April fools and truths

April Fools Day has come and gone, but April’s weather continues its foolish unpredictability. In keeping with that spirit, herewith is April’s True or False.

  1. Vermont experienced its first tornado this spring, in Middlebury.
  2. The largest organism on earth is a blue whale that can grow to 98 feet in length and weigh 173 tons.
  3. Long-distance migrating birds navigate using the stars.
  4. Bloodroot is among the first spring ephemeral wildflowers.
  5. Trees communicate with one another via underground networks of fungi.
  6. Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria blooms, can kill adult swimmers.
  7. A meteor burned up over the Northeast Kingdom in March of this year.

And the answers are:

  1. False. While the National Weather Service confirmed an EF-1 tornado in Middlebury in late March, a number of tornadoes have swirled through Vermont in the past. David Ludlum’s The Vermont Weather Book, published in 1985, lists 17 tornadoes between the years of 1782 and 1970, including several in Burlington.
  2. False. Using different measures, two contestants vie to be the largest organism on earth. A fungus, the honey mushroom, Armillaria ostoyae, lives in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon, occupying a total of 2,385 acres, the equivalent of 1,350 soccer fields or 3.7 square miles. Most of its tissue lies about three feet underground in the form of root-like mycelia. The honey mushroom is known for its glowing surface, caused by bioluminescent bacteria. In terms of biomass, an aspen named Pando is the champ. Living in Fishlake National Forest in Utah, Pando—Latin for I spread—covers 108 acres and has approximately 47,000 stems. Thought to weigh in at 6,600 tons, Pando is the heaviest organism on earth. Aspens grow by cloning, thus stems that appear as separate trees are all part of the same plant.
  3. True, but incomplete. Animal navigation is complex and multi-faceted. Birds flying many thousands of miles without stopping to eat or sleep must fly by day as well as at night, sometimes in clouds and other times in sun. Academics continue to study the combination of directional tools that migrators use, including landmarks, compass orientation, magnetism and flying toward a fixed spot or a light. It’s complicated.
  4. True. Sharing the stage with hepatica, spring beauty, early meadow rue and coltsfoot, among others, bloodroot is an early bloomer. Its name comes from the color of the fluid in its stem and roots. A member of the poppy family, its white petals surround yellow flowers at the center of each bloom.
  5. True. While skepticism greeted early research, scientists have now proven, by tracing radioactive carbon dioxide, that even trees of different species share molecules through underground networks. The trees are connected by mychorrhizal fungus, its thin filaments connecting their roots. This topic is central to the popular novel, The Overstory. This spring Knopf will publish Finding the Mother Tree by the scientist largely responsible for this research, Dr. Suzanne Simard.
  6. Not true, if the adults pay attention. More frequently children and dogs, who are more likely to submerge their faces while swimming or playing in water, are victims of these toxic algae blooms.
  7. True. A fireball moving northeast was spotted over the Green Mountains on the evening of March 7, disappearing south of Newport shortly thereafter. According to LiveScience, the bright fireball sped into the atmosphere just before sunset at about 42,000 mph, releasing an explosion equivalent to 440 pounds of TNT. NASA Meteor Watch suggests that the mass likely weighed 10 pounds and was six inches in diameter. While this meteor was larger than those typically seen over Vermont, each November the Leonid meteor shower puts on a spectacular show of shooting stars. Clouds may obscure it, however, as November is a cloudy month in northern Vermont. According to The Vermont Weather Book, every 33 years the Leonid shower fills the heavens with thousands of meteors. During the Great Meteor Shower of November 13, 1833, “some were awakened from sleep by the glare and the superstitious thought that the end of the world had come.”