Archives

BACKYARD SECRET—THE GRAY SQUIRREL’S FRONT TEETH NEVER STOP GROWING

        A gray squirrel’s front teeth are constantly being worn down. If this was not the case, they would quickly wear down and lead to the animal’s premature death.  This fate is prevented because they are constantly growing at a rate of approximately six inches per year.

BACKYARD SECRET—CPT. JOHN SMITH NAMED THE OPOSSUM

     Captain John Smith, a leader of the Jamestown Colony, is widely credited with naming the opossum. 

     Supposedly, Captain Smith came across an opossum while in the company of a member of the Algonquin Tribe.  When Smith asked the man what this strange looking animal was called, his companion told him it was an “aposum.”  The Native American name referred to the long-tailed animal’s white face.  However, as luck would have it, as the man uttered the word “aposum” he grunted.  This led Captain Smith to believe he said possum.  Is this story true?  We may never know for sure.  What I do know is the opossum is indeed an odd animal.

THE FROGLOG CAN SAVE THE LIVES OF WILDLIFE IN YOUR YOUR BACKYARD

        Each year untold numbers of frogs, toads, bats, rabbits, birds, chipmunks and other wildlife species are trapped in swimming pools and decorative water features with sides that are simply too steep for the animals to crawl to safety.  If they are lucky, they will be spotted by someone that can gently remove them from the water with long-handled net. However, in far too many instances the animals swim around until they become exhausted and drown.

       This past week, during a visit to the River Banks Botanical Garden in Columbia, South Carolina, my granddaughter, Anna, and her friends stumbled across a simple device that was being used to avoid such tragedies.  It seems they found 25+ toads mating in a pool surrounding a decorative fountain. Since the edge of the concrete pool was extremely steep, it was obvious the adult toads had little chance of climbing out of the pool after the female toads laid long gelatinous strings of eggs and the males fertilized them.

       In an effort to prevent the toads from drowning, several FrogLogs had been positioned along the edge of the pool.  The FrogLog is a simple device that serves as an exit ramp leading from water to dry land. If they are left in place after the adult toads hop to safety, they will serve as exit ramps for a new generation of toads.

       That is amazing when you consider the FrogLog consists of nothing more than an inflatable floating platform and fabric bag attached to a nylon mesh ramp.

       If you have a problem with animals becoming stranded in your pool, this might be a simple solution to a perplexing problem.

IT IS TIME TO REMOVE VINES AND TALL PLANTS GROWING NEAR NESTING BOXES

        Before we know it, spring will be here, and birds will be nesting in the nesting boxes we have erected for them.  Among the chores we all need to tackle in preparation for this year’s nesting season is trim back the vines, saplings and shrubs growing close to each of our nesting boxes.

       One of the main reasons why this should be done is it helps protect the birds nesting in our boxes from arboreal snakes (those that climb trees).  Snakes such as the rat snake are capable raiding nesting boxes erected on poles.  For that reason, it is always best to mount nesting boxes on poles equipped with predator guards.  However, even the best predator guards cannot protect a nest if vines encircle the pole or tall vegetation is growing nearby.  Such plants create a veritable superhighway for snakes trying to raid a nesting box.  Even if vegetation is not actually touching a box or pole, a snake can circumvent a predator guard and gain access to adults, eggs and/or young birds by simply climbing up nearby vegetation and then extending their body the distance between their head and the box.

       For this reason, we need to make every effort to cut back tall vegetation in a wide circle around each nest. While we are creating this protection zone, any branches growing close to the top of the box should also be trimmed away.  Snakes are also capable of using a canopy of branches to gain access to a nesting box.

       Taking a little time to perform this simple task can give the birds nesting in our boxes a better chance of being successful.

 

 

A NOVEL WAY TO KEEP FIRE ANTS OUT OF NEST BOXES

       Here in Georgia fire ants can threaten birds that nest in nesting boxes.  These pesky ants will enter nesting boxes and actually kill hatchlings.

       Several decades ago Jackson, Mississippi resident R.B. Layton came up with a novel way to keep these dreaded imported insects from reaching his nesting boxes.  Layton soaked either wood thread spools or sweetgum balls with the oil additive STP and placed them between the boxes and the poles that held them aloft.  Supposedly, this formed a barrier over which the ants would not pass.

       If you decide to try this technique, since thread now comes on plastic spools, you will have to find them at a craft store.  They are available in a variety of sizes.  I would imagine that you need to buy spools that are unpainted; an unpainted spool would probably retain more STP than those that are painted.  As for sweetgum balls, they can be located beneath sweetgum trees across the state.

       Since I have never had a problem with fire ants entering my nest boxes, I have never tested this technique.  However, if you try it, I would love to know if it worked for you.

BACKYARD SECRET—THE MINK WILL CLIMB TREES AND RAID BIRD NESTS

       If you made of list of animals that might potentially raid the bird nests in your yard, your list would more than likely include the names of critters such as various birds, raccoons, cats, squirrels, rat snakes and opossums.  I would be surprised if your list included the mink.  However, the truth of the matter is the mink can climb trees and raid bird nests.

       The mink eats a wide variety of animals including crabs, crayfish, fish, salamanders, frogs, rabbits, voles, mice, rats, muskrats, snakes, ducks, insects, squirrels, and even young turtles.

       Being an opportunistic predator, it is easy to believe it also dines on the eggs and hatchlings of ground-nesting birds.  However, they will also not pass up a chance to eat the eggs and young found nests placed in trees.

       They are able to take advantage of this source of food because they are skilled climbers.  Mink can climb high into a tree, scramble from limb to limb, and then retreat down a tree headfirst.

       The good news is most homeowners should not worry that a hungry mink will climb a tree in their yards searching for food.  This is especially true if you do not live close to the mink’s preferred habitat.  However, if your home is located near a creek, river, marsh, beaver swamp, or pond surrounded by thick habitat there is always an outside chance a mink will make a hunting foray into your backyard.

BACKYARD SECRET–GROUNDHOGS CAN CLIMB TREES

      It is safe to say most Georgians have never seen a groundhog.  The reason for this is groundhogs are principally residents of the northern quarter of the state.  For the rest of us, our best chance of seeing this mammal is to spot one feeding in the grassy shoulder of a North Georgia highway.  However, those folks fortunate enough to live in this picturesque swath of the state are well aware of the fact that groundhogs will take up residence in or near backyards.

       If you live within the range of the groundhog, you are probably surprised to learn groundhogs are capable of climbing trees since they have stubby legs, weigh up to fourteen pounds, and rarely venture far from their burrows.

       Homeowners are not always pleased to find a groundhog living in their backyard.  This is because groundhogs eat up to 1.5 pounds of food a day, consuming a variety of plants such ornamental flowers such as roses, and food plants like a beans, strawberries, and carrots.  In addition, their burrows sometimes undermine walkways, driveways, as well as building foundations.

      However, in some backyards groundhogs are not a problem and provide homeowners with interesting wildlife viewing opportunities.  If you watch groundhogs long enough, you may have the rare opportunity to spot a groundhog perched in a tree high above the ground.  Groundhogs will climb mostly to either escape a predator or reach food.  Both coyotes and dogs prey on adult groundhogs. 

       With an abundance of food growing close to the ground, it is hard to imagine why a groundhog would climb a tree to feed, but they do.  The famous Pulitzer Prize-winning nature writer, Edwin Way Teale, wrote that he once spied a groundhog high above the ground dining grapes hanging from a grapevine that had snaked its way into the tree’s crown.

       Climbing up a tree would be hard enough for a groundhog; it seems to me that it would be even hard to climb down again.  

       Groundhogs in trees?  I find it hard to believe a groundhog is capable of such an athletic accomplishment.

WHERE A COYOTE LIVES CAN AFFECT ITS HEALTH

       The coyote’s name is on the long list of animals that are not native to Georgia.  However, much to our dismay, they are living here and have spread across the state.  They are now living in rural and urban areas alike.  This scenario has also played out across other states.  With this in mind, biologists at the University of Alberta conducted a study to determine if coyotes living in and around humans in urban areas are just as healthy and their cousins that inhabit rural habitats.

       Here in Georgia urban coyotes are now feeding on foods tossed into garbage cans, tossed out of the windows of cars racing down the highway, seeds scattered beneath our bird feeders, as well as food left outside our homes for the family dog.  They are preying on domestic pets such as dogs, cats.  They are also attacking goats, sheep, and other livestock.

      As expected, the researchers found coyotes living in the city eat lots of processed foods such as fast food, dinners tossed in the garbage.  The researchers even found coyotes consume pieces of gloves, and the wrappers placed around burritos and the like.  These items are a far cry from the foods one would expect to find in the typical diets those coyotes living away from humanity.

       Their data collected in this study showed the coyotes feeding in backyards and other food-rich locales are less healthy.  These coyotes possess less kidney fat.  This is a clear indication they are not eating a nutritious diet.  The fact that their spleens are also larger is a sign that the human food they are gobbling up is having a deleterious impact on their immune systems.

       It would seem that coyotes that have adopted an urban lifestyle are paying the price for living away from the natural world.

       While we cannot eliminate the coyotes that are living close to us, we can stop unwittingly contributing to their dining choices.  For example, we all need to secure our garbage cans so coyotes cannot dine on our leftovers.  We can also make a point of not leaving pet food outside overnight.  If we adopt these and other simple measures, we will be helping ensure coyotes will not make our yards part of their feeding territories.

EATING FIRE ANTS MAY HELP FENCE LIZARDS DEVELOP AN IMMUNITY AGAINST FIRE ANT VENOM

        Since fire ants were accidentally introduced into the United States during the twentieth century, they have plagued both humans and native wildlife.  However, findings of research conducted by biologists at Pennsylvania State University suggest that fence lizards that eat fire ants increase their immunity to the fire ant venom. 

       The researchers found that blood tests of the fence lizards that consumed dead fire ants three times a week developed three different types of increased immunity against the fire ant venom.

       It is interesting to note that being stung by the fire ants did increase the lizards’ immunity against future stings.

A BEAUTIFUL PLACE FOR BUMBLEBEES TO SPEND A COOL FALL NIGHT

       The Confederate rose brings spectacular beauty to yards across Georgia.  However, my wife, Donna, and I have found that its showy blossoms are also used as places for bumblebees to escape the cold on chilly autumn nights.

       This large multi-stemmed shrub or small tree was brought to North America in the 1600s.  Since then it has been widely planted throughout the Southeast.  It popularity stems from the fact that, from late summer until frost, it bears scores of white blossoms that measure up to six inches in diameter.  These flowers eventually turn light pink before finally becoming rose-colored.

       While my wife and I thoroughly enjoy the beauty the flowers bring to our yard, our discovery that these stunning blooms provide bumblebees with warm refuges on chilly fall nights has heightened our appreciation for the plant.

       For quite some time, I had not given any thought to this interesting behavior until late one afternoon this past week.  Late one afternoon I noticed that my wife, was looking deep into the one of the blossoms adorning a Confederate rose growing alongside our driveway.  I walked up to find out what had caught her attention.  When she said she was looking at a bumblebee that had settled in for the night deep inside a Confederate rose bloom, I peered down into the throat of the flower and spotted the insect.  As we stood nearby discussing her find, a couple of other bumblebees flew into other blossoms.

       When I returned to the flowers well after dark, sure enough, the bumblebees were still there awaiting morning when temperatures warmed to the point where they could utilize the muscles that control their wings and fly away.

       A number of animals seek cover on chilly nights.  Many birds and mammals retreat to natural cavities, nesting boxes, thick vegetation, and other places.  However, I doubt that many spend cold nights nestled in cover as beautiful a Confederate rose blossom.

       If you have a Confederate rose growing in your yard, before the blossoms nipped by a frost, as the sun is setting check them out.  If bumblebees are still flying about in your neck of the woods, chances are one or more might be using some of gorgeous blooms for nighttime cover also.