Things to look for

As you stroll around the Outdoor Exhibits area there are many opportunities to see some very exciting sights, if you find plants, insects, and reptiles and amphibians exciting, that is. Besides the bears, wolves, lemurs, and all the great stuff in Catch the Wind there are wild creatures and plants trying to make a living out there amongst and between the exhibits.

If you do find the wild fauna and flora exciting, then you’re in luck, many fruits and nuts are ripening, insects are preparing for the inevitable change to cool weather, spinning coccoons, laying eggs or stocking their nests, and reptiles and amphibs are maturing and wandering around the landscape looking to eat as much as they can before the cooler temperatures slow them down, and eventually shut them down, till the spring.

Buckeye is a native plant and can be seen in many places along the Eno River in our area. The species seen along the river is Painted Buckeye which has yellowish flower panicles. We have Red Buckeye (red flowers) here at the Museum. Red Buckeye is found on the southern coastal plain in North Carolina as well as other points south. It was planted here. The two buckeyes are very similar except in the color of the flowers and number of seeds within the fruit capsules, two to three seeds in Red Buckeye and one in Painted Buckeye.

Red Buckeye putting forth fruit.

Here at the Museum, you can see buckeye along the path that passes in front of the Farm Yard and on either side of the trail leading from the Dinosaur Trail to Catch the Wind. Some of the plants, as you can see above, are bearing fruit. Inside the fruit capsule are two to three nuts. Carry one of those nuts, or seeds, around with you in your pocket and it may stifle the pain of arthritis, bring you good luck, or it may even enhance your financial health (Beck).

Hearts a Bustin’ is also putting out seeds. There are two plants on campus that are within easy viewing distance. The plant on the Dinosaur Trail is particularly easy to see, it’s on the same side of the trail as the Albertosaurus and just around the corner from that fierce, T-rex cousin. The plant stands next to a large oak stump.

Also known as Strawberry Bush, Hearts a Bustin’ is one of my favorite plants.

Hearts a Bustin doesn’t usually grow in clusters or groups of plants, or at least I’ve never seen it do so. I’ve always come across it unexpectedly while on a fall hike in the woods, a single plant or shrub growing by itself among the trees. It’s always a surprise which is probably why I favor it so.

Many insects are stocking up for the future. Spider wasps (Pompilidae) seek out spiders, paralyze them with their venom, and then drag them back to their burrows to be stuffed in a chamber of the burrow. Once in the chamber, the wasps lay an egg on or next to the spider for the larva to consume when the egg hatches.

I’d witnessed several of these wasps dragging spiders across the road during August. This one’s made it to the side of the path and is zeroing in on its burrow, “Almost there.” I wonder if the spider realizes what’s going on.

These wasps are hyperactive little creatures. While dragging the spider, the wasp may stop, circle the spider several times while constantly feeling the ground with its antennae and twitching its wings. It may pace back and forth several times before continuing on, dragging home its prize.

Most of the various spider wasps are black with a dash of red somewhere on their wings or bodies, but the one pictured here happens to have a reddish body with blue-black wings.

A somewhat worn Gray Hairstreak.

Gray Hairstreaks like the one in the photo can be seen into October. They are common in our area, so don’t pass up any small grayish butterfly that you may happen to see fluttering along low on the side of the path while walking around the outdoor loop. Stop and have a closer look, it may be a Gray Hairstreak.

The smartweed.

I continue to see Green Treefrogs in the smartweed at the end of the boardwalk in Explore the Wild. I’ve been seeing anywhere from two to five each day. Most are juveniles but there are still some adults about. I think, though, that the breeding season is over so we probably won’t be seeing many adults from this point on.

These little frogs can be very difficult to locate amongst the greenery.

Also, keep an eye out for water snakes.

A Northern Water Snake waits for an inattentive frog.

While standing on the boardwalk looking for treefrogs and snakes with one eye, keep the other eye open for katydids, Handsome Katydids. Handsome Katydids are meadow katydids. They like to hang out down in the grass. The full adults become obvious in August. They can be seen until the first frost which, here in Durham, is typically during the second half of October.

A Handsome Katydid feels around the smartweed in the Wetlands.

There’ll be many more exciting goings on outdoors in the coming weeks as some of our plants and animals wind down and others gear up, preparing themselves for what’s to come, winter.

I can’t wait!

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