Generally speaking, Common Loons return to northern New England from their coastal wintering waters sometime in April or May. Males and females pair up after they arrive at their ponds, and several weeks later they breed and build a new nest or renovate an old one, with the male choosing the actual nest site. Successful nests sites are often reused from year to year, especially if the male returns. Protection from wind, waves and predators is paramount. Because their hind legs are positioned so far back on their body, loons are awkward walkers, at best. Thus, they usually build their nest adjacent to water so that they can easily slip onto and off of it. The nest is constructed during the day by both adults and is made of vegetation that the loons collect close to the nest. A loon often sits on the nest while collecting material, stretching its head down into the water in order to retrieve vegetation which it then places on the nest. Two eggs are laid, usually between mid-May and early June. After being incubated by both parents, the eggs hatch in roughly 28 days. As this photograph indicates (egg just visible below loon’s body), material continues to be added to the nest during incubation.
It’s that time of year again, when female aquatic turtles, including Snapping Turtles, are leaving their ponds to lay eggs. You are looking between the front and hind legs of a Snapping Turtle in this picture. The 30 to 40 eggs she’ll probably lay look like ping pong balls, only slightly smaller. As each egg is laid, she moves her front foot back to meet the egg, in what looks like an effort to ease it gently down into the pile of eggs below. When finished, she will bury the eggs and return to her pond. In three or four months, the eggs will hatch, and usually the young turtles emerge and head for the nearest pond (sometimes they overwinter underground). The sex of the turtle that hatches from each egg is determined by the temperature the egg was while it was incubating underground.
Hermit thrushes, Vermont’s state bird, are typically ground nesters east of the Rocky Mountains (west of them, they tend to nest off the ground) and often, as in this case, choose a nest site that is in a patch of Lycopodium, or ground pine. Usually a branch from a nearby tree, a fern, or some other taller vegetation provides cover and effectively conceals the nest. The female hermit thrush builds the nest and begins incubation after the last of her three or four eggs is laid. Twelve days later the eggs hatch, and twelve or thirteen days after that the young fledge.
Congratulations on correctly identifying the trails as being made by turtles! Even though you did not have the benefit of knowing their width, many of you took a stab at the naming the species of turtle that made them. Hats off to Jason, who correctly identified them as wood turtle trails, especially as it is relatively early in the season for them to be laying eggs.
Two female wood turtles (so-called because of the resemblance of their top shell, or carapace, to wood), were on their way out of a shallow wetland to dig into soft sand about 6” deep and lay their (4 – 18, usually 8 or 9) eggs. The size of the footprints, tail drag and 7-inch flattened shell path help to identify these trails as those of wood turtles. Although you can follow the tracks and see exactly where the trails end, it would be hard to detect that excavation and egg-laying has taken place at these sites, as the holes have been filled in and smoothed over with the turtles’ bottom shells, or plastrons. Predators with a good sense of smell, such as foxes, raccoons and skunks, however, have very little trouble locating turtle nests. Research shows that 85% of wood turtle eggs and hatchlings are lost to predation. The wood turtle population is in decline in the northeast in part due to human development which not only decreases wood turtle habitat and increases the number of people collecting these turtles, but also increases the number of predators. (The wood turtle in the photograph has just laid her eggs and smoothed over the nest site in front of her head by walking backwards over it while pressing her plastron to the ground.)
The mating season for spring peepers lasts two months or more, and judging from the sound that is coming from ponds and woodlands these days and nights, it is in full swing. Once a singing male is successful in attracting a female, he mounts and clasps her while depositing his sperm on her eggs. She lays up to 800 eggs, either singly or in small groups, on plants within the male’s territory. The frogs remain joined (a position known as “amplexus”) for up to four hours. After egg-laying and fertilization is completed, the female peeper returns to the woods; the male remains at the pond and resumes singing.
Sitting on top of the snow, still as a statue, a spring peeper gathers strength to make the long trek to open water, where, if it is a male, it will exercise its voice for the first time in many months. Like the gray treefrog and wood frog, spring peepers can freeze as solid as a rock for several months during hibernation and then, on a warm day, thaw out in a few hours and resume a normal, active life. The formation of glucose and ice crystals that form outside of cells enable this phenomenon to occur. Once hibernation has come to an end, peepers seek out wetlands, vernal pools and ponds to breed and lay eggs before they return to their home on the forest floor.
April 8, 2013 | Categories: Adaptations, Amphibians, Animal Adaptations, April, Egg laying, Frogs, Hibernation, Mating, Ponds, Spring Peeper, Vernal Pools | Tags: Hylidae, Pseudacris crucifer | 9 Comments »
As a result of many years of evolution, spiders have developed the use of different silks produced by seven glands for various functions (ballooning, webs, wrapping prey, dragline, egg sac, etc.). The tubuliform gland is responsible for the large diameter silk fibers used in the construction of egg cases. Unlike other silk glands, which synthesize protein throughout a spider’s lifetime, the tubuliform gland synthesizes silk for only a short time in a spider’s life, just before eggs are laid. This silk is synthesized only by female spiders, and is the stiffest type of silk, which makes it a very protective covering for eggs. The pictured overwintering spider eggs had three layers of protection: bark (the photo is of the underside of a piece of loose bark), an outer silk cocoon covering the egg sac and the egg sac itself – a tough layer of silk covering the eggs. (Reluctantly I opened the sac for the sake of an educational photograph, and did my best to re-wrap the eggs.)
If you’re looking for a present for someone that will be used year round, year after year, Naturally Curious may just fit the bill. A relative, a friend, your child’s school teacher – it’s the gift that keeps on giving to both young and old!
One reader wrote, “This is a unique book as far as I know. I have several naturalists’ books covering Vermont and the Northeast, and have seen nothing of this breadth, covered to this depth. So much interesting information about birds, amphibians, mammals, insects, plants. This would be useful to those in the mid-Atlantic, New York, and even wider geographic regions. The author gives a month-by-month look at what’s going on in the natural world, and so much of the information would simply be moved forward or back a month in other regions, but would still be relevant because of the wide overlap of species. Very readable. Couldn’t put it down. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the natural world, but there was much that was new to me in this book. I would have loved to have this to use as a text when I was teaching. Suitable for a wide range of ages.”
In a recent email to me a parent wrote, “Naturally Curious is our five year old’s unqualified f-a-v-o-r-I-t-e book. He spends hours regularly returning to it to study it’s vivid pictures and have us read to him about all the different creatures. It is a ‘must have’ for any family with children living in New England…or for anyone that simply shares a love of the outdoors.”
I am a firm believer in fostering a love of nature in young children – the younger the better — but I admit that when I wrote Naturally Curious, I was writing it with adults in mind. It delights me no end to know that children don’t even need a grown-up middleman to enjoy it!
November 23, 2012 | Categories: Plants, Insects, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds, Mammals, A Closer Look at New England, March, Animal Signs, April, Gastropods, June, Fungus, Arachnids, July, August, September, October, Crustaceans, November, December, Animal Tracks, January, Bird Songs, February, Spring Wildflowers, Trees and Shrubs, Raptors, Non-flowering plants, Bird Nests, Predator-Prey, Butterflies, Flowering Plants, turtles, Frogs, Dragonflies, Senses, Moths, Carnivorous Plants, Toads, Beetles, Hymenoptera, Arthropods, Millipedes, Flies, Snails, Slugs, Odonata, Animal Adaptations, Pollination, Decomposition, Lepidoptera, Metamorphosis, Bugs, Scat, Insect Signs, Larvae, Beavers, Poisonous Plants, Mutualism, Snakes, Adaptations, camouflage, Parasitic Plants, Damselflies, Spores, Waterfowl, Conifers, Animal Architecture, Hornets, Seeds, Winter Adaptations, Rodents, Lichens, Fruits, Tracks, Animal Communication, Tree Identification, Woodpeckers, Deciduous Trees, Foxes, Porcupines, Birds of Prey, Bark, Tree Buds, Trees, Woody Plants, Weasel Family, Courtship, Owls, Nocturnal Animals, Hibernation, Black Bears, Scent Marking, Feathers, Insects Active in Winter, Molts, Grasshoppers, Diets, Sexual Dimorphism, Migration, Shrubs, Honeybees, Insect Eggs, Fishers, Falcons, Ephemerals, Young Animals, Warblers, Plumage, Red Foxes, Caterpillars, Leaves, Vernal Pools, Lady's Slippers, Invertebrates, Bumblebees, Animal Diets, Nests, Micorrhiza, Egg laying, Ants, Seed Dispersal, Fledging, Moose, Pupae, Bogs, Anti-predatory Device, Wading Birds, Wasps, Ducks, Food Chain, Muskrats, Herbivores, Carnivores, Bats, Herons, Diptera, Cervids, Deer, Defense Mechanisms, Mimicry, Cocoons, Chrysalises, Earwigs, Fledglings, Mushrooms, Parasites, Galls, Animal Eyes, Shorebirds, Squirrels, Striped Skunks, Yellowjackets, Vertebrates, Tree Flowers, Spiders, Crickets, Passerines, Gray Foxes, Vines, Red Squirrel, Evergreen Plants, Orchids, North American River Otter, Snowfleas, Social Insects, Flying Squirrels, Gills, White-tailed Deer, Bird Diets, Omnivores | Tags: Christmas Gifts, Naturally Curious, Naturally Curious by Mary Holland | 2 Comments »
Snails and slugs are very similar, except for a slug’s lack of a shell. Both are hermaphroditic, possessing male and female reproductive organs. In some species an individual may behave as a male for a while, then as a female. In a few species, self-fertilization occurs. Some species mate and lay eggs in the spring, some in the fall. Most snails and slugs that hatch in the spring can begin egg laying in the fall. The eggs of both snails and slugs are tiny, white or cream-colored, round and laid in roughly one-inch diameter clusters of 30 or so eggs. Look for these clusters under rotting logs, where they are protected from drying out as well as from freezing. (Remember to place the log back exactly as you found it.)
Between being able to swivel its head nearly 180 degrees, and having two large compound eyes and three simple eyes, the Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) misses very few insects within reach. Due to its green or brown coloration, the Praying Mantis is well camouflaged as it lies in ambush or stalks its prey. Spines, tooth-like tubercles and a claw near the tip of each foreleg enable this predator to have a secure grasp on the moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and other insects it consumes. (A Praying Mantis in Pennsylvania was photographed successfully capturing a Ruby-throated Hummingbird!) The pictured female is heavy with hundreds of eggs she will soon lay in a foam case she whips up.
September 13, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Animal Adaptations, Arthropods, Egg laying, Insect Eggs, Insects, Invertebrates, Predator-Prey, September | Tags: Mantidae, Mantids, Mantodea, Praying Mantis | 3 Comments »
July 6, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Arthropods, Bees, Egg laying, Hymenoptera, Insect Eggs, Insect Signs, Insects, June | Tags: Bee Larvae, Egg Cells, Insect Eggs, insects, Larvae, Leafcutter Bees, Megachile, Metamorphosis, Pollen | 2 Comments »
Congratulations to those who recognized yesterday’s Mystery Photo! The tiny green cells are made from the leaves of almost any deciduous trees, and are cut and folded by leafcutter bees (Megachile genus). These solitary bees are about the size of a honeybee, but are much darker, almost black. They construct cigar-like nests (often in soil, holes in wood made by other insects, or plant stems) that contain several cells. After gathering and storing a ball, or loaf, of pollen inside the cell, the bee lays an egg and seals the cell shut. When the egg hatches, the larval bee feeds on the pollen and eventually spins a cocoon and pupates within it. An adult bee emerges from the cocoon and usually overwinters inside the cell. In the spring the bee chews its way out of the cell. Leafcutter bees pollinate wildflowers, fruits and vegetables and are also used as pollinators by commercial growers of blueberries, onions, carrots and alfalfa. (Photo submitted by Jan Gendreau.)
July 6, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Animal Signs, Arthropods, Bees, Egg laying, Hymenoptera, Insect Eggs, Insect Signs, Insects, Invertebrates, June, Leaves, Metamorphosis, Mystery Photo Submissions, Plants | Tags: Bees, Hymenoptera, Insect Metamorphosis, Leafcutter bee, Megachile, Megachilidae, Pollinators, Solitary Bees | 1 Comment »
This impressive egg-laden, 2-inch long female Broad-necked Root Borer (Prionus laticollis) was attempting to lay her eggs when I discovered her. She repeatedly extended and retracted her ovipositor (pointed, egg-laying structure at tip of abdomen) in an attempt to probe the packed dirt in my driveway, but finally moved on to softer soil. Female Broad-necked Root Borers insert clumps of eggs into the ground. When the eggs hatch, the larvae tunnel downward to feed on the roots of a variety of shrubs and trees. In the spring they pupate, and adults, such as this female, emerge. This whole life cycle is thought to take three years.
July 3, 2012 | Categories: Arthropods, Beetles, Egg laying, Insects, Invertebrates, July | Tags: Arthropods, beetles, Broad-necked Root Borer, Coleoptera, Egg-laying, insects, Invertebrates, Ovipositor, Prionus laticollis | 1 Comment »
June 20, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Bird Nests, Birds, Egg laying, June, Nests | Tags: Bird Defenses, bird nests, Bonasa umbellus, Galliformes, Gallinaceous birds, Partridge, ruffed grouse, Ruffs | 4 Comments »
My recent quest for finding moose was successful – and my most striking observation, other than their imposing size, was the presence of a multitude of flies on and around the hindquarters of every moose I saw. I assumed they were deer flies, but they didn’t appear to be bothering the moose and research revealed that, in fact, they were moose flies, Haematobosca alcis. These flies can be seen throughout the spring and summer in dense swarms over and on the rumps of moose — five hundred or more may accompany a single moose. Unlike most other biting insects, both male and female moose flies feed on their host’s blood. Although not considered a serious pest (moose tend to pay little attention to them), moose flies may be responsible for sores often found on the hind legs of moose. It is thought that female moose flies may be stimulated by gases released by the moose when it is defecating, after which the female flies descend and deposit eggs into crevices in the moose’s scat.
June 11, 2012 | Categories: Adaptations, Animal Adaptations, Egg laying, Flies, Insect Eggs, Insects, Invertebrates, June, Mammals, Moose | Tags: Alces alces, Deer family, Flies, Haematobosca alcis, Moose, Moose Flies | 6 Comments »
Wood Turtles (named for the woody appearance of their shells) are primarily river and stream-dwelling reptiles. They forage for food on land near streams, where, at this time of year, they also lay their eggs. Like most turtles, female Wood Turtles seek out sandy soil in which they dig several holes (to confuse predators) and choose one in which they usually lay seven or eight eggs. Their diet consists of both plants and animals, with berries and mushrooms at the top of the list. Earthworms are also a favorite, and their method of attracting them is a sight I would like to see — they stamp their front feet alternately in order to get earthworms to surface from their underground burrows. The Wood Turtle population in New England is in decline (collecting has greatly reduced their population) and any sighting of this species should be reported to state Fish & Game as well as, in Vermont, the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas.