What You Can See on March 10
Submitted by Ted Williams on Fri, 03/10/2006 - 08:52.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Golden Harbinger If you thought the first bright wildflower of spring was a small dandelion, look closer. It’s probably coltsfoot—a diminutive, look-alike relative from Eurasia and Africa that’s now naturalized in most of America. Officially, it’s a weed, but in the bleakness of March one has difficulty generating much antipathy toward the gaudy, golden blooms bravely pushing through mud and snow. Oddly, the flowers die before the horse-hoof-shaped leaves appear, a trait that convinced early botanists that the plant was leafless. Both flower and leaves have been used as cough medicine for at least 2,000 years. The silk crowning the seedheads is favored as nesting material by chickadees and goldfinches. Backyard Wolves When snowpacks shrink and the wet earth stirs with insect life, hungry wolf spiders—common most everywhere on the planet, especially in the United States—emerge from their dens and burrows. These stout, hairy arachnids can reach two inches in length. All 3,000 known species lack the ability to spin webs; instead, they pursue their prey, sometimes running it down like wolves (though not in packs), sometimes ambushing it like cougars. Eight prominent eyes allow a wolf spider to take in the scene above and behind. A male courts a female by tapping the ground and waving his front legs and two armlike, sperm-transferring appendages, called pedipalps, at her. The female totes her eggs in a sac, and when the young emerge they may ride on her back.