Q: Do you have any tips on when and where I can see the most wildlife while hiking?

A: The best times to see most wildlife are at dawn and dusk. Spring and fall are the two best seasons, especially for migratory birds and animals that hibernate all winter. When you’re out in the wilderness, look everywhere – in fields, on the forest floor, along riverbanks, in rivers and ponds and in trees and the sky. The most active areas are the edges of fields. Hawks and owls often perch there, and many animals make their dens where the woods meet the meadows. Creatures feel safer around the edges.

Another active area is along riverbanks and shorelines. Minks, weasels and muskrats are commonly observed foraging next to water. Do a little research and find out where the nearest hiking trails or wildlife habitats are. Watching wildlife can be a very enlightening experience and a great reason to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Remember to keep your distance and to leave nature as it was. Binoculars are a must, and don’t forget a camera.

Q: What area has the most thunderstorms?

A: By far, the region with the highest annual frequency of thunderstorms is central Florida, including the Orlando area. You can expect thunderstorm activity there at least 90 days of the year, most of it occurring during the months of June, July and August. In contrast, along the United States’ West Coast, thunderstorms, on average, occur on fewer than five days of the year. And in parts of British Columbia, Canada, there are some years when not a single thunderstorm will occur.

Q: What can I plant to attract butterflies?

A: Butterflies seem to be attracted to bright flowers, especially purple, yellow, orange and red ones. Keep the colors all season by growing different varieties that bloom at different times. Single-petal flowers are easier for butterflies to get nectar from than double-petal ones (aster, cosmos, impatiens, salvia, sunflowers, zinnia). Besides host flowers, butterflies also need host plants for their caterpillars, the larvae of butterflies. While the caterpillars will eat those plants, butterfly caterpillars don’t do as much damage as moth caterpillars, and won’t cause total destruction to your plants. Some people suggest that you think of the butterfly caterpillar as Mother Nature’s “pruner.” Some good host plants include parsley, dill, butterfly weed, fennel, milkweed, aster and anise.

Q: Why did the Chinese first use chopsticks?

A: Basically, it was out of necessity, not for aesthetic reasons. Chopsticks originated sometime during the Chou dynasty. During this time in China, there was a serious wood (fuel) shortage. Because of this shortage, the Chinese had to rethink a lot of mundane things, including cooking methods.

Stir-frying, which was unheard of before this time period, was introduced and promoted as the most efficient manner in which to cook food. Because the food was cut before stir-frying, the meat and vegetables cooked quicker than other methods, thus saving on the wood needed for fuel.

Also during this time, only a few people owned tables (again, due to the severe wood shortage), so a utensil had to be developed that would allow people to eat with one hand while holding a dish in the other. Chopsticks were the answer.

Another good reason for chopsticks is that they enabled the Chinese, who tend to use a lot of sauces with their foods, to dunk without getting any sauce on their fingers.

Q: Can starfish swim?

A: No, because starfish aren’t really fish, they’re echinoderms, a variety of invertebrate marine animals that includes the sea urchin, the sea cucumber and sand dollars. Starfish actually crawl around on hundreds of elastic tube feet located under their arms. Each of these feet has a suction cup that allows them to move or stop, and even open clam shells.

If you have a question for the Farmers’ Almanac write to Farmers’ Almanac, P.O. Box 1609, Lewiston, ME 04241 or e-mail: [email protected]

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