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Qu’est Que C’est Nature: Let the Good Times Roll!

Rolly-Polly-300x300 Qu’est Que C’est Nature: Let the Good Times Roll!

Rolly Polly – A Child’s First Wild Pet

For any child that plays outdoors, the Rolly Polly is surely on their list of first pets. How could you not say “cool” when these creatures go from running across your arm to rolling into a ball. The ball posture gives them the name Pill Bug, but Doodle Bug or Potato Bug are also names used for what is a cosmopolitan species – found throughout the world. Originally from the Mediterranean, this and other soil-dwelling creatures arrived in foreign shores through European migration. Their scientific name, Armadillidium vulgare, refers to their similarity to armadillos (first name or genus) that roll into a ball and a Latin word for “common” (species name).

So, let’s start with what these creatures are not – they are not insects. By definition, insects have six legs and three body parts (a head, thorax, and abdomen). Rolly Pollies are isopods (meaning same size legs), a group of crustaceans. As with all crustaceans, they have a fused front end, called the cephalothorax (short head with most of the body being the thorax), to which the seven pairs of legs are attached, and a short abdomen.

As for rolling into a ball, this is a defense mechanism for this group of woodlice that protects their underside from predators, but also from drying out. Like all crustaceans, they need a certain amount of moisture to keep their gills/lungs moist. This explains why pollies  are most often seen under logs and pots where there is more moisture. Although not as common as rolly pollies, we do have other species of woodlice in the south that cannot roll into a ball. These species are usually lighter in color and flatter than pollies.

I have enjoyed watching my kids and now grandkids go on “Polly Hunts” – rolling over logs and pots in the yard – but being careful to put the logs and pots back in place once we “find” our prices. One of my grandsons is nicknamed “Polly Man” for this very reason. Whether kept in a bug box, a cup, or just on your arm, they can supply lots of fun and a teaching moment about nature.

But, just because you can, they are not to be stuffed into ears and noses! As one of my nephews learned as a small child, a dozen or so pollies, once stuffed into an ear, start to hurt, right David?

So, take a child on a Rolly Polly hunt today – and regain a part of your own childhood.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!!!

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Qu’est Que C’est: Picking up Pawpaws?

IMG_3965-300x225 Qu'est Que C'est: Picking up Pawpaws?

Picking Up Pawpaws & Eat Em!

In my world there are two kinds of pawpaws – the loveable grandfather that goes by that name (me included) and the ones you eat!  And yes, we have both in South Mississippi. As Andrew Moore writes in his book entitled Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, this small native tree is a member of a more tropical family of plants that produce fleshy, sweet-tasting fruit. In most of the eastern U.S., the larger pawpaw, Asimina triloba, is common in wet bottomland forests. For the gulf coast, the smaller shrub-sized species known as Dwarf Pawpaw, Asimina parviflora, grows in well-drained woodlands. Pawpaw’s large leaves give these plants a tropical look and once you spot them, are easily seen again.

 

As with many native plants, pawpaw fell out of our consciousness as we have spent far less time roaming woodlands and foraging for things to eat. Air conditioning has become our excuse, and some say ruin, for not venturing outdoors. As for Dwarf Pawpaw, you can witness this earliest of blooming plants in late-February to early March. The small, brown, leathery flowers emerge before the larger leaves. Once pollinated by small flies and beetles (yes beetles do pollinate many plants), small, greenish-yellow “bananas” appear, in clusters of 2-4 fruit, growing to 2-3 inches in size. Rock hard until right before they ripen, the fruit hang on until mid-July to early August, but be diligent in checking for ripeness, as they can go from hard to ripe overnight.

For our smaller coastal Pawpaw, they are best enjoyed by cutting open the greenish skin and sucking the sweet, yellow flesh from the large brown seeds. Small amounts of flesh can also be scraped from the inside of the skin and used to flavor homemade ice cream or anything else you care to try. Pawpaw has a banana-like flavor and texture.

Apart from humans and other mammals that eat the fruit, this shrub is the host plant for the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly. This small, black and white-striped beauty emerges in late spring from a small, squatty, striped caterpillar that eats by night. Look for them under dead leaves on the ground at the base of the plant during the day and munching on leaves after dark. So whether you have ever heard the lyrics “Picking up pawpaws and putting em in your basket”, or not, look for these attractive shrubs next time you venture out of the air conditioning.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!!!

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A Jackson County Jewel Turns 19

IMG_7571 A Jackson County Jewel Turns 19

This Jewel of Jackson County has been providing Stewardship, Research, Education, and Training about our unique coastal estuaries for 19 years now.  The Grand Bay Estuarine Research Reserve plays an important role by partnering with local industry, schools, and professional science and research venues to gather important data and research to help us preserve the coastal environment we all enjoy here.  Established in 1999 under the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR) as part of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERR), it is 18,000 acres of pure coastal beauty.

IMG_7571 A Jackson County Jewel Turns 19

The savannas, salt marshes/pannes, bays, and bayous here along the Pascagoula and Escatawpa River deltas are among some of the most beautiful and unique anywhere on the planet.  The Grand Bay NERR had its humble beginnings with a few modular commercial trailers and dedicated staff in 1999.  It has now grown into its own sporting a ground breaking 20,000 square foot Coastal Resources Center.  The building was the state’s first government owned LEED Gold Certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building by the US Green Building Council (USGBC).  Inside you’ll find meeting space, classrooms, interactive exhibits, dorms and private rooms for visiting researchers along with administrative offices.  Basically, the Grand Bay NERR put its building money where its heart is; environmental stewardship, energy savings, ecology, and low impact footprint.  The sustainable design strategy can be seen throughout the facility.  But, the GBNERR is much more than a wonderful building.

Look past the Coastal Research Center and you’ll find boardwalks, birding trails, blueways for paddling, and yes, even hunting by permit.  If you’re looking for wildlife sightings, well, you will find it.  Check this link for a list of typical sightings, stories, and photographs.  You will also enjoy the many family friendly and community oriented events the GBNERR offers throughout the year.  There are programs for all ages that educate and stimulate.

IMG_7571 A Jackson County Jewel Turns 19

You can check out their Facebook page @GrandBayNERR and their website, grandbaynerr.org, for details on all the events and educational opportunities offered there.  The professional, knowledgeable staff also will come and speak to your group/organization OR you can plan to bring your group to their large meeting room for a change of scenery and pace.

The Grand Bay NERR is a true jewel in our community with so much to offer and they would like you to celebrate their 19th year with them!  On June 15th, from 10AM-2PM, they are having a birthday party with a special look at Bewildering Bugs that are unique to the reserve area.  Sandra Huynh, Director’s Assistant at Grand Bay NERR says, “There will be family friendly games, crafts, trail tours, & more…Be sure to pack your lunch for a picnic!”  Are you busy on June 15th?  Maybe bugs aren’t your thing?  Well, no worries!  June 16th they will host a Rain Barrel Workshop from 9 AM – 11 AM.  Learn more about how to “collect and store water during storms that can be used for: watering your lawn or plants in your garden, washing your pets, and cleaning your car. They are a great way to save money on your water bill while helping reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff.”  Then, you get to build your very own rain barrel!  Please contact Dennis McGrury to register (228-523-4190 or dennis.mcgrury@dmr.ms.gov). Cost is $35 per barrel constructed.

HAPPY 19TH BIRTHDAY GRAND BAY NERR!  Jackson County is fortunate to have you!

 

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