The equinox is upon us, bringing changes

The autumn equinox is Sunday, September 21, 2013. It is the official beginning of fall as the sun continues its daily retreat into the southern sky and the northern hemisphere repeats its regular annual tilt away from solar exposure.

The equinox is calculated based on the equator’s day and night length. Given Wakulla County’s place on the earth, the night will not be longer than the day until the evening of September 26, 2013 when the night will be one minute longer than the day.

The official equinox date is the time-honored mass market method of notifying humanity to be on the lookout for cooler weather. This knowledge of the planet’s seasonal cycle was recorded by the earliest cultures and likely predates written records.

The creatures and plants which populate the woods, swamps and pastures of Wakulla County need no notice from the almanac’s editors to recognize weather changes are underway. All are preparing in their own way for the inevitable dormant season with short days, reduced food, and lower temperatures. Late summer fruit, berries and nuts are in full production. Yaupons, sparkleberries, dogwoods, pines, persimmons, oaks, hickories and many more have a nutritional offering for any wild creature with space in their stomach or cheeks.

The animal population is packing on the calories and weight in anticipation of leaner times soon to be here. All instinctively know it is time to eat, and eat some more.

The plants and trees provide this cornucopia as a way to prepare their progeny for the next growing season. Most of their output is consumed by birds, mammals and insect, but a small percentage of seed will survive to expand the species range and replace winter losses. Bright orange persimmons, red dogwood and holly berries, and blue beautyberries use their distinctive color and shape to attract birds and animals.  In exchange for a free meal, some of the seed in the fruit is relocated.

Wakulla County’s insect are diligently preparing for winter’s onslaught.  While most will not survive the first frost, a percentage of their eggs persist and pupa will emerge next spring.

Likely the most popular late summer/early autumn insects are butterflies. The most commonly known are relatively large and brightly colored, but many are small and unembellished without distinctive features.

2013 has been a good year for butterflies in Wakulla County. The ample rains provided excellent forage for caterpillar phase of their life cycle, though there were many complaints about damage to shrubs and gardens.

Some butterflies, particularly the monarch and cloudless sulphurs, will migrate south to warmer latitudes. Many will remain in Wakulla County laying their eggs in the most hospitable environment possible.

Under ideal conditions butterflies will produce several generations in the warm season  Eggs laid late in the year will enter a dormant phase with the onset of cold weather, but emerge the following spring.

Other short-lived insect, such as stinkbugs, handle the winter differently. During cold weather, young stink bugs will hibernate in leaf litter or under tree bark until the onset of warmer temperatures.

Their two month life long life is put on hold until the weather warms up. They then return to being quick reproducing pest.

To learn more about the change of seasons in Wakulla County, contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or follow us on:
http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco
http://facebook.com/wakullaextension
https://twitter.com/wakullaext

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