Tag Archives: Native Species

Counting the Bristlesides, Sedgesitters, Leafwalkers

It’s National Pollinator Week! Scientists have been busy looking to see what pollinators live in State Parks. Here’s a first look at some of the early results.

This is actually a fly! The bare-cheeked bumblefly is a very rare Syrphid in NY that mimics bumblebees and lives in old forests.  Photo courtesy of NYNHP.

In 2017 a cadre of NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) biologists working under a long-standing agreement with State Parks began testing out sampling methods for a multi-year statewide Native Pollinator Survey (ESNPS) under the auspices of the Governor’s NYS Pollinator Protection Plan jointly administered by Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The eastern calligrapher (Toxomerus geminatus) is a very common species in State Parks all over the state.  Photo by Lindsay Dombroskie, accessed from iNaturalist.

The goal of the ESNPS is to determine the rarity of a wide array of native insect pollinators in non-agricultural habitats. NYNHP Zoologists honed in on the most important and vulnerable pollinating groups in the state, representing a wide variety of native insect pollinators such as bumble bees, mining bees, bee flies, longhorn beetles and flower moths.

Captured by a spider, a fate that befalls some flower-visiting flies.  Photo courtesy of NYNHP.

Between June 8 – October 3, 2017 on fair weather days, two biologists used sets of small painted bowls containing soapy water to trap pollinators (the insects mistake the color for a flower) in four different habitat types within each Park (see photo). The biologists also used insect nets to hand- capture pollinators (see photo), spending the better part of one day obtaining a snapshot of the Park’s pollinator community. The collections are the only way to document and identify most of the species.


Over the past winter the biologists then separated out the flies (Dipterans) from the bees and pinned these specimens so that they could be identified by fly specialists at SUNY Cobleskill (see photo). They focused on flies in one notable family, the Syrphidae – or Syrphids, known as the hover flies or flower flies.  Most of the remaining captured pollinators like the bees will be identified by experts at Cornell University as the project continues.


Preliminary results are in for the hover flies or flower flies that SUNY Cobleskill experts helped to identify. There are many different species or types of these flies and not anything like the plain black housefly. Some go by interesting names like Bristlesides, Sedgesitters and Leafwalkers. Many hover flies are mimics of stinging Hymenoptera (see photo) and known to be second only to bees in their pollinating prowess. This is because the adult flies feed on pollen and nectar to power their energy- intensive flight. In doing so, they help to pollinate a wide range of trees, shrubs and wildflowers in every conceivable habitat. At the same time, their larvae (the young stage) are predators of harmful insects such as aphids and adelgids. Many play an important role in aiding decomposition in aquatic and forest environments; in effect breaking down leaves, logs and other debris which then releases nutrients and builds soil.  In other words, Hover flies are very important to the health of our native ecosystems.

Look closely for the hover fly on a leaf at Goosepond Mountain State Park on September 28, 2017.  Photo courtesy of NYNHP.

A brand new hover fly field guide focusing specifically on northeastern North America will be published later in 2018 by a team of Canadian researchers. This will allow anybody with an interest to pursue these fascinating and colorful insects who will challenge your notions of what a fly is!

A few fun facts we learned about hover flies in State Parks:

  • Total number of Parks sampled: 22 (in all Regions)
  • Total number of different Syrphid (fly) pollinators: 50 species
  • State Parks with the highest diversity of hover flies (at least 7 different species plus more than 15 individual flies): Minnewaska, Thacher, Sunken Meadow, Letchworth, Taconic, and Allegany
  • Number of new species never before seen in the State, or were thought to be no longer in NYS: 5
  • Two out of every three individuals captured (67%) was a calligrapher (Toxomerus), small black and yellow flies whose larvae eat aphids (see photo)
  • Number of Parks with a species that mimic hornets (the rare eastern hornet fly (Spilomyia longicornis)): 3: Allegany, Knox Farm, Sunken Meadow
  • Number of Syrphid species whose larvae eat adelgids (adelgids are a small insect that can cause severe tree damage): 2 (in the genus Heringia) at Gilbert Lake, Grafton, Moreau Lake
  • Number of non-native, introduced species detected: 2. The common compost fly (Syritta pipiens), and common drone fly (Eristalis tenax)
  • Over half of the State Parks had at least one Syrphid species that lives predominantly in older forests.

Authored by Jeff Corser, Zoologist with NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP).

NY Natural Heritage Program is affiliated with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) and works in close partnership with NYS Parks and NYS DEC. The Empire State Native Pollinator Project is only one of many kinds of surveys and studies that the program conducts to provide guidance and tools for conservation of native biodiversity across New York State.

All photos by NYNHP for use by permission only

Leapin’ Lizards

A flick of a tail or a blur dash across a rock – was that a lizard? Are there lizards in New York?

Yes, New York is home to three native lizard species.  Lizards are cold-blooded reptiles that spend most of their time on rocks, sunning themselves on flat open spots or hiding in crevices. They also crawl up on logs, stumps and sometimes even up the trunk of the tree. However, male lizards are known for defending their territory from other male lizards by doing push-ups followed by head bobs.  If this does not work, the defending male lizard may attack and bite the intruding lizard.

Lizards are all very well camouflaged, but if you are really lucky you might spot one of these reptiles on one if you hike in the southern Hudson Valley or in Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.

Two of the three New York lizard species are considered rare in the state. Conservation measures are particularly important to maintain the populations of these vulnerable critters. State Parks works to protect habitat and educate park visitors about these seldom seen animals.

Two of these lizard types are called skinks.  Skinks are a type of lizard with no visible neck, a long tail, and short legs. (Some skinks in other parts of the world have no legs at all!)  Skinks have smooth scales, compared to other lizards which have keeled scales (scales that have a ridge down the middle).  Smooth scales give the skink a shining gloss-like appearance whereas lizards with keeled scales have a dull matte-like appearance.  (See below)


If a skink loses part of its tail to a predator or they release their tail to escape a predator, it will regrow (regenerate) a new tail. The new tail will not have the same shape as the old tail.  Female skinks stay with their eggs after they lay them to guard the eggs until they are hatched.

Juvenile five-lined skink, note the blue tail. Photo by State Parks.

The most common lizard in New York is the five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus). Juvenile five-lined skinks are quite striking with their uniform black body, yellow stripes, and bright blue tails.  As these animals approach adult state, the blue color on their tails fades to gray.  Adult females five-lined skinks have faded stripes on their heads, but their body stripes remain strong. Look for these lizards on the ground on rocky summits and sloping hillsides with mixed deciduous trees.  They mostly scurry along the ground, only occasionally climbing shrubs and trees.  On sunny days, you might see one soaking up the sun on a rock or log.

Five-lined skinks are between five and eight inches long, including their tails.  They primarily eat insects and other invertebrates. Larger skinks also eat small shrews and other lizards.  Skinks avoid being eaten by darting as fast as they can from an open area to a hiding spot.  Look for these lizards from April through October in the some of the Hudson Valley State Parks such as Bear Mountain State Park and Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve.

male coal skink Jean Gawalt
Male coal skink. Artwork by Jean Gawalt; courtesy Conservationist magazine

One of our rare lizards is the coal skink (Plestiodon anthracinus) is found in central and western New York.  Coal skinks are identified by the two wide black stripes, bordered by yellow stripes, that run along the length of the body on to the tail.  Like the five-lined skinks, juvenile coal skinks have blue tails.  Some people believe that the blue tail on a juvenile skink is very distasteful and acts as a warning to would-be predators. The main defense of most coal skinks is running quickly away from a threat or predator.

Coal skinks live in forested places, usually near a swamp or other wetland.  You might see one on a rocky hillside near a wetland.  Unlike five-lined skinks, they do not bask in the sun; they are commonly found under the leaf litter, or under loose flat rocks or moss.  Their coloration helps them hid on the forest floor. If they get frightened, they run to water.

Coal skins are the smallest of our native lizards, measuring about seven inches long from nose to tail. Their diet consists of insects, including crickets, millipedes, and spiders.

Adult fence lizard, note the wavy coloration on the side of the body, photo courtesy of NY Natural Heritage Program.

Lastly, the northern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus hyacinthinus) is a state threatened lizard that lives in the southeastern park of the state.  Their common name comes from their habit of basking in the sun on fence railings.

Male northern fence lizards have unpatterned grayish-brown back, bluish sides that are boarded by black and blue throats.  Females, on the other hand, have a distinct pattern on their back of irregular wavy cross bands; their bellies are white and there is a patch of either red, yellow, or orange at the base of their tails. Fence lizards measure up to seven and a half inches long.

They prefer to live on dry, rocky hillsides in oak or oak-pine forests where they eat insects and spiders.  They can be active both day and night, depending on the temperature.

If you are lucky, you might come upon a male fence lizard during mating season.  If you do, stop to watch him defend his territory by standing stiff-legged and pushing out his head to show his blue throat.

Remember that these are wild lizards and should never be taken home as pets. Collection has caused the populations of our native lizards to decline in some areas.

2013.05.17 TR and FL Skink Jesse W. Jaycox 01
Two of New York’s native reptiles, five-lined skink in lower right, timber rattlesnake in upper left, photo by State Parks.

Learn more about our New York lizards:

Fence lizards occur in a few locations in eastern NY, including in some of our state parks.

NYS Dept. of Conservation Lizards of New York

NY Falls Lizard Species of New York (Upstate)

Featured image, five-lined skink by Robert Escott

All About the Brook Trout: New York’s State Fish

Brook trout (Salvenlinus fontinalis) also known as “speckled trout,” “specks,” and “brookies,” aren’t actually trout. They are really a type of char, more closely related to the Arctic char than to true trout. However, the brook trout, true trout, char, and salmon are all in the family Salmonidae, making them all closely related. The gorgeous brook trout is New York’s state fish and is greatly prized amongst naturalists and anglers. The native brook trout can be recognized and differentiated from other types of trout by its unique colors. Brook trout have a dark green and yellow “wormlike” pattern on their backs, which fades into green sides with yellow spots and red spots surrounded by blue halos. Their stomachs range in color from white to bright orange, depending on food sources and the time of year. One of the most easily recognizable parts of the brook trout are its fins, which are a deep red with a black stripe and a white stripe underneath along the edge of each fin. In the fall, one can see why New York chose the brook trout as its state fish when spawning occurs and the fish’s colors intensify.

Artist Brook Trout
An artist’s representation of a brook trout. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brook_trout.jpg

Brook trout live in streams with cold, clean water. They require high amounts of oxygen in the water, dissolved oxygen in order to breathe, as do many of the aquatic insects that the trout feed upon. Trout eat a variety of foods, including mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, scuds, smaller fish, and snails. Larger brook trout will also eat terrestrial insects such as ants or grasshoppers and have even been known to eat mice that accidentally fall into streams! Because brook trout need very clean water to survive and are highly sensitive to pollution, their presence is a good indicator of a healthy stream.

Several conservation efforts by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and organizations like Trout Unlimited have focused on protection of the native brook trout in New York. The brook trout is native to the eastern part of the United States from Maine to Georgia, including New York. Populations of brook trout can be found in, Allegany State Park, Bowman Lake State Park, Connetquot River State Park Preserve, Caleb Smith State Park Preserve, Chittenango Falls State Park, Harriman State Park, and many other state parks with small tributaries. Restoration work to increase brook trout habitat has been done in Allegany State Park, which boasts many wild trout streams that are readily enjoyed by anglers.

Brookie in water
A brook trout. Photo taken and owned by James St. John on flickr.com, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jsjgeology/21714855433. No changes were made.

Unfortunately, due to habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and introduction of non-native species, the brook trout has less suitable places to live than it did 200 years ago. Brook trout cannot tolerate water temperatures that are too high; as the water temperature increases, the dissolved oxygen decreases. The cutting of trees along stream banks and the loss of trees due to invasive insect species can contribute to temperatures rising and can affect native brook trout populations. Trees provide needed shade over streams and keep water temperatures low, even on hot summer days. When these trees are removed or die, sunlight is able to reach streams and causes water temperatures to rise. One important tree along some stream banks is the hemlock. Hemlock trees provide more shade than hardwood trees and do an excellent job of keeping streams cool. Unfortunately, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), an insect that invades and kills hemlocks, is affecting hemlocks all over the east. HWA is causing thousands of these trees to die. As hemlocks die, hardwood trees will take their places. While this will still provide shade to the streams, the temperatures will still rise because hardwoods provide less shade than hemlocks.

Pollution also affects brook trout by decreasing oxygen levels and poisoning the fish. A form of pollution called “agricultural runoff,” which includes manure and fertilizers, can cause an increase of aquatic plants to grow in streams. These plants eventually die and consume dissolved oxygen when they decompose. If there are too many decomposing plants in a stream, dissolved oxygen levels can be greatly decreased and affect brook trout severely. Pollution also decreases pH in water, making it more acidic, which allows more metals to be dissolved into the water. These metals can interfere with the brook trout’s body functions and cause developing eggs and fry to die.

Another major cause of habitat loss for the native brook trout is the past introduction of the brown trout (Salmo trutta) as a sport fish, which is native to Europe. Brown trout were brought to the United States due to their popularity with anglers. This is because they are aggressive fighters and can grow quite large. Brown trout can withstand higher water temperatures than the brook trout and are less sensitive to changing conditions. Because the brown trout is more aggressive, it can find food and shelter more easily than the brook trout. Brown trout will sometimes prey on the brook trout’s young. Streams in which brown trout have been introduced almost always have a noted decrease in native brook trout populations.

The introduction of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) has also contributed to decreased brook trout populations, but to a lesser extent.  Both the introduction of brown and rainbow trout create competition for resources that the brook trout did not have to contend with before.

Fortunately, New York no longer stocks browns or rainbows in waters where populations of native brook trout are found in order to preserve the species. Many of these populations prevail in high mountain elevations in the Adirondack Park, as the brook trout is particularly talented at jumping up waterfalls. In fact, a brook trout can jump up to four times its body length if the pool they jump from is deep enough! This unique ability has allowed native populations to thrive in areas with many small waterfalls and pools. Today, dam removal and the installation of fish ladders also help to conserve brook trout habitat. Fish ladders provide a series of pools on an incline that allow fish to jump up over barriers. These installations allow waters to remain passable, even in dammed waters. Populations of brook trout exist in several places throughout New York, and the determined angler or observer can find many of these beautiful fish. Hopefully, with continued efforts of conservationists across New York state the brook trout population will continue to thrive and one day, increase.

Young Brookies
Young brook trout, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brook_trout_in_cool_water_(7725114898).jpg.

Post by Mikey Bard, avid fly fisher and SCA/Americorps Member serving as Assistant Environmental Educator at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.