Spring is in the air and baby animals abound in our State Parks. Look and listen for some of these young critters in our parks. Remember, it is best to watch them from a distance so you do not scare the young animal or its parent. If you see a young animal that looks like it is abandoned, please leave it be. It is most likely fine on its own or has a parent close by and waiting for you to back away. It is fun to explore and watch, but don’t stay in one spot too long so that the animals can go back to their daily activities.
Take time this spring to enjoy our State Parks little critters!
Thank you to all staff who contributed to this post.
During the summer months along the Hudson River south of Troy, New York, it’s easy to notice the tides rising and falling, herons wading in the shallow streams, and the giant cargo ships purposefully streaming up and down the river. Difficult to spot, however, are the river’s many turtles. Several varieties call the Hudson home, but the northern (also called common) map turtle is perhaps the most interesting and understudied.
Northern map turtles (Graptemys geographica) are large river turtles that get their name from the intricate circling pattern on their shells, which resemble the elevation lines on a map. These turtles are relatively secretive. In urban areas they have to work especially hard to find what they need to survive. For one thing, turtles need good basking objects—places where they can come out of the water safely and sun themselves to warm up. Fallen trees or rocks make the best basking habitat, specifically ones that are farther out into the water so they can easily escape from potential predators. Because of the tides, many potentially good basking objects aren’t reachable as they are either too high up the bank or underwater at any given time.
Another problem is finding places to lay their eggs. All turtles lay eggs and the northern map turtle is no exception. Most turtles prefer loose, sandy soil with plenty of sunlight for the eggs to develop successfully. Temperature determines the gender of the tiny map turtle babies—eggs toward the cooler, bottom of the nest often become males, while those eggs toward the warmer top (that therefore get more sun and heat) will become females. But in this highly urban area, good places to nest are few and far between. Natural areas, like those found in some of the State Parks along the river, help provide habitat for them. These spots seem perfect for northern map turtles, but they do tend to have a couple of drawbacks: 1) road and foot traffic and 2) predators smelling the eggs and destroying the nests soon after they’ve been laid. In addition, well-meaning people who are simply curious about these turtles (and with good reason!) approach nesting females that may “spook” and stop laying. People should give nesting turtles some space and observe quietly from a distance.
Because good turtle habitat is hard to find in an urbanized section of the river, researchers Dr. James Gibbs and Master of Science candidate Julia Vanaman from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry are working to identify what habitats are most important to map turtles. Aquatic plants, basking objects, forest along the river banks, and shoreline development all likely play a role in where these turtles choose to spend their time. Once the researchers understand why a turtle likes an area, they can pass along that information to state and local park managers who can protect habitat and take measures to enhance it (e.g., by creating nesting habitat or increasing the number of available basking objects). With these habitat improvements, hopefully these fascinating turtles will stick around for many years to come.
Note: Northern map turtles (Graptemys geographica) occur across much of eastern North America from the Mississippi River, north to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, and east to small portions of the Susquehanna, Delaware and Hudson river systems. In New York State, the map turtle is considered vulnerable to decline and is recognized as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in the state’s wildlife action plan. For more information, please check out the following links:
New York State is home to a variety of animals! There are nearly 100 mammal species, 375 bird species, and over 70 species of reptiles and amphibians found in New York. While we try our best to understand these animals, sometimes myths spread about them that may not be true. Can turtles come out of their shells? Do toads give you warts? These common animal myths stem from folklore, old sayings, misunderstandings, and more, but we can do our best to separate fact from fiction. Let’s take a look at some top myths about a few animals found in New York State Parks!
Are bats blind?
No, bats are not blind! The bats found in New York are part of a group called microbats, which do rely heavily on echolocation (the location of objects by reflected sound) to navigate and find insect prey. Scientists who have examined the eyes of these bats have determined that they have some night vision as well as limited daylight vision. Some species even have ultraviolet (UV) vision. Though not found in New York, megabats—the fruit-eaters—rely primarily on vision and smell, rather than echolocation. Overall, vision is important to help bats avoid predators and find food and shelter.
Fun fact: While several animals can glide (like flying squirrels), bats are the only mammals known in the world that are capable of true and sustained flight!
Will touching a toad give you warts?
Good news for all of us that grew up catching frogs and toads. No, touching a toad will not give you warts! Warts are actually caused by a virus that is spread between people. This myth probably began because of the bumpy skin on a toad’s back. There are two bumps to be careful of though; behind the eyes of toads are two large areas called parotoid glands. As a defense mechanism, these glands produce a toxin that causes irritation to a predator’s mouth. So if you do catch a toad, it is still a good idea to wash your hands afterwards.
Can porcupines shoot their quills?
No, a porcupine cannot shoot its quills! First, let’s take a look at what a quill is. A quill is a very stiff, hollow hair that can be found mixed in with the softer hair of a porcupine. When threatened, a porcupine’s quills may stand up to scare away the threat, but they cannot be shot from the porcupine’s body. There must be direct contact with the quills for them to dislodge, but even the lightest touch can be enough to dislodge a quill or two. Best to keep our distance around porcupines!
Fun fact: The North American porcupine has around 30,000 quills!
Can turtles come out of their shells?
No, there’s no way a turtle can come out of its shell! A turtle’s upper shell, called the carapace, is partly made of bone from the turtle’s rib cage and is actually fused to the turtle’s backbone. The lower shell is called the plastron and the two shells are joined by a bony bridge. The shell is part of the body and grows along with the turtle, which is different from crabs and lobsters that must molt or shed their exoskeleton. And to address another common animal misunderstanding, turtles are able to feel when something touches their shells, due to the presence of nerve endings in the shell.
The Eastern box turtle has a hinge on its plastron (lower shell). This allows it to tuck its head, arms, and legs away from predators, forming a tightly sealed “box.” Photo by John Triana, Regional Water Authority, Bugwood.org
A turtle’s backbone is fused to the upper shell, shown in this drawing of a turtle’s skeleton. Photo Public Domain
Do all bees die after they sting you?
No, it depends on the species! Honey bees, for example, have barbs (hooks) on their stinger that can stick into the skin of the target and prevent the stinger from being pulled out by the bee. If the barbs are stuck in the target’s skin, the stinger is torn away from the bee’s body when it tries to fly away and the honey bee dies. Other bee and wasp species, including bumblebees, yellowjackets, and paper wasps, have stingers with small barbs, enabling them to sting multiple times.
A stinger’s barb size varies by species. This stinger belongs to a paper wasp. Photo by Insects Unlocked, CC BY 2.0
A honey bee can only sting once. Photo by David Cappaert, Bugwood.org
Post by Kelsey Ruffino, Student Conservation Association and New York State Parks
Featured image: Eastern Pipistrelle, photo by Lilly Schelling, State Parks
On May 3, 2014, over a hundred volunteers with scientific backgrounds gathered at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Ulster County and Clark Reservation State Park in Onondaga county for two concurrent Bioblitzes, 24-hour inventories of the park’s biodiversity. Our objectives were to search the park for as many rare species and natural communities in the park as we could find. This was a collaborative effort between NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP), State Parks, and Parks & Trails New York. Participants included biologists with various specialties and affiliations including NYS DEC, NatureServe, Syracuse University, SUNY-ESF, Mohonk Preserve, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Student Conservation Association. At least 9 different organizations were represented.
The main survey period was between 9am and 5pm on May 3rd, but some intrepid volunteers stayed through the night to look for nocturnal animals, while others arose on May 4th between 5am and 11am to identify spring migratory birds. In both parks, small teams sought out rare species and high biodiversity areas. The weather was overcast and cool on May 3rd, which made some of the surveys particularly difficult.
At Minnewaska State Park, we were able to document approximately 262 plants, animals, and fungi, as well as 7 of the NYNHP significant natural communities. The summary of our findings includes at least 100 plants and 150 animal species: 89 birds, 6 fish, 16 herps (amphibians and reptiles), 16 mammals, and 23 invertebrates. The species included cool mammals like the American mink (Neovison vison), shy amphibians like the northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus), delicate insects like the spring azure (Celastrina ladon), and steadfast trees like the American chestnut (Castanea dentata).
At Clark Reservation, we documented over 372 different species of plants, animals, and fungi and updated records for the 4 high-quality natural communities known in the park. The tally includes 193 species of plants (including lichens) and 96 species of animals, including 6 mammals, 7 herps, 46 birds, 4 fish, and 116 invertebrates. Of the many invertebrates identified, some of the largest groups were beetles (18), millipedes (10), caddisflies (10), and snails (6). The list of species included some entertaining names, such as bugle sprite (a snail), poverty grass, tortured tortella moss and seductive entodon moss. The Bioblitz proved to be an invaluable opportunity to get experts out in the park cataloging groups of species, like mosses and snails, which are often overlooked in typical biological inventories.
Due to the timing of the Bioblitz to coincide with I Love My Parks Day on May 3rd, our bird surveys included both passing migrants and potential park residents. Whip-poor-wills (Caprimulgus vociferous), a species of special concern, were sighted in several locations at Minnewaska, and based on last year’s NYNHP surveys, they are known to nest in the park. At Clark, the highlights were osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus), both of which are species of special concern in New York.
The bioblitz was an extension of the long-standing partnership between NYNHP and State Parks to document rare species and natural communities in New York State Parks. Scientists found a wealth of biodiversity and enjoyed collaborating across organizations and areas of expertise in a beautiful natural setting. We hope to continue these valuable efforts to bring experts together to share knowledge, contribute to our understanding of the biota in New York State Parks, and to encourage further opportunities for park staff and the public to learn more about the special features in parks.
featured image is a spring azure butterfly by Mike Adamovic, post by Paris Harper, Erin White and Julie Lundgren
There’s a new critter at the Moreau Lakes Nature Center in Saratoga County – Daryle the eastern box turtle!
For now, Daryle is staying behind the scenes as he gets used to his new home and lifestyle, but this summer he will star in educational programming out of the Nature Center.
Box turtles are named for the special, hinged plastron that allow these turtles to close their shell almost completely. Box turtles live in open woodlands, pastures, and marshy meadows. They are often found near streams and ponds, where they like to enter the shallow water (although they are not aquatic).
Daryle found his way to Moreau Lakes through Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society (MATTS). MATTS is dedicated to protecting habitat for turtles and tortoises and educating the public on proper care for pet turtles and tortoises.
Daryle was attacked by a dog, and his subsequent injuries meant that he would never be able to close up his shell again. He would not have been able to survive in the wild, and so he was relocated to the nature center. However, Daryle won’t be lonely at Moreau – another turtle from MATTS rescue is already resident at the nature center. Berlin, the painted turtle, was an abandoned pet who has also found a new home at Moreau Lakes.
The painted turtle is one of the most common turtle species in North America. In fact, it’s the only turtle that naturally occurs across the whole continent. They are often seen basking in groups on logs in the water and along the shore. They are omnivores, dining on plants, slugs, snails, insects, algae, as well as carrion and small fish.
Painted turtles and box turtles are cute, but don’t take one home! Capturing native NY species as pets is illegal. Fortunately, the Moreau Lakes Nature Center has educated, caring staff that will make sure these unreleasable turtles live in comfort the rest of their days.
Photos by Rebecca Mullins, Moreau Lake State Park. Post by Paris Harper