2018-10-05 / Home & Garden

The Nature of Autumn 2018

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

“Tis the season for yellow,” were the opening words of Rudy Mancke, USC naturalist- in- residence, as he greeted an intergenerational audience for his seasonal talk under the magnolia at McKissick Museum. Yellow cloudless sulphur butterflies flew overhead. The goldenrod blooming now was once a candidate for the national flower until a legislator denounced the plant for causing allergies. The legislator’s erroneous belief nixed the confirmation. Heavy goldenrod pollen does not get airborne like the simultaneous bloomer ragweed, the instigator of fall allergies. In 2003 goldenrod was named the official wildflower of South Carolina.

Mancke noted in autumn plants and animals feel an urgency due to impending changes coming. Spiders are bigger and their webs more prevalent, especially orbweaving Argiope, the yellow and black writing spider. Larvae of the regal moth aka royal walnut moth and hickory horned devil dive into the ground to pupate. The polyphemus moth overwinters as a pupa in a spindle-shaped brown silk cocoon on a leaf of its host plant – birch, hickory, oak, and maple. Gulf fritillary butterflies are abundant and lay their eggs on passionflower vine, the maypop.


Tis the season for yellow as demonstrated in the stream of cloudless sulphur butterflies in fall. Tis the season for yellow as demonstrated in the stream of cloudless sulphur butterflies in fall. Some species of snakes like the venomous canebrake rattlesnake give birth to live young in September. These snakes typically den up in groups over winter and can live from 14 to 30 years.

Fall is the time to see walking sticks mating. The female, much larger than the male, lays her eggs on plants or in the soil. The small seed like eggs overwinter until spring.

The Druids celebrated the beginning of the New Year in autumn due to the abundance of fruit. Mancke mentioned fall fruiting native plants: the beautyberry (Calicarpa americana), hearts-a-bustin’ (Euonymous americanus), and American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).


The polyphemus moth cocoon overwinters on host plants like the red oak. The polyphemus moth cocoon overwinters on host plants like the red oak. An Asiatic chestnut reminds us that the American chestnut tree population was wiped out by a fungal blight from Asia in the early 1900s. Today, there is an attempt to hybridize the American and Asian chestnut to bring the chestnut back to its native range.

Mancke captivates youngsters with skulls giving children the opportunity to look at the teeth and determine if the animal is a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore. Skulls included a raccoon, beaver, and spoonbill.

Beavers are the largest rodent in South Carolina and North America.

The self-sharpening, continuously growing front incisors are an orange- brown color, a special pigment for making the enamel harder. The white inner part of the tooth wears faster than the colored side. This contrast creates a continuously sharp cutting tooth.


The royal moth caterpillar pupates in the ground and can take two years to emerge. The royal moth caterpillar pupates in the ground and can take two years to emerge. After nearly being extirpated in North America due to the European fur trade, the beaver has been reintroduced. Beavers, “ecosystem engineers,” are now recognized as helping biodiversity. The classic beaver behavior of building dams preserves wetlands for fish and wildlife. Concomitantly, beaver ponds filter pollution, stock water for use by farmers and ranchers, slow down runoff from floods, reduce erosion and serve as firebreaks. Eager is a 2018 book by Ben Goldfarb on beaver habits and habitats.

You are invited to hear Mancke, naturalist for all seasons, introduce the Nature of Winter 2018 December 11 from noon to 1pm under the magnolia at McKissick Museum.



Rudy Mancke, USC naturalist-in-residence, conducted his seasonal natural history talk outdoors at McKissick Museum. Rudy Mancke, USC naturalist-in-residence, conducted his seasonal natural history talk outdoors at McKissick Museum.

Venomous canebrake rattlesnake skin Venomous canebrake rattlesnake skin

Return to top