Sunday, December 1, 2013
Northern Water Snakes are one of the most common snakes encountered at Eagle Creek Park - they are non-venomous, but sadly are frequently confused with the venomous Cottonmouth (aka Water Moccasin) which only occurs in one location in extreme southern Indiana. Northern Water Snakes usually swim or slither away as fast as they can if they encounter a human, but if grabbed or cornered they'll defend themselves by biting vigorously. Like most wild animals, they're best enjoyed with a hands off approach!
This particular Water Snake happens to be fairly mellow for her species - she generally doesn't try to bite or strike when handled, although she does have an occasional grumpy day (and who doesn't?)
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Tom N. took a photo of the Chorus Frog Eggs we found attached to a stick in the pond - thanks Tom! Amphibian and reptile eggs in Indiana are protected. It is illegal to remove them from their pond or nest, although after checking with IDNR we were told it was ok to look at them briefly, for educational purposes, as we are doing here.
Smallmouth Salamander Eggs would be similar, but not quite so many and a bit larger. The Chorus Frog eggs will hatch within a few days to a few weeks, depending on the temperatures (with 80 degree days predicted, the eggs will probably develop quickly!). The tiny tadpoles will spend about two months in the pond, feeding on pond scum and algae, before going through metamorphosis and leaving the pond as tiny froglets about the size of your thumbnail. The froglets and adult frogs will spend the rest of year living in the forest, rarely seen by humans, will hibernate under the leaves and in underground burrows made by other animals, to emerge again in the spring and head to the pond to start the cycle all over again!
Sunday, December 20, 2009
We kept them all together in a large screened cage for their first few weeks where there was a pretty high attrition rate - so far we have six survivors. This is probably similar to their survival rate out in the wild; most of the hatchlings would fall prey to larger insects.
This one is munching on a fruit fly. A mantis eats by grabbing the prey with its folded pair of front legs and then digging right in and munching on the fly once it has a good grip. As the mantises get bigger, we will switch them to larger insects like crickets.
As the mantises grow, they crawl out of their old skins, leaving an empty "molt" behind. It's amazing how you can see every detail on the empty skin, even the antennae, and the spikes on the front pair of legs. The mantis hatchlings with molt several times until they reach their adult and final molt, at which point they will have fully developed wings and will be able to fly. This process, where the young insects closely resemble the adults, is known as incomplete metamorphosis. Insects such as butterflies, beetles, and flies, which have a larval forms known as caterpillars, grubs, and maggots and form a pupa before the adult stage, go through complete metamorphosis.
Contrary to popular belief, praying mantises in our area are not endangered, and you won't go to jail if you kill one although we'd prefer that you didn't. We have three species of praying mantis in our area: the native Carolina Mantid (Stagmomantis carolina) and two introduced species, the European Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) and the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis).
Our babies are of the Chinese Mantis variety - they will eventually reach between 3-5 inches in length. The adults are often brown with green stripes down the edges of the wings. Chinese Mantises were introduced into North America in the late 1800's as a source of pest control - these are usually the species shipped if you order mantis egg cases in the mail, although the release of non-native species is usually frowned upon in most areas.
The native Carolina Mantis is much smaller than the Chinese Mantis - usually around 2 inches, and is often a dusty brown in color. The European Mantis is slightly larger and often pale green in color.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
The mutations that cause albinism, leucism, and other similar conditions can occur in humans, birds, fish, reptiles, insects...pretty much any creature that possesses color pigments. Many of our domestic animals, such as rabbits, chickens, and laboratory rats and mice, have been deliberately bred to produce white animals.
Several years ago I raised a litter of orphaned opossums with one leucistic baby, who stayed with me as an educational opossum:
For some animals, like polar bears, snowy owls, and mountain goats, having white fur or feathers is a survival advantage, not a liability, allowing them to adapt and survive in cold and snowy climates. A few, such as the Arctic fox and snowshoe hare, can even shed their fur and change from brown to white as the seasons change!
Check out this website if you'd like to see more photos of these fascinating "Ghosts of Nature"
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota, also known as wild carrot, is a familiar sight along roadsides and open fields. It was introduced from Europe and is considered an invasive weed in many areas, as it can outcompete native plants; however, the leaves do provide food for the caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. The large, carrot-like taproot is edible. Not surprising when you consider that the "wild carrot" is actually the ancestor of our modern cultivated carrots. Use extreme caution if you decide to take a nibble - Queen Anne's Lace closely resembles the deadly poisonous Water Hemlock! Both are members of the parsley family, Apiaceae, which also includes Fennel, Caraway, Anise-seed, Rattlesnake Master (an unusual prairie plant), and Celery.
The flowers of Queen Anne's Lace are compound --composed of many tiny flowers clustered together. They often have one or more dark purple-red flowerlets at the very center, drops of Queen Anne's blood where she pricked her finger while making lace, at least according to legend.
Wild Forget-Me-Not, Myosotis sylvatica, is another exotic species, introduced from Europe and Asia. It prefers rich, waterside soils, and has been blooming all summer along the marshy inlet at the base of the amphitheater. Forget-Me-Nots are often used as a symbol of enduring love. In a rather sad legend about the origin of the name, a knight fell into a river while walking with his sweetheart, and tossed her this flower that he pulled from the river's edge, shouting "forget me not," before the weight of his armor pulled him under.
Virginia Knotweed, Polygonum virginianum, is common throughout the woods of Eagle Creek. When the seeds are ripe, they will explode away from the stem at the slightest touch, giving the plant its other common name of "Jumpseed."
By far the most noticeable late summer wildflower at Eagle Creek is White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima. The clusters of white flowers create dense stands through much of the forest understory of the park. White Snakeroot contains the toxin tremetol and is poisonous when eaten, which probably explains its success in areas with high deer populations.
When European pioneers began settling the Midwest in the early 1800's, many of them became ill and even died from the mysterious "milk sickness." One of the most notable victims was the mother of Abraham Lincoln, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. It was not until the 1900's that the cause of milk sickness was officially determined: tremetol poisoning, from cattle that had grazed on white snakeroot plants (Although she never received official recognition, Dr. Anna Bixby probably discovered the cause several years earlier: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milk_sickness.) Normally, cattle avoid the bitter leaves, but if they were being kept in woodland areas with few other sources of forage, they would eat it if they had no other choice.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
For more detailed information on Indian Pipes and their weird and wonderful lifestyle, try these links:
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The flowers of the Serviceberry are short-lived, only a week or so, so enjoy them while you can! After the flowers are done, small red-purple fruits form - they look and taste somewhat like blueberries, and are a tasty snack for birds. Sometimes people use them to make jams and jellies as well, if they can manage to beat the birds to them! Many species of caterpillars feed on Serviceberry leaves, providing food for baby birds and insect-eaters, and making it a great native tree to plant for wildlife value. The timing of the appearance of Serviceberry flowers coincides with the "shad run," hence the name "Shadbush." (Shad are a type of fish that swim to their spawning grounds in the spring). The name "Serviceberry" is also related to the timing of the flowers: when pioneers saw the Serviceberry blooming, they knew that the ground had thawed enough to bury anyone who had died over the winter, and the beautiful flowers could also be used as decoration for the funeral service. The Native Americans used the straighter branches of the Serviceberry to make arrow shafts, and used the berries in combination with fat and dried meats to make pemmican. Serviceberry is a member of the rose family, along with blackberries, raspberries, apple trees, hawthorn, pears, and strawberries - you can see the resemblance in the shape of the flowers.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Fox Squirrels will nest in hollow trees (or sometimes attics), but they also build nests of dead leaves and twigs high in the treetops. These leafy nests are known as dreys, and winter and early spring before the trees leaf out is the best time to see them. (Nests of large birds can be similar in size, but usually don't contain dead leaves.) Summer dreys may be small and loosely constructed, but winter dreys and dreys built by a mother squirrel for raising babies are sturdy, intricately woven, and lined with soft, insulating material. Fox Squirrels in Indiana can have at least two litters of babies per year: one in early spring, and a second in mid to late summer. The first litter is sometimes born as early as February, although the mother squirrels take a gamble with the chance of severe spring weather. Newborn squirrels are pink and hairless, but despite their lack of fluffy squirrel tail, they are still identifiable by their long front toenails.
A litter of baby fox squirrels was found in a gutter of a house a few days ago - the mother apparently nested in the gutter and the babies were washed out by heavy rains. The babies already have fur and have their eyes open, so they were probably born some time in February. Before I sent them to a wildlife rehabilitator, I got a video clip of the babies trying out some solid food for the first time. As you can see, they're still a little wobbly! The babies will be released back into the wild as soon as they are old enough.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Here's a video clip of a male Spring Peeper calling, with another nearby, probably a female. The male really puts his whole body into the effort of calling - hopefully the female peeper was impressed!
And another short clip of a peeper calling - this one looked like he waved at me!
Peepers were the only frog we heard calling, but I did spot one very sleepy Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) poking her head up. Spring Peepers spend the winter in the forest, burrowed underground. They actually have an anti-freeze-like substance in their bodies that prevents them from suffering damage from sub-freezing temperatures. Bullfrogs, on the other hand, spend the winter under the ice of the pond, hibernating in the leaves and muck at the bottom. Because of the cold temperatures their energy needs are very low, and they can take in enough oxygen through their skin to sustain them.I could tell this Bullfrog was a girl because her tympanum, or ear, the little circle just beneath her eye, is smaller than the eye. On a male Bullfrog the tympanum is larger than the eye. This doesn't work for Spring Peepers, but you can still tell the males apart by the yellowish or dark brown deflated vocal sac on their throats, while females have white throats.