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Category — Invertebrates

There’s Something Abuzz at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Guest blogger: Cole Soldo, Sustainability Intern

The Cincinnati Zoo is a haven for innovative techniques in conservation, education and research, advocating for and performing wildlife conservation in all corners of the globe. Whether it is strategically breeding red pandas to develop a self-sustaining captive population or facilitating the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sloths in Costa Rica, we support conservation efforts in areas where wildlife needs our help. We do tremendous and impactful conservation work throughout the world, yet there’s one area where we could have even greater impact. Home.

One night on the way home from work, I listened to Zoo Director, Thane Maynard, on his 90-Second Naturalist radio program. He was discussing the environmental impacts of logging in Malaysia. Maynard was struck with grief and helplessness as he realized that, despite wanting to help improve the environmental situation in that part of the world, it simply wasn’t feasible for him to do so.

So he and Zoo staff got to thinking…how could they help improve the world right here in Cincinnati, Ohio? What could they do to address a local issue and have an initiative readily accessible for residents in the community?

The answer lay in pollinators, more specifically, creating refuges for local pollinators such as bees, butterflies, bats, hummingbirds and an assortment of other insects that feed on flower nectar and carry pollen from plant to plant.

Honeybees (Photo: JP Goguen)

Honeybees (Photo: JP Goguen)

Why are pollinators important? Well, pollinators such as honeybees contribute to one out of every three bites of food we take! Pollination leads to the production of fruits that we eat and seeds that will create more plants. They are extremely important, but often they are overlooked and underappreciated. And on top of that, they’re also in trouble.

You may or may not be familiar with the woes plaguing our pollinators, but the truth is that, at least for bees all around the world, their populations are in critical decline. The rapid and detrimental decline of bee populations was first documented in 2006, and has come to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder, (CCD). CCD has been identified as a result of a possible combination of parasites, bacterial diseases, viruses, pesticide use, shrinking habitat and nutritional deficits. Recent years have seen losses of an average of 33% of colonies.

Sounds disheartening, complex and out of control, right? Well, the answer to that is…sort of. But the last three reasons mentioned for CCD? We can do something about those, and, in fact, the Zoo has been working hard to combat these issues and give our winged friends some help.

Within the last month, Zoo staff, folks from the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District and eager volunteers helped establish 13 honey bee hives at the Zoo’s EcOhio Farm to help restore native pollinator populations. They also planted pollinator gardens to restore habitat and proper nutrients for the colonies.

Zoo staff build bee hive boxes

Zoo staff build bee hive boxes

ecohio farm logoThese hives are managed by Pollen Nation, a group of Zoo staff who have dedicated themselves to learning the way of the honeybee, so to speak. They are a collection of dedicated individuals who recognize the rapid loss of these valuable species and are moving ahead to do what they can to help preserve them.pollen nation logo

Pollen Nation education table

Pollen Nation education table

You can come learn about the value and importance of these incredible creatures during your next visit to the Zoo. Come to the Pollination Station near the World of the Insect. Here you can learn about the process of pollination, participate in discussions about which animals are considered pollinators and understand why pollination is important to both the ecosystem and to our food production! On Thursdays, stick around for our Bee Chats at 2 pm. Presenters discuss the beehives we have on Zoo grounds and talk about different conservation methods such as building mason bee houses and what to plant in your own pollinator gardens. Also, stop by the Go Green Garden for fun pollination-themed activities and games as well as participation in the nationwide citizen-science initiative, BeeSpotter!bee spotter

Get ready, Cincinnati! Let’s #BringBackTheBees!

June 13, 2016   2 Comments

American Burying Beetle Reintroduction

On May 24th The Cincinnati Zoo will be releasing over 100 pairs of American burying beetles (ABBs) at the nearby Fernald Nature preserve. These beetles were reared at the Cincinnati Zoo by insectarium staff, interns, volunteers and students. They are the offspring of wild collected beetles from Nebraska. The ABB was once found everywhere in the eastern United States but because of a handful of issues (habitat destruction, increased scavenger populations, etc.) they are now only found in a few counties in a few states. The Cincinnati Zoo has partnered with the US Fish & Wildlife service and the Fernald Nature Preserve to help bring this strange but important, endangered insect back to Ohio.

A Zoo Academy student helping to rear the endangered American Burying Beetle!

A Zoo Academy student helping to rear the endangered American Burying Beetle!

This is the 4th year of reintroductions held at Fernald. We are also planning a second release of about 50 pairs of ABBs in early July. After this year we will have placed over 600 adult ABBs at Fernald in an attempt to found a wild population. 

This is a brand new beetle raised at the Cincinnati Zoo

This is a brand new beetle raised at the Cincinnati Zoo

When we release the beetles we actually set them up to breed right away so that each pair of beetles can create up to 40 offspring. It’s called a burying beetle for a reason! These ABBs will locate small animal carcasses and bury them a foot deep overnight and then raise their young on the carcass. Check-ups and post release monitoring have shown us that the beetles are breeding and creating hundreds of larvae, but unfortunately we have yet to find any adult ABBs that have over-wintered on site at Fernald. That may sound dismal, but it is my opinion that they are just dispersing beyond our ability to survey for them. These beetles can fly up to 2 miles in one night! This year however we are holding two separate reintroductions to see if it will affect their over-wintering success and their dispersal rate. We also hope to partner with neighboring parks and wildlife areas to expand our survey efforts.

The rearing facility at the zoo. Each container houses a single beetle. Pink for girls and blue for boys.

The rearing facility at the zoo. Each container houses a single beetle. Pink for girls and blue for boys.

Join the Cincinnati Zoo on June 18th from 2pm-4pm at the Fernald Nature Preserve’s Visitor’s Center for a presentation about all things ABB! I’ll be bringing specimens and going over the animal’s natural history and the reintroduction efforts. We will also be hiking out to a pit-fall trap to see what we caught overnight with crossed fingers that there might be an American burying beetle waiting in the trap!

The release site at the Fernald Preserve

The release site at the Fernald Preserve

Click here to learn more about ABBs.

May 16, 2016   No Comments

Grow the Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators in Your Own Yard

After more than 25 years of trialing plants, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden knows which plants grow and look best in our region. We’ve narrowed down that list to the plants that most benefit pollinators to create the Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators Plant Series.

Working with local plant growers, we have introduced a Zoo-branded line of plants that are easy-to-grow, beautiful, and pollinator-friendly. Available for purchase at many independent local garden centers, a portion of the proceeds support the Botanical Gardens at the Zoo. Download the list of plants and participating retailers here: Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators.

3D 1quart Zoo's Best 11-23-15(4)

Why plant for pollinators?

Pollinators are beneficial

All of us enjoy the beauty that the many species of butterflies and moths bring to our lives, and we depend on honeybees to pollinate a huge proportion of our food crops. That is just a small part of what pollinators do. Thousands of species of native bees, wasps, and flies ensure reliable pollination throughout the ecosystem so that abundant crops of seeds regenerate wild areas and also provide seeds and fruits for birds and other wildlife to eat. Just as importantly, many pollinating insects also prey upon pest insect species, such as aphids and scale, which ensures a more balanced, healthier garden and ecosystem.

Pollination in progress! (Photo: DJJAM)

Pollination in progress! (Photo: DJJAM)

Pollinators are under pressure

Pollinator numbers are falling due to loss of habitat and other pressures. Your yard can provide valuable habitat to help support healthy populations of pollinators.

Make your yard a thriving oasis for pollinators!

  • Include Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators in your yard to attract and provide for pollinators.
  • Limit use of pesticides. Only spray when necessary, seek expert advice, and follow label instructions exactly if you do use them.
  • Provide sources of water, such as a birdbath or a water feature.
Pipeline swallowtail on Zinnia Zahara 'Fire'

Pipeline swallowtail on Zinnia Zahara ‘Fire’

Come see us at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden!

These plants and many others are part of every Zoo visitor’s experience. Come see us! Enjoy our gardens as well as the World of the Insect exhibit to learn more about these fascinating and beneficial animals.

World of the Insect (Photo: DJJAM)

World of the Insect (Photo: DJJAM)

April 13, 2016   2 Comments