Showing posts from August, 2017

Moon snails' mysterious egg cases

by Sue Pike
8/19/2017 The York Weekly/Portsmouth Herald/Fosters Daily Democrat and more

Of the many mysterious things you can find while beachcombing, one of the most difficult to understand is (I think) the egg collar of the moon snail. These beautifully-sculpted ribbons of sand show up on our beaches this time of year. A friend recently brought me one - it had washed up above the tide line, dried out and was starting to crumble. I knew it was a moon snail egg case but had to wonder how it was crafted; I certainly couldn’t have made such a thing. The story of how the female moon snail does this is spectacular - a nice example of the myriad of solutions nature has come up with to help with the task of reproduction. Moon snails are beautiful, round, moon-shaped snails (hence the name) that live just offshore of sandy beaches and on tidal sand and mudflats. They burrow in and through the sand in search of their prey. Pick up a clam or mussel shell, even a moon snail shell, if there is a…


by Sue Pike  August 7 2017  My first thought upon approaching the nesting platform was whether I should be worried about the angry parent ospreys circling over our heads and shrieking at us. I was accompanying the Essex County Greenbelt’s Director of Land Stewardship, David Rimmer, as he visited osprey nesting platforms along the Merrimac River. No one else in the boat seemed alarmed by the aggressive antics of these beautiful (but somewhat scary up-close) raptors so I decided not to worry. Osprey are something of a success story. In the early 1950s their population crashed as the use of pesticides (DDT in particular) became widespread. Along the New England coast over 90 percent of breeding pairs disappeared. After the 1972 DDT ban, populations rebounded and numbers have been building ever since.
Back in 2007 Dave saw the need for nesting platforms for the local osprey — tree removal and coastal devel…

Hop hornbeams have their own unique charm

bySue PIke
August 1 2017  The York Weekly/Portsmouth Herald/Foster's Daily/   etc

My neighbor has a beautiful hop hornbeam tree growing next to his driveway. Up until a couple years ago, I had never heard of this tree and spent some time trying to convince him it was an immature shagbark hickory (which it doesn’t resemble at all, so I’m not sure why I firmly believed this to be true). Then for a while I thought it was an elm (which is a closer fit than the shagbark) and finally, I really looked at the tree, saw the “hops” and figured out what it really was. The hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is a small tree which is commonly found in the understory of our hardwood forests. They are often described as unremarkable trees (even maligned as weed trees in managed forests). These are completely unfair descriptors. No tree is unremarkable; look close enough and all have their own unique charm. Hop hornbeams are particularly gorgeous trees. Their bark is grayand thin,…

Water Striders Hang Out on Water's Surface

by Sue Pike
July 25 2017  The York Weekly/Portsmouth Herald/Foster's Daily and online at  .....etc

What better summer pastime than sitting by a pond on a hot day? The frogs are languidly croaking, and the mosquitoes are not so terrible at the moment so just a few are buzzing by your ear. The surface of the water is a still and clear as glass, the surface broken only by the occasional minnow rising or a water strider skimming over the surface, tiny dimples where its feet touch the water. As a biology teacher, I love the water strider. Whenever the topic of water and why it is vital for life on Earth comes up, we talk about the amazing properties of water, one of which is that water molecules are sticky. Water molecules like to stick to other water molecules to the exclusion of other molecules, air for example. So, when you have an air-water interface the water molecules will form something akin to a skin (this is called surface tension, and, scientifically, is n…