Time of the Grasshoppers

Thanks to Amelia Ladd for her beautiful pen and ink sketches.

Time of the Grasshoppers   

Bush Katydid
photo by Lawrence Wade

For the past 20 years I have been working with 2nd graders studying grasshoppers. When you spend as much time as I have in the weeds looking for grasshoppers, their uniqueness and beauty goes right to your heart.

Grasshopper Life Cycle
Nature Seeker Workbook

Late summer/early fall is the Time of the Grasshoppers. In the past month I have noticed that the number of adult grasshoppers/crickets in the neighborhood has increased dramatically. It has taken the whole summer for the hoppers to go through their life cycle and most are now adults.  In the spring, the eggs hatch, however, if the rains come before the eggs hatch, many get washed out. The young hoppers go through at least five nymph stages. During this time they cannot fly. The last stage of their lives, they “get their wings” becoming adults, and the singing begins.

Katydid calling at night.


Snowy Tree Cricket
Songs of Insects

One of my favorites is a night singer that calls from the trees, the snowy tree cricket.  It makes a continuous pulse, and is also called the “temperature cricket”, since the pulse changes with the temperature. You can figure out the outside temperature by counting the number of pulses in 15 seconds and multiply by 4, adding 32.

Snowy Tree Cricket calling at night.

The formula to determine the temperature from a snowy tree cricket is as follows:

________________   X   _____4_______ + 32  =  ______________
# of pulses in  15 seconds        (4 x 15 =60 seconds)                temperature in °F


Short -horned Grasshopper laying eggs
Nature Seeker Workbook


As soon as a hard frost hits, the “singing” drops from 100% to 0%. It is a shock and difficult to deal with emotionally since  it tells us that the seasons are changing. There is also a “quiet beauty” in knowing that the grasshoppers have completed their life cycles. The eggs resting in the ground, promise the continuation their species next year.


Carolina Grasshopper
Photo by Lawrence Wade


The Carolina grasshopper or locust is normally found on bare ground. It is one of our largest grasshoppers in Minnesota (2-3 inches long). They are easily identified when they fly because they have black wings.


Male Meadow Grasshopper calling from the grassland.
photo by Lawrence Wade


Female Meadow Grasshopper showing her sharp ovipositor at the end of the abdomen.
Nature Seeker Workbook



Meadow grasshoppers are found in tall marsh and prairie grass. The males make a repetitive buzzing sound in the grass during the day. The females are attracted to the sound. After they mate, the female will lay her eggs in a blade of grass  using her knife-like ovipositor.



Meadow Grasshopper calling in the weeds during the day.

Grasshopper Predators

Argiope or Garden Spider
photo by Lawrence Wade


The Argiope spider is a predator on grasshoppers and I often see them in weeds. They make a beautiful web up to 3 feet across.  Grasshoppers that fly/jump into the web are quickly wrapped up and mummified by the spider. The female Argiope is 4 times larger than the male.


Leopard frog
Photo by Lawrence Wade



The leopard frog is also a predator on grasshoppers and other grassland insects.





Grasshopper Laboratory



Download the Grasshopper activity pages from Nature Seeker Workbook
GrasshopperActivitySheet copy

Reader Bob Bigham added the following comment about grasshoppers:

“While growing up in Pinckneyville , Illinois we would go bug hunting and grasshoppers was one of our favorites. they would “spit tobacco juice” if we held them too tight. One day we flipped one over and it had a bright red hour glass on its belly, just like a black widow.”

Reader Becky Knickerbocker shared the following story:

Yesterday I was sitting outside on the patio at Chapel View Home in Hopkins. I was visiting with a 96 year old blind woman in a wheelchair. The sun was warming us and we were talking about the plants and animals I could see. Birds were singing, bees were buzzing, crickets were chirping, and squirrels and chipmunks were running past us with nuts in their mouths. All of a sudden a grasshopper landed on her knee. She said, “Oh, how fun. I like it. Don’t shoo it away. I can feel it!”

Posted in Insects | 1 Comment

Off the Grid

Jim called, Want to go kayaking at Isle Royale?
‘Sure’, my 18 year old self said.
Oops! I’m 74.

Our ride to Isle Royale
photo by Jim Gregory

Isle Royale or Minong (in Ojibwe) is an archipelago 40 miles off the coast of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota. It is the least visited National Park in the US and took 8 hours to get to our destination. Lake Superior is known for its quickly changing water conditions and weather. I was thankful for the calm water passage.

Minong means ‘The good place’ in the Ojibwe language.

North Shore Ojibwe paddlers travelled up the coast to Thunder Bay in their birchbark canoes, where the crossing to Minong was only 19 miles. They would take advantage of calm conditions and leave in pre-dawn hours. It would take many hours of hard paddling. Ojibwe travelers knew the danger in crossing, since lake conditions could change at any time.

The Ojibwe paddlers believed the lake was a living entity and that heightened their feeling of vulnerability. Before setting out, prayers were said for a safe crossing.

I should have said a prayer during the crossing to combat my negative self-talk:

Have to use a water filter pump just to drink the water.
It may have giardia in it.

It’s 39°, I should have brought gloves and long underwear.
Let go! You are off the grid now.

The volcanic rock on Minong is basalt and is over a billion years old. There are countless beautiful formations.

lichen covered basalt

The call of a loon
Warblers flitting in the aspen trees

What is this new feeling?
Fills my body
The sound of wildness
Touches a deep place within me

Characteristic rock formations at Minong. Folded layers of volcanic rock.
photo by Jim Gregory

Listening to the stories of the Grandfather Rock

Reader Angie Adamek captures essence of our experience with this comment:
The Great Lakes ‘water-meets-rock’ is so irresistible to me with its gurgles and splashes. Looking at your pics evokes the sounds and smell that go with them.

Untouched rocky beaches.

Treasures found on the beach.
To show respect for the land, I took nothing with me.


The crystal pool.
This quiet place had very calming energy.

This was a rock not a skull. So unique and beautiful.

Plenty of time to meditate?

Even the clouds were magical.

We are paddling
Just ahead
A dark cloud is pouring rain
But the wind is at our back
Pushing the rain ahead of us
The early morning sun shines through
Illuminating the golden rain drops
We stop
To embrace the beauty.

The water visibility was 50 feet or more.

Carnivorous Pitcher Plant
On one of the barrier islands there was a Spaghnum Bog.

Moose Scat
There are almost a thousand moose on the island.
(We didn’t see any.)

Mourning Cloak Butterfly


Alpen glow on the rocks, signaling sunset.

At the Temperance River, foam in the water created patterns that mirrored the currents and moved continuously.
Photo by Jim Gregory

As it happened, we visited the Temperance  River, my late wife’s favorite place, on the 12th anniversary of her death from lung cancer. We wrote her name in the froth on the surface, and watched it as the current carried it away. I looked at the pictures I took, and I became fascinated with the patterns on the surface of the water where the river flowed into Lake Superior.  Jim Gregory

Art work by Jim Gregory

I decided to focus on foam patterns as a painting subject. First I attempted the macroscopic view of the overall patterns that were created, the swirls, the shapes and the flows. Then, after working with the painting, I realized that the microscopic view of the shapes of the individual floating pieces, were much more fascinating and worthy of capturing.  Jim Gregory

Art work by Jim Gregory

The smaller floating particles, were very similar to the dots I had practiced in my Chinese landscape painting classes.The larger floating foam particles, were similar to the brush strokes from my bamboo brush in my Sumi-e painting classes. Jim Gregory

Art Work by Jim Gregory

Studying these patterns found in nature, I had a greater appreciation for nature’s creations and for the beauty that is always surrounding us. I will be forever grateful to Larry for the homework he assigned to me and my willingness to follow through.

Jim Gregory

Art work by Jim Gregory


Art work by Jim Gregory

Posted in Nature Notes, Nature Poetry, Photography/Art | 17 Comments

Spring Beauty

So much is changing every day here in the North Country. After a winter of white and brown, Nature has burst out in a symphony of colors.

Thanks to all of the contributors who shared their photos and thoughts to this posting including Mary Goehle, Holly Einess, Jeff Saslow, Heather Holm, Sabrina Harvey, and Janine Pung.

Warbler Migration

During the week of May 9th, there was an influx of many different species of warblers. Warblers are extremely beautiful, but difficult to photograph because they are small and always on the move.

Yellow Warbler
Mary Goehle

Maybe the yellow warbler (pictured above) will take up residency here for the summer. I’ll have to listen for its ‘sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet’ song.

I’m a novice birder and have been enjoying watching warblers flitting about the trees as they pass through on their migration. Mary Goehle

American Redstart
Lawrence Wade

Magnolia Warbler
Mary Goehle

Black and White Warbler
Lawrence Wade

Chesnut-sided Warbler
Lawrence Wade


The Green Tinge

Big Willow Park  –  Minnetonka, MN
Mary Goehle

I love when the leaves are just starting to come out. They look delicate, almost like lace, especially in the evening sunlight. There are several ironwood trees in this area. They’ve finally given up the marcescent leaves they were holding onto over the winter to make room for the new. Mary Goehle


Tree Flowers

Tree flowers are an important food source for early pollinators.

Willow flowers
Holly Einess

Red Maple Flowers
Holly Einess



Text and photos by Heather Holm. For more info on Heather’s work go to:

Two-spotted bumble bee gyne (Bombus bimaculatus) collects pollen from wild plum.
Photo by Heather Holm

New bumble bee queens (gynes), have been emerging the last few weeks from their winter hibernation. Gynes, which later become queens once they establish a nest and produce offspring, are the longest lived caste in the bumble bee colony, surviving for approximately ten to twelve months. Their life begins the previous summer or autumn when they are reared to adulthood by their mother and sisters in a bumble bee colony. Prior to hibernating, the gynes feed on sugar-rich nectars produced by flowering plants, and mate with a male. The calories and nutrients from the consumed nectars are stored in organ-like tissues called fat stores, and the sperm in a separate organ – the spermatheca. While hibernating, they use the energy from the fat stores for nutrients and warmth, and an antifreeze-like substance circulates through their body to prevent them from freezing. The winter hibernation in a shallow burrow in the ground is precarious, and many gynes don’t survive because they do not have enough reserves or fat stores. Those gynes that do survive until spring are famished and need nearby food (flower nectar) to help them prepare for the week-long search to find a place to nest.

Two-spotted bumble bee gyne (Bombus bimaculatus) visits large-flowered bellwort.
Photo by Heather Holm


With over twenty bumble bee species in Minnesota, each have their unique phenology (and emergence time). Usually the first species I observe emerging from hibernation is the two-spotted bumble bee (Bombus bimaculatus). Last week, the two-spotted bumble bee gynes were beginning to collect pollen from plants, an indication that they have successfully established a nest because pollen is the primary food source they provide in the nest to feed their larvae. Other species I’ve seen in the last week include the black and gold bumble bee (Bombus auricomus) and common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens). These gynes were visiting flowering plants to feed on nectar or nest searching. Nest searching gynes fly low to the ground and spend time investigating cavities under logs, in the ground, gaps under leaf litter or debris, or similar sites that may have once hosted a mouse or chipmunk nest. This searching is time consuming and energy intensive, so frequent refueling (nectar) is needed. Once a nest is established, the queen produces multiple broods, beginning with females (workers), followed by males, then ending with the production of gynes. At the end of the summer, the queen will die as will all the workers and males, but her recently-produced daughters (gynes) will mate, then hibernate, and establish their own annual nest the following spring.

Black and gold bumble bee gyne (Bombus auricomus) visits wild plum.
Photo by Heather Holm

Some of the flowering plants gynes were visiting in my neighborhood this week include wild plum (Prunus americana), large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), and common blue violets (Viola sororia). In the next week or so, look for bumble bees visiting prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) dogwood (Cornus spp.), Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), and wild geranium (Geranium maculatum). 

Common eastern bumble bee gyne (Bombus impatiens) searches for a nesting site under leaf litter.
Photo by Heather Holm


No Mow May

In the upper Midwest, we love our lawns and many strive to grow the ‘perfect lawn’. But many cities have designated this month as ‘No Mow May’ to try to help early pollinators get a foothold during the warm weather.  A recent article in Rewilding Magazine, co-authored by Heather Holm, argues that although ‘No Mow May” is well intentioned, it does not meet the complex survival needs of  pollinators. To read the article go to:

Dandelions and violets in my lawn
Lawrence Wade


Spring Birds

American Robin and Cedar Waxwing.
Janine Pung

On April 30th, a very large flock of cedar waxwings descended on the crabapple in my front yard.  Over the course of several days, I watched them flutter among the branches as they feasted.  I saw a pair sweetly pass a berry back and forth, from bill to bill, until one of them swallowed it.  I even observed some flying upside down as they tried to land a spot on the crowded tree.  Of the many photos I took from my window, this is my favorite…a robin on one branch and a cedar waxwing on another.

Janine Pung

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet in speckled alder
Holly Einess

Great Blue Heron
Holly Einess

Red Wing Blackbird singing “Okalee”  from the cattails.
Lawrence Wade

The striking beauty of a female oriole.
Lawrence Wade



Spring Ephemerals

The word ‘ephemeral‘ means ‘to fade quickly‘. ‘Spring ephemerals‘ refers to the wildflowers that are blooming now in our woodlands. Many of the blooms last no more than a week. But, oh, what a week it is….It is healing to feel so much joy at the sight of  such beautiful  flowers.
Lawrence Wade

Pretty little rue anemone! Prolific this time of year in Big Willow Park.
Mary Goehle


Here’s a lesson in slowing down. It would be easy to miss this bloodroot nestled in among the fungi. It stopped me in my tracks when I spotted it!
Mary Goehle


Showy Trillium
Lawrence Wade

Nodding Trillium – Common in our woodlands
Sabrina Harvey


Wild Ginger. Its red flower hugs the ground so creatures living in the soil can pollinate it.
Lawrence Wade

Jack in the Pulpit
Lawrence Wade

Lawrence Wade

Lawrence Wade

Trout Lily
Holly Einess

Spring Beauty
Holly Einess

Toads and Frogs

American Toad
Jeff Saslow

I slowed down and was made aware of the life in previous passed over places. The waters were teeming with procreation as the humid air held the croaking and calls to mate. The small spaces became everything.

Jeff Saslow, on his experience in toad world.


Chorus Frog Singing
Lawrence Wade

There is nothing better than opening a window at night and being serenaded  by the trilling of toads and frogs.

Spending an hour at the edge of a pond listening to the frogs, watching them mate, and fight is like being in a different universe.
Lawrence Wade

 The Readers share their experience

From Lizzie Schaeppi: “Our young naturalist out in Woodrill last weekend”.



Posted in Nature Notes | 4 Comments

Spring Is Cancelled – Nature is not!

Thanks to all of the contributors to this post: Sabrina Harvey, Mary Goehle, Jules Ikhaml, and Jenny Boldt.

Many of us living in the North Country are pretty sure that Spring is not going to come. But, there are those of  us who need to be out in nature.  Sure, it is probably below freezing, but that doesn’t take away from  the beauty and the life that is all around us.

March 17

Barred Owl


March 18, Memorial Park, Shakopee. There was a lot of open water and the early migrating waterfowl were in abundance because  most of the other ponds were still frozen. The ducks shown below do not nest in Central Minnesota and would soon migrate north.

Common Goldeneye

Ring-necked duck

Hooded Merganser




Mary Goehle is an avid photographer and is involved with restoration at Big Willow Park in Minnetonka, MN. All of Mary’s photos were taken in the past few weeks.

Trumpeter swans at Big Willow park. They were seen at Big Willow last year too. Photo by Mary Goehle.

Pussy Willows
photo by Mary Goehle

Great Blue Heron
Photo by Mary Goehle

Great Egret Photo by Mary Goehle

Sandhill Cranes
photo by Mary Goehle

“I was thrilled to have my first sighting of sandhill cranes at Big Willow! I saw them on April 8 in Big Willow. I did not see them on subsequent days, ” Mary Goehle.


Jules Ikhaml, is training to be a volunteer Master Naturalist and she has contributed to other posts at this website. These are the first native Spring Wildflowers I have seen this year. Jule’s photos were taken on Sunday April 24 at Sakada Lake State Park.

Jules and Jim Ikhaml

Hepatica, Photo by Jules and Jim Ikhaml


Jenny Boldt is a naturalist and 4th grade teacher at Hanover elementary. She and her students study nature in the school forest weekly. All of the photos shared here are from a trail camera in the school forest. Last week, Jenny went through 6000 photos from the trail cam, then sent out the best photos to readers (I think you will find her captions  very humorous.)

“Future Nose Tackle for the Minnesota Vikings”
Photo shared by Jenny Boldt

“Fan-Tom of the Opera”
photo shared by Jenny Boldt

“Male and female Cardinal engagement photo shoot”
photo contributed by Jenny Boldt.


Sabrina Harvey is involved with the restoration of local parks in Minnetonka. Sabrina said she had put down some grass seed and the sparrows have been feasting for days. The warbler came bounding across the yard, attracted by all the activity, but didn’t stay long.

White-Throated Sparrow

Yellow-rumped Warbler










On April 23rd, the temperature rocketed up to 70° and I saw my first garter snake of the year and painted turtles on a log.

Painted Turtles


From Victoria-Evergreen Park – Minnetonka:

muskrat feeding on cattail roots


wood duck female and male


Northern shoveler


Canada goose on the nest

Chorus Frogs calling in the marsh. Many people call these frogs “peepers”, but Spring Peepers make a “peeping” sound while the chorus frog sounds more like crickets.

April 27th Kinsel Park, Minnetonka 

Red Wing Blackbird
photo by Pat Baillie

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Notes, Photography/Art, Spring | 8 Comments

Oceanography Lesson 6 – Meadows in the Sea

From: Whales in the Classroom – Oceanography
              By Lawrence Wade

Graphics by Stephen Bolles

Oceanography Lesson 6

 Why are Zooplankton important to the marine environment?
The animals in the picture above eat zooplankton. Match the animals with the correct hint below. Check your answers at the end of the post.

Check your answers at the end of the post.

Check your answers at the end of the post.

Meadows in the Sea Key

 Why are Zooplankton important to the marine environment?

1. sea turtle  2. baitfish  3. flying fish 4. penguin 5. basking shark 6. sea bird 7. squid           8.whale

Basic Photosynthesis – So You Want to be an Oceanographer.

1. flattened shape 2. sunlight 3. oxygen 4. nutrients 5. chloroplasts 6. CO2 and H2O

Zooplankton Nursery

snail – C;  mola-mola – D;  octopus –  E;    herring  –  A;   crab  – F.


Now a quick switch to learning about Decomposers:

Why are marine worms important?

Posted in Whales & Oceanography | Leave a comment

Road Less Traveled

Photos and text by Josh Lewandowski and Hue (pronounced Way) Dao.
Follow Josh and Hue’s  yearlong adventure:     @joshlewandowski    @hue2go

You know the pictures, the ones with high-top econolines, moneyed sprinters, and colored vanagons perched precariously on lonely canyon rims or cradled in fir trimmed valleys, glowing so provocatively you can almost hear the van life whispering come hither?

Well, we did, heeded the call, succumbed helpless and drooling to the torrent of tranquility being fed to us by the grams, posts and influenced. Logistically, we sold our furniture, gave away years of accumulated purchases, informed our landlord that we would not be renewing our lease. We sold our cars, we bought a van. Then we drove, pushed, and towed it to Minnesota.

You may have guessed from the unusually varied methods of cross-country propulsion that our van had some issues from day one. After a month in two different shops and a new engine and transmission to show for it, it was still just a startlingly empty cargo van (though one that purred steadily and with great anticipation).

Theoretically we knew that it would need some additions and adjustments to make it more liveable for an extended stay such as this year. I was pretty confident about what I could make from a couple sheets of plywood but as we thought about the actual steps needed to bring about all other changes, the tools required to tackle those steps, and the generalist knowledge base necessary to make the project anything more than simply creating sawdust and electrocuting ourselves, we needed my dad.

My dad helped me make a solar oven once and it got so hot it melted. When I took up cross country skiing, he brought home equipment from his engineering job in defense and turned our basement into a wax lab. When he is involved on a project the result is not only outrageously successful but the process reliably fun.

And it was. In just under three weeks with two sheets of plywood, a fan, battery, cooler and set of rv lights, we turned the back of our van into a dwelling that while not dripping in hygge (cause ewww, gross) is certainly more than adequate. And we learned a lot along the way.

One month in and 4,000 miles, 22 state parks, 7 wildlife refuges and a national park behind us, we’re just beginning to learn to slow down. Some of the bandwidth hoarded by modern life has been returned and we’re attempting to apply it with more intention. The bowl of ramen in the county park is becoming as satisfying as the roseate spoonbill sighting in the Audubon sanctuary. Enjoying the moments.





Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Notes, Photography/Art | 8 Comments

Winter Nature School – Mystery Hike # 3

This week on our nature hike, we will look for a number of mysteries that need to be solved.
What to Do:
1. Participate virtually by watching the YouTube video below.
2, Take a screen shot or a sketch of each mystery you see in the video.
3. Then write down your solution to each mystery
4.  Lastly read the nature notes and see if we have similar solutions.

I hope this week’s nature school will inspire you to get outside with your parents and explore mysteries in nature.


Nature Notes
Below are my nature notes from Mystery Hike #3. Since Nature is also my teacher, I am always learning and these nature notes are a work in progress.

How many mysteries were you able to solve? You can draw your nature notes and put them in your Nature Notebook or you can download the notes and put them in your nature notebook by clicking on the link below.

Download Nature Notes:

Click on the nature notes to read them.







Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature School, Winter | 1 Comment

Oceanography 5 – Marine Communities

From: Whales in the Classroom – Oceanography
              By Lawrence Wade

Graphics by Stephen Bolles

Oceanography Lesson 5  – Marine Communities

The ocean has diverse communities within it. These communities are unique places that have creatures only found in those areas. For instance, the rocky shore community has a unique set of creatures specialized for living in a rocky environment. We will be exploring other communities including the sandy beach community, pelagic ocean, and the deep sea abyss. Each one of these communities has special characteristics that are as unique as the animals that live there. The animals that inhabit the community may only be found in that area.

We will also be learning about animal adaptations. An adaptation allows an animal to survive in a particular place. For instance, the bodies of animals that live in the sandy beach community are specialized to allow them to survive in that community.



The Sandy Beach Community

The sandy beach community is on the continental shelf where water is less than 400 feet deep. The area is flat and sandy in all directions. There are no plants and not much visible life. The creatures who live in this area must figure out a way to hide on the bottom or in the sand. Many of the creatures who live in this community are flattened and lay on the sand or burrow into it.

Critters Found in Sandy Areas 


Rays are close relatives of sharks. Their large wings (up to 10 feet in length) are actually pectoral fins, which they use for swimming. Rays are found in shallow sandy or muddy bottoms where they feed on clams and crabs. Rays flap their wing-like fins close to the bottom to expose buried clams. They also use their wings to help bury themselves in the sand. Only the sting rays are harmful to humans since they have a poisonous stinger at the base of their tail. The stinger is 2–3 inches in length and knife-like in shape. Sting rays are not aggressive, but people have been hurt when they accidentally stepped on the back of a ray buried in the shallow sandy water.


The flatfish also is well adapted to life on the bottom. As an adult, its body is flattened like a pancake, with both eyes on one side of its head. Its flattened body allows the fish to easily cover itself with sand. It swims on its side, moving its tail up and down in the same manner as a whale. However, as a fry (newly hatched fish) it looks more like a normal fish. It lives near the surface, swims upright, moves its tail from side to side (like most fish), and has one eye on each side of its head. When the young flatfish grows to one inch long, it begins to transform into the adult. The eyes shift to one side of its head and it begins swimming on its side and living on the bot- tom.Clam

Clams live beneath the ocean floor in sand up to 3 feet deep. Two shells surround the body of the clam for protection. Clams have a siphon tube which they put above the surface of the sand. This siphon is used to filter microscopic plankton for food and to take oxygen from the water. Clams have a muscle called a “foot” that helps them burrow into the sand. This “foot” expands and contracts to push the clam through the sand.

The Rocky Shore Community

The rocky shore community is on the continental shelf where the depth is less than 400 feet. Being in the rocky shore is sort of like being in the woods on a dark windy night. There are seaweeds swaying back and forth and there are many types of fish darting through the weeds. There are a lot of boulders, holes and cliffs which provide homes for many animals. Many of the fish that live in this community have thin bodies to allow them to fit into holes. Many of the invertebrates (animals without backbones) are adapted to holding onto rocks in various ways.

Critters Found in Rocky Areas


Sculpins are thin-bodied fish with large heads. The thin body allows sculpins to explore holes. They have large pectoral fins that help them to turn in tight places. Sculpins are slow, bottom-dwelling fish that feed primarily on crabs, snails, and small fish. The eggs are laid in a nest and are guarded by the parents until hatching. Although the adult sculpins live close to shore, the young may be found in the offshore plankton over 200 miles from land.


Eels have long snake-like bodies (up to 10 feet in length) that allow them to pursue their prey and to hide in small holes. They make their homes in dark holes, and feed mostly at night. They have long needle-like teeth to help them grab and hold fish. Moray eels will attack humans if they are wounded or disturbed.

Sea Urchin

The sea urchin is a bottom-dwelling animal with long spines covering its body. The spines protect the slow-moving urchin from predators. The spines are not poisonous, but a spine lodged into a human foot or hand is difficult to remove and is likely to cause a nasty infection.

The sea urchin scrapes algae and seaweed off the rocks with its five teeth, which are joined together in a cone shape on its underside. If there are not enough predators (sea star, wolf eel and sea otter) to keep sea urchin populations under control, then urchins can devastate entire kelp forests and other seaweeds.

Sea Star

Sea stars are bottom-dwelling animals with 5–40 arms. A sea star is capable of regenerating an arm or part of its body. They move slowly over rocks, searching for mussels (clam-like animals that attach themselves to rocks by threads) and other prey. The sea star will use its strong arms to pry open the 2 shells of a mussel. The stomach then everts (comes out of the sea star) and slips between the mussel shells to digest the mussel. When the sea star has com- pleted its meal, the stomach goes back into the sea star.


Crabs are scavengers, feeding at night on dead or decaying animals and plants. They are covered by a hard outer shell called an exo- skeleton. A crab will shed (molt) its exoskeleton many times. After molting, the new shell is soft. This is the only time that the female is able to mate. She carries her eggs under her abdomen until they hatch.

Pelagic Ocean Community – The Blue Water Community

The pelagic ocean community is off the continental shelf. This community is often called the blue water community and it extends from the water’s surface to 600 feet deep. The animals in this community have no seaweeds, rocks, or ocean floor to hide in. In order to survive in this community, the animals must have a way to escape predators. Speed is very important in this community. Many fish such as baitfish (herring, anchovy, capelin and other small schooling fish) escape predation by the sheer numbers in their schools.

Critters Found in Pelagic Oceans


The great wanderers of the oceans, albatross have long thin wings (up to 10 feet) which they use for gliding. By gliding, albatross can cover long distances without using much energy. This is very important to their survival, since vast areas of the oceans are lacking in sea life. Albatross feed on fish and plankton. They will fly thousands of miles in a year, and may not come to shore for several years. Albatross come to shore only to breed and raise their young. On land they are quite awkward, and islanders that live where there are albatross colonies often call them “goonie birds.”

Flying Fish

The flying fish can glide through the air farther than the distance of 2 football fields. It uses its long wing-like pectoral fins to help it escape its enemies. The lower half of the tail is twice as long as the upper half and helps the fish swim up to 35 miles per hour before lift-off.


Tuna grow to be over 1,000 pounds in weight. The tuna is one of the fastest fish in the world, swimming up to 50 miles per hour. It is a schooling fish and undertakes great migrations, often swimming an entire ocean in a year. Because of its constant motion, the tuna is one of the few fish whose body temperature is higher than the temperature of the water.

Sharks are the tigers of the sea. They are some of the fastest swimmers in the ocean and feed on many kinds of fish, including tuna and marlin. They also eat sea turtles, seals, whales, and dolphins. Sharks are often referred to as “perfect killing machines.” They can detect small quantities of blood in water (the equivalent of 1 drop of blood in 25 gallons of water) at distances greater than a quarter mile. The teeth of sharks are adapted for slicing and are one of the hardest materials produced by an animal. The teeth are loosely set into the jaw of the shark. As a result, a shark will have several rows of replacement teeth in its jaw. In 10 years a shark may lose as many as 20,000 teeth. Sharks have strong jaw muscles, capable of biting with a pressure of 44,000 pounds per square inch (a human bite exerts only 150 pounds per inch). The most feared man-eating shark is the great white shark. The largest great white ever caught was 21 feet long, and weighed over 2 tons.

The Abyss – The Deep-water Community

The abyss community is off the continental shelf in deep water (3,000-10,000 feet deep). This is such a desolate area that you would not expect anything to be living there. The animals in this community never see the sun because it is continually dark. The animals in this community rely upon dead things drifting down from the surface for food. Since there is not much food in the abyss, the fish are small, usually less than a foot in length. The fish are slow moving and they have devised many ingenious ways to capture food. Many of the fish will attempt to eat others larger than themselves. Usually their mouth openings are very large. Many have a series of lights called photophores that attract prey to them.

Critters Found in the Abyss


The viperfish is less than 12 inches long and has a large mouth with long, needle-like teeth. Its jaw is very similar to a snake’s, since
it allows the viperfish to swallow things larger than itself. It also has a series of photophores on its side that attract potential prey to it in the darkness.

Black Swallower

The black swallower also has photophores along its side, and a mouth that opens wide. Its stomach will expand many times its normal size to hold the large prey that it captures.


The top of an anglerfish’s head has a small lure with a light. This is used to attract potential prey. The male anglerfish (1/2 inch) attaches itself to the body of the female (3 inches). Its sole function in life is to fertilize the eggs of the female.


So You Want to Be an Oceanographer

Now you are ready to create something beautiful!

What to do:
1. Download the Creature Page
2. Download pages 1 and 2 of the marine community mural and tape them together or redraw mural pages 1 and 2 on 11 x 17 inch paper.
3. Draw or cut out each creature and put them in the community they are most likely to be found.
4. Write 2-4 words beside each sketch that describes the animal’s special adaptation to its marine community (i.e., “ray – flattened body”).


Creature PageDownload Creature Page


Marine Communities Key

Up Close and Personal with a Famous Oceanographer

Dr. Eugenie Clark, Shark Researcher (The Shark lady)



Dr. Eugenie Clark published more than 150 articles (12 for National Geographic) during her life time, wrote 3 books, was featured in 6 documentary films (including “The Sharks,” a National Geographic special), is listed in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and had 4 fish named after her.



At what age did you first become interested in the ocean? Was there one special event that led to your decision to work as an oceanographer?

Age 9, on my first visit to an aquarium.

What do you like most about the career that you’ve chosen?

The fact that I can combine two things I love to do the most: diving in the sea and watching fishes and sharks.

What do you like the least about your career?

The paper work that does not concern my research or teaching. The frustration of not being able to answer all of the wonderful letters I receive, especially those from children (she receives over 1,000 letters a year). Note: Dr. Clark would be most likely to answer letters from students who enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

If you were to give a young oceanographer one piece of advice, what would you tell him or her?

Follow your dream. You will work much harder and better at what you love to do and study most. There is a lot of hard work ahead and many courses are required (math, statistics, chemistry, physics, etc.) to become a good biologist. But it is worth it!

What skill or personal attribute helped you to attain your goal?

Writing and speaking.

What are your fears for the great oceans of the planet?

I am optimistic that the present change in attitude of younger people (and the obvious need for global conservation) will turn the tide and save the oceans. Young people understand how important this is now!

What dreams do you have for the next 20 years of your life?

I have now retired from full-time teaching and teach one course a year, leaving me more time to scuba dive and do research. I also want to “play” in my Japanese garden. There is no age limit for scuba diving. I hope to be diving when I’m 90. (As of 2010, Dr. Clark has been diving for 65 years and she is 88 years old.)

[Before this interview Dr. Clark traveled to the Sea of Cortez, near La Paz, Mexico, to dive with whale sharks. She wrote an article for National Geographic (Dec. 1992) on whale sharks. This trip was a continuation of her research.]

I was in the Sea of Cortez two weeks ago. We had 30 whale sharks around our boat. We also saw two gray whales, seven fin whales, two Brydes whales and about 50 manta rays. I have never seen such large numbers of plankton feeders. I could see that there was some kind of upwelling occurring. Nutrient material from the upwelling was available to the plankton, so all of these big plankton feeders were coming in to feed.

What is the secret of your vitality?

I’ve never smoked, I watch my cholesterol intake, and when I’m not scuba diving I try to go to the gym 3 times a week for aerobics. I love my work! I’ve taught over 4,000 students about life in the oceans and I’ve ridden 26 whale sharks (the largest was 55 feet long). Once I slipped in the bathtub and knocked myself out—my most dangerous accident. Imagine the newspaper headlines if I had died: “Shark Lady Dies in Bathtub.”

Describe your work at the Red Sea.

For eight years I pushed for Egypt to protect its coastal area. I spoke to Presidents Sadat and Mubarek. In 1983, Egypt finally declared their most beautiful coral reef at Ras Mohammed a national park. It is the first time any country has made a marine park their first national park. And it is still the only national park in the Red Sea.

In the Red Sea, we are studying many types of sand fishes that live near coral reefs. As the reefs crumble, the coral falls into the sand area. The sand around the coral reefs is a good indication of the health of the coral.
A few species of fish thrive on pollution and debris. There are others who are very sensitive to changes in the environment.

Trichonotus nikii, an eel-like fish that I named after my son Niki, has gone from a population of 500,000 to less than 1,000. The change in the population is due to a pollution factor in the environment in the last few years. We believe that the main source of the pollution might be at a new Saudi Arabian port.

On February 25th, 2015, Eugenie Clark, “The Shark Lady,” died at the age of 92.

Posted in Whales & Oceanography | Leave a comment

Imbolc- From Darkness Towards the Light

Early Morning Ice Fog, Minnehaha Creek                Photograph by Lawrence Wade

Imbolc, Candlemas or Groundhog’s day has always been one of my favorites because the light returns in the seasonal cycles that earth travels in. It is the hope of springtime and warmth. A time to begin planning and planting and growing things. It is a time of renewal. People, way back before calendars, found ways to celebrate and mark the changes in weather, light and the length of their days that happens because the earth is tilted in it’s rotation around the sun.

Imbolc or Imbolg, also called (Saint) Brigid’s Day, is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In pre-Christian times, it was the festival of light or candlemas. This ancient festival marked the mid point of winter, half way between the winter solstice (shortest day) and the spring equinox. Some people lit candles to scare away evil spirits on the dark winter nights. People believed that Candlemas predicted the weather for the rest of the winter just as, in the United States we have the groundhog that sees it’s shadow.
RMaya Whirry

The Twin Cities has almost 10 hours of sunlight; one hour and 15 minutes more sun than on the winter solstice. By mid February, we will gaining three minutes of sunlight each day. The sun angle is higher, and hope is creeping into the dark places of my soul.
Lawrence Wade

Frozen pieces of art
Photograph by Lawrence Wade


Photograph by Steve Casper

It was a couple of weeks ago during the deep freeze and I had some days to spend with my 14-year-old daughter during holiday break. She said, “How about you help me bake cookies and then we’ll go out walking on Bde Maka Ska (originally named Lake Calhoun).

There we were late in the afternoon, with a temp of 1 degree and windy, walking across Bde Maka Ska, and enjoying every minute. We spent lots of time looking at the depth of the ice, the frozen bubbles, the cracks with new crystals forming, the way the wind forms the snow cover like waves, running and skating across the glare ice; just some great father/daughter time in extreme winter weather. I’m so proud she chose to do that on that particular winter day. And that simple hike with my daughter, who obviously has my love for the great outdoors, was certainly a highlight of my winter.
Steve Casper


Snow Diamonds

Photograph by Linda Jensen

Walking a dog in the suburbs,
with city-ish trappings,
the quiet of snow,
silence of falling flakes.

The fencing of space
but not air.
The snow makes a frosted sculpture
of everything in sight.

A temporary magic
if you are still – long enough to see
the contrast of light and grey,
the white-out that is not white.

It’s peaceful. It’s snow,
crystalized water and light.
Linda Jensen



Fence Post Henge  – Dean Hansen

I have five acres of land just into WI from where I live in Stillwater, MN.  On the top of a hill I have a set of steel fence posts–a standard (gnomon) post and then three posts, each about 30 feet away.  I line up the top of the standard post with the top of a post to the SW; the latter is placed so that the setting sun perches on the top of this post as it hits the horizon on Dec. 21, as seen from the top of the gnomon post.  Ditto for a post marking where the sun hits the horizon at sunset on March 21 and September 21, and finally for the summer solstice, June 21.  Observations are through the filter from an arc welders helmet. 
Dean Hansen

The Gnomon post is the foreground. The Winter Solstice post is in background and the top of it lines up with the horizon line. Photograph by Dean Hansen.


Sunset during the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice Post is in the foreground. Photo taken through a filter. Photo by Dean Hansen


Horticulture Therapy – Dale Antonson

One of my indoor gardens at the Hopkins Center for the Arts
photo by Dale Antonson

As a lifelong Minnesotan, I have cultivated some ways to keep myself connected with nature year round. I often refer to my hobby as ‘Horticulture Therapy’. I enjoy renewing the soil ‘under my fingernails’ during the winter by caring for plants at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, municipal buildings in Minnetonka and throughout my light filled home. I created an LED light stand with an automatic timer and heating mats for my normally 60℉ basement.


The two shelf basement light stand that I created.
photo by Dale Antonson

I’m able to propagate new plants by taking stem cuttings, including colorful aglaonemas and succulents, nurse back ailing plants and germinate seeds. This is a fun way for me to stay connected to ‘the garden that we live in’, even during the coldest of months.
Dale Antonson



Rooster snow drift
Lawrence Wade


Eagle Visions  – Jim Gregory

An Eagle hunting a rabbit on a lake left the evidence in the form of its wings and body. Photograph by Jim Gregory

Eagle                    Artwork by Jim Gregory





I find the opportunity to express myself about nature through painting to be especially rewarding. When I connect through the artwork, there is a feeling that I am a part of nature and my painting confirms that relationship. It takes courage to face the challenge, but always pays off when I do.
Jim Gregory








Lake Winnebago, WI
Jody Harrell

My dog Bravo and I get out twice each day, NO MATTER WHAT!  There’s something about the air, the sounds, the lack of other sounds, the light, the snow laden branches, the critter tracks in the snow and the beckoning woods – it makes it all worthwhile for a farm girl at heart and her frisky British Lab.
Gretchen Alford



River Otter plunge hole and slide
Photograph by Lawrence Wade

I have never actually seen a river otter on Minnehaha Creek, but I can feel their presence so deeply, when I see otter slides, plunge holes, scat and chewed up fish heads .
Lawrence Wade


photo by Jody Harrell

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Winter | 2 Comments

Discover Something Wonderful

Little Miracles – Holly Einess

Photo by Holly Einess

Sometimes I get to spend time with a creature that seems too cool to be real. While walking at the MN Landscape Arboretum last July I glimpsed a hovering something drinking nectar from swamp milkweed blooms. Was it a hummingbird? Some kind of large insect? When I tried to get a closer look it took off, and I was left feeling both disappointed and frustrated; I wanted to make the acquaintance of that mysterious, winged creature!

Lucky for me, later in my walk I spotted another, and this one was in no hurry to leave my company. Lots of photos and a little research later, I determined that my new friend was a hummingbird clearwing moth. How did such a marvelous bug come to be?! The see-through wings, the furry segmented body, the impressive antennae and improbably long proboscis? I’m just happy to know this little miracle exists, and hope to meet many more such wonders in future wanderings.
Holly Einess

photo by Holly Einess

A Blessed Goodbye – Becky Knickerbocker

Last night a female cardinal left our bird feeder and flew into our patio door window. It fell to the snow and was barely moving. Remembering what you once taught my Kindergartners, I grabbed a bath towel, picked it up with the towel and brought it inside with me. I sat on the sofa, in front of the fireplace, with this precious one, wrapped up and on my chest. I stroked it’s small head with a finger and it’s eye opened and it looked at me. I whispered, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.” I prayed that it would survive. It closed it’s eye and there was no more movement. What a blessing for me that I got to spend it’s last earthy moments with her!

It meant so much to me because I am a hospice volunteer and I’ve learned how important it is for people who are dying to not have to die alone. I wanted to do that for the beautiful cardinal.

Becky Knickerbocker


An Inspirational Partnership – Ken Brown

Photo by Ken Brown

I didn’t know that male and female Robins are so maternal! These two have nested on a floodlight next to my home-office window for the last three years. Both apparently forage for nesting material and food, but while his partner is building the nest, he constantly brings her nesting material and earthworms or grubs. When laying starts the mother rarely leaves the nest and the father doubles his food-gathering efforts. After the bright-blue eggs hatch, both parents look after the nestlings. However, after they feather, the male increases time spent tending them, I expect so the female can re-build her strength for the next laying – at least two times over a Minnesota summer. What an inspirational partnership.
Ken Brown


Hidden Gems – Angie Adamek

Hidden Gems
Angie Adamek


Moments are fleeting, and there are no exceptions to that in the natural world. ‘Bud break’ is a special time to glimpse the awakening of life in the plant world, but we have to take the time to stop and allow it to be discovered. Take a moment in time to pause and really look around you, and your spirit may be lifted.
Angie Adamek


A Forest Blessing – Lawrence Wade

Barred Owlet
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Hello little one
Stay safe in your cozy tree hollow
May you be taught well by your elders
And take your place as the tiger of the woods
You are a blessing to behold.

                       Lawrence Wade


Discovering Something Wonderful  – Jim Ikhaml

Rabbit Bounding Track
Photo by Lawrence Wade

I have been teaching kindergarten and 1st grade students from Gatewood Elementary about animal tracks. Together we can not help but get excited at every little mark we see in the snow. The best part is when these tiny people learn a few tracks and passionately pass their skill onto everyone who will listen. They don’t care that Mom or Dad had a long day. It never occurs to them that the grown-ups already know what a rabbit track looks like. All they know is that they discovered something wonderful and they need to share it with the rest of the world. Get out there and pass a little something on to the next generation, the future keepers of the wild things. You won’t regret the time spent.

Jim Ikhaml – Gatewood School Naturalist


A Ducky Summer – Val McGruder

Photo by Val McGruder

One morning as I walked out to get our paper, a movement startled me along the front of our house. It was a female duck and she flew off.   Within a week we had spotted her a couple more times. I realized that she had found a spot right behind one of the tall Karl Forester grasses. The date was June 10th.   Each day I spotted an egg but then she would leave and I thought she might not come back. She did return. On June 18th, I made sure not to scare her but I did get close enough to see that she had 10 eggs in the nest.   I wanted to know what to expect and found a web site that discussed the life cycle of a mallard. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mallard/lifehistory

One of the things I learned was that after all the eggs are laid, the mother duck sits on the eggs continuously. The gestation period is approximately 28 days. I wanted to help her be successful in this most important job. Since she would sit on the nest all day I put out a shallow container of water and another of cracked corn.   Each day I would replenish the water and add corn as needed. She seemed to know I was not going to harm her. I also talked to her softly and gave her daily encouragement. I kept track of the days on the calendar so I would know when the eggs would hatch. The weather turned extremely hot in mid June and one day I noticed it looked like she was panting. The website mentioned that extreme heat is dangerous to the eggs and the mother duck.  The location she had chosen was in direct sun so I decided that I would set up some sort of shield to give her some relief. After trying various things, I set up a portable table over the top, a cardboard cutting board in front and some large beach towels draped over the top. I also plugged in a small fan, which allowed her to have some circulating air. Needless to say, this was not attractive and caused some neighbors to comment.   When they heard about the mama duck and her little family, they were very supportive and would inquire about her well being. I noticed that she would leave every evening between 5-7 p.m.

Duckling hatches
Photo by Val McGruder

Around 5:30 on July 8th I went out to replenish water and food. Mama was gone but as I got near, I noticed that something was moving in the nest. I realized it was 2 baby ducks and they had hatched out!   I was so excited!   The next morning I had an eye Dr. appointment at 7:30 a.m. As I sat in the waiting room my husband sent me a text with a picture of mama duck and her 10 little babies heading for the small lake a block away. He said the smallest chick had a difficult time keeping up with all the others and mama was loudly quacking to keep them all in line. I was so disappointed that I missed her departure but I was happy to know that they all hatched.   The next morning as I joined my neighborhood friends for our daily walk, we passed by the small nearby lake. We stopped and scanned the water. Towards the middle amongst the lily pads we saw a group of 10 tiny ducks with a mama duck.   I don’t know if I helped her that summer… but she sure helped me.   There is a quote I found that speaks to me:

When I finally got my ducks in a row, I realized that they aren’t even my ducks!”

Mama Duck and family
Photo by Val McGruder


Moon Ring – Cheryl Smith

Moon Ring
Photo by Cheryl Smith

Ice Crystals Dark Sky
December moon ring bodes of
Looming winter storm

                       Cheryl Smith


Doing for others  –  Dewey Hassig

“What you do for yourself dies with you; what you do for others lives forever”. Sharing garden produce with the Orchard Park Childcare kids.
Dewey Hassig

photos by Marietta Hassig

Wake up Call – Lawrence Wade

Male Pileated Woodpecker
Photo by Lawrence Wade

My alarm clock is a pileated woodpecker. Every day between 7:30-8am, I hear its call and know it is time to get up and start my day.
Lawrence Wade

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments