Great Lakes levels, deep-sea coral and an ‘incomplete’ grade: this week in environmental news

Each week, the Michigan Nature Association gathers news stories from around the state and country related to conservation, nature, and environmental issues. Here is a peek at what happened this week in environmental news:

Smoother sailing as Great Lakes levels continue their rebound (Detroit Free Press): After last winter’s record snowfall and a rainy spring, Great Lakes levels are recovering faster than they have in decades. All of the Great Lakes with the exception of Lakes Huron and Michigan are above their long-term average depths going back to 1918.

Great Lakes water levels have rebounded significantly. Photo via Detroit Free Press.

 

Reaching Deep: BP oil spill had big impact on deep-sea coral (Conservation Magazine): A new study finds that deep-water coral communities were affected by the BP oil spill, even at large distances from the wellhead itself.

State Senate approves measure that would cancel wolf hunt ballot measure (WKZO): The Michigan State Senate has approved a measure that could nullify items on the November ballot that will ask voters to ban wolf hunts in Michigan. Conservation officials say they hope the House will take up the issue later this month.

Environmental group gives MI Legislature an ‘incomplete’ grade (WKAR): The Michigan League of Conservation Voters recently graded the slate legislature on performance in the 2013-2014 session, giving legislators an “incomplete” for the environmental score.

Ohio farmers point to algae law loophole (Great Lakes Echo): Farm groups in Ohio and environmentalists say a new state law that will certify fertilizer doesn’t go far enough to reduce phosphorous run-off into Lake Erie.

Frogs and toads: environmentally beneficial creatures

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The warm Michigan weather brings about many different types of plants an animals, including amphibians like frogs and toads.

Often after a rain or in a wet, shaded area these critters can be found hopping around.

What’s the difference?

It might be surprising that all toads are considered frogs. Frogs and toads are both amphibians but it’s easy to tell the difference between them by a few key factors. The frog has more smooth, moist skin and longer legs. Toads are more bumpy and warty-looking. Frogs prefer to be around water and moist places whereas toads don’t require wet areas as much and can withstand drier habitats. Toads prefer to crawl rather than to hop from place to place.

Amphibians are defined by a life-cycle that begins underwater. Baby frogs and toads start off as eggs in the water and develop into tadpoles that have gills and can swim. These tadpoles develop lungs and other body parts and, once they have matured, can enjoy life on land.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Toads and frogs breed during the spring and summer and find warm shelter to protect themselves during harsh winter months.

Where do they live?

Frogs and toads live in many places around the world including the rain forest. In Michigan they tend to live in wetlands, wooded areas, beaches and near streams or lakes.

What do they do?

Frogs consume thousands of bugs. This consumption is beneficial for people and the environment, protecting plants, getting rid of pests and maintaining a balance in the food chain and ecosystem. Frogs are also great indicators of changes in the environment as they are sensitive to even the slightest of changes. Their skin is thin and porous so any chemicals or other contaminants to the environment can be shown by a decrease of frogs in more frog-populated areas. Frogs also have provided scientists with compounds for different medicines.

A fowler's toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

A fowler’s toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

Threats to frogs and toads

Unfortunately there are many threats to frogs and toads throughout the world. Many of these are human-induced problems such as the use of harmful pesticides, habitat loss and pollution to name a few. These actions endanger frogs and toads and can be harmful for the environment which is why protecting them is important.

To learn more about frogs and toads click here. To learn about types of frogs and toads found in Michigan click here.

Butterflies to look for in Michigan

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

It’s almost hard to believe that a tiny, graceful creature could fly out of a chrysalix. Yet every year, the butterfly continues its phenomenon, metamorphosing from a mere bumbling, crawling caterpillar into a sleek, graceful winged insect.

A butterfly’s life

A monarch butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Photo courtesy of kids.britannica.com.

A monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. Photo courtesy of kids.britannica.com.

The butterfly begins its life in a small ovoid-shaped egg, developing into a caterpillar. The caterpillar grows and hatches out of its egg and must start eating in order to grow. The caterpillar sheds its smaller skin a few times during growth before it begins the “pupa” stage. It forms the chrysalis, the casing formed around its body to undergo metamorphosis. The final stage is when the newly formed butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, no longer a ground-anchored insect.

For more details about the butterfly’s life cycle click here.

Here are some butterflies common to Michigan, that can be spotted while enjoying Michigan’s nature.

White Admiral

The White Admiral has a 2.25-4 inch wingspan and has a white band in the middle of both wings. Hind-wings also may have a row of blue dashes or red dots toward the edges. The White Admiral is usually found in Northern deciduous evergreen forests. This butterfly likes to eat rotting fruit and nectar from small white flowers.

Giant Swallowtail

The Giant Swallowtail boasts a wingspan of up to 6 inches, making it one of the largest of its species. The swallowtail can be spotted as a black winged-insect with yellow spots on its edges creating a band across them. The Giant Swallowtail chooses rocky and sandy hillsides near bodies of water. This butterfly likes to get its nectar from several plants including goldenrod, azalea and swamp milkweed.

Monarch

The Monarch is a well-known butterfly with an interesting history. This butterfly is known to migrate from the north to the south including places in California and Mexico during the harsh, northern winter months. The Monarch has black and orange wings with white dots near the margins. The Queen butterfly who is a close relative is often mistaken for a Monarch but is also commonly spotted in Michigan. Monarchs are particular to milkweed plants.

Silver Spotted Skipper

The Silver Spotted Skipper has a small wingspan which can be up to about 2.5 inches. Its wings are a mixture of brown and black, with transparent gold spots and a metallic silver band. They reside in disturbed and open woods, streams and prairie waterways. This butterfly avoids feeding on any yellow flowers but instead eats plants like everlasting pea, common milkweed and thistles.

Little Glassywing

The little Glassywing has an even smaller wingspan than the Silver Spotted Skipper, which can be up to 1.5 inches. The wings are a combination of brown and black like the Skipper. These butterflies prefer to feed on white, pink and purple flowers including common milkweed and peppermint. These butterflies like to live near shaded wood edges.

Endangered butterflies

Two other butterflies that can be found in Michigan are the Karner Blue and the Mitchell’s Satyr. These butterflies are particularly noteworthy in the state because of their endangered status. MNA has profiled these butterflies in the past, bringing awareness to their endangered status in the U.S.

More on Lake Erie’s algae blooms, the Toledo water crisis and looming urban sprawl: this week in environmental news

Toledo Mayor Michael Collins drinks tap water in front of the community after the ban was lifted. Photo by Karen Schaefer courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Toledo Mayor Michael Collins drinks tap water in front of the community after the ban was lifted. Photo by Karen Schaefer courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Toledo water crisis passes but long term threat looms (Great Lakes Echo): Despite the scare and being unable to drink water, residents still found themselves apprehensive to drink Toledo tap water — despite Mayor Michael Collins drinking the water in front of them. Although there is no longer a ban on drinking the water, a larger problem prevails not only in northern Ohio communities but those along the Great Lakes Basin.

NASA satellite view of Lake Erie.

NASA satellite view of Lake Erie.

Behind Toledo’s water crisis: A long troubled Lake Erie (New York Times): Like the MNA post this past week about Lake Erie and damage of algal blooms, Michael Wines of the New York Times offers an in-depth look into the problem. The story tracks down the past of Lake Erie and discusses the trouble its faced in the past and how now scientists and government officials are taking serious concern to the issue due to the recent water crisis in Toledo.

6 Ways Nature is Inspiring Human Engineering (Forbes): Biomimetics, or the imitation of nature for the purpose of solving human problems, has led to new breakthroughs in technology. Researchers are looking at the eyes of moths to understand how their structure can be applied to solar technology as well as using spider silk for bulletproof vests.

Just how far will urban sprawl spread? (Conservation Magazine): The World Health Organization has predicted by 2050, 70 percent of the global population will reside in cities. This will inevitably increase urban sprawl — an issue that affects natural habitats and ecosystems worldwide.