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Friday, July 21, 2017

How long do fireflies live and where are they during the day?

One of our younger patrons wondered where fireflies spent most of their time, if she only saw them at night. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders told us that fireflies are nocturnal and enjoy moist places, with some living under bark, decaying plants, or other debris. The website added that they also like long grass: it hides them during the day, but at night, they can climb up and get a good vantage point to signal with their lights.

They mainly use their lights to attract mates, though the writers at hypothesize that they may also use them to warn away predators. Different species have different flashing patterns. Some female fireflies will mimic the patterns of other species to lure the males, which they will eat. However, some species of adult fireflies have not been observed eating at all – they likely only live long enough to lay eggs.

According to the basic lifecycle on, a firefly spends more of its life in the larva stage – about one to two years. The larvae are carnivorous, feeding on snails and worms, and also often light up. They spend three weeks as pupas before maturing into adult fireflies, which only live for about a month. If they’re successful, the fireflies lay eggs which take approximately three weeks to hatch.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Is there anything I can do for my cracking fingernails?

Although we are not dermatologists here at the library, we found some tips in the book A Complete Guide to Manicure and Pedicure by Leigh Toselli and the Globe and Mail article “Why do my fingernails peel and crack?” by Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe that our patron may be able to use.

Both sources suggest protecting nails from water and harsh chemicals – wearing gloves while cleaning and washing the dishes, for instance, and using a non-acetone nail polish remover when necessary. Commercial nail oils and strengthening formulas are available, but we cannot vouch for their efficacy.  Toseli also suggests using almond oil or even just a regular hand cream or lotion to keep nails moisturized.

According to Toseli and Wijayasinghe, calcium and vitamins A, D, and B12 are important for healthy nails. Calcium can be found in bitter greens, tofu, dairy, and nuts; vitamin A is in fish, liver, egg yolk, milk, and many vegetables; vitamin B12 is also in eggs and dairy, and vitamin D can be absorbed from a few minutes of sunlight or found in fish, liver, and milk.

Nails grow slowly, so it may take up to six months for them to show significant improvement. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Why are my plants rotting?

“I keep potted succulents indoors, and a few of them that I’ve had for years suddenly got mushy and rotted away. What’s wrong and how do I keep it from spreading?”

According to Succulents Simplified by Debra Lee Baldwin and The Idiot’s Guide to Succulents by Cassidy Tuttle, root rot is a common malady affecting succulents. Caused by overwatering, root rot causes the roots to have a mushy texture and is often fatal. If it’s the suspected culprit, our patron can try to remove the infected roots, let their plant dry out, and repot it in clean soil, but this may or may not save it.

If our patron does not believe that they have been overwatering their plants, or if the roots still seem healthy, diseases that could be causing the problem. We couldn’t get an exact diagnosis since the symptoms were so similar, but all of our sources suggested the same basic treatment: cut away the infected tissue if possible, and then repot the plant in new soil in a sterilized container, and throw away the old soil. It also would be a good idea to quarantine the plant to lower the risk of it infecting its fellows. If the disease hasn’t gotten into the roots, the prognosis is better, but it still may not be salvageable. 

Fortunately, we found that succulents are some of the easiest plants to propagate, so our patron may be able to produce a clone of their plant if healthy leaves remain. Though the method of propagation depends on the plant, many succulents will grow from leaves or cuttings.

Friday, June 16, 2017

How are essential oils made?

Aromatherapy and natural beauty have been popular recently, and so have essential oils, leading some of our patrons to wonder: where do they come from, exactly?

Essential oils come from different plants, and there are several methods of extracting them, according to Essential Oils: Natural Remedies which is published by Althea Press. The method used can depend on the plant. Citrus oils are cold-pressed, which means the rind is put in a press at 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ginger, frankincense, and myrrh are some of the oils typically extracted through CO2 distillation. There are two methods of CO2 distillation: cold and supercritical. Both involve passing carbon dioxide through the plant matter, but in cold distillation, the CO2 is cooled to between 35-55 degrees Fahrenheit, and in supercritical, it’s heated to 87 degrees Fahrenheit.

Steam distillation is a common method and involves passing steam through the plant to collect the oils and then condensing the steam and separating the oil from the water. The water left over from this process is called hydrosol and can be used in scents and beauty products.

Chemicals such as methylene chloride (which can also be used as a paint stripper, degreaser, and component in drinking bird toys and bubble lights, among other things) can be used in place of water or CO2. After the oil has been extracted, the remaining solvents are removed, but tiny traces may remain.

Finally, there’s the very old method of enfleurage. Plants (typically flowers, as suggested by the name) rest in a bath of warm fat or fatty oil. The fatty oil absorbs the essential oils from the flowers. Once it’s saturated, alcohol is added, which absorbs the essential oils from the fat or fatty oil and then evaporates, leaving only the essential oils behind. Like hydrosol, the fat remains scented and can be used in other products.

For more information on aromatherapy and essential oils, Complete Aromatherapy Handbook by Susanne Fischer-Rizzi and The Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy by Julia Lawless are both available at the Newton Falls Public Library for checkout.

Friday, May 26, 2017

How do I get a flag on my relative's grave for Memorial Day?

“I recently found out that one of my relatives fought in the Civil War. How do I make sure that he gets a flag on his grave for Memorial Day?”

Our patron’s relative was not buried in Newton Falls, but we were able to easily locate the rules and regulations for the cemetery where they were buried on the internet. The rules stated that the Memorial Day flags were property of the township and would be displayed for “a reasonable time.” We decided that our most straightforward option would be to contact the township directly, so we called the cemetery sexton, who had listed his phone number on the website, and he was able to solve the problem. We also could have called the local chapter of the American Legion.

According to Holiday Symbols and Customs, edited by Sue Ellen Thompson, Memorial Day, first called “Decoration Day,” originated as a day to honor Civil War soldiers. The first official observance was in Waterloo, New York on May 5, 1866, though other towns were decorating soldiers’ graves before then, including women in Columbus, Mississippi, who gathered on April 25, 1866 to decorate the graves of both the Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

The first nationwide Decoration Day was held by the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union Army veterans’ group, on May 30, 1868. As Union Army veterans were the first to mark the day, several southern states felt that it was only for them, so states instituted their own Confederate Memorial Days on different dates ranging from late  April to early June. This custom mostly ended after World War I, when the American Legion took over planning the holiday.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Do big cats like lions get hairballs?

One of our patrons has been dealing with his cat’s hairballs as the weather warms up and the cat sheds more of its winter coat. Since they groom themselves by licking their coats just like their domestic cousins, wildcats have this same undignified issue.

Hair typically passes through a cat’s digestive system without causing any issue, but sometimes it collects in a hairball which, if not vomited up, can cause an intestinal blockage that must be surgically removed. These troublesome hairballs have made it into the news at least twice in recent years – in 2013, CBS reported on a 4-pound hairball that was removed from a 400-pound tiger, and in 2015, there was an ABC news story about a 450-pound lion that needed a 3.8-pound hairball removed.

Grooming is important for cats, and not only because it keeps them clean. According to Wild Discovery Guide to Your Cat, grooming can regulate body temperature, with cats aligning the hair to better retain heat in cold weather and using saliva as a coolant when it’s hot out. Mutual grooming allows cats to exchange scents, and may help strengthen social bonds. Grooming also seems to serve as the cat equivalent of nail-biting, with cats using it to displace anxiety.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Have the same birds been nesting at my pond for years?

“A pair of mourning doves have nested at my pond every year for the past ten years. Are they the same birds?”

We looked in Noah Strycker’s The Thing with Feathers, Julie Zickerfoose’s The Bluebird Effect, and Ohio Bird Watching by Bill Thompson III and found that there’s no real way to be sure. The average lifespan of a wild mourning dove is a year and a half, but some have been known to live for ten years or longer. According to, the oldest dove was at least thirty years old when he was killed.

Mourning doves travel in flocks but tend to be monogamous during the breeding season. The male stays close to his mate while she forages, guarding her and showing off by inflating his crop to display the iridescent feathers on his neck. The pair can produce 2-6 clutches in a season. The female lays two eggs at a time, which both parents incubate for about two weeks. Once the young hatch, they will remain in the nest for two more weeks.

Birds that return to the same nesting place have a good chance of pairing up with the same mate, so it’s possible that our patron is seeing the same two birds, though their short lifespans make it unlikely. Mourning doves will sometimes reuse their own or other species’ nests, and that tendency may also be in play.