An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Archive for May, 2011

American Toad Eggs Hatching

American toad eggs are hatching, and as they do so, thousands of tiny, black tadpoles attach themselves to underwater vegetation and hang vertically, with their heads up. In a week or so, they will crowd the edges of ponds in dense aggregations. Research shows that the tadpoles from the same egg mass tend to stay together as a “school” during this stage. In roughly three weeks, they will begin to transform into tiny toadlets.

Chipping Sparrow Eggs Hatching

The female chipping sparrow builds her nest in three or four days. It’s usually made from rootlets and dried grasses, and lined with horse or other animal hair and fine plant fibers and is so unsubstantial that you can often see light through it. The 2 - 7 pale blue-to-white eggs hatch after about two weeks, and the young fledge in 9 to 12 days. As you can see in this photograph, the colorful, open gaping beaks of the nestlings make easy targets for food-bearing adults. (To see an adult chipping sparrow, go to

Wolf Spiders

Wolf spiders capture prey by hunting them, not by catching them in a web. Two of their eight eyes are enlarged, giving them excellent eyesight with which to locate prey. Typically wolf spiders are solitary, and hunt alone. The females carry their white egg sac with their spinnerets, which are located at the tip of their abdomen (and are also the structures through which silk leaves their body). You can tell them from similar looking nursery web spiders by how they transport their egg sacs. Nursery web spiders carry their egg sacs in their chelicerae, or mouthparts and pedipalps (front appendages which resemble legs).

Spring Peepers Still Calling

Although spring peeper courtship in Vermont peaked about two weeks ago, they are still calling with gusto in flooded meadows and on the edges of ponds. Two different calls can be heard – one is aggressive, as the peeper is defending a territory roughly 4 to 16 inches in diameter (a trill of varying length) and the other is advertising for a mate (a single high note). Researchers have found that a male spring peeper repeats his advertising call about 4,500 times on any given night during the breeding season.

Red Efts

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Because of all the rain we’ve had, little orange salamanders are everywhere!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        These red efts have a fascinating life history.  Eggs are laid in a pond,
and hatch into larval salamanders referred to as eastern newts (previously
called red-spotted newts).  Eventually the larvae shed their gills, grow lungs,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         turn reddish-orange and crawl out onto the land, where they are called red efts.
After spending three to seven years on land, they turn olive-green
(still maintaining the red spots they possessed as red efts) and return to the
water, where they spend the rest of their lives and are referred to once again as
eastern newts.


Morels are probably the best known and most sought after of all the edible fungi. They fruit in the spring, and all species are edible. The chambered head, or cap, of a morel consists of pits and ridges, giving it the common name “honeycomb morel.” This is where its spores are produced. The pictured morel, Morchella esculenta, typically appears in May. In my opinion it is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the stomach.

Beavers and Their Diet

A beaver consumes between 1 ½ to 4 ½ pounds of bark, twigs, tree leaves and herbaceous vegetation every day. By far the most preferred tree is poplar, or aspen, an acre of which would produce enough energy for 10 beavers for over a year. It is very amusing to watch a beaver eating the bark of branch. It holds it in both hands, and rotates the branch as it eats it, much as we eat an ear of corn. Smaller twigs are stuffed into their mouths and eaten whole. A beaver can digest only about 33% of the cellulose taken up; hence, the fibrous, wood chip-filled appearance of their scat (which is always deposited in water).