backyard animals · backyard bugs · insects · Nature Academy of the Berkshires


giant water bug headThis guy was flopping around in the sink. At first glance I thought it was a cockroach, but it was a giant water bug (true bug hemipteran), scientific name Belostomatidae. Its an aquatic insect, but they do fly at night in search for mates.  These bugs have  good eyes for both underwater and out of the water vision.  And the fathers are the ones who take care of the young. The female lays the eggs on their backs and the males protect the eggs until they are ready to hatch.

But don’t touch! They may be interesting to look at but they have biting, piercing sucking mouth parts that inflict a painful bite with poison that can hurt for weeks. Their weapon is a rostrum 1/4 the length of their bodies. They use it to inject prey with digestive saliva and then suck the insides out. Prey can be anything from an aquatic invertebrate, snails, fish, frogs and even snapping turtles.

backyard animals · backyard bugs · Berkshire Bioblitz · global climate change · insects · invasive species · leaves · mushrooms · Nature Academy of the Berkshires · plants

Tally for Berkshire Bioblitz 2017

algae 2017This year’s Berkshire Bioblitz was fun and educational! The weather was perfect.  We held it in Great Barrington MA at Thomas & Palmer Brook as part of the 50 year celebration of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

Finally tally for the day was: 542 species.

We found one of the biggest red oak trees in Berkshire County measuring 16 feet across! Some rare algae, and the beaver entertained us during the owl prowl by slapping his tail and getting water all over Berkshire Naturalist: Jason Crockwell.

This year’s Berkshire Bioblitz was hosted by Berkshire Natural Resources Council, and sponsored by Dr. Augie’s and the Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT). Special thanks to Mariah from BNRC and Elizabeth from BEAT for all their help and organization.
butterfly girl 2017

Next year William’s College is hosting the Berkshire Bioblitz at Hopkins Forest–and its going to be a big one! Keep posted for more details.

backyard bugs · Berkshire Bioblitz · global climate change · invasive species · plants

Berkshire Bioblitz 2017

This September in Great Barrington!

This year’s Berkshire Bioblitz will be held on on September 16-17, 2017 in Great Barrington, MA at Thomas & Palmer Brook as part of the 50 year celebration of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

Join us for 24 hours of biodiversity immersion! Starting at 12 noon on Saturday September 16th and running through until 12 noon Sunday September 17th.

There will be nature walks with over 20 specialist.

You can join us at any time for as long as you would like. Forest walks, meadow walks and pond exploration will be taking place throughout the day.

The Berkshire Environmental Action Team will be setting up an invasive plant species exhibit. And ask to see one of the biggest oak tree in the Berkshires!!

There will be live animals to meet up close and personal. At dark there will be a moth light experience, bring your camera if you want. We will be going on an “Owl Prowl” in the dark, bring your flashlight.

Follow the signs for parking.

This year the Berkshire Bioblitz is sponsored by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Dr. Augie’s Science & Art Programs and hosted by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

invasive species · Nature Academy of the Berkshires · plants · Uncategorized

White Flowers Along the Road

All over Berkshire county there are beautiful white flowers growing along the road side. My friend who loves plants, called them Queen Anne’s Lace, but its too early for those plants to be flowering.

They look like Queen Anne’s Lace, but they are actually ‘ground elder’ also known as Bishop’s Weed or Gout Weed. They are in the carrot family like Queen Anne’s Lace, but they are not the same plant.

The scientific name for this plant is Aegopodium podagraria, and the scientific name for Queen Anne’s Lace is Daucus carota. They are in the same family ‘Apiaceae’, cousins, but not twins. Although the flowers look alike at first glance.

These plants have leaves that are edible and have medicinal value.

These plants spread via underground root systems made of rhizomes. They make a thick mat and keep out weeds and other plants. I would not recommend planting them in a garden, but they make a great ground cover. They are an introduced species to the Berkshires and not native. On the upside, they are the favorite food of the woodchucks on my property.

global climate change · winter

ice and skyRecently the Berkshire Environmental Action Team had an environmental expo at the Stationary Factory in Dalton. What I saw of it was wonderful. (I’ve been sick and didn’t want to share so I didn’t stick around as much as I would have liked.) But later in the evening I pulled up a chair in the back of the room and watched the movie “Ice and Sky” about a famous French scientist, Luc Jacquet, and his team and how they spend 6 decades proving humans are causing rapid global climate change. The movie was mostly edited clips of the scientific expositions and current cinematography. It was breath taking. Yet, two books kept popping into my head the entire time. I think because I knew the end and it had to do with being doomed.

The first book was Mountains of Madness H.P. Lovecraft. The second was A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier.

Parts of the movie showed the scientists moving through narrow tunnels and there were vast pans of the white mountains and crevices. All bringing back flashbacks of the descriptions in Mountains of Madness. And the voices. I could hear the not-really-voices from Lovecraft’s novella, if that makes sense. Its been a while since I’ve read this, and I’m not sure I want to revisit it. It was scary stuff.

The second book, A Brief History of the Dead, I  read over 4 years ago, but it stuck with me. As with any good science fiction story, this book is about what may happen in the near future, where conspiracy theory meets science and things go bad. It makes the reader think maybe we should change what we are doing now or the things happening in this book might come true. Its actually two stories in one book–they are connected–but only to the reader. One story line takes us to a place we know: A world where the polar ice caps are melting and biological terrorism is a major issue in the world. A big corporation of course steps in to the rescue listening only in part to the scientists, making things worse. The main character in this part of the story is a woman in Antarctica looking for clean water. The description of her exploration and fight for survival is what brought the book to mind while watching the movie. There was doom, gloom hanging on the precipice of death set in majestic beauty.

The second part of the book is about The City where the dead are found, but mysteriously vanish. No more about this because it would be a spoiler.

So there it is-our planet is a beautiful place. Humans are incredible beings, but we are destroying life on the planet as we know it. It is time we stand up for the planet-if not for ourselves, for our children and our children’s children.

For more information on the human impact on global climate change and what you can do about it: You can start here:


The problem with groundhogs…

wood chuckThere are lots of problems with groundhogs. But my biggest gripe can be best described with this endearing but frustrating overheard recent conversation.

Two young girls, ages 10 and 8 were standing in the sun on a warm winter’s day. The older girl stepped back into the shade. The younger girl told her, “No, stay in the sun, there are not many sunny days like this in the winter!” The other responded, “But the sun is too hot.” To make her point the younger girl said, “But the hedgehog saw its shadow last week and that means 6 more weeks of winter, so get out in the sun.”

Hedgehog, yes she said hedgehog. We were in Cheshire MA, not England, but Berkshire County USA! She of course was mixing up groundhogs with hedgehogs. But the difference of the two animals is vast*. And the whole idea of the groundhog seeing its shadow, ugh, that drives me nuts. The idea is cute yes,  scientific, NO. Besides groundhogs are the only true hibernators in the Eastern USA so the idea of one dragging itself out of hibernation to see if the sun is shining, isn’t going to happen.

And groundhogs have other things that make them not very likable. They are musk animals so they stink, they live the ground- so they stink, they have little brain cases, so they are not very smart. And they EAT my garden vegetables to the stumps. Oh and they are excellent burrowing animals. There are no less than 7 groundhog holes on my property. They go down one hole and pop up 20 feet away from another hole and whistle to let the others know you are around. And there are always others. They have an elaborate gallery of tunnels under the property.  The joke around here is one day someone is going to stamp their foot at one and the whole yard is going to cave in.

*Differences between Hedgehogs and Groundhogs: There are seventeen species of hedgehogs found through parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa and some are an invasive species in Australia, but they do NOT live in the the USA. They are mammals, but they are in a different order all together from groundhogs. Groundhogs, scientific name, Marmota monax, are in the order “rodents” are also known as woodchucks or whistle pigs, oh, yes they whistle. They live in the North East and Central USA and throughout Canada.