Sharing the treetops!

We squirrels tend to like the treetops to ourselves–well, birds sometimes come by or move in for spring and summer nesting. But around the suburbs, we rule the treetops!

Until, uh…

In late October, our squirrel correspondents in Stephens City, Virginia discovered that sometimes we squirrels have to share. This black bear cub apparently sought shelter in their tree after becoming separated from his mother bear.

The resident humans were all in a furry–maybe on behalf of squirrels?–and alerted some kind wildlife rescue folks that scoured the area in search of the mama.

They finally determined he must be orphaned and took the baby bear to a wildlife center to be cared for until he is old enough to be freed to live on his own. American black bears are found widely across North America, and prefer woodlands that produce nuts–acorns, beechnuts and pine seeds–in plentiful supply. They also eat wild cherries, wild grapes, and berries on the vegetable side of things that we squirrels also enjoy. Like squirrels, they don’t mind feasting on insects, but then their large size takes off in directions we don’t want to think about, because they eat fish and any other animals they can capture, like–shudder–small mammals!

If they can’t find enough food in the forests, or if they learn easy pickings can be found in the delacatesin of human homes, cars, garbage, livestock food, bird feeders, pet food, beehives…you get the idea…they will move on in and take that opportunity humans are providing.

As much as it pains Hickory and I to say it–

“No, don’t!” Hickory chitters.

–please keep these human sources of food secured if you suspect black bears are nearby. They are totally into the reward of food. What squir–animal isn’t? Humans have those tricky ways of locking garbage cans and electrical fences that we’ve heard are cheap ways to discourage a bear–especially if you see the damage these big guys can do to a home!

Of course, the real reason is to keep these guys around and living safely in the world we all now share.

A friend to The Squirrel Nutwork brought this story to our attention and gained permission to share the baby bear’s photographs with our readers. Thank you, Nancy!

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Motionless Monday

Hey there!

We’ve moved into that time of year, when the days are short, the nights long.

This nighttime fellow is reminding us squirrel to pack it in early to be safe, because they rule a greater portion of the ‘day.’

Have a great week!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

It’s mystery number 222! We squirrels feel like there should be some sort of celebration when we hit match numbers, but we don’t know what. So on with the mystery…

Do you know this plant?

Give me a guess in the comments and I’ll be back later to verify answer!

~~~

These late leaf hangers-on are the leaves of the American Beech, Fagus grandifolia. This striking tree doesn’t grow in our close neighborhood, but is in the Northern Virginia area, often in stands (meaning that’s all that’s growing there) that are striking this time of year–silver bark and gold leaves. It’s intolerant of urban pollution, salt and soil compaction, so we’re not surprised it’s gone from suburban neighborhoods.

We did a little look-see online, and read that beeches love rich bottomland soil–the bottom of the hill where all the good soil slides down and collects. They tolerate shade really well, so will grow up with the other trees, then keep going and become the only species there, or with a mix of maples, birch and hemlock. So a beech may have out-lasted the other trees that started growing on that land.

Of course they flower–pretty small ones–and produce beechnuts! We squirrels love them, as do wild turkeys, raccoon, deer, rabbits, fox, pheasant, opossum…I think you get the idea–a lot of animals eat beechnuts!

Plant one if you can! Moist, rich soil that drains well, and not prone to foot traffic or snowplowing with salt.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize this?

No hints this week, other than it is seasonal.

I’ll check your guesses the comments!

~~~

A wider shot…

It’s a woolly bear caterpillar! Of course, they are around all summer, growing to their full size, but you humans seem to notice them the most in the fall. Is it because they are rumored to be weather predictors?

Caterpillar bodies are formed in segments–a little hard to tell with the woolly bear’s bristles– and the number of rusty ones in the center supposedly determine how long winter will last. The more rusty ones the milder winter will be, the fewer (more black) means winter will last longer. It’s hard to tell, but there are 13 segments. According to this caterpillar, 6 rust segments( or 5.5 if you look at his back, because one segment is half rust, half black), as opposed to…black ones that are harder to count, but we guess those fuzzy head and tail ends add up to 7.5 segments. So, a middling to bad winter?

For more information the scientist who studied wooly bears in the 1940s, visit the woolly bear article in The Old Farmer’s Almanac, a classic for weather prediction!

When they grow up, woolly bears become Isabella tiger moths, Pyrrharctia isabella.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize this butterfly? Top side…

Bottom side…

Give us a guess in the comments–I’ll be checking back later for your answers!

~~~

See the little white mark on the underside of the wing? The ‘comma’? This is a comma butterfly, which should certainly not be confused with this butterfly:

The question mark butterfly! Okay, honestly they look very similar, from the bottom and the top…

The undersides of both are described as being brown mottled, but the question mark we saw seems to be unusually orange. The photos we saw on Butterflies and Moths of North America vary, too, and the mottling is there.

Hope you enjoyed your nature punctuation lesson for today!

Ah, the perils of fall

See a pretty leaf, pick a pretty leaf…

Maybe not if it’s poison ivy! Its color varies from this beautiful orange-red to a duller yellow, depending on how much sun the plants got and how much sugar is left in the leaves.

And of course, these native vines may be hidden among some more appealing plants, like this berry or the late-blooming smartweed we featured as our mystery plant a few Sundays ago. Look before you touch!