Touched by gold, in nature and life

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golden Dung Flies
The golden dung fly is a unique and important component of the farm ecosystem whose life revolves around fresh feces, especially that of the bovine nature. (Tami Gingrich photo)

Summer is a golden time filled with sunshine, warmth and activity. It’s a time to work in the garden, have picnics, hike with the dog, play at the park and enjoy the longer days. Sunrises and sunsets are many shades of gold. In fact, gold is all around us — you just have to open your eyes.

For many with livestock, the sight of a fresh cowpie covered with fuzzy yellow flies is a common sight. It would seem that an insect present in such large numbers might be considered a pest, yet the golden dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria) is a unique and important component of the farm ecosystem.

Measuring up to 9 mm in length, the males, with their vivid golden hue, are covered with tiny bristles giving them a furry appearance, while females, with fewer hairs, are smaller and a duller shade of yellow. The dung fly’s life revolves around fresh feces, especially that of the bovine nature.

Golden dung fly

While females spend time feeding on flower nectar, the males sit on the dung awaiting their arrival, often preying on blow flies. Females rely on fresh manure upon which to deposit their eggs. After mating, which occurs atop the pile, the females carefully place their eggs on the sloped surfaces of the excrement. This not only protects them from the scorching sun but also keeps them from drowning in puddles that might form during rain events.

Upon hatching, the larvae actively feed and grow inside the pile. Within three weeks, they burrow into the soil and pupate. A quick life cycle allows the fly to produce up to five generations in a year.

It’s hard to imagine what livestock pastures might look like without the contribution of these small flies and their incredibly important role in the natural decomposition of excrement in the fields.

Imperial moth

imperial Moth
This breathtaking giant silk moth, with a wingspan of nearly 7 inches, lights up the night with its golden color. (Tami Gingrich photo)

Parking now beneath a porch light near you is the imperial moth (Eacles imperialis). This breathtaking giant silk moth, with a wingspan of nearly 7 inches, lights up the night with its golden color. Like all giant silk moths, it emerges in late spring or early summer after spending the winter in a dormant stage.

Upon emergence, the female begins to grow her wings, while at the same time, emitting pheromones from an organ at the tip of her abdomen. Males, up to five miles away, lock onto these invisible particles of scent and are drawn directly to her. Mating takes place during the night and throughout the following day.

After the male’s departure, the next evening the female takes flight, depositing her golden eggs on the appropriate host plants. One of this species’ favorite foods is white pine. This makes for interesting observation as the stunning caterpillars gobble down one needle at a time, gently bending it back to make feeding easier.

Unfortunately, mature giant silk moths have no mouth parts, thus they cannot feed. Their sole mission is to mate and lay eggs before passing away around eight days of age. It is sad that the most beautiful stage of this golden moth’s life cycle is also the shortest.

Golden opportunities

Gold has touched me as well! I have received an opportunity to share my nature knowledge with you in the form of a weekly column.

From a very young age, nurtured by my parents, my life has revolved around nature. At the age of eight, I began tagging monarch butterflies for Dr. Fred Urquhart in Toronto, Canada.

In 1975, Fred’s efforts to discover where migrating monarchs traveled to spend the winter paid off when the overwintering sites in Mexico were discovered. I remember receiving that special letter from Fred that he sent out to all of his volunteers, announcing the big discovery. Butterflies and moths have always been a huge part of my life and continue to be today.

During my college tenure at Ohio Northern University, I learned the art of bird banding. A spring internship at Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station further cemented my interest, and 30 years later, my license has enabled me to conduct some very unique projects.

Shortly after graduating, I returned to Geauga County in northeast Ohio and took a job with Geauga Park District where my love of nature was fulfilled in so many ways. As a naturalist, I was able to educate people of all ages through hikes and presentations. As a biologist, I conducted loads of research projects and developed a popular citizen science program with enthusiastic volunteers willing to help me with my work.

In 2020, I retired from a 31-year career. I have heard that many retirees find themselves bored or lost following retirement, but I have never been busier. There is always plenty of work to be done on our small farm which is home to mules, goats, poultry and our beloved dogs. My hobbies, including nature photography, pollinator gardening, Lepidoptera rearing and birding, to name just a few, keep me forever on the move.

Farm and Dairy has been such an important publication in my life. As the owner of a farm, it is a never-ending source of important and interesting information.

As a nature lover, there was never a better column to read than that of Scott Shalaway. Every week, I would begin by opening the paper to his piece, anxious to glean information from his interesting articles. Shalaway was a treasure trove of information on so many subjects.

To say I was disappointed when he retired is an understatement. Although I look forward to filling a niche, I could never begin to measure up to such an amazing person with so many accomplishments.

I am simply thrilled to be able to impart a bit of my knowledge and a few of my photos each week in hopes that you might learn something new. It is a golden opportunity I embrace with excitement.

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A life-long resident of Geauga County in northeast Ohio, Tami Gingrich recently retired from a 31-year career as a Biologist/Field Naturalist with Geauga Park District. Tami has been a licensed bird bander for over 30 years. Her hobbies include photography, lepidoptera, gardening and spending time with her husband on their small farm in Middlefield, Ohio. She welcomes any questions or comments at Royalwalnutmoth@gmail.com and will gladly consider suggestions for future articles.

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