The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 28, 2008



This handsome Red Fox was seen and photographed in Carlisle by Skip Saunders, who sent it to Kay.

Species traditionally associated with Thanksgiving were not showing their faces this week. The obvious candidate would be the turkey, but the only ones I’ve seen lately are in my stock portfolio. The cranberry has already had its turn in this column, so too has the late fall oyster mushroom which makes a good addition to the turkey stuffing. Since I’m in a reflective mood, I’ve decided to forgo my usual format and list some of the things I’m thankful for.

Habitat. I’m grateful to the planners of Carlisle who have ensured that we keep a good proportion of undeveloped land and to those who put conservation restrictions on their land. The fact that such land is a mix of wetland, upland, wild open meadows, open farm land, pine forest, and mixed forest and includes ponds and streams makes it even better. This means that it supports more diversity of species than if it were all of a similar type. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a bird like the Red-headed Woodpecker (last week’s topic) might be seen in Carlisle. I’m also grateful to people who notice such things and spread the word so that others can learn and appreciate what we have. By the way, the woodpecker is still around and people from as far as Vermont and Cape Cod have been to see it.

Diversity of species. In the book Sustaining Life, there is an estimate that planet Earth has around 1.5 million species of living things. It seems like I needn’t worry about running out of new species for the Biodiversity Corner, and yet I’m very grateful to people who tell me what they’ve seen and either make suggestions for the column or write it themselves. I’m also very grateful to the people who have sent in their photographs. So far together we have covered 270 species which includes 55 plants (ferns and wildflowers), 53 birds, 46 insects, 36 of my most favorite fungi, 23 mammals, and a bunch of trees, spiders, reptiles, amphibians, lichens, and the occasional worm and tardigrade.

Sparrows. There was a time, up until fairly recently when, in a bird-brained kind of way, I would dismiss all sparrow-like birds as just another sparrow. I suspect there are more than a few people who feel this way about lichens. I’m not suggesting that they mistake lichens for sparrows, but as with sparrows you have to slow down and look carefully to see the diversity. I’m grateful to the Brownriggs who have taught me to look more closely at birds and be more discerning. I’m happy I can now say that I have a favorite sparrow; it’s the handsome White-throated Sparrow with a song that I can actually remember …. “Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody.”

Trails. Almost every day of the year I give silent thanks to the members of the Trails Committee. They have made it easy, and they continue to make it easy for the rest of us to enjoy the conservation land. Since I’m a big user of the trails, I’m also grateful to the people who pick up after their dogs. I’m very much looking forward to the day when I can be grateful to a lot more people in this regard.

Access to experts. I’m grateful that I live close enough to a place like Harvard University which attracts world experts in very specialized fields, and that some of these people are willing to spend time with novices. In the past couple of years, I have attended workshops and field trips on such topics as diatoms, myxomycetes (slime molds), and alpine rock-dwelling lichens.

The small things. I love the tiny organisms. Many of them are very old in the evolutionary scheme of things and have had time to develop more diversity than occurs in the so-called “higher” life forms.

Did you know there are 7,500 species of Collembola or Springtails, world wide? I’m grateful that such a fact is knowable, and I’m astonished at the level of dedication that must have been needed to get there. These are tiny creatures but visible to the naked eye. Some of them we know as snow fleas, and others you can often see in huge numbers on the surface of water or on leaf litter. So far in this column we have covered a single species, and I don’t know which of the 7,500 it was.

One of my favorite tiny creatures is the Water Bear – which is even smaller than a Springtail and requires that you have a microscope to watch it stumbling around. The Water Bear has extraordinary survival abilities and is exemplar of the fact that even little things have a story to tell.

Gleason Library. The only reference text for this column is Sustaining Life – How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity, by Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein. I am grateful to the Gleason librarian who was able to find this book for me despite my not knowing the title or the author! I knew the general topic and that it was a large book. Oh, the joys of competent people, a small town, and a good library. ∆

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. What are you finding? Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito