Chel Anderson is a biologist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives here in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology, or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome back, Chel.
Anderson: Thanks, Jay.
So, let’s talk about youngsters, that is, the ones that are in the woods; things like birds, toads, mammals, and anything you’ve else you’ve got in mind.
Anderson: Well, hopefully there are a lot of kids in the woods, too. Human kids.
Good point, good point.
Anderson: This is a good time for everybody to be in the woods. But, in terms of other critters that are in the woods, this is the time of year when the woods is filled with animal youngsters. From amphibians and reptiles that we’ve talked about. Well, now those critters, the wood frogs and the peepers and the chorus frogs, their young ones are out trying to make their way in the woods and learning as they go, and vulnerable to lots of predators and hazards. And, also, toads, towards the later part of July and first part of August is typically when we see the big, synchronized emergence from their intermediate stage to the adult stage of the American toads.
Well, yeah, we haven’t talked much about toads. We’ve talked a couple times here about frogs, but where have the toads been?
Anderson: Well, the toads have been out in the woods like they normally are and I happened to see just, I think, the biggest toad I ever saw in many years. I’ve been seeing toads, and this was a magnificent toad, American toad, but they’ve been breeding like the others, and the do some calling, too, but not as prominently and not in big masses like some of the frogs do. But, they’ve laid their eggs and those eggs have been developing and the little toadlets are going to come out, and they’re going to look, unlike the adults, their going to look pretty much uniformly kind of dark black, charcoal, dark charcoal-grey to black. And, where I often encounter them is I’ll be walking down a trail or something and there will be this mass movement of these little toads from wherever it was that they all kind of have emerged from and they’ll all be taking off, you know, kind of at the same time and then gradually dispersing away from their birthplace. But, it’s just amazing to stop and see all these little black toads hopping hither and thither.
Well, frogs have tadpoles and they swim in the water. Now, toads don’t do that, right?
Right, they don’t do that, so they’re much more difficult. You can’t go out and find a nice big clump of toad eggs and easily identify where the toads might be coming from eventually. Other critters out there in the mammal world, the young are paying a lot of attention right now to their parents. In the case of birds and many mammals, the parenting process once the young have fledged is incredibly important, because although birds and mammals are hardwired to do lots of things, they rely very much on learning from their parents about how to forage for the best foods, where to look for foods. In addition to being fed by the adults even after they’ve actually fledged from the nest, they’re also watching and copying, just like our toddlers do, copying their parents, learning where to look, how to do it, what’s safe, what’s not safe. It’s really essential for them to be able to spend time with their parents, but also in the cases of some birds, with a bigger group, a more social group of multiple adults and other young birds that kind of congregate together once the young have fledged. Parents are very busy keeping track, so we hear a lot of, in the case of birds, a lot of these call notes now that help keep the family group or some wider social group together and keep everybody kind of moving in the same direction and letting each other know where they are.
Mammals, now, some have been out for quite awhile already, the young ones. Are there any sort of late bloomers in the mammal group?
Anderson: Not that I’m aware of, you know, just because winter is a tough time and our mammals all stay here for the winter, we don’t have any migrants going away in the winter.
Yeah, because mammals like squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits, they come out real early and they grow real fast, but fawns and moose calves, they still have to deal with winter, but they’re still pretty little, really.
Anderson: Yeah, they are, compared to what they’ll eventually be. But, as we’ve talked before in the case of bears, deer, moose, they feed from their mothers, those that nurse, in the case of mammals, on a tremendously high protein and fat diet. They grow at a really phenomenal kind of rate when you compare it to say, human kids. They are adapted to really put that weight on and move into a level of fitness that is so different than the way a human child develops.
Chel Anderson is a DNR botanist and plant ecologist. Thanks, Chel, for helping us understand what’s going on in the woods this summer.
Anderson: Yeah, it’s always fun.
Airdate: August 3, 2010