Taxonomic Cornucopia

by Mark Miles

In the spirit of gratitude that ideally characterizes this time of year, I’ve decided to share what I’m thankful for at any time of year, specifically wildlife. Every encounter with a wild animal or plant is a gift and one that’s increasingly scarce in many urban areas. Personally I live in a small town that’s largely rural, but even here you don’t have to look far to find new strip malls, housing subdivisions, and assorted industrial eyesores. Still, there are opportunities to encounter wildlife in almost any region, and each encounter is a reason to be thankful–provided you’re not being eaten for dinner of course.

In September, I stumbled upon this remarkable moth on the siding of my house. I was immediately dumbfounded by the vibrant coloration and markings, though at the time I had no idea what species she was. Despite not knowing the species, I did know the sex from a glance at the antennae–which are thick and furry in males, narrow and smooth in females. It’s easy to remember if you think of antlers, which are morphologically analogous to antennae and which are usually bigger in males than females. In any case, I was able to identify the species after a bit of searching, using the coloration and markings to point me to the orange-tipped oakworm moth (Anisota senatoria).

Though I was thankful to see this little western honey bee (Apis mellifera) a couple weeks ago, I must admit I was pretty stunned. I can’t remember a year in living memory when bees have been active in North Carolina in November. Usually by late September they’ve gone into hibernation. However, with daytime temperatures exceeding 80° F on more than one occasion, it’s not terribly surprising. My rosemary is still more than happy to keep blooming, which gave this worker bee ample reason to make the unseasonal trek in search of pollen to feed her sisters.

Here’s another unseasonal bit of wildlife from the area. In my backyard I have a good amount of sweet violet (Viola odorata) which typically becomes dormant by early October. That’s not the case this year, and it’s only because of last week’s hard frost that most of the flowering plants have started to take the hint that it’s not still summer. Regardless of all that, I’m thankful whenever I see the brilliant white and purple of sweet violet.

For a number of years, the two willow oaks (Quercos phellos) in my front yard have been unable to produce acorns. It started around 2008 when strange markings–which appeared to be holes made by a power tool–appeared on both of them at the same time. For several years after that, my oaks stopped producing any acorns, and it’s only been recently that they’ve become fecund again. Even though these acorns are small for trees that are fully mature, I’m thankful that they’re here to provide food for the squirrels in winter.

Lately I’ve been trying to grow sawtooth blackberries (Rubus argutus) from seed. I gathered some wild blackberries a few months ago, put them in pots with soil, placed them in my sunniest window, and waited… and waited… and waited. After three months, I was pretty convinced those berries were never going to germinate. Then, of all things, I looked at my pots last week and saw–could it be?–actual sprouts. You have no idea how thankful I was at that moment, and I’m not even ashamed to admit it.

At the beginning of November I saw this eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) near the edge of a field that’s been left fallow recently. I thoroughly expected him to run as soon as he saw me, but instead he stared at me with the intensity of a laser-beam. All his senses were attuned to my presence, and I couldn’t help wondering what experiences had led him to be so hypervigilant in the presence of humans. Of course cottontail rabbits have every reason to be terrified of everything since only twenty percent of them survive to adulthood. The vast majority are killed by predators, starvation, poisoning or traffic. In short, their lives are a living nightmare due to the way in which industrial society has decimated their habitats, food-supply, and territorial contiguity. Despite that, I was thankful for the trust expressed by this rabbit who allowed me to be in the same space with him for a few quiet moments.

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17 thoughts on “Taxonomic Cornucopia

  1. junglequeen November 26, 2016 / 5:22 am

    Great stuff! I thoroughly agree with you that our wildlife (whatever species) is something to be looked out for, looked after and valued. This is the reality of the diversity of our planet, which we seem to be currently downgrading – very foolishly, because it’s on that diversity that the web of life depends. Love your photos and species – from New Zealand!

    • Mark Miles November 28, 2016 / 6:40 am

      Thank you very much. I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of the need to protect biodiversity in all its forms.

  2. Mel & Suan November 26, 2016 / 5:47 am

    Hmm..bees being active this late into the year. Could climate change have anything to do with it? hmmm….

  3. rivertoprambles November 26, 2016 / 1:11 pm

    An inspiring article of thanks and appreciation for the members of our natural community, no matter where we live. I even learned something or two, like how to differentiate moth sex by the presence or the lack of antennae. Nice work, Mark.

    • Mark Miles November 28, 2016 / 6:46 am

      Thank you, my friend. I’m glad I could help with a little education here and there. And of course gratitude is something we should all be expressing toward the natural world on a daily basis. Our lives wouldn’t be possible without it. Have a good week ahead. 👍👍

  4. Abby Olsen: My Crazy Chicken Coop November 27, 2016 / 10:44 pm

    Curious if you ever found out about those holes. . .

    Totally trying to grow some blackberries. Is it really as simple burying berries in soil? Did you use anything as fertilizer?

    • Mark Miles November 28, 2016 / 6:50 am

      It was in my case. I simply got some good soil from my local garden store, put it in a pot, placed the blackberries an inch beneath the soil’s surface, and then waited a few months. I watered the pot initially, but I stopped after the second month, and the seeds still sprouted a month later. The really crucial thing, as always with gardening, is the quality of soil.

  5. greenygrey3 November 28, 2016 / 11:17 am

    Nice images and sentiments well written.

  6. Car, November 30, 2016 / 5:15 pm

    I just woke up and checked my new at my blog and.found this…made my morning to motivate myself and keep writing and sharing what my eyes see..i can feel the “feeling” of this article..because i also love animals and plants…thanks for sharing…keep taking care of mother nature…me too !!! 🙂

    • Mark Miles December 5, 2016 / 4:25 am

      Thank you very much. I really appreciate your kind words.

      • Car, December 14, 2016 / 2:27 pm

        You are wellcome is amazing!!!!

  7. ashiftinconsciousness December 5, 2016 / 7:53 am

    Great post. I love nature. I’ve watched a butterfly as long as I was able to see it and just stayed still inside. It’s beautiful. I currently live in NYC so wildlife has a much different meaning for me than most people, but I spend some time in the suburbs – Long Island. I get to see birds, squirrels and an occasional rabbit.

    Thanks for a nice post.

    • Mark Miles December 12, 2016 / 4:56 am

      Thank you. Glad to hear that you take time to appreciate the natural world where you live.

  8. gretchenwing December 19, 2016 / 5:55 pm

    I love your approach, melding nature and gratitude via the kind of detail that proves your intentions. I also love that you’re in NC–I grew up in Orange County, though I’m now a Northwesterner. Blog on, Mark!

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