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Archive for June, 2017

Snapping Turtle Nests Raided

7-3-17 raided snapper nest 001Female Snapping Turtles spend a lot of time and effort finding suitable sandy soil in which to dig their nest and lay their eggs. Some turtles have been found laying their eggs as far as a mile from the nearest water source. Once she has laid her eggs and covered them with soil, the female snapper returns to her pond, leaving her eggs to hatch on their own, and the hatchlings to fend for themselves.

It is estimated that as many as 80 to 90 percent of all turtle nests are destroyed by predators, weather conditions and accidental disturbances. Most of the damage is done by predators – skunks, raccoons, foxes, crows, among others. Most nests are discovered by smell, and most are raided at night. The fluid that coats the eggs, that is lost by the mother during egg laying or is lost through breaks in the eggs, produces a smell that is easily detected by predators. While a majority of nest raids happen within the first 48 hours of the eggs being laid, studies have shown that predation occurs over the entire incubation period (June – September). The pictured Snapping Turtle nest was dug up and the eggs consumed 10 days after they were laid.

If you are aware of a spot where a turtle dug a nest and laid eggs, you can try to protect the nest from predators by placing either a bottomless wire cage or an oven rack over the nest site, and putting a heavy rock on top. The tiny hatchlings will be able to escape through the openings but hopefully, if the rock is heavy enough, raccoons and skunks will become discouraged and give up trying to reach the nest.

The next Naturally Curious post will be on 7/5/17.

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Saving Grassland Birds

6-29-17 bobolink 009Grassland birds are disappearing in the Northeast. Among the species affected are Bobolinks, whose numbers have been declining since the 1900’s. One of the primary reasons for this decline is the mowing practices of farmers. Boblinks nest on the ground, in fields. Farmers’ now mow earlier and more frequently than in the past. Their first mowing (which has the highest protein content and the greatest yield) coincides with Bobolinks’ peak nesting time. These birds migrate 6,000 miles from their wintering grounds in South America and arrive in New England to breed in mid-late May, with young hatching in mid-June. Needless to say, many of their nests fail to produce young given the current mowing schedule of many farmers.

An organization called The Bobolink Project was formed to help farmers protect grassland birds. They accept donations which they use to reimburse farmers who sign up to delay their first cut of hay. This allows nesting grassland birds such as Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows, Upland Sandpipers, and Grasshopper Sparrows to hopefully remain undisturbed until the successful fledging of their young. To learn more about adjusting mowing schedules to outside the peak breeding season of grassland birds (May 15 – August 15) and The Boblink Project, go to www.bobolinkproject.com .

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Wolf Spiders: Maternal Duties Coming To An End

6-28-17 wolf spider 069Just a few days ago, this adult female wolf spider’s abdomen was covered three-spiders-deep with newborn wolf spiderlings. Wolf spiders, unlike most spiders, do not abandon their eggs. They carry their egg sac around with them until the eggs hatch, grasping it with spinnerets located at the tip of their abdomen. Not only does the female not desert her eggs, but she also provides protection for her newborn spiders. After hatching, the several dozen or more young crawl up onto her abdomen, where they ride around for several days. Eventually they drop off and begin a life of their own. In this photo, only three spiderlings remain (look closely) and they abandoned ship within the hour.

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Cooperative Warbling Vireo Nestlings

6-27-17 fecal sac 117Shortly after being fed, most songbird nestlings produce what is called a fecal sac – a mucous membrane (usually white with a dark end) that contains their excrement. This sac enables easy removal of the chicks’ waste by the parents. In an effort to keep its young healthy and to reduce the chances of predators finding the nest, the parent takes the fecal sac in its beak, flies away and discards it some distance from the nest.

Some nestlings, including those of Warbling Vireos, are extremely cooperative when it comes to assisting their parents in keeping the nest clean.  Just prior to producing a fecal sac they position themselves with their rear ends up in the air (see photo), where their parents can easily procure the fecal sacs when they appear.

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Luna Moths’ Sonar Scramblers

6-26-17 luna moth 001Luna Moths, Actias luna, are known for their hindwings’ beautiful, long, green tails. These tails are not simply decorative, nor is their primary function to attract a mate (pheromones do that). A recent study found that Big Brown Bats have an easier time catching Luna Moths that have lost their tails. Further research revealed that Luna Moths defend themselves from voracious bats patrolling the night air by spinning the tips of their two wing tails in circles. The twisting tails of the moth act like a sonar shield, interfering with the bat’s means of locating them – echolocation. In contrast with the stronger, ever-changing echoes coming off of the moths’ large flapping wings, the twisted shape of the tails create a persistent weak echo signal. According to researchers, this could make the insects trickier to catch, and harder to track as they fly.

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Cedar-apple Rust Galls Maturing

6-23-17 orange cedar gallsIf you have both Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana) and apple (Malus spp.) trees, you may be privy to the show of a lifetime on your cedar tree one of these days. There is a fungus, specifically a rust fungus, that needs two hosts, Eastern Red Cedar and apple trees, to complete its life cycle. In order to survive, the fungus must “move” from one host species to another.

If contaminated by the cedar-apple rust, an Eastern Red Cedar tree will have small, woody brown galls on its twigs for the better part of a year. Following a warm spring/early summer rain, these brown galls transform into orange, gelatinous growths the size of a golf ball, adorned with “telial horns” that point in all directions. The function of these horns is to disperse spores. If the spores happen to land on the leaf of an apple or crabapple tree, and conditions are just right, galls will result. These galls look very different from the cedar’s galls. Small, yellow spots on the upper surface of the leaves appear after affected apple trees bloom. The spots gradually enlarge and become yellow-orange-red. Small, raised, black dots form in the center of the leaf spots on the upper surface of the leaves as the leaf spots mature. (Apple trees may defoliate early or spots may develop on the surface of the apple as a result of this rust.) Very short, finger-like, fungal tubes protrude from the lower surface of the leaf directly below the spot which release yellow to orange powdery spores. If the wind carries them to an Eastern Red Cedar, the cycle continues. The complete cycle of cedar-apple rust takes 24 months to complete and requires infection of two different hosts.

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Black Bears Communicating

6-21-17 black bear by Alfred 2017-05-24 15.35.19Black Bear males are not shy about making their availability and intentions known to the opposite sex. Their most prevalent means of communicating this information is to leave their scent on trees (as well as other structures, such as telephone poles– see photo) by scratching them with their claws, biting them and rubbing on them with their shoulders, back and neck. Often they will use the same marking tree year after year, with signs accumulating on the tree.

Both males and females mark trees year-round, but at this time of year, at the peak of their mating season, males are especially active markers, in order to convey their social identity, reproductive status and location to female passersby. One might consider such marking trees as ancient “scratch.com” mating sites. If you find one, be sure to look for stray hairs that have been inadvertently left behind. (photo by Alfred Balch)

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