Wow, what an unexpectedly wonderful day for urban nature! As most of you know, I work at a zoo in a major northeastern city. I was in an area that used to be a waterfowl exhibit that's now closed, treating the water features for mosquitoes (biological controls, insect growth regulator, and pheromone traps). Almost immediately I encountered the garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis
) pictured two posts ago. It slithered over a stick, so I was able to pick it up without it biting me, or worse, musking on me. It struck as fiercely at me as a timber rattlesnake, despite being a pencil-sized predator of slugs.
I delved further into this jungle of concrete and weeds, and found a mallard family with four nearly grown chicks. They were clearly shocked to see a human in their sanctuary. It was surely safer for them in an unused part of a zoo, a hundred feet from thousands of people and cars, then it was in any of the nearby city parks. I found one of my pheromone traps, blown by the wind into the artificial pond, and fished it out. A plastic container the size of a large mayonnaise jar, it had an amazing array of life within it. Four water boatmen had swam into it, hunting smaller insects. I could make out the tiny swimming forms of water mites, and even copepods carrying double saddlebags full of eggs. I dumped out the creatures into the pond and brought the empty trap back to storage.
On the way I walked through a landscape decorated with huge white spheroids, ranging from the size of softballs to those the size of deflated soccer balls. These are giant puffballs, Calvatia gigantea
. If they were allowed to grow to maturity their insides would turn into billions of spores, which would puff out of tears in the mushroom's leathery hide when struck by raindrops. I harvested two of them, for research purposes for the mushroom classes I'm teaching at Drumlin Farm
in the fall. Some of my research will include slicing up one of the mushrooms, frying it and eating it. I must ask, lizblackdog
, how do you cook and season these beasts?
Finally, as I went back to my storage area, I moved some equipment and turned up a yellow, white, and black striped caterpillar. Such a striking and beautiful thing, but it was on a piece of metal. "You belong here, little one," I said, as I lifted it up and placed it on a milkweed plant growing out of a crack in the asphalt.