Creature Features (50)
The State of Bats: Grim news for our winged mammals
North America’s first State of the Bats report gives a sobering outlook for the winged mammals. According to the North American Bat Conservation Alliance report:
- More than half of the 154 known bat species on the continent could face severe population declines over the next 15 years.
- During that time, up to 82 percent of bat species will be negatively affected by climate change, especially extreme drought and temperatures.
- The scope and severity of threats — including habitat loss, wind turbines and the deadly bat disease white-nose syndrome — are increasing.
The news isn’t all bad. The report outlines ways to help and emphasizes the wide-ranging benefits of bats, from improving crop yields to eating insect pests. It also highlights the promise of focused, collaborative conservation efforts.
Case in point, the lesser long-nosed bat was once endangered in Mexico and the U.S. But thanks to international efforts, it is now delisted and recovered in both countries.
The North American Bat Conservation Alliance is another example. The coalition involving the U.S., Mexico and Canada created the 2023 State of the Bats report with Bat Conservation International and others.
“Bats face many challenges and the conservation landscape is increasingly complex,” said Dr. Jeremy Coleman, alliance co-chair and white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “While there is more to do, the level of international collaboration we have achieved for bat conservation in North America is a bright spot and a cause for optimism going forward.”
— Georgia Department of Natural Resources
In the existential battle between Smokies swine and salamanders, the hogs have the upper handWritten by Ben Pounds
Researchers quantify the effects of feral hogs on Smokies salamander populations
GATLINBURG — A recent study investigating the relationship between Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s beloved salamanders and its hated hogs concluded that the rooting of feral pigs decreases the abundance and diversity of Smokies salamanders.
Alexander Funk of Eastern Kentucky University said the effects of feral hogs on salamanders from the family plethodontidae were mixed and varied depending on the season.
Generally, across seasons and especially in the summer, the hogs’ foraging seemed to hurt salamander abundance and diversity. Funk is a student under Eastern Kentucky University’s Director for the Division of Natural Areas Stephen Richter but had help from Benjamin Fitzpatrick of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The study involved Funk going out late at night on Balsam Mountain in the spring, summer and fall of 2022.
From soil to sky: Will the misty microclimates of the Smokies prevail in a warming world?Written by Élan Young
Foundational ecology moves from before times to nowadays in the Smokies
GATLINBURG — In the Middle Ages, salamanders were thought to come from fire. A log set on the hearth would send them scurrying out of the rotten wood, startling those who had gathered around for warmth. We now know that salamanders, of course, come from water — even the European fire salamander with its flame-like yellow markings.
Over the last 20 years of getting my boots soggy in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I know these creatures to thrive in the clean, shallow streams and trickles of this temperate rainforest, where annual precipitation is higher than anywhere in the U.S. save for the Pacific Northwest.
One way to become acquainted with the park is through the water that veins through the hills and is transmuted into vapor that floats on the air in misty silence. After a rain, you can slake your thirst from the pools formed in the creases of broad rhododendron leaves. Sit by a shallow, fishless stream for long enough and you might spot the quick movement of a salamander tail, maybe a flash of orange or brown, or notice a tiny black amphibian face peeking out from behind a smooth stone in the creek.
- jordan stark
- european fire salamander
- southern appalachian soil monitoring
- great smoky mountains national park
- soil monitoring in smokies
- smokies soil study
- elan young
- jason fridley clemson
- microscale ecology
- rh whittaker
- smoky mountain salamander
- salamander biodiversity
- clemson department of biological sciences
‘Egregious’ abuse of power: Judge slams TWRA falcon seizure and owner’s prosecutionWritten by Anita Wadhwani
This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.
NASHVILLE — Holly Lamar, a master falconer and owner of a Nashville “bird experience” business, has a story to tell about each one of her 13 captive-bred birds of prey.
The story behind Faith, a 7-year-old peregrine falcon, is tied to a particularly rough patch for Lamar, who experienced success as a Grammy-nominated songwriter, then lost nearly everything. The 20-day-old chick arrived just after Lamar fell victim to a financial scam that wiped out earnings from her music career.
She picked the name “Faith” to symbolize the feelings of trust she was trying to regain in her life — and as a nod to Faith Hill, the country singer who recorded “Breathe,” a 1999 megahit co-written by Lamar.
Faith, the falcon, is now dead — one of 13 falcons seized by officers with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in a sweeping August search of Lamar’s home and property that a Nashville judge later characterized as “egregious,” an “abuse of the law” and a violation of Lamar’s constitutional rights.
Beyond festivals, sandhill cranes pass through Southeast in increasing numbers
BIRCHWOOD — Every year in mid-January, a few thousand people gather here for The Sandhill Crane Festival because the cranes have returned. The community center at Birchwood is filled with vendors selling wildlife art or promoting conservation. The nearby Cherokee Removal Memorial at Blythe Ferry offers a chance to celebrate Cherokee culture and learn the story of indigenous people who were taken from their homes and sent on a long journey to Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, there are opportunities to see and appreciate these amazing birds through February in East Tennessee and beyond.
At least 20,000 cranes gather or pass through Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, having come from their nesting grounds in southern Canada and the upper Midwest to winter here in the American South. Many spend the winter there, but some will continue southward to Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the Gulf Coast.
As yellow cardinals proliferate, are we watching evolution unfold in real time?
HARRIMAN — During the pandemic, when isolating at home became a necessity, birdwatching and bird feeders soared in popularity. Watching our avian friends come and go is entertaining, and sometimes quite surprising.
When it comes to songbirds, especially at this time of year, the northern cardinal is perhaps the most recognized and beloved.
It is the state bird of no less than seven states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
It’s also the nickname of more sports teams than any other icon. There are the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball, and the Arizona Cardinals in professional football. In the NCAA, there are the Louisville Cardinals and 17 other colleges that sport the red mascot, as well as a gaggle of high school teams across the country.
Since we were children, we have all known what a male northern cardinal looks like. He’s bright red. Right? Yes, unless he’s bright yellow!
Finding a golden treasure usually requires a long arduous quest through terra incognito.
UT prof: Dung beetle mothers protect their offspring from a warming world by digging deeperWritten by Kimberly S. Sheldon
Research from Kimberly Sheldon at the University of Tennessee suggests insect behavior is adjusting for climate change
If the TV series “Dirty Jobs” covered animals as well as humans, it would probably start with dung beetles. These hardworking critters are among the insect world’s most important recyclers. They eat and bury manure from many other species, recycling nutrients and improving soil as they go.
Dung beetles are found on every continent except Antarctica, in forests, grasslands, prairies and deserts. And now, like many other species, they are coping with the effects of climate change.
I am an ecologist who has spent nearly 20 years studying dung beetles. My research spans tropical and temperate ecosystems, and focuses on how these beneficial animals respond to temperature changes.
- dung beetle
- kimberly sheldon ut
- how will insect adjust to climate change
- climate change insect
- the conversation
- body temperature
- nesting behavior
- climate change
- nutrient cycling
- greenhouse gas emission
- brood ball
- bullheaded dung beetle
- onthophagus taurus
- offspring survival
- temperature variability
- rainbow scarab
- phanaeus vindex
- soil amelioration
- soil temperture profile
- reproductive success
- global warming
Back to the bog: Zoo Knoxville rears and releases rare bog turtles to stop slide toward extinctionWritten by Ben Pounds
Bog turtles raised for resurrection at Zoo Knoxville’s ARC
KNOXVILLE — Zoo visitors might overlook the collection of critters behind a small, unremarkable window. But amid the showier gila monster, reticulated python, king cobra and Cuban crocodiles, there’s a regional species on the brink of extinction that’s worth a closer look.
Behind the glass, tiny juvenile bog turtles poke their heads out from underneath sphagnum moss at Zoo Knoxville’s Clayton Family Amphibian Reptile Conservatory (ARC).They are mostly brown, with splashes of gold on their heads. When they mature, they will move to the Bern Tryon Turtle Propagation Bog just outside. Eventually, the zoo will release the heartiest of the bunch. This process, called head-starting, involves raising the turtles from eggs and feeding them well in captivity so they’ll be bigger and have a better chance to survive after returning to the wild.
UT Arboretum event reminds us to love and care for the butterflies among us
OAK RIDGE — With an orange flutter, a cluster of painted lady butterflies took to the sky.
It was a timed release, coming toward the end of the seventh annual University of Tennessee Arboretum’s Butterfly Festival last month.
Earlier, other live painted lady butterflies were available to watch in mesh tents. Visitors got a chance to touch Madagascar hissing cockroaches and look at preserved insect collections with butterflies and other creatures from around the world. Children ran around the event with butterfly face paint, butterfly masks and butterfly wings. But the event was also a chance to buy butterfly-friendly plants and learn about butterflies and their relationships with other species.
- university of tennessee arboretum
- butterfly festival
- pollinator plant
- tennessee naturscapes
- michelle campanis
- stephen lynn bales
- georgeann eubanks
- family garden as butterfly habitat
- jerome grant
- migratory butterfly
- cosmopolitan butterfly
- butterfly garden
- painted lady butterfly
- zebra swallow butterfly
- tennessee state butterfly
Foreign freshwater jellyfish have been swimming among us since the 1930sWritten by Stephen Lyn Bales
Freshwater jellyfish: Here one year, gone the next.
KNOXVILLE — Paddling along the still water of Mead’s Quarry Lake you notice the air bubbles created by your oars. They are all around your canoe near the surface.
It’s a hot early September afternoon and the nearly transparent bubbles seem to take on a life of their own. You slow to watch and yes, they undulate, rising and falling in the pristine water of the abandoned marble quarry.
Air bubbles do not undulate!
Taking a clear plastic cup, you lean over the gunwale and scoop up one of the penny-sized bubbles to get a closer look.
Tentacles? Air bubbles do not have tentacles. What you are looking at is a freshwater jellyfish and the heat of late summer is its mating season. It’s a blossom of jellyfish as hundreds gather together near the water’s surface. They are commonly known as peach blossom jellyfish.
Citizen scientists are taking stock in Smokies, and the inventory keeps increasingWritten by Thomas Fraser
This story was provided by Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Next demonstration on Thursday, Oct. 20
GATLINBURG — Great Smoky Mountains National Park is celebrating the success of a community science project led by nonprofit partner Discover Life in America (DLiA) called Smokies Most Wanted. The initiative encourages visitors to record life they find in the park through the iNaturalist nature app. DLiA and the park use these data points to map species range, track exotic species, and even discover new kinds of life in the park.
“iNaturalist usage in the Smokies has skyrocketed from just four users in 2011, to 3,800 in 2020, to now more than 7,100 users,” said Will Kuhn, DLIA’s director of science and research.
In August, the project reached a milestone, surpassing 100,000 records of insects, plants, fungi, and other Smokies life submitted through the app. Among them are 92 new species not previously seen in the park.
Smokies researchers make a formal acquaintance with a familiar salamander
Great news from the Smokies via Instagram!
The “salamander capital of the world” just gained a new member! Meet our 31st species: the Cherokee black-bellied salamander, or Desmognathus gvnigeusgwotli. Its species name means “black belly” in the Cherokee language. Scientists used genetics to find out that it is different from the other black-bellied salamander in the park.
Monarch butterflies, an ephemeral but regular glimpse of beauty, are fluttering toward extinctionWritten by Stephen Lyn Bales
Dramatic monarch declines mean the bell tolls for we
KNOXVILLE — Monarch butterflies are ephemeral by nature. The orange and black dalliances that flitter through our lives, our yards, and our countryside like motes of dust are here one minute and gone the next. We pause for a few seconds to watch the “flutter-bys” and then move on.
For about all of the Lepidopteran family, where they come from, where they go, their raison d'être, we don’t ask. They are winged wisps that pass through our busy lives. But that is not true with this orange and black butterfly, named to honor King William III of England, the Prince of Orange. But two people did ask.
Norah and Fred Urquhart lived in Southern Canada and in the late 1930s they noticed that the monarch butterflies seemed to all be fluttering south this time of the year. Could they possibly be migrating and if so, where did they go? The notion that a butterfly might migrate south for the winter seemed hard to fathom. Yes, broad-winged hawks migrate. But a flimsy butterfly?
- monarch butterfly
- are monarchs endangered?
- stephen lyn bales
- stephen bales
- ijams nature center
- catalina aguado
- norah and fred urquhart
- flight of the butterflies
- xerces society
- great smoky mountains institute at tremont
- danaus plexippus ssp plexippus
- endangered species
- international union for conservation of nature
- habitat loss
- climate change
At Gray Fossil Site, paleontologists let the bone-crushing dog outWritten by East Tennessee State University
Discovery of ancient ambush predator is one of few large carnivores found at East Tennessee paleontological site
JOHNSON CITY — Overseen by the Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology at East Tennessee State University, researchers have studied the Gray Fossil Site for over 20 years. They have identified many extinct animal and plant species of the Pliocene epoch that lived there some 5 million years ago. While large herbivores are well known from the site, large predators are relatively uncommon, so far including only alligators and scarce remains of at least one sabertooth cat.
Now, there’s a new predator on the scene.
A recent study published in the Journal of Paleontology describes a single right humerus (upper arm bone) of an animal named Borophagus, a member of an extinct group more commonly called bone-crushing dogs. The animal is so named for its powerful teeth and jaws. This is the first evidence of any animals in the dog family from the Gray Fossil Site.
The research was conducted by Emily Bōgner, a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, and alumnus of ETSU’s paleontology master’s program, and Dr. Joshua Samuels, associate professor in the ETSU Department of Geosciences and curator at the Gray Fossil Site and Museum.