The birds and the bees — and the turtles and the snakes

eastern box turtle 2014

Fourth-grader Abigail H. with the turtle.

We’re used to our grounds crawling with two-legged critters, but now our gardens and fields are exploding with four-legged, six-legged, and no-legged creatures. Birds are busily building nests in our two bird boxes, and all kinds of colorful and different-sized bees can be found collecting pollen from the meadow’s golden ox-eye sunflowers. Among the sightings in the last week alone:

Right on schedule, the same time as last spring, an Eastern box turtle made an appearance by the fence on the playground. Mr. Klos and his students kept it in class for about half an hour before releasing it where they found it. (It’s against state law to collect or hold a wild animal.) Eastern box turtles are Fairfax County’s only completely land turtles, and they can live more than 100 years. (One lived to be 138!) May to July is egg-laying time, so fingers crossed that we’ll have more next spring.

eastern black swallowtailsCheck out the dill in the front right raised bed (the one with the caterpillar painted on it — thank you, SACC kids!!) and you’ll find lots of these creatures climbing around and chowing down. They’re Eastern black swallowtails, also known as parsley caterpillars. Any guesses on what they like to eat? Not just parsley, though — they’ll eat anything in the parsley family, including celery, carrots, parsnips, anise, coriander, cumin, fennel and dill.

Try not to handle them. They don’t like it. As some students learned on Monday, when you touch one, what looks like antennae will pop out of the top of its head. These orange scent glands emit a nasty odor when the caterpillar is threatened. Let’s let them stick to the business of growing.

The Eastern swallowtail butterfly always fans its wings as it feeds; favorite nectar sources are common milkweed and orange butterfly weed (both are milkweeds).

Thamnophis_sirtalis_gartersnakeOn Monday in the courtyard, third-grader Caleb V. found a gartersnake who looked like this fellow. The one Caleb found under an overturned tree cookie was much too fast for us to photograph. It flattened its head against its coiled body, then lit out for the nearby bushes. Gartersnakes will try to make themselves appear fierce or larger than they are, and if you try to pick them up will spray you with musk. If you find one, just admire it before it quickly slithers off.

This is a good time to remind readers that when overturning tree cookies, rocks or logs, pick up the end that is farther from you. That way, anything that might be underneath will move away from you instead of toward you.

spring 2014 monarch catsNot all the action is outside: The second grade’s monarch caterpillars are growing well, thanks to the milkweed that the kids are feeding it.

 

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Melanie Brookes-Weiss on June 4, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Wonderful, wonderful! I love this posting. I love that the children are learning so much cool stuff about nature and how awesome all the birds, bees, turtles and snakes are. What an awesome eco school we have! Melanie

    Reply

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