Monthly Archives: April 2014

Finding Beauty in my own Backyard

Eastern Tiger SwallowtailIridescent fly on azalea Lovely babbling brookSee why I love rainy days? What a beautiful creature! Azaleas are INSECT magnets! Newly opened leavesBlack form of Eastern Tiger SwallowtailAmazing camouflage! A crab spider hides in plain sightWhich is more beautiful--the gold finch or the azaleas?Beauty of a fern frondNew leaves reach for the lightSpring forestOak leaves Raindrops make artA misty morningHello squirrel! Tiny spots of beautyMayapples decorate the hillsideMy churchLeaf artHolding onto the rainMother Nature's perfectionA nuthatch pauses by the azaleasTufted titmouse Beauty is everywhereThe forest transformed into art
Over the weekend, I ventured up and over the mountain, eventually reaching the Pisgah National Forest. Not bound to any trails, I let myself wander freely, open to where I might end up and what spots of beauty I might find.



Does Touching a Toad Give you Warts?

I’m not sure where the idea began that touching a toad could give you warts, but like many of the things we think we know about nature, it is just another myth. Touching a toad will not give you warts! Touching a toad may cause it to pee on you  or secrete a milky toxin and sometimes the oils on your skin may be bad for the toads so it is best to just avoid touching them anyway.

This week’s Creature Feature is the American Toad. Here are some other things you may not know about toads:

1. Toads can secrete a milky toxin from glands behind their eyes (called parotid glands) that irritates the mouth or eyes of a potential predator. (Another reason not to touch them as some people could have an allergic reaction to this toxin.) Other defense tactics include urinating on a predator, playing dead or puffing up their body to appear larger.

2. Toads breed in early spring, usually March or April. Like wood frogs and yellow spotted salamanders, they prefer ephemeral (temporary) bodies of water that lack fish.

atoad-0203. The males inflate their throats to make a long high-pitched trill that lasts anywhere from 4 to 40 seconds. Click here to hear the call of the American Toad: (From Lang Elliot of Nature Sound Studio)

4. Male toads are smaller than females and males develop enlarged toe pads during breeding season. Fertilization is external, with the male releasing sperm as the female disperses the eggs.  These come out in long skinny strands that may contain 2000-20,000 eggs! atoad-4193Depending on the temperature of the water, they will hatch into tadpoles in 3-12 days. It then takes them from 4-6 weeks to absorb their tales, grow legs and develop lungs so they can leave the water and live on land.

5. The diet of a toad changes depending on its stage of life. In their tadpole stage, toads are herbivores, feeding on algae. As adults they are carnivorous, feeding on small insects and other invertebrates.  They have a sticky tongue to catch prey in mid air and in just one day can eat 1000 insects.atoad-021-3

6. The main predator of toads is snakes, especially the hognose snake which is a toad specialist and isn’t bothered by the toxin. Raccoons, hawks, herons, and skunks also feed on toads.

7. Toads have 4 toes on the front legs and 5 toes on the hind legs. Their legs are shorter than those of frogs.

8. Toads have a remarkably long life span considering their small size of 2-41/2 inches long. They can live for 40 years but in the wild live an average of 5-10 years.

9.Toads are most active at night.

10. The color of a toad’s skin is highly variable from brown to tan and even reddish in color. It is affected by temperature, humidity and even stress levels.


Frogs and Toad of NC

Encyclopedia of life

Why are Ants on Peony Buds?

ant--2If you have peonies in your yard, you almost certainly also have ants. Ants on peonies go together like peanut butter and jelly. Some people complain about the ants and take measures to get rid of them, but to that I would ask why? Why go through the trouble of getting rid of the ants, who are doing no harm to the peonies? Why expose yourself, your children, your pets and other animals to the harmful effects of poisons?

So why are the ants there in the first place? Common folklore believed the complex layers of the peony needed the ants to help open them. As is true of much regarding nature, this is just another myth; the peony bud will open just fine without the ants’ presence. The ants are there in fact to take advantage of the sugary juice that the the peonies produce. They do the plant no harm by being there and are simply a natural part of nature.

Enjoy your peonies! The ants will go away after the bud is open.


Spy Camera Shows All!

We have two spy cams in our yard–one in our screech owl box (no takers this year) and one in a bluebird box. These tiny cameras are mounted at the top of the box and then a cord is run from the box to inside the house, where we can turn on the big screen tv and choose our channel–the Bluebird channel or the Screech Owl channel. It is fascinating to see what goes on behind the closed doors.

A week ago we began seeing bluebird activity at one of our bluebird boxes, thankfully the one with the camera! (We have two) The male would sit on the top of the box while the female collected nesting material. She would enter the box, deposit the grass or leaves and then shuffle down on her butt to create a depression. Meanwhile the male looked around and supervised, not helping with the nest-making process.  Five days later, the nest was done. Then for two days we saw no sign of her or her mate and we feared they had found a better place for their nest. But this morning when I turned on the Bluebird channel, there was the female, quietly sitting on the nest while the male sang sweetly from a perch on a nearby tree. Woo hoo, this is exciting!!!

I will keep you updated on the progress of our nesting pair. The female should lay one egg a day for 4 or 5 days. Hopefully sometime today we will turn on the tv and discover she has laid an egg!


If you are interested in having a nesting box in your yard with a camera, here is a link to a place that sells them online*. This is the one I own. And if you need a bluebird box* to put it in, here’s one I recommend.

If you get one, let me know how it works out! I’d love to hear about your spy cam adventures!


*Some of these are affiliate links so if you buy something using these, I get a small percentage. The cost is the same for you and I only suggest products I own, or would own.



Weekly Puzzler #6

Here’s this week’s puzzler:

What is it? Please use the comment box to submit your guesses.

Click HERE for the answer.


Weekly Puzzler Answer #5

atoda-0013 If you reached into the water and lifted out those long, spaghetti-like strands, you would find they look a bit like this, here on the right. Each tiny black dot is one egg–from a toad! American toads, like wood frogs, lay their eggs in temporary bodies of water. These egg strands were inches deep in shallow pools created when a beaver dammed a small stream.


Do you think touching a toad will give you warts?

What do toads eat? What sound do they make? Click HERE to learn the answer.

Do Male Praying Mantises get Eaten after Mating?

mystery-3673Last week’s Puzzler was an egg case (called an ootheca) from a Praying Mantis. A cool thing that I learned about an ootheca is that the female will produce one even if she hasn’t mated, in which case, nymphs will never hatch from it since the eggs weren’t fertilized. But from the outside, it looks the same.

Here are some more interesting things about Praying Mantises:

1. If you ask most people the question above in the title, they will say “yes, the male gets eaten after mating.” While this is sometimes true, it is NOT true most of the time, but instead, just another myth, likely stemming from watching mantises in captivity. In the wild, scientists estimate that females eat the males less than 30% of the time. 

2. Praying mantises are the only insects that are capable of turning their heads (triangular shaped) 180 degrees. This gives them a great advantage over both their prey and predators like birds who might eat them.  They have excellent vision, capable of seeing movement 60 feet away! amantid-0261

3. North America is home to 20 species of praying manis while tropical regions around the globe have many more kinds. Worldwide there are 2300 species of praying mantis ranging in size from 2- 6 inches long.

4. Praying mantises are related to termites and cockroaches. 

5. Praying mantises have sharp spines on their first pair of legs, which they often hold bent in front of them, like in a praying position. This habit explains their common name. These spines are useful in holding their prey.

6. Praying mantises are the only animals on earth that have only ONE EAR! This doesn’t look like a “regular” ear and is the middle of their thorax. With it they can detect the ultrasonic chirps of bats–bats that want to eat them!

7. Adult praying mantises have wings and can fly. When not in use, the wings, like grasshopper or cricket wings, are kept folded on top of their bodies, making them less obvious to a casual observer. The immature mantises, called nymphs, do not have wings.In addition to wings, mantises have 3 body parts (head, abdomen and thorax), 3 pairs of legs, and one pair of antenna.

amantid2-8. When threatened, praying mantises might try to make themselves look bigger by standing on their hind legs and spreading apart their first pair of legs. One day last fall when I was on a bike ride, we came upon a mantis in the middle of the road doing just that–as if it could “scare off” a speeding car! (Rest assured, I moved the menacing mantis to a safer spot before I left) Praying mantises can bite if threatened but in my experience handling them, this is rare and I have never been bitten. Unless someone is squeezing it or otherwise roughly handling it, our NA praying mantises seem unlikely to bite.

9. Praying mantises, like other insects, will grow by molting, or shedding their skin. When they are getting ready to do this, they will stop eating. They can go for up to two weeks without food.

10. Praying mantises are masters of camouflage. With their brown or green bodies they disappear into the background, making them hard to see. Unsuspecting insects can get caught when they venture too close.