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lake bath, plains toads, wasp invader, yellow flag, shy-poke, nailed feeder

I enjoy taking my bath in the lake when I'm at the cabin. What should I know about bath soaps and shampoos?

T. Schaffer
Cottage Grove

Use a product that is phosphorus-free, breaks down naturally, and doesn't leave film, foam, or scum on the surface of the water, recommends Minnesota Pollution Control Agency research scientist Steve Heiskary. Stores that carry camping supplies are a good source.

I live in southwestern Minnesota on a small farm. I didn't hear frogs for most of last spring because we don't have any wetlands or water for breeding. Then we received heavy rains and a lot of the fields flooded, and suddenly I heard frogs all night long. Do frogs move in from miles around to find water? Or are they always there but just not vocal? When the water disappears, will the sound of frogs disappear too?

Kane Radel

The sounds you heard were the mating calls of Great Plains toads, says DNR amphibian and reptile specialist Carol Hall. As adults, these toads tolerate dry grasslands well, but (like other amphibians) need water to reproduce. When fields flood after a big summer rain, the toads gather to mate and lay eggs in the water. The new generation needs four to seven weeks to hatch, grow, and metamorphose into adult frogs, at which point they can leave the wetland and live the "dry life" too.

I enjoy finding and rearing butterfly and Saturniidae moth caterpillars. Last summer I noticed that many of the chrysalises hatched not a butterfly but a wasp. What is it? I also noticed that there were not as many butterflies last summer. Is it due to this wasp?

Kevin Collison
St. Paul

Michelle DaCosta and Greg Setliff, entomology graduate students at the University of Minnesota, said the photo you sent (above) shows an ichneumonid wasp of the genus Trogus. Trogus species lay their eggs inside a caterpillar. After the caterpillar pupates, the wasp egg hatches and the immature wasp feeds on the pupa. When the wasp matures, it cuts a hole in the chrysalis and emerges. The entomologists commented that 20 to 45 percent of moth and butterfly pupae normally fall victim to parasitoid wasps and flies. "The generally beneficial parasitoids are not a cause for concern," they noted, adding that the scarcity of butterflies was more likely due to last summer's unusually dry weather.

Two years ago an unfamiliar plant showed up on our shoreline on Coon Lake in Anoka County. In 2006 it bloomed into a yellow flag iris. We were graced with its beauty for several weeks. Can I buy this type of plant? Can I simply plant the seeds from the dried flower pod?

Chip Nelson
East Bethel

Yellow flag (Iris pseudacoris) may be beautiful, but it's bad news for your lake. This non-native, invasive flower is spreading in Minnesota, taking over lakeshores and wetlands and crowding out native plants. According to DNR invasive species program coordinator Jay Rendall, yellow flag is a regulated invasive species that you may buy, sell, and transport; but it's illegal to introduce it into public waters or waters connected to them. To keep your shoreline habitat healthy, Rendall recommends you remove the invader. If you'd really like to keep it on your property, replant it away from the lakeshore in a contained area.

Years ago my dad referred to a shorebird as a "shy-poke," a term I believe he heard as a World War II trainee in Louisiana. Recently a friend referred to a different shorebird by that same name. I've looked in every bird guide I've seen and never found the term. Can you identify which shorebird is known as the "shy-poke" and perhaps give a background on the term?

Timothy Svoboda
Forest Lake

Over the years people have used "shy-poke" to refer to various water-associated birds, including herons, egrets, and bitterns. The most common recipient appears to be the green heron. According to longtime Minnesota birder Murray Olyphant, the name seems to derive from words meaning (loosely) "feces bag"--a reference to the heron's tendency to let launch a stream of droppings as it takes off in flight.

Does nailing a sign or bird feeder to a tree harm the tree? I have a feeder that gets nailed to a tree, and I do not want to put it up if it will harm my oak.

Kathy Hagglund
Elk River

Not a problem, says DNR forest health specialist Jana Albers. You might have to pull the nail out occasionally as the tree grows, however, so the tree doesn't grow over the nail.

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