Posts about backyard wildlife

Evolution in New York City Wildlife

Evolution Right Under Our Noses by Carl Zimmer

White-footed mice, stranded on isolated urban islands, are evolving to adapt to urban stress. Fish in the Hudson have evolved to cope with poisons in the water. Native ants find refuge in the median strips on Broadway. And more familiar urban organisms, like bedbugs, rats and bacteria, also mutate and change in response to the pressures of the metropolis. In short, the process of evolution is responding to New York and other cities the way it has responded to countless environmental changes over the past few billion years. Life adapts.

Dr. Wirgin and his colleagues were intrigued to discover that the Hudson’s population of tomcod, a bottom-dwelling fish, turned out to be resistant to PCBs. “There was no effect on them at all,” Dr. Wirgin said, “and we wanted to know why.”

In March, he and his colleagues reported that almost all the tomcod in the Hudson share the same mutation in a gene called AHR2. PCBs must first bind to the protein encoded by AHR2 to cause damage. The Hudson River mutation makes it difficult for PCBs to grab onto the receptor, shielding the fish from the chemical’s harm.

The AHR2 mutation is entirely missing from tomcod that live in northern New England and Canada. A small percentage of tomcod in Long Island and Connecticut carry the mutation. Dr. Wirgin and his colleagues concluded that once PCBs entered the Hudson, the mutant gene spread quickly.

Carl Zimmer again does a good job of explaining science in an engaging way. It is interesting to learn about science and evolution in urban environments. Lots of life manages to survive the challenges of urban life and it is interesting to learn what scientists are finding about that life.

Related: Trying to Find Pest Solutions While Hoping Evolution Doesn’t Exist Doesn’t WorkMicrocosm by Carl ZimmerNew Yorkers Help Robot Find Its Way in the Big CityParasite RexBackyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing Damselfly

Backyard Wildlife – Chimpmunk

photo of a chipmunk

I have enjoyed seeing chipmunks run around my yard for several years, but getting a photo of them is not easy. They are quite fast and don’t sit around for long. Occasionally they will seem to bask in the sun while they are eating a seed but then they are always quite far away. This is the best image I have been able to get.

Chipmunks have an omnivorous diet consisting of grain, nuts, fruit, berries, birds’ eggs, small frogs, fungi, worms, insects and on occasions small mammals like young mice. At the beginning of autumn, many species of chipmunk begin to stockpile these goods in their burrows, for winter. Other species make multiple small caches of food. These two kinds of behavior are called larder hoarding and scatter hoarding. Larder hoarders usually live in their nests until spring. Cheek pouches allow chipmunks to carry multiple food items to their burrows for either storage or consumption.

Related: Spring TulipsBackyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing DamselflyBackyard Wildlife: HawkBackyard Wildlife: Fox
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Bleeding Heart Flowers

photo of some bleeding heart flowers

One the first flowers to bloom in my yard this year are some bleeding heart flowers (shown the photo). If I remember right, I planted them last year. I love perennials: I just plant them once and then get to keep enjoying them. I also find that some plants that are supposedly annuals seem to keep coming back (I think the plant must just manage to hang on, even if they often don’t, and so are called annuals). I enjoy gardening a bit, but don’t really spend enough time to know much about it. I just do as much as I feel like – and often am so busy that amounts to not much.

Also known as Lamprocapnos spectabilis they are a rhizomatous perennial plant native to eastern Asia from Siberia south to Japan.

Related links: photos of Spring Tulips from my yard last yearFirst Flowers of Spring (2009)What Are Flowers For?Backyard Wildlife: Turtlegreat sunflower photo with bees

Backyard Wildlife: Robins Attack Holly Tree

photo of robin in a holly tree

Robins like to attack my holly tree and feed on the berries. Getting photos of them is hard but there are lots of them flying around all excited (I did manage to catch one of them in the photo on the left). This tree was actually here when I moved in but I also do try to nurture and add plants that feed wildlife. I like just planting things that will feed and shelter birds (and others) rather than filling bird feeders myself. There is information on how to use your backyard to promote wildlife.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: CrowsBackyard Wildlife: HawkBackyard Wildlife: Fox

Backyard Wildlife: Walking Leaf

photo of insect that looks like a leaf

See some more great photos of the hike on Penang Island in Malaysia, from the Capturing Penang blog.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: FoxBackyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing DamselflyBackyard Wildlife: Turtle

White House Bee Hive

The White House added a bee hive last year. An Excellent White House Bee Adventure

On Tuesday, March 24, [2009] the first known hive of bees at the White House arrived at their location on the South Lawn. You don’t have to count on my crummy photo to see them: just stop by the fence on the Ellipse (south) side: two deeps and a medium of Maryland mixed breed bees, with known Russian and Caucasian genetics.

During the 2008 campaign, Michelle Obama emphasized healthy, local food, and since arriving here has tasked her family’s personal chef, Sam Kass, with putting a garden in to supply fresh produce for the Executive Mansion and educational events for the community. Charlie realized that this was a chance to include bees, and to show their important role in putting one of every three bites on your plate. Charlie allocated (free of charge, people!) one of his own hives for the White House Victory Garden, and it will both provide hive products and an teaching opportunities.

Related: Bee Colony Collapse ContinuesVirus Found to be One Likely Factor in Bee Colony Collapse DisorderPresident Obama Speaks on Getting Students Excited About Science and EngineeringBye Bye BeesThe Great Sunflower Project

Backyard Wildlife: Hawk

photo of a hawk on my deck

Nice view out my window from my desk today. This wonderful hawk landed on my deck and I was lucky enough to have my camera right next to me. It is so nice to be able to have this view instead of a view like the IT Crowd staff have in their basement IT office.

If you let me know what type of hawk you think this is that would be great – including links to an identification page would be appreciated too. Last time people helped identify a Sharp-shinned Hawk enjoying a meal. Enjoying nature in your back yard is a wonderful thing.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing DamselflyBackyard Wildlife: FoxBackyard Wildlife: TurtleBackyard Wildlife: Birds

Growing Lettuce in My Backyard

photo of lettuce in my garden

photo of lettuce in my garden

I planted lettuce in my backyard for the first time this year. I have enjoyed growing food in my backyard for the last several years. First it is very convenient. I want something to eat I can just go grab it out of the garden. Also it is healthier that many of the other things I might snack on. In addition, you can save money by growing your own food. And it is good for the environment (granted individuals don’t have much of an impact, but millions of people growing some of their own food does – reducing the amount of food transportation on the environment).

Also, I just find it cool to grow food in my yard to feed myself.

I don’t use anything to fertilize the soil or pesticides or anything. I just plant and let it grow (sometimes I water the garden). I just have a compost pile that is mainly leaves that I stir into the garden soil. It has worked fine for years now. I will grow tomatoes, berries, peppers, beans, peas and cucumbers again this year.

Related: Rethinking the Food Production SystemEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.Backyard Wildlife: BirdsPesticide Laced Fertiliser Ruins GardensFirst Flowers of Spring

Spring Tulips

photo of red and yellow tulips by John Hunter

photo of red and yellow tulips by John Hunter

Photo of red and yellow tulips in my yard. This is by far the most tulips that have flowered. The last several years I think there were 3-5 flowers. This year there are 20 in the front yard.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing DamselflyResearchers Learn What Sparks Plant GrowthWhat Are Flowers For?Antelope Island, Great Salt Lake Photos

Getting Kids to Rediscover the Great Outdoors

photo of lantern tree

Back to nature: Getting kids to rediscover the great outdoors

Childhood is supposed to look like this, according to many children’s health experts and an increasing number of landscape architects and urban planners. Wading in puddles or streams, building hideouts, climbing trees or exploring a “secret” outdoor spot develops the senses, stimulates the imagination and releases pent-up energy. Studies show that “a dose of nature” can be more effective than a dose of medication in reducing the symptoms of attention deficit disorder (see sidebar). Obesity and depression are alleviated, too.

“Nature stimulates that sense of wonder,” says UW Health psychologist Katie Watermolen. “When kids are outside, they are less anxious, more creative, more relaxed. All that leads to improved mental health.”

A 2007 report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics says free and unstructured play is healthy and, in fact, essential for helping children reach important social, emotional and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.

Great stuff. I agree. See photos of my hikes in national parks. The 2007 report doesn’t believe in free and open science though – outdated closed science journal rules apply. When will people lean – both that science should be open and nature is good for kids? Progress isn’t helped when the scientists working for public schools restrict their research by allowing journals to hide their research from the public.

Photo by John Hunter at Forest Glen Preserve, IllinoisCreative Commons Attribution.

Related: Nature Recreation DecliningKids Need Adventurous PlayParfrey’s Glen Natural Area in WisconsinThe Great Sunflower ProjectPlaying Dice and Children’s Numeracy

The Evolution of House Cats

Fritz the Cat Photo shows Fritz the Cat – see photos Fritz took.

Scientific American has a long and interesting article on: The Evolution of House Cats

It is by turns aloof and affectionate, serene and savage, endearing and exasperating. Despite its mercurial nature, however, the house cat is the most popular pet in the world. A third of American households have feline members, and more than 600 million cats live among humans worldwide.

Together the transport of cats to the island and the burial of the human with a cat indicate that people had a special, intentional relationship with cats nearly 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. This locale is consistent with the geographic origin we arrived at through our genetic analyses. It appears, then, that cats were being tamed just as humankind was establishing the first settlements in the part of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent.

Over time, wildcats more tolerant of living in human-dominated environments began to proliferate in villages throughout the Fertile Crescent. Selection in this new niche would have been principally for tameness, but competition among cats would also have continued to influence their evolution and limit how pliant they became. Because these proto–domestic cats were undoubtedly mostly left to fend for themselves, their hunting and scavenging skills remained sharp. Even today most domesticated cats are free agents that can easily survive independently of humans, as evinced by the plethora of feral cats in cities, towns and countrysides the world over.

So are today’s cats truly domesticated? Well, yes—but perhaps only just. Although they satisfy the criterion of tolerating people, most domestic cats are feral and do not rely on people to feed them or to find them mates. And whereas other domesticates, like dogs, look quite distinct from their wild ancestors, the average domestic cat largely retains the wild body plan. It does exhibit a few morphological differences, however—namely, slightly shorter legs, a smaller brain and, as Charles Darwin noted, a longer intestine, which may have been an adaptation to scavenging kitchen scraps.

Cats are Cool 🙂

Related: Origins of the Domestic CatThe Engineer That Made Your Cat a PhotographerDNA Offers New Insight Concerning Cat EvolutionGenetic Research Suggests Cats ‘Domesticated Themselves’

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