Two-Headed Turtle

Last week I came across an article about a 2-headed turtle. For me (and probably most people?), the headline alone was enough to make me read it. So, I read. The condition, called bicephaly, is simply a case of conjoined twins. In the case of this diamondback terrapin in Massachusetts, it has six legs with each head controlling three of them. They have their own gastrointestinal tracts and share part of the spine. WHOA. While the wildlife center staff believes it is healthy and happy, the turtle most likely won’t be released into the wild because the chances of survival are low.

New England Wildlife Centers

The article headline also included the word “rare.” However, a quick search of the internet shows this condition may be rare, but there are plenty of 2-headed turtles out there. Bicephaly has also been seen in snakes and lizards and other animals, including humans. It results from either environmental or genetic anomalies as an embryo develops. Instead of splitting in two, it does not completely separate, leading to two heads on one body. In other cases, two separate embryos fuse together. Some turtles are born with four legs (as opposed to the recent discovery of the 6-legged one). How much of the rest of the body is separate or joined, varies by case.

For scientists, I can bet it will be interesting to see how this turtle gets along. I would love to see it myself! The two-headed snakes, not so much.

Bat Appreciation

Bats are a big part of Halloween, used to incite fear and build up a spooky atmosphere around the holiday. There are a lot of theories out there about how bats came to be associated with Halloween, but no matter the source, bats get a bad rap. In fact, bats are amazing and invaluable creatures!

Photo Credit – USFWS – Pacific Region Juvenile Mariana Fruit Bat

To start, they’ve been around for more than 50 million years and live on every continent except Antarctica. Bats are the only mammal that can fly. They do not have hollow bones like birds, though. And that’s why they roost upside down! Bats can leap into the air like a bird or launch from a branch; instead they just drop from their roosting spot and off they go.

But perhaps the most amazing aspect of bats is their impact on global biodiversity. They play key roles in ecosystems. Services they provide include eating insects and pests, pollinating plants, and dispersing seeds. This makes bats essential to the health of ecosystems around the world.

To dispel a few myths about bats, they rarely attack people and only a small percentage carry rabies. And vampire bats that people worry about sucking their blood? They only weigh 2 ounces. Their normal target for the spoonful of blood they seek is cattle and both the cattle about as much as a mosquito would bother us. Even if you are around bats, if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. The truth is, there is a lot to admire and respect about bats – help spread the word!

Bear Season

‘Tis the season for ghost and goblins, everything pumpkin spice, and bears. I realize that’s not a combo you often hear of, but bears are VERY active right now as they fatten up before winter. I hope the bear in my neighborhood enjoyed the bird seed last night. Yup. I woke up to my bird feeder bent in unnatural directions. Poor birds were so confused.

Around here we only have black bears, though Colorado did once have grizzlies. You can guess what happened to them. Black bears, though, are thriving. These guys are mostly herbivores. They do also eat insects and will scavenge on carcasses of other animals. Apparently at this time of year bears need about 20,000 calories EVERY DAY to gain enough fat to sustain them through the winter. Can you imagine trying to get the calories you need to hibernate on mostly nuts, fruits, and berries? WHOA. That’s a lot of food.

Bears have amazing noses to find that food and are able to smell a food source up to five miles away. Makes you wonder what their noses tell them when they are in suburban areas with a menu full of options from humans. Why did last night’s bear want my birdseed and not the neighbor’s trash (which should be in their garage, by the way)? For now I’ll bring the feeder in every night through November. The bears will hibernate through the winter. During these 5 or so months, the bears will not eat, drink, defecate, or urinate. The females will, though, give birth during that time! The cubs will start nursing right away.

So while it’s bear season, be bear aware. Don’t leave food (like bird seed!) for them. And be on the lookout…you may be lucky enough to see one lumbering through the woods.

Rocky Mountain Bee Plant

I’ve lived in Colorado almost 30 years now and I don’t recall ever seeing a Rocky Mountain bee plant. This is odd for a lot of reasons, including the fact that I’m outside all the time and I love flowers. Or, for some reason maybe I never noticed them. If that’s the case, though, how could one not notice these plants? They’re spectacular! In fact, the US Forest Service refers to them as “one of the showiest wildflowers in the western and prairie regions of the United States.”

I happened upon acres full of them a month or so ago. And yes, the flowers were FULL of bees. Other pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds, and wasps also enjoy the blossoms. The whole plant can be four-feet high (or taller) and have dozens of stems that each contain a cluster of dozens of flowers. And, see the pods drooping down? Those pods contain the seeds.

This plant also has a lot of nicknames! It’s referred to as stinking clover, skunk weed (no, the plant does not smell very good at all), and Navajo spinach. Native Americans eat the fruit and leaves of the bee plant, which are apparently a good source of vitamin A and calcium. The plant was also used medicinally in teas, to treat fever, stomach aches, and more. And, if all that isn’t amazing enough, the plant is also used to make dyes for rugs, blankets, pottery, and baskets.

While the Rocky Mountain bee plant has a very long blooming season, fall has arrived. But next year, I’ll be on the lookout for sure!