What Was That Thing I Saw Out on the Trail ?

If you visit our Home page, you’ll see a list of Categories we file our write-ups under. There is one called “Strange Things I Have Seen” which includes stuff like, a groundhog climbing a tree, beakless birds, tree branches fusing two separate trees together, three winged maple keys, and such. Things you might know very well … but some of the ones I saw, were a bit strange.

This posting is about things you might see out there, that could be a mystery to some folks, or things that are often mistaken for being something else. For example, we all know what a beaver lodge looks like :

But what is this ?

While muskrats are known to “share” beavers’ lodges with them (when they’re available), this muskrat mound was spotted in a pond too small, and without running water, for beavers to populate. Come Spring we’ve seen many of these become nesting platforms for swans and geese.


Usually in forested areas near water, you’ll see these, after the leaves have dropped in the Fall. Many are at about eye level in low shrubbery. They look like a giant brazil nut. They’re about four inches long.

Inside (if it hasn’t been parasitized or attacked by a small bird as they usually are) will be a majestic Cecropia Moth larvae. The Wife and I often bring these home to keep in a screened cage outside, to protect them from predators and parasites. Unless there’s a tiny bore hole in it, (indicating parasitic attack) around June you’ll see one of these emerge from it.


Then there’s the matter of misidentification. Everyone knows squirrels build nests (dreys).

However, sometimes what we assume to be a drey is something more unexpected, if we look a bit closer.


Something you might run across while bending over to pick wild berries. It looks and feels like a man-made material of some kind. Perhaps a bead of spray foam insulation. Or maybe it looks like an alien gestation chamber (depending upon your preference of movie genres).

Mantids are an invasive species, and these are egg casings (Oothecas). Don’t bring these home to display as a curio on your rec. room shelves unless you’re sure the contents have hatched. We have these two on display, but we kept them in a paper bag until all the occupants were finished emerging and died. You don’t want those things (as many as 200 from one ootheca) running around your house. If leaving them in a bag to emerge and die seems cruel to you, please read my posting  Raising Mantids … Or Maybe Not.


Though, apparently not uncommon, we’ve only seen these once. In the shallows of deep woods ponds or lake shorelines, you’ll sometimes spot one, or a dozen, of these.

They’re fascinating yet gross to look at, and grosser still, to touch. These look like gelatinous jellyfish without tentacles. However, you’ll find them in fresh water, and they aren’t independently mobile. They’re actually a colony of minute aquatic filter feeding animals called bryozoans. These tiny creatures have supposedly been around for hundreds of millions of years (so why have we only seen them once eh ? I gotta pay closer attention).


In the Spring of the year, these bright orange globs of goo (there’s no better adjective) on junipers might catch your attention. From a distance, they resemble bright orange flowers.

This is a fungus which transmits between apple trees and junipers. They’re gross but … oddly, kinda pretty too. ‘Course, apple growers fail to see the beauty of them, since they spell disaster for their efforts if left unchecked. Interestingly, the fungus needs both junipers and apples to survive and propogate as they must transfer between the two. All those wild apple trees in Southern Ontario are the collaborators, as cultivated tree growers have methods of dealing with it.

You have to look pretty fast to see them though. The bright orange phase (depending on weather conditions) might last a coupla days, or just a few hours. They dry up fast to look like galls with brown spines, which you wouldn’t even notice.


Tent Caterpillars and Fall Webworms (though native) are considered disgusting by many, and creepy by almost any standard. Their abandoned “tents” litter the trees as Winter approaches and they persist into the following Summer. They’re too small and positioned too near the end of a branch to be mistaken for squirrel dreys.

However, if you spot what appears to be an old “tent” hanging from a branch in early Summer, it might be worth taking a closer look. These old tents look an awful lot like Oriole nests (or vice versa). If you notice one at the right time of year, you might catch sight of the Monarch Butterfly of the bird world too.


We were walking a trail in the middle of nowhere, when I was shocked to see a puddle, with gobs of oil floating in it.

Upon closer examination, I realized they were flotillas of Springtails.

These are harmless tiny insects that are quite beneficial to the ecosystem (and they don’t bite anyone). They’re everywhere too. Your backyard likely harbours millions of them. But when you encounter a bunch of aquatic ones, they resemble floating patches of oil. There are over 700 species of these in North America alone so … other than “one of the aquatic ones”, I haven’t the slightest idea which ones these were.


Of course, there are lotsa things I’ve seen that I can’t figure out either. Like … what is this ?

It’s obviously a caterpillar (a tussock maybe?), but what is it doing ? Building a cocoon ? If so, I’ve never seen one like that before.

Anyway, when you’re out walking the bush, please try paying more attention to what’s around you, and less attention to your smart phone. You will see, hear, and maybe even smell, some interesting stuff. These are just some of the oddities we’ve experienced out there.


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