DEAR JOAN: I was cleaning my gutters before the big storms and found an earthworm among the leaves. Did a robin drop him for something more tasty? If not, how did he get there?
DEAR RITA: These are a special breed of gutter worms. They are born in the dirt and shortly after hatching make the long arduous climb into the gutter, where they make homes in the composting leaves. Every spring, they make a return to the ground to spawn and hatch a new generation.
OK, I totally made that up because the real answer is pretty boring. Truth is, no one is certain how they get up there.
There are far too many of them in too many gutters to be the result of clumsy sparrows and picky robins. There are theories, however.
The most likely one, I think, is that the worm eggs, called cocoons, are transported to the gutter on the wings, feet and backs of birds and other creatures. The cocoons fall into the gutters or onto tree leaves, which then end up in the gutters.
The eggs hatch and the babies find a nice layer of composting leaves on which to hang out. The asexual worms also get into action in the gutters, laying more eggs every seven to 10 days.
A less savory theory is that birds eat a "pregnant" worm and the eggs pass through the digestive system and are deposited on roofs and leaves. Rain washes the eggs into
I'm open to other suggestions. Let me know what you think.
DEAR JOAN: Awhile back I saw something I had never seen or heard of before. I was driving on a rural road near Livermore and saw a ground squirrel in the middle of my lane ahead.
I couldn't see what it was doing, but it was fussing with something and not running around. When I got closer, it started moving toward the shoulder of the road, but still not dashing the way they usually do. To my amazement, I saw that it was dragging another squirrel that obviously had been struck by a vehicle.
It had the incapacitated one by the scruff of the neck and drug it out of further harm's way just as I got to their position. The injured squirrel appeared to be fully grown, not a baby. Anybody else seen anything like this?
DEAR DENNIS: I wish I could tell you that you witnessed an act of compassion from a selfless squirrel, but what you saw was a squirrel getting dinner.
Because squirrels can't digest cellulose, they require a diet high in protein, supplementing their usual diet of nuts and fruits with fresh meat.
They eat small birds and eggs, and sometimes they resort to cannibalism.
Squirrels rarely kill other adults, but they will take babies. And when offered a free meal courtesy a speeding car, they dive right in.
Bet you'll never look at squirrels the same again.
Will you help?
There are a lot of hands out this time of year, and a lot of good causes in need. That is especially true of our Bay Area animal shelters.
In Silicon Valley alone, there are 1,200 animals looking for loving families. Toward that end, Silicon Valley shelters have joined together to launch "Shelters First," www.sheltersfirst.org, to facilitate pet adoptions at six shelters.
Fees are reduced to $12 for adult animals. If you can help in Silicon Valley -- and at other Bay Area shelters -- please do.
The life you save may be your own.
Contact Joan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.