Shiela Fuller Takes you on: A NIGHT HIKE FOR THE ELUSIVE SPOTTED SALAMANDER

If you live in the eastern part of the United States and have access to vernal ponds, you might want to go on a night hunt in search of the spotted salamander.

Get out your flashlight and put on your wading boots because the area around vernal ponds can sometimes be muddy. The absolute best time to find the spotted salamander is after a rainfall just as winter is becoming spring, mid-March through mid-April. This is a very small window of opportunity to find one, as these hibernating amphibians will wake up and march in great numbers in search of the closest vernal pond. It is here that a new generation of salamander eggs are laid.

As larvae, the spotted salamander is dull green in color. It will lie low in the vernal pond under debris.   They will live in the vernal pool breathing with the use of gills for up to 4 months. If the vernal pond should go dry before the salamanders reach the juvenile stage, they will not survive.   If they reach adulthood, the spotted salamander dons a black body with irregular yellowish-orange spots and black vertical costal lines arising from a grey underbelly.  It has a wide snout, perfect for tunneling and burrowing, and gives it the name “mole salamander”.

These salamanders prefer the privacy of the vernal pond to a body of steady open water, like a pond or stream, because there would be a higher number of predators to eat the eggs and larvae. After a few months of living and growing in the pond, the spotted salamander will leave the pond, spending the bulk of its life in a burrow in a deciduous forest. Then the salamanders will emerge once a year and relocate to the vernal pond where it will lay its eggs and begin the cycle over again.

After the salamanders become adults, they prowl for food at night making them nocturnal hunters.   Using their sticky tongue, they eat anything small enough to swallow like worms, crickets, spiders, and slugs.

A an adult, the spotted salamander hides in its burrow below the leaf litter, can separate itself from its tail, and excrete a poisonous substance from glands around its neck, all in an effort to protect itself from predators.  Akin to other salamanders they also have the ability to regenerate or grow new body parts if it becomes injured.

The spotted salamander is not a threatened species but they are susceptible to environmental threats such as the destruction of wetlands or acid rain and the actions of humans.

If you haven’t found a spotted salamander in its natural setting on your own, perhaps a trip to the Sally Rally will increase your knowledge and appreciation of amphibians. The Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania has organized walks to admire the spotted salamander.  The time to go is now.

Spotted Salamander taken by Kristen Fuller

http://events.dcnr.pa.gov/promised_land_state_park#.WO5NZYWcHIU

http://www.paherps.com/herps/salamanders/

http://srelherp.uga.edu/salamanders/ambmac.htm

http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/VernalPool_Salamanders.aspx

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/spotted-salamander/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotted_salamander

https://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Library/Amphibians-Reptiles-and-Fish/Spotted-Salamander.aspx

 

Johanna Staton, Me, Shiela Fuller at one of the NJSCBWI events.

Shiela Fuller has been a Cornell University Project Feeder Watch participant for many years and an avid birder since 1988. Currently, she enjoys writing picture books, yoga, chicken raising, wildlife photography, and is the legacy keeper for her family.

 

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Shiela Fuller Gets Corn-Y.

CORN FOR ALL SEASONS:  by Shiela Fuller

Originally cultivated in Mexico, corn was transported back to European countries by early explorers.  It was a plant that had the ability to thrive in a variety of climates, turning corn into a versatile crop.

In the northeast, corn is planted in spring after the last frost for a mid-summer harvest, but corn, in its many forms is enjoyed year round.

img_9853SUMMER 

Purchase whole corn on the cob from local farm markets or roadside stands. Bring it home, boil the water while you husk the corn. Drop the whole cob in the rolling water for about 4 minutes.  Carefully remove, and smear with grass-fed butter.  The quicker the corn goes from field to pot, the sweeter it will taste as corn loses it sweetness over time.

There are so many fun corn recipes to try. Here are a few suggestions to google:

*Make homemade salsa.  So easy, especially with added peppers, onion, and tomatillo, all fresh from the farm market. Don’t forget the corn chips!

*Grate corn off the cob, saute, and add to pasta.

*Make creamed corn. I’m sure it’s better than canned.

*Grill corn in husks on a BBQ or open fire.

AUTUMN

By September, the farmers sometimes offer the entire corn stalk for sale.  Tie a bunch up with some twine and tie it securely to a post.  Add a pumpkin or some raked up leaves, and have an instant fall decoration.  You may also find a variety of multi colored, dried corn cobs, also called Indian corn, for hanging on a front door.   If there are young children at home, perhaps a craft making Indian corn with bubble wrap would appeal to them.   http://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2008/11/lend-me-your-ear.html

Autumn days are sometimes spectacular and a good way to enjoy weather is at a local corn maze. 

http://www.cornmaze.com/Pages/Corn%20Maze%20Cornfield%20Maze.aspx   The older kids will love running around and “getting lost”.

WINTER

With everyone at school or work, winter is the time to think about comfort foods and what is more comforting than old-fashioned corn bread cooked in a cast iron skillet.   In Crescent Dragonwagon’s book, The Cornbread Gospels, there is a fabulous recipe, Sylvia’s Ozark Cornbread, so easy, Dragonwagon states, “…you could eat it daily.”    

Popped corn is fun no matter the season but have you ever popped it on a stove? As an after school snack, it’s easy and clean-up is quick.  Tastier than microwave versions and healthier, too, popping corn is different than the variety eaten off the cob but easily purchased at any grocery store.  http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/perfect_popcorn/

After the popping is complete add your favorite topping such as butter, salt, tamari or grated cheese. 

SPRING

Spring is a time for renewal. The farmers are thinking about preparing their land to support the summer corn plot.  The seeds planted may have been saved from the previous year crop or purchased from a supplier. Each kernel on a cob of corn has the potential to be a new corn plant.  

Home gardeners can plant corn, too.  Browse the seed catalogs and choose heritage or heirloom varieties that will resist pests and require less need for chemicals of any sort.  In the catalogs you will also find useful information on the specifications of growing corn. You also can save seeds and learn more about it at www.seedsavers.org

https://kidsongs.com/lyrics/the-muffin-man.html/      Perhaps renew a time from your own past and share this traditional English nursery rhyme with the young children in your life.  And if you’re interested to know more about the muffin man and how he came about, read the Wikipedia article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Muffin_Man

Dragonwagon, Crescent, and Andrea Wisnewski. The Cornbread Gospels. New York: Workman, 2007. Print.

Fun websites if kids are interested in learning more about corn:

http://kids.britannica.com/comptons/art-53137/At-the-top-of-a-mature-corn-plant-is-the

http://botany.about.com/od/PlantAnatomyAndMorphology/a/The-Anatomy-Of-Corn.htm

Johanna Staton, Me, Shiela Fuller at one of the NJSCBWI events.

Johanna Staton, Me, Shiela Fuller at one of the NJSCBWI events.

THE ORB WEAVERS by Shiela Fuller

Spiders are fascinating creatures.  On one hand, they can scare the dickens out of us; on the other hand, they create wondrous webs to behold.  and, they do a lot to reduce the population of pesky flies and mosquitoes.  Here is Shiela Fuller with an informative post on orb weavers:

The orb weavers are spiders that can be found throughout the world and as close as your own backyard. If you look outside your window at night, in late summer or early autumn, perhaps you will see their masterful web creation attached to your front porch or eave. This is because many orb weavers tend to build webs attached to human structures. Their webs are large and comprised of concentric circles that radiate outward with an occasional “zig zag” portion, called stabilimenta. Studies have shown that webs containing the stabilimenta catch 34% fewer insects but these visible decorations are damaged less frequently, keeping the webs intact longer.

If you’re familiar with the orb web-building spiders, did you ever notice that the web is sometimes gone during the day? That is because many orb weavers build a new web every day. Orb weavers are nocturnal hunters and as evening approaches they will come out from their hiding location, eat the old web, rest, and then spin a new web in the same location.
They may bite if they are forced to defend themselves but in general are a gentle spider. The bite is not poisonous and no more painful than a bee sting for most folks.
Orb weavers are often identified by their brightly colored, rounded abdomens, and some have angled bumps or spines. When visible in the web, the spider is usually resting head down and waiting for prey.     Triple oaks spider

This argiope photo is a good example of a common orb weaver found in the backyard garden. It’s brightly colored, its head is facing downward, and the stabilitmenta is clear to see in the web.

If you’re lucky enough to have an orb weaving spider building a web near or on your front porch, or in your garden, enjoy and marvel in the creation. The orb weaver rarely lives for more than one season and while they’re here, they’ll aid in reducing pesky insect populations like mosquitoes.

http://www.spiderzrule.com/orbweaver.htm
http://www.cirrusimage.com/spider_orb_weavers.htm
http://insects.about.com/od/spiders/p/Araneidae.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orb-weaver_spider

Shiela Fuller has been a Cornell University Project Feeder Watch participant for many years and an avid birder since 1988. Currently, she enjoys writing picture books, yoga, chicken raising, wildlife photography, and is the legacy keeper for her family.

As part of National Picture Book Month, here are two PB’s about some extraordinary Orb Weavers:

  1. The classic CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E B White tells the story of an amazing pig as seen through the eyes – and web designs – of Charlotte, a spider who weaves words into her webs.
  2.  A new take on “weaving outside the normal web design” comes from a delightful PB called SEAVER THE WEAVER by Paul Czajak  2014-08-25 02.30.30

The Wheels on the Bus and Other Ways Kids Travel to School. by Shiela Fuller

Darlene here: I don’t know about you, but I found this post fascinating!  It seems that some children will do just about anything to get to school.  Here’s Shiela Fuller with an around-the-world look at how children travel to and from school.

In the United States, children are required by law, called compulsory education, to be educated between the ages of six and  sixteen (The Amish community is not bound by this law). Around the world, compulsory ages range from: six through eighteen in Belgium, six to twelve in Iran, six to fourteen in Uruguay, seven to twelve in Singapore, etc. A complete chart can be found here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_education .

Think about how you get to school. Do you carpool? Ride a bus? Walk? How far is school from where you live? Next time you leave home for school, think about these kids and the determination that drives them, despite the treacherous journeys they travel to school.
In Indonesia, schoolchildren must cross a frail suspension bridge that hangs low over the Ciberang River. It became damaged after a flood and the children risk crossing it because it is the shortest distance. In other parts of the country, students travel to school by canoe, bamboo raft, and some ride on the tops of wooden boats. In Sumatra, students are willing and daring, to cross a tightrope above a river and then walk an additional seven miles to school.

In rural China some children climb ladders that rest along the mountainside to reach their school and others travel along narrow paths carved into the cliffs. When “school season” begins in yet another region of China, the teachers chaperon the boarding school students on a two day journey along cliffs, gravel, and rapids, and “wade through four freezing cold rivers and slide across a 200 m chain bridge on four single plank bridges” http://www.chinahush.com/2011/11/14/treacherous-road-to-school/ .

A quarter of a mile above the Rio Negro River in Columbia, South America, zip wiring is the way to go. Kids fly through the air at 40 mph on steel cables that connects their home to the other side of the valley. This is the only way in and out of the village.
In the Rizel Province, Manilla, Philippines, kids carry inflated tire tubes to school an hour each way so they can float across the river that separates them from school. If the river is flooded, they have to find shelter and wait until the river is safe to cross.

As a new school year begins, and you line up to get on the school bus, or hop in the car pool, remember these kids and the hardships they endure as they make their commute to school. Education is so important, they are willing to risk their lives for it! And just in case, perhaps put a tire tube in your back pack!

Pictures and more information about the ways kids get to school around the world can be found in these links:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1259691/The-children-ride-40mph-zip-wire-quarter-mile-high-to-school.html
http://photoblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/12/14390958-risky-river-crossing-filipino-kids-tube-to-get-to-school?lite
http://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/03/kids-risking-their-lives-to-reach-school.html
http://www.chinahush.com/2011/11/14/treacherous-road-to-school/

http://www.boredpanda.com/dangerous-journey-to-school/

http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/family/photos/back-to-school-around-the-world/page/18

Shiela Fuller has been a Cornell University Project Feeder Watch participant for many years and an avid birder since 1988. Currently, she enjoys writing picture books, yoga, chicken raising, wildlife photography, and is the legacy keeper for her family.