velella 2

It is difficult to know where to begin when it comes to talking about these incredible, and undeniably strange, creatures. Velella, despite their resemblance to sea jellies, are actually something altogether different. And these beautiful, brilliantly blue creatures have been getting plenty of press lately because they have been washing up on Pacific beaches in great numbers over the course of this summer. Scientists are unsure what is causing velella to appear in such numbers, but suspect that it is part of a cyclical activity for these surface floating ocean animals. Whatever the case may be, it feels like finding the most unexpected of treasures to come upon these remarkable animals on the beach, and we couldn’t wait to share photos from a recent sighting on the Oregon Coast with you all here.

Read on to find out a bit more about velella as well as to download printable sheets of useful photos and information about them. Each Wednesday, check the bottom of the “What’s That?” post to find a PDF containing a fact sheet about the day’s featured item, as well as photographs and other resources ideal for using in a nature journal, research binder, or lap book.

velella 3

velella 4

velella 1

velella 5

Some interesting things to know about velella (Velella velella):

- Velella velella is the only known species in the genus Velella.

- Each velella only appears to be a single animal. In reality, a velella is actually a colony of very small animals living and traveling together. These animals are sometimes referred to as “polyps.”

- Each velella colony is made of either all male or all female organisms.

- Velella are carnivores, primarily ingesting plankton that they capture using tentacles on the underside of the colony.

- Velella do use toxins in their tentacles for capturing prey, but these toxins are not dangerous to people.

- Velella are sometimes called sea raft jellies because of the way that they appear to have a sail on top.

- The sail atop each velella will align with the direction of the wind as they float on the ocean’s surface.

- There is some speculation that the mass stranding of velella on Pacific beaches this time of year is simply the result of the fact that they have no means of movement through the water other than their sail. This leaves them vulnerable to wind direction and being pushed ashore.

Click here to download the velella nature journal resource pages to use with your own family.

{ 0 comments }

Hitting the Trail is a weekly feature here at Mud Puddles to Meteors. In each post we will share trails, parks, beaches, and museums from around the country (and sometimes even beyond). If you would like to join in and share a special nature location please send us an email at kidsandnature@gmail.com with the details listed at the bottom of the post and links to the photos. We would love to share your nature adventure!

……….

Huishinish Point, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides (Scotland)

This week we welcome back Lisa, who took a beautiful trip with her family to a gorgeous area in Scotland. This wonderfully diverse region treated them to a variety of sea jellies, beetles, diving gannets, stunning views, and so much more. 

6 August 2014 301

6 August 2014 308

6 August 2014 314

6 August 2014 316

6 August 2014 318

6 August 2014 319

6 August 2014 332

6 August 2014 321

6 August 2014 344

6 August 2014 349

6 August 2014 3626 August 2014 356

Some interesting things to know:

Location: Huishinish Point, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Habitat: Beach, upland hills, hill loch and machair—one of the world’s rarest habitats, only to be found in the far northwest of Ireland and the northwestern Isles of Scotland. (Click here to learn more about the machair habitat.)

Favorite Plant and Animal Life: When we visited, blooms of several kinds of jellyfish decorated the sea waters. We found quite a few species of beetle in the machair, including a Scavenger Beetle. But our favourite was watching the gannets dive into the water at speeds of up to 70 mph as they fished in the waters between Huishinish and the island of Scarp.

Special Features: To access Huishinish, it’s a long and winding drive through some of Scotland’s most rugged and unspoilt countryside. En route, look out for the short, flat hike to the Eagle Observatory to spot some Golden Eagles, or just to take in the stunning scenery.
Once at Huishinish, keep an eye out for basking sharks, gannets, terns and other sea birds. Take a short circular hike around the point to the loch and find yourselves on a deserted beach, where the only footprints are made by sheep (please note that the path hugs a hillside and may be unsafe for very young or unsteady hikers). You’re likely to see broken down stone croft houses—a reminder of the Highland Clearances. And this year we were lucky enough to witness the local farmers shearing their sheep—using traditional hand shears.

Best time to visit: If you expect the weather to be changeable, you’ll never be disappointed in Scotland. Bring waterproofs and sun hats, midge spray and sun cream. Anytime is a good time to visit the Outer Hebrides, but to enjoy the wildflowers in the machair and good clear views, go in early to mid-summer.

 

Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your amazing trip with us!

{ 4 comments }

Nature In Your Neighborhood

August 18, 2014

Nature In Your Neighborhood is a weekly feature that focuses on the nature that we all interact with in our everyday lives. Through the window of these posts you can catch glimpses of nature in action in locations across the country (and sometimes beyond). You are invited to add photos of your own nature finds for sharing here to the Mud Puddles to Meteors Flickr group. Please just remember to adjust your Flickr settings for sharing!

From the changing leaves on the biggest tree in the neighborhood to a tiny beetle scurrying across a sidewalk, we’d love to see what is happening in the natural world where you are.

………

From the biggest clouds to the smallest spider, there was much to love in the Flickr group this week.

i cannot decide

Big sky by Siri

Montana

Woodland Skipper

Woodland Skipper by Ship Rock

British Columbia, Canada

Seeing Spots

Seeing spots by Chris

Georgia 

Driving in to Tisza-tó

green by Frank

Hungary

Caution,Human ahead.

Caution, Human ahead by Tom

Oregon

Orange

orange by Jessica

Pennsylvania 

barnacle face

Barnacle face by Megan

New Brunswick, Canada

An argiope spider in the garden.

Argiope spider by Nichole

Texas

Ouriço Pigmeu Africano, Headgehog, Atelerix albiventris

Hedgehog by Manequinho

Brazil

Grand Globe Snail, Mesodon normalis

Grand Globe Snail by Stephanie

Tennesse

Thank you to all of our contributors.

{ 2 comments }

Nature Around the Net

August 17, 2014

IMG_6510-3

We really had not intended to take three days off from this space, but life sometimes passes by and there are trips to take, book manuscripts to edit, and a whole lot of summer still calling to be to chased around. Hopefully you have all been getting out to take in a little dose of nature during the week. We have a few fun things to share today that might inspire to head out early, and stay out as long as possible in the week to come.

- We find a whole lot of nature loving eye candy at Project Noah.

- Whoa! This shot sent us on a mission to find out more. (You just never know what you are going to see out there!)

- A few very neat reasons to wake up early this week.

- Don’t click on this link if you have arachnophobia. Do click on it if you love insect photography (or at least have a slight interest in how some amazing images are created).

- Some of you are planning for the upcoming school year (either as teachers or homeschoolers) and we thought this would be a great thing to pencil in for the spring.

 

Have you discovered any nature articles or sites you would like to share? Please link up in the comments. Thanks!

 

P.S. We have a growing group of nature lovers over on Facebook if you are interested in sharing nature, learning about what others are finding, and getting help identifying your own nature finds. Come join us!

 

{ 0 comments }

Winged Ant Text

This time of year it is common to see creatures that look a whole lot like ants flying, or walking around with their wings protruding behind them. In fact, they are ants! As part of their lifecycle ant colonies produce winged members that will eventually take flight, mate, and go on to create new colonies. It is interesting to watch them, as they are often seen crawling along instead of flying. They are not strong flyers and typically wait to use their wings for a nuptial flight in which they mate and move on to the next phase of life, wingless. We had the chance to watch a large female ant precicly remove her wings and leave them behind; she had obviously mated and found a spot to create her new colony.

Read on to find out a bit more about Flying Ants as well as to download printable sheets of useful photos and information about them. Each Wednesday, check the bottom of the “What’s That?” post to find a PDF containing a fact sheet about the day’s featured item, as well as photographs and other resources ideal for using in a nature journal, research binder, or lap book.

Ant Flying-1 copy Winged Ant 1-1 Winged Ant 2-1

Some things to know about flying ants:

- Winged ants are simply ants that are produced as part of the ant lifecycle

- Both male and female ants can be winged: females are larger than males

- At certain times of year these ants swarm and mate in flight

- This mating time is known as a nuptial flight

- When a female mates she finds a spot to start a new colony and removes her wings

- After mating males die

- Flying ants are often mistaken as termites

- Key anatomy that helps to distinguish them from termites includes:

  • hinged antenna (termites have straight antenna)
  • forewings and hind wings are different sizes (termite wings are the same size)
  • a “waist” is noticeable between the thorax and abdomen (termites have straight body, and a head)

Resources:

This video shows both male and female winged ants, along with the non-winged members of their colony.

Our PDF making department was having some technical difficulties yesterday. The Flying Ant PDF will be coming soon!

{ 0 comments }

Hitting the Trail is a weekly feature here at Mud Puddles to Meteors. In each post we will share trails, parks, beaches, and museums from around the country (and sometimes even beyond). If you would like to join in and share a special nature location please send us an email at kidsandnature@gmail.com with the details listed at the bottom of the post and links to the photos. We would love to share your nature adventure!

……….

Carter Notch Hut (White Mountains, New Hampshire)

Tucked in among the tree lined passes and hidden lakes of the White Mountains, the Appalachian Mountain Club maintains a group of huts, available for overnight stays by hikers who walk the backcountry trail leading to them. The Carter Notch Hut sits at the end of a 3.8 mile hike in, a beautiful trail covered in large rocks that make it easier for kids to walk than some of the other neighboring hikes. The huts make for a great solution for families wanting to introduce their kids to backpacking without the added work of bringing along a tent or cooking all three meals each day.

carter notch 4

carter notch 6

carter notch 5

 

carter notch 3

carter notch 7

carter notch 2

carter notch 1

Some Interesting Things to Know about Carter Notch Hut

Location: The White Mountains of New Hampshire, along a section of the Appalachian Trail.

Habitat: The trail to the hut, as well as the area around Carter Notch, is characterized by densely forested streams and rocky trails that lead up the various peaks of the White Mountains. The nearest to the Carter Notch hut is Wildcat A, about a mile or so from the hut itself.

Favorite Plant and Animal Life: This area is teeming with the good stuff! From bears to bugs, there is some of everything worth looking for. Chipmunks, various beetles, and toads were the most common creatures on seen on our recent weekend trip. Also worth noting is the pond just at the end of the trail that brings hikers to the hut; it is full of spatterdock, a type of yellow waterlily that is incredibly interesting and beautiful.

Special Features: One of the greatest things about hiking anywhere on the Appalachian Trail is watching the through hikers (people starting the trail in Georgia and hiking all the way to Maine) come by. Interesting and inspirational, seeing such dedicated lovers of the outdoors is great exposure for kids, and the camaraderie that develops among hikers doing any portion of the A.T. is pretty great too.

Best Time to Visit: The hut is actually open year round, but the winter months don’t offer the perks of the summer season. During the summer months, the hut is full service, and the “croo” there makes both breakfast and dinner for the campers each day. The hut offers bunk beds for snoozing in after your day of hiking as well.

Website: http://www.outdoors.org/lodging/huts/

{ 0 comments }

Nature In Your Neighborhood

August 11, 2014

Nature In Your Neighborhood is a weekly feature that focuses on the nature that we all interact with in our everyday lives. Through the window of these posts you can catch glimpses of nature in action in locations across the country (and sometimes beyond). You are invited to add photos of your own nature finds for sharing here to the Mud Puddles to Meteors Flickr group. Please just remember to adjust your Flickr settings for sharing!

From the changing leaves on the biggest tree in the neighborhood to a tiny beetle scurrying across a sidewalk, we’d love to see what is happening in the natural world where you are.

………

This week we saw some wonderful shots in the Flickr group. From the big sky to the tiny creatures and so much beauty in between, we hope you enjoy these little glimpses of nature found in some beautiful neighborhoods!

Rocky Mountain Front

Rocky Mountain Front by Hannah

Montana

low tide on the mud flats

low tide on the mud flats by Kristy

British Columbia, Canada

tout petit

tout petit by KtLaurel

Quebec , Canada

Week 28 - 2014

borage by Emily

Wales

Beija-flor-de-banda-branca, Versicoloured Emmerald, Amazilia versicolor (Vieillot, 1818)

Versicoloured Emerald by Manequinho

Brazil

My little friends

my little friends by Frank

Hungary

Indian Pipe (4)

Indian Pipe by Amy

Rhode Island

Strom Rolling In

Storm Rolling In by Dawn

Nova Scotia, Canada

Thank you to all of our wonderful contributors.

{ 6 comments }

Nature Around the Net

August 9, 2014

Virginia Ctenucha moth eggs-1

We were fortunate enough, to linger in the meadow long enough, to catch a glimpse of this lovely lady moth laying her eggs; a good reminder to slow down and dawdle a bit when on the path. We hope you have time to linger on the trail this weekend.

Here are some link to get you inspired to amble along your chosen route.

- With our talk of microscopes earlier this week, these pollen grain sculptures have us thinking about ways to supersize what we see under the micro.

- The American Museum of Natural History Vertebrate Zoology Anatomy illustrations Pinterest board. (Oh. Yeah. Nature journal inspiration!)

- This is a fascinating look at how amber forms, and incapsulates insects.

- Making these paper mache birds would be great for studying feather color and other identifying features of birds.

 Have you found any great nature links this week? If so, please share in the comments.

Happy weekend!

Dawn & Annie

 

{ 0 comments }

A version of this post first appeared on Dawn’s personal blog some time back. We thought this would be a good time to bring it over here and share about microscopes on Mud Puddles since the low hum of back-to-school chatter on the net has included some questions about them. The most common questions we are hearing include:

What kind of microscopes are there?

Which would be the best one for my family?

So, if you are looking to expand your science and nature study gear to include a microscope, read on!

 

Often people ask me about our microscopes and which one we like the best. While it is easy to talk about the microscopes themselves, it is hard to choose a favorite; they both have strengths that we enjoy and that is why we are happy to have both a stereo microscope and a compound microscope. I will share about both in this post with hopes that the information provided will help you decide which one would be the best fit for your family.

When first looking at microscopes we knew we wanted a stereo microscope first. Since our daughter’s first love is insects we could imagine she would want to examine her insect collection, and any other new specimen that came along, under the microscope. A stereo microscope is a lower powered microscope that is designed to look at whole objects such as insects, flowers, wasp nests, or even whole spiders (you find dead on the porch) and their very fascinating spinnerets.

 Micro geode exam

Our stereo microscope is very basic and easy to use, it does not even have a light. It is lightweight and easy to transport outdoors, and since it has no light there is no need to plug it in. The drawback is that we either have to use it on sunny days by the window or supply some supplemental light via lamp or flashlight.

 Micro Wasp 1-1

Ours is not digital so it does not take pictures but I have figured out how to take pictures with my camera looking down the microscope lens.

Here is a photo of a wasp egg in the nest above:

 Micro Wasp 4-1

(Edited to note: We now use the macro lens on the iPhone for most of the up close photos of larger specimens.)

Both kids find it easy to use. The little man needs help getting things in focus to start out, but that is becoming easier with time and use.

 Micro Big Mama spider look

Micro Big Mama spider

Micro Flower on Microscope

While stereo microscopes allow for viewing big specimens, compound microscopes are designed to look at very tiny details in things such as animal or plant cells, or single-celled organisms.

Our digital microscope is a Celestron and I love the screen because more than one person can view the object at one time; this is great for families with lots of curious kiddos, or even just two curious kiddos.

 

Micro digital

It is very basic and easy to use with prepared slides that can be purchased in sets, or blank slides that can be prepared by the parent or older child.

Here are some photos taken by the digital microscope:

z Pond 6Pond water sample

z Micro Pond Water 6Pond water sample

z Micro Pond  Water 7Pond water sample

Micro Apple pollenApple pollen

Micro OnionOnion skin

While compound microscopes are designed to be used with slides and make observations of the very tiny cells that make up our world, there has been much experimentation around here with viewing objects without slides, things that really would be a better fit for the stereo microscope, but that is all about learning. (And it is just super neat to take pictures with your digital microscope!)

Micro Chinese Lantern 2Inside of Chinese Lantern plant

Micro Dragon Wing 1 Edge of a dragonfly wing

Micro Feather 2feather

When choosing a microscope, the most important thing to consider is the main use; the types of observations that are going to be made dictate the microscope that would be best for your family. For a family looking to purchase their first microscope I would recommend a stereo microscope. Kids love to be able to put all kinds of things under the microscope, from a penny to the hair of a poodle; they want to check it out. The fast and easy way to do that is with a stereo microscope.

I am not a scientist (I just play one with my kiddos) so if you have more to add to the conversation here please feel free to do so in the comments. We would love to learn more.

Do you have a microscope?
What do you like about it?
What would you recommend to a family looking to purchase their first microscope?

{ 5 comments }

Virginia Ctenuchid moth Text 2

The Virginia Ctenucha moth can be seen feeding on flowers in meadows and fields during the day. The head and thorax of this large moth, filled in with bright colors and a metallic sheen, are hard to miss and are often the first thing to catch the eye. As a result of its colorful appearance and daytime flight habits these moths are often initially mistaken for butterflies, but the telltale wings of a moth (folded back in a tent-like shape) and large feathery antenna give them away.

Read on to find out a bit more about Virginia Ctenucha Moths as well as to download printable sheets of useful photos and information about them. Each Wednesday, check the bottom of the “What’s That?” post to find a PDF containing a fact sheet about the day’s featured item, as well as photographs and other resources ideal for using in a nature journal, research binder, or lap book.

Virginia Ctenuchid moth 2-1 Virginia Ctenuchid moth 3-1 Virginia Ctenuchid moth 4-1

Virginia Ctenuchid Moth caterpillar-1

Some Interesting Facts About the Virginia Ctenucha Moth (Ctenucha virginica)

- The Virginia Ctenucha moth is one of the largest moths in a group called “wasp moths.”

- Native to eastern North America, it has begun to expand westward and can now be found west of the Rocky Mountains.

- These moths frequent open fields, meadows, and wetlands.

- They fly both day and night from May through July.

- Adults feed on nectar during the day, and are considered pollinators, while the caterpillars feed on grasses and sedges.

- As a moth, it goes through complete metamorphosis: changing from caterpillar to moth, after time spent as a pupa in a cocoon.

Click here to download the Virginia Ctenucha Moth nature journal resource pages to use with your own family.

{ 2 comments }