Friday, September 19, 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Stinging

by John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, Ohio Division of Wildlife--District Two

“Leaves of three, leave it be” is the old adage used to teach people how to identify and avoid an uncomfortable experience outdoors. However, the axiom is not completely accurate and quite a few plants with three leaves do not need to be avoided, like strawberries and raspberries. Learning to properly identify a few common plants is relatively simple and can help ensure a positive experience, or at least avoid a potentially uncomfortable one when venturing outside.

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are probably the most famous members of the “plants to avoid” list in North America. The sap of these plants contains the chemical urushiol which can cause an allergic reaction when it contacts the body. The reaction is often an irritating, itching rash that can develop into a more severe reaction in some people. When a plant is injured or damaged, urushiol is released to the plant’s surface. Urushiol is an oil that adheres to anything it comes in contact with including skin, blankets, clothing and pet fur.
Photo from
Usually around 24 hours after contact with the skin, a rash will begin to develop at the point of contact. Rashes usually last for 1 to 2 weeks, but can last up to 5 weeks in some cases. The rash is not contagious, and the fluid from blisters cannot cause the rash to spread. Rashes can only be spread through continued contact with the urushiol oil. Similar to other oils, urushiol does not evaporate and water alone is not very effective at removing the oil. Soaps containing detergents that remove oil are preferred as is plenty of cold water, since hot water opens up skin pores allowing the oil to penetrate. Ordinary laundry detergents can be used to remove urushiol from most clothing and fabrics, except leather and suede.

Poison ivy
The best way to deal with urushiol is to avoid contacting plants that contain it. Of the three aforementioned plants, poison ivy is the most common in Ohio. True to the adage, poison ivy does have three leaflets. The leaflets are oval shaped containing a few narrow teeth along the edges. The center leaflet has a longer stalk than the outside two. Leaflets can vary in color from light green to dark green in the spring and summer, to red, yellow, or orange in the fall. Poison ivy can be a plant, a vine or a shrub, and is thorn less. Poison ivy vines are often “hairy” and the 3 leaflets connect to a stem which connects to the main vine in an alternating pattern.

Poison ivy is sometimes confused with other plants found in Ohio. Virginia creeper is a vine that often grows along tree trunks, similar to poison ivy, but contains 5 leaflets instead of 3 and the vine is “hairless.”

Virginia creeper

Both box elder, a member of the maple family, and fragrant sumac have leaflets similar to poison ivy. The leaflets of box elder saplings attach to the main stem opposite of each other, rather than in an alternating pattern like poison ivy.
Fragrant sumac is a small shrub found in half of Ohio’s counties. The center leaflet of fragrant sumac tapers to the base of the other two leaflets without a long stalk of the poison ivy center leaflet.

Poison sumac is the only other of the infamous three plants that is found in Ohio. It is mostly confined to the northeastern part of the state, and even in that region it is a rare occurrence. Poison sumac is a shrub with leaves containing 7 to 13 oblong leaflets with smooth edges. The stems of the shrub are hairless. It is almost always found in wet locations, like sphagnum bogs, fens and swamps.
Poison sumac
Poison sumac should not be confused with the common staghorn and smooth sumacs which are abundant throughout Ohio.
Staghorn sumac
Common sumac

Stinging nettle
Stinging nettle is another Ohio plant that can quickly turn a hike into an unpleasant situation. Unlike poison ivy and poison oak, stinging nettle does not contain the oil urushiol. Instead, stinging nettle, as the name implies, has very fine stinging hairs on the leaves and stems called trichomes. The trichomes act like tiny needles that inject multiple chemicals into the skin which cause a stinging sensation. Ironically, stinging nettle is edible and may have medicinal uses when handled properly. Stinging nettle grows 2 to 4 feet tall and can be found in fertile soils, often in forest floodplains and along stream banks. The dark green leaves are oval in shape, have a rough paper-like texture and contain very coarse teeth along the edges.

Jewelweed or Touch-Me-Not
Jewelweed is another important plant to know before heading outside, but for a very different reason. Despite one if its common names, touch-me-not, jewelweed is an important medicinal herb and can often relieve the adverse effects of stinging nettle, mosquito bites and bee stings. Some even claim that jewelweed can prevent poison ivy. The waxy leaves of jewelweed are oval in shape, with a few rounded teeth along the leaf edges. The stem is succulent and translucent with a clear liquid inside, which contains the anti-inflammatory ingredients. Interestingly, jewelweed prefers shade and moist soils near running water, which is often where stinging nettle is found.

So whether you are heading into your backyard or hiking deep into the back country, being able to identify a few common plants can have a dramatic difference on the outcome of your trip. If you are interested in learning more about Ohio’s wild plants, there are a variety of excellent field guides available as books or online. Although plant identification may seem overwhelming at first, a good field guide will help point you in the right direction.

Most photos were taken from The Ohio State University Extension or USDA websites.

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Educator’s Back to School List

by John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist

It is time for educators to begin thinking about this year’s lessons. The Division of Wildlife has many resources available to educators including professional development, loaner equipment and educational materials. Most of these resources are offered to educators free of charge. 

You may be interested to learn more about the Division of Wildlife’s professional development opportunities for educators from preschool through high school. These programs offer project-based learning programs that fit Ohio's New Science Learning Standards. And most are free or very low cost! 

For K-12, we offer training in the Project WILD and Aquatic Project WILD programs. Project WILD is a supplementary education program emphasizing awareness, appreciation and understanding of wildlife and natural resources, while helping students learn more about science, ELA, math, and more.

Realizing that early childhood educators are also looking for ways to incorporate wildlife into their classrooms, Growing Up WILD is the newest offering from Project WILD. Most instructors are also Step-Up to Quality approved.

All of these programs are referenced in the new Model Curriculum as high quality Instructional Strategies and Resources throughout most grade levels in Science. They are fun, easy to use, and don’t require any extra time or materials to implement. All can be received through a professional development workshop for 3-6 contact hours. You can find a listing of upcoming workshops on our website.  Just scroll to the bottom of the page.

WILD School Sites is another program you may be interested in. This program is an action extension of Project WILD and can involve any school property as a place to learn about and benefit from wildlife and the environment. WILD School Sites allow teachers and students to take what they learn from Project WILD and apply it to the creation of wildlife habitat on their school grounds. They can then use those habitat improvement projects to help bring real life lessons in science, language arts, math, and visual arts into their curriculum. These types of project or performance-based activities are very important in today’s standards. For more information about these programs, please visit the Conservation Education page

Materials from the Wildlife History Timeline
 Loaner Trunk
A wide variety of loaner materials are available to educators from the Division of Wildlife. Travelling trunks are a great way to bring wildlife education into classrooms using hands-on learning activities and visual aids. These rolling suitcases can be borrowed for two weeks at a time. Most trunks contain activity guides to help educators who are less familiar with Ohio wildlife to structure their lessons.

The Division of Wildlife also produces a wide variety of educational materials and resources, including posters, an eNewsletter for educators, life history sets, 12 different field guides of Ohio’s wildlife, and a Wild Ohio Magazine for kids. 

Again, most of these items are provided free to educators by the Division of Wildlife. You can find our Education Materials Brochure online. Or contact the Education Coordinator or your local Communication Specialist to find out more about these resources.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A little love for "that state up North" and why getting away is so important to kids

I have a secret to share...I love Michigan! Now, being a devout Ohio State graduate and fan, that is a hard thing to admit.  But it's true! And, let's be clear here, I love Michigan, not that team up North.  ;-)

People ask me all the time "Why do you spend so much time in Michigan?"  Well, for a couple of reasons:

  1. I have a dear friend with a sweet little cabin who is kind enough to let me crash there several times a year for a variety of outdoor adventures.
  2. Said cabin is smack in the middle of Kirtland warbler nesting territory!! If you've never been to Mio, Michigan for the U.S. Forest Service warbler driving tour, you owe it to yourself to do so.  Totally worth the 7 hour drive (from central Ohio at least).
  3. The fishing is fantastic! Smallmouth bass (my favs), largemouth bass, walleye, perch, and of course, PIKE! There's water everywhere and it's actually difficult to decide where to go.
  4. The birding is fantastic! Besides the aforementioned Kirtland's, I get to see lots of northern species in breeding behavior that I don't get to see down here.
  5. It's quieter, clearer, and just plain different every time I go.
So, why am I telling you all of this? I just got back from another trip, this time with my five year old daughter, Katie, and it reminded of me why "getting away" is so important.  Not just for me, but for her too! We left on Friday and came back yesterday to beat the traffic.  That plan didn't work out too well on Friday as the "cabin crowd," as my friend calls it, had the same idea. But that's another story.  By the time we got there, we were both exhausted, a little bit cranky, and a little bit tense.  But, when we stepped out into the quiet of the Huron National Forest, it's like it all melts away.  Even on a five year old's face, you can see how relaxed she gets just being there.  It's like all the stress of daycare and home life leave her little body in an instant. "Stress of daycare?", you ask? Imagine if you were a five year old and you had to go to some other place every day, follow rules that you have no say in creating, are made to do tasks that require you to think about and learn new things all day long, it's hard work for a little growing body!  So these getaways give her what I call a brain break.  And me too.

Once we unpacked everything and got settled, she and the dog just started running! If you have a five year old, you know what I mean by this.  At least with Katie, she never walks anywhere.  She runs!  She climbed out of her booster seat, did the obligatory potty trip, hit the grass and never looked back! She and the dog explored every square inch of the yard, the surrounding prairie plot my friend has added, the little grove of trees behind the garage, the ditches full of weeds along the road, every thirteen-lined ground squirrel hole they could find, the latter being my dog's sole motivation, every flower, every leaf, everything! And then, she was hungry. She eats better up there, she sleeps better, she behaves better! It's really quite amazing to watch the transformation.

Heck, even the dog had fun!

We later explored a waterfall, climbed a lighthouse, waded at the beach, took a boat ride and just generally relaxed.  We had some very funny conversations about music, food, her favorite movies.  These are things we never seem to have time to just sit and chat about at home.  We're always on the go, always rushing here and there to swim lessons, the grocery store, the library, work, know how it goes.  

So, getting away with just her is just as important for her as it is for me.  I highly recommend even just short trips with your kids in the summer.  That one-on-one time I'm sure is going to be some of her favorite memories of being a kid.  I know it will be for me.  Thank you to my friend and thank you to Michigan for being such a great place for relaxation. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

‘Tis the Season for Ticks

School is out and winter has FINALLY seemed to release its grip on Ohio. During the summer break many families flock to the outdoors to recreate. In addition, many outdoor summer camps are underway. However, before releasing children and family members back into the woods, be sure to take a few health and safety precautions against ticks.

Tick ID
Tick abundance is often localized in pockets and different areas of Ohio are home to different species of ticks, some of which may carry diseases. To learn more about ticks in Ohio, how to identify ticks and what to do if you find a tick, visit the Species and Habitats page on the Division of Wildlife’s website:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Rise of the Machines

If nature teaches us anything it is that there must always be a balance in everything. Day follows night; winter and summer balance each other; the relationship between predators and prey are always fluctuating but must always be in balance. The lives of today’s youth are inundated with electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and video game consoles to name a few. In contrast, today’s youth are less connected with nature and spend less time outside than any previous generation. The term nature deficit disorder has been coined and many books and articles have been written about it. So if nature is correct, how do we find a balance?

Father and Son Playing IpadSo the solution is, just as nature shows us, to balance and perhaps merge the two together. Today’s tablets and smartphones can play a vital role in introducing today’s youth to the outdoors. Tablets and their applications are excellent for recording data from field experiments and studies. Their custom applications make data sharing and transfer much more efficient than logs created with a pencil.

As a society we are surrounded by technology from ATM machines handing us our money, to price check scanners at the supermarket, to self-checkout lines at the store. Even the concept of a store has changed with the popularity of online purchasing. Technology is so embedded in our daily lives that eliminating it from our children’s world would likely do more harm than good. 

On the other hand, reams of paper have been used to document the adverse effects today’s youth experience from their lack of interaction with nature. The fact that you are reading this article indicates that you are probably aware of this as well. So giving in to the machines is not a viable option either.

Smartphones and their abundant apps can also help introduce youth to the outdoors. There are a number of uses for smartphones outdoors, one of the best being as a field guide. A single phone can contain every field guide you will need, right in your pocket, and instantly provide you with information at your fingertip. 

However, taking students outside is not always possible, at least not all day and every day. There are ways to utilize technology to help teach about nature in the classroom as well. A technology teacher from St. Peter’s Elementary School in Upper Sandusky tries to incorporate the other teachers’ lessons into her technology class. When the third grade class was learning about habitats and adaptations, Mrs. Dilley used a popular iPad app called PicCollage to merge the two subjects. PicCollage is an iPad app used to create picture collages which can be shared or sent electronically, similar to an electronic postcard. She had the students search for photos about habitats and adaptations on the web and use them to develop an electronic picture collage. To accomplish this, the students first had to understand what they were learning in science class before they could develop a collage. It required them to merge two different subjects to develop a project.

Ultimately, there is nothing inherently bad about technology. When applied properly, technology can enhance your student’s experiences with nature. These are just a few ideas on how to balance, or integrate, technology and nature. Of course there are hundreds of ways to integrate education and nature. A great resource and report on Kids and Technology and Nature can be found online from the National Wildlife Federation.

If you would like to share an idea of how you have incorporated wildlife into your teaching, please send it to  If we post it on the blog, we will send you a token of our appreciation. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Swan Song

From John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, District Two, Findlay, Ohio

There are two species of swans native to Ohio, the tundra swan and the trumpeter swan.  Trumpeter swans are the larger of the two, both of which are native species of the United States. Although tundra swans do migrate through Ohio in the spring and fall, the trumpeter is the only native species that nests in Ohio. The adult trumpeter has snow white plumage with a black bill and feet. The young birds, or cygnets, are a sooty gray color with a pinkish colored bill and feet. The bill of a trumpeter swan may also have a red border on the lower jaw that gives the bird the appearance of wearing lipstick. The name trumpeter comes from the bird’s song, described as a resonant, deep and loud, trumpet-like call. In contrast, tundra swans, also known as whistling swans, have a much higher pitched call than trumpeter swans.
trumpeter swans and cygnets
photo from the Trumpeter Swan Society
tundra swan
Photo from the Trumpeter Swan Society

By 1900, trumpeter swans were extirpated from most of their historic range, including Ohio. In 1996, the Division of Wildlife began working on a project, in partnership with the Mississippi Flyway Council, the Cleveland Metropark Zoo, The Wilds and Ducks Unlimited, to restore trumpeter swans to Ohio. The reintroduction plan called for the release of 150 trumpeter swans in selected Ohio wetlands with a goal of at least 15 breeding pairs by 2006. This unique reintroduction was initiated to restore diversity to Ohio’s fauna and to promote wildlife enjoyment opportunities on Division of Wildlife managed wetland areas.

Today, trumpeter swans are classified as “Threatened” in Ohio and can be found in only 13 of Ohio’s 88 counties with 28 breeding pairs calling Ohio home in 2013. The Division of Wildlife’s trumpeter swan management goal is to increase its range within Ohio from the current 13 counties to 15 counties and to increase the number of breeding pairs from 28 pairs to 40 pairs within the state by 2020.

However, the chorus is not all radiant for the trumpeter swans. Another swan, ironically named the mute swan, is attempting to silence trumpeter swans in Ohio and neighboring states.
mute swan
Photo from the Trumpeter Swan Society
Mute swans are native to Eurasia and were introduced into North America during the late 1800s as decorative waterfowl. They have now established feral populations throughout North America from escaped and released birds. Mute swans were first recorded in Ohio in 1911 at Silver Lake in Akron where they were wing-clipped annually until 1934 when the birds were allowed to fly away. Mute swans are now an exotic, invasive species that threaten to displace native wetland wildlife.

Mute swans are sedentary birds that typically only migrate short distances when dictated by severe weather. Because of this, mute swans typically establish nesting territories 3 weeks earlier than trumpeter swans. Mute swans will aggressively defend their nesting territories against other native wildlife, including trumpeter swans. With only about 100,000 acres of marsh existing in Ohio, competition for limited habitat has the potential to negatively impact the success of the trumpeter swan restoration program.

In addition, mute swans feed almost exclusively on aquatic vegetation (up to 8 pounds per day!) In high densities, mute swan populations can severely reduce food availability for native waterfowl, uproot wetland plants and even destroy an entire wetland ecosystem.

Mute swans can be identified by their orange bill with a black knob at the base. Mute swans also hold their necks in an S-curve when on the water, unlike trumpeter and tundra swans. Despite their name, these birds are not actually soundless. They can make a variety of hisses, bugles and other sounds.
Photo courtesy of the Trumpeter Swan Society

Regionally, the populations of mute swans have begun to grow exponentially. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reports that, in the last 10 years the number of mute swans has nearly tripled. Without management of mute swan populations, long-term detrimental impacts may occur to Ohio’s wetland habitats and native species like trumpeter swans.