MTPR

Montana Natural History Center

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Creating A Backyard Banquet For Butterflies

Jul 1, 2019
Keenan Adams, U.S.F.W.S. (PD)

I recently listened to a Field Note about the joys of designing a backyard landscape for wildlife and birds. As you’re scheming and poring over seed catalogs, consider the smaller winged creatures in your plans. Butterflies not only bring their own delight to a garden, but butterfly gardens have real conservation value. A garden that’s free of pesticides and full of nectar sources and food plants can become habitat for dozens of brightly-colored flitting jewels.

How Spider Webs Can Detect Air Pollution

Jun 2, 2019
Studies are analyzing the chemicals and pollutants caught in spider webs to determine the health of certain environments.
Flickr user PermaCultured [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Classic spiral spider webs are made by orb-weaving spiders which weave them deadly traps for flying insects. But orb spider webs are also electrostatically charged, making them perfect for capturing not only prey but pollen and other small pollutants, indicators of an environment's health.

Clark's Nutcracker
Ryan Mitchell (CC-BY-2.0)

As a bird biologist who studies bird songs, I immediately recognize most sounds I come across in nature: the winnowing of a Wilson’s Snipe, the smack of a Dark-eyed Junco, the zee-chubbity-chub of a Rufous Hummingbird, just to name a few. For me it is a matrix of sound, as diverse and varied as the surrounding landscape. When I hear a strange sound in nature, I can’t give up until I determine its source.

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