Saturday, July 16, 2011

Life in the Blue Hills

I finally got in my first hike in a few months yesterday at the Blue Hills, just south of Boston, and luckily I brought my camera. I found quite a few interesting organisms.

A robber fly. These are fairly large, predatory flies.

A funny little grasshopper or leaf-hopper. He's got some pretty excellent camouflage so I kept losing him but managed to get a few good shots, including this one.

Not one but...

...two toads. We've begun judging the quality of our walks by how many toads we see. So far the record is three in one walk. That was a great day. It's a little funny to think of amphibians living in the woods and the hills but that's the best place to look for them in the New England area. These are also certainly two distinct species which is pretty cool. We saw some other vertebrates: a groundhog and a ton of birds including a female scarlet tanager and a towhee.

We also saw plenty of witch-hazel, one even reaching the 30 foot range that they grow to. So now I can say with assurance that one of the places in the Boston area one can see wild witch-hazel is the Blue Hills.

But perhaps the coolest thing was this little invertebrate:

Don't see it? It's there in the bottom right of the image. It's not a great shot but this little insect was moving ridiculously fast. Here's a blown up version:

At first I thought it was a little red ant. But I'm pretty sure this hymenoptera is what is called a velvet ants. Velvet ants are not true ants but actually wasps. Though ants and wasps are very close relatives, the true ants are a monophyletic group while the velvet ants are couched within the broader family of wasps. They represent a separate transition from winged to wingless wasps and retain the painful sting of most of the wasp family.

As usual, science points for anyone who can help with IDing these critters. What a great day it was for a hike and some pretty cool New England natural history.

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