One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Ever seen one of these?

mystery #166


I’ll check back later for your guesses!


It is a Chestnut bur–the name for the seed covering–as one of our readers guessed, but not a Horse Chestnut. Those are only a little prickly, not covered with spines like these chestnut burs. The chestnuts themselves are protected inside the burs.

Chestnut burs with chestnuts inside

These nuts don’t look like they fully ripened, but they were all that were left when we ran across them. Probably the local squirrels found and ate the best ones, because we squirrels will eat tree nuts of any kind–that is, once they are free from spines!

Chestnut leaves and bur

The nuts had also fallen from the burs still on the tree. We admit we aren’t quite sure which kind of chestnut tree this is. Nutmeg and I looked it up on The American Chestnut Foundation website and believe the leaves are wide enough the tree was probably an American Chestnut. But we also realize that is unusual. This tree was a good 30 feet high, but it was in a human’s yard, not the forest, so it was planted. Let’s hope whatever clever mix the human scientists used to keep this Chestnut from getting the Chestnut blight keeps working!

You can read more about work to restore the American Chestnut on The American Chestnut Foundation website. It’s so nice you humans are working to bring them back!


Bees like composite flowers!

What are we talking about, you may ask? This!

Yellow Bumble Bee on Mexican Sunflower

Composite flowers look like one flower, but are actually many small flowers grouped as one. See the teeny little petals sticking up in the middle? Each is a flower! And if you know sunflowers, each flower makes a seed. Composite flowers actually evolved to be like this as a strategy to attract bees.

“What?” Hickory popped his head up from digging a hole. “Flowers think?”

Not really, but Mix Flora says they tend to change according to what works. Like some flowers smell a particular way–sweet, or like rotten meat–to attract insects to pollinate them, others like Lady’s Slipper make a very small passage to push pollen on the bees.

But back to composites! A flower that is really many flowers is very efficient if you’re a bee. I’m sure all you humans have heard the phrase “busy as a bee”, and it’s true. They work hard, but they also like shortcuts.

You can give bees two shortcuts in your garden:

Plant composites, like zinnias, which are easy to grow.

Group your flowers in masses of color.


This sweat bee will go from this yellow flower to the next and the next and the next. It’s like going to the biggest oak to gather acorns, instead of running around to a bunch of small ones. They see that huge patch of color and know they can collect what they need in one visit. We think you humans do this, too, when you go to stores.

Planting flowers to bloom throughout the entire growing season will help bees find nectar and pollen for the longest possible times they are active.

One of the earliest composites to bloom in the spring is–wanna make a guess?

dandelion seedhead

Dandelions! Yes, each of those seeds was a flower on a dandelion, so don’t pull them if you want to help bees! The latest composites to bloom are likely asters or goldenrod.


We could give you a flower list, but other blogs have done it for us: Please visit The Peace Bee Farmer’s post on The Composite Family.

The University of Sussex’s Goulson Lab has a picture directory of The best garden flowers for bees.

Or go back to @helpthebees to see this great list they have pinned on their twitter feed.

flower list from @helpthebees

Bees–learn more about them!

So…bees. Last year, we squirrels began to notice more human news stories about bees. None of us here at The Squirrel Nutwork can claim to be bee experts, but we like them. We like that they cause good things to eat to grow. We’ve featured posts and photos about our neighborhood bee sightings.

Hickory poked us all with his column’s small tribute to the death of millions of bees in South Carolina, and we decided it’s time to just have some bee awareness here on our blog.

Did you know humans talk about bees on twitter? Back on July 30, 2016 we saw this post by @helpthebees.


Yo-boy, Lamb’s Ears, a plant that is easy for you humans to grow, and in fact, we had seen and talked about it in our neighborhood–in 2012 and 2013!

Lamb's Ears full plant

Seeing that tweet about Lamb’s Ears and the Wool Carder Bees led us to and a lot more information about bees!

Stop in and visit them! In the meantime, here’s a different bee on Lamb’s Ears, we think a Carpenter Bee. (Correction! It’s a Common Eastern Bumble Bee!)

Bee on Lamb's Ears

And this one below is also a Common Eastern Bumble Bee–see how the yellow goes down onto the abdomen, and it’s fuzzy?

Carpenter Bee resting

These two are Carpenter bees on Passion flowers. They have a dot of black on the center of the thorax.

Carpenter Bees with pollen on their backs

Can you see the pollen on their backs?

Mexican Sunflower

Mexican Sunflower standIt’s the end of summer and the sunflowers are standing tall. One of the best we squirrels have seen you human’s plant is the Mexican Sunflower–about 7 feet tall!


Tiger Swallowtail on Mexican Sunflower

And the butterflies, like this Tiger Swallowtail, sure seem to love them.

Mexican Sunflower

It’s a detrivore!

We squirrels though we’d heard most words associated with nature, but this one was a new one on us. Here’s what I–Nutmeg–was looking up:

Biggest Slug

Yep, a slug. The slug itself isn’t a detrivore; it’s a Limax maximus, which means ‘biggest slug’, but detrivore is a group, like herbivore and carnivore. Detrivores clean up dead stuff and fungi.

And we all know slugs do that. They hang out in the garden, the compost, any place damp.

But back to the slug–We’re sure you’ve seen them and this big guy, sometime called the Leopard Slug, is the common kind where we live, Virginia. We discovered this species was brought over from Europe, where it’s not always associated with human dwellings, but in the U.S. it is.

Which prompts two questions for our readers:

Do you have the Biggest Slug where you live?

Have you ever seen one away from human habitation?

Ok, maybe three questions If you don’t have this slug, what slugs do you have?

Eastern Bluebird fledgling

The fledgling Eastern Bluebirds returned with their parents to our reader friend’s yard. Here are the photos she’s sent of them feeding!

Eastern Bluebird and flegdling

Eastern Bluebird gathering mealworms

The human reader have put out mealworms for the bluebirds. The parents have been regularly collecting them.

Eastern Bluebird feeding fledgling

Eastern Bluebird fledgling

Those little spotted birds are something to see, aren’t they?

They left the box!

That was our note from our reader friend Nancy who has been keeping The Squirrel Nutwork up-to-date on the Eastern Bluebird family in her yard. One day the fledglings were there and the next they weren’t.

vacated bluebird nest

You may have noticed in our last bluebird update that the fledglings had feathers and spots–it sure doesn’t take long to test those wings!

The bluebirds will not return to the nest once they have left, so Nancy removed the old nest material. Like many songbirds, the parents will nest again soon and raise a second brood before summer’s end.

Eastern Bluebird nest

They will collect grass again and rebuild–it seems the act of nest building is part of their whole courtship process, something squirrels don’t understand. Build a nest once and keep it repaired! That’s enough.

They would have built again right over the old nest, but that can put the eggs and nestlings too close to the hole–and the hands of hungry raccoons. If you’re keeping a box, please clean it out! Also, you might discourage House Sparrows from nesting  in it.

This aggressive, non-native bird loves a good nest box. And they don’t need them, their numbers are high enough already!

nest box with House Sparrow on top of it Nest box with House Sparrow in it

Thank you to all you human readers monitoring Bluebird Boxes! It’s more than putting them up!