Category Archives: critters

Going South for the Winter

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for Nov. 10-23, 2018

When we Lathrop human residents go south for the winter, we generally mean Florida or even Mexico.  Some of our Lathrop creatures think the same.  We’ve watched our monarch butterflies leave for Mexico, and maybe we went up to Mt. Tom to watch the hawks flying by on their way to warmer climes.

But to our juncos, Lathrop IS “south for the winter.”  They’ve spent the summer in Canada, in monogamous pairs, breeding and raising their young.

Some males may stay here in New England, while the females go on south to, say, Maryland or North Carolina. The guys probably do this in order to get back to Canada as quickly as possible next spring, so they can claim the best territory.  A gal, meanwhile, can spend the Continue reading Going South for the Winter

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Birds! The Lathrop Cafeterias are Open All Winter

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for Nov. 10-16, 2018

Birds—you’ll be happy to know that Lathrop’s “Native Garden,” “Meadows,” and “Forest” cafeterias will remain open all winter.  We had to brush hog 1/3 of our east campus meadows so they don’t turn into a woods, but we left 2/3 of them standing.  The Inn native garden, and some resident gardens on both campuses, leave seed-pods standing, so you can get to them even when it snows.  Both campuses also have many shrubs and trees with seeds or berries.

Birds, note in the photo above that some of the seeds in our Inn garden are already eaten, so get yours early, like this goldfinch!

American Goldfinch Facts: An American Goldfinch pulling seeds from a seedhead.

We’ve been trying to eliminate the “junk food” section of our cafeteria– invasive shrub honeysuckle,  Japanese barberry, burning bush, multiflora rose, buckthorn,and oriental bittersweet.  A resident ornithologist calls them “bird candy,” because they’re not as nutritious for you as native berries.  Even worse, non-native buckthorn berries give you diarrhea, which weakens you, so avoid those especially. Instead, in our winter cafeterias we have been working hard to provide healthy foods like native winterberries, maple-leaf viburnum, chokeberry, and crabapples.

Our Meadows are STILL Full of Butterflies

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2018

Our monarch butterflies have left for Mexico, but many butterflies will stay all winter. They survive in an astonishing variety of life stages—as caterpillars, as adults, or in cocoons–tucked into crevices, resting on the ground, rolled up in leaves, or attached to twigs.

The pearl crescent caterpillar stops eating its usual aster plants and spends the winter resting at the base of the plant until spring.  The adult arctic skipper crawls into a crevice or tree bark and goes into a dormant state.

Some butterflies, like this black swallowtail, overwinter in a cocoon.  In summer, it will stay in the cocoon only 2 weeks, but if the chrysalis forms in Fall, it will go into a hibernating state called “diapause” until warmer spring weather.

At Lathrop, we save our overwintering butterflies by mowing only 1/3 of our meadows and fields each year, so that 2/3 of the overwintering butterflies survive.

In a garden, the more plant material you can leave over the winter, the more butterflies you will save.  Leave fallen leaves on the ground. Continue reading Our Meadows are STILL Full of Butterflies

The Well-Equipped Traveler

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Sept. 22-28, 2018

A well-equipped forest traveler needs three things: a defense against danger, a food supply, and a compass to find the way home. This little red eft that Doris Atkinson found on the east campus Bassett Brook Loop Trail is a well-equipped traveler.  It’s a juvenile eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), at this stage called a red eft.  We can’t tell sex at this point, but let’s call this one Eft—a guy.

This past spring, Eft was born from an egg his mother had attached to underwater vegetation in a pond.  All summer long, Eft stayed in the home pond, breathing with gills and eating small aquatic creatures like mosquito larvae.  Infant mortality was shocking–98% of Eft’s siblings were eaten by predators.

Now, as fall approaches, Eft, the lucky survivor, has exchanged gills for lungs and is leaving his natal pool to spend his 2-3 “teenage” years traveling in the woods.  His Continue reading The Well-Equipped Traveler

Caterpillars on my Dill!

By Barbara Walvoord, Aug. 4-17, 2018

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Aug. 4-17, 2018

Cute little caterpillars have appeared on Daphne Stevens’ dill plants on the north campus.  Her neighbor Carol Neubert sent me a photo, asking, “What are they?”

They’re Eastern black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes).  Let’s call this one “Pap.” Continue reading Caterpillars on my Dill!

A Butterfly Reveals All

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for July 28-Aug. 3, 2018

When you humans see us butterflies flitting from flower to flower, you may think we’re playful and carefree.  But actually we’re frantic.  As a butterfly, there’s a lot to do before you die, and for most of us, 2-3 weeks is it.

First, ya gotta eat.  Flowers are your only food.  And not all flowers.  Those tubular flowers?—you have to be one of the species of butterfly with a long tongue.  And some of us males, like the tiger Continue reading A Butterfly Reveals All

Wanted: Skunks

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post of July 21-27, 2018

Skunks seem to be on homeowners’  “most wanted” list of criminals. The internet is full of ads by companies that will get rid of them for you.

At Lathrop, though, we want our skunks.

We do?  But won’t we get sprayed?  Not likely.  Skunks are not aggressive.  They move about mostly at night and try to avoid contact with us. When threatened, they spray their scent only as a last resort.  First they will hiss, growl, and stamp their front feet.

A Canadian government website calls skunks one of the most beneficial animals for gardeners and farmers.  They eat chipmunks, voles, mice, and rabbits, as well as grubs and insects that destroy crops.  In fact, skunks proved such an efficient enemy of the hop Continue reading Wanted: Skunks