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Category — Invertebrates

I left my heart in Tucson

I recently had the privilege of traveling to Tucson, Arizona to attend the Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference (IECC). The IECC is an annual gathering of professionals dedicated to the understanding and preservation of invertebrates. The IECC combines traditional conference presentations with excursions into the field to look for invertebrates. We were based at a swank yet surprisingly affordable resort located in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains that turned out to be a great place to observe wildlife.

Desert Blonde Tarantula

Desert Blonde Tarantula

On early morning walks I encountered Swallowtail Butterflies that congregated on the resort’s watered lawn to drink, Gambel’s Quail and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. On walks before bed I encountered Desert Blonde Tarantulas, Giant Mesquite Bugs and numerous species of lizards. Sadly, I missed the Gila Monsters and Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes that were nocturnal visitors to the resort during my stay.

 

Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro Cactus

Field days were scheduled to give conference attendees the opportunity to explore.  I traveled into Saguaro National Park, stronghold of the legendary Saguaro Cactus. Found only in the Sonoran Desert these giants can exceed 40 feet in height and live upwards of 200 years. Surrounded by Saguaros and feeling the warm desert breeze I understood why so many have fled the eastern United States for Arizona.

 

Patagonian Woodland

Patagonian Woodland

Heading south to the town of Patagonia we left the desert behind and entered a woodland realm dominated by rocky outcroppings, Harvester ants and free-range cattle. So common were cattle I became less concerned about stepping on a rattlesnake and more concerned about stepping on a cow-patty. I was supposed to be assisting my colleagues in the excavation of ant nests but it’s tough to work a shovel with a camera in one hand and Pleasing Fungus Beetles in the other.

Pleasing Fungus Beetles

My first time attending the IECC was everything I could have hoped for and more. I met colleagues in person I’dpreviously known only by emails and phone calls. I visited one of the world’s most amazing ecosystems and saw incredible wildlife. I found genuine inspiration in my colleagues and in the Sonoran. Most importantly, I got to hold a baby Horned Lizard.

 

Baby Horned Lizard

Baby Horned Lizard

August 23, 2013   1 Comment

Beetle Mania!

Here at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden we are gearing up for our first ever American burying beetle (ABB) reintroduction! Over the past year my wonderful volunteers, coworkers and I have raised an army of these federally endangered beauties to release at the nearby Fernald Preserve. The date is set, and the beetles are ready to go. On the 13th of May we will set free over 200 ABBs!

Each container holds an individual beetle ready for release.

American Burying Beetle rearing room. Each container holds an individual beetle ready for reintroduction.

It is wonderfully poetic that an endangered species is to be released at such a rehabilitated location. The Fernald Preserve was born through environmental remediation. It is the product of a super fund ($4.4 billion) clean-up, managed by the US Department of Energy and opened in 2006. It was formerly the Feed Materials Production Center, which ceased operations in 1989. Fernald is now home to gorgeous upland and riparian forests, prairies, savannahs, and wetlands. It now provides habitats for over 200 species of birds, 30 species of mammals, 28 species of reptiles and amphibians, 19 species of fish and immeasurable numbers of invertebrates.

Fernald Preserve near the reintroduction location.

Fernald Preserve near the reintroduction location.

As I talked about in my previous blog, ABBs have a strange but important role in our environment. Each pair of beetles released will be placed in the ground with some carrion upon which they will raise their larvae. I’ll return to Fernald two weeks after the release to check on the breeding success. Two months later hundreds of brand new wild-born ABBs will emerge from the ground ready to play their part in the ecosystem as decomposers.

May 9, 2013   No Comments

American Burying Beetles

The American burying beetle (ABB) was listed as a federally endangered species in 1989. It was once found across 35 different states and 3 provinces, but is now only known to occur in just 10% of that range. The precise reason for the beetles’ decline is unknown. It is likely a concoction of changes in the past century that has ultimately led to such low wild populations. Such things as habitat fragmentation, habitat destruction, pesticide use, light pollution, increases in populations of scavengers, and even the extinction of the passenger pigeon have all contributed in some way to the beetle’s current status.

American Burying Beetles preparing carrion.

The ABB belongs to a family of beetles called Silphidae. The ABB and other silphids rely upon the carcasses of vertebrates to thrive and reproduce. The ABB requires carrion around the size of a rat or pigeon to reproduce. An ABB can “smell” a carcass from up to two miles away! Once a male and female have fought off other invertebrate competitors they will literally bury the carcass overnight. Amazingly, these beetles can handle carcasses up to 200 hundred times their size in a matter of hours. [Read more →]

February 8, 2013   No Comments