ENDANGERED!

At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered and threatened plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.

American Burying Beetle
By Yang Zhang

American burying beetles, also known as carrion beetles, are known for burying the carcasses of small animals, such as moles, birds, and snakes. They rely on carrion as a food source and for reproduction purposes. Thus, they are regarded by nature enthusiasts as master scavengers and one of nature’s most efficient and fascinating recyclers that return valuable nutrients back to the soil.

Physical Appearance:
Identifying an American burying beetle is easy; it is about one-and-a-half inches long with a shiny black body and bright orange markings. A large shield-like area, called the pronotum, connects its head and wings. A large orange marking on the pronotum is the beetle’s most distinctive feature shared with other beetles. It also has an orange marking on its head (triangular on females and rectangular on males) and scallop-shaped orange markings on its wing covers. A club-like antennae with notable orange tips can detect a dead animal from up to two miles away.

Preferred Habitat:

Understanding what habitat the American burying beetle prefers is quite tricky. As reported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the beetle has been found in various types of habitats including oak-pine woodlands, open fields, oak-hickory forests, open grasslands and edge habitats. The beetle’s habitat preference, especially reproductive habitat, is still not fully understood. However, research indicates that because the beetles require rotting bodies of small animals to feed on and reproduce, carrion availability may be the greatest factor in determining where the species survives.

Life Cycle:
American burying beetles are usually active at night, live for only one year and typically reproduce once. They bury themselves in the soil to overwinter when the temperature is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature gets warmer, male beetles look for carcasses in which to mate and reproduce.

After finding a carcass, the male releases pheromone from the tip of its abdomen to attract mates. Beetles often fight among themselves over the carcass (males fighting males and females fighting females) until one pair wins. The pair buries the carcass, mates and the female lays eggs on the carcass. The larvae feed on the carcass for about a week, and sometimes both parents digest the flesh and regurgitate liquid food for the larvae to consume. The larvae crawl into the soil to develop, and then emerge 45-to-60 days later.

List Status:
Historically, American burying beetles existed in the eastern half of North America from southern Ontario, Canada and the northern peninsula of Michigan to the southern Atlantic coastal plain. The number and range of the species has declined so drastically that the beetle is only known to be present in four states: Nebraska, Rhode Island, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The reason the American burying beetle has disappeared from many areas remains a mystery. However, declines could be attributed to habitat fragmentation and loss, carcass limitation, pesticide use and disease. Increased lighting at night due to human development is also plausible because it could disrupt the beetle’s night activities, thus possibly interfering with reproduction.

Although presumed extirpated in Michigan until rediscovered, the beetle has been known to inhabit areas near Kalamazoo, Detroit and Marquette. MNA has ideal habitat for this species at Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary, Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary and Echo Lake Nature Sanctuary, among others.

Protection Efforts:
The American burying beetle plays an important role in the environment. It recycles carcasses and returns valuable nutrients to the soil, and it is also an indicator species of a healthy environment.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has an established recovery plan prioritizes tasks necessary in saving the beetle. These priorities include protecting and monitoring existing population, maintaining captive populations and conducting ecological studies.

How You Can Help:
Open your eyes while walking in nature. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is trying to identify possible populations of the beetles in the state. If you think you spot an American burying beetle, take a photo and note the date and location of the sighting including the county, township, section and the nearest road intersection, and draw a map indicating the directions. Please send the information to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division, Natural Heritage Program, PO Box 30180, Lansing MI 48909-7680.

MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered and threatened species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.

Hoo Goes There?

By Anna Graham

Not many of us think of Michigan as a winter destination. However, there are a number of species that flock to Michigan when the weather gets cold. Most notable of the migrants may be the various owls that spend winters in Michigan.

Both short-and long-eared owls seek refuge here from their summer range in Canada, generally migrating to the far southern part of the state. Long-eared owls bear a resemblance to the great horned owl and hunt primarily at night, while short-eared owls frequent open fields or marshes and can be seen hunting by day.

Snowy owls live in the extreme north during the summer months but migrate to areas throughout Michigan at the southern extreme of their range. These are the great white owls often featured in photos of the Arctic. They are liable to roam in open areas searching for rodents or other birds and can often be seen during the daytime. It is not uncommon to spot snowy owls by roadsides in the Upper Peninsula, near cow pastures or fields where livestock are kept and vermin feed on their grain.

Great grey owls may occasionally make it as far south as the U.P. during the winter, although they only migrate from their northern range when food is scarce. At more than two feet long with a wingspan up to 52 inches, they are the largest of the North American owl species and prefer to inhabit the edges of woods.

Boreal owls, a smaller, forest denizen, sometimes spend winter in the Upper Peninsula. The northern saw-whet will make it as far south as northern Indiana and Ohio. Both species prefer mixed conifer and deciduous woods and primarily eat rodents. A last occasional owl visitor to Michigan in the winter is the northern hawk owl, a medium-sized owl with a call similar to a snipe’s winnow call, or for that matter, the call of the boreal owl. Click here to hear the northern hawk’s call.

During especially harsh winters or when populations of small animals for food are scarce, any of these northern owl species may flock south in large numbers. Such migrations are called irruptions. Some owls will even remain at the southern extreme of their range to breed during the following season, and this is your best chance to spot them. Keep your eye on bird watching websites, like the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory website, for information on what species can be found when and where in the Upper Peninsula.

Visit one of MNA’s sanctuaries during the fall or winter if you want to add an owl to your must-see life list, and keep in mind that you will generally hear an owl before you see it. You will likely find the great horned owl and possibly the long-eared owl at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary, James Dorian Rooks Memorial Nature Sanctuary at Garden Brook, Upson Lake Nature Sanctuary and Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary. Happy owl watching!

MNA To Host Youth Nature Education Day

Join MNA on Saturday, March 26, for an educational youth event in Shelby Township.

The event will take place at the Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary on Schoenherr Road, south of 26 Mile Road, and will give youth a hands-on experience in making nature more accessible.

From 10 a.m.-2 p.m., kids will have the opportunity to work with MNA volunteers to replace boardwalk in trail systems at the sanctuary. Aside from building boardwalks, participants will take part in environmental education activities with topics including forest conservation, river ecology and insect identification. Lunch will be provided.

The event is made possible by a $10,000 grant from Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), to improve trails and install a parking area at the sanctuary, which will allow residents to visit the area and learn about nature without having to leave the Detroit Metropolitan Area.

The Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary is home to 45 acres of undisturbed woodland adjacent to a heavily-traveled roadway in Macomb County. It has been protected by MNA since 1975.

Some parking is available. Please contact the MNA office at 517-655-5655 for more information.

ENDANGERED!

At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered and threatened plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.

Gray Wolf
By Brandon Grenier

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) was once found in every county in Michigan. Now it is most commonly found in the Upper Peninsula. When Michigan was originally settled, state-driven efforts to get rid of wolves via paid bounty were hugely successful. By 1960, the gray wolf was nearly wiped out in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Since then, the state has changed its aims from eradication to protection.

Physical Appearance:
The gray wolf is the largest member of the dog family. On average, adults are 30 inches in height and weigh 65 pounds. They have oversized paws, which is the best indicator to differentiate between wolves and coyotes in the wild. Gray wolves have a distinct black tipped tail and a white-gray coat of fur, sometimes mixed with light brown. Generally, gray wolves (also known as Timber Wolves) have light-colored fur around their muzzles and a black nose.

Preferred Habitat:
The gray wolf is an extremely adaptive animal and can survive almost anywhere in North America with large areas of contiguous forest. Surprisingly, some timber cutting and land management are good for wolves’ hunting; however, too much development restricts where the wolves can hunt and limits their range. Their choice of habitat is based more on a steady food source than their surroundings. They prey on deer, elk, beavers, hares, rodents and other animals.

Life Cycle:
Gray wolves in the wild live for approximately six-to-eight years, but can sometimes live for up to 13 years. Gray wolves mate for life, and breeding occurs in February between the alpha male and female of a wolf pack. Once the pups are born in April, the alpha female cares for them until they are weaned. All members of the pack provide nourishment for the pups until they are old enough to learn hunting skills.

List Status:
The status of the gray wolf is among one the most controversial of animals in Michigan. The wolf was first listed as endangered in Michigan in 1973 after it was almost wiped out from both peninsulas. Confirmed sightings were only of solitary wolves until 1989, when a pair was spotted travelling together. The state wolf population grew from an estimated 20 in 1992 to 520 in 2008. In Michigan, the gray wolf was still listed as an endangered species as of June 2009. It was briefly delisted in May 2009, and lethal measures of control were legal throughout the state. After several complaints, the USFWS relisted the wolf as endangered.

The gray wolf is endangered mostly because of human development and because it is seen by many as a threat. Farmers do not want wolves eating their livestock; some people do not want wolves in their community. The more forests that are destroyed, the harder it is for gray wolves to find a sustainable food source and sufficient land to roam.

Protection Efforts:
With their lowest recorded population at six animals in 1973, there have been multiple efforts to repopulate Michigan’s gray wolves. The USFWS has attempted to introduce animals from Wisconsin with some success, and since killing was banned, populations have made steady progress. Currently, gray wolves are found in every county in the Upper Peninsula.

How You Can Help:
Speak up! The DNR and USFWS are attempting to come to a final decision of whether gray wolves should be endangered, and will be asking the public for its opinion. If you believe the gray wolf should be saved, let them know before it is too late.

MNA protects wolves’ habitat at sanctuaries such as Echo Lake and Keweenaw Shores, which are known to be transportation corridors for the gray wolf.

MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered and threatened species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.