Nice Eyes

The eye is the jewel of the body.

~Henry David Thoreau

I hope you are enjoying Melissa’s wildflower observations. She will have more in coming days. But this morning I wanted to share something I found a few days ago and finally took the time to go photograph yesterday afternoon. We have a nest box out behind our fence in an open spot in the woods. Over the years it has had chickadees and wasps using it. I was walking by it a few days ago and opened it up to see if there was any nesting activity as yet. I pulled the nest cup out and it contained an old flattened chickadee nest (moss and hair on top). As I started to put the cup back in, I noticed movement in the back of the box – a huge jumping spider, probably the largest jumper I had ever seen. I made a mental note to come back with a camera. Well, it took two days for me to get back there and I assumed the spider might be gone, but when I opened it up…

jumping spider inside bluebird box

Jumping spider in silk sac inside bird house (click photos to enlarge)

…she was still there! She (and I am guessing she based on her size, females are larger than males) had constructed a loose silk sac in one corner and was peaking out. I wanted to get a better image but I didn’t want to lose in her the leaf debris, so I had brought a large piece of white mat board to photograph her on. But, I had to gently coax her out first, which was not easy. She really did not want to leave that box. She finally climbed onto the stick I was using to gently herd her and I brought her out. Of course, being what she is, she then jumped and I was able to catch her in my other hand.

jumping spider in hand

Jumping spider in my hand

She was a beauty, over a half an inch in length, bold markings on her abdomen, and the usual incredible jumping spider eyes. I lowered her onto the mat board, expecting her to dash off, but she just stat there and oriented toward me as I got down on the ground for a few shots.

canopy jumping spider

A closer look at the exquisite jumping spider

She turned out to be en excellent model, allowing me to take several images while just moving slightly from time to time as I moved around her.

front view 1

Here’s looking at you…

After a few minutes, I raised the mat board up to the entrance of the bird house, opened the door and gently blew on her. She took the hint and walked over and climbed back into the box. Back at my house, I picked up my copy of Spiders of the Carolinas, by L.L. Gaddy, and thumbed through the jumping spider section. It looks as though she is a Canopy Jumper, Phidippus otiosus. The large size and distinctive V-shaped pattern on the abdomen are diagnostic. This is a fairly common species in woodlands, so I am surprised I have never seen one (at least not one this large). I’ll be sure to check on her again, although, while I was trying to get her out of the box, a large queen bumblebee entered. I think she may be building a nest in the nest cup full of moss and hair. That may complicate my visits in the future.

canopy jumping spider face

Those eyes…and those lashes aren’t bad either.

Once again, there is so much beauty just outside our door.

Flower Parts Part 2: Our State Flower

Whereas, the Dogwood is a radiantly beautiful flower which grows abundantly in all parts of the State; and

Whereas, there is a great demand from all parts of the State that this Legislature adopt an official flower; Now, therefore,

The General Assembly of North Carolina do enact:

That the Dogwood be, and it is hereby, adopted as the official flower of the State of North Carolina.

In the General Assembly read three times and ratified, this the 15th day of March, 1941.

~H.B. 609, 1941

Most people are familiar with the flowering dogwood tree. Not only does it grow fairly abundantly in the wild, but it’s also frequently used in landscaping because of its beautiful white springtime blooms. It’s our state flower here in North Carolina, and also in Virginia (where it is both the state flower and the state tree). It’s the state tree in Missouri and the state memorial tree in New Jersey as well. While Virginia, Missouri, and New Jersey all specify that they’re referring to the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), North Carolina does not. But reading the declaration by the General Assembly, I’m going to go out on a limb (pun intended) and assume they meant the flowering dogwood, too.

Though I’m a proud transplanted North Carolinian, I must say that I think Missouri and New Jersey did a better job when they selected the tree rather than the flower for their state symbol. Because this is our state flower:

picture of dogwood floret

Dogwood flower

Yup, that’s it. Not only is it kind of unremarkable, but it’s only about 1/4″ long. Unless you’re a nature nerd, you might have been expecting to see a picture like this:

dogwood blossom

Flowering dogwood blossom

Because I am a nature nerd, I have heard many times that the white “petals” on a dogwood are not really petals; they are actually bracts. Back to everyone’s favorite Plant Identification Terminolog: An Illustrated Guide by Harris and Harris, a bract is “a reduced leaf or leaflike structure at the base of a flower or inflorescence.” Hmmm… those don’t look like leaves to me! But if you take a closer look at the center of the bloom, and refer back to my previous post about parts of a flower, you begin to see why.

close up of center of dogwood blossom

As we get closer, you begin to see the details of the real dogwood flowers.

The dogwood does not have a simple flower. Instead, it has a cluster of tiny flowers (florets) in the center of the inflorescence.

closer look at dogwood flowers

An even closer look at the dogwood flowers.

You can see in this image how some of the flowers are open, and others (notably the three right in front) are not yet open. Given my recent fascination with the parts of a flower, I couldn’t resist dissecting this flower to look more closely at it!

cutaway side view of dogwood blossom

Cutaway of the dogwood blossom with 2 bracts and a few of the outer flower removed.

In the cross-section view, you can really begin to see the individual dogwood flowers. And on the flowers that I removed from the blossom, you can trace the development of the flowers as they open, and start noticing the flower parts.

four dogwood florets from unopened to fully opened

Development of dogwood flowers. In the first two flowers pictured, the petals have not yet opened.

The petals curve back as they open, revealing 4 stamens and a greenish pistil in the center. But as I mentioned in my earlier flower parts post, I really enjoy the challenge of finding the sepals…

close up of unopened dogwood flower

Super close-up of unopened dogwood flower

Getting even closer, you can see the downy green lip surrounding the unopened petals; I assume these are the sepals. I was very excited to notice this detail! (Yes, I am a nerd.)

super close up of dogwood flower, same picture as at start of post

Dogwood flower – the official state flower of North Carolina!

Here we are, back where we started: an open dogwood flower. Getting this close allows you to see the four pollen-producing stamen surrounding the pistil. It even looks like this flower has been pollinated as it appears there is some pollen on the stigma (though I’d say there’s a decent chance I accidentally pollinated it while manipulating the flowers).

So there you have it – North Carolina’s state flower!

Whether you want to or not… Parts of a Flower

When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.

~Georgia O’Keeffe

So far this spring, I’ve had to cancel workshops that I was planning for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences taking educators to the swamp along the Roanoke River and to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’ve always been a huge proponent of sharing real experiences in the natural world with others, in large part because I learned the value of that so well from Mike. But in this challenging time when I’m no longer able to do that, I’ve decided to finally try to embrace the power of sharing things in a virtual way, while still encouraging people to get outside and experience the world around them. To that end, my colleague Megan and I have begun creating a series of online workshops for educators where we share some information through a video and then give them a couple nature journaling activities to guide their exploration of the nature in their backyards or local parks. My most recent endeavor in this series was to teach the parts of a flower and send folks out to apply that knowledge by observing flowers in their yard and recording what they notice. Looking closely into the world of flowers is fascinating, and particularly timely with the arrival of spring. So I wanted to share some snippets of what I’ve discovered with the Roads End Naturalist crowd!

Let’s start with a quick primer on flower parts. I spent time during a recent online meeting sketching one of the wild geranium flowers in our yard (ah, the wonders of turning off your video during a zoom meeting!) and created a diagram of the parts of a simple flower.

Sketch of wild geranium flower with sepals, petals, pistil, and stamens labeled.

Parts of a wild geranium flower, as well as enlarged drawings of a stamen and the pistil.

The main parts of a flower are the sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils. Let’s take a look at the arrangement of these parts in a simple flower that is abundant in our yard right now, the wood poppy, or Stylophorum diphyllum. This species is native to the eastern US, though technically not the Carolinas. However, it is native to the surrounding states of Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia. I chose this flower as a starting point because it’s one of the larger flowers blooming in our yard right now, and it demonstrates most of the flower parts well.

Here’s the wood poppy flower. It’s about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and displays four vivid yellow petals. Petals are perhaps the most recognizable part of the flower. They are typically the most colorful part of the flower and often play a key role in attracting pollinators.

close up image of wood poppy flower

Wood poppy flower

But what about the sepals? According to Plant Identification Terminology: An Illustrated Glossary by James and Melinda Harris (yes, we own a copy of this book… what does that say about us?), a sepal is “a segment of the calyx.” So what’s a calyx, you ask? “The outer perianth whorl.” And a perianth is “the calyx and corolla of a flower, collectively.” I still don’t know what a calyx is… but corolla? “The collective name for all the petals of a flower.” Ah… botanical jargon. (Picture the eye-roll emoji here.) It just might be worse that geologic jargon. (In case you don’t know, I am NOT a botanist – my degrees are in geology, and I like to joke that you have to like big words, as well as hitting things with hammers, to be a geologist). At least I know what petals are (“an individual segment or member of the corolla, usually colored or white”)! The easiest way I’ve found to explain it is that the sepals are arranged outside of the whorl of petals. Sometimes they are green, other times they look a lot more like the petals. And I’ve noticed that they often seem to enclose the flower bud before it opens, which can be a helpful clue in identifying them.

So where are the sepals on the wood poppy? Normally, they would be underneath the flower, and might even be visible from the top-down view (some sepals act more like petals when the flower is open). But the wood poppy flower presented a mystery because underneath the petals is just the stem – no sepals! So does this flower lack sepals? To solve the mystery, I went looking around the yard to find some unopened flowers.

close up photo of a wood poppy flower bud with hairy sepals surrounding the yellow, unopened flower

Notice the two hairy sepals surrounding the unopened yellow flower.

In this picture of a flower bud, you can see two hairy, translucent sepals just beginning to open, exposing the yellow flower inside. I also looked around underneath the flowers and found a few sepals lying beneath the plant. So it turns out that for this species, the sepals fall off as the flower opens.

wood poppy flower form the side

I removed two petals and about half the stamens so that you can better see the structure of the wood poppy flower. Notice the lack of sepals underneath the petals.

So now we get to the important parts of the flower, the stamens and the pistil. Because why do we really have flowers, anyway? Not just to look beautiful in a vase on my kitchen counter. Flowers exist to produce new plants. Without flowers, there would be no fruits and seeds. Many flowers, like this one, rely on pollinators and put a lot of work into attracting them through vivid colors, nectar rewards, and sometimes even trickery (check out the part of this earlier post about the grass pink orchid). Other flowers rely on the wind to disperse their pollen (anyone else’s screen porch covered in pine pollen right now?), and some can self-pollinate. But back to the wood poppy, and most simple flowers…

Stamens are the male part of the flower that produce pollen. They are comprised of a stem-like filament and a pollen-producing anther. As the flower ripens, the anthers tend to shrink and shrivel as they produce pollen. An education student at East Carolina University once described a stamen as looking like an eye shadow applicator, and ever since then I’ve used that analogy, especially for ripe stamen that have granules of pollen (eye shadow?) on them.

riper wood poppy flower with brown antherns

This wood poppy flower has been open longer and is riper. The stamens are browned and shrunken, though a few at the center are still yellow.

In the center of the flower is the female part, the pistil. At its top is the pollen-receptive stigma. In some species, like the big star-gazer lilies that are often in grocery store bouquets, the stigma opens and has a sticky coating as the flower ripens, making it more likely that pollen grains will stick to it. Below the stigma is the thin style, connecting the stigma to the ovary, which is the swollen part at the base. When a grain of pollen reaches the stigma, it grows a pollen tube all the way down the style to the ovary, where it fertilizes an ovule (which I like to call a pre-seed).

ovary of a wood poppy

Wood poppy ovary that has begun to swell as it ripens. Notice the stigma and style still visible to the right side of the image.

Eventually, the wood poppy drops its petals and stamens, and the ovary begins to swell. Inside, the fertilized ovules are developing into seeds.

cross section of a wood poppy ovary showing white ovules inside

You can see the white ovules developing into seeds inside of this wood poppy ovary.

This ovary had swollen from about 1/4 inch long to about 1 inch long, and the ovules likewise had enlarged, making them much easier to see. In the closer, backlit photo below, the developing seeds are even more obvious, and you can notice how each one has a furry-looking edge on one side.

backlit close up of wood poppy ovary showing ovules

This backlit photo of the ovary shows the developing ovules in more detail.

Apparently, this species’ seeds are dispersed by ants and that furry bit is a fatty appendage called an elaiosome that ants like to eat. For more information on elaiosomes, check out a couple of Mike’s previous posts on seed dispersal by ants in bloodroot and trillium.

As I’ve refreshed my memory on flower parts, I’ve started looking at all the flowers in our yard with new eyes. Different species have developed fascinating takes on this basic structure. I’ll add more posts in the coming days highlighting some of the other flower species I’ve been examining. In the meantime, take advantage of this beautiful weather and head out into your yard with a magnifier and see if you can identify sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils on some of your flowers!

And if you’re an educator interested in the online workshops my team at the Museum has been creating, send me an email at melissa (dot) dowland (at) naturalsciences (dot) org.

Pale Green

Pay attention to what gets your attention.

~Gina Mollicone-Long

First, the answers to yesterdays Attention to Detail post… I’m sure many of you already knew the answers, but, just in case, here is what each of the images in yesterday’s post depicted:

  1. Sensitive Fern – the spore-containing capsules are round in this species.
  2. Foamflower – looking down at the spike of flowers of one of my springtime favorites.
  3. Silk highway left on a cherry tree trunk as a few hundred Eastern Tent Caterpillars venture out in search of feeding sites. They leave a trail of silk with chemical cues for others to follow to the best feeding areas.
  4. A twisted dried tendril from last year’s Muscadine Grape tangle on the fence.
  5. Looking down on some Flame Azalea buds about ready to burst into flower.
  6. Close up of a Dandelion puffball (seed head).
  7. A gathering of Eastern Tent Caterpillars on a Wild Cherry tree trunk.
  8. The tiny yellow flowers of Golden Alexander.
  9. The tip of a single flower on a Red Buckeye flower stalk.
  10. Larvae in a Spotted Salamander egg mass the day before they hatched.
  11. Cross Vine tendrils.
  12. An unopened flower bud of Dwarf Crested Iris.

Today was a truly beautiful day so I spent most of it outside doing some chores and just admiring the wildflowers. Surprisingly, not many photographs taken, so I am sharing something from a couple of days ago that I saw again this afternoon.

Pale green assassin bug on hickory bud

Nymph of a Pale Green Assassin Bug on a hickory bud (click photo to enlarge)

I spotted this little bug as I was walking past a hickory sapling. It seems I can’t walk by a leaf bud this time of year without pausing to glance to enjoy their amazing shapes and fullness as they prepare to burst. This one had a special treat, a tiny nymph of what I assumed was an assassin bug of some sort. I looked online and discovered it is most likely the nymph of a Pale Green Assassin Bug, Zelus luridus. Adults are a little over a half an inch long and prey on a variety of insects using that long beak to pierce them and suck out their fluids. But this group of assassins has a rather unique weapon in their bag of tricks – they secrete a viscous fluid from their front legs (and maybe also their second pair of legs), which helps secure their prey when they grab it. You can see a lot of pollen grains stuck to the legs (and other parts) of the nymph in the photo below.

Pale green assassin bug on hickory bud close up

Close up view showing the stalked hairs on the legs

I’m thinking this is not such a bad idea in these times of infrequent trips to the grocery store (our version of the assassin bug hunt). If you drop a cookie crumb it just sticks to your arm so you can retrieve it.

 

 

Attention to Detail

Details create the big picture.

~Sanford I. Weill

Back in the day, I worked for a truly remarkable visionary, Mary Ann Brittain. I learned a lot from her and (I think) we made a good team for the museum as educator/naturalists. I remember when I first started going on the road with her to do school grounds workshops all over the state, I was amazed at how she could take a long nap in the car (as I was driving), arrive about 15 minutes before the workshop, get out and race around the school building, and then be prepared to take a group of teachers out and show them what they could find and use to teach all sorts of subjects outside their classroom walls. Of course, I also figured out that I had to be sure to bring the essential supplies or they might get left behind. We soon came up with a moniker for ourselves – Broad-brush Brittain and Detail Dunn. Well, over the years, I learned some of her techniques for quickly assessing the potential subjects to share with others out in the field. I’m afraid I also started relying on others to help take care of the details (yes, Melissa, I know).

Though I occasionally (okay, maybe more than that) forget the details of a task, I still find the details of nature extraordinarily fascinating and beautiful. So, here are few up close looks at some details of spring in our yard. See if you can guess what each thing is before looking at the list at the end of the post. After your first guess, try to match a name on the list to a numbered photo (the names are not in the same order as the photos). Some are pretty obvious, others maybe not. Expect more of these nature in detail images in coming posts. Meanwhile, get outside and look closely at what nature is sharing each and every day.

Bead-like spore containing structures on Sensitive fern

#1 (click photos to enlarge)

top view of foam flower

#2

silk trail left by eastern tent caterpillars

#3

muscadine grape tendil from last year

#4

looking down on flame azalea buds

#5

dandelion puffball

#6

cluster of Eastern tent caterpillars

#7

close up of umbel of goldne alexander

#8

flower tip of red buckeye

#9

spotted salamander eggs near hatching close up

#10

tendril tips of cross vine

#11

dwarf crested iris flower bud

#12

The photos above show details of the following (match an ID with a number – answers tomorrow).

  • Golden Alexander flowers
  • Muscadine grape tendril (a threadlike part of climbing plants that attaches to or twines around another object to support the plant)
  • Azalea flower buds
  • Dwarf Crested Iris flower bud
  • Sensitive Fern spore-containing structures on last year’s dried fertile fronds
  • Spotted salamander eggs one day prior to hatching
  • Tendrils of Cross Vine
  • Cluster of Eastern Tent Caterpillars
  • Red Buckeye flower
  • Foamflower
  • Silk highway from Eastern Tent Caterpillars
  • Dandelion seed head

The End Result of Butterfly Courtship

Paying attention to the world around you will help you develop the extraordinary capacity to look at mundane things and see the miraculous.

~Michael Mikalko

Last week I did a post on the courtship behavior and egg-laying by Falcate Orangetip butterflies in our yard. I watched a female lay two eggs on two different plants of Hairy Bittercress, a common yard weed in the mustard family.

Falcate orangetip egg

Falcate Orangetip egg laid on March 20 (click photos to enlarge)

Times being what they are, I figured I would dig up a couple of the plants that had eggs on them and bring them inside to observe. I have never found one of the incredible thorn-mimic chrysalids of this species (they are tiny and apparently really blend into branches and tree trunks), so I thought this might be my chance if I could keep these little guys alive long enough. Most butterfly eggs I have watched hatch in just a few days, so I was getting worried when a week had gone by and nothing had happened. Each morning I pulled the now potted weeds out of the butterfly cage and examined them with a hand lens to see if the egg had hatched. Finally, yesterday morning (March 30)…

hatched egg of falcate orangetip

The remnants of one of the butterfly eggs; the other egg was apparently totally eaten by the larva.

…both eggs had hatched – about 11 days after they were laid! The first plant had about half of the egg shell remaining. When I searched the other plant, there was no egg casing at all. That is pretty typical since many butterfly and moth hatchlings will eat their egg shell right after emerging.

Falcate orangetip larva first instar 2 days old

The tiny first instar larva of a Falcate Orangetip butterfly.

It took some searching with a magnifier to find each of the new larvae. They are only about 2 mm in length and have tiny hairs scattered on their body with what looks like a drop of liquid at the tip of each hair. This may be some sort of predator deterrent. I found both larvae feeding on a developing seed pod of their respective plants. With the month ahead being one of mainly home-bound observations, I’ll keep tabs on these guys and try to provide an occasional update on their progress and changes (because I know you just need to know:).

 

Haw River Saunter

…whenever I felt emotionally overwhelmed, I would take a walk in the woods. Being in the stillness and grandeur of trees had always calmed me.

~Brenda Strong

We hiked (I suppose sauntered is a better word, really) along a short section of the Haw River with some good friends on Saturday (practicing social distancing, of course). It was a beautiful day and spring was putting on a display of varied forest greens, buzzing insects, and bird calls. I carried my 300mm telephoto (and some extension tubes), hoping to get some bird pics, but ended up using it as a long distance macro lens instead.

spring beauties

Spring Beauties are abundant in the woods bordering the river and small tributary (click photos to enlarge)

giant chickweed

Giant Chickweed provided a delicate display in scattered locations along the trail.

The start of the trail meanders through a tangle of invasive species for a few hundred feet before opening up into a beautiful forest dotted with spring wildflowers. Spring Beauties and Giant Chickweed were abundant and the bright greens of new tree leaves painted a hopeful picture in these challenging times. We saw numerous butterflies (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Falcate Orange-tip, Cloudless Sulphur, Eastern Comma, some Duskywings) and heard (well, at least Melissa and Deb heard) a variety of birds, including many spring migrants (Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush).

Cicada nymph uncovered 1

At the edge of the creek, someone had moved a rock, revealing a cicada nymph’s chamber.

But, on any saunter, we usually notice a lot of the small things, the things that blend into the background. I’ve never really been a fast hiker, and now, with some knee issues, my pace is interrupted with occasional sitting on a trail side rock or log. This gives me plenty of time to notice and appreciate the details of the woods.

Carolina anole

A Carolina Anole in its early spring brown suit.

toad

Your identification quiz for the day – which species is this?

Of course, sometimes I miss that which is right next to me. Melissa spotted this toad next to a spot where I was sitting. It remained perfectly still and allowed a few profile portraits. We discussed our opinions as to which species this might be (American and Fowler’s Toads are the common species in these parts) but they occasionally hybridize, making identification difficult. What do you think, and why? See this link and this one for some ID tips.

Six-spotted tiger beetle blue morph

I have not seen many of these beetles that are bright blue instead of the usual metallic green.

As we departed, Deb spotted a shiny beetle in a sunny spot on the trail. When she called out, I assumed it would be a Six-spotted Tiger Beetle, a common species in our area in that type of setting. They are usually brilliant metallic green with a few white spots on the dorsal surface. But this beetle was a bright blue! But, looking online at a couple of resources, I think it is just a color variant of that species. It does have a couple of faint white spots on its back and there are examples of a blue coloration in some individuals of this species. Nature is nothing if not beautiful, and variable.

Outside Our Door

…it places its nest at a great height, sometimes fifty feet, attaching it to the twigs of a forked branch. Here the nest is small, thin but compact, composed of the slender stems of dried grasses mixed with coarse fibrous roots and the exuviae of caterpillars or other insects, and lined with the hair of the deer, moose, racoon, or other animals, delicate fibrous roots, wool, and feathers.

~John James Audubon

Audubon called this little bird the Pine-creeping Wood Warbler because of its preference for pine trees and its feeding habits – creeping along the branches and trunks searching for insects. It is the common winter warbler in our woods and readily comes to our suet feeders, often in group of three or four at a time (I have seen as many as seven at once waiting to get to the suet cage). Now that is nesting season, they are less frequent visitors. Instead, we are hearing the male’s trill throughout the day as he defends territory. According to research online, surprisingly little is known of the nesting behavior of this common warbler, probably because of its propensity to nest high (30 – 75 ft) out on the branches of pine trees.

But this week, a female has been visiting a patch in our vegetable garden just outside our kitchen door. I saw her on three occasions, gathering nesting material in the same spot. She intently picked through the straw, leaves, and old stems in about a one square foot spot, filled her beak, and then flew off. We watched as she made a couple of stops (typical behavior as the female heads toward her nest site so as to not give away where it is located) and then disappeared across the road to a stand of tall pines about a hundred yards away. On one of her visits, I slowly cracked open the kitchen door, stood on my tip toes to get over the edge of the side porch, pointed the camera down and took a few images as she searched.

pine warbler gathering nesting materials

Pine warbler gathering nesting material (click photo to enlarge)

 

 

Alien Life Form Answer

There were a lot of interesting guesses and a couple of what I believe to be correct answers. I will preface this post with the disclaimer that I am certainly no expert on fungi (or anything else, for that matter) , but here is what I think our mystery photo is…

alien yard item

Starfish Fungus (aka Anemone Stinkhorn), Aseroe rubra.

I thought it was a stinkhorn of some sort when Beth sent me the photo, but this is one I have never seen. This unusual species is native to Australia and some tropical islands but has been introduced to other parts of the world, most likely through in garden or soil products. In the U.S., it is found primarily in Hawaii and a few southeastern states.

It feeds on decaying organic matter and is usually found growing in yards or compost. I think the diagnostic feature for me is the bifurcate appendages – the split ends on the arms of the “starfish”. Some other stinkhorns just have single extensions at the tips. Check this link for more information on this bizarre species. As always, if someone has other suggestions on the identity of this life form, please drop me a comment. Thanks for participating and thanks again, to Beth, for sharing her yard alien with us.

Alien Life Form?

I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe
is that none of it has tried to contact us.

~Bill Watterson

Today’s mystery comes to us courtesy of Beth Howard, a friend and teacher extraordinaire in the Wilmington area. She found this in her yard and sent me a pic hoping I could help her figure out what it is and whether she needed to sell her house. In her message she asked – What the heck is this? Is it some kind of alien life form or a carnivorous plant? That is a tunnel down through it.”

So, what do you think, and why? I’ll give you one clue…it smells a bit bad.

alien yard item

Alien life form or…? (click photo to enlarge) (photo by Beth Howard)

Melissa and I are happy to try to help solve your natural history mysteries (especially if you will allow me to post about it in this blog), so feel free to send me pictures of your alien life forms to roadsendnaturalist@gmail,com.