Above are images of a species of turtle, an aquatic aquarium plant, an everyday goldfish (photo courtesy of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper) that were, and continue to be, released into the wild. These species are now considered invasive and have become serious environmental threats to the waterbodies they inhabit. Sadly, all of these careless releases and the damage they have caused could easily have been avoided.
The first is a red-eared slider. This invasive freshwater turtle now has a place on the world's top 100 worst invasive species list. Even though it is native to the Mississippi River Basin, it becomes a nuisance outside of its home range. It is now found in ponds, lakes, rivers, streams and manmade ditches in many states where it outcompetes native turtles for food, nesting habitat and basking sites. This invasion could have been avoided if pet owners had donated their unwanted sliders to someone willing to take care of them or surrendered them to the pet store where they were originally purchased. Unfortunately, red-eared slider sales surged because of a trend (which is never a good thing, think bunnies at Easter) when they became a must-have pet in the 80s and 90s due to the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Franchise. The original comic book turtles were all red-eared sliders. This led to many purchases and subsequently many releases of these turtles.
The second is Brazilian elodea, a familiar plant purchased for many aquariums because it is considered a good oxygenator. In its native home of Brazil, this plant grows normally since it is obviously kept in check, however, when dumped into a lake or pond in North America, it becomes incredibly invasive. Just a single, small fragment can form a new plant and ultimately take over an entire waterbody. It can outcompete local species and form dense mats, as seen above, making it impossible for other plant species to grow and difficult for fish to find food. Brazilian elodea is spread between waterbodies mainly by boat propellers and fishing gear. Never flush plants down the toilet, as they can be released via city sewer systems, always compost them far from a waterbody.
The third is a typical goldfish from east Asia that you buy at a pet store or win at a carnival. When kept in a tank, goldfish, which are part of the carp family, will usually stay around two inches long. When released into the wild they can grow up to 15 inches since they are typically limited by their container size and quality of water they are living in. Ponds and lakes are very big containers with better water quality than a non oxygenated fishbowl. Most recently, a 14 inch goldfish was reported in the Niagara River and posted by Niagara Waterkeeper. Flushing a two inch goldfish may seem harmless, but if you live in an area with a public sewer then you run the risk of causing serious environmental damage by releasing that fish. When Gill from Finding Nemo said, "All drains lead to the ocean, kid," he wasn't too far off!
Goldfish, and other non native aquarium fish, outcompete native species, displacing them and removing vital food sources for other animals in a waterbody. They breed quickly and are very difficult to manage once established. Scientists are now estimating that there are tens of millions of goldfish in the Great Lakes.
Goldfish will be included in the next update of Lakes SOS.
Please help preserve our natural communities by surrendering your fish or turtle to a pet store and composting any unwanted aquarium plants.
On the heels of Pollinator Week, it seems appropriate to celebrate another important member of the arthropod family, arachnids. These are our eight legged friends that often find themselves flushed down, stomped on, shrieked at and generally disrespected. It's difficult to change the mind of someone afraid of spiders, those fears run deep, but they really are unfounded. If we learn more about spiders and can look past the furry body and all of those legs to appreciate their usefulness. Maybe we can even try capturing them and setting them free or even letting them live where they're happiest and well-fed (which, sorry, may be indoors), rather than exterminating them. The thought of spiders may give you the creeps, the willies or an epic shudder, but believe it or not, a spider inside is not a bad thing! For example, did you know that spiders eat many household pests like cockroaches, earwigs, flies, moths and disease carrying mosquitoes? Those are bugs that live in your house and do feed on you, your kids and your pets. While you sleep, they may be preventing you from getting diseases. Spiders also help farmers' crops by feeding on damaging insects like aphids and destructive caterpillars. So they can prevent diseases, assist farmers with crops, spin intricate, stunningly beautiful webs and are beautiful if you lean in and take a closer look. Don't forget spiders also provide a food source for birds and other insectivores. They're sounding better already, aren't they? We should be putting them on the payroll, not squashing them!
Since we humans aren't a preferred food source, they rarely attack us. Very few are deadly or even toxic to us. So when you see that itsy bitsy spider climbing up the water spout, let it climb on and live its best life while protecting you from the true nasty critters lurking in your home or garden.
Below are several very busy honey bees. What pollinators are in your garden or back yard? If you want to celebrate pollinators this week as well as protect them, always choose native flowering plants, shrubs and trees over exotic species. If a plant’s label says insect resistant, that’s a bad thing! And remember to never use pesticides of any kind in your garden or yard.
If you’re looking for an awesome read this summer, grab a copy of Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home. You’ll be visiting your local nursery and requesting natives, ASAP!
If you've always wanted to learn about birds and birding, migration is a great time to get out and do it! Birders are very excited during this time of year and you will find numerous guided tours through local Audubon centers and town conservation commissions. Google: "Guided bird tours near me" and see what comes up! You can also sign up for birding email lists and Facebook groups to receive notifications when birders are going out, as well as alerts about rare birds are in your area. Birding is fun, it's healthy (you get exercise, fresh air and vitamin D!) and you'll be so happy you took that leap! Most birders are happy to take a beginner "under their wing" since everyone needs to start somewhere and we all know that first you learn, then you participate and then you are more likely to conserve, and we all want birds protected.
Remember, you can play your part to keep migratory birds safe and healthy by eliminating pesticides from your lawn and garden, growing native plants that attract insects which are a critical food source for many migratory birds, only buying Bird Friendly Certified coffees and never cutting trees in the spring and summer (nesting season). We don't want to lose these treasures, so we all need to do our part to protect them.
Below are a few of the amazing migratory birds you may see in your area during the months of May and June. Many of these are east coast species.
Can you tell the difference between poison ivy seedlings and red maple seedlings? Early spring when both begin to grow (and quite often occupy the same habitat) these two seedlings may cause some confusion. Right now they are both a couple of inches tall and easy to miss in your lawn or garden. In the photos below you can see the obvious differences, which will hopefully help you identify them and avoid making a mistake and winding up with contact dermatitis, i.e. the itchy poison ivy rash.
Unless it has been browsed, poison ivy has three leaftlets per leaf which are alternate along the stem. The seedling leaflets can be red or green and fuzzy, shiny or dull. Red maple has a simple leaf, which grows opposite along the stem and can be red or green as well, but not usually fuzzy. See below.
Poison ivy seedlings vary in appearance as much as they do in habitat, so be on the lookout for those inconspicuous seedlings since they can deliver a nice dose of urushiol to that bare, unsuspecting forearm while gardening.
Check out our Rash Plants app for more identification tips for poison ivy, oak and sumac and stay safe this spring!
Spring has finally sprung and that means bears are on the move! Adult bears (and cubs) are emerging from their dens for what is possibly their first big meal in months. An easy target, and often one of their first, is the backyard bird feeder. Bears have become a little too comfortable dining on feeders filled with suet, black oil sunflower seeds, and dried nuts and berries throughout the spring, summer and fall. In response, several organizations have agreed upon a bird feeding timeline which keeps bears safe and feeds birds during the time of year they really need it. The official dates are: December 1 - April 1.
You can safely put feeders up December 1st but remember to take them down April 1st. Note: These dates may shift with climate change.
If your feeders have been hit by bears during the night (and occasionally during the day - see photo below), then you know the damage is usually irreparable. Replacing feeders and poles after repeated attacks is costly, but that's only half of the problem. The other more critical half is that bears become accustomed to humans and no longer fear us, which creates nuisance bears resulting in bear/human conflicts. Although black bears rarely attack humans, they are wild animals and should be treated with caution, especially a sow with cubs. If bears become a nuisance, they are typically dealt with by wildlife officials which means they are either relocated to areas where they will be safe from human interaction, or more commonly euthanized.
We all love our birds and bears, so if you abide by those dates (December 1- April 1) and feed the birds only when a) they really need to be fed and b) during times bears are less likely to hit feeders, everyone wins!