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home : education : schools September 20, 2017

8/15/2017 1:51:00 PM
Life in the night
Adult ant-lion. photo by Jim Anderson
+ click to enlarge
Adult ant-lion. photo by Jim Anderson

By Jim Anderson

If you go to your children's or grandchildren's house for a visit and just use your camera to record the activities of family, please enlarge the "family."

We share our magnificent old world with so much other life, and with the current photographic tools we have at our fingertips today, it seems to me we're missing a wonderful opportunity if we don't take a moment and record as much of other family life as we can.

Take the porch light, for example. If you leave it switched on for about an hour before you call it a night and drop into bed, a visit to the porch and surrounding area will pay off big time. When you go out to check, you may fall over your backyard cottontail, your front porch toad or have a moth fall into your esophagus.

The cottontail has come up on the porch for refuge from a feral cat or wandering coyote, and the toad is there to snatch up all those wonderful food items that come to the light, many of whom are not aware of the results of getting too close to the light, and fall to the porch (or ground) either dead or suffering from severe heat stroke.

This time of year there is a marvelous plethora of animals that are attracted to the porch light. If you're so inclined, you can grab up your flashlight and take a careful hike out around your juniper trees. If you're lucky and observant, you may see an adult ant-lion emerging from the pit it dug as a larva, and used to collect all those insects that helped it grow into the pupa and then after going through the marvelous process of metamorphosis, emerge as an adult to fly about in the dark, looking for a mate.

Adult ant-lions are passive when compared to the ferocious habits of when they were a larva waiting for an insect to fall in their trap so they could munch it up.

As ants and other small arthropods fall in, they are unable to crawl out because of the unstable material on the inside. Plus, the moment the ant-lion feels the vibrations of an insect caught in its lair, it flicks more sand on the sides to further destabilize the victim so it slides down into the clutches of the ant-lion's formidable grabbers.

If you take a careful walk out into your kitchen garden you'll probably meet up with one of the tree frogs that sing to you each spring in your pond or your neighbor's. That's the only time they are in ponds - to mate and lay eggs.

Believe it or not, those tiny amphibians are hardy and capable of withstanding warm, dry nights out in the open. They feed on ground insects and slowly make their way across country at night to other locations where they (hopefully) will find a pond next spring to breed and provide more frogs the opportunity to explore the countryside.

One of the most remarkable discoveries I've ever made out on the desert was a tree frog hidden way down in the muddy footprint of a cow on a hot summer day at the edge of Benjamin Lakes south of Brothers.

Nighttime is also when bats are on the wing. If you watch a streetlight in town for a while you'll eventually spot a bat zipping through the lighted area as it snatches tiny moths and other insects out of the air. Those little moths perch on the big painted plywood Monarch butterfly under my porch light, and are just a couple species of moths that fly about at night, mating and feeding - and also being snatched out of the air by bats, frogs and toads.

There's also a small owl, the flammulated, who resembles the western screech owl, but has black eyes instead of yellow. Unlike the screech, flams do not eat small rodents, but concentrate on the insects of the night to make a living. They nest in old woodpecker holes, but will use a nest box. Wouldn't it be something if you put up a nesting box and a flam moved in?

Sometimes a juvenile or baby bat will fall off its mum as she's flying about feeding on insects. If the babe isn't injured it will make enough alarm noises to bring mom back to pick her up, but if extenuating circumstance prevent that from taking place the helpless babe may be still there when you come out to go to work in the morning.

Should you come upon a bat in that predicament, please, scoop it up carefully with a soft cloth and place it in small box, along with a soft towel. Then call Sisters wildlife rehabber, Elise Wolf at Native Bird Care: 541-728-8208. Yes, bats are not birds, but Elise has a lot of rehabbing talent.

If you come upon something you don't recognize in your night travels, please send an image of it to me at With all the picture-taking cell phones around these days, someone will help you.

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