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Mulberries grow on the mulberry tree and look similar to blackberries.

Today, I noticed the first buds on the trees. What a refreshing feeling! Although most days it still feels like winter — I continue to rue the day Queen Charlotte saw her shadow — spring is on its way.

With spring comes the best thing of all: free food! We have a grocery store in our backyards, if we know where to look.

Wild edibles are a delicious way to add incredible flavor and nutrients to your meal, from greens for your morning tea or summer salad to the walnuts that top that salad.

My favorite wild edible is the mulberry. These berries grow on the mulberry tree and look similar to blackberries. The berries are sweeter than blackberries, and much tenderer, especially as they ripen into a deep purple that graciously dyes your fingers and mouth as you munch. These trees are all over Charlotte, and I have visited many for a quick snack while biking with my dog on summer days.

Wild onion and wild garlic are also everywhere around Charlotte. They grace the grounds of Fort Wild here at the Museum and are probably growing in your front yard right now. Wild onion and wild garlic are often confused and have a similar flavor profile as they are both in the onion family.

If you see a plant with round and hollow leaves, you’ve got yourself a wild garlic plant. If the leaves are flat and solid, you are looking at wild onion. The flower of the wild garlic may be green or purple, while the wild onion boasts pink or white flowers. Many people look at these plants as a nuisance in their yard, but I hungrily pick their leaves to toss in my salad or a wrap for lunch. In the fall, gather up the bulbs to chop up and sauté with some fish, but be sure to leave some for next spring!

Dandelion is another weed that often annoys homeowners. But don’t be so quick to get rid of those bright buds.

Dandelion greens are great in a salad, bringing in a bitter accent. The flowers can be dried or even used fresh to make an excellent dandelion tea. Dandelion tea is extremely healthful, touted to aid in digestion by reducing bloat, detoxifying and reducing inflammation; there are even claims it help with weight loss and control.

Spring beauty is a flower with five pink-and-white striped petals and two long leaf blades. It can be found all around Mecklenburg County in rich, low woods and blooms March through April. The young leaves are a perfect addition to a salad, adding charm and flavor, while the small tubers can be roasted just like a potato.

A couple of other wild edible plants worth mentioning are the shoots of the cattail, found in wetter areas; wild nettles, popularly used in soups; broad arrowheads, which I have harvested in the Appalachian Mountains and eaten the tubers on the spot; and wood sorrels, whose flowers and leaves are good in salad and pairs well with wild game meat.

I encourage everyone to get out there and forage this spring. It is a great activity that will definitely bring you and your family closer to the natural world and bring some flavor to your plate.

By Nikki Panos, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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Marvin Bouknight, Charlotte Nature Museum director, names the Eastern Screech Owl as his favorite Museum resident.

Maybe you can't ask a mother to choose her favorite child, but you can ask a naturalist to choose a favorite animal!

Although we don't play favorites when it comes to caring for the animals that live at Charlotte Nature Museum, certain animals hold a unique appeal for our equally unique staff members.

Marvin Bouknight, director
I have been interested and excited about any and all wildlife as long as I remember. When I was 13 years old, I saw a film in school about owls and became fascinated by them and the ornithologists that were studying them. Knowing that I was interested in birds and owls, my mother picked up a cassette tape of Roger Tory Peterson's Audio Field Guide to Eastern Birds. From that cassette tape, I learned how to mimic an Eastern Screech Owl call. One night, I went to the woods near my house and tried my best to imitate an Eastern Screech Owl to see if I could get one to call back to me. Not only did I get a return call, but one actually flew in and sat in a tree overhead and stared down at me with bright yellow eyes! Needless to say, that's one of the inspirations that led me to be a naturalist and why the Eastern Screech Owl is near and dear to my heart.

Gail Lemiec, coordinator
Onyx is our silkie/rose comb chicken who free ranges in the Butterfly Pavilion. She is one of my favorite animals because she loves people and is actually really social. If no one is in the Butterfly Pavilion, she waits at the doors and watches for when she can greet people and welcome them. She does not like to be touched so much and often confuses fingers for food, but she does like to be near people. Additionally, she lays eggs for us to feed to the other animals here and she is great at eating unwanted bugs in the Museum. She is definitely a hard worker and a great addition to the Museum team!

Nikki Panos, naturalist
If you say opossum to the average person, they recoil and say "eww!" This may have been what drew me to opossums in the first place. I am drawn to love the unlovable. While many people think these animals are gross, opossums play an important role as scavengers and opportunity feeders and are actually quite clean. Also, opossums hold a few records that make them particularly unique and interesting. They are the only marsupial native to North America, complete with a vertically slit pouch. Mother opossums always give birth to an odd number of babies as they have an odd number of nipples to provide their young with much needed milk. Opossums also hold the record for the largest number of teeth of any land mammal: 50 pointy teeth in all! To top it off, I personally find the opossum to be an extremely cute creature.

Leslie Wilhoit, naturalist
My favorite animal to work with is the skunk. I fell in love with their little faces at a Connecticut nature center I volunteered at years ago. They have beautiful eyes and fur, as well as a darling nose, but the main reason I love working with our skunk is because of her inquisitive behavior. She is very intelligent and figures out any food puzzle I make for her quickly. She keeps me on my toes! I am constantly thinking of different ways to keep her mind active and healthy. Our skunk also became an addition to the Museum soon after I started working here, so it made me feel like we were starting a new journey together.

Post a comment below to tell us about your favorite animal at the Museum.

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A visitor found this crow skull and exchanged it as part of our Nature Trading Project.

Our newest program at Charlotte Nature Museum is our Nature Trading Project.

It has been a lot of fun seeing visitors get excited about the interesting natural materials they find outside. There have been some pretty neat objects brought in.

So how exactly does it work?

Our Coordinator Gail stocked a cart completely full with oddities we found in our Museum, as well as around the grounds. Three times a month, the Trading Post opens for business. You can find out dates and time by looking at our Upcoming Events.

Come in with your object and either start an account to accrue as many points as you can, or trade your object for something else right then and there.

The hardest part is finding natural objects that are worth a lot of points. Here are some tips to help you find an "expensive" object:

• Spend a lot of time in nature. Nothing will help you more than being outside as much as you can.
• Don't be afraid to get dirty. Move some rocks, dig a little (emphasis on little — don't start digging up your whole yard!) and climb some trees.
• Make sure the object is in good condition, preferably not falling apart or missing large pieces.
• Research. The more you know about your object before you come in — what it is, why it's important or how it connects to plants and animals — will help you earn as many points as possible.

Make sure your object is able to be traded. Due to federal and state laws, it is very important to remember:
• We accept rocks, shells, seeds, clean bones/skulls, snake skin sheds and insect molts.
• We cannot accept bird feathers, nests or eggs; anything from a protected or endangered species; turtle shells; any animal, alive or deceased; and wildflowers.

Not only has our new Nature Trading Project been fun for our staff, but visitors have found some pretty amazing things. So far, a perfectly intact crow skull is my favorite object.

Will you be able to find something extraordinary?

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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The groundhog is probably the most commonly known mammal in our region that goes through a true hibernation. Hibernating is what certain animals do to survive extreme weather.

Winter is approaching fast. Many animals have migrated or acquired a thicker coat to prepare for the cold, while others animals are getting ready to hibernate.

What does hibernate mean? Hibernating is what certain animals do to survive extreme weather. It's an interesting adaptation that is a state of inactivity. The animal's heart and breathing rates go down as well as their body temperature. This allows the animal to use very little energy through the cold months.

Why is this beneficial for the animal?

During the winter, food can be very hard to find. It becomes more stressful and draining for the animal to constantly forage or search, usually coming up empty handed. Because of this, spending more time asleep or in a state of hibernation gives the animal a higher chance of survival.

When we think of hibernating animals, we usually think of bears. But bears don't truly hibernate! Instead, they go through a process called torpor. Torpor is kind of like a short term hibernation where the animal reduces its body temperature on the cooler days but will be out and about on the warmer days of winter.

The groundhog is probably the most commonly known mammal in our region that goes through a true hibernation.

Reptiles and amphibians brumate, which is the name for when ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals hibernate.

Did you know that some desert animals also go through a type of hibernation when it's too hot and dry in the summer? This is called estivation.

Nature is so fascinating!

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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Naturalist Leslie Wilhoit holds a corn snake.

When I tell people I am a naturalist, I usually get weird looks because they aren't entirely sure what that entails.

Whenever I try to explain what exactly I do, it is really hard to put it in words. The easy answer for me is simply, everything. A naturalist's job can incorporate many different things, depending on where you work.

At Charlotte Nature Museum we have three naturalists. We have large programs we are in charge of but on a daily basis we do roughly the same things. For example, I am in charge of public programs, class curriculum and Butterfly Pavilion, but the other naturalists help me with daily upkeep.

Because there is a lot to do at the Museum, we have many checklists and scheduled programs to make sure we get everything thing done in a timely manner.

Every day our animals need to be fed, cleaned and enriched. We have to make sure the Admissions desk is up and running, as well as cover special programs including classes or the Puppet Show.

Some tasks don't need to be done every day but are still our responsibility, such as making sure the chrysalis are hung, lights are working and the grounds look nice.

One of the perks of my job is that I get to work closely with animals. It is a great way for me to learn more about lesser-known species of animals.

I enjoy researching as much as I can about the local species of North Carolina, so that I can pass the excitement I have for nature on to other people. That's how I knew this field was for me.

Another question I frequently get about my job is, "How does a person become a naturalist?"

I can only speak for my experiences, but I believe volunteering is the way to go. Even now that I am in my dream job field, I volunteer at other establishments to further my expertise.

We have volunteers at the Museum who help us on an almost-daily basis and their participation allows them to get a head start on what it takes to be a naturalist.

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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The flying squirrel might be the animal that is hardest to see at the Museum. Flying squirrels are arboreal, or tree dwelling, so they like to make nests up high. They are also nocturnal animals, so they are awake at night and sleep during the day.

Many animals at Charlotte Nature Museum are out and about when you visit, while some are more of a challenge to see.

But there is a clear reason for this. Most of the animals that don't move often or are hidden are nocturnal animals.

Nocturnal animals are awake at night and sleep during the day. (Animals that are awake during the day are called diurnal.)

Some of our animals that are nocturnal include the flying squirrel, skunk and opossum. Because the Museum is only open during the day, our nocturnal animals typically are sleeping or hiding while visitors are here.

The flying squirrel might be the animal that is hardest to see at the Museum. Flying squirrels are arboreal, or tree dwelling, so they like to make nests up high.

Our flying squirrel prefers to make a small nest in the rocks on the top, left side his home. He tends to be more active early and late in the day. Sometimes if we feed him early enough, he'll come down and take some nuts back up to his home. This is called caching or food storing.

If you are patient and look hard enough, you can find our flying squirrel in his exhibit in Creature Cavern. We hope you'll come and give it a try!

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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Whether it was a nature walk, habitat building, fishing or creek crawling, Summer Camps at Charlotte Nature Museum are messy, sweaty, silly, educational and, above all, unforgettable.

The Summer Camp season recently end, which makes me very sad.

I enjoy Summer Camps so much; it's probably my favorite time of the year.

We have a lot of different kinds of Camps here for kids from ages 3 - 10 years old. Most of this season, I have had the pleasure of helping teach the Camps for Pre-K and Rising Grades 4 - 5.

From day to day, the themes change but the fun and excitement stays the same.

For the youngest Campers we spend a lot of time talking about the differences between types of animals and being able to identify them by sight. We went on a lot of nature walks to find birds, bugs, and every once in a while we would see reptiles or mammals.

The Campers loved finding animals, whether out in nature or on exhibition in the Museum, and always enjoyed making crafts to take home and show their parents.

The older Campers were able to play a lot of structured games to learn concepts.

One that went over very well was our Bat vs. Moth game which taught about echolocation or using your ears to hear rather than relying on eyesight. We played in a dark room, there was one "bat" and everyone else was a "moth." The bat would try to tag the moths with a flashlight to get them out; they would yell, "Bat!" and all the moths would respond, "Moth!" and freeze.

It was a lot like Marco Polo but it was a blast. Other groups wanted to play it as well and it ended up being a neat game for many ages.

Whether it was a nature walk, habitat building, fishing or creek crawling, our Summer Camps are messy, sweaty, silly, educational and, above all, unforgettable.

We hope to see you all next season!

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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Looking for fun, inexpensive activities to do with the kids this summer? Give upcycling a try! With a little paint and creativity, empty boxes, bottles and cans can be transformed into musical instruments, games or even birdhouses.

With school out for the summer, many parents are looking for fun, inexpensive activities to do with their kids. Why not give upcycling a try?

There are so many great projects people can do with old objects around the house, instead of recycling or throwing them away.

What exactly is upcycling? It is the process of making something useful, and often beautiful, from old or discarded materials.

During our recent Earth Day Play Date, we made musical instruments, a matching game, a bowling set and a birdhouse all out of "trash" found at the Museum.

Here's how we did it.

Musical Instruments:
1. Take old coffee cans or tissue boxes and wrap different sized rubber bands around them. The different sized bands will create different notes when plucked or strummed.
2. Turn empty plastic medicine bottles into maracas by filling them with rice, beans or beads.

Bowling Set:
1. Take six old plastic bottles with caps and fill them sand, dirt or water.
2. Place them in a pyramid and use any ball to knock them down.

Matching Game:
1. Cut apart an old egg carton so you have 12 small cups.
2. Pick six different colors, two cups per color, and color the inside of the cup so you can't see it when placed down. (You also can use numbers, words or pictures instead of colors.)
3. Mix up the cups and try to match the colors out of memory. Each player can only turn two over cups at a time.

Detergent Bottle Birdhouse:
1. Cut a hole into the side opposite the handle.
2. Glue a Popsicle stick or small branch below the hole, so birds have a place to stand.
3. Decorate the bottle and hang outside.

Can you think of other fun projects that involve upcycling? Leave a comment with your ideas!

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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A Museum staff member displays a corn snake, a naturally docile breed that is friendly with guests.

One of the coolest animals I get to work with is the snake. We have lots of different species that live at the Museum, including pine, corn, black rat, yellow rat, copperhead, ribbon, northern water, king and garter snakes.

Most of the snakes stay on exhibition in Creature Cavern, but we have a few that we're able to bring out for Animal Encounters. This means you can touch them!

Whenever I handle a snake, the first question a guest usually asks is, "Will it bite?" This is a great question to ask because it's important to maintain the highest level of safety around any animal.

Anything with a mouth can bite — it's true — but people also have mouths and can bite. This doesn't mean we go around biting things all the time, and it's the same way with our snakes.

Snake mainly bite if they feel the need to protect themselves. This is why it's not a good idea to grab or corner a snake, especially if you find one in the wild.

Our snakes are handled every day by trained staff, so we know how they act if they are stressed and need to be put back in their enclosure. We also bring out corn snakes that are naturally docile or non-aggressive, so they are less likely to bite in the first place.

Guests are encouraged to use just two fingers to pet the snake on its body. Our naturalists protect the snake's face from being touched because no animal likes being poked on the face.

All of these precautions make it very unlikely for one of our snakes to bite.

I hope you'll join us for a daily Animal Encounters. You never know when you might be able to get up close and personal with one of our snakes!

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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Copperheads have a distinct hourglass pattern on their skin. Young copperheads also have a bright green tail. Photo credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

We are lucky that we don't have many venomous snakes here in Mecklenburg County. We mostly only have to keep our eyes out for copperheads. So, do you know how to identify one?

There are several ways to tell if a snake is a copperhead, but the easiest and safest way is to look at their pattern. The darker spots on the back of the snake are in an hourglass shape, meaning they are wider on the sides and thinner in the middle.

If you look at a copperhead from the side, the hourglass spots touch the ground. Most similarly patterned snakes have spots that do not reach all the way to the underside of the snake.

Copperheads also have diamond-shaped heads and cat-like eyes. These two characteristics are not as easy to spot as the snake's patterned skin, so it can make identifying much harder.

Lastly, young copperheads sport a bright green tail and are the easiest to differentiate between other types of snakes.

When it comes down to it, the best thing to do if you see a snake in your yard is to keep your distance, no matter what type it is. Snakes aren't known to chase people, so if you stay away, you stay safe.

For extra fun, click here to try your hand at identifying copperheads and other snakes.

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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Despite the myth, mother birds won't abandon their young after they've been touched by a human. Before you consider touching or moving a baby bird, first make sure the animal has truly been abandoned.

We get a lot of calls from worried residents about baby animals, especially this time of year. Spring is the perfect time to see young rabbits, birds and other sorts of native animals around.

But what should we do if we think one has been abandoned or hurt?

First make sure the animal has truly been abandoned. Cottontail rabbits are out of the nest in as little as three weeks, and their mothers only visit the nest to feed. This occurs twice a day for as little as five minutes! You can mark the top of the nest with thin twigs in a tic-tac-toe pattern, and the mother will move the sticks when she visits.

Unless you can see the deceased mother nearby, watch from a safe distance to see if the mother returns after a few days. If the baby has flies buzzing around it or is covered in feces, it is probably abandoned.

Once you're certain an animal has abandoned or is injured, it's best to call a rescue hotline first. They can guide you through the necessary actions depending on the type of animal you have found. If you are not able to contact them right away, you can check out Animal Rehabilitators of the Carolinas (ARC) or North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

ARC suggests picking up the animal gently with gloves on, placing it in a small box with soft cloth on the bottom and making sure the lid is secure but allows for air to flow though. Your first instinct might be to try to feed the animal, but it is very important to not give it food or water. Food particles or water can easily get into the animal's lungs, accidentally killing them, when they're not cared for by their mother or a rehabilitation expert.

Another thing to keep in mind is that bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks cannot be rehabilitated due to the possibility of rabies. Rabies is a virus that affects the brain. They should never be handled for this reason.

If it is a bird that isn't a bird of prey, I suggest contacting the Carolina Waterfowl Rescue. If it is a bird of prey, contact the Carolina Raptor Center. For other types of small animals, try Animal Rehabilitators of the Carolinas.

Carolina Waterfowl Rescue: 704.668.9486
Carolina Raptor Center: 704.875.6521 x111
Animal Rehabilitators of the Carolinas: 704.552.2329

Charlotte Nature Museum is unable to provide animal rehabilitation services.

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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Throughout its metamorphosis, a butterfly changes from an egg to larva to pupa before becoming an adult butterfly. Copyright - 2014 oakdome.com

Metamorphosis is one of my favorite things to teach here at Charlotte Nature Museum!

In fact, we have a whole class devoted just to learning the difference between the metamorphosis and simple growth life cycles.

Metamorphosis is a fancy word that means to transform or change. Lots of animals change slightly as they grow. A person, for example, doesn't look exactly the same their whole life. But they don't grow wings or have their lungs change to gills as they become adults.

Animals that go through metamorphosis have drastic changes from their egg to adult stages.

One animal that comes to mind is the butterfly. This time of year, these beautiful creatures are starting to make their way back into our gardens and yards, and we are seeing their eggs, caterpillars and chrysalis everywhere.

Every animal that goes through metamorphosis has four main stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

In butterflies, the larva is the caterpillar, the pupa is the chrysalis, and the adult is the butterfly. Larva usually looks nothing like the adult; caterpillars don't have wings, they eat leaves, and have long thin bodies.

Frogs also go through metamorphosis. The larva of a frog is the tadpole, the pupa is called a froglet, and the adult is the actual frog.

See if you can think of or find even more animals that go through metamorphosis!

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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Every year on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day by finding ways to give back to the place we call home and learning how to help care for and protect our planet throughout the year. But have you ever thought about when and how it all started?

Every year on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day by finding ways to give back to the place we call home and learning how to help care for and protect our planet throughout the year.

But have you ever thought about when and how it all started?

Before the first Earth Day, conditions were far worse than what they are today. Factories were allowed to dump tons of toxic garbage into streams and black clouds of harmful smoke into the air! No one would get in trouble because it was not against the law to do this.

Slowly, people were starting to see how this was harming the water, the land and even themselves. Helping the environment was becoming more and more important to everyone.

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was organized by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson. Millions of Americans got together in groups all across the country to discuss and raise awareness of the need to protect the Earth.

Since then, Earth Day has grown in popularity and become a global event. People around the world find unique ways to honor our planet.

Whether you plant trees, clean up trash, recycle or just enjoy the scenery, take a second this April 22 to celebrate the Earth.

"Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human being and all living creatures."
-Senator Gaylord Nelson

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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One of these animals is poisonous and the other is venomous. Do you know the difference?

Did you know that venomous and poisonous are not the same thing?

A lot of times, we use the word poisonous as a blanket term for all animals that have toxins that can hurt us, but venomous and poisonous are actually very different things.

Let's start with poisonous. You may have heard this word many times. An animal that is poisonous can hurt you if you touch it or eat it. The animal itself is the thing that is toxic.

A lot of poisonous animals are frogs and salamanders. Toxins seep out of the pores all over their skin. If you were to touch them, you could get the toxins on your fingers and they would be absorbed into your skin. This is also why we should not eat poisonous animals; it's an even quicker way to get the toxins into your body.

On the other hand, venomous animals have a delivery system for their toxin, usually through a bite or sting. The toxins are made inside the animal and are only able to hurt someone if the skin is pierced by a fang or other sharp body part.

Most of the animals we think of as poisonous are actually venomous, including rattlesnakes, black widow spiders and lionfish. It's even possible to eat the meat of a venomous animal without getting hurt.

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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For a lot of people, spring is a time of growth, warmer weather and the sniffles. What about spring causes us to have to keep a packet of tissues handy at all times? In a word: allergies.

For a lot of people, me included, spring is a time of growth, warmer weather and the sniffles.

So what about spring, in particular, causes us to have to keep a packet of tissues handy at all times? In a word: allergies.

What this means is that our bodies have had a bad reaction to something. For example, some people are allergic to peanuts or dairy, and when they eat or touch it, their body tries to get rid of or protect them from it.

The severity of an allergic reaction can vary. If you have a minor allergy to something, coming in contact with the item can cause you to sneeze, get a runny nose or have itchy eyes.

What causes most springtime allergies? Pollen!

Pollen is tiny little grains that trees, grasses and weeds emit to make new plants. Certain plants release pollen into the air when a breeze comes through. Because pollen is sticky, it can also stick to an animal that brushes past the plant. If you have ever noticed a lot of yellow dust on your clothes after playing outside, that's pollen. Once pollen leaves the plant, we are able to breathe it in.

Because pollen is most commonly released in the spring, we are more likely to sneeze as a result of it during this time of the year. Some people call this hay fever.

Our allergies are usually worse on windy days because the wind picks up a lot of pollen and jumbles it in the air, while allergic reactions subside on rainy days because the rain washes away the pollen.

If you are like me, allergy season can be no fun at all. But pollen is very important to us and to our world. It leads to the creation of new plants that we depend on, such as apples, blueberries, coffee, peaches, potatoes and even chocolate.

So grab your tissues and favorite anti-allergy remedies because here comes spring!

By Leslie Wilhoit, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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Hibernating animals such as groundhogs gorge themselves during fall harvest season to build up reserves of fat that will keep them warm during their long winter’s nap.

Autumn is officially here – time for raking leaves, sipping pumpkin lattes, putting together Halloween costumes and trading shorts and swimsuits for pants and jackets.

But humans aren’t the only ones who prepare for a seasonal change. Our furry, feathered and scaly friends know it’s fall too.

Here are some changes in local wildlife behavior you might notice:

• Both farmers and animals are busy during fall harvest season. Hibernating animals such as groundhogs, chipmunks and bears feast on nature’s buffet of berries, apples, nuts and seeds to build up reserves of fat that will keep them warm during their long winter’s nap.

• Why did the snake cross the road? To get to its winter den! These cold-blooded animals have no way to keep warm when the temperatures drop, so you’re more likely to find them in roadways as they travel to find shelter in caves, hollow logs, burrows or even basements. Snakes tend to stay deep in their den during the winter and are willing to bunk with other species. Black rat snakes, timber rattlesnakes and copperheads can be found sharing the same den.

• Birds and butterflies also are on the move in autumn. Many species fly south to warmer climates, including Monarch butterflies, which typically pass through the Charlotte area in late September-early October during their annual migration to Mexico.

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Mosquitoes can carry and transmit diseases, so it’s important to find a way to keep these pests off of you.

Mosquitoes have been out full force this year due to the extremely wet summer, so our naturalists have been fielding lots of questions about them. They are fascinating creatures!

Some mosquitoes lay their eggs on the surface of stagnant water, while others lay their eggs in damp soil where flooding will occur. Once they hatch from eggs, young mosquitoes need water to grow into their larval, pupal and adult stages. We’re most familiar with the adult mosquito, which does not reside in water but travels to find food.

Both male and female mosquitoes rely on nectar-producing plants and flower for their nutrition.

Mosquitoes do not actually bite; instead, they pierce and suck. Their mouth, called a proboscis, acts like a straw.

Only female mosquitoes require a blood meal and feed on birds and mammals — either warm- or cold-blooded. Acquiring a blood meal is essential for egg production.

The female mosquito has a sharp proboscis that allows her to penetrate skin. As she breaks the skin, she injects saliva that contains a numbing agent, so the animal rarely feels the puncture. She chooses her meal based on factors including carbon dioxide levels, temperature, moisture, smell, color and movement.

Mosquitoes have different blood meal preferences depending on their species. Some prefer nighttime feeding while others prefer daytime. Some prefer birds, and others prefer small mammals. In the United States, there are around 176 species of mosquitoes. In the world, there are more than 2,700!

Mosquitoes can carry and transmit diseases, so it’s important to find a way to keep these pests off of you.

One method is chemical control. Insect repellents commonly found in stores contain DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 or Metofluthrin. These chemicals disorient mosquitoes and deter them from dining on you.

Another chemical option is soaking your clothing in permethrin and allowing it to dry. Permethrin, available through online drugstores, actually kills the insects but does not come in direct contact with your skin.

Other plant-based alternatives are available, and some have proven to be quite promising.

Soybean oil and lemon eucalyptus oils average a repellent life of 1.5 hours. Citronella, cedar, peppermint, lemongrass, and geranium oils typically have a much less effective repellent rate.

Regardless of which method you choose, make sure you protect yourself. No one wants to let these interesting but pesky insects ruin your outdoor summer fun!

By Mary Wells, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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Want more backyard gardening tips? Be sure to stop by the Museum this Saturday for Earth Day Play Date.

Spring has sprung and it’s time to start your spring gardening!

When planning and planting your spring garden, you want to keep several things in mind.

Make sure you plant something that is non-invasive. You don’t want your yard or garden taken over by an aggressive plant.

Avoid poisonous plants. Believe it or not, there are many plants where some or all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested. Keep this in mind if you have children or pets that will be in your yard. Know the plants you are planting, and find out if they would be a danger in your yard.

Try to stick with native plants. Native plants are well suited to your soil and climate. In North Carolina, the widespread use of non-native plants is threatening the population of native plants.

There are a variety of natives that are not only just as gorgeous as foreign ornamentals but they also provide cover for and attract local wildlife. Here are few favorites and who they attract:

• Wild geranium (Geranium carolinianum) - known for its small, five-petal flowers that come in white and pale pink. Wild geraniums seeds attract mourning doves, bobwhite quail and white-tailed deer. The nectar attracts butterflies, bees and other insects.

• Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) - a very flashy, red-yellow flower. The blooms attract hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and hawk moths. The seeds are eaten by finches and buntings. The plant is a larval host for the Columbine Duskywing butterfly.

• Carolina phlox (Phlox carolina) - A tall weedy plant, with small blooms. The nectar attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

Remember the old adage, “The first year a garden sleeps. The second year it creeps. The third year it leaps.” Remain patient with your gardens. It usually takes three or more years to see the full results of your landscaping efforts and to see your native plants being used by local wildlife.

Want more backyard gardening tips? Be sure to stop by the Museum this Saturday for Earth Day Play Date.

Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer backyard gardening questions and provide lots of ideas for gardening with children. Kids will get to fill a newspaper pot with seeds and soil to take home.

By Mary Wells, Naturalist, Charlotte Nature Museum

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Weaving a wonderful web

It’s that time of year again where it seems with each turn, we encounter one of our favorite animals to fear: the lovely spider.

The truth is I am actually very fond of these little guys; they play such an important role in the ecosystem and are often not given enough credit by us humans. In fact, just this morning, I was observing numerous spiders creating intricate insect catching systems in my backyard. In the short five minutes I was outside, I discovered a small triangulate orb weaver (Verrucosa arenata) in the grass, a small cluster of basilica spiders (Mecynogealemniscata) in the process of weaving and a beautiful black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) dangling from her web. These spiders are known for creating a zigzag down their webs that is sometimes referred to as “writing”. Take a peek at the photo of this beautiful spider and her handiwork above.

Recently, Charlotte Nature Museum has received several questions regarding what appears to be an increase in the number of spiders in our area. The fact is there are no more spiders than usual; the ones you see are just all grown up and now more conspicuous. This happens annually in late summer through early fall as these once young spiders have done their part for the environment by consuming oodles of insects and are now at adult size. As they reach maturity, many males are out and about; scouting the area in search of the perfect mate instead of hiding in crevices. So you’re not seeing a sudden increase in spiders but witnessing the critter equivalent of a night out on the town.

Arie Manchen
Naturalist

Have you noticed more arthropod friends weaving webs around your neighborhood? Tell us about your experiences by connecting on Facebook!

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Summer is in full swing! And, I think there is nothing more relaxing than sitting outside on a warm summer night watching the lightening bugs put on their show. However, these beautiful nights are often accompanied by sweltering hot days than can sometimes be a little more than just uncomfortable. Many humans, as well as animals often find themselves constantly seeking shade and refreshing water during these extra hot days.

Shade can be found in many places where there are towering structures, but nothing can compare to the natural shade trees provide. Trees provide cool and well-lit areas where people can continue to participate in favorite summer recreational activities without the worry of overheating Fort Wild our latest addition to our interactive exhibits, is seeing a lot of traffic these days. Here, people can easily spend a summer morning under the generous shade our trees provide. Many of our visitors bring snacks and let their children play for hours in this area that offers children a plethora of tools for play. We too utilize it with our Summer Campers and treat it as an outdoor haven for learning, playing and reflecting. We have even seen many animals taking refuge high up in the lovely shady trees of Fort Wild!
Arie Manchen
Museum Naturalist

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Well, spring has sprung and Museum Naturalists are fielding calls about orphaned wildlife. Contrary to popular belief, most baby animals have not been abandoned; parents will leave the nest to search for food and will often remain hidden if you are nearby.
If you should happen upon a baby animal that you believe is an orphan, do not disturb the nest.

Observe
First, find a hiding spot and watch for the parents to return; depending on the species the parents may be away for a few minutes or a couple of hours.

Call
If after several hours you have not seen the parent return, call either your local Department of Natural Resources or a local wildlife rehabilitator. These organizations will provide instructions as to the best way to deal with your specific situation. If you know for certain that the parents of the baby animal have been injured or killed, do not delay contact a local rehabilitator right away for further instructions.

Advocate
Charlotte Nature Museum does not take in wildlife as we are not a rehabilitation facility, but we are committed to assisting our patrons figure out next steps. If you have a wildlife or nature-related question or just need help finding out how to proceed call and chat with a Naturalist or post a question below. We will help guide you through the process.

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Barred Owl

How much do you know about local wildlife and what they do to survive the cold season? Take the following quiz and test your knowledge (check back next week for the answers).

With Charlotte enduring one of the coldest winters on record we cannot help but wonder how local wildlife is faring. Some animals will migrate; others will hibernate, while others will stay around and find out how to stay warm well fed and safe during the cold winter months.

1. How do chipmunks spend the winter?
a. Migrate, they head south for warmer weather
b. Pupate, they metamorphose and form a pupa
c. Hibernate, they become inactive and go into a state of dormancy with a slower breathing and heart rate and a change in body temperature
d. All of the above

2. How do most insects survive the winter?
a. Migrate, they head south for warmer weather
b. Hibernate and become inactive
c. They lay eggs that will hatch in the spring, the adult dies and the cycle begins again
d. Pupate and form a pupa until the days become longer again

3. Barred owls survive the cold winter months by
a. Migrating south to warmer climates
b. Hibernating in hollow trees
c. Staying active hunters and growing extra feathers
d. None of the above

4. What are some ways that squirrels keep warm during long winter nights?
a. Sharing nests and huddling together for heat
b. Staying awake all night and eating
c. Digging burrows alone
d. None of the above

5. Where do all the worms go in winter?
a. Deeper underground
b. They lay eggs before their life cycle ends
c. Migrate south for warmer climates
d. A and B are correct

Charlotte Nature Museum is home to several wildlife ambassador species such as a Southern flying squirrel, several insects, skunks, opossums, snakes and more. Stop by to learn more about Carolinas wildlife and chat with a naturalist about how you can help protect the wildlife in your backyard.

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Regular visitors to our Museum have no doubt seen or heard one of our four-legged visitors on the Paw Paw Nature Trail… a white-tailed deer.

The many deer you may have seen frequently enters and exits the Museum’s grounds of its own accord. Deer have a range of approximately two square miles and often seek refuge in areas providing shelter, food and water. The natural supply of nuts and woody material on the Paw Paw Nature Trail and nearby greenway, and the abundant water supply from Little Sugar Creek create an ideal habitat. The neighborhood surrounding the Museum has a significant white-tailed deer population with regular reports of sightings of individuals and groups in residential backyards.

Please resist the urge to feed the deer in your backyard or ours. This may be harmful as it could increase the deer’s travel range, metabolic function and give them a false sense of food supply. Additionally, feeding deer may cause an increase in their population which may result in predation, higher incidence of vehicle collisions, and them becoming habituated (accustomed to human interaction).

To learn more about urban wildlife, we invite you to come in and chat with a naturalist or reply to this post about wildlife you have seen in your backyard.

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In the corner of Butterfly Pavilion stands a densely-leaved tree with thorns, it doesn’t bloom, and often doesn’t gain much attention from our visitors. This unassuming tree is a Valencia orange tree donated to us eight years ago, by a former volunteer. If trees could talk, this one would share quite a tale… read on.

About thirty years ago, a juicy, sweet Valencia orange was purchased at a grocery store in Ohio. While eating it, the consumer wondered if the sweet seeds would grow into a tree if planted. So he decided to try it, planted the seeds in a pot, watered, watched and waited. Sure enough a seed sprouted and continued to grow on the man’s porch in a pot, surviving snowy winters surrounded with a plastic sheet and a heat lamp. After fifteen years in Ohio, the tropical tree moved with its propagators to Charlotte, NC.

After a few years in sunny Charlotte the couple needed to return to Ohio but wanted to know if they could donate the tree to the Museum. Knowing that it was a host plant for the giant swallowtail butterflies that often flutter about our Pavilion, Naturalist, Karen, had high hopes that maybe the butterflies would lay eggs on it, and we would get larva.

Years passed with no sign of eggs or caterpillars, until the last couple of weeks! Come and see this tree with the amazing story and enjoy a great winter reprieve.

Have you ever planted a seed from food you have consumed? We’d love to hear YOUR story.

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While leading an enthusiastic school group through Butterfly Pavilion, naturalist, Vonna Brown, noticed there were six caterpillars that looked like bird poop crawling on the orange tree (Citrus aurantium).

(By the way, check back soon to read about the amazing story of how the orange tree came to call the Museum home.)

Knowing that this was unusual she quickly summoned the Museum team to identify the wiggling droppings. Kids and naturalists in tow, we grabbed our field guides and discovered that we were viewing the larval stage of the giant swallowtail butterfly (Papillo cresphontes). Giant swallowtails are native to the southeast and are an impressive butterfly with a wingspan ranging between 3.9-6.3 inches (that’s big for a butterfly).

Their bodies are dark brown to black with a yellow band. The caterpillars are picky eaters and will feed on a citrus host plant that their mother butterfly has carefully chosen.

Did you know: Charlotte Nature Museum may receive up to 50 swallowtail chrysalis per month, but this is the first time the adults have successfully laid eggs that hatched.

Butterfly Pavilion is open all year and filled with free-flying butterflies. At a comfortable 80 degrees it provides a pleasant respite on a cold winter day. Stop in and spend some time with us and explore Butterfly Pavilion… perhaps you’ll uncover the next natural wonder.

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One of our favorite features about Charlotte Nature Museum is the outdoor deck and Paw Paw Nature Trail. Often we hear the screech of red-shouldered hawks or catch a glimpse of barred owls perched in the branches peering down at us.

These two species of raptor prefer the same moist woodland habitat and eat similar foods. Red-shouldered and barred owls eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. The term, ‘raptor’, is associated with powerful feet used to catch prey, great vision, a hooked beak and a meat-eater.

These birds can be found across our state soaring high in the sky, diving after prey, or perched on tree branches, telephone wires, light posts and even stop signs. Many raptor species have similar markings making identifying them by sight a challenge. Stop by this Saturday for July’s Creature Feature, Hawk Talk and learn more about these fascinating and mysterious winged wonders.

Have a question about a bird of prey... ask away?

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During the past several days, I have received several questions about silver to gray colored small snakes with dark brown blotches in backyards, garages or in the driveway. The snakes in question are juvenile black rat snakes. Juvenile black rat snakes have a distinctly different color pattern than the mostly black adult and are non venomous.

The black rat snake is commonly found in Mecklenburg County and has adapted well to the urban habitat. Like all snakes, the black rat snake is valuable to the environment because they prey on ‘pests’ and help maintain balance in the ecosystem.

Young black rat snakes when threatened will rise up, assume a coiled position and rattle its tail to scare off potential predators. This defense behavior and their unique markings often result in the snake being misidentified as a copperhead or rattlesnake.

I understand the fear many have of snakes and the surprise when a snake ends up in or near your home. My first word of advice is, if it is outside, leave it alone, it is likely moving to a safe place for shelter. If you encounter a snake and are concerned as to whether it is venomous or nonvenomous or if you want to have it moved please call Charlotte Nature Museum’s Wildlife Hotline at 704.372.6261 x603 and we will help you locate a professional.

Want to learn more about black rat snakes or other snakes common to North Carolina? Visit Charlotte Nature Museum, there are several species on exhibit and you can always . . . Ask a Naturalist.

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While enjoying a walk on the Paw Paw Nature Trail my eye was drawn to an elaborate web of silk with a distinct zigzag in the middle. Before me was an impressive Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia), a type of orb weaver. The spider’s cephalothorax (small front body part) had distinct silver hairs and its abdomen (large back section) was oval to egg shaped with distinctive black and yellow markings. The spider’s body was approximately .5 inches in length, with long legs that have black and red bands. Upon further observation, I noticed that each leg of the spider had three claws on the ends, which is characteristic of the family.

As you enjoy time outdoors, whether it is taking a walk, sitting on the porch or strolling on the Paw Paw Nature Trail, take a moment and see if you can spy a spider. Without disturbing the web or handling the spider, observe the cephlothorax and abdomen, note its size, does it have distinctive colors or markings? Record as much information as possible then come to Charlotte Nature Museum and we will try to identify it together.

On Saturday, October 31, the Museum will have a host of spiders on exhibit with other cool creepy crawlies during October’s Creature Feature, Spooky Spiders & Creepy Crawlies, come to the Museum and bring your notes to share with local arachnologists.

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