Author Archives: Stu

Seeing Chipmunks?

chipmunk_Justin MielWhile it’s only a matter of weeks before we will be seeing chipmunks scurrying about, it’s not unheard of to see one before spring sets in. Unlike woodchucks and bears, chipmunks are not true hibernators.

Animals that hibernate spend the months leading up to winter bulking up on high fat foods. They can then live off of their body reserves for months on end. Since chipmunks don’t have the ability to put on enough extra fat to last them through the winter, they cache seeds and nuts underground in their burrows.

Every seven or eight days, chipmunks wake up and munch down some of their food stash to keep them going through the winter. This irrupted state of hibernation is known as torpor. Torpor is a restless sleep that can last for days where animals lower their body temperature, heart rate, and oxygen consumption to conserve energy.

This might sound like a life of luxury, sleeping and eating the time away until winter passes, but it’s quite physiologically taxing for the chipmunks. It is a life or death balance between storing enough food and conserving enough energy.

Come late March, early April, chipmunks emerge from their burrows ready for spring. When they do, you’ll have a new appreciation for their survival knowing how they struggled through the winter (or how hard winter was).

Photo © Justin Miel

Seeing Spots?

Have you noticed anything strange while raking leaves this fall? If you look closely at some of your maple leaves you might notice a different color than the usual yellows and reds.

Some maple leaves have black spots on them, as if they’ve been speckled with tar. Fear not, tar isn’t raining from the sky.

The black spots on maple leaves, often referred to as tar spot, are actually a fungi. The fungal disease is of the genus Rhytisma, and only affects the leaves of maple trees. Sugar maples, red maples, and Norway maples are susceptible among others in the genus Acer. Fortunately this disease is purely aesthetic and does not affect the overall health of the tree. However, some leaves that are heavily infected might drop off the tree early.

If you notice the fungi on a maple tree in your yard it is actually quite easy to manage. The fungi overwinter on fallen leaves, waiting for the warm spring weather to ripen the spores. When the spores are released they float up and blow in the wind hoping to land on a new maple leaf host. To reduce the number of spores floating around it is best to rake up infected leaves in the fall and destroy them. Maybe an extra bit of motivation to rake up those leaves!