Spring 2018
Natural Exploration Newsletter
U of M-Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center
Public Education Programs

May Migration Bird Walk Series
8:00 AM -10:00 AM, Saturdays: May 5, 12, 19 and 26

We'll look to catch an assortment of spring bird migrants stopping over in the Environmental Study Area on their way to northern nesting grounds. Join Center naturalist Rick Simek for up to four different Saturday morning bird watching excursions. These walks are tailored to beginning and experienced bird watchers who enjoy an unhurried and inquiry-based approach to viewing birdlife. Binoculars are a must, so please bring your own pair, as well as a field guide to bird identification.  Attend as many walks as you wish. Participants must be at least 12 years of age.

"Walk on the Wild(flower) Side"
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM, Sunday , May 6
Join Naturalist Dorothy McLeer for an afternoon stroll through the woods to welcome the emergence of ephemeral spring wildflowers.  The campus Environmental Study Area is home to such seasonal natives as Large-flowered Trillium, Cut-leaf Toothwort, and of course, Spring Beauties, among many others.  A bonus will be the waves of migrating birds feasting all around us.  Beat the heat and mosquitoes for this early spring foray!  


Summer Young Naturalist Program

Get your child outdoors and learning about nature! Led by UM-Dearborn student interpreters, this science-oriented program provides direct, hands-on learning in a beautiful natural setting. Session topics will include pond life, birds, insects and spiders, and frogs and turtles. 

This program runs from 9:30 am to 12 noon for four consecutive days in two age groups:
7 - 9 year olds; July 9, 10, 11 & 12
10-11 year olds; July 16, 17, 18 & 19

There is a $30 per child fee for this program, payment and registration can be completed online by following this link.   

For additional information, please contact Rick Simek, the EIC Program Supervisor, at (313) 583-6371 or email  rsimek@umich.edu.

Sprouts Gardening Program for Families

Children ages 6-8 and an adult companion are invited to participate in another exciting season of gardening at the campus Community Organic Garden. The children will directly experience the joys of gardening as they plant, tend, and harvest their own vegetables. Each session will also find our group exploring some of the life we share space with at the garden, such as insects and birds. 

Seven program sessions are planned, from 6 PM - 7:30 PM on the following Tuesdays: May 29;  June 12, 26; July 10, 24; August 7, 27 (harvest party).  Ther e is a program fee of $35 per child. There is no fee for adult participants.   Each child must be joined and supervised by an adult companion at each session. 

Registration and payment can be completed online HERE!

Silken Surprises!

I was thinking about the saying, "Good things come in small packages," when I came upon two very special small packages crafted by "local fiber artists." Using available materials, they created their crescent shaped hammocks, about the size of a large grapefruit segment, between some slender twigs at the ends of woody branches. 
photo by Dorothy McLeer
photo by Dorothy McLeer
These talented artists spun silk from their own bodies, occasionally decorating their fiber hammocks with the leaves at the end of their branches. Last year I was delighted to find one of these packages in my own Dearborn backyard, but I failed to monitor the progress of its development over time. As you may have deduced by now, these fiber artists are large, ornate giant silkworm caterpillars-the larvae of Cecropia moths ( Hyalophora cecropia ) in the family Saturniidae.
If we start with the smallest package in their life cycle, it would be the egg. Adult females lay these on both sides of a variety of host plant leaves, such as maples, oaks, basswood, and species in the rose family. About the size of small beads, the eggs are cream colored and mottled with dark red patches. These eggs hatch within a week, with a small, black furry caterpillar making its debut after eating their way out of the eggshell. This is the first of several "coming out parties," as there are typically five larval instars, or developmental stages of caterpillars, each lasting about one week. 
(Photos courtesy of www.wormspit.com)
Each instar involves shedding the outer layer to reveal the next version of the caterpillar, each package more elaborate than before. 
After the fifth instar (and some more eating), the plump psychedelic colored, ornately decorated caterpillar will weave its "DIY" hammock to sleep away the winter while its body undergoes yet another amazing transformation.

Peeking inside the silken package, the colorful larva can be seen preparing to shed its outer
skin once more to develop into a pupa (pictured right), which resembles an intricate wood carving.
After overwintering in their silken cocoons, adult silk moths split open their pupal covering and emerge in their glorious adult form, typically in early to mid-summer.  The adult moths do not feed, so they have a short two weeks or so to complete the mission of finding a mate so that the whole life cycle can begin again.
Photo by Elizabeth Seller
In nature, this precious silken package is completely sealed and difficult to open from the outside-which prompts the question, "If it has no mouthparts with which to feed, unlike the very hungry caterpillar, how does the adult moth inside get out of this silken sleeping bag?" Once again, it uses its available resources by exuding a chemical from its own body to dissolve the sturdy but supple silk it spun earlier to emerge and pump up its voluminous wings. With a wingspan of 5 to 6 inches, the cecropia moth is the largest North American moth.
If you're fortunate to find one of the small silken packages, I hope you do a better job than I did keeping track of this magical transformation. It's really true-change must come from within!
-Dorothy McLeer