Elms Environmental Education Center

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Critter of the Month

Every month we highlight a different local animal.

December 2015: Lions Mane Jellyfish

A Lions Many Jellyfish

 Photo by: Dan Hershman

Lions Mane Jellyfish
Cyanea capillata

Who am I?

 I am water, salt water. Okay 95% of me is water, the other 5% is me. Of course when you have no bones, no heart, no blood and no brain it is hard to say what I am, who is the me. An eating machine I suppose I am. Around the Chesapeake people call me the winter jelly because I really do not like warm water. While my tiny medusa (bell like blob) is floating around by mid December you probably won't notice me until later in the winter when I get bigger. In the Bay I can grow to about 8" across. I am a very weird creature. During late winter as an adult I can produce both eggs and sperm. Once germinated, I carry these eggs in my tentacles until they hatch, to the bottom of the water I go and deposit them on something hard. Soon they grow and form a polyp -- a squishy stalk with, eventually, a stack on pancakes (called ephyraes) on top. Think of a sea anemone or a sea cucumber -- those guys are polyps. Here I will be through the summer. While I am a polyp I can also clone myself, just in case there are not enough of me already. So there are a lot of polyp me around. But wait, when the water gets cold in late November or December the stack of pancakes at the top of my stalk will start to separate floating off as individuals like little frisbees. These pancakes, or frisbees, will grow into the adult jellyfish you know and probably don't love. I am misunderstood. Sure, I sting, but not as bad as a sea nettle! They are mean. Besides I am only in the Bay during the winter and who is swimming around the bay in the winter! By May I am gone. No worries.

Where can you find me?

 I like cold water and can be found near the north or south end of the planet. I am especially well known in the Arctic where I can grow really, really big.

What do I eat?

 I eat mostly other jellyfish, little fish and plankton.

What might eat me?

 Sea turtles. I hate sea turtles.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  •  I hold the world record for the largest jellyfish. One of my brothers/sisters was found on a beach with a medusa seven feet across and tentacles that were over 120 feet long! Don't worry, I don't get that big in the Bay.
  • I have a lot of tentacles, up to 1200 of them.
  • and coolest of all, I eat an poop with the same hole. Gross huh? But cool too.

October 2015: Barred Owl


Barred Owl
Strix varia

Who am I?

 I am a large brown owl with cute big eyes and a white face.  Like my other owl brothers and sisters I am most active at night, hunting small critters and defending my territory. I am very communicative and talk at length with others of my kind nearby. I say "who-cooks-for-you" in a particularly owl-like way. I can live up to 18 years old. Perhaps I am older than you? I won't be able to lay eggs until I am two years old. Then i will look for a large hole in a tree to make my nest, though I will sometimes use other nests that have been abandoned by large birds like hawks. I really like holes in trees and so I tend to live in forests that have been around long enough to have some pretty big trees.

When I am ready and during the winter I will lay 2 or 3 eggs over a few days. It will take about a month for my babies to hatch. It is cold and I spend a lot of time keeping my eggs warm. So how do I eat when I am sitting on my eggs? Dad to the rescue! He will hunt for me while I am on the nest. About three weeks after our babies hatch we will both be busy hunting and feeding them. Just a couple of weeks later they will be ready to fly to a nearby branch. A big moment for them. Soon they are flying and learning to hunt. We will still care for them for six months or so, just until we are sure they can make it on their own.

Where can you find me?

 I live in woodland areas, preferably the swampy, smelly kind. I generally prefer to live in dense areas and tend to avoid open spaces. I can be found throughout eastern Canada and the eastern United States.

What do I eat?

 Little critters, mostly mice. But I will also eat rabbits and squirrels and snakes and frogs and lizards -- pretty much anything that will fit in my sharp talons.

What might eat me?

 When I am a baby raccoons and weasels will sometimes eat my egg or even me if mom is gone and I can not defend myself. As an adult I have few predators. There is, of course, the nasty Great Horned Owl that will sometimes attack me and those hungry Goshawks are always a threat. Mostly I worry about getting hit by cars. Humans.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • I probably live not far from your house.
  • I am easy to attract -- just play a recording of my voice.
  • I make the classic hoot-owl sound. "who-cooks-for-you"



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