Northern Minnesota phenology report: July 2009
By John Latimer, KAXE radio, Grand Rapids
July 1, 1991 The first pin cherries are turning red. I wouldn’t call them ripe because it will take a bit of time before the sugars in the fruit really begin to develop. I ate my first ripe raspberry today so as I wait for the pin cherries to ripen I won’t starve. The water hemlock has begun to bloom. Another flower seen blooming today is the swamp milkweed. The beautiful red flowers are a delight to the eye.
July 14, 2002 The Atlantis fritillary winter survival must have been great because I can’t remember seeing this many before. They can be told from the great spangled fritillary by the presence of a black border along the trailing edge of both wings. The absence of the black border on the trailing edge of the wings and the broad stripe of yellow on the underside of the wing set the great spangled fritillary apart from its close cousin the Atlantis fritillary. The day of the butterflies ends with an observation of the Harris checkerspot. All three of these butterflies are mostly orange, though the smaller checkerspot has more black than the others.
July 25, 2007 There are two Eastern pondhawk females sitting on a rock wall near Prairie Lake. They are startlingly green with black on the last few segments of the abdomen and the very tip is touched in white. The smooth aster, Canada goldenrod and the pearly everlasting are all beginning to bloom today. The Canada goldenrod is a favorite among the goldenrod gall flies. The select this variety almost exclusively to lay their eggs upon. Their feet taste the plant when they land, and they can tell whether or not this is the proper species.
A warm sunny day can be a perfect time to observe butterfly behavior. The males of many species are quite territorial. The sulfur butterflies are a good species to watch defend their area. A male will spend a good deal of energy and time flying after other males that attempt to infringe upon his space. These skirmishes usually involve a spiraling flight that begins low near the ground and can climb to fifty feet or more.
Puddling is another behavior that can be seen without great effort. Sometimes just driving around after a rain storm will afford a chance to watch as males gather and share a drink at the edge of a puddle. Or if you have ever seen butterflies congregate on feces and wondered just what was going on, both of these activities are related. Typically these are male butterflies and they are attracted to these spots in search of trace minerals.
One of the current hypotheses about this behavior is that the males, by concentrating these trace minerals; make themselves more desirable to the females. The females need these minerals as well and can get them from the male during copulation. This transfer, think of it as a dowry, allows the female to spend more time and energy developing the eggs that will be the next generation of the species.
One hot July day I spent an afternoon moving a pile of bricks that had been salvaged from some demolished building. I was re-acquainted with a world I had left behind as a child. There was an entire ecosystem living in there. Ants, salamanders, spiders, millipedes, beetles of unknown names, were all living in the crevices surrounding the bricks. It was a menagerie of the miniscule.
Some of these insects are remarkably well defended. Ants carry chemicals which alert one another to the presence of danger. The millipedes secrete hydrogen cyanide through pores located near the legs. This poison is strong enough to deter almost all of the predators they are likely to encounter. Among the beetles are the bombardiers whose scalding hot spray can be selectively shot in any direction. And the spiders, those wolves of the insect world, stand ready to attack anything that crawls or flies into their range. They use chemicals to subdue and liquefy their chosen prey. For all of the innocence of its appearance it is a dangerous world down there among the rocks, bricks, and leaves.
If you are one of those people who like to tramp the woods all year around then in July keep a look out for the blue bead lily or yellow clintonia. This lily is quite common across the eastern half of the United States and can be found as far south as Alabama. The bright blue berries are a most tempting sight but close observation will reveal few if any attempts at eating them. That is because they contain calcium oxalate crystals. Sharp microscopic needles, these crystals imbed themselves in the flesh of the mouth and throat and cause pain and swelling. Look for a cluster of two to five or six berries at the top of a single stalk above a pair of lily-like leaves. And then avoid the temptation to taste them.
As July comes to a close there will be several tasty fruits ripe and ready to tempt you. The blueberries will be ready, though much depends on the weather leading up to the end of July. A frost at the wrong time or the wrong amount of moisture can wipe out a crop. Pin cherries ripen in July. Some find these a bit tart, but if you can wait and the birds don’t eat them all, they become quite sweet. And if you are a wine maker you should be watching the chokecherries. They are a bit too astringent for my palate, but they make a wonderful wine.
John Latimer is well known throughout northern Minnesota for his phenology work. He appears weekly on KAXE radio in Grand Rapids, and audio and twitter archives are available here. We hope his work will be a frequent feature on MyMinnesotaWoods. This article also appeared in the Duluth Senior Reporter. It is printed with the author’s permission.