Happy fall!  Is it me or does it seem like summer flew by faster than ever this year? I’ve been intentionally ignoring all of the early signs of fall in hopes that summer will last just a little bit longer. I casually ignored the few trees in my neighborhood that started changing colors.  I refused to acknowledge the occasional Halloween decoration set out in my neighborhood.  I even made the conscious decision to be uncomfortable by wearing shorts on a day where pants would have been much smarter.

This past weekend I gave up and decided to fully embrace fall, flannel and all!  To celebrate the changing of seasons I watched football, went apple picking, and even set out a few of my own Halloween decorations.  It was a fantastic weekend.  While we’re all settling into fall, let’s see what’s going on in nature right now!

Hail in my backyard from a recent storm.

While out on a neighborhood jog the other day, I was struck (literally) by hail falling from the sky.  When I started my roughly 20-minute jog it was 75F, blue skies, and not a cloud to be seen.  It ended with dark skies, pouring rain (which eventually turned to hail), and me sprinting from tree to tree all the way home in an attempt to avoid getting pelted by some fairly decent-sized hail.  What a great way to ring in the new season!

Black and yellow garden spider

While collecting prairie seed out at Patrick Marsh with my monthly outdoor volunteers, we discovered a large black and yellow garden spider with what appeared to be an angry face painted on its back.  It was startling to say the least.  I’ve seen several of these spiders throughout the years but have never looked into them.

Later that day, I searched for the species online and discovered that females will often bounce the web up and down very quickly if people or other creatures get too close.  It’s a way of being seen so that the web doesn’t get destroyed.  I also learned that the females will eat their entire web at the end of each day and will construct a new one the next day!

Any guesses?

While at the same outdoor volunteer event, I stumbled upon this horrendous-looking thing sprouting up from the ground.  My initial response was laughter.  I’ve seen a lot of interesting things in nature, but this one had me simultaneously disgusted and cracking up.  I figured it was some sort of fungus, but had no idea which kind.  Without hesitation, I immediately did some research.

This unfortunate fungus is commonly referred to as elegant stinkhorn or devil’s dipstick.  While both names are hilarious, what’s not hilarious is the foul smell this fungus emits through the brown slime near the top.  The smell is often compared to rotting meat and is filled with spores.  The slime attracts insects which land on the spores and then carry them off.  Better them than me!

Check out this very photogenic praying mantis!

Finally, I’ll leave you with this wonderful praying mantis I found the other day.  If you’re anything like me, you may have gone most of your life without ever seeing one of these large insects.  This year has been different.  For some reason, I have found three of these over the last two weeks and all three have been exceptionally friendly as well as photogenic.  I also learned that a praying mantis will wobble back and forth to help blend in with surrounding vegetation blowing in the breeze.  Check out THIS video I took of the mantis in action!

Well, I hope you enjoyed my virtual tour of nature as it’s happening.  However you experience the outdoors or nature, be it physical, virtual, spiritual, or anything in between, I encourage you to do it!

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See you next month!