Give the Gift of Nature
Give the Gift of Nature
By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern
Though Lake Sturgeon make look intimidating with their armored, angular bodies, it may be fair to classify them as gentle giants of the Great Lakes. They have lived in this region for around 10,000 years – and have existed for around 136 million. Capable of living for 150 years or longer, these ancient freshwater behemoths are the longest-lived of Michigan’s fish species, as well as the largest, having been known to reach lengths of 8 feet and weigh several hundred pounds. It may technically be female sturgeon which are the longest-lived Great Lakes fish, though, as they can outlive males by as much as a century!
Sturgeon are cartilaginous (non-bony) fish with torpedo-shaped bodies. Instead of scales, they have a kind of armor in the form of bony scutes that cover their bodies. Juveniles may be gray or brown, and appear more angular, while adults tend to be lighter in color and may be gray or olive. The growth rates of Sturgeon are highly variable, but cleaner, more temperate waters and greater food availability offer ideal conditions for these fish to grow large.
Sexual maturity in males is reached anywhere from 8 to 22 years for males and 14 to 26 years for females. Spawning occurs in early spring, usually from April to June, when water temperatures warm to 53-64° F in clean, shallow waters and fast-moving stream rapids. Though they accomplish this impressive feat on average only once every 6-7 years, females lay millions of eggs when spawning – that’s an average of 5,500 eggs per pound of fish!
Once, the range of lake sturgeon extended from parts of Canada down to Alabama, and populations in the Great Lakes region were estimated to have numbered in the millions. However, only remnant populations remain. Historic overfishing in the 19th and 20th centuries nearly led to the extinction of lake sturgeon, as well as pollution and habitat loss from dams and deforestation. They are now listed as Endangered, Threatened, or Special Concern in all but one of the states throughout their range.
Thankfully, Michigan sponsors efforts to protect sturgeon and restore parts of their habitat. Their spawning period is an especially crucial one, as their preferences for shallow waters make them vulnerable. If you happen to come across sturgeon in the wild, count yourself fortunate to have witnessed these living fossils. Learn more about this iconic Great Lakes species from the DNR website.
Join MNA on Sunday, October 8 for our annual Sturgeon Sprint Family Fun Run & 5K in Detroit! Run along the scenic roadway of Belle Isle State Park. The fee for adults is $25, and $10 for kids. As always, a t-shirt is included and all runners receive a participatory medal! Proceeds will promote efforts to protect the Lake Sturgeon. Register online or contact Jess Foxen at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
A pre-party will be held at Blaze Pizza, located at 3129 Fairlane Drive, Allen Park, from 3-7 pm. Present this flyer with your fast-fire’d creation and Blaze will donate 20% of their proceeds to MNA! Happy running!
By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern
Beautiful and bold, butterflies have captured the interests and imaginations of people for millennia. Few have been as iconic as the 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, it is also the most well-traveled. Every spring, millions of these winged wonders make the journey north as far as Canada from their wintering spots in Mexico.
It’s one of nature’s most fascinating phenomena, as no living Monarch has ever made the journey before, and yet they reliably fly in the same direction, year after year. By the time they reach the northernmost part of their range, five generations of Monarchs will have lived, bred and died, leaving their offspring to carry the torch. This final generation, born in late summer, will be the lucky ones to migrate south to overwinter for eight months before beginning the journey north again the following spring.
As many of us have seen, the Monarch is a mid-sized butterfly with a distinctive orange and black wing pattern accented with white spots. Predators should take care not to confuse it with the strikingly similar Viceroy, whose hind wings have a black line that the Monarch lacks. This small difference is important to note, because the Monarch is toxic. Its caterpillars have an equally distinctive appearance, their stout bodies banded with yellow, black and white. Because Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed plants, the caterpillars grow up eating nothing else – rendering them their toxicity.
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. The loss of habitat includes breeding grounds across the U.S. and overwintering habitat in Mexico, as well as a variety of habitats in which to rest and refuel on their exhaustive journey. 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.
Few insects are as beloved as the Monarch. Several initiatives are underway to preserve the necessary habitats to sustain their populations, including the Monarch Joint Venture and Journey North. The Michigan Nature Association is hosting its annual Monarch March Family Fun Run & 5k at Mayor’s Riverfront Park in Kalamazoo on Sunday, October 1 to promote efforts to preserve Monarch habitat throughout Michigan.
Contact Jess Foxen at email@example.com to learn more, or register online. The fee for adults is $25, children $10, and includes a t-shirt and participatory medal. If you’re more into pizza than running, you can also show your support for the majestic Monarch by showing this flyer with your order at Blaze Pizza at 5015 W Main Street in Kalamazoo on September 30th from 3-7pm. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to MNA to support their mission of preserving Michigan’s natural heritage.
Read more about MNA’s involvement with Monarch conservation and keep current on other important news with the Fall 2017 publication of Michigan Nature magazine!
As Michigan’s only true terrestrial turtle, the Eastern box turtle might often be mistaken for a small tortoise. It is one of four box turtle species native to the United States. Though an uncommon find, it ranges throughout Michigan’s lower peninsula. It spends its life in small patches of open woodlands, sometimes bordering open fields or wetland. Throughout its life, the Eastern box turtle remains small- to mid-size, growing between 4-8 inches in length. It can be extremely long-lived – occasionally over a century.
Their unique hinged shell allows them to retract their head, tail, legs and arms for full protection. Males and females can be most readily distinguished by the color of their eyes. While males often have red eyes, females have yellow to match the vivid markings on their dark carapaces and bodies. They reach sexual maturity at about 10 years of age. Mature females lay between 3-8 eggs per clutch, and breed at most once per year. During winter, they burrow into mud or bury themselves beneath leaf litter for warmth and camouflage.
Like most turtle species, the Eastern box is an opportunistic omnivore. This means it will eat just about anything food-like that it comes across, including insects, worms, grasses, fruit, mushrooms, flowers, and even carrion and garbage.
Because this species is long-lived and slow to breed, populations can be difficult to exact. However, the species has gained status as Special Concern in the state of Michigan. Habitat loss and fragmentation are primary concerns to populations, as urban and agricultural development extend further into their range and roads cut through much of what is left. If you come across a turtle you suspect to be an Eastern box turtle, admire it from a comfortable distance. If the turtle is found on or near a road, escort it back to safety first!
‘Human-toothed’ Pacu in Michigan waters, endangered species running out of time (Great Lakes Echo): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently reported finding fish with “human-like teeth” in southeastern Michigan lakes. Anglers spotted red-bellied pacu in Lake St. Clair and near Port Huron. These unusual fish sport teeth eerily reminiscent of humans’ so they can eat seeds and nuts. While they’re not native to Michigan, DNR said they’re not invasive.
Celebrating 100th anniversary of parks system with a great Great Lakes view (Great Lakes Echo): The U.S. National Park Service celebrates its centennial in 2016, commemorating 100 years of stewardship of America’s natural and historic treasures. Many of those monuments, scenic rivers, parks, and historic sites are visible from space – where the views are just as compelling.
Endangered butterflies released by Kalamazoo Nature Center (WMUK 102.1): The Kalamazoo Nature Center released 18 rare butterfly caterpillars. The Mitchell’s Satyr butterfly is a nationally endangered species. There are only 11 groups of the butterfly left in the entire United States. The Mitchell’s Satyr has been called a “canary in a coal mine” for America’s wetlands. Almost all of the butterflies live in the southernmost counties of Michigan because they live in a rare habitat – fens.
Loony for a diving bird (Great Lakes Echo): Great Lakes common loons are a barometer for water and habitat quality since they’re sensitive to pollution and very particular about where to nest. Listen to the podcast to learn more about the common loon.
Residents split over approved cell phone tower (ABC 10 News): The view of the majestic Brockway Mountain in Copper Harbor will soon be changed forever. The FCC gave its stamp of approval for a new cell phone tower to be placed on top of the Mountain. Supporters say the 199 foot tower will provide Verizon customers in the area with cell phone service and most importantly, access to 911 service on a cell phone. Though the addition of cell service is welcomed by many residents of the area, a group opposed to the tower has been fighting to have it placed anywhere but on Brockway. They claim that Brockway Mountain belongs to everyone, and its purpose is to give people access to a beautiful, unspoiled view.
Buffs boost black swallowtail as best bet for state butterfly (Great Lakes Echo): The black swallowtail would flit over Michigan as the official butterfly of the state if recently proposed legislation is approved. The black swallowtail was picked since it is a fulltime Michigan resident. Designating the swallowtail as the state butterfly can lead to teaching opportunities. Butterflies are part of the nature food chain, they’re beautiful and pleasing to the eye, and they’re pollinators.
Workshop teaches about the importance of natural shorelines on inland lakes (MSU Extension): The Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership (MNSP), a diverse group of statewide partners including MSU Extension, MDEQ, and Michigan Lake & Stream Associations whose goals are to train contractors and landscape professionals who work at the water’s edge and educate lake residents about the importance of natural shorelines. They also provide demonstrations of shoreline landscapes that people can visit and encourage local and state policies that continue to promote local natural shoreline management. The Protecting Your Shoreline: A Workshop for Inland Lakefront Property Owners offers three separate trainings in April and May.
The Twin Cities of Minnesota Pledge to Help Monarch Butterflies (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Newsroom): The Twin Cities of Minnesota, and its communities, have recognized the importance of the monarch butterfly and all it stands for. Mayor Chris Coleman, of St. Paul, and Mayor Betsy Hodges, of Minneapolis, have joined forces to sign the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, making the Twin Cities the 100th locale nationwide to take the Pledge. The Pledge is a National Wildlife Federation campaign working to empower mayors and local government chief executives to help save the declining monarch butterfly.
By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern
A straw-like plant ranging from 6-13 feet in height may seem quite harmless to come across. Yet, this plant, known as Phragmites, is an invasive species threatening the natural flora of Michigan.
Phragmites is the most common invasive plant species in Michigan.
Phragmites has a tall stalk with blades along its shaft and a red-colored seedhead that can fade to a straw-like color with age. Phragmites is usually found in wetland habitats like marshes and swamps.
This invasive species poses alarming impacts on biodiversity because it grows tall and in dense stands, squelching out any native plant and animal life by blocking sunlight and taking up space. Animals find it difficult to make habitats because of the density of the stands and find they have reduced vegetation to eat.
Phragmites obstructs views and can make it difficult for people to enjoy nature because of the difficulty of traveling through the thick reeds to get to bodies of water. It also can negatively affect navigation on highways and waterways because of its height. Phragmites has a rapid growth rate and are prone to catching and spreading fires quickly, killing natural vegetation around it and posing threat to homes and buildings nearby.
Learn how to identify invasive species like Phragmites by clicking here.
Two methods of eliminating invasive Phragmites are prescribed burns and the use of herbicides. Prescribed burns are controlled fires that kill the invasive species, allowing a chance for native vegetation to grow. Herbicides must always be used carefully and some areas even require permits before use. Mowing is recommended post-chemical treatment.