Monday, October 22, 2007


Image from FWS
Image from FWS
In April, I mentioned an Ohio endangered species that got some cable airtime, and rightfully so. Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs1 traveled to Ohio’s north coast (that is, Lake Erie) to spend some quality time with someone I am proud to say that I (very briefly) worked with.

The Lake Erie Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum) is, like most water snakes, very angry. They’re not venomous or dangerous in any way, just large and inclined to bite and musk. How large, you ask? They can get up to 3.5 feet. This “musking” is a defensive mechanism in which they spray the smelly contents of their cloaca3 all over whomever has grabbed them. It’s not pleasant.

They make their home on Kelley’s Island, a small (8 square miles) island just 3 miles off the coast of “Mainland” Ohio. I suppose that’s inaccurate, as that may be their geographic location, but they really make their homes squeezed among boulders of the rocky coast. From there, it is a short slither into the lake for some fishing. Water Snakes live up to their name well, as they are agile hunters in the water, and eat their share of small fish, frogs, and other similarly sized aquatic wildlife. They may be the same species as the common Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon), but as a separate population, they are entitled to their own protection.

As Kelly’s Island is a popular resort town, the snakes were not exactly the most welcomed of natives. For years, they were tormented by locals and visitors until, in 1999, there were less than 2,000 left. In May 2000, they were added to the Ohio and Federal Endangered Species Lists, and signs declaring “Save Our Snakes” were distributed through the island. Kristen Stanford, in an effort to change public thought surrounding these snakes, has become the Island Snake Lady, and the Lake Erie Water Snake population is now up to a minimum estimate of 6,500 individuals—not bad for seven years. The way she reaches the public is by reaching the children. At one herpetological meeting, she talked about a grandmother who wouldn’t harm the snakes any more because little Jimmy (name changed to protect the innocent) had talked with the Snake Lady, and the Snake Lady said the snakes were good.

Anybody who lives around the Great Lakes knows that the invasive Zebra Mussels have become an ecological nightmare. Well, not long after they were introduced, a natural predator of theirs, the Round Goby, was also (accidentally) brought into the lakes. This didn’t particularly lower Zebra Mussel populations, and Round Gobies boomed. However, the Lake Erie Water Snake seems to feed increasingly on these alien invaders. If the Gobies eat the Mussels, and the Water Snakes eat the Gobies, we might be one step closer to solving that problem.

1One of my dreams is to have a research job so disgusting that it can be featured on a show like that2.
2Another is to host a show like that.
3Latin for “sewer”. You can probably guess what it is.

Monday, October 15, 2007


As an adult, this week’s EUT is a dazzling green aerobat, a thing to behold as it zips through the air, decreasing the mosquito population. As a youngster, it is a brown, hairy spider-like thing that lurks at the bottom of wetlands. It uses a projectile jaw to snatch at unsuspecting prey that swims by, as if something from Alien. It is still ultimately helping with the mosquito population.
Image from University of Michigan
Image from University of Michigan

The Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana), like all dragonflies (and damselflies, for that matter), are always found near water habitats. Not only are these prime habitats for the flying insects that make up their prey, they provide a good place to raise the kids, who are entirely aquatic. The Hine’s Dragonfly website2 mentions that mosquitoes and deerflies3 make up a large amount of the adult’s diet. Since the larvae of both of those are aquatic, you can believe that the Dragonfly larvae eat them. Once they get big enough, the Dragonfly larvae might even go for some small fish. The projectile jaw can be seen in action in this short video, though I can tell you it’s not a Hine’s Emerald. The jaw works the same, though.

The reason that I have no issue posting about these flitting jewels is that, for all intents and purposes, the adults aren’t in danger. The larvae, however, have problems as the wetlands are continually polluted by runoff and pesticides, filled in, and drained. They used to be found in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin and Missouri. They haven’t been seen in Ohio and Indiana since 1961.

The recovery plan for the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly mostly involves protecting the wetlands in which they’re already found. Many places are more and more worried about the states of their wetlands, since they’re discovering the ecological role that these habitats play. I know Ohio has its Rapid Assessment Methods for wetlands to designate and classify the state of wetlands. In the “Why Wetlands Are Important” Section of this site, it says that: “They are often referred to as ‘nature’s kidneys’…” This is an accurate, if slightly disgusting metaphor, since they filter out all the disgusting chemicals that flow through “nature’s veins.” Just remember, if you throw too much crap into the kidneys, they die, taking the rest of the body with them. “Nature’s dialysis machine” would not look pretty.

Edit: This is completely off topic, but I just found the blog of the people searching for the Attenborough's Echidna, which I wrote about a few months ago. It looks like they're getting close to finding it, too!

1There are about 12 songs called "Dragonfly." Pick one to use for this title.
2To quote directly: “The ugly larvae have been called little "dirt balls" since dirt clings to the hairs that cover their bodies.”
3Let me tell you, when, while doing stream studies, the desire to do terrible things to deerfly larvae is overwhelming.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Snap Yo' Fingers

This month, I intend to keep with a theme: Local Water Habitats in Danger1. I could, if I felt so inclined, spend a good long time on aquatic larval insects. However, I would rather keep from stagnating on a specific taxon, so here’s an angry turtle.

Image from National Geographic

The Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macroclemys temmincki) is the largest turtle in North America, and the largest freshwater turtle in the world; it can reach weights of more than 100 pounds. They inhabit any freshwater area large enough to house them: rivers, ponds, swamps, and similar. Their range covers much of the Southeastern United States, and up the Mississippi River to northern Illinois. Alas, this majestic animal does not make it into Ohio.

They’re called Snapping Turtles for a reason. They will sit at the bottom of the pool blending completely with the rocks. Their tongue has a wiggling wormlike projection that acts as a lure for any unsuspecting fish or frogs. Any animal that looks too closely… WAPOW! The sharp beak instantly grabs on. I wish I could find better videos of this, but a search on YouTube brings forth a good number low quality videos of Alligator Snappers doing just that2.

The biggest threat to this animal is hunting, primarily for food. There’s a lot of meat on a 100-pound turtle, if you can keep all your fingers3. Since it takes about 12 years to reach sexual maturity, these slow-growing animals need some time to recover. This, along with the issues of pollution and runoff, are why it is listed in three states, and on the IUCN list. Many states now prohibit Snapping Turtle collection, though it is allowed in others with a permit. The EPA has wetland assessment methods in place to limit the impacts pollution will have on those fragile habitats, keeping the Alligator Snapper and its cohorts safer.

1There is a reason for this. My senior biology project concerns information that never gets from the scientists to the public, such as, say endangered species that people don’t hear about. I want to involve my summer experience of working with the Ohio EPA’s water control methods. Hence, Endangered Ugly Things: Midwest Water Edition!
2Many of them are pets. I don’t like that. A) They’re CITES protected, which, alas, doesn’t stop domestic trade. B) I’m against keeping any animal with the ability to bite your hand off in less than a second.
3Arguably, there’s more meat if you can’t keep all your fingers, but I’m not going to think about that.

Monday, October 01, 2007

She's a Rock.....House!

This is going to be another post where I’m going to try to whip up enough paragraphs with minimal information. I know enough about their order, but little about the species themselves. As adults, they look like small, oddly shaped moths.
Image from University of Michigan
Image from University of Michigan

On the other hand, as larvae, they are strangely shaped, grub-like, and quite ugly. On the Ohio Endangered Species list, there are three Caddisflies (Order Trichoptera, the species are Chimarra socia, Oecetis eddlestoni, and Brachycentrus numerosus). “Trichoptera” means “Hairy Wing,” not to be confused with their sister order, the Lepidoptera (“scaly wing”).

As larvae, Caddisflies inhabit streams and rivers all over the world, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the listed species had a much-reduced habitat range. Most of the life cycle is spent as a larva, usually at least a year. Many species attach bits of detritus to their bodies, such as in the picture, to act as a protective shell. The shape and material of the shell can even be used to classify the animals. To grow into big, strong adults, young Caddisflies will eat most anything they can catch. In fact, some even secrete a silky thread, like their caterpillar cousins. However, the Caddisflies use it to form a net and catch yummy detritus flowing by their home.

Most of that was off the top of my head, after spending the summer studying the small streams (technically known as Primary Headwaters) in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I know much less about them as adults. In fact, before doing some late night collecting for my Invertebrate Zoology course this fall, I couldn’t have told you what the adults even looked like. Of course, now I know they look like small, unexciting moths that hold their wings so they form a peak over their body1. Their mouthparts aren’t as exciting as butterflies’ or moths’, and about all they can do is suck up liquids. This doesn’t matter terribly much, because they have at most a month to have sex, lay eggs, and die.

Now, why are these three endangered, as opposed to the approximately 250 other species of Caddisflies found in Ohio? I’m not terribly sure. I’ve got guesses though. These might only be found in a few counties in Ohio2. They may also be endangered because the small stream habitats in which they are found are at risk from development, pollution, or the like.

That’s where Ohio is ahead of the game… to an extent. Because the Cuyahoga River burned in 1969, just in the midst of an environmental awakening3, state and federal Environmental Protection Agencies came into existence. Ohio developed some pretty good river assessment protocols. However, in 1999, they realized that small streams leading into the larger streams need to get cleaned as well. Therefore, they set up Primary Headwater Habitat conservation efforts that look at the quality of small streams, which are similar to the ones that our squirmy friends spend their childhood.

Oh, by the way, I noticed that I haven’t gotten a single comment in five weeks. If you feel like you have anything to say at all, good, bad or indifferent, please comment. Especially if I’ve gotten something wrong. I’d really like this blog to be as accurate as possible.

1I’m sure I’ve seen tons of them before that, I just couldn’t have told you it was a caddisfly.
2Phantom Midge, I don’t know how you found that out for Rheopelopia acra, but that was impressive.
3That wasn’t the first time it caught fire. It was just the one that got noticed.