Category Archives: critters

It Was a Warm and Rainy Night . . .

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for April 21-27, 2018

Snoopy thinks a “dark and stormy night” is the best setting for drama.  But a warm, rainy spring night is the setting for an amazing drama in Lathrop’s vernal pools.

On one such spring night, hordes of 7-inch spotted salamanders emerge from underground hibernation in the forest. They begin a dangerous, life-or-death march to a vernal pool to mate and lay their eggs.  Vernal pools dry up periodically, so they have no fish, which would otherwise eat all the salamander eggs. So it’s vernal pool or bust.

Predators’ talons, claws, and jaws snatch many of the marchers, but the rest keep going. Continue reading It Was a Warm and Rainy Night . . .

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New Discoveries at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of April 14-10

We humans at Lathrop might be a bit like Christopher Columbus, claiming to “discover” something, when lots of creatures knew it was there all along.  But, led by the distinctive “quacking” of mating wood frogs, we’ve “discovered” two vernal pools on the east campus (in addition to the ones already identified on trail maps for east campus and Fitzgerald Lake: https://lathropland.wordpress.com/trail-map-easthampton/)

Wood frogs can live ONLY in vernal pools, which dry up periodically and thus have no fish to eat the wood frog eggs. (Sounds, photos, and information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EF0DZ8TQBd8.)

Columbus reported his discovery to his queen.  We will register our vernal pools with the state, which protects these increasingly rare habitats. Continue reading New Discoveries at Lathrop

Who’s Climbing our Trees?

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of April 7-13, 2018

Archeologists say that our human progenitors started out swinging through trees, but later came down to live on land.  So our Lathrop trees don’t contain many humans (except the occasional grandchild).  But our trees do contain lots of other creatures.

One of the animals in our trees is the porcupine, photographed here on the north campus by resident Joan Cenedella.  For a porcupine, trees are home (they nest in tree cavities), dinner (they eat bark, buds, shoots, and leaves), and safety. Continue reading Who’s Climbing our Trees?

Teddy Bear Picnic at Lathrop

Teddy Bear Picnic at Lathrop

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for March 30-April 6, 2018.

Massachusetts is the third most densely populated state in the nation for people, and it’s becoming more and more densely populated with bears. So the state has a website about them. https://www.mass.gov/service-details/learn-about-black-bears

Our Lathrop bear population has undoubtedly grown over the winter, as pregnant sows have each birthed 2-3 cubs.  Out of the den by now, they’re all hungry, because the kids are growing and mom hasn’t eaten all winter.

Their first question is, “Where’s the picnic?” Continue reading Teddy Bear Picnic at Lathrop

Loners Go A-Courtiin’ at Lathrop

Loners Go a-Courtin’ at Lathrop

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for March 24-31, 2018

Woodcocks are loners.  The dads mate with multiple females and take no responsibility for child rearing. The moms lay their eggs on the ground.  If the eggs are threatened, mom may feign injury to draw away the intruder, but is quite quick to abandon the eggs. Mom feeds the babies for a week, and then it’s out on your own, kids.  During the summer, woodcocks mostly stay to themselves, walking along the forest ground, eating a paleo diet—meat (from worms, spiders, beetles, ants, and thousand-leggers), with a few salad greens on the side.  When disturbed, woodcocks remain still, their mottled coloring making them almost invisible. Continue reading Loners Go A-Courtiin’ at Lathrop

Single Female Seeks Polygamous Male for Hookup. No Childrearing Responsibilities

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Feb. 10-17, 2018

Our skunk females at Lathrop have not been truly hibernating, though they have been hunkering down in dens, sometimes with several other adults, sinking into a torpor, but emerging during balmy nights to search for nuts, seeds, old berries, mice, voles, garbage, and food left out for birds, cats, or dogs. Skunks prefer a second-hand den dug by foxes or woodchucks, but if they have to, they’ll dig their own den, which might extend 3-4 feet below the surface and be up to 20 feet long, ending in a comfy chamber lined with grass and leaves. 

About mid-February, our lady skunks are beginning to look for love, though from our point of view, it’s hard to tell what a gal sees in this mating thing.  When she finds a guy, he holds her by the scruff of the neck with his teeth and climbs on from the rear.  After sex, he wanders off to find other females, and when the babies are born, about two months later, he takes no responsibility for any of them. In fact, if he finds them, he may even kill them. Continue reading Single Female Seeks Polygamous Male for Hookup. No Childrearing Responsibilities

Winter Dens at Lathrop

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Feb. 3-9, 2018

We know that our Lathrop bears are hibernating in their cozy dens.  But also, in the ground, tiny dens hold hibernating bumblebee queens (Bombus sp.), who, along with hundreds of other native bee species, help pollinate our crops and our flowers.

These hibernating bumblebee queens were born last summer.  The old queen who produced the new queens is dead now, as are all her other children: the early-born female worker bees who helped her all summer, as well as all her male children, who didn’t help at all, but flew off in pursuit of one of those new queens.  After mating, the males all died. Only the new queen survived, carrying her eggs in her body, slumbering in her underground den, using up the body fat she gained last summer from gorging on nectar.  Continue reading Winter Dens at Lathrop