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Creature Feature

Ghoulish but good for your garden


      When I think of the predators of caterpillars, I think of birds and lizards. But a more common killer is the Braconid wasp. These tiny wasps find soft-bodied caterpillars including cabbage worms and hornworms and firmly attach eggs to them. The developing wasp larvae live off the caterpillar without killing it until it develops into a chrysalis. At that point the wasp larvae mature and burst out of the chrysalis, killing the developing butterfly or moth. The wasps then go looking for more caterpillars.

Rocky Mountain elk repopulate much of their Atlantic range — but not Maryland


     European settlers arriving in North America encountered huge populations of eastern elk. These thousand-pound members of the deer family ranged from Louisiana to Canada.      Have you ever wondered how the Elk River and Elkton were named? Elk were quite plentiful in Maryland.      By 1870, America’s last Eastern elk was shot in Pennsylvania.

Dam Snakeheads Nabbed in Migration


     If there’s slight consolation in Chesapeake Country’s invasion by snakeheads, it could be that more of them are hightailing it north up the Susquehanna.

Avoid the masked bandit if you can


     A late noise startles you awake. When you turn on the lights, a masked animal gives a rolling growl as it sulks away. That raccoon is back. 

Birds set the highest standard


      Fatherhood in nature varies from the seahorse and pipefish, which carry eggs and then offspring in a special pouch, to the praying mantis father that gets eaten by the female after the reproductive act. In many herbivore mammals, like deer, the father does very little parenting. They are not around for the birth or care of the offspring. Herding mammals like bison collectively parent, with the fathers working as protectors.

Animal mystery in the English countryside

      A CNN headline last week roped us in: Raccoon Dogs on the Loose in an English Village. People were told to be on the lookout for these dangerous creatures.      A Daily Mail story warned that the raccoon dogs “terrorize locals and attack animals in Nottinghamshire.”      “BLOOD CURDLING SCREAM,” a villager recalled hearing.

Too fast for my camera to show their namesake inner wings


      A small gray-and-blue mirage fluttered wildly around my feet. It stopped for two seconds on a clover flower before taking off again just as erratically. I was trying to get a photo of an opened-winged butterfly, but it was too difficult.

These birds like to announce their presence 


      Belted kingfishers are common along Maryland’s waterways. But each has a large hunting territory so they are spread out. They seem to fight constantly over space and don’t tolerate one another. They also don’t tolerate people and can be heard screaming what sound like bird obscenities as they fly from human approaches. They also vocalize as they move from one perch to another, announcing their presence to every other animal in the area.
You’ll know this tern by its red-tipped bill and feet
     Here’s another tern to look sharp for in Chesapeake Country.      Caspian terns visited Chesapeake Country in late April ­( They have now moved on to their northern nesting grounds. Forster’s terns have moved in after spending winter along the southern coastline of the U.S. They are one of the more common terns along the Chesapeake and especially in the marshy areas of the Eastern Shore.  

One of Mother Nature’s wilder whims

       At North Point State Park looking for little blue herons, I was distracted by a female cardinal looking for insects in a nearby tree. Cardinals are generally seed-eaters but tend to look for insects when they have nestlings, so I thought she might lead me to her nest. Instead, when she was about 10 feet away, she grabbed a bright green beetle but immediately dropped it.