This plant is growing on the edge of my property, is it Poison Sumac? Mike – Wilton, CT
What you have here is Staghorn Sumac! It belongs to the same family as poison sumac, however it does not contain the toxic oils that can cause itchiness, swelling, and rashes. Staghorn sumac is a favorite for many species of birds particularly in the winter months when more desirable food is not available. American robins, ruffed grouse, and starlings are among the many types of birds that consume the fruit of this sumac. Several other animals such as white-tailed deer and rabbits feed on the fruit as well as the bark and branches. This variety of sumac is both edible and delicious to humans as well. A friend of mine makes a delicious staghorn sumac lemonade!
I heard what sounded like a child screaming in my woods, it was quite unsettling. What could it have been?Edith – Ridgefield, CT
This sounds like what is known as “the vixen call”, which is the call of a female red fox during mating season! Although they can make these barking or screaming calls year-round, they are most vocal during the breeding season. Red foxes are normally solitary animals, however breeding pairs are inseparable at this time of year and do mate for life. The gestation period is 53 days, and the average litter is 4-5 kits. Look for two sets of tracks in the snow from January to March and if you find them, keep your eyes open in the early spring in the hopes of getting a glimpse of those cute little kits.
Is there really such a thing as freshwater clams and shrimp? Peter – Ridgefield, CT
From a young age most children are taught that clams, shrimp, and lobsters come from the ocean. You can imagine my surprise when I was shown a fingernail clam and a fairy shrimp while learning about freshwater aquatic invertebrates as an adult. Fingernail clams are tiny filter feeders that feed off algae and leaf litter. These clams can be found in swamps, ponds, and temporary woodland pools also known as vernal pools. Fairy Shrimp are small and delicate organisms that seem to “magically appear” in vernal pools, sometimes even after years of being absent. Unfortunately, both have very short lifespans. Fingernail clams live for a year or two, while fairy shrimp only live for a few weeks.