National Endangered Species Day 2021

Today, May 21, 2021 is National Endangered Species Day. Michigan is home to nearly 30 plants and animals that are listed on the federal endangered species list. MNA works to help these species recover by protecting habitat that is critical to their survival, and by educating the public about each of their crucial roles in the environment. One of the ways that we accomplish that goal is by hosting our annual Race for Michigan Nature series of 5Ks throughout the state.

Each 5K promotes one rare, threatened, or endangered species native to Michigan, and new for 2021 is the introduction of the Virtual 5K promoting all six species in the series. Each of these species and a brief description is found below.

Species Spotlight

Karner Blue Butterfly
The Karner blue butterfly was federally listed as an endangered species in 1992 due to habitat loss, climate change, and collection. Habitat throughout the butterfly’s range has been lost due to land development and lack of natural disturbance, such as fire and grazing by large mammals. Such disturbances help maintain the butterfly’s habitat by setting back encroaching forests and encouraging lupine and flowering plant growth. Another notable threat is climate change, which is playing a role in the growth, development, and reproductive patterns of the Karner blue butterfly. A third problem is illegal collection due to the Karner blue butterfly’s rarity and beauty. Because butterfly numbers are so low, the collection of even a few individuals could harm the butterfly population. Collection is illegal without a permit.

Karner blue butterfly photo by Valerie Lindeman


Monarch Butterfly
With a historic range spanning over 3,000 miles across North and Central America, as well as the northern part of South America, the Monarch butterfly is the most well-traveled, and one of the most recognizable of the butterflies. Every spring, millions of these winged wonders make the journey north as far as Canada from their wintering spots in Mexico. Largely the result of habitat loss, there has been a nearly 90% decline in the population of the Eastern monarch, which is the largest subset of the species and that which carries its migration into Michigan. This is a grave concern, as pollinators supply 1/3 of the world’s food and 3/4 of its flowers, and apart from being lovely, Monarchs are one of the most common and widespread butterfly species. Several initiatives are underway to preserve the necessary habitats to sustain their populations, including the Monarch Joint Venture and Journey North.

Monarch butterfly photo by Adrienne Bozic


Moose
Moose are native to Michigan and occurred throughout nearly the entire state prior to European settlement. Moose disappeared from the Lower Peninsula in the 1890s, and only a few scattered individuals remain in the Upper Peninsula. One cause was from extensive logging during the early 20th century eliminating millions of acres of moose habitat. Loggers, miners, and other settlers also took these large animals for food. Another contributing factor was brain worm, a fatal neurological disease in moose. Climate change is also a significant factor as it is slowing altering habitat to be less favorable to moose, expanding the range of white-tailed deer north, which transports the brain worm and increases tick and parasite survival ultimately having a negative impact on the moose population. Fun fact: Moose is an Algonquin term that means “twig eater”.

Moose photo from MNA Archives.


Eastern Box Turtle
The eastern box turtle is known for its high-domed carapace (top shell). The shell has irregular yellow or orange blotches on a brown background that mimic sunlight dappling on the forest floor. Eastern box turtles live in open woodlands and adjacent meadows, thickets, and gardens with sandy soils for nesting, which are often near shallow ponds, swamps, or streams. It is Michigan’s only truly terrestrial turtle. Box turtles are omnivorous and will feed on a variety of food items, including earthworms, slugs, snails, insects, frogs, toads, small snakes, carrion, leaves, grass, berries, fruits, and fungi. Eastern box turtles are uncommon to rare in the southern and western Lower Peninsula. Their populations are declining due to habitat loss, collection for pets, and road mortality. Box turtles are protected by Michigan law as a special concern species.

Eastern Box Turtle from MNA Archives


Lake Sturgeon
Despite their name, lake sturgeon are also found in rivers. Sturgeon prefer large shallow lakes and rivers and the Great Lakes shorelines. They are a bottom-dwelling nearshore fish that live at water depths of 15 to 30 feet and prefer the cobbly unvegetated run and pool habitats. The lake sturgeon was once located throughout the Great Lakes, but over-harvest by European settlers, destruction of food sources, invasive species, and dam construction on spawning rivers have all had an impact on their survival. Lake sturgeon are currently listed as a state threatened species. Conservation of this ancient species will be dependent on strict control of harvests and protection of spawning rivers and fish during spawning periods. The State of Michigan prohibits commercial fishing for lake sturgeon and closely regulates sturgeon sport fishing.

Lake sturgeon photo by Michael Thomas


Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake


The eastern massasauga rattlesnake has been listed as a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The rattlesnake requires federal protection due to eradication, habitat loss, snake fungal disease, and lack of management, which results in excessive shading as habitat shifts toward forest. As an indicator species, the fact that massasaugas are in serious decline is a warning bell indicating additional problems. By protecting massasaugas, we conserve natural systems that support many species of plants and animals. Massasaugas live in wetlands including wet prairies, marshes, fens, and low areas along rivers and lakes. They often hibernate in crayfish burrows but may also be found under logs and tree roots or in small mammal burrows. Unlike other rattlesnakes, massasaugas hibernate alone.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake photo by Zach Pacana

You can help us promote the need to protect habitat for the state’s most vulnerable species by sharing this post with your friends!

Sanctuary Spotlight: Franklin F. and Brenda L. Holly

For decades, Frank and Brenda Holly visited the 80-acre family retreat in Mason County, just outside of Ludington. There is a small cottage near the southwest corner of the property that Frank and his family have been slowly building over the past several decades; the rest consists of hemlock and pine forest, featuring wetland and prairie fen. Mr. Holly’s grandfather, Henry Millwood, was a local farmer and artist who spent much of his spare time caring for this property. Mr. Holly explained, “Every year in early December, Henry would walk the mile-and-a-half from his farm, with saw in hand, to this place and look for a tall pine tree with a nicely formed top. Then, he would climb way up high on this tree and cut its top off and carry it home so that it could serve as the family’s Christmas tree for that year.”

stream-hollyns- photo credit Lauren Ross

A small stream runs through the Franklin F. and Brenda L. Holly Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Lauren Ross.

The onsite wetlands are part of a much larger wetland complex which extends to the west and the southwest, and which drain into the North Bayou on Hamlin Lake. Exploring the vast forest of this property, one will find patches of sandy earth, ferns and cattails among the red maples, eastern hemlocks, and red and white pines. A small creek runs through the property, one of many in a network of arteries that wind up in nearby Hamlin Lake.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the donation of this unique property in northern Michigan. It also marks the time in which Henry Millwood would have visited the property in search of the perfect tree. In the past year, MNA has been working to develop a walking trail on the property that will serve as an educational opportunity for the local community in conjunction with a partnership with the local schools and community organizations.

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In the summer, the open spaces of the sanctuary become dense with a variety of ferns. Photo by Robb Johnston.

You can learn more about this unique sanctuary, and about the Holly Family legacy in the Fall 2019 issue of Michigan Nature magazine – available online at michigannature.org!

2019 Photo Contest Winners Announced!

We are excited to finally announce the winners in this year’s 9th Annual Photo Contest. This year’s photo contest saw more than 200 entries from over three dozen photographers. After much deliberation, the photo contest judges selected the winners based on their photographic and ecological qualities. The winning photographers were honored at our Annual Fall Recognition Dinner on Friday, November 15th. 

Congratulations to the following winners, and thank you to all who entered this year! These beautiful photos help us tell the story of why Michigan is so worth protecting and preserving for future generations.

Category: Flora & Fauna

Honorable Mention, Julia Schachinger for “Green Heron & Painted Turtle”

GreenHeron&PaintedTurtle Julia Schachinger - HM FF

3rd Place, Mary Rasmussen for “Predacious Diving Beetle Underwater”

Mary Rasmussen predacious diving beetle - 3rd Place FF

2nd Place, Martha Hitchiner for “Blue Racer on Tree Stump”

Martha Hitchiner blue racer - 2nd Place FF

1st Place, David Dalrymple for “Greater Yellowlegs”

greateryellowleg David Dalrymple - 1st Place FF


Category: Landscapes

Honorable Mention, Deb Traxinger for “Fall Swamp Sunrise”

Fall Swamp Sunrise Deb Traxinger - HM Landscape

3rd Place, Tom Ala for “Hungarian Falls”

Tom Ala - Hungarian Falls - 3rd Place Landscape

2nd Place, Jeremy Salo for “Misty morning in Brighton on the river”

Jeremy Salo - 2nd Place Landscape

1st Place, Paul Mrozek for “Fall Pond”

Namikong Pond, North Country Trail, Hiawatha National Forest, Em


 

Category: People in Nature

Honorable Mention, Randy Butters for “In the Light of Day”

In the Light of Day-2 - Randy Butters - HM People

3rd Place, Nan Pokerwinski for “Shade”

Shade - Nancy Pokerwinski 3rd Place People

2nd Place, Greg Bodker for “Learning Nature”

Our future - Inquisitiveness

1st Place, Randy Butters for “On the Long Blue Edge of Summer”

On the Long Blue Edge of Summer - Randy Butters 1st Place People


 

Overall Winner

William Rowan for “Sandhill Crane Mother with Adopted Canada Goose Gosling.”

Rowan_1 - William Rowan - Overall Winner

Singing Insects Indicate Ecosystem Diversity

It is an unmistakable sound on late summer evenings with windows wide open–the hum, chirp, trill and buzz of insects. These are the night singing insects, described by Dr. Carl Strang as the cicadas, katydids, crickets and three subfamilies of grasshoppers in which males produce sound displays so females can find them and humans can hear them.

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The Butternut Creek Nature Sanctuary protects * habitat type*. Photo by Joe Roti

As a naturalist with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, IL and a little more “ear oriented than most”, Carl took an interest in the sounds of nature, including those made by insects. His curiosity led him to learn how to identify insects by sound, both by ear and by recordings using computer analysis. In 2006, he initiated a long-term general survey of singing insects in a 22-county region stretching from southeast Wisconsin, northeast Illinois, northwest Indiana and into southwest Michigan. In 2018, his annual census included a stop at MNA’s Butternut Creek Nature Sanctuary in Berrien County.
“There are about 100 species in the region and are found in every habitat except open water,” Carl explains. “They are relatively easy to survey because of the sounds, you don’t have to trap them or put in a lot of time with specialized techniques.”

 
“The night singers are not keystone species, most of them are not dependent on a particular plant, nor are they the main food for other animals,” he continued. “Their main value is as indicators of ecosystem quality and diversity.”

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Dave Cuthrell “sweep-netting”, a method to search for tree insects.

What distinguishes this group of insects, according to Carl, is that they are not big travelers, they are limited in movement, and don’t fly very far. “Singing insects can be a good indicator of the health of a system. With some animals you can build it, that is restore habitat, and they will come,” he says, “That’s not so true with singing insects.” Carl believes habitat restoration is important, but not at the expense of protecting and maintaining high quality habitat of critical sizes.

 
Indeed, Carl’s survey is yielding interesting results. 50 to 100 years ago, early work in the field documented species occurrences. Fast forward to current day and some that Carl expected to find or should have found, he is not finding. Some very common—like the dusky-faced meadow katydid—occurred in every marsh 50 years ago. Now he is only finding them in marshes free of invasive plants. “Only a couple of singing insects can live in that kind of habitat,” according to Carl. Habitat degradation and loss is a big factor in declines of singing insects where they once occurred.

 

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Wendy Partridge & Lisa Rainsong look for a long-spurred meadow katydid at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Carl is also finding species that are in his study area now but were not here 50 years ago. Almost all these have come up from the south, he says. A warming climate may be a likely factor, although very tough to prove scientifically.

 
On a surprisingly cool and rainy day in August of 2018, Carl’s work took him to Butternut Creek Nature Sanctuary. There he accompanied Nancy Collins, a citizen scientist who is rapidly becoming a recognized tree cricket expert. They stopped to listen and look for the tamarack tree cricket, a species of special concern in Michigan and one that has been known to occur at the nature sanctuary. According to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, the tamarack tree cricket inhabits dense to open tamarack swamps and fens. Carl and Nancy identified 14 singing species there—but no tamarack tree cricket.

tamarack tree cricket - Dave Cuthrell

Tamarack tree cricket. Photo by Dave Cuthrell.

He is not sure whether it was the cool and wet weather that day, or if they were not there at the right time of the season, or if they hit a low period in the cyclical population cycles that insects experience. “The habitat at Butternut Creek looks fine and healthy with lots of tamaracks,” Carl says. “It is definitely worth getting back in there again.”

 

Carl plans to stop back at Butternut Creek this summer to listen for tamarack tree crickets as he conducts his annual 22-county sweep. And starting in late July until late fall when the weather turns cold, listen for the night chorus of singing insects—and know that scientists like Carl and Nancy are listening too.