Three years ago I photographed something I had never seen before- a female green shield bug that was laying her eggs on the wall of the house I was renting in Edmonds, Washington. I was completely amazed by the sight, and I was as riveted by this encounter as most people are by the sight of a soaring eagle or foraging bear. In my mind, insects are just as interesting as other wildlife, and the fact that so much of their lives occurs completely below the radar of human perception makes a rare glimpse into their world all the more intriguing. I visited those eggs on a daily basis, waiting with baited breath to see what would emerge from those tiny, conical capsules.
After two and a half weeks of waiting, the eggs hatched. What emerged looked very little like the green and brown insect that had left the small life pods behind. The baby shield bugs were shiny and completely black. They shined like tiny pieces of obsidian in the afternoon sun. They stayed close to their egg shells for several days, but eventually the young insects dispersed to make their own way in the world. I was left to wonder how these small black dots, no larger than the period at the end of a sentence, eventually grew to fully flighted adults with the ornate green and brown patterning of their mother. While I still don’t have all of the answers, I did discover one piece of the puzzle in a recent encounter with an older juvenile shield bug.
I still have no idea how long it takes for an infant shield bug to make the journey to adulthood, but I did encounter one recently that had completed half the journey. He or she was a combination of the green and brown pattern exhibited by the mother shield bug and the sleek, obsidian black of the juveniles. If this one individual could be assumed to represent the pattern of all green shield bugs, it seems that the transformation to adulthood starts at the animal’s rear and progresses forward toward the head. I have no idea how old this semi-mature individual was, or how much longer his or her journey to maturity would be, but I was thrilled with the encounter none-the-less.
As a naturalist, every new experience I have with the natural world makes me feel like I have discovered one more piece of life’s puzzle. As different as a human may seem from a green shield bug, we are all a part of the same process, and of the same natural system from which all life has arisen. We have a shared genetic history that is far more important than the narrow focus of human geopolitical history. I can’t help but think that any insight I gain into the lives of the living creatures around me ultimately helps me to expand my understanding of who and what I am. Every piece of the puzzle is important, and although a lifetime of searching will never give me a clear view of the entire picture, I am compelled to learn as much as I can about the universe in which I live during the limited time in which I am here. Today that means paying attention to a tiny green and black bug on the wall of a building. Tomorrow that means remaining open and observant to whatever wonders the universe sees fit to send my way.
While people are often surprised to see a raccoon out and about during the day, it is actually not that uncommon. At this time of year female raccoons have much higher energy needs as they nurse and care for their growing young. The raccoon outside the enclosure was a female I know well. She has raised young in our neighborhood each of the five summers that my wife and I have lived here. As she stood up on her hind legs on Sunday, I could see that she was in the process of nursing the sixth brood that she has produced since I first made her acquaintance. Surviving all of the dangers of an urban environment long enough to produce at least six litters is an impressive accomplishment for a raccoon. It is even more impressive when you consider the fact that this female raccoon has been blind in her right eye the entire time I have known her. Her good eye still serves her well enough that when I pulled out my camera she became wary of the strange object I was pointing at her and she retreated to a large fir tree at the back corner of our yard.
As the raccoon climbed the fir, she passed an old wooden nest box. I had attached the box to the tree about three years ago for a Northern Flying Squirrel that was released in our yard. The squirrel had not used the box after her release, but I had kept it in place just in case there were any other takers. Until Sunday I believed there had been none.