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Features (Creature Feature)

Are you listening?

If the unusually chill nights of February and early March 2014 kept you fireside, you may have missed the first peeping of spring. Last weekend’s warming temperatures opened human ears, frog throats — or both. The peepers are calling from a wetland near you. If you haven’t heard them yet, you soon will.
    Those tiny frogs are but one of our amphibian harbingers of spring. Wetlands are home to a host of frogs and toads, creatures that not only signal the welcome news of warming weather but also “act as environmental indicators for factors that could negatively impact ecosystem and human health.”
    Amphibian’s “important role in the health of ecosystems,” adds Rachel Gauza, is one good reason to join in the preservation of the creatures. For they are endangered, with “one third of the world’s amphibian species currently facing the largest mass extinction event since the dinosaurs,” said the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ education and outreach coordinator.
    As frogs and toads awaken from estivation, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ FrogWatch USA goes to work.
    With our abundant wetlands, we of Chesapeake Country are ideally positioned to join the Watch. As citizen scientists in the cause, we sharpen our ears, spend a few precious minutes listening near wetlands and report what we hear.
    You’ll register your observation site and enter data on a new web platform developed with the National Geographic Society where you can see your results alongside those of volunteers throughout the country.
    “Seeing your observations reflected online in real time and comparing them to others adds a whole new element to what was traditionally an outdoors-only program,” says Shelly Grow, the Association’s director of Conservation Programs.
    If you love what you hear, you can go further. Maryland has only three FrogWatch chapters — in Howard County, Ellicott City and Frostburg University. Anne Arundel and Calvert county are waiting for you.
    Start with learning more about FrogWatch USA at
    Register for training at the Smithsonian National Zoo on Sunday March 16, April 6 or April 20. All training programs run from 3 to 6pm:
    Get a preview of frog calls

A rare breed proves it’s still Best in Show

Whiskey was the first wire fox terrier to enter our home. He chased children and adults, pilfered food from the table and ripped the shingles off a hand-built doghouse — even after application of sour apple anti-chew spray. He could open coffee cans and drag leaded food dishes up flights of stairs. This miscreant pup was a terror on four legs.
    He barked, he dug and he obeyed only when convenient.
    After Whiskey, we couldn’t imagine owning another breed.
    Brilliant, insubordinate and hilarious, fox terriers were bred for fox hunting in 17th century England. Smooth and wire-haired terriers (considered the same breed until 1984) rode in pouches on the hunters’ horses until the prey was driven to ground. The terriers were then sent into the fox dens and yanked out by their tails, doomed fox clenched in their teeth.
    By the 1930s, wire fox terriers’ square heads, keen eyes and compact build earned them popularity with the glamorous set, in movies and on the arms of the rich and famous. Actors and heiresses weren’t the only ones smitten. Wire fox terriers have won 14 Best in Show titles at Westminster, more than any other breed. The breed got its latest win this year when five-year-old GCH Afterall Painting the Sky, aka Sky, took the Best in Show prize.
    Now that Sky has showed you that foxies are beautiful, loyal and full of personality, be warned that they aren’t the dog for the faint of heart. These usually bouncy and friendly terriers are too smart for lazy owners. Leave them alone for too long, they’ll empty your trash cans all over the floor. Yell at them, they’ll bark right back. Ignore them, and they’ll force your attention by leaping in your lap or snatching whatever you’re focused on. Mental stimulation and regular exercise are the barrier between you and a household of destroyed items.
    If, however, you can’t resist a dog that believes it’s intellectually superior to you, wire fox terriers are a great addition to your family. With a fox terrier in your house, you’ll have good bad dog stories enough for years.

No need to put out the welcome mat

The mouse stood high in ancient Greece, where the god Apollo took the creature as one of his namesakes, Apollo Smintheus. White mice were kept under the altars in temples to that incarnation.
    Most of us can better relate to the Indo-Aryan Sanskrit tradition wherein musuka means thief or robber.
    Sanskrit may not be familiar to you, but the burglary antics of the common house mouse probably are, especially this time of year.
    Freezing temperatures, like our recent dip into the low teens, send these furry rodents scurrying inside to the warmth of our homes and offices.
    If you have mice, you’re not alone. Each winter, mice and other rodents invade an estimated 21 million homes in the U.S. Mice visit between October and February, looking for food, water and shelter from the cold. Mice build their homes in our homes, near food sources, like our pantries and cupboards.
    Prolific and voracious, they eat more than growing teenagers and breed faster than rabbits. They eat up to 20 times per day and breed year-round, starting at about two months old.
    With a gestation of less than three weeks, a litter of eight to 14 pups and an average of five to 10 litters a year, a single female mouse will give birth to about 120 babies each year.
    That’s a lot of mice. Let two in, and many more will follow.
    Like little Houdinis, mice can squeeze through openings as small as a dime. A small crack or gap on the exterior of your home is an open door — and invitation — for mice.
    Prevent mice from gaining access into your home by sealing any openings on the exterior (such as where utility pipes enter) with a silicone caulk. You can also fill gaps and holes inside your home with steel wool.
    Keeping cats as pets helps, too. Since I rescued my two kitties three years ago, I haven’t seen a single mouse inside.
    Mice are cute and cuddly to some folks who may even keep them as pets, but they can transmit a disease called salmonellosis, a bacterial food poisoning that occurs when food is contaminated with infected mice feces.
    That’s just the beginning. Mice can carry as many as 200 human pathogens.
    No wonder Apollo Smintheus was a god of disease.

Canada geese are here, ducks arriving, swans not far behind

Back when people were fewer in the Chesapeake watershed, skies used to blacken with waterfowl.
    You can get a glimpse of how abundant waterfowl can be, starting with Canada geese.
    Big Vs of Canadas are as common as school buses. You hear them coming by their honking.

10 ways our pets enrich our lives

Our animal companions make us healthier, happier and saner.     
    Animal lovers have always held that truth to be self-evident. Now, research is backing up that heart-felt conclusion. Benefits range from reducing allergies, blood pressure, stress and loneliness … to increasing self-esteem and activity … to drawing other people to us.

Where to turn for help and to help

Anne Arundel County Animal Control Shelter
County animal management service handles nuisance animal issues, sponsors a Thursday rabies shot clinic, sells animal licenses and shelters found and abandoned animals temporarily before placement or euthanasia: 411 Maxwell Frye Rd., Millersville: 410-222-8900;


Blooms are bigger, badder

The Bay is being overrun by algae. Billions and billions of the tiny creatures are making life harder on the rest of the ecosystem. The three most common algae in the Bay have been blooming more frequently over the last 20 years, according to researchers at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
    Mahogany tide, formally known as Prorocentrum minimum, doubled its average number of annual blooms between 1991 and 2008.

Run the Freedom Hill People Steeplechase, Kids Canter or Toddler Trot

Horses give humans a lift at Freedom Hill Horse Rescue in Calvert County.
    In species pairings called Equine Assisted Learning, people learn leadership, goal-setting and teamwork.
    In Equine-Based Education, people learn about horses, their proper care and treatment, natural horsemanship and the basics of horseback riding.

Orphaned Wildlife Rescue Center plays Santa to injured critters but needs your help

Dozens of raptors were among the thousands of animals rescued this year by the Orphaned Wildlife Rescue Center in Lusby.
    One stands out for her size and the relationship she formed with her rescuers.
    Big Bird, as she was called, was rescued from a farm in southern Maryland. A nesting mother with three babies and a mate in a nearby tree, she had a broken left wing. What caused her injuries was never learned.

How to get to know our ­regulars and seasonal visitors

At the tip of Thomas Point in Annapolis on a windy November morning, Linda Davis sees buffleheads, horned grebes and a loon diving in the Bay’s chop.
    “I am just learning my birds,” says Davis, of Shady Side. “I had surgery last winter, so I put up feeders outside the window where I sat and saw all these birds I didn’t even know existed. Then I began photographing birds, and now it’s all I want to do.”