Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Pollinators

"WILDLIFE WEDNESDAY" 

Pollinators





Pollinators 
are an essential part of the web of life.

 In high school I wrote a paper in senior, honors, AP, geekspeak, nerdism, English class that I called  "The web of life". I had recently read a book by Rachel Carson entitled "Silent Spring". My paper was based on my observations from the book and probably a little plagiarism from some other sources also..... Who knows? Obviously, I'm not a grammar Nazi, nor am I really good at writing, BUT..... I poured my heart into writing this paper with hopes that I would change the world's view about the importance and relevance of all things wild.
I felt just like Ralphie from "A Christmas Story"


In case you haven’t seen it, the movie is about 9-year-old Ralphie Parker and a central plot line is his quest to get a Red Ryder BB Gun. Whenever he asks for the gun for Christmas, he invariably is told, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”In one sequence in the movie, Ralphie’s fourth-grade class is told to write “a theme” on the subject, “What I Want for Christmas.” Ralphie, who ordinarily doesn’t like theme-writing, views the assignment as a primo opportunity to end the “conspiracy of irrational prejudice against Red Ryder and his peacemaker.”As he turns in his theme, he fantasizes about garnering an A+ (make that multiple plusses) on it.“I knew I was handing Miss Shields a masterpiece,” says the narrator, the adult Ralphie. “Maybe Miss Shields in her ecstasy would excuse me from theme writing for the rest of my natural life.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out that way. Miss Shields gives him a C+ on the essay and notes at the bottom, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” As you might imagine, Ralphie is devastated.
My paper was met with much the same fate. Ms. G&%$*@! must not have liked my stance, because she knit picked my paper to a "C" and wrote on it in red "You don't really think this could happen do you?" She always loved me and seemed to even give me a bit of favoritism at times, but this paper must have struck her wrong. I ended that year with an excellent A+ average, but not because she liked my earth shaking, thought provoking, worldview changing paper that I had written. I guess she thought I would put my eye out.






Back to Pollinators. In that paper, I spoke much about how important these hard working little critters are to the web of life. Often we may not notice the hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar. Yet without them, wildlife would have fewer nutritious berries and seeds, and we would miss many fruits, vegetables, and nuts, like blueberries, squash, and almonds . . . not to mention chocolate and coffee…all of which depend on pollinators.





Pollinators by Numbers
Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. More than 3,500 species of native bees help increase crop yields. Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and beetles and other insects.

How Animal Pollination Works
Pollinators visit flowers in their search for food (nectar and pollen). During a flower visit, a pollinator may accidentally brush against the flower’s reproductive parts, unknowingly depositing pollen from a different flower. The plant then uses the pollen to produce a fruit or seed. Many plants cannot reproduce without pollen carried to them by foraging pollinators.

Pollinators Are in Trouble
You may have heard that bees are disappearing and bats are dying. These and other animal pollinators face many challenges in the modern world. Habitat loss, disease, parasites, and environmental contaminants have all contributed to the decline of many species of pollinators. Ms. G&%$*@! may not think it could happen, but Rachel Carson (author Silent Spring) and I think it really could happen. The following are a couple quotes from "Silent Spring".
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. ...“In nature nothing exists alone.”




The secret bond of the partnership is that neither plant nor pollinator populations can exist in isolation – should one disappear, the other is one generation away from disaster.



(USDA: NRCS https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/pollinate/)


I at least sorta try to site my plagiarisms nowadays....








BIRDS: (National Hummingbird Day is Sept 2nd)   https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/animals/birds.shtml












UNTIL NEXT WEEK  

BE SAFE, BE CAREFUL, BEHAVE, DON'T DO ANYTHING ILLEGAL, IMMORAL, UNETHICAL, OR JUST PLAIN STUPID







Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Spiders and the 2017 Eclipse

"Wildlife Wednesday"

Spiders and the 2017 Eclipse 



Last week I encouraged you all to check out the Inaturalist app and become a naturalist for a day to help participate in the California Academy of Sciences Life Responds project.  The idea was to pick some form of wildlife and document it's response to the eclipse.  I am afraid that many people fell for the hype that the eclipse would be a cataclysmic event that would rain down night on the earth.  I heard far too many say that it was a huge let down.  I was not let down!  The rareness of the event and the simple fact that I was able to experience it with my father and my son was great for me.  As for the wildlife, well maybe I was a bit let down.   My prediction was that few if any of the wild animals or plants in our area (96% coverage) would respond to only a couple of brief minutes of the sun being blocked out by the moon.  My thoughts were that it would be much like a cloudy day to the wildlife.  I hypothesized that spiders would be a good fit to document and might be the most likely to respond since they often set up and maintain webs just before dark to take advantage of the increased bug activity at twilight.  .  

I decided that with no shortage of spiders and spider webs around the Farm that I would set and observe our local Yellow garden spider, Charlotte and her web.

Scientific Name:   Argiope aurantia

Common Name:   Yellow garden spider, Writing spider, golden garden spider, or corn spider



I decided to go all out and set up HD video and try to document all of the movements of the spider before, during, and after the eclipse.  

Now I wish I could report some awesome findings, and show cool footage, but as with much of science,  the routine is not always exciting.   My well intentioned video would really not be much different than staring at the pictures.  The spider was happy and content with a nice large grass hopper in the web and had almost no movement until 6:00p.m.  
I still have my camera set up and am watching for the egg sack to hatch out.  Maybe that will be a Blog post for another day.  

Although all is not lost:  If you did not get to experience the totaled eclipse I was able to get a very good photo of it.




ok, I know that was lame......   















UNTIL NEXT WEEK  

BE SAFE, BE CAREFUL, BEHAVE, DON'T DO ANYTHING ILLEGAL, IMMORAL, UNETHICAL, OR JUST PLAIN STUPID



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"The natural" response to an eclipse.

WILDLIFE WEDNESDAY 

It seems that how to watch the eclipse has been the main topic of discussion on social media for the last week or two.  Everyone is talking about trying to find some glasses or about where they are going to watch it, or even that schools are closing for the eclipse.  If they are not talking about those topics, it is complaints about glasses that look like left over 3d movie glasses from the local theater, griping about why school is closing, or being upset over not being able to book a room at their desired location.

With all the eclipse talk, good and bad, I decided to shed a bit of light on the way wildlife respond to an eclipse (HA HA).  People have been studying what happens during an eclipse for centuries.  You would think we would have it all figured out by now, but there are several things that are still a bit of mystery. This eclipse may very well be the most documented one in human history.  Cell phone cameras and internet in the palm of your hand was not even in the realm of dreams the last time a total eclipse was visible across the whole country.  This year technological advancements will be used in unprecedented ways to document and gather data about the eclipse.  I recall that during the last total eclipse in our area, 1979 I think,  my eclipse technology consisted of a shoe box with some strategically placed holes and a mirror or two.

You would think that there would be a large amount of data and research that had been done to document how it effects wildlife.  Oddly, that is not the case.  Since it is impossible to replicate and the natural occurrence is somewhat rare, the science of animal behavior during an eclipse is sparse.  There is very little outside of folklore and anecdotal evidence.  We have heard that birds will quiet down during eclipses  while crickets, frogs and mosquitos start there regular evening routine.  Very little rigorous research on animal behavior during eclipses exists. You can help change this!

You can become a "naturalist for a day".






The California Academy of Sciences is asking citizen scientists to record observations of animal behavior as part of their Life Respondsproject using their free iNaturalist app. Basically, they are looking to collect behavioral observations of animals (and plants) from the largest geographic area ever covered by observers during any solar eclipse so far.


http://www.inaturalist.org/projects/life-responds-total-solar-eclipse-2017/





How does life respond to the dramatic event of a total solar eclipse?


There is some evidence that plant and animal life react to the environmental changes that occur during a total solar eclipse. As the sky darkens and the temperature drops, birds reportedly stop singing, spiders may tear down their webs, and gray squirrels retreat to their dens, among other observed behaviors. Much of these reports, however, are anecdotal or documented with captive animals.


On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will cross the continental United States, from coast to coast. The Academy invites citizen scientists like you to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to record eclipse-related animal behavior.






I have my plans for what wildlife I want to observe. I am going to record video and photograph my subject, and submit my data. I think the Life Responds project is a great way for the average citizen scientist to participate in the greatest eclipse research that has ever taken place. Being a part of the process is a fun way to get involved with eclipse rather than being just an observer.


I'm in! What about you?






Which animal will you choose?














Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Do Deer Lose Their Antlers?

"WILDLIFE WEDNESDAY"

Do Deer Lose Their Antlers?

YES.  Of course as long winded as I am, there is no way I can leave the answer that short.  So here is a brief story and a little science behind deer antlers.

Last summer I was spraying the fence line on our farm to kill some invasive privet that was encroaching. As I drove along I looked down and spotted a deer antler laying on the ground.
 I was excited because this is a rare find to stumble upon so I hopped out and picked it up.  I took a couple photos of my trophy and then got back to work.  I drove about 10 feet and bam, there was the other side.  Now this is exceptionally rare to find both sides from the same deer.   I have found shed antlers before.  I have even gone hunting for the shed antlers in the spring a few times, but never have I found both sides.  I have a friend who raises deer in a high fence. Every year he tries to find the shed antlers of all his bucks.  He said that he never finds them both together. Likely the reason for me finding both was that this young deer had tried to go under the fence instead of jumping over it and pulled his antlers off together.  Lucky for the deer this annual process is not painful.  
 You see deer antlers fall off naturally each spring due to decreased testosterone levels after the rut (breeding season).  Here in Alabama if typically takes place in late March early April.  Of course these dates vary depending on the deers age, climate, and a host of other factors.  The bucks begin to regrow their antlers immediately.  They actually grow at a very rapid rate for the next 2 to 4 months.  When the antlers are in the growth phase, they are covered by a fuzzy protective membrane, commonly referred  to as  "velvet".

This time of year whitetail deer, which are the only wild deer that we have here in the south, begin to build up testosterone levels and and antler growth slows down considerably and finally stops. The velvet then withers and begins to fall off.
The velvet removal process is facilitated by the deer by rubbing his antlers against trees.
 There are multiple trees that deer are rubbing right now on our farm. 
 The whole process is repeated every year for the rest of his life.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”


― John Muir

The art of discussion

Yesterday having been the biggest sporting event of the year, I am totally happy to report that the closest I got to the "Super Bowl&qu...