Everyone loves to catch a glimpse of ladybugs—especially gardeners. Ladybugs (which are not technically bugs, but beetles) feed on pesky aphids that harm apple, peach, and plum trees, as well as maples and pines.
Both native and non-native species of lady beetles abound in New England, but the ones seen inside and outside homes in huge numbers during the fall are non-native lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) introduced from Asia. How the non-native ladybug came to the United States is still a matter of some debate, but in any case, you can now find them in all New England states, and they apparently do no harm to our native lady beetle species.
Learn more about ladybugs/lady beetles, including what to do if they have invaded your home this fall, on our website.
To celebrate these harmless, beautiful, beneficial beetles, here are five photos submitted to past years of our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.
Ladybugs © Rose Grant
Ladybug © Allyson Via
Ladybug © Eric Magnussen
Ladybug © Ashok Boghani
Ladybug © Krystyana Roman
Many backyard birders are surprised to see this traditional “herald of spring” hopping about in the depths of winter. Although many of our robins do migrate (hence the species name migratorius), an increasing number of these red-breasted songsters are passing the winter in Massachusetts each year. Winter robins rely on berries and other small fruits to survive the winter, so if you’d like to attract them to your yard, consider planting more native fruiting plants.
Learn more about how robins survive the cold months of winter on our website, and enjoy these five lovely photos of robins from past years of our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.
American robin © Richard Antinarelli
American robin in an American holly © Megan O’Leary
American robin in a cedar tree © Jane Parker
American robin eating berries © Lee Fortier
American robin eating berries © Elizabeth Fabiano
The return of wild turkeys to New England is a marvelous success story. When European settlers first arrived, these native birds were plentiful but rising populations and over-hunting led to their erradication—the last wild turkey in Massachusetts was killed on Mount Tom in 1851.
Thanks to the efforts of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (now known as Mass Wildlife), in cooperation with the University of Massachusetts, wild turkeys were reintroduced in the early 1970’s and are now plentiful once again.
Learn all about wild turkeys in the Nature & Wildlife section of our website. You’ll also find a list of upcoming programs about turkeys at our wildlife sanctuaries.
Let’s give thanks for turkeys with five fantastic photos from past submissions to our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest!
Wild turkey in a field of daffodils © Kathryn Dannay
Wild turkeys © Saundra Bernard
Wild turkey © Aimee Grace
Wild turkeys © Peter Hall
Wild tom (male) turkey © Kathy King
You may have spotted big puffs of cotton-like fluff growing on waist-high stems in a lot of meadows recently. There’s a good chance you’re witnessing the opening of the seed pods of the milkweed plant! In the fall, milkweed pods open up and release their fluffy, downy seeds to drift away on the wind and hopefully produce new plants the following year.
Don’t let the “weed” part of the name fool you: this lovely native plant presents a variety of unique flowers (there are more than 70 species native to the United States!), attracts butterflies, feeds and protects a variety of insects, provides nesting material for goldfinches and orioles, and is amazingly easy to grow. More than 60 different insects need milkweed to complete their life cycle, most notably the beloved monarch butterfly, which feeds almost exclusively on milkweed.
To celebrate this important and beautiful plant, here are five photos of milkweed pods and seeds from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.
Milkweed © Barbara K. Mindell
Milkweed © Ruby Sarkar
Milkweed © John Zywar
Milkweed © Patricia LaHaie
Milkweed © Juliet Goodman
Northern cardinals bring splashes of vivid color to the grays and browns of a winter garden. Thanks to the increasing popularity of backyard bird feeders, these once rare (to New England) birds have become common year-round residents in Massachusetts over the past fifty years.
Identifying the male northern cardinal is easy thanks to his rose-red plumage, pointed crest, and black mask. The female cardinal can be trickier, though, with her more subdued fashion sense consisting of pale tan and brown with a few rosy accents on the crest, wing, and tail. Both sexes, however, have the same powerful, bright orange beak which they use to crack open stubborn seeds and slice open sugary fruits to help them survive the coldest months of the year.
Keep your feeders full of seed and you can likely delight in the colorful crimson hues of cardinals all fall and winter long! Here are five photos of cardinals from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest that should help you identify these beautiful birds.
Male Northern Cardinal © Judith Keneman
Female Northern Cardinal © Richard Antinarelli
Male Northern Cardinal © Johanna Wray
Female Northern Cardinal © Debbie Dineen
Male Northern Cardinal © Nathan Butler
This October, we’ve been leading up to Halloween with themed Take 5 posts covering critters that are spooky, creepy, and go “bump” in the night. We’ve highlighted snakes, crows, bats, and vultures, and now it’s time for the creepiest crawly of them all: spiders!
Even if the thought of spiders makes you want to run shrieking in the opposite direction, you have to admit—they’re pretty amazing. While different spiders use different webs for different reasons (and some don’t even use them), it is true that their silk has more tensile strength than steel!
With a handful of rare exceptions, their diets consist entirely of insects…and other spiders! And since the vast majority of spiders in Massachusetts are not dangerous, think twice next time you encounter one in your home and are tempted to squish it. Consider carefully relocating it outside with a cup and a piece of paper so it can continue its duty of ensnaring and noshing on pesky insects.
Here are five stellar photos from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest to honor these beautiful arachnids. Happy Halloween!
Cross Orbweaver Spider © Brett Melican
Spider Web © Ian Kinahan
Orchard Orbweaver Spider © Kim Novino
Cross Orbweaver Spider © Jack Cotter
Grass Spider © Amy Harley
While folklore holds that spotting a circling vulture is a bad omen, turkey vultures actually perform a vital function within their ecosystem: Clean-up Crew!
Turkey vultures specialize in eating carrion (dead animals). They have a well-developed sense of smell that they use to find food. Their heads are naked so that they can reach inside a carcass without contaminating their feathers. They usually feed alone, but if a vulture sees others of its kind feeding on a carcass, it may fly down to join them.
Like crows, turkey vultures roost together, often gathering in trees by the dozen to sleep for the night, which can be a little eerie if you don’t know that these beneficial birds are harmless to humans. Here are five photos of turkey vultures from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.
All October long, leading up to Halloween, we’re spotlighting wildlife that’s “spooky,” “creepy,” and goes “bump” in the night with our Take 5 posts. Keep an eye out for next week when we tackle the creepiest crawly of them all: spiders!
Turkey Vulture © Phyllis Tarascio
Soaring Turkey Vulture © Sherrelle Guyette
Turkey Vulture © Christine Young
Turkey Vulture © Patrick Waggett
Turkey Vulture © Paul Bedard
Bats, our only flying mammals, are truly remarkable animals. It’s too bad their unwarranted reputation has prevented many people from appreciating how beneficial and unique they are.
All bats found in Massachusetts are insectivores. They feed primarily at night, catching thousands of mosquitoes, moths, and other night-flying insects. It is estimated that an individual bat can eat 600 insects per hour!
Unfortunately, millions of bats have fallen victim to white-nose syndrome since it was first discovered in 2006. Find out what you can do to help.
Here are five photos of bats to celebrate these beneficial little beasts. Learn all about bat behavior, species, and anatomy, plus what you should do if you encounter a bat.
And in case you missed it, we featured a Bats By the Numbers in the fall 2017 issue of Explore member magazine.
Bat © David McChesney
Bat © Serah Rose Roth
Bat in Flight © Jeff Wills
Bat © Dave Shattuck
Bat © Justen Walker
Crows have long suffered under the reputation of being “bad.” Crows raid crops, frequently steal eggs and chicks from other bird nests, and have been known to steal shiny objects such as articles of jewelry from people.
Yet, these vocal black birds are among the most intelligent. Crow are said to be able to count (to a point) and they are also known to be very discriminating in their abilities to identify specific objects.
Here are five photos of crows* from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Notice a theme with our Take 5 posts? All this month, leading up to Halloween, we’re spotlighting wildlife that’s “spooky,” “creepy,” and goes “bump” in the night. BOO!
Crow © Michele Moore
A crow and a red-tailed hawk face off in mid-air © Jim Higgins
Crow © Matt Filosa
Crow © Steve DiGiandomenico
Bird silhouetted against the moon © Greg Saulmon*
*Okay, we’ll admit: this bird is not actually identifiable from just a silhouette, but it looks so perfectly spooky we had to include it anyway!
Snakes tend to get a bad rap, but they’re actually fascinating creatures that can help control pests like rodents and slugs thanks to their carnivorous diet. Plus, the vast majority of snakes that you’ll find in the Northeast are not dangerous.
In fact, of the 14 snake species found in Massachusetts, only two are venomous—the northern copperhead and timber rattlesnake—both of which are extremely rare (endangered, in fact) and they tend to avoid suburban and urban areas. Snakes prefer to avoid people, and will generally only bite when they are picked up, stepped on, or otherwise provoked. Fortunately, snakes do not carry diseases that are transmissible to humans.
Interestingly, snakes never stop growing, and every now and then, they must shed the skin that they’ve outgrown. Sometimes you can find these papery, scaly skins left behind on the trail—keep an eye out on your next hike!
Below are five photos of snakes that you might see in Massachusetts, submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Learn about all the native snake species on our website.
Eastern hognose snake © Dominic Casserly
Northern water snake © Brenda Bradley
Common garter snakes © Michael Onyon
Smooth green snake © Patrick Randall
Eastern hognose snake © Patrick Randall