Thursday, June 21, 2012

Flashes in the Night

At the first sign of darkness you notice it: a small flash of light, lasting only for a second. It's the size of a pea, and sometimes you might think you imagined it. But those little flashes are real, and they belong to none other than the beloved firefly.

The Facts

Source: wikipedia
The firefly, sometimes called a lightning bug, belongs to the family Lampyridae and has around 2,000 different species. These little bugs are a kind of beetle found mostly in temperate and tropical regions with abundant resources for their larvae. Their larvae also emit light and are sometimes referred to as "glow-worms." As you may have noticed, fireflies are able to fly! But despite their name, some species of female fireflies lack the ability.

The "Light" in "Lightning Bug"

What makes a lightning bug glow? One can say for sure that it isn't a tiny light bulb on their behind! Lightning bugs are able to give off light through a process called bioluminescence. This process involves specialized light-emitting organs that are unique to the firefly. These secrete a special chemical that mixes with enzymes, oxygen, and other substances to produce light when in the presence of one another. (Read more about bioluminescence, phosphorescence, and other natural glows in this Nature Net News!)

Attracting Attention

Who doesn't love to watch these critters lighting up the sky as they dart around on a warm summer evening? Yet, fireflies don't just glow for our aesthetic pleasure. They have real biological reasons to give off light: fireflies flash in order to find a mate. The pattern in which they flash is a way of communicating to other fireflies in the area so that they can find each other and reproduce. Males are usually the ones trying to find the females flashing in the foliage, but they must make sure it is an unmated female of its own species... or else it might face something more dangerous.

Some species of females, after mating, become carnivorous man-eaters. Their flashes are then not meant to attract a mate but rather some dinner! Unsuspecting males fly to her thinking they will be lucky enough to reproduce; instead, they find themselves helpless at the hands of a hungry female.

Fireflies are always fascinating, especially to children! So next time you're up late enough to notice them glowing in the dark, grab a net or jar and see how many you can catch. The cooler summer evenings are a great time for kids to enjoy the outdoors, and another fun way to get them excited about nature and living things. You can put your fireflies in a jar and watch them glow, but don't forget to poke a few holes in the lid so they can breathe. After you're done looking at them, be sure to set them free to fly off into the night!

Read more fun facts about fireflies in this Nature Net News. You can also try making your own glow-in-the-dark fireflies - play with them outside or use them to decorate your bedrooms. Have fun!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Solstice

When you step outside, you feel as if you have set foot into the very heart of the largest furnace in the world. The heat immediately traps you and clings to your skin, and all you want is a nice cool lake to swim in. It may feel like it has already begun, but the official first day of summer hasn't even arrived yet! So while you cringe at the thought of going outside into the Wisconsin summer heat, just know that there are still 3 more months of summer left to come. Wednesday, June 20th marks the beginning of summer 2012, and this day is what the Northern Hemisphere calls the Summer Solstice.

What is a solstice?

A solstice happens twice a year, once in the summer and once in the winter, and it is the one day of the year when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky (as seen from the North or South poles). For the Northern Hemisphere, this event occurs in June, but in the Southern Hemisphere, the sun reaches its highest point in December. While we often refer to the solstices as the "summer" and "winter" solstice, a more accurate name could be the "Northern Solstice" and "Southern Solstice," respectively.

The North Pole Experience

At the time of the Summer solstice, the Arctic circle will experience a much different kind of summer than we would ever have in Wisconsin. Because of the Earth's tilt, the North Pole will remain in full sunlight (24hrs, 7 days a week) for the entirety of the summer months. That's about 3 months of constant daylight! On the day of summer solstice, the sun reaches its highest point in the sky. After that day, the sun will gradually sink towards the horizon until the Fall Equinox, when it finally falls below the horizon to cause darkness. (The opposite of this occurs in the winter time. The North Pole will experience almost complete darkness from about early October until the Spring Equinox in March. The darkest day of the year is the Winter Solstice in December).

June 20th, 2012 - What to expect

On the summer solstice, one can expect only one thing for sure - lots and lots of daylight! The summer solstice is the one day of year when the Northern hemisphere experiences the longest hours of daylight. Wisconsin will most likely experience somewhere around 15 - 16 hours of daylight, with the sun not setting until very close to 9:00pm.

On the other hand, the Southern hemisphere will experience the shortest day of the year, having much less than 12 hours of sunlight.

Don't let the heat of the day scare you away though! It might be 90 degrees outside, but just remember to put on lots of sunscreen (especially on your face), wear light colors, and drink lots of water. Don't sit inside wasting the longest day of the year! Get outside and go swimming, fishing, boating, or maybe even go to the Memorial Union Terrace and grab a bite to eat while you enjoy some nice live music. You can take a walk in the UW- Madison Arboretum or check out the Henry Vilas Zoo.

Use those 15 hours of daylight wisely by being active and enjoying the great outdoors! If you can't think of anything to do, check out our Nature Net calendar for some ideas. And if you can't get outside on the 20th to enjoy the Summer Solstice, you always have the second longest day of the year - the 21st - to enjoy as well.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A new addition has arrived

What's New

As summer has begun, so has my new job as the summer Nature Net intern! My name is Stephanie and I will be blogging, updating, and bringing you all the latest news Nature Net has to offer in the next coming months.

About Me

Occupation: Junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Major: International Studies, Environmental Studies, and East Asian Studies
Hometown: Riverside, IL - A suburb of Chicago, right next to the Brookfield Zoo!
Favorite Animal: Panda
Favorite Color: Teal
Favorite Season: Fall
Favorite Sports Teams: Chicago Bears, White Sox, and (of course) the Wisconsin Badgers

Interesting Facts

During the school year I am involved on campus through my participation in the Greek community and the Ultimate Frisbee and Club Water Polo teams. I also hope to become more involved with some of the environmental-oriented clubs and groups in the near future.

I came across the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and Nature Net because of the Community and Environmental Scholars Program (CESP) at UW-Madison. This program helps apply a love of the environment and sustainability to the everyday workings of the rest of the community.

Last summer I traveled to Sichuan Province, China for an internship with an environmental Non-Governmental Organization named Panda Mountain. 6 other interns and I lived in the Wolong Nature Reserve for 4 weeks and interviewed the local people about their farming practices and style of living.

This summer I will be remaining in Madison to work with the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and Nature Net and am more than excited to become a greater part of these wonderful establishments!

Keep an eye out for more blog posts about ALNC and Nature Net news, upcoming events, exhibits, and more. We hope to see you at our events and don't forget to get outside this summer and enjoy what the beautiful outdoors has to offer!

Nature Net Summer Intern

Monday, June 4, 2012

Nature Passports Are Here!

Kick off summer with a Nature Passport! 

Wondering what to do with your children this summer? Are you looking for a family activity that costs nothing, has a variety of convenient locations, and is scheduled exactly when you want it? Do you enjoy the thrill of discovery and the fresh air?

Then, put on your adventurer's hat, get your eyes, ears, hands and nose ready for exploring, and begin your Nature Passport journey! Nature Passport is an outdoor self-guided family program at various environmental education sites throughout South Central Wisconsin - or, you can download one here and print it out double-sided. This summer's version is hot off the presses - print or pick one up today!

For Kids...
Each child receives a special Nature Passport containing pages to draw and write about their amazing journeys at various Nature Passport sites! This year's theme also includes a "Movin' Mission" to encourage healthy, physically-active kids.

For Parents...
Look at the online Parent's Guide for fun facts and explanations to help spark your kids' imagination and answer those big questions like: How do we see color? Don't forget to sign up for Nature Net's FREE Nature Net News and find us on Facebook for fresh ideas and up-to-date area nature events and activities.

You provide family time - Nature Net provides a fun way to explore and learn together!