Saturday, September 21, 2013

Nature's bubble wrap

Who doesn't love popping bubble wrap? Today I learned something equally addictive from my middle daughter: Popping jewelweed seeds. The whackiest sensation! The seed pods get so full and spring loaded when they're ripe that you have to barely touch them to make them explode, curl up and stick their tongue out. 

Jewelweed (aka impatiens capensis or, aptly, 'touch-me-not') is a medicinal herb that grows abundantly around here, with deep yellow/orange flowers. Its crushed leaves are a remedy for stinging nettle, insect bites and even poison ivy rash, and the seed pod is truly a showcase for the ingenuity of Mother Nature's mechanical engineering. We found plenty of jewelweed during today's family nature walk in our 'hood: 

'Tis the season, or almost. Foliage, Indian Summer, Leaf Peeping. It's good to be in New England in Fall! The kids took soil samples, found the prettiest mossy rocks, and had a generally jolly time. So jolly that I was able to sneak in a nap at the top of the hill ... once they learn how to be entertained by nature, there is no more boredom for the kids.

We walked by a tree felled by hurricane Sandy, and repeatedly heard a rather intense buzzing noise: Could that have been a cicada? When I looked up more about cicadas, I came across this cool quote from the National Geographic:

 "Researchers have hypothesized that periodical cicadas evolved prime-numbered life cycles to avoid certain parasites, and that they stay underground for so long to avoid larger predators like birds and squirrels". 

What an amazing practical use for prime numbers! If I ever have to explain prime numbers to anyone again, I'll be sure to remember that.

Later, the husband observed a spectacular case of a very long, thin earth wasp (an Ammophila?) dragging a caterpillar into its earth hole, coming back out after some time, and then spending quite a bit of time closing up the entrance to make it invisible. I looked up more detail here, a very nice site for bug lovers. 

And now I have to run because the kids just captured a small salamander to be studied*!

 *and released asap, in the exact spot where it was found, of course.

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