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Moths work the night shift

June 2, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

SPINX MOTHS are big, almost as big as a hummingbird. They are pretty to watch. They also sound, at close range, like a hummingbird due to the fast action of its wings. And if one wants to watch them, a flashlight at night in the flower garden is where one has be. Listen carefully for the buzzing sound of air off this insects wings. In North America, there at least 144 different species of sphinx moths. That is impressive. Of course not all of these critters live in Iowa. I'm just glad that we have this neat animal in our environment.

The title of sphinx moth is derived from its caterpillar stage of life. A big hornworm shape is the best description, due to a large projectile horn like structure on its tail. When disturbed, it will raise its head to assume a sphinx stance, a direct correlation to ancient rock sculptures of Egyptian sphinx monuments. A large green hornworm may be found on tomato plants. If allowed to mature, it will be the flying moth later on in your garden. Check it out, at night, with a light, and listen for its buzzing wings.


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Birds aren’t the only flying things that sip the nectar from flowers. Sphinx Moths do the same thing at night. These buzzy little beasts of the insect world have made good use of columbine blossoms lately to drink the nectar and unwittingly help pollinate the plant. Sphinx moths are sometimes called ‘hummingbird moths’ because they can hover in flight to position themselves at a flower. It wings do an aerial dance that is so fast the human eye can not see the complicated rotations of its fore wings and hind wings to pull off helicopter antics.

A different type of aerial activity is taking place this coming Sunday, June 3 at the Izaak Walton League. A Sporting Claybird Shoot will take place from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Several shooting position sites will be established to replicate real world hunting conditions when the clay birds are launched. Shotgunners who have paid the entry fee will attempt to bust those clay birds, keep score, and see who has the highest score at the end of the day. This type of shotgunning is typical of high action quail wing shooting scenarios. It tests the hand-eye coordination of the shooter each and every time. It is demanding and fun at the same time. Even if you have never participated in a claybird shoot, you are invited to give it a try. Experienced shooters will gladly give you hints and tips. So what if you miss the shot. One never improves unless they get the hang of swinging the gun barrel in tune with its target.

The entry fee is $35 per shooter for adults for 100 clay birds. Youth ages 17 to 20 pay only $20. If a shooter is age 16 or younger, they get one free round. Lunch will be available on the Ikes grounds.

Claybird contests are just one of many outdoor shooting sports one can participate in this summer. Enjoy.


The IOWA RIVER flow rate is poking along at a slow rate right now. Rains have not been sufficient to cause flooding. For area kayakers or canoeists, the river is a recreational opportunity awaiting you to come use it. Due to the low flow rate, expect to find lots of trees partially exposed from the water. Avoid these snags at all costs. The current may look peaceful but it still has a strong force if it gets broadside to a canoe hull hung up in a tree root snag.

To avoid problems, chart your course, tell friends where your are going, what time you are putting in where you plan to start and finish. Allow time for relaxation. And wear a life jacket!

Local river floats trips can be made from the Forest Reserve ramp toward Timmons Grove, a distance of 5.9 miles. Timmons to Marshalltown's Center Street Dam is another 6.1 miles. These portions of the river are in the 1918-21 channelized section whereby the course of the river is straight most of the time.

In contrast, canoeing the Iowa River from Furrow Access east of Marshalltown to Three Bridges County Park, a distance of 4 miles, is winding, full of curves, big sand bars, and lots of fallen and sunken trees. The river downstream from Marshalltown is doing its natural floodplain meandering as it loops back and forth across the landscape. Here it takes a higher level of skill to keep a water craft a safe distance from snags that want to claim a life. Do not let be your life.


FREE FISHING is this weekend for Iowa residents. This is the annual get out and fish weekend when you do not need a license. Fishing licenses that are purchased for those folks ages 16 or older costs $19. If you want to add trout to the finny critters to catch, add the trout fee of $12.50. Fishing license monies are an investment toward improved fisheries research and management throughout Iowa. Each year about 400,000 residents and nonresidents buy a license. The money goes into Iowa's Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund where it can only be invested for the protection and enhancement of Iowa fish and wildlife resources. In part, this investment allows DNR Fisheries Bureau workers to produce and stock more than 160 million fish annually, conduct research, construct fish habitat, improve water quality, restore lakes and improve fisherman access opportunities. And if you divide the number of days you fish by the cost of the license, it can amount to a whole years worth of outdoor recreation for pennys per day. That is not a bad deal.


Did you know that bird bones are hollow with multi-interwoven internal bracing to maintain strength. Yes this is true. The assumption is that hollow bones are lighter and still as strong as solid bones. Together with feathers, it helps birds fly. Now comes a bit of research to plunge the former assumptions into the waste basket. Here are the facts: Bird skeletons do not weigh any less than the skeletons of similar sized mammals. A two ounce songbird skeleton weighs as much as a two ounce rodent. While bird skeletons look delicate, they are denser than mammal bones. This density also makes them stronger and stiffer. Density is just a measure of mass per unit volume. Dense bird bones are strong for a reason - to support the muscle systems that allow the bird to move large feathered wings to propel it through the air. For the bird, flying is just what it does to find food, mates, survive cold winters and hot summers, and avoid predators. Humans are the ones that try to explain and investigate how things work. Birds just do it.


"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." -Scott Adams, American Cartoonist and Writer.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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