Q. Where can I find morel mushrooms in Minnesota? When is the best time of the year to look?
A. Look for morels in Minnesota when the lilacs start to bloom (usually early to mid-May) in wooded areas or near streams, especially after a rain. Some people have had luck searching around the roots of elms killed by Dutch elm disease, according to the University of Minnesota Extension Service. A great way to learn about morels and other Minnesota mushrooms is to join the Minnesota Mycological Society. Check it out at www.minnesotamushrooms.org, or call 651-699-1263.
Q. Our basement egress window well had three toads in it, which we thought was great, since they could eat the bugs. Then there were nine. Should we leave that many down there?
A. It sounds like the toads are trapped and need some help, says DNR herpetologist Carol Hall. While they may feed on the insects in the window well, the toads eventually will die of thirst or freeze. Hall recommends putting a window-well cover (available from hardware stores) over the opening. Or, if you like to observe amphibians, put a board in the bottom of the window well. Check under it frequently to see what you've "captured," then release the critters on land. You might be amazed at what you find, especially after spring or fall rains.
Q. We have a place on Lake Reno near Glenwood. The shore is shallow for at least 150 feet out and until the last few years has been weedless. Six times last summer children came out of the lake crying because something stung them. It left a raised white spot about the size of a small pea, pain, stinging, and sometimes tingling in the foot for 10 to 15 minutes. What is doing the stinging? And why do we suddenly have so many weeds?
A. There's a good chance baby bullheads are the source of the sting, says Bruce Paakh, a hydrologist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in Detroit Lakes. These little guys, which hang out on the bottom in shallow water, have barbs on their dorsal and pectoral fins that, when stepped on, produce symptoms like those you describe. Water shoes or an old pair of sneakers can help protect your kids' feet this summer.
The appearance of aquatic plants in a formerly clear area of a lake often has to do with a change onshore that allows more nutrients to flow or seep into the water. Possible culprits include a failing septic system, use of lawn fertilizer, and removal of natural vegetation from the shore. You can help prevent it by keeping your shoreline natural and making sure your septic system, if you have one, is in good working order.
Q. Fishing off my dock on Caribou Lake (Duluth) last June, I caught two northern pike in the 12-inch range that had circular open, bloody sores on their backs and sides. Should I be concerned?
A. DNR fish and wildlife pathologist Joe Marcino suspects your fish were victims of Esocid lymphosarcoma, an infectious disease that causes tumors in northern pike and muskies. The disease is widespread throughout Minnesota. Fish infected with the disease are still edible when cooked properly. Marcino suggests you keep any infected fish you catch—don't throw them back —to reduce the prevalence of the disease in the lake. To learn more, see www.state.me.us/ifw/fishing/fishlab/vol4issue12.htm.
Q.Why are there suddenly so many opossums in our area? They used to be rather rare around here.
A. A generation ago much of Minnesota was too cold for most opossums—in fact, those that tried to winter here often ended up with frostbitten ears, says DNR wildlife educator Jan Welsh. But as the weather has warmed in recent years, these creatures have found our climate more to their liking.
Welsh, who raised two baby opossums as a child, offers these fascinating facts: Opossums are our only marsupial. They have 50 teeth, more than any other Minnesota mammal. When frightened, they go into a sort of shock and appear dead for several minutes. They can raise 13 young at a time (mom has 13 teats in her pouch), so they can quickly populate an area.