The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Creature Features (23)

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Bales Freshwater jellyfish

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

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1 smokies most wanted infographic credit Emma Oxford GSMA

This story was provided by Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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

black bellied salamanderJonathan Cox

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.

This salamander is common throughout the park and is known for its extremely dark belly and hunting along the banks of streams. If you see a large, dark-bodied salamander with a flattened tail resting on a river rock or poking its head out of a streamside hole, it’s likely the Cherokee black-bellied!

Remember to always appreciate salamanders and other wildlife from afar. Many of our salamanders breathe through their skin. The oils on our hands can stress them out, disrupt their breathing or even spread infections. Please help us keep our salamanders slimy and avoid picking them up!

— Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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 Bales Monarch on coneflowerA monarch butterfly, recently declared endangered despite decades of conservation, is seen atop a coneflower. 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?

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Gray fossil site bone crushing dogIllustration of the Gray Fossil Site bone-crushing dog, recently determined to have been active in the ancient Southern Appalachians. Mauricio Anton via ETSU

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.  

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Charles Henry Turner zoologistZoologist Charles Henry Turner was the first scientist to prove certain insects could remember, learn and feel. Charles I. Abramson via The Conversation

Charles Henry Turner concluded that bees can perceive time and develop new feeding habits in response 

This story was originally published by The Conversation. Edward D. Melillo is a professor of history and environmental studies at Amherst College.

On a crisp autumn morning in 1908, an elegantly dressed African American man strode back and forth among the pin oaks, magnolias and silver maples of O’Fallon Park in St. Louis, Missouri. After placing a dozen dishes filled with strawberry jam atop several picnic tables, biologist Charles Henry Turner retreated to a nearby bench, notebook and pencil at the ready.

Following a midmorning break for tea and toast (topped with strawberry jam, of course), Turner returned to his outdoor experiment. At noon and again at dusk, he placed jam-filled dishes on the park tables. As he discovered, honeybees (Apis mellifera) were reliable breakfast, lunch and dinner visitors to the sugary buffet. After a few days, Turner stopped offering jam at midday and sunset, and presented the treats only at dawn. Initially, the bees continued appearing at all three times. Soon, however, they changed their arrival patterns, visiting the picnic tables only in the mornings.

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6-minute video about what to do if you see a black bear

Smokies officials say euthanized bear was overweight and seeking human food

GATLINBURG — Great Smoky Mountains National Park wildlife biologists and park rangers responded to Elkmont Campground on Sunday (June 12) after a peculiarly large black bear injured a toddler and her mother sleeping in a tent.

Wildlife biologists captured the responsible bear, and it was euthanized Monday, June 13, according to a news release from the park service.

“The bear weighed approximately 350 pounds, which is not standard for this time of year, suggesting the bear had previous and likely consistent access to non-natural food sources,” said Lisa McInnis, resource management chief.

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284114AC 1DD8 B71C 0722E2E4CA635D1FOriginalA radio-collared bull elk is seen at rest in Cataloochee Valley.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Please don’t feed or get attacked by the animals

This story was originally published by The Conversation.

Millions of Americans enjoy observing and photographing wildlife near their homes or on trips. But when people get too close to wild animals, they risk serious injury or even death. It happens regularly, despite the threat of jail time and thousands of dollars in fines.

These four articles from The Conversation’s archive offer insights into how wild animals view humans and how our presence affects nearby animals and birds — plus a scientist’s perspective on what’s wrong with wildlife selfies. 

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carpenter bee penstemon lgA male carpenter bee takes a break from building its nest to get nourishing nectar from the base of a penstemon.  Juian Cowles/U.S. Forest Service

Please don’t wage chemical warfare on these busy bees

KNOXVILLE — Old George Harvey lived two houses upstream from where I grew up on Baskins Creek in Gatlinburg. He had a strange obsession. Using empty jars, Old George would catch bees he found on the flowers and gardens around his house, screw on the lid and line the jars up on a ledge inside his screened-in porch. He’d then watch the bees die.

We kids thought it was odd and cruel. We’d plot slipping into his porch and freeing all the bees like Elliot freed the frogs from the classroom in the movie “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.”

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This bald eagle was shot but successfully rehabbed at Memphis Zoo

STEWART COUNTY  April 8, 2022  Return to the wild!

Published in Creature Features
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