For this species of the week, we’re going into the tiny world of micro-animals! Tardigrades, also known as “water bears,” are less than half a millimeter long and live their lives in the thin films of water clinging to mosses and lichens. Claws at the end of each of their eight stumpy legs allow them to move around to feed on plant matter and bacteria. Surprisingly, these tiny creatures are actually some of the toughest in the animal kingdom: when their environment dries up they enter an inactive state called cryptobiosis. In this state, they can survive for decades, and can withstand intense radiation, extreme temperatures, and even the vacuum of space! Murphys Point is home to hundreds of billions of these little animals. Strictly speaking, tardigrades aren’t a species but a group containing over one thousand species. The ones featured in these photos may be from the genus Ramazzottius.
July 18–26 marks Moth Week — so, we decided to feature what we’re pretty confident is the Snowberry Clearwing as our Species of the Week. Part of a group known as Small Sphinx Moths, Snowberry Clearwings are often mistaken for their close cousin, the Hummingbird Clearwing. Interestingly, they are also confused with insects outside of their Order, Lepidoptera — which includes moths, skimmers, and butterflies. As a matter of fact, Snowberry Clearwings are often confused with bees, having evolved in appearance as a deterrent against predators who understand the risk of such stinging snacks. Different from bees, Snowberry Clearwings hover while feeding with their proboscis (tubular mouthpart), much like actual Hummingbirds, rather than perch. That said, their mouthparts are similar to bees’ — they are used for extracting nectar from a variety of flowering plants, including Dogbane, Honeysuckle, and, of course, Snowberry. As crepuscular (appearing at twilight) insects, Snowberry Clearwings are often found feeding on these flowers at dusk.