at the Red Wolf Enclosure.

Pup red wolf totes a large rat.

The pups are growing fast, come on out to see them for yourself!

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