Week of September 3, 2023 – September 9, 2023
by Elizabeth Suzedell, Environmental Educator
While I was walking to my car the other day, I found something that I still can’t believe I even noticed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a branch on a goldenrod that didn’t look quite right. It was a little bit wider, looking almost like a seed pod- a structure that goldenrods don’t have. I almost dismissed it, but then I decided to take another glance before walking away. This “seed pod” was alive! It was a walking stick, which is a long and thin insect that has a body like a stick and arms just like the branches of plants. I had never seen one before- probably because it does such a good job at blending in.
Walking sticks and many other creatures use camouflage to “hide in plain sight.” This allows them to disguise themselves from predators, or sneak up on prey. One of my favorite animals to see during the summer time are toads, who are an excellent example of camouflaging creatures. I do see toads way more often than I see walking sticks, because they usually reveal themselves by hopping away. However, when toads are still, they seem to almost perfectly blend in with the colors of the soil and leaf litter. This makes me wonder how many animals I’ve missed because of their exceptional camouflage.
Unlike the walking sticks and toads, there were plenty of creatures that I saw this summer who were very easy to spot. The monarch butterfly is the first insect that comes to my mind. It’s hard to miss this beautiful pollinator, with its bright yellow stripes as a caterpillar, and vibrant orange wing pattern as an adult. Despite how obvious and visible this coloration makes the monarchs, it actually helps them survive. The bright colors and strange patterns serve as nature’s warning sign to predators, letting them know that they are poisonous or toxic. Because of this adaptation, called aposematism, the monarch butterfly will be avoided by birds or other predators who would otherwise try to make it a meal.
An animal that has been fun for me to spot lately has been the red eft (eastern newt). Eastern newts are salamanders who start their lives in the water. As a juvenile, they emerge onto land as a red eft, where they may spend many years before returning to the water to live as an adult. A red eft’s warning sign to predators is its shiny red spots along its neon-orange back. This salamander always seems to stay happy about being visible, never trying to hide when I kneel down to see it up close.
It’s hard to believe that there are only two-and-a-half weeks until the autumnal equinox. As I reflect on all of the amazing discoveries I made over the summer, I am determined to make the most of the next few weeks by spending as much time outdoors as I can. Next time you go outside, whether it’s just for a walk out to the car or for a hike at the Woods, keep your eye out; you never know what you may find.