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Matt Pelikan

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The fascinating sound of the order Orthoptera

Martha’s Vineyard enjoys a seasonal serenade from members of an insect order commonly identified as crickets.

Answers from the Wild Side

Should we be rooting for black snakes? And what about this bug stuff that looks like jewelry?

Let us prey

Why choose venomous victuals when you could sup on a butterfly?

On to next year

The standard division of a year into four seasons is a mighty coarse approximation. Shifts of light, air, and growth as the earth’s orbit...

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.