The Growing Commences

japanese knotweed day 1Every year there are plans to do this: 2015 this is the year. The Japanese knot-weed growth is going to be recorded. How fast does it grow in a day, 2 days a week? Seems like it grows so fast you can see it. You can actually hear it as it pushes up from under the leaves. Yeah, its that fast.

The plan is to record the growth and the rainfall for each day.

Day 1

Shoot height on plant #1: 8mm, height on plant #2: 2mm and 11mm.

Rainfall: 0

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Posted by on April 20, 2015 in Uncategorized


The Power of Cellular Respiration

skunk cabbage flowerLast weekend, when the ground was still covered with about 2 feet of snow, we went looking for flowers. We found them in the wetlands by Conte Community School. Symplocarpus foetidus, common name around here: Skunk Cabbage. The interesting thing about this stinky plant, and yes it smells like boiled cabbage probably to attract early spring insects, is that it can generate its own heat and melt the snow around it. We found a hole in the snow about 2.5 inches across, down below in the muck, was a flowering skunk cabbage. skunk cabbage flowers in snowNot the prettiest of flowers, but fascinating. These plants make heat through cellular respiration. Remember that from high school biology? Remember it never made any sense? Well what this plant does is take CO2 from the air and make it into sugar to use for energy, this process of making energy gives off heat. Its called thermogenesis. Pretty cool eh? Also in the picture is a small clump of crouch grass, or crab grass. This grass uses CAM photosynthesis or Crassulacean-Acid metabolism. In this process the CO2 is taken up only at night then stored in vacuoles for energy during the day. Tough plants the both of them.

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Posted by on April 9, 2015 in backyard science, Science, science in the parks


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bees 1We apologize for the late notice but we would be thrilled if you could participate in the Berkshires BioBlitz scheduled for 12pm Friday June 19th to 12pm Saturday June 20, 2015 at Canoe Meadows, part of the Pleasant Valley Bird Sanctuary in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Canoe Meadows is part of a wildlife corridor from October Mountain and abundant in flora and fauna.

You are being asked to participate in the BioBlitz in your capacity as an expert in your field. If you cannot participate, we would welcome suggestions of who else I might contact instead.

The goal, as with every BioBlitz (sometimes called “Biodiversity Day” in some towns), is to see how many species we can find in a given area in the 24 hour period of the BioBlitz.

We will send you more information via email over the next month.

We hope you can participate again this year!

Sincerely yours,

Lisa Provencher, BioBlitz Coordinator
Jane Winn, Berkshire Environmental Action Team
Scott LaGreca, Curator Cornell University


Posted by on April 6, 2015 in backyard science, Berkshire BioBlitz, Science, science in the parks


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Crow Show!

crowsThe crows are gathering! You may have noticed that in several places in Berkshire County the crows have been gathering by the thousands! They are not planning a crime scene, its not a ‘omen’, it is more likely a survival technique. When it gets cold they congregate in huge numbers and its called “roosting” just like with chickens. The hypotheses are they do it for warmth, companionship and discussions about where food can be found and as my friend Laurie Brown says, “for sex”. Yes, sex, breeding season for crows in this neck of the woods, according to the folks at Cornell, is in March. There is a hypothesis that they are checking out their potential mates.
Crows have been roosting for as long as there have been crows. What is interesting is that they congregate in some area away from the final roosting site, as pictured here a hundred or so where in the Black Locus trees by the food pantry garden at sunset, spending a lot of time calling, talking, chasing, and fighting, then just before dark then they join the main group for a final roosting spot for the night. Its quite a scene they make. Its wonderful to watch. I sat in my car shivering in the 5 degrees F just to watch this impressive ‘Crow Show’.

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Posted by on February 19, 2015 in backyard science, Science, science in the parks


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terrariumLate last fall I decided I wanted a terrarium. To bring a little summer inside for the winter if you will. My friend John has an amazing terrarium at the Berkshire Museum. Besides being stuffed with lush greenery, having a pond in it and a mister–it has hundreds of tropical frogs. There are even tadpoles. He has to raise fruit flies to feed them. Its impressive.

I attempted to take on a lesser challenge: local flora and fauna. I brought in a rotted log with moss growing on it, some small plants from the yard and forested property, put it in the turtles old leaking tank on top of rock and leaf litter. I had a couple of pieces of long glass I put on top to keep the moisture in and added the light to my old tracing table to the top. (I added some color with African violets, not native, but free.) Not a bad attempt for an inexpensive terrarium. But it needed a back, some old pink insulation did the trick using Styrofoam for build-outs, I broke down and bought some spray foam. Then applied the spray foam over everything making a bumpy rocky looking background. I painted it and slid it in the back of the tank. Then added plants to the outcrops. Added some clay and ceramic ornaments. Voila my terrarium! But its still not done. It needs a full size sheet of glass to cover the top, a cover for the old white light fixture and also a repaint of the chrome on the edges to make it all even.

african violet mushroom The latest update is the fauna is loving the terrarium as much as the flora. Last night a swarm of midges emerged and the spiders in there are feasting. Also there is some weird looking red eggs on stalks growing on the stem of the African violet and some type of white coral looking lichen or slime mold or mushroom growing near the bottom of the terrarium. Exciting!

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Posted by on January 21, 2015 in backyard science, Science


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Baby its cold outside!

bunny tracks 3It is cold outside, so cold that even the squirrels are staying in their nests. The upside is the sun is out and the light covering of white stuff is sparkling. There are some brave souls out there, the 4 crows that have made our property their territory. (One that was born last year and three that have been here for years.) But the bravest I think are the Lagamorphs hopping around on the snow. More specifically the Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), a member of the family Leporidae. They are hardy. They are small rabbits that live in both the front and back of the property, they have their territories too. Although they are seen everywhere, and last year was an especially good year for these little bunnies, they are not native, but an introduced species that are creating a competition for the native New England cottontail. They are almost identical to the rarer native cottontail rabbits. The only way I know of telling them apart is by examining their skulls, not a good idea for the lesser of the two. You can recognize rabbit tracks by their patter, three paws in the front and one in the back.

Eastern cottontail rabbit tracks in the snow.

Eastern cottontail rabbit tracks in the snow.

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Posted by on January 15, 2015 in backyard science, Science, science in the parks


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Should we let sleeping flies lie?

sleeping flyDo flies sleep?

The quick answer is yes. The long answer can be found here.

I have dealt with sleeping flies in the the past. Not as an entomologist, but as a pet owner. When I was young my brother had a small rainbow skink. It loved to eat flies. But the flies had to be alive and moving. So I became a fly catcher. My prey: Muscid flies, aka house flies. I figured out how to sneak up on them. Early in the morning they could be found on flowers on the sunny side of the house. I remember waving my hand in front of them and they didn’t move. They just stood there with those big eyes, not seeing me. Asleep. I’d scoop them up in paper cups and release them in the skink tank. Easy.

Recently a cluster fly decided the kitchen was a good place to spend the winter. It found a crack between the sill and the wall. This fly was looking for a sleeping spot for the whole winter. This type of long dormant sleeping in insects is called “diapause”. During this time they don’t move much, they will drink if water is available. They don’t feed, no mating, not much in the way of flying, unless it gets unseasonably warm and they think it is spring.

Not just flies fall into this overwintering stage, squash bugs, lady bugs, bees, wasps and even mosquitoes do it.

I get countless calls during the fall and early winter about bugs in peoples homes. They come in with the wood, or they fly in looking for a dry, warmer than outside spot to curl up for the winter. Not a bad strategy. I kind of wish I could do it too as long as I had a pile of good books.

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Posted by on November 21, 2014 in insects, Nature Curios, Science


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