Interest in bats has steadily increased over the past several years as the problem of white-nose syndrome has become more acute, especially in the Adirondacks. As people become more familiar with this unique group of mammals, numerous questions regarding their ability to survive the ravages of this rapidly spreading disease continually arise.
While there are answers to a few questions, most have none, other than “best guesses” or “ideas” from very intelligent wildlife biologists who have regularly studied these creatures. However, even the experts are limited in responding to some questions about bats, as there has not been much research conducted into numerous aspects of their natural history and population status, especially here in the Park. Although some features of bats are well known, many habits and behavioral traits of these winged animals still remain a mystery. » Continue Reading.
Despite remarkable similarities in appearance, flying styles and behaviors, not all bats are created equal. In the Adirondacks, there are approximately nine species of these dark, winged mammals during the summer months, yet all possess their own unique physical characteristics and habits.
The manner in which bats deal with the total lack of flying insects that occurs with the onset of winter is one feature that illustrates how bats are different. Even though more than half the species that populate our region migrate to and then enter caves or mines that extend deep underground, all have definite preferences for below the surface. While some species proceed far from the entrance in order to reach warmer and damper locations, others favor cooler and drier spots closer to the world above. » Continue Reading.
Reuben Cary shot the last wolf in the Adirondacks in 1899 … or so he thought. Afterward, he posed next to the carcass for a photo. The stuffed wolf is now on exhibit in the Adirondack Museum.
Cary’s claim to fame is no longer valid. A new study by two scientists from the New York State Museum found that at least three wild wolves have been shot in the Northeast in recent decades, including one in the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
A researcher who has studied the endangered bog turtle will discuss ways to save their habitat in an upcoming lecture at Paul Smith’s College.
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the bog turtle is the state’s smallest. It reaches a maximum length of 4.5 inches. While considered threatened nationwide, they are endangered in New York; development in the southeastern part of the state, the species’ primary habitat here, has hindered the turtle from moving into new areas as existing habitat is lost. Dr. Kevin Shoemaker will lead off this fall’s Fisheries & Wildlife Science Seminar Series on Friday, Sept. 23, with “Scaling Up Bog Turtle Conservation in New York.”
Shoemaker, a postdoctoral associate at Stony Brook University, studies how wildlife populations are affected by habitat alteration. He hopes to help humans co-exist with wildlife by making those connections understandable.
Two other lectures are scheduled this semester: Dr. Dennis Murray of Trent University in Ontario will discuss “New World Wolves: Confusion, Controversy and Conservation” on Friday, Oct. 14, and Tim McKay of Colgate University will deliver a lecture called “Ecology of North America’s Smallest Mammals: The Shrews” on Friday, Nov. 4.
All lectures will be held at 10:10 a.m. in the Pine Room of the Joan Weill Student Center.
The news that a mountain lion killed on a Connecticut highway had migrated more than 1,500 miles from South Dakota raises an intriguing question: could the cats return to the Adirondacks someday?
The short answer: “someday” is a long way off.
Christopher Spatz, president of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, said it took twenty years for cougars from the South Dakota’s Black Hills to establish a small population (thirteen adults) in the Nebraska panhandle—just 120 miles away.
“It might take them forty years to get to Minnesota,” he said. “If you project that eastward, you’re talking a century before they get to the Adirondacks.” » Continue Reading.
A State Museum scientist has co-authored a new research article, representing the most detailed genomic study of its kind, which shows that wolves and coyotes in the eastern United States are hybrids between gray wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs.
Dr. Roland Kays, the Museum’s curator of mammals, was one of 15 other national and international scientists who collaborated on the study that used unprecedented genetic technology, developed from the dog genome, to survey the global genetic diversity in dogs, wolves and coyotes. The study used over 48,000 genetic markers, making it the most detailed genomic study of any wild vertebrate species. » Continue Reading.
Paul Smiths College Professor Curt Stager’s new book, Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) is a fresh look at global climate change. Stager’s approach is that of the paleoecologist, a discipline that has traditionally been focused on reconstructing the paleoenvironment using the fossil record to clarify the relationship that plants, animals, and humans have to their environment in the past.
Typically, paleoecological researchers have aimed their attentions on the Quaternary period (the last two million years), particularity with studies of the Holocene epoch (the last 11,000 years), or the Pleistocene glaciation period (50,000 to 10,000 years ago). Stager’s Deep Future looks in the other direction, 100,000 years into the future. Stager is quick to point out that no, humans won’t go extinct; some species will win, some lose, because after temperatures rise, they’ll fall (at a slower rate). Deep Future is built around the Anthropocene, the first epoch in which humans have come to influence the Earth’s ecosystems.
Scientists are somewhat divided over when the Anthropocene begins. Some suggest 8,000 years ago, when we began clearing forests to raise animals and grow crops during the Neolithic Revolution, others establish a date as late as the Industrial Revolution of the 1750s. Both agree that what’s significant is that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is increasing at a faster rate, and to a much greater extent, that previous glacial-interglacial cycles of the past million years, and that humans are the cause.
Deep Future illuminates the changes of the coming 100,000 years, among them the effect we’ve already had in delaying the next ice age. Describing himself as a “converted climate skeptic” thanks in part to research at Paul Smiths into weather and lake ice records in the Adirondacks, Stager explores the idea that our distant descendants may well applaud us for the changes we cause, but many of the earth’s species will suffer dramatic transformations. Acidification of our oceans will impact sea species, shifting micro climates will force great species migrations to adapt, which on land may be blocked by human development.
The bottom line of Deep Future is that what we decide to do now about controlling our carbon emissions will have tremendous impacts on our future descendants. Putting it into an even larger context, Stager offers this unique perspective: “If we burn through all our fossil fuels now, we will leave nothing for the people of the future to burn to stave off future ice ages and prevent the crushing devastation of migrating ice sheets.”
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Although the eastern cougar (a.ka. puma, panther, catamount) has been on the endangered species list since 1973, its existence has long been questioned (especially here in the Adirondacks). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a formal review of the available information and, in a report issued today, concludes the eastern cougar is extinct and recommends the subspecies be removed from the endangered species list.
New York State paid its last bounty on a mountain lion killed in Hamilton County in 1894; just over 150 state and county mountain lion bounties were paid between 1860 and 1894. Before he died in 1849, professional hunter Thomas Meacham is believed to have killed 77 mountain lions. Despite their being already nearly extinct, New York State established a mountain lion bounty in 1871 and over the next eleven years 46 mountain loin bounties were claimed. Adirondack mountain lion sightings reported to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation increased markedly in about 1980, jumping from 5 in the 1960s and 9 in the 1970s, to 44 in the 1980s. Some 90 sightings were reported in the 1990s. » Continue Reading.
Yesterday I visited an old graphite mine in Hague that once harbored the largest population of wintering bats in the state. Back in 2000, state scientists estimated that the old mine contained 185,000 bats. Last winter, they found only a few thousand.
To the average Joe, an Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is not a terribly impressive animal. It is a smallish, brownish bat, often mistaken for a little brown bat (another less-than-dazzling member of the clan). A scientist in the know, however, can detect small differences to tell these species apart, such as the length of the toe hairs (I kid you not), the length of the ears, the color of the snout, the amount of shine to the fur, or the presence of a keel on the calcar (a spur of cartilage that gives some rigidity to the trailing edge of the wing membrane near the bat’s foot). » Continue Reading.
“So, Pat,” I said, “got any burning natural history questions you’d like answered?” She stared at me. “What?” “I need a topic for an up-coming article and I’m fresh out of ideas.” She pondered for a while and then asked “what are those animals at the Buffalo Farm?”
“Ah!” I said. “Those would be bison, scientific name Bison bison bison, commonly called buffalo by most people because they don’t know they are actually bison. The buffalo,” I continued, “is actually a wholly different animal, native to Africa and parts of Asia, like the water buffalo (Asia), and the Cape buffalo (Africa).”
“Then why do they call bison buffalo?” Good question. Not too many years ago, in geologic time, New York used to be home to one of the largest land mammals to call North America home, the eastern wood bison (Bison bison pennsylvanicus). [Note: some authorities claim that this is an invalid subspecies.] According to the literature, these animals were larger than the plains bison of Western fame, with darker, almost black, fur (wool? hair?), grizzled around the eyes and nose, and an almost negligible hump over the shoulders. The last wild herd was slaughtered over 200 years ago down in Pennsylvania (winter 1799-1800), and the last individuals were wiped out in West Virginia twenty-five years later. Not too long after that the plains bison would be headed down the same path (although, fortunately their total annihilation was prevented).
Another subspecies of wood bison, Bison bison athabasca, called western Canada home. This animal is also larger than the plains bison, and its large hump rises forward of the front legs, making it easily distinguishable from its plains cousin, whose hump rises above the front legs. Probably because western Canada was settled more slowly than the American west, these wood bison held out longer. 1900 is usually given as the date by which they were considered to be extremely rare, but, like the plains bison, they avoided extinction. Today about 3000 still roam wild.
So, how does this tie in to the Adirondacks? Well, we do have that bison farm. Some folks have speculated that the bison on this farm are hybrids, a bison-beef combo known as a beefalo. According to their website, however, these animals are 100% plains bison – the same animals (well, the same species) that Buffalo Bill would’ve eyeballed when he roamed the plains. Bison meat is really quite good – it has a fine flavor and is very lean. The animals, however, apparently have a less-than-amenable disposition.
Is it possible that the eastern wood bison, which populated New York and points south (as far south as Georgia), made its way up to the Adirondacks? I posed this question to a friend of mine who has a fondness for extinct megafauna. He speculates that an Adirondack presence was probably unlikely since these animals were grazers, and let’s face it, until the last hundred years or so, there wasn’t a whole lot of open space for grazing in these here mountains. The rugged terrain and dense forests, not to mention all the wetlands, would probably have been a great deterrent to these mighty animals.
Still, it is fun to speculate on “what might have been” back when the glaciers started to retreat. All sorts of giant mammals roamed North America: giant ground sloths, the stag-moose (or elk-moose), mastodons, woolly mammoths. Then there were the carnivores, like the dire wolf – the name alone almost makes one shudder. Might any of these wondrous animals have tromped the trails to our backcountry lakes and ponds? Maybe not, but just because we’ve found no bones, doesn’t mean that one or two didn’t pass this way.
Now, as to why bison are called buffalo, here’s what I found out. Going back linguistically to the Greek, we have “bison,” which referred to a large, ox-like animal. The French called oxen “les boeuf”. It seems that French fur trappers called the animals they found here “les boeuf” because they reminded them of they oxen back home, and, as will happen with languages, the word stuck and was corrupted, eventually becoming “buffalo.”
Finally, just in case there are some folks out there who will insist that a bison by any other name will still smell the same, here are some buffalo vs. bison factoids:
Buffalo: 13 pairs of ribs; no hump Bison: 14 pairs of ribs; big ol’ hump at the shoulders
Also, bison are considered to be more like mountain goats, muskoxen, and big horn sheep than buffalo, although all are in the same family, Bovidae. And, just for the record, there is a European bison, too, which is smaller than the American version, and is mostly found today in Poland, although there are some small herds living in neighboring countries.
In the meantime, there are some modern day bison that call the Adirondacks home, and they can be found not too far from Newcomb: down the Blue Ridge Road, just off exit 29 from the Northway in North Hudson. Because these are wild animals (don’t let the word “farm” deceive you), visitors cannot get up close to them (a wise precaution – bison can be snarky animals). But, there is a great viewing platform right there where one can gaze down into the pastures and almost picture what it might have been like 500 years ago…just outside the Park.
We enter the second round of the 2010 Adirondack Bracket with a few upsets to report. Here are the headlines: Bad News for Nuisance Species: Watermilfoil, spiny waterflea, rock snot, Realtors, skunks and porcupines all went down to defeat. Good News for Threatened Species: Bicknell’s thrush, timber rattlesnakes, and proposed APA boathouse regulations prevailed (though tender rattlesnake root, Prenanthes Boottii—correct spelling—proved no match for the heavier boots of Black Brook). » Continue Reading.
In the 1840s, a new fad was sweeping the British Isles: Pteridomania, the fern craze. People of all ages and social groups were flocking to forests and fens to gather ferns as herbarium specimens. Special glass boxes, known as Wardian cases and looking a lot like little greenhouses, were built to provide perfect microhabitats for these sometimes fussy plants. The desire for all things ferny took over home décor: garden benches, planting pots, wood carvings, stencils, wallpaper, plant stands, fabrics – you name it, someone one decorated it with a fern. And while this craze lasted for about fifty years, it somehow never made it to the states. Sure, a few fern-o-philes turned up on this side of the pond, and 1895 even saw the founding of the American Fern Society (which is still active today). For the most part, however, the natural history obsessions of this country seem to have turned towards wildflowers, birds and mushrooms.
As a generalist type of naturalist, I’ve always been kind of fond of ferns. They have a delicate wispiness about them that I find rather appealing. Well, at least some do. Some ferns are rather sturdy-looking, like sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis). Others, like the non-native Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum), sport beautiful two- or three-colored fronds. Northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) breaks the rules by growing in an almost circular fashion. Some ferns seem to be able to grow just about anywhere and are thus quite popular in gardens (ostrich ferns – Matteuccia struthiopteris), while others are pretty reclusive, their tastes limiting them to limestone cliffs (slender cliffbrake – Cryptogramma stelleri – found only at Ausable Chasm).
Any walk through the Adirondacks is bound to turn up at least a couple ferns. In just about any wetland area you are likely to find two very common ferns: royal (Osmunda regalis), and cinnamon (Osmunda cinnamomea). And while these two really do look nothing alike, for some reason I’ve developed a mental block with them, causing me to cross-identify them most of the time. Royal fern is very open and airy, with wide-spaced leaflets, which look a lot like the leaflets of the locust tree. Cinnamon fern, on the other hand, is typically ferny in appearance, but its fertile fronds are a wonderful cinnamon color (hence the name).
Hay-scented ferns (Dennestaedtia punctilobula) have been accused of being invasive, using chemicals (allelopathy) to prevent the regeneration of other forest plants (namely trees that are valuable in the timber market). And it is true that in areas where hay-scented fern occurs, it often grows in massive solidarity with itself. I read a couple studies, however, that stated that it wasn’t allelopathy that was preventing forest regeneration, rather it was simply the aggressive nature of the plant. When a bit of forest has been opened up, the extra light reaching the ground is a godsend to the ferns. They start to grow like crazy. If deer or other herbivores come in and browse the area (deer tend to not like hay-scented ferns; they’ll browse down the other understory vegetation), the ferns send out new growing bits to fill the voids, thus increasing their reach. In the end, it is the shade caused by the dense growth of ferns that prevents the regeneration of tree seedlings, not allelopathy.
A fern that delights me to no end is blublet fern (Cystopteris bulbifera). This nifty fern (see photo above) develops little green ball-like growths on the backs of the leaves. When mature, these balls drop from the leaves and if they land in a favorable location, they produce a new fern. Ferns in general reproduce via spores, much like mushrooms, mosses and lycopodiums. Bulblet fern also produces spores, but it goes above and beyond in its reproductive duty with the additional boost is gets from its bulblets.
A couple years ago I was thrilled to find rattlesnake fern (Botrychium virginianum) along one of our trails. The three triangular-shaped leaves circle the stem, and from their center rises the fertile frond, which the namer apparently thought resembled the tail-end of certain venomous serpents.
We have a giant glacial boulder on the property that looks a lot like a huge human head, and on its top, like a green buzzcut, is a healthy population of common polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum). When I stop to talk about this fern, I love to tell visitors that at one point in time people believed that if they carried polypody spores in their pockets they would be rendered invisible. Of course, this only applied to polypody of oak, and this was during the Middle Ages in Europe, when people believed all sorts of odd things about plants. Needless to say, it doesn’t work with our common polypody.
Within New York State, all ferns but three are protected by law. Those three are sensitive, bracken (Pteridium aquilinium) and hay-scented. With these exceptions, it is illegal to collect our native ferns, not that there is probably too much worry about this. I can’t see Pteridomania sweeping the state any time soon. Even so, for those of us who are plant enthusiasts, we should limit our collecting to specimens caught on camera, or those purchased from legitimate nurseries.
Probably because ferns are not terribly popular in the ID department, there are only a handful of useful fern ID books out there. Some were written by scientists for scientists, but there are a couple pocket-type guides that make fern identification fairly easy, such as the Fern Finder by Ann and Barbara Hallowell. If you think you might like to try your hand a learning your ferns, pick up one of these guides. You won’t be disappointed.
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