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April 23
Question: An increase of snakes around the house this Spring, anything I can do?

I seem to be finding Kirtland snakes as I am cleaning my gardens. There seems to be an increase of grubs, beeetles and worms but have not seen the small lizards yet. We have an abundance of chipmunks. Is there something I can do to discourage the snakes from taking up residencey in my yard?

Many people have questions about snakes and this post addresses the two most common – what is it and what can I do?  The answer to the latter is, in part, related to the first so I’ll address that one first.  Indiana is home to a diversity of snake species.  Identifying snakes to species can be tricky.  First, geographic location often can easily differentiate among similar species or subspecies. Check the distribution map of the species in question and that of similar species. This may not resolve all issues since the distribution of similar species often overlap, distribution maps are not 100 percent accurate (i.e., they are a “best guess”), and some species and subspecies share similar characteristics where their ranges overlap. Second, scale configuration and appearance differs among some groups of species. For snakes, the texture of the body scales (keeled or smooth) or the presence/absence of a divided anal plate (the large scale that covers the cloacal opening) are key. Finally, physical characteristics including size, color, and pattern can be used. For some species, conclusive identification is easier with the specimen in hand although handling venomous species (which are rare in Indiana) is not recommended. With practice, one can become quite adept at identifying all of them.DeKay's Brownsnake - This species is a small chestnut to dark brown snake averaging 25-30 centimeters in length. The belly is cream to pink. It has two rows of dark spots along the back that fade toward the tail. Dark bars may connect the dorsal spots, giving the impression of a ladder-like pattern. The area within this pattern is usually lighter in color than the sides, often giving the impression of a central stripe.

Kirtland’s Snakes referenced in the homeowner’s question are endangered in Indiana.  They are generally found near or along the margins of water bodies, but they can also on occasion be found in some urban areas.  Due to these facts and since Kirtland’s Snakes are generally quite secretive in behavior, this homeowner’s garden visitors are likely another species. Common garden visitors in Indiana include DeKay’s Brownsnake (pictured right) or Eastern Gartersnake. Red-bellied Snakes (pictured below) have a pinkish-red belly similar to Kirtland’s Snake.  They are more of a woodland species, but it could be a possibility. All of these snakes can eat slugs and other garden pests.

Is there something homeowners can do to discourage snakes from taking up residency in their yards and around their homes?  There really is no fool proof method to discourage snakes from utilizing a property. Reducing mulch layer thickness; removing brush piles, rock piles, or other refuse; and keeping vegetation low are all steps that may help.  Keep in mind that this may also reduce use of your property by wildlife you desire.  There have been some repellents developed for snakes, but research results on their effectiveness have been mixed at best.  In general, you should be wary of repellents that promise to keep animals out of an area.  Lastly, there is plastic mesh fencing that you can purchase.  Fencing can be used to exclude animals from small areas – it is generally cost-prohibitive for larger areas and I am not aware of studies that test the effectiveness of fencing for snakes.  Snake fencing is generally designed to exclude larger venomous snakes opposed to the typical garden species that can be quite small.  Snakes can also get stuck and die in mesh fences when their head fits through but the body gets stuck.  The scales “catch” the mesh when the snake attempts to back out. Mesh fencing is also susceptible to damage from trimmers, falling limbs, and rabbits and rodents that can chew holes in it.  Thus, regular inspection and maintenance is required to maintain its function.  Red-bellied Snake - The Red-bellied Snake (18-25 cm) has both a brown and gray color phase. The two black lines along the length of its back may appear similar to the dark spots along the back of the DeKay’s Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi), but lack the crossbars. The belly has a distinctive bright pink or red coloration for which the species was named. Three light blotches may be visible behind the head on the neck.

Remember, while many folks are afraid of snakes or don’t want them around.  The vast majority of species are harmless and can actually help homeowners by preying upon animals that actually are a nuisance and cause damage.  Before taking any action, consider their benefits to you and how your actions affect other wildlife that call your yard home.

Resources:
Snakes and Lizards of Indiana
The Education Store, Purdue Extension publications, cds and videos.

Brian MacGowan, Extension Wildlife Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources​, Purdue University

April 15
Return of the American Chestnut?

In the late 1800s, 25% of hardwood trees in North America’s eastern forest were American chestnuts. 40 meters high and 2 meters across, they provided abundant resources for both people and wildlife in the form of food, shelter, and building materials. Lightweight, rot-resistant, straight-grained and easy to work with, chestnut wood was used to build houses, barns, telegraph poles, railroad ties, furniture and even musical instruments. The rapid decline of the chestnut due to the pathogenic fungus Cryphonectria parasitica has been a subject of much debate and despair over the years: but now, chestnuts engineered to battle the fungus might give the iconic trees a chance to reclaim the North American stage.

By taking genes from wheat, Asian chestnuts, grapes, peppers and other plants and inserting them into American chestnut trees, William Powell of S.U.N.Y.–ESF and scores of collaborators have created hundreds of transgenic trees that are almost 100 percent genetically identical wild American chestnut yet immune to C. parasitica. The scientists hope to get federal approval to begin planting these trees in the forest within the next five years.

National Association of State Foresters blog

Other resources:
Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center (HTIRC)
HTIRC Publications including forest restoration of American chestnut.
Indiana Chapter-The American Chestnut Foundation (IN-TACF)

April 14
Protecting Spring Plants from Wildlife Damage Using Repellents

While the weather may tell you otherwise, spring is upon us. With the changing weather comes greening grass, breaking buds, and sprouting plants. This plethora of fresh growth can help cure the winter blues, but it also provides wildlife with a desirable food source. Recently you may have noticed deer and other wildlife increase utilization of winter wheat fields and other green areas like lawns – early spring is the time you see deer in Indiana feed extensively on grass.

For homeowners, this is the time you need to scout around your home for emerging plants in your landscaping beds. Plants that are frequently browsed by deer such as tulips or hostas need special attention, but the limited amount of green plant material can leave any plant as a potential target. Most homeowners choose a type of taste repellent to protect plants.  There are several tips on how to increase the efficacy of this approach.Emerging tulips in a landscaping bed.

  1. Timing: It helps to have some foresight into when damage is likely to occur and/or the plant developmental stage(s). Unfortunately, this is usually based on past experience. Ideally, you want to time applications during these periods.  With tulips, for example, applying repellents early during sprouting, later during sprouting, and during flower bud develop will prevent damage during most years.
  2. Type of repellent: There are many types of taste repellents labeled for deer and other wildlife species. Most have a combination of capsaicin, putrefied egg solids, and/or fatty acids of ammonium soaps. There are of course others with different ingredients.  So which do you choose? There have been many studies that have investigated the efficacy of repellents. The bottom line – they work, but control is not 100%.
  3. Label: Failures can often result in not following the directions on the label. The label also provides safety information and what you can/can’t spray. Read and follow the label – it’s the law.
  4. Expectations: You aren’t going to solve all of your wildlife problems by spraying a few plants or even everything. If you use repellents, reapply according to label directions (every 3-4 weeks is usually a good rule of thumb).  To increase success, you may use them as part of an integrated approach that includes exclusion, cultural practices, and other approaches.

Resources:
Diagnosing and Controlling Wildlife Damage
Preventing Wildlife Damage - Do You Need a Permit?
Corn and Soybean Crop Depredation by Wildlife
Wildlife Conflicts

Brian MacGowan, Extension Wildlife Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources​

April 10
Dead fish in northern Indiana lakes common

Although thousands of gizzard shad died this winter in northern Indiana lakes, DNR biologists say the loss of the unwanted fish is a good thing.

Shad are not targeted by anglers because of their foul flavor, and they compete for habitat and food with popular sport fish. Where shad are abundant, corrective steps are often needed to control their population.

“Controlling gizzard shad numbers is one of our biggest fish management challenges,” said Jeremy Price, DNR regional fisheries supervisor.

More . . .

Indiana Department of Natural Resources (INDNR), April 7, 2014
Shad die-offs in northern Indiana lakes common

April 04
Question: What do we do about winter burn of Evergreens?

Winter burn is a common occurrence to boxwood, holly, rhododendron, and most conifers. Winter burn symptoms often develop when temperatures warm up in late winter and early spring. This type of winter damage is often misdiagnosed as an infectious disease or damage from excessively cold temperatures.

To understand winter injury, it is important to understand that while a plant is creating its food by photosynthesis, it is releasing large amounts of water through the process of transpiration (the evaporation of water from the plant). Over the course of a day, a large tree can lose hundreds of gallons of water. When plants are unable to obtain the water they need (due to drought or frozen soil), the water lost through transpiration cannot be replenished, resulting in dehydration, foliar damage, and even death.

More . . .

Contacts:
Michael Mickelbart, Clinical Engagement Assistant Professor
Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Janna Beckerman, Associate Professor
Botany and Plant Pathology

March 31
Question: Tree has large icicle from where it is dripping sap, is this a concern?

Tree owners who have broken limbs in their trees or just taking advantage of early pruning opportunities may notice that large amounts of “water” which seem to be pouring out of the branch. This is actually “sap” seeping out of the damaged area. This is sap that would have been going into the limb or branch that was removed. However, since the limb is no longer there, the sap has nowhere to go but out of the freshly cut limb or wound.

Spring weather signals trees to come out of dormancy and all trees start pumping water, minerals, and carbohydrates upwards into the tree, to allow growth of buds, leaves and shoots and will continue throughout the growing season. Certain tree species, such as maple, birch, dogwood, and elms, have an exceptionally heavy sap flow in the early spring. When pruned or wounded, these trees will "bleed" and is quite noticeable. Under normal circumstances, it is best to delay pruning these trees until later in the growing season, when the flow of sap is slower.

There is no need for alarm if this sap flow occurs and the overall health of the tree is not going to be affected. The "bleeding" may be objectionable from a cosmetic standpoint, especially if the sap is dripping directly onto people, cars, or other targets beneath the wounded area. As the affected area on the tree develops callus material and naturally seals off the wound, it will slow the flow to a stop.

It is not recommended to use any type of wound dressing or covering as this will impede the ability of the tree to seal off the damaged area. Be patient and allow natural healing of the wound to occur. Always use good pruning practices and minimize the size of cut branches to reduce wound size on the tree.

Refer to the following Purdue Extension publication Trees Need a Proper Start: Prune Them Right for more information.

Other resources can be found at the Purdue Extension, The Education Store:
Pruning Ornamental Trees and Shrubs

Lindsey Purcell, Urban Forestry Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University

March 27
Deer population causing invasive plants to take over our forests?

A recent article in ScienceDaily titled "Excessive deer populations hurt native plant biodiversity" shares how an over population of deer is hurting native plant growth. Landowners seek best management practices as these challenges arise.

For article view University of Miami. "Excessive deer populations hurt native plant biodiversity." ScienceDaily, 20 March 2014.

Resources:
Coping with wildlife damage​, Purdue EVERYTHING Wildlife
How to Build a Plastic Mesh Deer Exclusion Fence, Purdue Extension Publication

Purdue Forestry & Natural Resources Extension

March 19
If you think emerald ash borer was killed by the cold, you are dead wrong

Don't be fooled by the cold weather; EAB has plenty of life left.

Headlines have been circulating suggesting that EAB may "have met its match." Although the Midwest experienced abnormally cold temperatures this winter, it is unlikely EAB populations felt these effects as significantly as your heating bill. EAB, as well as most insects in colder climates, are effective at surviving cold temperatures. One way they survive the cold is by producing an antifreeze-like substance that prevents water in their cells from crystallizing and causing damage. Also, the extra insulation provided by the tree bark helps larvae withstand such cold temperatures. For EAB larvae overwintering within ash trees, death occurs when temperatures reach -28oF.

A model produced by US Forest Service scientists predicts areas in North America where temperatures were cold enough to kill EAB larvae. This model suggests that in the US, only northern parts of Minnesota and North Dakota have reached frigid enough temperatures to affect EAB populations.

Although some parts of the United States may have fewer adults emerging in the spring as a result of the cold temperatures, they probably won't notice. Due to a high reproductive rate, it will likely be only a matter of time before populations rebound to previous levels.

Despite the cold weather, experts are still advising to continue with EAB management plans. One effective means of saving ash trees and reducing management costs is to partner with interested neighbors to hire a company to treat trees in your neighborhood. This collaborative approach will likely reduce transportation and consultation costs for the company and the savings will be passed down to homeowners.

For more information on EAB, treatment options, and NABB (Neighbors Against Bad Bugs) visit Emerald Ash Borer in Indiana, Purdue Extension, web site.

Contacts:
Adam Witte, Exotic Forest Pest Educator
Department of Entomology

Matthew Ginzel, Associate Professor
Departments of Entomology
Forestry & Natural Resources

March 13
Winter damage of the furry kind . . .
Rabbit damage to tree Rabbit damage to tree

Cold winter winds, alternating extreme temperatures, ice and snow, can be damaging to trees and shrubs. However, this spring, we are seeing additional damage due to the harsh winter conditions that is of the furry kind; rabbits and rodents. Mice and rabbits often damage young trees in the winter by feeding on the juicy, green cambium layer just under the bark and girdling the tree. Damage from these furry creatures occurs most commonly in winters when there is prolonged, heavy snow cover and food is scarce; sound familiar? Rabbits feed on the bark above the snow, while mice tunnel under the snow and feed near the ground level. Mouse damage is usually more severe when the trees are surrounded by heavy grass, weed cover or heavy mulch.

On young trees and multi-stemmed ornamental trees, rabbits remove the bark completely around the trunks and stems, effectively girdling them. All growth above the girdled areas will eventually decline and die and for most situations, replacing the girdled trees is the best course of action. There are no applications that will mitigate the effects of rabbit damage or save severely damaged trees. Wound dressings, pruning paints, latex paints, wrappings and other alleged protective barriers do not help.

Many deciduous shrubs have the ability to produce new shoots or suckers at their base. Because of this ability, many severely damaged deciduous shrubs can recover. However, patience is required as several years may be required for some shrubs to fully recover. In early spring as the greening begins, prune off girdled stems just below the damaged areas. This will help rejuvenate the plant, in most circumstances, and replace the damage growth.

The most effective deterrent to girdling by mice or rabbits is to wrap the trunk and low branches of young trees with screen wire or hardware cloth. Be certain the wire wrap is buried below the ground line and extends high enough above the possible snow line to prevent rabbits from reaching to trunk or branches. To help control mouse damage, maintain an area free of grass or weeds for a 1- to 2-foot radius around the base of the tree. Additionally, maintain proper mulch levels, never more than 2-3”, to eliminate the habitat for mice. Various chemicals are available to repel mice and rabbits, but these do not afford the reliability of a well-made barrier.

Mice damage to treeMice damage to tree

Lindsey Purcell, Urban Forestry Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University

Other resources:
Preventing Wildlife Damage, The Education Store/Purdue Extension
Wildlife, Pet and Wildlife Damage, Purdue FNR Extension

February 25
Question: Isn’t there concerns about consuming Asian carp as a food source in Indiana streams?

A recent discussion about Asian carp as a food source has generated some concerns about the level of contamination in their fillets, and thus, whether or not they are safe to eat. Several Indiana agencies cooperate to evaluate the risks of fish consumption to the public; the agencies include Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), and Purdue University. Most of the fish assessed for contaminants are those that are regularly caught by anglers. Numerous catfish, bass, sunfish, and sucker species are commonly included in tissue surveys (see links below for more info). Indiana then divides people into two risk groups; 1) men (over 15yrs) and women beyond childbearing age (typically 45yrs or older), and 2) women pregnant or capable of becoming pregnant and children under 15. The second group is considered the sensitive group and allowable contaminant levels (that is, the amount of fish it is safe to consume) are set significantly lower.

It is important to recognize that there are differences in allowable contaminants among population groups mentioned above, and it is equally important to recognize that the same fish species can have different amounts of contaminants in different water bodies. Asian carp are a riverine species that frequently travel long distances, and as such they are exposed to varying levels of contaminates. Indiana and many other states try to minimize the effects of variation in individual fish fillet by combining tissue from multiple individual fish and analyzing it as a composite. Sampling the tissue as a composite reduces the risk of a heavily contaminated fish, or a fish with little contamination, giving a false impression of the risk. By combining the fillets, Indiana also saves money by not analyzing large amounts of single fillets. Indiana does divide the fish into a couple of size classes for each composite, because contamination increases significantly as fish sized increases. They have yet to begin testing Asian carp fillets, at least partially because of their difficulty to capture using traditional fish survey techniques.

Although most states have not started regularly testing Asian carp, there has been some published research evaluating Asian carp fillets and comparing their contaminants to other species caught in the same location. Not surprisingly, the results of the research found that Asian carp have different concentrations of contaminants depending on where they are found, and they have different levels than other species of fish including common carp. Common carp have a completely different diet than Asian carp so it is not surprising that contamination levels are different. Like most other fish the most common problems associated with Asian carp are Mercury and PCB’s. However, where the research was conducted in Illinois and Missouri the recommended restriction on consumption was typically 1 meal per week for the most sensitive groups. Most studies have demonstrated that larger fish tend to have higher concentrations in their tissues than smaller fish found in the same environments. This relates to the way Mercury and PCB’s bioaccumulate in tissues – the longer a fish is around the more contaminates per gram we would expect them to contain. This is not to say that Asian carp in Indiana is safe for that level of consumption, or that it even contains the same amount of contaminants as in other states. It still needs to be evaluated by the state, but studies cited below have shown that for the most part Asian carp are likely no riskier to consume than most of the fish species Indiana currently evaluates.

Resources:
Fish Consumption Advisory
Indiana State Department of Health

Angling Indiana/Consumption Advisory by County
Purdue University

Asian carp solutions: Take them to market
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) Newsroom

No bones about it: New video lays out easy steps for filleting tasty Asian Carp
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) Newsroom

Published Papers:
Levengood, J.M., D.J. Soucek, G.G. Sass, A. Dickinson, and J.M. Epifanio. In press. Elements of concern in fillets of bighead and silver carp from the Illinois River, Illinois. Chemosphere 2013.

Orazio, C.E., D.C. Chapman, T.W. May, J.C. Meadows, M.J. Walther, J.E. Deters, K.R. Echols, and E.S. Dierenfeld. 2010. Evaluation of environmental Contaminants and elements in Bigheaded carps of the Missouri River at Easley, Missouri, USA. In: Chapman, D.C. and M.H. Hoff, (Eds.). Invasive Asian carps in North America. American Fisheries Society Symposium 74, Bethesda, Maryland, 2011, pp 199-213.

Rogowski, D.L., D.J. Soucek, J.M. Levengood, S.R. Johnson, J.H. Chick, J.M. Dettmers, M.A. Pegg, and J.M. Epifanio. 2009. Contaminant concentrations in Asian carps, invasive species in the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

Jay Beugly, Aquatics Ecology Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources (FNR)
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
Purdue University

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For publications:
The Education Store

Purdue Nature of Teaching
HelptheHellbender.org
Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Master Gardener, Purdue University
Tree Doctor App, Purdue University
Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory
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