Spice of Life: Nuts About Squirrels

Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger

In Louisiana, the mention of a squirrel would elicit conversations about how this rodent should be cooked. I personally prefer to adore ’em–not eat ’em. Today, we can learn about the fox squirrel. Recipes can be found elsewhere. 😉

“I see you!”

This creature’s bushy, red tail tells us why it might be called a fox squirrel. These plump critters are slower-moving than their kin, the cat squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), so it’s easier to get a good look at them (and see how cute they are). Some “foxes” are melanistic, that means their fur is black. That helps support it’s name S. niger (meaning “black”). Other colorful fox facts: they have pink bones! I found this out from Kelby Ouchley’s book Bayou-Diversity: Nature and People in the Louisiana Bayou Country–an excellent source of info about our area and its creatures–and entertaining too.

They pretend to hide their nuts to trick other squirrels, says Squirrel Gazer‘s blog. And they’ll stuff leaves and sticks and stuff in the hole, acting like it’s a nut. Those cunning fiends!

Lurkin’ and posin’

They warn other squirrels and forest creatures that an enemy is near with alarm calls. Enemies like owls, snakes, hawks or people. We’ve often heard them “hollerin'” up there in the trees…at us. We think it sounds like “Fraaaannnkkk!”.

If you should, by chance, meet a bunch of squirrels hanging out together, you would refer to them as a “scurry of squirrels”. You would note that they probably have “love” on their minds. Animal Diversity explains that other than gathering to plan future squirrels, to put it politely, they are otherwise not social animals.

As we learned in our Mammals workshop with LMN-NE (our blog has more info), foxes are called “stump-eared squirrels” and “chuckleheads”. I wonder what it did to get such a name?! We also learned that foxes have one less tooth and are typically found in areas where “cats” aren’t, and vice versa.

They’re helpful in the forest by planting nuts then forgetting about them. Later, young trees emerge. And maybe they will then be reminded where that nut was.

Fox squirrels: helpful, adorable, cunning and [apparently] delicious!

January 21st is Squirrel Appreciation Day. Mark your calendar.

A young’un peering at me from its den.

Spice of Life: The Rough with the Smooth

You, I and this snake know that most folks don’t take too kindly to the “no shoulders”. Ever since that incident in the garden of Eden way back when … Anyway, I’ve grown much fonder of snakes since I have proven by practice that they are not out to get us. I don’t want to blab on about that and try to convince anyone about anything. What I do want to do is to learn more about this guy and share what I’ve learned.

The rough green snake’s Latin name is Opheodrys aestivus. Thanks to the Illinois Natural History Survey, I’ve learned that Opheodrys comes from two Greek words: ophis meaning “serpent” or “reptile” and drymos, meaning “forest” or “woods”. Aestivus is Latin for “pertaining to summer”. So, we have a forest-dwelling reptile that you can see in the summer, according to its name. We did see one in a bush in 40 degree weather, so that’s a pretty generalized name.

O. aestivus has keeled scales (scales with ridges), similar to rattlesnakes. Could that be why it’s called rough? Certainly its behavior is very well-mannered and genteel, unless you happen to be a caterpillar, tree cricket or a small spider. Today’s rough green snake is nonvenomous, unlike the rattler. Also, unlike the rattler, this snake is primarily diurnal, which means it’s out mostly in the day time. It has big eyes compared to other snakes, and has round pupils. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is a characteristic of diurnal snakes.

Amphibians and Reptiles of Louisiana says these “non-biting snakes” primarily eat insects and spiders and tend to do so while they are off the ground in trees or bushes. When we have seen rough green snakes, they have been in bushes and near water, as the book mentions.

They’re quite difficult to spot sometimes when the whole world seems green in the height of summer. They do prefer to remain still and camouflaged. If you’ve read this far, maybe you’ll agree that they sound like they’re pretty harmless. I think they look sweet. I do hear (in my mind) all the lady-folk in my family disagreeing: passionately. So, if you’re of a similar mind or not, thanks for reading about the rough green snake and remember you have absolutely nothing to fear from it unless you’re a small arthropod!

Spice of Life: “Reed-Jumper of Louisiana”

Not a new species to report, but rather an old friend by another name.

Wikipedia explains that the Carolina wren’s Latin name is Thryothorus ludovicianus. Thryothorus, not a word said with a lisp, but a combination of two Greek words: thryon meaning “reed” or “rush” and thourus, ultimately meaning “to jump at” or “leap up”. Ludovicianus basically means “of Louisiana”. They do seem to be the busiest birds in the forest–always flittin’ and hoppin’ and tellin’ you like it is.

This Carolina wren is gathering nesting materials at Tensas River NWR.

Their favorite habitats are generally wooded areas near water–thus the need for “reed” in its name. But if you’ve got a little brown, plucky bird with a pert tail living on your porch, you will find another one of the wren’s preferred habitats.

Its call, which sounds like, “liberty, liberty, liberty” is distinctive. The trills and chirps coming from the hedges also tell us that we are in a wren’s territory. I’ve found that wrens will come quite close to us to check us out, and to remind us whose turf we’re on.

Well, wouldn’t you know it! I’m finally getting to learn one bird, and now I’m seeing that there are a slew of other wrens! All About Birds will indeed tell you all you want to know about birds. Here’s the link if you want to learn more about the members of the wren family.

This wren was singing its early morning song.

This wee blog is dedicated to my brave and devoted Daddy, Stephen Chason, who finished his race a year ago this Friday. The wren was his favorite bird, and their song will always make me smile.

Spice of Life: A Tail of Two Turkeys

Nature puts on a beautiful show.

Have you ever seen mushrooms like this growing on a log? They are pretty to look at and they provide a residence for a variety of tiny insects, mollusks and arachnids. If you wanted to find out what kind of fungi they are, you’d have to “flip” it, like a puppy or a kitten, and find out what it was.

Today I found some good samples to compare. Could they be Turkey Tails? Here’s the pics:

Trametes and Stereum topside

These are also colorful, fan-shaped fungi growing on logs, like our mystery shrooms above. Let’s flip it and see what we can see:

Rolies and shrooms love the same habitat

Oh look! Some roly-polies! Now I can’t stop seeing them! But seriously…

Trametes and Stereum underside

The top one has pores; see the little dots? The bottom one is smooth. That means that the top one could be a Turkey Tail and the bottom a False Turkey Tail. There are a bushel of fungi that look like the true Turkey Tail. If you’re keen to learn more about Turkey Tails or just mushrooms in general, check out the Mushroom Expert‘s site and take the Totally True Turkey Tail Test.

Spice of Life: Fun with Ferns

Everybody reacts to stress differently. And there are different kinds of stressors. If you’re a plant, stress might come in the form of drought. This plant’s reaction to drought stress, is to dry up. It’s not a simple process. It’s cellular and molecular. It is so complex and cool that it got to go up into space in ’97 on the Space Shuttle Discovery so that it could be observed in zero gravity. So, what kind of feel is it?

Resurrection Fern

It’s a resurrection fern. See the picture of the dried-out crispy-looking fern? It’s ok, don’t be sad! It just hasn’t rained in a while and the fern has gone dormant and is “dealing with life” in that way. Once it rains again, it will look like the picture of the happy-looking fern. It only takes a few hours and it’s all back up and ready to spread its spores in the wind and make new baby ferns, or just hang out and enjoy the scenery. Why does it live in the trees, though?

Normally, as an epiphyte, it hangs out on tree branches, oaks, pecans, cypresses and other types of trees. It doesn’t want anything from the tree, it just needs somewhere to live. It gets all of its nutrients and moisture from the air and rain. Epiphytes are “air plants”, from the Greek words epi and phyton and you get “on top of plant”. Spanish moss is an epiphyte too. But it’s a bromeliad and that’s a “plant” for another day.

Spice of Life: The Bug Club

These planthoppers are true bugs

Before, when the roly-polies rolled along and said, “hey, you know, we’re not actually bugs”, that got me thinking. What else isn’t a true bug?

I thought that if it was flying around me, crawling on me, or extracting my blood, it must be a bug. They’ve always been ‘bugs’ for as long as I’ve known. Where do you draw the line though? What about ants and caterpillars and spiders? Good grief! Not them too?! Well, it seems that if you want to be a member of the Bug Club (or the order Hemiptera to be precise), you’ll have to follow the rules:

Appearance Guidelines

  • have three pairs of segmented legs
  • have an exoskeleton
  • have a non-retractable probing mouth-part (called a proboscis)

Etiquette and Behavior

  • have an “incomplete metamorphosis”; skip the larva and pupa business and just be a nymph
  • participate in ecdysis (where they molt their exoskeleton) five times a year
  • put your wings over your body when you’re resting
  • use your scent gland when necessary

All bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. (The world gets weirder and more wonderful every day.) So whenever you meet a true bug, make sure that it’s following the rules. 😉

Maps From Space! Spatial Data Mapping With UN’s Biodiversity Lab.

“Here’s a map that I made with the help of NASA and the United Nations”, now that’s not something I expected that I would be saying. It all came about because I have been taking a class on spatial mapping from the UN’s Learning For Nature platform.

I have begun studying spatial data mapping using the UN’s very cool online Biodiversity Lab https://www.learningfornature.org/…/webinar-2-un-biodivers…/ . Anybody can use this online global information system to make maps. The system shows any of 115 global data layers of accumulated data provided by NASA satellites (thank you NASA and UN). These can be filtered to show particular information, some layers can be combined and set to highlight overlapping areas. The European Union have their own satellites (Sentinel 2) and in combination with NASA’s Landsats they can really increase the coverage. Yet another example of why international cooperation is essential.

This Biodiversity Lab is an important tool in the global efforts to achieve Aichi biodiversity targets (5, 11, 12, 14, 15). It enables teams from nations that wouldn’t normally have GIS data, to use it to help their strategic environment development planning and to show success (where it exists) as well as damage and risks to communities. (https://www.cbd.int/sp/targets/).

NASA’s Forest Integrity Project is providing developing nations with spatial data to support their commitments to the Convention on Biodiversity (https://www.cbd.int/) and UNFCCC (https://unfccc.int/) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/…/transformingourworld)

To naturalists the extent, maturity and connectivity of forests is of clear interest, so this tool is really important for studying life on land. Marine biologists can use it to study marine biodiversity. It doesn’t just help by showing problems, it provides evidence of working solutions too.

If you wanted you could make a global version of this map or just focus on a smaller land area like your home region. The system allows you to save your map as a png file for use in reports or online.


Spatial map of the Biodiversity Intactness Index of Louisiana (2016)

Spatial map of the Biodiversity Intactness Index of Louisiana (2016) courtesy of the UN’s online Biodiversity Lab and with grateful thanks to the technical wizards at NASA. “The Biodiversity Intactness Index shows the modeled average abundance of originally present species in a grid cell, as a percentage, relative to their abundance in an intact ecosystem. See Tim Newbold; Lawrence N Hudson; Andrew P Arnell; Sara Contu et al. 2016. The Dataset: Global map of the Biodiversity Intactness Index, from Newbold et al. (2016) Science. Download from UK Natural History Museum Data Portal. UK Natural History Museum Data Portal Data usage licence: CC BY 4.0

The Biodiversity Intactness Index (2016) of Northern England. "The Biodiversity Intactness Index shows the modeled average abundance of originally present species in a grid cell, as a percentage, relative to their abundance in an intact ecosystem. See Tim Newbold; Lawrence N Hudson; Andrew P Arnell; Sara Contu et al. 2016. The Dataset: Global map of the Biodiversity Intactness Index, from Newbold et al. (2016) Science. Download from UK Natural History Museum Data Portal. UK Natural History Museum Data Portal Data usage licence: CC BY 4.0

The Biodiversity Intactness Index (2016) of Northern England. “The Biodiversity Intactness Index shows the modeled average abundance of originally present species in a grid cell, as a percentage, relative to their abundance in an intact ecosystem. See Tim Newbold; Lawrence N Hudson; Andrew P Arnell; Sara Contu et al. 2016. The Dataset: Global map of the Biodiversity Intactness Index, from Newbold et al. (2016) Science. Download from UK Natural History Museum Data Portal. UK Natural History Museum Data Portal Data usage licence: CC BY 4.0


A Decade After Deepwater Horizon, Gulf Wildlife Still Impacted, BP’s Penalties Funding Largest Ecosystem Restoration Effort in U.S. History

NWF Press Release (NEW ORLEANS April 7, 2020) — The National Wildlife Federation report from Restore The Gulf website  summarizes the latest information available about ten wildlife species that were affected by the “ecosystem-level injury to the northern Gulf of Mexico.” as well as the restoration efforts underway — what constitutes the largest ecosystem restoration effort in U.S. History!

Click to view “10 Species, 10 Years Later: A Look at Gulf Restoration after the Deepwater Horizon Disaster” pdf

“For many wildlife (species) in the Gulf, the decade-old Deepwater Horizon oil spill is not over. We will probably never understand the full extent of the damage, but we do know that we have an obligation to restore the Gulf of Mexico and to ensure that a disaster on this scale never happens again,”  David Muth, Director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf of Mexico Restoration Program.


No laughing matter. Roughly 32% of the Gulf’s Laughing Gulls, Leucophaeus atrophila died from the spill and between 2010 and 2013 the population of Laughing Gulls in the bird counts declined about 60% according to the National Audubon Society.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster is a poster child for deadly oil spills. Eleven people lost their lives, and an estimated 200,000,000 gallons of crude oil were leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over an agonizing period of 87 days. The shores of the Gulf of Mexico have suffered hurricanes, systemic erosion of marshes from canals, deforestation of the protective chenieres, invasive Nutria rats and pollution. America’s lost 2000 square miles of Gulf coastal land over the past 90 years. Could this next decade herald better times for the Gulf coast, it’s wildlife and the people who depend upon a healthier environment?




Marine turtle

Kemp’s Ridley Sea turtle at Galvaston’s awesome Moody Gardens aquarium.

The report describes several species that are still struggling a decade after the Deepwater Horizon disaster:

  • The endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle’s once-promising recovery seems to have been halted by the disaster. Before 2009, Kemp’s Ridley nests were once increasing at a rate of 19 percent a year on average; in the past decade nesting has been erratic according to the NWF. It’s thought the spill killed about 20% of the nesting females.
  • “THE DEEPWATER HORIZON DISASTER was the most significant factor behind the largest and longest lasting recorded dolphin die-off in the Gulf of Mexico. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 1,000 dolphin carcasses were found in the oiled areas of the northern Gulf.” Coastal Bottlenose Dolphins in oiled areas are still sick and dying a decade later. Successful births remain less than a quarter of normal levels.
  • Corals in several locations — including some colonies that are more than six centuries old — still show signs of oil damage and are not expected to recover.
  • An estimated 17 percent of the Gulf’s tiny population of Bryde’s Whales died as a result of the oil spill, and scientists predict reproductive failures among exposed whales that survived. The population was listed under the Endangered Species Act after the disaster.

Jessica Bibza, policy specialist on the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf of Mexico restoration program says “It’s important to continue to study the impacts of the spill so we can understand how to better protect the Gulf in the future.”

“Many questions about the impacts of the oil spill on wildlife and habitats remain unanswered to this day.” Jessica Bibza

The legal battle resulting from the oil spill eventually resulted in the largest environmental damage settlement in U.S. history. As a result of the criminal and civil fines, more than $16 billion was made available for the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico. Roughly $12 billion remains and will be used through 2032 in the restoration of America’s frontline struggle against ecological collapse.


Brown Pelicans, Pelicanus occidentalis, nest on Louisiana’s Barrier Islands. C. Paxton image and copyright

The report describes restoration activities underway on behalf of Gulf wildlife, such as:

  • Restored barrier islands in Louisiana providing nesting habitat for brown pelicans and laughing gulls, as well as other coastal birds harmed by the oil spill such as terns and skimmers.
  • Endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are benefiting from a multi-faceted project, which includes boosting their food supply of Blue crab, funding for monitoring and protecting a 4,800 acre nesting beach in Texas, and enhancing capacity to find and assist injured or cold-stunned sea turtles Gulf-wide.
  • Oyster restoration efforts are underway across the Gulf of Mexico. Restored oyster reefs provide habitat for dozens of species of fish, Blue crabs and other wildlife, stabilize shorelines, and improve water quality.

“Right now, we have an unprecedented opportunity to meaningfully improve the health and resilience of the Gulf of Mexico,” Muth says. “Great projects are being put in the ground from Texas to Florida. We need to continue to focus on helping Gulf wildlife and their habitats recover from the oil spill while increasing their resilience to sea level rise and increasingly extreme storms. We also need to make sure that all restoration investments are based on sound science.”

The report also makes several policy recommendations to protect the Gulf into the future, such as improving drilling safety regulations and enforcement, fully implementing laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and transitioning to a clean energy economy.

The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly-changing world. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

View Acclaimed Artwork on Pollution Themes by Dr. Brandon Ballengee

Spice of Life: After the Rain

Yesterday we finally had some rain for the first time in about two weeks and were so thankful for it.  The creatures were happy it rained too and were out and about doing their thing.

This roly-poly was feeding on a robin’s egg.
A few minutes later, we noticed that they were eating our hen eggs in the compost.
These decomposers eat decomposers too! (Charles observed that fact. P.S. That’s a fungus they’re eating.)
This tiny spider, about half an inch long, was waiting for a meal in the fig tree. What it got was me disturbing it by me sticking my head through the lower part of its web trying to get a shot of its back! I hope it has recovered from its shock!
There were a lot of dragonflies on the wing today. This one was taking a break on a tallow leaf. Thanks to iNaturalist, I’ve learned that this Odonata species is called a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis–FYI longipennis means “long wings“)
There were plenty of Grapeleaf Skeletonizer Moths (Harrisina americana) out today after yesterday’s rain. At first, I thought this was a fly because it looks like it has two wings. Flies are in the Order Diptera, and Diptera means “two wings”. On closer inspection, and in better lighting, I could see a faint pair of smaller wings under the top two. It wasn’t too hard to find this guy using Google: “black moth red head”. If you go to https://bugguide.net/node/view/1274723 you can clearly see its second pair of wings.
This Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona crucifera) had a good collection of flies wrapped up in bundles on its web. (Thanks again, iNat. “Spotted Orbweaver” sounds much more sophisticated than “this fuzzy spider”.)
Ole snaily came out after the rain too. It looks like it’s doing chin-ups!
Another snail out cruising. Hey snail, what’s that behind you?
Woah! Fungus among us! It’s definitely a fungus and I’m pretty sure that it is called Dead Man’s Fingers. No humans were harmed in the making of this blog. 😉 -K

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez to Lead Global Environment Facility

(Source GEF Press Release June 2, 2020) Costa Rican Environment and Energy Minister Carlos Manuel Rodriguez has been selected as the next CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility, the largest multilateral trust fund supporting environmental action in developing countries and the main financing mechanism for multiple United Nations environmental conventions. This is a very influential post because since its inception the GEF has provided more than $20.5 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $112 billion in co-financing for more than 4,800 environmental development projects in 170 countries. Through its Small Grants Programme, the GEF has provided support to more than 24,000 civil society and community initiatives in 133 countries.

Rodriguez, describing himself as a “lawyer by profession, politician by choice, and conservationist at heart,” will be the first national from Latin America to lead the GEF when he takes office this August. He joins the Washington-based intergovernmental organization at a crucial time for international environmental action, in the midst of the zoonotic coronavirus pandemic that has raised the urgency of addressing illegal wildlife trading and ahead of high-stakes negotiations next year regarding climate change, biodiversity, oceans, and more!

Rodriguez, considered a great ‘fit’ for the post, has formerly served three terms as Minister of Environment and Energy in Costa Rica, during this tenure it doubled the size of its forests, made its power sector 100 percent renewable, and became a top ecotourism destination. Rodriguez, also worked for 12 years at Conservation International NGO, and has been a pioneer in the development of payment for ecosystem services, ocean conservation, and de-carbonization strategies, and is a world-renowned expert on environmental policies, multilateral negotiations, and financing for nature conservation.

The GEF Council, meeting virtually, selected Rodriguez today as the trust fund’s next CEO for an initial term of four years. He will succeed Naoko Ishii, who became the GEF’s CEO and Chairperson in 2012 and served two terms marked by an expansion of the trust fund’s approach to better address environmental degradation at its root causes, including a greater focus on transformation of key economic systems that are driving climate change, deforestation, and ecological damage.

“I feel thrilled and honored to be selected as the new CEO and Chairperson by the members of this great partnership,” Rodriguez said. “Under Naoko Ishii’s leadership the GEF grew in its vision, focus, and ambition. Her legacy needs to be continued and scaled further in this moment when the planet is at a crossroads between business-as-usual and green economic recovery plans centered in nature in the aftermath of COVID-19. I will work tirelessly with the membership and stakeholders to make the GEF a global agent of change.”

%d bloggers like this: