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        Love More, Live Wilder

        The Fleeting Beauty of the Luna Moth

        The Fleeting Beauty of the Luna Moth

        Thank you to our guest blogger Nathan Berry! Nathan is a 27 year old University of Washington biologist and published Lepidopterist who runs @Nateture.Nate, a popular wildlife instagram. You can find Nate on weekends running, birdwatching and taking nature photos in the wilds of North Carolina.

        "The Fleeting Beauty of the Luna Moth"

        Is there any animal more underrated than a moth? The way most people talk about them is typically with disgust or dread. And yet their extremely close relatives, the butterflies get nothing but praise and love. All one has to do is look at the beautiful family of moths known as Saturnidae (see pic below) to see that butterflies aren’t the only ones with absolutely gorgeous art and color in their wings. And although the flashy, day flying butterflies first caught my eye, there was an inescapable allure and beauty associated with moths, particularly silk moths. Queen among them being the gorgeous neon green Luna Moth Actias luna. (see the green moth on the left in the photo below)

        If you are not familiar, Luna Moths are native to the American Southeast. I have been captive breeding large moths since I was a child, but raising Luna Moths is a real labor of love and a year long process! I start with the eggs, which hatch in May. The caterpillars start out very small and eat their way out of the egg. From there I must become very proficient at finding their host plants because once they reach full size they eat like cows! It's estimated that in TWO WEEKS, the caterpillar will be 3,000 times larger than the day it hatches! Eating and growing voraciously they can double in size every couple of days! The caterpillars shed their exoskeleton (or molt) as they grow. Each time expanding their exoskeleton to new heights. When the caterpillar is fully grown, it will find a suitable place to make it’s cocoon. It makes its cocoon out of silk which it spins from its mouth. Once this cocoon is made the caterpillar undergoes an amazing transformation. The caterpillar molts and forms the pupa which has the indentations of legs and wings and the adult antennae. The cells within the pupa undergo a process where they de-differentiate and the whole caterpillar essentially turns into goo! Then these cells reform into the longer, furry legs of a moth and tiny wingbuds. This is the most stressful part for me. The cocoon must go through a winter “diapause” or rest. This cocoon period lasts from August/September through March/April. This diapause can be as long as 9 months and is a harrowing time for me as I have to just patiently wait and hope they all survive and don’t get eaten by neighborhood squirrels.

        Then, on the second week of April, I bring the cocoons in from outside (or from the fridge if I want to store them somewhere a little safer than the outdoor elements) and let them warm up. After about 2-4 weeks of warming up, these moths emerge from their pupa. To break out of their cocoons, the moth uses a bit of digestive acid to eat through the silk and then it climbs its way out. From their it crawls up a branch and starts to unfurl its wings by pumping them full of blood (insect blood is called hemolymph). This process takes a couple hours and then the wings must dry and the moth’s exoskeleton must harden over the next 24 hours. Females are heavier than males, as they are full of eggs. They typically are a little worse at flying so they climb to a tall post and release pheromones to entice a male to find her. The lighter, flightier males detect these pheromone chemicals with their large fuzzy antennae. These antennae are so sensitive that males can detect a female even 5 miles away! The moths fly for 2 weeks and only live to mate, lay eggs and die. They have no mouth parts and thus only survive on the fat they stored as a caterpillar. As they fly their large wings get slowly tattered. Amazingly they can fly even with 25% of their wings missing. I will often allow the moths to fly free in a large tent and I collect their eggs to start the process again! The eggs hatch about a month after being laid.

         

        The Luna has become a symbol of the southeast, and many bands, drug companies, and artists use their image to represent the natural world, nighttime, sleep or the quiet country. It seems I am not the only one to be captivated by their beauty. You may be asking why I would go through 3 months of feeding and 9 months of waiting just to see the moths for only a couple weeks a year. All I can tell you is that the beauty of the Luna Moth is so alluring that the hard work and anticipation makes it all the more worthwhile when their beautiful green wings emerge. Maybe their brevity and the rarity of their existence makes them even more beautiful.

         

        -Nate Berry

         

         

         

         

        Seek and You Will Find! A Newbie Mushroom Forager's Journey

        Seek and You Will Find! A Newbie Mushroom Forager's Journey

        Thank you to fellow Alabama gal Stephanie Lamphere, an amateur forager and lifelong learner and explorer for writing this blog for us!!! Have an idea for a blog? Write to me at howdy@sipseywilder.com with your thoughts!

        Like most kids in Alabama, I grew up picking blackberries and honeysuckles by the side of the road in the summer. There was always something so satisfying about food found in nature, and it always seemed so much sweeter when I gathered it myself. Too many times I ate more blackberries than I brought home, fingers and lips stained purple from eating them directly off the vines.

        All that time, I never ate wild mushrooms, nor knew anyone who did. In fact, I have always been cautioned not to! Mushrooms came from the grocery store. I have always loved mushrooms, though: sauteed, grilled, on a kabob, stuffed, in a quiche. In the last several years, I have started buying different varieties at local international markets. I had only seen one variety at the grocery store before–the regular button mushrooms, baby bellas, and portobellos (which are actually all the same species: Agaricus bisporus). In the Asian grocery, however, I started to see additional varieties: shiitake, enoki, oyster, wood ear, and king oyster. I was intrigued to find such variety.

        My Sipsey Wilder Ranger pouch stuffed full of mushrooms and maypops (an edible native fruit) last fall.

        During the early days of the pandemic, a miniature farmer’s market popped up in a nearby neighborhood, in which there were often foraged wild garlic and mushrooms from north Alabama. I had always had a great interest in nature and survivalism, and I suppose both my frugality and curiosity got the best of me, because soon I had joined the local mushroom foraging group on Facebook, and started hunting. I needed a new hobby anyway, and more exercise!


        I spent days hiking and exploring local woods and lowlands looking for any sign of mushrooms. I inspected stumps, kicked around leaves, looked way up in trees. I stuffed my hip pouch with samples, took pictures, asked questions, did endless Google searches about mushroom features and how to tell the difference between two that are very similar. I found all sorts of mushrooms, but had no idea what I was looking at most of the time.


        Tens of thousands of mushroom species have been documented around the world, hundreds of which exist in the Southeast United States. Of those, a dozen or more are known to be edible and delicious, right here in my home area. But it is not always easy to find or identify them! I have taken this as a challenge. 


        One thing that does make it a little bit easier is that many mushrooms appear seasonally. Watching the mushroom society’s Facebook group, I watched the seasons come and go – first, in early spring, everyone was finding morels (or wishing they could – these are near impossible to find south of Birmingham), then suddenly everyone was finding chanterelles, then chickens of the woods, hens of the woods, indigo milkcaps, wood blewits, russulas, lion’s mane, oysters, wood ears, and so many more. I was fascinated. I have tried to find them all, but they are elusive–and often more difficult is the identification! 

        Harvested Chanterelles (Cantherellus species) - choice edible
         

        Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) - choice edible

        Mushroom identification is far more complex than plant identification, and learning how to identify them can be humbling. Just when you think you know something, you discover there is so much more to learn! Instead of just looking at leaf patterns with plants, subtle features of the mushroom’s cap, gills, stalk, attachment, what they’re growing in or on need to be carefully inspected. Sometimes even a cross-section of the insides or additional tests like spore prints must be used to differentiate similar species. In the local mushroom group on Facebook, experts ask for different views and look for these very particular features which are often too similar for the untrained eye to distinguish. It is extremely important for a newbie mushroom forager to get this assistance with identification, too, because some very tasty mushrooms look nearly identical to deadly ones… or at least mushrooms that can make you sick. 

        Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) - edible and delicious

        A deadly Amanita species (Amanita bisporigera) - a great reason to be very careful!

        Deadly look-alikes are what usually keep most of us from even considering foraging for mushrooms. We are comfortable with the safety and surety of our grocery store mushrooms. I was too! But there are some wild mushrooms that are more easily identifiable than others or have no toxic look-alikes, so they’re safer for new mushroom hunters. Still, finding experts you can trust, and learning to verify distinguishing attributes is key.

        Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) - medicinal

        One of many “false turkey tails” (likely Trametes betulina) 

        The first few times I ate a new mushroom I found in the woods I kept second guessing myself. Ultimately I had gotten multiple expert opinions and double-checked them with other resource materials, so I took the chance: I sauteed them in butter and tossed them with pasta. I am so glad I did! Now I have a hobby that gets me outdoors, makes me move, satisfies my curiosity, and… occasionally, it feeds me!


        (Disclaimer: I am still very new at this, not an expert, and you should always get expert advice on edible wild findings!)

        Parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota species) - edible with a toxic look-alike that is nicknamed “the vomiter”

        Stump puffballs (Apioperdon pyriforme)
        *All pictures credited to Stephanie Lamphere.

        Batty for Bats!

        Batty for Bats!

        We are excited to partner with Joanne Wasdin, a Naturalist with the Bear Creek Nature Center, for a series of blogs focused on our own local critters of the Southeast! Bear Creek Nature Center is a private non-profit located outside of Atlanta, Georgia that aims to spread the joy of nature and the outdoor world.

        Meet Joanne!

        Of the 45 bat species present in North America, up to 16 of those species call the Southeastern United States home. Bats are vital parts of our local ecosystems and critical species in the future of agriculture and economics in our country. Though small (the largest bat species in the Southeast is only 5 inches on average!) bats are mighty critters, particularly in their speed and agility during flight. A single bat can eat thousands of mosquitoes in one night, and as a group of organisms they save the United States billions of dollars each year in pest control across industries. Bats are also active pollinators, and contribute to the biodiversity of native flowers and plants. Unfortunately, while bats are powerhouses in their ecological niche, they are particularly susceptible to human impacts. Habitat loss, including loss of critical habitat for their insect prey, has led to the decline of many bat species. This, coupled with the battle against white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease that has been infecting bat species across North America, has threatened the stability of many bat species. But there is hope!

        Endangered Gray bat recorded during a Bat Blitz survey event.
        Photo Credit: A-Z ANIMALS - Vicky B. Smith

        Close-up of a Freetail bat. 
        Photo Credit: A-Z ANIMALS - Vicky B. Smith

        The Hoary Bat is the largest bat on average in the Southeast, and is still smaller than the palm of a hand. 
        Photo Credit: A-Z ANIMALS - Vicky B. Smith

        At Bear Creek Nature Center, we believe in inviting community members of all ages into the active process of conservation. Bat conservation begins with understanding.  There are many ways in which the average citizen can contribute to conservation, whether they live in an urban, suburban, or rural landscape. Building and installing bat houses, cultivating native pollinator plants through decorative landscaping and gardens, polyculture agricultural practices, maintaining and limiting human interaction with culverts and caves, keeping our streams and creeks clean, and participating in public education are some of the ways that we can all do our part.

        Southeastern Myotis bats huddled in a culvert.
        Photo Credit: A-Z ANIMALS - Vicky B. Smith

         One member of our team that can help us to further appreciate bats is our resident animal ambassador, Tuttle. He is a native species to most of the United States known as a Big Brown Bat (”Big” in this case means about two inches from nose tip to rump!). Tuttle was injured by a cat, and lost part of his left wing rendering him incapable of flight. There is a dark adage in wildlife that goes, “A down bat is a dead bat.” Bats depend on flight for their entire life story. Luckily, Tuttle was able to be rescued and rehabilitated by AWARE Wildlife, a local rehabilitation center in the Atlanta metropolitan area. He has since joined the cabin at Bear Creek Nature Center to advocate for his species, and many other bats. We hope to continue education efforts in this region to spread the appreciation and understanding of creatures like Tuttle the Big Brown Bat.
        If you ever come across an injured bat, please contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Animal Help Now is a wildlife emergency hotline that can help direct you to a licensed rehabber in your area. Please contact them through ahnow.org

         "Tuttle" the Big Brown Bat

         "Tuttle" the Big Brown Bat

        Want to learn more about bats? Here are a few resources to help:

        • Learn how to provide bat houses and habitats through Habitat for Bats, LLC (https://www.habitatforbats.org/)
        • Visit the US Forest Service for an introduction to building pollinator-friendly gardens and agricultural spaces: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/gardening.shtml
        • Visit your state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or USDA website for specific help on how you can implement native pollinator and bat-friendly spaces and practices into your daily life.

        Would you like to personally support Tuttle? Just $3 can feed Tuttle for a week! Visit ko-fi.com/bearcreekATL to donate a bite to eat. You can learn more about Tuttle and his fellow animal ambassadors by visiting Bear Creek Nature Center on Facebook or Instagram (@bearcreekATL) and at bearcreeknaturecenter.org. We are just one of thousands of small, local nature centers across the US that work toward the welfare of native animals and community development through conservation and education. 

        For the bats,
        Joanne Wasdin, Naturalist

        Opossum Blossom!

        Opossum Blossom!

        We are so pleased to offer our platform to Christy Ramirez, a volunteer and board member at Opie Acres Wildlife and Opossum Rehabilitation in Chattanooga, Tennessee as well as at Lookout Mountain Conservancy who wrote a guest blog for us to advocate for an often misunderstood creature, the Opossum. 

        These opossums were delivered to Christy at home and were taken directly to a local wildlife rehab. Opossums, like all wild animals, are not pets.

        I’m so excited and thankful for Sipsey Wilder’s upcoming addition of the “Opossum Blossom” print to their collection. Opossums are under-appreciated animals that play such an important role in the health of ecosystems, not only in the Southeast, but all over our country. They are opportunist omnivores that can individually consume thousands of ticks in a season and can even eat poisonous snakes due to their immunity to certain venoms. Many people incorrectly think that these non-aggressive, nocturnal cuties are rabies carriers, however this is a misconception. In fact, an opossum’s body temperature is too low for the rabies virus to thrive. 

        As North American’s only marsupial, a female opossum can give birth to more than 20 joeys at a time.  However, only 13 have the potential to survive once they travel up to the pouch and latch on to one of their mom’s 13 nipples. Once in Mom’s pouch, they will spend months there until they get big enough to climb out and hitch a ride on her back. 

        Although opossums are amazing and adorable, it’s important to remember that they are wild animals and need to observed and respected from a distance. They’ve been around for millions of years and will do just fine without the interference of people. There are times when wildlife will need emergency help. In these instances, please contact Animal Help Now to locate a licensed wildlife rehabber in your area. These rehab centers can treat injuries and know the right specialized diet to keep the animals healthy until they can be re-released to the wild. 

         The volunteers at Opie Acres and I know a lot about the usefulness of pouches and we are excited to show off the new “Opossums & Blossoms” bags to our naturally pouch carrying residents.

         

        Anxiously waiting,

        Christy Ramirez

        Chattanooga, TN

        Christy shared these photos with us from Opie Acres where opossums are often rescued, rehabilitated and returned to the wild. 

         

        Meet Stevie, a blind non-releasable, educational ambassador. In this photo she was channeling her inner Mrs. Claus for an educational holiday event. Opie Acres does not advocate use of wild animals in this manner. 

        Our anticipated Opossum Blossom pattern is finally available for pre-order on the 3-in-1 Bag! Expect to see it on other products late spring/early summer. 

         

        Floating through Cahaba Stars

        Floating through Cahaba Stars

        The water always takes my breath away. Now though, my attention has been averted to the gleaming stars setting atop the water.  They only show themselves once a year. Free-flowing river right at the transition point from mountains to the plain. Their fragrance is sweet, but short-lived. They are dependent upon a moth pollinator with at times, great distances between populations. Once was a common site amongst our southeastern rivers has become a rare joy. I am delighted to marvel in their glory.
        -Carla Atkinson, Ph.D., biology (University of Alabama)

        A little over a month ago Dr. Atkinson and I took our kayaks and made the annual trip to the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama to see the lovely Cahaba Lillies that bloom once a year from mid-May to mid-June. These iconic aquatic flowering plants require a very specialized habitat --swift-flowing water over rocks and lots of sun. They can only be found in the shoals areas or above the fall line in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
        These striking spider lilies once flourished in many locations on southeastern rivers, but due to damming of rivers and other human activities they now only appear in a very limited number of places. I am so fortunate to live close to the area they are the most populace, the Cahaba River.