Thom Smith | Nature Watch: Queen Anne's Lace looks different depending on mowing

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Q: A few weeks ago you wrote of the Queen Anne's Lace as growing higher than guard rails along highways. This is true, but I also see it with flowers and growing less than that. Much less, sometimes only about a foot high. Is this another kind or maybe variety? The flower looks just like the taller ones.

— RR (Regular Reader), Lenox, Mass.

A: If cities and towns could afford to mow along highways and trim around guard rails as fastidiously as many home owners do, you would notice far few if any of these lovely weeds the edge of roads and highways. Conversely, if road maintenance crews did not mow at all, the plants would be as tall as their neighbors growing in the fields.

Q: I have not had mosquitos around my house this summer, which I have attributed to the bats that live behind my shutters. I have seen their droppings daily. I am not seeing their droppings this week and am seeing mosquitos for the first time. Can you shed some light on where they have gone and is there anything I can do to get them back? Or is a seasonal thing and they move South at this time of year?

— Elaine

A: Bats do indeed control mosquito populations, but I think it is a coincidence that you are beginning to see mosquitos so close to the time the bats disappeared; that is, it seems to me to have happened too quickly. Maybe there has been a major emergence of adult mosquitos in your neighborhood and with fewer bats, the insects are more noticeable. As I have no idea just why the bats left, I cannot say if they will return, and as far as I know, there is no way to entice them back to your shutters. Of course, you can investigate getting a couple bat "houses," larger ones rather than the smaller ones may be more attractive to the bats.

In the Berkshires and southern Vermont where nine species of bats are listed with one, the Indiana bat not recorded since 1939 (Massachusetts), we can expect to see two different species of bats with any regularity: the little brown myotis (or little brown bat) and the big brown bat. Neither migrate any great distances, that is no farther than from (your yard) to a suitable cave for the little brown myotis — a good example, for instance, of longer flights is upwards to 170 miles for individuals hibernating in Aeolus Cave in southern Vermont. The big brown bat often hibernates in a mill or factory building, sometimes also wintering behind insulation in a home, in storm sewers or caves. It is the only species of bats to hibernate in buildings. Both may be found around houses during the warmer months, although the big brown can't tolerate high temperatures found in most attics during the summer as can the little browns, and find cooler places (behind shutters?). These bats, the little brown and the big brown would not abandon summer roosts just yet. The little brown bats prefer dark, hot places during the daytime in the summer; the big brown, not as hot, and maybe the species that was behind your shutters.

'Murder' of plurals

On an August morning, as I was having breakfast, peace and relative quiet was interrupted by a murder of crows across our small field. Perched on the guard rail along Crane Avenue in Pittsfield, Mass., behind our house was a hunched red-tailed hawk with eight to 10 crows screaming as only crows can when they want to evict a raptor (hawk or owl). The excitement didn't last long for some reason, perhaps the position the hawk assumed no longer seemed threatening to the crows, leaving me to think about names we assign to gatherings of animals, like a "murder" of crows.

Some of our best known animals have the strangest plurals. Most know of a gaggle of geese, a flock of gulls, a swarm of hornets, a herd of deer. There are other plurals that sound odd to most of us. For instance, a seige of cranes, a quiver of cobras, a consortium of crabs, a pipe of eels, a battalion of falcons, a bundle of frogs or a flutter of jellyfish, and a risk of lobsters.

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 South Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201


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