Tag Archives: endangered species

Hailing More Snails

When ten endangered Chittenango Ovate Amber snails (COAS), located in only one known location in the world: Chittenango Falls State Park, were brought into an SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) lab for captive breeding and did not reproduce over the summer of 2014, graduate student Cody Gilbertson and advisor Rebecca Rundell knew they had to adjust something. Eventually the ten COAS were released, but as luck would have it, during the trial, a stowaway baby COAS came in on vegetation that was offered to COAS adults.  The tiny snail on the plant was placed in an enclosure to monitor closely. This was the beginning of a rapid learning curve for Gilbertson on the food preferences of COAS. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (in charge of endangered species permitting) granted permission for them to keep the one snail over winter and raise it alone in the lab. From this blessing in disguise, Gilbertson was able to figure out the specific species of leaves this one snail she named “Hatch” preferred to eat – dead cherry leaves! Cherry leaves collected in the spring were consumed regularly and “Hatch” began to grow rapidly. Gilbertson knew it was risky keeping a small hatchling snail because in the past, 80% of hatchlings would die within the first two weeks of life in captivity. She thought it was unlikely “Hatch” would live, but this one snail persisted and survived in the lab showing her what it most preferred to eat, and she watched closely. It turns out this was a very practical way of finding out what COAS needs without harming individuals.

When Gilbertson brought two more COAS in from the wild during summer 2015, adults flourished on the improved diet and reproduction occurred resulting in over 600 baby COAS in just two months! The two snails mated with each other and about seven days after mating, egg masses were laid.  A total of about six egg masses were laid by each snail with about 33 eggs in each egg mass. About 270 of these snails were released back to their wild habitat to help expand the wild population of COAS. The other 300+ snails are still in our lab and are thriving. Over 130 snails have reached maturity (over 14mm in shell length) and over 30 egg masses from the captive born snails have been produced so far.

This research, supported by United States Fish and Wildlife Service, has pushed the recovery of COAS species forward with some very large steps:

1) Researchers have performed a first ever release of captive snails back to the wild

2) Scientists now have information about what COAS eat and what they may need to survive in the wild and in captivity

3) Over 300 snails remain in captivity for assisting in securing this species existence.

However, there is still much to learn about this unique and rare species in our upstate NY backyard. Scientists will need to monitor and care for both the wild and captive populations over time for us to tell if this work is successful long term. But they have certainly put their best foot forward!

Gilbertson with 'Hatch'
Gilbertson with “Hatch,” photo by Cody Gilbertson

Post and photos by Cody Gilbertson, graduate student SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Getting to Know the Karner Blue Butterfly

Spring has finally arrived, and with it comes the birth of this year’s first generation of Karner blue caterpillars.  When these caterpillars hatch from the eggs that were laid by last year’s second generation of adults, they will eat only one thing, the leaves of the wild blue lupine plant.  And you thought your kids were picky eaters!

Wild blue lupine is a perennial plant that prefers dry, sandy soils in open patches of land.  It is typically found in pine barrens and oak savanna plant communities.  These habitats require ecological disturbances, such as wildfires, to sustain the sunny, open areas that wild blue lupine needs to survive.  Land development and the suppression of natural disturbances in these areas have led to degradation and loss of habitat, causing drastic declines in Karner blue butterfly populations. As a result of this, the Karner blue butterfly was declared endangered in New York in 1977 and federally endangered in 1992.  The Karner blue butterfly’s range extends from Minnesota to New Hampshire, along the northern portion of the blue lupine’s range.  In New York, populations are found from the Albany Pine Bush north to Glens Falls, with a segment of suitable habitat found in Saratoga Spa State Park.

Lupine 1
Wild blue lupine. Photo by USFWS; Joel Trick.

There are two generations of Karner blue butterflies born each year, the first of which hatches in May from eggs that were laid the previous July.  This timing coincides with the blooming of wild blue lupine flower stalks.  The caterpillars spend about two to three weeks feeding on wild blue lupine leaves before they pupate.  The adult Karner blue butterflies emerge at the end of May or beginning of June and typically live for about a week.  During this time, the adult females lay their eggs on the underside of wild blue lupine leaves or stems.  The eggs take around a week to hatch and the second generation of adults appear in mid-July to early August.  This time the females lay their eggs on the ground close to the stem of a blue lupine plant to provide them with more protection as they overwinter.

Larva 2
Karner blue caterpillar (larva). Photo by Paul Labus, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana.

Adult Karner blue butterflies are relatively small, with an average wingspan of about one inch.  You can tell the difference between males and females by looking at the coloration on the tops of their wings.  Males’ wings are silvery blue to violet blue with a black margin and white fringed edges, while females’ wings are grayish brown towards the edges, turning into violet-blue in the centers of the wings.  Both males and females are gray with black spots on their undersides and have a band of orange crescents along the edges of both wings.  Females also have bands of orange crescents on the tops of their wings, while males do not.

There are 18.5 acres of endangered Karner blue butterfly habitat in Saratoga Spa State Park.  In recent years, restoration efforts have re-established approximately 5 of these acres as suitable Karner blue butterfly habitat.  This was accomplished through the removal of small trees and shrubs that had taken over the habitat, as well as the scraping away of topsoil to remove invasive plant seeds and to expose the sandy soils that wild blue lupine needs to grow.  Wild blue lupine and native nectar species were then planted in the exposed sandy soil.  Saratoga Spa State Park staff monitors the Karner blue butterfly population and provide educational programs to the public about this endangered beauty.

In celebration of Earth Day, students from the Waldorf School contributed to the Karner blue butterfly habitat restoration effort by spreading the seed of the native blue lupine plant on 1.5 acres at Saratoga Spa State Park. Funding for this project was provided by Governor Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 Initiative.

Saratoga Earth Day 2015 - 01
Waldorf School students spreading blue lupine seed. Photo by John Rozell, OPRHP.
Saratoga Earth Day 2015 - 05
Waldorf School students replenishing their seed supply. Photo by John Rozell, OPRHP.

 

Post by Allie Smith, Saratoga Spa State Park.

Sources:

Karner blue butterfly factsheet, NYS DEC,

http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7118.html

Karner blue butterfly, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species, http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/kbb/kbb_fact.html

Karner blue butterfly, USDA Forest Service,

http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/karner_blue_butterfly.shtml

Karner blue butterfly factsheet, NYS DEC,

http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7118.html

Wild lupine and karner blue butterflies, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Endangered Species,

http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/kbb/lupine.html

 

 

 

 

Wildlife Spotlight: Least Terns

A rare denizen of NYS Parks in Long Island is the least tern. This state-threatened species is challenged by both loss of nesting habitat, as well as predation by rats, dogs, cats, and other birds.

The least tern is so named because it is the smallest member of the gull and tern family, growing to a maximum of only nine inches in body length. These beautiful birds make their homes on the Atlantic coast. In the winter, least terns migrate to the southern United States and the Mexican coast, but once it becomes warmer, they return to the beaches of Long Island to nest. Even though they are small, least terns are mighty. If an intruder crosses a nest, the tern will dive at the possible predator screeching to frighten the danger away. Least terns also make a habit to roosting with larger terns for protection.

The importance of Long Island shoreline habitat to least terns, as well as a plethora of other migratory bird species, is the main reason why some Long Island beaches are off limits to dogs. Even where pets are allowed, be conscious of how your dog might be affecting wildlife and protect the habitat of this small, but magnificent bird.

featured image is a pair of least terns, by Larry Master. Post by Paris Harper