Out the Back Window | Survival 101

We go for walks several times a week. There are often interesting things to note along the way. Sometimes we bring the camera. This time, we are glad we did. Nature is always showing scenes of the struggle for survival. The most fit or adapted will usually succeed. Here are a few examples of this principle.

We had to study this scene up close for a minute before we really grasped what we saw. The half-mouse was strange enough to see. But, the Brown Harvestman feeding on it was an odd sight. It looks like it has eaten half a mouse. Something had killed the mouse and eaten the front half. The Harvestman was an opportunist in the right place at the right time. It was getting some nourishment. By the way, the Brown Harvestman is not a spider and does not have very deadly venom.

Words of Warning – If you find dead animals unsettling, the next two pictures involve the mostly eaten carcass of a deer.

About 50 feet from the walk path rested this deer carcass. The surrounding grass was matted down in an area about 6 feet across. Clumps of fur rested in the grass and weeds. Presence of maggots indicated it had been here only a couple of days. Some ribs were broken off on their tips by strong biting teeth. We have seen dead deer before. But, not is this condition of more than half eaten. What could have done this? We do have coyotes in the area and hear them yipping at night as they pass through the neighborhood. It is possible they did it. We had seen a deer with an injured leg moving with difficulty through the area for several months before. We have had public reports of cougar sightings and one shooting by a hunter not far from here. The area where the deer lies is a sheltered and wooded water way. There are many places cougar could hide and get enough food to survive easily. It gives us pause about walking alone in that area. It also gives us hope to be able to see one of them. They are rare in Iowa. That would be a thrill.

Now and then we see snails on the path. They are common. This one was about the width of a dime. Notice the thin membrane covering the opening to conserve moisture. The snail is in a state of estivation.

Snails are usually active in the summer, but if it gets too warm or too dry for them, they enter a period of inactivity known as estivation. They find a safe place—such as a tree trunk, the underside of a leaf, or a stone wall—and suction themselves onto the surface as they retreat into their shell. Thus protected, they wait until the weather becomes more suitable. Occasionally, snails will go into estivation on the ground. There, they go into their shell and a mucous membrane dries over the opening of their shell, leaving just enough space for air to get inside allowing the snail to breath.In late fall when temperatures drop, snails go into hibernation. They dig a small hole in the ground or find a warm patch, buried in a pile of leaf litter. It is important that a snail finds a suitably protected place to sleep to ensure its survival through the long cold months of winter. They retreat into their shell and seal its opening with a thin layer of white chalk. During hibernation, the snail lives on the fat reserves in its body, built up from a summer of eating vegetation. When spring comes (and with it rain and warmth), the snail wakes and pushes the chalk seal to open the shell once again. If you look closely in spring, you may find a chalky white disc on the forest floor, left behind by a snail that has recently come out of hibernation.

This fellow was moving across the path in the direction of the smaller more tapered end. See the little light colored attachments at the front end? Are they part of the worm? Or, are they a parasitic egg? Nature has found many ways for one species to rely on another for survival. Sometimes, the parasite does no harm. Other parasites can kill the host.

My wife said to be careful not to step on the butterfly. I slowly turned and saw this butterfly. After the pictures, we waited to see what it was going to do. It tried to flap its wings. The grass blades were in the way. I carefully placed my index finger under it. It crawled onto my finger. As I raised it up out of the grass it flew off. Immediately, it headed south. Was it a Monarch in migration to Mexico? Or, was it a Viceroy mimic? It continued south as we watched.

Monarchs make a long trek to Mexico. This is an incredible migration journey story. You can find more details here. They overwinter in a small mountain region in Mexico. They journey northward toward Canada over the course of several generations. In the fall, the adults fly back to the same area of Mexico. Those west of the Rockies overwinter in California and Baja. We were happy to have freed this butterfly from the grass. But, was it a Monarch? As it turns out, it is not. Monarch butterflies do not have the thin black line cutting across the lower sections of the wings. It was a mimic Viceroy. Nice disguise. It fooled us into helping you survive another day.

Our honey suckle bush is full of orange flowers all summer. The hummingbirds make frequent visits as they stock up energy. At the end of the summer it does another impressive show. Embedded in this bush is another plant, clematis crassifolia. It explodes in September with 1″ white flowers. That species is native to SE China and Taiwan. It has found a convenient protective place to grow and be supported by the branches.

Here is one of the orange honey suckle flowers compared to the little white 1″ clematis flowers.

We hope you have enjoyed joining us for this walk. Nature is full of beauty and struggles for survival. These are but a few.

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6 thoughts on “Out the Back Window | Survival 101

    • We always are on the look out for interesting things like this. It’s fun to see how nature works.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comments. It’s appreciated.

      Peace to you, Jim

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  1. As you know, opportunities like this are all around us, but only seen by those who take the time to look. Predator-prey relationships are always interesting as we tend to cheer for the prey and boo the predator … yet, all the predator is doing is trying to survival.

    PS: I figure you must have taught biology. 🙂

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    • I taught physics 38 yrs. After that, I worked a job for 6 yrs that forced me to learned much more about bio, chem, and earth sci. Eventually, a guy soaks up a few things.

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