Naturedigger's latest app, The Bat App, is here and available on The App Store! Now, more than ever, bats need our help. They are getting a lot of undeserved bad press these days, so hopefully learning a little about them, which species live in which states or provinces, and what they do every night to keep us crazy humans safe, may change some minds and open a few hearts. Check it out and let us know what you think!
Fifty years ago today, Senator Gaylord Nelson of California initiated one of the most important environmental movements in history, Earth Day.
Every April 22nd, we set aside one day to reflect on how important Earth is to our lives. We come up with ways we can show our appreciation by taking part in beach clean ups, attending environmental fairs, making promises to be a better steward of the Earth and so on... for one day.
Why is there only one day dedicated to the only planet that can sustain life (ours and everything on its surface) and is the sole reason we wake every morning, eat, drink, move and breathe? Shouldn't every day be Earth Day? Shouldn't we rejoice daily and reflect on the importance of the ground beneath our feet, the sky above our heads and the oceans that meet the horizons?
We can all do anything for a single day - 24 short hours - that's easy. It's the longterm commitment that is the challenge and something we all need to think about going forward.
As we all struggle to get through this pandemic, we can only hope that it doesn't become a distant memory like most events in our lives, and we learn something from it. Earth needs our attention and as long as we ignore it and do what we've always done, it will continue to react or rebel in ways we can't imagine or predict.
So while you're pent up in your house or apartment wondering why popcorn ceilings were ever invented and binge watching Modern Family, take some time out of your busy day to think about what you're going to do when this is over.
Ask yourself how you are going to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Are you going to minimize your use of single use plastic?
Are you going to be a better consumer and demand less packaging?
Are you going to plant native plants to help our pollinators?
Are you going to use public transportation whenever possible?
Are you going to consider trading in that gas guzzler for a hybrid or EV?
Are you going to become a citizen scientist (a.k.a. community scientist) and collect data for an organization doing research on animals, plants or climate change?
Are you going to volunteer for an environmental organization and participate in beach or community clean-ups, or support them one in other ways?
Are you going to Buy Local and stop supporting corporate agricultural farms that use pesticides and poison our food and harm our critical pollinators?
Are you going to compost your food scraps rather than throw them in the trash?
Are you going to reduce your consumption of red meat to help lessen your carbon footprint?
Are you going to vote for environmentally friendly policies?
Are you going to buy used clothing and stop supporting brands that cause pollution and harm the environment?
They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. We have all been sheltering in place much longer than that, so why don't we form new, healthy habits during this time away from work, friends and family and emerge a better version of ourselves?
Happy Earth Day, everyone. Now let's get busy....
Silver-haired bat image courtesy of Merlin Tuttle
Today is officially Bat Appreciation Day, and although there aren't many places we can go to celebrate this momentous occasion, we can certainly reflect on the many things we are grateful to our 47 North American bat species for providing. While we're at it, we can also do a few things on our own to help bats out while we're sheltering in place looking for fun things to do.
What exactly do bats provide? If you don't already know, hold on to your hat!
Here are just a few of the many benefits of bats:
• They eat insects that cause diseases like Zika, malaria, dengue fever and encephalitis in humans.
• They consume crop pests, which saves farmers billions of dollars in pesticides every year and keeps our food safer
• They pollinate plants such as bananas, mango and agave - the latter is the source of tequila. We can all definitely use a margarita these days!
• They repopulate areas of deforestation by spreading seeds, including rain forests.
• They provide nutrients to other cave dwelling animals through their nutrient-rich guano.
And although there's no scientific evidence, they must walk on water, too! Bats aren't your average flying mammal; they're your only flying mammal, and today shouldn't be the only day we celebrate them, we should add them to our daily "I'm thankful for" list.
What can you do to help bats? You know you want to, so here you go:
• Never, everrrr kill bats!!
• Buy a bat house that is appropriate for your state.
• Never use pesticides on your lawn.
• Keep lakes and streams healthy and clean to give bats fresh drinking water, and in some cases, habitat to hunt.
• Remove bats humanely from structures. If a bat gets into your attic, open a window or wait until they leave and plug up any holes they may be using. Remember, bats can fit through holes the size of a dime. Remember during spring and summer, if a bat is female, and you exclude her from your home, she may be leaving behind a pup. Click here for guidance on safe bat removal.
• Keep dead trees on your property. Bats need them for roosting!
• Plant native pollinator gardens to support the insects bats feed on.
• Rid your yard of invasive species so native species can grow and support healthy insect populations.
• Never disturb roosting bats.
• Keep your cats indoors. They kill billions of birds and mammals every year, including bats.
• Use motion sensor lights around your home, rather than porch lights that stay on all night.
• Never go from cave to cave without completely decontaminating everything you wore or carried. This is one way white-nose syndrome (WNS) spreads (See White-nose Syndrome section).
• Support the bat conservation organizations
• Spread correct information about bats to friends and family
• Become a citizen scientist. Sign up to help count bats in your state. Click here for a list of bat experts near you
See? Helping bats couldn't be easier. So celebrate them today and every day, and let's see if we can help increase their populations by working together.
Be on the lookout for Naturedigger's "The Bat App" coming soon to the App Store!
As an individual or as a community, we are always being asked to do this or buy that to help the environment; and the list is long. Use reusable bags, buy reusable straws, clean up our neighborhoods, clean up our oceans, buy reef-friendly sunscreen, get a tune up, or better yet, buy hybrids or electric cars to help combat the effects of climate change. DO, DO, DO. What if you were asked NOT to do something instead and have it make a major difference in our natural world, would you consider it? When it comes to invasive species, that's exactly what you should do. This means, Do NOT buy plants that are not native to your region, do NOT release pets or plants into the environment, and do NOT spread seeds from invasive species to other natural areas. Pretty easy to do, right? Unfortunately, because people have made the choice to DO all of the above, we now have invasive species from all over the world outcompeting our native plants and animals causing major problems within our native ecosystems.
Above images are just a few examples of invasive species plaguing North America. Click on the caption for more information. There are literally thousands more. So what happened? How did all they get here?
For starters, terrestrial plants are often brought in by nurseries and sold to the public for private or commercial gardens. This is typically due to demand from gardeners. When they escape, there is usually nothing to keep them in check, like there is in their native territory, and they take over, displacing native plants. Is this a big deal? Oh you bet it is – A VERY BIG DEAL. These newcomers weren't supposed to be here, therefore, they are not compatible with the insects and birds that have been here for thousands of years and have co-evolved with species that supply them with the food and shelter they've always depended on. Here's where you do NOT support nurseries that fail to supply customers with native plants and who knowingly sell invasive species. That's easy, right? Check.
Next up is aquarium and terrarium species. This is a big one. We humans can be described as a water loving species, but we sure have a funny way of showing affection for something we use and enjoy as much as rivers, lakes and ponds. By purchasing, then releasing aquarium species or water garden plants into a waterbody, you are likely dooming several native populations. Red-eared sliders are a good example (see above). They are a mid-western species that becomes invasive outside of its native range. Once introduced to a pond or lake, this extremely aggressive turtle soon takes over and displaces native turtles. Since they are long-lived, impacts from a single release can be devastating.
Aquatic plants (and animal larvae) are transported from waterbody to waterbody mainly by boats and fishing tackle. If we clean, drain and dry our boats and rinse off tackle before heading to another waterbody, there would be no need for boat inspections at boat launches. Our rivers and lakes would be thriving instead of struggling with the introduction of Brazilian elodea, hydrilla, milfoil, quagga and zebra mussels, to name a (very) few.
Don't forget about those reptiles people simply must have in their homes until they are no longer convenient or the right fit for the household and are released. There are personal health issues including salmonella risk with these animals, but nothing compares to unimaginable havoc they wreak on our ecosystems. The Florida Everglades are facing one of the most devastating impacts an ecosystem has ever experienced in this country due to pythons being released into the wild. Let's not forget about the green iguanas taking over south Florida causing so much damage to gardens and landscapes that residents are now allowed to kill and eat them, as long as they kill them humanely. How can this even be a thing? Because people tend to make very bad decisions about how to dispose of pets and plants, instead they do what's easy, quick and inexpensive; open the back door or take a quick trip to the lake. What's the solution here? DON'T do it!
Lastly, if you make sure you or your landscaper (if you have one) ensure you are not transporting invasive species from one space with invasive species to one without, that would be huge! By rinsing mowers and checking shoes and pants for seeds, you have avoided a new infestation. Another easy fix.
Let's summarize: How do we begin to fix this mess we've gotten ourselves into? Since humans are a major part of the problem, humans must solve it. By now, some species like Japanese knotweed cannot be eradicated, pythons in the Everglades are probably here to stay as well, so professionals must manage these species. However, we can all stop bringing them into the country by not purchasing them. Simply stop buying them! Never, EVER release aquatic plants or animals into waterways, always surrender them to a pet store or donate them to a school. If you can't find a pet store who will take them, or a place to donate them, find a home for them on Craigslist or Facebook. Whatever you do, DON'T RELEASE THEM INTO THE WILD!
Of course there are aquatic invasive species coming in regularly from other countries in the ballast water of ships. The Great Lakes have seen at least 186 invasive species enter waterways in ballast water. Efforts to curb new infestations coming into the lakes are underway, but there remains a constant threat and a real concern, ask any Great Lakes resident.
So let's look at what you don't need to do again one more time:
• Don't buy invasive (or non-native) plants for your garden or animals for your house
• Don't release plants or animals into nature, they don't belong there
• Don't bring home any seeds on your clothes or shoes from a hike or even a friend's yard, or allow your landscaper to bring anything from another yard to yours.
Something you actually can and should do, is report any invasive species being sold in your local nurseries to your state Department of Agriculture immediately. That's just a phone call. You can do that, right?
See? By doing almost nothing (in this particular case), you're helping solve a major crisis in North America. Nice work!
Every February 5th, we celebrate our western population of monarch butterflies. They have a day set aside just for them, as it should be. What does western population of monarchs actually mean? Settle in for a quick lesson on monarch populations, migration and their status in North America.
There are three separate populations of monarch butterflies (all the same species):
First, there is the eastern population that is well-known for their epic migration from Mexico in the spring up through central and eastern United States and into Canada. After laying eggs across the country (up to five generations), the last generation (that has never been to Mexico) makes that incredible migration south to the oyamel fir forests in central Mexico. How they manage this, is still a mystery, but hopefully we'll find in the near future exactly how they accomplish this incredible journey. Unfortunately, overwintering sites in Mexico that support the eastern population has declined up to 95% since the 1990s, so this population is in big trouble. Not only is their migration threatened, but also their overwintering grounds in Mexico. A double threat. Update: The final population numbers are in from the overwintering sites in Mexico, and the numbers are down 53% from last year. Visit the MLMP website and read Karen Oberhauser's assessment of the situation. Also learn more about how you can help.
Second, there is the mostly non-migratory population in south Florida that sticks around all year. There isn't enough data to say for sure if they are 100% non-migratory, tagging data may indicate otherwise, but from what we know, they hang out in Florida all year.
Finally, there is the western population of monarchs. This population migrates from overwintering sites along the California coast in spring east to the Rocky Mountains. Again, several generations later, the last generation migrates in the fall back to the coast. Now for the bad news. The western monarch population is also in trouble. Big trouble. It would be nice to celebrate, uninhibited, our beloved orange and black butterfly, but we just can’t. Instead, we need to reflect on their critically low numbers (down 86% since the 2018 count) and figure out ways to help them. This is one of those, we made this mess, now let's clean it up scenarios.
Due to several factors, including habitat loss, pesticide use, loss of overwintering sites, climate change, and others (all created or exacerbated by humans), we are now faced with losing one of our most iconic insects. Last year, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (Xerces), reported for the second year, historically low numbers of overwintering monarchs along the California coast. This data prompted a second call to action for western monarchs. This is really bad news. However, rather than stew and feel helpless, let's look ahead...
It's 2020, a new year, with new possibilities and a brighter outlook all around, so let's see if the collective "we" can help this species rather than watch it go extinct like so many other species we've said goodbye to in recent years.
Here's what we can all do:
First, plant milkweed. That's a big one. Just visit the Xerces seed finder website to locate seed vendors in your state or visit your local nursery and request native milkweeds.
Second, plant native flowers that are available to migrating monarchs in early spring and late fall. They need these vital food sources when they leave their overwintering sites and when they return to them.
Third, stop using chemicals such as round-up on your weeds. This kills many plants in its path and is terrible for not only monarchs, but other pollinators as well.
Fourth, protect overwintering sites in California. Without these sites, monarchs can't make it through the winter and therefore, cannot migrate in the spring.
Last, get involved! If you're a California resident, you can help Xerces by counting overwintering monarchs along the California coast. Just download the Monarch SOS app and go to Report, then select Xerces Western Monarch Count. You can also participate in the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper which allows you to report monarchs and milkweed throughout the year.
If we all do our part and help our western monarch populations, next year, there will hopefully be cause for celebration.
On a very sad note: Our hearts go out to the families of the slain monarch conservationists from Mexico, Homero Gomez Gonzalez, manager of the El Rosario butterfly sanctuary, and Raul Hernandez Romero, a tour guide at the sanctuary. Both were champions for monarchs and will be terribly missed by the entire monarch community as well as the monarchs that will undoubtedly suffer in their absence. May these fine men rest in peace and those responsible for these unspeakable acts be brought to justice.
We are already nearing the end of the first month of the new year, and just out of curiosity, how are those resolutions you made on New Year's Eve going? Thought so.
Year after year, many of us resolve to floss more, take those vitamins, sleep better, manage our stress better, become more positive, lose weight, lower our blood pressure, find happiness or become more focused at work. After about a month, we tend to fall back into those former, muuuuuch more comfortable habits that require a whole lot less work (and money) than a gym membership, a trip to a specialty vitamin store or investing in memory and boosting apps. What if you could tackle all of those resolutions and more with one very simple solution? Would you do it? What if it cost you nothing and gave you everything you need, plus a few surprise bonuses? Well there is one very simple, free, and believe it or not, fun, solution. GET OUTSIDE!
Although getting yourself outside won't help a much with flossing, that's on you, it does offer some pretty astounding health benefits. New research supports the idea that going outdoors and putting some distance between you and those incandescent or fluorescent lights you're sitting under, and shutting down that phone you can't stop staring at, is actually really good for your health! Harvard University says that research in a growing field called ectotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. The University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people across multiple countries to see whether nature really does provide a health boost, and the answer was a definitive, yes! The findings were pretty amazing. Researchers stated, "We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration." Wow. Pretty amazing. In addition to all of that, "forest bathing,"(also known as shinrin-yoku), which is a slow, mindful walk through a forest has been shown to significantly reduce the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Just a 20 minute walk in the woods and you're a new guy or gal.
So it turns out that nature is about the closest thing to a happiness and wellness cure-all a person can find. It's a prescription with zero side effects and no copay. If you're feeling a bit tired and groggy, don't reach for that fourth cup of coffee or an energy drink at 2:00 p.m., step outside for some natural vitamin D (don't forget your sunscreen) and a breath of fresh air. Recovering from surgery? Head outside for your physical therapy, it will speed up your healing time and make you feel better both physically and mentally. If you need to stretch those legs and give your brain a break from work, grab a pair of binoculars and hit a nearby trail. You'll be amazed at how great you'll feel once you unplug and take a minute to look around. Also, learning new birds, plants, trees and animals in your area will help with your memory. Searching for a bird you can hear but not see will help you focus on something other than the frustrating day you're having and you'll feel yourself instantly decompress. It will also give you a feeling of satisfaction and success once you track it down, identify it and add it to the growing list of new things you've learned about nature. Don't forget to tell your friends all about it. Sharing nature with others is a big deal, and your friends will thank you for the healthy new lifestyle you've just introduced them to, no resolution needed.
If you've always thought nature exploration and enjoyment is only for those who "went to school for biology," you couldn't be more off the mark. Nature is here for everyone. It's like Santa dropped a massive gift on the world with a tag that said: To: everybody, From: Santa. That means everyone can participate and enjoy it in their own unique way. If you need a place to start, or a push in the right direction, contact a local organization that specializes in nature walks like the Audubon Society or a local, county, state or national park with docent-led walks. Once you start, you'll have a very difficult time stopping.
As humans, we have a biological need to connect with nature, and many of us are suffering from "Nature Deficit Disorder" by staying indoors and being bogged down by excessive screen time and over taxing our brains by multitasking. Why not break free of all that noise and try something new? Do your own experiment to see if you actually do feel better after a little forest bathing! See if you have unparalleled focus after spending time on a trail while bird or butterfly watching. The results may surprise you.
2020 can still be a great year, despite those already forgotten resolutions. If you're serious about getting healthy, both in your mind and body, the solution you seek is right outside your front door.
Your love life isn't the only thing mistletoe is good for; there are many animals that need it, and a possible surprise health benefit, too!
What exactly is Mistletoe?
Mistletoe is a seriously fascinating plant. There are over 1,300 species worldwide, 30 of which occur in North America and 20 or more that are endangered across the globe. To get a bit technical, mistletoe is an aerial flowering evergreen perennial, which means you will see it growing in trees rather than on the ground and throughout all four seasons. It's considered a hemiparasitic plant, because although it feeds off of the water and nutrients provided by a host tree or shrub, many species produce their own food through photosynthesis, making them only partially parasitic.
How does it parasitize trees and shrubs?
When a sticky mistletoe seed is either transported by an animal or deposited by a bird onto a limb, it waits for a good rain then gets busy producing a rootlike structure called a haustorium that penetrates the surface of its host. This structure is how it depletes or at least decreases the water and nutrients the host tree or shrub needs.
How can you spot mistletoe?
You can find at least one species in almost every state or province in North America. The best time to see it is in winter because, as mentioned, it is an evergreen and when leaves are absent, you can find these large masses more easily. You're looking for a large round ball of greenery attached to trees (see photo below). If you find these, then you are possibly in the presence of mistletoe! Mistletoe berries may be white as well as pink or red, so you aren't only looking for the all-too-familiar white ones. But remember, no matter what the color, don't snack on them, they may not be toxic to wildlife but are known to be quite toxic to humans.
Who benefits most from mistletoe?
Mistletoe isn't just for kissing (although that's a pretty fun way to use it!), it's a necessity for many mammals, birds, bees, butterflies and other insects as well. Mistletoe is the larval host plant (meaning eggs are laid on the leaves which feed the growing caterpillar) for at least one species of butterfly, the great purple hairstreak. Not only is this the food source for its caterpillars, but the toxicity from leaves passes on to the caterpillar and ultimately the adult and provides some protection from predators. Many other species of insects including one species of twig beetle, several thrips and mites also depend solely on mistletoe for their survival.
Mammals such as cattle, deer, elk, squirrels, chipmunks and porcupines rely on mistletoe leaves or berries, particularly when food sources are scarce in the fall and winter. Many of the smaller mammals also use the witches' broom for nesting and cover.
Numerous bird species benefit greatly from mistletoe because while the plant and its host are both alive, they feed on the sticky berries (this is also how the plant spreads) and use the large mass of vegetation, known as witches' brooms, for nesting sites and cover. To this point, researchers discovered that over 40 percent of spotted owl nests were associated with witches' brooms. Other birds known to use mistletoe for nesting include Cooper's hawks, chickadees, pygmy nuthatches, mourning doves and house wrens. Once the host tree dies, and the mistletoe along with it, many cavity nesting birds and small mammals move in, so the dead host tree creates high quality nesting habitat, which is a huge plus. According to the National Wildlife Federation, forests that have mistletoe may produce three times as many cavity nesting birds as forests lacking mistletoe.
What about people? Is there a benefit for humans other than exchanging kisses?
There certainly seems to be, and possibly an important one. According to Johns Hopkins and the National Cancer Institute, mistletoe is being tested in trials for use in numerous types of cancer treatment. According to Johns Hopkins, mistletoe injections are currently among the most widely used complementary cancer treatments in Europe. That's pretty amazing. One day we could be taking injections of mistletoe in lieu of chemotherapy. See? It is a very interesting plant and clearly not your average holiday greenery!
Happy holidays to everyone, now go kiss someone (with their consent, of course) under this epically cool aerial, hemiparasitic, potentially life-saving, evergreen perennial!