Two nights ago good friends called to report that an animal had been screaming in their woods for about five hours, and asked if I knew what creature sounded like a human baby crying. Because I am naturally curious, I had to see for myself what was making this commotion, so I headed over to the woods by their house. It was immediately apparent from the cries that whatever was making them was in the forest canopy. Looking up, you could see the leaves moving quite dramatically, and then suddenly, WHUMP! A large porcupine fell out of the sky and onto the ground a mere 10 feet from where we stood. It’s hard to say who was more surprised, the porcupine or the humans who narrowly escaped having a porcupine fall on their heads. Upon close examination, it appeared that the porcupine must have tangled with one of its brethren, for several quills were sticking out of its face, with the pointed ends in the porcupine’s skin. Apparently no bones were broken, as it eventually ambled off and climbed a nearby tree. Perhaps a territorial dispute? One can only hope that somehow the porcupine miraculously manages to extract these newly acquired quills.
The long-beaked insects known as weevils are actually a type of beetle. Weevils are chewing insects and their mouth parts or mandibles are located at the very tip of their snout. They use this beak to drill through the shells of nuts, fruits, bark and other plant parts so that they can feed on the softer material within. Female weevils also insert their eggs deep into plant tissues using these same drill holes. Some weevils are considered pests of the plants (white pine, spruce, alfalfa and strawberries, among others) they eat and lay eggs in. The majority, however, are innocuous, and some even eat plants like dandelions, purple loosestrife and other plants generally considered to be weeds in the Northeast.
Unlike most birds’ eggs, those of the red-winged blackbird hatch asynchronously – that is, they don’t all hatch at the same time. Instead, their hatching is spread over several days. During seasons when food is short, the young which hatch last often starve, as the earlier-hatched young, being larger and stronger, are the first to be fed, and thus deprive their siblings of food. Having eggs hatch in succession is believed to be an adaptation that allows the size of the surviving brood to balance with the amount of available food.
Being popular prey animals, white-tailed deer have evolved an extremely good sense of smell, sight and hearing. Their elongated noses are filled with an intricate system of nasal passages that contain millions of olfactory receptors – up to 297 million (dogs have 220 million, humans just 5)! As the tongue in this photograph infers, deer lick their nose to keep it moist, which helps odor particles stick to it, improving their sense of smell. Not only do deer use their sense of smell to avoid predators (including hunters), but they use it to communicate with each other, as is evident from the seven scent glands on their head, legs and hooves.
It’s fairly obvious that the eggs and young of ground nesting birds are extremely vulnerable. Eggs survive long enough to hatch in only about half of all wild turkey nests. Predators, typically opportunistic feeders, look for the easiest and most accessible meals available. Because of this, ground nesting birds, such as the wild turkey, often have a larger clutch of eggs than tree-nesting birds Raccoons, opossums, skunks, crows and ravens will readily raid a turkey nest. A nearby field was mowed yesterday, and much to the owner’s dismay, a turkey nest containing eggs was left exposed – but the 11 eggs were intact. The mother returned to the now-exposed nest, but upon visiting the nest this morning, a mere 12 hours later, I discovered the nest empty except for one egg which had been emptied of its contents.
Next to the green frog, the pickerel frog is the most abundant frog in New England. It is often confused with the northern leopard frog, which it closely resembles. The spots on a pickerel frog’s back are squarish and aligned in rows, whereas the leopard frog’s spots are rounded, and randomly scattered over its back. In addition, the male pickerel frog has bright orange on the inner surface of its hind legs, which the leopard frog lacks. The pickerel frog is very sensitive to pollution, so its presence is indicative of good water quality.
If ever there was a species which defied the notion that males don’t participate enough in raising their offspring, it would be yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Without fail, the male parent keeps up with his mate in numbers of visits to their nesting hole, as well as the amount of food he collects and brings to the nest. He also partakes in nest cleansing. Often, when the male and female of a species’ plumage is similar, as in woodpeckers, you will find that that they share rearing responsibilities. The young of cavity nesters mature more slowly than open-nesters because their nest site is safer. They also leave the nest at a relatively later stage of development, when they can fly well, even though they have no room to practice flapping their wings.
Five years ago the U. S. Senate designated the last week of June as “Pollinator Week” in honor of all the bees, bats, butterflies, beetles, birds and other creatures responsible for transporting pollen from one plant to another plant of the same species for over 75% of all flowering plants (wind does most of the rest). In the U.S. pollination produces nearly $20 billion worth of products annually – think chocolate, almonds, apples, coffee, blueberries, etc.
(Cipripedium reginae), have never been common, but due primarily to habitat loss, it is even more unusual to come across them today than in the past (there are currently only 15 known populations of them in all of Massachusetts). Look for these pink and white orchids in fens — wetlands that resemble bogs, but differ from them in that they are less acidic, have higher nutrient levels and can support a more diverse plant and animal community. Showy lady’s slippers are at their prime right now in central Vermont.
It’s that time of year again
– when female snapping turtles leave their ponds and seek sandy soil in which
to dig a hole and bury their eggs. Usually
20 or 30 ping pong ball–size eggs are laid, but there can be as many as
80. The sex of the turtles that hatch
from these eggs is determined by the temperature of the eggs during their
two-to three-month incubation. Because
they are not all at the same level in the ground, the eggs incubate at
different temperatures, assuring that each batch of eggs produces both male and
As a rule, parent songbirds, even if they themselves prefer fruits and seeds, feed their young an animal diet rich in proteins – insects and other small invertebrates — and they do so fairly frequently. The contents of a pair of chickadees’ beaks that you see here are only a few of the meals that were delivered to their young within two short hours this morning.