Think Pink: What the Roseate Spoonbill Can Teach Us About Adaptability in the Face of Climate Change

            Written by Autumn N. Bryan

Figure 1 – Roseate Spoonbills 11 – Audubon, Guide to North American Birds (Cynthia Hansen)

            Raucous, bustling colonies of Roseate Spoonbills once flourished along the Florida coast and throughout its wetlands. Now, the painted, powder-pink birds are struggling inland, driven from their once robust ecosystem by the effects of climate change and man-made “restoration” efforts. More than a million wading birds once lived in the Everglades, however, plume hunters and the destruction of their diverse habitats have radically diminished their numbers. Over the last 20 years, since their initial recovery in the 1970s, the spoonbills have abandoned their longtime nesting grounds in the South. In the Florida Bay alone, their numbers have depleted from around 400 active nests in 2012 to 157 this past season – a fact diligently recorded by Jerry Lorenz, director of Audubon’s Florida Everglades Science Center. Sea levels are rising, becoming too deep for the spoonbills and driving the pink-feathered fowls out. To the North, where warmer winters and saltier soils have prompted the growth of mangroves, Roseate Spoonbills now nest. Just as the visceral effects caused by climate change have destroyed local habitats, they have also made the more northern, previously hostile environments thus more inhabitable for spoonbills.

            This shift extends far beyond Florida and its colorful flocks. The birds have been spotted as far north as Quebec. As some animals are driven out, others arrive, escaping the destruction of their homes and ecosystems by way of migration. As exciting as this prospect can seem – a rapidly adapting habitat – it is equally alarming to ecologists. In barely two decades, the delicate ecosystem of the Florida Everglades has drastically changed. The effects of climate change and the northward shift of the spoonbills portends a coming transformation, one we may not be able to keep up with. Eventually, the spoonbills will not be able to migrate further north, and humans, with them, will be forced to face the crushing effects of climate change. Just as the spoonbills have adapted to such change, so too must ecologists and activists.

            The Roseate Spoonbill teaches us about the overwhelming consequences of climate change, the need for ecological conservation, and the adaptability – the need for hope and creativity and perseverance – in the face of ongoing environmental crises. According to the 2022 U.S. State of the Birds Report, more than half of North American bird species are in decline. Florida is no exception; the state has been witness to more than just the ecological destruction of wildlife and its consequential devastation to the animals that call this diverse ecosystem home. Many indigenous local tribes have been displaced due to political and environmental violences, including human inference and the incurrence of climate change. Flourishing among the coastal mangroves of the Florida Gulf Coast, the Calusa tribe lived in harmony with the Everglades wildlife.The Calusa Indians fished for food along the coast, bays, and rivers. They made fish-bone arrowheads for hunting and built their homes on stilts. The Calusa are considered to be the first “shell collectors,” using the husks as tools, jewelry, and ornaments for shrines. Today, some shell mounds leftover by the Calusa still stand and are protected by environmentalists and conservation groups. The land there is alive, is a living history. The Indigenous people of the Everglades understood this and worked with what the land provided.

            During the Spanish invasion of Florida in the 1600s the Calusa were decimated. By the 1760’s the Calusa had been wiped out almost entirely, despite a long and powerful reign. Today, approximately 4,400 Native Americans – the Seminole and the Miccosukee tribes – live within the wetlands, though their lives have been irrevocably changed. They still live in balance there with the wildlife, adapting to the seasonal shifts of the Everglades, the ever-changing water levels and the wildlife populations. But Frank, a Miccosukee man, in an article about indigenous tribes in the Florida Everglades, admits, “Our way of life is gone… We lived our way in the Everglades, the happy way, the good way. When I was young, you could drink the water. You could hunt and fish, and that was your lifetime” (Gillis). Now, the infrastructure of their lives has been decisively changed. Frank’s ancestors are buried in the Everglades. Their remains supply the nutrients and foundation on which local trees and plants grow – trees and plants that are harvested for food, tools, medicine, and other supplies used by the Miccosukee people. This communal way of life, working in cooperation with the land, is a testament to our ability to coexist harmoniously.

            As climate change threatens the future of the Everglades, and the Miccosukee way of life, their adaptability and resilience may hold the keys to survival. The indigenous people of the Everglades have forged a sense of identity and community amid the changes wrought by climate change and colonialism. Today, members of the Miccosukee tribe (approximately 550 individuals) work toward environmental conservation and education, sharing their centuries-old traditions and practices with curious visitors. They have three reservation areas in the state of Florida: Tamiami Trail, Alligator Alley, and Krome Avenue. Their dedication to the Florida Everglades is evident in their commitment to the land and their attempts to carry on with the traditional Miccosukee way of life. They still work to evade settlement pressure and defend their right to the land. This indigenous diaspora, and the diaspora of the Roseate Spoonbill, reminds us that despite their determination, we owe more to the lives of those who originally inhabited the plains and wetlands of The Sunshine State.

            The Everglades, described as a sopping prairie wetland, a 3-million-acre swamp, or the widest, slowest-moving river in the world, is home to over 800 species, including 30 threatened or endangered species and several endemic animals not found anywhere else in the world. Nearly 100 miles long and 60 miles wide, the Everglades trickles downhill, moving, at a barely perceptible slope, fresh water and nutrients toward the sea. This “river of grass” supported indigenous peoples for over 5,000 years. The Everglades is a unique ecosystem home to a rich cultural history. The spectacular diversity of the swamp is complemented by the diverse lifestyles and cultures of the people there. The ways of life that have evolved in the Everglades are as fragile as the threatened ecosystem. The Calusa and Seminole tribes were all but exterminated by diseases introduced from European arrivals and war campaigns pursued by then President Andrew Jackson. Though they never surrendered, U.S. military seized their lands in the mid-1800s. Thus began a grueling process of reengineering the Everglades for recreational use that resulted in ecological catastrophe still evident today. Just as foreign invaders attempted to steal the Everglades from its original inhabitants, the land and its wildlife fought back; the swamp was all but uninhabitable to the newcomers, too wet to build cities and farms, too hostile to encourage community building. As settlers attempted to drain the wetlands disastrous flooding occurred. From the 1960s to the 1980s over 1,000 miles of artificial canals were constructed by authorities. This means humans now determine the hydrology and health of this ancient ecosystem.

            Human decision making is too often flawed, and the fate of such wild, self-sustaining ecosystems should not be determined by the egocentric demands of man. Already, the decimation of indigenous tribes throughout the years has exemplified the agonizing ramifications of human intervention. Algae blooms and fish die-offs followed the reconstructions in the 1990s as fresh water led to too-high salinity levels in areas such as the Florida Bay, once-home to those raucous and bustling colonies of spoonbills. This doomed the birds. A study done by Heather Rafferty, in partnership with Audubon Everglades Science Center, indicated that, due to the inundation of sea-level rising, 80-90% of the land in the Florida Bay historically used for foraging no longer supports the nesting of spoonbills. The Anthropocene shows no mercy, not even in the face of a sprawling swamp, ready to swallow man whole. The spoonbills have learned to adapt, however, and now thrive in more northern states where their presence has not been previously recorded. So, what can we learn from these migrating couplings of feathers, these pink, roseate spoonbilled birds?

            Spoonbills are sensitive ecological indicators. All we need to do is watch and listen. Only when conditions are just right, the water not too-deep and not too-salty, does nesting boom. The fantastic distinction of the spoonbill – its pinkish hue – is due to a diet of crustacean that imparts a dose of carotenoid to the feathers. The migration of the Roseate Spoonbill highlights (in bright, loud, bubble-gum pink) the adverse conditions of the Florida Everglades, its lack of viable nutrients, the shift in fauna, and its ever-changing fate. Ecologists studying wildlife in the Florida Everglades have learned to listen. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan legally requires South Florida’s water managers to consult ecologists before releasing fresh water into the Everglades, ensuring that the fate of the ecological community is being considered when making such drastic adjustments to the Federally protected National Park. Nature is incredibly resilient and with the right conditions life flourishes. The spoonbills have certainly learned to adapt. The ecological boom that followed such changes as The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan – centering science in decision making, has confirmed the necessity of science-based environmental conservation.

            So why exactly are the spoonbills fleeing their once beloved colonies? Lorenz theorizes that because of the rising sea levels the Florida Bay and its surrounding areas are no longer fresh or shallow enough to support spoonbills. Roseate Spoonbills are highly sensitive to changes in their ecological atmosphere. Their northern shift indicates a rising sea and a fish-sparse wetland. The loss of their rose from the coastline of my homeland is an omen: a great wave of change is on its way, is already threatening the shore. The migration of Roseate Spoonbills is only one reflection of climate change. I have come to realize: though there are creatures still thriving among the proproots of this swamp, we are wanting and adapting and fighting extinction amid these wetlands every day. The ocean is winning. Saltwater is intruding into South Florida in part because of the destruction of the Everglades’ historically freshwater flow. The modifications made by humans in hopes of altering the natural surge have left a vacuum for the ocean to fill. The original foraging grounds are too deep, the mudflats are too dry, and the salinity of once-freshwater fields is high, too-high in salt. Where once we heard the songs of familiar birds there is silence.

            A silent wetland is an ominous one. Previously filled with the sound of honking spoonbill hatchlings, the quiet of the swamp feels like a death-sentence. These birds, which once spoke to a flourishing ecosystem, no longer tell us about freshwater flows and restoration; their absence sends an urgent message about global climate change. It is not yet known if this drastic northern shift will be a successful adaptation to climate change or an ecological dead-end, failing to support the population of spoonbills longterm. Many bird species undertake long exploratory flights, but roseate spoonbills, in the past, have always raised their young within miles of their own hatchings. Many species are responding to the warming climate and the spoonbills are not moving alone. Woody storks and ibises, sea turtles, manatees, coastal fish, and alligators are all shifting north. Ecologists expect similar shifts across the globe and though many species are learning to adapt, this shift could be catastrophic for supporting species. This means a massive overall ecological deviation. It is intimating to say we just don’t know what the future holds. How will other species adapt? Not only to the warming climate, but also to the more southern species now occupying their homes – Where will they find refuge?

            Temperatures are not the only thing on the rise. Extreme weather events occur more and more frequently and are historically devastating. Florida especially is susceptible to powerful hurricanes. These storms can tear down homes and rip protective mangroves from the peat, jeopardizing our fragile ecosystems and millions of people. Faced with the harrowing reality of climate change, ecological managers have set a new goal for restoration: a resilient Everglades that can survive stressors and bounce back to provide necessary habitat to hundreds of species. Long-planned restoration projects are finally bearing fruit, increasing the flow of fresh water into the Florida Bay, slowing the infiltration of South Florida by the sea, and replacing destroyed areas with rivers and floodplains. These benefits go beyond protecting habitat. Healthy wetlands provide mangrove forests that buffer hurricanes and prevent flooding. Aquifers tapped for drinking water are slower to fill with salinity, ensuring fresh water is available, and sustained livelihood, for all of us.

            The land adapts and we must with it. The world and the refugees themselves are changing. However, not all species may find refuge nearby. This makes preserving current safe havens critical to preventing wildlife extinctions. Supporting the conservation of necessary ecological estuaries is mutually beneficial for all, ensuring a future in which we can all enjoy the roses. The spoonbills have abandoned their colonies for more lustrous and fresh-water-fish enriched wetlands, but their battle continues. They are only the pinkest of climate change indicators, adapting to the warming temperatures and the unstable land. In the growing swelter of climate change, the Roseate Spoonbill has adapted marvelously, expanding its range, and providing a pretty pink lining to the otherwise dark cloud known as the Anthropocene. But as environmental injustices proceed, and ecological destruction continues, we must be willing to listen to the voices that know best: those indigenous to the land.


Works Cited

Chiacchio, Angelo. “People of the Everglades.” Google, Google Arts & Culture, https://artsandculture.google.com/story/_QUBbf6B2MeHFA. 

“Everglades Restoration Timeline.” Everglades Law Center, Everglades Law Center Inc., 13 Dec. 2022, https://evergladeslaw.org/everglades-timeline/. 

Gillis, Chad. “Tribes in Florida’s Everglades Pay Price of Prosperity.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 24 Mar. 2014, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/24/florida-everglades-tribes-pay-price-of-prosperity/6827375/. 

Hansen, Cynthia. “Roseate Spoonbill 11.” Audubon, Guide to North American Birds – Roseate Spoonbill, https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/roseate-spoonbill#photo11. Accessed 3 Jan. 2023.

Lanham, J. Drew. “Pretty in Pink – The Roseate Spoonbill Is Nature’s Predilection for Garishness Come to Fruition.” Sierra Magazine Winter 2022 Page 49, Sierra Club, 14 Dec. 2022, https://digital.sierramagazine.org/publication/?i=770798&p=51&view=issueViewer.

“Native People.” National Parks Service – Everglades National Park Florida, U.S. Department of the Interior, 14 Apr. 2015, https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/historyculture/native-people.htm. 

“The Calusa: ‘The Shell Indians.’” Exploring Florida, Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida, 2002, https://fcit.usf.edu/florida/lessons/calusa/calusa1.htm.

Waters Senior, Hannah. “The Flight of the Spoonbills Holds Lessons for a Changing Everglades-and World.” Audubon, 6 Dec. 2022, https://www.audubon.org/magazine/winter-2022/the-flight-spoonbills-holds-lessons-changing. 

Zambello, Erika. “Climate Change Moves Roseate Spoonbills in Florida Bay.” Audubon Florida, 11 Jan. 2022, https://fl.audubon.org/news/climate-change-moves-roseate-spoonbills-florida-bay. 

Keeping it CREEL: A Reflection of My Summer in Alaska

This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to work as a Roving CREEL Technician in Southeast Alaska with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG). I had the privilege of traveling to Juneau, Petersburg, Yakutat, and Hoonah for work and explored the beauty of Alaska all while working and gaining field experience. In addition to being a CREEL tech, I also was asked to spend two weeks in Hoonah working with the habitat-division doing anadromous (combination fresh and saltwater) stream surveys.

Juneau, Alaska (Left Image) | Hoonah, Alaska (Right Image)

           

What is the big deal with CREEL?

CREEL projects are a survey method where a stationed technician at a harbor or launch ramp interviews anglers when they return after their fishing trip. Information asked of the anglers are things such as: the number and type of fish species caught, where anglers were fishing, as well as what species were kept/released. Biological samples and measurements of the catches are recorded when necessary. This large-scale project is part of the Marine Harvest Stud in Southeast Alaska, which helps management-focused biologists gather data to represent the number of fish that are in populations around the area. This collection of data is a major influence in determining catch limits and regulations for various species. The Marine Harvest Study is a major deal each summer—in part because of the local regulation determination, but also because salmon are managed under a treaty with Canada, as they spawn and spend their first two years of life in freshwater streams, some of which travel across the Canada/US border.

I spent much of the summer in Petersburg AK, which is also known as Little Norway because of its Norwegian influence. Petersburg is a small town built around the commercial fishing industry and has grown in sport fishing popularity. I worked under the Sport Fish Division, so I did not engage in commercial catches as they had a whole different division that samples them. The major fishing targets around Petersburg are Chinook (King) and Coho (Silver) salmon, Halibut, as well as some rockfish. Petersburg has a Chinook hatchery that broods and releases chinook salmon to help bolster the population for sustainable harvest. Some of these fish released from the hatchery get a tiny metal tag with a code that tells where they were raised and what batch they were part of injected into their nose.

When hatchery fish are tagged, the adipose fin (a vestigial flap of tissue between the dorsal and caudal tail) is removed to indicate it has a tag. These tags do not harm the fish as they are only 1mm, and are so small they can only be read under a microscope! During the CREEL project, technicians and anglers notice this missing adipose fin, and as a result know it is more than likely a hatchery fish with a tag. When the adipose fin is clipped, the CREEL tech asks the angler if they are okay with us taking the head from their fish. If allowed, we will send that salmon head to a lab to have that tag and its biological (bio) samples examined.

Images of Catch Measurements being Performed by CREEL Technicians

Bio samples are a major part of being a CREEL Tech. This part of the job is one of the major distinctions in having a technician on site versus just having anglers report catch numbers themselves. For Chinook, we collect scales which give us the age of the fish, a pelvic fin clipping which gives us some genetic information, and lengths. When the Chinook has a clipped adipose fin, we ask the angler if they are alright with us collecting the head. For Halibut, we only collect lengths—which also give us the weight as halibut usually follow a similar weight to length distribution across the species. With Rockfish, we collect lengths on all that come in. For species that are of higher conservation concern, we may collect more bio samples if needed.

So that is the general idea behind the CREEL work I did this summer. I also happened to do stream surveys! Alaska has well over 20,000 streams and other bodies of water that are believed to be habitat for rearing salmonids (e.g. salmon, trout)! The habitat section of the Department of Fish and Game is the amazing team responsible for venturing out into the wilderness and surveying all of these streams, tributaries, and other various bodies of water to see what species of fish inhabit them. The team takes a drone equipped with LiDAR (and flies it over areas of land and then uses GIS to create a geographical map of all these bodies of water. Sounds like a fun easy job, right? Well, that’s not all! A field team is deployed once the map is created to each of the water bodies where technicians will then examine the streams for species using electro-fishing backpacks, or eFishers (see image on right), and barrier surveys. If you haven’t been to Southeast Alaska, the region is a collection of mountainous islands with rough terrain, so trekking out to streams is not always an easy task. Some streams are near towns or old logging roads that provide access to them, but others require more creative methods to get to them. The island that the team primarily focused on this summer was Chichagof Island. Some areas were major logging operations in past years with old roads still intact, but only accessible by water. A landing craft was used to carry staff, gear, and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) across the marine waters from Hoonah. After the fun 4-wheeler ride, the bushwhacking begins. Southeast Alaska is a temperate rainforest and has an abundance of plant life that thrives in the highly moist environment. Much of the plant life is just like you’d see in other temperate biomes, but with a lot of moss and fungi and one plant that is the bane of any bushwhacker.

Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus, see image on left) is a plant covered in prickles that is often in just the right place for you to grab when falling or sliding in the damp environment. Speaking from experience…not a fun plant.

Anyway, back to the technical stuff.

After arriving to a stream, we take the roughly 40 lb. eFisher backpack and use it to shock sections of water, stunning fish with anywhere from 100-800 volts. The fish free-float when shocked, and are scooped into a net for species identification. We compiled the coordinate points of locations where we did this on a GIS-program (geographic information services) map and listed qualities of the stream and the species visible.

Sometimes, we found logjams or waterfalls that are considered a barrier to young fish, as they keep them from traveling upstream to complete their lifecycle. After each season of summer field-work, the ADFG habitat team writes up nominations based on the collected data from the surveys to then choose to add, modify, or remove water-bodies from the Anadromous Waters Catalogue (AWC). This catalogue is used to guide survey development, fisheries management, and a myriad of other influences on these streams and the various anadromous fish populations within them.

CREEL Technician Jacob Collier standing next to a Halibut catch

Now with all the long, tedious, labor-intensive, and large-scale work involved with this project, you would think there is a massive team going out to work on this; right? I mean, there are over 20,000 water bodies after all. Instead of a large task force, this program is powered by a team of roughly 10 people or so. Before I joined this team for 2 weeks at the end of the summer (this year’s season began in June for them), I was under the impression that they went out in these nice, beautiful easy-to-access streams you see people in movies and commercials fly-fishing in. When I experienced the rough terrain these folks go through every day for 4 months of the year, sometimes 6 days a week at 12-hour days, I encountered a big shock. I have the utmost respect for the work and effort the ADFG habitat section puts into their work because it is not an easy job and it’s a very important one that much of the rest of Fish and Game relies on. I used to think when crossing a trickle of water an inch or two deep, and maybe a foot wide, that there was no way fish could be living in it. Well, working on this project proved me very wrong! It is incredible what types of aquatic habitats young salmonids can survive in. We even found them living in a hot-spring where the water was 90+ degrees Fahrenheit.

Alaska was my first job in the field of wildlife, fisheries, and natural resource management. Trough this experience, I learned so many things that will help me in my career and life far into the future. I am extremely grateful to the staff at Alaska Department of Fish and Game that decided to take a chance on hiring the recent-graduate from way down in Alabama. I remember in an early-on interview, when asked what I knew of Alaska, I said I was only familiar with what you see in movies and tv, and knew little to nothing about salmon. I went in knowing little about the area and their fisheries, but was provided lots of help and mentorship by supervisors, coworkers, and the public that I worked with on a daily basis. I met some great people both in the management side as well as the angler and sport fishing business along the way, and hope that I was able to benefit the fisheries data of Southeast Alaska during my time there.

Exploring Biodiversity

The value of biodiversity is that it makes our ecosystems more resilient, which is a prerequisite for stable societies; its wanton destruction is akin to setting fire to our lifeboat.

Johan Rockstrom

What is biodiversity?

The term biodiversity refers to the multitude of living species on Earth and their incredible variations. There are no exclusions for organisms when describing total global biodiversity, meaning organisms from all three domains of life are included. These domains are referred to as Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya. The relationships of these groups can be seen in the image below.

The three domains of life: Eukarya, Archaea, and Bacteria.

Members of Eukarya include eukaryotic organisms such as plants, animals, protists, and fungi. Archaea includes organisms such as retroviruses, and bacteria includes microbes such as E. Coli (a common cause of food poisoning). Archaea are unicellular organisms that lack a true nucleus (organelle that contains the genetic information of an individual), which distinguishes them from their nucleated counterparts Eukarya and Bacteria. Despite sharing similarities when compared to Archaea, members of Eukarya differ from Bacteria as these organisms are multicellular and have their organelles (functional parts of the cell) surrounded in individual membranes. Members of Archaea are commonly represented by those organisms that live in extreme conditions such as in the Dead Sea (‘salt-loving’ halophiles) or in volcanoes (‘heat-loving’ thermophiles).

Depending on the ecological system being described or studied, the scope of biodiversity might be confined to a particular location or groups of locations. When we describe the biodiversity of organisms at one particular location, we refer to this as an assessment of alpha diversity (α diversity). This measurement is particularly useful for understanding what mixture of species are present within an area.

For example, if you were to measure the alpha diversity of a park in city of Chicago, you may include up to a mixture of 155 species of birds depending on the location of the park, numerous insect species, plant species, etc. Regardless of the type of species, because we have established our area of study as the park, every living species within the park will be included in the alpha diversity assessment.

(C) Penn State | Insect Biodiversity Center

When multiple locations are taken into consideration, this becomes what is considered a beta-diversity (β diversity) assessment. This type of assessment can be incredibly useful when assessing large regions for biodiversity. For example, β diversity is beneficial for assessing the biodiversity of a country, or a large region of land such as a state. In this application, alpha assessments are taken at many different habitats, and compiled in a beta diversity application.

The scenarios given above for α and β diversities involve looking at an ecosystem level. These terms can, however, be applied to smaller scales, for instance looking at the biodiversity among a certain species (either from observable characteristic or genetic differences).

The video below is a great example at looking at species diversity within ants in the Gorongosa National Park (Mozambique, Africa).


How does biodiversity arise?

Within every organism, there is a sequence of genetic information that makes up every characteristic of that individual. From time to time, sequences must copy themselves in order to create new cells or pass on genetic information. A nature-made machine, editing enzymes are not perfect and occasionally make errors. These mistakes involve either adding in a base pair that doesn’t below (e.g., AATCG becomes AATGCG), removing a base pair altogether (e.g., ACGT becomes AGT), or swapping one base pair with another (e.g., ACCT becomes ACCG). Changes such as these can be fatal depending on the location of the change, or can have no effect on function. Occasionally, errors (also known as mutations) can alter a function within the organism without being fatal, resulting in a change of a visible characteristic. If these mutations are heritable (or within the cells to be used during fertilization), they can be passed on to new generations.

With new genetic potential, if a particular change in function is beneficial to an organism, these characteristics boost this individual’s chance for survival–heightening its chance of passing along this beneficial mutation to more offspring. Over time, accumulation of desirable characteristics in a population begin to shift the genetic pool available during mating events. Through directional selection, or a movement toward a beneficial trait in a population, these organisms become more similar to each other at the sequence where the mutation occurred. Errors in sequencing will continue over time, and those that occur in heritable cells (sperm, egg, etc.) might allow for survival against a new environmental factor, contributing to further shifting in genomic patterns and eventually allowing for the possibility of a new species with unique traits to emerge.

With enough geographic isolation or lack of gene immigration from outside populations, mutations in a population accumulate and eventually can cause populations of what were once the same species to now be genetically distinct enough to be considered different species.

What are the pressures that could shape an organism’s survival?

In the context of mammals, after the mass extinction of dinosaurs in the Cretaceous period (estimated 145.5 million years ago) a wide range of habitats became available for surviving creatures to colonize. One lineage became especially adapted to new modes of life, eventually extending a branch providing us humans (Homo sapiens) the opportunity to wonder about these foundational moments in history.

The video below is an illustration of the new habitats created for ancestral mammals and the selective pressures driving the adaptations needed to thrive in them.

Perhaps one of the most cited examples of colonization into new habitats is a case of adaptive radiation in Darwinian Finches (1800s). The term adaptive radiation refers to the same logic we set forth earlier, stating that organisms that invade available niches will have selective pressures from the environment on traits that encourage their success. Organisms with beneficial mutations or heritable abilities will survive, pass on their genetic information, and in turn a new species of organisms can emerge over time, now adapted to this new habitat.

Below is another HHMI BioInteractive video I recommend on evolution in Galapagos finches observed by Charles Darwin.


What is the significance of biodiversity?

Once biodiversity is established in an area, there are heavy consequences for its collapse. The greatest example of this is with the removal or eradication of keystone species. These organisms are foundational species for an area, meaning their presence keeps the living systems surrounding them regulated. When removed, the ecosystem shortly collapses. One example is the sea otter! As illustrated in the image to the right, when sea otters are present in their environment, barnacle populations remain at low sustainable levels, allowing lush kelp forests to grow and provide shelter for a wide array of aquatic biodiversity. When sea otters are removed from their environment, barnacle populations grow exponentially without predation, resulting in a reduction of kelp forests. Once home to many fish species, without kelp these organisms must find new homes, and as a result are either forced to leave the area or are exposed to predators and collapse themselves.

Non-keystone species also have ecological roles in their environment, which can cause domino effects for species that rely on interactions with them or something they were directly involved with. For instance, some caterpillars are known to take place in what is known as ecosystem engineering. This means the organisms are altering their environment in some way, which in turn can be useful for other creatures. In the case of caterpillars, many will create sheltered burrows in rolled-up leaf material. These burrows remain once the caterpillar no longer needs them, and is then used as a home for many different types of insects.

Regardless of ecological status, all species comprising our global biodiversity contain intrinsic value for their representation of millions of years of evolutionary lineages and evolutionary potential.


How is biodiversity conserved?

At the heart of the drive toward conservation rests governmental policy. Unfortunately, organized citizen by citizen efforts to be conscious about their environmental interactions are limited by the amount of people educational platforms and word of mouth can reach. Only through true government-mediated policy–be that local or federal–will large scale conservation efforts be able to go into effect.

Conservation laws specifically targeting keystone species are incredibly beneficial. Under these policies, not only is the habitat of that keystone species protected, you are in turn automatically conserving the habitat for the other species that occupy the area. The term for this is having an umbrella species, meaning the conservation of one implies conservation of a vast amount of other species. Umbrella species do not always have to be considered a keystone species, but do have to share habitat parameters with other organisms for them to be inherently included in the conservation efforts.

In situations where an organism is dwindling and is not considered an umbrella species, conservation efforts may not benefit other individuals, and thus more efforts may be required to conserve many species in a particular area. To get involved in the politics underlying conservation, it is encouraged to search periodically for bills being presented and contact your local representatives to express desires for the passing of these policies.

Ultimately, awareness within the general public of conservation-related issues and personal, consistent interaction with local government officials is the pathway for driving ecological reform.


Every individual can make a difference in the fight against biodiversity loss!

Ways to Get Involved with Conservation

1) Educate yourself. Stay up to date on current issues in conservation biology. To do this, there are a few options for quick-resources on the latest topics: Eco News Now | Phys Org | Nature Portfolio.

2) Contact your local officials! Stay up to date by searching for current conservations bills being presented to legislators, and make your desires known! To find your representatives, you can use this White House search tool.

3) Spread Awareness! Even if you cannot contribute at the moment, ambassadorship for conservation biology can spread to someone who might be able to.There is exponential growth with spreading the word! Even spreading information to two individuals on a Monday, if each person tells two other people the next day, you have the potential to have reached 254 people by the end of the week (see the figure below)!

An example of the impact of educational spread.

4) Volunteer your time. It is best to make an impactful difference in a chosen area, so be sure to not spread yourself too thin! Many organizations offer volunteer opportunities, such as local preservation chapters and zoos. To find opportunities in your area, quick internet searches are often very effective. To save time, Our Endangered World has created a list of opportunities and subsequent ways to find organizations. Visit this information here.

Citizen scientists in action! Photo Courtesy of the Urban Turtle Project | Birmingham, Alabama (est. 2018)

5) If you do not have time to volunteer, do not fret! There are many ways you can symbolically adopt animals, many of which are housed in zoos and other preservation agencies. Here are examples of symbolic adoption packages offered by WWF (World Wildlife Fund, Inc.).

6) Contribute to citizen science! Getting involved with citizen science projects is an incredible way to experience current research first-hand. One example in Birmingham Alabama, The Urban Turtle Project, allows citizens to help in the capture and counting of turtle species across the state. To learn more about this organization, you can follow this link.


For additional information on conservation biology and the importance of biodiversity, you can view the attachment videos following this article!

Stay Adventurous,

Olivia Grace


Additional Resources: Educational Videos

TEDEd Talk on the Importance of Biodiversity


Crash Course on Conservation and Restoration Biology

Species Spotlight: the Baobab Tree

Across the savannah and other regions of Africa, two trees are widely recognizable and often depicted in artwork for their stunning profiles against the horizon. The umbrella thorn acacia (Vachellia tortillas) and the baobab (genus Adansonia) serve as habitats and sources of nutrition for many species. Take a moment to compare the tree types below using the slider.

Umbrella Thorn Acacia Species (Left) | Baobab Species (Right)

Unlike the umbrella tree, baobab populations (six assessed species within the genus Adansonia) have been marked as endangered since 1998 by IUCN, and more recently two sub-species were assessed as critically endangered in a study performed by scientists with CIRAD and the University of York.


What is behind the decline?

As of 2018, the specific cause of the species’ decline is unknown. Trees are dying off with symptoms mimicking if the trees were infected with a pathogen, however no direct signs of pathogenesis (or infection) have been observable. Current fluctuations of global climate associated with human-induced climate change are thought to be the cause of the sudden onset of decline, although more correlational studies are needed to test for additional environmental factors that might be at play to confirm this.

As climatic patterns change, organisms may be exposed to different levels of environmental conditions than usual, leading to physiological (functional) issues within the organism. Specific environmental fluctuations thought to cause issues are shifting patterns of water dispersal and increases of temperature peaks compared to prior years. The logic behind this is as follows:

Figure 1. ESFA (2020)

All organisms operate in what is considered a ‘thermoneutral zone,’ which in short means there is a limited range of temperatures an organism can be exposed to before experiencing difficulty maintaining cellular functions (see above figure). There are critical temperatures associated with this zone, LCT and UCT in Figure 1, which are the furthest temperature extremes an organism can endure before going into cellular stress.

In the case of the baobab, this tree has incredible adaptations for water absorption from the environment to save hydration for times of drought. Unfortunately, increased temperatures have altered the availability of water sources, leaving the tree exposed to hot, dry climate with little hydration reserves to act as a buffer.


Why does this matter?

Cultural Influence

The Baobab Tree | African Folklore

The Baobab Tree has been a central tale among African cultures for centuries. In African Lore, the baobab tree was a species created through divine intervention capable of walking and communicating. According to the folk tale, the tree was never satisfied with its composition or surroundings, and was in a state of constant disagreement with the gods that created it. Tired of listening to the ever-changing frustrations of the tree, the baobab was forcibly driven into the Earth, where it was left to remain still in the soil, but most importantly left to allow the deities to continue their creation of the world in silence. The tree gained its colloquial nickname, the upside down tree, through oral and written retellings of this timeless story. The close connection some feel with the tale reflects the underlying importance the species has maintained for locals.

Nutrition for Humans and Wildlife

In terms of vitamin composition, baobab fruit contains higher levels of vitamin C than oranges. The fruit is widely consumes by humans, as well as wildlife species such as monkeys, antelopes, and the African elephant. Among a high C-vitamin rating, the fruit provides large amounts of dietary fiber to organisms, along with high levels of antioxidants. In fact, this tree has the highest level of dietary antioxidants when compared to other fruiting species.

Baobab trees also serve as crucial water reservoirs for wildlife when rain is scarce in the environment. Specifically, the African elephant (Genus Loxodonta) is a frequent visitor of baobabs, targeting large water reserves within the vascular tissue of the trees.

African Elephant (Genus Loxodonta)

Overconsumption | Impacts of Humans and the African Elephant

If you were to observe the same baobab tree at various points of the year, you might notice the diameter of the trunk changes based on the time of year. This is directly correlated with the amount of water readily available for intake by the species from the environment. When baobab trees are larger in diameter, they are swollen from large amounts of water stored within vascular tissue. African elephants are well-adapted to recognize these swollen trunks as a source of hydration and use their tusks to break away external bark of the tree, exposing moist wood ready for consumption. Severe damage to internal tissue from destruction like this results in the death of many baobab trees.

In addition to being exploited by wildlife, baobab trees can be over-harvested by humans for commercial and local purposes such as nutrition or medicinal intervention. With the species in decline, the continual destruction of trees from members of Loxodonta and humans pose a threat to expediting the rate of that decline.

Habitat for Species

With immense branching patterns and bushy foliage, baobab trees make excellent homes for wildlife across Africa, including organisms such as lizards, birds, primates, and insects. Not only does the baobab offer shelter from predators and refuge for reproduction, it also acts as a place of shade to prevent organisms from overheating under the over-exposed sun.

In the video below, you can see many examples of these groups of organisms!


What Conservation Methods are in Place?

Whereas the effects of climate change on baobab species are steadily underway, other factors threatening to shorten their existence, such as over-exploitation by humans, are actively being protected against. For example, members of the NGO (non-governmental organization) Flora & Fauna International (FFI) have paired with the Madagasikara Voakajy (MV) NGO in Madagascar to actively monitor around regions of baobab trees repeatedly sought after for slash-burning or other human exploitation practices.

A Decayed Baobab Estimated to be More than 2500 Years Old | © BBC

Having physical representations of the concern the public has for the baobab population is crucial to raising awareness about what is going on with the species. Through efforts such as those set forth by FFI and MV, the lives of those baobabs currently in existence may be prolonged as researchers continue to explore ways to save this historic species.


Future Directions

The baobab tree represents an ancient lineage of DNA that holds cultural importance for many groups of people as well as nutritional benefits to both human and wildlife populations. Measures against climate change, such as minimizing individual carbon emissions and assisting in conscious green-choices are immediate actions you can take to help minimize the future effects baobab species are inevitable to experience.

More population abundance and health assessments need to be conducted as well as assessing trends with clines (environmental gradients). In the time between the release of new information, non-governmental organizations such as Flora & Fauna International and Madagasikara Voakajy mentioned earlier are crucial to raising awareness and taking direct action against over-exploitation practices.

Stay Adventurous,

Olivia Grace

References


1 | Aduna. 2022. Baobab Benefits.

2 | ESFA. 2020. AHAW Panel.

3 | Flora & Fauna International. 2022. Saving the Wild Baobabs of Madagascar

4 | Platt, J. 2018. Extinction Countdown, Climate Change is Killing These Ancient Trees — but That’s Just Part of the Story. The Relevator.

5 | San Diego Zoo. 2022. Animals & Plants, Baobab.

Diving Deep: the Sea Angel

 © Monterey Bay Aquarium

Using a pair of winglike structures, the sea angel propels itself gracefully through the deep waters of the ocean. Sea angels look quite ethereal, with translucent bodies and internal organs of pink and orange. However, despite its celestially inspired name, the sea angel is not so angelic in disposition as they in fact are fierce predators of the deep. 

Development and Habitat

Sea angels, Clione limacina, are invertebrates within the phylum Mollusca. Despite their shell-less appearance, these organisms are classified with other snails! Though bare in adulthood, these organisms were not always in this state. Representatives of C. limacina are born with shells that are shed upon adulthood, leaving them with soft gelatinous bodies for later in life. The visible ‘wing’ structures, also known as parapodia, are homologous (or similar due to common ancestry) with the muscular foot used by land snails for locomotion.

Sea angels have a wide distribution in the earth’s oceans, ranging from temperate to arctic zones. Regardless of temperature, these organisms are known to dwell within the mesopelagic zone of the ocean, 200-1,000 meters, occupying only as deep as 600 meters.  

Diet and Reproduction

 © Monterey Bay Aquarium

Individuals of C. limacina are sequentially hermaphroditic, meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs with the ability to swap sexes if needed. When the mating pool becomes limited, this is an incredibly useful adaptation! These creatures are also very small, only growing to be about 5 cm at the most, but are fierce predators nonetheless.  

Clione limacina has a preferred diet of one its own close relatives, its sister species: the sea butterfly! Sea butterflies, like sea angels, are born with shells. Differing from the sea angels, however, sea butterflies retain their shells throughout their lifetime. Unfortunately, the presence of a shell doesn’t offer much protection against their ravenous cousins. To deal with the pesky shells of sea butterflies, C. limacina has an adaptation of tentacle-like structures, called buccal cones, that originate from their heads and latch onto prey. These buccal cones have a radula, a mouth with teeth-like structures, and hooks to scoop the sea butterfly out of its shell like a kiwi from its skin! The sea angel then devours its prey whole and flaps away to hunt down another sea butterfly delicacy. Altogether, the process of locating prey and feeding can take anywhere from two to 45 minutes. 

A favorite for now, unfortunately C. limacina might need to find a more sustainable favorite as sea butterflies are becoming increasingly endangered by ocean acidification. As the acidity of the ocean increases (or pH decreases), the calcium carbonate making up the shell of the sea butterfly disintegrates, leaving the organism vulnerable to predation and environmental variables.

Fear not, however, as the sea angel has other nearby food sources. Some of these are phytoplankton, or floating photosynthetic organisms. In fact, consuming these is the mechanism behind the sea angels’ vibrant colorations!

 © Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sea angels are an incredible example of the diverse life dwelling in the depths of our oceans, and a great reminder that size is no indication for how well-adapted an ocean predator can be.

Check back soon for more of the Diving Deep series!

References


Monterey Bay Aquarium | Animals A to Z | Meet the Sea Angel

Smithsonian | Ocean, Find Your Blue | Angels of the Sea

Monotreme Monday: the Platypus

Welcome to Monotreme Monday! This platform is a short, written series focusing on the incredible adaptations of Monotremes!

Monotremes make up one out of the three main groups in the class Mammalia , where they are most popularly known for their egg-laying capabilities. In today’s edition of Monotreme Monday, we will be focusing on the Platypus, one of the five species of monotremes still alive today.

Once being a very popular character in Phineas and Ferb, Perry the Platypus was possibly one of the very first introductions of Monotremes for many. Although depicted as a blue, beaver tailed, duck billed creature in the show, the actual appearance of platypuses is more subdued.

© Hans and Judy Besage—Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd/age fotostock

The platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus, is endemic to most of the eastern Australian coast along with Tasmania and King Island, seen in Figure 1; there is also a small group of platypuses that were introduced to Kangaroo Island (Bino et al., 2019). As you can see from the map, a majority of recorded sightings from the Australian government atlas shows high concentrations of Platypuses at the southeastern coast where many permanent river systems span from tropical to alpine environments (Bino et al., 2019). The river systems allow for dispersal of young to new areas of their habitat, which is a common behavior seen often in juveniles ranging from 7-8 months of age (Furlan et al., 2013).

Figure 1. Distribution of Platypus based on Australian state government records between 1760-2017 (Bino et al., 2019).

Platypuses often inhabit areas near fresh bodies of water, including a range from fast moving streams to slow-moving pools with coarse layers of substrate on the bottom. The substrate usually consists of pebbles or gravel. Here, the platypus will create an underground burrow, constructed between mangled and submerged tree roots right above water level (Bino et al., 2019). An example image of what the burrows look like can be seen in Figure 2 and 3. The platypus diet primarily consists of aquatic invertebrates including insects, shrimp, and crayfish. Less often they can also be seen enjoying other aquatic animals, including tadpoles, small fish, and aquatic snails (Grant 2015).

Figure 2. An example of a Platypus burrow hole (Art done by  David Nockels © Look and Learn).
Figure 3. A platypus emerging from its burrow near a bank (Thomas et al. 2019).

Although classified as mammals, a number of characteristics reflected in the platypus can be see in fish, birds, and reptiles. Some of these characteristics include egg laying capabilities, venomous spurs, and an electroreceptive bill.

Egg laying is not a common character seen in mammals. In fact, this trait is one of the main classifiers for Monotremes. Female Platypuses will go through a gestation period of about 21 days, where the offspring will begin to develop. After the gestation period, the female will lay her eggs in the burrow, usually producing between 1-3 eggs each breeding season. The mother will then start the incubation stage, where the eggs will be curled up to the mothers abdomen and tail for about 10 days (Grant 2015). Offspring will then start to hatch from the eggs, breaking through the eggshell with teeth that will later be lost. After hatching, the babies will experience large scale developmental changes, including the development of a bill after five days, webbed feet after 24 days, and fur growing in within the first 11 weeks of life (Manger et al., 1998). For the first three to four months, offspring will remain in the burrow protected from outside dangers. Here they will start to feed on milk produced from the mothers mammary glands. These glands are located under the skin of the mother and occupy most of the abdomen . As the lactation period begins to close around 114-145 days after hatching, the juvenile platypuses will lose their teeth and replace them with grinding pads made out of keratin (Grant 2015).

All platypuses are born with venomous spurs that are used later in life. These spurs are present in both males and females when hatched, contained within a sheath until about 9-12 months of age. At that point, females will permanently shed these spurs while the males will retain them and start producing venom (Whittington and Belov 2014). It is speculated that males use these spurs primary during matting season, causing seasonal production of venom. The platypus is the only mammal currently known to produce venom seasonally (Grant 2015, Wong et al., 2012). Although capable of causing extreme pain, and in certain cases causing paralysis to other male platypuses, the venom will only be fatal to smaller animals (Bino et al., 2019).

One of the most well known features of the Platypus is the ‘duck-like’ bill. Although their bill can resemble that of a duck’s, it is actually much more similar to that of a shark’s nose. The Platypus bill is made up of a 40,000+ mucous receptor glands that can conduct electric signals and acts as an antenna when searching for prey. This type of electroreception has been originally observed in fish and some aquatic amphibians. Because of this, the Platypus uses its bill as a primary tool for hunting prey (Czech-Damal et al. 2013, Fjallbrant et al. 1998). The Platypus will rely solely on its bills electroreceptive capabilities while hunting underwater and because of this has a groove on either side of its head that will shut, concealing its eyes and ears underwater (Bino et al., 2019).

Figure 3. Up close look at Platypus bill and head (© San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance).

Unfortunately, the platypus has faced several threats over history starting in the late 19th and early 20th century when platypus populations were being hunted for their high quality fur. This was before scientific interest really took off, and only until 1912, when the platypus became legally protected, did studies of their unique anatomy and ecology start (Bino et al., 2019). Although there have been many studies done on the anatomy, ecology, and evolution of the platypus there has been little research interest in their conservation. The platypus faces many synergistic threats to its habitat including the increase in pollutants, changes in river/stream structure and hydrology, and the creation of dams and roads. Due to these issues, platypuses have been and continue to be displaced from their natural habitats and suffer consequences from the drastic change in its ecology (Bino et al., 2019). In 2016 the platypus was marked as a ‘Near Threatened’ species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

There were several names the aboriginal peoples developed for the platypus, including ‘Mallangong’, ‘Tambreet’, ‘Gaya-dari’, ‘Boonaburra’, and ‘Lare-re-lar’. Along with these names, the aboriginal people also developed folk-lore that included biocultural and ecological connections to the platypus. One of the stories begin with Ancestral Spirits deciding on a totem’s formation. As the fish, birds, and marsupials of the land plead and reasoned with the platypus to join them in their group, the platypus consulted with an echidna and decided that it was not a part of any of these groups. The platypus explained to the fish, birds, and marsupials that since it shared traits with all the groups, it would remain friends with all of them instead of picking one identity over the other. Here, the platypus is commemorating the Great Spirit for its wisdom and creation of different animals (Bino et al., 2019).

Thanks for reading all about the wonders of platypuses! We hope to see you back for the next edition of Monotreme Monday!

Did you learn anything new? Feel free to share with us below!

References

https://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/platypus/summary

https://www.britannica.com/animal/platypus

Bino, G., Kingsford, R. T., Archer, M., Connolly, J. H., Day, J., Dias, K., … Whittington, C. (2019). The platypus: evolutionary history, biology, and an uncertain future. Journal of Mammalogy, 100, 308–327.

The Third Eye: A Reptilian Perspective

For many humans seeking enlightenment, or a higher form of self-being, the third eye serves as a representation of the internal chamber, or pineal gland, that bridges a gap between the plane we inhabit and other unknown planes existing among us (McGovern, 2007). In the case of a certain reptile, however, interpretations about the role of the third eye rely purely on anatomical physiology. The tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) is a member of the order Rhynchocephalia, and the last of its evolutionary line. Sometimes these animals are referred to as lizards, though this is not quite a correct assessment. These organisms are more pseudo-lizards, as phyletically (or organizationally to other organisms) tuatara comprise of their own independent clade and traditional lizards are within a separate order, Squamata; see Figure 1.

In addition to being the last living representatives of Rhynchocephalia, tuatara are the oldest known living reptiles–even predating the emergence of dinosaurs (Helicon, 2018; Gemmell et al., 2020). These reptiles are thought to have been first named by the Māori tribe, an indigenous group of peoples whom inhabited regions of New Zealand around 700 years ago. To local tribes, tuatara were thought to be embodiments of guardians that would protect sacred locations (Gemmell et al., 2020).

Tuatara can be found on 30 small islands in New Zealand (Helicon, 2018), however population trends as of recent are unknown and more research into organism abundance and habitat quality assessments are needed. These reptiles can live up to 60 years under proper conditions, 20 years more than the longest-known living lizard the Komodo dragon (Smithsonian’s NZCBI). Perhaps having direct access for the world through the pineal gland or ‘third eye’ has a role to play in maintaining such an elongated lifespan.

Environmental access to the pineal gland is on top of the tuatara’s head medial to the eyes, but placement is closer toward the spine than the nostril region (see the photo on the right). Researchers deemed this access point to the gland ‘the third eye’, as this small opening in fact contains a functioning and innervated retina! The third eye plays such a crucial role in organismal function that it has remained evolutionarily (genetically) unchanged for roughly 220 million years (Helicon, 2018). As for the specific purpose, this access point to the pineal gland is believed to serve as a regulator for sun exposure. As an ectotherm, tuatara rely primarily on environmental temperatures to alter internal body temperatures. The third eye contributes to behavioral regulation for optimal sun exposure, helping to maintain the body at an ideal level of heat (Stebbins, 1958).

Though not spiritual in nature, the fundamental understandings we have on the third eye of the tuatara has fueled evolutionary research–specifically in regard to amniote divergence on the geologic time scale (Gemmell et al., 2020).

If you are interested in learning more about this species, Discovery UK has a wonderful educational video on the subject, accessible below.

Stay Adventurous,

Olivia Grace

References


Gemmell, N. J., K. Rutherford, S. Prost, et al.. 2020. “The tuatara genome reveals ancient features of amniote evolution.” Nature, 584: 403-409.

Helicon. 2018. “Tuatara.” The Hutchinson unabridged encyclopedia with atlas and weather guide.

McGovern, U.. 2007. “Third eye.” Chambers Dictionary of the unexplained. ISBN: 978-0-550-10215-7

Stebbins, R. C.. 1958. “An experimental study of the ‘third eye’ of the tuatara.” Copeia, 3: 183-190. DOI: 10.2307/1440585

Stuck Like Glue

I’ll be the first to admit, whenever I saw a butterfly with a broken wing, I was the kid to create a terrarium (not very decent, mind you) and stick him/her in it hoping it would grow back… and voila, the insect would be healed! Unfortunately, the outcome was always the same: they died. The sad reality is butterflies finish growing after their second stage of life, and without their wings, they don’t have the best mobility.

It wasn’t until I was bouncing around youtube one night when I found a video of a man actually repairing a wing for a butterfly with contact cement. Granted, the name gives the product a harsher sound than it is, as it is just a form of contact adhesive.

Without their in-tact wings, these beautiful insects are rendered flightless and will spend the rest of their days crawling around the ground. Without any intervention, this leaves them easy prey for birds, reptiles, bored toddlers, you name it. Luckily, there’s a solution, and if you’ve got the patience, the steps are quite simple.

If you are interested, the Live Monarch Foundation has a step by step guide to turning the quality of life around for these injured critters. Even if you don’t happen to find yourself in a situation like this, I find it worth the watch, because who doesn’t want to be an expert at butterfly wing repair?

 

Stay adventurous,
Olivia Grace

Metabolic Bone Disease: What to Do

Muscle spasms, loss of appetite, lethargy—all are common symptoms of Metabolic Bone Disease, also known as MBD. The sad reality of purchasing reptiles in pet stores who don’t hire specialists is often the UVB lighting is not replaced as often as it should be. Though UVB bulbs and light strips may still emit a light frequency, the potency of the fixture decreases over time, limiting the actual amount of UVB exposure the animal is receiving.

What to Do if Your Animal Shows Symptoms

As convenient as it would be to simply bring your reptile to the vet, often buyers are placed in a state of emergency when the new companion they bring home goes into severe spasms. This is a severe state of MTB, and while the animal IS capable of making a recovery, the likelier alternative is the animal will pass.

While under UVB lighting, the animal can be submerged in an electrolyte bath—X part clear-infant Pedialyte to X part water is sufficient. If the animal shows improvement between spasms, a meat-heavy baby food, for example, pureed chicken can be placed on the tongue of the reptile.

Opening the mouth of your reptile can be tricky, especially if they are in a slightly vegetative state. The safest way is to take a small skewer with a flattened end and gently pry open the side of the mouth. From here, the baby food can be glided across the tongue with a Q-tip, dull toothpick, etc.

For less severe symptoms, such as lethargy and loss of appetite, the best bet is to take your reptile to an exotic-trained veterinarian that can identify the source of the issue. As mentioned earlier, it is best to run through the components of your enclosure to consider if MTB is a possibility, or if there could be other issues brewing. UVB strips are excellent for target large areas of a terrarium, however, as their potency fades over time, they need to be switched out. As an average, every six months is reasonable for a strip or bulb to be replaced.

When Purchasing an Animal

Everyone tends to get caught up in the excitement of getting a new animal, and often overlook how the animal is acting, the housing environment, or diet provided.

Before ever purchasing a new companion, it is crucial to be an observer to the creature in its environment. Take note of the diet currently being fed—is it nourishing, is there a lack of nutrients? Notice the skin of the reptile—are the scales in good condition? Look at the eyes—are they reflective and clear, are they dull and cloudy? Most importantly, notice the interaction of the animal with its surroundings and be sure it does not appear lethargic. A new animal should be just as curious as you are to it. If the animal requires special lighting, don’t be afraid to ask an employee the last time the UVB bulb was switched.

Always be sure to hold special lighting as a priority for new companion animals. Unlike housing decorations, a lack of this could prove detrimental to the health and the two should be considered inseparable at the register—if you buy one, you buy the other.

IMG_1251

Olive, Chinese Crested Water Dragon

Before you purchase any animal, be sure to do your research, not only the habitat and diet but of the potential ailments as well. Above all else, don’t be afraid to question the health of the animals being purchased, as this could better prepare you for the road ahead for you and your new companion.

Stay adventurous,

Olivia Grace

Back in Business!

Over the summer, I went on tour with a traveling Drum and Bugle Corps, which took me away from the blogging world for a while. Needless to say, I’m back, and getting to see the rich wildlife we have across this country has me fueled more than ever! Who knew dragonflies could come in so many different shapes and sizes?

Some of the creatures I met were on the larger scale, but the vast majority were on the smaller side.

I found this American Dagger Moth caterpillar on a backpack in Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania. Though the protruding hairs from the green ball of fuzz can be alarming, you have no need to fear of it stinging you. Do take notice, however, that I have him on a stick. While they don’t sting, their hollow locks can break off when touching your skin and will release a nasty toxin.IMG_0850

Oddly enough, at the same housing site, I made another companion–a ringneck snake! Ever since I read about these beauties in a herpetology textbook, I’ve been dying to meet one up close, and I must say, I was not disappointed. Spanning up to 15 inches long, Ringnecks carry a docile temperament and make the perfect companions–be it short term or long term.

Exploring the different creatures across the country was definitely one of my favorite aspects of the summer, and I can’t wait to share with you countless of others. Until we meet again, always remember: Whether near or far, learning about nature’s creations will always link back to where you are.

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