Natural Curiosities - Minnesota Conservation Volunteer
Q. I saw a squirrel eat a dead bird. The bird was a common redpoll that had hit the window a couple of days before the squirrel found it. If a squirrel ate a dead bird that had West Nile virus, would it be safe to eat the squirrel?
Jerome A. Nelson
A. Although we have no evidence that West Nile virus is transmitted by eating meat from an ill animal, a number of diseases can be transmitted through improper handling and preparation of game, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your best bet is to never eat anything you find dead or that appears sick. Always carefully handle and cook all meats.
Q. Do loons get too old to breed? A pair of loons I have observed for 10 years on Little Bass Lake did not appear to make a nest and lay eggs last year. It was a cold spring and that may have had something to do with it. The loons seemed content to just swim around together and forage. I observed the same behavior this year (again cold).
A. Birds remain reproductively active throughout their lives, according to DNR nongame wildlife specialist Pam Perry. DNR nongame wildlife program supervisor Carrol Henderson suggests that the loons may have tried to nest early in spring but were foiled by the cold weather. He suggests you see if the pair nests successfully in the next year or two. If not, it's possible there is a problem such as predation, chemical contamination, or vandals. Keep watching, and let us know what happens.
Q. I saw something that looked like a gecko in my strawberry patch on Rice Lake near Paynesville early last October. It was a dull charcoal with a bright purple tail. Are these animals native to our area?
A. While geckos are not native to Minnesota, some people keep them as pets and it is possible that you spotted an escapee. More likely, says DNR herpetologist Carol Hall, is that you saw a juvenile prairie skink (Eumeces septentrionalis), one of the two species of skinks in Minnesota. The prairie skink commonly lives in areas with well-drained soils—just the place you might plant strawberries. Juveniles hatch in late summer and have a bright blue tail.
Q. Are cattails protected, or may we pick them?
A. Removal of cattails and other emergent aquatic plants from public waters for lakeshore homeowner access requires a permit from the DNR. However, you may remove a few plants for personal use without a permit, according to DNR aquatic plant management program coordinator Steve Enger. So cut a cattail or two for a fall bouquet if you'd like.
Q. I have a silver maple that is about 90 years old and 18 feet around at the base. A spot that was trimmed off a few years ago is rotting. I worry that this will make my tree fall down. Other than cabling and trimming by a tree service, what else can I do?
A. We wish we had good news for you, but we don't. Once decay starts in the tree, there is nothing you can do to eliminate it, says DNR forest health expert Alan Jones. Decay will not kill the tree, but it will weaken it. If your tree has extensive decay, it may not be wise to cable and brace it or make other exceptional efforts to try to save it, Jones says. "It is probably just waiting for the right wind to come along to shed all or part of its crown," he adds.
Q. We've been inundated with Asian lady beetles for several years. They have been a nuisance but haven't really done any damage, or so we thought. Now it appears that they are eating small holes in our wool blankets and wall hangings. Is anyone else seeing this? We're pretty sure it's not moths.
A. Lady beetles don't chew on fabric, according to University of Minnesota Extension Service entomologist Jeff Hahn. He suspects that small holes you find in wool blankets or wall hangings are the result of carpet beetles, clothes moths, or just plain wear and tear.
Send your questions to Natural Curiosities, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4046, or send e-mail to Natural Curiosities. Please include a daytime phone number.