Naturalist Answers addresses your everyday questions about the natural world. Ever wondered why trees lose their leaves, how birds learn to fly, or how bugs survive the winter? Look no further!

 

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What’s the difference between hawks and eagles?

The difference between hawks and eagles comes up often when I take people birding. Dazzled by some large bird of prey, we’ll admire it through our binoculars for a while. Sooner or later, someone asks, “”well, is that a hawk or an eagle?” or, when I answer, they ask “well how did you know that?” As you’ll see, it’s not …

Why do bugs like light?

Many interesting bugs are night-flying or nocturnal, becoming active after dusk. If you’ve ever left a porch light on or had a campfire in the summer, you also know that nighttime bugs are attracted to light. Expressions like “like a moth to the flame” show that people have seen this happen for a long time. But why do bugs like …

What are galls?

In late Summer and Fall, you may find strange shapes on the stems of plants or tree leaves. These odd growths come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and sometimes even colors. Upon closer inspection, what you might think are fungi or insect pupa appear to be somehow part of the plant itself. You’re looking at galls! These bizarre plant …

What are springtails?

My friend Steve recently sent me a video of some mystery animals from his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When he walked outside on a spring day after some rain showers, he spotted a weird, blue-gray puddle on the pavement. It didn’t shine like water. He thought maybe it was an oil stain or paint mark. It seemed almost granular, and… …

Are mosquitoes attracted to colors?

Summer is a fantastic time to enjoy the outdoors and connect with nature. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, it’s also when mosquitoes are most active. This means getting snacked-on while you’re trying to enjoy being outside, and itchy bites later on. Because of all that unpleasantness, people will go to great lengths to avoid mosquitoes. Beyond bug sprays …

How do bugs stick to walls?

Bugs, and invertebrates in general, have all sorts of superpowers. Marvel’s Spider-Man is a great example of our cultural appreciation for invertebrates’ incredible abilities. Among other things, your friendly neighborhood super-hero can climb walls, stick to ceilings, and scale buildings by sticking to glass windows. Although Peter Parker wows us in theaters, we’re less happy to watch a cockroach skitter …

Why do birds sing in the morning?

Trying to sleep in on a weekend morning in early June, I was awakened by my neighbors. It wasn’t a loud phone call, a.m. dance party or super-loud footsteps upstairs. A Brown thrasher, American robin, and Northern mockingbird had started singing their little hearts out. Looking out the window, I noticed that the sun was just starting to come up. …

How long do butterflies live?

One of the most pleasant parts of spring and summer is the arrival of butterflies. These colorful, lively, harmless insects tend to delight people and symbolize natural beauty. Like the sound of birdsong, butterflies put people at ease and give us a sense of peace in the outdoors. Many people who garden for wildlife are specifically interested in butterflies. Beyond …

How can I attract hummingbirds to my yard?

Hummingbirds are no-doubt one of the most delightful groups of birds in the Western hemisphere. They’re fast, energetic, spunky, and fly like insects, achieving feats that most birds cannot. In many ways, hummingbirds also symbolize an idyllic garden scene, hovering their way from flower to flower. I tend to get one particular question when hummingbirds migrate back through North America …

Why are sloths so slow?

Sloths are increasingly receiving much-deserved attention and love from animal lovers across the internet. Their odd brand of cuteness, peaceful lifestyles, and exceedingly leafy diets seem to have won many hearts. Sloths are getting a lot of attention, from Youtube channels to types of Pok√©mon. And sloths need all of the attention that they can get! Two of the six …