When I was a kid, my dad occasionally would point to photos of animals such as the duckbill platypus, or to an actual 'possum in our rural Oklahoma neighborhood as evidence that God has a wicked sense of humor. A book released this week by Workman Publishing approaches nature with that same appreciation of its whimsy.
In Mara Grunbaum's WTF, Evolution?! A Theory of Unintelligible Design, just released by Workman Publishing, is a pictorial blooper reel of 100 funny creatures that will have you wondering if nature occasionally needs a designated driver, goes a little crazy or just runs out of steam. What to make of the Regal Horned Lizard, for example, that defends itself by shooting 3-foot streams of blood from its eyes? Or the Peacock Spider, whose flamboyant mating dance and vivid markings would be right at home in a Mardi Gras parade?
Thanks to meticulous sourcing and fact-checking, we can believe Grunbaum when she tells us that the Banded Piglet Squid, which looks like a water balloon that's delighted with its new 'do, appears jolly thanks to the band of chromatophores (colored cells) that encircle it. Or that some species of Cordyceps fungus can control their hosts' behavior, compelling them to climb onto a high leaf before they die, to make sure the fungus' spores spread as widely as possible. Her conversations with and about a hilariously personified "Evolution" provide a running commentary that sounds like Mystery Science Theater meets Scientific American — over a stack of really excellent nature photographs and maybe a couple of beers.
On her popular WTF Evolution Tumblr blog, Grunbaum mentions that her grandmother had been a bit concerned about the veiled profanity of the title but ended up being "delighted" by the contents. Some of the text might be considered a bit raunchy, so this book might not be for everyone. But for the not-easily offended, these charming, funny and fascinating pictures of nature will leave you shaking your head and maybe agreeing with my dad. A wicked sense of humor, indeed.
Usumbara Giant Three-Horned Chameleon (Chamaeleo deremensis)
"Sure, Evolution, being able to see in two different directions at once is kind of nice — as long as one of those directions isn't into a mirror."
From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Jack Milchanowski/Getty Images
"Just go with it, okay? ...you kind of waggle the flap back and forth, like this — but really, really fast — and bend the legs up and down like you're directing traffic. ...The lady spiders are super into this."
From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Jurgen Otto/Rex USA
Babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa)
"Why so gloomy, babirusa? Is it because Evoution gave you some weird extra tusks that are ugly, useless, too brittle to fight with, and may eventually grow so long that they curve around and fatally puncture your skull? Could that be it?"
From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Danita Delimont/Alamy
Water Bear or Tardigrade (Paramacrobiotus craterlakii)
"Tardigrades can enter into a state of suspended animation called cryptobiosis, which is effectively a reversible death. Zombies, take note."
From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Eye of Science/Science Source
Galápagos Batfish (Ogcocephalus darwini)
"Clearly, the red-lipped batfish is a work of satire, not meant to be taken as a literal 'animal,' ..."
From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo © Mark Conlin/Getty Images
Lowland Tapir (Tapir terrestris)
"Good lord, Evolution, what is that ...?
From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo Thomas Vinke/age fotostock
Banded Piglet Squid
"The piglet squid would seem to suggest that Evolution's medications are working. Possibly a little too well."
From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo © Mark Conlin/Getty Images
Cordyceps fungus on a moth
"...the fungus kind of exploded its brain. But doesn't it look neat?"
From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Science Photo Library/Alamy
Mara Grunbaum is a science writer and editor who's covered everything from the biology of whiskers to mining palladium on the moon. Her work has appeared in Popular Science, Discover magazine, OnEarth, ScientificAmerican.com and other publications and websites. She's a graduate of New York University's master's program in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting.
The trail camera is used by sportsmen for learning the what, where and when about game animals. These relatively new devices started in their infancy as security cameras about three decades ago. Wildlife biologists quickly repurposed the standalone cameras as game management tools. Hunting equipment companies jumped on the bandwagon and began marketing them to outdoorsmen to promote success. Today the trail camera market is flooded with varying makes and models and prices.
Millions of these spy-eyes are sold at hunting equipment retailers each year. Surprisingly, more than half are purchased by individuals and businesses for security measures or by nature lovers for wildlife viewing. Trespassing, theft, harassment and other misconducts caught on camera have made a case for offended citizens. Just the warning that a security camera is on duty can discourage crime and mischief. For animal observation, the possibilities are limitless.
Have you ever wondered what goes on in your backyard or barn lot when you’re not home or at night? A trail camera offers users a detailed report that sometimes explains the unexplainable. For instance, your bird feeder, filled with thistle seed, literally had multitudes of gold finches visiting it, but now its void of the cheery yellow-black callers. A location-placed camera could reveal that a predator bird, such as a kestrel or falcon, may be using the feeder as its focal hunting ground.
Our farm has a small creek that became backed up by a beaver dam. Small trees that inhibited bank erosion were steadily disappearing, chewed down and converted to dam material. I dismantled the obstruction multiple times with a tractor to discourage these industrious tree-eaters from using the area. Each deconstruction was met with a reconstruction, and—unbelievably—almost overnight. The immediate assumption was that these elaborate rebuilds required the efforts of several adult beavers. Rocks, some the size of a basketball, were moved a quarter the length of a football field to reinforce the dam’s structure.
After placing a trail camera at the dam site, I was astonished to learn that only a single, 25-pound beaver was the culprit; it had moved into the area from a larger creek and was determined to set up house. Since the tractor deconstructed much quicker than the beaver reconstructed, the lone animal finally got the hint after a couple of weeks and moved back to the larger stream. A beaver can live two to three decades, and though a large one might weigh 60 pounds, I’ve personally seen trapped specimens that tip the scale at nearly 100 pounds.
Though a hunter, I gain equal delight from observation of non-game animals as tracking the activity of open-season prey. It never ceases to amaze me what shows up at a road-killed carcass before it is completely consumed: owls, hawks, eagles, turkey vultures, crows, coyotes, foxes, opossums, raccoons, bobcats and even curious members of the deceased animal’s family. My favorite camera location is on a winter bird feeder. My wife Connie and I live between the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Migrating birds captured on film in this fly zone offer us the unattended viewing of nearly a hundred different species.
As an independent tester of trail cameras, I would advise buyers to “Beware!” Only two trail cameras are built in the USA where on-site quality can be maintained: ReConyx of Holmen, WI and Buckeye of Athens, Ohio. Though these camera manufacturers are quality-proven marketers, their units are at the top of the price scale. A standalone unit may run $450-$750. Wireless or satellite units reporting to computers or cellphones can cost substantially more depending on optional bells and whistles.
Most trail cameras today—no matter the major brand name marketer—are made in China at just a few factories. Depending on features, these cameras can cost from $50-$500. Don’t be fooled by the two-year warrantee of a foreign-built camera. Many of these do not work straight out of the box, and some only function a few weeks or months. The American marketer, through their Chinese supplier, will keep replacing your camera until your two years is up, or until you simply go away. You’ll often be stuck with the cost of shipping the unit to the supplier.
There are a few respectable Chinese cameras in the $200-plus range. Your best bet to finding one that has some degree of quality and longevity is to get online and read the reviews of independent trail camera testers. One of the better testers is www.chasingame.com. The three most desired features on a camera are long battery life, quick trigger speed (for catching birds in flight), and ease of use/setup.
Please feel free to ask me even the simplest of questions about trial cameras. We all have to start somewhere.
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We live within driving distance of a wolf refuge (Mission: Wolf) which we occasionally visit. The curator of the refuge is usually present and only too willing to educate anyone about wolves. Many of the myths we have heard are dispelled when we learn the actual facts and habits of wolves. We have learned from several trips to the refuge that misunderstanding about wolves has created multiple problems for the wolf. I am not an expert on wolves and don’t know much except what I have learned visiting the wolf refuge and taking the time to talk to those who have more knowledge than I possess.
Myth vs. Fact
Wolves are a subject that seem to bring out the worst in some people and the best in others. My personal experience with wolves may be limited but I have found that when misinformation has been repeated over and over, many times it ends up being published as fact. I have always understood if you repeat a lie often enough that it does not change the initial facts. Apparently when dealing with wolves that is the exception and a truth can be over powered by myth or falsehood if repeated enough times. This blog does not provide the room to discuss all the myth-versus-fact distortions but visiting the wolf refuge and speaking to those who actually live with the wolves each day certainly helps make a distinction between fact or fiction.
Personal Wolf Experience
My wolf experience started when I was given a dog that actually turned out to be about 90 percent wolf. She was a genuine challenge to say the least. She ultimately bonded to me but not so much with other family members, friends or neighbors. She had the typical large feet, pale green-to-yellow eyes and was brought down by a military friend from Alaska as a puppy. When she became too much for him to handle he gave her to me. She was so intelligent that she was taught the four basic commands in less than one-half day and never forgot them. She was gentle with me but not so much with family members or others. She was so strong she could easily overpower dogs twice her size. She was unfriendly to domesticated dogs—unless they were more alpha and stronger than she was. She challenged every one including myself. I was barely able to subdue her and prove my dominance, which is the only thing she seemed to respect and understand. When she tested me she was clearly intent on killing going directly for the throat. Her traits and behavior were definitely 100 percent wolf. Our veterinarian believed she was at least 90 percent or more pure wolf.
Leave Wolves in the Wild
I, personally, believe trying to domesticate a wolf or cross-breeding one is very cruel to the wolf. A wolf in the wild knows it is a wolf and lives within its traits and instincts as a wolf. Placed in a domestic situation it becomes unsure of what it is and it has to put its natural instincts aside to mimic a domesticated animal in order to fit in. The wolf may partially adjust to being with humans but the basic wolf is still there albeit restricted. There are exceptions but in general altering the behavior of an animal that was meant to be wild and free and which relies on its instincts for survival is wrong in my opinion. Sort of like the old saying, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy."
Face Grabbing: A Wolf Trait of Affection
When a wolf puts your face in their jaws, the natural tendency is to pull back. They will then grip tighter and skin can be broken. If you have children, that can be daunting to say the least when you see your child’s head and face in the jaws of a powerful wolf or dog. To the wolf, however, face grabbing is an intimate sign of affection. Failure to understand their traits and behavior can be scary, and the partially domesticated wolf ends up being euthanized or—if it's lucky—it ends up at a refuge like the one near us.
Fierce but Gentle Animals
One time, when we visited the wolf refuge, we were privileged to participate in "the circle." We sat on logs placed in a circle and an ambassador female wolf was introduced on a stout lead. What I found interesting is that the ambassador wolf, which weighed over 125 pounds, quickly checked out every person in the circle and determined which ones were friendly and worthy of her affection. She was then quickly taken around the circle of people and would kiss each person on the mouth that she felt comfortable with. I was happy to have been one of those few she kissed having received her approval. I have to add that when a large wolf that is capable of crushing your head comes up to you with a big smooch on the lips it is a little nerve racking. A wolf's jaws can exert about 1500 lbs per square inch. When they bite, they don’t just rip and tear skin; they crush bones. They have incredibly strong jaws but they can also be very gentle.
Balancing Nature of the Species
Wolves are unique animals which are meant to remain wild. Their instincts are finely honed and flawless which has enabled them to survive in the wild and have been genetically instilled in them over the ages. Again, I am not an expert on wolves, but, in my limited experience, I have learned they are valuable in balancing the environment. They are both unique and important in maintaining balance in elk and deer herds. While some may disagree, I believe these animals play an important part in our environment, and trying to eradicate them or domesticate them seems horribly tragic and unfair to the species. These are highly intelligent animals that have strong family bonds and don‘t deserve to be hunted, trapped or shot from airplanes.
Photo courtesy of morguefilefreephoto.com.
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Just for a moment, picture the future. Not your future - not this year’s harvest or your daughter’s graduation -- but The Future. You remember The Future; you’ve been seeing it all your life. If you were a teenager in the 1990s you remember the flying cars and giant holograms of Back to the Future II, set in the impossibly distant 2015. If you were a kid in the 1960s you probably remember the talking robots and interstellar travel of Lost in Space, set in the faraway 1990s. Similar-looking sci-fi fantasies date back to the 1800s, always looking about the same, and always just a few decades away from whenever Now was.
These examples are fiction, of course, but they reflected what serious pundits predicted in publications like Life or Popular Mechanics – one day, they promised, we would all live in domed cities, swallow pills for food and take moon vacations. For generations of boys it gave science fiction an almost religious gravity; we weren’t likely to grow up to be actual cowboys or pirates, but for a time it seemed like we would all be astronauts. Real technology got fancier, of course, so now we download music files instead of spinning records, and drive cars that … um … have more cup-holders than cars used to. The really important changes never happened, though; no androids, no jetpacks, nothing. We never got to Mars, or even went back to the moon; there’s just not much there to see. For generations that future was always right around the corner, and we’re beginning to realise that it always will be. As more people grew disillusioned with hi-tech utopias – either because they didn’t think we were going to achieve it, or because they didn’t want it – science fiction offered the other extreme of total apocalypse. It’s also a fantasy, in its own way: a war, disease or some other catastrophe wipes out everyone but you and your friends, you get everyone’s stuff, and everyone wishes they had listened to you. Also, just like utopia, doomsday was going to happen any minute now, and never quite got here.
What we haven’t seen enough are stories that show a realistic future between these extremes. The coming decades will see many problems, of course – from global resources running thin to stranger weather – but they are likely to unfold over generations, and from day to day, life will go on. How and where it goes on is the really interesting question, one that popular culture has rarely considered. Now some authors are starting to explore the storytelling potential of such a future, most recently John Michael Greer in his new novel Star’s Reach. His blog The Archdruid Report and his several non-fiction books have carved out an unusual but much-needed niche, discussing the ways that fossil fuel decline would affect our economy, politics, transportation, food supply and even religious attitudes. His novel Star’s Reach, however, uses his theories to paint a vivid picture of a much-changed future America. It is not, however, a world recovering from a sudden apocalypse, or one without any technological knowledge; rather, it’s a world without our vast reservoirs of cheap energy.
Most science fiction assumes that the world runs on technology, which - barring some apocalypse - will grow more advanced over time. Greer recognises that our technology runs on fossil fuels, which gave us the surplus wealth to fund research and the resources to mass-produce and power them. Since our society first hit the energy jackpot and then invented the technology to use it, it’s difficult to imagine the technology without the energy. In Greer’s future, however, characters know and occasionally use radio, electric lights and even computers, but without cheap, widespread energy such things are reserved for emergencies or elite centres of power, not everyday use. Without a mountain of coal to run a steam-powered magnet to generate a constant current, an iGadget becomes a paperweight, and without oil to run ships and trucks, it never leaves the Chinese factory. As a result, the America he portrays has returned to its agrarian roots, with most people growing their own food or raising animals for market. It’s an America that Huckleberry Finn or Pa Ingalls might have recognised, one where travel is slow and the world is vast and dangerous. The country has an apparently hereditary and ceremonial “presden” (president), and feudal “jennels” (generals), but they rarely intervene in local affairs. Justice is swift and harsh by our standards, but rarely needs to be used; most people in this America tend to their own affairs, are physically fit, have practical skills, live in close communities and abide by codes of honour. After a brief window of modernity, in other words, the world has gone back to normal.
Centuries of climate change have shrunk the habitable range of the USA, so everything west of Kansas City resembles the Sahara and most of the present-day Atlantic coast is underwater. The country stretches from the Appalachians to what is now Missouri, and the characters journey past orange groves in Ohio and wait for the monsoon rains at the seaport of Memphis. New England apparently became its own country long ago, and beyond the desert or the sea other lands are known to the protagonists only as rumours; a Mexico that has expanded to reclaim the Southwest, an apparently Asian Pacific coast and a Muslim Europe.
Star’s Reach follows the adventures of a “ruin-man” – someone who specialises in disassembling our abandoned infrastructure, salvaging whatever technology still works and selling the metal and plastic for recycling. With so much crumbling plastic and rebar left over the ruin-men are kept in steady work, and like many trades through history have their own apprenticeships and lodges, their own arbitration and secret codes. As the novel opens the protagonist – a young apprentice about to earn his full title – discovers a secret in an abandoned building, one that could lead to a legendary government base from our age that holds our civilisation’s greatest discovery. His search for the legend – the “Star’s Reach” of the title -- takes him from one urban ruin to another like a future Indiana Jones, only the ancient ruins are our cities.
One of the pleasures of Star’s Reach, as with any futuristic book that looks back, is in glimpsing the familiar in a strange world. The centuries have flattened the names of various cities, for example, so just as Roman Eboracum was slurred over centuries into York, so the characters wander through Sanloo (St. Louis), Cago (Chicago) and Troy (Detroit). Hollywood culture has vanished with the mass media but bits of pop-culture flotsam remain; for a while the protagonist travels with an “Elwus,” a kind of traveling mummer apparently descended from Elvis impersonators. The novel unfolds in jigsaw pieces of memory that jump back and forth in time, Catch-22 style, allowing Greer to introduce the mystery of Star’s Reach, the characters and the geography without tipping his hand too soon. For some time in the book the mystery functions as an excuse to send the protagonist on a journey and pick up companions from various walks of life, allowing Greer to give us a guided tour of this world. The story takes an unexpected turn, however, when the characters make it to Star’s Reach itself and must decide what to do with the secret they uncover.
Star’s Reach has a didactic purpose, of course, and the plot and characters exist to make Greer’s points; as such, the novel ends up with a few more characters than necessary, and a few too many twists than plausible. It remains an entertaining read, though, and a thoughtful speculation of what our descendants might see.
John Michael Greer's website.
One of the most entertaining birds that visit us every year are hummingbirds. We have two prevalent species here in the mountains which are the Broadtail and the Rufus species. We watch them throughout the summer by putting feeding stations outdoors where we can see them from a window. They are entertaining and highly interesting all at the same time. Such a small bird is a marvel of engineering and flying ability. We have noted that one male Rufus hummingbird which migrates back each year seems to be more territorially dominant so we put a single station out front that he likes to guard and chase the rest of the hummingbirds away from. All summer long he will diligently perch on the top of the bar holding the feeder and chase the other birds away while the remaining 25-50 hummingbirds are slurping up the nectar in the back of the house undisturbed. We feed them a sugar nectar which consists of a mix of one cup of cane sugar to four cups of water which is a ratio that seems to satisfy the tiny birds. It is a little lighter than some recommendations but they seem to thrive off it. We sometimes go through a gallon per day at peak summer feeding times. Some people put red food coloring in the water but we have found that unnecessary and do not believe it is good for them. Our feeders have plenty of red on them as depicted in the photo and that seems enough red to attract them and seems to be their preferred color.
Our Special Handicapped Female Hummingbird
Having them around much of the summer we were curious about their habits and unique flying ability especially because one female broadtail had flown into the window trying to avoid a more aggressive one chasing her. It knocked her out and she appeared to have been slightly injured. Fortunately we saw it happen and went out and picked her up, gave her some gentle massage and managed to revive her. She survived but has a distinct way of perching on the feeder now and sometimes just sits there in a trance-like state. That was three years ago and she has returned to the same precise spot at the feeder each year. For the most part it is hard to tell one from the other but with this female we can pick her out of a group of similar birds. We stop feeding them on Labor Day each year so they will not hang around too long and be caught in winter weather.
Unique Hummingbird Characteristics
In researching hummingbirds we found that they can fly forwards, backward, up, down and hover by making their wings go in a figure eight pattern plus they can reach speeds of 30 MPH and can dive at speeds of up to 60 MPH. When they feed on a flower they have the ability to remember where it is located and know just how long before it produces nectar again. They can migrate hundreds of miles and remember each feeding station they have previously visited on their migration route. They return each year to the exact location where they fed last year. Often we will see them hovering outside the window where the feeder was the prior year when they return. We quickly get the feeders out as we know they have traveled a great distance and are in need of nourishment.
Depending on which article you read they live from 3 to 5-12 years. Each article seems to vary as to their life expectancy. The female builds a nest high in trees. On occasion we have found a nest that has blown out of a tree and the nest is tiny and can be held in the palm of your hand. The male takes no responsibility in raising the young and often finds another female when the brood hatches from eggs that are a half inch in size or less. The hummingbird is the smallest of birds and its heart beats about 1,260 beats per minute and about 250 beats a minute while at rest. Their body temperature is about 107 degrees Fahrenheit and they can weigh up to 20 grams. Anyone who has ever held one in their hand knows just how light they are. Their wings beat up to 70 times per second and can beat up to 200 times a second when diving. Their legs are too weak to walk so they spend most of their life perching. They make a trilling sound and their wings beat so fast that they also make a humming sound, hence their name hummingbird. They actually lap the nectar up with their tongues.
Placing Feeders to Observe Hummingbirds
Taking the time to observe this tiny bird along with their traits makes us realize just how truly remarkable and unique they are. We have placed their feeders where we can continually observe them throughout the day. The tiniest of birds are worth observing and studying as they are so very unique. Their feathers are iridescent and their antics are often amusing. We have seen all the holes of the feeder occupied by birds with several others just hovering until a hole opens up and they quickly zoom in to take their position on the feeder.
Living in an area where bull elk or bear can weigh up to several hundred pounds, paying special attention to a tiny bird that only weighs a few grams can seem odd as the larger animals attract your attention due to their size. They are the smallest of birds and can migrate hundreds of miles and remember each and every stop they have been to in the past. If we humans had that capacity we wouldn’t need GPS units in our vehicles to say ’take the next exit’. We enjoy watching these tiny birds as much as we enjoy watching elk, deer and the occasional bear or mountain lion because they are so different and unique from other species of birds.
For more on living with wildlife and Bruce and Carol McElmurray go to: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com
Historians believe that nearly 30 million whitetails existed across about 80% of the U.S. before its discovery by European. The mule deer range was about half that size, and their numbers were estimated about one-third that of whitetails. North America’s forests, mountains and deserts thrived with deer before white man’s arrival. By the end of the 1900s, these magnificent animals had declined to a status of endangered. How could this have happened?
Declining Deer Population: Overhunting and Disease
The pre-colonization buffalo herds were also estimated to be around 30 million. Throughout the 1800s, buffalo were needlessly slaughtered and their population dropped to less than 2,000. With bison gone and cattle production not yet keeping up with immigration and the human population boom, deer were intensely targeted by meat hunters. Killed by the wagonloads, the U.S. deer herd dwindled to 1/60th of its 15th-century population.
The yesteryear disappearance of deer is mainly blamed on overhunting; however, the period of vanishing populations also paralleled the end of the Little Ice Age. This documented 300-year period of severe cold weather, suspected to end about 1850, impacted agriculture, health, economics, social life, emigration, and even art and literature (Google “Little Ice Age”). Earth’s continual rising temperature after this historic era of subzero weather caused the upsurge of deadly viral diseases in mammals.
Episodic Hemorrhagic Disease in Whitetail Deer
Warmer weather proliferated the rise of a viral infection in deer dubbed Episodic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), interrelated to Blue Tongue (BT). It was first documented in 1886 and again in 1901 on a northern section of the Missouri River when whitetails were found dead along this large tributary of the Mississippi. The last century-and-a-half-plus trend toward earlier springs, less rain in summer and fall, and warmer winters accelerated this deer disease.
This lethal virus is carried by a tiny biting fly called a midge. Its larvae live in mud along any stream or pooled water. When it pupates and emerges during dry years, infected adults fly off and bite deer, transferring the disease. After the disease is contracted, a perfectly healthy deer usually dies within 8 to 10 days. It’s speculated that eventual immunity in deer cannot be attained due to sporadic outbreaks controlled by the inconsistency of drought years.
Symptoms include loss of appetite and weight, weakness, escalated pulse and respiration rates, and fever and hemorrhaging forces the infected animal to water. A swollen tongue, bluish in color due to insufficient blood oxygen, will not allow swallowing in the case of Blue Tongue. Often, an infected deer beds down in water to reduce body temperature and passes into a shock-like state, dying within a day or two after the initial symptoms appear. EHD victims may die away from water when their blood veins rupture.
Though the adult midge lives only about a month, the larvae can survive in mud a year; it thrives on decaying organic matter until surfacing as an adult. Only sub-freezing weather for extended periods during winter can put frost deep enough to help kill the larvae. We have not had this kind of frost depth for many years, and this has caused increasing EHD and BT deaths. Whether you believe in “global warming” or “weather trend” for earth’s rising temperatures, this documented warming period has caused disease-carrying insects to greatly multiply their numbers.
It is very suspect that the disappearance of deer by the late 1800s was a combination of overhunting and disease. The closing of continental deer hunting and sound wildlife management throughout the early 1900s, of course, brought deer herds back to a huntable status. But are they in trouble again? The answer is clearly “yes.” Would it be a fictional doomsday prediction to say that poor deer management and disease could nearly wipe out an entire county’s deer herd? I think not.
Poor Wildlife Management of Deer Population
Unfortunately, individual state deer management, once based in science, has now grown to be political. Influenced by farm agency and insurance company lobbyists, legislators regularly appoint natural resources directors who are not faithful guardians of wildlife. One of the poorest-managed deer herds, in my opinion, is in my home state of Illinois. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has allowed deer in this state to be overhunted; it’s also turned a blind eye to the ongoing EHD/BT epidemic. A group known as the Illinois Whitetail Alliance formed early this year to help turn this situation around (join free at the Illinois Whitetail Alliance website).
Conversely, Ohio, by far, is the best-managed deer state in the U.S. Its wildlife administrators assess the deer herd very regionally — by county — and perform regular hunter surveys to establish population accuracy and the effects of disease before annual permit allocation. Bravo to them!
Whether you’re a hunter or simply a nature lover, get involved in your state’s deer management. It would be inconceivable to lose such a wonderful natural resource as deer. Their majestic beauty and grace would be profoundly missed!
Have you heard of the vanishing bees? You may know that commercial beekeepers are reporting losses of more than 30% of their colonies every year. Implicated in those losses is a class of pesticides known as systemics that show up in both the pollen and nectar of plants that have been treated. These poisons are common in insecticides sold to the public and in the potting soil of the plants that you buy.
Because pollinators are so important to the human food supply this is a great opportunity to examine our use of poisons. The issue goes beyond which pesticides are too harmful and which pesticides are acceptably dangerous. Here is the question; “Do you want a healthy system or a sterile system?”
Healthy Systems vs. Sterile Systems
When we use a poison to eliminate some species from our yard there is a series of consequences. It is not only the collateral damage from the poison – all the bugs that die from direct contact with the poison. It is all the species that rely on the one we poisoned. And all the species that rely on those species. That process leads toward a sterile system and the end result of that process is a hospital-like environment. In hospitals, the only things that grow are super bugs that cannot be killed.
The most beautiful places you have ever been are healthy systems. They are healthy because they have a full range of species participating. They are complete food webs that process nutrients through complete growth, decay, and regrowth cycles in quantities that allow the participation of many species.
Industrial agriculture argues that it is necessary to grow food in monocultures — large areas of a single crop — if we are going to feed the world. So the argument goes, poisons are necessary to protect the crops when you grow a monoculture. This process and the use of poisons leads to huge acreages of essentially sterile cropland where nothing grows except those species that become resistant to the poisons used.
Yard and Garden Polycultures
We do not need to have this argument in a suburban landscape. Our yards and gardens can be polycultures and we have space for all the predators of all the pests. No one is going to starve if we lose this plant or that to insect damage, and the more we tolerate pest species, the quicker we attract their predators. We can assist nature in becoming healthy by encouraging a full range of species. As the ecosystem in our yards becomes healthy, it will also become correspondingly beautiful.
When we poison the aphids on our roses, we prevent lady beetles from participating in our garden, leading in the direction of a sterile system. When we think of aphids as food for lady beetles our garden starts to regain its health. A healthy system needs all its parts.
This is your habitat. Do you want it to be sterile or healthy? If you want it to be healthy, here is the deal: Someone is going to have to talk to that neighbor down the street who is using these poisons, or hiring people who use these poisons, thinking that they are safe. That neighbor believes that the poison is necessary to protect their investment in their plants and does not realize that they are damaging the health of the habitat. They are not going to listen to me, that radical environmentalist. They are not going to listen to some politician pandering for votes. Most will at least hear out a neighbor.
The conversation does not have to be confrontational. It is essentially the opening paragraph to this blog. Even the most committed user of poisons understands the necessity for pollinators and even if they do not sign on right away, they will be watching as we demonstrate how beautiful a healthy habitat can be. If that conversation does not take place the damage will continue and build on itself leading in the direction of a hospital environment.
This is about changing the standard for landscaping in our habitat. We know it is possible because we know that people prefer beautiful places to hospitals. But someone has to have that conversation.
Bee Safe Neighborhood Program
My organization, Living Systems Institute, and our good friends at Honeybee Keep, are sponsoring the Bee Safe Neighborhood program. LSI will certify your neighborhood as bee safe if you get 75 contiguous homes to sign a pledge not to use systemic poisons. A honey bee will regularly fly two miles to visit a flower. In that area 75 continuous homes is just a patch of healthy habitat.
The 75 homes has to do with the way humans work. There is scientific research that shows that humans are genetically programmed to want to work together for the common good within groups of 150 people or less.1 75 contiguous homes is a neighborhood working together to improve its habitat. And that is what the bees need. That is what we all need if we want to live in a healthy habitat. If you are ready to help create a healthy, beautiful habitat, one neighborhood at a time, drop us a line and let us know about your efforts and let us know how we can help.