Naturalist’s Notebook: I Wonder Why?

Studying nature makes me ask questions. Most days I don’t know what the question will be. It’s usually questions that I never expect. I want to learn about something I had not even thought about before. 

Keeping a nature journal should be fun, not work. And please don’t make it hard. It is easy. All you have to do is walk outside and be there to see and smell and touch and hear. If you want to include your fifth sense, you might even occasionally taste something. (Please use good judgement and common sense here.) 

Then you can write about it and come up with more questions.

Do you ever wonder why you – a young scientist – are being asked to practice journaling? Do you find it boring? Is science and nature study something only nerds do? If you believe that, you may not be doing it right. 

Learning to look at the world around you takes practice. If you play video games, don’t you have to practice to reach another level? Sure you do! If you play a sport, it takes practice. Right? Nature journaling and nature study are the same.

It should be fun and interesting. It should help you be curious. It should always lead to the question, “I wonder why?” 

I’ve been studying the natural world around me for almost sixty-seven years and almost every day brings a new “I wonder why?” moment.

Today I had a topic in mind that I planned to write about, but then something changed my mind. I walked out to my garden and found an insect on a Fleabane bloom that I never saw before. 

One thing about it was VERY STRANGE. The antennae on its head were long – very, very long. They were four or five times as long as its body. 

I like to have pictures with each blog post, so I started clicking photos. I didn’t know if they would turn out. Would those incredible thread-thin antennae even show in the photos? They did! The angle of the sun really lit them up.

Why did this tiny insect have those crazy long antennae? Wouldn’t they get in the way when it flies? Why are they better than much shorter antennae? Why haven’t I ever seen one before?

It was research time! I wanted to learn what it was so I could tell you about it. My new insect find was so small, I could not tell for sure what type of insect it was. It looked like a moth, but I wondered if it might be a caddis fly.  I knew they have long antennae. But are they THAT long? Would a caddis fly visit a flower? 

I was puzzled and not finding answers, so I asked a couple of friends for help.

My buddy Mike, also a keen nature observer, discovered it was a Southern Longhorn Moth, Adela caeruleella. After his tip and a visit to Google— there it was! It is a member of a group of moths called fairy moths. I never dreamed a moth existed with such long antennae, and now I’d found one in my own garden.

More research is needed. I could find no explanation why this group of moths need such extremely long antennae. Do they help them find mates or nectar sources? I want to learn more because I wonder why!

Now, go explore and discover things to wonder about. I know they are there. Good luck!

Mr. Bill

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