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.”
Pap is here because, several weeks ago, a male swallowtail staked out a territory near Daphne’s dill plants and vigorously defended it against other males.
Pap’s mom, after mating with him, laid her eggs on a plant that Pap and his sibs would be able to eat—which means a member of the carrot or citrus family, including dill. If she lays her eggs on the wrong plant, the kids won’t recognize it as food or won’t be able to overcome the plant’s toxins, and will die.
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 swallowtail, need to sip at mud puddles to get the salt and minerals we need for our, ahem, virility. Not so easy in a drought.
And it’s dangerous out there. You could be dinner for birds, lizards, frogs, toads, chipmunks, or voles, not to mention other insects, who you think would have a sense of kinship, but no. Actually, your best defense is your bright colors, because they tell predators your body contains poisons. If you’re a monarch, for example, your body still contains the poison from the milkweed you ate as a little squirt.
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→
On July 9, nine residents trekked through fields and woods to the far north section of the east campus along Bassett Brook. This land is largely invisible to most residents. It lies beyond our trails and beyond the “Free Fifty” acres of forest from which we’ve removed invasives in the past.
It’s still a basically healthy forest, quiet and beautiful, with maples and pines on rolling slopes along the multi-channeled Bassett Brook and its wetland. But scientific research shows that the increasing presence of invasive plants like multiflora rose, shrub honeysuckle, and oriental bittersweet could significantly reduce the wildlife our land can support (http://www.inwoodlands.org/what-do-our-private-invasive/).
Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, May 19-25, 2018
Several dozen residents joined resident leaders Judy Hyde and Susan Smith for birdwalks on both campuses earlier this month. They saw 38 different species on the north campus, and 29 on the east.
A pleasant surprise on the north campus was a Cooper’s hawk—described as a secretive, inconspicuous species, particularly in the breeding season.
So who was Cooper? Surprise! William C. Cooper was a 19th century scientist who collected specimens of all kinds of animals including birds, and was one of the founders of the New York Academy of Sciences. Cooper’s friend Charles Lucien Bonaparte (nephew of Napoleon) relied on one of Cooper’s specimens in 1825-33, while compiling his four-volume American ornithology, or, The natural history of birds inhabiting the United States, not given by Wilson : with figures drawn, engraved, and coloured, from nature. In honor of his friend, Bonaparte named “Cooper’s hawk.” Continue reading Surprise–A Cooper’s Hawk→
Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, May 12-18, 2018
Walking along Mulberry Lane on the east campus this week, the unexpected patch of green (right side of the photo) might warm our hearts, when other shrubs are still brown, or just beginning to leaf out (left side of the photo). In a few weeks, the green shrubs on the right will burst into fragrant white blooms. Later, the red berries will attract many birds.
But in fact, the thicket of green shrubs on the right is very wrong. The shrubs are invasive honeysuckle from Asia—so invasive that it is now illegal to import, propagate, or sell them in Massachusetts. The Indiana DNR reports, “Asian bush honeysuckles grow so densely they shade out everything on the forest floor, often leaving nothing but bare soil. This means a great reduction in the food and cover available for birds and other animals. Serious infestations can inhibit tree regeneration, essentially stopping forest succession. Higher rates of nest predation have been found in Amur honeysuckle than Continue reading What’s Wrong with this Picture?→
Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post April 28-May 4, 2018
By Barbara Walvoord
Our Lathrop architects, trying to find places to put new cottages, scratch their heads over all the wetlands, pools, and streams that lace our east campus land, but the American toad that Sharon and I found behind our cottage the other day is thrilled. She (we’ll call her a she) needs water to lay her eggs, and nearby land to live as an adult.
Unlike our salamanders and wood frogs, which need vernal pools free of fish, our American toad tadpoles can survive in any body of water, because they secrete a poison that fish learn to avoid.
Our toad mom will recently have heard the irresistible trill of a male, gone to meet him in the slow-moving water in the wetland behind our cottage, and let him jump on her back. She will have released up to 20,000 eggs in long, jellied strings, as he released his sperm to fertilize them. Continue reading Lathrop’s Water and Land: Perfect!→