Virtual Classroom

Welcome to the Friends of Goose Pond
Virtual Classroom 
Sponsored by Duke Energy


Our organization, the Friends of Goose Pond (FoGP), supports wildlife conservation and habitat restoration at the Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County, Indiana. We sponsor scientific research at GPFWA as well as offer recreational activities and programs for our members. We also believe that one of the primary ways in which we can accomplish our support mission is by providing environmental education to the public, including both children and adults.

A key to developing ecofriendly literacy among those who come to the 9,018 acre Goose Pond FWA property is the nurturing of a land ethic among these visitors. And just what is a land ethic? It is simply the notion that our understanding of what constitutes a community should be enlarged to include the soils, waters, plants, and animals which surround us. These physical and biological entities, along with us, constitute what renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold referred to collectively as – the land. Leopold not only made us think in a new way about the term land, he also suggested a deeper connection between humans and their environment when he said: “That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.”

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was a forester, philosopher, conservationist, educator, writer, and keen observer of the natural world. Leopold set forth his land ethic philosophy in a series of essays to be found in his, A Sand County Almanac. This small but powerful work is considered one of the most respected conservation books of all time. We at FoGP share Leopold’s view that developing a land ethic among our country’s citizenry is of great importance. As long as humans consider themselves as somehow apart from, and independent of, the natural world and its soils, waters, flora, and fauna there is little hope of conserving what remains of our precious natural world. Therefore, our Virtual Classroom seeks to promote Leopold’s Land Ethic.  At a 1968 meeting of the IUCN, Senegalese forester Baba Bioum had this to say: “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

It is in this spirit that Friends of Goose Pond offers the Duke Energy Virtual Classroom. By providing classroom/field activities for teachers, students, and other interested individuals we hope to environmentally inform those who visit Goose Pond FWA. As their understanding of the ecology of this amazing property grows, we hope that the beginnings of a love and respect for wetlands, prairies, and forests will be fostered. In the end, this is what a land ethic is all about.
(For more about Aldo Leopold and his legacy visit: and

 A Note to Teachers: Having access to at least one copy of A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here and There is indispensable to the lessons. It is important to familiarize yourself with the essays used and the ecological messages they convey. Strategies for class use of Leopold’s book may include: having a single copy and reading an essay to the class yourself (followed by discussion for clarification), having one copy of the book per two students for individual reading, or having a copy of the book for each student. The book may be purchased for a nominal price at several online sites e.g. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Abe Books.

For an overview of A Sand County Almanac and its significance go to: Sand_County_Almanac

Lesson Contents

Lesson 1   Nutrient Recycling Within Ecosystems & the Leopold Essay: Odyssey

Lesson 2   The Importance of Wetlands to Migratory Birds & The Leopold Essay: Back from the Argentine.

Lesson 3   Conserving Wetlands and Their Sandhill Cranes & The Leopold Essay: Marshland Elegy.

Lesson 4   Lessons in Biodiversity: The Writings of Aldo Leopold & The Leopold Essay: Thinking Like a Mountain.

Many thanks to Amanda Figolah (Bloomington South H.S.) for her help in editing and assembling these lessons. –  George Sly

Links to Leopold Related Materials and Wetland and Prairie Lessons

The Aldo Leopold Foundation   

About A Sand County Almanac and sketches here and there

 The Leopold Education Project

Wetlands Live: A Distance Learning Adventure. Prince William County VA Public Schools

Ducks Unlimited Green Wing Activities

Indiana Project WET (Water Education for Teachers)

Shorebird Resources for Educators

Illinois Natural History Survey: Prairie Research Institute

Discovery Education: The American Prairie

Birding and Studying Birds Lesson Plans – Klamath Bird Observatory

The Biology Corner: Ecology Lesson Plans



Critter Corner No 20 – The Fowler’s Toad by George Sly

In previous blogs I have discussed some of the frogs to be found at Goose Pond FWA. During the 2010Biodiversity Survey conducted at GPFWA, eight species of anurans (frogs & toads) were found. In this edition of Critter Corner let’s learn a bit more about the only toad species found during the survey Bufo fowleri. Its name refers to 19th Century naturalist S.P. Fowler who, in 1858, first suggested that this toad was a distinct species. Commonly known as Fowler’s Toad this is the little fellow you often see in your backyard during the summer. As a boy, I often heard this species referred to simply as a “hop toad”.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)Toad 1


Toads generally differ from frogs in that the skin of the former is drier, somewhat thicker, and often covered by warty projections in comparison to the thin, moist skin of frogs. The condition of the toad’s skin indicates to us that it spends more time away from water than the typical frog and is thus less likely to suffer water loss via the cutaneous surface. Particularly noticeable on the rough skin of the Fowler’s Toad are two large glandular structures on the head just posterolateral to the eyes. These are the parotoid glands which secrete a toxic substance meant to deter predators. I have seen dogs make the mistake of grabbing a toad in their mouth only to learn that the secretions of these glands make for a very unpleasant experience. Salivating, foaming at the mouth, and experiencing a burning sensation the dog learns a most memorable lesson about henceforth leaving toads alone.

   Like the frogs at GPFWA, Fowler’s toads lay their eggs in water where they develop into tadpoles. Toad eggs are laid in strands such as those of the American Toad shown below (L). Frogs (R) on the other hand tend to lay their eggs in clusters.

Toad 2 Toad3

Of course the reproduction of Fowler’s Toad is, like other anurans, accompanied by loud and prolonged chorusing by the males. Such calls establish their micro-territories and attract females to their location. Fowler’s Toad calls are strange to my ear although pleasant. They have been described variously as bleats, screams, or a loud nasal “waaaaaah”. I suppose a bleating sound might most closely approximate what I hear. Even though the call has range, you must imagine the sound as if it is being made by a Lilliputian sheep of a size appropriate for a set of barnyard animal toys. The spring onset of chorusing by these toads from my neighbor’s pond just over the hill from my house is always a pleasing reminder that longer, warmer days lie just ahead.

Fowler’s Toads are a good example of the animals that we humans often take for granted or ask, “What good are they.” In fact they, like other anurans, are of extreme ecological value. They are important in controlling the populations of their prey species. Insects are the primary targets of toad predation. In addition, and in spite of their toxicity, toads serve as prey for other animals such as Garter Snakes, Hognose Snakes, and raptors. Tadpoles may be eaten by fish and predaceous insects such as diving beetles. Toads are, in other words, important components of what we often refer to as the “web of life” within natural areas.

Interestingly, we may have to begin to think of toads as having practical value for us as well. Today we are finding that the organic chemicals produced by many species of both plants and animals have very significant importance for us as human medicines. Think of vinblastine, a chemical derived from the Rosy Periwinkle, which has increased survival rates for childhood leukemia from 10% to 90%. Among animals, we now use viper venoms as anticoagulants and cone shell venom to produce the drug ziconotide used in the treatment of chronic pain. A recent article in the American Journal of Translational Research pointed out that toad venom has been used as a traditional medicine in Asia for many years. The article suggests that further research by pharmaceutical companies is needed to clarify the efficacy of toad venom in the maintenance of strong heart function, its possible antitumor and antivirus activity, anti-infection effectiveness, and its pain-relieving effects

So, stay tuned. In reference to the toads, the question of “what good are they” may yet yield some surprising answers.

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Lesson 1 Nutrient Recycling Within Ecosystems

Lesson No. 1

Nutrient Recycling within Ecosystems


Target Audiences – Environmental Science, Biology, and Ecology


The purpose of this lesson is to help students understand how nutrients, such as carbon and nitrogen, are recycled in nature. Exchanges between and within the biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems allow elements of the earth to be used again and again in support of life on our planet.  


When the earth was formed some 4.5 billion years ago all of the chemical elements now present were incorporated into its mass. For all intents and purposes we do not receive, as we do solar energy for example, any more additions to our store of earth elements.

What this means is that, in order for the life that is dependent upon these elements to persist over time, these elements (especially carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen) must be used over and over again. This is the basic concept of nutrient recycling within ecosystems.

In fact, an interesting paradox is revealed. The mass of all of the organisms which have ever existed upon the earth could theoretically be greater than the mass of the earth itself. This could only happen through nutrient recycling.


As a group, or individually, read the essay entitled Odyssey in Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac.  While they read, students should keep a list of organisms mentioned in the essay. Depending upon the time you wish to spend on this lesson, there are two possible follow-ups.

  1. 1. After reading the essay, have students peruse it again and use the sequence of organisms described in the writing to construct a series of food chains. As customary, use arrows to indicate the direction of nutrient and/or energy flow from one organism to the next. Students could also use color coding to differentiate between producers and consumers.
  3. 2. Alternatively, students may like the challenge of depicting the nutrient cycles/food chains through art. Have students produce on a large sheet of drawing paper, using colored pencils or another medium, images of the organisms through which the nutrients and energy is flowing. Artistic accuracy is not the focus here. The motivations are the fun of doing art and the ability of this kind of effort to reinforce the concept under discussion.
  5. 3. In the final half-dozen paragraphs of Odyssey, a quite different nutrient recycling system is revealed. Leopold prefaces the changes this new system brought to the prairie with these words.“The old prairie lived by the diversity of its plants and animals, all of which were useful because the sum total of their co-operations and competitions achieved continuity.”    
  7. Show (in words or images) the simplified food chain/nutrient cycling chain of which we speak.

What were some of the eventual, long-term, undesired consequences of the conversion of the prairie ecosystem to this new world of producers (plants) and consumers (animals)? Touch specifically upon:

  1. a) the soils
  3. b) the rivers
  5. c) the impounded waters

Download pdf of this lesson.


Lesson Development by:

George Sly – Friends of Goose Pond

Amanda Figolah – Bloomington South H.S.


Please visit us at:

Lesson 2 The Importance of Wetlands to Migratory Birds

Lesson No. 2

The Importance of Wetlands to Migratory Birds

(Back from the Argentine)

Target Audience: Environmental Science, Biology, Ecology students


This lesson addresses several objectives. 1) Students will be made aware of the importance of the Goose Pond FWA (Greene Co., Indiana) as a resting/feeding/staging area for migratory birds. 2) Students will come to appreciate the awe inspiring migratory journeys made by many of the birds which summer in southwestern Indiana. 3) Students will become familiar with some of the eastern birds whose populations have suffered declines and the reasons for these declines.


Back from the Argentine is an essay in Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac which deals with the Upland Plover, now more commonly known as the Upland Sandpiper. In this essay, Leopold pays homage to the beauty, endurance, and survival of this lovely shorebird species. The essay conveys a lesson which might be applied to many of our migratory eastern birds.


  1. 1. For this lesson students will read, individually or as a group, Leopold’s essay Back from the Argentine and then complete the associated exercises which follow.
  3. 2. Below is a list meant to represent the variety of birds found during certain times of the year at Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area. This list is extremely attenuated. In reality, over 280 species of birds have been documented on the property.
  4. Sandhill Crane
  5. Upland Sandpiper
  6. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  7. Cliff Swallow
  8. Baltimore Oriole
  9. Henslow’s Sparrow
  10. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  11. Hudsonian Godwit
  12. Whooping Crane
  13. American White Pelican
  14. 3. Obtain outline maps of North and South America from your teacher. Maps can be found online at sites such as The Education Place (
  15.      a) Conduct an Internet search and find a photograph of each of the birds on our list. A useful site for photos and information is The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s All About Birds website (
  1.       b) Construct a pair (i.e. N & S Amer.) of maps (where appropriate) for each of the above species.
  2.           i) Using colored pencils indicate the summer range, winter range, and migratory range for each   of the 10 species listed.
  3.           ii) Add a colored sketch of the head, neck, and shoulder regions of each bird to one of its corresponding maps.

         iii) Locate Goose Pond FWA in SW Indiana on each of your maps.

  1.      c) Which two birds travel the greatest distances between their summer and winter homes?
  1.      d) For each of these two, give the approximate length of their yearly round-trips in miles and kilometers.
  3.      e) Which of these ten species winter outside of the United States?
  5.      f) Why should bird conservationists be concerned about deforestation or other forms of habitat destruction in places like Columbia, Venezuela, or Brazil?
  1.      g) Which species stay within the United States but make migratory trips to the southern part of our country?
  3.      h) . Look at the range map ( for the Whooping Crane. Notice that it does not show Indiana as part of this bird’s migratory pathway. Now click on the “View dynamic map of eBird sightings” box.Notice that this map shows an eastern migratory population of Whooping Cranes.
  1.           i) How did this eastern population come into existence? When ?
  2.           ii) Why did conservationists want to establish another population of Whooping Cranes (i.e.    in          addition to the original population which migrates between Texas and Alberta, Canada)?

          iii) How many wild Whooping Cranes are there in the world? In the western population? In the    eastern population?

  1. 4. Look at the range maps for the Hudsonian Godwit and American White Pelican. It appears that they do not occur in Indiana. Yet, both these species are seen at Goose Pond FWA. In fact, GPFWA is the top spot in Indiana to see American White Pelicans.
  2.      a) How do you account for the discrepancy between the maps at All About Birds and the fact that many people have seen these birds at GPFWA? (Hint: When was GPFWA established?)
  3.      b) People have remarked that Goose Pond FWA is a good example of the phrase taken from the movie Field of Dreams – “Build it and they will come.” How does this relate to the response of birds to the restoration of the wetlands at GPFWA?


  1. 5. After considering the extreme distances covered by migrants such as the Hudsonian Godwit, Upland Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Sandpiper briefly explain why the conservation or restoration of wetlands here in the United States is so important for such birds.
  2. 6. Why is international cooperation needed among wildlife conservationists, particularly those who deal with migratory birds?
  3. 7. Goose Pond FWA has not only wetland habitat but other forms of wildlife habitat as well. For example, over one thousand acres of the property is planted to prairie. Thus, it is of vital importance to species which use grasslands as their habitat.
  4.      a) Which bird(s) in our initial list of 10 rely on this type of habitat for their survival?
  5.      b) Habitat loss is one of the primary reasons for the decline of many species of animals throughout the world.
  6.           i) In what ways may a species be tied to a certain habitat? Think in terms of food, shelter, nesting/denning, and other forms of behavior.

Download pdf of this lesson.

Lesson Development by:

George Sly – Friends of Goose Pond

Amanda Figolah  – Bloomington South H.S










Lesson 3 – Conserving Wetlands and Their Sandhill Cranes

Lesson No. 3

Conserving Wetlands and Their Sandhill Cranes

(Marshland Elegy)

Target Audience: Environmental Science, Biology, Ecology, and Language Arts students.


This lesson introduces students to some of the issues surrounding wetland conservation and also gives them an opportunity to learn about the conservation history of the eastern sandhill crane population. It also provides students with the opportunity to learn about the restoration effort that resulted in the formation of the Goose Pond FWA in Greene County, Indiana.


Marshland Elegy is a lamentation upon the destruction of wetland ecosystems, and their associated sandhill cranes, done in the name of progress. Leopold reflects upon the nature of the actions humans often consider as representing progress. He also introduces us to the disquieting proposal that, in the end, conservation may be a self-defeating enterprise.


  1. 1. For this lesson students will read, individually or as a group, Leopold’s essay Marshland Elegy and then answer the associated questions given below.
  1. 2. What is an elegy? Summarize how Leopold’s essay does indeed represent an elegy.
  1. 3. Leopold notes that cranes are an ancient group having been here since the Eocene. That tremendous length of deep time is difficult for us to grasp. In order to do so, construct a mathematical (a timeline represented by numbers not an actual, graphic line) timeline comparing the history of the cranes with the recorded history of humans.

The mid-Eocene Epoch occurred about 50 million years ago. Recorded human history started around five thousand years ago. Let each year be represented by one inch.

  1. a) How long in feet and miles would the time-line for the crane family be?
  2. b) How long in feet and miles would the time-line for recorded human history be?
  3. c) Explain why many people would be moved to appreciate and conserve cranes even more after comparing these two time-lines.
  4. d) How does the previous question (c) touch upon the concept of ethics as an important rationale for conservation of wild things and wild places?
  1. 4. “These haymeadow days were the Arcadian age for marsh dwellers.”
    1. a) What is the meaning of the term Arcadian age?
    2. b) Why was this stage of the great marsh’s utilization Arcadian?
    3. c) What did the land owners do to end the marsh’s Arcadian existence?
  1. 5. Why does Leopold ponder the likelihood that, “all conservation of wildness is self-defeating”? Consider this article from the New York Times to help answer.


  1. 6. At the end of the essay, Leopold speculates that, “Some day . . . the last crane will trumpet his farewell and spiral skyward from the great marsh.”
    1. a) How many sandhill cranes existed in Leopold’s home state of Wisconsin in 1937 when he wrote Marshland Elegy?
    2. b) What is the population of sandhill cranes in the eastern United States today?
    3. c) What factors have changed since Leopold’s time so that his feared loss of the sandhill crane has not come to pass?
  1. 7. Goose Pond FWA was established in 2005. It is now a major migratory stopover for sandhill cranes. Highly endangered whooping cranes also use the property.
  1. a) What were some of the major groups involved in purchasing the land that became GPFWA? See:
  2. b) Wetlands were once considered as nothing more than “useless swamps”. We now know that they have many important functions. What are some of these valuable uses?
  1. 8. How are the stories of Leopold’s “great marsh” and the Goose Pond FWA related? To answer this question, consider the history of the land that became GPFWA and compare it to what happened to the marshlands described by Leopold.

For help, read this Nuvo Newspaper article by Diana Ensign:

Download a pdf of this lesson.

Lesson Development by:

George Sly – Friends of Goose Pond

Amanda Figolah – Bloomington South H.S.


Please visit us at



Lesson 4 – Lessons in Biodiversity: the Writings of Aldo Leopold


Lesson No. 4

Lessons in Biodiversity: the Writings of Aldo Leopold

(Thinking Like a Mountain & Escudilla)

Target Audiences – Environmental Science, Biology, Ecology, and Language Arts students.


This lesson is designed to a) supplement discussion and understanding of the concept of biodiversity, b) introduce students to the conservation philosophy of Aldo Leopold, c) foster understanding of the role of keystone species within ecosystems, and d) provide students with exposure to the field of natural history writing.


The lessons included here are based upon two of Leopold’s most well-known essays. Both Thinking Like a Mountain and Escudilla touch upon the role of large predators in maintaining robust ecosystems. Additionally, these stories help us to understand the more intangible qualities that large predators bequeath an ecosystem. The latter take us into consideration of the philosophy and ethics underlying wildlife conservation. The lessons may be used in science classes to reinforce discussions of the importance of keystone species within ecosystems and how they maintain the ecological health of such systems.

Language Arts classes (see Actions 6 & 7) might use the writings featured in the lessons as a framework for discussion of natural history writing (aka nature writing). Nature writing is considered by many to be the richest form of post-World War II American nonfiction and has been populated by some of literature’s most well-known authors including Henry David Thoreau, Charles Darwin, Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey, John James Audubon, and Alexander von Humbolt.

Alternatively, the essays suggested could serve as a portal for a lesson(s) during which students research and present information about Aldo Leopold himself. Leopold was a pioneering conservationist, as well as the father of the profession of wildlife management, and certainly belongs in the pantheon of great American environmentalists along with people such as John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Rosalie Edge, Olaus Murie, and Robert Marshall. He should be more well-known.


  1. 1. As a group (or individually) read Thinking Like a Mountain. (For more advanced students, consider reading and discussing Escudilla as well. It deals more directly with the ethics of wildlife conservation.)
  1. 2. In paragraph two, Leopold speaks of the practical, concrete implications of the presence of wolves. What are some of these realities surrounding the existence of wolves in a given area particularly in regards to other animals, hunters, and ranchers.
  1. 3. In the third paragraph, Leopold addresses the hidden, mysterious implications of living in wolf country. Imagine, and describe, going for a hike in a land where large mammalian carnivores like wolves and grizzly bears are present. Even though their presence might represent little danger to humans, explain how their existence would add to the atmosphere of your hike compared to one done in a place devoid of large predators.
  1. 4. Leopold makes the connection between removal of wolves (and other predators) from an ecosystem and the subsequent overpopulation of their prey. Research the significance of the Kaibab deer herd.
    1. a) When did the removal of predators from the Grand Canyon National Game Preserve begin? Why were predators removed in the first place? That is, what was the underlying rationale for removing mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, and bobcats from the area?
    2. b) Construct a graph showing the population of deer on the Kaibab from 1905 to 1930.
    3. c) Did the removal of predators on the Kaibab have the desired results? Explain the results of the predator removal program.
  1. 5. Over the years the accuracy of the Kaibab Deer Story has been questioned (see Burk. 1973. The Kaibab Deer Incident: A Long-persisting Myth for example). However, the underlying premise that removal of predators is detrimental to not only their prey but to the ecosystem is considered valid (see Brinkley et. al. 2006. Was Aldo Leopold Right About the Kaibab Deer Herd?)

A classic example in our time of predator/prey/ecosystem interaction has been the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Wolves are considered a keystone species. Such a species plays a critical role in determining the structure of the ecosystem within which it lives. Why were wolves removed from Yellowstone N.P. in the first place? When did they cease to exist in the park?

  1. a) When were wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone N.P.? Where did they come from?
  2. b) Since their reintroduction, wolves have created a so-called trophic cascade within the park. What is a trophic cascade?
  3. c) Explain how the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone has created a trophic cascade in regards to these particular species: elk, coyotes, willow trees, beaver, pronghorn antelope, and songbirds. For help in answering this question, view How Wolves Change Rivers on YouTube.
  1. 6. Language Arts: Leopold’s writings are full of rich metaphor and symbolism. Consider the incident in which a young, trigger-happy Leopold took part in the killing of the female wolf.
    1. a) Leopold says that when he reached the old wolf he saw, “a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. There was something in those eyes known only to her and to the mountain.” What is Leopold trying to say to us here?
    2. b) We know that mountains aren’t alive and, in the literal sense, cannot hear. What then does Leopold mean when he says that, “only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf”?
    3. 7. In the essay Escudilla, Leopold refers to the government trapper’s killing of the bear as toppling “the spire off an edifice a-building since the morning stars sang together”.
    4. a) What is an edifice? A spire? What does this metaphorical passage mean from a biological or ecological point of view?
  1. Bigfoot claimed for his own only a cow a year and a few square miles of useless rocks, but his personality pervaded the county.” What does this suggest about the danger the bear represented to humans? What is Leopold suggesting about the status of the bear as legend?
  1. b) What is Leopold suggesting about the march of human progress when he says that, “we were the captains of an invasion too sure of its own righteousness”?
  1. c) After the killing of the bear, there were no longer any grizzlies in the area. Leopold laments this by saying, “Escudilla still stands on the horizon, but when you see it you no longer think of bear. It’s only a mountain now.” How do you think it is that the presence of large mammalian carnivores might give land a feeling of matchlessness, rareness, and individuality? You might think about what it would be like to hike in a place like Yellowstone N.P. where there are bears and wolves. Then compare this to hiking in a local state park where these animals have been extirpated.

Download a pdf of this lesson.


Lesson Development by:

George Sly – Friends of Goose Pond

Amanda Figolah – Bloomington South H.S.


Please visit us at






Critter Corner No 19

Critter Corner No. 19

The Fox Squirrel


George Sly

(By Judy Gallagher –

Discussing the Fox Squirrel as a member of the GPFWA fauna may seem a bit surprising. After all, we normally associate the property with wetland and prairie habitats primarily. These are hardly the sorts of places one would expect to find an arboreal (tree dwelling) mammal. But with the DNR’s acquisition of 800 acres of wooded, post-mined property known as “1000 Islands” (which lies just north of GPFWA’s Main Pool West) we now have such squirrel-friendly habitat Goose Pond.

            The Fox Squirrel is large as tree squirrels go. In fact, it is the largest tree squirrel in the eastern United States with a total length of nearly two feet and an average weight of around one and a half pounds. In this area, people often call this species by the common moniker of “red squirrel”. Indeed, the fox squirrels we encounter in SW Indiana do tend to be quite reddish in color. However, in NE Indiana there lives another species of arboreal squirrel which is more properly known as the Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). This little squirrel is only about half the size of the Fox Squirrel on average.

The Fox Squirrel is highly variable in coloration throughout its range which, east of the Mississippi, extends through most of the country save for a swath from North Carolina up through the New England states. The scientific name of this species – Scirurus niger – hints at this variability. The genus name refers to the habit of the squirrel of sitting with its tail used as a sunshade. “Skia” is from the Greek meaning shadow and “oura” means tail. The Greek skiouros became the Latin sciurus, meaning squirrel in both cases. The specific name “niger” is Latin for black. In the southern United States, Fox Squirrels may be black in color and the so-called type specimen for this species was a southern animal of black coloration. In southern Alabama, I used to encounter Fox Squirrels which were locally called “monkey-faced squirrels”. These animals were much lighter in color than our local fox squirrels, more light-brownish, and had a black mask which reminded me of a raccoon. The reasons for the extreme variability of coloration in fox squirrels is not completely understood but may be related to camouflaging coloration adapted for a particular locale.

Fox squirrels prefer more open forests and forest edges compared to our Gray Squirrel which thrives in large stands of timber with a closed canopy. However, both are adaptable and may be found in towns, upon golf courses, and in city parks. Fox Squirrel distribution is closely tied to food availability of course. Their diet includes a variety of tree nuts including acorns, hickory nuts, and beech nuts. Because of their habit of caching nuts in the ground, fox squirrels are important in distributing the seeds of their food trees. These buried stores are later found, by smell it is thought, and constitute the squirrel’s primary food supply during fall, winter, and early spring. As spring progresses, there is greater abundance of food and the Fox Squirrel will then feed on maple samaras, elm seeds, flower buds, and fruits such as mulberry. Fox squirrels will also prey upon caterpillars, beetles, bird eggs, and young birds. One of their more interesting food sources is a soil fungus of the genus Endogone. Dr. J.O. Whitaker, Jr., emeritus professor of life sciences at Indiana State U., has done much to elucidate the role of this fungus as a food source for many species of small mammals. Endogone is a mycorrhizal fungus which means that it forms symbiotic relationships with forest tree roots. This association is mutualistic in that it increases the absorptive surface area of the tree roots and in return the fungus is provided a place to live and a source of carbohydrates for energy.

Fox squirrels are typically about a year old when they begin to reproduce. Mating occurs in December and January. Living as I do on the edge of a stand of deciduous forest, I am each year reminded that the squirrel’s mating season is approaching. As I glance out the window, I will notice that the squirrels are beginning to engage in almost nonstop prenuptial chases which are an important part of the ritual leading up to actual mating. These are often accompanied by much barking, “churring”, and attempts at approach by the males. The gestation period of the Fox Squirrel is about a month and a half. One to six young may be born, most often in a tree cavity; two to four offspring is typical. The emergence of the youngsters after a period of three months or so is another source of entertainment for me (or maybe I am just easily entertained). At first the young squirrels tend to stay in the vicinity of their nest cavity. Soon they become bolder and start to venture higher into the trees. I often see them seemingly at rest, on the trunk or limb of a tree, when suddenly they roar off along the limb or into the tree top as if suddenly touched with a cattle prod. I suppose this is how they develop their marvelous skill at climbing, leaping, and maintaining a foothold while avoiding a precipitous fall.

In regards to its relationship with humans, the Fox Squirrel has long-standing significance as a small game mammal. Hoosier hunters take, on average, some 300,000 Fox and Gray Squirrels each year. I must say that the periods I spent as a young adult pursuing these agile, wily, little animals are among my fondest memories. And these remembrances involve far more than shooting at quarry. I must admit however that my recollections also entail a wonderful meal of fried squirrel, biscuits and gravy dotingly prepared by my grandmother.

But, as I grew older, the taking became far less important than the engaging. This was particularly true of the instances during which my stalking skills were tested against a mammal whose eyesight and senses of smell and hearing bettered mine by far. Even more fondly remembered are the hours spent simply sitting at the base of a shagbark hickory in an early -morning woods. Recalled is the light of breaking dawn playing upon forest leaves of every imaginable shade of green; the pleasurable songs and calls of phoebe, wood thrush, and great-crested flycatcher; the occasional, rustling walk of an unaware white-tailed deer passing within feet of me. These, as well as the deep sense of peace and detachment from worldly concerns, are the things that most remain from my days as a dedicated pursuer of squirrels.

Should you be inclined to try squirrel hunting yourself, the Dept. of Natural Resources offers these reminders. The season for both Fox and Gray Squirrels runs from August 15th, 2017 through January 31st, 2018. Hunters must meet fluorescent orange clothing requirements while hunting squirrels from the first Friday in November after Nov. 3 through the end of the season. The daily bag limit is five. Good luck on your hunt! But don’t forget to spend some of your time sitting under that hickory tree, looking, listening, and letting your mind work the while.


WildFlower Walk – 2 Hour Field Trip Focusing On Prairie Wildflowers

Please join Friends members Ron and De Ronk for a two hour field trip focusing upon prairie wildflowers. We will meet at the GPFWA Visitor Center at 9:00AM on Saturday, July 1st. After signing in, we will hear from the Ronk’s about the prairie plantings near the VC. We will also have a chance to meet members of the Miner Monarchs. These Linton students are devoted to habitat improvements which will provide for the needs of the Monarch Butterfly which has recently undergone drastic reduction in their population. Attendees will then move to Bee Hunter Unit 1 to observe the plantings done there by the students. This is a great chance to get outside, learn to identify prairie wildflowers, enjoy some great photo opportunities, and offer encouragement to this dedicated group of young people. If you would like to join us, please let us know at Enter “wildflower walk” in the subject line please. Hope to see you July 1st.

Critter Corner No. 18

Critter Corner No. 18
 The Red-eared Slider
 George Sly
Sherman Minton’s authoritative Amphibians & Reptiles of Indiana (1) notes that this turtle emerges, in southern Indiana, from its period of winter inactivity in early April. But, this book was published in 2001. In our rapidly warming world, Mother Nature seems to be re-writing the rules. By mid-February 2017, large numbers of Pond Sliders were to be seen basking in the afternoon sun in nearly every pond, marsh, and stripper pit in the area. Of course Mother Nature can still throw a wicked curve ball and our recent reminder that it is still officially winter had the turtles heading for cover again.

  Lying upon a favorite log or snag as pond sliders do is an example of what is known as thermoregulatory behavior. Since turtles, like other reptiles, are ectotherms they do not have the internal physiological mechanisms by which they might maintain a high, stable body temperature as we do. Since the rate at which metabolic activities (neuromuscular activity, digestion, assimilation, etc.) is related directly to temperature, it behooves the turtles to raise their body temperature above that of the surrounding air and water. The basking in which we see them engaged allows them to be much more efficient in searching for food, escaping predators, and performing other daily activities .Although ectothermic, reptiles can by means of a repertoire of behaviors (basking, shade-seeking, water immersion) maintain a relatively high, static body temperature in relationship to the highly variable ambient temperature around them. Consistent, extremely low temperatures are their main bugaboo. Thus, as we move from the equator to the poles, we see a graded decline in the number of species of reptiles endemic to a given latitude.

  Red-eared Sliders bear the scientific moniker of Trachemys scripta elegans. Their genus name (Trachemys) comes from Greek words meaning “rough” and “freshwater tortoise”(2). Nowadays we reserve the term tortoise for a particular group of land turtles but you get the idea – a water, dwelling turtle with a rough carapace. The species name scripta (script) refers to the markings upon the carapace. By placing a third name after the scientific name taxonomists are noting that elegans (fine or elegant) is a subspecies. Biologists typically recognize three subspecies of Pond Slider, the red-eared found in our area as well as the Yellow-bellied (SE U.S.) and the Cumberland Slider (ENE TN & SW VA).

  Incidentally, if one refers to Minton’s book, the scientific name will be followed by, in parentheses, the name Wied; in other references it may be Wied-Neuwied. This is an interesting example of history entwining itself with biology. The name refers to Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, a 19th Century German explorer, ethnologist, and naturalist (3). Wied-Neuwied was mentored by the renowned naturalist Alexander von Humboldt who, by the way, is the subject of the recent bestseller The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. Wied-Neuwied led two expeditions to the New World, one to Brazil and the other to the United States (4). During the latter trip he was accompanied by the Swiss artist Karl Bodmer, now famous for his paintings of Native Americans done during this expedition. In October of 1832, en route to the west, the Prince arrived in New Harmony, Indiana. At that time, New Harmony was known as a center of education and scientific research. During his time there, he observed and named the Red-eared Slider as well as two frog species (5). This is why Wied’s name appears after the turtle’s scientific name in Minton.
  At Goose Pond FWA, the Red-eared Slider is one of the more common species. They can often be seen basking on the muskrat lodges which are abundant in standing waters of the property. During the 2010 Biodiversity Survey of the GPFWA, numerous turtle nests were found on the so-called “double-ditches” peninsula. Most of these were thought to contain T. scripta clutches. A very high percentage of them had been found by predators, most likely raccoons, and destroyed. An average clutch size for this species is around 10 eggs (6 to 30 may be laid). The incubation period is two months or a little more and, like many other turtles, the sex of the offspring is determined by incubation temperature. Warmer temperatures (>80F or so) produce females (6).  Mating occurs in late spring or early summer. Males and females may be distinguished from one another but the differences are subtle and include features such as claw length and overall size of the upper shell. The strong similarities of the two sexes may remind us of Ogden Nash’s poetic thoughts on turtle sexual dimorphism.

The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks
 Which practically conceal its sex.
 I think it clever of the turtle
 In such a fix to be so fertile.

  Red-eared Sliders are omnivorous, that is both plant and animal material may be consumed by them. Plants such as duckweed and emergent pondweeds are eaten while animal prey includes snails, crayfish, aquatic insects, tadpoles, and fish.

  You may recall times past when it was exceedingly common to see young Red-eared Sliders for sale in various pet stores or “five & dimes”. Their attractive appearance and abundance made this species a prime candidate for exploitation. They are far and away the most popular turtle pet. This has created significant problems in many areas of the world. Baby sliders, most farm-raised, have been shipped to states, and countries, outside their native range. As you might guess, turtles that end up released into the wild cause ecological disturbances. Like other kinds of invasive animals, non-native sliders compete with native turtles for habitat, basking spots, and food to the detriment of the naturally occurring species. An additional problem associated with the Red-eared Slider trade is the transmission of Salmonella bacteria In 2013 the CDC reported a Salmonella outbreak that affected almost 400 people in over three dozen states. Although domestic sale of turtles less than four inches in length was banned in 1975, eighty-nine percent of those affected by been exposed to small turtles (7). Several states, as well as the European Union, have banned turtle sales. Still, Red-eared Sliders are raised for export and a quick Google search indicates they can still be purchased via the Internet. Unless one is prepared for a decades long commitment, such a purchase seems ethically and environmentally unwise.

  And so, on your next warm weather trip to GPFWA, keep an eye out for a large turtle with a greenish to olive-brown shell lounging about on a handy muskrat house. It is a scene far more pleasing than that of an aquarium-bound captive. Let your observation be a reminder that behind every animal one sees at GPFWA there likely lies a story of science, survival, or even history. Let it be a reminder that not only cranes and rails benefit from the Goose Pond restoration. There exist legions of other species equally at home and equally dependent upon the grand wetland which now graces southwestern Indiana.


1. Minton, Sherman A., Jr. Amphbians & Reptiles of Indiana. Ind. Acad. Sci. Indianapolis.