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Creature Feature

Mack the Lab is Maryland’s chief apiary sniffer

Cybil Preston and her bee dog Mack the Lab are official heroes in the state of Maryland.     Like all heroes and superheroes, Mack rose from a troubled past. He was a puppy in a dissolving family where three small children took up all the time the mother had to give. Preston came to the rescue, sensing Mack had the brains to pick up new skills. He did.

Bats have a colony of mothers

Who knew that bats make excellent mothers? You and I do, thanks to Maryland Department of Natural Resources bat biologist Dana Limpert, who speaks highly of the brown bat.     “They take excellent care of their young. If a baby falls out of the roost or is injured, the mother will recognize its calls and rescue it.”

Look up; they’re all around you

Drifting high across most landscapes this time of year, sometimes to altitudes of 16,000 feet or more, are airborne travelers that few people notice, though the fliers may number in the thousands.     They are spiders seeking new ­territories.     These ballooning or sailing spiders are generally the smaller of the many spider varieties and are borne aloft by winds on gossamer filaments, usually three, spun by the spider, forming a pyramid canopy that can carry them for miles, sometimes thousands of miles.

Fish in the Classroom goes to college

Whoever heard of taking fish back to the water?     Trout Unlimited did, and that’s why my Anne Arundel Community College environmental studies class of 25 students is carrying buckets of trout to the Little Paxtuxent River near Savage Mill.

Atlantic ribbed and hooked mussels are Chesapeake’s Brita filter

Mussels are more than a seafood dish in buttery broth. Unlike those delectable mussels, our Chesapeake Bay mussels are small and tough. Our two native species, the Atlantic ribbed mussel and the hooked mussel, serve environment rather than appetite. Both are believed to be key indicator species of the health of the Bay.     These filter feeders have a leg up on oysters. Due to their smaller size, they can catch the smaller plankton Picoplankton.

Mr. Burrito finds his forever home

You’re working late one night, taking out the last can of trash when a large moving shadow across the street catches your eye. After pushing down the initial urge to run back inside, you recognize not a big rat or a small dog but a rabbit. Still, something isn’t adding up. This rabbit is much too large to be a garden-variety cottontail. A rabbit this big, and with a floppy ear, is bred to be a pet.     You approach with caution, careful not to spook it. But it is carelessly headed toward a major thoroughfare while snacking on roadside debris.

Crabs and osprey in, oysters and swans out

In Chesapeake Country, creatures define seasons more accurately than weather. Crabs and osprey are the creatures of this season, even now replacing oysters and tundra swans on the calendar of Chesapeake life. Each comes, and goes, with fanfare.

Spring’s sirens are sounding

The chirping call of spring peepers, Pseudacris crucifer, is my favorite sound of spring. Perhaps it was my upbringing in swampy Louisiana that draws me to frog songs. I often find myself rolling down the windows as I drive home along Muddy Creek Road in southern Anne Arundel County to catch a wave of springtime from the marshes and wetlands along the road.     The chorus of these tiny frogs is one of our first harbingers of warmer temperatures and longer days. You’ll hear them long before spring’s official arrival.

Due date gets earlier year by year

On the first day, he soars through the air in a rollercoaster dance, weaving the sky with his fish flight: the dance of courtship. On the second day, she is with him, perched comfortably in their solitary tower. The osprey have returned to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary. This year’s return date was February 22.     Isn’t that early? Don’t osprey usually arrive after St. Patrick’s Day?

Filmed in their natural habitat

Legendary in Chesapeake tributaries are spring spawning runs, especially of the season’s harbinger, yellow perch.     See for yourself, with wonder, a video of spawning yellow perch in pristine water in the Upper Magothy River, documented this year by Magothy River Association volunteers and photographed by Chesapeake Bay Program’s Will Parson.