Springtime in New York (part II)

Monday, May 11, 2009 at 10:47 PM Bookmark and Share
With the "spring" semester coming to a close, true spring is finally in full force in western New York state. Among the student and amateur naturalists in the region, it's time to shift gears and welcome back the many plants, migratory birds, reptile, amphibians, and invertebrates that can be found in the region during the warmer months. Following up on part I of Springtime in New York, here are a few of my own sightings of this spring. This post was clearly growing to large, so I'll be posting more in a part III sometime in the coming weeks.

Some of my favorite places to frequent during spring are the many woodland swamps, wetlands and creeks in the greater Ithaca area. The reasons are twofold: First, these areas host a variety of organisms during the warmer months, including those mentioned above. Second, visiting these areas before they become thick with mosquitoes and biting flies tends to make for much more pleasant visit!

Like birds, some insects (e.g. some adult moths and dragonflies) migrate to avoid the harsh northern winters. Others overwinter and endure the harsh conditions by altering their physiology to avoid the dangers of freezing or by finding more hospitable environments (like the bottoms of streams and lakes). In either case, the result is that they are some of the first to be found each spring as temperatures warm and the world again becomes a hospitable place for these little critters.

Larval Trichopeteran (Caddisfly) in a shallow roadside waterway.
This larvae likely spent the winter at the bottom of this marshy
area where it endured the cold, New York winter.
25 April 2009 - Summerhill, NY.

For those individuals that are lucky enough to survive the winter, the spring warmth is a mixed bag. Not all invertebrates awake in spring and find the world a cozy hospitable place! Just as the world has again become a livable place for the caddisfly above, so to has it returned to a state amenable to predators like the tiger beetle.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cincidela sexguttata),
25 Apr 2009 - Summerhill, Cayuga Co., NY.

Tiger beetle feeding on a small insect or arachnid
25 April 2009 - Summerhill, Cayuga Co., NY

While these little killing machines might not seem like the most friendly of insects, these and other predatory insects play an important role in keeping other insects (e.g. the kind that might otherwise destroy plants important to people or the local ecosystem) under control. For a more familiar example, the "ladybug" is another such predator, and is even used commercially in agriculture to control damaging agricultural pests like aphids.

All organisms have basic requirements necessary to live and reproduce, and the vast majority rely upon other organisms to obtain the requisite resources. Predatory organisms like the tiger beetle rely upon their prey for resources, while other organisms thrive on non-living resources - including those unlocked from the grip of winter each spring. The growth of plants and other primary producers such as the Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) pictured above help to capture the light's energy and feed it into local (and hence global) food web.

While spring is often considered a time of rebirth, it's also a time of some heavy-duty recycling! With all the growth, scarce resources can't be left to go to waste - and organisms that keep those nutrients in the local food web can provide an essential resource for other organisms. While much of this recycling is done by the work of microscopic organisms, some of it is done by larger organisms like the Margined Carrion Beetle (Oiceoptoma noveboracense).

Margined Carrion Beetles (Oiceoptoma noveboracense)
feeding and breeding on a White-tailed Deer carcass.
25 April 2009 - Summerhill, Cayuga Co., NY

I've been having too much fun with my new macro lens, so I'll leave the insect world for now. In an upcoming post, I'll take a look at some more of our local reptiles and amphibians - so stay tuned for part III!


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