Thursday, October 22, 2009

You Know It's Fall in New England When...

It's definitely feeling like fall has finally arrived with temperatures in the 40's and 50's.  Here are some signs that autumn is here.

The snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) have hatched and are making their way to a nearby wetland habitat.  I found this palm-sized little one on our back lawn during a torrential downpour last week.  The "snapper" is found across Massachusetts and lays its eggs in late May and June.  Sometimes, as in this case, the nesting spot is a suburban lawn.  Year after year, this baby's mother excavates her nest in the mulch around our neighbor's mailbox.  After a period of incubation of about 90 days, the young ones hatch and make their way across the street, past cars, dogs, birds, lawn furniture and swimming pools, finally reaching a creek which empties into a large pond.  I released this snapper at the pond where it will feed on small fish, carrion, invertebrates and aquatic plants.  Snapping turtles can live more than 50 years.

A more irksome sign that cooler weather is on its way - swarming ladybugs!  Our south-facing home becomes a nice warm surface for lady beetles trying to get in from the cold.  Lady beetles typically burrow under tree bark or logs to wait out the winter, but the smart ones find their way into cozy homes.  Older homes with cracks provide plenty of spaces where lady beetles can come in.  Luckily, we had new windows installed last year, so the only lady beetles getting in are the ones that come in and out through the doors with us.  Most of the lady beetles are the Asian multi-colored lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) which entomologists believe were introduced into the United States in the 1980s.  After entering a home, lady bugs can last the winter by entering a state of diapause during which they stop growing and live off their body fat.  Many die, however, from dehydration.


Another home invader making its fall appearance is the Western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis), a type of leaf-footed stink bug.  Originally found in the Pacific Northwest, these bugs have been making their way east and have been here since the early 1990s. 

They are true bugs, using their sucking mouth parts to extract the juicy pulp of conifer seeds.  Like ladybugs, the seed bugs are looking for a good safe place to overwinter and live up to their stink bug reputation by releasing an unpleasant odor when disturbed.  Fortunately, they're slow and easy to catch and relocate.

The recent fall rains have added quite a bit of moisture to the land and we're discovering more redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), both in the red and darker "lead-back" phase.  Below are a red and lead back which reside under some bricks beneath our porch. 

These helpful little creatures forage at night on slugs, spiders, worms, and other invertebrates.  Redbacks are terrestrial and lungless, breathing instead through their skin.  In fall, redbacks are busy mating.  They will overwinter underground, as deep as 15 inches and wait out the winter before laying their eggs in the spring.

Beavers (Castor canadensis) are busy preparing their lodges for the long cold days ahead.  They're also making sure they've got plenty of twigs, shoots, leaves and bark in their food stores.

Apparently, no tree is too large to tackle.

Here's a lodge with a fresh pile of branches in front.  The same beaver built a nice long dam nearby.

Plant life is changing all around.  Our Montauk daisies (Nipponantheum nipponnicum) and sedum (Hylotelephium spectabile) bloomed last month, attracting huge numbers of bees, bee flies, jewel flies and wasps.

Shrubs, such as the winged euonymus in the second photo, are producing beautiful red or orange berries, to the delight of the local birds.

Heavy rains over the summer have resulted in an abundance of apples in local orchards.

Our pumpkins are ready right on schedule for Halloween.  The resident spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)who made sure the vines were insect-free, has left for the winter.

And, of course, the cold nights mean frost covered grass and spectacular foliage.


  1. Beautiful photos, Cecilia. Enjoying your blog!

  2. Hi! My name's Katie. I've been searching online for information on ladybugs that are native to New England. I'm considering getting some ladybugs to help out in the garden but I would like to make sure that I get the right species for my area. Do you know which species of ladybug beetles are native or are commonly found (and non-invasive) in Massachusetts? I'm also considering getting some praying mantises... they're so cool! Do I need to be careful about either the ladybugs or the praying mantis being invasive to the native wildlife?

  3. Hi Katie W,
    Thanks for taking time to read the blog. I believe that the lady beetles you can mail order or get from garden centers are probably Asian multicolored, but you can ask. Praying mantids are great to have in the garden and just lots of fun to watch. Just remember, both lady bugs and mantids will eventually fly away. Good luck!