Ask a Naturalist!

Home/Ask a Naturalist!

We invite members of all ages to submit questions about the natural world ranging from animals, plants, your outdoor observations, and specific questions about Baltimore Woods and our naturalists will respond!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Fill out the form to the left to submit a question to our education team.
  2. Be sure to include your first name and what area you’re from (for example – Sarah, Marcellus)
  3. We’ll publish your question, along with just your first name, as well as our response!
  4. You can read these Q&As right here in this blog post.

Answers

Found this out in our lawn this evening, perfect for insect week but what is it? ~Eli, Bridgeport2020-06-14T18:00:22+00:00

Eli, Thank you for submitting a question! That moth you found in your lawn is a cecropia moth. It is the largest moth in North America and they actually do not eat. It’s only purpose is to mate and it only lives for a few weeks.

What are these guys moving everywhere in my grandma’s pond!? ~Patrick, Pompey, NY2020-05-03T18:10:56+00:00
Thank you for sending the video along with your question. We posted it on our facebook page as it was too cool not to share! Those little cuties are aquatic macroinvertebrates (water insects) and are called caddisfly larvae. These larvae are pretty impressive because they build protective cases around their bodies with sticks, plants, or rocks-the materials they use can be species or habitat specific. The species that build these cases produce a silk that is sticky even under the water and glues the pieces of the case together. Caddisfly larvae are herbivores and will eat algae or leaves that fall into the water. They will spend the entire larval stage inside these cases and some species will undergo metamorphosis inside of them as well.
As adults, they are long and flat with large wings. Adults only live for about a month and mainly consume nectar.
If you want, you can actually pick up one of those cases to get a closer look at the caddisfly. I like to put them in a clear container with the same pond water so I can watch them crawl around. If you do pick one up, make sure you don’t leave it out of the water for long as they require water to breathe (they breathe through soft parts of their exoskeletons). I highly recommend doing a google search on the larva because there are so many different styles of cases.
Are there many rusty blackbirds at Baltimore Woods? ~Karen2020-05-03T18:01:53+00:00

It’s interesting that you noticed three or four rusty blackbirds in Marcellus. They are a declining species, and biologists are trying to sort out the reasons for that. The most common issues are habitat loss (they breed in boreal wetlands in far northern Canada), and their winter habitats in the US are being lost to drainage and agriculture. Rusty blackbirds in the northeast US have also been found to have unusually high concentrations of mercury in their bodies. We only see rusty blackbirds in CNY during migration where they will often mix in flocks with grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and starlings. They will be most commonly found in wooded wetlands and swampy areas.

Is this a variety of a trillium? ~ Hannah2020-05-03T17:57:40+00:00
You said you found a trillium at the Skaneateles Conservation Area that you had never seen before. Thank you for sending the picture along with your question, it really helps! When leaves on a plant start to turn this yellowish color, it is called chlorosis. Chlorosis means that there isn’t enough chlorophyll in the leaves, which can be caused by a number of factors. Poor drainage, high alkalinity in the soil, nutrient deficiencies, and over or under watering. Because the veins on this trillium are green with yellow in between, I would say they are this color due to deficiency in a nutrient like iron. The trillium will probably be fine though, it looks healthy otherwise.
Does this salamander have lungs?~ Emma, Syracuse2020-04-19T16:31:33+00:00
Wow! What a beautiful photo of a Eastern red-backed salamander!
Excellent question, too. No, these salamanders actually do not have lungs. Weird right?? Since they don’t have lungs they need to live in damp or moist habitats in order to breathe through their skin, which is why they are so often found on nice cozy moist moss like your photo! We are seeing these salamanders more now due to the warm and rainy weather. They are looking for a nice damp area like under a rotting log to lay their eggs. Unlike other salamanders, they don’t need to lay their eggs in the water!
Will the large patch of ostrich ferns that used to be on the Griffith Trail before the beavers and the flood come back? – A Hiker, Baltimore Woods2020-04-11T22:12:26+00:00

 This hiker noticed the tall stiff brown things with seed-like structures that are left standing when the green part of ferns die and wondered if those were a good sign that the ferns would be back.

Our Camp Director Tom Meier says:  Ostrich ferns are surprisingly hardy plants that spread underground through their rhizomes. Like most ferns, they like damp soil, but too much water for too long will drown the rhizome and it will not recover. The good news is that since the Griffth’s Trail had ostrich ferns in the past, it may not be too long before new spores take hold and grow. The wet areas of the Griffith’s Trail are also home to sensitive fern, which has a persistent fertile frond where the spores are held in little bead like structures that can be seen throughout the winter. They are much more tolerant to flooding and will have no problem growing in that area. Royal ferns are also present, and are also flood tolerant. Keep your eyes out for them as spring turns into summer, there are some truly magnificent patches with fronds that are easily four feet tall!

 

Was the pioneer cabin built on site or was it brought from somewhere else? – A Hiker, Baltimore Woods2020-04-11T22:08:47+00:00

The log cabin was built on site in the late 1970s as part of Baltimore Woods’s original designation as a Historic Land Use Center. It was designed to be a demonstration of three different cabin construction techniques and was built by hand by volunteers. The roof shingles were replaced in the late 1990s, and volunteers replaced the lower logs and leveled the foundation stones in 2018. The cabin is an iconic feature of Baltimore Woods and an important part of our summer camp program. 

I saw white spots among some brown frog eggs. What could they be? – Karen, Marcellus2020-04-11T22:06:54+00:00

Learning to identify different egg masses in vernal pools is a great way of knowing which species are breeding there. Our top three vernal pool amphibians in Central New York are wood frogs, yellow-spotted salamanders, and Jefferson’s salamanders. Other species might use them, too, if it is a pool that doesn’t dry up completely. These could include leopard frogs and pickerel frogs. From your description, it sounds like you either found two different species’ eggs, or the eggs were just in different stages of development. Wood frogs, especially, lay their eggs in communal masses over the course of a few weeks, so it might be that the darker egg spots were more developed. Pickerel frogs have a lighter colored embryo, and their eggs are not perfectly round. 

 

Here’s a website with great information on identifying amphibian eggs in vernal pools. I hope it helps to solve your mystery! 

https://www.oriannesociety.org/faces-of-the-forest/egg-mass-identification-great-northern-forests

What do yellow-spotted salamanders eat? – Vera, Syracuse2020-04-11T22:02:33+00:00

 Yellow-spotted salamanders are carnivores. They eat mostly insects like crickets, beetles, grubs, worms, and slugs. They are not overly picky, though, if it lives underground and they can get it in their mouth, they’ll eat it!

How long do the yellow-spotted salamanders live? – Oliver, Syracuse2020-04-11T22:00:35+00:00

Yellow-spotted salamanders can live as long as 20 years. They undergo a lot of changes in their first few months, hatching from an egg, then being a tiny salamander larva with gills, then quickly growing lungs and getting big enough to head up on land where they’ll spend most of the rest of their lives living underground. It’s amazing that such small animals live so long!

Why does water look blue-green? – Norah, Marcellus2020-04-05T15:24:47+00:00

Sometimes water looks blueish green because there are tiny plants called algae living in the water. These microscopic plants are bluish green in color and when there are millions of them in the water the whole lake or pond will turn that color. Other times the water looks that color because of how the light is hitting the water. If your family has ever been to Green Lakes State Park, the water in the lake is bright blue or green because of how the sunlight hits the water and reflects off of minerals in the water. Here is a link to the DEC page about the lake. https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/70328.html

Why do toads have freckles? – Preston, Marcellus2020-04-05T15:25:12+00:00

Toads have freckles and look the way they do because they are experts at camouflage. Toads are the same color as the forest floor, this means that they are camouflaged or that they can blend in with it. Next time you are hiking keep an eye out for toads, you probably won’t see them until they move because they are hidden so well.

What caused the foam at the end of Skaneateles Lake? -Hannah, Marcellus2020-04-05T15:20:45+00:00
The foam that you saw on Skaneateles Lake is naturally occuring. It is caused by a mix of decomposing organic material such as algae and air. When organic matter decomposes, it releases compounds. In the water, these compounds rise to the surface (surfactants) and reduce surface tension. Wind blowing across the lake disturbs these surfactants and creates bubbles. Wind patterns and water circulation cause these bubbles to collect in certain areas, creating the foam that you saw. The amount of foam that you see year to year is heavily dependent on temperature and amount of decomposed organic material, but again, nothing to worry about.
Foam can also be caused by pollution, but it would be pinkish in color and would smell like perfume. This foam is a nice bright white and shouldn’t smell like anything. You can touch it if you want, I’ve read that it is sticky like beaten egg whites.
The Skaneateles Lake Association noticed the foam as well and collected samples for analysis. If you would like to read more on that, follow this link.
Why do trees have bark? – Norah, Marcellus2020-03-29T18:32:19+00:00

Bark on a tree is like armor. It keeps things like bugs, bad weather, diseases, fungus, and even people from hurting the tree. However, if something does get through the bark the tree can grow new bark around the wound, like a band aid. This band aid is called a burl. That is one reason why I think trees are really cool.

Why do white-tail deer have white tails? — Kimberly, Marcellus2020-03-29T18:30:55+00:00

White tail deer have a white tail to warn other deer if a predator is nearby. When deer think that a predator is close they make a snorting sound with their nose, as they run away they wave their tails kind of like a flag. When the other deer see it they know to run too even if they did not hear the snort. The rest of the deer’s fur is brown so they can blend in with the forest, the white underside of their tail is easily seen which makes it a perfect warning signal.

What are the orange-red small discs that form a bowl, some kind of mushroom? – Preston, Marcellus2020-03-29T18:31:08+00:00

The small orange-red disks you found were definitely a type of fungus or mushroom. From how you described them and what time of year it is I think that they are scarlet cup fungus.

What are the purple/maroon spikes, about 4-6 inches high? – Norah, Marcellus2020-03-29T18:31:20+00:00

The purple/maroon spikes you saw coming up out of the ground is skunk cabbage. This funny looking plant sprouts out of the ground in very early spring when there is usually still snow on the ground. Skunk cabbage is actually very cool because it makes its own heat that melts the snow around it! This way it can be one of the first plants above the snow. It has the name skunk cabbage because when a leaf gets crushed it smells like a skunk. (Learn more about this topic in our Naturalist Blog!)

Why are some rocks green? — Kimberly, Marcellus2020-03-29T18:26:14+00:00

Some rocks are green because they have stuff called lichen growing on them. Lichen is green like a plant but grows and sometimes looks like fungus or mushrooms. This is because lichen is actually a plant called algae and a fungus living together. The fungus gives the algae a safe place to live and water and nutrients for it to grow. The algae gives the fungus sugars to eat when it photosynthesizes. Photosynthesis is how plants make food from the sun. The lichen on the rocks is doing an important job, it is very very slowly turning that rock into soil.

What kind of skull is this? What are the bony bumps at the bottom? – Emma, Syracuse2020-03-29T18:24:05+00:00

The skull that you found looks like a house cat skull to me. I think this because it has very large eye sockets and the top is very round, especially compared to other local mammals such as a fox. I can also tell based on the teeth, thank you for sending a picture of them! Cats only have four small molars, the teeth in the back of your mouth used for chewing up food. They also have two large canine teeth (the sharp pointy teeth) and six small incisors (these are your front teeth). Because cats are carnivores, they only eat meat, all of their teeth are sharp and pointy, even their molars! Try feeling your own teeth using your tongue, can you find your molars, canines, and incisors? The bumps at the back of the skull are called Tympanic Bulla. Inside them is where the cat’s inner and middle ears are. When a sound reaches a cat’s ears it travels into their outer ear, (the part we can see) and travels through the middle and inner ear. The middle and inner ear is where the eardrum and other structures are located. The sound is then turned into something that the cat’s brain can recognize. Our ears work the same way, however cats definitely have better hearing than us.

By |2020-04-19T20:39:37+00:00March 24th, 2020|Nature at Home 3/23-3/28|0 Comments

Leave A Comment