Q. In years past I would often hear the beautiful call of the meadowlark. It's been a long time since I've heard it. Are they still around?
A. Both eastern and western meadowlarks are found in the Twin Cities area-though not as many as in years gone by, largely due to loss of the large grasslands they need to thrive. DNR ornithologist Steve Stucker suggests you look for them at Afton State Park. For more about meadowlarks, see Minnesota Profile in the July-August 1999 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.
Q. After living in Minnesota for most of my life, I was lucky enough to see my first wild wolf crossing a frozen lake last winter near Ely. It was moving very quickly. Is it common for a wolf to travel alone? Why would it be crossing a lake at such a fast pace?
J. Eric Gabrielson
A. About 15 percent of Minnesota's wolves live alone rather than in packs, says DNR wildlife biologist Mike DonCarlos. Most are young adults dispersing from their birth packs.
Why was the wolf moving so fast? It might have been trying to avoid being detected by the resident pack. Pack wolves will attack and kill a lone wolf in their territory.
Q. My sister and I found a huge caterpillar. It is green with a hint of metallic silver, about 3 inches long, and fat as a dime. The most gooky thing about it is a huge stinger-looking thing on its butt. I thought it might be an invasive species, so I put it in a jar with lots of greens. I would like to let it go if it is native. Whitney Barkley
A. Your newfound friend is a sphinx moth caterpillar, says University of Minnesota entomologist Jeffrey Hahn. Also known as hawk moths, sphinx moths help pollinate plants when they drink nectar from -flowers. Minnesota has dozens of sphinx moth species, so it's fine to let the caterpillar go where you found it. To learn more about Minnesota moths, see "Minnesota Night Life," May-June 2002. To compare moths and butterflies, see "Flying Flowers" in the July-August 1994 issue.
Q. In years past pelicans would stop off for a day or so on our lake on their way north in spring. Last year the lakes around us had pelicans that didn't leave. Why did they stay? Are the fish in danger? Will the -pelicans be back in future years?
A. According to Joan Galli, former DNR nongame wildlife specialist, last year some 27,000 pelicans were disturbed and abandoned their nesting site at Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. She suspects many of them relocated for the summer to lakes in surrounding areas, including Minnesota, but will return this spring to Chase Lake. No need to worry about the health of the lakes because of their presence. Pelicans have been living in Minnesota for centuries and are part of the native fauna. They do eat fish, but mostly species such as carp, suckers, chubs, and shiners.
Q. When was a wolverine last sighted in the wild in Minnesota?
Joyce and Walt Johnson
A. The last validated report of a wild wolverine in Minnesota was around 1920, according to DNR furbearer specialist Conrad Christianson. There have been a couple of sightings since then of animals that escaped from a zoo or game farm. To learn more, see "The Slinky, Stinky Weasel Family" in the May-June 2003 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.
Q. While at Glendalough State Park last summer I spotted a large white ball, about the size of a soccer ball. Is this some sort of mushroom? Edible? Poisonous? It was kind of stinky!
Nancy M. Larson
A. You spied a giant puffball. "It is actually a good edible mushroom, although we always warn people who do not have the proper training to never eat a wild mushroom," says Ron Spinosa, president of the Minnesota Mycological Society. For more information, go to Giant Puffballs .
Q. I have four duck houses on a lake in northern Minnesota. Every year for the past eight years, all have been filled with hooded mergansers. This July one of the hens flew into its house and shortly after, three more flew to the same house. One held onto the entrance and two sat on the top for about 10 minutes. What would cause this behavior?
A. "I had the same thing happen one spring with wood ducks," says DNR wildlife educator Jan Welsh. "You have more birds than cavities to nest in, and the oldest hen is most likely winning out." Welsh suggests adding more nest boxes.
Send your questions to Natural Curiosities, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4046. Please include a daytime phone number.