July 30th , 2012 8:59 am Leave a comment

Feathered Friends: Wandering herons, big bugs provide late summer fun from natural world

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On Saturday, July 21, I spooked a Great Blue Heron out of the fish pond when I stepped, unexpectedly from the heron’s point of view, out of the house and into the yard.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Frank Miles
A Great Blue Heron prepares to swallow a large fish that the bird captured using its spear-shaped bill. This particular heron was photographed at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, Philadelphia, Pa.

Not thinking much of it, I remained outside for about 10 minutes when the heron returned, or so I thought. A large shadow passed overhead to announce the heron’s return. As it came in for a landing, the large bird dropped feet-first from the sky. Once on the ground, the heron began immediately scouting the edges of the pond for an easy meal.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The male Eastern Hercules Beetle sports two dramatic horns and is considerably larger than the female. Although this beetle is harmless to humans, the males engage in combat over access to females.

However, the heron arrived from a direction opposite of where it had fled when startled. I figured it had just circled back to the pond until another Great Blue (presumably the first bird) flew over. That particular bird came from the direction in which the first one had flown to escape my intrusion.

A visit from a Great Blue Heron in summer is not too out of the ordinary, but I figured a visit by two herons might be worth taking the time to mention.

It is the time of year when the waders get restless. Sometimes, wading birds can show up far outside their normal ranges during late summer. Some unusual wading birds that have occasionally made their way to Northeast Tennessee include Roseate Spoonbill, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis and White-faced Ibis.

The Great Bue Heron is the largest of North America’s herons. In fact, it is one of the world’s largest herons, surpassed only by the aptly-named Goliath Heron and the White-bellied Heron.

The Great Blue Heron boasts a head-to-tail length of about 54 inches with a wingspan that can reach 79 inches. This heron also enjoys a standing height of between 45 and 54 inches. Thanks to hollow bones, however, a Great Blue Heron weighs only between five to seven pounds.

The Great Blue Heron belongs to the family of long-legged wading birds known as Ardeidae. The family contains 64 species, although some are called “egret” and “bittern” rather than heron.

Within the family, the Great Blue Heron belongs to the genus Ardea, also known as the “Great Herons” because of the overall larger size of the dozen herons comprising this genus.

The Great Blue Heron’s closest relatives in this genus include the Grey Heron, Goliath Heron, Cocoi Heron, White-necked Heron, Black-headed Heron, Humblot’s Heron, White-bellied Heron, Great-billed Heron, Purple Heron, Great Egret and Pied Heron.

Using their sturdy, spear-shaped bills, these herons hunt for fish or other aquatic prey by standing still and waiting patiently. When prey comes into range, the heron lunges forward and uses its bill to capture the unlucky victim.

Although fish makes up the major portion of its diet, the Great Blue Heron will also feed on crustaceans, such as shrimp and crabs, as well as insects, rodents, amphibians, small birds and reptiles, including young alligators as well as snakes and lizards.

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File this next segment under “Other Things with Wings.”

I got a phone call last week about a strange bug.

It’s not the first time I have been asked to identify a strange insect, but the person who found the insect and the person who made the phone call both wished to remain anonymous. I sent out Elizabethton STAR photographer Brandon Hicks, who respected the anonymity wish and took a photo of just the insect.

As it turned out, I have seen this particular bug on a past occasion. I identified the insect as a female Eastern Hercules Beetle. She is less dramatic in appearance than her male counterpart, who sports two horns and is typically larger.

Here are some other interesting facts about the Hercules Beetle.

• The Eastern Hercules Beetle, at about two inches in length, is the largest beetle in the eastern United States.

• Female beetles arrange bits of decaying wood into a pile. She then lays her eggs into this pile of wood, which is usually located in a stump, log or dead tree. A few months later, the eggs hatch and the beetle larvae feed on the pieces of dead wood. Larvae feed for about eight months before emerging as adults.

• Adult beetles feed on tree sap.

• The Eastern Hercules Beetles protects itself with chemicals. These insects are able to produce and release a foul-smelling substance to discourage predators. Despite the fearsome appearance of the males, their “horns” cannot pinch or inflict any sort of injury.

• Many creatures try to make meals of Hercules Beetles. Some of our bigger birds, such as owls, hawks and crows, will eat adult beetles. Woodpeckers use their sturdy bill to chisel larvae from their wooden refuges. Mammals, such as raccoons, skunks and foxes, will also prey on these beetles.

• Bright outdoor lights can attract these beetles after dark. • The Eastern Hercules Beetle is known by the scientific name, Dynastes tityus, and belongs to the Dynastinae or rhinoceros beetles, which is a subfamily of the Scarab beetle family. Other common names include unicorn beetles and horn beetles. There are more than 300 species of rhinoceros beetles known worldwide.

• The Eastern Hercules Beetle is also known by such common names as “Elephant Beetle” and “Ox Beetle.”

• Members of the extended family of Rhinocerous beetles use their horns in mating battles against other males.

• Rhinoceros beetles are also the strongest animals on the planet, proportionally. They have been documented lifting up to 850 times their own weight.

• Rhinoceros beetles are related to Scarab beetles, which are famous for their association with ancient Egypt. Egyptian kings and queens wore jewelry shaped as Scarab beetles to symbolize their wealth and power. The Scarab beetle also represented rebirth in ancient Egypt

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To share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment, call me at 297-9077 or email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. I am on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler.

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