Nature Net’s monthly blog highlights seasonal topics and helps you feel like the expert. Each edition features tips for educators and families, and links to exciting, nature-focused websites.

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November 2017 Nature Net News – Owls
November Owls We used to teach students about the silent flight of owls by swinging blocks of wood. The blocks were attached to a rope; one was covered in carpeting and one was not. As we swung the blocks in a fast circle, lasso-style, students could easily hear the plain block whoosh by, but the carpeted block was silent. The differing blocks demonstrated the purpose of a special feathery fringe that covers the leading edge of an owl's wing. According to KQED ...Continue Reading
October 2017 Nature Net News – Ants
October Ants As a young naturalist, someone once told me that ants are to the prairie as worms are to a garden: they move soil and nutrients around and keep the top- and sub-soil layers healthy. I've shared this analogy with many students since that time, but never really dug any deeper. Last month's blog post on prairies got me thinking about the depth of ecosystem intricacies in the prairie, and the role each species plays in creating a balance. I figured it was time to ...Continue Reading
September 2017 Nature Net News – Prairies
September Prairies Aldo Leopold's chapter in A Sand County Almanac entitled "Prairie Birthday" contemplates the existence of a remnant of pre-settlement prairie and a particular Silphium plant which he estimates may have been old enough to have "watched the fugitive Black Hawk retreat from the Madison lakes to the Wisconsin River." He writes: Every July I watch eagerly a certain country graveyard that I pass in driving to and from my farm. It is time for a prairie birthday, and in ...Continue Reading
August 2017 Nature Net News – Wisconsin Mammals
August Wisconsin Mammals By best estimations there are about 72 resident mammal species in Wisconsin. Guesses on the Order with the most species? It's Rodentia with 26 species of squirrels, chipmunks, voles, and mice - plus the lemming, porcupine, beaver and pocket gopher. I recall Scott Craven, perhaps Wisconsin's most famous Wildlife Ecologist, once stating that the meadow vole is the most populous mammal in Wisconsin. I couldn't find anything to verify that but I believe him. He has, after all, ...Continue Reading
July 2017 Nature Net News – Bugs That Bug
July Bugs That Bug When I last wrote a "Bugs That Bug" post in the mid-2000s, it was West Nile Virus that had everyone concerned. First documented in Wisconsin in 2002, West Nile - an arbovirus that is transmitted by a bite of an infected mosquito - caught the media's attention and had people brushing up on best practices for avoiding mosquitoes. Now that Zika virus has joined our lexicon and our sleepless night worries, the mosquito's reputation has dipped lower than loathsome. The same ...Continue Reading
May 2017 Nature Net News – Endangered Species
May Endangered Species Have you heard about April the giraffe's live stream birth? It's likely you have, considering at last check the archived footage from the April 14th birth - shown on Animal Adventure Park's "Giraffe Cam" - had well over 14.7 million views. One might assume this level of fandom for one giraffe and her calf indicates an interest in not only April's well being but that of her wild relatives, as well. And perhaps that assumption is true given that five ...Continue Reading
April 2017 Nature Net News – Earth Day
April Earth Day It sometimes gets depressing. The current national administration is suggesting steep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (threatening not only the Climate Protection Program, but also grant programs that fund communities seeking to provide clean drinking water, clean up brownfields, protect the Great Lakes, and more). And the state budget process is taking a swipe at clean water protections, forestry education, and renewable energy credits (find out more from the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters). It's sometimes hard to keep a positive attitude. ...Continue Reading
March 2017 Nature Net News – Equinox
March Equinox Although there's currently snow on the ground and my outdoor thermometer was hovering around 20 degrees this morning, I keep saying to myself, "there's no turning back now." And indeed, spring is coming. The solar terminator will be perpendicular to the equator, the sun will cross the celestial equator, and the sun's ecliptic longitude will reach zero. And this will all happen on March 20th, regardless of any amount of snow out my window. The vernal equinox, which marks the astronomical beginning ...Continue Reading
February 2017 Nature Net News – Enjoying Winter
February Enjoying Winter I have to admit, my innate preference for wintertime activities leans more toward the Danish practice of hygge (pron. hUE-gah) than to snow-spraying adventures. Hygge is loosely defined as "cozy" but really, it's deeper than that. It's the way Danish people survive the cold, dark days of winter with plenty of candlelight, piles of blankets by the fireplace, or tea and conversation with friends -- it seems each person's definition of hygge is as unique as they are. And while spending wintertime hunkered ...Continue Reading
January 2017 Nature Net News – Starry Skies
January Starry Skies With nearly 14 hours of darkness still cloaking our nights this month, it's a perfect time to take advantage of the lack of sunlight to explore the night skies. Easy to spot constellations like Orion, Cassiopeia, Pegasus, and Ursa Major/Big Dipper all track across the sky during pre-bedtime hours, and this week's night sky includes bright-shining Venus and Mars simultaneously in the southwest. As an amateur star-gazer who would like to instill a sense of wonder and delight in my own children's upward ...Continue Reading