Good at spotting balls of fluff (commonly known as raccoons)

Ball of fluff – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Isn’t this the cutest face you’ve ever seen?!

I always keep an eye out for raccoons whenever I am walking through Central Park in New York. I have become very adept in spotting them after I learned a few simple things. They are mostly in the trees and not on the ground. I had no idea that raccoons slept in trees, so look for round bundles of fur tucked into the fork of trees where the large branches leave the trunk. The hour before sunset is when these little fuzz balls are waking up and they start moving which makes them easier to see. You will find them stretching, grooming and coming down from the trees to rummage through the parks trash cans. This little youngster was quite unsure of me and so had all of its fur on end – clearly a grumpy morning person (or evening raccoon).

Nothing’s greener than a tree frog

Nothing’s greener than a tree frog – Photograph by Laura Lecce

These green tree frogs are the masters of camouflage. They look exactly the same color and shape as new mangrove leaves, which is exactly how I would want to look too if I lived in croc infested waters in Cairns, Australia. They’re actually quite chubby and large for a frog, growing to about 4.5 inches long (11.5 cm). They are a wonderful visitor to have in your garden if you are so lucky, as they eat cockroaches, locusts, moths and spiders. They are docile creatures who are relatively unafraid of humans, and so are commonly found hanging around outdoor lights waiting for approaching food. They are incredibly vocal using calls for mating, but will also scream when attacked by predators or squeak when poked. As cute as that may be, I do not encourage you to go around poking tree frogs as any toxins on your hand will get absorbed through their skin which is also how they absorb oxygen to breathe.

For other frog posts please click here.

To bee or not to bee

To bee or not to bee – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Recently there have been two scientific studies which have highlighted how smart bees really are at learning. One of these studies trained bees to pull on a string which gave them access to a sucrose treat. The second study wanted to see if bees could perform a very unnatural task that required manipulation of a tool to get a reward. The bees were shown that the proper location of a yellow ball was inside a drawn circle. The bee then had to figure out how to relocate a misplaced ball back into the circle to gain a reward. Once the bee had learned these tasks they improved significantly each time, taking less time to complete the task. Not only did bees learn these tasks, other bees which were placed as observers could then complete the task themselves on the first try, hence learning the skill from watching a trained bee. This learning could be transferred through many successions of new trainers and new observers. These studies show that bees can learn new and complex tasks which were previously thought to be unique to vertebrates such as mammals and birds and also transfer those skills throughout their colony which may help them adapt in the presence of changing evolutionary pressures (click here to see a video highlighting these studies).

You are what you eat

Pink Flamingo – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Flamingoes are one example of how ‘what you eat’ can be reflected in your appearance. We associate flamingoes with the color pink or orange when in fact they are born a dull greyish color. The lakes and wetlands they live in are breeding grounds for algae, shrimp and mollusks – tasty munchies that these beautiful birds spend their days consuming. Each of these tasty treats are loaded with beta-carotene, an organic chemical which is a reddish-orange color and is famously known for making carrots orange. Beta-carotene gives shrimp their orange color when cooked, and shrimp-eating salmon their pink flesh. This chemical is an important one which gets converted into vitamin A in our bodies and contributes to healthy skin, teeth, bones and good vision. Interestingly, farmed salmon and zoo flamingoes which are not necessarily fed a ‘wild’ diet are made pink by the addition of canthaxanthin to their food, yet another naturally occurring carotenoid which is well known to give Chanterelle mushrooms their yellow/orange coloration.

Bark-mimicking grasshopper

Bark-mimicking Grasshopper – Photograph by Laura Lecce

This sizable insect is commonly known as a bark-mimicking grasshopper (Coryphistes ruricola) and even its eyes look like they are actually made of wood. They are common in Australia and depending on location and surrounding environment, appear in various colors from grays to browns. Collectively they are an interesting view of natural selection at work. This grasshopper which was photographed in Western Australia was in an area where there weren’t many trees at all, but blended in very well with the sand it was sitting on. If I was a bird I would certainly think twice about whether I was about to eat a grasshopper or a piece of fallen tree branch.

For other insects please click here.

Starling in a Snowstorm

Starling in a Snowstorm – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Storms are hard on everyone, but none more so than the poor birds which have very little shelter from the wind and cold. I saw a photo today of a very defeated cockatoo in Australia sitting amongst fallen branches, wet and with most of his feathers blown off by cyclone Debbie. Thankfully he was rescued by the photographer and I hope he will make a speedy recovery. The bird in these photos was weathering out a snowstorm in New York two weeks ago (hopefully our last one of the winter) and was grateful that I provided some breadcrumbs. Actually in truth I am not sure that the bird was grateful because grumpy is its permanent facial expression. I cannot blame him as I’d be grumpy too if I was locked outside in a snowstorm with no socks to keep my feet warm.

Grateful but naturally grumpy – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Peculiar Pizote

Peculiar Pizote – Photograph by Laura Lecce

There are so many animals that I meet on my travels that I didn’t know existed. This pizote was one such animal that I had never heard of until I met this gorgeous creature in Costa Rica. It is also known as a coati and belongs to the same family as raccoons. They are omnivores with a diet of insects, small vertebrates and fruits. Like raccoons they will scavenge through the trash to find something to eat and seem to be quite used to human encounters. They are quite intelligent and have even been kept as domestic pets. This particular pizote seems to have learned that approaching the side of a car may result in being fed, however, on this particularly rainy day he was out of luck.

For other Costa Rican animals please click here.