World Turtle Day!

Girl with TurtleHappy World Turtle Day!

How much do you know about these scaly friends?

Here are some quick turtle facts:

  • The turtle shell is made up of about 60 different bones.
  • Scutes (large scales) cover the shell and help keep bacteria and fungi from invading the underlying bone.
  • All turtles are covered with dry, scaly skin. In aquatic turtles, the scales help prevent excess water from entering the body.
  • Turtles are believed to have existed on earth longer than any other group of reptiles–as long as 200 million years ago!
  • Individual turtles have survived to be more than 200 years-old.
  • Turtles belong to the animal kingdom, phylum Chordata (animals with backbones) and are reptiles covered by scales or horny plantes.
  • Unlike humans, turtles get their body heat from outside sources like the sun meaning they are exothermic or cold-blooded.
  • There are 11 species of turtles in Wisconsin. Any idea which turtle species in Wisconsin is the most abundant? It’s the painted turtle.
  • Ten of Wisconsin’s 11 turtle species spend the winter under water.
  • Some turtles bury themselves under the bottom while others lie on the bottom and remain motionless. Despite popular belief however, many turtles don’t actually hibernate but remain semi-active, moving about during the winter.
  • Turtles are toothless and use sharp, horny beaks to grab and slice food.
  • Turtles usually feed on plants or on slow-moving prey like earthworms, slugs, snails, or insect larvae.

Wisconsin has lost over half of its wetlands since European settlement and urban sprawl continues to threaten turtles in our state by eliminating their habitats. Another threat to turtles is the increasing number of medium-sized predators like free-roaming cats and dogs, raccoons, skunks, and coyotes. As a result, five of Wisconsin’s 11 turtle species are listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern.

You and your family can help protect Wisconsin’s turtles! Here’s how:

  • Never bring a turtle or lizard home as a pet—leave wild animals in the wild.
  • Help protect and rebuild turtle habitats by leaving fallen trees in place along shorelines and fallen trees and woody debris along the edges of prairies and in prairie open areas.
  • Help keep turtles safe on roads! Be on the lookout for turtles crossing roadways, especially during the main turtle nesting season in June.
  • Never let your pets run free where they can kill wildlife. Keep them on a leash.


Running Wild on the Summer Solstice

From time immemorial, the summer solstice has been celebrated by people and cultures across the globe. The ancients depended on the yearly pattern of day-light hours to set their calendars and determine the best time to plant and harvest crops. The summer solstice, which typically falls on June 21st, is the longest day of the year and after this date, the days become progressively shorter as we head into fall.

The movement of the celestial spheres may seem rather separate from our busy modern lives. But if you think about it, everything from the food we eat to the way we plan our day is intimately connected to the time and seasons, which are affected by the motion and attitude of the Earth as it moves around the sun!

Science on a SphereLearn: If you’re curious about how day-light is affected by the position of the earth during the summer solstice, here’s a simple experiment you can try:

1. Stand a stick upright in a box of sand or dirt.

2. In a darkened room, use a flashlight to shine a beam of light over the stick. See how you can make the stick’s shadow longer or shorter by changing the height of the flashlight. Make three observations; one with the flashlight directly over the top of the stick so that there is no shadow, one casting a small shadow only an inch or two long, and one with a shadow about as long as your stick.

(This is similar to what is happening to the Earth as it moves around the sun over the course of the year. Although the sun doesn’t move like our flashlight, the Earth does and that affects how high or low the sun appears in the sky and how long shadows are. During the summer months, the northern half of the planet where we live is turned toward the sun. On June 21st, we are facing the sun directly so the sun appears straight up above our heads. The highest point the sun reaches in the sky in a single day is what we call noon, or 12:00pm. The higher up the sun is in the sky at noon, the longer the daylight hours are between the time when the sun rises and sets.)

3. At noon, take your stick and box outside and see where the stick’s shadow is now. Try measuring the shadow. Which of your flashlight observations is most similar to length of the shadow cast by the sun?

*If you’re good with math you can use the Windows calculator on your computer to find out the angle of the sun in the sky. Here’s how: Go to the Start Menu on your computer and select Calculator. Go to View and select Scientific. Divide the length of the shadow cast by the sun by the height of the stick. Make sure the little bubble that says “degrees” on the calculator is selected. Select the button that says “Inv”. Now select the button that says “tan−1“. The number that comes up is the angle in degrees. If you get a zero, that means that the angle of the sun is zero and the sun is directly over head.

Now that you’ve discovered the science of the solstice, it’s time to get out and celebrate it in the best way possible by signing up for Run Wild in the Woods on Saturday June 22nd. This event is a 10k run/5k walk through beautifully rugged, unglaciated terrain at our Black Earth Campus. For details and to register online, see the link above!

See you at Black Earth!





Early Summer Fishin’

Summer fishing is cherished as an important seasonal hobby by both the young and old. When you get down to it, it’s more than just recreation, it’s practically a right of passage. The culture that surrounds fishing is as deep as the depths that have ever been plumbed by hook, line, and sinker.

600-01124398Happily, the Madison area is blessed by a chain of lakes and waterways that beckon to beginners and advanced fishers alike. You may have already seen boaters and shore fishers setting up shop, so to speak, with their tackle boxes, fishing poles, and sky-high hopes for the perfect catch!

If you’re just starting out, this blog post by Gary Engberg entitled Spring Shore Fishing on Madison’s Chain of Lakes will give you a pretty good idea of how and where to bait the best bite around Madison.

News: The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grants license-free fishing on all Wisconsin waterways the weekend of June 1st & 2nd! For details and related events see Free Fishing Weekend.

A spring of fishing is bound to lead into a summer of even more fishing. Make sure you get out there with your friends and family and enjoy it! If you’re a father of youngsters, the Aldo Leopold Nature Center offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy father’s day with the kids through Family Fishing Fun Weekend in celebration of Father’s Day (June 15th & 16th). Catch the details on our Facebook page!

Natural and Edible

Take a step outside and breath in that fresh spring air! Let your eye wander until you catch sight of budding crab apple. Bring your gaze back in close to the green grass near your feet. Likely as not, the happy tufts of bright yellow dandelion will greet you. spring roadThough avid gardeners may be less than thrilled to find these hearty little plants taking root in their lovingly tended vegetable beds, the dandelion itself is a vegetable and when life gives you dandelions… well, you know the rest!

Dandelions are very nutritious and can be enjoyed a number of ways. Check out the recipes below for healthy and all-natural spring dishes that feature dandelions!

Dandelion Leaf Tea: Preheat oven to 200F. Wash the dandelion leaves and arrange in one layer on a baking tray. (10 small leaves yields about 1 tsp. of dried, crumbled leaves, which serves 1). Place in oven for 7 to 10 minutes until the leaves are dry and crispy. When ready to steep, crumble the leaves and remove the fibrous midribs. Place crumbled tea leaves in a tea ball, or tea strainer. Infuse for about 5 minutes before drinking. Try over ice for a refreshing twist. Experiment by mixing with fruit (fresh or frozen), or honey. Garnish with a dandelion flower, or petals.

Dandelion Flower Fritters: For a cup or so of freshly picked dandelion heads, combine one egg, one cup of milk, and one cup of flour. Add a little syrup, or honey for sweetness, if you prefer. Warm a few tablespoons of the oil of your choice in a skillet over medium heat. Dip flower heads into the batter until covered and drop into skillet. Fry until lightly browned and flip to brown reverse side. When browned on both sides, remove from skilled and drain the excess oil using a paper towel. The fritters can be enjoyed sweet with maple syrup, honey, jam, or powdered sugar. Try adding herbs to the batter for savory fritters and enjoy with mustard.

Dandelion Greens: Discard dandelion green roots; wash greens well in salted water. Cut leaves into 2-inch pieces. Cook greens uncovered in small amount of salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Sauté onion, garlic, and chile pepper in oil. Drain greens; add to onion garlic mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve dandelion greens with grated Parmesan cheese. (serves 4)

1 pound dandelion greens
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 whole small dried hot chile pepper, seeds removed, crushed
1/4 cup cooking oil
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese

Did you know: The dandelion is named after the shape of its leaves. The word “dandelion” actually comes from a French expression (dent de lion), which literally means “lion’s tooth.”