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by , Ranger
Greg Dodge is a professional naturalist as well as a writer, videographer and producer of natural history DVDs. His images have been used in various TV productions, museum displays, and corporate videos. Above all, he has a fascination and passion for all things natural.
Stop by and say hello Tuesday thru Saturday in Explore the Wild, Catch the Wind, or on the Dino Trail.

Baby Turtles at the Lemur House?

April 17th, 2014

As I walked up to the Lemur House on a very busy Wednesday afternoon, I noticed several people looking down at the ground just off the entrance path. All involved were smiling, with looks of wonder and amazement on their faces.

I knew that a female Yellow-bellied Slider had laid eggs very close to where everyone’s attention was focused. I rushed over to see if my hunch was correct. Sure enough, there in the pine needles that were spread across the grass was a tiny slider making its way towards the water of the wetlands.

The nest hole (4/16/14).

The nest hole (4/16/14).

The hole the turtle emerged from was clearly visible two feet away. I looked down into the hole and could just make out one more turtle. I tried unsuccessfully to get a photo of the turtle inside the hole and finally removed some of the dirt around the hole to get a clear view. Dozens of Museum Guests got great looks at the turtle as it peered out from the hole.

With the help of the camera's flash I could see there were indeed more turtles inside the hole (4/16/14).

With the help of the camera’s flash I could see there were indeed more turtles inside the hole (4/16/14).

There were at least two, possibly three turtles in the hole.

This close shot reveals at least tow more turtles, possibly three (4/16/15).

This close shot reveals more turtles (4/16/15).

The human traffic was very heavy on that Wednesday afternoon. I feared for the turtles’ safety as they made their way to the Wetlands. Our adventurous leader, the first turtle out of the hole, had almost been stepped on twice. I picked up the little slider and placed it in a container that I carry around for situations such as this.

I decided that it would be wise to remove the turtles from the hole and transport them to the Wetlands myself. And so I did. I cleared away more dirt from the entrance hole, picked out the turtles with a pair of tweezers and placed them in a container. There were four.

Packed up and ready to go (4/16/14).

Packed up and ready to go (4/16/14).

Lots of kids got great looks at the tiny turtles before releasing them (4/16/14).

Lots of kids got great looks at the tiny turtles before releasing them (4/16/14).

As  I made my way down to the water to release the turtles I stopped a family that happpened to be passing by and asked if they’d like to let the turtles go, to release them into the Wetlands. Only too happy to do so, I first took a few photos and off they went. One by one each turtle was gently placed into the water.

A quick final shot of this turtle before it was set free in the Wetlands (4/16/14).

A quick final shot of this turtle before it was set free in the Wetlands (4/16/14).

Oh, one more thing, the mother turtle. She was first spotted by last summer’s Animal Behavior Summer Campers at approximately 10:30 AM on 19 July. She was unmarked at the time of nesting. After she completed her egg laying duties she was marked, measured, and released. Her number is #00-63 and she is 9 – 5/8″ (24.5 cm) from stem to stern.

The mother turtle as she laid her eggs (7/19/13).

The mother turtle as she laid her eggs (7/19/13).

Every year that I’ve been here at the Museum (6+), I or some else has seen young turtles in this area (near the Lemur House) headed down the path towards the Wetlands. Is this the same turtle using the same site each year, or are there also other turtles laying their eggs at the Lemur House? With this turtle being marked and now easily identifiable, we’re one step closer to finding out.

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by , Ranger
Greg Dodge is a professional naturalist as well as a writer, videographer and producer of natural history DVDs. His images have been used in various TV productions, museum displays, and corporate videos. Above all, he has a fascination and passion for all things natural.
Stop by and say hello Tuesday thru Saturday in Explore the Wild, Catch the Wind, or on the Dino Trail.

Northern Water Snake vs Copperhead

May 29th, 2013

It’s almost a daily occurrence, I’d be watching a water snake coiled up and snoozing in the grass on the north side of the Wetlands, point the snake out to someone passing by and they’d say, “That looks like a Copperhead,” or, “Is that a moccasin, cottonmouth?” or most often, “Is it poisonous?”

The answer to that statement and those questions is always no.

In explaining my no response, last question first, no snake in our area is poisonous. It’s an honest mistake but the correct word for a biting snake with fangs that injects toxins into its prey, or enemies, is venomous.

Moving forward, water moccasins, or cottonmouths as they are often called, are scarce above the fall line, or coastal plain in our state. This too is an honest mistake for some folks. The Museum, in Durham, is not very far from the fall line (just one county east) and many people who visit us live below the fall line where they are likely to encounter cottonmouths. That’s not to say that a cottonmouth has never been or never will be seen above the fall line or in Durham, but the chances are pretty slim.

The copperheads? The pictures below do a better job of replying to the statement, “That looks like a Copperhead,” than simple words.

A Northern Water Snake crossing the path in Explore the Wild (5/7/13).

A Copperhead crossing the path in Explore the Wild (5/17/13).

And here they are again in direct comparison.

Water snake (top) and copperhead.

Putting aside the broad, copper-colored head of the bottom snake, look at the pattern. Although variable, the pattern on the northern water snake is never as clean and bright as it is on the copperhead, at least in our area.

Both patterns serve their wearer well in their respective habitats. The close banding on the water snake works well in the reflective, dappled light of a watery domain while the wide-spaced, hourglass pattern on the copperhead suits its leaf-littered wooded haunts. They’re easy to see on the pavement, but not so easy to spot in their natural habitats.

If you like to hike in the woods you’ve probably walked past more copperheads than you’d care to know about. You may have even stepped directly over one without realizing it. But that’s a story for another time.

Look at the patterns on the snakes above and you should have no problem differentiating a northern water snake from a copperhead. As I said, the water snake’s pattern is variable, some may be darker, lighter, or may even be quite red, but the pattern on the copperhead is locally consistent.

Have fun!

 

Join the conversation:

  1. thanks. Everyone thinks I’m a dork for dissing their supposed copperhead. Now I point them here.

    Posted by Bill Knighton
  2. Ranger Comment :

    What’s your location, Bill?

    Posted by Greg Dodge
  3. Near lake wheeler , Raleigh.

    Posted by Bill knighton
  4. This is a useful comparison of the markings on the two snakes. I have seen both in this area, around the Eno River, in particular.

    Posted by Robin Sheedy
  5. Ranger Comment :

    Yes, the question of “Is that a Copperhead?” comes up so often here at the Museum that I thought it a good idea to point the differences out in simple photos.
    Thanks,

    Posted by Greg Dodge

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by , Ranger
Greg Dodge is a professional naturalist as well as a writer, videographer and producer of natural history DVDs. His images have been used in various TV productions, museum displays, and corporate videos. Above all, he has a fascination and passion for all things natural.
Stop by and say hello Tuesday thru Saturday in Explore the Wild, Catch the Wind, or on the Dino Trail.

The Big White Tree with the Peeling Bark

March 3rd, 2010
am sycamore

American Sycamore

I was recently asked whether or not I knew why the bark on American Sycamore drops off the tree in large thin flakes. Coincidentally, while walking around the Outdoor Exhibits this winter with camera in hand, I’ve been taking photos of various trees to use on this blog in a series of informal, mini-field guides. My intention was to start with some of the more readily identifiable winter trees, trees without leaves. Although winter’s nearly over, this is a good time to squeeze in at least one of those mini-guides.

One of the easiest of trees to identify is the American Sycamore. It’s white upper bark standing off against the winter sky, and other trees in the forest, make it hard to miss and appreciate.

Sycamore is a tree of the bottomlands. Just about any stream or river in our area has it’s share of sycamores growing along its banks, often alongside River Birch. Here at the Museum it grows next to the Wetlands as well as in the swamp between Catch the Wind and Explore the Wild. This handsome tree is often planted along city streets but its roots are near the water.

Many trees have a different type of bark at the base of the trunk than they do at the younger, upper portion of the tree. The sycamore takes this to the extreme.

Take a look at the tree on the right. Scroll up and follow the bark up to the top. It starts out as “typical” gray bark. As you scroll up you’ll notice that the darker bark begins to flake off until finally it becomes nearly all white at the top of the tree.

Towards the middle of the three, starting at about a quarter to a third-way up the tree, the bark often appears “camouflaged” with various gray, brown, and green hues.

Below are some close-ups of the bark.

lower bark

The lower portion of the trunk has rough gray-brown bark.

middle of tree

The bark becomes scaly and flakes off about 1/4 the way up the trunk. It often appears as if camouflaged.

Towards the top of mature trees the bark may be nearly all white.

But, why do sycamores shed their bark? Why does the bark peel off in large thin flakes all season long? I’ve sometimes wondered that myself, but apparently not long or hard enough to actually find out…until now.

Trees have bark to help protect them from losing moisture and drying out, protect themselves from insects (although there are many insects that get past this defense), birds (woodpeckers go in after the insects), and disease. And, all trees have bark specific to the trees themselves. Flowering Dogwood has scaly “alligator” bark. Loblolly Pine has furrowed, segmented bark which bares a resemblance to the loblollies on a dried lake bed. Shagbark Hickory has a shaggy appearance with big, gray pieces of bark sticking out from the trunk. Sycamore has bark that peels off and becomes white near the upper portion of the tree.

What evolutionary advantage is it for a tree to shed it’s bark the way sycamores do? Everything from the tree’s favored habitat to photosynthesis has been suggested by people who should know, people who study trees. Most of the theories that I’ve read seem like sound reasons for this bark shedding habit. Apparently though, there is no definitive answer to the question of why this tree looks and behaves the way it does.

Instead of me quoting or paraphrasing the various suggested answers to this question, from another source, it may be easier for you to read them yourself. The linked article is from the Daily Plant out of NYC, NY and tries to answer the question of why sycamore sheds its bark through an interview with Dr. Marc Abrams, Professor of Forest Ecology at Penn State University.

Oh yeah, back to the identification of the tree. If the bark doesn’t nail down the ID of this tree for you, perhaps the many fruit balls that typically dangle from the branches will do it.

Sycamore has fruit balls on its branches all winter.

The fruit hang from the tree throughout the winter, are about an inch to an inch and a quarter in diameter and, unlike the spiky seed balls of Sweetgum, are soft to the touch.

On your next walk through Explore the Wild stop at the platform midway down the boardwalk. If you stand facing the Animal Footprints Exhibit and look about 40 degrees or so to your left you’ll see an excellent example of an American Sycamore with all of the features described above. Another is about the same amount of degrees to your right. If you look about 90 degrees to your right you’ll see a slim, straight sycamore which is nearly all green, all the way to the crown. Why is this sycamore green and not white? That one will have to wait for another day, maybe.

Enjoy your walk.

Join the conversation:

  1. We have a tree like that in our yard and we never knew what kind of a tree it was. Know we know…

    Posted by Joseph Caswell
  2. Thanks for the post!! Very informative, if not totally conclusive. I was looking at the sycamores again yesterday and noticed that, along with their fruit balls, there were what looked like some little balls of fluff hanging from the branches. I guess the seeds are about ready to disperse? Has the warmer weather awakened them?

    Posted by Leslie A
  3. Ranger Comment :

    That’s right, the seeds are ready to disperse. The balls break apart and the seeds are cast to the wind. In fact, with the steady SW winds today (Wednesday, 3/10) I saw many of the seeds floating by me like little paratroopers as I stood on the boardwalk and elsewhere in Explore the Wild and Catch the Wind.

    Posted by Greg Dodge, Ranger
  4. We have dozens of these trees in my neighborhood, and I couldn’t figure out if they were diseased or what was the reason for them shedding their bark. I couldn’t identify them either except that they were white where the bark was gone. Thanks for clearing up this mystery for me.

    Posted by Elizabeth Westra
  5. Ranger Comment :

    My pleasure, Elizabeth.
    Although these trees are associated with wet areas they have been planted extensively along streets and avenues across the country. How many towns and cities have a Sycamore Avenue, Lane, or Street?
    Thanks,

    Posted by Greg Dodge
  6. Thanks for the info–tried several sites to identify but mostly leaf ID’S. I’m a “recycler” of trees, i.e., in my fireplace or neighbors with woodstoves and the ash goes to my compost. Have several downed A.S. in my area and wanted to know if hardwood before I “light up?” How hard is A.S.??

    Posted by Jim McDole
  7. Ranger Comment :

    I’ve never burned sycamore but a quick search revealed that it is “OK” to burn, not the best but it will produce a moderate amount of heat. Make sure that you season it, let it dry out. I would think that if you’re cutting it now it probably won’t be ready before next winter.
    Good luck,

    Posted by Greg Dodge
  8. Thanks for the info!! Your site’s the best.

    Posted by Jim McDole
  9. I never thought about the trunk of a large, mature sycamore continuing to grow when I had a tree house built around mine in 2008. Now the tree has filled the gap in the flooring and has popped some of the smaller boards loose. Is there any chance that other areas will grow around the framing, like in the roof, or is my tree house doomed?

    Posted by Lynette Gaines
  10. Ranger Comment :

    Not being able to see your tree house I can’t tell what may happen to it, but yeah, the tree will continue to grow as long as it’s alive. There is more of a height limit than there is a girth limit, the trunk keeps getting wider, hence the rings inside the trunk. There’s a tree near Waynesville, NC that is “132 feet tall and 268 inches wide” (probably means 268 inches in circumference), which is about 22.3 feet in circumference. There’s a stump of a dead sycamore in Indiana that was/is 57 feet in circumference when a storm split the trunk and knocked it over.
    Good luck!

    Posted by Greg Dodge
  11. I was driving through a section of Rouge Park in Detroit and noticed a group of white trees with patchy, scaling bark. Thanks for your in depth explanation.

    Posted by Chae
  12. Ranger Comment :

    Glad to have helped.

    Posted by Greg Dodge

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by , Ranger
Greg Dodge is a professional naturalist as well as a writer, videographer and producer of natural history DVDs. His images have been used in various TV productions, museum displays, and corporate videos. Above all, he has a fascination and passion for all things natural.
Stop by and say hello Tuesday thru Saturday in Explore the Wild, Catch the Wind, or on the Dino Trail.

Bluebird Update 4/15/14

April 16th, 2014

We now have six nest boxes containing 16 eggs. Last week there were a total of seven eggs in the boxes, all chickadee eggs. There are now an additional 9 eggs, all belonging to bluebirds. There has been a change in ownership of one nest box and two of the boxes have completed nests sans eggs.

Last week, the nest at the Cow Pasture was empty, no eggs. It now has five bluebird eggs. This nest, started by bluebirds and finished by bluebirds, is the only nest which has not seen a chickadee’s influence, more of that later.

The only "totally bluebird" nest now has five eggs (4/15/14).

The only “totally bluebird” nest now has five eggs (4/15/14).

Last week I predicted that both the Bungee and the Sail Boat Pond nests, which at the time had four and three chickadee eggs, respectively, would have a few more eggs. I was wrong. Each nest still has the same amount of eggs. And, the females have been incubating, each bird flew from the nest as I approached. Incubation is a good indication that the egg laying is over.

There'll be no more eggs in this chickadee's nest. Note the nice round "cup" formed by the incubating bird (4/15/14).

There’ll be no more eggs in this chickadee’s nest. Note the nice round “cup” formed by the incubating bird (4/15/14).

The nest box in the Amphimeadow is still empty. This is one of the nests started by a bluebird, worked on by a chickadee, and finally completed by a bluebird.

Moving on to another nest with the same sequence in nest construction as the last (bluebird, chickadee, back to bluebird), the Picnic Dome nest. This nest now has four lustrous bluebird eggs. I’m not going to predict there will be more eggs by next week, but I didn’t see the female around, which may mean she’s not yet incubating, which also means she may lay more eggs. But no, I think we should wait till next week and see what the birds decide to do.

Four eggs grace the nest at the Picnic Dome (4/15/14).

Four eggs grace the nest at the Picnic Dome (4/15/14).

This is no longer property of the chickadees. Bluebirds have taken over (4/15/14).

This is no longer property of the chickadees. Bluebirds have taken over (4/15/14).

Last week, the nest at the Butterfly House was all chickadee. I was surprised that a chickadee would build in this box since it’s in an area that’s more open than they like. Nevertheless, the birds had built a nice moss nest topped off with fur with a well shaped “cup” ready to accept eggs. At the time, I predicted, “Unless something happens to the female between now and next Tuesday, there will be eggs in that nest.”

Well, something apparently has happened to the chickadees. It appears they’ve been ousted by a pair of bluebirds. There is now, built on top of the “old” chickadee nest, a completed bluebird nest, no eggs yet, but the nest is finished and ready.

With the takeover of the chickadee nest at the Butterfly House there are now four bluebird nests with a total of nine eggs, four in the Cow pasture nest and four in the Picnic Dome nest.

Where last week there were three chickadee nests, there are now two. One is at the Bungee Jump (four eggs), the other the Sail Boat Pond (three eggs).

All nests except one (Cow Pasture), have at one time been occupied by chickadees, the nests having been partially constructed by chickadees.

The early morning temperatures on the 16th and 17th are expected to be in the low thirties, perhaps dipping to the twenties. Wish the birds who’ve already expended the time and energy in laying eggs good luck. Let’s hope they sit tight on those eggs for the next few days.

See you next week.

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by , Ranger
Greg Dodge is a professional naturalist as well as a writer, videographer and producer of natural history DVDs. His images have been used in various TV productions, museum displays, and corporate videos. Above all, he has a fascination and passion for all things natural.
Stop by and say hello Tuesday thru Saturday in Explore the Wild, Catch the Wind, or on the Dino Trail.

The Mysterious Red Tubular Growth

June 3rd, 2010

The voice on the radio (Animal Department Director, Sherry Samuels) said that there was a cluster of strange, red, tube-like fungi growing out of the ground next to the Lemur House and wondered if I knew what it was.

stinkhorn

One of the many strange growths growing in the leaf litter next to the the Lemur House (approx. 4″ tall).

I said that I didn’t know what it was but would stop by and have a look at them later.

It was a few days before I finally made it to the site and, after having a look at the horn-shaped growths and agreeing that they were obviously some sort of fungus, I still didn’t know exactly what they were.

Some of them were “wilted” and laying on the ground while others appeared fresh, if fungus can be termed as being fresh.

stinkhorn

Some of the growths were obviously gone by while others appeared to be new growth.

I happen to have an identification guide to mushrooms and after a quick browse through the many photos in the book I was able to come up with a match, Elegant Stinkhorn (Mutinus elegans).

The visible “horns” of this stinkhorn are the spore bearing stems. Just below the leaf litter are “eggs” from which the stems “hatch.”

stinkhorn

An egg (fruit body) on the left and a fully emerged horn (stem).

stinkhorn egg

A stem breaking out of its egg.

The eggs, according to my mushroom guide’s author, are edible, “…but not recommended.” I don’t think that I’ll be tempted to try them regardless.

Case closed.

There’s nothing like a good mystery to start off the week!

Six days after the case of the stinkhorns, I came across a more typical member of that strange group of organisms (not animal, not plant) growing under a dogwood near the entrance to the Dinosaur Trail.

parasol mushroom

This tall, lean mushroom (approx. 12″ tall) was growing under a small Flowering Dogwood next to the Parasaurolophus on the Dinosaur Trail.

I’m not certain about the identity of this mushroom, but think that it’s a Parasol Mushroom (Lepiota procera). The height, scaling on the cap, and season (June-October) as well as other features seem right for the species, but I’m not positive. My guide says that in regard to the identity of Parasol Mushrooms ”smell is important and should be noted” but it doesn’t say exactly what that smell should be, only that it’s “slight, not distinctive.” I guess you have to be a connoisseur of mushrooms to understand what that means.

parasol mushroom

The following day the parasol opened. The small ring below the cap, or parasol, is supposed to be movable up and down the stem on this species. I didn’t learn that until after the fact and didn’t try to move it (it looks like it could slide up and down the stem).

I’m not recommending this or any other mushroom be consumed, but according to my guide, Parasol Mushrooms are rated as “excellent” for edibility with a “sweet” in the taste category. Again, I’m not going to eat one of these mushrooms and don’t recommend that you do either, just quoting my guide.

The guide that I used for the identifications of the stinkhorn and parasol (if that’s what it is) is Mushrooms of North America, by Roger Phillips. It’s a large format book and not really suited for work in the field (it won’t fit into your pocket), but it has over a thousand photos and extensive descriptions of the many mushrooms included within its pages.

Happy hunting.

Join the conversation:

  1. How fascinating! And elegant!

    Posted by Erin Brown
  2. Thanks for figuring this out for me and sharing it with everyone Greg.

    Posted by Sherry
  3. Ranger Comment :

    Thanks Erin.
    It is indeed fascinating…all of the little mysteries of nature that are out there waiting to be discovered.

    Posted by Greg Dodge, Ranger
  4. Ranger Comment :

    You’re welcome, Sherry. Thanks for pointing them out to me!

    Posted by Greg Dodge, Ranger
  5. Eureka! I just discovered one of these today along our driveway. Strangely, it’s not a very moist environment, barring the fact that we’ve had a really wet spring. Our stinkhorn was brilliant orange, just like a carrot and there were several bottle flies crawling on it. I snapped a couple photos before it was ultimately destroyed by some construction activity. Thanks so much! I searched “strange tubular fungus” and here you were!!

    Posted by Keri
  6. Ranger Comment :

    Good, glad you were able to figure it out.
    One of our Rangers (Erin) here at the Museum found one last week as well. There was one above ground and another about to “hatch,” but unfortunately, I think it was trampled on. It was right next to one of the trails here with heavy traffic.
    Have a good one,

    Posted by Greg Dodge
  7. I also want to thank you. I found a group of four of these mushrooms in my front yard flower bed and was mustified! I Googled tubulat mushroom and “whaaLaa!” your photos and explanations came up. Must also mention that there is a very heavy mucklike smell that is almost sickening to these mushrooms. Maybe that is where they got their name:Stinkhorn. Dennis Dotson

    Posted by Dennis Dotson
  8. Ranger Comment :

    Thanks for the comments Dennis.
    And yes, the smell is the reason for the stinkhorn part of its name.

    Posted by Greg Dodge
  9. Thank you!! I found a stinkhorn in my back yard and was totally mystified… my son found your blog or I would still be wondering.

    Posted by Gayla Rihaly
  10. Ranger Comment :

    Good, good, glad you found us.
    Thanks,

    Posted by Greg Dodge
  11. I just found a couple of their “eggs” behind the duck yard. They’ve been sitting on my desk the last couple of days waiting for you to come back to work. It started to “hatch” this morning. I remembered you did a post about odd looking smelly red fungus and now I don’t need to save the juicy smelly red things for you to ID. Thanks Greg!

    Posted by Sarah
  12. Ranger Comment :

    Always a pleasure.
    Thanks,

    Posted by Greg Dodge
  13. is the Tubular Red Fungas toxic to dogs if they come in contact wioth it or eat one? How do I get ried of them?

    Posted by cynthia
  14. Ranger Comment :

    I could find no reference stating that this fungus is toxic to dogs. In fact, most references say that it is not toxic and is of little concern to dog owners who worry that their dog will eat the stinkhorns and become ill.
    The fungus with wither, dry up and disappear on its own. It you want to hurry the process and dig it up, go ahead, make sure you get the “eggs” beneath the surface.
    Good luck!!

    Posted by Greg Dodge
  15. I RECENTLY SAW THE “STINK HORN” GROWING IN A RATHER SUNNY PLACE GLAD SOME ONE HAS GIVEN IT A NAME. FEW PEOPLE JUST LAUGHED WHEN i TRIED TO DESCRIBE IT. MINE APPEARED TO BE WET AND IT WAS A DRY AREA. ALSO HAVE LOTS OF EARTH STAR MUSHROOMS around .

    Posted by CAROLYN JONES
  16. Ranger Comment :

    Good, I’m glad you were able to figure out the identity of the stinkhorn.
    They will laugh no more! Well, maybe.
    Thanks,

    Posted by Greg Dodge

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