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Natural Curiosities

swimming deer . . . moving mushrooms . . . bad grass . . . tiny toads . . . wood ducks

Illustration of deer.

On a calm day last summer I was sitting on the beach at the mouth of the Kadunce River when a doe bolted out of the woods behind me and ran straight into Lake Superior. I sat and watched it swim away from shore until it was completely out of sight. Any explanations?

Mary Salisbury, Tofte

Deer are good swimmers and have been observed swimming straight down the middle of rivers rather than across, says DNR wildlife research biologist Glenn DelGiudice. Deer sometimes swim out into water to escape biting insects or to cool off. In this case, the fact the deer was running suggests a wolf or other predator might have been pursuing it. To swim that far out into Lake Superior is very unusual.

I guide night hikes for students at Whitewater State Park each year. During one of my hikes, I had an adult tell me that when a dead standing tree that has mushrooms on it falls over, the mushrooms somehow turn so they face down again. I can see new mushrooms developing after the tree is down and the old ones falling off. But to turn on the tree? That seems impossible. I was wondering if you have any insights on this. I don't want to tell the students the wrong thing during the hikes.

Jim Hruska, Dodge Center

What you heard is true—sort of. Mushrooms, like plants, can detect and respond to gravity, a trait known as gravitropism or geotropism. In plants, this ability makes roots grow down and stems grow up. If a tree with a living mushroom falls, the existing mushroom doesn't physically turn. But, says Ron Spinoza, past president of the Minnesota Mycological Society, future growth will be oriented in the direction dictated by the mushroom's new position relative to Earth's gravity. So on a downed tree, you might see what looks like a very mixed-up growth, with "down" pointing in one direction on the old part of the fungus and in another on the new part.

We recently bought land in Pine County. It is greatly covered by a tall grass we learned is called reed canary grass. Is this a native grass or an import? If an import, why was it imported? Is there any ecologically safe way to get rid of it? It is growing right down into the water of our small river, making access difficult, if not impossible.

Valinda McCarter, Finlayson

Many landowners are struggling with this nonnative grass, which was (and in some cases still is) planted to control erosion. Reed canary grass grows in thick stands along waterways, crowding out native wetland species. Suggestions for control include cultivating the land and replacing with native species, burning in spring or fall for consecutive years, mowing to reduce seed dispersal, or using glyphosate in the fall. Learn more about controlling reed canary grass.

Illustration of toadlets.

I work for a landscaping company. In July I was working at a location with ponds in the middle of a residential area. On the sidewalk were a lot of little frogs (no more than 1/8th of an inch) hopping around. Is there a frog in Minnesota that gives birth to live young? They were so tiny I had a hard time believing they ever were tadpoles.

Deb Killmer, Cold Spring

DNR amphibian expert Carol Hall thinks you saw young American toads. Females lay long strings of eggs in May that hatch into tadpoles. By late June or early July, toadlets emerge from wetlands to feed on invertebrates in surrounding upland habitats. Because a single female toad can lay several thousand eggs, the emergence of all those tiny toadlets can be an amazing sight.

Last May a red oak that stood 30 feet from our house broke 25 feet from the ground at the point of a large hollow in the tree. As I was cutting the fallen treetop for firewood, I saw that a wood duck hen that had been nesting in the hollow had been killed and her eggs broken when the treetop fell. This tree is half a mile from Hay Creek, the nearest open water. Is it unusual for a wood duck to nest that far from water? Is the drake involved in the nesting and feeding?

Phyllis and Arlan Johnson, Red Wing

DNR wildlife educator Jan Welsh says it is not uncommon for wood ducks to nest that far from water. In answer to your second question, the drake usually stops hanging around after the hen starts incubating the clutch, and does not help raise the ducklings. Have you thought about putting up a nest box or two on your property? You might want to consider that, as long as the hen and ducklings don't have to cross busy lanes of traffic or other barriers to get to the creek. Learn more about wood ducks.

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