2018-06-29 / Home & Garden

The Nature of Summer 2018

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

Rudy Mancke, USC’s naturalist-in-residence, welcomed a standing room only curious crowd at McKissick Museum on a countdown to the summer solstice. This year June 21 marks the official start of summer when at solar noon the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere resulting in the longest hours of daylight in a 24-hour period.

Intense heat and humidity moved the naturalist’s outdoor seasonal talk to an indoor venue. Mancke noted all plants and animals are under heat stress. Birds, rodents, rabbits, and reptiles are highly susceptible to elevated temperatures. He urged everyone to provide water for plants including trees and wild animals and to continue to stock feeders for birds.

The native pawpaw tree is in fruit now. The tropical like green fruit, thriving in the southern climate and deciduous forests, has a fragrance and taste similar to a cross between a mango and a banana. Pawpaws are ripe to eat when the fruit is ready to drop from the tree. Every animal out there is waiting and wanting to partake from bluejays, crows, raccoons, and possum to wild hogs.


Mancke (l) is identifying a plant for an audience member. Mancke (l) is identifying a plant for an audience member. When humans stopped gathering food from the woods, the pawpaw became a forgotten fruit. USC’s Belser Arboretum has a pawpaw patch.

Pawpaw trees are the one and only host plant for the caterpillars of the large white and black zebra swallowtail butterfly aka the pawpaw or kite butterfly. Look under pawpaw leaves to find pale green eggs and green or brown pupating caterpillars patterned to look like a curled leaf. The zebra swallowtail can live 5- 6 months and produce 3-4 broods before dying.

Mancke shared several recent emails from homeowners requesting to know “What is it?” People are finding colorful spongy moist slime molds growing on soil or mulch after heavy rain. Some molds resemble scrambled eggs, ooze like amoebas, and reproduce like fungi.


The red velvet ant is really a wasp. The red velvet ant is really a wasp. Red velvet ants are found in sandy places like roadsides, meadows, and forest edges. The “ant” is really a solitary wasp with a painful sting.

Spittlebugs, plant-sucking nymphs of frog hoppers, encase themselves in foamy bubbles of sap called spittle as a protection. They are commonly found in grass and are no problem to people.

Little orb weaving spiders with red on abdomen is a small spider called the orchard orb weaver. They are very common across the state during warm months and should not be confused with brown widow spiders.

For those heading to the beach this summer, Mancke’s favorite place to go shell hunting is Edisto Beach. One is likely to find echinoderms like sand dollars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. You will also find shells of bivalves like the giant Atlantic cockle and univalves such as the channel whelk. Bi-valves are filter feeders eating plankton; univalves are predators that eat bi-valves. Expect to find fossilized remains of sea animals too.


A spittlebug nymph is encased in foamy sap for protection. A spittlebug nymph is encased in foamy sap for protection. One key Mancke uses when unlocking the story of phenomena he finds is the phrase “the wasness of the is.” In questioning fossilized remains he muses, “This is the way it is today, what was it like before?” The key was a gift to Mancke from his professor of geology at Wofford College, John W. Harrington, author of Dance of the Continents.

To learn more about the beautiful puzzling world around us, listen to Rudy on the radio with Nature Notes at southcarolinapublicradio.org/pro grams/naturenotesof.



A naturalist’s collection of treasures. A naturalist’s collection of treasures.

The polyphemus moth, a silk moth, has no digestive system. The cocoon is found hanging on oak, birch, elm, hickory, and birch. The polyphemus moth, a silk moth, has no digestive system. The cocoon is found hanging on oak, birch, elm, hickory, and birch.

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