Pyne’s Ground Plum (Astragalus bibullatus) is a beautiful species of flowering plant[1]  which is endemic to the cedar glades of Middle Tennessee, near the rapidly growing city of Murfreesboro. These glades occur on rocky limestone outcrops with exposed bedrock or very shallow soil, where trees are largely unable to grow. Pyne’s ground plum grows along the deeper soiled glade margins or in partially-shaded areas (2). The flowers turn to reddish orange fruit (that resembles a plum) in late May through early June. Classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants 1997 (3) and listed as Endangered on the U.S. Endangered Species Act 1967 (4), the plant is most definitely at risk. Primary threats to this wildflower are generally residential or commercial development, as well as livestock grazing and more competitive vegetation(5). Attempts have been made to establish a new population at Stones River National Battlefield, TN, and there are high hopes that the new population will be self-sustaining (6).

Limited edition prints, as well as the original of this painting are available on my Etsy shop.

© 2012 Ashley P. Halsey

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The Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) is on the smaller side, as far as owls go—reaching about 10″ in height at adulthood; but it still maintains that stately owl dignity. Like all owl species, the Screech Owl can not turn its eyes within its sockets, but instead will rotate its head as much as three-quarters of the way around its body to get a better look. And like other owls, they are stealthy hunters, using their keen hearing and eyesight to locate prey in the still of the night. Their specialized feathers with fringes of varying softness, as well as their broad wings and light bodies make them nearly silent in flight. Screech owls mate for life after an elaborate courtship ritual takes place.[1] The pair will generally produce only a single brood per year.

A rather intriguing symbiotic relationship has been observed in Screech Owls in Texas. In a number of cases researchers have observed the owls bringing live Texas blind snakes to their nest cavities where the snakes will then live and eat parasites, larvae and other insects afflicting the chicks in the nest. The snake will leave the nest once the chicks take flight.[2]

The original work is available for purchase on Etsy.

© 2011 Ashley P. Halsey

Have you ever tried to catch a grasshopper? It’s pretty hard; and there are a couple of reasons why. For one thing, most can jump 20 times their length – and some species more than that. The other reason is that grasshoppers have five, yes five, eyes!

I believe this brightly colored little guy is a Differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis). I found him in action eating his lunch in a friend’s garden. There are 548 species of North American grasshoppers, so it can be hard to keep track of which one is which. Most grasshoppers are considered pests because they can destroy crops, however, they have a wide range of natural predators and also can be beneficial when they eat weeds. Instead of lungs, grasshoppers have tiny holes, called spiracles, in their thoraxes and abdomens. Next time you see a grasshopper, look at it closely. You can see the abdomen move in and out as it breaths.

The original work is available for purchase on Etsy.

© 2011 Ashley P. Halsey

Moon snails are pretty awesome. I accidentally stumbled on one when I was a kid and I thought it was some kind of monster coming out of the sand. The snail was at least three times the size of any snail I had ever seen, and the memory has stuck with me ever since. Moon snails are carnivorous snails that feed on bivalves by boring holes in the shells of their prey. So if you see a shell with a perfectly drilled hole in it, there’s a good chance it was a moon snail victim.

I’ve depicted the snail pulled into its shell here, because I wanted to highlight the colors in the shell. When the snail comes out the foot (the part of the snail outside the shell) is so large that it covers a large part of their shell. It helps them move through the sand in search of prey. Moon snails lay their eggs in a curved ribbon, or egg collar, made of sand and mucus. The structure is smooth,  curved and very durable – a rather unusual structure to put eggs in, I think. See the snail in action here.

The original work is available for purchase on Etsy.

© 2011 Ashley P. Halsey

This Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) is a little shy. Unlike other land turtles, box turtles have the unique ability to close their shells completely because of a hinged shell. They have a wide range from the northeast through the mid-west and south. Box turtles are extremely long lived – often living over 50 years. As a result, they are slow to mature and reproduce. Habitat destruction and fragmentation threatens the box turtle today. They can be found in any number of habitats, but generally they stick with moist forest floors and open pastures.

Prints of this work are available for purchase on Etsy.

© 2011 Ashley P. Halsey

Chipmunks can be found all across North America. This particular chipmunk is probably a Uinta Chipmunk (Tamias umbrinus). Most chipmunk species hibernate at least some of the winter, and spend the summer months collecting seeds, nuts, fruits and berries. Rather than storing fat, they periodically awake during hibernation to eat some of their stored food.

Like squirrels, chipmunks play an important role in the distribution of tree seeds. By harvesting and hoarding the seeds they contribute to the growth of seedlings. They can be found running around in sheltered areas like low shrubs, stone walls and logs to stay protected from predators.

This original work is available for purchase on Etsy.

© 2011 Ashley P. Halsey

The Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) can be found throughout the world, with five varieties located in North America. You can find this fern in all the 50 states except, surprisingly, Nebraska. Generally, these ferns appear at the edges of woodland or in open fields and alongside roads. They can be one of the first plants to grow after an area has been burned.

When the fern first emerges from the earth, in early spring, it begins in a tightly curled roll, called a fiddlehead. Fiddleheads have been considered a source of food by humans throughout much of history. The fern fronds also serve as food for some caterpillers (the larve of the Lepidoptera order of insects).

Prints and the original of this work are available for purchase on Etsy.

© 2011 Ashley P. Halsey

In honor of the spring weather this is a magnolia tree and blossoms. There are about 80 different species of magnolia that are native to the eastern United States and southeastern Asia, so it is difficult to know one species from another. The color and shape of the flower changes from one species to another. Some have white flowers and others have pink.  Magnolia grandiflora, or the Southern Magnolia, (which is a white flower) is the state flower of Mississippi and Louisiana. Magnolias are a deciduous flowering tree which usually blooms in the early spring.

The genus magnolia is prehistoric. The plants that make up this genus evolved before bees appeared, and as a result magnolia trees do not have nectar and instead rely on beetles for pollination. The beetles are from the Nitidulidae family and are attracted by the flower’s fragrance.

This original work is available for purchase on Etsy.

© 2011 Ashley P. Halsey

Here we have a male Eastern Bluebird (latin name: Sialia sialis) perched on a tree branch. Males are a brilliant blue and females are lighter with more brown in their coloring. During this time of year bluebirds should be returning from their winter home in the southeastern U.S or Mexico. The bluebird is a small thrush and spends its time perched on low branches, posts, wires and anything else that will allow a good view of open grasses where it finds its prey of small insects and sometimes fruit.

The Eastern Bluebird can be found from the east coast all the way into the central United States. The male bluebird finds a nest site and then attempts to attract a female by bringing nesting materials to the site and perching outside of it. Once the female choses her mate, she does all the nest building. Bluebirds usually have more than one brood per year.

A print of this work can be purchased on Etsy.

© 2011 Ashley P. Halsey

 

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