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Jul 22, 2019 10:49 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

The July Heat

Jul 22, 2019 2:53 PM

We experienced a couple of very hot days this past week. Some of us sought relief at the beach, others took shelter in their air conditioned homes. Many of us that go barefoot for most of the summer had to don footwear to protect the soles of our feet on superheated decks and asphalt, and we quick-stepped over the hot sand for a dip.How about the local wildlife, how did they deal with the extreme heat? Insects seemed to thrive in the hot spell. My garden was abuzz with over a dozen different species of insects nectaring at flowers. Monarch butterflies paired up and danced over the milkweed patch. After mating, the females sought milkweed leaves to lay single eggs throughout the garden. Although I’ve had a number of monarchs in the backyard all month, this past week witnessed the largest concentration of these beautiful butterflies so far this year.

The nocturnal equivalent of our diurnal butterflies—the moths—were also very active this past week. And the dragonflies, an interesting group of insects that have been here in large numbers since May, continued to actively pursue winged prey during the hot spell.

With insects seeming to be unaffected by the heat, a number of other insect predators were quite active, namely the birds. Many songbirds are busy raising young. The most nutritious meal for the hungry hatchlings is one high in protein, and insects fit the “bill.” Many friends commented about our largest insect-eating bird, the wild turkey, and the number of adults seen on roadsides with young chicks this past week.

There are a few animals that attempt to avoid the heat with a strategy employed to deal with freezing cold temperatures in winter. No, not migrating, but finding a “microenvironment” that is significantly cooler than the average air temperature and going dormant there until the weather changes. Not unlike the hibernation strategy, metabolic rate is suppressed to reduce energy demands and feeding needs. Called estivation, it is common among the ectotherms, or cold-blooded creatures, that have limited ability to regulate their internal temperature. Box turtles have most likely retired to cool, shaded, damp areas where they will wait out the heat spell, and they are capable of sitting tight for several weeks without food or water.

Trumping the heatwave has been the daily show out on the ocean, often clearly visible from the beach: humpback whales and pods of dolphins feeding on the huge schools of Atlantic menhaden in the area. The recovery of menhaden populations here since their collapse in the mid-1960s has been a factor in not only attracting marine mammals, but has greatly increased the productivity of nesting ospreys and eagles in the region. No wonder some have dubbed it “the most important fish in the sea.”

It may be uncomfortably hot on land, but the bay and ocean water has been beautiful. Join me for a fun, one hour long, open water swim workout with East Hampton YMCA coach Tim Treadwell on Monday and Friday mornings at 8 a.m. and Wednesday at 7 a.m. We meet at Albert’s Landing Road Beach. All abilities are welcome.

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