Insects and animals visit our outdoor spaces all the time, even though we may not see them. Some are nocturnal being active at night when we are not typically in our yards or gardens. They do leave signs they were there though. Some leave tracks where they were walking or crawling about, others leave feeding marks where they had a meal. Take some time to observe the living beings sharing your outdoor areas.

Elm trees can be attacked by an Elm Bark Beetle, which feeds just under the bark in the cambium layer of the tree. The tiny insect feeds by chewing up the moist plant tissue, leaving a beautiful and distinctive pattern  once the bark dies and falls off as shown in the photo below. The elm bark beetle are known to spread Dutch Elm Disease to elm trees in the process of feeding.

Elm Bark Beetle damage on dead log.

Adult European elm bark beetle. Credit: J. Benzel, Screening Aids,

A newer pest in the northeast which also feeds just under the bark is the Emerald Ash Borer. It is emerald green as its common name implies, and also small in size at less than a half inch. Control is very difficult since the larval stage feeds underneath the bark where contact insecticides cannot reach. The adult beetles feed on the leaves in spring after they emerge from D-shaped exit holes they make in the bark when they chew their way out of the tree. It leaves a more random and larger feeding pattern, with the ability to kill an ash tree in three years.

Emerald Ash Borer Handiwork Elizabeth Park Trenton, Michigan

Emerald Ash Borer Adult, Photo by David Cappaert,

A group of insects aptly named leafminers feed in between the top and bottom layers of a leaf. You can see the feeding trails left by the larval stage of some moths, sawflies and flies. They are usually host specific, each species of insect feeding on only one species of plant. Once again, pesticides will not reach the inside of the leaf where the insect is located. Remove and destroy infected leaves to kill the leafminer.

Boxwood leafminers.
Columbine leafminer damage, photo

The next photo of a pattern on a pipe of a gate near a lake was sent to our office asking what made the etching. The marks are feeding trails of snails eating the algae growing on the pipe in the wetland area. Snails have a ribbon-like tongue called a radula which has thousands of tiny teeth that line the surface used to rasp up the algae.

Photo credit, Lou Beausoleil

Woodpeckers leave their marks while pecking on trees. They peck to make noise to find a mate or declare their staked out territory. They also peck into trees in search of insects to eat. The red-bellied sapsucker makes small holes in a pegboard fashion as it systematically covers an area of a tree to seek out every insect.

Sapsucker damage to a dead branch.

Of course many animals leave tracks in the snow and soil, like hoofed deer and the three toed turkeys. Below are vole tracks meandering around its tunnel opening.

What tracks can you find?

-Carol Quish

Tracks in the snow are signs that somebody has been out and about. Cold and snow tends to keep us humans inside warm homes, but animals stay active in search of food and mates, especially as their circadian rhythms turn to spring thoughts. After a fresh snow is the ideal time to go out looking for prints.

Animals walking leave their foot prints, often identifiable by their shape, and walking or running pattern. Larger birds coming in for a landing will leave wing prints in powdery snow. Turkey wing prints are especially beautiful. Tunnels can sometimes be noticed when they are freshly made or more often, noticed as the snow cover melts. Tunnel trails are tale tell signs the area is home to voles and mice.

A blanket of snow can be deceiving, bringing us to the thought most animal is sleep.  A walk around the Storrs campus this week found a few tracks below proving animals are active.

Deer have a distinctive cloven hoof. They place the majority of their weight on the front portion of the hooves, leaving a deeper imprint towards the front.

Deer Track, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Deer Track, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Deer Tracks leading to tree branch, UConn, 2-4-14, CQuish

Deer Tracks leading to tree branch, UConn, 2-4-2014 C.Quish photo






















I watched this squirrel bound through the snow, leading up and off the ground with his front paws. He landed with the front first, then with his back feet almost touching the front, his back arched and legs springing him forward once again. This action left the prints below.


Squirrel tracks, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Squirrel landing tracks, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Squirrel track leading to tree, UConn 2-4-14,CQuish

Squirrel track leading to tree, UConn 2-4-14,CQuish

Mr Squirrel UConn 2-4-14 Pamm Cooper

Mr Squirrel UConn 2-4-14 Pamm Cooper photo


























I spotted a serpentine trail winding its way over a large, open lawn area. It originated from a stone wall that ran parallel with the sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, I found it to be raised up snow from a tunnel below the snow. There were a couple of open holes where it appears the small rodent popped up from the tunnel for a look around. A vole or mouse probably made the trailing tunnel.


Vole tunnel in the snow, 2-4-2014, UConn, Pamm Cooper photo

Vole tunnel in the snow, 2-4-2014, UConn, Pamm Cooper photo










-Carol Quish