Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas, above) are endangered and olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea, below) are vulnerable even though both have a wide distribution in the tropical oceans. The threats they face are caused by humans including boat strikes, nets, poaching of the adults and collecting their eggs.
Back in 2015 conservation scientist Kim Williams-Guillén came up with a way to protect turtle eggs by using GPS-equipped decoys. Her award-winning idea was tried recently in Costa Rica with the results published this month in Current Biology.
A team of scientists led by Helen Pheasey placed a decoy egg in each of 101 clutches of green sea and olive ridley turtles. 25 of the clutches were stolen by poachers. Five of the GPS eggs were taken for a ride. One traveled 85 miles. This diagram from Current Biology shows the decoys and the routes they traveled.
Revealing the trade routes is a step toward saving the turtles though not the silver bullet. Conservation laws and their enforcement can be ambiguous from country to country. As Science Magazine explains:
Ultimately, though, scientists and nonprofits are going to need to engage communities with local outreach and education programs to save sea turtles, Williams-Guillén says. “The real meat and potatoes of conservation isn’t going to come from deploying eggs.”
Pretty soon it’ll be too cold for frogs but right now we still have a chance to see these two in Pennsylvania. Though similar it’s useful to know the difference because one is mildly poisonous.
Northern leopard frogs (Lithobates pipiens), at left above, are harmless and sometimes green. Don’t rely on their green color for identification though because some are plain brown. All four below are northern leopard frogs from the same place in Minnesota. Notice that the spots on their backs are irregular circles and somewhat scattered even on the brown one.
Here’s a live pickerel frog showing off his spots.
The Pickerel Frog shows off its striking pattern. If it’s cover gets blown, plan B is the poison that it packs in it’s skin. Mildly irritating to people, distasteful to predators, they are the only native poisonous frog in the USA. pic.twitter.com/GN2HdltcKc
In September porcelain berry’s (Ampelopsis glandulosa) beautiful porcelain-like fruits show why the plant was imported as an ornamental.
Unfortunately this Asian vine is terribly invasive, engulfing small trees and draping itself over large ones.
Some people call it “wild grape” but you’ll never see grapes on it. Just porcelain berries.
This month you’ll find common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) blooming in meadows, along roads and bike trails. The name implies that it opens only in the evening but I photographed these at midday. The flowers are 1-2 inches wide. The plants are hard to miss at six feet tall.
Meanwhile, bug love continues. This pair of goldenrod soldier beetles (also called Pennsylvania leatherwing (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus)) are perched on a flower in the Aster family while working to continue their species.
Spend time outdoors this week while the weather is good. Autumn is beautiful and all too short.
p.s. Thank you to Monica Miller and John English for correcting my bug identification mistake!
p.p.s. Did you notice that Pennsylvania is misspelled in the bug’s scientific name (only 1 ‘n’). This is not the only species with this misspelling. Can you name another?
Though 2020 has been an awful year it has a silver lining: Monarch butterflies are relatively plentiful. I saw my first monarch in late July. Now that they’re migrating to Mexico I see several every day.
How are they navigating to Mexico?
During their fall migration, Eastern North American monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) use a time-compensated sun compass to aid navigation to their overwintering grounds in central Mexico.
The compasses are in their antennae! Combined with a circadian clock that figures out where the sun ought be at any time of day, the compass compensates for the sun’s position and keeps the monarch heading in a southwesterly direction.
Monarchs can navigate better than some of us!
On Throw Back Thursday, read more in this vintage article: The Sun Compass.
This is the time of year to see whirligigs, those shiny water beetles that spin and swim on freshwater surfaces. They gather in large aggregations in late summer and fall and are hard to miss in August.
When you find an aggregation it may contain only one species or more than a dozen. With 700 species in the Gyrinidae family you have to be an expert to figure out who’s who.
Whirligigs swim on the surface, sometimes quite fast, or dive when threatened or to lay eggs.
They have amazing adaptations to fit their lifestyle:
Their compound eyes are divided into above-water and below-water halves which are able to see best in each environment. They watch for predators (insects, birds and fish) and prey (live or dead insects).
Their back legs are short paddles for swimming fast. Their front legs are long for grasping prey. The males’ front legs have suckers to hang onto females when they mate.
Whirligig beetles cannot walk but they can fly. Their wings carry them to other ponds when their own location dries up.
Adults need to breathe so they carry a bubble of air under their elytra when they dive. The bubble is positioned at the back end of the bug where their breathing parts are located.
See their breathing bubble in this PBS video about nature’s scuba divers:
(photo and image from Wikimedia Commons; click the caption to see the original. videos embedded from YouTube)
p.s. Just for laughs, here’s a whirligig that you can see at any time of year. 😉
Cicadas are still “singing” in Pittsburgh. Occasionally I find a molted exoskeleton like this one in Frick Park.
And finally, at Duck Hollow I almost walked into a tiny caterpillar dangling from an invisible filament. The caterpillar blows in the wind, his filament touches another tree and he scrambles up. It’s an effective form of transportation. Much faster than walking.
The presence of European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) can be daunting until you realize they have enemies. Birds eat their larvae right out of the nest. Gerardine Baugh discovered this while watching a chickadee at a wasp’s nest outside her window.
Who knew that a chickadee would be so brave when confronted by a wasp?