• Black spikes on beach (1)

    snailWhat are these black spike things on the beaches in the afternoon in Destin, FL. They are alive, burrow in the sand and have a sucker like appendage when you move them a bit.  Kat

  • Black spikes on beach (2)

    Hi Kat, Thanks for writing.  That’s an auger snail.  They prey on marine worms.  Tom

  • Dove chicks – remove or leave? (1)

    I have a nest with two baby doves but one has died. Should I remove it from the nest or just leave it. The other baby seems to be doing OK. I don’t see the parents around? What should I do?  Wendy

  • Dove chicks – remove or leave? (2)

    Thanks for writing.  If you really think the parents are not returning, you could try to hand raise the remaining baby, but it’s a lot of work and I should tell you that according to the letter of the law, you’re not supposed to disturb bird nests in any way.  Not that it’s likely that anyone would prosecute you for trying to save a baby dove, but just so you know.

    Unless you’re really sure the parents aren’t returning and you’re really prepared to hand feed a baby bird every couple hours for several weeks, you should probably just leave the nest alone and let nature take its course.  The sad truth is that sometimes parent birds get killed when they are away.  And baby birds often don’t survive.

    If you wanted to hand raise it, my suggestion would be to go to a pet store and get powered baby bird food and a bird feeding syringe.  Any shop that sells birds is likely to have those.  You mix up the powder with water and feed it to the baby with a syringe.  I have found that it works better if you use warm water at first, and you may have to pry the chick’s mouth open and gently squirt a little food in the first few times.  Be careful not to drown the chick.  After a few times, usually the baby bird gets the idea and will begin opening its mouth for you, which makes things much easier.  And after a bit, they don’t seem to care as much about whether the food is warm or cold.  Once they are enthusiastically eating, you’ll be surprised how much food they want!

    You also need to keep the chick warm, especially if it doesn’t yet have feathers.  Let me know how you make out.  Tom

  • Dove chicks – remove or leave? (3)

    I think one of the parents might be feeding it as it seems to be getting bigger. I think I will let nature take its course because I am at work for long hours at a time and the thought of hand raising it is a little daunting. Thank you for your advice. nature can be amazing but also painful to watch as I care greatly.  Wendy

  • Dove chicks – remove or leave? (4)

    I thought you would like to see a picture of the baby dove. Thanks for your reply. Does she look like she is thriving?  Wendy

  • Dove chicks – remove or leave? (5)

    Wendy, That’s probably the best thing to do.  And I agree about the difficulty of watching sometimes.  The live one does look fine, though. 

    Good luck!  I hope the parents are still feeding it and that it does okay.  By the way, the parents are likely to remove the dead chick, if they haven’t already.  But I don’t see any reason you shouldn’t if you want to.  Be careful that it’s really dead, though.  I’m not sure about this species, but some birds eggs hatch a couple days apart, and because the development is so rapid, two babies can look very different.  One might have feathers and the other doesn’t, for example.  Tom

  • Minute orange water bugs (1)

    small orange creaturesIn my small backyard pond in southern Ontario, there are bright orange-red water bugs.  Some are 1 mm.  Eyes are visible but no legs, yet.  There are millions of these free swimmers/floaters. Will I and my neighbors be inundated with biting insects or are they beneficial?  Judy

  • Minute orange water bugs (2)

    Hi Judy, Those are daphnia, a kind of crustacean.  Harmless. They are full grown and won’t leave the water. If you know anyone with an aquarium, they make great fish food. Tom

  • Minute orange water bugs (3)

    Thanks so much. We have another bigger pond with large Koi and Goldfish. I think I’ll give them a treat as there are millions in the small pond.  I appreciate your quick response. Thanks. Judy

  • Northern cardinal feeding another bird (1)

    I have observed a male cardinal on our bird feeder, feeding a young bird that is not a cardinal. Similar size but not the correct coloring or shape of other young cardinals I have seen being fed by parents.  Any explanation or similar sightings? I wasn’t able to get a picture. Thanks.  Teresa

  • Northern cardinal feeding another bird (2)

    Hi Teresa, Thanks for writing.  And for your cool observation.  Birds often feed babies that are not their own.  The instinct to stuff food in an open mouth is so strong.  One theory is that the danger of not feeding one of your own hungry chicks is greater than the risk of feeding someone else’s.  At least most of the time.  Sometimes, the results are really remarkable.  There are any number of photos and videos of birds feeding goldfish and koi, including one at this page of a Northern cardinal feeding goldfish:

    And recently in the news is an amazing story of bald eagles feeding a hawk chick in British Columbia.


  • Ping pong balls in shallow water (1)

    We found four white eggs the size of ping pong balls, in shallow water by our dock. We are in east central Minnesota. What animal would lay such an egg?  Cindy

  • Ping pong balls in shallow water (2)

    HI Cindy, Thanks for writing.  Were the eggs spherical or elongated?  Were they hard like a chicken egg, or soft and flexible?  Do you have photos?  If so, attach them when your reply. Thanks!  Tom 

  • Ping pong balls in shallow water (3)

    The eggs we saw are perfectly round spherical shape about 1 inch to 1.25 inches in diameter, white in color and they were rather soft.  You could easily dent the “shell” with your finger by holding it too tightly.  I did not take a picture of them.  They were not firmly sitting on the bottom but rather moving along the lake bottom with the flow of the waves.  They are easily seen from the dock or standing on the shore or in the water.  Cindy

  • Ping pong balls in shallow water (4)

    Cindy, Those sound like a perfect description of snapping turtle eggs.  Normally they would be buried in a shallow nest on land, but it sounds like for some reason, a turtle made a mistake.  Could be that it got disturbed while laying and went back to the water before it was really finished, or something like that.

    If you still have the eggs, you could try burying them in a sandy and sunny spot and waiting to see what happens.  Tom

  • Ping pong balls in shallow water (5)

    My 3 year old grandson was sure they were turtle eggs and he put one in his sand pail and covered it with sand and all day he sat with it telling everyone he had a turtle egg.  I thought turtle egg were more oblong with one end slightly rounder then the other.  What do I know.  Sounds like I have a young naturalist on my hands.

    Thank you for the information.  Cindy

  • Saving tadpoles (1)

    There’s a little body of water near my building in New York where, a couple months ago, my kids an I found a few hundred tadpoles. The water was bright blue and beautiful and the tadpoles, big, and always swimming around full of life. Over time, the water has gone more gray, and the tadpoles move around a lot less, some don’t seem move at all. Are they hurt? Can I help them?  Jenna

  • Saving tadpoles (2)

    Hi Jenna, Thanks for writing.  It’s difficult to diagnose this long-distance.  What kind of body of water?  How big?  Water in lakes and ponds is often clearer in the early spring, because there is not much plankton growing in it.  As the weather warms into summer it gets cloudier because it’s full of all kinds of algae and diatoms and the things that eat them.  So it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the water is getting cloudier. 

    Do you see any signs that the tadpoles are dying?

    If you think the water is really being polluted, you could try calling the nearest New York Department of Environmental Protection (, but aside from that, I’m not sure what you can do to save a pond full of tadpoles.  Tom

  • Stung while in river (1)

    bumps on skinHi, Today I was swimming in the river Ouse, Nth Bedfordshire, UK as I do every summer but this time something stung me on the water. Attached is the pic. Ankle and back of knee. I felt both stings very clearly and painful enough for me to say “ow” out loud and want to get out of the water. The white bumps came up immediately. 4 hours later they faded to red dots but the burning is still very intense. Any ideas on what it could be? Bit concerned, very curious. Glad it was me and not my kids.  Many thanks.  Sarah

  • Stung while in river (2)

    Hi Sarah, Thanks for writing.  Was there anyone else swimming?  If so, any indication that they were stung, too?  Tom

  • Stung while in river (3)

    Hi thanks for replying 🙂

    I didn’t see what stung me and no one was with me. Oh, except my dog. A dad had jumped out of his inflatable boat to save his daughter, who was drowning on other side of river, leaving his son alone in a drifting boat, so I swam out and towed the boy back in. I saw about 10 people swim in that section of the river but not on the side I was in. I had been swimming in many other parts of the river that day with no strange stings. I didn’t hear anyone else complaining. I have asked locals this evening. Strangely a friend in a nearby village (same river) said her daughter said she’d seen a jelly fish while swimming this week end and that they had been teasing her ever since! 

    I have found articles on freshwater jellyfish seen occasionally in the UK since 1880 but all the articles say there have never been any stings documented so they assume they do not sting.  Thanks.  Sarah

  • Stung while in river (4)

    Hi Sarah, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.  There are indeed freshwater jellyfish.  In fact, I wrote an article about them years ago on a previous website (  But I don’t think they’re usually found in rivers, at least not if there’s any current.  And everything I know says they aren’t capable of leaving the marks you got. 

    backswimmer insectThe one thing I know of that is in the water that might give you bites like that is the small bugs called backswimmers.  I’ve never been bitten by them, but apparently, they are capable of biting and it stings.  Seems odd that you would have gotten bitten so many times, but do you remember seeing them in the river?  Tom

  • Stung while in river (5)

    Hi Tom, Thanks for reply. It remains a mystery! I didn’t see anything. It was on the slow current side of the river but there is still a gentle current. The stings were instantaneous on my foot and slightly later on my leg, or the other way round! But definitely not individual bites unless there was a swarm of back swimmers? Never heard of them. Will look them up.  Thanks again. Sarah