Equinox, or Equilux?

Equinox, or Equilux: Seasons Courtesy NASA https://www.weather.gov/dvn/Climate_Astronomical_Seasons
Seasons
Courtesy NASA
https://www.weather.gov/dvn/Climate_Astronomical_Seasons
We raced west toward home from the high plains, trying to beat the heavy snow that had been forecasted for Labor Day evening. Finally in the canyon—the revelation that seasons had passed while we were away. Temperatures plummeted, and the forests reacted. Favorite stands of aspens were already aglow above that familiar bend in the river. Meteorological fall had promptly arrived.

Its astronomical counterpart—the autumnal equinox—is a bit of a misnomer. The word equinox is our late Middle English iteration of the Latin term for “equal night,” but, astronomically speaking, this isn’t exactly true. The equinox is the single moment when the Earth’s axis is pointing neither toward nor away from the sun, providing entire hemispheres equal portions of light. This year’s autumnal equinox occurs at precisely 7:30 AM on Tuesday, September 22nd, and though daylight and night will share almost equal portions of the clock that day, they don’t split it evenly until two or three days later on what is called the ‘equilux’, meaning “equal light.”

Earth Orbit - With Date Spans, Courtesy National Weather Service (NWS)
Earth Orbit – With Date Spans
Courtesy National Weather Service (NWS)
https://www.weather.gov/abq/clifeatures_springequinox
It works like this. We count daytime from the moment the sun peeks above the horizon to the moment it sinks below. But, of course, the sun isn’t a light switch. We have several minutes of twilight before the sun rises and after it sets thanks to the lens-like refraction provided by our atmosphere. So, on the day of the equinox, those several minutes of twilight before sunrise and after sunset offset the equal exposure of the sun’s rays to our hemisphere by a small margin, giving us a tad more daylight than night. The equilux has to wait for Earth’s tilt to allow darkness to catch up.

But wait. It gets a little more complicated. Because the Earth’s axis begins tilting away from the sun immediately following the autumnal equinox (or toward it following the vernal equinox), different latitudes will experience the equilux at different intervals. As a rule, the closer one is to the equator, the longer they will wait for the equilux to occur in the fall and the sooner it will arrive in the spring. That is, unless you live within 5 latitudinal degrees of the equator. Then, sadly, you don’t get an equilux at all, ever, because you always have more than twelve hours of daylight.

Depending on where you live here in Utah, you will experience the equilux sometime on September 25th or 26th. So, this week, take out your stopwatch, and turn your eyes skyward.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy Weather.gov, US National Weather Service(NWS), https://www.weather.gov/dvn/Climate_Astronomical_Seasons
Photos: Courtesy
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Josh Boling, 2020

Sources & Additional Reading

The Equinox Isn’t What You Think It Is, PBS Digital Studios, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVDCsXUygEw

Kher, Aparna, Equinox: Equal Day and Night, Almost, https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/equinox-not-equal.html

City of North Logan, Utah, USA — Sunrise, Sunset, and Daylength, September 2020, Time and Date AS, https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/@7173983

Seasons, SciJinks, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, https://scijinks.gov/review/solstice/seasons/

Which Pole is Colder?, Climate Kids, The Earth Science Communications Team, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, https://climatekids.nasa.gov/polar-temperatures/

Earth’s Seasons – Equinoxes and Solstices – 2018-2025, The U.S. Naval Observatory, Astronomical Applications Department, https://www.weather.gov/media/ind/seasons.pdf

Changing seasons, Climate Resource Collections, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/climate/changing-seasons

Boling, Josh, A Solstice Vignette, Wild About Utah, December 16, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/a-solstice-vignette/

Equinoxes, National Geographic, https://youtu.be/kaG6PTVrFP4

What is an Equinox? National Geographic, https://youtu.be/enlih8M5DN0

The Autumnal Equinox is Near, Watch the Skies Blog, NASA, https://blogs.nasa.gov/Watch_the_Skies/tag/equinox/


Insect Musicians

Insect Musicians: Katydid Courtesy US FWS, Dr Thomas Barnes, Photographer
Katydid
Courtesy US FWS
Dr Thomas Barnes, Photographer
It gives me great pleasure to take a moonlight walk on these warm summer nights, serenaded by a gazillion insect musicians. Pulsing in unison with a background of cricket chirps, it reminds me that summer is waning and I must enjoy what remains!

As birds grow silent with nesting season past, I become aware of the gradually intensifying chorus of the inset tribe- a cacophonous mixture of chirps, trills, ticks, scrapes, shuffles, and buzzes. What a joy to behold these choruses of males, serenading females of their own species until cold weather dampens the chorus and heavy frost finally brings it to a close. Crickets, katydids, grasshoppers, and cicadas are prominent songsters. They can be found in trees, shrubs, lawns, fields, woodlands—nearly all habitats, and sometimes inside our homes.

My USU entomologist friend recommends the Snowy Tree Cricket as a champion night chorister here among the insects. It’s “snowy” name is derived from its pale coloration causing it to appear white. Snowy Tree Crickets sing from brushy understory plants at forested margins or within open woodlands. During cold spells, they can be found close to the ground on the trunks of small trees where they find a warmer micro-climate. It is also referred to as the “thermometer cricket” due to its accuracy of giving the temperature in degrees F. Just count the chirps for 15 seconds and add 40.

Jerusalem Cricket Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
Jerusalem Cricket
Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae
Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
The Spring and Fall Field Crickets are next in line as musicians. They look very similar to each other, but are two different species. The season they appear helps identify them. Another difference is their life histories. Fall Field Crickets overwinter as eggs while the Spring version as nymphs.

Spring Field Crickets develop quickly when warm weather arrives and adults typically appear and begin singing and mating in late spring, continuing until late June or early July when they finish laying eggs and die off. In contrast, Fall Field Crickets hatch in the spring, and adults don’t appear and begin singing until mid to late July, after which they continue singing and mating into the autumn, when they are finally killed by frosts. In most areas of overlap, there is a period of silence in midsummer when neither species is heard.

Finding and identifying a singing insect can be a fun challenge. With the help of a flashlight and considerable patience, you will be able to track down individual singers, and perhaps even view a singing performance firsthand! Many are small and well camouflaged in their green and brown coats, and they sit motionless when singing, blending into their surroundings. Many sing only in the dark of night. Use LED lights as their spectrum seems to enhance finding them.

Check out these glorious beings at songsofinsects.com.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, I’m wild about Utah!

Credits:

Images: Katydid, Courtesy US FWS, Dr. Thomas Barnes, Photographer
Images: Jerusalem Cricket, Courtesy & Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Hershberger, Wil & Elliott, Lang, Songs of Insects, https://songsofinsects.com/

Montagne, Renee, Insect Sounds: Telling Crickets, Cicadas And Katydids Apart, NPR, September 8, 2015, https://www.npr.org/2015/09/08/438473580/insect-sounds-telling-crickets-cicadas-and-katydids-apart

Rankin, Richard, Bug Bytes, Reference Library of Digitized Insect Sounds – USDA ARS, https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/3559/soundlibrary.html

Utah Fireflies

Utah Fireflies: Firefly Courtesy & Copyright BJ Nicholls
Firefly
Courtesy & Copyright BJ Nicholls
Hi, My name is Christy Bills, I am the entomologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah.

I am excited to talk about the Utah Firefly citizens science project. A lot of people are surprised to know that we have fireflies in Utah, but we actually have them in 20 of the 29 counties, that we’ve discovered so far. People are often surprised that they’re here, and they think that they’ve just arrived but they haven’t. They like to live in marshy areas, and they are only adults from late May to early July, so that’s why people often don’t see them, because people aren’t usually recreating in marshy areas.

Utah Fireflies: Flashing Firefly Courtesy & Copyright BJ Nicholls
Flashing Firefly
Courtesy & Copyright BJ Nicholls
The firefly citizens science project asks people to report when they see them to the museums website, and that allows us as researchers to know where they are so we can track their activity. We’ve been collecting data on them for 4 or 5 years and learning more about them over that time period.

I’ve actually gone through old newspapers that have been digitized online, and looked for any reference to fireflies or lightning bugs, and I have found zero reference dating back 100 years. However, when you actually talk to people in rural communities who have pastures and farms, it turns out anecdotally a lot of people know about them. This is a really wonderful way of people bridging the academic rural divide, and finding out that people in these communities have a wealth of knowledge that we can draw from, and they’ll say, “Oh yeah my grandpa always had them in the orchard,” or “We always knew that they were there,” so it turns out people always knew about them. Not a lot of people, but enough people.
People have anecdotes about knowing about them in urban areas, where there are clearly not anymore because of development and light pollution. That helps us also know what factors make them go away.

More information about the project is available, at NHMU.UTAH.EDU/fireflies.

I’m Christy Bills and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:

Image: Courtesy & Copyright BJ Nicholls, Photographer
Featured Audio: Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Christy Bills, Entomologist, Natural History Museum of Utah, https://nhmu.utah.edu/newsdesk/experts/christy-bills

Report:


Report your sighting


Sources & Additional Reading

Western Firefly Project: A Community Science Initiative, Natural History Museum of Utah. https://nhmu.utah.edu/fireflies/

Hellstern, Ron, June Fireflies, Wild About Utah, June 19, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/june-fireflies/

Strand, Holly, Firefly Light, Wild About Utah, Jun 20, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/firefly-light/

Buschman, L L. Biology of the firefly Pyractomena lucifera (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). Florida Entomologist 67.4 (1984): 529-542. https://journals.flvc.org/flaent/article/view/57962 (click on PDF for full text)

Lloyd, James E., 1964. Notes on Flash Communication in the Firefly Pyractomena dispersa (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) Annals of the Entomological Society of America, Volume 57, Number 2, March 1964 , pp. 260-261. (James Lloyd is a leading authority on fireflies. He retired from academic duty at the University of FL, but here is a web page with some of his wisdom and musings. http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/lloyd/firefly/

(Boston) Museum of Science Firefly Watch
Volunteers help citizen scientists track firefly occurrences.
https://www.mos.org/fireflies

National Geographic. Firefly (Lightning Bug) Lampyridae, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/firefly/

Phys.org news service. Jun 26, 2012. Romancing the firefly: New insights into what goes on when the lights go off. http://phys.org/news/2012-06-romancing-firefly-insights.html#inlRlv

Stanger-Hall, Kathrin F., James E. Lloyd, David M. Hillis. 2007. Phylogeny of North American fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae): Implications for the evolution of light signals. In Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 45 (2007) 33-49.

Utah State University Insect Collection has over 117 cabinets housing approximately two million pinned insects and 35,000 microscope slides. Location: Room 240, Biology and Natural Resources Bldg.; Telephone: 435-797-0358
https://biology.usu.edu/research/research_centers/insect-collection

Clayton Gefre, Sparks Fly: Researchers track firefly populations across Utah, The Herald Journal, http://news.hjnews.com/allaccess/sparks-fly-researchers-track-firefly-populations-across-utah/article_270ac8b9-3d3f-5a01-9b5b-ac22e89a54bb.html

Natalie Crofts, New Website Tracks Utah Firefly Sightings, KSL, https://www.ksl.com/?sid=34439516

I Notice, I Wonder

I Notice, I Wonder: Purple Cones Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Purple Cones
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Allow me to share an excerpt from my nature journal. “July 5, 2020. 6:10 p.m. We are perched on the east side of Buck Ridge, racing the sun’s western descent as we conclude a day on Utah’s Skyline Drive. He is drawn to the bull elk in the meadow below the ivory cliff’s edge. I can’t pull myself away from the purple cones. Not brown, not gray, but vibrant violet cones stretching straight upward. How have I missed noticing these before? I wonder what purpose such a hue serves.”

Utah has inspired writers to notice and wonder for centuries. Father Escalante described Utah’s geography, ecology, and native people he encountered in his 1776 travel diary, and a decade before, Juan Maria Antonio de Rivera was writing in his own nature journal as he searched for silver ore and a way to cross what we now call the Colorado River. We can gaze at the many petroglyph and pictograph panels detailing deer, bison, bighorn sheep, and interesting beings sprinkled throughout this state, including my favorite Head of Sinbad in the San Rafael Swell, that have survived the environmental and human efforts to alter or erase.

John Wesley Powell captured his nature experience this way: “We are three-quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks into insignificance, as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above; they are but puny ripples, and we but pygmies, running up and down the sands, or lost
among the boulders….How beautiful the sky; how bright the sunshine; what “floods of delirious music” pour from the throats of birds; how sweet the fragrance of earth, and tree, and blossom!”

Stream Ripple Picture Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Stream Ripple Picture
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Early Utah explorers such as John C. Fremont also chronicled meadows, springs, and plants he encountered. More recently, Ralph Becker recorded his multi-week experience hiking almost 200 miles in Utah’s Capitol Reef Waterpocket Fold like this: “Upper Muley Twist Canyon is a fine work of art. Tremendous navajo sandstone fins rise steeply to the east, creating the backbone of the Waterpocket Fold. The kayenta sandstone, a pinkish and tan ledgy rock, begins making an appearance just under it. Wingate sandstone is becoming a dominant formation. It rises in great humpbacks…In the wingate, arches appear everywhere.”

Student Nature Journal Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Student Nature Journal
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
As an educator of Utah’s young citizen scientists and budding nature writers, I delight in escorting children along trails just like these described by those writing before, watching
them notice, wonder, and then record in words and sketches the Utah that speaks to them the most clearly. It is true, as Pamela Poulsen wrote in her foreword to Claude Barnes’s chronicles of the Wasatch Range through the seasons, that “nature divulges its innermost secrets only to them who consistently tread its by-paths.” I’ve found that the longer I sit with pen and paper, the more seems to happen, or at least the more I notice and wonder.

My 6/2020 Journal Page Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
My 6/2020 Journal Page
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Sweat bees come and go;
Cumulus clouds, too.
Shadows shift,
squirrels scurry.
Winged visitors land on my pages,
tasting my sketches,
testing my adjectives,
begging me to dig deeper
through the Douglas fir cones
and caddis fly larva casings
to find the magical secrets that
capture
why I am Shannon Rhodes
who is Wild About Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Barnes, Claude T. The Natural History of a Mountain Year: Four Seasons in the Wasatch Range.
University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. 1996. https://www.amazon.com/Natural-History-Mountain-Year-Seasons/dp/0874804744
Online Version, Digitized by Google, Original within the Cornell Library https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924003085440&view=1up&seq=10

Becker, R. “Modern Wanderings Along the Waterpocket Fold,” Utah Historical Quarterly,
Vol. 83, no. 4, 2015. https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/uhq_volume83_2015_number4/s/10433654

Jones, S. “Early Explorers: Lake Legend, Quest for Silver, Brought First White Man to Area 231
Years Ago.” Deseret News, October 20, 1996. https://www.deseret.com/1996/10/20/19272182/early-explorers-lake-legend-quest-for-silver-bro
ught-1st-white-man-to-area-231-years-ago

Powell, J. W. “Down the Colorado: Diary of the First Trip through the Grand Canyon, 1869,” in Paul
Schullery, ed., The Early Grand Canyon: Early Impressions (Niwot: Colorado Associated University Press,
1981). http://www.paulschullery.com/the_grand_canyon__early_impressions_119197.htm

Rhodes, Shannon, Wild About Nature Journaling, Wild About Utah June 22, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-about-nature-journaling/