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Phenology Talkbacks, August 30 2022

Stephan's Quintet
Roi Levi
Stephan's Quintet

It's time for our last Talkbacks segment of August! We have a report from Minnesota Astronomical Society members who attended the Northern Nights Star Festival at Long Lake Conservation Center! Then, we get a report from Kathleen about edible mushrooms. To bring us home, my mom writes in with a question about water beetles (or, as she names them, "motor boat swim zoomie bugs." Hi Mom!)


Jerry, Earl, and Kathy bring us this week's report from the Northern Nights Star Fest at Long Lake Conservation Center! Earl was up EARLy in the morning [Sorry, Earl, I had to] to look for the loon family. While watching them, he spotted a spotted sandpiper, a solitary sandpiper, an offended kingfisher, a broad-winged hawk, black-and-white warblers, Wilson's warblers, Eastern wood-peewees, brown creepers, robins, red-eyed vireos, yellowthroats, sandhill cranes, and heard some wood ducks! He also listened to some mystery warblers, which he hasn't identified yet. [They're all mystery warblers to me, Earl!]

While Earl was busy watching the birds, Kathy was examining the bees. After taking a picture of a bumblebee in St. Paul, Kathy realized it was a rusty-patched bumblebee! She uploaded it to the bumble bee watch project and became more interested in bees. Kathy then took a bee identification class through the University of Minnesota's Bee Lab and has been a volunteer bee surveyor for three years. During her time at Long Lake, she found tricolored bumblebees, half-black bumblebees, common eastern bumblebees, and boreal bumblebees! Kathy adds that if you're interested in bumblebee identification, it's an easy hobby to pick up: get a camera, take some photos, and post them to iNaturalist or bumble bee watch.

Meanwhile, Jerry slept peacefully after a wonderful (but late) night of staring at the solar system. With the benefit of Long Lake's dark skies, he and the other participants could look into our solar system and beyond! They had great views of Saturn and Jupiter, with Mars coming into view later in the morning. Within our galaxy, they saw planetary nebulae and bright and dark nebulae near the constellation of Sagittarius. They could also look at (and photograph) other galaxies, including Stephan's Quintet!

They report that it was a great week in nature, and it's always a great time to explore the terrestrial and extraterrestrial. Unplug, get outside, and live connected!

John agrees- what a great week! He wishes he could have been there. [Me too!]


"Thought Sarah & John might enjoy the photo of my vegetarian daughter, Mariko's, chicken of the woods entree. The recipe is from the Forager Chef's website. She made this dish for her college friends @ St. Benedict's college. Our cabin neighbors harvested the mushrooms from one of their dead oak tree trunks. She reported it tastes like soft chicken & was tasty. All in all successful!"

John says it's a great time to harvest chicken of the woods. He recommends pinching the fungus: if it's soft, it's good to eat. If not, you won't want it on your plate!


My mom sent me this email last week:

"Please tell us all about motor boat swim zoomie bugs? Thanks, Your mom"

As the dutiful child I am, I created this Instagram video and consulted John. John sent us to a 1980 study by Heinrich and Vogt. Despite the research being 42 years old and funded by taxpayer dollars, the article is STILL behind a paywall and [I'll spare you the rest of the rant]. Luckily, I still have some friends in high ivory-tower places, and they were able to source the article for me.

Allow me to summarize: These biologists spent a summer living the dream on Lake Itasca, paddling around in a canoe and doing nightly shoreline transects studying the movement of water beetles. During the day, beetles were found almost exclusively in large 'rafts' of 10-40,000 individuals. Of over 401,300 beetles observed, only 11 beetles were found alone during daylight! Overnight, however, the beetles dispersed and foraged for food. Near dawn, the beetles would begin cruising up and down the shoreline. When beetles met, they started to form lines: these lines met to form rafts. By the time the sun rose, the beetles were back in their daytime congregations! The authors believe that the rafting behavior serves a defensive purpose by aggregating the beetles in areas where potential predators are familiar with them and their signature bad taste. The authors even fed a few beetles to laboratory fish: they would eat the first, puke up the second, and refuse to eat the third. After enough time passed, however, the fish 'forgot' their hard-earned lesson and would have to go through the learning process again. They hypothesize that the beetles minimize their risk of getting eaten by one of these forgetful or unaware (unschooled?) fish by losing themselves in the crowd of other 'motor boat swim zoomie bugs.'

Remember that you can add your voice to this list! We would love to hear from you. Get in touch with me ( or John (, or text 'phenology' to 218-326-1234.

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As a mail carrier in rural Grand Rapids, Minn., for 35 years, John Latimer put his own stamp on a career that delivered more than letters. Indeed, while driving the hundred-mile round-trip daily route, he passed the time by observing and recording seasonal changes in nature, learning everything he could about the area’s weather, plants and animals, and becoming the go-to guy who could answer customers’ questions about what they were seeing in the environment.
Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.
Charlie Mitchell (she/they) joined the KAXE team in February of 2022. Charlie creates the Season Watch Newsletter, writes segment summaries for the website, and coordinates our Engaging Minnesotans with Phenology project. With a background in wildlife biology, she enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, aquatic invertebrates, or the short-tailed shrew (did you know they can echolocate?).