Articles

Spring Has Arrived When the Phoebe Returns!

By: Jennifer Correa-Kruegel


Bird

Sometime around March or so my mother will call me up in her most excited voice, “I saw robins on our front yard today! It’s spring! That means it’s spring!” Although their song can be a refreshing sound after a long winter, their appearance alone does not mean spring.  I always hate bursting her bubble by reminding her that robins are not truly the sign of spring that many of us are familiar with since they do not migrate great distances.  Instead they gather in large communal roosts in the fall and remain in these flocks throughout the winter. For me, there are other birds that provide a much better indication that spring is around the corner.   

The Eastern Phoebe is not a very noticeable bird in nature. Its color is mostly gray to black and its belly is white with a hint of yellow. Its appearance is very similar to the Eastern Kingbird but the tell-tale difference is in the observation of the phoebe pumping its tail up and down while it rests on a branch or wire. It is most conspicuous in early spring because of the male phoebe’s song: the soundfee-beeee is repeated with a trill at the end, almost as if it is ending its name by blowing a raspberry. These birds have a habit of building their nests on man-made structures and will visit bird feeders.

 

Bird

Another early spring arrival is the Common Grackle that at first appears to look like your typical blackbird. If you take a moment to observe it, however, you will notice an iridescent shimmer that is more obvious as it takes flight, along with a thicker bill than other blackbirds. Grackles are often seen in large flocks along with a few other species of birds. These flocks can be made up of 20-30 or more birds. Sometimes they can even reach 1000! This can be somewhat frightening to someone who is not familiar with grackle migrations, looking like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie as they swoop down all at once. Rest assured though: if they feel disturbed they can be frightened off and will move on to other fields or open areas to feed on seeds and insects. 

 

Bird

 

One bird that will join the grackles during their mass migration in early spring is the red-winged blackbird. The description of this bird is in the name alone but only for the full-grown male birds. The females of this species take on a duller appearance with dense streaks on the breast. The young males have the absence of the red and yellow marks on their wings. The male red-winged blackbirds arrive to their breeding grounds several weeks before the females in order to establish a breeding territory in their marshy habitats. They have a distinct “conka-reeee”   trill that means that spring is very close by, in spite of what the weather does.

Many of us are eagerly anticipating the warm weather of spring after what seems like a long, cold winter. Hopefully making some observations of the subtle changes that are taking place in nature can help pass the time with the leaves and spring colors will be following closely behind!

Importance of Snakes

 

By: AmeriCorps Member Sam Mass

 

Say the word snake to the average person and something primal seems to happen. A fear of a mysterious slithering creature whose bizarre movement sends shivers up spines. Horror movie villains and religious symbols, snakes have made their way into the spotlight of human culture for thousands of years perhaps due to their vast distribution across the planet as well as their peculiar habits.

 Snakes have represented many things throughout history, an archetype of the human psyche; snakes have become important symbols in almost every culture. Representative of fertility and rebirth, the famous Ouroboros depicts a snake consuming itself, the ultimate symbol of eternity used by alchemists in their search to turn minerals into gold. In the story of Adam and Eve the devil himself took on the form of a serpent to tempt Eve into eating an apple from the Tree of Knowledge. In Hindu mythology a serpent holds all of the cosmos upon his hoods and manipulates the land for the benefit of the people. Often associated with medicine due to the venom some species possess and the snake’s proximity to healing plants and fungi on the ground, snakes have become a symbol of healing.  Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing, carried a staff with a serpent wrapped around it.  This staff had become the symbol of medicine today. There is simply not enough space to continue this list as snakes have made their way into almost every culture more often than not representing the duality of good and evil.

Perhaps one reason snakes are such common symbols throughout various cultures is that snakes can be found almost anywhere on the planet. They exist on every continent save Antarctica and a few islands such as Ireland, New Zealand, and Iceland. It is quite likely to stumble upon a snake when walking around Stokes State Forest, particularly on a sunny day when snakes come out to sun themselves on rocks. One must be careful not to accidentally step on a garter snake, as they enjoy lying about on the walkways of the School of Conservation. Looking into the spillway as you cross over the bridge on SOC’s campus, one may also spot large water snakes. There have been several rattlesnake sightings throughout Stokes and if you are fortunate enough to see one, you might understand why these particular snakes have represented guardianship in many cultures. These snakes stand their ground and it is important that should you see a rattlesnake, you back away slowly and leave them be. 

There are two venomous species of snake in New Jersey, the Northern Copperhead and the Timber Rattlesnake. While other snakes in NJ are not venomous, it does not mean that they are not aggressive. The Northern Water Snake is known for having a particularly nasty temper and even the Eastern Garter Snake has been known to lash out. Though it may be tempting, it is best to leave all snakes and wild animals alone. Enjoying them from a respectful distance and appreciate the tribute so many cultures have paid them.

Here is a list of just some of the snakes you can find in Stokes State Forest. For more information about these snakes visit http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/ensp/pdf/snake_broch07.pdf

Northern Water snake

Black Rat snakes

Hognose snakes

Northern brown snakes

Northern ringneck snake

Ribbon snake

Eastern Milk snake

VENOMOUS

Northern Copperhead

Timber Rattlesnake – State Endangered Species

 

References

http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/snake_broch07.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serpent_(symbolism)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake

http://www.dltk-bible.com/genesis/chapter2-kjv.htm

 

 

Turtle Talk

 

By: NJSOC AmeriCoprs Member Jenna Gersie

If you are silent and slow as you approach Rainbow Bridge to cross over Lake Wapalanne, you may be lucky enough to see a group of Eastern Painted Turtles basking on a fallen pine tree that rests, half submerged, in the water. These turtles, which do not exceed ten inches in length, discovered this basking spot as soon as the warm spring months arrived. After a winter of hibernating underwater in the cold mud of Lake Wapalanne, their sunny perch is a welcome resting place. It is fitting that these turtles can be seen from Rainbow Bridge, because they are very colorful turtles, named for the yellow, olive, or red borders along the shell; orange and red marks on the edges of the shell; yellow underside; and red, orange, and yellow markings on the neck, legs, tail, and face.

Painted turtles, like all turtles, are reptiles, herpetons, or “crawling things.” They belong to the order Chelonia. There are three additional orders of reptiles, including the Squamata, or lizards and snakes, Crocodilia, and Rhynchocephalia, which contains only one living genus. Turtles evolved from the ancestor Eunotosaurus africanus, a small animal that lived in South Africa about 260 million years ago. This animal began to develop large, thick ribs, which preceded the formation of the turtle’s carapace, or shell. 248 million years ago, Anthodon was a reptile that developed bony, plated armor, much like the turtle’s shell today. However, the animal that is considered to be the ancestor of all modern turtles and tortoises is Proganochelys, which lived 220-230 million years ago.

There are more than 300 species of turtles worldwide today, and each is characterized by its carapace, or the top of the shell; plastron, or the part of the shell that covers the underside of the turtle and is fused to the ribs; and the two lateral bridges, which are ligamentous tissues that connect the carapace and plastron on either side of the turtle. Some turtles are known as soft-shelled turtles, and these turtles, instead of having a typical carapace made up of bony plates, actually have a continuous covering of leathery skin on top of the bones that make up the shell.

The turtle’s bony shell is a calcified structure. It is covered with a thin layer of keratinous scales, or scutes, which are made up of the same material as our fingernails. Just as a snake sheds its skin, the turtle will shed its scutes. If a turtle’s shell is injured, it has the capacity to repair itself. The underlying tissue will calcify and the keratin will reform. This, however, may take a long time. Often, the scutes on a turtle’s shell match the substrate of the environment in which the turtle lives. This camouflage often provides them with great protection.

Turtles, like all reptiles, are cold-blooded creatures; they need to absorb heat from their environment to stay warm. To deal with the cold, turtles have many strategies. Heat generated from muscular activity, insulation from fat, and the protection from the carapace all allow the turtle to stay warm. Additionally, turtles may stay warm by covering themselves with mud, water, sand, or urine. In the winter, turtles hibernate to survive the cold months. When it is too hot, turtles will burrow, take mud or sand baths, and slow their metabolisms to stay cool.

Turtles have no teeth; instead, they have a beak. They have internal ears that give them excellent hearing. Turtles are very sensitive to ground vibrations, so they are difficult to sneak up on, even if you are being extremely quiet. This is why the Painted Turtles will plunge into the water as soon as you walk by! Turtles have a poor sense of smell and poor eyesight; they react more to movement than to shapes. Their heartbeats are much slower than ours, beating at just about 20 times per minute!

The smallest turtle is the 100mm long speckled tortoise of South Africa. The largest turtle, the leatherback sea turtle, is 2 meters long! Can you imagine swimming in the ocean with a turtle that big? While turtles are often found in water, every species lays its eggs on land, including sea turtles. All species of turtles are long-lived and can expect to live for half a century or more, with some exceeding 150 years! Most turtles lay eggs that take between 60 and 100 days to incubate, depending on the species and the temperature of the sand or soil. Of the 330 or so species of turtles, thirteen live in New Jersey, and eight live in Sussex County. Those that live in other parts of the state include the Eastern Mud Turtle, Northern Diamondback Terrapin, Common Map Turtle, Redbelly Turtle, and Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle.

Of all of New Jersey’s turtles, perhaps the last one that we want to encounter is the Common Snapping Turtle. Found swimming in ponds and lakes, lurking in aquatic vegetation, or basking just beneath the surface of the water, the Snapping Turtle is a turtle to avoid. With a massive head, strong jaws, a sharp beak, and long claws, this turtle can cause injury to those who approach it too closely. An omnivore, the Snapping Turtle has a varied diet and will eat insects, fish, worms, amphibians, snakes, other turtles, birds, small mammals, plants, and algae. About thirty small Snapping Turtles will hatch from their eggs in late August through October; these babies may one day reach a size of more than 75 pounds!

Musk Turtle photo by Dr. Lisa Hazard

Another turtle that can be found swimming in lakes and ponds is the Common Musk Turtle, also known as the Stinkpot Turtle. This small turtle grows no bigger than five inches long. It is given its name because of the foul smell the turtle exudes from its glands when it feels threatened, just as a skunk does. This turtle will bask beneath the surface of the water and prefers to walk along the muddy bottom, where algae will grow on its shell. Also an omnivore, the Musk Turtle eats small insects, algae, snails, fish eggs, and amphibians.

The Spotted Turtle is another small turtle, growing no more than five inches long. This turtle has a black shell with small yellow spots; the turtle also has yellow spots on its head, neck, and limbs. These spots break up the outline of the turtle, making it harder for potential predators to see it; the spots may also appear to be rays of sun reflecting on the surface of the water. This turtle can be found in marshes, small creeks, and wet forested areas. They are omnivores, feeding on insects, algae, aquatic vegetation, small amphibians, and freshwater crustaceans.

A turtle that we’d rather not see in New Jersey is the Red-eared Slider Turtle. This species is native to the southeastern United States, but it has been introduced to New Jersey, and many other places, by pet owners who no longer want these turtles as pets. These opportunistic turtles are recognized by a red band behind each eye. Like the Painted Turtles, Red-eared Sliders love basking in the sun. They are omnivores and eat snails, crayfish, insect larvae, tadpoles, small fish, and vegetation. Both Red-eared Sliders and Painted Turtles tend to be more carnivorous when they are born and eventually transition to a mostly herbivorous diet as adults.

The least aquatic of all of New Jersey’s turtles is the Eastern Box Turtle, which prefers upland, forested areas, though it will always be near a source of water. The genus name for this turtle, Terrapene, comes from “terrapin,” a word by the Algonquian, a group of indigenous people who inhabited the northeastern United States. Box Turtles are known for their high, domed shells that are fit with a hinged plastron; this hinge allows the turtle to close itself entirely within the shell to keep away from any threats. Young Box Turtles eat insects, worms, slugs, and snails, while adults are more herbivorous, preferring mushrooms above all else.

Sadly, two thirds of the world’s turtle species are threatened or endangered today, due to a multitude of factors including the pet trade, zoo trade, and the desire for turtle shells and turtle-derived oil, meat, and fat. New Jersey is home to one threatened species, the Wood Turtle, and one endangered species, the Bog Turtle. The Wood Turtle was listed as a threatened species in 1979 after major decreases in its abundance and distribution across the state were recorded. Habitat loss and stream degradation have impacted this riparian and wetland-loving turtle. The small Bog Turtle, less than five inches long, is very elusive, but has become even harder to find due to habitat loss, pollution, and illegal collecting. If you find a Bog Turtle in marshes, wet meadows, or fens, that habitat should be managed in favor of the Bog Turtles by controlling nonnative plant species and suppressing vegetative succession.

Here at the New Jersey School of Conservation, researchers from Montclair State University study the turtles found in Lake Wapalanne. Dr. Lisa Hazard, Dr. Kirsten Monsen-Collar, and students Tara Snyder, Paola Dolcemascolo, and Linda Araya capture and mark Common Musk Turtles and Eastern Painted Turtles. They take data on these turtles, including information on size, sex, and evidence of predation damage or parasites, before releasing them back into the lake. Why take this preliminary data? The researchers are hoping that gaining a sense of the population and the behavior of turtles will lead to more rigorous research questions. Possible research projects for the future include exploring the effects of parasite loads, particularly leeches; understanding population dynamics, reproduction, and predation; and understanding the effects of people and other animals on turtle behavior. By continuing to learn about turtles, conducting research, and preserving habitat that is vital for turtle survival, we can help protect New Jersey’s turtle species.

References:

Bonin, Franck, Bernard Devaux, and Alain Dupré. Turtles of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2006. Print.

Schwartz, Vicki, and David M. Golden. Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of New Jersey. 1st ed. NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, 2002. Print.

 

Admirable Admirals

 

By NJSOC AmeriCorps Member Jenna Gersie

Found all over North America, from Mexicoto Canada, the red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) has invaded New Jersey during its annual migration north. New Jersey’s mild winter has provided the perfect conditions for the population of this butterfly to explode.  Their brown wings, splotched with red-orange bands and tipped with white spots on a black backdrop, can be found perched all over the New Jersey School of Conservation, and visitors to the school recognize the butterflies from their own hometowns elsewhere in New Jersey.

These butterflies are so widespread that enormous populations are migrating through westernNew York,Michigan, andMinnesotaright now.  In fact, the butterflies can survive on almost every continent; they are found on some Caribbean islands, inCentral America,New Zealand, Europe, North Africa, andAsia.  The butterflies prefer moist woods and fields, marshes, and yards and parks.  During migration, they can be found in almost any habitat, including environments as different as the subtropics and the tundra.

About every ten years, the red admiral population booms.  The last great migration of these butterflies was in 2001, so we are due for this spring treat!  Experts believe that this year’s migration is even greater than those population explosions in 2001, 1990, and 1981.  To escape the winter, red admirals fly south every year to warmer places such as the Carolinas andGeorgia.  Like the monarch butterfly, the red admirals lay eggs, then die, and more are born.  In the spring, the newly born butterflies begin to migrate north, arriving in northern states likeNew Jersey.  Because this year’s winter was so mild, the butterflies have had better luck reproducing and creating the brilliant red and orange migrations we are seeing this spring.

Red admirals have a two to three inch wingspan.  Adults eat sap flows on trees; bird droppings; nectar from common milkweed, red clover, aster, and alfalfa; some flowers; fermenting fruit; and other plant fluids.  Adult females lay their eggs on the top of host plants, particularly plants in the nettle family.  The caterpillars, who eat the leaves of the host plant, spend their time within the shelter of folded leaves, then in a nest of leaves tied together with silk, before emerging as adults.  Like the monarch butterflies, the red admirals will produce about three generations of butterflies in the southern states before the fourth generation migrates north in the spring.  It may be another decade before these beautiful butterflies flock north in such great numbers, so be on the lookout for these admirable admirals!

References:

Hutchins, Ryan. “A Banner Year for Butterflies.” The Star-Ledger 11 May 2012: 21+. Print.

“Red Admiral (Vanessa Atalanta).” Butterflies and Moths of North America. Web. 11 May 2012. <http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Vanessa-atalanta>.

 

 

 

 

Diptera, Odonata, and Ephemeroptera, oh my!

By: NJSOC AmeriCorps Member Jenna Gersie

 

Mosquito Larva

Students of Water Ecology at the New Jersey School of Conservation spend their class wading in the tributaries of the Big Flatbrook, outfitted in rubber boots, turning over river-worn rocks to look for the benthic macroinvertebrates that cling to the bottom of these stones. A benthic macroinvertebrate is an organism that has no backbone, is visible to the naked eye, and lives on the bottom layer of a body of water, often in the sediment. Most of the benthic macroinvertebrates that students find are actually the larvae of aquatic insects, those insects that live a portion of their life cycle in the water. In order to become an adult, these aquatic insects undergo a metamorphosis and leave the water once their wings have dried.

Perhaps our least favorite aquatic insect is the mosquito, of which there are 2,500 different species worldwide and 150 species in the United States! The mosquito, of the order Diptera, goes through four distinct life stages, three of which are spent in the water. Adult mosquitoes lay eggs one at a time on the surface of the water or on damp soil that will become flooded by water. Some species make egg rafts, where the eggs stick together and float on the water. Within about 48 hours, these eggs will hatch into larvae. The larvae, also known as “wigglers” or “wrigglers,” live in the water for one to two weeks. They use a tube called a siphon to breathe oxygen at the surface of the water. Eating micro-organisms and organic matter such as algae, the larvae go through four molts, during which they shed their skin and grow larger. After the fourth molt, they become pupae and begin the final metamorphosis to adult mosquitoes. The pupae, who do not feed, remain in the water for one to four more days, depending on the species of mosquito and the temperature of the water. Lighter than water, the pupa floats at the surface and uses two breathing tubes called trumpets to receive oxygen. Pupae are known as “tumblers” because when disturbed, they dive in a jerking, tumbling motion before floating back to the surface. Within a pupal shell, the adult mosquito develops over a period of about two days. Finally, the pupal skin will split and the adult mosquito emerges from the skin. At this point, the adult will rest on the surface of the water, allowing its new body to dry and harden and its wings to spread.

The adult male mosquito only lives for about a week, while the adult female mosquito lives for about a month. However, temperature, humidity, and time of year also affect the lifespan of this insect pest. If you find yourself sitting outside on a summer evening, slapping away at the mosquitoes biting your ankles, you are actually targeting only the females of the species! Female mosquitoes depend on the protein in blood to produce their eggs. The males, in contrast, only feed on flower nectar and other plant juices. Humans aren’t the only ones that these ladies bite, however; cows, chickens, deer, rabbits, snakes, frogs, and many other types of animals also make up a tasty dinner menu. If you’re worried about the mosquitoes being a problem in your yard this summer, make sure you eliminate any standing water; mosquitoes aren’t picky, so they will lay their eggs in any kind of water! Keep in mind that mosquitoes make up an important part of the food chain, providing sustenance for many creatures, including bats, frogs, and fish.

 

Damselfly Larva

Preferring cleaner water than the mosquito to lay their eggs, dragonflies and damselflies are aquatic insects that belong to the order Odonata, which means “toothed ones.” They are called this because each dragonfly and damselfly has a prehensile labium, or extendable jaw, beneath the head; this jaw can extend faster than most prey can react. This adaptation makes the bite of the Odonata fatal to its prey, which includes mayflies, caddisflies, gnats, ants, termites, and other small insects. All six legs of the Odonata are located close to the head; rather than using their legs for walking, the legs are most often used to catch prey or to perch.

It is easy to tell the difference between dragonflies and damselflies. Dragonflies have stout bodies and when resting, they extend their wings to each side. The damselfly, in contrast, has a very slender body, and when resting, holds its wings together above the body. Dragonflies and damselflies are additionally characterized by their eyes, which are very large in proportion to their heads. Their eyes are so large that over 80% of brain power is devoted exclusively to analyzing visual information! Odonata species have two pairs of long wings that are made strong and flexible by a strong crossvein and many small criss-crossing veins. With these wings, dragonflies, who can fly faster than damselflies, ambulate forward at about 100 body-lengths per second, backward at about 3 body-lengths per second, or hover in the air for about a minute. While most species have wingspans that are about 5 to 8 centimeters wide, 325 million-year-old fossils show that ancestors of dragonflies had wingspans up to 30 inches wide! With exceptional sight and agile flight, dragonflies and damselflies may escape from their predators, which include birds, lizards, frogs, spiders, fish, water bugs, and even larger dragonflies.

Like mosquitoes, dragonflies and damselflies spend a part of their lives in the water. However, they only go through three distinct life stages. Dragonflies lay round eggs in the water, while damselflies lay cylindrical, long eggs. The larvae of the Odonata are known as “nymphs,” and most of the insects’ lives are spent in this stage. While a mosquito molts only four times, the Odonata may molt six to fifteen times! In order to breathe in the larval stage, nymphs expand and contract their abdomens to move water over their gills. Depending on many factors, they may remain in the larval stage for up to six years. While the mosquito enters into a pupal stage, dragonflies and damselflies will simply crawl out of the water, molt one final time, and emerge from their old skin as winged adults. Because they skip the pupal stage, Odonata are known as “hemimetabolous,” or those who undergo an incomplete metamorphosis. With a longer lifespan than mosquitoes, adult Odanata can live for up to six months under favorable conditions.

While dragonflies are more sensitive to pollution than damselflies, both are indicators of healthy ecosystems. Many factors affect the distribution of nymphs, including acidity of water, the amount and type of aquatic vegetation, temperature, and the type of environment. Cool streams, rivers, ponds, marshy areas, and still clear water are favorites of various species. Did you know that the New Jersey School of Conservation is located in the Odonata capital of the country? Sussex County has more species of Odonata than any other county in the country, tallying in at 145 species! Due to its varied topography and geology, poorly drained swamps and marshes, and rich boreal habitat with plenty of clean rivers, lakes, and streams, dragonflies and damselflies love to call Sussex County home.

Mayfly Larva

Even more sensitive to the environment than the Odonata are mayflies, members of the order Ephemeroptera. Mayflies, of which there are 2,000 species, are the only insects to go through two flying stages in their metamorphosis. Mayflies mate in swarms during calm weather before depositing their eggs, flying low over the water or dipping their abdomens on the surface. Some adults even submerge themselves and lay their eggs underwater. Many adult females die on the surface of the water after laying their eggs. Like mosquitoes, dragonflies, and damselflies, mayflies molt several times when in their larval stage, during which they are also known as “nymphs.” Nymphs graze on bacteria on the river floor. As they grow older, they form oval-shaped gills which beat in order to regulate the flow of water and oxygen through the body. During the final molt as a nymph, the mayfly floats to the surface of the water and opens its wings to enter the first flying stage, where it is known as a subimago. Floating on the surface of the water, waiting for the strength to fly, this is the most vulnerable stage of the mayfly’s life. Once it has the strength to fly, the mayfly will find protection under a tree or in long grasses, where it will again molt within 24 to 48 hours, entering the second flying stage as an imago.

During this final molt, the mayfly’s tails and legs grow larger, giving them more stability in flight and greater reproductive success, respectively. Mayflies, in both the nymph and adult stages, can be recognized by their three caudal filaments, or tails, at the tip of the abdomen. As adults, their large forewings are usually kept upright, while their hind wings are reduced or nonexistent. Once it becomes an adult, the imago will mate and then live for only hours to a day. This is the reason that the order Ephemeroptera was given its name: ephemeros is Greek for “lasting but a day.”

The adult mayflies may only last for a day, but they let us know that the ecosystem is strong and healthy. In their various life stages, mayflies provide food for animals as varied as snails, fish, frogs, birds, beetles, and flies. Mayfly nymphs are extremely sensitive to pollution and poor water quality, so their presence indicates a very healthy stream. Students in Water Ecology, collecting the macroinvertebrates they find on the stream bottom, always come up with mayfly larva, those organisms that tell us just how clean the Big Flatbrook is. As an indicator species, this aquatic insect is very instructive of the healthy aquatic environment that students wade through on sunny afternoons. Whether they find “wigglers,” “tumblers,” “toothed ones,” or those who “last but a day,” students curious enough to get their feet wet and flip over a few slippery river stones have a great deal to learn from the aquatic insects found in the Big Flatbrook.

References:

Introduction to the Odonata. (n.d.). Odonata: Dragonflies and Damselflies. Retrieved May 23, 2012, fromhttp://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/arthropoda/uniramia/odonatoida.html

Mayflies. (n.d.). Ephemeroptera. Retrieved May 23, 2012, fromhttp://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/arthropoda/uniramia/ephemeroptera.html

The dragonflies and damselflies of New Jersey. (n.d.). New Jersey Odonata. Retrieved May 23, 2012, from http://www.njodes.com/

The Life Cycle of the Mosquito. (n.d.). Mosquitoes. Retrieved May 22, 2012, from http://www.mosquitoes.org/LifeCycle.html

 

 

The Pink Ladies Slipper and Leave No Trace

 

By: NJSOC AmeriCorps Member Sam Mass

 

As spring matures in Stokes State Forest familiar green shoots begin to sprout up. This shoot belongs to the infamous orchid known as the pink ladies slipper, which decorates the springtime trails and provides a splash of color to the landscapes of Stokes State Forest.

The pink ladies slipper is no ordinary flower and its unique lifecycle as well as its relationship with the soil provide us with a lesson in touring our natural areas. “In order to survive and reproduce, the pink ladies slipper interacts with a fungus in the soil from the Rhizoctonia genus” (www.fs.fed.us).  The seed of this flower, unlike many flowers, does not contain a food source within it. Instead, the fungus in the soil attaches to the seed, breaking it open in order to pass on food and nutrients.  It is for this reason that it is next to impossible to plant and grow pink ladies slippers in one’s own home. This does not stop people from attempting the feat, but every time somebody digs up a pink ladies slipper to take home with them, there is one less plant that will grow in the forest.

It is also important to note that the flower of this plant must complete its cycle in order to regenerate. Hikers and day visitors to natural areas should always respect the places in which they visit and stay, but when it comes to the pink ladies slipper it is crucial that the flowers not be picked if we wish to see them bloom the following year. Keeping in mind the specific conditions that allow the orchid to grow, we can take home a lesson in the treatment of our natural areas. We must remember that trails exist to guide us through our walks. Not only for the sake of the pink ladies slipper, but also for all flora and fauna, we should always avoid walking off trail and tramping on plants and the habitats of animals.

We must respect our natural areas, enjoy them, but help them thrive. Allow them to regenerate so that future generations may enjoy them as much as we do. One organization that is dedicated to these practices is Leave No Trace. Their seven principles should become familiar to all who enjoy the outdoors. The principles are listed below and for more information please check out their website, www.lnt.org.

 

THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF LEAVE NO TRACE

 

PLAN AHEAD AND PREPARE

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

TRAVEL AND CAMP ON DURABLE SURFACES

  • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
    • In popular areas:
      • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
      • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
      • Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
    • In pristine areas:
      • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
      • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

DISPOSE OF WASTE PROPERLY

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

MINIMIZE CAMPFIRE IMPACTS

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

RESPECT WILDLIFE

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHER VISITORS

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

 

 

References:

Leave No Trace: www.lnt.org

Rhuta McGhan, P.J. Celebrating Wildflowers: Pink ladies slipper (Cypripedium acaule Ait.). http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/cypripedium_acaule.shtml.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypripedium_acaule

 

Bittersweet

 

By: NJSOC AmeriCorps Member Danielle Odom

I do not know what is happening, or why I feel this way… I was going about my day as I have been for the past twenty days – collecting pollen and nectar for the hive – then I heard it. The cacophony of sound that emitted from my hive was deafening. I flew back as fast as my four wings would carry me, making a B-line for my hive, and I saw its massive, black furry form and long, curved claws. Instinctively I knew what to do, it left me no other choice; I had to use my stinger in order to protect the queen and our hive, and now I feel the life fading from me, my life flashing before my eyes.

I remember my life starting like it was yesterday: The air was warm outside the hive – presumably it was mid-late summer, rapidly transitioning to the autumn of the year – when my mother the queen deposited me as an egg within the six-sided normal-size cell where I would develop. I am told I spent three days there as an egg then hatched, grew rapidly for six days transforming into a larva, then (once a wax cap was placed over my cell) I metamorphosed again into a pupa where I spent twelve days developing three distinct body segments, eyes, legs, antennae, and my tongue. Finally, on the twenty-first day I emerged from my cell as an adult female worker bee. Almost immediately I was expected to work, and labor I did, for winter was coming and that is all the entire hive could ‘talk’ about in those autumn weeks.  In our world we dance in order to communicate with one another.

As I grew, my role in the hive changed, always gaining more responsibility with age. In my first job, at 1-3 days old, my fellow cohort members and I were expected to clean the cell from which we just hatched, much like a child expected to make one’s bed first thing in the morning. Shortly afterward, at 3-4 days old, we tended to the remains of our deceased sisters, respectfully removing their bodies from the hive to provide for the decomposers and soils below, thus completing the cycle of life. Thankfully that was a short-lived job, and I quickly advanced to the position of nurse bee. Some of my sisters were not so fortunate, instead remaining as undertakers at the young age of 3-16 days old.

From 4-7 days old I and a few others became some of several bees now responsible for the care of our younger sisters and brothers. It was then that we learned that most members of our hive are actually female. Those who are male are few and called drones. The drones only have one sole purpose: to mate with the queen. They are otherwise incompetent workers and devoid of stinging apparatuses. We also learned that drones take an additional three days to develop in the cell: one extra day as larvae and two added days as pupae.  They are, after all, larger than the female workers and thus need more time to grow. Either way, both my brothers and sisters have their role in the grander scheme of life, and we enjoyed providing the larvae with royal jelly and the pupae with nectar and pollen; only the queen continues to eat royal jelly her entire life.

If recollection serves me right, my role as a nurse bee was rewarding, but exhausting; I would check the health of a single larva approximately 1,300 times in one day! The queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day; that’s a lot of young to look after! Good thing our hive contains 20,000 members to help with the task. I must have been doing something right because at the age of 7-12 days old I was asked to join the queen’s circle of personal attendants! Meanwhile, my other sisters continued to take care of the young up to the age of 12 days old. I was honored to be amongst the select few who would groom, feed, and protect our mother, and also get the chance to ‘talk’ with her, which is more than your average honey bee can say in a lifetime.

All too soon I was removed from my mother’s side, instead being called upon to remove, collect, and store the nectar and pollen brought home by the field worker bees who gather food for all. It was an important job, converting nectar into honey by adding my special invertase enzyme into each nectar-containing cell. Oh, but how the sweet smell of wild pollen made us long to be outdoors as a field bee…little did I know at the time the dangers of the outside world. As we stocked those six-sided cells with food for the entire colony, I recall being grateful that I was not like my fellow 12-18 day olds who at that same time had the task of fanning the hive for temperature and humidity purposes.

It was sometime between our 12th and 18th days that we noticed that the four pairs of glands on our abdomens were starting to produce wax. Soon thereafter, we learned how to chew and use these wax secretions to not only build the six-sided cells which form our honeycomb-colony structure, but to also place a protective wax coating over the developing pupae. I will never forget the feel of the wax as it softened in my mouth as I chewed it. Wax can be produced by 12-35-day-olds on average, but I and a few others from my cohort were asked to serve the prestigious role of guard bee, being stationed near the hive’s entrance. We took our responsibility seriously – always poised and alert – checking each returning bee, searching for the familiar scent of our hive. I’ll always remember the day a foreigner attempted to enter our hive. Protocol stated we should attack and eject any foreigners immediately, but she was a clever bee, equipped with a nectary bribe. She only remained in the hive a few moments, but it was enough time to steal some of our honey and pollen.

Our training as guards was the final test before being called upon to venture outside into the great yonder for the first time in our lives. Once we were 22 days old, we were allowed abroad in order to collect pollen and nectar for the hive. I rather enjoyed these last twenty days of flying from flower to flower, sipping nectar and storing it in my nectar stomach (an extra stomach) and collecting pollen in my corbiculums (the pockets on my hind legs).

I have so loved the freedom of being outside the hive, yet how I would give anything now to see the inside of my hive again! Instead I lie here with some of my fellow hivemates just below the tree that contains our hive, dying. I have always known that if I were to use my stinger it would mean the end of me. The barbs of my stinger are now lodged in the sure-to-be-swollen body of that giant, tree-climbing creature. Those barbs that provided protection were also my undoing; when they attached to my aggressor, it caused the entire barb to be ripped from my body, leaving a gaping wound.

As a draw my final breaths I am grateful of two things: I have lived a fantastic life in my hive. I worked hard alongside my sisters and brothers, serving the queen and our community. The winter is almost here now, and I knew my cohort members and I were never going to survive the winter anyway. Our young queen will carry on for another three to five years, and the late autumn young will survive the overwintering period, but me and my cohort will all die before the frost.

I am also thankful to have had a natural death. Several in my community have been returning to the hive sickly and it is causing our colony to collapse in disorder. Some believe members of our hive have been infected by mites or viruses, others say the humans are to blame, stating a difference in the way the flowers taste as if they have an unnatural, chemically residue. Either way, I am scared for what this means for the future of my sisters and brothers, and for our kind as a whole…

______________________________________________________________________________

Eastern Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) are quite the remarkable species of insects. They are a social, harmonious, organized, and industrious creature. A hive is a well-organized system that capitalizes on knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each individual creature so as to function as a well-oiled machine that can provide for all. A journey into the center of a hive would reveal the exact nature of not only the hive itself – which functions much like a single organism, moving, feeding, reproducing, and breathing as one rather than as a community of individuals – but of the several bees that lie within its structure. There is no denying that honeybees are absolutely fascinating, hard-working little animals from whom we could all learn a thing or two.

______________________________________________________________________________

Did You Know?

  • A bee’s complete diet derives from flowers, wherein the nectar is the source of carbohydrates and the pollen is the source of protein.
  • Honey is too viscous and too dry (less than 20% water) for bacteria and fungi to grow, and thus is renowned for its inability to spoil, even after centuries!
  • Beekeeping – the act of raising bees for their honey – is an ancient practice dating back to Egyptian times. Honey was highly prized for it provided a semi-domesticated source of sugar which was otherwise rare to find in nature.
  • Honeybees are not native to the United States. Early European settlers brought beekeeping to America.
  • American farmers and agriculturalists rely on honey bees to pollinate 1/3 of our nation’s crops!! Without them, we would have severe food shortages.

______________________________________________________________________________

Educational Activities for Your Classroom:

Reading Rainbow

Backyard Safari

______________________________________________________________________________

References

Backyard Bee Keepers Association. (n.d.). Facts about honeybees. Retrieved fromhttp://www.backyardbeekeepers.com/facts.html

Blackiston, H. (n.d.). Understanding the role of a worker bee in a hive. Retrieved fromhttp://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/understanding-the-role-of-the-worker-bee-in-a-hive.html

Gould, J. L. and Gould, C. G. (1988). The honey bee. New York, NY: Scientific American Library.

Great Plains Nature Center. (n.d.). Honeybee. Retrieved fromhttp://www.gpnc.org/honeybee.htm

Harmon, K. (2012, April 6). Common pesticide implicated bee colony collapse disorder.Scientific American. Retrieved fromhttp://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/04/06/common-pesticide-implicated-bee-colony-collapse-disorder/

 

 

The Luck of a Hummingbird

By NJSOC AmeriCorps Member Ashley Schmid

Summer 2010, Alaska, I have embarked with a group on a month long expedition.  The first section includes two weeks of sea kayaking.  We have been moving around the Prince William Sound as a self-sustaining team for about a week now.  As we hop from cove to island, we paddle amongst an abundance of wildlife.  Our vessels cut through the water with precision as we travel together with the jumping salmon, billowing jellyfish, powerful seals, graceful orcas, and playful otters.  Hard to ignore are the plethora of birds around as we greet the colorful puffins, ever-present bald eagles, and to my surprise – the buzzing of a hummingbird.

Every morning, after we have fed our bellies, broken down camp, and loaded up the kayaks, we take some time for an “Enviro-Moment”.  During these Enviro-Moments, we each find our own space on the beach and take a few minutes to pause, reflect, and appreciate the beauty of the natural world around us.  During one such morning moment, towards the far end of the beach, looking out into the glacier cold water, a blur appeared before my eyes.  I watched as it fluttered before me, never turning my head, but checking out of the corner of my eye to see if anyone else could see what I was seeing!  I heard the bird call, our signal to return to the group, and hurried over to share what I had seen.  Everyone seemed just as surprised as I and exclaimed it must have been a hummingbird!  We continue our morning in a circle sharing a nature literature passage, reading from the group journal, an enormous group hug, and briefing for the day while referencing the charts.  Off we went, into the great Alaskan waters, through the ice fields, eyes wide for the hummingbird blur.

Several days went by without any sign of a hummingbird in sight.  A member of the group from Australia thinks that it is a good luck sign that I saw it in the first place. I was starting to feel like I had imagined the whole thing!  We are nearing the end of our sea kayaking section.  During one of our final mornings, in a circle, the blur appears before my eyes again.  This time, for everyone to see!  Just as quickly as it came, it was gone, and we were off to start our next journey into the wide-open tundra by foot and backpack alone.

Sometimes I recall that magical fluttering that appeared before me in Alaska.  I wonder if it meant anything and if it brought us any luck?  I was never able to identify which hummingbird I saw.  When I got home I researched if such a thing was even possible in Alaska, and sure enough, it is!  Even more exciting is that I can find these buzzing birds right here at home in New Jersey.

Common to New Jersey, is the Ruby-throated hummingbird. The Ruby-throated hummingbird is eastern North America’s only breeding hummingbird.  Hummingbird feeders and flower gardens are great ways to attract these birds and have them turn your backyard into a buzzing blur during the summers.  The New Jersey Audubon website offers some great tips and tricks for attracting hummingbirds to your yard.  Enjoy them while they are around because by the early fall they fly off to Central America, sometimes crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight! (Cornell University, 2010)

The blur and buzzing of a Ruby-throated hummingbird can be attributed to it’s ability to beat its wings about 53 times a second!  They have good color vision and therefore like to feed on bright red and orange flowers.  However, research has found that the color of a feeder does not matter so much as its location.  They live in forested areas with deciduous trees.  Their nests are no bigger than a thimble as they only weigh about 0.2 ounes at most and measure up to 3.5 inches. (Cornell University, 2010)

The next time you get the chance, I encourage you to take a few minutes to have your own Enviro-Moment. Who knows what you will see!  Perhaps you will see your own buzzing bird, or another sign of good luck.

 

References

 

Cornell University. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All About Birds. Ruby throated Hummingbird. 2011.         

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/rubythroated_hummingbird/id

 

Sutton, Patricia. New Jersey Audubon. How to Create a Butterfly and  Hummingbird Garden. 2012.         

http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionBackyardHabitat/CreateaGarden.aspx

 

 

Top Ten Tips for a Greener Life

By: Lindsay Harrington, NJSOC Graduate Teaching Assistant

 

               Nowadays, we are surrounded by labels which compel us to buy “green” products for a healthier being. Personally, I believe that instead of buying into the latest trends, there are simple steps that you can take at home for a healthier, more environmentally friendly lifestyle. In no particular order, I have listed below some tips which I consider easy ways to help reduce your carbon footprint on our planet.

1. Eat lower on the food chain.  What we eat can have a big effect on the environment. Americans are notorious for unhealthy diets which consist mainly of meat and lacking in important vegetables. Unfortunately, a meat heavy diet requires up to ten times the land area to feed a person than a plant-based diet. If you replace one meat based meal per week with a veggie dish you can reduce your carbon-footprint. The American meat industry consumes massive amounts of resources and produces large amounts of harmful wastes. Cows and other feedlot animals excrete methane, a greenhouse gas which can lead to climate change. The animal industry also uses massive amounts of water. About 70 percent of the grains grown in the United States go to feed animals, who eventually become food. This takes up much of the land that could be used to feed people directly. It takes ten times the fossil fuels to produce a calorie of animal food as it does to produce plant food.

2. Unplug phantom electronics. The term phantom electricity refers to the electricity used by electronic products when they are turned off but still plugged in. These include devices such as phone chargers, TVs, computers, microwaves, and other products which we leave plugged in but still use a small amount of electricity. Up to 10 percent of the electricity used in your house may come from electronics in stand-by mode. As we all know, electricity is generated by means of burning fossil fuels. The more electricity we use as a household, the higher the demand for fossil fuels. Burning of fossil fuels leads to air pollution and the release of harmful greenhouse gases. The less electricity we use, the less carbon each of our households will release into the atmosphere, reducing our contribution to climate change.

3. Take shorter showers. By reducing your time in the shower, you will save yourself money as well as have time to engage in other activities. Water, one of our natural resources, is scarce. Using too much water affects other people and species. Taking long hot showers requires energy, which is usually fossil fuel based. We all know the importance of reducing our energy demands to slow climate change. So, when you do shower, keep it quick and turn down the heat. Brush your teeth and shave outside of the shower to cut down on your time under the faucet. If you like to bathe rather than shower, keep them to a minimum and plug the drain immediately so no water is wasted.

4. Plant a tree. Not only will your yard look nicer, you can also save money and energy by planting a tree near your home. In the summer months, trees can shade your home so you do not need to use as much air conditioning. In the winter, trees provide a wind break and can lower your heating bill. Lowering your energy costs at home means lowering your carbon footprint in the bigger picture. Also, trees can reduce the heat island effect in your neighborhood. Trees release water vapor into the atmosphere which causes a cooling effect. Trees undergo the process of photosynthesis and absorb carbon dioxide, a proven greenhouse gas. The more trees on our planet, the less greenhouse gases, which can cause climate change.

5. Stop using plastic bags. It is sometimes difficult to remember your reusable bags when shopping, but stopping the use of plastic bags could have positive effects on the environment. Plastic bags are made from oil which is a non-renewable resource. They are also non-biodegradable, meaning it could take thousands of years before they break down in a landfill. Plastic bags can pose a serious danger to birds and marine mammals that often mistake them for food. Thousands die each year after swallowing or choking on discarded plastic bags. So, use a reusable shopping bag when possible or recycle your plastic bags at your local grocery store.

6. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Enough said.

7. Check your tire pressure. If your tire pressure is lower than the recommended amount, your gas mileage will suffer. You can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. The more mileage you get out of your tank, the less visits to the pump. Oil and gas are non-renewable natural resources.

8. Buy local. When possible, buying local products can reduce carbon emissions which promote global warming. Many of the products that we purchased have been manufactured thousands of miles away. Most produce in the US is picked 4 to 7 days before being placed on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1500 miles before being sold. Fuel is cheap but there may come a time when the price of our produce and other products increases as fuel becomes scarcer. The farming practices used by large scale farms can be detrimental to the environment by destroying soil and using harmful chemicals. If we buy from local or organic producers, we can reduce our impact on the environment.

9. Compost. By reducing the amount of waste you send to the landfill, you can make the world a better place. Landfills release toxic gases into the atmosphere and also produce polluted runoff. When composting, any organic material like vegetable matter, eggshells, coffee grinds, tea bags (anything that is not animal-based) is placed in a suitable container or pile to decompose. If you have a garden, incorporating the vitamin rich compost into your soil will help plants grow bigger and healthier. There will be no need to use harmful chemical fertilizers!

10. Get outside! Nothing is better than taking in some fresh air and enjoying nature. After a long day at work, instead of going to gym, use the outdoors as your playground by going for a hike or a jog. Not only will you save gas and reduce your emissions, you may see new sites in your area or even run into native wildlife.

Green living does not require sacrifice but, only a few small changes to our daily lifestyles.  One of the best tips that I can give anyone is to share their way of life with others. The more people who make every day changes, the greater impact we can have on making the future brighter and a little more green!

 

To calculate your carbon footprint visit:

http://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/index.htm

 

References:

http://www.earthshare.org/green-tips.html

 

 

Every Drop Counts

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            By NJSOC AmeriCorps Member Jenna Gersie

 

In Sussex County, we live in a relatively water-rich region, receiving between 40 and 45 inches of precipitation each year.  With so much water—and many clean natural water sources, including the artesian wells that pump water from beneath the ground in Stokes State Forest—we sometimes don’t realize how much we take water for granted.  Water is the source of all life on earth, but our freshwater resources are depleting due to overuse and pollution.  In New Jersey, populations are increasing while water resources remain constant, creating a more stressful demand on our water supplies.

The average American uses approximately 100 gallons of water each day.  The average New Jersey resident uses approximately 70 gallons of water each day, but during the summer, this number jumps to 155 gallons of water each day.  However, these numbers only include water used in the home, for things like bathing, cooking, doing laundry, and flushing toilets.  These numbers don’t include the water used to produce the food that we eat or the energy that we use.  And less than 1% of Earth’s water is available for human use!  The rest is salt water in the oceans, frozen water locked up in icebergs and polar ice caps, or simply inaccessible or polluted water.

Many people in the world don’t have access to nearly the same amount of water as we do in the United States.  The average global citizen only uses approximately 2.5 gallons of water each day.  In many developing countries, this water is often unsafe to drink and too polluted for good hygiene.  Additionally, humans aren’t the only ones who depend on clean, safe water.  The plants and animals in our surrounding environment need this water as well. 

In school, we learn about the water cycle: evaporation and transpiration, condensation, precipitation, and collection or storage.  We know from the water cycle that water is recycled, that we can keep using it again and again.  However, the water cycle is not completely reliable.  Water doesn’t always return to the same places or in the same quantities.  Some of the water that returns to the earth through precipitation may be inaccessible for human use, or it may become polluted, depending on where it travels.  For all of these reasons, it is important to treat the water that is accessible to us—and other organisms—very carefully.  

You’d be surprised to learn just how much water we use to produce our foods and other materials.  About 70% of water worldwide is used for agriculture.  In theUnited States, the great Ogallala Aquifer, an underground freshwater source, is used to irrigate farms across theGreat Plains.  However, the water supply in this aquifer is shrinking rapidly, and some people believe that the water will only last a mere 25 more years.  This isn’t very long at all, considering it takes approximately 40 gallons of water to produce an egg, 80 gallons of water to produce an ear of corn, 150 gallons of water to produce a loaf of bread, and 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef!  Additionally, it takes up to 25 gallons of water to produce one gallon of gasoline, 280 gallons of water to produce a Sunday newspaper, and 100,000 gallons of water to produce a new car!

There’s no way around it: as a society, we Americans use a lot of water.  Luckily, there are many simple things you can do to conserve water.  For starters, make sure you don’t leave the faucet dripping.  A dripping faucet can waste 20 gallons of water a day!  If you see a faucet dripping, try to turn it off, or ask somebody to fix it.  You can also turn off the water while you are brushing your teeth or soaping up your hands, and only use the water to rinse.  Similarly, if you are washing dishes by hand, don’t leave the water running while you do so; soap up first, then rinse them all at once.  If you are going to run the dishwasher or the washing machine, make sure you have a full load of dishes or laundry to make sure you are using the water as efficiently as possible.  Time yourself: take shorter showers.  And you don’t need to flush the toilet every time you use it.  If it’s yellow, let it mellow!  Keeping the lid of the toilet shut will help prevent the spread of bacteria or odors.

If you have pet fish, and you change the water in their tank, instead of dumping the water down the drain, use it to water your plants.  In the summer, the water collected from your dehumidifier can also be used to water the plants.  It’s more efficient to go to the car wash than to wash your car by hand.  If you want to wash your car at home, do it on the lawn, so the grass will benefit from the water as well!  Water your garden or lawn early in the morning or late in the evening, when the sun is not strong and will not evaporate too much water, and the plants will be able to use more of the water.

Finally, don’t use plastic water bottles.  Each year, 1.5 million barrels of crude oil are used for making plastic bottles.  That’s enough oil to power 100,000 American cars for a whole year!  And often, the water from a plastic bottle isn’t even as good as the water that comes out of your faucet.  For example, a four-year study by the National Resources Defense Council found that one-fifth of the 103 water products they tested contained synthetic organic chemicals.  Many bottled water companies just get the water straight from the tap, anyway!  Find a reusable water bottle and use it—again and again.  You’ll limit your waste and you’ll save water.  Remember that it takes 25 gallons of water to produce one gallon of gasoline.  Just imagine how much water is used to produce the 1.5 million barrels of crude oil used for making plastic bottles!  You’ll also be cutting your carbon footprint by eliminating the transportation associated with delivering bottled water to stores.

With a simple Google search online, you’ll be able to find hundreds and hundreds of tips about how to save water.  To start, try going to 100 Ways to Conserve or Water Conservation Tips.  Happy conserving!

 

References

“100 Ways To Conserve.” Water Conservation Tips, Facts and Resources. Water Use It Wisely. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.wateruseitwisely.com/100-ways-to-conserve/index.php>.

“How to Go Green: Water.” TreeHugger. 3 Dec. 2006. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.treehugger.com/htgg/how-to-go-green-water.html>.

“New JerseyWater Fact Sheet.” WaterSense. EPA, July 2010. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.epa.gov/watersense/docs/new_jersey_state_fact_sheet.pdf>.

“Our Water.” WaterSense. EPA. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.epa.gov/watersense/our_water/index.html>.

“Water Conservation Tips.” National Geographic. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/water-conservation-tips/>.

 

 

EARTH DAY

by: Sam Mass, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member

The year 1970 marked a time of expanding national consciousness. The War in Vietnam was at the forefront of the media and the cause of protests across the nation, especially on college campuses. Eight years after Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring” the environment was slowly making its way into the minds of the public. People were starting to become disheartened with air and water pollution, lax environmental regulation policies and major environmental crises, such as the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill. The oil spill was the largest at the time and the third largest in US history behind the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and the Deepwater Horizon in 2010.

Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin saw firsthand the damage caused by this oil spill on a trip to California and looked to the college anti-war teach-ins as a model to engage the public in sharing his concern for environmental issues. On April 22nd of 1970 he led a nation-wide teach-in that would become the first ever Earth Day. On that spring day over 50 million people participated in schools and campuses all over the country. Today over 500 million people celebrate Earth Day across the world.

“I am convinced that all we need to do to bring an overwhelming insistence of the new generation that we stem the tide of environmental disaster is to present the facts clearly and dramatically. To marshal such an effort, I am proposing a national teach-in on the crisis of the environment to be held next spring on every university campus across the Nation. The crisis is so imminent, in my opinion, that every university should set aside 1 day in the school year-the same day across the Nation-for the teach-in.”

Many see that first Earth Day as the event that sparked the modern environmental movement. It brought environmental stewardship to the forefront of the national agenda and soon protests and teach-ins for the environment were rivaling those of the War in Vietnam.

In recent years Earth Day has become Earth Week and schools as well as parks hold events to celebrate the planet that sustains our life.

There are so many ways to celebrate Earth Day. You could plant native trees, clean up a local natural area, write letters to representatives asking them to consider the environment in their legislation. Many state and county parks have activities including birdhouse building, nature walks, and seed planting. But remember, advocating for the Earth should not be reserved for just one day, rather every day should be Earth Day!

To find out more about Earth Day events in your area, visit your town or counties website, or go here http://www.nj.gov/dep/seeds/earthday/eday.htm

 

References:

http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-history-movement

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1969_Santa_Barbara_oil_spill

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_Day

Eastern Bluebirds: A Day In A Life

 
By NJSOC AmeriCorps Member Danielle Odom

Hello, my name is Eastern Bluebird, but that’s Sialia sialis to you. We are proud members of the Order of Passerine, in the Family Turdidae (Thrush): we are perching songbirds; we are plump, small-size creatures with soft plumage. We build cup-shaped nests lined with mud in our forested homes, often times feeding on the ground for insects and small fruit. We the Eastern Bluebirds wear the handsomest colors of all the bluebirds: royal blue feathers on our dorsal side (back) with warm red-brown breast feathers on our ventral side (stomach). The females are not as brightly colored as the males, but they are no less attractive.

Contrary to popular belief, we do not spend our days socializing with princesses of Disney origin; singing to them when they’re blue, helping to tidy their beds, or fashion their dresses. Rather, we live in the wild where we prefer wooded areas adjacent to wide open meadows. My mate and I favor the woods because our nest benefits from the protection trees offer, but we also relish the close proximity to the meadow because it is our own personal smorgasbord. We love the beetles, crickets, katydids, grasshoppers, spiders, millipedes, centipedes, snails, and earthworms that live in such fields.

My mate and I just moved into a new neighborhood in Stokes State Forest, right off Tinsley Trail. It is a beautiful region; there are several oaks, hickories, maples, and beech trees surrounding an expanse of open wetland. Our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Red-Winged Blackbird, both come from families that have been living in this area for decades, returning every spring after the winter thaw. They told us that about fifteen years ago a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver moved out of the neighborhood. When this couple left, the large pond they lived in began to drain and vegetation was able to take root once again, helping to create the giant wetland that now exists here.

Our new home is a wetland now, but we know it will only be a matter of time before the wetland area becomes a meadow; still perfect habitat for our future generations ofSialia sialis as far as we’re concerned. Another benefit of this particular locality, (and not to sound like a human committing speciesism), but there are no starlings! We did, however, observe the presence of several species of sparrow. Starlings, and some species of sparrow, are not native to North America, and they have been aggressively outcompeting with us and other Eastern bluebirds, for our homes. Some of our friends have been unable to raise young because the struggle for resources can be so severe.

Our nest-building and mating rituals are part of an elaborate process, and therefore the additional challenge of interspecific competition, (two different species vying for resources), with Starlings or sparrows is not generally welcome. Once male Eastern bluebirds have finished intraspecific competition, (the same species vying for resources), for nest sites with other male bluebirds, extravagant mating displays commence. Males will gather and bring nest materials to their nest site – bird boxes, holes in stumps, natural tree cavities, old woodpecker holes – constantly moving in and out of the nest while simultaneously waving his wings. He will dote on his mate, enticing her with treats.

Once females have selected their mates, they begin the real nest-building process, gathering dried grasses, pine needles, and fine twigs, lining the nest with a mix of mud, finer grasses, hairs, and feathers. When the female is busily constructing the nest, the males are courageously defending the nest/box. Females will lay four to five eggs in each brood, with the possibility of laying one to three successful broods a year. Always the gentlebird, our males will deliver food to the nesting females while they are incubating eggs for two weeks. Males will continue to help feed the nestlings and fledglings for the additional 15 to 20 day duration that the young birds remain in the nest. Our young can be just as courteous; young bluebirds from the first brood will on occasion stay in the nest to assist their parents in tending to the young of a second brood.

Fortunately for our species, humans are being just as considerate. We have noticed several bluebird boxes posted on numerous trees throughout the ecotone (overlap between the wetland and forest ecosystems). Must be all the local Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts; thank you kindly young human folk! From what I can tell, these bluebird boxes are having quite the positive influence in terms of helping my fellow Eastern Bluebirds in their fight for survival of the fittest.

 

Did You Know?
“Bluebirds are associated with hope, happiness and many other things we love. As a result, they have probably appeared in more songs, poems and literature than any other bird” (Zimmerman, 2012).

Do It Yourself (VIDEO): Be A Considerate Human-Folk Too!
Create Your Own Eastern Bluebird Habitat

 

References

Cornell University. (2011). All about birds: Eastern Bluebird. Retrieved fromhttp://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_bluebird/lifehistory

National Geographic Society. (2011). NatGeo wild: Eastern Bluebird. Retrieved fromhttp://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/bluebird/

Zimmerman, B. (2012). Bluebird facts. Retrieved fromhttp://www.birdsandblooms.com/Birds/Spring/Bluebird-Facts

 

 

Early Spring Wildflowers

By: Lindsay Harrington, Graduate Assistant

 

This year’s mild winter has us all awaiting the return of spring. As the temperatures begin to warm and the days once again grow longer, we are reunited with familiar flowers that are the early signs of the changing seasons. Wildflowers provide a valuable food source to many insects and animals as well as offering many medicinal and useful properties to people. They can be defined as any species of blooming plant that can survive without the help of humans. The few wildflower species discussed in this article are among the countless species that are found throughout the New Jersey School of Conservation.

 

Coltsfoot (Tussilago Farfara)

This dandelion-lookalike is commonly found on roadsides in NJ and many other places in the United States. First imported from Europe where it was used for medicinal purposes, they are able to survive in the most inhospitable conditions which has allowed them to thrive and begin to spread Westward across the United States. Few people make the association between the commonly identified leaves of this plant which are seen throughout the summer and the beautiful yellow flower that blooms in early spring. Coltsfoot gets its name from the shape of its leaf which looks similar to a hoof-print of a horse.

The medicinal properties of Coltsfoot are impressive. It has been used as a medicine for years to treat cough and bronchitis. The plant contains mucilage and in the 19th century was made into coltsfoot candies which would sooth a sore throat. The Latin name for the plant contains the root word “Tussis”, a term we may associate with the over the counter cough medicine, Robitussin.  The plant has also been smoked to realize asthma, treat bug bites, and ulcers. Unfortunately, it has been discovered through research that coltsfoot can actually cause liver damage if ingested so caution should be used if trying any of these remedies.

Like many other early spring flowers, coltsfoot has evolved ways of dealing with the sometimes unpredictable spring weather. A close look at its stem reveals tiny red hairs which are assumed to help the plant absorb sunlight on cold days. Once the flower has bloomed, it turns its head to face the suns warm rays and on cloudy days points downward to conserve heat. The flower is small but impressive and attracts many insects which aid in pollination. When the flower is pollinated, it closes back up and begins to develop seeds. Much like a dandelion, the colts foot then produces a fuzzy seed-head. On windy days, the seeds blow to distant areas where they are able to colonize.

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

Also known by such names as adder’s tongue, dogtooth violet and starstriker, this unassuming flower plays an important role in the forest ecosystem. The name trout lily probably came about because the flower blooms in April when most trout fishing begins. Its small yellow flower is surrounded by green leaves with purple splotches that also look like the markings on a trout.

Although small, this wildflower plays a significant role in the forest. First, trout lily has the ability to stabilize soil. Instead of bulbs, trout lily has many deep corms or large underground stems. These corms send out tiny shoots which produce clones of the parent plant. The white threadlike shoots actually stabilize forest soil near wet areas and prevent erosion. Most trout lily plants do not produce flowers but instead grow a single leaf which provides food for the corms. The plants that do produce flowers reproduce by means of seeds instead of cloning. Cloning allows for this plant to produce large colonies.  The leaves of the plant are not tasty to animals and the only threat to this plant is black bears which like to eat the underground corms.

Besides preventing erosion, trout lily is a valuable food source for newly emerging queen bumblebees and many other pollinating insects. When spring arrives queen bees must establish underground nests and rely on the nectar and pollen to feed their worker bees. Eventually, the pollen will also feed the growing larvae within the hive. The flower has a scent which is detected by other flying insects and its interesting design prevents crawling insects like ants from eating its nectar. The flower points downward protecting it from rain and also making it near impossible for crawling insects to feast on the nectar within.

 Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Invasive species have caused irreversible damage to many ecosystems in North America. One of these invasive species is garlic mustard and can be seen just about anywhere you look at the School of Conservation. The plant has been classified as a severe threat to the native plants of the Eastern and Midwestern forests but is also one of the earliest spring flowers. Garlic mustard is very prolific and spreads by means of seeds. Like many other invasive species it lacks a natural enemy here in North America. In its native Europe there are many insects which feed on all parts of the plant. Not even deer, which usually eat just about any vegetation on the forest floor, are deterred by the strong garlic scent let off by the plant when torn. The plant does not grown in open sunlight which means that the shady forests here in North America offer the perfect habitat for this invasive.

Garlic mustard has small white flowers that are clustered at the top of a long stalk that is anywhere from one to three feet tall. After germinating from a seed, the plant does not grown into a long stalk but instead produces only small kidney shaped leaves. There have been many efforts to eradicate the plant but its ability to self pollinate, make large quantities of seeds and no natural enemy have made it near impossible. Forest agencies have tried methods such as chopping down, burning, or using herbicides on the plants but the seeds are able to persist in even the harshest of conditions.

The plant is actually part of the mustard family and was brought over to the United States in the 1800’s to be used as a salad green. It is high in vitamins such as A and C and its potent scent was sometimes used to hide the smell of old meat. It is still widely used as a food source in Europe where it can be mixed with fish and sautéed like other greens.  Unfortunately, here in the United States there is little desire to eat the plant even though consumption may be the only viable way to control its population.  While mature leaves are bitter, the young sprouts can be delicious when incorporated into the wide variety of dishes.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Named after its orange-red juice which it produces when picked, blood root is one of the earliest and largest spring blooming flowers. They can bloom as early as March or April due to their large quantity of food which they store in their underground stems over the cold winter months. The long petals of the flower are impressive and can be 7-12 inches long. Unfortunately, the beauty of this flower is fleeting as the petals usually only persist for as little as one day.

Bloodroot is a member of the poppy family and was first identified in Canada. It can be found as far north as Nova Scotia and south to Florida but not passed the Rocky Mountains in the west. Its interesting orange internal fluids have been used as natural dyes for centuries by Native Americans and early settlers in North America. Medicinally, it has been used to treat minor cancers, cramps, and to repel insects when mixed into an ointment. In modern times, a pharmaceutical company discovered bloodroot’s ability to reduce plaque. The plant’s extract called sanguinarine has been incorporated into mouthwash and toothpastes which can reduce the risk of gum disease.

Bloodroot does not produce nectar but is still pollinated by insects which are attracted to the bright petals and anthers. Insects such as bees are able to get a quick pollen treat and also aid in transferring pollen to other flowers. Because bloodroot blooms so early, it is suggested that the flower may self pollinate as many insects have not emerged in March or April. Like other wildflowers, bloodroot can produce seeds without being pollinated and these seeds can easily germinate in your garden if transplanted.

Wildflowers have the incredible ability to brighten up the forest as they have evolved into many different shapes and sizes. It is often that these small beauties are overlooked even though they play a large role in supporting the forest ecosystem. Each wildflower has its own story and place in our ecosystem whether it is native or introduced. So, when spring arrives, take a look around at the interesting shapes and colors on the forest floor and enjoy the natural beauty of wildflowers.

 

References:

Sanders, Jack. The Secret of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little Known Facts, Folklore, and

               History. Guilford, Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press, 2003.

Images:

http://www.altnature.com/gallery/bloodroot.htm

http://wildeherb.com/2010/04/08/yellow-coltsfoot-blooms-and-hoof-shaped-leaves/

http://www.foundinthefells.com/monthly/FoundMay.htm

http://www.shorewood-hills.org/departments/forester/home.htm

 

 

 

Salamander Rains

By: NJSOC AmeriCorps Member Ashley Schmid

 

Salamander vs. Newt

While hiking around the woods here in Stokes, I often find myself asking the question, salamander or newt?  A newt is a salamander, but a salamander is not always a newt.  Can you see my confusion here?!  The term salamander covers an entire group of amphibians that have tails as adults, including newts.  The term newt sometimes refers to salamanders that spend most of each year living on land.  You can find newts in shady forested areas, under rocks and logs. (Zoological Society of San Diego, 2012)

 

Salamanders of NJ

In New Jersey we have 16 different kinds of salamanders.  Two of these are on the state endangered list: the Blue-spotted salamander and the Eastern Tiger salamander.  Another two are also on the state threatened list: the Eastern Mud salamander and the Long-tail salamander.  Around NJSOC we find in abundance the Red-Spotted newt.  These little newts measure in at about two to four inches and can be found all over the state of NJ.  They are also called Red Efts and are plentiful after summer showers.  This newt has several different life forms, always with red spots present on their backs.  They are easy to spot because of their bright orange-red color, which warns predators of their poisonous toxins, and their bold character to walk around the forest floor in the middle of the day.  Come take a walk around Stokes and look out for them this spring! (Gessner & Stiles, 2001)

 

Vernal Pools

Vernal pools are categorized by natural or man-made depressions that hold water, but not fish, for more than two consecutive months.  These pools provide a habitat for many amphibians, insects, reptiles, and plants.  There are an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 vernal pools in NJ.  They often start popping up in the spring and become a great place to explore for salamander egg masses.  (Tesauro, 2012)

 

Salamander Rain

One of the natural history instructors I had during my undergraduate career used to speak passionately to us about the “salamander rains”.  How during a spring rain he would wake up and wonder, “Are the salamanders out?”, “Are they on the roads?”, and “Are they going to be ok?”.

“There’s usually a few heavy downpours between January and March. Those chilly rains soak the frozen earth all afternoon and into the night, and the cold, clammy night air begins to warm ever so slightly, the temperature rises above 40 degrees (F), and the first amphibians respond. While we’re snuggling up to the wood stove on a stormy night listening to the cold rain splatter against our window panes, out of the torpid dormancy of winter’s dark depths, they emerge with hormones pumping – crawling and slithering – flowing with the newly moving waters.” (Elliot, 2012)

These are the salamander rains.

 

References

 

Elliot, D. Salamander Rains. 2012.  http://dougelliottstory.wordpress.com/2010/02/09/salamander-rains/

Gessner, J., Stiles, E. NJ DEP, Division of Fish & Wildlife: Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of New Jersey. 1st Edition. February 2001.  http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/salmandr.pdf

Tesauro, J. Assistant Zoologist. NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife: New Jersey’s Vernal Pools. 2012. http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/vpoolart.htm

Zoological Society of San Diego: Amphibians: Salamanders & Newts. 2012. http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-salamander.html

 

 

Wild Geese

By: Jenna Gersie, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member

 

And in this annual barter of food for light, and winter warmth for summer solitude, the whole continent receives as net profit a wild poem dropped from the murky skies upon the muds of March.  –Aldo Leopold, A SandCountyAlmanac

Though the winter has been mild,LakeWapalannehas been at least partly frozen for most of the winter.  The thawing of the ice on the lake has been met with annual visitors in search of open water: Canada Geese.  Several pairs of the well-known birds have been seen around the lake, honking defensively at passersby as they stake out their nesting sites.

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) are the most widespread goose inNorth America.  Everyone recognizes these long-necked, black-headed birds as they graze on lawns, pick through the stubble in last summer’s cornfields, or fly in their characteristic V formations across the gray sky.  Their deep, musical honking is a classic sound heard in the autumn as winter approaches and again when spring arrives.

The Canada Goose has a brown body and wings, black tail, tan or cream-colored breast, black head and neck, and white chinstrap.  This large waterfowl has large, webbed feet and a wide, flat, black bill.  Canada Geese live near water, grassy areas, and grain fields.  They are often found in parks, golf courses, suburban areas, and other places with large lawns both because they feed on grass and because the open space allows them an unobstructed view of potential predators.  In addition to grasses, the geese also eat sedges, skunk cabbage leaves, and eelgrass.  During the fall and winter, they will commonly eat berries, seeds, and grain and corn kernels from agricultural fields.

Canada Geese mate for life.  Pairs remain together throughout the year, and the birds are often found in large flocks.  Mates will choose each other based on size: larger males will mate with larger females and smaller males will mate with smaller females.  This practice is known as “assortative mating.”  Size may also indicate subspecies of geese; the birds generally get smaller as one moves northward.  There are at least eleven recognized subspecies, and the four smallest forms are considered a different species: the Cackling Goose.  Subspecies are also recognized by color; the geese tend to be darker as one moves westward.

In early spring, the pairs of geese break away from their flocks and begin to defend their territory, as the couples are currently doing atLakeWapalanne.  As long as population density permits it, geese will not nest within sight of each other.  The birds are very defensive of their nesting sites, using a variety of threat displays to keep other geese away.  They will pump their heads, open their bills with their tongue raised, and hiss and honk until the intruding goose retreats.  The birds are so aggressive that they will even grab each other by the breast or throat and use their wings to hit each other.

Once territory has been staked out, the female will select the nest site and build her nest.  The nest is a large, open cup made of dry grasses, lichens, mosses, and other plant material.  It is built on the ground, often on a slightly elevated site, and lined with down and body feathers.  The female will incubate two to eight eggs alone while the male guards the nest site.  In order to properly guard the nest, the geese prefer a site with an unobstructed view.

The female will incubate her creamy white eggs for just under a month.  When they hatch, the goslings are covered with soft, yellowish down.  After only one or two days, the baby birds can leave the nest to walk, swim, and feed.  Even though they are independent enough to leave the nest so early, they stay with their parents constantly.  The young birds will remain with their parents for their entire first year, though as they grow, they become more social and congregate with other families at good food sources.

Come winter, Canada Geese may migrate long distances to spend the winter in the southernmost parts of their range.  Some geese, however, may migrate short distances or not at all.  Recently, researchers have found that the geese are not flying quite as far south as they used to.  One reason for this change in migration patterns could be that waste grain from agricultural fields has become more available as a food source during winter months.  As long as the geese find open water and food resources, they can survive icy winter temperatures.

Even though some Canada Geese are resident to an area, the species itself has come to represent migration.  Flying both night and day, the flocks of family groups and individuals are witnessed by many as they move freely betweenCanadaandMexico.  These migrations symbolize both change, on a yearly scale, and repetition of nature’s cycles on a longer time scale.

Quite simply, the arrival of Canada Geese at the tail-end of winter is a sure symbol of the approaching spring.  In his chapter “March: The Geese Return” of A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold writes with excitement and joy about the arrival of geese on his farm: “Once touching water, our newly arrived guests set up a honking and splashing that shakes the last thought of winter out of the brittle cattails.  Our geese are home again!” (p. 19).  Leopold’s exclamation that the geese are “home again” shows his enthusiasm for their arrival.  Not only have the birds brought spring with them, they also appear on Leopold’s farm like old friends who have returned for a visit.  The rambunctious honking of the geese, as well as the summer-like sound of their splashing on the water, chases the chill of winter out of the air.

References:

All About Birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 5 Mar. 2012. <allaboutbirds.org>

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There.New York:OxfordUniversity Press, 1949.

Peterson, Roger Tory. Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America.New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.

 

 

Porcupines!

By: Sam Mass, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member 

Just about three weeks ago a surprise visitor treated us at the New Jersey School of Conservation. This animal was first spotted outside the windows of the staff offices and as we ran into Kittatinny Hall to follow his trail we watched him slowly lumber by before taking shelter in a nearby tree. For many of us it was the first time we have seen one of these creatures in the wild and what a treat it was! Not nearly as intimidating as one might think, the creature seemed to be much more weary of us than we were of it. The animal I’m talking about is the North American Porcupine and if you’re lucky, you may spot one passing by the buildings of SOC.

If you do happen to see one, keep in mind that unless you give it reason to feel threatened, it will pay you no mind. The perception that the porcupine shoots its quills at those unfortunate enough to cross its path, largely propagated by cartoons, is not at all true. The quills should not be thought of as darts that are propelled through the air into a victim, but rather as stiff and very pointy pieces of hair. However, that does not mean they should be taken lightly. Should a predator attempt to attack the porcupine, the quills will detach easily into the snout or paw of the unsuspecting marauder. The North American Porcupine, the only species that lives in the US and Canada may have up to 30,000 quills on its body. That is nothing to fool around with.

The porcupine, like its cousin the beaver, is in fact a large rodent; the second largest in North America and third largest in the world. During the spring and summer months when plants are readily available the hefty herbivore will sustain itself on leaves, herbs, twigs and green plants like skunk cabbage and clover. During the long winter months it survives on the bark of trees.

Porcupines are generally divided into two categories, Old World and New World. The prickly creatures that inhabit Stokes State Forest belong in the latter category. To narrow it down even further, I don’t think they would mind terribly if you referred to them as the North American Porcupine, as to not confuse them with several other species of New World Porcupine. This creature has taken quite an incredible journey to become the North American Porcupine we know today. The porcupine’s ancestor, the Caviomorpha is thought to be the common ancestor of almost all South American rodents and our own North American Porcupine. When the Caviomorpha arrived in South America it filled the niche of many native marsupials and began to diversify to live in varying habitats and survive on different food sources. Their size range expanded and would include rodents from “rat-sized echimyids to the bison-sized Phoberomys…Ecologies included burrowing gopher-like forms such as tuco-tucosarboreal forms such as porcupines and certain spiny rats, running forms such as maras and aquaticforms such as the capybara and nutria” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caviomorpha).

Scientists offer two possible explanations as to how the Cavimorpha from Africa wound up in the Americas. Some researchers believe the animal drifted on a raft from Africa to South America, while others suggest the animal migrated via land from Asia, down North America, into South America. Whatever the case may be, the porcupine’s ancestors traveled a long way. And how lucky are we that one of these creatures should choose to make its home on the campus of the School of Conservation.

References:

Porcupine: Erethizon dorsatum.http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/porcupine/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caviomorpha

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Porcup

 

 

Frog Blog: A Winter Night’s Dream

By: Danielle Odom, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member

The scene is set: (Late February to Early March). The days are growing longer; the air is becoming warmer, stirred by a tender zephyr carrying the faint, yet rugged scent of the softening soil below. Snow is melting, adding to the thaw; the evening hour is upon the nocturnal world, and warm spring downpours are saturating the ground, offering the potential for new growth.

Enter the protagonist: (Stage Left). His dark, conspicuous mask running from the length of his nose down past his tympanum (ear) ironically exposes his true identity. Ice crystals thaw from his dark brown body, revealing the defrosting form of the Wood Frog. Beads of water gently roll off his moist, amphibious back as he emerges from winter hibernation, like a cold shower quickly waking a morning commuter still replete with groggy eye rheum.

The first night of tepid rain showers signals the commencement of the Wood Frogs’ mating rituals. As in a well-rehearsed scene, the male Wood Frogs simultaneously leap their way from their respective wooded, vegetative ‘dens’ en route to the breeding grounds – vernal pools – the destination of this annual performance. No other stage will do, for Wood Frogs are ‘obligate’ vernal pool breeders; as amphibians they require a water source to fulfill their life cycle, but this species specifically seeks bodies of water free of permanent fish  populations – the slippery antagonists. Unlike other egg masses and larvae (tadpoles) which develop below the surface, the Wood Frog larvae swim near the surface, where they engage in a symbiotic relationship with algae which provides a fresh oxygen source to the larvae. Subsequently, they would be more noticeable to fish that would, given the opportunity, eat the Wood Frogs’ eggs and larvae.

Vernal pools (fairly shallow depressions that contain water for at least two consecutive months and exist without fish populations, the latter point being the essence of this ecosystem) offer an ample setting, for they lack a natural above-ground outlet, and they occur in locations where the water table seasonally fluctuates, causing periodic dry and wet spells. Therefore, vernal pools are an inhospitable stage for permanent fish populations. All other frogs found in Sussex County, New Jersey are facultative vernal pool breeders, meaning it is optional where they breed; they can tolerate sharing the stage with fish.

OBLIGATE & FACULTATIVE VERNAL POOL BREEDING FROGS
OF SUSSEX COUNTY, NEW JERSEY

Obligate

Facultative

Wood Frog – late February-May

Northern Spring Peeper – early March-May

 

Pickerel Frog – March to May

 

Southern Leopard Frog – late March-June

 

Northern Cricket Frog – April-June

 

Green Frog – April to August

 

Bullfrog – late April-July

 

Northern Grey Tree Frog – May-July

 

Enter the heroine: (Stage Right). Her face mask is even more conspicuous than her male counterpart, for her permeable, amphibious skin is lighter in tone: a pinkish-tan with festive soft reddish hues during the mating season. She is drawn toward the vernal pool by the siren-like chorus of mating calls from the male Wood Frogs. The cacophony is intermingled with the sound of rain reaching the forest floor and the surface of the vernal pool. Is not the mating croak of a male Wood Frog a telling sign of spring?

Though the odds may seem in her favor – a 6-to-1 male-to-female ratio – the fates appear to conspire against her. When she leaps into the vernal pool, she is immediately swarmed and assaulted by several males within an immediate radius of her as they attempt to mount her back. The rather mercurial frenzy for mating rights can last several moments; all the while, male-to-male combat is so fierce the female’s back can be stacked three males high, whilst others along-side attempt to dethrone those on top. Should she survive amplexus (when a male is clasped onto a female’s back during copulation, wherein she deposits buoyant eggs, which he then fertilizes), she must then exit, stage right, without being drowned by any other would-be males in pursuit of amplexus.  

The females will attempt to deposit their eggs along the edges of the vernal pool where it is warmer. As a troupe, females tend to lay their clutches in the same general region of the vernal pool, thereby allowing the eggs to gather in one giant mass. Though this may not always be the case, it is a favorable strategy because the heat of the collective egg mass helps to incubate the unit. Each egg clutch laid by one female contains an average of 2500 eggs! These bi-colored embryos with translucent, jelly capsules can hatch and develop into larvae within 10 to 30 days. The larvae growth rate is temperature, resource, and relative-larvae population dependent, favoring temperatures over 50?F. Full metamorphosis from larvae to juvenile (frogs too young to breed) takes approximately seventy days after hatching, reaching full frog form, mask and all, by July. The Wood Frog must undergo metamorphosis rapidly and mature just as quickly in order to avoid cannibalism and competition with other frog and amphibian species vying for the same vernal pool during the overlapping, yet ever cascading breeding seasons.

Once the Wood Frog juveniles leave the vernal pool, they disperse in a 2km radius from their natal pond, searching for other vernal pools. Upon reaching adulthood – 1-2 years on average for males, 2 years on average for females – they then join the ranks of their parents, being but poor players, strutting and fretting their mating hour upon the stage, and possibly, after the loud crescendo of mating calls, they may be heard no more. But the show must go on!

 

References:

Department of Natural Resources Science (DNRS). (2001). Wood frog: Rana sylvatica. Kingston, RI: Connie E. Heinz. Retrieved fromhttp://www.uri.edu/cels/nrs/paton/LH_wood_frog.html

Heinrich, B. (2009). Summer world: A season of bounty. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW), & Endangered and Nongame Species Program of Conserve Wildlife (CW). (n.d.). Salamanders, frogs, and turtles of New Jersey’s vernal pools. Trenton, NJ: Leo P. Kenney & Matthew R. Burne with adaptations and modifications for New Jersey by Jason Tesauro, Kris Schantz, & Melissa Craddock.

New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW). (2002). Field guide to reptiles and amphibians of New Jersey (1st Ed.). Vineland, NJ: Vicki Schwartz, PhD. & David M. Golden.

New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW). (n.d.). New Jersey’s vernal pools. Trenton, NJ: Jason Tesauro. Retrieved fromhttp://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/vpoolart.htm

Shakespeare, W. (n.d.). The tragedy of Macbeth. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Vernal Pool Association, The (VPA). (2011). Information about vernal pools. Retrieved from http://www.vernalpool.org/vpinfo_1.htm

Vernal Pool Association, The (VPA). (2011). Massachusetts vernal pool certification
by obligate vernal pool species. 
Retrieved fromhttp://www.vernalpool.org/macert_4.htm

Skunk Cabbage-Nature’s Little Heater!

By: Lindsay Harrington, NJSOC Graduate Assistant

Long before we will see any other spring wildflowers blooming, skunk cabbage begins to emerge from beneath the snow. Skunk cabbage is one of the first signs of spring and also one of the most interesting plant species in the Eastern woods. With its showy green leaves and pungent smell like a skunk, it is easily identified by even the novice nature explorer. This plant can go by several other names including Skunk Weed, Pole Cat Weed, Meadow Cabbage, Hermit of the Bog, and Swamp Cabbage. Regardless of what you call it, walking through the eastern woods, it is hard to miss this fascinating green giant.

Skunk cabbage cannot be found in just any habitat. It prefers swamps and other low lying wet areas. In February or mid-march the plant begins to emerge and first to appear is its strange flower, like something out of a science fiction movie. It is not a typical wildflower and consists of a single leaf-like hood which is called a spathe. The spathe is maroon in color with some green and yellow streaks. It creates a small room around the growing flower bud. Often times you will see these strange hood like plant structures in small patches of melted snow. This is because this interesting species has the ability to produce enough heat to melt the snow surrounding it to produce a microclimate in which it can grow.

The heat comes from within the flower buds, and it can reach a staggering 70 degrees for up to two weeks within the spathe. This heat protects the flower bud and also plays a role in intensifying the pungent skunk-like smell which the plant produces. Once the spathe grows larger, the inner spadix or flower bud can be seen within. The spadix resembles a small ball shaped object covered in yellow pollen buds. This part of the plants anatomy is the generator of the heat which protects the plant from the cold winter temperatures. The spadix of the Skunk Cabbage produces heat through cellular respiration, the process by which cells produce the energy they need to survive. The previously mentioned spathe helps maintain the heat created because it is composed of many air sacs. These sacs insulate the plant from the cold temperatures outside and creates a heat filled room that protects the inner spadix. Also, the dark color of the flower absorbs sunlight, which can increase temperatures within the spathe. 

 

 

Outer spathe exposed in the melting snow

 

All parts of this plant let off a pungent skunk-like smell that is supposed to resemble the smell of rotting flesh. In the early spring, the heat generated by the plant and the foul odor attracts insects which aid in the pollination of the plant. The pollen is carried from one skunk cabbage to the other by bees, butterflies, and beetles. The interesting shape of the outer spathe creates a vortex which sucks insects into the spadix while, pushing foul smelling air out the top to attract more would be pollinators. Many insects, such as honeybees, do not like to fly in cold temperatures, and take cover within the spathe if the day time temperatures drop quickly.

  Once spring temperatures have increased and the days grow longer, the skunk cabbage plant will begin to send out a tightly rolled leaf. Once the leaf unravels, it can be up to 3 feet in length, vivid green and fleshy. This is the form in which the plant is most easily recognized. Leaves can grow to be so large that the hollows are used by Common Yellowthroat for nests. Because these plants do not have a thick cuticle like most plants do on their leaves to prevent desiccation, they need to constantly suck up moisture from the soil to survive. Thus, these plants need a constant wet environment to stay alive. Skunk cabbage is always transpiring, or letting moisture into the air. It is often easy to notice a difference in humidity in the air when you are near skunk cabbage plants whose leaves are fully unraveled.

When late summer arrives, the plant drops its seeds. The spadix which once was the plants heater, is now a fruit cluster. Within this strange fruit, are the seeds which will help this plant persist. The seeds are consumed by species such as the wood duck and northern bobwhite, which aid in the dispersal of the plant. The seeds are about pea sized, and can also be carried away by flooding or fall to the ground where they then germinate.

Besides having the remarkable ability to generate its own heat, skunk cabbage has a root system that sets it apart from many other plants. The roots of the skunk cabbage have the ability to expand and contract allowing the plant to move deeper into the ground at a fraction of an inch each year. The deep “contractile” roots of the plant allow it to live for several generations. It has been estimated that some plants have been around since the early settlers, making them at least 100 years old. While it has not been proven, it is theorized that the plant’s central rhizome or rootstock could live for 1000 or more years if the swampy conditions in which it thrives persist during that time frame. This plant is truly amazing!

Organisms within the forest rely on skunk cabbage as a food source. It is important to note that skunk cabbage is poisonous. Although, there are some animals who are not affected by its toxins like the black bear, wild turkey, and Canada geese.  In the spring before many other plants have emerged, there is tremendous value to the early blooming behavior of the skunk cabbage. After a long winters rest, black bears consume the ripened flowers, roots and leaves of this plant. It is important for the hungry female bears who need to produce milk for their cubs. The plant material also has a laxative effect which helps the bears cleanse their bowls after months of inactivity. The plant is so popular with the bears that early settlers named it bear-weed.

Skunk cabbage has many medicinal uses although any one attempting to use these home remedies should first consult with an expert. The plant is not edible for humans and the roots are poisonous. Also, false hellebore, a very toxic plant which strongly resembles skunk cabbage, often grows nearby. False hellebore can cause death if eaten. The leaves of skunk cabbage contain calcium oxalate crystals which will cause a burning sensation in the mouth if consumed. It takes around 5 weeks of drying the plant to completely remove the toxins to a point where it can be consumed by humans. It does not seem like it is worth the risk!

Like many species in the eastern woods, Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant. Native peoples would smell the crushed the leaves as a cure for a headache, and make an ointment out of the roots to reduce swelling and pain. Both Native Americans and early physicians would use the root to create an expectorant to treat cold-like symptoms. Although it sounds strange, they would also use the roots to create an underarm deodorant!

I noticed skunk cabbage growing in early February this year at the School of Conservation. At first, I thought this was unusual and was due to the warm winter we have had thus far. But, once I got to know this interesting plant I realized that there was so much I did not know about its biology and importance within the forest ecosystem. There have been several occasions where I have walked past a skunk cabbage plant, easily dismissing it as “just skunk cabbage”. Now, I know that it is unique and significant to not only other animals, but once as an important herbal remedy. In getting to know skunk cabbage, and finding out facts that I never knew before, it makes me wonder how many other plants and animals I pass on a daily basis which I think I “know”.  Everything in nature is connected, and getting to know one organism can open up the door to getting to know another.

 

References:

http://www.scarthphoto.com/skunkcabbage.htm

http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/kidsthings/natthing200903/skunkcabbage0309/tabid/21529/Default.aspx

http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/skunk_cabbage.htm

http://www.worldsstrangest.com/mental-floss/skunk-cabbages-are-so-hot/

 

 

Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)

By: Ashley Schmid, NJSOC AmeriCorpos Member

“A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods. I always thought so myself; the Maine woods never seem so fresh and alive as in wet weather. Then all the needles on the evergreens wear a sheath of silver; ferns seem to have grown to almost tropical lushness and every leaf has its edging of crystal drops. Strangely colored fungi — mustard-yellow and apricot and scarlet — are pushing out of the leaf mold and all the lichens and the mosses have come alive with green and silver freshness.” (Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, 2012)

-        Rachel Carson, “The Sense of Wonder”, 1965 (Posthumously)

             Rachel Carson was a writer, a scientist, and an ecologist.  In her early life she lived in a small rural town named Springdale in Pennsylvania by the Allegheny River. Her mother was instrumental in instilling a life-long love of nature and all living things. (Lear, 1998).  Here her first encounters with nature flourished as she spent time exploring the forests and streams around the 65-acre farm her house resided on. (Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, 2012).

            Carson attended the Pennsylvania College for Women (now known as Chatham College) for her undergraduate degree. (Lear, 1998).  During this time she studied at the U.S. Marine Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts as a summer fellowship.  This was her first experience with the ocean.  Originally enrolled as an English major, midway through her studies Carson switched to biology.  After graduation Carson was awarded a scholarship to pursue biology at John Hopkins University. (Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, 2012).

            During the Depression Carson began to work for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. (Lear, 1998).  She was responsible for writing seven-minute radio programs on marine life called “Romance Under the Waters.” (Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, 2012).  To supplement her income she would also write feature articles on natural history for the Baltimore Sun.  Starting in 1936 Rachel Carson began a 15-year long career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  She entered as a scientist, turned into an editor, and finally secured the spot as editor-in-chief.  In 1952 she resigned to focus more on her writing. (Lear, 1998).

            Carson’s writing career began when she was just 10 years old when she was published in a children’s magazine dedicated to young writers. (Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, 2012).  As an adult she started turning research she was doing for the government into published prose.  Her first article, “Undersea”, was published for Atlantic Monthly in 1937.  This article later evolved into her first book in 1941 titled “Under the Sea-wind”.  Next followed “The Sea Around Us’ in 1952 and “The Edge of the Sea” in 1955.  Both of these books won prizes and put her on the map as a naturalist and a science writer.  (Lear, 1998).

            While Carson wrote articles designed to teach people about the wonder and beauty of the living world, she also emphasized how humans are one part of nature that stand out by their power to alter it and in some cases irreversibly.  Carson became aware of the overuse of synthetic chemical pesticides after World War II and reluctantly began to focus her attention on this in order to warn the public about the long-term effects of such things such as DDT.  This is when Carson began her journey to write “Silent Spring”. (Lear, 1998).

              In a letter to a friend, Carson called this book “something I believed in so deeply that there was no other course; nothing that ever happened made me even consider turning back.”  When “Silent Spring” was released in 1962, Carson was flooded with attacks from critics calling her “the hysterical woman”. (Alexander, 2003).  The chemical industry and some people in the government also attacked Carson, calling her an alarmist.  In 1963, Carson went to testify before Congress.  She asked for new policies that protect human health and the environment. (Lear, 1998).  This sparked a complete review of the pesticide policy and as a direct result of this study DDT was banned.  The next year Carson passed away at age 56 from a long battle with breast cancer. (Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, 2012).

             The ban on DDT in the U.S. eventually led to a global treaty to phase out 12 different pesticides known as “the dirty dozen”.  If it were not for one courageous woman’s voice and action, the green movement may not even exist today.  And if she were still alive, she would undoubtedly be warning us about hundreds of more chemicals being released recklessly into nature. (Alexander, 2003).

“I like to define biology as the history of the earth and all its life — past, present, and future. To understand biology is to understand that all life is linked to the earth from which it came; it is to understand that the stream of life, flowing out of the dim past into the uncertain future, is in reality a unified force, though composed of an infinite number and variety of separate lives….” (Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, 2012)

-        Rachel Carson, “Introduction to Humane Biology Projects”, 1961

            The Rachel Carson Homestead Association in Springdale, Pennsylvania preserves the birthplace and childhood home of Rachel Carson.  In the spirit of Rachel Carson, they challenge all of us to take the “Top 10 Challenge” to consider the role we play in the web of life.  One individual and one voice can help to make a difference in protecting the world we live in today and for future generations.  Rachel Carson did.

  1. 1.   Go carbon-neutral!
  2. 2.   Begin an Integrated Pest Management program in your home and garden.
  3. 3.   Buy Fresh, Buy Local.
  4. 4.   Reduce your own and your family’s use of and exposure to chemicals.
  5. 5.   Take the bus, walk, cycle or carpool.
  6. 6.   Conserve energy.
  7. 7.   Consider Alternative Fuels & Energy Sources.
  8. 8.   Recycle.
  9. 9.   Protect and Enjoy the Great Outdoors!
  10. Consider: What would Rachel do?

 

References

Alexander, C. (2003). Time Magazine: Breaking the Silence on DDT. http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1977881_177891_1978373,00.html

Castillo, M. (2010). Time Magazine: Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964). http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2029774_229776_2031856,00.html

Lear, L. (1998). Rachel Carson’s Biography. (2012). http://rachelcarson.org/

Rachel Carson Homestead. (2012). Take the Rachel Carson Legacy Challenge. http://rachel_carson_homestead.myupsite.com/rachel-carson-legacy/

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge: Northeast Region. (2012). From the Writings of Rachel Carson. http://www.fws.gov/northeast/rachelcarson/writings.html#rainy

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge: Northeast Region. (2012). Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964). http://www.fws.gov/northeast/rachelcarson/carsonbio.html

 

 

 

THE BUSY BEAVER

By: Sam Mass, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member 

As the days grow shorter and the bitter winds bite at any skin you dare expose, the grey winter landscape seems quiet and inactive. Yet there is a busy creature unwilling to allow the colder, shorter days get in the way of his daily routines. Come winter time many mammals have built up their stores of fat and will spend the season in a state of torpor or even hibernation and quite a few species of birds have left for warmer climates and a greater supply of food. This is not the case for the beaver, who has prepared well for these winter months by storing the food he busily gathered during the autumn in his underwater “refrigerator” and who’s home is actually rather warm inside.

The beaver lodge stays warmer than the surrounding air and while the temperature is dependent on the number of beavers living inside the lodge, studies have shown that when the air temperature is between 20 and -6 degrees F, the beaver lodge maintains a much warmer temperature of 33-35 degrees F. The lodge is pitch black inside and often damp and crowded. It will often house not only the family of beavers (including kits and yearlings), but also the beaver’s cousin, the muskrat who takes advantage of the warm shelter. The lodge, built from sticks and mud, is in the center of the beaver pond that manifests after the beaver constructs its dam.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyNA62FrKCE

The beaver exhibits a highly evolved set of dam building behaviors. This behavioral set includes taking down small trees and stacking them in the water, and packing them down with mud. As the dam nears completion it will begin to back up the flowing water and flood the surrounding area, creating the beaver pond. The beaver dam provides several advantages. By flooding the surrounding area, the beaver has a safe way to travel to its source of food. The dam also creates a habitat for animals other than the beaver including wood ducks, fish, and turtles. It is because of this that the beaver is known as a keystone species, and animal that has a large effect on its environment. It is said that the beaver is second to only one other animal in the degree with which they manipulate and change its environment. That other animal, of course, is us!

In Stokes State forest there is plenty of evidence of past beaver activity ranging from gnawed tree stumps to entire beaver ponds abandoned between ten and fifteen years ago. In the early 1800s, however, beavers were hunted nearly to extinction in New Jersey due to their sought-after fur.

The beaver, North America’s largest rodent, can weigh anywhere from 60 to 100 pounds. For such a large mammal, they have a very particular diet, feeding mainly on the cambium (the green stuff just under the bark) of trees. During the winter months the beaver will store branches in the cold water near its lodge and bring them into the lodge when they are hungry. After the cambium has been stripped, the beaver will throw the branch back into the pond to be used later for dam and lodge repairs.

Such a remarkable animal causes quite a bit of controversy, even today. Many homeowners whose property has been flooded by the beaver ponds find the animal to be a menace. Oftentimes these homeowners will attempt to demolish the beaver dam to keep the floodwaters at bay. Once the stream water begins flowing again, however, the beavers get right back to work, building a new dam. Perhaps this is where humans must learn to coexist with the natural world and respect the animal that performs outstanding feats of engineering, the animal that rivals our own capability for altering our surroundings and the animal that works tirelessly to maintain a home for its family, the incredible beaver.

 

References:

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/beaver/?source=A-to-Z

Holland, Mary. (2010). Winter in Darkness: Beaver Lodges. http://www.audubonguides.com/article.html?id=96

http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/facts/mammals/beaver/beaver_natural_history.htm

Attenborough: Beaver Lodge Construction Squad-BBC Earth, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyNA62FrKCE

 

 

The Owls of NJSOC

Who Cooks for You?

Jenna Gersie

In September, last year’s AmeriCorps members gave Ashley, Danielle, Sam, and me a tour of the School of Conservation Campus.  It was one of the few warm days that remained, and we took our time near the canoes and rowboats near the docks on the Sequoya side of campus.  We sat on red benches in the Pavilion, a small building with removable walls, open to the late summer sunshine.  Looking up at the roof of the Pavilion, we could see the remains of nests made in spring by phoebes and barn swallows.  In one corner of the Pavilion, an Eastern Screech Owl perched atop a song bird’s nest.  It was so motionless in sleep that at first, I believed that the owl was a taxidermied specimen, put there on display.  In fact, it was a living owl, but it wasn’t until the bird squinted its eyes open and peeked at me that I was convinced.

 

The Eastern Screech Owl (Otus asio) is one of seven owls found in New Jersey.  The most common species found in the state are the Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), and Barred Owl (Strix varia).  Barn Owls (Tyto alba) and Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus) are also found in New Jersey, and the Long-Eared Owl (Asio otus) and Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus) can be found overwintering here. 

Primarily nocturnal birds with excellent camouflage, owls are often better known by sound than by sight.  In Walden; or, Life in the Woods, Henry David Thoreau writes extensively about the owls that he hears nightly atWalden Pond.  Thoreau describes the Eastern Screech Owls as “Wise midnight hags!” whose “wailing” and “doleful responses” he loves to hear.  In fact, Thoreau states, “I rejoice that there are owls…It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and undeveloped nature which men have not recognized” (82).  Known only for the sounds they make at night, owls come to represent mystery and darkness, obscurity and ghostly twilight.  From the Eastern Screech Owl’s whistled trill and the Great Horned Owl’s deep hooting to the Barred Owl’s cackling and cawing and the Barn Owl’s hissing scream, owls are recognized by their haunting calls.

Contrary to popular belief, owls cannot turn their heads all the way around.  Owls turn their heads three quarters of the way around in order to change their field of vision.  An owl doesn’t have enough room in its head for eye muscles; therefore, the owl relies on turning its head to see from different angles.  Owls also have 14 vertebrae in their necks—twice as many as in mammals—that allow them to turn their heads.  Because owls can move their heads so far and so rapidly, it often appears that they can turn their heads around completely.  This ability to have eyes in the back of their heads helps make these birds excellent hunters, able to look in almost any direction to see the animals they hunt.

These nighttime birds of prey mainly hunt rodents such as mice.  The Eastern Screech Owl will also eat insects, songbirds, and earthworms; they will even dive for fish or crayfish.  The Barred Owl also eats crayfish; it is believed that this causes the belly feathers of some Barred Owls to turn pink!  The more vicious Great Horned Owl will eat larger animals, like rabbits, squirrels, geese, and snakes.  This owl will also prey on crows, and because of this, crows regularly mob and harass owls.  The Great Horned Owl will even eat skunks!  Most owls eat a variety of small mammals, songbirds, and large insects.  The Barn Owl and Long-Eared Owl have particularly good hearing and are able to catch prey in complete darkness.  The prey of owls can be discovered by studying owl pellets, or small masses of undigested parts from the owl’s food.  Inside an owl pellet, one can find many indigestible materials, from the bones of rodents to the exoskeletons of insects to fur or feathers.  These indigestible materials collect in the owl’s stomach, and a pellet is formed.  The pellets are expelled before the night’s hunting by regurgitation; owl pellets can often be found beneath the bird’s nest or a regular roost within the owl’s hunting grounds.

Unlike most birds, owls do not build their own nests.  Some owls, like the Great Horned Owl, Long-Eared Owl, and Barred Owl will lay their eggs in the existing nest of a hawk, heron, crow, magpie, or squirrel.  The Barred Owl may also lay her eggs in a tree cavity or an old woodpecker hole, as will the Eastern Screech Owl and the Northern Saw-whet Owl.  The Short-Eared Owl will lay her eggs in a shallow, grass-lined depression, well-hidden by vegetation, and the Barn Owl will simply lay her eggs on a bare surface, such as in the corner of a barn or attic.  Depending on the species, owls will lay between two and eleven eggs; females will incubate the eggs themselves.  In some species, the males will hunt for food and protect the nests.  Most owl chicks will be ready to leave the nest after four to ten weeks, depending on the species.

This winter, New Jerseyhas had an unexpected visitor.  On November 8th, 2011, a juvenile female Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca) was spotted at Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County.  At the time of this writing, the owl could still be found there.  This Snowy Owl has likely taken up residency here in New Jersey, far south of its normal range, due to a strong breeding season in the northern tundra of Canada and Alaska this past summer.  Such a rise in population has sent younger birds further south to look for food this winter.  The arrival of the Snowy Owl in New Jersey has been an exciting opportunity for birdwatchers, who have flocked to Merrill Creek to view and photograph the bright white bird.  Almost as unusual as seeing the Snowy Owl in New Jersey is getting the chance to view any of the state’s seven owl species.  The lucky birdwatcher gets the chance to view these elusive, nocturnal, mysterious birds.  Their hooting, cackling, and hissing at night are indicators of their presence, even if we don’t get the chance to see these big-eyed nighttime birds.
 

References

All About Birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 25 Jan. 2012. <allaboutbirds.org>.

 

“Barred Owl.” Science Museum of Minnesota.WarnerNatureCenter. 25 Jan. 2012.             <http://www.smm.org/warnernaturecenter/animals/owl>.

 

Malok, Andre. “Snowy Owl Takes up Residence at Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren            County.” NJ.com. The Star Ledger, 6 Jan. 2012. 26 Jan. 2012.             <http://videos.nj.com/star-            ledger/2012/01/snowy_owl_takes_up_residence_a.html>

 

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden; or, Life in the Woods.New York:Dover Publications,             1995.

 

Vanner, Michael. The Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Barnes and Noble, 2003.

 

“What Is an Owl Pellet?” Owl Pellets. 25 Jan. 2012. <http://owlpellets.org>.

 

 

 

“Knock knock” “Who’s there?”- The History of Woodworking

By: Danielle Odom

“Knock-knock-knock,” “thump-thump-thump,” “whack-whack-whack”; the sounds of once standing giants – roots to branches, reaching from the soil below into the canopy above – now as fresh fallen timber being sawed, carved, painted and whittled into new life, all in the art of woodworking.

Humans have been using wood for various purposes since the age of Homo erectus, approximately 1.5 million years ago in the Peninj region of Tanzania (Schuster, 2001). Admired for its versatility at providing both strength and pliability, wood is capable of being shaved, carved, or heated and shaped into several types of tools and articles. As the technology evolved, so did the use of wood, from rudimentary weaponry/hunting (e.g. spears) and wooden handles (e.g. for stone axes) to more advanced applications in housing, roofing, furniture, wagons, and ship-building.

In North America, the need for timber for ship-building was one of the principle reasons early European explorers were determined to settle the wilderness of the New World; by the mid-1600s Europeans had nearly exhausted their all timber resources. Therefore, North American forests became a source for immense monetary gain for the shipping industry; Captain John Smith extolled the wealth of the American forests (NJSOC, 2011) believing them limitless and fully able to provide lumber where the European forests no longer could. Trees also provided Early American homesteaders the raw materials necessary to build and heat their homes and construct rudimentary furniture and tools, which allowed them to settle and become rather self-reliant.

For early settlers and homesteaders in the 1600-1700s, the forests were a seemingly vast and boundless source of timber; conservation and resource sustainability were so overlooked they were not even an afterthought. For instance, here in New Jersey, the cedar swamps were heavily harvested in the 1700s in order to support the nation’s shingle supply, but due to strong demand, these unique ecosystems were depleted by the 1800s (NJSOC,2011). This negligence towards resource sustainability continued as technologies advanced – society moved from pre-industrial to industrial – and consequently the demand for fresh timber and charcoal increased.

“Chip-chip-chip,” “peel-peel-peel”; the sounds of bark being removed from felled lumber.

Though the sentiments of the industrial big-wigs towards forests tended towards indifference, the Early American homesteader showed a reverence towards the old-growth forests. It was a matter of necessity and survival that all homesteaders were woodworking generalists; they needed to have basic knowledge of forestry. These early settlers had to know how to identify different species of trees and whether a tree was soft wood or hard wood, or if a tree produced course grain or smooth grain. These characteristics of trees would determine how they could best be used to different ends; e.g. pines grow tall and straight (for posts), oaks grow strong and resilient (for walls). Subsequently, this awareness fostered an almost spiritual adoration for the forests because these settlers needed to have intimate knowledge of their natural resources in order to survive.

This profound respect was reflected in the wood-workmanship of the Early American Homesteader. Sloane (1964) told of this aptly when he wrote:

“Why an ancient tool should be closer to the early craftsman than a modern tool is to a modern workman is not readily understood by most people…Henry Ward Beecher said it nicely when he explained that ‘a tool is but the extension of a man’s hand.’ Whereas today’s implements are designed with the idea of ‘getting a job done quickly,’ there was an added quality to the early implements and an added quality to early workmanship too. For, like the nails on a beast’s paws, the old tools were so much an extension of a man’s hand or an added appendage to his arm that the resulting workmanship seemed to flow directly from the body of the maker and to carry something of himself into the work. True, by looking at an old house or an old piece of furniture, you can imagine the maker much more clearly than you can by beholding anything made today.”

Sloane and Beecher allude to this greater connectivity in their various analogies of tool and hand being indistinguishable. For the Early American homesteader, these tools certainly were a greater extension of their human flesh. The early ironworkers only forged the heads of the tools (e.g. hammer heads and cutting blades); the individual was expected to make his own handle that was fashioned to his own hand grip (Sloane, 1964).

Therefore, it was not uncommon that some men believed that their tools themselves took on their own souls or personalities. In a superstitious way, men would actually nickname their tools with pet-names such as “Tom,” “Sam,” or “Jack” (Sloane, 1964). Considering how labor-intensive early woodworking was – there were no power tools – it only seems logical that a tool that was built to withstand the daily toils of manual labor held a beloved spot in the owner’s life.

“Chop-chop-chop,” “split-split-split”; the sounds of logs being notched for housing.

All who worked with wood were not necessarily generalists. Again, though the typical Early American homesteader needed to know general information and owned a few tools (ax, maybe a saw) as a matter of necessity, as communities grew and villages were established some men did evolve to take up woodworking as a trade, specializing in one area of expertise. The specialist was someone who learned a specific skill; there were Coopers (barrel makers), Wainwrights (wagon makers), Wheelwrights (wagon wheel makers), Roofers (shingles), Shipwrights (ship makers), Fencewrights (fences) and Carpenters (built wood framing for houses and barns). They were conveniently located in towns so that they could provide woodworking services for the local community while also being close enough to access their resource supply – the forest.

Depending on the specific trade, these specialized woodworkers used a variety of tools in their craft: drawknives and shaving horses for shaving, augers for drilling, two-man saws and buck saws for cutting, and froes and froe mallets for making shingles (to name a mere few). These tools alone were too time-consuming to mass produce, such that every man could own his own set, not to mention too expensive to purchase; hence the evolution of the specialized woodworker.

Here in Stokes State Forest, the two greatest uses of the locally harvested, old-growth timber in Early America were for fencing and charcoal. The charcoal was used to smelt the iron ore harvested in Franklin, NJ and Andover, NJ during the 1800s prior to the use of coal, which could burn at higher temperatures than the charcoal (NJDEP, 1980). Stokes also once held two saw mills, the Snook Sawmill and the Deck Howell Sawmill, which were operated by hydro-power by local streams. Both sawmills contained one giant saw that was capable of cutting large logs one at a time (ibid).

Trees have always been an incredible renewable resource –highly valuable and versatile in several woodworking professions – and they can be for generations. If we support our local foresters and state parks in their pursuit for sustainable land and forest management, we can not only enjoy recreation in our public-access parks, we can also continue to benefit from the many uses of wood-products.  

“Timber!” (The End).

 

References

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). (1980). A guide to Stokes State Forest.

New Jersey School of Conservation (NJSOC). (2011). Forest ecology fact sheet: History of forest use in America.

Schuster, A.M.H. (2001, January 31). World’s earliest woodworking? Archeological Institute of America, retrieved fromhttp://www.archaeology.org/online/news/wood.html

 

 

 

 

Snow Fleas in the Snow?

By: Ashley Schmid

 

As we roll into the end of January, I look around campus and am saddened by the lack of snow we have had this season.  Last year around this time, NJSOC was blanketed with one of the biggest visual winter indicators – snow!  Along with enjoying many outdoor winter activities such as snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and ice-skating, I was excited to observe all of the wildlife we have here on campus in Stokes State Forest!  One such critter I heard about and was interested to see for the first time is the snow flea!

Snow fleas are very tiny at just about 1/16 of an inch long.  They are a dark blue color that appears almost black with short antennae and two eye clusters with 16 eyes in each!  You can find them living in soil, leaf litters, mosses, fungi, and along shores of ponds.  Since they are so light they can actually walk on the surface of the water.  They also have two long things sticking out of their abdomen that resemble tails.  These “tails” can be folded under their body and when they release them, they can fly or jump! (www.fcps.edu/ islancreekes/ecology/snow_flea.htm)  Since they can’t actually control the direction of their flight, often times they spring up and land in the same spot they started or only a few inches away. (www.dnr.state.wi.us/eek/critter/insect/ snowflea.htm)

Now, the name snow flea is actually quite a trick because they aren’t really fleas at all!  Snow fleas are a type of insect called springtails and are more of a help to the environment than what many think of pesky fleas.  Snow fleas eat old dead plant matter, bacteria, fungi, algae, pollen, and sap.  The things they eat make them important to humans because they are decomposers.  Decomposers break down things in the soil which plants in turn can get nutrients from that they need to grow.  These plants then are used by animals and humans, and so continues the circle of life!  (www.fcps.edu/islancreekes/ecology/snow_flea.htm)

These small critters mate in the springtime and lay eggs in the soil.  Newborn springtails are called nymphs.  By winter these nymphs have turned into full adult snow fleas.  In order to reach this adult stage each nymph goes through phases of eating, growing, and molting their exoskeleton.  With each molt they look more and more like an adult snow flea.  Their small size and environment that they live in make them prone to predators such as beetles, ants, mites, and centipedes. (www.fcps.edu/islancreekes/ecology/snow_flea.htm)

Surprisingly, snow fleas are not active during the bitter cold, but when the temperatures start to warm up a little they will crawl to the surface looking for food.  You might think from the name that they would only be around when snow is present, but in fact you can try and spot them anytime during the winter.  Often times they can be found at the base of a large tree. (www.fcps.edu/islancreekes/ ecology/snow_flea.htm)  Hundreds of thousands of snow fleas can populate just one cubic meter of topsoil! (www.esa.org/esablog/research/snow-fleas-helpful-winter-critters-2/)

The easiest way to spot them of course would be if they are on top of the snow because of the dark color popping out against the white snow.  Snow fleas are able to stand being on the cold snow because of something in their bodies called “glycine-rich antifreeze protein”.  (www.esa.org/esablog/research/snow-fleas-helpful-winter-critters-2/)  This special protein in snow fleas is able to bind to ice crystals as they start to form and prevent the crystals from growing larger.  An interesting note is that researchers have been able to study the medical potential of this protein structure and found that it may have a possible application to safely preserve organs for human transplant. (Lin, F., Graham, L., Campbell, R., & Davies, P., 2007)

I have yet to see any snow fleas here at NJSOC this winter.  I’m still hopeful for some snow and when it comes you can count on seeing me out there looking around for these critters!  The Wisconsin Division of Natural Resources offers some advice on how to find some in your area:

“On a warm, sunny winter day, take a look at the base of a tree where the snow may have melted down to expose some leaves, or where the snow is shallow or hollowed out just a bit.  There you’ll find a sprinkling of what looks like “pepper” or “ashes” on the surface of the snow.  Each speck you see is a snow flea.  Once you find them, watch closely and see what they’re up to.” (www.dnr.state.wi.us/eek/critter/insect/snowflea.htm)

 

References

 

Lin, F., Graham, L., Campbell, R., & Davies, P. (2007). Structural Modeling of          Snow Flea Antifreeze Protein Biophysical Journal, 92, 1717-1723.

Wisconsin Division of Natural Resources;www.dnr.state.wi.us/eek/critter/insect/snowflea.htm

Kline, K. (2011). Ecological Society of America;         www.esa.org/esablog/research/snow-fleas-helpful-winter-critters-2/

Fairfax County Public Schools;          www.fcps.edu/islancreekes/ecology/snow_flea.htm

 

 

 

 

A Long Winter’s Nap

By Jenna Gersie

        When the air grows icy and winter sets in, New Jersey’s animals have many ways of coping with colder temperatures and a lack of food. Some, like birds, migrate. Warblers and swallows fly south to find active insects, sparrows fly south to find uncovered seeds, and water birds fly south to find open water. Other animals, like insects, spiders, reptiles, and amphibians will also migrate—deeper into the earth. Salamanders and earth worms will burrow beneath leaf litter and toads will burrow under the soil, below the frost line. Snow provides an insulating layer for these animals.
        Some animals grow warm, thick winter coats, such as white-tail deer, whose winter coats are made of hollow hairs to trap extra body heat. Birds that stick around for the winter, such as goldfinches and redpolls, grow more feathers and fluff them for insulation. Animals like deer, birds, squirrels, rabbits, and beavers stay active during the cold months. Even in the coldest places, staying active will keep an animal alive through the winter. For example, the arctic fox in the Arctic and the emperor penguin in the Antarctic will survive the cold because of their appropriate insulation, considerable energy reserves, and ability to successfully compete for continuing food sources.
      Several of New Jersey’s animals have another adaptation for surviving the cold winter months, however. They will either enter a state of torpor or prolonged torpor, otherwise known as hibernation. To enter into a state of torpor is to enter into a state of hypothermia, accompanied by inactivity and lowered metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate. There is a fall in oxygen consumption and breathing rates and a restriction of blood flow to the main organs. Why would an animal adapt to enter such a state? This type of deep sleep is a form of energy conservation. Animals that live in cold climates develop such sleeping patterns when food gathering becomes more difficult and it would take too much energy and body heat to search for food.
      Torpor is driven by ambient temperature and food availability. Many of New Jersey’s mammals, such as the black bear, chipmunk, raccoon, and skunk, enter states of torpor to make it through the cold months. To prepare for the winter, black bears accumulate body fat throughout the summer and autumn. In late fall, when food becomes scarce, they make their dens and enter them for the winter. Black bears lose about 25 percent of their body weight during the winter, but they stay in good physical condition, and they will awaken and leave their dens periodically, especially if food is available. Female black bears give birth during the winter, and their fat stores from the summer and autumn provide enough nourishment to suckle their young. Even in the arctic and sub-arctic, bears are not true hibernators. They will simply experience seasonal lethargy and periods of torpor to get through the winter.
      Animals that maintain very high metabolic rates will often go into daily torpor. This allows them to sleep through times when it is difficult to find food. For example, bats will enter torpor during the day, when it is difficult to find insects. Their bodies therefore use less energy, and food will last longer in their bodies. They will wake up again when it is time to search for more food. Bats take about two hours to reduce their metabolic rates, drop their body temperatures, and enter into a state of torpor. When they are ready to awaken, it will take about an hour. They warm up by shivering violently and contracting their muscles. Frogs will enter torpor during the night because nighttime air temperatures are too cool for them. They therefore use less food and energy to keep warm during the night. Other animals that enter daily torpor include hummingbirds, swifts, nightjars, nighthawks, poor-wills, and goatsuckers. Doves and pigeons enter a shallow state of torpor when they are deprived of food.
      Hibernation is a sustained state of torpor. Entry into and exit from hibernation are governed both by internal signals such as hormone changes and external cues such as day length and temperature. Whether in a state of torpor or a state of hibernation, animals have the ability to wake spontaneously, despite the temperature. Animals hibernate for several months, though they will occasionally awaken throughout the winter. They will remain in a state of deep torpor for several weeks at a time, and then awaken for several hours before entering into a deep state of torpor again. These short periods of arousal and activity may serve to maintain organs, tissues, and cells; animals are susceptible to parasitic infections while hibernating, so waking up occasionally may boost their immune systems.
       Very few of New Jersey’s mammals are true hibernators. Only the jumping mouse, woodchuck (or groundhog), and little brown bat hibernate through the winter. For these animals, foraging for food and maintaining their normal core body temperatures during the winter months are energetically too costly. Like animals who enter short periods of torpor during the winter, animals that enter hibernation will also prepare in the summer and autumn by eating more food than usual and building fat stores. An animal in hibernation will not lose any of its muscle; it will just lose its stored body fat. The longer the animal is in a deep state of torpor, the thicker its layer of fat will be. When hibernating animals awaken, they will be much thinner, but they will have maintained their muscle. As in torpor, hibernating animals slow their heartbeat, breathing, and metabolism. Animals that hibernate drop their body temperatures lower than those who enter torpor. Their body temperatures will drop so low that they will match that of the ambient air temperature! But hibernating animals protect themselves in sealed dens that remain above freezing temperature because of insulation and geothermal heating. During the depth of winter, the length of time that animals stay in their deep state of torpor lengthens. As spring comes closer, the periods of torpor decrease and the periods of activity increase until one day, arousal marks the end of hibernation. Temperature and the instinct to mate are other factors that call animals out of hibernation.
      The groundhog doubles in weight from May to September to prepare for a four to five month period of hibernation. On Groundhog Day, when we call the groundhog out of its den and look for its shadow, we are awakening an animal deep in sleep. Depending on factors such as temperature and photoperiod, the groundhog may reenter a state of prolonged torpor to make it through the remaining winter months. As humans, though, we don’t have that option; we will have to continue emerging from the warm dens of our beds, bundling up, and staying active throughout the cold season.

References:

“Animals at the Extremes: Hibernation and Torpor.” Open Learn: The Open University. Web. 27 Dec. 2011..

Harris, Steve. “How to Tell Torpor from Hibernation.” Discover Wildlife | Wildlife and Photography at Its Best with BBC Wildlife Magazine. 15 July 2010. Web. 27 Dec. 2011..

“Hibernation.” ThinkQuest. Web. 27 Dec. 2011..

“Mammalian Hibernation.” University of Calgary, 26 Feb. 1999. Web. 27 Dec. 2011..

“Torpor.” ThinkQuest. Web. 27 Dec. 2011..

 

 

 

 

Frozen Frogs

By Timothy Palla

      It is the middle of December and winter is making her presence known. Here at the School of Conservation Lake Wapalanne has already partially frozen and we have even experienced some snow. It is time to pull out our winter coats, boots, gloves, hats and of course the foot warmers. Animals do not have the luxury of adding layers of clothing and they must adapt to the weather so they can survive until spring. There are some species of insects and amphibians that can freeze without dying.  In Stokes State Forest the amazing wood frog has adapted this incredible ability to survive the winter.

      Animals have been adapting to the cold for thousands of years. We know that some birds and animals migrate, while others hibernate. Hibernation or a form of it is the main way mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians survive the harsh conditions of winter. With the winter approaching the food many of these animals relied on is now gone. So if you can’t eat you might as well sleep. Typical places frogs would hibernate would be burrowing in a pond bottom or on land below the freeze line. Some animals take it further and just freeze with winter and thaw out in the spring, like the wood frog, that crawls under the leaf litter and freezes.

      How does a frog not get injured from this adaptation like many other animals? First we must understand what frostbite is and how it hurts us. When we are exposed to the cold our skin can’t keep out the cold for long without protection. Once the cold permeates the skin tissue, it starts to freeze the cells underneath. The human body is seventy-five percent water and the cells that keep our body running are filled with that water. When water freezes, it expands and as it expands it destroys the cell. The reason why people can be seriously injured from frostbite is because the cells are destroyed and many of those cells cannot be replaced.

      The wood frog can survive freezing and thawing many times by preparing its body to freeze. During the winter up to sixty-five percent of their body can freeze solid. Their heart stops pumping blood and the brain shuts down. They survive this by producing an excess of a form of the sugar glucose. Glucose accumulates in the cells, tissues and organs. It helps by using osmotic pressure to replace water in the frogs cells which. This protects the cells by stopping ice crystals from inside the cells and keeps the cells from shrinking. The frog can last like this for at least a month or longer. When the frog starts to thaw out the glucose returns to the liver and within twelve hours the frog is jumping away.

    There are many medical advantages for having the ability to freeze bodies especially organs. Organ transplants would be the first area a technology like this would improve. Currently a typical liver or kidney transplant must be done within twenty-four hours of removal. Organs can be kept cold but they cannot be frozen. If we could use a cryoprotectant like the wood frogs we would be able to store organs for when they are needed.  We have gained the ability to freeze samples of cells for study from various mammals. So until we figure out how to replicate the frog’s abilities we will not be freezing ourselves and waking up in the future. Not yet anyway….

Bibliography:

Cryoprotectant  production  capacity of  the freeze-tolerant wood frog,  Rana sylvatica

Jon P. Contanzo and Richard E. Lee Jr.

Department of Zoology, Miami  University, Oxford,  OH  45056, U.S.A

 

      Cryonics

      www.benbest.com/cryonics/vitrify.html

 

      Conservation magazine

      www.conservationmagazine.org/2008/09/frozen-frogs

 

      PBS-NOVA

      www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/medical-cold.html.

 

 

 

 

Life Under the Ice

By Danielle Odom

The leaves have turned brittle and brown; they have fallen to cover the ground in an insulating blanket to protect against winter’s cold. The sun has grown bashful, only emitting faint rays of light and warmth on these shorter winter days. The air too has grown chill and crisp, burning throats as it is drawn downward with each breath. Once gently flowing waters have now expanded and formed clear, solid landscapes of slippery ice. All around is a seemingly monochromatic environment devoid of sound, color and movement; our senses which were once inundated by auditory, visual stimuli are now as still as this new winter world. Yet life remains, though perhaps at a lethargic pace, for even under the ice of Lake Wapalanne there is life.

There is only one reason why living things are able to survive in a lake in the winter time: the unique property of water that enables it to become less dense as a solid than when it is in liquid or gas form; i.e. allowing ice to float, not sink. What is the significance of this? Well, imagine if instead ice was denser than water. All plant and animal life in a lake would have to abandon the water before it froze at risk of otherwise becoming frozen solid in a giant cube of ice since the lake would freeze from the bottom up. Thankfully, that isn’t the case.

Instead, water is actually at its densest at 39.2?F (4?C). At this density, cold water sinks to the bottom of the lake, and the interface zone between the air and the water’s surface begins to freeze, from the top down, as ambient air temperatures reach 32?F (0?C), water’s freezing point. Chemistry is now at its finest as the water molecules move closer together and form a net-like structure. Yet even though the molecules in ice are closer together, the net-like quality of the bonds in ice allows air to be trapped in between its structure, thereby making it less dense. In fact, ice is composed primarily of trapped air rather than H­2O molecules.

General chemistry aside, (and biologically speaking), this unique property of water allows for life to continue under the ice even when winter has clasped its icy, cold grip over the land. Just like a blanket, ice forms a protective, insulating barrier between air and water, allowing life to continue while keeping the sub-zero temperatures at bay.

Under the water, aquatic life has severely slowed down; both heart rate and metabolism have slowed as animals enter hibernation. Hibernation is a survival strategy used by animals in order to cope during long periods of cold and food resource scarcity. In a lake environment, winter means plunging temperatures and the decline in the lake’s availability of food sources and rate of food production (phytoplankton), and most significantly, the constant reduction of oxygen. Although photosynthesis is still somewhat possible as sun can shine through ice, overall the rate of photosynthesis in aquatic plants dramatically decreases in wintertime. Hibernation in a lake community, consequently, is about using oxygen and body energy in moderation (Weber, 2000).

Therefore, in order to survive, cold-blooded creatures such as reptiles and amphibians, e.g. frogs and turtles, spend winter months in hibernation, burrowed into the muddy substrate of the lake’s bottom (Amsel, 2011). All hibernating animals, frogs and turtles included, will prepare in advance for winter by storing body fat in reserves. When it comes to breathing, frogs maintain their oxygen exchange by breathing through their skin. Turtles, on the other hand, breathe through their cloaca (a shared opening for both reproductive and excretory systems) (Nelson, 2006). Both turtles and frogs will decrease their heart rate and breathing to mere fractions of their non-hibernation rates; e.g. Painted Turtles heart rate will drop to one beat per every 8-10 minutes! (ibid).

An amphibian common to Lake Wapalanne, the Red Spotted Newt, has a distinctive hibernation pattern due in part to its unique life cycle. A juvenile newt, (also known as a Red Eft during this life cycle stage), lives a terrestrial existence; it hibernates on land, burrowed in logs or leaf piles. An adult Red Spotted Newt, however, returns to the water and lives the remainder of its life in aquatic existence. Yet, the exception to that existence is winter hibernation. Adult newts will vacate the lake in winter, and just like the juveniles, they will hibernate in neighboring forests, seeking logs and leaf piles (Richmond, n.d.).

Three other creatures that inhabit Lake Wapalanne are the largemouth bass and the bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish. There may be a misconception that fish freeze in the winter, but that is generally not true. “Fish…have slightly higher concentrations of ions (salinity) than water, and therefore, have a lower freezing point than water [sic]” (Jahrig, 2003), thus just like saline water they cannot freeze. Instead fish, also cold-blooded, undergo a sort of winter stagnation wherein their metabolism slows and heart rate drops. However, fish generally do not experience “true” hibernation. Rather, they continue to swim about at a lethargic pace. Because their physiological functions have decelerated, they, like other animals, require less food and oxygen. In other words, these fish have learned to adapt to the seasonal changes in their environment in order to survive. Nevertheless, nothing in nature is set in stone.

The chill of winter ice may seem unappealing to some, but for several species it offers protection from the cold. However, all protection comes at a cost; if ice persists long enough atop a lake, fish and aquatic life can actually die. Though all metabolic and physiological functions have slowed to a near halt, all sub-ice life requires oxygen. When ice covers the entire expanse of a lake – especially thick ice – it prevents the exchange of gases at the surface of a lake. Oxygen is introduced to a lake community in a dissolved form when water is turbid (moving and mixing with the air), allowing continual oxygen reloading. Ideally a winter season will have several days where the ice thaws periodically, allowing several opportunities for the water’s surface to once again exchange gas with the air for oxygen replenishment. In spite of this, several fish may not make it through the winter and this is called winterkill (MDNR, 1996), but such is nature’s way.

Some of you may enjoy winter, while others do not. Either way, be grateful that instead of a top coat of ice for insulation you instead have a soft, cozy bed upon which to curl up and stay warm on a cold winter’s night. Though we may be feeling a bit lethargic too this winter, at least we have modern conveniences to allow us to survive winter that help us to stay warm rather than having to adapt to the whims of nature.

References

Amsel, S. (2011). Where do animals go in the winter? Retrieved fromhttp://www.exploringnature.org/db/detail.php?dbID=5&detID=2280

Jahrig, G. (Interviewer) & Eby, L., Ph.D. (Interviewee). (2003). A quick primer on Montana aquatic life [Interview transcript]. Vision, 1.  Retrieved from The University of Montana  Web site: http://www.umt.edu/urelations/vision/2003/26primer.htm

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). (1996, April). Seasonal fish mortalities (fish kills). State of Michigan, Fisheries Department: James Schneider. Retrieved from http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10364-119822–,00.html

Nelson, J. (2006, January 12). Life under the ice. Retrieved from http://www.jon-nelson.com/life-under-the-ice

Richmond, A. (n.d.). The red spotted newt: Notophthalmus viridescens. Retrieved fromhttp://www.bio.umass.edu/biology/conn.river/newt.html

Weber, L. (2000, January-February). Life under the ice and snow. Minnesota conservation volunteer. Retrieved fromhttp://www.dnr.state.mn.us/young_naturalists/snow/index.html

 

 

 

 

Culture and Astronomy

By: Timothy J. Palla

        We stand on our planet looking at distant balls of light that are stars. You can almost forget the star we use every day, the sun. Stars can be seen by everyone on earth and the most universal sight in the world. Stars have affected society’s architecture, navigation and even helping time their harvests. Astronomy which is the study of stars has been around for close to four thousand years but stars have been used for various reasons for even longer. While we are still using what we have learned in the past our understanding of the cosmos is changing every time we look in the sky.

      Stars have been used for navigation since about twenty thousand years ago. Some of our earliest ancestors from the Middle East used stars to navigate the desert from camp to camp as nomads. The Polynesians who colonized the Pacific Islands used the stars as a way to navigate to and from the islands. Stars have allowed civilizations all over the world expand and survive by guiding them to find hunting grounds or even the best fishing spots. In the middle ages they began constructing metal devices that could be used with stars to track their direction more precisely.    

      Time has been tracked by stars for thousands of years. Some of the first structures built were made to show the significance of certain stars in their culture. Tracking the movement of stars allowed ancient society to realize they would coincide with seasons. Stonehenge which is one the oldest manmade structures dating over five thousand years ago were made so they could know the timing of the equinoxes. Society learned when to sow their seed and reap their harvest from stars by tracking these movements. Constellations were developed for farmers. It was a way for them to remember certain groups of stars that were important to them. The constellations could depict what season it was or how close harvest was by their location in the night sky. The stories and myths that follow the constellations made it easier for farmers to remember the significance of the constellation.

                  Birds migrating have been using stars for navigation for even longer then humans. Numerous bird species use the stars at night to navigate their way across vast distances during migration including owls, thrushes, catbirds, wood warblers, vireos, nuthatches, creepers, wrens, cuckoos, woodcocks, tanagers, orioles, blackbirds and most species of sparrows. Even on cloudy nights birds use groups of stars or constellations to find their way such as, the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper and Draco

 

      Stars could be one of the most important features that we have to use on this planet. Stars can tell us when the seasons are coming, help us navigate and even animals use it to get around. Our ancestors have been trying to understand the stars for thousands of years. Astronomy influenced our agriculture how we farmed, where we farmed and even when we farmed. Constellations and mythology were created for use of farmers and people to remember important groups of stars. We may never fully understand the stars or even know the whole of the universe, but we have many ways we already use stars. So remember when you are looking at the stars they are the same as your ancestors were looking at while trying to understand their world.

 

Bibliography:

      NASA ADS: Origins of the ancient constellations: II. The Mediterranean traditions

      http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1998JBAA..108…79R

 

      Stars and Constellations

      http://www.astro.wisc.edu/~dolan/constellations/

 

      Navigating by the Stars | Space.com

\     http://www.space.com/5849-navigating-stars.html

 

      Migration navigation

      http://www.wavecrestdiscoveries.com/articles/migration_navigation.htm

 

      STAR MYTHS – Constellations, Stars, Astronomy, Pegasus

      http://www.cosmopolis.com/star-myths/

 

 

 

 

Culture and Astronomy

By: Timothy J. Palla

        We stand on our planet looking at distant balls of light that are stars. You can almost forget the star we use every day, the sun. Stars can be seen by everyone on earth and the most universal sight in the world. Stars have affected society’s architecture, navigation and even helping time their harvests. Astronomy which is the study of stars has been around for close to four thousand years but stars have been used for various reasons for even longer. While we are still using what we have learned in the past our understanding of the cosmos is changing every time we look in the sky.

      Stars have been used for navigation since about twenty thousand years ago. Some of our earliest ancestors from the Middle East used stars to navigate the desert from camp to camp as nomads. The Polynesians who colonized the Pacific Islands used the stars as a way to navigate to and from the islands. Stars have allowed civilizations all over the world expand and survive by guiding them to find hunting grounds or even the best fishing spots. In the middle ages they began constructing metal devices that could be used with stars to track their direction more precisely.    

      Time has been tracked by stars for thousands of years. Some of the first structures built were made to show the significance of certain stars in their culture. Tracking the movement of stars allowed ancient society to realize they would coincide with seasons. Stonehenge which is one the oldest manmade structures dating over five thousand years ago were made so they could know the timing of the equinoxes. Society learned when to sow their seed and reap their harvest from stars by tracking these movements. Constellations were developed for farmers. It was a way for them to remember certain groups of stars that were important to them. The constellations could depict what season it was or how close harvest was by their location in the night sky. The stories and myths that follow the constellations made it easier for farmers to remember the significance of the constellation.

                  Birds migrating have been using stars for navigation for even longer then humans. Numerous bird species use the stars at night to navigate their way across vast distances during migration including owls, thrushes, catbirds, wood warblers, vireos, nuthatches, creepers, wrens, cuckoos, woodcocks, tanagers, orioles, blackbirds and most species of sparrows. Even on cloudy nights birds use groups of stars or constellations to find their way such as, the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper and Draco

 

      Stars could be one of the most important features that we have to use on this planet. Stars can tell us when the seasons are coming, help us navigate and even animals use it to get around. Our ancestors have been trying to understand the stars for thousands of years. Astronomy influenced our agriculture how we farmed, where we farmed and even when we farmed. Constellations and mythology were created for use of farmers and people to remember important groups of stars. We may never fully understand the stars or even know the whole of the universe, but we have many ways we already use stars. So remember when you are looking at the stars they are the same as your ancestors were looking at while trying to understand their world.

 

Bibliography:

      NASA ADS: Origins of the ancient constellations: II. The Mediterranean traditions

      http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1998JBAA..108…79R

 

      Stars and Constellations

      http://www.astro.wisc.edu/~dolan/constellations/

 

      Navigating by the Stars | Space.com

     http://www.space.com/5849-navigating-stars.html

 

      Migration navigation

      http://www.wavecrestdiscoveries.com/articles/migration_navigation.htm

 

      STAR MYTHS – Constellations, Stars, Astronomy, Pegasus

      http://www.cosmopolis.com/star-myths/

 

 

 

 

Light Pollution

By: Lindsay Harrington, Graduate Assistant

 

In 1879, when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he forever altered the way humans would see their world. We as humans are diurnal creatures and enjoy the comfort of daylight as opposed to the unknown darkness of the night. We light up our streets, our buildings, and homes with little thought as to how this unnatural aura can affect the other living things on our planet.  Over the past century the effects of the unnatural light produced by humans have begun to negatively affect the ecology and biology of many of the species that live on Earth.

Just as humans can pollute a river or the air, we have the capability of creating light pollution, which can have just as many adverse effects. Technically, light pollution or artificial night lighting can be broken down into two different categories- astronomical and ecological. Astronomical light pollution is the cumulative effects of hundreds of thousands of lights directed towards the sky. When this light is reflected back towards the Earth it is sometimes referred to as “sky glow” and is responsible for poor visibility of the stars in urban and suburban communities. Although obstruction of view of the night sky can be a nuisance to humans interested in viewing the stars and planets, the ecological damages of light pollution are much more alarming.

Ecological light pollution can be caused by a number of different sources such as streetlights, sky glow, buildings, and boats. It is a global phenomenon meaning that there are few places on Earth in which the effects of light pollution are not evident. In fact, about 18 percent of the planet is exposed to artificial night sky brightness and only about 40 percent of Americans live in a region where the human eye makes the complete transition from cones to rod vision. Rods are special light receptor cells within the eye that are designed to work in low light conditions. Scientists traditionally measure light pollution or illumination levels with a unit of measurement called lux. Lux measurements express the brightness of lights as perceived by a human eye and not how other organisms perceive them. Thus, the research on ecological light pollution has been very limited.

Some of the most common effects of light pollution on organisms in their natural environment are changes in orientation, disorientation, attraction, and repulsion. These behavior changes can interfere with foraging, reproduction, migration and communication in several species. Orientation and disorientation are responses to the amount of total light in the area where as attraction and repulsion are responses to the light sources themselves and their individual brightness.

Orientation responses occur when increased artificial illumination can extend organisms daytime behaviors into the night. The light increases the organism’s ability to orient themselves in their environment. For example, diurnal reptiles and birds who continue foraging for food into the evening are able to exploit a niche, which was at one time not accessible by them.

Disorientation occurs when animals accustomed to darkness encounter artificial light. Probably the best-known example of this is baby sea turtles that in normal circumstances would move away from the dark shadows of the dune grasses. With beachfront development, orientation is disrupted and streetlights and houses now illuminate the normally dark dunes. Birds also succumb to disorientation in lighted areas and will often remain “trapped” until daylight. While within the lighted areas such as those around skyscrapers, birds collide with each other, or manmade structures, and often die. The most common species that become trapped by light are insects which are “photopositive” and are attracted to areas of brighter light. As opposed to “photonegative” insects, which avoid lighted areas.

Repulsion away from artificially lighted areas is another common response among organisms. Most notably, reproductive behavior can be greatly altered by the presence of artificial light. Some species of frogs will become less selective of mates, preferring to mate quickly to avoid being eaten in brightly lit areas. Night lighting can also effect the migration of amphibians from breeding grounds as many only do so in the darkness of night.

The effects of light pollution can affect whole ecosystems by fundamentally changing the behaviors of the organisms within them. By altering a species niche or harming population levels, light pollution has the potential to have catastrophic effects when combined with the other pressures we as humans place upon the environment.  As we as a society continue to develop the landscape, the influence of artificial light will continue to increase. Light pollution is something that should be considered just as much as water or air pollution because its effects are can be just as detrimental. Not to mention, it prevented me from seeing Jupiter over Thanksgiving break!

The question that remains is what can be done to control light pollution and alleviate some of its effects? Several municipalities have taken steps to minimize the amount of excessive night lighting in their communities through legislation. The United Kingdom has taken the lead in the movement by passing the Clean Neighborhoods and Environment Act, which deems light pollution just as harmful as smoke or noise pollution. Also, recently, the Czech Republic passed the Protection of the Atmosphere Act, which actually fines those who do not follow the guidelines of the law. Several states and municipalities in the United States have passed legislation, which limit the use of outdoor lighting past certain hours. Legislation like this is a step in the right direction and will ensure that communities reduce their impact. Several organizations such as the International Dark Sky Association are at the forefront pushing legislation to control light pollution for the astronomical community.

 If you are someone who already takes steps towards minimizing their impacts on the environment, helping to prevent light pollution is something to consider. There are simple steps that can be taken around the home that can help to minimize localized light pollution. These include only using outdoor lights when necessary. Placing lights on timers is a great way to save energy and reduce the amount of light pollution created. If outdoor lights must be used, direct them towards the ground and do not use lights, which are excessively bright. Write to your local government asking them to do their part to control light pollution the community. Overall, educating others about the effects of light pollution is the simplest solution to this growing problem. It would be unfortunate if future generations could not enjoy the beauty of the night sky free from light pollution.

 

 

Longcore, Travis and Catherine Rich. (2002) Ecological light pollution. Frontiers in Ecology: 2(4), 191-198

 

 

 

 

The Wild Turkey

 

Turkey

The Wild Turkey

By Sam Mass, AmeriCorps Member

Cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, candied yams, mashed potatoes, stuffing, as I list these savory dishes it is clear that something crucial is missing. What Thanksgiving table is complete without the traditional centerpiece, the turkey? A symbol of the autumn season, this bird has made its way into the hearts and homes of the American family for hundreds of years.  But the turkey, considered by Benjamin Franklin as worthy of becoming the national bird of the United States, is so much more than a tasty dish.

Turkeys are native to the Americas and until European settlers arrived here in the 1500s they could be found nowhere else in the world. This changed, however as Spanish explorers brought the birds to Europe where turkey meat quickly became a status symbol. In fact, many of the turkeys eaten by English settlers who came to the New World and inhabited colonies such as Jamestown and Massachusetts Bay Colony were imported from Europe (Gawthrop Riely, 2006). It seems rather odd that the colonists would go through the trouble of shipping the turkeys to the New World, especially when you consider the abundance of the birds right in their own backyard.

Even today it is not uncommon to find the feathers of the Eastern Wild Turkey scattered about while hiking through Stokes State Forest, or to see the birds themselves quickly waddling away from the roadside as you drive. Then again, if you were to probe the Northeast for wild turkey in the early 20th century your search would be fruitless as the birds were eradicated in this area due to hunting and habitat loss (Eaton, 1992). Thankfully, in the 1940s programs began to reintroduce the large, ground-dwelling fowl and their population is ever-increasing (Easton, 1992).

Good thing too because turkeys have made their mark in the history books and it would be a shame to see them gone. Many are aware of the experiments that led to Benjamin Franklin discovering how to harness electricity using a key on a kite string, but very few know of his follow-up experiments that involved the bird. Once electricity had been harnessed, Franklin used fowl such as chicken and turkey to test the strength of these electric currents, sending shocks through the birds meant first to kill, then to cook. The chickens, as one would imagine, did not survive the initial shock. The hardier turkey however would usually be knocked down but after about fifteen minutes pop right back up (Gawthrop Riely, 2006). A cruel experiment, maybe, but it led the way towards helping harness the power of electricity.

So this Thanksgiving, maybe take a few moments to reflect on the specimen that brings the table together. From its journey to Europe from the Americas (and then back to America) to its struggle with population eradication, and for being part of the reason your lights stay on over your feast.

 

“…The turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America…He is, besides (though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not a worse emblem for that) a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on.”

-Benjamin Franklin on the bald eagle v. the turkey

 

 

Sources:

Eaton, S. W. 1992. Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). In The Birds of North America

No. 22 (A. Poole, P. Stettenheim, and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.

 

Gawthrop Riely, E. 2006. Benjamin Franklin and the American Turkey. In

Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 6, No. 4. University of California Press.

 

Wright, A.H. 1914. Early Records of the Wild Turley. In The Auk, Vol. 31. University

of California Press on behalf of the American Ornithologists Union, Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

The People of the Stony Country

By Jenna Gersie, AmeriCorps Member

 

Knowing Sussex County the way we know it today makes it difficult to visualize the indigenous people who once lived in this area, but if you’ve ever visited the museum at Space Farms and seen its large arrowhead collection, you know that this area was once populated by the Lenni Lenape.  Also referred to simply as the Lenape, which means “true or native men, or common people,” these people occupied “Lenapehoking,” or “the land of the Lenape.”

The Lenape are divided into three sub-groups who speak different dialects of the Delaware Language: the Minsi or Munsee, “the people of the stony country,” who occupied Sussex County and other parts of northwestern New Jersey and the highlands of eastern Pennsylvania; the Unami, “people from down river,” who occupied the Piedmont province of New Jersey south of the Raritan River; and the Unalachtigo, “the people who live near the ocean,” who occupied the coastal plain.  “Lenape” is a word from the Unami dialect, and linguists can determine that the Lenape are descended from Algonkian-speaking people.  The Minsi people acted as a buffer between the Mohawk people to the north and the other Lenape groups to the south.  Their main village, Minisink, was along the banks of the Delaware River inSussexCounty.  Their totem was the wolf.

There were indigenous people living in this part ofNew Jerseybefore the Lenape developed the technology and culture that we think of today.  At the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago, Paleo-Indians arrived, living as small nomadic bands of hunters.  As time went on, and as the climate warmed, people began to seek out additional food sources, such as fish, shellfish, and wild vegetables.  As forests became dominated by oak trees, acorns provided an additional food source for humans; acorns also brought deer and wild turkey to the region.  About 2,000 years before European arrival, the people began to develop new hunting tools, woodworking tools, stone cooking pots, and pottery.  Bows and arrows, dugout canoes, tobacco pipes, and storage jars were also created.  Early crops included plants such as sunflower, pumpkin, squash, and gourds.

From year 1000 to 1350, archaeologists can more specifically identify the culture of the indigenous people, and it is from this point on that the people are referred to as the Lenape.  Their housing structures, known as wigwams, were round-edged, oval-shaped shelters made of sapling frames with coverings of chestnut, elm, and cedar bark shingles.  The houses had storage pits to hold dried fish and meat, squash, maize, beans, native artichoke, and pumpkins, indicating that gardening was becoming a more important part of the culture.  Arrowheads and fishing tools from this period show that hunting and fishing were still significant methods of food procurement.

Walking through the forest today, you will come across many of the wild plants that the Lenape gathered.  Maple syrup was extracted from maple trees; tea and medicine were made from the root of the sassafras tree; crab apples, plums, grapes, persimmons, mulberries, strawberries, blackberries, and cranberries were gathered; acorns were boiled and then ground into a pulpy flour; chestnuts, walnuts, hickory nuts, and hazel nuts were eaten; and hemlock and pine needles were used to make tea.  Swamp potato, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild morning glory, American licorice, wild ginger, cattail flag, ginseng, and the American lotus were also food sources.  Additionally, bark from trees such as the elm and basswood were used to weave mats and baskets, as well as to aid in the construction of wigwams.  Many flowers, roots, barks, and sap were used to make a variety of medicines, and specific people in the community served as healers and were familiar with these plants.  In addition to curing illnesses, these older men and women also made weather forecasts, prepared charms for hunters, and made prophecies.

The first European explorer to describe the Lenape was Giovanni da Verrazano, who wrote in 1524:

“These people are the most beautiful and have the most civil customs that we have found on this voyage.  They are taller than we are; they are a bronze color, some tending more toward whiteness, others to a tawny color; the face is clear-cut; the hair is long and black, and they take great pains to decorate it; the eyes are black and alert, and their manner of the ancients…they have all the proportions belonging to any well-built men.  Their women are just as shapely and beautiful; very gracious, of attractive manner and pleasant appearance” (quoted in Bertland et al., 1975, p. 30).

Though relations between European settlers at this time were peaceful, such harmony would not last.  Less than a century later, when more Europeans—particularly Dutch, Swedish, and English settlers—arrived in North America, the Lenape began to feel the effects of disease, loss of land and natural resources, and negative encounters.  By the beginning of the 18th century, the population throughout Lenapehoking was estimated at about 2,400 to 3,000 as a result of disease and colonial wars.  Due to these pressures, the Lenape began to migrate west, though they were sometimes forced to even more distant locations by the Iroquois.  The Lenape were eventually displaced as far away as Texas,Oklahoma,Wisconsin, andCanada.  Despite these hardships, the legacy of the Lenape remains.  Next time you head into the woods or relax along the banks of the Delaware, imagine these people who once lived in our forests; when you see acorns littering the ground in fall or a white-tailed deer bounding across the road, imagine the abundant resources available to these eastern woodland people and the way they lived amongst nature.

 

References

 

Bertland, D. N., Valence, P. M., & Woodling, R. J. (1975). The Minisink: a chronicle of one of America’s first and last frontiers. Four-County Task Force on the Tocks Island Dam.

 

Kraft, H. C. (1986). The Lenape: archaeology, history, and ethnography.Newark,NJ: New Jersey Historical Society.

 

Orr, D. G., & Campana, D. V. (1991). The people of Minisink: papers from the 1989 Delaware Water Gap Symposium.Philadelphia,PA: National Park Service, Mid-Atlantic Region.

 

 

 

 

A Brief History of Stokes State Forest

 

By Ashley Schmid, AmeriCorps Member

            We are all interested in where we came from.  Here, at the New Jersey School of Conservation (NJSOC) located in Stokes State Forest, it is no different.  As a newcomer to the area, I decided to do a little research of my own.  Within Stokes State Forest, I focused on where the land came from, what it used to be like, and how it has been affected by both man and nature over thousands of years.

              Stokes State Forest is located in the northwest corner of New Jersey, right on the Pennsylvania border, just a jump-hop-and-skip away from the Delaware Water Gap.  The area is named after Governor Edward Stokes who was the first to donate 500 acres.  In 1907, the NJ Forest and Park Commission purchased 5,432 more acres of land to add to the original 500.  Since then, Stokes has grown to over 15,000 acres of land by various acquisitions throughout the years.  Some parts of the land were even purchased for just one dollar!  Stokes is managed as a multiple-use forest with its primary function being to protect the natural resources while serving humans at the same time.

           About 10,000 years ago, Stokes State Forest was buried beneath several thousand feet of glacial ice comprised of three separate glaciers.  Back then the climate was similar to the climate you would find in Greenland today.  Now, the average temperature in the area is 48 degrees Fahrenheit.  Major geological formations in the area go back 400 million years.  The most notable in the area being the conglomerate that is along the Appalachian Trail.  The Appalachian Trail is a public footpath that runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia, over 2,000 miles up the east coast through 14 states, finally ending at Mount Katahdin in Maine.  Rock outcrops, left behind by slow moving glaciers, make this an uneven area to hike around in.

           Human activity is present all over Stokes State Forest.  Before the Europeans moved into the area, the Native Americans named the Lenni-Lenape, co-existed with the wildlife.  Today you can find miles of stonewalls covering the area, evidence of early European settlers.  The land also shows us evidence of the English and Dutch farming, starting in the early 1700’s.  Here on the New Jersey School of Conservation campus we are still benefitting from the work done by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  The CCC, was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for young men who were having difficulties finding employment during the Great Depression.  The CCC aimed to implement a general natural resource conservation program in every state and territory.  As I look out at Lake Wapalanne through the tall red pines on the NJSOC campus, I am thankful for their service, for Stokes State Forest as a whole, and to be able to share in the future history of the area.

Spiders

By: Lizz Ciccarella, NJSOC Intern

Whether it is from a popular movie scene like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter or simply crawling around your ceiling, people are fascinated and terrified of spiders. They feel so alien to us; arachnids are any type on arthropod that have eight, segmented legs and only two body segments (tagmata). Some even have fangs, a contributing factor to the fear of being bitten. However, they are not as alien as we sometimes think: they breathe air, design their homes, are skilled hunters, and come in a variety of shapes, colors, and styles. It is my belief that one of the reasons we scream and want to stomp on spiders whenever we see them is because we do not know them very well. With knowledge as the gateway to understanding these creatures, let us look at the ones that can be found in our own backyard of New Jersey.?
            Most spiders do not get involved with people. While some, like the American House Spider and Wolf Spider, can come inside during the colder months for their homes, most spiders stay outdoors in wooded areas, leafy grasses, under rocks, or around wetlands. Unlike other insects, arachnids do not have antenna. They tend to eat insects and other spiders by filling them with digestive enzymes then drinking out the liquefied tissues or by crushing them since most spiders have very narrow internal organs. Contrary to those popular films, they aren’t trying to eat you.?
            However, some spiders are dangerous to people. The black widow (Latrodectus variolus) can deliver a bite which can be deadly for both the very young and very old. However, it is only the female who is venomous and they are not aggressive. They are also very easy to identify with a red hourglass shape on their back and a small black body smaller than other spiders.?
            Another creature that is believed to be venomous is the “opiliones” or “Daddy Long Leg”, also known as harvestman. They are not considered spiders since their bodies only have one section. The idea that they are venomous is not true- their fangs are not hollow (which would be used for venom) but solid (which are used for grasping claws). The part of the myth that is true is that their fangs are unable to pierce human skin since they are often too small and not strong enough.?
            A spider that does have a harmless bite to humans would be the Furrow Spider, which can be found all over New Jersey. The furrow spider, which is more common in urban areas, is responsible for the spiral web that has become so iconic in our society. While it appears to be quite large, this is only because of a bulbous belly. The spider’s body is typically less than one inch long.
            The Wolf Spider is different from other arachnids we have looked at so far because it is a “ground spider”. This means that it chases its prey thanks to its good eyesight instead of spinning a web (hence why they were given the name “wolf”). Usually found in grassy and leafy areas, they can find inside places to stay for the cold winter months.  

            A spider commonly confused with the wolf spider is the Fishing Spider since they both have large, hairy bodies. Usually found in wooded areas similar to the Pine Barrens, this spider does not actually fish. While they will bite if provoked (similar to a wasp sting), the fishing spider is really docile and shy.
            In the end, all of the spiders and relatives to them that we have talked about have different characteristics and traits. From their appearance to their homes and the ways they find food, spiders are as unique as you and I are. Knowing the instrumental roles they play in our food chain and keeping our insect populations in check can make them a little less scary.

Work Cited:
http://www.burkemuseum.org/spidermyth/myths/daddyvenom.html
http://www.ehow.com/info_8625649_spiders-native-new-jersey.html
http://www.ehow.com/info_8592647_large-spiders-new-jersey.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider#cite_note-RuppertFoxBarnes2004p571to584-9
Ruppert, E.E., Fox, R.S., and Barnes, R.D. (2004). Invertebrate Zoology (7 ed.). Brooks / Cole. pp. 529–580

 

 

 

 

Spiders

By: Lizz Ciccarella, NJSOC Intern

Whether it is from a popular movie scene like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter or simply crawling around your ceiling, people are fascinated and terrified of spiders. They feel so alien to us; arachnids are any type on arthropod that have eight, segmented legs and only two body segments (tagmata). Some even have fangs, a contributing factor to the fear of being bitten. However, they are not as alien as we sometimes think: they breathe air, design their homes, are skilled hunters, and come in a variety of shapes, colors, and styles. It is my belief that one of the reasons we scream and want to stomp on spiders whenever we see them is because we do not know them very well. With knowledge as the gateway to understanding these creatures, let us look at the ones that can be found in our own backyard of New Jersey.


            Most spiders do not get involved with people. While some, like the American House Spider and Wolf Spider, can come inside during the colder months for their homes, most spiders stay outdoors in wooded areas, leafy grasses, under rocks, or around wetlands. Unlike other insects, arachnids do not have antenna. They tend to eat insects and other spiders by filling them with digestive enzymes then drinking out the liquefied tissues or by crushing them since most spiders have very narrow internal organs. Contrary to those popular films, they aren’t trying to eat you.


            However, some spiders are dangerous to people. The black widow (Latrodectus variolus) can deliver a bite which can be deadly for both the very young and very old. However, it is only the female who is venomous and they are not aggressive. They are also very easy to identify with a red hourglass shape on their back and a small black body smaller than other spiders.


            Another creature that is believed to be venomous is the “opiliones” or “Daddy Long Leg”, also known as harvestman. They are not considered spiders since their bodies only have one section. The idea that they are venomous is not true- their fangs are not hollow (which would be used for venom) but solid (which are used for grasping claws). The part of the myth that is true is that their fangs are unable to pierce human skin since they are often too small and not strong enough.


            A spider that does have a harmless bite to humans would be the Furrow Spider, which can be found all over New Jersey. The furrow spider, which is more common in urban areas, is responsible for the spiral web that has become so iconic in our society. While it appears to be quite large, this is only because of a bulbous belly. The spider’s body is typically less than one inch long.
            The Wolf Spider is different from other arachnids we have looked at so far because it is a “ground spider”. This means that it chases its prey thanks to its good eyesight instead of spinning a web (hence why they were given the name “wolf”). Usually found in grassy and leafy areas, they can find inside places to stay for the cold winter months.  

            A spider commonly confused with the wolf spider is the Fishing Spider since they both have large, hairy bodies. Usually found in wooded areas similar to the Pine Barrens, this spider does not actually fish. While they will bite if provoked (similar to a wasp sting), the fishing spider is really docile and shy.


            In the end, all of the spiders and relatives to them that we have talked about have different characteristics and traits. From their appearance to their homes and the ways they find food, spiders are as unique as you and I are. Knowing the instrumental roles they play in our food chain and keeping our insect populations in check can make them a little less scary.

 

Work Cited:
http://www.burkemuseum.org/spidermyth/myths/daddyvenom.html
http://www.ehow.com/info_8625649_spiders-native-new-jersey.html
http://www.ehow.com/info_8592647_large-spiders-new-jersey.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider#cite_note-RuppertFoxBarnes2004p571to584-9
Ruppert, E.E., Fox, R.S., and Barnes, R.D. (2004). Invertebrate Zoology (7 ed.). Brooks / Cole. pp. 529–580

 

 

 

 

Something Batty is Going On: White Nose Syndrome and Bats

By: Danielle Odom, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member

 

As the sun would set, and dusk would inevitably approach and settle over the earth, the bats always took flight on those cool summer evenings on my aunt’s farm in Green Township, New Jersey. Launching with much gusto from the old farm house’s chimney and the eaves of the barn’s hay loft, they began their nocturnal search for food. In ephemeral fashion the winged mammals darted about the sky in daredevil display, catching gnats and mosquitoes as they flitted about the yard and the horse pastures. We humans were ever grateful to our bat friends, for they made evenings spent outdoors more enjoyable; they kept the otherwise incessant buzz and relentless stinging bite of the female mosquito – also in search for food – at bay.

 

There are nine species of bats that are in New Jersey; six species are here year round (little brown bat, big brown bat, Northern long-eared, Indiana[1], Eastern small-footed and Eastern pipistrelle bats) and three species are migratory (hoary, red and silver-haired bats). All nine species primarily feed on night flying insects, e.g. mosquitoes, amongst other pests. One little brown bat can consume approximately 3,000 mosquitoes in one night! However, eating 3,000 mosquitoes in one night is not a Fourth of July hot dog eating contest kind of event; for the six species that are non-migratory, winter is a time of hibernation, and hibernation means living off stored fat reserves. Therefore it is critical that bats consume as much as possible in the summer and early autumn months. Once winter begins bats will stop hunting, and typically hibernate in caves or abandoned mine shafts (CWFNJ, 2008). Unfortunately, another organism has been living in these same caves… Geomyces destructans.

 Geomyces destructans, happens to be the fungus responsible for White Nose Syndrome (WNS) (NSS, 2011). The WNS is a topical, fungal disease, so-called due to the white fungus which grows on a bat’s nose, ears and wings. This genus of fungi is typically associated with soil, growing in an ideal temperature zone of approximately 40°F, or the average temperature of an over-wintering cave for bats. The first accounts of dead bats found with WNS occurred during the winter of 2006-2007. The first detected WNS case was in Schoharie County, NY and all subsequent cases have primarily occurred in northeastern America (USGS, 2009). Initially scientists began studying the fungus, trying to determine its physiological means of causing bat fatality, but never finding enough substantial or conclusive evidence. However, some scientists are now starting to believe that perhaps WNS is not the actual cause of death in bats, but rather the fungus may be an opportunistic pathogen which preys upon an already immune-compromised bat (NSS, 2011). 

If the fungal infection is only the secondary cause of death, what then may be the primary cause? Scientists are still uncertain; stating possible chemical (pesticides), biological or environmental factors (loss of habitat) or some combination of all of these factors. What is interesting to note is that scientists have observed similarities in the behavioral changes of bats and that of the honeybees affected by colony collapse disorder (BCM, n.d.). Some signs and symptoms of WNS that you can look for include:

Bats flying outside during the day in near freezing weather, bats clustered in the winter in sections of caves or mines not normally used for winter roosts (especially near the entrance), dead or dying bats on the ground or on buildings, trees, or other structures during the winter, or bats not arousing after being disturbed (NSS, 2011).

 

Additionally, when the fungal infection invades a bat’s skin it can cause ulcer production, which in turn may alter a bat’s “hibernation arousal pattern” resulting in emaciation (abnormally thin body mass) (USGS, 2009). Imagine that: even after consuming an average of 3,000 mosquitoes per night all summer long – being well prepared for necessary winter fat reserves – a bat infected with WNS can still prematurely abandon hibernation completely emaciated. This is not normal.

So, what about those cool summer evenings? They are no longer as cool, and I no longer see as many bats as I used to, but I certainly notice more mosquitoes; without the bats around consuming nighttime insects, mosquito populations have been allowed to explode! This makes enjoying summer outside a little more difficult. Instead of reaching for a spray-on bug spray (another pesticide), perhaps we should find alternative ways to enjoy our time outdoors, for the sake of our bats.

 

For more information on bats and/or White Nose Syndrome, please check out the links below.

 

DID YOU KNOW: With Halloween just around the corner, many of you may be noticing decorative bats dangling out and about around town. Bats are one of the symbols synonymous with Halloween, but did you know that this tradition may have nothing to do with vampires? One source states that Halloween was a time of year for harvest feasts. Large bonfires would be built in celebration, drawing nighttime insects to the bright blaze. This would subsequently invite the insects’ main nocturnal predator, the bat, to dine amongst the jubilant harvesters and the fiery flames; the association between harvest time and bats forged (Venefica, n.d.). 

 

References

 

Bat Conservation and Management, Inc. (BCM). (n.d.). White Nose Syndrome: Could cave dwelling bat species in the eastern US become endangered in our lifetime?Retrieved from http://www.batmanagement.com/wns/wns.html

 

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWFNJ). (2008, June). Bats of New Jersey. By John Braun and Maria Grace. Retrieved fromhttp://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/bat_fact_sheet.pdf

 

National Speleological Society (NSS). (2011, September 23). What is killing our bats?: The White-Nose Syndrome tragedy. Retrieved fromhttp://www.caves.org/WNS/WNS%20Brochure.pdf

 


[1] The Indiana bat is recognized federally and in several states (including New Jersey) as an endangered species (CWFNJ, 2008).

 

CHECK OUT THIS UPDATE ON BATS AND WHITE NOSE SYNDROME:

http://www.nature.com/news/culprit-behind-bat-scourge-confirmed-1.9250

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something Batty is Going On: White Nose Syndrome and Bats

By: Danielle Odom, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member

 

As the sun would set, and dusk would inevitably approach and settle over the earth, the bats always took flight on those cool summer evenings on my aunt’s farm in Green Township, New Jersey. Launching with much gusto from the old farm house’s chimney and the eaves of the barn’s hay loft, they began their nocturnal search for food. In ephemeral fashion the winged mammals darted about the sky in daredevil display, catching gnats and mosquitoes as they flitted about the yard and the horse pastures. We humans were ever grateful to our bat friends, for they made evenings spent outdoors more enjoyable; they kept the otherwise incessant buzz and relentless stinging bite of the female mosquito – also in search for food – at bay.

 

There are nine species of bats that are in New Jersey; six species are here year round (little brown bat, big brown bat, Northern long-eared, Indiana[1], Eastern small-footed and Eastern pipistrelle bats) and three species are migratory (hoary, red and silver-haired bats). All nine species primarily feed on night flying insects, e.g. mosquitoes, amongst other pests. One little brown bat can consume approximately 3,000 mosquitoes in one night! However, eating 3,000 mosquitoes in one night is not a Fourth of July hot dog eating contest kind of event; for the six species that are non-migratory, winter is a time of hibernation, and hibernation means living off stored fat reserves. Therefore it is critical that bats consume as much as possible in the summer and early autumn months. Once winter begins bats will stop hunting, and typically hibernate in caves or abandoned mine shafts (CWFNJ, 2008). Unfortunately, another organism has been living in these same caves… Geomyces destructans.

 Geomyces destructans, happens to be the fungus responsible for White Nose Syndrome (WNS) (NSS, 2011). The WNS is a topical, fungal disease, so-called due to the white fungus which grows on a bat’s nose, ears and wings. This genus of fungi is typically associated with soil, growing in an ideal temperature zone of approximately 40°F, or the average temperature of an over-wintering cave for bats. The first accounts of dead bats found with WNS occurred during the winter of 2006-2007. The first detected WNS case was in Schoharie County, NY and all subsequent cases have primarily occurred in northeastern America (USGS, 2009). Initially scientists began studying the fungus, trying to determine its physiological means of causing bat fatality, but never finding enough substantial or conclusive evidence. However, some scientists are now starting to believe that perhaps WNS is not the actual cause of death in bats, but rather the fungus may be an opportunistic pathogen which preys upon an already immune-compromised bat (NSS, 2011). 

If the fungal infection is only the secondary cause of death, what then may be the primary cause? Scientists are still uncertain; stating possible chemical (pesticides), biological or environmental factors (loss of habitat) or some combination of all of these factors. What is interesting to note is that scientists have observed similarities in the behavioral changes of bats and that of the honeybees affected by colony collapse disorder (BCM, n.d.). Some signs and symptoms of WNS that you can look for include:

Bats flying outside during the day in near freezing weather, bats clustered in the winter in sections of caves or mines not normally used for winter roosts (especially near the entrance), dead or dying bats on the ground or on buildings, trees, or other structures during the winter, or bats not arousing after being disturbed (NSS, 2011).

 

Additionally, when the fungal infection invades a bat’s skin it can cause ulcer production, which in turn may alter a bat’s “hibernation arousal pattern” resulting in emaciation (abnormally thin body mass) (USGS, 2009). Imagine that: even after consuming an average of 3,000 mosquitoes per night all summer long – being well prepared for necessary winter fat reserves – a bat infected with WNS can still prematurely abandon hibernation completely emaciated. This is not normal.

So, what about those cool summer evenings? They are no longer as cool, and I no longer see as many bats as I used to, but I certainly notice more mosquitoes; without the bats around consuming nighttime insects, mosquito populations have been allowed to explode! This makes enjoying summer outside a little more difficult. Instead of reaching for a spray-on bug spray (another pesticide), perhaps we should find alternative ways to enjoy our time outdoors, for the sake of our bats.

 

For more information on bats and/or White Nose Syndrome, please check out the links below.

 

DID YOU KNOW: With Halloween just around the corner, many of you may be noticing decorative bats dangling out and about around town. Bats are one of the symbols synonymous with Halloween, but did you know that this tradition may have nothing to do with vampires? One source states that Halloween was a time of year for harvest feasts. Large bonfires would be built in celebration, drawing nighttime insects to the bright blaze. This would subsequently invite the insects’ main nocturnal predator, the bat, to dine amongst the jubilant harvesters and the fiery flames; the association between harvest time and bats forged (Venefica, n.d.). 

 

References

 

Bat Conservation and Management, Inc. (BCM). (n.d.). White Nose Syndrome: Could cave dwelling bat species in the eastern US become endangered in our lifetime?Retrieved from http://www.batmanagement.com/wns/wns.html

 

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWFNJ). (2008, June). Bats of New Jersey. By John Braun and Maria Grace. Retrieved fromhttp://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/bat_fact_sheet.pdf

 

National Speleological Society (NSS). (2011, September 23). What is killing our bats?: The White-Nose Syndrome tragedy. Retrieved fromhttp://www.caves.org/WNS/WNS%20Brochure.pdf

 


[1] The Indiana bat is recognized federally and in several states (including New Jersey) as an endangered species (CWFNJ, 2008).

 

CHECK OUT THIS UPDATE ON BATS AND WHITE NOSE SYNDROME:

http://www.nature.com/news/culprit-behind-bat-scourge-confirmed-1.9250

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something Batty is Going On: White Nose Syndrome and Bats

By: Danielle Odom, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member

 

As the sun would set, and dusk would inevitably approach and settle over the earth, the bats always took flight on those cool summer evenings on my aunt’s farm in Green Township, New Jersey. Launching with much gusto from the old farm house’s chimney and the eaves of the barn’s hay loft, they began their nocturnal search for food. In ephemeral fashion the winged mammals darted about the sky in daredevil display, catching gnats and mosquitoes as they flitted about the yard and the horse pastures. We humans were ever grateful to our bat friends, for they made evenings spent outdoors more enjoyable; they kept the otherwise incessant buzz and relentless stinging bite of the female mosquito – also in search for food – at bay.

 

There are nine species of bats that are in New Jersey; six species are here year round (little brown bat, big brown bat, Northern long-eared, Indiana[1], Eastern small-footed and Eastern pipistrelle bats) and three species are migratory (hoary, red and silver-haired bats). All nine species primarily feed on night flying insects, e.g. mosquitoes, amongst other pests. One little brown bat can consume approximately 3,000 mosquitoes in one night! However, eating 3,000 mosquitoes in one night is not a Fourth of July hot dog eating contest kind of event; for the six species that are non-migratory, winter is a time of hibernation, and hibernation means living off stored fat reserves. Therefore it is critical that bats consume as much as possible in the summer and early autumn months. Once winter begins bats will stop hunting, and typically hibernate in caves or abandoned mine shafts (CWFNJ, 2008). Unfortunately, another organism has been living in these same caves… Geomyces destructans.

 Geomyces destructans, happens to be the fungus responsible for White Nose Syndrome (WNS) (NSS, 2011). The WNS is a topical, fungal disease, so-called due to the white fungus which grows on a bat’s nose, ears and wings. This genus of fungi is typically associated with soil, growing in an ideal temperature zone of approximately 40°F, or the average temperature of an over-wintering cave for bats. The first accounts of dead bats found with WNS occurred during the winter of 2006-2007. The first detected WNS case was in Schoharie County, NY and all subsequent cases have primarily occurred in northeastern America (USGS, 2009). Initially scientists began studying the fungus, trying to determine its physiological means of causing bat fatality, but never finding enough substantial or conclusive evidence. However, some scientists are now starting to believe that perhaps WNS is not the actual cause of death in bats, but rather the fungus may be an opportunistic pathogen which preys upon an already immune-compromised bat (NSS, 2011). 

If the fungal infection is only the secondary cause of death, what then may be the primary cause? Scientists are still uncertain; stating possible chemical (pesticides), biological or environmental factors (loss of habitat) or some combination of all of these factors. What is interesting to note is that scientists have observed similarities in the behavioral changes of bats and that of the honeybees affected by colony collapse disorder (BCM, n.d.). Some signs and symptoms of WNS that you can look for include:

Bats flying outside during the day in near freezing weather, bats clustered in the winter in sections of caves or mines not normally used for winter roosts (especially near the entrance), dead or dying bats on the ground or on buildings, trees, or other structures during the winter, or bats not arousing after being disturbed (NSS, 2011).

 

Additionally, when the fungal infection invades a bat’s skin it can cause ulcer production, which in turn may alter a bat’s “hibernation arousal pattern” resulting in emaciation (abnormally thin body mass) (USGS, 2009). Imagine that: even after consuming an average of 3,000 mosquitoes per night all summer long – being well prepared for necessary winter fat reserves – a bat infected with WNS can still prematurely abandon hibernation completely emaciated. This is not normal.

So, what about those cool summer evenings? They are no longer as cool, and I no longer see as many bats as I used to, but I certainly notice more mosquitoes; without the bats around consuming nighttime insects, mosquito populations have been allowed to explode! This makes enjoying summer outside a little more difficult. Instead of reaching for a spray-on bug spray (another pesticide), perhaps we should find alternative ways to enjoy our time outdoors, for the sake of our bats.

 

For more information on bats and/or White Nose Syndrome, please check out the links below.

 

DID YOU KNOW: With Halloween just around the corner, many of you may be noticing decorative bats dangling out and about around town. Bats are one of the symbols synonymous with Halloween, but did you know that this tradition may have nothing to do with vampires? One source states that Halloween was a time of year for harvest feasts. Large bonfires would be built in celebration, drawing nighttime insects to the bright blaze. This would subsequently invite the insects’ main nocturnal predator, the bat, to dine amongst the jubilant harvesters and the fiery flames; the association between harvest time and bats forged (Venefica, n.d.). 

 

References

 

Bat Conservation and Management, Inc. (BCM). (n.d.). White Nose Syndrome: Could cave dwelling bat species in the eastern US become endangered in our lifetime?Retrieved from http://www.batmanagement.com/wns/wns.html

 

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWFNJ). (2008, June). Bats of New Jersey. By John Braun and Maria Grace. Retrieved fromhttp://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/bat_fact_sheet.pdf

 

National Speleological Society (NSS). (2011, September 23). What is killing our bats?: The White-Nose Syndrome tragedy. Retrieved fromhttp://www.caves.org/WNS/WNS%20Brochure.pdf

 


[1] The Indiana bat is recognized federally and in several states (including New Jersey) as an endangered species (CWFNJ, 2008).

 

CHECK OUT THIS UPDATE ON BATS AND WHITE NOSE SYNDROME:

http://www.nature.com/news/culprit-behind-bat-scourge-confirmed-1.9250

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeds

By: Lindsay Harrington, NJSOC Graduate Assistant

 

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

            Next time you bite into an apple, or eat a peanut, think about the evolutionary genius behind them. Without fruits and nuts, plant life would not be able to persist. Just as humans and other animals reproduce, so do organisms of the plant kingdom. Their method of reproduction is not much different than our own, but includes the faithful seed.

            Technically speaking, seeds are the end result of sexual reproduction by plants. Plants can be divided into two different groups called the angiosperms and gymnosperms. These groups of plants can be distinguished by their different methods of seed production. Angiosperms are the flowering plants that produce fruit such as an apple with one or more seeds. They make up about 80 percent of all plant species. On the other hand, the gymnosperms, which include conifers, do not produce fruit to protect the seeds. The seeds of gymnosperms are “naked” and are contained within a woody cone.

            Seeds are usually comprised of three parts: the embryo, nutrients to support the embryo, and a seed coat. Once optimal conditions arise such as warmer temperatures or increased availability of water, a seed begins to germinate. Germination is the process by which a seed begins to grow and a new plant emerges. If conditions are not optimal, seeds will remain dormant or inactive. Dormancy can be caused by reactions within a seed or by outside influences such as the availability of water or sunlight. Seeds ability to remain dormant is a very important adaptation. Dormancy prevents the seeds from germinating when conditions are not optimal and also can ensure that not all individual offspring germinate at the same time. Some seeds in a batch will remain dormant while others germinate. If a catastrophic event such as a late frost was to occur, not all offspring would be destroyed.

            The main goal of all organisms, including plants, is to reproduce. In order to ensure reproduction, plants must be able to ensure that their seeds or offspring find favorable conditions to grow and produce more seeds. Plants have evolved many different and interesting means of insuring that their offspring will survive by developing many dispersal methods for their seeds. Dispersal can be broken down into three different categories: wind, water, and animal dispersal mechanisms.

            Wind is a very common means of dispersal for seeds. The most well know plant that uses this method is the dandelion whose tiny seeds spread effortlessly and are made of tiny hairs that aid in transport. Another example is the maple tree samaras or “whirly-gigs” which glide from the trees every spring in the North East. Wind dispersal is often used by plants that produce fruit which is dehiscent. This means that the seeds are contained within some sort of a pod which eventually matures and opens to release the seeds. An example of this would be the seeds of the milkweed.  On the contrary, some seeds are indehiscent, and do not come from a mature seed pod. These indehiscent seeds usually fall from a tree like an acorn.

            Although not common, water is sometimes a means of seed dispersal. Seeds that are dispersed by means of water must be equipped for the journey. Without water resistance seeds could rot. Seeds usually have a hard outer shell that can fight water damage. The seeds can be transported by rivers or by sea water and must be highly buoyant to survive. Examples of seeds that are transported by water are the coconut and other types of tropical plants who’s seeds can travel hundreds of miles by means of ocean currents.

            Fruit produced by trees such as apples, or even acorns, are key to animal or biological seed dispersal. Tasty fruits are made to entice an animal to consume them. Seeds within the fruit are not digested by the animal and pass through the digestive tract only to be deposited in some other location. Oaks trees which produce acorns in the fall rely on rodents or birds to disperse their seeds. Acorns are the hard-shelled “fruit” of the oak tree and contain a tiny seed within them. Not all the acorns a squirrel or other animal buries in the fall will be recovered, thus the remaining acorns will grown into new oak trees capable of continuing the process of seed dispersal once they mature.

            Seeds are an important food source for several species of animals. They contain high levels of fats and nutrients that are important for over wintering in the Northeast. Since seeds and their fruits contain all the nutrients needed to produce new plant life, it is no surprise that eating seeds can also be beneficial to people. Many of the seeds we eat are high in vitamins and out of all the plant products have the highest content of iron and zinc. The majority of the calories we consume on a daily basis come from seeds like legumes, cereal, and nuts. Although these seeds are healthy, there are several other types of seeds that are beneficial to our diets. Below are a few alternative seed recipes that are both delicious and healthy.

 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

 

1 1/2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds

2 teaspoons butter, melted

1 pinch salt

 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).

Toss seeds in a bowl with the melted butter and salt.

Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown; stir occasionally.

 

Broccoli Salad With Sunflower Seeds

 

1 Head Fresh Broccoli, Cut Into Pieces

1/4 Cup Red Onions, Chopped

1/2 Cup Golden Raisins

3 Tbs White Wine Vinegar

2 Tbs White Sugar

1 Cup Light Mayonnaise

1 Cup Sunflower Seeds

 

In a medium bowl, combine the broccoli, onion and raisins.

In a container with a tight lid, add the vinegar, sugar and mayonnaise, seal, and then shake until the ingredients are blended.

Pour over the broccoli mixture, and toss until well mixed.

Refrigerate for at least two hours.

Before serving, toss salad sunflower seeds.

 

Hummus with Pine Nuts (seeds collected from a pine cone)

 

2 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp salt

1 can garbonzo beans, thoroughly rinsed
1/3 cup tahini

1/2 of a juicy lemon’s worth of lemon juice

2 tbs olive oil

1/2 cup water that’s not from the can!
one handful fresh parsley

2 tbs olive oil

2 tbs pine nuts

 

In a blender or food processor, combine garlic, beans, sesame paste, lemon, 2 tbs oil, water, and salt, and blend thoroughly.

Add salt to taste and water to smooth the texture.

Pour the hummus into a serving dish, rinse the blender, and throw in the parsley and 2 tbs oil. Puree thoroughly until you have a green colored olive oil.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry (no oil) pan until they turn lightly brown.

Set them aside to cool.

Sprinkle olive oil and pine nuts on top of the hummus just before serving.

 

 

Palmer, Laurence E. Fieldbook of Natural History: Second Edition. New York:

            McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975.

 

All recipes collected from Foodnetwork.com

 

 

 

 

Wild Edibles

By: Karen Stretton, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member


      While shopping at a typical American grocery store, it’s easy to forget about the complex system of knowledge developed by our ancestors in order to live off the land.  The presentation of product is well organized and labeled; the food itself abundant and flawless.  While the industrialized food system in the United States allows this disconnect with nature, there remain people who are interested in acquiring the knowledge necessary to live directly off of food that grows in the wild.  Historically these people were known as hunter-gatherers, but today they are often called foragers.  If you walk through the forest with a knowledgeable forager, they can identify a smorgasbord of edible wild food that is available for the taking.  Additionally, urban foraging has recently grown in popularity, with wild food tours being offered in San Francisco and restaurants building meals around wild ingredients. This article is going to focus on three edible wild plants that are prevalent in Stokes State Forest and don’t require a botany degree to identify.  These include blueberries, cattails and sweet ferns.  In fact in the early years of the School of Conservation, students who took the Wilderness Survival class would identify wild edibles with the help of the instructor, and at the end of the class cook and eat their findings!

      Blueberries are one of the most commonly known wild edibles, likely due to their success as a commercial crop.  Wild blueberries are happily still thriving in New Jersey.  Different species of blueberries thrive in a wide range of habitats, but especially in the acidic and sandy soil in southern New Jersey.  Freshly picked blueberries can be enjoyed by the casual hiker, and are also a favorite of the local black bear population.  Blueberries are also commonly baked into pies and muffins, and are easily preserved as jellies or in a dried form.

      Cattails are a favorite of foragers because they can be made into many different foods.  As one of the best known wetland plants, they thrive in fresh and saltwater.  Early in the growing season, the emerging green vegetation can be harvested and eaten raw, but is preferably boiled for several minutes in salt water or butter and consumed as a wild vegetable.  The roots of mature cattails are the ones responsible for the diverse edible possibilities of this plant.  The roots are high in nutrients, and can be ground into white flour.  Jelly and juice are two other possible uses of ground cattail roots.  Finally, the sprouts at the tips of the root can be eaten raw as a salad or boiled and eaten as a vegetable.

      Sweet ferns are one of many ferns that live in Stokes State Forest.  The mature ferns can be brewed into a tea, with approximately two spoonfuls added to a cup of boiled water.  Fiddlehead ferns are ones that have not yet unfurled, and these youthful sweet ferns can be harvested as a source of vitamins A and C.  Fiddleheads should be cooked to minimize bitterness.

      Living in New Jersey in 2011, identifying wild edibles can be a fun activity for people of all ages.  It is ideal to begin the journey into wild food sources with a knowledgeable forager, but over time it will become second nature.   Blueberries, cattails and sweet ferns are examples of recognizable wild edibles that are easily accessible during the growing season.  In his 1962 book Stalking the Wild Asparagus,the renowned foraging expert Euell Gibbons provides ample advice for novice foragers as well as many suggested recipes.  He emphasizes the necessity of going into foraging with an open mind, and the importance of investing time into preparation of the food.  With enough experience and initiative, entire meals can be assembled without ever setting foot in a grocery store.  Gibbons thrived on this, hosting a dinner party that featured wild leek soup, biscuits made with cattail flour served with chokecherry jelly, dandelion crowns as a vegetable, and crayfish tails sautéed with wild onions (Paraphrased from Gibbons, p.8).  During the Great Depression Gibbons used his knowledge of wild edibles to sustain his family, and it is worth remembering that there are still many people in the modern world dependant on inherited knowledge of local plant life. 

 

References
Gibbons, Euell.  Stalking the Wild Asparagus.  Chambersburg, PA: Alan C. Hood & Company, Inc, 1962.

Hansen, Eigil and Jon Smith. “Edible Wild Plants of Sussex County, New Jersey”.  Prepared for the New Jersey School of Conservation, 1962.

 

 

 

 

Monarch Mayhem

By: Andrea Zasoski, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member

Monarch butterflies are world traveling insects.  They have a bright orange and black pattern that is easily recognizable.  Many are captured by the beauty and elegance of the butterfly.  However, a lot of people are unaware of just how complicated a monarch’s life can be.  From egg to adult, they go through a lot of change, and it doesn’t stop there.  A certain generation takes the feat of traveling thousands of miles to hibernate.  If that wasn’t enough for one little butterfly, they are being threatened by logging and climate change.

Butterflies have a complicated and intricate life cycle.  The monarch goes through four stages in a life cycle:  egg, larva, pupa (chrysalis), and adult.  In the months of March and April, eggs are laid by female monarchs on milkweed plants.  After four days, the egg hatches and a caterpillar comes out marking the beginning of the larva stage.  The caterpillar spends most of its time feeding on milkweed gathering enough nutrients for the big metamorphosis event.  Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed and nothing else which is why they are sometimes called the “milkweed butterfly.”  After engorging themselves, caterpillars are then ready to begin the pupa or chrysalis stage.  First, the caterpillar attaches itself to a stem or leaf and then uses silk to build itself a cocoon or chrysalis.  The chrysalis of the monarch is green with a beautiful gold strip at the top.  Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar is going through metamorphosis.  There are special cells inside the caterpillar that are now developing into legs, wings, eyes, and other parts of the adult butterfly.  After ten days, the adult monarch emerges from the cocoon.  After two to six weeks, the first generation lays eggs and dies.  The second generation goes through all the life cycles, emerges, lays eggs and dies.  The third generation does the same as the first two generations.  The lucky fourth generation, born in September, is the generation that gets to travel to Mexico or California.

The fourth generation monarchs migrate to the warmer climates of Mexico or California during the winter months.  Monarchs make a 2,500 mile journey every year to the same trees.  They like to hibernate in oyamel fir trees in Mexico and eucalyptus trees in California.  Instead of living only for six weeks, fourth generation monarchs live for six to eight months.  They must travel back north in the spring to lay their eggs on the milkweed plants.  Fat stores in their abdomen allow the adults to make a 5,000 mile round-trip.  They will even make pit stops along the way and refuel on nectar.

Since monarchs migrate and hibernate in specific trees, they are being threatened by illegal logging and climate change.  The adults only hibernate on 12 mountaintops that house the oyamel fir trees in Mexico.  There are protected areas and reserves, but logging still occurs in these areas.  In 2007, Mexico launched a conservation plan that focused on a zero tolerance policy of illegal logging.  The president deployed soldiers to the monarchs’ hibernation area to search for loggers.  Along with the policy, 10 million trees were planted in the butterfly reserve.

Climate change is another threat to the butterfly’s migration.  Years from now the mountains of Mexico where the butterflies hibernate may become too wet, because of the increased rainfall due to the earth’s changing climate.  Monarchs don’t have a high tolerance for rainfall during their hibernation period.  Scientists predict the butterfly will go extinct, find a new hibernation spot, or develop a tolerance to the new conditions. 

Egg to adult, a monarch’s life can be somewhat complicated, especially if they are fourth generation.  They start out as eggs and hatch into tiny caterpillars that engorge themselves on milkweed.  Then, they go through the big change and develop into adults.  After they spend all that energy developing the beautiful orange and black wings, they have to fly out to Mexico.  Hopefully, they will be able to continue this migration for years to come in spite of the many challenges they face.

“Butterfly Life Cycle | Butterflies | Academy of Natural Sciences.” Academy of Natural Sciences, Natural History Museum in Philadelphia. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://www.ansp.org/museum/butterflies/life_cycle.php>.

“The King of Butterflies-the Monarch Butterfly.” Monarch Butterfly Site: Life Cycle, Migration, Pictures, News, More! Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/index.html#Life-Cycle>.

“Migration & Tagging : Fall Migration.” Monarch Watch. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://www.monarchwatch.org/tagmig/index.htm>.

 

 

 

 

Senescence: The Change of Autumn

By Timothy J. Palla, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member

           

            The chill is back in the air. We all know that means the end of summer and the beginning of our most colorful season, autumn. This season brings us one of the most glorious transformations in nature. The leaves change color and this transition is called senescence which is a natural process trees go through when dropping their leaves. As trees prepare to drop their leaves they change color due to natural chemical reactions.

            Here in the northeast we have several tree varieties that change color as autumn approaches. Many of these trees have colors specific to them as in; Oaks turn red, brown or russet; Yellow-poplar, golden yellow; Beeches turn light tan and so on. Species of trees can have slight variations like the maple: Sugar maple, orange-red and red maples turn bright scarlet. So your own backyard may become a beautiful mixed display of these variant colors.

            The only trees that go through senescence are broad-leaf deciduous trees. They go through this change for defense since their leaves are not protected from the damage that freezing can do. The change is triggered by many factors like temperature, rainfall and food supply. The most important and unvarying factor is the length of days and the increase in nighttime. As night increases the plants stop producing chlorophyll which allows two other chemicals to show their colors, carotenoids and anthocyanins.  Carotenoids produce the yellow, orange and brown colors seen in leaves and anthocyanins produce the variable red colors. The different balance of these two chemicals is what gives each tree its unique fall color.

            The fall change begins in New England around September and moves south to Connecticut in October. This small window of change adds to the popularity of seeing the leaves change. “Leaf-peeper”, is the term used for people who travel from all over the world to experience this incredible transition. It is a time where everyone can revel in the beauty of nature.

            So, rather than running away from autumn nipping at our heels this year, we should embrace the change and watch this event unfold as it has for thousands of years. Since every year can be different than the one before take pride in seeing something that has never been seen before.

References

Websites: http://www.na.fs.fed.us/fhp/pubs/leaves.shtm

Websites: http://www.almanac.com/content/fall-foliage-why-do-autumn-leaves-chage-color

Books: Teale, Edwin Way. Autumn Across America. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1956.

 

 

 

 

The Autumnal Equinox

By: Dan Brown, NJSOC AmeriCorps Member

      Fall is a season that brings color to life in the outdoors.  With the changing of the leaves from green to many colors, it creates a beautiful atmosphere for those who like to take hikes, enjoy the outdoors, or use cameras.  There are two equinoxes that happen every year: the Vernal Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox.  The Vernal Equinox is the first day of spring and the Autumnal Equinox is the first day of fall.  This year the Autumnal Equinox will be on September 23rd.  The Autumnal Equinox has always been an important fixture to the human race.  Many different cultures viewed the Autumnal Equinox as a holiday.

      The word equinox comes from two Latin words: aequus and nox.  Aequus means equal and nox means night.  There are two days during the entire year when the amount of day time and the amount of night time are the same; these days being the Vernal and Autumnal Equinox.  The equinoxes are caused by the earth’s tilt on its axis and rotation around the sun.  When the equinoxes occur the earth’s axis is inclined neither toward nor away from the sun causing the equal amount of day and night. 

      The fall season allows an explosion of vivid colors to brighten up the outdoors.  The changing of the leaves can be as vivid as a painting.  It makes the outdoors very enjoyable for anyone including the outdoorsman or person going for the occasional stroll to enjoy the beautiful weather.  For those who are photographers, pictures of fall foliage can be quite the commodity because of the beautiful colors that are available.  Fall allows someone like myself, who is not artistic, to appreciate beauty and art.  It allows me to feel artistic by taking my camera with me when working at the New Jersey School of Conservation by being able to take pictures of the beauty I admire during the fall season.

      In many cultures, the Autumnal Equinox represents a major time for a harvest and celebration.  This harvest is used to prepare to store food for the winter months.  In many Eastern cultures the Autumnal Equinox is an official holiday and in Europe it is viewed as an important harvest time.  During the Autumnal Equinox canning of foods takes place in preparation for the winter months.  This was when farmers would slaughter animals and preserve meat for the coming months as well.

      Migration and changes in plants happen because of the Autumnal Equinox.  Interestingly enough, the day of the Autumnal Equinox is when most birds begin to fly south for the winter.  The change in the weather may cause the instinct in birds to kick in and fly south.  Some plants require to be planted during the Autumnal Equinox.  For instance, coriander must be planted during the Autumnal Equinox because it thrives in the weather that comes with autumn.  Some plants are not able to handle the colder weather and less sunlight available.  Their leaves stop producing chlorophyll and drop their leaves altogether. 

      In conclusion, fall is the most beautiful season containing vivid colors coming to life with the changing of the leaves.  It allows bright oranges, yellows, browns, and reds to cover the sky and ground.  It can cause changes in the plants and animals in the area.  Some animals may not be seen during the fall and winter months because their internal clock tells them to migrate and head south for the winter.  Some plants are able to thrive in the colder weather, whereas most plants start to die.  The Autumnal Equinox plays an important role in our lives as well.  Whether we are farmers preparing for winter by harvesting crops or a person who likes to go for an occasional stroll and enjoy the vivid colors, Autumn has something for everyone.

 

 

Bibliography

Byrd, Deborah. “Everything You Need to Know: Autumnal Equinox of 2011 | Astronomy Essentials | EarthSky.”         EarthSky.org – A Clear Voice for Science. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://earthsky.org/astronomy-                               essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-autumnal-equinox-of-2011>.

 

Owens, Steve. “Equinox, Equilux, and Twilight Times « Dark Sky Diary.” Dark Sky Diary. 20 Mar. 2010. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://darkskydiary.wordpress.com/2010/03/20/equinox-equilux-and-twilight-times/>

 

 

 

 

 

The AT: An American Tradition

By: Lindsay Harrington, Graduate Assistant

Driving on Route 206 near the School of Conservation, a trail sign marks the crossing
of the Appalachian Trail across the busy highway. As a child, I remember seeing
Appalachian Trail crossing signs while driving to and from my parent’s Pocono
vacation home. I still have the same feeling when I cross the trail today-curiosity.
Often times, thru hikers can be seen at the local businesses in town and I cannot help but feel jealous of the
feat they are undertaking as a hiker on this infamous trail. Few of us have the luxury of taking 6 months out of our lives to hike miles every day out of the reaches of the “real world” and it’s smoggy highways and traffic jams. Even the few steps I have taken on the trail with its white trail blazes has made me feel like I am part of an important American tradition. This has given me an appreciation for the miles of wilderness that stretches along the eastern United States.

The Appalachian Trail or “AT” as many enthusiast call it is approximately 2,181 miles long and stretches from
Springer Mountain, Georgia across 14 states and wilderness, to Mount Katahdin located in Baxter State Park, Maine. The trail was conceived by a forester named Benton MacKaye in 1921. In 1923 the first sections of the trail were built but it was not until 1937 that it was finally completed. The project was taken over by a lawyer named Myron Avery in the 1930s and he was the first to walk the entirety of the trail but not in a single attempt. The first “thru hiker” or individual to start the tradition of walking the trail in its entirety was Earl Shaffer in 1948. Since then, over 4,000 people have successfully completed at thru hike. There have been many memorable hikers over the years including the fastest hiker, David Horton who completed it in 52 days, Bill Erwin with his Seeing Eye dog, and Emma Gatewood who completed the trail twice in her 60s.

For those not up for hiking the trail in its entirety, the 72 miles that cross through New Jersey offer a view some of the most beautiful wilderness in the state. It would take a few days to complete the whole section through our state but there are several options for day hikes in New Jersey. The AT enters the state in the
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and travel north along the Kittatiny Ridge through Stokes State Forest, High Point State Park, until it crosses into New York near Wawayanda State Park. Anyone familiar with these areas knows that the scenic views and untouched wilderness of these areas are a must see for any nature enthusiast. Be prepared to see wildlife including numerous bird species, wildflowers, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.

Day trips in New Jersey require little more than a pair of sturdy shoes, water, and some
food. While the Internet is a great place to look for information about sections of the trail in New Jersey, most road maps will be able to give you a good idea of where to begin and end your hike. It may be useful to ask visitor
services at High Point, Stokes, or Wawayanda State Parks about hiking the AT as they may have a good idea about parking and also current trail conditions. Some sections of trail that are great for day hikes in New Jersey include:

  • Route 519 to Route 23
  • Route 23 to Deckertown Road
  • Deckertown Road to Culver’s Gap
  • Culver’s Gap to Blue Mountain Road
  • Blue Mountain Lakes Road to Catfish Pond
  • Mohican Outdoor Center to the Delaware Water Gap

One of the major concerns for hikers and for those considering hiking on the trail is the possibility of bear attacks. Of the 700,000 black bears in North America, their population is the largest along the Appalachian Trail. This is due to the fact that the trail stretches across thousands of miles and also through some of the densest wilderness on the east coast. Black bear encounters are common on the trail but very rarely do they end badly for the hiker. There have been only 23 confirmed cases of mortality due to black bear attacks from the year 1900-1980 on the Appalachian Trail. Hikers in New Jersey may see bears and it is always important to remember not to try to approach them or any other wild animal. Chances are the only view you will get of a black bear is its back
end as it runs away!

For anyone looking for firsthand account of the hardships and excitement of hiking the AT Bill Bryson’s novel A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail is a must read. Bryson’s travelogue is my favorite account of a journey along the AT. The book documents not only Bryson’s journey but also the historical, environmental, and social impacts of the trail. His book is a great way to get your mind out on the AT even if you cannot do so yourself. It is Bryson’s hope in his account of hiking the Appalachian Trail that the reader stop pushing nature away but realize its importance.

A hike along the Appalachian Trail is a great way to get outside, enjoy New Jersey’s wilderness, and also to stay healthy. If you plan on taking any hike, remember to pack the appropriate gear, stay hydrated, and always let someone know where you plan on exploring. Remember to preserve the beauty of the Appalachian Trail by not littering and leaving only footprints behind so that future generations can enjoy this unique American tradition.

 

References 

Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.

New York: Broadway Books, 1998. Print.

Bell, Frank. “Short Hikes on the Long Trail.”  Skylands Visitor Summer 2011: pg. 8-11. Print.

 

 

 

 

Vernal Pools

 

By: Jennifer Correa-Kruegel, NJSOC Environmental Educator

 Vernal Pool in fall

At first glance, vernal pools do not appear to be a valuable part of our ecosystems. They look like boggy waste places that house mosquito larvae and need to be drained. Here at the School of Conservation however, we are very protective of our vernal pools and use any opportunity we can to educate the students that come here on their field trips, on the importance of these wetlands.

A vernal pool is an indentation in the ground that fills up with water for only a couple of months out of the year and then dries up completely or remains very shallow. This unique feature does not allow fish to inhabit the pools. Many amphibians, reptiles, plants, insect sand other wildlife species will take advantage of these wetlands. In particular, some amphibian species, whose eggs deposited in these waters would normally be eaten by fish, have one less predator to worry about.  Several amphibian species in New Jersey, two of which are endangered, have evolved to become dependent on vernal pools for breeding habitats. When that happens, the species is considered to be an obligate vernal pool breeder.

Amphibians are animals that generally go through a developmental change in form or structure occurring subsequent to birth or hatching (metamorphosis). The word amphibian actually comes from the Greek word “amphibious” which means “living a double life.” Members of this class are frogs and salamanders. Since their skin is moist and glandular they are more susceptible to the negative impacts from pollution to their aquatic environments. This makes them an important environmental indicator species that can tell us if there is something wrong with our environment. Many of these amphibians also have the added hazard of having to cross roadways on the first warm rainy night in spring to get to their vernal pool breeding habitats that they have become so dependent on.

Earlier this spring, during a brief period of warm weather, we came across evidence of two obligate vernal pool species, wood frogs and spotted salamanders here at the School of Conservation. The wood frog (Rana sylvatica) is one of our medium sized frogs with a dark ‘mask’ on its face. The males are a bit darker in coloration and make their way to the vernal pools first.  The females are a little lighter in coloration, camouflaging nicely with the leaf litter on the forest floor as they make their way to meet up with the male wood frogs.  The males attract the females by making a loud “quacking” sound that can only be heard for a few days before the rush of mating and laying eggs dies down.  

 

The spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) are a bit more evasive. They are one of a group of large salamanders – sometimes referred to as ‘mole salamanders’ – in the Ambystoma genus.  They are have a very striking appearance:  several inches long with black with yellow spots.

 

While we did not find any actual spotted salamanders on this particular trip we did find some spermatophores.  Spermatophores are packets of sperm that are laid by the males on leaves or sticks in vernal pools.

 

After a courtship dance between the male and female spotted salamanders, the female picks up the spermatophore with her cloaca.  The cloaca is an ‘all purpose’ body part that is used for reproduction and excretion.  After insemination, she lays nearly 100 eggs that are protected in a white gelatinous mass underwater before leaving the pool to take refuge under logs or leaves to keep their permeable skin moist.

 

Through the efforts of various environmental organizations and volunteers, new legislation has been adopted to protect our vernal pools in NJ. Many vernal pools are small and (until recently) the NJ Freshwater Wetlands Protection act did not cover areas that measured less than an acre. Vernal pools can be protected and certified if they meet the following criteria according to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection:

                  -occurs in a confined basin depression without a permanently flowing outlet.

                  -provides documented habitat for obligate or facultative vernal habitat species.

                  -maintains ponded water for at least two continuous months between March and September of a normal rainfall year.

                  -free of fish populations throughout the year, or dries up at some time during a normal rainfall year.

The Department of Environmental Protection depends on volunteers to assist in locating and documenting these vernal pools. The certifications that result from identifying them with the above criteria, has Land Use Regulation Program staff cross-referencing permit applications with maps of vernal pools. If a vernal pool is on a property where a project is being proposed then the permit may be redirected or denied altogether.

While all wildlife holds value in our ecosystems, amphibians in particular are a sensitive species. Since many amphibians breathe through a combination of gills, lungs and skin they are very susceptible to changes in the environment, particularly our aquatic environment.  This makes them an excellent indicator species: a species that tell us if something is wrong with the environment. Taking measures to protect their habitat is something everyone can benefit from in the long run. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insect Galls

By: Jennifer Correa-Kruegel

 

“Ewww! What is that on that leaf?” exclaimed a student pointing to a large grouping of abnormal growths on a leaf. It was during a Conservation Photography class where students are encouraged to look at things around campus with a different perspective than they normally would. So it was no surprise to me that this student picked up on numerous galls that developed on the leaves of trees recently. 

 

Insect Gall

 

Insect galls are a result of a plant’s response when an insect lays its egg on part of the plant, such as the leaf, roots, or stem. The plant tissues react to a substance on the larva and surround it with a casing, protecting it while the insect matures and eats until it is ready to emerge. Insect galls can be made from insects such as flies, bees, wasps, moths and mites.

 

Insect Gall

 

                  While galls provide some protection from predators, the larva is not completely safeguarded. If there are too many galls or if they are too obvious, animals such as woodpeckers can easily dig out the immature insect. Gall inducing insects are usually particular as to which plants they lay their eggs on since only certain species of plants will respond appropriately to their larva. This is noticeable as you can see the very detailed differences of each gall. A gall on one species of plant will look very different from another. 

 

Insect Gall

 

Although galls are parasitic to the host plant, it is unusual that the plant itself will die from the galls produced unless it is a very heavy infestation. We see so many galls in the spring because insects take advantage of when the plant is at its most productive stage of growth. However, there are plants that develop later in the year, such as goldenrod, and the insects that use those plants as a host will use that opportunity to create their galls and have the larva undergo its changes throughout the winter and eat its way out the following Spring.

                  The students were fascinated by the unique and sometimes strange shapes and colors of the galls. They can be found throughout campus if one looks loosely enough at the leaves of emerging plants. Although galls are not the most beautiful sight to witness, it is interesting to see the interdependence and connections made throughout the natural world, no matter how small. 

 

 

Losing our Bats, Bees and Frogs 

By: Jennifer Correa-Kruegel, NJSOC Environmental Educator

White-nose fungus on bats, colony collapse disorder affecting our bee populations and ranavirus infected amphibian species. These are just a few of the maladies currently plaguing New Jersey’s wildlife. Each has appeared in the state over the last couple of decades, causing some species to go completely extinct in recent years. While bats, bees and frogs are not exactly the most beloved creatures, losing them will be detrimental to our own health and society as we struggle to replace the ecosystem services that each provides. Below is a brief overview of each of these conditions, how they impact the rest of the environment and why it should matter to us.

White-nose Fungus:

According to The Conserve Wildlife of New Jersey, the Hibernia Mine in Morris County was once host to 27,000 hibernating bats. In as little as three years, that number has dwindled down to fewer than 1,000. This dramatic drop in population is due to white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is not native and thrives in cold weather. The fungus adheres to the membranes of hibernating bats and is particularly noticeable on their nose, hence the name. Bats with white-nose syndrome are disrupted during their hibernation, a time when they are supposed to be conserving their fat reserves, due to the irritation the fungus causes. In addition, bats are more susceptible to disease while they are hibernating because their immune systems are compromised as a result of reduced heart-rate, respiration, metabolism and body temperature associated with hibernating species. The bats wake-up early, dehydrated, hungry and without any food for them to eat.

Bat  

It is believed that spores from the fungus came from Europe, traveling on the equipment and packs of spelunkers, people who like to explore caves. Not realizing that their equipment needed to be disinfected, the cavers traveled from cave to cave, unknowingly spreading spores. Since European bats evolved with the fungus they were not impacted by the white-nose fungus as the bats in the United States have been.

If you felt that the mosquitoes have been particularly bad this summer, the white-nose syndrome has probably played a significant role in growing mosquito populations. Bats prey on many nocturnal insects such as moths and mosquitoes. A single bat is capable of eating 1000 flying insects in an hour and can feed for as many as 6 hours a night.

What can you do?

  • Build or buy bat houses to provide shelter
  • report live or dead bats to your state wildlife agency
  • plant moth attracting wildflowers in your garden
  • spelunkers are asked to disinfect equipment after each exploration
  • respect all posted signs for cave closures
  • avoid caves that house large populations of bats.

Ranavirus:

Reptiles and amphibians are often grouped together in one study called herpetology. The Greek word “herpeton” actually means “crawling things.” While the animals and name leave much to be desired they are none the less an important part of our ecosystem. They consume many of the rodents and insects that would otherwise plague us with disease.  Yet, herps populations worldwide are also suffering from several diseases unique to them, including one that was discovered recently at the School of Conservation, the Ranavirus.

 Frog

Ranaviruses are strains viruses that have contributed to massive die-offs in reptile and amphibian species around the world and have even resulted in the extinction of some species. The symptoms include the observation of lethargy, lesions, erratic swimming, build-up of fluid under the skin and hemorrhaging of amphibians. Once the virus has been detected in a population, there can be a mortality rate of as much as 90%, (USGS). Although both reptiles and amphibians can be affected by the ranavirus, the USGS states, “In states east of the Mississippi River, especially Atlantic coastal states, mortality events tend to involve all species within the wetland (frogs, toads and salamanders) while those in western states, with less amphibian species diversity, tend to involve only one species.” Cold-blooded animal species seem to be so affected by these viruses because these viruses cannot survive in the higher body temperatures of birds or mammals.

Ranavirus can be spread fairly easily from wetland to wetland and species to species. If you were to investigate a wetland area that contained the ranavirus, the boots or net you used during your research could hold traces of the ranavirus and could spread to the next wetland area you explore if they are not properly cleaned. It could also be spread if a species that has been exposed to the virus brings it to another wetland or comes into contact with other reptile or amphibian species. This can happen often during the spring when these creatures emerge from hibernation and go straight into their mating rituals. The young off-spring of frogs and salamanders are particularly vulnerable since their immunity is compromised while undergoing metamorphosis. 

What can you do?

  • It is requested that those that recreate through wetland areas or biologists who conduct research in them disinfect boots and equipment with a solution of at least 10% bleach soaking for 1 minute.
  • It is also asked that domesticated reptiles and amphibians not be released into wild habitats or transferred from one wild habitat to another as this can also increase the spread of the virus.

Colony Collapse Disorder:

Sometimes the most frightening issues involving our wildlife are what we don’t know. This is the case with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) which involves the death of as many as 90% of the honey bees in individual hives. According to the USDA, “The main symptom of CCD is very low or no adult honey bees present in the hive but with a live queen and no dead honey bee bodies present.”

Honeybee

Although, honeybees were brought over to the United States by the first European settlers, they provide a substantial amount of pollination to our commercial agricultural crops. In fact, it is estimated that honeybees have a value of about $ 15 billion annually through the pollination of nearly 80% of our crops, (Nature Conservancy).  

A study recently conducted in Colorado determined that losing just one pollinator species can reduce the success rate of pollination to occur in different plant species. Because pollinator’s are normally faithful to specific plant species, those plants are guaranteed to obtain the pollen they need to produce their seeds. However, when you remove the competition of other pollinators then you lose that faithfulness and therefore a key component in the pollination process.

Unlike the white-nose fungus in bats and ranavirus in reptiles and amphibians, scientists at this point only have theories as to why CCD is occurring. Investigations are being made to determine if it is a parasitic mite infiltrating hives, unknown fungus, virus or bacteria, environmental and management stressors from the beekeepers transporting bees over long distances and inadequate nutrition from lack of biodiversity or if it is a combination of all these factors.  

What can you do?

  • support local honey producers and purchasing their products
  • planting a diverse species of native plants
  • avoid spraying pesticides and herbicides, especially mid-day when honey bees are most active.

Since I began writing this article there have been reports of an unusually high number of dolphins washing up on New Jersey’s shore and the officials have suspended the moose hunt in Minnesota because the moose populations are in serious decline. While bats, bees and herptiles may not have the charisma of dolphins and moose, they all play vital roles in our ecosystem. It is important to continue to support researchers who study what is wrong with our wildlife and environment.  Like the robins found by Rachel Carson’s friend in Silent Spring, animals are indicators of problems in our ecosystems that will someday impact people.