backyard animals · Nature Academy of the Berkshires · winter

Cache

squirrel-holeWe have had a good amount of snow fall over the past two weeks. Its pretty. Its white, and its great for animal tracking. But that first heavy snow, when it was windy and cold and nobody wanted to be outside. The squirrels braved it. And in my yard they braved it for peanuts. I found several of these holes in the snow at the base of trees. The squirrels didn’t want to spend any more time in the cold than they had to, so it was jump, dig, grab and back up the tree. The peanut shells were then tossed on top of the snow. I think the squirrels are going to be my favorite winter animals to watch this year.

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

Put on Your Winter Coat

It was late November, during the wet snow storm when I spied this moth on the trunk of a tree by the lake. Luckily it was wearing a winter coat. It is a noctuid moth, I believe, belonging in the family “Papaipema” that is only found in North America.

After doing a little research it appears that this is a cold weather moth, not usually snow on the ground cold like it was on this day, but late fall cold. The caterpillar is rarely seen because it bores into roots, rhizomes, and stems of herbaceous plants and stays there all summer. The moth appears late in the season when we are not expecting to see many moths or insects. These hardy leps, then lay their eggs in the fall with the caterpillars hatching in the spring, boring into their food plant and starting the cycle all over again.

We get an added treat in this picture to see the lichen on the tree photosynthesizing in the vapors of the damp snow.

backyard bugs · Nature Academy of the Berkshires

Isopod in the Snow

isopod-in-the-snowWe spotted this little wood louse in the snow during the storm this week. I’m guessing it was blown there by the wind. Poor thing. I gathered it up and placed it in the warm leaves by the foundation of the house.

These creatures are fascinating and there will be more on their life cycle and genetic systems later, but for now, just remember they hide all winter, so if you see one in the snow, save it!

mushrooms · Nature Academy of the Berkshires

Puffball Mushrooms

Puffball mushrooms are fun–gi. There are several kinds of the puffball mushrooms, but they all belong in the division Basidiomycota.

You can tell puffball mushrooms from other mushrooms because they look like puffballs and don’t have gills. Instead they keep the spores in the cap. When the spores are ready to be released the cap gets a hole in it, or it dries and becomes brittle and the spores get forced out sometimes by the mere force of rain drops falling on it or and animal or someone steps on it or squishes it. They are fun to squish.

Most puffballs are edible, the giant puffballs being the best to eat. These mushroom taste okay, they don’t have much flavor and need lots of butter. Some folks don’t like them because they have a spongy texture. But when I find them, I think of it as free food.