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Ask the Naturalist! Nature Questions from Kids

Kids have a way of making us see the world differently–new perspectives, wild ideas, un-thought-of solutions, and a myriad of questions. Kids who visit the Urban Ecology Center ask a constant stream of questions about the native Wisconsin animals that live in our center–questions we may have wondered ourselves but for some reason never asked. We’ve answered a few of them here to satisfy the curiosity of our visitors and other budding naturalists. Do snakes have bones? Yes, snakes have bones. They provide structure for their bodies. Otherwise, they would be completely soft, like Jello. When you handle a snake, you feel the strong muscles that surround the bones and cover most of their body, enabling them to move over land, swim in water and even climb up vertical tree trunks. What do turtles do if they have an itch under their shell? Good question! If it happened, it would be quite a problem for a turtle! A turtle’s shell grows directly out of it’s backbone, like ribs which are fused together. There’s no way for a turtle to take off its shell or get underneath it. Chances are, though, it doesn’t happen much. It would be like a person having an itch under their backbone. Hopefully that doesn’t happen to you! How big do snapping turtles get? What would happen if I tried to pick one up? Snapping turtles can grow up to 14 inches long and usually weigh between 10 and 35 lbs, though one turtle in captivity reached 86 lbs! Snapping turtles have a very sharp beak and will naturally snap at anything that approaches them. It’s best to leave snapping turtles alone in the wild, or come to the center if you want to see one up close. Why are moths hairy? Moths have hair both on their bodies and on their wings, though some look more hairy than others. The moth’s hair helps regulate its body temperature, providing heat insulation much like human hair, when temperatures drop at night. A second function of hair is for defense. Bats feed on moths at night and send out ultrasonic squeaks to find their prey. The moths’ hair absorbs the sound and makes them harder to find. Why do snakes shed? How long does it take? Snakes shed their skin as they grow, roughly 4 to 8 times per year. Before snakes shed, they go through a period of relative inactivity, which usually lasts one to two weeks. You can tell when a snake is entering the shedding process because its eyes become cloudy. Then, immediately before shedding, the eyes will look normal again and the actual shedding begins. Shedding can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on environmental conditions and the health of the snake. An interesting fact: snakes are not the only animals that shed their skin. Other animals, like humans for example, also shed. We lose our skin gradually as we go about our daily activities, while snakes lose their skin all at once or in larger sections that are clearly visible. Are there poisonous snakes in Milwaukee? No, there are no poisonous snakes in nature in Milwaukee. Only two poisonous snakes live in Wisconsin: the timber rattlesnake and the eastern massasauga rattlesnake. Both of these live primarily in the southwestern part of the state. When you are outdoors in Milwaukee, you don’t need to worry about meeting a poisonous snake. Ask the naturalist! Mail nature questions to: Ask the Naturalist Urban Ecology Center, Riverside Park2808 N. Bartlett Ave., Milwaukee, 53212 or email us at You can also drop by for a visit! We’ll do our best to answer your question or point you in the right direction. Sources: www.butterflies-moths.com, Encarta Multimedia Encyclopedia 2000, Milwaukee Public Museum Website: www.mpm.edu