Category Archives: Nature: plant and animal identification

Raising Tree Frog Tadpoles (MD, USA)

If you have kids, raising tadpoles into frogs is a must. With not much effort you can witness the fascinating metamorphosis of a tadpole into a frog. Here is a tree frog we raised in the summer of 2004.

Gray tree frog found on my house (which is green) in southern Maryland 2008.

Green tree frog found outside my house. (Southern Maryland 2008)

Green tree frog outside my kitchen window 2009. It is not uncommon for tree frogs to hang out there eating the moths that are attracted to the light.

Mini Pond -2004

We have a galvanized container that I got at an antique store that doubles as a mini deck pond. When it rains we often hear one or more male tree frogs calling for a mate. They usually get together at night but we’ve seen them on really rainy days. In the morning we see eggs in our pond: lots of them. It doesn’t take long before you have all those little tadpoles swimming around. At this point, we get a few of the tadpoles to raise inside. I find that if the weather is really hot, the tadpoles all die. Hence, for better results, we bring some inside for raising. The tadpoles in our mini deck pond, if conditions are good, will eat mosquito larvae growing in the “pond”. Therefore, I don’t have to worry about creating a mosquito problem. The tadpoles will also eat algae- the green stuff growing on the sides of your pond. Your pond will stay cleaner looking. They will also resort to eating smaller tadpoles. This sounds pretty harsh but in doing so, at least some of the tadpoles will make it to adulthood.

Home for tadpoles

We kept our tadpoles in various large glass containers over the years. I like to limit the number of tadpoles because you don’t want to overcrowd them. The number you raise will depend on the size of the jar or tank you use

Change the water:

Freshen the water by dumping about half out and replacing it with fresh water. I have well water but if you have city water, you probably have chlorine to worry about. The chlorine will kill your tadpoles so set out a pitcher of water for a day or two in preparation to adding it to your jar of tadpoles.

Feed your tadpoles:

Your jar pond should have sunlight so the algae can grow. They love to eat the algae that grow naturally but there will not be enough in your little “pond” so you will need to feed them.

Don’t add so much food that the water gets all dirty looking. Feed as needed. I’ve successfully raised tadpoles on lettuce. I chopped it up then boiled it for a short time. (I’ve since read that boiling it first isn’t necessary.) After that I’d either pour off the water and freeze it or make portions in ice cube trays: the lettuce is frozen in the ice. Either break off bits of your frozen lettuce or drop in an ice cube when necessary. I’ve also feed them leftover fish food that I didn’t need any more. They loved that too.

I recently found the following link. It provides additional information about keeping tadpoles and is definitely worth checking out (no pictures though).

http://frogs.org.au/x/media/cs-lentic.pdf

When they start to grow front legs, you will need to cover your jar with cheese cloth or mesh of some kind so they don’t escape into your house. There needs to be something for the frog to climb onto- out of the water because you don’t want your new frog to drown. Release your tree frog back into the wild after metamorphosis takes place.

The whole process will take a little over two months if you are starting with eggs.

Check out the mouth on this guy!

This tadpole is clearly trying to go unnoticed.

Back legs at last!

Almost done!

How cute is that!

Tree frog we raised in the summer of 2008.

Observing Nature: Fisher Cat In NH Yard

During a visit to Amherst, New Hampshire, we were amazed to see a fisher cat come out of the woods! It was searching for dinner scrapes that were tossed there. We were all surprised. My family and I had never seen one before that. Fisher cats are known for being secretive and they are very rarely seen. Incredible: we got to get such a good look at the fisher cat while safely on a raised deck! It didn’t even seem to know or care that we were there.

When I was a kid we would throw out kitchen scraps and watch what came around after dark to get it: mostly raccoons and skunks. We would turn on the light to view them at a distance.

I’ve since read that fisher cats are omnivorous; they eat a bunch of stuff including small animals, carrion, insects, fruit and even mushrooms. They rarely eat fish despite their name and apparently they are good at hunting porcupines. Furthermore, they were hunted to near extinction back when wearing furs was the thing to do.

The night before I took these pictures, my Aunt’s toy dog was carried away while she was standing nearby. It was dark and the dog went outside of the ring of light. She was shocked and devastated when this beloved pet was carried away in the night: a fox was blamed. After seeing this fisher cat we are all convinced it was the fisher cat. Fisher cats are blamed for the disappearance of many house pets but biologists believe that other predators are usually to blame. Unfortunately, I think this fisher cat saw an opportunity and took it. How was she to know?

This fisher cat showed up around 6 p.m.

What made this nest? Brown Thrasher Nest and Eggs

Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum

How fun: a pair of Brown Thrashers decided to make a nest in my yard (June 2010)! We found the nest hidden in a tangle of grape vines. Later we discovered three eggs inside the nest. According to Wikipedia, both parents take turns incubating the eggs. We often saw the mom or dad in the nest. We were very hopeful at the prospect of baby birds but when we returned from vacation sadly the nest was empty.

What made this nest? I’m going to post pictures of bird eggs and nests in order to help others identify nests or bird eggs that they find.

This nest was made mostly of small twigs and dried leaves in a tangle of grape vines in a yard in Southern Maryland. It was about five feet off the ground.

I’m briefly holding this egg in my hand so you can see relative size.

The brown thrasher is still commonly found in its range but its numbers have declined in some places due to habitat loss.

Land Snails: How To Care For Your Newly Found Pet

Teach kids how to care for the simple needs of a land snail. Locally found snails don’t cost anything to keep and don’t require a big commitment. They can be kept until the novelty wears off and then released back into the wild. Keeping a pet snail (however temporary) will give kids an opportunity to learn about it. Watch closely when they eat. You can’t see its mouth but you can see how the food is munched bit by bit. They use a radula to file bits of food into its mouth. A radula is like a tongue with teeth. Cool, I know. The land snail pictured here is interesting to watch. It has eyes at the tip of its antennas (the top pair) and the bottom pair is used for feeling and smelling. Best of all you can watch your snail slime its way around using only one muscular foot.

I live on the East coast of the United States so this is a common land snail around here.

If your snail starts to dry out, it will close itself inside its shell and wait for conditions to improve before venturing out again. This state of inactivity is called estivation. They can seal the opening with a sheet of a clear substance that looks like dried egg whites.

If you plan to keep your snail for more than a week or so, you will need to add a source of calcium to the snail’s enclosure. For this you can add a piece of plain chalk or a piece of cuttlebone.

This is Snailie the land snail. You might just find your next pet in your flower garden.

Set-up:

A glass container works well. I found this vintage jar in the woods at an old unofficial trash dump. All that remained of the dump was glass and large metal items. I thought this jar was cool so I took it home. Do they still make jars like this?

A piece of cheese cloth or breathable fabric. You don’t want your pet snail getting lost in your house.

An elastic band. Save and reuse elastic bands that come off vegetables like broccoli and asparagus.

Daily care:

Wash jar. Don’t forget to take the snail out of the jar first!

Replace damp paper towel.

Add food: a leaf of lettuce (not iceberg), a piece of your apple core, spinach, carrot, or a raw potato slice. You are sure to find some yummy vegetable scraps left-over from dinner preparation. The food scraps shouldn’t be rotten however. Take out any food that gets moldy.

Keep your snail out of direct sunlight. You don’t want it to get too hot or dry.

As a child I had a vivarium set up with plants and a pet snail or two. If you choose to set up a vivarium (terrarium), make sure you choose plants that like a moist environment. Also add potting soil, plants, a log and some dried leaves to mimic it’s natural environment. Keep the soil damp.

Note: avoid chlorinated water, avoid washing your container with soap (or at least make sure you rinse really well).

Make A Micro Pond Observatory For Learning And Fun: Damselfly Observation

In this photo is a damselfly larvae (arrow points to it) and to its left is a salamander larvae (more on it in another post).

How interesting to discover the world living in pond water. When I scooped up some pond water and brought it home for observation, I didn’t know that there was a damselfly larvae in it; we just wanted pond water full of tiny aquatic insects to feed our salamander larvae (more on this salamander larvae later). We were delighted when it crawled out of the water and soon emerged as an adult damselfly.

To make your micro pond you need only to find a container, gather some pond water, and add a stick and/or rock. We used a large glass cookie jar. We broke the top sometime back; it is 10.5 inches height and about 9 inches across (see picture). But you can use what you have or can find; think outside the box. Use an extra large pickle jar (ask for one at a sandwich shop; that’s what I did), find a secondhand fish bowl (not hard to find at thrift stores), or use a large glass carafe from a coffee maker (one that the coffee maker itself is broken but not the carafe).

The idea is to keep your micro-pond around long enough to allow things to grow. We plan to keep ours for most of the summer or until our frogs metamorphose. Some frogs like bull frogs and sometimes green frogs hibernate at the bottom of ponds and therefore will not finish metamorphosing until the following summer. Bull frogs will sometimes take 3 years. If tadpoles don’t complete their metamorphosis, we will let them go before the fall (more about keeping tadpoles in another post). To keep the critters in your micro- pond alive you must add new pond water to it every week. Take out some of the old water at this time. Basically, the tiny things swimming around are food for the larger things. 

According to this website: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/bay/cblife/insects/damselflies.html, larvae feed on other insects and small invertebrates while adult damselflies feed on mosquitoes and other flying insects.

The three “tails” at the back are called the caudal lamellae. These are the insect’s gills.

The skin that the insect leaves behind after turning into a winged adult damselfly is called an exuvia.

Here is a snapshot of the adult damselfly. You will want to put a screen across the top of your pond if you suspect a damselfly larvae will be emerging soon. I was unprepared and this guy got away in my house.

More about this soon.