Skip to content

It's hollyhock season again.

Some plants just have flower buds.

Others are flowering.

Once again, having a certain kind of plant means having a certain kind of insect.

In this case, the insects are oblong-winged katydid nymphs.

Wow, those antennae are so long.

I checked, and I had found the same kind of katydid nymphs on May 1, 2013. They were also on hollyhocks.

I only have a few hollyhock plants in my yard, and I'm pretty sure none of my immediate neighbors have them. I wonder how the katydids even find them, let alone show up with such regularity.

I guess if you eat mainly hollyhocks, you're probably pretty great at finding them.

The rush milkweeds are lovely this week.

They are flowering.

Here is what the plants looked like on March 19, a month ago.

The stems were covered with oleander aphids.

On April 17, 2018 you can't find a single aphid.

What did I do to get such clean plants?

Nothing. Let nature take its course.

Insects like aphids have boom and bust cycles.

Back on March 19, these aphids were under attack. They were turning into mummies, which means they were parasitized by tiny wasps.

The aphids were also being eaten by flower fly larvae, aphid flies, and a few other insects.

Inside, the plant might have been mounting a defense, too. Plants can increase their chemical fortifications in response to insects feeding on them. Milkweeds are well defended because they contain cardenolide toxins, as well as a milky latex. The aphids can overcome the plants toxins better than most insects, but eventually it is probably has a toll and the aphids are weakened.

Although they are gone right now, the oleander aphids are likely to be back again. It is a natural cycle.

1

For STEM Friday, we have a brand new middle grade title, Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugsby Sneed B. Collard III.

An overview of the twenty-two different species of woodpeckers found in North America, it covers what woodpeckers eat, where they live, and reveals many of their unique behaviors.

If you've never read a book by acclaimed science author Sneed B. Collard III, reading Woodpeckers will send you searching for more of his titles. First of all, he and his son (at fourteen years old!) traveled around North America and took the majority of the stunning color photographs in the book. That alone shows their knowledge about and passion for their subjects. Add the fun, conversational tone of the text -- sprinkled with quotes from woodpecker experts -- and you have one amazing book!

In the back matter is a fun two-paged spread of "Woodpecker Photo Bloopers" where Sneed Collard shows all the ways that nature photography can go awry. It is a great section because it reminds us that for every prize-worthy photograph we see, there are hundreds that aren't stunning at all.

Woodpeckers is as chock full of information about these fascinating birds as an acorn woodpecker's tree is full of acorns. Recommended for nature lovers of all ages.

Activities to Accompany the Book

Activity 1. Learn About Your Local Woodpeckers

Take some time to discover what kind of woodpeckers live near you. A good place to start is the All About Birds Identification Website.

Where I grew up, we often saw downy and hairy woodpeckers on bird feeders in the winter, particularly if we provided suet. These are relatively quiet, small birds. They are black and white with only a few red feathers. You can see more about them at Woodpeckers of Western New York.

When I moved to Arizona, we took a trip to Madera Canyon. On the very first day we saw some noisy, active woodpeckers with bright red heads. They couldn't be more different than those I was used to.

We soon learned they were acorn woodpeckers.

 

Photograph of acorn woodpecker from Madera Canyon, Arizona by Alan D. Wilson, retrieved from Wikimedia

Acorn woodpeckers pick acorns off of oak trees, using their beaks. They store the acorns in holes they peck in trees, electric poles, or even the sides of the cabin where we stayed. Later, when acorn season is past, they go back to their stores and pull them out to eat.

Watching acorn woodpeckers work was incredibly entertaining. You can get an idea in the following video:

Encourage older children to take photographs of woodpeckers like Marie Read (in the video) or the Collards did. It is a good way to study woodpeckers more closely.

2. Make a woodpecker feeder

Many types of woodpeckers will visit suet (animal fat) or peanut butter feeders. Simply drill some holes in a round piece of wood and stuff the peanut butter or suet in. Hang the wood from a tree branch or pole where it is only accessible by birds.

Note:  Peanut butter or suet can deteriorate or become rancid when it is warm, so provide it in the winter and clean the feeder regularly.

See more suggestions for making bird feeders on my Pinterest Board

for-the-birds-pinterest-board

Related:

Ages:  9-12
Publisher: Bucking Horse Books (April 1, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0984446095
ISBN-13: 978-0984446094

We've added this title to our growing list of children's books for young birdwatchers at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.