Category Archives: Flora & Fauna

Rare or noteworthy wildlife spotted in New York State Parks

Lost Ladybugs

The nine-spotted ladybug
The nine-spotted ladybug

Some species of ladybugs are becoming rarer in North America. Many once-common native species are being replaced by exotic ladybugs from other parts of the world. Scientists are not sure how this will affect ecosystems and important role that ladybugs play in keeping population of plant-feeding insects, like aphids, low. To learn more about ladybug biodiversity, The Lost Ladybug Project and the New York

The two-spotted ladybug
The two-spotted ladybug

Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) are asking the citizens of New York to join together in finding out what ladybugs are in New York and where the rare ladybugs are hiding.

The fun part is that ladybug species are pretty easy to identify, check out the Lost Ladybug Project’s field guide. Some ladybugs can be identified solely from photographs, so feel free to send in pictures of ladybugs that you think might be uncommon or rare.

The transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University
The transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University

Participate in the Lost Ladybug Project by taking pictures and uploading them using the online submission form, or by downloading the Lost Lady App (available for iphone and android).

NYNHP will be tracking rare 3 species of ladybugs in New York: The nine-spotted ladybug, the two-spotted ladybug, and the transverse ladybug. Thanks for your help!

featured image is the transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University. 

Blue Green Algae Alert!

Algae is usually just a fact of life when visiting natural bodies of water, whether it be the ocean, a lake, or a swimming beach at one of our New York State Parks. Unhealthy ponds can sometimes be choked with thick layers of goopy green algae but, for the most part, algae are a harmless and valuable part of a healthy ecosystem.

Some algae, however, produce toxins that are dangerous for people and animals. Blue-green algae (BGA) is one of these. BGA isn’t really an algae at all. It is a little organism called a cyanobacteria which which is naturally present in low numbers in our freshwater ecosystems.

Blue Green Algae leaves a scummy layer on the shoreline
Blue Green Algae leaves a scummy layer on the shoreline

Like algae and other plants, these bacteria create energy using photosynthesis, but unlike plants, some species of cyanobacteria produce harmful toxins. In bodies of water with unnaturally high levels of nutrients, usually caused by fertilizers, stormwater runoff, or faulty septic systems, BGA can discolor the water and form a visible scum across the water’s surface. This is called an algal bloom.

Blue-green algae can be blue-green or green-brown in color, often resembling pea-soup. Unlike non-toxic algae, which is stringy or hairy in texture, blue-green algae is slick and slimy, appearing as spilled paint on the water’s surface. BGA is often accompanied by a musky odor. However, BGA can vary in appearance, and so all suspected BGA blooms should be avoided.

BGA leaves swimming areas unsafe for humans and animals
BGA leaves swimming areas unsafe for humans and animals

Unfortunately, many BGA incidents have directly affected dogs. Swimming in BGA-affected waters is risky for humans and pets, but dogs are more likely to jump into slimy and foul-smelling water, and then lick the algae off their fur. Contact with BGA can cause rashes and swelling, and ingestion can lead to difficulty breathing, stomach pain, nausea, and in severe cases, convulsions. Ingesting BGA can be fatal for dogs, and so if you suspect your pet has come into contact with BGA, wash her off with clean water immediately.

The best way to prevent BGA blooms is to prevent nutrient runoff into water bodies. Monitoring is being conducted around the state by state park staff and by private citizens.

If you see a suspected BGA bloom, be sure to keep children, pets and livestock away from the water. If you’re in a State Park, notify a lifeguard or any park staff immediately, or contact the Environmental Management Bureau’s Water Quality Unit (Water.Quality@parks.ny.gov; (518) 474-0409). Otherwise, contact your regional DEC office (http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/50230.html) or the Division of Water (518-402-8179)

Be A Good Egg!

Audubon New York, the state’s largest bird conservation organization has teamed up with New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to launch the 2014 “Be a Good Egg” campaign: A community engagement initiative to protect threatened and endangered beach-nesting birds. The goal of the Be a Good Egg project is to help people learn more about birds like Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers that nest and rest on the beaches of New York and New Jersey every spring and summer.

Piping Plover Chick, photo by Patrick Comins
Piping Plover Chick, photo by Patrick Comins

Between April and August every year, thousands of birds nest on the bare sand of New York beaches and inlets, including 30% of the Atlantic Coast Piping Plover population and many other migratory shorebirds that rest and refuel on the New York and New Jersey coastlines on journeys as long as 9,000 miles.

These hardy little birds are threatened by predators, extreme weather conditions, and humans. When a person or dog walks through a nesting area, the adults run or fly off in fear. During the nesting season, this exposes the eggs or chicks to fatally high temperatures and drastically increases the risk of predation. The survival and recovery of these species is dependent upon being able to nest and raise their young in an undisturbed environment.

An Oystercatcher chick, photo by New York Audubon.
An Oystercatcher chick, photo by New York Audubon.

Audubon New York, State Parks, and other partners are reaching out to visitors at New York beaches and asking them to pledge to “be a good egg” and share the beach with our native birds. As part of this project, volunteers are helping us reach out to people at beaches where Audubon is working with the local community to protect hundreds of nesting and migrating birds. To date, nearly 2,000 beach-goers have signed the “Be a Good Egg” pledge. Volunteers are an important part of this campaign and more are needed to help outreach events and shorebird surveys. To take the pledge, and to get more information about Be A Good Egg, including dates of the outreach events, visit www.goodeggnjny.org

The featured image is a nesting Least Tern. Photo by New York Audubon.

iMapInvasives

We’re celebrating Invasive Species Awareness Week, and so here’s some information on a cool new software that’s used to document the occurences of invasives species in New York:

iMapInvasives is an online mapping tool that collects and displays geographical data for invasive plant and animal species. Invasive species are non-native plants, animals, and pathogens that cause harm to the environment, the economy, or to human health. In the past, early detection of invasive species has been difficult, and management typically only began well after the invasive population was well-established. iMapInvasives is a tool sophisticated enough for monitoring and management projects, but easy enough to use for a citizen scientist to upload point data on a patch of pernicious weeds growing in his or her backyard. In this way, the software broadens the scope of invasives monitoring, promotes early detection of invasive populations, and helps natural and agricultural resource managers know where to look for potentially harmful invasives.

While iMapInvasives is available to everyone who requests a login, training in the online software is available, and it’s required for anyone who wants to use the more advanced features of the program. I was able to participate in the beginner and advanced training courses for iMapInvasives, provided by the Capitol/Mohawk PRISM (Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management) in Voorheesville.

In the basic course, we learned identification techniques for some common invasive plants and insects, including Japanese Barberry, garlic mustard, Asian long-horned beetle, and hemlock wooley adelgid. We also learned how to input our data into the software and perform searches based on different parameters which might be used by project managers.

The advanced course covered agricultural pests, aquatic plants, and some additional terrestrial plants, and we learned how iMapInvasives can be used to record treatment data and to survey large areas for the presence or absence of invasive species.

I attended the training as an employee of State Parks and the Student Conservation Association, however, other attendees were from other state agencies, as well as members of Park Friends groups, gardeners, and non-profit groups such as the Sierra Club.

If you would like to get involved, go to www.NYiMapInvasives.org and:

1)      Request a login

2)      Get trained with online video training, or sign up for the course

3)      Login and begin mapping on your computer or smartphone!

Featured image is of Japanese knotweed, an invasive species in New York. Photo by Troy Weldy, NYNHP. Post by Paris Harper

The Battle to Save our Bats

Bats are a fascinating component of many New York State Parks across the state. Although we can rarely get a good look at them, often only as fast-moving silhouettes at dusk, they form a critical component of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, acting as pollinators, seed dispersers and as predators regulating insect populations. A single little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) can eat up to 600 mosquitoes in one hour.

But our bats are in grave danger. In February 2006, a new contagion was identified in New York, and has since spread to 23 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces. This fungal infection which grows on the noses of bats is called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) and it has killed millions of bats and is one of the most pressing ecological issues of our time.

What we have learned so far about the white-nose fungus is distressingly limited. It appears that bat-to-bat transmission is the primary means of infection, particularly in bat species that form large hibernacula, roosts where hundreds of bats hibernate through the winter together. Although we still don’t understand how WNS kills bats, it is clear that the infection somehow interrupts normal hibernation behavior. Infected bats wake up far too early from their winter sleep, depleting their fat reserves and consequently starving or freezing to death in the cold.

The species which have been most affected by this affliction are the big brown bat, little brown bat and the tri-colored bat, but other New York bat species including the hoary bat, the eastern red bat and the small-footed bat are also threatened. However, even the hardest-hit species have survived in small groups, compounding the importance of protecting bat habitats.

To learn more about White Nose Syndrome and the U.S. bat situation, we recommend the following video:

Battle for Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome

This video was produced for the USDA Forest Service by Ravenswood Media. It shows how government and private agencies have come together to search for solutions to help our bat populations overcome WNS. The public can also play a role in the future of bats by providing habitat and surveying their populations. Bats are a critical component in a healthy forest ecosystem, plus they provide significant agricultural pest control and pollination. Their survival is essential for a sustainable natural environment.

For more information

Bat Conservation International’s White Nose Syndrome Factsheet

University of California Museum of Paleontology factsheet, Chiroptera: Life History and Ecology.

The featured photo is Myotis sodalis, the Indiana Bat. Photo by Alan Hicks, DEC. Post by Paris Harper.