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Matt Pelikan

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Answers from the Wild Side

What’s this spotted bug?

Thriving on the bare minimum

In nature, no niche goes unoccupied for long: even nothing is something, for the right creature.

Answers from the Wild Side: Is this a Black Widow?

Black widows generally are famous as the most venomous spiders in North America, one of very few arthropods on the continent that is capable of killing a human being. Being small spiders, they can inject only a tiny quantity of venom. But the venom is incredibly potent...

Blinded by bias

Better still, I began to get a sense for the entire family: what conditions its members like, what characteristics mark the family itself or help you sort out its members. In short, I learned something! I find this fun.

It’s a seven-spotted Ladybug

It is now widely established — so widely, in fact, that it may be out-competing many of our native ladybugs, such as the two-spotted ladybug that is the official state insect of Massachusetts. (I bet you didn’t even know we had a state insect!)

Answers about plants

I could go on for weeks about the various approaches plants take to make adversity less adverse. Here are just a few examples to illustrate how creative evolution has been.

Bees and wasps: maligned but magnificent

To be sure, there are a few species of each that are irritable enough to make awkward neighbors. The so-called social bees and wasps, that is, the species that live in large colonies and build elaborate nests, certainly will sting in defense of their homes. (Wouldn’t you?)

Answers from the Wild side

Why do moths come to lights?

A highly evolved butterfly

The Vineyard supports good numbers of bog coppers, but this unique butterfly depends on keeping local bogs healthy.

Answers from the Wild Side: The gall of some wasps

Which is pretty remarkable when you think about it: to form a gall, an insect species must develop the ability to hijack the biochemical processes that govern tissue production in a plant, producing a structure that perfectly suits the insect’s needs.

Juniper hairstreaks come and go

The juniper hairstreak is fairly easy to find, and very much worth the effort. Its underside bears an elaborate pattern of stripes. But this species is distinctive because the basic ground color of its wings is olive — it is the Island’s only predominantly green butterfly, and fresh ones, especially, are stunningly beautiful.

Birds, humans look out for Cooper’s hawks

The relationship between humans and Cooper’s hawks has not been a happy one. The hawks, being optimized for bird-hunting, have a hard time passing up chickens. And farmers, not wanting to lose chickens, for many years responded by shooting the hawks.

Answers from the Wild Side

Tortoise beetles lay eggs in spring, usually on the underside of the leaves of the plant the adult prefers to feed on. The eggs hatch into remarkably homely larvae, flattened, slug-like, and equipped with branching spines. The larvae of some species are said to assemble a sort of shield, consisting of debris pasted together with feces, which they hold over themselves as protection from would-be predators

Answers from the Wild Side

Got a question about the natural world?

The duskywing identification challenge

They’re neither helpful nor harmful from the human perspective, and their disappearance would likely have little ecological effect. But I value my acquaintance with them: knowing these insects, I feel like I have a secret perspective on the Vineyard landscape. And the season’s first Juvenal’s duskywing, bopping across a path or clearing, is always a welcome sign that spring is here to stay.

Patience, diligence trump assumptions

These grayish mystery critters were perfectly camouflaged against the sand. Unable to get a decent look, I had no idea what they might be.

It’s a bee; it’s a fly! It’s a bee-fly!

The legs of Bombylius are long and delicate, and protruding from the front end is a fearsome-looking spike that might suggest a blood-sucking habit.

Beetle-mania

It’s a time when the world still looks dead and it’s hard to imagine any insects stirring, until you look more closely and see that, in fact, a surprising variety of hardy bugs are on the move. Even with frosty nights still lingering, ground beetles like this gnarly black Meloe are out and about, doing their thing.

Mill Brook presentation described the natural possibilities

The Island’s streams have always struck me as a bit incongruous in the Vineyard landscape: cold, gravel-bottomed, and often flowing quickly down fairly steep gradients, they seem like bits of Vermont transplanted to the coast.

Winter wanes, vagrant arrivals wax

Island birders will be out in force, looking for the southern, western, or even Eurasian bird that took a wrong turn.