Tay Meadows Tidbit – Gypsy Moth eggs

Gypsy Moth egg mass on tree trunk

I’ve been back on the snowshoes since our big snowfall last week. Although the snow has been wet and sticky, meaning that it tends to pack to the lacings, the snowshoes are still a better option than just hiking “barefoot”, and the skis sink down into it too far to be practical. Although for a while it was possible to hike through the forest on the crusty snow cover, warming temperatures soon put a stop to that. The snowshoes gave me an opportunity to visit some of the areas I haven’t been to in a couple of weeks.

One such spot was a patch of trees, a peninsula of woods that juts out into our meadow from the neighbour’s forested land. I’ve walked through this patch numerous times since the fall. Yesterday I decided to go investigate some fungi I could see growing on the side of a snag.

The fungi was too withered and covered in algae to be able to identify, but while checking it out I noticed something else. Can you spot it in the photo above?

Gypsy Moth egg mass

It’s the egg mass of a Gypsy Moth. It’s slightly fuzzy and a soft cream colour. Inside all the fine hairs are little eggs, each about the size of a rainbow sprinkle. I’ve written about Gypsy Moth eggs before; in the first winter of this blog, when it was still a young month-and-a-half old, I photographed an interesting patch on a tree in the forest behind my parents’ old house (back when they still lived there), which I thought to be a slime mold. A reader corrected me, happily, and when I went back to look at it again I found several more.

Although Gypsy Moths have the potential to be extreme defoliators and serious forest pests, the sort of infestation that completely obliterates a forest canopy is rare. (Check out these posts at the Ohio Nature Blog for some startling examples of this.) In reality, the vast majority of the time Gypsy Moths are no worse a pest than any of our other numerous defoliators, such as tent caterpillars or fall webworms. The damage they do is usually more aesthetic than life-threatening for the tree, and unless the tree is already weakened due to disease or another infestation, it will usually bounce back quickly, putting out new leaves by the end of the summer.

Gypsy Moths aren’t native to North America; they were the result of a silk production experiment gone awry, and they’ve now spread over a large portion of the northeast. If you find some eggs in your area there’s probably no cause for immediate concern. I just left these where they were, as they were the only ones I could see. If you start seeing infestation levels, though, such as the crazy numbers in the Ohio Nature Blog’s post, might be worth contacting your local environmental authorities to see if it’s cause for concern.

Lymantria dispar - Gypsy Moth (male) - 8318
Male Gypsy Moth (females are larger and white)

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Today at Kingsford – Snapping Turtle eggs

Snapping Turtle eggs

The home inspection associated with the sale of the house was scheduled for yesterday morning, so I bundled Raven up and headed over to the nearby town to see if I could find any cardboard boxes to get started on packing. I also made a stop at the local ball diamond to let Raven run for a bit – something that this house lacks is open space for her to dash around. There’s a little side yard, but it’s just not enough space for Rocket Dog. We had a nice outing, Raven got lots of exercise, I got a few wine boxes from the liquor store, though the other stores’ recycling pickup had unfortunately been the day before, so I wasn’t able to get any large boxes.

On the return trip home I decided to go along a back route that I don’t normally take because it’s narrow and twisty and indirect. It’s significantly faster to go along the main route, but the back route is quite scenic. Since I wanted to give them lots of time to finish up the inspection before I returned home, I opted for the slower, scenic route. As I was coming along a section that ran alongside a lake, I spotted what appeared to be a mess of white reptile eggs at the side of the road. I quickly pulled over and stopped the car, grabbed my camera and asked Raven to stay patient for a couple of minutes, and went over to investigate.

Snapping Turtle eggs

There were a lot of them, and they were strewn across the sandy shoulder. As I got closer, I could see that there was a small hole in the ground that presumably they had once been inside of. And as I got closer still, the mound of dirt beside the hole suggested that these weren’t simply a natural hatching. Inside the hole there were still a couple of eggs, but it appeared that nearly all of them were now on the ground at the side of the road.

Snapping Turtle eggs

The eggs were large, nearly the size of a ping-pong ball, and about the same texture and hardness. Based simply on the size, I figured they had to be Snapping Turtle eggs. There are certainly snappers in the area around here, although I haven’t encountered too many. They don’t haul up on logs the way Painted and other small turtles do, so it’s easier to miss them. Snappers lay their eggs in sandy soil, usually in June although in some parts of their range they may lay eggs spring through fall. The eggs get covered up in the sand, and heat released from the ground as it’s baked by the sun over the summer helps to incubate the eggs. The young eventually hatch after about 100 days, in August or September. When they hatch, the babies are just 4.4 cm (1.75 inches) long. They crawl up through the soft sand, and then make their way to water.

Snapping Turtle eggs

That is, if they manage to survive undiscovered for the entire summer. Reptile eggs are a delicacy for foxes and raccoons, and many clutches will end up as somebody’s dinner. The difficulty the female turtle faces, when she lays her eggs, is in concealing the nest sufficiently that it doesn’t arouse suspicion before the next rain can wash away both visual and olfactory clues to its presence.

The rain didn’t come soon enough for this nest. Not a single egg was intact. Most of them were clean inside, but there were one or two that looked like they contained what might have been egg yolk. I suspect raccoon, which would be more likely to hold the eggshell and lick the interior clean of yolk. Also, the hole in the ground was way too small and tidy to be the work of a fox (consider what results when your dog digs up your garden, for instance), but for a raccoon with dexterous arms and hands it wouldn’t be any trouble to dig a small opening and then reach inside to pull out the treats.

A female snapper may make more than one nest, each containing anywhere from 20-40 eggs, so hopefully she has another clutch safely buried somewhere, but it’s entirely possible this was her only bunch and she’ll have to wait till next year to try again. Fortunately, wild snappers, once they’ve made it through those perilous first few years, may live up to 30 years or more – captive individuals have been recorded as old as 47 – so she should have many opportunities for a successful clutch.