Each June and July, visitors to several gorge parks are rewarded with an unusual treat – the chance to see a “living fossil.”
The term “living fossil” refers to species that have evolved very little over the course of millions of years. Some well-known examples of living fossils include elephant sharks, ginkgo trees, and horseshoe crabs. Although all of these organisms have evolved, these species have stayed so similar that fossils from millions of years ago are still recognizable as ancestors to the modern species.
Meet the gray petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi), a species of dragonfly that closely resembles its ancestors who were around when dinosaurs roamed the earth during the Jurassic Period – almost 200 million years ago! During that time, the petaltail dragonfly was part of very widespread family known as the Petaluridae. Today, however, there are only 11 species of Petaluridae remaining worldwide.
The gray petaltail is found in several of the Finger Lakes gorge parks the gray petaltails love hunting in the gorges, because they can go to the sunny side of the gorge to get warm, which allows them to move much faster. Petaltails are drawn to the gorges to lay their eggs in the soggy seeps on wooded slopes. Most dragonflies lay their eggs in water bodies. The eggs grow into juvenile dragonflies, called nymphs that also typically live in water. That is not the case for the gray petaltail nymphs! The gray petaltail is the only species of dragonfly that does not have fully aquatic nymphs. Instead, the petaltail nymphs live and grow while hidden in the mud, moss and moist leaf litter in the forest seeps. As the nymphs mature, they climb up the trunks of trees to become the adult dragonflies that can fly fast and free all around the gorge.
While they are not nearly as large as their Jurassic ancestors, today’s petaltails are one of the larger species of dragonflies, with a wingspan of up to 5 inches wide. Their distinct black and gray coloring also makes it easy to identify. This species often perches upon rocks and tree trunks, but it is not uncommon for it to perch upon a passerby! Although they are large and ferocious insect predators (eating thousands of mosquitoes), dragonflies are harmless to humans. If you are lucky enough to be chosen as a dragonfly perch, you may be startled, but either brush them away very gently or just enjoy it!
The gray petaltail is listed as a species of special concern within New York State, as it is only known in specialized habitat in a small number of locations. NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) continues to survey for them and recently found another new site for them. Luckily, some of those locations are within New York’s state parks, providing habitat protection to this fascinating species – and maybe a chance to see this primitive insect for yourself, especially in June and July.
Post by Laura Young, FORCES Environmental Education Steward & Becky Sibner, Stewardship Project Coordinator, State Parks
Featured image: gray petaltail on a Jack-in-the-pulpit, Kerry Wixted
Paulson, D. (2011). Dragonflies and damselflies of the East. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
July 9th -15th, 2017 marks the fourth annual New York Invasive Species Awareness Week! Each year, New York designates one week to highlight the environmental impacts of invasive species and what we can do to help. This year’s theme, “Invasive Species Reality Check: Where We Are & Where We Need to Go,” focuses on past successes and goals for the future. Invasive species affect all of us, and we could use your help to detect and prevent the further spread of invasive species in New York.
What are invasives? Invasive species are plants, animals (don’t forget about insects!), or other organisms that are accidentally or intentionally introduced from a different region or country (meaning they are non-native), and that cause harm to the environment and the economy. In general, invasive species tend to be adaptable to a variety of environmental conditions. They grow and spread quickly, and because they are non-native, they do not have natural controls like predators or diseases that would normally reduce their numbers. Therefore, invasives are able to displace native plant and animal species and the organisms that depend on those native species.
Keep in mind that not all non-native species become invasive – it is the species that are very successful and have the potential to negatively impact large areas that become a problem. In New York, several especially problematic invasives include: giant hogweed, a huge plant that can cause severe burns and blisters on skin; water chestnut, an aquatic plant that forms dense, impenetrable mats on the water’s surface; and the emerald ash borer, a beetle that has already killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America.
Giant hogweed can grow more than 14 feet tall. If you see it, do not touch it! Photo by DEC
Water chestnut is frequently pulled out by hand from kayaks and canoes, seen here at Rockland Lake State Park. Photo by State Parks
Have you ever seen a purple triangular prism hanging in the trees? It’s actually a trap for the emerald ash borer. Photo by State Parks
One high priority invasive species that we could use your help detecting is called oak wilt, a fungal disease that affects oak trees. It can kill trees in the red oak group (oaks with pointed leaf tips) in as little as 2-6 weeks! Trees in the white oak group (oaks with rounded leaf tips) are less susceptible to the disease, but can still be killed in a matter of years. This July and August, look for oak leaves that are turning brown, starting at the outer edge and progressing into the middle of the leaf. The leaves may fall off of the tree in the spring and summer, often when parts of the leaf are still green. The oak tree’s branches may begin to die off from the top of the tree downward. If you see any of these symptoms, it is crucial that you contact DEC Forest Health via email at email@example.com or call 1-866-640-0652. Read more from the Department of Environmental Conservation about this destructive invasive. Last year, there were only 15 cases of oak wilt reported in New York. Your eyes on the ground could assist in the rapid identification of any new cases and help prevent the spread of this disease.
Oak tree infected with oak wilt. Photo by NYS DEC
The discolored leaf from a tree in the red oak group. Photo by NYS DEC
If you are ready to take action and learn more about invasive species, you’re in luck! This week there will be interpretive hikes and paddling events, presentations, webinars, invasive species removal projects, and more, all across New York State. Check out the Invasive Species Awareness Week (ISAW) calendar or see if your local State Park or nature center is hosting an event. Last year, New York State hosted over 120 ISAW events and had more than 2,000 participants. So whether you just learned about invasive species from reading this blog post or you’re already able to spot the difference between the highly invasive aquatic Hydrilla plant and the common native look-alike Elodea canadensis (learn more about that here!), we need your help. Learn, act, tell your friends. Public awareness and action plays an essential role in halting the spread of invasive species and preventing new introductions.
There was fun for all at an ISAW event last year at Allegany State Park, where kids made emerald ash borer masks. Photo by State Parks
Cleaning your boots after a hike helps to stop the spread of invasives. Photo by Credit: Gary Peeples/USFWS
Here are five easy tips that can make a big difference:
Use local firewood – buy it or gather it where you will be burning it so you don’t transport forest pests.
Plant only non-invasive plants in your garden, or even better, plant native plants. You can use the New York Flora Atlas to check which plants are native to New York.
Clean your boots or your bike tires at the trailhead after hitting the trail – seeds of invasive plants can get stuck on your boots, clothes, or tires. You don’t want invasives in your yard or your other favorite hiking spots.
Get involved – volunteer to help protect your local natural areas, join your local PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management) to stay informed, or become a citizen scientist by using iMapInvasives to report infestations of invasive species right from your smartphone.
New York Invasive Species Awareness Week is coordinated by The New York State Invasive Species Council (ISC), Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC) and Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISMS) in partnership with numerous other agencies, organizations, and groups.
Post by Kelsey Ruffino, Student Conservation Association & State Park
Here at State Parks, leashed dogs are commonly observed with their owners on hiking trails, in approved camping areas and enjoying lazy summer days. However, there is also an elite group of highly trained dogs , K9’s, paired with their State Park Police handlers, in a specialized program that began over 15 years ago.
Since 2002, the New York State Park Police have used Police Canines and Handlers as specialized teams to keep State Parks, our visitors, and our neighboring communities safe. This is a short history documenting their incredible work and highlighting the achievements of “Man’s best friend” in State Parks.
Initially, two K9s trained in explosive detection were selected and stationed in Long Island. Over the next two years, the State Park Police recruited four more K9 teams and stationed them in the Niagara and Saratoga-Capital District Regions and in the Hudson Valley, all trained primarily for finding explosive devices. The last of those specialized canines, K9 Chase, working with Officer Mannocchi in the Palisades, retired in 2014.
The next generation of canines began their deployments after 2014. Officer Mannocchi returned as a canine handler with K9 Sadie, trained for finding people tracking in the wilderness areas of the lower Hudson Valley. Shortly after starting her ‘job’ with State Parks, K9 Sadie and her handler , Officer Mannocchi were called to assist with a search of a heavily wooded area for a male subject suffering from serious health issues. At 2:00am, K9 Sadie located the man lying in a thicket of woods approximately 1 mile from his home. The man was later reunited with his family without further incident. K9 Sadie and her handler were credited for their rapid response and effective capability.
At the same time that K9 Sadie was training, Officer Cali and K9 Teo came into service in the Niagara Falls area, as part of a homeland security opportunity. Teo is certified in explosive detection and has conducted numerous searches at Niagara Falls attractions and State Park concert venues, as well as a Presidential campaign event and the NCAA Men’s March Madness Tournament.
From the success that the K9 program gained, State Park Police Chief David Herrick expanded the K9 program to address the need for large venue protection. With the support of Commissioner Rose Harvey, Chief Herrick was able to recruit five more K9 teams, who were trained and deployed in 2016.
The New York State Park Police now have seven K9 teams, deployed from Western New York to Long Island, prepared to serve the state parks and their millions of visitors.
Yes its true, boaters can expect to be offered free boat washes from stations at select boat launches throughout the state, especially in places like the Adirondacks. The purpose of these stations are to provide free boat washes while also helping to prevent the spread of certain invasive species.
Everyone takes the time to give their cars a good wash periodically, but have you ever thought about how often you should be cleaning your boat? Boats can be carriers of invasive plants and animals. Most of the time, you can see these plants hanging off your propeller, bunks, and trailer and you can simply pick them off. However, some invasive species, like the young of zebra mussels and Asian Clams (called veligers) are so small they cannot be seen with the naked eye. Yet just adding a few of these into a lake or other waterbody is enough to start an invasion.
When we wash our boats, also known as decontaminating, it reduces the chances of transporting harmful invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, spiny waterfleas, or Asian clams, to additional waterbodies.
How do boat wash stations work?
Boat washing begins with a general boat and trailer inspection. A trained professional, typically a boat or watercraft steward, first checks over your boat to see if it needs to be cleaned. If a boat is noticeably dirty and has visible plant matter on it, or if the boat was previously in a different waterbody, there is a good chance the boat steward will offer to decontaminate your boat for free. After a visual inspection of the boat and trailer, the boat steward will ask you to lower your propeller, just low enough to check if there is any water in the engine. If water comes out, the engine will need to be flushed of that foreign water with 120o F water from the boat wash station.
At pristine waterbodies like Lake George, boat stewards are more concerned with boats going into the lake that were previously elsewhere. In other lakes where many invasive species are already present, boat stewards may focus their decontamination efforts on boats exiting the water, to prevent furthering the spread of those species.
Afterwards, if the boat steward determines that you also should have a full decontamination, they will begin cleaning your boat. The water in the boat wash station is heated up to 140oF with pressure as high as 1,400 PSI. This temperature and pressure has been shown to kill most animals and plants trying to hitchhike on your boat. For specific areas where electronics and engine components are exposed, lower pressure is used to prevent damage to the boats. Boat trailers with felt bunks will be soaked in 140 o F using a low pressure attachment to kill any invasive species that may be hitchhiking on this material.
During the washing, it is important to wash the outside of the boat and trailer, including the propeller, hull, trailer hitch, and underneath the trailer. It is also important to flush the engine and drain the bilge to ensure the boat is properly decontaminated. Boat wash stations can recycle contaminated water and heat it again, ensuring that its runoff will not contaminate the waterbody. Boat stewards take special care to be sure that no damage happens to the boats during cleaning.
Boat wash stations are an effective way to clean your boat of all invasives, including those that may be too small to see. Using the boat washing station is the most efficient and effective way to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, while also providing a free cleaning of your boat and trailer!
Thanks for helping keep New York’s pristine lakes and rivers clean, so we can continue to enjoy them for generations to come!
Click here for more information on boat decontamination procedures:
Decontaminating your boat with a boat wash station is always suggested, but be aware that some lakes, such as Lake George, require you to get a decontamination before launching.
Heading to the Adirondacks or Lake George? Find a boat wash station here.
Across New York, State Parks staff is working hard to help support the diverse populations of pollinators from bees to butterflies, beetles, wasps, and more. Here’s a sample of the pollinator protection projects going on this year in State Parks.
Working from their photographs from both Rockefeller State Park Preserve and Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, photographers Paula Sharp and Ross Eatman created the website “Guide to Wild Bees of New York.” This stunning website features extensive photographic documentation, scientific classification, identification guides, and behavior and habitat information on over 80 species of bees in the Hudson Valley. In addition, Sharp and Eatman curated the Wild Bees exhibit which is on display on the concourse at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY now until June 25, the end of Pollinator Week 2017. One visitor noted that the photos “…helped me to see bees in a new light.”
Staff is developing educational materials about the native pollinators who live in the recently restored sedge meadow. This wet meadow (with grass-like sedges) is habitat for several uncommon butterflies, including northern pearly eye (Enodia anthedon), Appalachian brown (Satyrodes appalachia), mulberry wing (Poanes massasoit) and black dash (Euphyes vestris). However, the size of the habitat at the John Jay State Historic site has declined because woody plants and non-native invasives such as multiflora rose and Oriental bittersweet started growing in the meadow. Woody shrubs have been removed to set back succession and restore the sedge meadow habitat. The outreach materials will explain the restoration and highlight some of the flora and pollinators that visitors may see at the park.
Long Island State Parks
Bring Back the Pollinators Project
State Parks biologists and environmental educators are establishing and enhancing native plantings and habitat in seven state parks throughout Long Island. Look for these pollinator projects in Orient Beach State Park, Heckscher State Park, Bethpage State Park, Robert Moses State Park, Caleb Smith State Park, Connetquot State Park Preserve, and Belmont Lake State Park. The Bring Back the Pollinators project is focused on gardens in order to give visitors a close-up view and to learn about the native plants and pollinators. This work goes hand-in-hand with efforts by NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) scientists to identify and protect the natural areas in parks which are key to supporting native fauna, including pollinators. Parks staff have also installed tall fencing around several gardens at Robert Moses State Park, Caleb Smith State Park, Heckscher State Park, and Orient Beach State Park to keep the deer from eating the showcase of flora and pollinator fauna.
At Ganondagan State Historic Site, three projects will enhance habitat for native pollinators and other fauna. Staff has worked with NYNHP to identify plant species that are native to the area and that reflect similar natural communities known in the vicinity. Just as important is that the projects restore the cultural landscape of the Seneca town that was on the site over 330 years ago.
The Oak Opening Habitat project is restoring a 60-acre old field to native grasslands to provide habitat for grassland birds, mammals, and pollinators as well as opportunities for historical interpretation. This spring, the grass seeds were sown and invasive species control efforts will continue through 2018. The restoration is based on the NYNHP rare Oak Opening community, which is known from a few places in nearby Monroe County.
The Green Plants Trail is the second project. It includes removing invasive species and replanting native plants to improve pollinator habitat and to feature a variety of plants that had and have cultural value to the Seneca people.
The third project at Ganondagan, Pollinator Grassland, transformed a weedy 13-acre grassland into a tallgrass prairie by planting native grasses (such as big bluestem and Indian grass) and wildflowers (including common milkweed). These plants benefit pollinators and other native fauna.
State Parks Partnership Educational Banners and Posters on Native Pollinators and Habitats in State Parks
NYNHP staff is developing high quality banners and signage to promote the importance of native plants and habitats in State Parks and their role in supporting native pollinators. These materials will feature the partnership between NY Natural Heritage Program and State Parks and will be available for use at events, education centers, and other venues. In 2016, NYNHP displayed some draft posters to accompany activities at the New York State Fair, which stimulated many questions and compliments. Messaging, photo selection and design of banners and signage is under way using other funding sources and the professional fabrication of signage will be completed in 2017.
This photo of a clearwing moth was posted at the 2016 NY State Fair to accompany activities on pollinators. Photo credit: Matt Schlesinger, NYNHP.
Pollinators use a variety of plants and habitats from field to forest. Photo credit: Greg Edinger, NYNHP.
The banners will describe how NY Natural Heritage Program is partnering with State Parks to protect habitat and learn more about what pollinators are present in NY – like this rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis). Photo credit: LW Macior.
The Council of Park Friends and a local garden club teamed up to plant a native pollinator garden along the side of the nature center at Clark Reservation. The project includes interpretive signs about the native plants, invasive species control, and how State Parks is helping to support native pollinators.
Staff and volunteers at this park are creating a Sensory Awareness Trail. Along the trail, staff added NY native plants to attract native pollinators and to interpret the role these plants and pollinators play in our environment. The accessible trail includes tactile elements such as sculptures of insects/animals that rely on our native plant species.
Local school students planted native plants at Saratoga Spa State Park to help provide food for both the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly (Plebejus melissa samuelis) and the state threatened frosted elfin butterfly (Callophrys irus). And at the Creekside Classroom, a new environmental learning center at Saratoga Spa State Park, a diverse mix of native plantings for landscaping and raingardens were installed.
Lupines in flower, Saratoga Spa State Park Spring 2017, photo by Casey Holzworth
Waldorf School students spreading wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) seed in a cleared field in 2016 , photo by John Rozell, State Parks
The underside of the Karner blue seen perched on the host plant, wild lupine (Lupinus perennis). Photo by Paul Labus, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana.
Male Karner blue butterfly. Photo by Paul Labus, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana.
Creekside Classroom entrance garden, photo by Casey Holzworth, State Parks
Creekside Classroom raingarden will attract native pollinators and serve as a teaching tool for State Parks staff, photo by Casey Holzworth, State Parks.
This summer, staff will convert four small lawns to wildflower meadows at Grafton Lakes State Park. The restoration will include planting native plants to attract native pollinators. Look for the work near the main entrance and near the new visitor’s center.
State Parks’ staff worked with Renssalaer County Soil and Water Conservation District, National Resources Conservation Service, and Cornell Cooperative Extension to convert two cornfields at Bennington Battlefield to grazing pasture and a wildflower meadow. Work on this 26-acre project included tilling and seeding the area with non-invasive grasses and planting native pollinator meadows along the edges of the field and nearby wetlands. The pollinator meadows will be fenced off to keep grazing livestock out of those areas.