Interacting Safely with Michigan Wildlife

by Jayli Husband, MNA Communications Intern

Michigan is filled with many interesting landscapes such as lakes, forests, marshes, prairies, as well as a popular destination for sand dunes and beaches. With this diversity of natural areas to explore, there are many different species that can be spotted throughout Michigan. With spring in full bloom throughout the state, it is important to be conscious of the native wildlife that may soon be emerging within our forests and neighborhoods and how to properly interact with them. Each spring, there are a number of wildlife encounters throughout Michigan that should be taken with caution.

As temperatures rise, reptiles such as snakes will become more prevalent because they hibernate during the cooler months. After a snake has been clearly seen, it is important to keep a safe distance so that the snake does not feel threatened, this way, they will not react. Snakes will most often avoid humans, in fact, 17 of 18 Michigan snake species are harmless to people. However, if you happen to encounter the Eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Michigan’s only venomous snake), it is best to back away, and if it is staying in a community setting such as a park or backyard have it removed by a professional.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake photo by Zach Pacana.

Unfortunately, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is now a threatened species because of the loss of habitat, thus, it is important to report any sightings to help conservation and DNR tracking efforts in Michigan. Snakes are very important in their ecosystem; they maintain balance in by eating pests such as mice and rats, and are also important prey for hawks, and other larger carnivores.

In addition to reptiles and amphibians popping back up, coyotes are also a common sight in the spring throughout Michigan. Coyotes can be spotted throughout the year, but it is important to know how to handle monitoring them due to increased activity during mating season. Like many animals, coyotes tend to avoid humans, but it is important to keep watch on small pets and make sure that they are supervised when outdoors if a coyote is spotted nearby. Additionally, coyotes have a great sense of smell, so it is helpful to keep food or smelly garbage contained when it is placed outdoors. To prevent a coyote from moving closer, they can often be deterred by scaring them through loud noises and aggressive hand waving. Coyotes are important for ecosystems as well because they are a keystone species. As a keystone species, coyotes help control the populations of prey species such as rabbits, rodents, deer, snakes, and many more animals which regulates the ecosystem.

Similarly, if a black bear is nearby, it is best to move and give the bear space or scare it off by making loud noises and looking as big as possible. Additionally, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MIDNR), people should follow the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines with black bears:

  • Stand your ground
  • Make loud noises
    • Always provide a clear escape route for the bear
    • Rarely do bears attack, but fight back if they do
    • Treat bears with respect and observe from a distance.
A black bear with several cubs. Photo by Thomas Wiensch

Black bears are the only bear species that reside in Michigan and only roam in hardwood and conifer forests. Overall, they tend to avoid humans like most animals, but it is best to take caution. Like snakes, bears also appear in the warmer months due to hibernation during cooler months. Bears also play an important role in the environment; like coyotes, bears help maintain the population of their prey including deer, elk, insects, and plants. Uniquely, because bears eat lots of berries, their scat turns into the perfect fertilizer for plants and bushes!

Any direct encounter with these animals are pretty rare. Keep in mind that biting insects such as ticks and mosquitoes pose a more serious threat when out and about this summer. Take common sense precautions with long pants, long sleeves, and repellant while enjoying any lucky wildlife sightings.

It is so important to maintain healthy relationships our wildlife because each animal helps maintain balance in the ecosystem. You can report wildlife sightings to the MIDNR using the Eyes in the Field website, where you can select a category and report your observation. And you can help protect natural areas for all of Michigan’s many species by supporting the Michigan Nature Association.

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.

Sparing mute swans, bear cub decline and ‘fishy’ behavior: this week in environmental news

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:

 

A mute swan glides atop the water. Photo by Karen Stamper, courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

A mute swan glides atop the water. Photo by Karen Stamper, courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Local policy revision spares non-aggressive mute swans (Great Lakes Echo): The invasive mute swan species growth in Michigan has been exponential, increasing by 10 percent each year since 2010. Currently there is legislation in place in west Michigan, authorizing the elimination of these creatures. After a recent survey found that people would prefer only the aggressive swans be killed, the Hutchins Lake Association is trying to negotiate a new plan.

Researchers look to spin grass into beef (Great Lakes Echo): The demand for grass-fed cattle is rising in Michigan. With a $460,000 federal grant, researchers from Michigan State University will explore the economic profitability of these cattle as well as environmental friendliness and encouraging consumers to eat frozen meat.

Changing fishery discard practices has cascading effect on ecosystems (Conservation Magazine): Unwanted fish are thrown over the side of sea vessels and fisheries experience up to 40 percent of discard on their trips. Fishing has cascading effects on wildlife, researchers found, because of the removal of some fish many species feed on. Research shows the resolution to this issue is “complicated.”

 

A polar bear with her two cubs. Photo by Frank Lucassec, courtesy of The Guardian.

A polar bear with her two cubs. Photo by Frank Lukasseck, courtesy of The Guardian.

Fewer polar bear cubs are being born in the Arctic islands, survey finds (The Guardian): Bear cub births in the Arctic islands of Svalbard decreased by 10 percent in 2014 alone, according to a small survey. Global warming continues to melt sea ice on which polar bears use to hunt seals. Of 29 female bears researchers tracked, only three gave birth to cubs that year, much less than the usual one-third of female bears to give birth.

Large muskies lured by the moon: study ties lunar cycle, fish behavior to angler success (Science Daily): In a recent study, a possible link between lunar activity and feeding time have encouraged fish to take the bait. Scientists analyzed the muskellunge in North America and found a correlation between lunar activity and the number of fish caught at fisheries.

 

Peregrine Falcons, a resolution against drilling, and sustainable options: this week in environmental news

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:

The Peregrine Falcon huddles over its eggs outside the BWL Eckert electric generating plant. Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

The Peregrine Falcon huddles over its eggs outside the BWL Eckert electric generating plant. Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Mid-Michigan Peregrine Falcons expecting (Great Lakes Echo): Peregrine Falcons are expecting this season in Michigan and although they have been taken off the federal endangered species list, are still considered an endangered species under Michigan law. The falcons have been spotted nesting at the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s Eckert electric generating plant.

Proposed drilling doesn’t sit well with Washtenaw County officials (MLive): Officials went on the record Wednesday night stating their opposition to any local oil drilling. In a 6-1 vote, the opposing vote from commissioner Dan Smith R-Northfield Township, they approved a resolution that would advocate against any future drilling in the area, similar to a resolution passed by Ann Arbor City Council. 

Walmart: the corporate empire’s big step for sustainability (The Guardian): Rob Walton, the chairman of Walmart and now chairman of Conservation International’s executive committee, has had his hand in trying new ways to get Walmart to be a more sustainable business. The journey toward sustainability started a decade ago, and Walmart looks for ways to reduce waste such as reducing water consumption and packaging. Walmart officials have been negotiating with their suppliers on new methods of sustainability

Rep. Don Young calls rules on oil drilling in wildlife refuges a ‘hare-brained idea’ (Huffington Post): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services opened the forum for comments earlier this year to learn how to update regulations on oil and gas development on areas which are protected under the National Wildlife Refuge System. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has expressed his opposition to these new ideas for rules at a Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

The big melt accelerates (The New York Times): As glaciers continue to melt, scientists have declared that some have shrunk to the point of no return — a risk that could set off a “chain reaction” bringing the remainder of the ice sheet to its demise. This research of the glaciers reaching the “point of no return” has signaled to many scientists that even if climate change came to an immediate halt, it may already be too late.

The difference between Muir Glacier at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska between 1941 (left) and 2004 (right). Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

The difference between Muir Glacier at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska between 1941 (left) and 2004 (right). Photo courtesy of The New York Times.