Thanks to everyone who turned out for the the 9th annual Berkshire Bioblitz at Hopkins Forest September 15th-16th, 2018. Approximately 150 Biologists, students and volunteers from throughout the region took to the woods, wetlands and fields in search of as many forms of life as could be found. Taxonomic groups covered included algae, vascular plants, trees, fungi, aquatic insects, moths, spiders, fish, birds, amphibians and mammals. We even had a team out surveying slime molds this year! We are still compiling the results which will be posted soon. Thank you to all the scientists, volunteers, visitors, and sponsors who helped make this year’s Bioblitz a success.
The initial tally for the day (with more to come!)
Tally to date:
74 Woody Plants
19 Plants & Herbs
57 Butterflies and Moths
361 initial count
This year’s event was hosted by Williams College and co-sponsored by Dr. Augie’s Science Education Programs and Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT).
Thanks to everyone who turned out for the the 9th annual Berkshire Bioblitz at Hopkins Forest September 15th-16th, 2018. Over 150 Biologists, students and volunteers from throughout the region took to the woods, wetlands and fields in search of as many forms of life as could be found. Taxonomic groups covered included algae, vascular plants, trees, fungi, aquatic insects, moths, spiders, fish, birds, amphibians and mammals. We even had a team out surveying slime molds this year!
We are still compiling the results which will be posted soon.
Thank you to all the scientists, volunteers, visitors, and sponsors who helped make this year’s Bioblitz a success.
Finally tally for the day was: 503 species. More to come as the identifications start rolling in. Thanks to everyone who participated!
We found one of the biggest red oak trees in Berkshire County measuring 16 feet across! Some rare algae, and the beaver entertained us during the owl prowl by slapping his tail and getting water all over Berkshire Naturalist: Jason Crockwell.
This year’s Berkshire Bioblitz was hosted by Berkshire Natural Resources Council, and sponsored by Dr. Augie’s and the Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT). Special thanks to Mariah from BNRC and Elizabeth from BEAT for all their help and organization.
There will be live animals to meet up close and personal. At dark there will be a moth light experience, bring your camera if you want. We will be going on an “Owl Prowl” in the dark, bring your flashlight.
Most folks have seen the colorful and enchanting poison dart frog displays in museums. The Berkshire Museum Aquarium has a great one. Go see it if you haven’t already! Did you ever think about what those frogs are eating? Not poison plants or arthropods I can assure you. What they eat are drosophila flies, you know them as fruit flies. These flies, however, don’t fly. They have been bred to not use their wings. There are two species: D. Hydei, they have bright red eyes and D. Melanogaster “gliders”.
John & Scott at the museum have a series of these fruit fly cultures going that once set up, provide and endless supply of food for these frogs. Its a simple but time consuming process and its kind of tricky to do. But I like insects so I figured I could do this for them (since I stole their intern away to be my snail research assistant).
First the fly food is measured out into a plastic container. It smells good. There are chunks of dried fruit, oatmeal and specks of anti-fungal and anti-bacteria substrates.
Then about 150mls of distilled water is mixed in so that its thick, but not too thick that the flies get stuck in it. Thin, but not so thin the flies drown.
On top of that goes excelsior, that curly wood shaving stuff. It is the material that the flies hang out in, mate in and sleep in. Yes, fruit flies, with their short one week life span: sleep. Seems like a waste of time when you only live 7 days, but apparently sleep is a necessity of life. They lay eggs and pupate on the sides of the containers.
Once the colonies are matured, the flies are dumped into a cup with vitamin powder and sprinkled into the terrarium with the frogs. They gobble them up! Its fun to watch.
Because these frogs eat fruit flies and not poison plants or arthropods, they are not poisonous. This is good because sometimes they try to jump out of the tank and we have to touch them. Good to know I won’t get sick or die.
Many of the wild frogs secrete lipophilic (likes oil) alkaloid toxins through their skin. These poisons are a chemical defense from predators. The most poison species is Phyllobates terribilis. Scientists haven’t yet figured out if the frog makes the poisons, or sequesters them (stores them up) in their poison glands from foods that they eat such as ants, centipedes and mites. And we think that because the captive frogs do not eat this poisonous diet, this makes them not toxic. But the science behind this is still waiting to be determined.
The Plymouth red-bellied turtle scientific name: Pseudemys rubriventris bangsi is sometimes called the Plymouth red-bellied cooter, and in 1983 it was the first freshwater turtle in the US to be listed as endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. This turtle was found only in Plymouth County, Massachusetts and the populations dropped to around 200-300 turtles. The state then stepped in and started a conservation “head start” programs to boost the populations.
Scott and John at the Berkshire Museum (and a bunch of us others) have been raising these turtles since the mid 1990’s. The program takes the hatchlings that are the size of a quarter and so susceptible to predation by raccoons, heron’s, skunks and even bull frogs, and sends them to organizations such as the Berkshire Museum that raise them for 6 months so they are about 6 inches long. They are marked by notches in their shells so each individual can be tracked then they are released back into 20 separate ponds. These turtles take about 2–9 years for males, 6–16 for females to become old enough to mate. That’s a long time. In 2007 the wild populations began to increase. But the rehabilitation program goes on because of predation by skunks and herbicides dumped into the streams and ponds where they live.
These colorful turtles are called red-bellies because their plastron, the underside of their shell has red markings.
Like our local painted turtles, Chrysemys picta, they are omnivores feeding on snails, plants, worms, tadpoles, crayfish, and insect larvae. Massachusetts turtles hibernate during the winter in the mud at the bottom of rivers, lakes and ponds.
I just re-discovered this short film written, filmed, acted and directed by a group of after school students in Dr. Aguie’s after school program with the 21 Century Grant. We planned a longer version for SciTV, but in the end we got this trailer. Not too shabby I have to say. Click on the photo to get the link to the movie.
Moth Week officially starts TODAY! Let the fun begin!
Last night at dusk a group of us went hiking through the fields at Sheep Hill in Williamstown. We were led by the lovely and lively entomologist Brigette Zacharczenko who took a well deserved break from writing her dissertation, to tell us about caterpillars and moths–and all the other cool insects that were attracted to her lights. Thank you, thank you Brigette.
At the night lights, we didn’t see too many moths, but we did see some very beautiful insects and many, too many for my comfort, giant horseflies (more about those later).
It was great to catch up with Leslie Ann Reed. Every year I invite her to Berkshire Bioblitz. But she has yet to come. As we stood looking at the view at sunset–I understand why she never wants to leave Sheep Hill. Its a magical place.
This Saturday starts National Moth Week!! And its also the week my bug loving niece (the girl that released earwigs in my bed that time because they were so cute) is coming to visit. Exciting, we are going to be doing some citizen science.
I’ll start the week off collecting caterpillars for her, since she doesn’t arrive until Sunday. She is from the west coast, she hasn’t seen the Eastern Tent caterpillar or the Forest Tent caterpillar. Beautiful creatures. Soft and wonderful to hold and let crawl up your arm. I’m also hoping to find some giant green spiky silk worm caterpillars.
After that we will see what we can find on the screen doors. I know the mint green geometrids will be out since the inch worm caterpillars were abundant this spring.
We will record everything we see, either with pictures or just write the names down. Then we will upload the data to iNaturalist.
Its easy citizen science!
If you are thinking, yeah, but so what, what good is this data. It is important? Actually it is. There are several local moth collections from the mid 1900s in the Berkshire Museum database. Scientists could compare the abundance, species, lack of species, new species to this area. It can tell us if our environment is changing, is it cleaner? (I hope so) is it more conducive to wild life? I hope so.) Is the climate warmer? Colder? Hotter? and does this effect the lepidoptera species? All kinds of cool stuff can be figured out using these abundant little creatures. Just think of the classic Peppered Moth, so much was learned from that inconspicuous moth. And there is much more to be learned about life—right in our own backyards.
Do your part! Get out there and participate in Moth Week and make a difference!
The Field Entomology/Natural History of the Berkshires course starts Tuesday July 5th. Sign up is over BUT we will be night collecting at the Pittsfield State Forest on Wednesday July 6th. This is a free event and open to the public. Get there around dark and be ready to be WOWed! You can find us by following the light.