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Creature Feature

Not too cold, please, these penguins beg

Winter is creeping up, leading us through frost to cold to ice and snow. That’s weather that will chill the newest penguin residents of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore as much as it will you and me.     As African penguins, the newly hatched pair prefers moderate temperatures like those predicted for this week, between about 41 and 68 degrees. So the zoo’s main conservation center building, where they nest comfortably with their parents Mega and Rossi, has controlled temperatures.

Without them, Christmas would be a lot less colorful

In equatorial zones, poinsettias grow like weeds. But a touch of our winter is killing. How these tropical natives have become the flower of Christmas is a story of careful science in the greenhouse and ingenuity in marketing.     “Most mother plants are grown offshore, in Nicaragua, Costa Rica or Kenya,” says Ray Greenstreet, whose Greenstreet Gardens is a major grower for our homes and for wholesalers.

On the hunt in November

The antlered buck posed statue-like in full-focused attention in a valley surrounded, at a fair distance, by the houses of Fairhaven Cliffs. Perhaps he’d seen me seeing him from my perch well above him, but not assuring him safety were I a bow hunter. That hunting season lasts most of November, the month — this odd sighting reminded me — when Maryland’s 227,000 deer are at their most visible.

A sweet potato the size of a turkey

This sweet potato could be the vegetarian answer to the Thanksgiving turkey.     It looks the part, though Birgit Sharp — who grew the lookalike at American Chestnut Land Trust’s Double Oak Farm in Prince Frederick — calls it The Swan.     At 25 pounds, nine and one-quarter ounces, it’s big enough to do the job.

Canada geese are here, ducks arriving, swans not far behind

Back when people were fewer in the Chesapeake watershed, skies used to blacken with waterfowl.     You can get a glimpse of how abundant waterfowl can be, starting with Canada geese.     Big Vs of Canadas are as common as school buses. You hear them coming by their honking.

Know where your oyster comes from — and howOysters in Season

Oysters are Maryland’s catch of the season. Oystermen and women are tonging, diving and dredging for Crassostrea virginica in a season that runs October 1 through March 31.     Last year saw 393,588 bushels harvested with a dockside value of $17.3 million. “The second highest total in at least 15 years due to healthy oyster reproduction in 2010 and 2012,” according to DNR Secretary Mark Belton.

Mermaid and Bride of Frankenstein top Homstead’s Critter Crawl

Critters pranced, bolted, held back and had to be dragged, but — despite the name — none crawled at the Critter Crawl at Homestead Garden’s Fall Festival. Twenty-nine costumed dogs were strutting their stuff, as were their owners, often wearing pared costumes. A terrier wore prison stripes for bad behavior, a shepherd sprouted reindeer horns, a pit bull turned into a frog.

Young-of-the year index way up

Fish are jumping on Chesapeake Bay. The thousands too small to take home are good news for the future of rockfishing. In this year’s survey, juvenile striped bass approximately doubled the long-term average, 11.9. This year’s index found an average of 24.2 juvenile fish per sample. That’s the eighth highest on record, according to Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which has conducted and analyzed samples since 1954.

What’s in your suitcase?

Twenty seahorses do not belong in your suitcase. Which led to trouble last month for a Vietnamese traveler arriving at Dulles International Airport.     All 20 live seahorses, found in a routine baggage check by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, were seized. Had the seahorse collector possessed only four, she could have kept them: The baggage limit is four seahorses.

Butterflies release commemorates life

“The butterfly is a symbol of how lives change and are transformed,” said Calvert Hospice’s Linzy Laughhunn as he set free one of 72 monarchs during a celebration of life ceremony at Chesapeake Highland Memorial Gardens in Port Republic.     Chesapeake Highland Memorial Gardens are surrounded by open land where the released monarchs will find milkweed on which to lay their eggs and for nectar as they prepare for their epic migration to Mexico.