With summer winding down, and autumn gearing up, there’s plenty to discover in August and September. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
In mid-August, hummingbirds head south for winter. To fuel their trip, these tiny helicopters must eat half their body weight in insects and nectar each day. You’d have to drink 160 cans of soda to do the same— what a sugar rush! To help hungry hummers refuel, stock a feeder with sugar water. Sitting quietly underneath it is like being in the front row at an air show. One of the little birds might even perch on your finger if you hold really still! To make a hummingbird feeder, visit www.xplormo.org/node/9026.
What’s nearly as much fun as catching fish? Catching grasshoppers for bait. A butterfly net will sweep up a ton, but hunting them by hand is a lot more fun. Stash what you catch in a coffee can. When you’re ready to fish, poke a hook directly behind the hopper’s head and let it come out the middle of its back. Don’t hook it too deeply—a dead hopper will catch fish, but a live one thrashing about will stir up quite a feeding frenzy.
You won’t find big cats prowling your backyard, but you might find a mini predator that’s just as ferocious. Ant lions are tiny insect larvae that dig small, cone-shaped pits in the sand. When another insect stumbles into the pit, sliding sand keeps it from climbing out. The ant lion waits at the bottom, ready to snare the unlucky bug in its poison-tipped pincers. There are probably ant lions lurking in your backyard. Search for their pits in fine, dry soil beside houses, under decks or in flowerbeds. For tips on observing ant lions up close, visit www.xplormo. org/node/9028.
What looks like a squishy orange tomato, tastes like a cross between a pumpkin and a pear, and forecasts the weather as well as a groundhog? It’s a persimmon. Persimmons are good to eat—if they’re ripe. If they’re not, their bitter taste will make you pucker. Some folks claim you can tell how cold the winter will be by splitting open a persimmon seed. If the inside looks like a knife, expect frigid winds that will cut like a blade. A spoon predicts plenty of snow to shovel. And, if you find a fork, plan on a mild winter.
Head outside on a sultry August night, and you’ll be serenaded by the trilling of crickets and the buzzing of katydids. These relatives of grasshoppers sing with their wings, scraping the smooth edge of one wing against the rough surface of another. How many different kinds can you hear? If you can’t tell a cricket from a katydid, go to www.xplormo.org/ node/9029.
In September, black-and-brown woolly bear caterpillars show up in full force. Grab your friends, round up a few of the frizzy-haired plant-munchers, and scratch a circle in the dirt about the size of a hula hoop. Place your captive caterpillars in the circle’s center, and see which woolly bear wiggles out first.
What’s small and gray, flies at 40 miles per hour, and performs mid-air dips and dives that would make a stunt pilot queasy? It’s a mourning dove, and there’s nothing more challenging than trying to drop a few with a shotgun. Dove season opens September 1, so grab an adult, put on some camouflage and pack plenty of shells. Doves flock to fields with lots of seeds and bare ground—mowed sunflower fields are perfect. For tips, rules and places to hunt, visit www.xplormo.org/node/19031.
If you want to wish on a shooting star, mark your calendar for August 12. Late that night, the Perseid meteor shower will flood the heavens with up to 80 shooting stars an hour. To enjoy the show, find a place away from city lights, spread a blanket and lie on your back facing the northeastern sky. Shooting stars aren’t really stars but bits of cosmic crud that crumble off comets. When the debris falls through Earth’s atmosphere, it flares up, giving dreamers something to wish upon.
Looking for more ways to have fun outside? Find out about Discover Nature programs in your area at www.xplormo.org/xplor/stuff-do/all-events.
Your guide to all the nasty, stinky, slimy and gross stuff that nature has to offer.
A vampire lurks in your backyard, but there’s no need to wear garlic. Yellow garden spiders won’t suck your blood— unless you’re a bug. Garden spiders weave spectacular webs in fields and beside houses. If an insect gets tangled, the spider rushes over, stabs it with its fangs, and pumps in venom that kills the bug and turns its insides to mush. The spider wraps its soon-to-be meal in a silken coffin. Once the bug has liquified, the spider returns to suck out a bug-flavored protein shake.
Beneath the calm surface of Missouri’s lakes swims a mindless eating machine. Just like their saltwater cousins, freshwater jellyfish squirt through the water armed with stinging tentacles. But swimmers need not fear. Missouri’s jellyfish are about the size of a quarter and pose no threat to people. They use their tentacles to snare tiny aquatic animals called zooplankton. Jellyfish don’t appear every year, but watch for them from July to September when water temperatures reach 80 degrees.
All mighty oak trees begin life as tiny
acorns. Acorns are attached to trees
by saucer-shaped caps. Although some
acorns taste nutty, most are bitter.
Animals don’t seem to mind. When
acorns drop in fall, most are quickly gobbled up by turkeys, bears
and other wildlife. Squirrels and blue jays bury acorns for winter.
Some of these are forgotten and sprout into baby oaks in spring.
Why so glum, chum? These little fish are found only in the Ozarks where they hug the bottom of cold, swift streams. To avoid
becoming chum for predators, sculpins have a trick up their fins—they change color to blend in with their surroundings.
Nichole LeClair Terrill