We have been experiencing a lot of summer storms lately. We know how rain affects us but have you ever wondered how rain affects wildlife? We talked to Wildlife Director, Kathryn Dudeck to find out some ways that the rain affects wildlife.
Nocturnal animals such as raccoons, opossums, and coyotes are seen more commonly during the day if it has been consistently raining the night before. Because prey (rabbits, rats, mice, etc.) does not often come out in the rain, the predators don’t come out to hunt. Once the rains clear, no matter what time of day or night, the animals will all come to forage and feed. This is similar to humans making a late-night run to the grocery store.
While some animals such as frogs and toads relish the rains (and in some cases are triggered by rainfall to mate), others such as songbirds and raptors usually lie low. The feathers of these birds weigh more than their skeleton so if they get drenched, they are unable to fly. Even some of our long-time resident raptors at CNC will not eat when it rains, despite having covered areas in their enclosures.
For large migratory species like Sandhill Cranes who navigate hundreds of miles each day, storms and their accompanying winds can blow them off course. Therefore, these birds find suitable wetlands, a pond, or a lake and wait it out until the weather improves. An additional plus to this tactic is that they are often able to ride the thermals behind the storm so they won’t have to extend as much energy as they would in calm air. You can find out more about Sandhill Cranes and their migration habits here.
The steady rains we can experience at times may be a bit depressing for some of us, but smaller migratory waterbirds like rails and wood ducks love it! The wetlands are recharged and full, allowing for numerous stop-overs for resting, foraging, and feeding.
An abandoned child-sized cello that once belonged to a now world-renowned musician has been converted into a house by a family of woodland fairies along the Enchanted Woodland Trail. You can visit the Chattahoochee Nature Center and explore the trails to discover the cello house and many more fairy and gnome homes.
They use their magic to repurpose the notes that were locked inside the cello by years of diligent practice and send them back out into the world as hauntingly beautiful melodies that have never been heard before.
For many years, this particular patch of woods has been a favorite spot for composers and songwriters to stroll for inspiration. The fairies are very shy, though, so no one is aware of the true source of the notes.
Visit CNC and enjoy Naturally Artistic, a homegrown exhibit that celebrates the connection between art and nature. You’ll enjoy creations from local artists, participate in making art, and be encouraged to see the world around you with a fresh set of eyes. This year we present 5 areas where you can get inspired and get your art on! Included with general admission and free to CNC Members.
The Nature Exchange hosts our Envelope Exchange, where you can harness the power of your heart and leave messages of kindness to the earth. Need inspiration? Take a message someone else has left, and then leave your own for others too.
>> Sun-Powered Art
Visit the sun-drenched windows of Nature Exchange where you can make your own fall-themed art that becomes more beautiful with the sun!
>> People-Powered Art
Can you imagine yourself with the wings of an eagle? Nature Exchange is where you will find artistic eagle wings where you can pose for a photo, and even add more feathers to help the eagle soar higher! Take your photo and tag us @chattahoocheenaturecenter #chattahoocheenaturecenter #getyournatureon #naturallyartistic
Artist Bio: Katterina Nangle, artist, and teacher is a native of Peru. She has taught in many countries and also speaks German. She studied Artes Plasticas in The PUC of Lima, Peru, and later earned her degree in Art Education from the Inter Americana University of Puerto Rico. She then taught preschool and grade school in the U.S. for 25 years. Five years ago she and her husband started their own company, Vamos Chicos Arts, which teaches her own style of eco-arts in after school programs in metro Atlanta. Katterina’s work reflects the passion she has for nature, color and design. Her primary materials are taken either from nature or from recycled items such as soda cans, water bottles or other plastics.
And lastly, stop by our “nature frames” as you head toward the Kingfisher and Beaver Pond intersection – these frames remind us that it’s all about perspective. What may be beautiful to you may be different from what someone else finds “frame worthy”. Slow down and take time to appreciate the beauty all around you, for inspiration is everywhere.
A few of our favorite partners and local art friends:
With the return of longer hours of sunlight and warmer weather, you are probably seeing many critters flying and buzzing around – some of which you may have not seen before. Each spring, thousands of birds and insects migrate north to reach their summer breeding and feeding grounds and then return south again in the fall.
For hundreds of years, the seasonal migration of birds was largely a mystery. Did you know that the Ancient Greeks believed that birds hibernated underground? This is how they explained their disappearance in the winter, and return again in the spring.
While we have learned a lot about birds and their migration since the Ancient Greeks, much of it still seems mysterious.
Around 4,000 species of birds are migrants. Even birds that don’t fly, like emus and penguins, still migrate by foot or swim.
The arctic tern has the longest migration of any bird, traveling around 49,700 miles each year almost equal to traveling around the Earth twice!
Many birds migrate at night to avoid predators and reduce the risk of overheating.
Bar-headed geese migrate at the highest altitudes reaching heights of around 23,000 feet when flying over the Himalayas in India.
There are several species of insects that also migrate up to thousands of miles each year. The most well-known insect migrant is the monarch butterfly. Monarch butterflies are one of only a few butterfly species known to make a two-way migration like birds. While the monarch might be the most famous of migrating butterflies, the painted lady, question mark, and common buckeye also make a two-way migration. These butterflies all play an important role during their migration in pollinating crops and wildflowers.
Butterflies are not the only insects that migrate. Moths, dragonflies, beetles, grasshoppers, milkweed bugs, and some species of flies also undergo long journeys in search of food and warmer weather. Besides carrying pollen, because insects themselves are food for birds and other animals, their annual migrations are very important for ecosystems.
Milkweed bugs, just like monarch butterflies, are colored orange and black to warn off predators and migrate following the emergence of milkweed plants in the spring and summer.
The wandering glider, a species of dragonfly, undertakes the longest migration traveling more than 4,350 miles one way. In the Eastern Hemisphere, they are known to migrate from India to Africa by crossing the Indian Ocean and are the only known insect to make a transoceanic crossing.
The hummingbird hawk-moth resembles a hummingbird as it flies between plants and hovers over flowers. Like, butterflies, hawk-moths also migrate, but they generally migrate at night, as opposed to butterflies which migrate during the day.
Hoverflies mimic stinging insects like wasps with stripes and bright colors and migrate over multiple generations. As they do so, their larvae eat trillions of aphids, and the adults visit billions of flowers carrying pollen as they go, making them the ultimate gardener’s friend!
The annual migrations can be really exciting to watch, they are also a very dangerous time for birds and insects. Some dangers may come from predators, but a lot can be caused by humans.
Each year, millions of birds die from building collisions, and pesticides can cause the deaths of billions of beneficial insects.
Join bird and insect conservation groups and citizen science projects. The more we learn and know about the world around us, the more we will care. The more we care, the harder we will strive to protect. Check out the Urban Kings Project and Atlanta Firefly Project for citizen science projects in the metro Atlanta area.
The pollinators you love – and a few you might be surprised to meet
April 19, 2021
By Emma Schell, Scheduling Coordinator
Spring has sprung, and while that means warmer weather and blooming flowers, it also means the arrival of something many people dread: pollen.
While it may be a nuisance to our noses, pollen is an essential part of plant reproduction. In order for many plants to make seeds and fruit, pollen must travel between flowers. While wind and water can do some of this work, an estimated 70-87% of flowering plants rely on animals for help.
We call these animal helpers pollinators.
Perhaps the most widely recognized pollinator, butterflies help pollinate in a rather accidental way.
Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid found in flowers, and it is the primary food source for most butterflies. They use their long, straw-like mouth parts, called a proboscis, to reach down into the flowers and drink the nectar.
Butterflies do not intentionally collect pollen, but when one stops to drink nectar, small amounts of pollen stick to its body. As the butterfly continues its search for food, it carries this pollen to new flowers – helping to pollinate plants as it goes.
Georgia is home to over 500 species of bees, and although they might be a little less colorful than butterflies, they are the real MVPs of the pollinator world.
Both pollen and nectar are essential parts of a bee’s diet – nectar provides energy in the form of carbohydrates while pollen provides proteins and other nutrients. Because of this, bees actively collect both nectar and pollen for themselves and their larvae.
Bees possess special structures on their bodies that allow them to store and carry pollen. These adaptations allow bees to transport large amounts of pollen, sometimes 30% of their body weight, back to their nests. Along the way, they distribute this pollen to the plants they visit.
Like bees, wasps have very high energy needs. While most wasps are carnivorous, they cannot survive on meat alone. They supplement their diet with a variety of sugar-rich foods such as fruits and, of course, nectar from flowers. As they pass between flowers, they transfer pollen along the way.
Though they may not be as widely impactful as a bee, wasps are important specialist pollinators. Specialist pollinators are very picky in their choice of plants that they visit. They choose to visit the flowers of only one small group of plants, and often, the plants that they do visit are entirely dependent on these wasps for reproduction.
Though flies are often overlooked in discussions of pollination, this ancient group of insects was likely one of the first to pollinate early flowering plants.
Less fuzzy than most bees, they may not be the most efficient pollinators, but in some environments, flies carry the majority of the burden. Especially in cooler climates, where bee activity is reduced, flies are often the primary pollinator group.
Just like with wasps, some plants have evolved specifically to be pollinated by flies. They may emit foul odors or even resemble rotting meat in appearance. They do all of this to attract flies to their flowers.
One of these plants is the cocoa tree. The cocoa tree has small, downturned flowers that grow on its lowest branches and trunk. These flowers smell similar to some mushrooms, and they attract tiny flies that normally feed on fungi. Without these flies, the cocoa tree cannot bear fruit. Without this fruit, we humans would not have chocolate.
These nighttime flyers may go unnoticed much of the time, but make no mistake, they are vital to plants all over the world. Over 530 plant species rely on bats to assist with pollination – some of these plants include agave, bananas, and balsa trees.
Spring officially arrived with the vernal equinox. It is often seen as a time of renewal as the seasons change and the landscape begins to turn green all around you. Trees show off their new bright green leaves, plants emerge from the ground, and buds begin to form. All of these things are triggered by longer days and warmer temperatures. Spring Break happens right around the start of spring and is a week off from school responsibilities. Families feel like they can officially kick off the season and recharge for the remaining few months of the school year.
Have you ever considered that adults need Spring Break too? Whether you have school age children or not, taking off time as the days start to get longer has physical and mental benefits. You can even take a mini-break to achieve the same benefits.
Here at the Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) we can help all ages fill that prescription!
Alicia Thompson, Senior Director of Community Programs, shared the following, “When we create programs for children, families and adults, we always keep the CNC mission in mind to connect people to nature. We provide opportunities for everyone to get outside by visiting the grounds or participating in programs and events. Nature is our business and we look forward to welcoming you!”
>> Soar through the skies with Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventures. A great activity for most ages that includes an aerial adventure course and zipline. You can get up to 55 feet in the air on one of the 7 ziplines that stretches up to 500 feet! The zipline tours are a popular activity so reservations are highly recommended. Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventures is daily April 2-11 and open weekends until Memorial Day.
So how will you spend your Spring Break? What way will you get outside and fill your prescription for nature? Don’t forget EVERYONE needs a break so find a way to connect with nature by visiting. We can’t wait to see you in the sky, on the trails, or in the water. Plan your visit today!
There are two parts to any successful butterfly garden: nectar sources and host plants. Nectar is an important source of food for many pollinators, and luckily there are many different types of annuals and perennials that provide this resource.
To attract native pollinators to your garden, we recommend planting native annuals and perennials that would typically be found in your area naturally. Butterflies see in ultraviolet light, so bright colored flowers with a lighter center can act as a target to help attract pollinators. Butterflies also prefer a space to land while feeding on the nectar, so native species with larger petals or petals that form in clumps will also help attract butterflies to your garden.
The second item necessary for a successful butterfly garden are host plants. Host plants are required for a butterfly’s reproductive cycle.
When a caterpillar hatches from its egg, it must eat from a specific plant to survive. If an egg is laid on a plant that is not the correct host plant, the caterpillar will hatch, try to eat whatever plant they are on, and then die. Therefore, if you would like to attract a wide variety of native butterflies to your garden, be sure to plant a wide variety of native host plants!
Below, you can find the list of host plants to some of the native butterflies of Georgia.
Butterfly: Papilio troilus, Spicebush Swallowtail Host Plant: Plants belonging to Lauraceae family
Butterfly: Papilio glaucus, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Host Plant: Common host plants in Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae families including: Tulip Tree, Sweet Bay Magnolia, Wild Black Cherry
Butterfly: Siproetastelenes, Malachite Host Plants: Ruellia coccinea and other plants in the Acanthaceae family
Butterfly: Heliconius charithonia, Zebra Longwing Host Plant: Several passion flower vine species (Passiflora sp.) including: Purple Passionflower, Corkystem Passionflower, Yellow Passionflower and more
Butterfly: Vanessa cardui, Painted Lady Host Plants: More than 100 species of plants have been recorded as a host plant for the Painted Lady including: Compositae family, Boraginaceae family, Malvaceae family
Butterfly: Agraulis vanillae, Gulf Fritillary Host Plant: Many species in the Passiflora family including: Purple Passionflower and Corkystem Passionflower
Along with nectar and host plants there are also a few other things to consider when planning your butterfly garden. They are not plant related, but just as important for attracting butterflies.
Create a spot for butterflies to rest. Butterflies need sun and warmth to dry their wings and be ready for flight. Flat stones in your garden are a great place for them to warm up and get ready for the day.
Bring together nectar sources and host plants in your garden, along with a few other features, and you will be on your way to attracting butterflies and other pollinators throughout spring, summer, and fall!
When you think of Georgia wildflowers, you might imagine milkweeds stretching towards the sky, wild indigo with its rich blue petals, or the echinacea that is sold in some health stores. A wildflower can be defined as any flowering plant that grows without the help of humans. Wildflowers are not typically planted by humans the way a rose bush or vegetable might be, and they require no assistance in obtaining water or nutrients.
When you think of where to find a wildflower, you might picture large, sunny meadows with bees and butterflies flitting around. While this is a common place to find many wildflowers, there are some that thrive in drastically different environments. One of these mold-breaking wildflowers is the ghost plant (Monotropa uniflora).
A Ghostly White Wildflower
The ghost plant (also called Indian pipe, ghost pipe, or ghost flower) is striking in appearance mainly for the “typical” wildflower trait that it lacks: color.
Starch white, waxy, often with black flecks on the stalk and petals, this organism may at first glance be considered a fungus. But don’t be deceived – it is indeed a plant.
If you’ve taken a biology course, you probably know that plants get their stereotypical green color from a pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll serves a very important purpose for plants – it allows them to harness the sun’s energy for the process of photosynthesis. There are other pigments that can help with this process, but chlorophyll usually does the heavy lifting.
Photosynthesis is the process through which plants can create their own food. Using energy from the sun, they convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates (a.k.a. sugar). The oxygen we breathe is created as a byproduct of this process.
But ghost plants aren’t green. They have no chlorophyll, and they cannot photosynthesize.
So where do they get their energy?
Ghost Plants belong to a group of flowers known as mycotrophic wildflowers. “Myco” means “fungus,” and the word “trophic” refers to nutrition.
Instead of getting their energy from photosynthesis, wildflowers in this group get their energy from other organisms – fungi, to be specific.
Ghost plants are parasites.
Symbiosis in the Forest
Ghost plants can be found deep in the forest where there is little sunlight but plenty of available nutrients.
Instead of creating their own food from photosynthesis, ghost plants are able to obtain nutrients and carbohydrates from trees – but not directly.
Most tree roots are surrounded by a fungus in a mutually beneficial relationship called mycorrhiza.
The fungus in a mycorrhizal relationship will anchor itself to a tree’s roots and absorb nutrients from the tree. In return, the fungus essentially expands the tree’s root system – allowing the tree to obtain even more nutrients and water from the surrounding soil.
Rather than attaching directly to a tree’s roots, the ghost plant attaches itself to the mycorrhizal fungus. Nutrients and carbohydrates then pass from the tree roots, through the fungus, and into the ghost plant. The ghost plant is able to get everything it needs for survival without photosynthesizing.
Outside Your Backdoor
These Ghost Plants may seem like they belong on an alien planet, but they are in fact native to much of North America – including the state of Georgia. However, if you don’t know where or when to look, you might never see them.
These uncommon wildflowers won’t be found alongside your daisies or zinnias. Instead, look for them in shady forests at the base of mature trees. They spend part of their life underground, so look for them between the months of June and September when they typically bloom. Ghost Plants only grow four to eight inches tall, so be sure to look closely!
And when you do find them, take a moment to appreciate this remarkable example of symbiosis and adaptation.
Two plants that are great examples of tenacity and resourcefulness
February 15, 2021
By Jana Pearce, Visitor Experience Manager
This spring at CNC we are celebrating the tenacity, resourcefulness, and gratitude that have helped to get us and others through a challenging year. Making the most of what you have is a beautiful mindset for us humans to aim for, but for certain members of the plant kingdom it’s essential in order for their species to survive. Adapting to extreme conditions reduces competition for resources, and allows these plants to find a place where they can thrive.
Read more below about some two charismatic examples you can find at CNC that take the phrase “grow where you are planted” to a whole new level.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.)
Piedmont granite outcrops are one of Georgia’s hidden natural gems.
These unique habitats are exposed areas of granite rock, and can be massive (like Arabia, Panola, or Stone Mountain) or quite small. They have depressions of varying sizes and depths, most of which have a very thin soil layer. Add in the baking Georgia summer sun, and you get one tough place to grow!
Image by Alan Cressler
Because of this, granite outcrops tend to have many endemic species, or species only found in one particular area. One flora commonly found in spring on granite outcroppings in Georgia is the spiderwort (a common name that includes over 70 different species of plants). These small, three-petaled flowers each last for less than 24 hours, with the plant generating new ones daily for up to 8 weeks. You can find spiderwort at CNC on our Green Roof on the upper level of the Discovery Center, which was designed and planted to mimic a Piedmont granite outcrop.
Longleaf pine (Pinus palustrus)
At first glance, healthy longleaf habitat looks quite open and serene. Seussian-looking pines are well spaced, with thick bunches of wiregrass and other flowering plants sprouting low in the sandy soil.
Every few years however, fire creeps, runs, or roars through. In this case the longleaf pines not only survive the extreme conditions, they depend on it!
Very young longleaf pine trees start in a ‘grass stage,’ an adaptation where the tree grows thick, long needles protect its core from fires. Mature trees have adapted thick bark which protects them from the heat of the fire. Without the fire it has adapted to endure, other plants begin to take over and outcompete the longleaf pines, resulting in their demise.
Historically, humans have suppressed wildfires and because of that, longleaf pine habitat has reduced drastically across the Southeast. More and more often, prescribed (or pre-planned, easier to control) burns are being used as a tool to restore and maintain longleaf pine habitat.
You can find these unique trees year-round at CNC in our Georgia’s Living Wetlands garden on the south side of the property.