Ask a Naturalist!

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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. Send an email to our education team at
  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.


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 |2020-03-29T18:17:07+00:00March 24th, 2020|Nature at Home 3/23-3/28|0 Comments

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