Fishermen may find some red-spotted newts in their minnow traps this month. This interesting amphibian is widespread in the eastern U.S. and can live 12-15 years. Since they live in the water, they use gills to breathe.
Birds do not like to eat these newts because they secrete toxins. The newt’s bright color warns predators of these toxins. Apparently this system doesn’t keep a bird from at least trying. I watched one day as a gull tried to eat one. Even though the bird killed the newt, it was never consumed, and the body was just left on the shore. No other creature wanted it. And gulls usually love food fights.
The larvae of the newt live in the water and use gills. The juveniles leave the water, live on land, breath air, turn red and are called efts. They are also known as red efts. When the eft returns to the water, it turns darker in color but continues to breathe air. Some individuals do not change and remain in one stage. They are interesting creatures and excellent mosquito reducers because they feed on the larvae of mosquitoes.
In their land stage as red efts, they are especially interesting to see wandering in the woods over green moss.
These newts are green in the larvae stage, bright red-orange in the eft stage and greenish over all with black dots when fully adult. It’s quite fun to see them in whatever stage of their life you happen to meet them.
Someone asked me about an oak apple gall they found on an oak tree branch. This gall was round and looked like a brown ping-pong ball. Galls are produced by the oak tree in reaction to a wasp laying its eggs inside the oak bark or leaves. Oak galls are high in tannic acid and have been used traditionally as medicine by many cultures around the world and as a source of dye or tanning material. Gall wasps are in the Cynipidae family. The larvae release an enzyme that causes the gall to grow. These galls do not harm the trees.
Check your knowledge of evergreen as you wander in the snow. Hemlock trees have short, flat needles. Their cones grow at the branch tips and hang down.
Balsam fir needles are fragrant. Crush a few needles in your fingers if you suspect a balsam. Its cones grow in an upright position.
White spruce can also be identified by crushing a few needles in your fingers. If it smells skunky, it’s a white spruce. The boughs sweep out gracefully and often touch the ground.
Stone flies are active along the edges of streams. They look like large mosquitos. Watch for red polls and snow buntings these February days. Immature Bonaparte’s gulls may appear in local harbors.
Let me know what you are seeing.
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