Today the world celebrates Global Biodiversity Day and I do so in a mood of calm resolve to do what I can to help. Global Biodiversity Day 2019 is themed on “Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health”. I’ve just watched Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator speak candidly on video about how badly human activity has destabilized the balance of nature with our population now exceeding 7 billion, that’s over twice what it was when Astronauts first walked on the Moon. Now about a million species (approximately 1 in 8) are facing extinction because of the scale, character and spatial distribution of destructive human activity systems.
According to a new Global Assessment report from the IBPES, “The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.”
In his speech lasting just under three minutes, Steiner encapsulates the key issue of our time, Biodiversity Crisis, saying:
“We are undermining the very infrastructure on which our modern world and our lives depend. Agricultural production today is the largest driver of deforestation and climate change.”
Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator
Quoting from the new IPBES report on biodiversity Steiner goes on to say that though the situation is very serious, there are 3.2 billion people at risk and we’ve lost 90% of crop diversity since 1900 and now 60% of mammal biomass is comprised of our domestic animals, the situation is not hopeless. He says, we can learn from “traditional, indigenous and scientific knowledge” and transform our behavior to “nurture nature and work with it.”
Steiner points out that:
“The loss of diverse diets is directly linked to diseases and health risks. If we lose the basic ingredients for farming there will be no way to feed the projected 9.8 billion people by the year 2050. Currently one third of the food produced goes to waste, so there is actually no need to cut down more forest right now… Production does not have to mean destruction.”
So, there we have it! There’s hope if we can live in better harmony with nature. Permaculture principles are the way forward! I think we can be less wasteful and more conservative. I’ll try to be.
Midori is Head of Ecosystems and Biodiversity at the UNDP’s – Global Environmental Finance Unit’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support. In the above linked article she says:
“Our current ecological meltdown is inextricably intertwined with many “other crises” — for example inequality and climate change. The challenge of equal access to food with sufficient nutrition by the increasing global population, projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, is one good illustration of how loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, inequality and climate crisis cannot be viewed and addressed as issues apart. “
Even here in the USA there’s an interesting model of farming alongside nature at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge between Delhi and Tallulah in Northeast Louisiana. Here the farmers set aside 30% of their crops for wildlife such as Louisiana Black Bear, Ursus americanus luteolus, pictured below scavenging corn after harvest. A great number of other creatures benefit too. There are also rice fields that are frequented by migratory water fowl, and some fields are flooded in wintertime for them.
See the linked pages below for information pertinent to 2019 Biodiversity Day!
Now here’s some good news from Education for Nature Vietnam, as relayed to me by their Communications officer, Tom Edgar.
Rhino Horn Smugglers Get Jail Time
“Great news! Three Vietnamese men have been sentenced to a total of over 27 years’ imprisonment for attempting to smuggle 20 kg (44 lbs.) of rhino horn across the border into China.
Police in the border province of Lao Cai stopped their white
Toyota Camry car in Lao Cai city in May last year and discovered four whole
horns and two small horn pieces from white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum
Duong Van Sang and Duong Van Thanh, who were transporting the rhino horns, were imprisoned for 8 years and 9 months and 8 years and 6 months respectively. The rhino horn owner, Duong Van Chiem was sentenced to 10 years and 6 months imprisonment.
Although ENV was not involved in their apprehension, we campaigned vigorously to ensure the prosecutors followed the letter of the law as laid down by the 2018 Penal Code. The subsequent prison time is a fantastic result in what was rightly considered a key rhino horn prosecution. Sentencing like this sends out a strong message that wildlife crime is being taken seriously in Vietnam and helps act as a deterrent to others.”
Turtle Guide To Help Law Enforcement Updated
“In other news, we have just published an updated guide to help Vietnamese Customs and other law enforcement agencies identify freshwater turtles and tortoises. We have updated the previous 2010 edition in the light of the new Penal Code and changes to the protection status of some turtle species. The guide features 25 species and includes identification features, habitat, and the current status of each species, as well as comparisons.
A total of 1,700 copies of the guide will be circulated to those
at the sharp end of wildlife crime involving turtles and tortoise.
The new updated ENV ID guideto turtles and tortoises will assist authorities
94000 School Children Call For Bears To Be Released To Sanctuary
Meanwhile, we have been inundated with entries to our schools’
letter writing challenge. We asked youngsters the length of Vietnam to write a
letter to a bear owner urging them to surrender their bears to a bear
sanctuary. Well, the deadline has just passed, and the final count is just over
94,000. We are thrilled. The postman not so much.
A lot of creativity has been on display, from writing from the
perspective of a bear to the highly decorative envelopes used to send in their
entries. Picking out the prize winners is going to be quite a task.
A colorful selection of the letters received
Progress In Schools and Legislation
past experience has shown, patience and perseverance pays
off when it comes to advocacy. We were quietly pleased to have recently
persuaded schools in the Saigon area to surrender all the legally held wildlife
being kept on campus. And, to top it off, all of ENV’s recommendations to
the Vietnamese government have been included in a just issued Decree that
further enhances the new Penal Code. Decree 35/2019/ND-CP, replacing Decree 157,
comes into effect on June 10.
ever, thank you so much for your ongoing support and words of encouragement.
You, literally, keep us going. If this email made you smile, please consider a
donation to our Gift of Peace appeal:
Here’s my account of my adventure in the south recently. I greatly enjoyed the 2019 Louisiana Master Naturalists Rendezvous event. This year it was held at Fontainebleu State Park on the north shore of Louisiana’s massive and biodiverse Lake Pontchartrain.
I rode south with our Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast group President Dr. Bette Kauffman. She was organizer of the event’s Silent Auction again this year.
It was a fun drive south. The fast route from the Twin Cities of West Monroe and Monroe is to head east into Mississippi on the Interstate highway I20 and then to head south back into the southeastern portion of Louisiana that is known as The Florida Parishes. This territory was formerly part of Florida but was purchased into Louisiana. It is especially interesting because it has some creatures like Sawback turtles, Oak Toads, Gopher Tortoises and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes that aren’t living in Louisiana West of the Mississippi. The sawbacks are in the Pearl River system and are a species of Map Turtle Professor Carr told me. There are also marine species from the Gulf of Mexico.
As we drove south it was as if we went forward in time, with ever-increasing signs of Spring evident in the form of flowering Dogwoods, Eastern Redbuds, Red Maples and some types of trees with white and yellow catkins.
Sadly we left blue skies behind, too. The cloud cover increased and the temperature decreased. We arrived in the very verdant jungley park and were much impressed with the stately old Live Oaks festooned with thick beards of Spanish Moss. It gave us the impression that the area of the park by the ruined sugar mill was probably haunted. You may know this already, but Spanish Moss is nothing of the kind, it is in the bromeliad family (as are pine-apples) and it is what is colloquially known as an air plant. It derives its moisture and sustenance from the air through its skin, not having roots embedded in soil. It is home to various creatures including a form of spider and a bat. We have plenty of it in northeastern Louisiana too, but down on the Gulf of Mexico it grows thickly and luxuriant. The sea breezes waft these great beards in synchrony and the overall effect is very romantic.
We pulled up to the accommodation through some large puddles, one of which was occupied by a wading shore-bird of some sort. I gaped at it, stunned. It was so close! My camera was in my bag, darn it!
Anyway, we were a bit tired after our 4-hour drive and ready to check in to our dormitories.
There were three buildings on very tall stilts, accessible via staircases. The central one was the dining room kitchen and hall where some of the classes were held and the other two were the male and female dorms respectively.
These were connected by aerial walkways and served by an elevator that could carry 750 lbs. That made it easier to transport boxes of books etc. up to the hall. I helped Bette set up the Silent Auction and we contributed several photographs to it which sold. I set up the photo contest table. There were six entries, two were ours. Kimmie’s study of a water snake, Nerodia fasciata confluens and jelly ear fungi Auricularia sp. sold as did a fine portrait of a Little Blue Heron by wildlife photographer Jane Patterson ( See Photo Contest article)
Anyway, the first order of the day was to bag a bunk. After that I took my camera out for a walk-about. The ground was quite squishy and the odd rain drop fell to remind me not to venture too far from cover.
It wasn’t long before the first organized walks went out and things soon became rather interesting. Our group was led by Dr. Bob Thomas (President of Louisiana Master Naturalists, who amongst other things has just had a snake named after him!) . He pointed out that there were cricket frogs in the pool beside the path that led into and through a strip of coastal forest. I spotted some enormous clover leaves or so they looked, beside the path. There were also some interesting sedges, rushes and grasses.
Reed-fringed Lake Pontchartrain with its famous 26 mile–long road bridge.
Professor Thomas quipped ‘Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have knees that bend to the ground.’
If you’re ever in doubt as to the identity of such a plant that jingle may help!
Various large thistles held Bumblebees in torpid state from the cold.
We too felt rather chilled through upon our return to the buildings where we met Botanist Dale Kruse from Texas’ A&M university, who won me over to Bryophytes in 5 seconds by asking me “What’s that?” while offering me a small clump of mossy stuff.
“That will be a moss!” I answered, confident in my assertion and ready to excuse myself to get over to the snake talk.
Is it a moss? Is it really?
“Is it?” he inquired again, offering me a loupe lens for closer inspection. What I saw through it surprised me! Lots of green bottle-shaped structures met my gaze. To cut a long story shorter, I passed on Venomous Snake Identification in favour of Dale’s Mosses walk and talk. (Last year I attended Micha Petty’s snake talk which was very, very good.) What Dale had shown me was in fact, a form of Liverwort. Furthermore a limp slimy green rubbery thing that I thought was a liverwort was in fact a terrestrial alga. “Whaaat on Earth?” I hear you say. “Mmm, really!”
Apparently there are rather a lot of these things around. We only see them looking healthy after rains, otherwise they dry out and crisp up. Which is pretty much what the other bryophytes do in drought conditions. So it was that I studied the “forgotten flora” with Dale and about twenty other people and was suitably impressed.
Bryophytes are comprised of mosses, liverworts and hornworts (See http://bryophytes.plant.siu.edu/bryojustified.html for some great pictures. and some good background info for you. Dale taught us about examples he’s studied in Texas and the UK. Mosses are cosmopolitan, they’re found in every continent and are the dominant plants in Antarctica (above water that is). Ice algae are the base of the marine food pyramid, not Krill as commonly supposed, I learned this here in Fontainbleu too, but that’s another story. To continue with mosses, there’s one variety of moss found only in a single spring in Texas, Don Richards macrumors. It lacks sporophytes apparently.
Anyway you need a compound microscope to appreciate these structures and 200-400x magnification if you want to inspect their cellular structures! Binocular microscopes really bring out the beauty in these plants. The 3 D stereoscopic view is very attractive.
There’s great difficulty finding funding for bryophyte studies apparently, no ‘green’ in the moss, sadly. Your best bet is in biodiversity or climate change research. In ecological terms “bryophytes found their niche and stayed there.” physcomitrium pyriforme is an example with beautiful urn-like structures. These look fabulous under a binocular compound microscope. It’s another world.
There are 14 species of sphagnum moss alone in Texas. He’s been studying them in The Big Thicket and along a big geological fault with peat and moss bogs. Before I came to the USA I thought Texas a very dry place and I conflated it with my image of western movies
In the UK there’s an endangered moss species in the north Pennines in Cumbria. Moss relies upon micro-habitats within habitats and requires a substrate upon which to grow. Different ones are trees with rough bark, trees with smooth bark, dead trees, soil, rocks etc. There is successional growth, with different types from the base upwards. Very little grows on pines because they slough off (shed) their bark. Yaupon holly is smooth barked, Magnolia intermediate, and oak rough. Different species favour such different microhabitats! Bryophytes hare important members of ecological communities and offer microhabitats of their own to a host of other creatures and amongst other things help preserve humidity that benefits creatures that like, or need to remain moist.
Lichens are a parasitic symbiosis of algae and fungus or blue green algae (cyanobacteria) and fungus. You can even have two types of fungi within the alga. A good way to remember this Dale quipped is “The alga took a lichen to a fungus!” We encountered some bright reddish pink lichens with light grey-green trim called Christmas tree lichen.
Dr. Bob Thomas pointing out a Christmas Tree lichen, Cryptothecia rubrocincta.
Our accommodation and one of the lecture halls was in this storm-proofed building!
Spanish moss and resurrection ferns grace the enormous old live oak behind the lecture hall.
Eastern Screech Owl
One lady naturalist quietly said “I think I’m looking at an owl!” and lo and behold she really was. An eastern screech owl. It was probably the sweetest owl you could meet in such a wood. Later that night a MN called Marty successfully elicited its call from the woods by hooting out into the night!
We piled into cars and drove to a different part of the park to see some more mosses and lichen in a bottom-land forest habitat with wonderful old Spanish moss-festooned trees and on some man-made substrates.
Here is an abbreviated account of our excellent and informative Feb. 9th Mammals Workshop with the Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast plus some recent images of mammals taken in various locations in Northeastern Louisiana.
We met our instructor, Dr. K. Tolson on the steps of University of Louisiana Monroe’s Hanna Hall. This is also the site of the Natural History Museum with giant prehistoric whale skulls, Zeuglodon, image below! This museum is well worth a visit!
Professor Tolson is a lively, friendly lady with reddish ginger hair and a witty turn of mind. Her specialty is physiology and she brandishes a beaver stick for her pointer in lectures. Quite a character! She enjoyed our field trip very much and expressed a desire for further adventures. I think we’d like that very much.
We enjoyed both her lecture and the field trip very much. We were in Rm. 250 and were greeted with an intriguing sight of boxes of skulls laid out upon the desks. The back row of desks was covered entirely with animal pelts ranging in size from Red and Grey Foxes at the left end to tiny shrews on the far right. There was also a Louisiana Black Bear’s skull (Ursus americanus luteolus).
The class began with an outline of the form of the lecture which wouldn’t dwell so much on the characteristics and phylogeny ( family tree ) of mammals in general but more upon some of our local mammalian fauna with comparisons of particular creatures to help us understand their distinctive nature. She started us off with a visual identification quiz in which I scored 41 out of 50. Kimmie also scored highly! I think most of us were pleasantly surprised to find out simultaneously how much we knew and the sort of things that we didn’t know.
We learned that Mammal studies rely mostly upon sign, rather than observation. This is because many of them are hardly seen because they are secretive and many are nocturnal. Sign takes the form of marks upon the ground and vegetation, scat (poop), food remains and actual animal remains. The skeletal remains are distinctive and of these the dentition (teeth) are very characteristic . Take a house cat as a familiar example and seek its dental formula on the Internet, think a bit about how it uses those teeth. You’ll probably have been toothed by its fangs (I), and seen it grazing grass with its carnassial teeth (P) and crunching its kibbles with its molars (M). Very clearly its teeth serve a different purpose than its prey, a mouse, which as a rodent has teeth best suited to its own lifestyle of chewing and gnawing.
We learned that each mammal has evolved a specialist set of teeth for their lifestyle. We were introduced to diastema and alveolus and dental formula for each creature we studied. There wasn’t time to study all of Louisiana’s mammals in detail, the selection of mammals that we studied was very suitable! Possums, Squirrels, Armadillos, Beavers, Nutrias and Muskrats and Foxes. I shan’t share all the amazing things that we learned, but rest assured we learned far more than I thought there was to learn about these creatures and our walks in the wilds have been transformed by our better recognition of the signs.
With two or three students to a tray, we eyed up and tried to guess the skulls in our trays. Dr. Tolson illustrated dental formulae first with a coyote skull (Canis latrans), ours was polished like ivory and truly a thing of beauty. Then she showed us the skull of the Virgina (O)possum Didelphus virginiana known colloquially locally as a ‘Grinner’. As omnivores they have 50 teeth! The scariest dentition I’ve seen since my visit to the dinosaur museum downstairs. This reflects their very varied diet, they eat fruit, worms, insects, fresh meat, crustaceans and carrion. Don’t chase them out of your yard, they can eat 5000 ticks per year and are major allies against Lyme disease and other tick fevers.
With teeth like this they can of course, bite their way out of a considerable amount of trouble; when over-faced however, they will faint and ‘play possum’. This is an involuntary loss of consciousness akin to fainting that serves them well when faced by predators that don’t eat ‘sick’ animals, but is hopeless in the face of dogs, sadly. We saw one in our bathroom at Crawfish Springs that looked like it was having a stroke. Kimmie extricated it with a gauntlet and a toilet seat cover. It very slowly curled up on the back porch — clearly a dead ‘un. Later it was nowhere to be found. Resurrection!
Possum Valley in Arkansas has a Possum Festival. Our neighbor old Morris used to trap them, I don’t remember him saying he ate them, but their fur is not valued so … I expect he had ‘em for supper. Apparently they are eaten by some folk, but aren’t sought out a great deal, and their flesh is likened to squirrel.
On the subject of squirrels, I was impressed to learn that there are three true squirrels in Louisiana! That’s not including the flying squirrel.
All three are shot for the pot and traditionally they feature in stews. Our maternal grandmother in Cumbria had an imported grey squirrel fur throw dating from Victorian times that was very soft and warm.
A comparison of skulls, the Fox squirrel’s tiny extra premolar is distinctive.
This Grey squirrel skull lacks the extra tooth.
The Greys are known colloquially as ‘Cat squirrels’, are faster and nimbler and have white belly fur and white fringed ears and tails. When angry they will cry out a petulant “Fraaaaank!” with a rising tone.
They are attractive little critters and their nests and antics add much interest to the forest, they serve to plant many nut trees from concealed cached nuts and so perpetuate their food trees. They in turn feed hawks, Great Horned Owls, rat snakes and rattlesnakes, bobcats and foxes. Also people! My father-in-law says they taste great with gravy!
Can you identify the above squirrel? Hint: this photo was taken in northern Louisiana not Atchafalaya.
We went on to study Dasypus novemcinctus! The Nine-banded Armadillo, very delightful but an invasive species considered outlaw in Louisiana but that also has the distinction of being a major predator of invasive Fire ants. Amongst a good deal else, we learned that these are homodonts!
As mentioned before, they are homodontic, each of their 28 peg-like teeth is a molar, for crushing their ants, termites and earthworm prey. They can be active day or night. We’ve seen them rooting about for their food solo, in pairs and even in a group of three siblings in Tensas River NWR. Each armadillo is born one of four identical quadruplets due to monozygoticpolyembryony! So they must have lost a sibling somewhere along the way.
They are great diggers and we often encounter their burrows in the forest. Their rear feet track over their forefeet and their scat is fragmented into small square ‘tootsie roll’; droppings. We have approached close while they are preoccupied with feeding!
They taste better than possum apparently (we have heard of them referred to as possums on the half-shell) but I wouldn’t eat one because they’re so sweet and they also harbor the bacteria that cause leprosy. On that note, they have a special relationship with ULM we learned because a lot of research into leprosy a.k.a. Hansen’s Disease has been conducted here, and it was here that the connection was first discovered. Even so, 95% of us are immune to the disease even if exposed to it. There is a very low incidence of transfer thankfully.
In September they tend to plough through people’s flower beds and the best way to discourage this is to avoid watering during the period according to Dr. Tolson.
Next we learned a parcel of interesting facts about the rodents of the waterways. The Beaver (Castor canadensis), Nutria (Myocaster Coypus) and Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus). The beaver and nutria look very similar to each other, other than their tails, but the muskrat is much smaller and Kimmie and I have never seen one nor its nest.(Click here to view an award winning shot of a 12 foot alligator dining on a muskrat by Louisiana wildlife photographer Bob Rogers )
All three species are superbly adapted to aquatic life, Dr. Tolson told us they can all close their lips behind their orange, iron-fortified incisor teeth to enable chewing underwater! We have Coypus in East Anglia and Beavers in Scotland. So this fairly relevant stuff in UK too.
They are all very characterful creatures and they all would brighten your day with an encounter, though as with other mammals, often it is the sign that we see rather than the critter itself. We’ll begin with beavers as they have the distinction of being America’s largest and heaviest rodent and most widespread (from the northern tree-line to northern Mexico) and are admirable ecosystem engineers. They are famous for their work ethic and build two structures that are distinctly recognizable: their nests which are called lodges, are glorious piles of sticks and their dams which are built of felled trees, gnawed branches and packed clay. The Twin Cities (Monroe and West Monroe) have the distinction of having urban beavers in residence in Bayou Desiard, Black Bayou Lake, Russell Sage WMA and in Restoration Park.
There may be others as well, but you can certainly see their sign in the aforementioned places, with the largest and most accessible dam being a major feature of Restoration Park in West Monroe. They prefer water bodies with muddy bottoms: irrigation ditches, ponds, sloughs (pronounced ‘slews’, and bayous. They enrage some land-owners by felling trees and flooding areas and some municipal bodies by blocking culverts but as keystone species they do a lot of good too and are considered assets by many, especially out in the more arid west.
Their fur was much sought after for its excellent qualities, and they have been trapped since colonial times for it and also for Castor oil and castoreum scent which was used as a perfume base. They eat bark and we were thrilled to see a beaver slide and chewed beaver sticks on our field trip to Russell Sage WMA with Dr. Tolson.
Beaver and Nutria skulls for side by side comparison. The Nutrias have massive sub-orbital foramen!
Louisiana Master Naturalist with beaver stick
Sleeping beauties! A pair of Nutria.
Corney Lake in Louisiana’s Kisatchie National Forest has a healthy beaver population with multiple great lodges!
Corney Lake also has Nutria Rats.
Lake D’Arbonne has beavers too. Rosin shines from a gnawed pine tree,
We found a young beaver’s skull too, on our walk and it was good to see the massive, rootless incisor teeth that perpetually grow. I put a brass cartridge case on my beaver stick for a ferule. It makes a nice walking stick.
We learned that beavers have glossy guard hairs and a dense waterproof under-layer, they have dexterous fore-paws (each a manus) 2 inches long and webbed hind feet (Pedes) 6 inches long and a very characteristic broad flat tail which serves them in swimming, as a ‘sit-upon’ and also to slap the water in a loud warning splash to scare off predators. We can attest that this sudden explosive splash is very loud and disconcerting. It was used against us in Bayou DeL’outre once while we were kayaking.
Professor Tolson also taught us that Beavers are a keystone species because they deliberately work to make dams that create still ponds for their own defense. There is only one entrance to their lodges and that is only accessible underwater. This protects their whole family. Many other creatures (fish, turtles, frogs, otters, waterfowl, fishermen etc.) use their ponds . What is more, frogs, turtles and muskrats are known to overwinter in their lodges! We learned that there are island and bank lodges. Bank lodges we learned, are the equivalent of economy housing, with holes leading into the bank. Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge has a bank lodge in Bayou Desiard near the old plantation cemetery.
Beaver sign includes footprints and scat and chewed bark and gnawed stumps that look a bit like sharpened pencils. Seeing the planar facets on a tree stump makes you appreciate how tough their teeth must be and how dedicated the little lumberjacks are! Sadly felling trees is dangerous work and sometimes they are found crushed beneath a tree that fell the wrong way. You can also look out for scent mounds beside the water. These are distinct earthen mounds upon which they place their castorum scent to mark their territory.
If land-owners want to move a beaver off their land it can be done non-lethally by the use of scent-marking the mounds with castorum from a road-killed male.
Nutria or coypu are imported intermediate-sized aquatic rodents with naked rat-like tails and the aforementioned infra-orbital foramen. Myo in Myocastor means mouse-like. Their spoor is distinctive in that their rear foot is webbed and shows four toes, in their fore-feet their fifth toe never tracks. They are good swimmers and prolific breeders if sufficient food is available. Their teats run along their sides and the young suckle from the sides, fueling a myth that the teats are on their backs.
Their development is so precocious that young may swim, dive and eat vegetation within 24 hours of birth! They consume 25% of their body weight daily. They’re weaned within 4 weeks and are making their own families within 8 weeks.
They were imported from South America to Avery Island by Mr. McIlhenny of Tabasco sauce fame in the 1930’s for their fur-bearing potential and to help clear invasive aquatic vegetation. A Japanese chap had imported beautiful but highly invasive water hyacinths some time before. A big hurricane freed the coypus in the 1940’s and the fast-breeders became invasive, despite being good alligator and Cajun food. They also taste like squirrel apparently. Up until the late 1970’s their fur was very valuable, but change in taste and spoilage of wild pelts from burrs from wild Bidens laevis flowers killed off the trade. The Bidens burrs get caught up in the fur and they spread Strongyloidiasis in which larvae burrow under the skin causing ‘Nutria itch’ and skin pustules that ruin the value of their fur. The domesticated ones can be treated with steroids, but the market value of their pelts doesn’t warrant it. Now their $5 tail bounty is worth more than their skins. There’s a price on their tails because they chew off the basal parts of marsh vegetation and so denude the cover and further speed coastal erosion with their burrowing activities. They are tough characters and out-compete muskrats where their range overlaps.
If you can’t see their tails, it is difficult to distinguish beavers from nutrias and I’m never really sure if I can’t see their tails. Nutria are more diurnal and less shy so are more likely to be visible in daytime. They have white muzzle fur and swim higher in the water. Comparing their skulls is a ‘dead’ give-away because the nutria have large holes beneath their eyes called infra-orbital foramen where the cheek muscles (the masitas) attach.
The last of the aquatic rodents is probably the sweetest as well as the smallest, the Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus). They moved into Louisiana from Arkansas in the 1960’s and the clearest sign of their presence is their nests of cut reeds. These rodents only cut reeds and grasses, never chew sticks. Their manes have stiff hairs that act like webs to assist swimming and their pedes are mildly webbed and also have stiff hairs. Their tails are laterally compressed to assist in steering. They have 16 teeth in total and key-hole shaped infra-orbital foramens. They are present in a small population near Monroe. God bless them!
Foxes are very infrequently seen here. Only once have we caught sight of a brushy tail disappearing from our sweeping headlights. We’ve picked up several on our trailcam ay Crawfish Springs and they’ve always been a bit of a speed blur! Like the possums, they are always about their business!
We learned that the Red Fox Vulpes Vulpes is the larger of the two that occur here, weighing in at up to 18 lbs and leggier than the Grey Fox. It has more pronounced cranial ridges and a white tip to its brush. Prof. Tolson informed us that these foxes favour open areas and are out-competed by coyotes. Where you find the coyotes, you won’t find this fox.
Grey Fox (silver variant) at Monroe’s excellent Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo. C.Paxton images and copyright.
The other fox, the Grey Fox, Uracyon cinereoargentius can also occur in a silver colour form that is very pretty. You can see one in Monroe’s zoo. Prof. Tolson told us that it is shorter and stockier than the Red Fox and is an adept tree climber. It can rotate its shoulders and front paws to ‘hug’ trees and climb high up into the canopy in pursuit of grapes and young squirrels and fledgelings in nests. They can shin up 50 ft and hop lithely from limb to limb. As they forage at different levels the foxes can coexist together happily and the Greys can also coexist with coyotes. The Grey Fox is more of a woodland animal and is omnivorous. They’re partial to sweet potatoes! Their dental formula is 1/1,3/3 1/1 4/4 2/3 = 42 .
The rabbits have 8 species in America but come in two varieties here in northern Louisiana. They are not rodents, but have their own order Lagamorpha. We have the Eastern Cottontails Sylvilagus floridianus which are larger and have darker facial fur and larger-looking eyes, are expanding their range and the Swamp Rabbits Sylvilagus aquatica which are smaller and have cinnamon fur on their faces and necks, that are declining.
>To keep them light on their feet and fast, all rabbits have a fenestrated maxillary bone in their faces. The cottontails have a hole in their supra-orbital process (brow bone) while the Swampers have a fused brow bone. At Crawfish Springs we had different rabbits in the different areas. North rabbit was an Eastern Cottontail and Southwest Rabbit a Swamper.
Next our lecturer compared American Mink (Neovison vison) skulls with Striped Skunk (Mephititis mephitis) skulls. They used to be both mustelids, they are very similar but now skunks have their own order, the Mephitidae because of a nipple on their scent gland. This skull comparison gives you an idea of how tough as predators the skunks really are. We have seen two Minks, one crossing the road fast on the way to Crawfish Springs and one on the spit of land favoured by fishermen on Lake D’Arbonne. We have smelled skunks at Crawfish Springs but not seen them there. We tend to just see them dead by the roads, but live ones feed on Kimmie’s mum’s dog and cat food. Little Bit the Chihuahua occasionally gets sprayed as he well deserves!
In Mink skulls the hard palette extends beyond the last molar, the auditory bullae are greatly extended (mink have very acute hearing) and they have a sagittal crest where the jaw muscles attach to give more bite pressure.
A nice factoid about striped skunks is that their white patches are unique, no two are identical. Under their white hair their skin is pink and under the black it is grey. Some people remove their glands surgically and keep them as pets.They are rather gorgeous!
Sadly spotted skunks are no longer believed to be present in Louisiana. They haven’t been seen since the 1970’s and were last seen here in the southeastern ‘Florida parishes’.
Prof. Tolson also says skunks do handstands to spray their musk over their heads at you. They can squirt up to 12 feet and their sphincter can squirt from one or both glands. So don’t be lulled if they get your dog first, they could get you second! She advises that you use woollite followed by febreeze to destink because it freshens but doesn’t strip your dog’s coat of natural oils!
Anyway, after this excellent lecture we drove to Russell Sage Wildlife Management Area off Highway 15 to a wonderful place new to us known as the Wet Soil Unit. Very aptly named, there are flooded fields adjacent to the woodland beside Bayou Lafourche. Pretty soon we were seeing mammals’ signs. First was a Common raccoon, Procyon lotor, dropping on the steps of the observation platform. From the platform we could see wildfowl, Blue-winged teals and American Coots. It was cold, windy and drizzley at first but it dried up later, but we were very excited to explore woodland by Bayou Lafourche and see spoor (prints) of Eastern Bobcat (Lynx rufus rufus) and many Common raccoon prints and also White-tailed deer.
Members of our workshop exploring for mammal sign in The Russell Sage Wildlife Management Area in Monroe.
Members of our workshop exploring for mammal sign in The Russell Sage Wildlife Management Area in Monroe.
Members of our workshop exploring for mammal sign in The Russell Sage Wildlife Management Area in Monroe.
On the way back I found a Bowfin’s armoured head, the rest had been eaten by an otter. Some other naturalists found a young beaver’s jaws and a rather nice Common Raccoon’s skull.
Dr. Arthur Lyles found a Nuttall’s Oak acorn (Quercus texana )and Water Hickory nut (Carya aquatica).
We greatly enjoyed this workshop and have been looking out for mammals’ sign ever since! Recently at Tensas River we saw a very good lot!
Field exploration with Louisiana Master Naturalists is great fun because with an expert guide like Prof. Tolson and all those eyes seeking things of interest a great deal is discovered and knowledge shared that would otherwise likely be missed. We saw bobcat and other spoor, multiple otter slides, a beaver slide, gnawed beaver sticks, various scats and the skulls of a young beaver, raccoon and a striped skunk!
Dr. Arthur Liles displaying a box of squirrel sign
The beaver’s tail is distinctive and serves to power the creature through the water, and as a seat and to produce a shocking defensive noise in the water!
Comparing a mink and striped skunk skull to reveal subtle difference!
Ghostly image of ducks
A striped skunk’s skull was found on the field trip.
The Bobcat’s prints have toes in a uniform arc with no claw marks!
Common Raccoons leave neat ‘hand-like’ paw prints!
A Common Raccoon’s skull has impressive omnivore’s dentition.
An American River Otter slide
There are two rabbits in our area, Eastern Cottontails and Swamp Rabbits.
White -tailed deer jawbone, partial lower mandible and teeth. Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge. C. Paxton image and copyright.
Charles Allen alerted me to these two great children’s programs this Saturday! Call 601-799-2311 now to sign up!
Cottonmouth Viper, Agkistrodon piscivorous has a very toxic bite but only in self-defense. Let them be, give them their space. C.Paxton image and copyright
Saturday, March 23, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Children will learn about Mississippi’s venomous snakes in this instructional program with Dr. Eddie Smith, Pearl River County Extension Agent. Lifelike snake replicas will be used in this program (no live snakes!). A great activity for homeschool students and their families! Children must be accompanied by an adult. Reservations requested. Members’ children $1; non-members’ children $3; no charge for adults.
FLOWER PLANTING PROJECT
Saturday, March 23, 11:00 a.m. to Noon
Children will enjoy this program with Master Gardener Amy Nichols. “Ms. Flora” will read them a story and teach them about the parts of a flower. For the Sunflower Planting Project, they will plant sunflower seeds and make their very own mini-greenhouse to take home. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Reservations requested. Members’ children $2; non-members’ children $4; no charge for adults.
Patricia R. Drackett, Director and Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture
The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University Extension Service
Do you need to make a stronger business case for biodiversity conservation? Do you want to become more skilled at developing financially sound and politically feasible solutions to conservation and development challenges? Do you need to know how to develop an effective biodiversity finance plan? Do you want access to more tools to assess the policy, institutional, and economic context for biodiversity finance, and to conduct a financial needs assessment to achieve a country’s biodiversity goals?
The UN is offering a FREE seven-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called Biodiversity Finance. It will be facilitated in English, French, Spanish and Russian, and will run from 15 April to 31 May 2019. The course is aimed at conservation planning and biodiversity finance practitioners and policymakers, but is open to everyone.
2019 Some Environmental Education Events In Louisiana
Event Calendar Louisiana Nature
I’m grateful to Dr. Allen for sharing this information about events. Please note that these dates and event details may be subject to change without notice given here, so please check with the organizers in advance to avoid disappointments. Thank you.
Jan 18, 19, 20 Tom Sawyer Days, Allen Acres
Jan 19 The Northeast Louisiana Master Gardeners are holding the 9th Annual January Gardening seminar and seed swap on January 19, 2019 from 7:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at the West Monroe Convention Center.
Feb 1-3 Louisiana Native Plant Society meeting
Feb 5 Chinese New Year (2019 Year of the pig) Counter bad luck this year with image of a tiger, the pig’s friend.
Image of a tiger for your desktop in 2019 to divert the Duke Boar.
I almost titled this post “Mammals Wearing T-shirts,” but decided that was too clever by half. Nevertheless…..
Time to register for our 8th certification workshop, Mammals of Louisiana, scheduled Feb. 9, 9 am – 3 pm. The registration link is now ready on the Certification page of this website.
Reminder to Kalem Dartez, David Hoover, Susan Hoover & Frances Rogers: This is your 7th workshop. You do not need to pay, but you do need to let me know if you will attend.
The Workshop 8 Flyer link is also ready for you to click and download/print. We will meet on the ULM campus; I’ll send out the room # and building via email as soon as I get that form Dr. Kim Tolson, our workshop leader.
We will go to Russell Sage Wildlife Management Area for field work. That means everyone will need a Louisiana hunting or fishing license…
Mixed flock of Vultures at Tensas NWR. The Black Vultures hunt by sight and the Turkey Vultures by scent. Together they make a formidable clean-up crew of large scavengers. They are protected by The Migratory Birds Act of Congress passed in 1918.
For any of us interested in learnining more about birds, this Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast birds workshop could be just the event! 2018 was declared to be the ‘Year of the Bird’ in commemoration of the law passed in 1918 that protects migratory birds within the USA. I wish all countries would adhere to such sensible legislation. Birds are living treasures.
Thankfully within America it is now illegal to harm any migratory birds and that includes a great many species, including America’s national bird, The Bald Eagle, many of the song-birds, hummingbirds and both species of vulture that we see in Louisiana.
The Turkey Vulture is believed to have the best sense of smell in the world and also the Black Vulture, that is more of a visual hunter can safely digest putrid flesh that would otherwise spread disease. We have often seen these birds associating with each other at roost and it is interesting that their complementary sensory powers help ensure that carcasses get cleaned up.
Anyway, there is a wonderful variety of birds in northeast Louisiana and winter is a good time to enjoy unobstructed views in the trees. I hope you can join this workshop!
Please print as needed. I won’t repeat everything below, but here are the highlights:
We convene on the LaTech Campus at 9 a.m. for classroom instruction.
Over the lunch hour, we will travel to Lake D’Arbonne Spillway for field work, and if we want to see more birds, we’ll go to nearby Lake D’Arbonne State Park for more birding. It costs $3 to get into the park. Be prepared!
You can register online through PayPal by clicking on the “Certification” tab above then on the PayPal button provided. If you want to pay on site, please come 15 minutes early and please let me know your plan.
And here’s a gorgeous cardinal from the 1st Day Hike at D’Arbonne State Park. He just wouldn’t come out of the thick stuff for me!