Tag Archives: critters

The Grasshopper Olympics

by Barbara Walvoord

(first published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of August 25, 2016)

Many of us watched the Olympic broad jump and high jump this past week. But if you walk in Lathrop’s meadows or fields these days, you’ll see some even more astonishing jumping going on—grasshoppers, leaping to get out of your way. This one, in the Cranberry meadow on the east campus, kindly stayed put long enough for me to get a photo.

If we humans could leap as far as grasshoppers in relation to our body size, we could jump nearly half a football field. A grasshop-per’s hind legs function like miniature catapults. When it wants to jump, the grass-hopper contracts its large flexor muscles slowly, bending its hind legs at the knee joint. A special piece of cuticle within the knee acts as a spring, storing up all that potential energy. When the grasshopper is ready to jump, it relaxes the leg muscles, allowing the spring to release its energy and catapulting its body into the air. Plus, the grasshopper has wings. When migrating, grasshoppers can stay in the air for up to three days.

And they do all this on a mostly vegetarian diet—grasses, leaves, and crops. It’s the crops part that gets grasshoppers mentioned in the Bible, as a plague. Swarms of grasshoppers, often called locusts, can decimate huge areas. If we were to eat like grasshoppers, we would eat half our body weight every day. So instead of “eat like a pig,” you could say, “eat like a grasshopper.”

However, grasshoppers are themselves food for our birds, snakes, and foxes. In many parts of the world, grasshoppers also feed humans. One grasshopper contains six grams of protein. So our Inn menu could contain roasted grasshoppers or grasshopper fritters. You can find out how to catch them, humanely kill them, clean them, and prepare them at http://www.wikihow.com/Cook-Grasshoppers.

By Bible times, grasshoppers were already an old species–300 million years–older than dinosaurs. But individual adult grasshoppers are only around for about three months. They spend 9 months in their eggs, including overwinter. They’ve hatched by now and are busy laying the eggs for next summer’s generation. Our grassy fields, maintained without pesticides, provide a home and a jumping ground for these amazing Olympians.


Lathrop’s Busy Bees

by Barbara Walvoord

There are more than 200 different bee species in New England, 4,000 in the U.S., and 20,000 worldwide.  Their names often reflect how busy they are: You’ve got the miner bee, the carpenter bee, the digger bee, the wool cutter bee, the plasterer bee, the leaf-cutter bee, and the mason bee.

So what are our busy bees doing this time of year?

One thing they’re doing is finding flowers, which provide all their food. Honey bees and bumblebees  live in colonies, so the foragers have to bring back enough food for themselves, for all the bees who perform other tasks in the hive, for  the queen, who only lays eggs, for the larvae who hatch from those eggs, and for whatever humans, bears, or other thieves help themselves to the honey along the way. Once brought to the hive, the pollen has to be chewed, mixed with a bit of honey and bee secretions, stored in cells, then chewed again and fed to the larvae.  Whew. Continue reading Lathrop’s Busy Bees

Why Did Our Turtle Cross the Road?

by Barbara Walvoord

 After hibernating in the mud of our ponds and streams all winter, Lathrop’s turtles have emerged, found a mate, enjoyed sex (underwater sex for some species), and now the females are full of eggs.

To heck with water; these babies will need dry ground at first.  So mama turtle leaves the water and crawls to an upland spot to dig her nest and lay her eggs. Sometimes, that means crossing a road.

A car hit a painted turtle on Mulberry Lane the other day and killed it. Here’s what you can do to help our turtles cross our roads: Continue reading Why Did Our Turtle Cross the Road?

Yaaay! Look at those Dead Bushes!

by Barbara Walvoord

Barberry is a dangerous invasive. It can take over a woods, as this web photo shows, forming an impenetrable barrier that fails to support wildlife, but does increase the tick population.


Lathrop’s north campus have a lovely forest full of native plants, but in spring 2014, we noticed barberry coming in, because it greens up before most native plants do.  Virtually all the light green in this photo is barberry:


So we got to work, with resident volunteers and funding from the Kendal Charitable Fund, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts,  and the Northampton Community Preservation Act. Our wonderful contractor, Polatin Ecological Services, used the most environmentally friendly methods to remove the invasives. Below is what the same spot looked like in 2016, but a bit later in the spring, so you can see that the barberry has not leafed out, and native ferns and other plants are now taking its place.  Scientific studies suggest that our forest now supports more native wildlife. Hooray!


See for yourself–on the north campus, take the right-hand path, cross the bridge, and then turn right along the brook about twenty yards until you see this bent tree. Both campuses–look for dead bushes throughout our forests.

We now have about 50 acres of forest on both campuses that are free of invasives or in process of being treated.  

Chipmunks at Lathrop: Omnivorous and Omnipresent

by Barbara Walvoord

Around any garden on either campus, you may hear  imprecations directed at those frenetically active, omnipresent and omnivorous little creatures that like to eat our seeds, bulbs, plants, and berries (plus acorns, nuts, mushrooms, insects, and bird eggs).

You’d think that a critter that weighs only 3 ounces wouldn’t eat much, but in fact, they not only eat on the spot, but they store up to 8 pounds of food in their extensive burrows.

And then they multiply.  About now, the female is making special seductive “chip” sounds, which make the guys come running.  She will give birth to up to 9 babies, nurse them for a month, teach them to forage, and then, in fall, produce another litter. Continue reading Chipmunks at Lathrop: Omnivorous and Omnipresent

A Lathrop Opposum–Right Out in Daylight!

by Barbara Walvoord

On the north campus last week,  several of us saw an opossum, in the middle of the day, right there on the lawn near some bushes, bold as you please. Opossums are nocturnal, so why was it there?

Opossums are immune to rabies, so that wasn’t it.

A bold animal in spring might be trying to draw you away from babies in a nearby den, but  mama opossum carries her babies with her in a pouch, like a kangaroo, or, later, on her back.  The mother’s womb is very small, so babies are born soon after conception. The tiny newborns (20 can fit into a teaspoon) must crawl up the mother’s belly into her marsupial pouch, attach to one of her teats, and hold on for dear life.  The teat swells in the baby’s mouth to help it stay attached. We saw no bulging pouch or back-riding babies on this opossum, so perhaps she was between litters (she’ll have up to 3 per year). Continue reading A Lathrop Opposum–Right Out in Daylight!

We Shot Our Porcupine–On Camera

by Barbara Walvoord

Last year, Eleanor and Richard Johnson and their family saw a porcupine in the big hole in our 250-year-old Addison’s Oak, on the east campus, directly west across the meadow from the  community garden.  Now, finally, Chuck Gillies has captured our porcupine in a photo.

Our porcupine does not hibernate in winter, but might have stayed “holed up” during particularly bad weather. Otherwise, it has ventured out to eat bark. I’m sure that none of our Lathrop creatures is more grateful for spring, with its abundance of soft leaves and skunk cabbage. Continue reading We Shot Our Porcupine–On Camera