On the heels of Pollinator Week, it seems appropriate to celebrate another important member of the arthropod family, arachnids. These are our eight legged friends that often find themselves flushed down, stomped on, screamed at, and generally disrespected. It's difficult to change the mind of someone afraid of spiders, those fears run deep, but they really are unfounded. If we learn more about spiders and can look past the body and all of those legs to appreciate their usefulness, maybe we can do our best to try capturing them in a cup and setting them free outside or even letting them live where they're happiest and well-fed (which, sorry, may be indoors), rather than eliminating them. The thought of spiders may give you the creeps or give you an epic shudder, but believe it or not, a spider inside is not a bad thing ! For example, did you know that spiders eat many household pests like cockroaches, earwigs, flies, moths and disease carrying mosquitoes? Those are bugs that live in your house and do feed on you, your kids and your pets. While you sleep, they may be preventing you from getting diseases. Spiders also help crops by feeding on damaging insects like aphids and destructive caterpillars. So they can prevent diseases, assist farmers with crops, and many spin intricate, stunningly beautiful webs. Spiders are sounding better already, aren't they? We should be putting them on the payroll, no squashing them!
One more thing, since we aren't a preferred food source, they rarely attack humans. Very few are deadly or even toxic to us. So when you see that itsy bitsy spider climbing up the water spout, let it climb on and protect you from the real nasty critters lurking in your home, garden or yard.
Okay, one last note! Some are also quite beautiful if you can bring yourself to get close enough for a look. Above is a harmless banana spider found in the tropics. How can you not appreciate that beauty?
Below are several very busy honey bees. What pollinators are in your garden or back yard? If you want to celebrate pollinators this week as well as protect them, always choose native flowering plants, shrubs and trees over exotic species. If a plant’s label says insect resistant, that’s a bad thing! And remember to never use pesticides of any kind in your garden or yard.
If you’re looking for an awesome read this summer, grab a copy of Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home. You’ll be visiting your local nursery and requesting natives, ASAP!
If you've always wanted to learn about birds and birding, migration is a great time to get out and do it! Birders are very excited during this time of year and you will find numerous guided tours through local Audubon centers and town conservation commissions. Google: "Guided bird tours near me" and see what comes up! You can also sign up for birding email lists and Facebook groups to receive notifications when birders are going out, as well as alerts about rare birds are in your area. Birding is fun, it's healthy (you get exercise, fresh air and vitamin D!) and you'll be so happy you took that leap! Most birders are happy to take a beginner "under their wing" since everyone needs to start somewhere and we all know that first you learn, then you participate and then you are more likely to conserve, and we all want birds protected.
Remember, you can play your part to keep migratory birds safe and healthy by eliminating pesticides from your lawn and garden, growing native plants that attract insects which are a critical food source for many migratory birds, only buying Bird Friendly Certified coffees and never cutting trees in the spring and summer (nesting season). We don't want to lose these treasures, so we all need to do our part to protect them.
Below are a few of the amazing migratory birds you may see in your area during the months of May and June. Many of these are east coast species.
Can you tell the difference between poison ivy seedlings and red maple seedlings? Early spring when both begin to grow (and quite often occupy the same habitat) these two seedlings may cause some confusion. Right now they are both a couple of inches tall and easy to miss in your lawn or garden. In the photos below you can see the obvious differences, which will hopefully help you identify them and avoid making a mistake and winding up with contact dermatitis, i.e. the itchy poison ivy rash.
Unless it has been browsed, poison ivy has three leaftlets per leaf which are alternate along the stem. The seedling leaflets can be red or green and fuzzy, shiny or dull. Red maple has a simple leaf, which grows opposite along the stem and can be red or green as well, but not usually fuzzy. See below.
Poison ivy seedlings vary in appearance as much as they do in habitat, so be on the lookout for those inconspicuous seedlings since they can deliver a nice dose of urushiol to that bare, unsuspecting forearm while gardening.
Check out our Rash Plants app for more identification tips for poison ivy, oak and sumac and stay safe this spring!
Spring has finally sprung and that means bears are on the move! Adult bears (and cubs) are emerging from their dens for what is possibly their first big meal in months. An easy target, and often one of their first, is the backyard bird feeder. Bears have become a little too comfortable dining on feeders filled with suet, black oil sunflower seeds, and dried nuts and berries throughout the spring, summer and fall. In response, several organizations have agreed upon a bird feeding timeline which keeps bears safe and feeds birds during the time of year they really need it. The official dates are: December 1 - April 1.
You can safely put feeders up December 1st but remember to take them down April 1st. Note: These dates may shift with climate change.
If your feeders have been hit by bears during the night (and occasionally during the day - see photo below), then you know the damage is usually irreparable. Replacing feeders and poles after repeated attacks is costly, but that's only half of the problem. The other more critical half is that bears become accustomed to humans and no longer fear us, which creates nuisance bears resulting in bear/human conflicts. Although black bears rarely attack humans, they are wild animals and should be treated with caution, especially a sow with cubs. If bears become a nuisance, they are typically dealt with by wildlife officials which means they are either relocated to areas where they will be safe from human interaction, or more commonly euthanized.
We all love our birds and bears, so if you abide by those dates (December 1- April 1) and feed the birds only when a) they really need to be fed and b) during times bears are less likely to hit feeders, everyone wins!
Every year, on the first warm rainy night of spring (usually around 55 degrees), wood frogs, spring peepers and mole salamanders (which include several mid-sized, stout-bodied salamander species) begin a mass migration to the vernal pools where they breed. This event is commonly referred to as the "big night." It is impossible to set a calendar appointment for this event, but keep an eye on the temperature in your area and when the mercury rises from the 40s to the 50s, especially if there is a warm week prior to the first rainy warm(ish) night, be on the lookout. If possible don't drive on nights you think may be a potential "big night" to avoid hitting migrating amphibians.
How can you identify a vernal pool? They are typically small (some may be larger) ponds that fill with water for a short time during spring. Most dry up by the end of summer. In some areas, vernal pools may fill after fall rains. These small, temporary ponds may not sound very impressive, but they are critical breeding habitat for amphibians. What makes them so important to amphibian survival is the absence of predators, such as fish, during the egg and larval stages of frogs and salamanders. If you happen upon a vernal pool, look for egg masses and tadpoles as well as fairy shrimp (a tiny crustacean) and other animals that you will only find in a vernal pool in spring. If you're interested in learning more about vernal pools, you can contact local nature organizations, such as Audubon centers to find and explore vernal pools in your community. If you'd like to participate in citizen science programs for mapping and certifying vernal pools, simply do a Google search for vernal pool mapping near you or contact your state university extension office for guidance.
What are threats to vernal pools? Mainly development and adverse effects of habitat alteration. Even though there are rules and buffers in place to protect wetlands and vernal pools, impacts are inevitable. If a pool is protected but not the surrounding woods where amphibians spend the other 11 months of the year, the population will decline. Other factors contributing to vernal pool decline are pollution, water table changes and a warming climate that will dry up pool prematurely.
Vernal pools are a unique habitat and if you have an opportunity to explore one, definitely do it! Always be mindful that there may be amphibians on the move and the area surrounding the pools is also sensitive, so tread lightly!