Happy Presidential Species Week

In this month of major presidents' birthdays, Connie Tomlinson shared with us her photo of a majestic Roosevelt elk in North Bend, Washington, the home state of Olympic National Park. The park was established as Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909 by the elk's namesake, President Theodore Roosevelt, to protect the elk, which were in steep decline because of widespread logging. Scientifically known as Cervus canadensis roosevelti, the Roosevelt elk is the largest of four sub-species of elk in North America, weighing up to 1,100 pounds. It's one of a number of animal species that bear the names of U.S. presidents, ranging from a wasp named for George Washington (Heterospilus washingtoni) to a crustacean named for FDR (Neomegamphopus roosevelti) to a beetle named for George W. Bush (Agathidium bushi). 

Photo shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Connie Tomlinson

Teddy Roosevelt (seven species) and Barack Obama (nine, including a spangled darter fish and a Western striolated puffbird) head the list of presidents with the most animal species named for them. With thousands of new living species of all types (not just animals) discovered each year, it's not uncommon for scientists to borrow names for them from famous people. You could have fun traveling the world to try to find the meat-eating jungle plant named for Helen Mirren, the Australian horse fly named for Beyonce, the lemur named for John Cleese, the rabbit named for Hugh Hefner or a fossil of the swamp-dwelling prehistoric animal named for Mick Jagger because of its large lips.

Just for the record, in January of this year, scientists named a newly discovered species of micro-moth found in Southern California "Neopalpa donaldtrumpi," because the yellowish-white scales on its head resembled the new president's hair—and, more important, to call attention to its fragile habitat and what one of the scientists called the "the neglected micro-fauna component of the North American biodiversity."

A Primate Cousin

We've been receiving more and more nature photos and sightings from people around the world lately. Mike Boydstun shared with us this arresting portrait of a long-tailed (or crab-eating) macaque that he took at the Prang Sam Yot temple in Thailand, where these highly intelligent and adaptable Old World monkeys live in large numbers and have become a tourist attraction. 

Photo taken and shared with us by Mike Boydstun, who says, "This smart creature startled the heck out of me when it jumped on my back while I was shooting its cousin. Apparently they are more like us than we sometimes remember. The three local families are known to have skirmishes and battles from time to time."

With 23 species spread from Japan to Gibraltar (even small populations in Florida and South Carolina), macaques are the most widespread primates other than humans. They live in complex and fascinating social hierarchies. Unfortunately for them, they are so closely related to us (93% the same DNA) and so easy to breed and keep in captivity that several of their species—including this long-tailed variety and rhesus macaques, better known as rhesus monkeys—have long been used for human medical and psychological research. The term "rhesus factor" or "Rh factor" (positive or negative) used in describing human blood types comes from research on rhesus macaques. Rhesus macaques were central to Jonas Salk's development of the polio vaccine. They also have served as astronauts; rhesus macaques were sent into space by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. 

All animal species deserve our deep respect, but macaques are among those that merit special gratitude for their involuntary sacrifices on behalf of us humans. Many thanks to Mike for capturing in his portrait a sense of how similar to us these fellow primates are. (If you're interested in learning more about macaques, one book to consider is "Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World," by Dario Maestripieri.) —Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood

Think Small: What Would You Do to Help Toads, Frogs and Salamanders?

When we shared on our Facebook page the story of a neighborhood in Philadelphia that blocks off a streets for two weeks each spring so that thousands of baby toads can cross from a reservoir on one side to woods on the other side, many hundreds of people responded from across the country and around the world with photos and uplifting tales of local efforts to protect toads, frogs, salamanders and other wildlife. "It would be a much better planet if all humans helped our wild critters," wrote Lisa Phillips. "We can all do our part and help."

Here are some of the other comments and images people shared with us:

Laurie Kelley Stewart shared with us her photo from Pennsylvania and wrote: "Each creature from the smallest insect to the largest mammal is an intricate part of our ecosytem."

• Heather DiGiacomo offered a firsthand account of the Philadelphia toadlet effort, which is organized by by the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and the people of the Roxborough neighborhood" "We participate in this every year since my daughter was walking, she is eight now. It really drives home the whole sand-dollar, "I made a difference to that one" thought [http://www.ispeak.com/sanddollar.asp]. Tons of kids in pajamas with buckets and flashlights looking for toadlets and crossing them across the street safely; it's borderline magical."

• From Carole Fuller: "Amherst, Massachusetts, has a volunteer-staffed salamander crossing in springtime, slowing traffic and assisting the creatures across a local highway."

• Kristen Murphy wrote, "AVEO [Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory] at the Harris Center for Conservation Education] in New Hampshire runs a salamander crossing brigade of volunteers assisting with the safe crossing of frogs and salamanders heading to vernal pools for spring mating."

• From Ann Waite: "We have a school/home for autistic children in our village and every spring a group of the youngsters goes around the village with a teacher and collects frogs, toads and newts from the road drains where they get stuck."

• From Jim Rawdon: "Sand Run Park in Akron, Ohio, closes off one of its roads in the spring to allow salamanders to cross."

• From Barbara A. Ely: "Tuckerton, New Jersey, has turtle crossing signs and puts out neon warnings in season. We all stop our cars to help them cross. It's awesome."

• From Stacy Cole: "In southern Germany there are massive frog crossings where they have up road signs, made tunnels, nets along the road, etc. It's really amazing the work they have put into their frog crossings." 

Photo shared by Beate Kirk, who wrote: "A tiny toad from southwest Missouri. [I was] camping by a creek in the summer. Get lulled to sleep by all the frog sounds."

• From Lori Worpell: "When traveling in western Germany we found that they had built tunnels under the highways to accommodate the frogs."

• From Andra Kiser: "When I lived in Winterhausen, Germany, we had frog crossing warnings on the road to a neighboring community. And each spring, they would line the roads with a rubbery barrier maybe a foot high to stop the frogs from crossing and getting killed by traffic."

• From Carolyn Carr Woolfenden: "The children in Reykjavik, Iceland, gather up straying baby puffins at night that are confused by car headlights and other city lights. Then they take them back to their nesting area where they are safe."

• From Paula Anderson: "They do this on Riverside Road in Richmond, Virginia, for spotted salamanders."

• From Ellen Spain: "Here in the UK in Norfolk [England] we also help the toads cross the roads to their breeding ponds :-) xx."

• From Mary Hickman: "Tilden Park in Berkeley/Oakland, California, closes the South entrance from November to May to protect the amorous newts, who cross the roadway during their mating season."

Photo shared by Stacy Chamness, who wrote: "South Park Drive in Tilden Park (Berkeley, California) is closed from October to March for California newt migration."

Photo shared by Stacy Chamness, who wrote: "South Park Drive in Tilden Park (Berkeley, California) is closed from October to March for California newt migration."

• From Alexander and Kimberly May: "In the center of town in Longview, Washington, they have a squirrel crossing bridge above traffic between the trees. It's very cute."

• From Cynthia Nelson Guion: "The squirrel bridge built in Longview, Washington, is a great example of how one man's idea to give the squirrel population safe passage led to more community awareness—and more bridges!" [Note: It's called the Nutty Narrows Bridge and was dreamed up by a man named Amos Peters, who was tired of seeing squirrels hit by cars: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutty_Narrows_Bridge]

• From Jane Ann Zerkel: "There's a stretch of road in Southern Illinois that is closed every spring and every fall to protect all the reptiles and amphibians moving seasonally between the low swampy area and the bluffs. It is referred to as "Snake Road" because of the huge number and variety of snakes and other critters that can be seen there." 

• From Marian Woodside: "There's one section of main road closed in southern Illinois every year...maybe twice a year??...to allow aaaaaall kinda critters to migrate unharmed."

• From Jill Spreenberg Robinson: "Shawnee National Forest [in Illinois] closes down Snake Road" to protect reptiles and amphibians migrating between the bluffs and swamps.

• From Linda Feinberg: "We saw special overpasses built over the roads in Alberta for the wandering animals."

• From Barb Duhlman Deibel: "There's a place near mobile Alabama that has 'Slow: Turtle Crossing' signs."

A turtle-crossing sign like the one Barb Duhlman Deibel mentioned. This one is in British Columbia and was photographed by Christian Engelstoft. 

• From Anita Rosario: "[Kentucky] stopped allowing tours of Mammoth Cave during bat hibernation months."

• From Cathy M. Kirkland: "In Richmond, Virginia, part of River Road is closed every year for something to cross, but I don't remember what!" [Note: Coincidentally, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area closes its River Road each spring so that various amphibians, including frogs and salamanders, can cross safely.] 

• From Kay Ltz: "In a certain Asian country they have mass butterfly migrations and they put nets over all the roads and freeways so the poor things don't get sucked in by the vacuum wind from traffic!!!!" [Note: Not sure if this is the example Kay is referring to, but Taiwan protects purple milkweed butterflies during migration time by using nets and also closing one lane on highways.]

• From Katie Blue: "My elementary school had ducks that laid eggs in the courtyard. Certain classes would get to make a human wall across the gym when it was time to let them leave."

• From Robyn Roberts Cooper: "There is a children's picture book about this very thing! It's called Toad Weather by Sandra Markle."

• From Jean Eno: "Years ago we stopped mowing our little patch of lawn where little toadlets feed every year. In addition to saving their lives, we now have far greater diversity of vegetation, and of course insects, and then of course birds and other wildlife. And we don't have to mow anymore, because the naturalization self-regulates!"

• From Pattie Roggenkamp: "Love this story! We have 100s of these little guys in the late spring. So cute! Mowing the lawn becomes a challenge!!"

• From Vangi Burnett: "Good to know that I'm not the only one that rescues baby toads."

• From Kathleen May: "We herd frogs off the road in our neighborhood when we walk at night!!"

• From Candy Everly Gore: "Even when I'm turning my compost pile, I try to move the earthworms so I don't hurt them. lol"

• From Jeanette Locher: "I've stopped traffic on a busy road to allow mama to cross with her brood of ducklings!"

• From Kim Engels White: "I always bring in American toad eggs from my pond, and put them in an aquarium to raise. My kids get to watch the process. This year I released 111 toadlets back into my garden. I put them under the tomatoes, and raspberry bushes where I get fruit flies."

• From Madelyn King: "We don't clean our pool in spring until the frogs start relocating (have a salt system on pool—no chemicals). They have a spot they love to use for breeding, so we dug it deeper and we add water if we don't get enough rain. Around here, you're instructed to watch your step. Rules apply to everything...from spiders on up. Harm nothing or go away."

• From Peter Falotico: "Great story and I too have the problem in the spring with mowing the lawn or figuring out how to chase the hundreds of little frogs and toads away. Easy choice for me. I love them."

• From Mary K. Donigan: "Thanks so much for this post! It was much appreciated today when I needed some affirmation about the basic goodness of people! And brought back so many wonderful memories of my frog and toad friends!"

• From Jean Price: "Loving nature...an investment in ourselves and our world!! Pays good dividends, too!!"

—Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood

 

 

How the Historic Supermoon Looked from All 50 States

We were thrilled and honored when—at our invitation—people from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and eight countries sent us their photos of the historic November 2016 Supermoon, the brightest, largest full Moon since 1948. Around the world, we all watched the Moon together that weekend. Click on the video to see an assortment of the great photos that were shared with us.

Maine on Mars! And a Visit to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab

Exciting news for anyone who loves Maine: A small square of land on the surface of Mars—about 555 acres of the half-Earth-size planet—has officially been named Bar Harbor by our friend Katie Stack Morgan (below), a wonderful and brilliant young research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, who works on the ongoing Curiosity rover mission.

Katie used a Mars globe at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to show me areas the rover was and was not exploring. 

The Curiosity rover has been exploring a number of Mars surface landmarks that Katie—a regular visitor to Maine's Acadia National Park with her family—has endowed with Bar Harbor-area names, such as Cadillac Mountain. This story from the local newspaper, the Mount Desert Islander, nicely sums up how Katie, as a member of the Mars project's science team, got the opportunity to name a portion of Mars (while sticking to naming guidelines set by the International Astronomical Union) and what's been happening with Curiosity's exploration of "Bar Harbor:" http://www.mdislander.com/maine-news/mars-newest-bar-harbor-world

Three summers ago we met Katie at The Naturalist's Notebook in Seal Harbor, Maine, where she was exploring our interactive science and nature installations and shopping for fun items such as our blank "Mars Passport" notebooks (she bought one and joked that she was going to use it to write down her hours working on the rover project). A few months later in Pasadena she gave Pamelia and me an amazing behind-the-scenes tour of the Jet Propulsion Lab, or JPL. It's a remarkable facility that includes not just genius scientists but also everything from a working duplicate of the rover (so that JPL technicians can troubleshoot with a real rover if the one on Mars encounters problems) to developmental labs where future spacecraft components are designed and built to a "Mars Yard," which replicates the rocky Martian surface and can be used as a testing ground for rovers. Here are some of the photos we took on our unforgettable day at the JPL:

If you haven't seen the movie The Martian, check it out—it offers an inspiring, if fictionalized, look at the remarkable JPL scientists in action (and happens to be one of our favorite films). Also try to catch National Geographic's new six-part miniseries on Mars, which is debuting in November. It's fiction as well—it follows the story of a manned voyage to Mars in the year 2033—but I'm guessing it will be as scientifically accurate as the filmmakers could make it. Here's a link to the trailer for the miniseries: 

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/mars/videos/mars-trailer-1/

Congratulations to Katie on literally putting Bar Harbor and Maine on the map (of Mars). For those of you who have been to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, now seems like an especially good time to start following NASA's exciting exploration of the red planet. —Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood 

 

 

 

Good News for the Antarctic

A year ago at this time we were on our way to Antarctica on a Russian oceanographic vessel. Among the things we learned en route to and on the planet's coldest, wildest continent (besides the fact that we could ride out 50-foot waves—see slide show) was that the surrounding Southern Ocean waters are massively important both in sustaining the world's ocean food chain (through the abundance of tiny, bottom-of-the-food-chain krill, among other things) and in driving the deep-water currents that are crucial in shaping Earth's climate and transporting nutrients (as extra-cold, extra-salty water sinks to the bottom and moves across the ocean floor). All of which makes this a week to celebrate.

That's because 24 countries and the European Union have agreed to protect an ecologically vital part of the Southern Ocean known as the Ross Sea by creating the world's largest protected marine area—600,000 square miles, and the first such area to be established in international waters rather than the waters of one country. The deal is far from perfect (it expires in 35 years, primarily because of objections from Russia, which is trying to protect its fishing industry), but the hope among conservationists is that this will be the first in a series of Antarctic ocean sanctuaries—protected areas that might help stop us humans from screwing up yet another unique, life-sustaining portion of our fragile planet.