Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, a member of the Rose family, grows throughout New England and is one of the parent plants for the cultivated hybrid strawberry (the other plant being native to Chile). Its fruits are a staple food for many animals but the leaves and flowers of this plant are also an important source of sustenance for a wide variety of creatures. Cottontail rabbits, snowshoe hares, eastern chipmunks, white-footed mice, white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, slugs and a variety of invertebrates including aphids, weevils and mites feed on the leaves of wild strawberry. The flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies and other insects that collect its pollen and nectar. Caterpillars of several species of moths feed on the foliage and flowers of Wild Strawberry.
Beavers are meticulous housekeepers, in that they almost always defecate in the water, not in their lodge, and rarely on land. The best place to find their scat, should you be so inclined, is where they have been working for an extended period of time — for example, in the water adjacent to their dam. Their scat consists of kumquat-size pellets, which, as you might expect, are full of tiny bits of woody fiber. The pellets are essentially little balls of sawdust, and disintegrate easily if disturbed. Their light color makes them visible even under water. Congratulations to all who guessed correctly — I’ll make the next mystery post even more challenging!
Contrary to their name, fishers seldom eat fish. While they prey on a wide range of animals and even plants, their preference is for small mammals (80% of their diet), snowshoe hares and porcupines. Because fishers are well equipped to kill porcupines, and because there is little competition for them, porcupines are an important prey of fishers –up to 35% of fisher diet samples contain the remains of porcupines, as this photograph of fisher scat attests to. There is no mistaking the bumpy porcupine foot pads (and quills)!
Although some ponds have had open water in spots all winter, many have remained frozen over until the recent warm weather started to melt the ice. The first open water often appears close to the lodge and along the dam of a beaver pond. It doesn’t take long for resident beavers to detect an opening, for it’s a ticket to fresh food! The first plant that beavers head for, if it’s growing in the area, is skunk cabbage. Being the first wildflower to push up through the snow, it’s usually available when ponds first open up. Aspen, willow and alder leaves, grasses, the rhizomes, leaves and flowers of water lilies, sedges, ferns, fungi, berries, mushrooms, duckweed and algae are eaten in the spring and summer by these large rodents we think of as strictly bark eaters. Photograph by Kay Shumway.