by Svetlana Wasserman
With Halloween approaching, nature is in on the fun with its own orange and black tricks, or treats!
Known to make ladies blush and hasten away in Victorian times, this is the aptly named Phallus impudicus mushroom, more commonly called the Stinkhorn. These jaunty creatures can be spotted from summer to mid-autumn in moist soil or mulch. What makes these mushrooms so unusual is that they do not rely on wind to spread their spores. Instead, they grow a slimy cover over their spores that smells like carrion, but is irresistible to hungry flies and other insects. The unwitting insects devour the slime and then pass the spores through their digestive tracts. Can’t get enough? Watch this time-lapse video of the life cycle of a stinkhorn.
So this is where the party is! These are juvenile and an adult large milkweed bugs. Remind you of anyone? That’s right. They have the same coloration as monarch butterflies. It’s no coincidence, because they eat the same food. Both feed exclusively on milkweed plants, which contain toxic compounds that these insects have evolved immunity to. Not so for creatures wishing to eat them, hence the bright orange and black colors of both the milkweed bug and the monarch, warning predators, “Stay away! I’m not candy corn.”
What’s Halloween without a good spider web? This one was woven over my azalea bushes, and you can see the artist on the right. I never get tired of admiring droplets of water caught in spider webs, like crystals. Scientists studying the remarkable properties of spider webs found that spider silk is supported by tiny microfibers that make up bumpy joints. As water collects on the web, droplets move to the nearest joint where they coalesce to form larger drops, creating the beautiful appearance of a beaded necklace. They are not only lovely to look at, but also inspiration for cutting edge technology. Researchers are trying to mimic the spider’s web to create fibers that could be used to collect water from air.
The outdoors are full of tricks and treats this month. So put on your sneakers and get outside to find your own! Questions about what you are looking at? Snap a pic and send to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will try to answer your nature mystery.