Friday, September 26, 2008

Nature Trivia #5

* The "caduceus" the classical medical symbol of two serpents wrapped around a staff—comes from an ancient Greek legend in which snakes revealed the practice of medicine to human beings.

* A "chickadee" was a Michigan logger whose job it was to spread horse manure on steep icy hills. The purpose was to slow down, by friction, the sleigh's loaded with 16ft. virgin timber logs coming down the ice road slopes.
* The anaconda, one of the world’s largest snakes, gives birth to its young instead of laying eggs.

* The animal responsible for the most human deaths world-wide is the mosquito.

* The average adult male ostrich, the world’s largest living bird, weighs up to 345 pounds.

* The Canary Islands were not named for a bird called a canary. They were named after a breed of large dogs. The Latin name was Canariae insulae — "Island of Dogs."

* The catgut formerly used as strings in tennis rackets and musical instruments does not come from cats. Catgut actually comes from sheep, hogs, and horses.

* The chameleon has several cell layers beneath its transparent skin. These layers are the source of the chameleon’s color change. Some of the layers contain pigments, while others just reflect light to create new colors. Several factors contribute to the color change. A popular misconception is that chameleons change color to match their environment. This isn’t true. Light, temperature, and emotional state commonly bring about a chameleon’s change in color. The chameleon will most often change between green, brown and gray which, coincidently, often matches the background colors of their habitat.

* The cheetah is the only cat in the world that can’t retract its claws.

* The giant squid is the largest creature without a backbone. It weighs up to 2.5 tons and grows up to 55 feet long. Each eye is a foot or more in diameter.

* The honeybee kills more people world-wide than all the poisonous snakes combined.

* The hummingbird, the loon, the swift, the kingfisher, and the grebe are all birds that cannot walk.

* The mouse is the most common mammal in the US.

* The Pacific Giant Octopus, the largest octopus in the world, grows from the size of pea to a 150 pound behemoth potentially 30 feet across in only two years, its entire life-span.

* The turkey was named for what was wrongly thought to be its country of origin.

* The underside of a horse’s hoof is called a frog. The frog peels off several times a year with new growth.

* The venom of a female black widow spider is more potent than that of a rattlesnake.

* There are around 2,600 different species of frogs. They live on every continent except Antarctica.

* There are more insects in one square mile of rural land than there are human beings on the entire earth. There are more than 900,000 known species of insects in the world.

* Though human noses have an impressive 5 million olfactory cells with which to smell, sheepdogs have 220 million, enabling them to smell 44 times better than man.

* Tigers have striped skin, not just striped fur.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nature Trivia #4

• The flamingo sits down to bathe and to nest. What makes this a curiosity is that the flamingo doesn’t sit down much. It is on its feet, or foot, (whichever), more than any other bird.

• Bird claws, like human fingernails, grow con- tinuously. In the wild they do not have a chance to grow too long because the birds are always work- ing their fingers to the bone, trying to make ends meet and building a nest egg.

• Old filmmakers put the call of the kookaburra on the soundtracks of almost every jungle movie ever shot. But the kookaburra lives only in Austra- lia. [I bet Tarzan knew that!]

• Homing pigeons equipped with tiny alumi- num cameras were used by both sides during WWII to photograph areas too heavily fortified to be flown over by planes. The cameras were activated by air rushing through a rubber ball.

• The heaviest chicken you ever wanted to meet belonged to Grant Sullens of West Point, Calif. He had a monstrous rooster named "Weirdo" who weighed in around 22 lbs. Weirdo was so mean that he crippled a dog which came too close and he killed two cats. Now that is what I call "Poultry in Motion"!

• The Canada goose uses 12,000 muscles to move its feathers.

• The pelican, when fishing, with each catch scoops up more than a gallon of water.

• A robin worm-hunting on the lawn and cock- ing his head as though he were listening is merely trying to bring his eye into position so that he can see where the worm is. Birds’ eyes (with few exceptions) are set in the sides of their heads, and they see out to the sides rather than straight ahead; they do not have bifocal vision as humans do.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Totem Art

Totem figures represent much in the way of legend and family relationships. They also repre- sent a relationship with the Earth and its history.

Bird representation on totems can be recog- nized by their beaks, irrespective of the type of face to which they are attached. Various birds, in turn, can be identified by the shape of the beak. A straight beak for the raven, curved for the eagle, and curved until the tip rested on the mouth or chin for the hawk.

The art of totem evolved into neither realistic nor symbolic representation, but a mingling of the two.

World politics have evolved the same way. It is very hard to distinguish the realistic from the symbolic.

There was a point when U.S. politics entered into native culture and at the same time totem sculpture. The tribes of the northwest began to put Abe Lincoln’s top hat on the peak of many totems. He was the Great White Father.

Totem art was not a technical representation of that which it represented. Specific body parts would be used to represent an animal. The beaver was indicated by large incisor teeth, a killer whale by the dorsal fins and blow hole, the grizzly bear by a large mouth full of teeth, and the Great White Father by not only the top hat but the large mouth and protruding forked tongue.
The clan totem is a symbol for a tribe, clan, family, or person. They are carved in the associa- tion of the clan with a particular plant, animal, or other natural object. The clan considers these to- tems holy and pray to them. The totem oftentimes represents an ancestor. One bonus for the species represented on the totem was that often it was forbidden for the clan to kill or eat the species belonging to the totem. You will seldom see pizza and beer on a totem. It is believed these are items that most tribes just did not want to give up.

Totemism, as a form of religion, is widespread among primitive tribes. Many North American tribes, particularly those of the Pacific Northwest, carved birds as their clan emblems on totem poles. The tribe held a potlatch, or feast, when the totem poles were put up.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Nature Trivia #3

* Worms don’t have eyes, but they can feel light through their skin.
* The smallest living things are called microbes. One cup of soil may contain more living creatures than there are people on the whole planet.
* There are more than 700,000 different types of insects.
* Spiders are not insects. Insects have six legs, and spiders have eight. Most insects have wings. Spiders do not.
* Toads live up to 40 years. Toads chew their food, such as worms, with their eyeball muscles. That’s why they close their eyes when eating.
* Moths and butterflies have a fine powder on their wings that helps them fly. Never pick up but- terflies by their wings.
* A common shrew eats three times its own weight in insects every day.
* A shooting star is not a star at all. It is a meteor, which is actually a bit of dust traveling through space at a very high rate of speed. When it hits Earth’s atmosphere, it gets so hot it glows! That trail of glowing dust is what we call a shooting star.
* The word "photography" is based on Greek words meaning "write with light."
* Bees have no hearing. Mosquitoes are attracted to blue more than any other color.
* You could fit 20 newborn opossums into one tablespoon.
* An octopus has three hearts.
* An elephant has 40,000 muscles in its trunk.
* Fish and snakes can not blink, which makes it extremely difficult to flirt.
* The tarantula can live without food for up to two years. But then don’t be standing in front of the refrigerator.
* Woodpeckers have unique physiology, including a skull that contains cushioning tissues to protect the bird brain when it is chiseling into trees and a kick-stand tail that doubles as a shock absorber.
* Many birds shut their wings periodically while flying to conserve energy and open them again to prevent crash landings.
* Ducks and geese beat their wings constantly during flight.
• With neither a brilliant plumage nor a melodic song to set it apart from other birds, the crow might seem to have been dealt a low blow. But animal behaviorists have long believed that the crow has at least one thing in its favor. It is among the most intelligent birds in the world, with some species so advanced that they make and store their own tools to extract food from hard-to-reach sources, such as holes in trees.

• Antler flies spend their lives within the same few square meters, feeding and mating during the day on a moose or a deer antler, sleeping at night in nearby vegetation.

• The barred owl is so called because of the marks that look like bars across its breast.

• The northern shrike is not a raptor, but it always wanted to be.

• Female Water Fleas carry their eggs in a brood pouch, much like a backpack. This pouch is located between their carapace and their body. Vernal pool Water Fleas sometimes carry up to 20 eggs. The brood pouch can become so heavy that the Water Flea tips over. She has to swim upside down until the eggs hatch and the young Water Fleas swim away.

• In winter Red-winged Blackbirds join noisy foraging (hunting and feeding) flocks of 500 to over 5000 birds of several species: Brewer’s Blackbirds, Tricolor Blackbirds, Starlings and Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Nature Trivia #2

• The tree frog’s remarkable ability to climb or rest on vertical surfaces is the result of a mucous layer produced by toe pad cells. This mucous creates a sticky bond with the vertical surface that’s strong enough to support the frog’s weight.

• A great time to enjoy activity at the bird feeder is after a snow storm or even sleet. Both these conditions cover natural food sources and makes your feeder handouts very attractive.

• Hemiptera (Sucking bugs) Also called "Squash Bug" or "Stink Bug", it is a very common insect in North America. This variety is common in the Midwest and can be found up to 1" long. When squashed a very strong odor emits from the thorax (body). This is to deter birds and mammals from eating them. Some subspecies on the East Coast can cause blisters to the skin; however, in the Midwest, this variety does nothing other than smell bad.
I have a bunch of them out here in the deep woods of Michigan. They invite themselves in when it gets cold. They can fly faster than a Denny McLain fast ball. They entertain the cats and are very intricate in design and pattern. I feel bad every time I flush one.

• Crow, house sparrow and starling problems can be eliminated by seed and feeder selection.
Cats are another story altogether. Feral cats and your neighbor’s tabby are a serious threat to nestlings, fledglings and roosting birds. Too often, the presence of just one cat on the prowl near your feeder can take the enjoyment out of your backyard bird watching experience.
If there are no cats in your neighborhood and you find a pile of feathers near your feeder, look for a hungry hawk perching on a tree nearby.
Don’t get upset. Consider yourself fortunate to see one, right in your backyard. Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks eat birds and play an important role in the natural community.

• When birds desert your feeder, it may be simply that you haven’t offered them coconut. It’s the Jimmy Buffett buffet, or a lot of natural food is available nearby. Or something may be wrong, such as your seeds are spoiled or your feeder contaminated. Throw the seeds away and wash the feeder. Take a look at where your feeder is placed. Be sure it’s not vulnerable to predators.

• Birds don’t have sweat glands in their feet, so they won’t freeze onto metal feeders. There’s no need to cover any metal feeders parts with plastic or wood to protect birds feet, tongues or eyes.
• There’s no evidence that birds can choke on peanut butter. However, birds have no salivary glands. You can make it easier on them by mixing peanut butter with lard, cornmeal, and/or grit. Your birds will appreciate a water source too—a bird bath or trough.

• In the winter, you may see flocks of birds along roadsides after the snowplows have passed. They’re after the grit. Birds have no teeth to grind their food. The dirt, sand, pebbles, and grit they eat sits in their crop and helps grind up their food. Adding grit to your feeder is helpful year-round, but particularly in the winter and spring. Crushed eggshells do the same thing, and in the spring have an added benefit. They provide extra calcium during nesting season.

• It’s natural for moths to lay their eggs in sunflower seeds. The eggs lay dormant as long as the seeds are stored in a cool dry place. In the summer, seeds get hot and the eggs hatch. The best way to avoid this problem is to buy seeds in smaller quantities, or store your seeds in a cool, dry place.

Basic Birdfeeding Knowledge

• It’s best to put your feeder in a quiet, yet convenient area that has year-round easy access. When the weather is bad, you may be reluctant to refill the feeder. Remember that this is probably when your squirrels need you the most!
It’s a good idea to place your feeder near natural cover such as shrubs. By providing nearby shelter, you offer a place where the birds can hide from predators and out of the weather while waiting for their turn to feed. Evergreens are particularly good because they provide excellent cover year-round.
You also need to consider the "mess" factor. Expect feathers, seed shells, and droppings and select a location where clean-up will not be an issue.
Be sure to clean your seed feeders at least once every two weeks to prevent spoilage and disease. Often seed can become moldy, and diseases such as salmonella can grow in moldy, wet seed. If you have a hummingbird feeder, be sure to clean it at least once per week.

• Woodpeckers are notorious for their noisy springtime mating ritual. However, during the summer months, they are welcomed exterminators for insects and other tiny pests. Their diet consists mainly of ants, moths, borers, scale insects, grasshoppers, grubs, beetles, millipedes, crickets, wasps, aphids, caterpillars, spiders, and other flying insects.
To help you combat these pesky garden enemies, you may consider attracting woodpeckers to your yard. Planting various fruit trees and bushes can be as effective as placing the appropriate feeders in your yard.
Although their staple food group is insects, woodpeckers also enjoy feasting on fruits and nuts. Planting berry-producing bushes or trees such as dogwood, apple, serviceberry, black cherry, flowering crabapple, common spicebush, golden currant, walnut, black gum, holly, red cedar, bayberry, or sugarbush will draw them to your yard. You can also attract woodpeckers by providing cracked corn, grapes, raisins, peanut butter, or apples on a platform feeder.
Because the majority of a woodpecker’s diet is animal protein and fats, suet is the perfect supplement to their diet. Suet, the fat that collects around beef kidneys, is available at grocery stores or at your local garden center. There are a variety of ways to offer suet. Suet can be smeared in the bark of a tree or mounted in hardware cages that are wired to posts or tree trunks. When feeding suet in the warmer months, monitor the feeder regularly to be sure the suet has not become rancid.
Woodpeckers also enjoy peanuts. Use unsalted cocktail peanuts in the jar or buy them in bulk at your local feed store. Peanut feeders are the safest way of feeding peanuts. These feeders are typically made of wire mesh and force the birds to peck at the nuts and get only small pieces. Your peanut feeder will also be visited by titmice, nuthatches, and some wrens!

• Once you get your bird feeding station up and running, you may run into problems with uninvited guests. These visitors fall into two categories — those interested in the seeds (squirrels and chipmunks, rats and mice, starlings and house sparrows), and those interested in a bird for dinner (cats and hawks).
Squirrels are for entertainment. Never let them see you sweat. You can learn to love them while you love to hate them. Those who love squirrels tolerate their visits, and may even encourage them with special squirrel toys and feeders.
Usually when a squirrel is at the feeder, you’re not likely to see birds. But some birds have learned that if they want any seed they have to be a little pushy. Squirrels will scare off the birds while they eat the seed, and sooner or later they’ll eat the feeder too.
Chipmunks, rats and mice can also become a problem where there’s seed spillage under the feeder. Don’t use mixed bird seed, and if you don’t want squirrels at your potluck add a feeder tray.

Who's a Turkey?

When you call a person a "turkey" it doesn’t mean they are stupid—it means they are a bit odd--Well, most of the time anyway!

The turkey is one of the most famous birds in North America. Benjamin Franklin wanted to make it the national bird.

The turkey’s popularity comes from our love of eating the bird for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The wild turkey we usually see in photos or pictures is not the same as the domestic turkey that we serve at Thanksgiving.

Domestic or tame turkeys weigh twice what a wild turkey does and are raised on farms for profit.

Most domestic turkeys are so heavy they are unable to fly.

Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) live in woods in parts of North America and are the largest game birds found in this part of the world. They spend their days foraging for food like acorns, seeds, small insects and wild berries. They spend their nights in low branches of trees (yes, wild turkeys can fly!).

Peacocks aren’t the only birds who use their fancy tails to attract a mate. Each spring male turkeys try to befriend as many females as possible. Male turkeys, also called "Tom Turkeys" or "Gobblers" puff up their bodies and spread their tail feathers (just like a peacock).
They grunt, make a "gobble gobble sound" and strut about shaking their feathers. This fancy turkey trot helps the male attract females (also called "hens") for mating.
After the female turkey mates, she prepares a nest under a bush in the woods and lays her tan and speckled brown eggs. She incubates as many as 18 eggs at a time. It takes about a month for the chicks to hatch.

When the babies (known as poults) hatch they flock with their mother all year (even through the winter). For the first two weeks the poults are unable to fly. The mother roosts on the ground with them during this time.

Wild turkeys are covered with dark feathers that help them blend in with their woodland homes. The bare skin on the throat and head of a turkey can change color from flat gray to striking shades of red, white, and blue when the bird becomes distressed or excited. Have you ever wondered what Turkey (the country in the Middle East) and the American bird have in common? A case of mistaken identity resulted in the American Turkey being named after the country. When the Spanish first found the bird in the Americas more than 400 years ago they brought it back to Europe. The English mistakenly thought it was a bird they called a "turkey" so they gave it the same name. This other bird was actually from Africa, but came to England by way of the Turkey (lots of shipping went through Turkey at the time). The name stuck even when they realized the birds weren’t the same.
Who's a Turkey?
A construction crew in a pickup truck drove into a lumberyard. One of the new men walked in the office and said, "We need some four-by-twos."
The clerk asked, "You mean two-by-fours, don’t you?"
The man said, "I’ll go check with my boss," and went back to the truck. He returned and said, "Yeah, I meant two-by-four."
"All right. How long do you need them?"
The customer paused for a minute and said, "I’d better go check with my boss again."
After a while, the customer returned to the office and said,
"A long time. My boss says we’re gonna build a house."