2017-10-07 / Outdoors

Wolf Tracks

Outdoor Columnist
Dave Wolf

October is a time of community festivals and dramatic changes in our landscape. Many of us look forward to the brilliant shades of red, orange, and gold that signal the change of season.

According to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), scientists have Those who study the science of nature’s multi-colored display have changed some of their thinking. Three factors influence fall color — leaf pigments, length of night, and weather -- but not quite in the way we were told as children.

The timing of color change in leaves, and when they fall to earth, are primarily regulated by the increasing length of night. None of the other environmental influences, such temperature, rainfall, food supply, and so on, have nearly the impact that we were taught to believe.

As days grow shorter, and nights grow longer and cooler, biochemical processes in the leaves begin to paint the landscape with nature’s multicolored hues.

During the growing season chlorophyll is continually used, broken down, and replaced, allowing the leaves to appear green. As length of night increases in the autumn, chlorophyll production slows and stops.

Eventually, all the chlorophyll is destroyed, and the carotenoids and anthocyanins already present in the leaf are then unmasked, permitting their stunning colors to be seen.

Tree species have characteristic colors. Oaks turn red, brown, or russet; hickories show golden bronze; aspen and yellow poplar become a brilliant yellow; dogwoods develop a purplish red tint; beech, light tan; and sourwood and black tupelo, crimson.

Maples differ by species. Red maple turns brilliant scarlet, sugar maples glow orange-red, and black maple a rich yellow. However, the little striped maple becomes almost colorless

Leaves of some species such as the elms simply shrivel, turn brown, and fall to the ground.

As we sit in the splendor of fall, or perhaps spend time in Coudersport at this weekend’s aptly named Fallings Leaves Outdoor Show, consider how fortunate you are. There are few places on earth that provide the diversity of tree species that can be found in northcentral Pennsylvania.

And, just to add to the colorful splendor, keep your open for any of those gorgeous monarch butterflies that might still be around, ready to begin their incredible journey to their wintering grounds in Mexico.

It’s interesting to consider that a butterfly’s brain -- if it could be called that -- is probably no larger than a grain of sand. Yet inside it lies a sophisticated global positioning system.

How do they do it? No one knows for sure. Some speculate that like honeybees, they use the sun for orientation; others believe it may have to do with earth’s electromagnetic field.

Sometimes you’ll spot them perched on flowers. They may appear to be comfortably enjoying a well-deserved rest, but they’re also feeding on the flower’s sweet nectar, refueling for the long journey ahead.

Yes, October offers so many amazing sights as the month progresses. Make sure you take the time to appreciate these miracles of nature.

(Dave Wolf can be reached by email at wolfang418@msn.com.)

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