Monday, October 22, 2012

Batty About Bats!

Thanks to Nature Net Intern Sarah for this guest blog post!

Big brown bats
WI Bat Monitoring Program -

I have a confession to make: I'm batty about bats.

Ever since I was a small child when my father first read 
Stellaluna to me (the first time of many) after I learned "The Bat Song" at summer camp, I've had a fascination with these flying critters. Most people find them repugnant, but I don't. I LOVE bats! They have a total coolness factor - using echolocation to see in the dark and make maneuvers in the air like no other animal (except, perhaps, the hummingbird, which can hover, fly backwards, and even fly upside-down!) And it's not just because bats are both cool AND (I think) adorable, but they have another purpose as well - they eat my most dreaded enemy, the mosquito. For those of you not yet impressed with bats, take this into account: bats eat enough insects every year to save farmers between 3.7 and 53 billion dollars on pesticides. Now that's a lot of bugs!

I often take long walks at night, looking for the swooping curves and sleek flight patterns of my favored bats. There's just something about watching a bat in flight; they look so unburdened by the world and they move so fast, it's like watching a skilled dancer in the sky. No matter how down I'm feeling, it always manages to lift my spirits.

But to many people, bats are scary creatures. While I think it's somewhat ridiculous, I do understand their fears. First of all, many photos of bats show them hissing at the camera - but this is just an instinctual response to being faced with an unidentified bright glaring obstruction in the middle of an otherwise leisurely flight. Plus, there are some ugly rumors. For one, bats will not fly into or get tangled in your hair unless they are super sick, due to their echolocation using precise sound waves to map obstacles in their flight path.
Learn more "bat myths" here! However, I'm not just here to enthuse about bats (although I could go on for pages) - I'm here to say that bats are in danger. Instead of being scared of bats, we should actually be afraid for them. There are two major threats faced by bats these days: one is natural and the other man-made.

The first is white nose syndrome.

Some of you may have heard about white nose; it's a white fungus that usually starts on a bat's nose and then spreads to the wing membranes. Not only does this damage the wing membranes, but it also wakes up bats during hiberation and uses up their hibernation fat. The bats cannot fall back into hibernation and either starve or freeze to death during winter. The horrible thing about this is that white nose is spread through bat-to-bat contact, but also can be spread through boots or human clothing. Since many bats gather to winter in mass caves, the fungus is quickly spreading across the US. Since it was first discovered in the winter of 2006/2007, white nose has already killed over 5.5 million bats. Sad news.

And then there's the man-made danger: wind turbines.

It's not like the
bird problem, where the blades cut the poor creatures out of flight... bats and their smart navigational sense can usually avoid the turbines. It's what happens next that's the problem. A bat can dodge a wind turbine blade, but it can't dodge (or even predict) the change in the air pressure that follows the descent of the blade. This air pressure basically crushes the bats' lungs and the bats drown in the air, or it stuns them long enough to get hit by a turbine blade and smacked into the ground. Either way, it's not a pretty way to go. Fortunately, Bat Conservation International (BCI), the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Department of Energy (NREL) have all teamed up to create the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (, dedicated to help save our bats while we study and use clean energy.

And just a note: despite my everlasting love for bats, I must warn you that they are wild animals and that you should never pick one up or cuddle it, no matter how cute it may be! Bats can carry diseases that are bad for humans, and getting up close and personal with wild animals in general is a big no-no. If you find a hibernating bat DO NOT WAKE IT. I cannot stress that enough. Waking up a hibernating animal will use up its extra fat reserves which means that it cannot go back into hibernation and it will
usually die. Especially with the threats mentioned above, we don't need any more unnecessary bat deaths - especially if we want any relief from mosquito-filled summers!

I hope I've helped improve the reputation of my furry friends - or at least interested you into learning more about these unique and threatened creatures of the night! If so, you may want to check out one of these great events this week, where you are sure to encounter more on these winged wonders:
  • Fall Fest at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, Friday Oct. 26, 5:30-7:30pm
  • Beakers and Broomsticks at the Madison Children's Museum, Friday Oct. 26, 6-9pm
  • Haunted Hayride at the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center, Friday and Saturday Oct. 26-27, 6:30-9:30pm
  • Halloween at the Farm at Dane County's Schumacher Farm Park, Saturday, Oct. 27, 6-9pm

Looking for more? Here are some links about bats in Wisconsin!
Red bat
WI Bat Monitoring Program -

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Gliders in the Night

It's a bird? It's a bat? It's a... flying squirrel! Have you ever seen one of these elusive creatures? Being that they are nocturnal, small, and very agile, flying squirrel sightings are relatively rare. If you are fortunate enough to spot one, you are treated to the sight of a very cute and clever little rodent, with giant eyes and cinnamon-colored fur. So where can you find these little guys?

Flying squirrel at a bird feeder
Image courtesy of
In Wisconsin, we are lucky to live amongst two different species of flying squirrels: the northern flying squirrel (Glaucomy sabrinus) and the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomy volans) - click here for a range map. They are difficult to distinguish (adult northerns are larger and browner, while southerns are slightly smaller and grayer), and because they only emerge at night, it is especially difficult to get a good look at their characteristics and coloring. They may den in houses or barns, but are most commonly found in coniferous and mixed forests. This time of year, the little ones born in mid-summer are just being weaned and leaving their nests.

Image courtesy
How can you tell a flying squirrel from one of Wisconsin's more commonly-sighted species? First of all, they are only active at night (unless disturbed). They spend their days holed up in a nest in a nook or cranny of a tree, usually guarding their young, grooming and playing. They have slightly smaller tails, which they use as a stabilizer and brake while "flying." They also have large eyes and ears, which help them to navigate in the dark. Finally, look for extra skin folds between their front and back legs. This furry membrane, called a "patagium," is what they use to glide from tree to tree. This amazing acrobat can glide up to 150 feet in one swoop! Unlike bats, which have actual wings, "flying" squirrels are merely gliding - also called "volplaning." They climb high into a tree and leap with their legs extended and patagium outstretched, descending in a gentle curve towards another tree, where they swing upward and land. Watch a glide in action and a really cool slo-mo landing! You may also see northern flying squirrels hopping around on the ground. Even if you have trouble spotting these little leapers, they are quite social, and you can often hear them chatting and scurrying around in the dark.

Although they are nestled up napping most of the day, flying squirrels keep very busy at night - one squirrel can store up to 15,000 nuts in a season! They mainly feast on nuts and seeds, along with fruits, mushrooms, buds, and even eggs, small birds, or carrion. Their predators include cats, foxes, weasels, martens, owls, snakes, and hawks.

For more on these fascinating flyers, visit, to find some awesome videosimages, an art gallery, fun facts, and more! You can also find them on this Wisconsin Forest Wildlife poster and click for more info. Learn how to build a nestbox to see if you can attract these gregarious gliders to your own yard!

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Prairie Birthday

In one of Aldo Leopold's essays in A Sand County Almanac, he discusses the idea of a Prairie Birthday. He points out that each week during the months of April to September gives way to the blooming of new wildflowers on the prairie and how these "birthdays" should be celebrated. There is one particular flower he discusses the most; and while we may have missed the celebration of its first bloom in July, the Compass Plant is still in full bloom.

Silphium Laciniatum

The official name of the compass plant is Silphium laciniatum, but is sometimes referred to as the compass flower or rosinweed. Even though these plants might be related to the sunflower, don't get them mixed up! One major difference between the two plants is the sticky sap, or rosin, you can find in in the compass plant's stem - hence the nickname rosinweed. This rosin was once used by Native American children as chewing gum to clean their teeth and freshen their breath. Compass plants can grow to be around 10 feet tall with leaves that are 15 - 24 inches in length! And for every inch above ground, imagine that their roots are extending about the same distance below! The bright yellow flowers at the top of the stem are more modestly-sized, ranging from 2 to 4 inches across. You can find these lovely plants anywhere in the East-Central region of North America, mostly in tall grass prairies.

Sense of Direction

While the nickname "rosinweed" has an obvious origin, the name "compass plant" might not seem to make much sense with this flower at first. This name derives from the discovery that the leaves on the plant almost always point in the North-South direction (the key words are "almost always" - so don't get rid of your orienteering tools just yet). Once early settlers on the central plains realized this, they were able to use the plants as a guide to help them know where they were going - just like a compass!
Compass Plant at the
Aldo Leopold Nature Center

These plants have a long history in North America, being used as herbal medicines and teas by the Native Americans, and then as compasses by American settlers. No wonder Aldo Leopold was so amazed by these resilient plants! He appreciated these plants as a symbol of Wisconsin's native prairie, and you can enjoy these beauties too. Go exploring in a nearby grassland, prairie, or park. See if their leaves really can point you in the right direction. The Aldo Leopold Nature Center is a great place to begin your quest - their prairie is blooming full of compass plants these days - or take a walk through the UW Arboretum or Olbrich Botanical Gardens for a more extensive feel of the native prairie plants we have here in Wisconsin.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What's That I Smell?

Much to the relief of people around Wisconsin, rain has finally fallen to break this terrible drought! With it has come fresh green grass and flowers, along with something very familiar to us: the smell of rain.

There's something in the air

That smell of fresh fallen rain after an extremely dry couple of days is something so unique, it's hard to not recognize it. In fact, the smell is so unique that it even has it's own name: Petrichor, the smell of rain on dry earth. While we automatically associate this scent with rain, the rain is not what produces it. The smell is actually derived from an oil that is excreted by certain plants during a dry period. This oil is then absorbed by the surrounding soils and rocks. When it rains, this oil is released into the air along with Geosmin, thus producing the well-known aroma.

What is Geosmin?

Geosmin literally means "earth smell" and is an organic compound produced by several different kinds of microorganisms. This scent is very earthy and can be detected by humans in very little concentrations. This compound is what attributes the earthy flavor of beets and the muddy smell of bottom-dwelling freshwater fish (like catfish). Geosmin is most commonly associated with rain and is the main contributor to its smell.

While rain can sometimes put a damper on your outdoor plans, there are still lots of fun things you can do. During a thunderstorm, have your kids count how many seconds it takes for it to thunder after a lightning strike. Every five seconds it takes for the sound to arrive to your ears is how many miles away the heart of the storm is. (Learn more about calculating storm distance here.) After it rains, go on an adventure. Nature can be a completely new place after a good rainfall, so take your kids out on a short hike and have them discuss or record what they see, smell, or hear. Go puddle jumping, rescue earthworms from roadways, or see if you can find any new plants, bugs, or other critters that weren't around before. No matter the weather, there are always things to do in Nature!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Dog Days Are NOT Over

It's hard not to notice the intense heat wave and severe drought Wisconsin has been having this summer! Every day feels hotter than the next, and the heat doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. Despite this year's intensity, this summer heat isn't necessarily anything new; in fact, people have been experiencing hot, hot days for centuries, and even came up with a name: Dog Days.

What Is a 'Dog Day?'

'Dog days' is a term used to refer to the hottest, most humid days of summer. For us in the northern hemisphere, this usually happens during the months of July and August. These are the days where even the thought of stepping outside makes you sweat!

The term 'dog days' comes from the ancient belief that the dog star, Sirius, had something to do with the hot weather. This was because of the fact that Sirius became visible around the same time that summer temperatures began to rise. The star looks to be very close to the sun, so it wasn't uncommon for people to associate the two together. In ancient Rome, Dog Days were originally the days when Sirius rose just before or along with the sunrise. The ancient Egyptians associated the appearance of Sirius with the flooding of the Nile River.

Things to Do

While Wisconsin might be in the middle of some serious (and Sirius) Dog Days right now, that should not discourage you from still getting outside! Enjoy our area's lakes and rent a canoe, kayak, or paddle boat for a different view of the city. The UW Arboretum and Olbrich Botanical Gardens both have amazing opportunities for shady tours, walking, and volunteering. The Henry Vilas Zoo, the Children's Museum, the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center, and the UW Geology Museum all offer you a great way to get out of the house and learn about the natural world, but still stay cool in the air conditioned exhibits. Mornings and evenings are great times to enjoy these sites' grounds as well!

Kids cooling off in the marsh at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center
Remember to wear lots of sunscreen whenever you're in the sun, and be sure to drink water so you don't get dehydrated. Heed the heat advisories and keep alert for early signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Take a dip in a lake, river, or pool, or play water games with your little ones. Try to stay away from dark colors and tight clothing as they are more prone to trapping heat; lighter colors will reflect heat better and keep you cooler. You can still enjoy the outdoors, but with this extreme hot weather you can never be too careful!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Nature Net Passport

With half of summer already over, don't forget to pick up a Nature Net Passport for your kids to complete! It features 16 great Nature Net locations with special activities unique to the site and ideas for exploring each one. You can print them out or pick one up at any one of our locations. The goal is to make it to every site before the summer. Stamp your Nature Passport at each location - just like a real passport! Fun facts, journal entries, and drawing spaces allow for an educational, interactive, and memorable experience for your kids. Don't miss out on this great program!

Ringo Raccoon

For more information about the Nature Net Passport click here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Flashes in the Night

At the first sign of darkness you notice it: a small flash of light, lasting only for a second. It's the size of a pea, and sometimes you might think you imagined it. But those little flashes are real, and they belong to none other than the beloved firefly.

The Facts

Source: wikipedia
The firefly, sometimes called a lightning bug, belongs to the family Lampyridae and has around 2,000 different species. These little bugs are a kind of beetle found mostly in temperate and tropical regions with abundant resources for their larvae. Their larvae also emit light and are sometimes referred to as "glow-worms." As you may have noticed, fireflies are able to fly! But despite their name, some species of female fireflies lack the ability.

The "Light" in "Lightning Bug"

What makes a lightning bug glow? One can say for sure that it isn't a tiny light bulb on their behind! Lightning bugs are able to give off light through a process called bioluminescence. This process involves specialized light-emitting organs that are unique to the firefly. These secrete a special chemical that mixes with enzymes, oxygen, and other substances to produce light when in the presence of one another. (Read more about bioluminescence, phosphorescence, and other natural glows in this Nature Net News!)

Attracting Attention

Who doesn't love to watch these critters lighting up the sky as they dart around on a warm summer evening? Yet, fireflies don't just glow for our aesthetic pleasure. They have real biological reasons to give off light: fireflies flash in order to find a mate. The pattern in which they flash is a way of communicating to other fireflies in the area so that they can find each other and reproduce. Males are usually the ones trying to find the females flashing in the foliage, but they must make sure it is an unmated female of its own species... or else it might face something more dangerous.

Some species of females, after mating, become carnivorous man-eaters. Their flashes are then not meant to attract a mate but rather some dinner! Unsuspecting males fly to her thinking they will be lucky enough to reproduce; instead, they find themselves helpless at the hands of a hungry female.

Fireflies are always fascinating, especially to children! So next time you're up late enough to notice them glowing in the dark, grab a net or jar and see how many you can catch. The cooler summer evenings are a great time for kids to enjoy the outdoors, and another fun way to get them excited about nature and living things. You can put your fireflies in a jar and watch them glow, but don't forget to poke a few holes in the lid so they can breathe. After you're done looking at them, be sure to set them free to fly off into the night!

Read more fun facts about fireflies in this Nature Net News. You can also try making your own glow-in-the-dark fireflies - play with them outside or use them to decorate your bedrooms. Have fun!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Solstice

When you step outside, you feel as if you have set foot into the very heart of the largest furnace in the world. The heat immediately traps you and clings to your skin, and all you want is a nice cool lake to swim in. It may feel like it has already begun, but the official first day of summer hasn't even arrived yet! So while you cringe at the thought of going outside into the Wisconsin summer heat, just know that there are still 3 more months of summer left to come. Wednesday, June 20th marks the beginning of summer 2012, and this day is what the Northern Hemisphere calls the Summer Solstice.

What is a solstice?

A solstice happens twice a year, once in the summer and once in the winter, and it is the one day of the year when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky (as seen from the North or South poles). For the Northern Hemisphere, this event occurs in June, but in the Southern Hemisphere, the sun reaches its highest point in December. While we often refer to the solstices as the "summer" and "winter" solstice, a more accurate name could be the "Northern Solstice" and "Southern Solstice," respectively.

The North Pole Experience

At the time of the Summer solstice, the Arctic circle will experience a much different kind of summer than we would ever have in Wisconsin. Because of the Earth's tilt, the North Pole will remain in full sunlight (24hrs, 7 days a week) for the entirety of the summer months. That's about 3 months of constant daylight! On the day of summer solstice, the sun reaches its highest point in the sky. After that day, the sun will gradually sink towards the horizon until the Fall Equinox, when it finally falls below the horizon to cause darkness. (The opposite of this occurs in the winter time. The North Pole will experience almost complete darkness from about early October until the Spring Equinox in March. The darkest day of the year is the Winter Solstice in December).

June 20th, 2012 - What to expect

On the summer solstice, one can expect only one thing for sure - lots and lots of daylight! The summer solstice is the one day of year when the Northern hemisphere experiences the longest hours of daylight. Wisconsin will most likely experience somewhere around 15 - 16 hours of daylight, with the sun not setting until very close to 9:00pm.

On the other hand, the Southern hemisphere will experience the shortest day of the year, having much less than 12 hours of sunlight.

Don't let the heat of the day scare you away though! It might be 90 degrees outside, but just remember to put on lots of sunscreen (especially on your face), wear light colors, and drink lots of water. Don't sit inside wasting the longest day of the year! Get outside and go swimming, fishing, boating, or maybe even go to the Memorial Union Terrace and grab a bite to eat while you enjoy some nice live music. You can take a walk in the UW- Madison Arboretum or check out the Henry Vilas Zoo.

Use those 15 hours of daylight wisely by being active and enjoying the great outdoors! If you can't think of anything to do, check out our Nature Net calendar for some ideas. And if you can't get outside on the 20th to enjoy the Summer Solstice, you always have the second longest day of the year - the 21st - to enjoy as well.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A new addition has arrived

What's New

As summer has begun, so has my new job as the summer Nature Net intern! My name is Stephanie and I will be blogging, updating, and bringing you all the latest news Nature Net has to offer in the next coming months.

About Me

Occupation: Junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Major: International Studies, Environmental Studies, and East Asian Studies
Hometown: Riverside, IL - A suburb of Chicago, right next to the Brookfield Zoo!
Favorite Animal: Panda
Favorite Color: Teal
Favorite Season: Fall
Favorite Sports Teams: Chicago Bears, White Sox, and (of course) the Wisconsin Badgers

Interesting Facts

During the school year I am involved on campus through my participation in the Greek community and the Ultimate Frisbee and Club Water Polo teams. I also hope to become more involved with some of the environmental-oriented clubs and groups in the near future.

I came across the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and Nature Net because of the Community and Environmental Scholars Program (CESP) at UW-Madison. This program helps apply a love of the environment and sustainability to the everyday workings of the rest of the community.

Last summer I traveled to Sichuan Province, China for an internship with an environmental Non-Governmental Organization named Panda Mountain. 6 other interns and I lived in the Wolong Nature Reserve for 4 weeks and interviewed the local people about their farming practices and style of living.

This summer I will be remaining in Madison to work with the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and Nature Net and am more than excited to become a greater part of these wonderful establishments!

Keep an eye out for more blog posts about ALNC and Nature Net news, upcoming events, exhibits, and more. We hope to see you at our events and don't forget to get outside this summer and enjoy what the beautiful outdoors has to offer!

Nature Net Summer Intern

Monday, June 4, 2012

Nature Passports Are Here!

Kick off summer with a Nature Passport! 

Wondering what to do with your children this summer? Are you looking for a family activity that costs nothing, has a variety of convenient locations, and is scheduled exactly when you want it? Do you enjoy the thrill of discovery and the fresh air?

Then, put on your adventurer's hat, get your eyes, ears, hands and nose ready for exploring, and begin your Nature Passport journey! Nature Passport is an outdoor self-guided family program at various environmental education sites throughout South Central Wisconsin - or, you can download one here and print it out double-sided. This summer's version is hot off the presses - print or pick one up today!

For Kids...
Each child receives a special Nature Passport containing pages to draw and write about their amazing journeys at various Nature Passport sites! This year's theme also includes a "Movin' Mission" to encourage healthy, physically-active kids.

For Parents...
Look at the online Parent's Guide for fun facts and explanations to help spark your kids' imagination and answer those big questions like: How do we see color? Don't forget to sign up for Nature Net's FREE Nature Net News and find us on Facebook for fresh ideas and up-to-date area nature events and activities.

You provide family time - Nature Net provides a fun way to explore and learn together!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Earth Day Bouquet

It's that time of year again! Every year around Earth Day (April 22), environmental organizations, nature centers, zoos, and just about everyone else are offering events and programs to celebrate the Earth. It's almost as if there are too many to choose! But what a wonderful problem to have - especially when you can visit Nature Net's Earth Day Bouquet and find them listed all in one place!

Sorted by date, each listing provides information you'll need to decide which local events are best for your family. You can find activities and programs going on every day between April 14-29. In celebration of Earth Day, National Environmental Education Week, and the spring season, Earth Day Bouquet offers your family a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, get involved in your local and natural community, and become motivated to make a difference in the health and sustainability of the environment.

Here are a few examples:

Troy Gardens/Community GroundWorks
Get to Know the Natural Areas - Saturday, April 14, 10am-12:30pm
Tour the woodlands, gardens, and prairie, followed by a planting workshop in the Edible Woodland.

Aldo Leopold Nature Center
Banff Mountain Film Festival - Tuesday, April 17, 7-10pm
Join the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and REI for the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour’s stop to Madison! This year's tour features a collection of the most inspiring action, environmental, and adventure films, showing at the Barrymore Theater.

Aldo Leopold Nature Center
Grand Opening Celebration - Saturday, April 21, 11am-3pm
Celebrate the opening of ALNC’s new interactive education center. Enjoy new exhibits, exciting shows on the six-foot diameter Science on a Sphere, tours, live musical entertainment, nature activities, electric car demonstration and more!

UW Arboretum
Earth Day at the Arboretum - Sunday, April 22, 8am-4pm
Take themed family hikes, participate in Earth Day activities, listen to live music, and view Earth Day exhibits.

Madison Children's Museum
Rooftop Farmers - Wednesday, April 25, 3-3:30pm
Help with the daily chores of taking care of a rooftop farm in the sky. Feed the animals and water the plants, harvest vegetables, plant a seed, prepare and taste homegrown food, and do nature crafts.

Bethel Horizons
Earth Day Celebration - Saturday, April 28, 9am-5pm
Enjoy the beautiful wildflowers, the magnificent view, an abundance of migrating birds, and a variety of environmental activities, demonstrations and speakers emphasizing the beauty and importance of nature. This is an Earth Day, Astronomy Day, Arbor Day and Spring Festival wrapped into one celebration!

Visit for many more!

Check the schedule of free and low-cost family events and mark your calendar for a Bouquet of things to do, explore and learn about this Earth Day season. Have fun!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Nature Love

In the spirit of the day, here are a couple links that are romantic in nature. Enjoy!

Crane Family at ALNC
  • Are you a serenader, or do you believe a little tough love goes a long way? Play eNature's Mating Game to see what species you most resemble in love.
  • Compare your wild dates with these bizarre nature love stories from the Nature Conservancy.
  • Check out these cute animal couples from National Geographic.
  • Despite the chill in the air, many species such as raccoons, minks, river otters, foxes, coyotes, and skunks are all taking time off from their mid-winter hunting to prowl for partners. Learn more from eNature.
  • Unlike many birds, who breed in the spring and summer, owls are looking for love during these long, cold nights - check it out!
  • Read about more local bird bonding with this romantic tale from the International Crane Foundation.
  • Stumped about what to give your mate? From perfume to silk to a romantic dinner, these BBC stories of love gifts from the animal kingdom might give you some ideas.
  • Share your love of nature with one of these beautiful nature e-cards!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Snow Is in the Air

Can you imagine the snow-smell in the air?
Have you ever heard anyone say "it smells like snow" or "I feel like it's going to snow today"? Are you one of those lucky people who can feel snow in the air? Could you tell last night that we were going to get this beautiful powder today, even without hearing a forecast? How is this possible?

If you ask around, you are sure to find a range of people, old and young, scientist and amateur, who say they get a certain "smell" or "feel" hours before it snows. An online search will turn up dozens of discussions (like this one) with people trying to put words to this snow sense. Words like fresh, crisp, wet, cold, sharp, and clean are used frequently. Others mention smelling "ozone," "metallicness," or "electricity." Some feel "compressed air" or a "muffleness," and some said they can feel it in their bones or sinuses. What exactly is going on?

Some scientists have found that snow does smell! According to this meteorology expert, some of the chemicals found in snow include "nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, nitric acid, dimethyl sulphide and sulphate and methanesulphonate," all of which have distinctive odors and could be picked up by a very discerning nose. Maybe these have something to do with the "metallic" smell that some described?

Another explanation for this snow sense is that some people are sensitive to the subtle changes in temperature, pressure and humidity that are happening before a snowfall. Whether or not we end up with snow (and if it looks more like fluff, sleet or hail) depends on how much precipitation is in the air and the temperature - of the atmosphere where the snow forms (up in the clouds), the air through which the snow falls, and whether or not the ground it lands on is frozen. Air must be below freezing in order for precipitation to turn to snow. However, very cold air does not hold moisture very well. Snow usually occurs when the air is actually warming and the humidity is increasing. So we may notice a slight temperature difference or be able to feel a saturation in the air.

Stirring up some fresh fluff!
Fronts are responsible for most changes in weather. These happen when a large mass of cold air and warm air meet, and differences in their density make the air fall (if it's colder) or rise (if it's warmer), changing the pressure to be high or low, respectively. Precipitation usually forms in an upward flow of air. Some astute people might be able to pick up these changes in their joints or sinuses. Or this pressure and humidity change might make the air feel more "muffled" or "compressed."

Do you have a "snow nose," or do you know anyone who can always predict when it's going to snow? What words would you use to describe what you sense? Let us know!

Want to learn more?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February Nature Net News - Glaciers

"The glacier was God's great plough set at work ages ago to
grind, furrow, and knead over, as it were, the surface of the earth"
Louis Agassiz
Dear Reader,

The Wisconsinan Glaciation happened around 12,000 years ago and was the last age of the mighty glaciers. A huge ice sheet covered most of Canada, the upper Midwest and New England - and it was named after Wisconsin!

These mighty masses of ice and gravel traveled across the land, straightening and shaving the land. When they melted, they left behind their debris, creating some unique and beautiful landforms. The evidence still remains today in many a state trail or wooded valley.

Wisconsin happens to be home to some of the world's finest examples of continental glaciation. Check out these ancient, natural wonders and learn how they shaped our world today in the latest issue of Nature Net News.


Kathe, Sarah & Brenna
The Folks at Nature Net

Did You Know..... 
 A glacier is a river of ice that moves under the pressure of its own weight. Even though they move verrry slowly, glaciers are constantly changing and flowing.

Approximately 10% of the Earth today is covered by glaciers; during the last Ice Age, they covered one-third of the Earth’s surface.

Today's glaciers store about 75% of the world's freshwater. 

What To Do This Month:
 Hike parts of the Ice Age Trail to see remains and landforms left by the Wisconsinan Glacier across the state.

Visit the UW-Geology Museum to learn about glaciers and imagine yourself in the Ice Age. Family-friendly Storytime is on first and third Thursdays at 10:30am.

Watch PBS Kids' DragonflyTV episode on glaciers, read Perry Bear's Glacier Adventure from Alaska, and learn more from the National Snow & Ice Data Center.

Check out Nature Net's Events Calendar for other fun February ideas!

Tricks of the Trail for Parents:
Giant Glaciers
Because they are so huge and move so slowly, it's hard to imagine giant glaciers sweeping the land. Here are some tips to keep it in perspective for you and your kids:

A single crystal of glacier ice can grow to be as large as a baseball. Let's put this in perspective: a usual ice crystal is about the size of a single snowflake.

The thinnest a glacier usually gets is 50 feet (that's about the height of a 5 story building.) At its thickest point, the North American glacier was two miles tall!

Glacial periods and ice ages last for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. the Wisconsin Glacial Episode extended from approximately 110,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Instant Outdoor Expert:
Glacier Terminology
Glaciers have covered parts of North America several times throughout Earth's history, and have reshaped the landscape each time. The Wisconsinan Glacier may have melted 12,000 years ago, but there are still plenty of signs that it was here. Keep your eyes out for these glacial land features all around us!

Drumlin: Oval teardrop-shaped hill formed under the glacial ice near the advancing front of a glacier.

Erratic: Boulder or large rock carried by glaciers and deposited on the surface of the land after the ice melted.

Esker: Long, narrow ridge of coarse gravel deposited by a stream flowing in an ice-walled valley or tunnel in a melting glacier.

Kame: Created as the glacier melted in place, kames (pronounced like "came") were where debris melted through the ice, like a reverse funnel. They appear as conical hills.

Kettle: A depression formed by the melting of a large block of glacial ice that was partially or completely buried. Some kettles hold water to form kettle lakes or marshes or bogs.

Moraine: Jumbled hills of unsorted, unstratified glacial debris found at the sides or front of a glacier.
  (information from Ice Age in Wisconsin)

Featured Nature Net Site
Madison Conservation Parks
Visit Glacier Crossing Park for some real ice age evidence. This unique Madison park is on the Ice Age Trail, a thousand-mile National Scenic Trails footpath highlighting Wisconsin's world-renowned Ice Age heritage and scenic beauty. Hike the hills and discover the drumlins left during the Wisconsinan Age!

The City of Madison Parks Division Conservation Section has 14 different and unique conservation parks. A conservation park differs from other city parks in how it is managed and why the land was acquired. The goal of the conservation park is to return the land to its original state, restore native plant and animal communities, and provide education areas and opportunities for everyone.

Learn About Other Nature Net Sites

Nature Net Craft
Make Your Own Glacier!

What you need: large old bowl or container, ice cubes, dirt with pebbles in it, plate or tray, timer.

1. Put several ice cubes in the bowl so they cover the bottom.

2. Tightly pack dirt and pebbles on top until the bowl is half full.

3. Drizzle water carefully on top.

4. Leave outside overnight to freeze into a solid block.

5. Remove glacier from the bowl and set on a plate or tray. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Every 10 or so minutes, come back to see how your glacier is melting. Discuss what changes are occurring. Can you spot any "landforms" being created by your glacier?
(Nature Craft from Type-A Parent)

Nature Craft Archives

Suggested Reading:
"Glacier Babies!" by Bob Rozinski and Wendy Shattil (baby)
"Glacier National Park: An ABC Adventure" by KC Glassetter and Jeremie Hollman (preschool)
"Icebergs and Glaciers" by Seymour Simon (4-8)
"Icebergs, Ice Caps, and Glaciers" by Allan Fowler (4-8)
"The Glaciers are Melting!" by Donna Love (4-8)
"Glaciers" by Sally M. Walker (4-8)
"Exploring Glaciers" by Melody S. Mis (4-8)
"Glaciers: Nature's Icy Caps" by David L. Harrison (4-8)
"Why Do Glaciers Grind?: All About Extreme Environments" by Helen Bethune (9-12)
"Glaciers" by Larry Dane Brimner (9-12)
"Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past" by James M. Deem (9-12)

Find Family Events on the Nature Net Calendar of Events

Monday, January 30, 2012

Who Hoots for You?

A barred owl in winter
What's that sound coming from your moonlit backyard on these winter nights? This time of year, normally-elusive owls are making themselves known as they try to attract a mate in time for their winter nesting season. Unlike many birds, who breed in the spring and summer, owls (along with animals like wolves, beavers, lynx and squirrels) are looking for love during these long, cold nights - accompanied by hoots and howls galore. Many owls begin their courtships in late January, and if you listen carefully after sundown, you might hear their mating calls from a nearby tree or telephone pole.

Five owl species regularly breed in Wisconsin, and a few others have been spotted around the state, yet their nocturnal habits, sparse distributions, and early (and chilly!) nesting periods combine to make sightings awfully scanty. From screech owls to the great horned owl, now is the time to hear or spot these cloaked crooners.

One common owl that has been making quite a racket around town is the barred owl. Learn about these raucous raptors and their jumble of cackles, hoots, caws, and gurgles - especially their distinctive "who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all" hooting. See one in action and listen to their calls. Sound familiar?
This snowy owl was spotted in Racine, WI on Dec 22, 2011.
Gregory Shaver  /  The Racine Journal Times via AP

Snowy owls, which are rarely seen south of Canada, have been reported across the northern U.S. this winter, likely being driven further south due to food scarcity in their native Arctic tundra habitat. Keep your eyes and ears out - several have been reported around the area, and a snowy owl with an injured wing was rescued from a barn near Monroe and is being nursed back to health at the Dane County Human Society. [Update: Check out this cool interactive map showing snowy owl sitings around Wisconsin!]

Pass the time until nightfall with these fun links, events and activities:

Have a hoot out there, and let us know if you hear or spot anything!

    Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    Crystals and Flakes

    Humid air rising from a warm river
    on a cold, still morning can form
    hoar frost on nearby trees and grasses
    From fog to flakes to frigid frosts, we have been seeing all kinds of winter weather lately. While this freezing and thawing may be frustrating for ski hills, icefishermen, and winter drivers, it does set the stage for spotting some interesting frosty phenomena with some funny names.

    Most people know that water condenses during cool nights to create dew, and frost is its winter companion. Shimmering ice crystals form when water vapor in the air attaches to cold solid surfaces, crusting up your lawn and drawing delicate designs on window panes. Have you ever woken up on a cold, clear morning to find the whole world covered in a beautiful white coating of hoar frost? These especially large and beautiful crystals form when water vapor in humid air settles on objects that are well below freezing, turning directly into a solid (a process called "deposition"), or becoming "supercooled" dew droplets that freeze on contact into a lacy silver or white frost.
    A close-up of hoar frost crystals.

    What happens when it's too windy for these fragile crystals to form? You might see hard rime, a milky white ice that forms when fog freezes to objects when it's cold and windy. These crystals build on each other and become shaped by high velocity wind. Glaze ice forms from freezing rain into thicker, more continuous layers, rather than individual frozen droplets. This heavy, dense, clearer ice can be particularly dangerous when it forms on roads, power lines or airplanes.

    When snow crystals in the air collide with
    water droplets in fog or clouds, they can
    yield especially interesting rime formations.
    For some frosty fun this winter, see if you can grow your own freezing formations! Put a branch or other solid object over a pan of water on a hot plate over low heat in various chilly locations. Find a still, cold spot to form hoar frost, or a high, windy spot to form rime. Adjust the height depending on the temperature and experiment with objects of different size, shape and texture to see which forms the best crystals. Check on them over the course of the next day or two and see what kind of crusty creations you have made. Be sure to snap a photo!

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    Intern with Nature Net!

    Are you passionate about environmental education in Wisconsin? Would you like to develop and promote resources to teachers, families and other organizations in order to enhance the education of children and expose more kids to nature? Interning with Nature Net is a great way to gain experience and get involved. Hear more from one of our past interns!

    Time Commitment:
    • Assist Nature Net staff with regular administrative duties, including management of Nature Express (fieldtrip transportation assistance program), Earth Day Bouquet, Family Nature Clubs, mailings, correspondence, word processing, database entry, preparation of reports, meeting preparation and follow-up, filing, deliveries, etc.
    • Assist with communications and activities for Nature Net’s 16-member consortium.
    • Assist Nature Net staff in preparing and staffing outreach events, including developing and running educational activities for diverse audiences.
    • Develop and coordinate Summer Nature Passport program (multi-site family activity guide).
    • Research, produce and edit monthly and seasonal electronic newsletters.
    • Write blog posts and other promotional items as needed.
    • Update and maintain web-based products and communications, including website, Facebook, blog, and others.
    • Other duties and special projects (intern-directed projects are encouraged upon approval).
    • At least 18 years of age
    • Commitment and reliability
    • Cheerful, positive and open attitude and ability to work with public of all ages
    • Flexibility and creativity
    • Interest in environmental and outdoor education
    • Excellent organization and administration skills; ability to multi-task
    • General computer skills, including social networking, html, Microsoft Office, publishing design, etc.
    • Communication skills, both oral and written
    • Reliable transportation to Aldo Leopold Nature Center and for outreach events
    • Gain experience in a highly successful, well-established network of formal and non-formal educators in South-Central Wisconsin.
    • Learn about and help to promote environmental and outdoor education throughout Wisconsin and beyond.
    • Gain valuable experience in writing, editing/publishing, program development, communications and outreach.
    • Develop and disseminate educational activities and resources for kids, families, teachers, etc.
    About Us:
    Nature Net: The Environmental Learning Network is a not-for-profit initiative that provides "one-stop shopping" for environmental education resources for teachers and families of South-Central Wisconsin and beyond. Based at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, an independent, nonprofit dedicated to outdoor education and environmental awareness, Nature Net is supported solely to share environmental education resources and opportunities with teachers, families and other organizations in order to enhance the education of children and promote “leaving no child inside.”

    How to Apply:
    Individuals interested in this position are required to send a cover letter, resume and three references to:
    Brenna Holzhauer, Special Assistant to Nature Net and Climate Education Center
    Nature Net c/o Aldo Leopold Nature Center
    330 Femrite Drive, Monona, WI 53716
    info [at] / (608) 216-9375

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    January Nature Net News - Fossil Frenzy

    "When out fossil hunting, it is very easy to forget that rather than telling you how the creatures lived, the remains you find indicate only where they became fossilized."
    Richard E. Leakey

    Dear Reader,

    I was raised by a duo consisting of a rockhound and a naturalist. My parents went rock collecting for their honeymoon, and the old museum case in the living room is full of many of their souvenirs.

    I remember countless hours examining minerals and fossils with my father, enthralled as he would highlight the delicate bones of a skeletal fish, trace the veins of a fossilized fern, or rub our fingers over the bumpy shell of trilobite. It was a highlight of my childhood. 

    Fossils help us learn about conditions of the past and the path that ancestral creatures took to evolve to the animals we know and love today. For example, fossil records helped scientists determine that the Tyrannosaurus Rex is likely related to today's living chickens. So we're eating the descendants of T-Rexes every time we have chicken strips - pretty cool, huh?

    In this issue of Nature Net News, you'll learn about various types of fossils that can be found in Wisconsin and worldwide, including my personal favorite, the trilobite. 


    and the Folks at Nature Net

    Did You Know.....
    The trilobite is Wisconsin's State Fossil. It is the remains of an extinct marine animal that flourished when Wisconsin was covered by an ancient tropical sea.

    In addition to bones and shells, wood, plants, footprints, and scat can become fossilized.

    The oldest fossil bed in the world is the Chengjian Deposits in China. It has fossils over 555 million years old!

    We weren't kidding about those T-Rex chickens - learn how scientists are trying to use chicken DNA to reverse-engineer a "chickenosaurus"!

    What To Do This Month:
    Interested in learning more about fossils? Visit the UW Geology Museum, especially for Storytime on first and third Thursday mornings (Jan 5 and 19) - learn more below. Or click here for other family events this month.

    Looking for more fun fossil facts? Peruse the Virtual Fossil Museum!

    Want to find real fossils? Consider checking out the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey's Fossil Guide for Wisconsin for an in-depth guide on the types of creatures throughout Wisconsin's past and where to find them!

    Wisconsin can be a great spot for fossil-hunting because of its unique geological history, especially the unglaciated "driftless area" in the Southwestern part of the state. You can see this area for yourself at Bethel Horizons in Dodgeville and the Aldo Leopold Nature Center's Black Earth campus - be sure to visit on January 14 for the annual Tiki Torch Toboggan event!

    Find Family Events on the Nature Net Calendar of Events

    Tricks of the Trail for Parents:
    Freaky Fossils
    Due to their skeletal nature, some children may be afraid of fossils, so be sure to point out that they're actually quite cool! Explain that these fossils are millions of years old, but still around today, and while they don't have fur or skin, they give us an amazing glimpse at ancient creatures. Speculate what might still be around millions of years in the future. What kind of creatures will be around then to discover the fossils from today?

    Instant Outdoor Expert:
    Fossil Formation
    Fossils were once living things that went through a process that turned them into the imprinted rocks they are today. The most common form of fossilization is called permineralization--this process occurs when minerals harden in the shape of an organism and create rock-like structures.

    First off, the body of the pre-fossil must become covered in water. The water protects the pre-fossil, be it animal, plant, or bone, from many deteriorating elements such as oxygen, scavenging, or sediment erosion. The flesh of the pre-fossil is eaten away by bacteria, leaving the hard parts (such as the skeleton or the exoskeleton) behind.

    Being underwater also helps with sediment deposition, or the covering up of the pre-fossil with different layers of dirt and minerals. The faster sedimentation occurs, the more likely the pre-fossil will become a fossil.

    The weight of the many layers of sediments on top of each other eventually seals off the fossil and squeezes the lower layers together into stone, a process called lithification. As this occurs, minerals in the water and sediment slowly replace the original skeleton of the pre-fossil, eventually leaving a rock copy behind.

    But how do we find these ancient buried treasures? Continental uplift is the process of the tectonic plates crashing into each other and rearranging sedimentary layers through creation of mountains, earthquakes, and the like. Erosion also removes layers of stone. Both continental uplift and erosion increase the likelihood of the fossil being unearthed by a budding paleontologist.

    Interested in how people find and unearth fossils? Check out this informative site!

    Featured Nature Net Site
    UW Geology Museum
    Explore the Geology Museum and take a peek into Wisconsin's deep history!

    On your visit, you can touch rocks from a time when there were volcanoes in Wisconsin, see corals, jellyfish and other sea creatures that used to live and swim where we now walk, and stand under the tusks of a mastodon while imagining yourself in the Ice Age. Also on display at the Geology Museum are rocks and minerals that glow, a model of a Wisconsin cave, dinosaurs and meteorites. The mineral, rock and fossil collections have the power to educate and inspire visitors of all ages - see for yourself!

    If possible, visit at 10:30am on the first and third Thursdays of the month (the 5th and 19th of January) and you can be included in the museum's Storytime, featuring a book, specimens from the museum, and a fun take-home craft!

    Learn About Other Nature Net Sites
    Nature Craft
    Coffee Ground Fossils

    What you need: 1 cup used coffee grounds, 1/2 cup cold coffee, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, wax paper, mixing bowl, items to make fossil indentations, empty can or butter knife, toothpicks (optional), string (optional).

    1. Mix together the coffee, coffee grounds, flour, and salt in the mixing bowl.

    2. Knead the dough together and then flatten it out on the wax paper. 

    3. Use the can or butter knife to cut out slabs for your fossil. 

    4. Place your object on your slab in order to make an indentation. When you remove it, the fossil indentation remains. Or you can draw an indentation with a toothpick. Poke a hole in the slab with a toothpick if you wish to hang your fossil. 

    5. Let dry overnight or up to two days. If you wish, use string to hang your fossil.

    (Nature Craft adapted from Kaboose)

    Suggested Reading:
    "The Great Dinosaur Mystery: A Musical Fossil Fantasy" by DinoRock (all ages)
    "If You Are a Hunter of Fossils" by Byrd Baylor (baby-preschool)
    "Fossils Tell of Long Ago" by Aliki (4-8)
    "Fossils, Rocks and Minerals" by Chris Perrault (4-8)
    "Digging Up Dinosaurs" by Aliki (4-8)
    "Fossil Fever" by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld (4-8)
    "Monster Bones: The Story of a Dinosaur Fossil" by Jacqui Bailey (4-8)
    "The Fossil Book" by Gary Parker (4-8)
    "The Best Book of Fossils, Rocks, and Minerals" by Chris Pellant (4-12)
    "Bones Rock!: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Paleontologist" by Peter Larson (9-12)
    "Rocks, Fossils, and Arrowheads" by Laura Evert and Linda Garrow (9-12)
    "The Fossil Factory" by Niles, Douglas, and Gregory Elderidge (9-12)
    "Fossils" by Ann O. Squire (9-12)
    "Fossil" by Paul Taylor (9-12)