The Nature of Things | WYPR

The Nature of Things

We have long been fascinated with the history of the wild birds in our country, so we're excited to get writer and educator Margaret Barker in the studio for a conversation. Margaret is a Chesapeake Bay native with an interest in watching birds. She and her colleagues Paul Baicich and Carrol Henderson published a book called Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce and Conservation

Marsh Rabbits

Aug 9, 2017

A childhood friend of mine once sent me on an official snipe hunt. He lead me out into the woods with a set of ‘magic’ snipe-finding rocks and encouraged me to knock them together while I searched. I wandered around aimlessly for hours just to return to him laughing hysterically at my naiveté. There was no snipe, of course.

So when that same friend told me just last week that he’d seen something called a marsh rabbit swimming in Virginia, I instinctively believed he was ‘pulling my leg.’ I wasn’t even sure I should Google it, lest I realize it was another elaborate practical joke.

But it turns out that searching for information on marsh rabbits was no fool’s errand. They do exist! They do swim. And they even live in our Chesapeake Bay watershed!

Acid Pix/flickr

 

As elementary school students, we all learn that leaves contain a pigment called chlorophyll, which colors leaves green. And shortly after, we middle-school scientists usually discover that through a process called photosynthesis, plants can use chlorophyll and energy from the sun to turn carbon dioxide, water and minerals into food.

So it took me by surprise when a recent nature center visitor asked me if plants can eat anything else. “Are there,” he asked me earnestly, “other ways for plants to feed themselves?”

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is: yes.

On our planet, there is a diverse type of plants that have evolved a very different strategy than the one we learn about as children. These plants, alien as it may seem, can actually eat animals.

louie Daurio/flickr

One of the greatest things I have from my grandfather is a collection of wooden duck decoys. There are about a dozen different-sized, hand-carved duck pairs. My kids – who often visit my office where the decoys live on a bookcase – like to mismatch all the pairs, placing a bufflehead with a canvasback, a blue-winged teal with a common goldeneye. After the kids leave, I put all the pairs back together, and this time as I placed the male and female mallards side by side, I wondered: why is it that the male duck gets such elaborate, colorful plumage? While the female duck is nearly all light brown, and, frankly, rather drab? At a quick glance, these two look drastically dissimilar, and the untrained eye could think they were not the same species. 

It turns out that differences like these in the same animal species are known scientifically as “sexual dimorphism.” Sexual dimorphism is the condition where the two sexes of the same species, like the boy and girl mallard, exhibit different characteristics – beyond just the differences of their sexual organs. The condition occurs in many animals, insects, birds and even some plants.

This episode originally aired October 2016. 

Cicadas

Jul 19, 2017
WAYNE THUME/FLICKR

 

Sitting outside on my patio this weekend, my attempts at reading the Sunday paper were thwarted by an unmistakable, buzzsaw-like song.

I could hear, but not see, the culprit. With my kids at my heels, I ascended a nearby pine tree to pinpoint the noise and locate its source. Just a few limbs up, my son found a stout, one-inch long, black-and-green insect loudly calling out. My daughter knew it instantly. It was a cicada.

This episode originally aired August 2016. 

Red Foxes

Jul 11, 2017
ANTHONY ADAMS/FLICKR

 

There is a very clever animal that lives near my house. It’s so cunning, it knows to wait until my 3 Labradors are inside the house before coming onto my property. And it has a penchant for my chickens.

I could be quick to say that this fox has become my nemesis, with its maddening habit of sneaking in and stealing my egg layers. But the shrewdness with which this fox has outsmarted my chickens, my dogs and even me makes me hold his ingenuity and abilities in high regard.

Chris Luczkow/flickr

Flying insects are usually annoying. Mosquitoes can bite, leaving itchy red welts. Bees and wasps can sting. Flies are quick to invade your meal at a picnic. But there’s something really magical about dragonflies.

Brittany Lindsey

A snapping turtle's prehistoric appearance makes it an easy local species to identify. It's an impressive reptile with a large head and a strong, hooked beak that makes it resemble a toothless yet ferocious old man.

Glenn Euloth/Flickr Creative Commons

One of the most popular questions I overhear at Irvine’s comes from every age group. Our Nature Preschoolers ask it. High school-aged visitors on field trips ask it. Moms and dads coming in to hike the trails ask it. And then right on their heels, seniors from our area garden clubs ask it too.

What’s the difference between frogs and toads?

This episode aired in May 2016.

 

Butterflies

Jun 11, 2017

Butterflies of all kinds can be found flitting across our listening area’s woods, fields, yards and gardens. In fact, Maryland has more than 150 species of these winged wonders. Brooks wits down with Laura Soder, Irvine’s coordinator of its native Butterfly House, to chat about butterflies.

This episode originally aired in June 2016. 

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