MTPR

Field Notes

Mon., Wed. Friday at 4:54 p.m.

For keen observers, a walk to the grocery store or a hike up a mountain can inspire questions. Where do magpies nest?  Why doesn’t a spider stick to its own web? How do water striders keep from sinking?  Every week since 1992, Field Notes has inquired about Montana's  natural history. Produced by the Montana Natural History Center, Field Notes are written by naturalists, students and listeners about the puzzle-tree bark, eagle talons, woolly aphids and giant puffballs of western, central and southwestern Montana.

Interested in writing a Field Note? Contact Allison De Jong, Field Notes editor, at adejong [at] montananaturalist.org or (406) 327-0405.

iStock

There is an ant and she is next to my foot, dragging a fly up the same hill that I have just stopped trying to drag myself up.  All worker ants are females and this particular female has a black fly in her mandibles, but she’s having a hard time keeping it there because she is negotiating her way backwards through lichen, and the uncooperative (i.e., dead) fly keeps getting hung up.

A Fisher's Guide To Preying On Porcupines

Sep 8, 2019
Fisher (Pekania pennanti), the carnivorous mustelid that co-evolved with porcupines
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 5)

As my dog starts to circle, the porcupine turns its rear end to my dog and begins to back into him, thrashing its tail back and forth. Lunging at the porcupine, my dog comes up with a face full of quills. As he winces back to my side, I begin to wonder what type of animal has the ability to prey upon a porcupine without receiving a penalty for its meal.

Freshwater diatom seen under a scanning electron microscope.
Courtesy UM Electron Microscopy Facility

The bottom of this shallow stream is covered with a complex community of algae, comprising many different species. Probably most abundant of all are the diatoms, many of which secrete a slippery mucus as they travel, leaving the rocks very slick.

Do Noxious Weeds Owe Their Success To Soil Microbes?

Aug 25, 2019
Ivar Leidus

"What exactly is a weed? This can be a tricky question to answer. A plant that is nurtured and cultivated by one gardener may be yanked out unapologetically by the next, in favor of something preferable. It seems that a weed to one person can be a prized plant to another.

Zion National Park (CC-BY-2.0)

Yellowstone National Park has lost much of its aspen forest cover — not just to the detriment of the aspen, but to all the other species that depend on them, including many birds, black bears, snowshoe hares, porcupines and beavers. I, too, miss the aspen, its knobby white trunk standing in stark relief against the dark-barked backdrop of spruce, fir and pine that forms most of my visual diet.

Lee Karney, U.S.F.W.S. (P.D.)

It’s summer in Montana. The sun is bright and the Missouri River has never looked more refreshing. As I hike along a well-worn trail, I see two gorgeous American White Pelicans soaring to an unknown destination. Their grace and beauty are breathtaking.

Ant lion larva
Jonathan Numer (CC-BY-SA-3)

Ant lions, or "doodlebugs" have impressive mandibles, are adept at camouflage, and are very successful at trapping and ambushing their prey. "Field Notes" takes a closer look at these fascinating insects.

Glacial erratic in Yellowstone Park's Lamar Valley
Jo Suderman - National Parks Service

Few sights have the romantic appeal of a lone tree growing in the grasslands of Montana. While these trees are beloved by photographers and artists for the serenity and peace they evoke, their origins typically lie in a more abrasive past. As the Wisconsian and Pinedale glaciations began their slow march from the mountains of western Montana and greater Yellowstone, they picked up rocks of varying sizes from pebbles to house-sized boulders. When the climate shifted and the glaciers melted, the rocks trapped in the ice settled on the ground and became known as glacial erratics.

Loon Calls: From Inquisitive To Bone-Chilling

Jul 29, 2019
When a boat steers too close to a nest, the owner loon will snap its bill open and closed, transforming air into wavy notes that writer John McPhee described: “If he were human, it would be the laugh of the deeply insane.”
(PD)

Loon calls flow through our veins, seep into our bones and sinew. For a moment, we become the wild flute music that curls into every recess of the lake. The echo pulses within us long after the stillness returns.

Loons call in four ways, each carrying a meaning that, at some level, humans have come to understand.

Birds Of A Feather Flock Together ... To Bathe In Ants?

Jul 7, 2019
A blackbird sunning ... or is it anting?
Hornbeam Arts (CC-BY-NC-2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/hornbeam/9272137714

Anting is a bizarre form of bird behavior that has often been observed but is not well understood. It typically involves a bird picking up ants and rubbing or jabbing them into the feathers, especially under the wings and tail. The action is so rapid and vigorous that the bird will often knock itself over onto the ground.

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