About Jennifer Landin

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So far Jennifer Landin has created 16 blog entries.

Invasion of the House Finch

Once upon a time, House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) only lived west of the Rocky Mountains. Then, in 1940, a group of captive birds flew to freedom from their New York cages. Their numbers slowly grew until there was a population explosion. Today, House Finches reside throughout the U.S. and Mexico.

There’s a downside to dense populations though – disease. In the 1990s, a bacterium (Mycoplasma gallisepticum) started swirling among groups of House Finches. The infection causes conjunctivitis (like “pinkeye”) in the birds. If you’re a bird with swollen eyelids and crusty build up, you’re not going to be very good at […]

By | April 22nd, 2015|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Gnarly Trees

Branches of the live oak (Quercus virginiana) loop and twist their way toward openings in the forest canopy. Many branches sag down to the ground before stretching back up again.

These low branches help the oak survive in the hurricane-prone regions of the southeastern US. Short, wide trees resist strong winds better than tall, thin ones.

Those curvy branches helped the USS Constitution stay afloat during the War of 1812. Live oak limbs were frequently used in ship building due to their natural bends, strength and density.

By | March 30th, 2015|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Cold Feet, Warm Heart

Raleigh has had a fit of cold, snowy (and icy) weather this week. So while I watched this snow-covered Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) swim around an icy lake near my house, I couldn’t help but think “Brrrrr.”

The core temperature of a goose, wrapped in its fluffy down coat, is ~104° Fahrenheit. But what about those feet? They must be freezing!

In a way, they are. The feet of this goose are only ~35°. As warm blood from the body travels to the toes, it transfers heat to the blood making the return trip. By the time the blood reaches the […]

By | February 27th, 2015|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

The Fashionable and Practical Turkey Vulture

Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) remind me of 16th century European royalty (you know those “ruffs” they wore around their necks?). That regal appearance results from a bald head, which keeps the birds a little cleaner as they dig around in decomposing roadkill.

Evolving with bacteria goes beyond losing some feathers though. After all, if you ate rotten meat, you’d get sick. Vultures, however, have extremely acidic digestive tracks and host special gut bacteria that help them digest those rotten meals.

Oh, and don’t bother vultures while they’re feeding. They’re known to vomit as a defense mechanism.

p.s. Robert Krulwich of […]

By | January 22nd, 2015|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Who’s in My House?

Tiny rustling noises arise from our kitchen garbage can. I tip-toe up to it and out pops a little fuzzy face with a twitching nose. Then it’s gone… and I head to the closet for a couple live traps.

Many mice and voles have made my house their own over the years (before I gently suggest they live elsewhere).

Is my new tenant a MOUSE or a VOLE?

Need a hint?
MICE have long tails, long snouts, long ears and protruding eyes.
VOLES have short tails and teddy bear faces with small, rounded ears, button eyes and a smooshed snout.

Curious about what’s the […]

By | January 13th, 2015|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art, Urban Ecology|0 Comments

Talking Turkey Parts

The male wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), weighing in at around 20 pounds, is one of the largest birds in North America. By comparison, many domestic turkeys — the kind you’ll likely be feasting on at the Thanksgiving table — weigh twice as much. Female wild turkeys are roughly half the size of the male.


The heads of male wild turkeys are featherless and colorful, with odd sounding structures: the snood, caruncles, and wattle. Their head can even change color depending on the turkey’s mood. Blue means “Hey, good lookin’!” Red means “I’m […]

By | November 26th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard|0 Comments

A Study in Scarlet

No doubt you’ve been wowed this autumn by the crimson colors of the red maple (Acer rubrum)!

This tree, native to eastern North America, has grown even more numerous in the past 100 years. When the Chestnut Blight and Dutch Elm Disease swept through eastern deciduous forests, it opened up space for the hardy red maple to move in.

Add in the tree’s popularity in landscaping (and its tolerance to a wide range of environmental conditions: sunny or shady, high or low nutrients, dry or moist soil) and you have one of the most common trees in America!

By | November 10th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Spooky Spider

I love Halloween. It’s the time of year when I can leave all the spider webs up around the front stoop and call them decorations.

This harmless garden spider, the Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia) is not long for the world. She’ll die soon as the nights grow colder. But I’ll keep an eye on her wee ones in the egg sac she left by the railing. In the spring the baby spiders will hatch out, spin a little silk parachute to catch the breeze and sail away to a new home!

Learn more about the garden spider by revisiting

A Tale of Two Hemlocks

I have never poisoned anyone. I recently learned that if I were to try, I would be very bad at it. The hemlock I thought was poisonous turns out to just have an unfortunate common name. And rather than brewing up a batch of tainted tonic, I would apparently make my intended victim an aromatic cup of tea loaded in Vitamin C.

While hiking around the Appalachians this past weekend, I spied tons of hemlock trees. “What a great post for October and Halloween… Hemlock!” I thought and pulled out my sketchbook.

Sketch done, I hopped online to find out just

By | October 21st, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Warts & All!

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire, burn; and cauldron, bubble.

Shakespeare’s witches open Macbeth by tossing a toad into their cauldron, along with parts of snakes, newts, bats and other dejected, unfortunate creatures. Why such a bad rap? After all, people LOVE frogs – they turn into princes and are considered quite lucky by some cultures. But toads? Feared, reviled. What’s the big difference?

Toads (like the American toad, Bufo americanus, pictured above) tend to live in drier environments than frogs. In the frog’s aquatic environment, escape is just a hop away. For toads, though, warts are the key to survival. The […]

By | October 8th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|1 Comment

Ferocious Beauty

Carnivorous plants have turned the tables on food webs. Rather than insects munching on plants, these plants chow down on insects.

The “traps” of yellow pitcher plants (Sarracenia flava) – one of several carnivorous plant species native to the Southeast — are actually modified leaves. The flap (or operculum) prevents rain from entering the pitcher. The opening to the pitcher lures insects with nectar, but any bug that reaps the sweet reward will find a very slippery surface. Plop!! There it goes into the digestive fluids at the bottom of the trap.

In North Carolina, the yellow pitcher plant can be found […]

By | September 25th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Nothing Gold Can Stay

The American goldfinch (Spinus tristis), like many animals, changes colors over the course of a year. In the summer, male goldfinches dress in bright gold with black patches on their wings and head – like an avian superhero. When winter comes, the goldfinch molts those bright feathers and assumes his mild-mannered alter ego again. Only a little patch of yellow on his throat remains.

The female goldfinch (pictured) isn’t as flamboyant as her partner in the summer. But she’ll also change into grayish brown plumage for winter.

Editor’s notes: Interested in #SciArt? Jennifer Landin will present “Sketching Nature: Biological Illustration […]

By | September 8th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Mushroom Musings

With last weekend’s rains, mushrooms have sprouted up all over Raleigh yards, neighborhoods and parks. The above is a composite sketch of all the beautiful mushrooms I observed while on a hike at our local state park.

Did you know that mushrooms aren’t the actual “body” of the fungus? They’re the fungus’ reproductive structure. The real “body” — called the mycelium — grows through the soil or logs in bazillions of microscopic filaments.

Look carefully under the mushroom’s cap. There you’ll find gills loaded with spores — each spore, if it lands in a suitable place, is capable of producing a […]

By | August 7th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Squirrel Sketch

If you live on the East Coast, I bet you encountered at least one eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) during your regular comings and goings today. Perhaps you saw one doing elaborate acrobatics on your bird feeder. Maybe you swerved to avoid one darting across the road. Or perhaps you caught one red-handed taking tiny nibbles out of your newly ripened tomatoes…

Although native to the woodlands of eastern North America, the eastern gray squirrel has adapted quite well to urban and suburban living. It also seems to thrive in far-off habitats. In Europe, particularly the UK, where the eastern […]


Follow that trail of slime to an amazing creature. It walks on one foot, perches two eyes way over its head, and has a saddle (but is never ridden)…

It’s a slug!

That “saddle”, by the way, is actually a mantle. In snails, the mantle secretes the shell. While shells are good protection, they require lots of energy and resources to make. Slug ancestors once had shells, but some were successful when they made smaller and smaller shells. Today, slugs are shell-less (actually, some slugs today still have very reduced shells or internal shells). They’re living a more dangerous life, but can eat […]

By | June 25th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments