Hiking around these mountains you may see all sorts of things in nature that just seem designed to boggle the mind.
1. Why is your pine tree foaming at the mouth in the rain? Don’t be alarmed; it doesn’t need rabies shots.
The formation of a crude soap on the bark from fatty acids in pine sap and resin causes this foam. During a drought, a mix of sap salts and acids accumulates and coats the bark surface to form the basics of a rough detergent.
When it eventually rains, these ingredients mix with the water and start sudsing up. The froth (foam) is from the agitation of the mixture as it runs down the rough bark during its flow toward the ground.
So it’s a perfectly natural thing when pine suds up in the rain. Although if it does so excessively, it may indicate there is some insect or other damage causing it to “bleed” more sap.
2. Why are sticks walking around at the bottom of the stream?
The next time you’re down by the creek in the summer, take a look at the bottom of the small pools and you’ll see a collection of small sticks that seem to be crawling along against the current.
These little guys are caddisfly larvae. They are sheltered by a shell of pebbles, bark and other debris they have built up and “glued” in place around them with a form of silk they excrete. It’s a great protection and camouflage all at once.
Some types of caddisfly not only form shells with the silk but also make nets in order to collect food and build hideaways.
3. Do you know how to tell who ate your pine cone?
Lots of critters like to munch away at pine cones to fatten them up for the winter, but each has a distinctive way of chowing down.
You can always tell where a squirrel has eaten lunch, since they leave a clean, pine-cone core (like an apple core) and a big pile of stripped pine scales on the ground behind them. (Didn’t their mom ever teach them to clean up?)
Woodpeckers and many other of our feathered friends also peck away at pine cones. They use their pointy beaks to pull out the pine scales, one by one. This leaves a ragged, “pokey” edge (the scales of cones squirrels eat have clean-cut edges because of the sharp teeth).
So the next time you’re out and about, and run into a strange natural phenomenon (or just something you’ve always wondered about), take the time to do the research.
Almost always, it involves a fascinating answer that can help you understand more about natural patterns around you — and it’s great hiking trivia.