Cold feet, warm heart


Watching this snow-covered Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) swim around an icy lake, I thought “Brr”.

The core temperature of a goose, wrapped in its fluffy down coat, is ~104° Fahrenheit. But what about those feet? They must be freezing!

In a way, they are. The feet of this goose are only ~35°. As warm blood from the body travels to the toes, it transfers heat to the blood making the return trip. By the time the blood reaches the feet, it’s cold – so cold that little heat escapes through those exposed tootsies.

When the blood moves back toward the heart, it gathers heat from blood vessels traveling toe-ward. This process, called countercurrent heat exchange, keeps the goose nice and toasty.

Who’s in my house?

mouseTiny rustling noises arise from our kitchen garbage can. I tip-toe up to it and out pops a little fuzzy face with a twitching nose. Then it’s gone… and I head to the closet for a couple live traps.

Many mice and voles have made my house their own over the years (before I gently suggest they live elsewhere).

Is my new tenant a MOUSE or a VOLE?

Need a hint?
MICE have long tails, long snouts, long ears and protruding eyes.
VOLES have short tails and teddy bear faces with small, rounded ears, button eyes and a smooshed snout.

“Nothing gold can stay”


Goldfinches, like many animals, change colors over the course of a year. In the summer, male goldfinches dress in bright gold with black patches on their wings and head – like an avian superhero. When winter comes, the goldfinch molts those bright feathers and assumes his mild-mannered alter ego again. Only a little patch of yellow on his throat remains.

The female goldfinch (pictured) isn’t as flamboyant as her partner in the summer. But she’ll also change into grayish brown plumage for winter.

Good Grapes

Vitis rotundifoliaScientists are discovering new species all the time.
If you discovered a new species, what would you name it?

All known species of life are given scientific names. These names consist of two words – the Genus (the group they’re a part of) and the Species, or “specific epithet”. For this grape vine growing in my yard, its scientific name is Vitis rotundifolia (“vine with round leaves”).

Scientific names often describe the organism, though sometimes they’re named for people or places. Names are Latin because it’s a “dead” language so the meanings of words won’t change as people use them.

The names also help us figure out relationships between species. For instance, other grape species include Vitis barbata (“bearded vine”), Vitis sylvestri (“forest vine”) or Vitis monticola (“vine dwelling on the mountain”). Since they all have the same Genus name, we know they’re closely related to our grape.

 So, what would you name your new grape species? Vitis _____

 Here are some Latin word roots to help:
Ascendi – climb
Austr – south
Aqua – water
Bon – good
Callo – thick skin
Carpus – fruit
Folia – leaf
Gluco – sweet
Multi – many
Pannos – ragged
Plati – broad/wide
Purpur – purple
Rubri – red
Sola – sun
Strombi – spiral
Verdi – green

Mushroom Mania

mushroomsFound all these mushrooms on a recent walk through Umstead Park.

Did you know that mushrooms aren’t the actual “body” of the fungus? They’re the fungus’ reproductive structure. The real “body” grows through the soil or logs in bazillions of microscopic filaments.

If you want to how many spores each mushroom releases, put a mushroom cap on a piece of paper and let it dry. The spores will fall out and make a “spore print”. Prepare to be amazed!!!



These incredibly cute animals (Ochotona princeps) are short-eared, mini-rabbits. They live at high elevations in rocky outcrops, spending their days gathering plants for winter. They’re quick, hopping along and zipping from rock to rock. Not only do pikas look like dog toys, they sound like them too (David Attenborough will be happy to show you –

Wonder what the next 100 years will bring for the pika? As temperatures climb, many species survive by shifting their range up mountains. But the pika is already at the top – where will they go?

Recycle! Ride your bike! Save the pika!

Time-Travel in CO


When visiting Colorado, time-travel can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. At Dinosaur Ridge, I walked from the present back 100 million years… and then looked even further – to 300 million years ago.


The Red Rocks Amphitheatre (above) is carved from 300 million year old exposed rocks. I painted this from Dinosaur Ridge (by Crocodile Creek).

Do you think Dave Matthews, Sarah McLachlan, and U2 all knew they were playing in 300 million year old sediment?

Fluffy tails can be dangerous!


That adorable fuzzy tail, when combined with pine sap, can be a horrifying appendage.

Last year, a “squirrel king” made news in Canada. Six squirrels became entangled by their tails, moving about as a group. Of course, this scenario is less than ideal for squirrels and would probably result in their deaths. Thankfully, a veterinarian in Saskatchewan separated the group (see picture).

While “squirrel kings” are rare, “rat kings” are slightly more common in Europe where the name originated. The largest “rat king” consisted of 32 rats! Apparently, the animals can live for quite some time in this state (x-rays reveal healed breaks in the tail bones).



Follow that trail of slime to an amazing creature. It walks on one foot, perches two eyes way over its head, and has a saddle (but is never ridden).

It’s a slug!

That “saddle”, by the way, is actually a mantle. In snails, the mantle secretes the shell. While shells are good protection, they require lots of energy and resources to make. Slug ancestors once had shells, but some were successful when they made smaller and smaller shells. Today, slugs are shell-less (actually, some slugs today still have very reduced shells or internal shells). They’re living a more dangerous life, but can eat a bigger variety of food and use less energy.

How many slugs can you find in this picture?

Attack of the Giant Mosquito (killer)!!!

Attack of the Giant Mosquito (killer)!!!

You’re standing in the shower and one of the most gigantic mosquitoes you’ve ever seen flies over the shower curtain. Take a deep breath … it’s not a mosquito.

I grew up calling these Mosquito Killers. Given that name, I tried to save as many of these insects as possible. Unfortunately, they’re delicate. My compassionate attempts usually resulted in a 3-legged insect.

These monstrous flyers are actually Crane Flies.

Good news: the fact that I maimed countless Crane Flies is not THAT bad. They were going to die soon anyway. These adults can’t eat!! All they do is make baby Crane Flies and die.

Bad news: they don’t kill mosquitoes. Larval Crane Flies eat decomposing plants.