Friday, March 15, 2019

Where have all the bats gone?

A friend of the preserve, who happens to be a barge captain, asked an interesting question last year.  “Where have all the bats gone?”  He has enjoyed watching bats flying while piloting his vessel at dusk along the Ohio River every night in summers for over 25 years.  The numbers of bats he was used to seeing has dropped so significantly that it has prompted his good question.
Ohio River valley is a great place to watch bats hunting at dusk.
We have all seen movies where an unknown virus appears and quickly spreads throughout the world, quarantining individuals while scientists rush to find its origin and a cure.  A very similar scenario has been occurring under our noses (or bats noses) for the past 10 years, but this scenario is not science fiction.
Many bats hibernate in caves in winter.
In the early 2000’s, preserve staff started monitoring caves on the preserve.  Mostly to see what animals were utilizing caves in the winter, but also to look for new species like cave salamanders, cave orb weavers, Indiana bats etc.  While in the caves, we would count all roosting bats encountered and record species when possible while they were in their torpor (inactive state) for hibernation.  During hibernation they would slow their metabolism down to preserve energy.  Each year, we would find roughly 30-60 bats in our largest cave.  Species like little brown (Myotis lucifugus), tri-colored (Perimyotis subflavus), big brown (Eptesicus fuscusand long-eared (Myotis septentrionalis) bats were the most common.
In 2007, it was common to see 15 bats on one wall in some of our caves. (Photo by Rich McCarty)
Bats would sometimes congregate in clumps, unfortunately making it easier to spread diseases. (Photo by Rich McCarty)
In 2007, a fungus that kills hibernating bats called Pseudogymnoascus destructans or white-nose syndrome was discovered in New York.  It spread quickly, and by 2011 in was found in Ohio.  This fungus has been linked to the deaths of an unknown number of bats, undoubtedly millions.  Because of this, and the possibility of moving the fungus spores around, we stopped entering the caves in the winter.
Map showing the spread of white-nose syndrome since 2006. Copied from whitenosesyndrome.org

The annoying fungus causes the bats to wake up more often during hibernation.  This depletes their energy reserves so much that they die before spring emergence.  Once a bat has the spores on them, they can easily carry the spores and transfer the fungus to other bats. This newly discovered fungus, origin unknown, started spreading throughout the eastern U.S. before anyone knew about it.  More than 10 years later, many bat species, like the ones mentioned above, have population densities only fractions of what they used to be.
A big brown bat Eptecicus fuscus, roosting in a crack

Bat researchers from Ohio University measuring temperature of a big brown bat in a cave entrance.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife has been re-surveying caves in Ohio to monitor the status of bats in the state.  This winter we guided them to some of the preserve’s caves previously surveyed almost 10 years ago.  Out of 4 caves visited, the crew only found one live big brown bat.  In our largest cave that used to produce the most bats, they found one dead tri-colored bat, with "white stuff" on its face.  It appears, like most of the state, White-nose syndrome has found its way here too.
Division of Wildlife employee Erin Hazelton squeezes into Fern Cave on the preserve.
After searching for bats, Erin Hazelton (ODW), exits Fern Cave.
It takes a lot of work and I'd say bravery to get into some of these cave openings.
Cave surveyor, Erin Hazelton, pictured above was excited to find an endemic isopod (Caecidotea filicispelunceain this cave, but did not find bats.  It used to be easy to find bats in our caves.  But this survey was a reality check.  The bats we have grown accustomed to seeing in our caves are no longer there and the decline of bats in the Eastern U.S. is happening faster than we realize. 

Unfortunately, there is no cure right now to protect bats exposed to white-nose syndrome.  The fungus is here and easily transmitted between bat roosts.  The state and federal agencies will continue to monitor and study this problem.  Time will tell whether hibernating bats will outlast this onslaught of an invading fungus.

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Friday, February 22, 2019

A Wild Winter on the Edge


February of 2019 has been a wild ride so far.  We have experienced temperature fluctuations of 67 degrees, unusually high rain amounts and constant flooding of Ohio Brush Creek.  But this is what February brings to the Edge.

In early February, temperatures reached -6F, so I hiked out to Cedar Run to see if the creek was frozen.


There has been so much rain this year that even the extreme cold temperatures could not tame and completely freeze the wild waterway.

Cedar Run, a tributary of Ohio Brush Creek.
 Enjoy this short video of Cedar Run cutting through the Lilly/Bisher dolostone in winter.


So if temperatures reach -6F, one would not expect to find a reptile or amphibian out and about, right?  Well, three days after this cold snap, it reached 60F in Adams County, Ohio with ground temperatures of 52F.  Six days after the cold snap, air temperature was still 60-62F, but the ground temperature rose to 56F.  I started wondering if this was warm enough for any reptiles to emerge from their overwintering spots.  So I went out searching...
Eastern smooth earthsnake (Virginia valeriae) found on a warm day in February!
Sure enough, after a little light raking in the leaves in some earthsnake territory, I hit the jackpot.  The ground had warmed up enough that this Eastern smooth earthsnake measuring 205 mm's had emerged, most likely to get an earthworm meal.  This snake happened to be a re-capture which I caught in the same location on October 31, 2018.  It had lost about .9 grams of weight  (5.4 to 4.5g) since October.  Amazing that this cold-blooded animal could be above ground hiding in the leaf litter when temperatures were so cold 6 days earlier.  But in this part of Ohio, the ground rarely freezes very deep, and does not stay frozen long which is beneficial to many plant and animal species.

After processing this snake for a snake survey, its release was recorded the next day:


Whether it is the presence of animals like little brown skinks (Scincella lateralis) and green salamanders (Aneides aeneus), or plants like crossvine (bignonia capreolata) and  Eastern mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum), Adams County, with its warmer winters hosts many southern organisms surviving at their northernmost range.  I am no longer surprised when Jefferson salamander's mate on Christmas Day, or woodcocks display after Presidents' Day or even when Hepatica blooms after Valentine's Day.  This part of Ohio has the most frost free days in the state, and the plants and animals certainly take advantage of it.

Here are some amphibian species also found in the warm snap that followed the extreme cold snap this February:

Spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) found near mating pool on Feb. 7, 2019
Red eft stage of Red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) found on Feb. 7, 2019.
Northern ravine salamander (Plethodon electromorphus) found on Feb.7, 2019.
Even though it gets cold in January and February, these animals are always days away from emerging and looking for food to get their year started.  At the same time, reminding us that spring is right around the corner and only inches deep in the soil.....waiting for that warm day.

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Ohio Brush Creek: An interesting valley

A friend took this panoramic picture of the Ohio Brush Creek (OBC) this winter.  I thought it made the creek look very mysterious, and reminded  me of how interesting this valley really is.  The OBC flows down the length of the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, and much of the preserve property borders this compelling stream.
Panoramic view of OBC.  Photo by Abe Myres
When I think about many of the unique and rare creatures on the preserve, a good number of them are found in the OBC valley.  In fact, most of the topics archived in this blog are of organisms associated with this valley.  Past blog characters like:  the unknown Amblycorypha katydid species, chuck-wills- widows, Antrostomus carolinensis, incredible firefly displays including the rare Photinus sabulosus firefly, eastern smooth earthsnakes, Virginia valeriae, and the extremely rare Lea's bog lichen, Phaeophyscia leana can all be observed within the area pictured below.
A view of OBC valley from the Eulett Center.
So why is this part of Adams County so unique?  We often give the geology of this area the credit for producing such abundant diversity on the preserve.  OBC cut through the land after the melting of the last glaciers thousands of years ago. This exposed the geology which in turn supports the immense diversity of plants. Those plants then create the different habitats which support the unique fauna.  Presently, as the land continues to change, this valley showcases windows into many rock layers like brassfield limestone, estill shale, Lilley, Bischer and Peebles dolostones, Ohio black shale and Waverly sandstone.  That is an abundant amount of rock layers that turn into different soils utilized by a wide variety of plants!
The last glaciers stopped just beyond the furthest hills in the distance.
Humans have been using this valley for at least 10,000 years.  Artifacts and earthworks found along OBC hint at its importance to humans.  Some of the first settlements in Ohio occurred nearby as  early surveyors like Nathaniel Massie traveled right up the OBC valley in 1790.  There is a long history of humans interested in the offerings of OBC.

Today, humans benefit from the OBC mainly through recreation.  Maybe so much diversity is found here because so many people with an interest in nature convene in this part of the county.  But I would say folks visit this valley mostly for the scenery.

OBC in winter.
Even in winter, the OBC valley produces interesting shows.  It the cold season, there have been more and more bald eagle sightings along OBC.  In the past 10 years, these giant birds have been found more frequently in this valley.  It used to be a big deal to see one eagle a year.  Now folks can easily see one a week if they're looking.  In December of 2018, there were nine bald eagles sitting in trees taking turns feeding on a deer carcass laying in a nearby field.

A bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus sitting above Ohio Brush Creek.
Even though some parts of the OBC can measure 45 feet deep during the dry season, it is not a river.  Its length of 60 miles makes it too short to be called "river".  But the fact that it supports many of the creatures that should be living in Ohio's waterways ranks OBC as one of the cleanest streams in Ohio.  The EPA has designated parts of it as Exceptional Warm Water Habitat.

A pink heelsplitter mussel, Potamilus alatus, shell laying on the bank of OBC.
The diversity of fish, aquatic insects and mollusks living in the creek are quite impressive,and are good evidence of the creek's high quality of health.  It is easy to walk the banks of OBC and within minutes find shells of numerous species of freshwater mussels, as seen below.  Forty-three mussel species have called OBC home at some time, and just as many fish swim its waters.  
2 minutes along OBC produces a wide variety of mussel shells like mapleleaf, plain pocketbook, deertoe, white heelsplitter, wartyback, pimpleback, fat mucket, black sandshell and fragile papershell.
Slenderhead darter, Percina phoxocephala , once rare in Ohio, fairly common in OBC due to its water quality. 
You may not see nor hear the rare flora or fauna of the Edge of Appalachia Preserve while visiting the OBC valley, but it is there.  Next time you are visiting the preserve, stop in at the Creek's Bend Picnic Shelter on Waggoner Riffle Rd.  While looking out at the Ohio Brush Creek, you should know that you are standing in the middle of one of the most naturally unique places in the state, and extremely rare species are not far from your feet.
The Ohio Brush Creek, new discoveries await.

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Howards receive Friends of The Timber Award

John and Vince Howard of Adams County, Ohio received the first-ever Friends of The Timber Award from the preserve for their tireless dedication towards timber rattlesnake conservation. The brothers presented a riveting talk on the snake's biology and their efforts to document them on preserve lands to a large crowd at a Eulett Center After Hours program. The brothers duo have put countless hours of their personal time into trying to locate the state endangered snake species on preserve property with hopes of initiating more in depth research on their over wintering habits. They use boots on the ground to cover many rugged miles, as well as deploy innovative remote cameras to try to detect where these snakes may be calling home. Their dedication to snake conservation is exemplary and their enthusiasm for these regal snakes contagious. Both brothers received a specially created, hand pulled print of the timber rattlesnake by Xavier University Professor of Art faculty, Suzanne Michele Chouteau. Professor Chouteau's award-winning works include the recently created Buzzardroost Rock Mural in downtown West Union, Ohio. The preserve staff would like to thank her for her endless hours of dedication and inspiration on the preserve's behalf.
Vince Howard (left), Suzanne Michele Chouteau (center) and John Howard (right).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Spooky things found around Halloween!

It's only been a week since Halloween, but this time of year on the Edge does get a little spooky.  It seems that Autumn is when many of the critters we have decided are "scary" come out to play.  The cast from our childhood horror stories are easily found right around Halloween. 
Not only does Autumn produce some pretty landscape scenery, but pretty scenery on a smaller scale as well....pretty scary!
Autumn on the Edge
If I had to pick a cast of scary creatures we find in the fall, I'd have to start with spiders.  First thing you might notice when hiking on the Edge around Halloween is all the spider webs.  The orb weavers seem to be large and make larger webs after summer has past. 
The banded garden spider, Argiope trifaciata waiting for the morning dew to evaporate.
Without fail, many orb weavers spin their webs face high.  If you have ever eaten web while walking in the woods, the culprit may have been the marbled orb weaver, Araneus marmoreus.  Don't feel bad if you walk through its web during the day, the spider is usually hidden in a leaf structure on the side.  Many spiders make new webs every day.  Some even eat their webs in the morning to regain some of the proteins the web contains.
Araneus marmoreus rebuilding its web.  You can see its back leg pulling the web from a spinneret on the abdomen tip.
Found around houses, Neoscona crucifera is one of the most common orb weavers people encounter.
Another Neoscona crucifera. Notice the glue droplets on some of the web strands.  Not all web is sticky, but even the spider can get stuck in its own web if not careful.

Ocrepeira ectypa hangs out on the tips of twigs and looks just like a bud of a tree when still.
The next cast of critters found commonly this time of year would have to be Reptiles and amphibians.  Beside spiders, nothing is more hair raising and heart pumping to many folks than snakes, frogs, toads and salamanders.
An orange and black color variation of the Eastern hognose snake, Heterodon platyrhinos.  Notice the flattened head of the snake on the right side. (Photo by Chris Bedel)
Gray rat snake, Pantherophis spiloides, found on side of road.  They use the warm roads in fall for temperature regulation.
Careful while driving the roads in October.  Although it is a great time to get out and see the fall colors, it is also a busy time for reptiles and amphibians crossing roads!  At this time of year, especially on warm days and nights, many of these creatures are on the move to their wintering spots.  In one day/night, I encountered 45 brown snakes, Storeria dekayi, 1 spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, 4 garter snakes, Thamnophis  sirtalis, 2 black rat snakes, Pantherophis spiloides, 2 rough green snakes, Opheodrys aestivus, 1 Kentucky spring salamanders, Gyrinophilus porphyriticus,  1 E. box turtle, Terrapene carolina, 10 American toads, Anaxryus americanus and 7 gray treefrogs, Hyla versicolor crossing the road.  This occurring in about 9 miles of road.  Imagine how many animals crossed that road throughout the day.  And yes, unfortunately many of them were roadkill.
2 brown snakes on the road.  One was inflated and acting aggressive, which shows a more striking pattern through its scales.

Many of these brown snakes I find under cover boards occupied by ant mounds.  They are known to utilize ant burrows in winter.
An American toad crossing the road on a warm and rainy fall night.
Gray tree frogs were out in force the night of Halloween.
Of course, there is no more iconic critter that represents this spooky time of year than our misunderstood friends, the bats.
This fall Rich McCarty came across a bat roosting on the side of a tree.  This species of bat has only been observed a few times by the staff.  Usually it is viewed flying over the Ohio River, and can be recognized mainly by its size.  But on this lucky day, right after Halloween, Rich saw this bat...and if these pics don't induce shivering.....nothing will.
What would you think this hair ball on the side of a tree is?? (Photo by Rich McCarty)
A hoary bat, Lasiurus cinereus, hanging on a tree waiting for nightfall. (Photo by Rich McCarty)

These migratory bats move north in summer and back south in winter and hibernate in trees and leaf litter.
(Photo by Rich McCarty)

Okay, maybe this is why bats are synonymous with Halloween! (Photo by Rich McCarty)

Our largest bat, and I might say the most attractive bat with its bi-colored wings, frosty highlighted hair and buff colored face fur.  (Photo by Rich McCarty)
Autumn is a very interesting time of year, with plenty of animal activity.  Preparing for winter, many critters are moving about and easy to find.  I use Halloween as a reminder to get outside the last few warm days of the year and look around.  You never know what you might find.

DISCLAIMER:  The animals depicted in this post are not dangerous of course.  They have just been selected many years ago as the cast of our horror stories and nightmares.

Posted by: Mark Zloba

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Millipedes of the Edge

How many millipede species do you think live in southern Ohio?  I estimated there were at least 50, maybe even 80 species.  I was incorrect.
Millipedes are long and usually slow.  They are mega-legged armored trains!  Blindly feeling their way through the forest, they decompose leaf litter and use chemical warfare for protection. 
North American giant millipede pushing its way across the leaf litter.

Not to be confused with centipedes, millipedes have 2 pairs of legs per body segment (centipedes have 1 pair).  Millipedes do not bite using venom (centipedes do).  Millipedes eat decaying plants (centipedes are carnivorous).  Do not pick up a centipede or you may receive a painful pinch. 
Here you see a centipede showing its 1 pair of legs per segment. The first pair is adapted as pincers with venom. 

Here a millipede shows its rounder body with 2 pairs of legs per segment.  1st pair are simply legs, not pincers.


Earlier this spring, we hosted a millipede workshop taught by Derek Hennen.  Derek has been re-writing The Millipedes and Centipedes of Ohio.  This publication was printed in 1928 through the Ohio Biological Survey.  He has been traveling the state updating records, adding species, and has spent some time collecting in Adams County.  He was the perfect person to teach this class.

Derek Hennen teaching millipedes to Advanced Naturalist Class.
From the preserve's previous collection, and what the class collected in May, we identified 19 species of millipede with Derek's assistance.  He believed this to be a fair representation for this area, and it is possible to find a few more species on the preserve.  I was shocked to learn that this is all the taxa we should have in the area.  It turns out, the Appalachian Mountains are the epicenter of millipede diversity in the country.  The further you travel away from the mountains, the fewer species you will find.  Since we are literally on the edge of the Appalachian uplift, but not in the mountains, we have fair diversity.  The Appalachians, where Derek studies, has had new species discoveries, and house some endemic species living in small areas of the mountains.

Narceus americanus annularis, the North American giant millipede

Abacion sp., a common and very smelly millipede when handled.

Oxidus gracilis, the garden millipede is an exotic that can be found in very large numbers.

Pseudopolydesmus serratus, a fairly common millipede.
Here are the millipedes found on the preserve to date:

Abacion magnum
Andrognathus corticarius
Apheloria virginiensis corrugata,  cherry millipede
Blaniulus guttulatus,  spotted snake millipede
Cambala annulata
Cambala minor
Cleidogona sp.
Conotyla sp.
Euryurus leachii
Nannaria terricola
Narceus americanus annularis, North American giant millipede
Ophyiulus pilosus
Oxidus gracilis, garden/greenhouse millipede
Petaserpes cryptocephalus, slug millipede
Pseudopolydesmus serratus
Ptyoiulus impressus
Scytonotus granulatus, granulated millipede
Striaria sp.
Uroblaniulus canadensis

One of the most fascinating parts of millipede life history is the chemistry involved with their protection.  They are not ferocious creatures, they rely on distasteful and sometimes deadly gas exchange to keep predators at bay.  Researchers have discovered many compounds are produced internally, with more yet to be identified.  Even the sweet smelling cherry millipedes are not as pleasant as they smell.  The odor they emit is cyanide.

The sweet smelling cherry millipede, Apheloria virginiensis corrugata.
Some can even release a chemical, staining your hand when they are handled.
Apparently a Narceus did not want to be handled this day.  It oozed a stain out of many pores that discolored my fingers for a week.  Not painful, just colorful.
Euryrurus leachii doesn't produce a good smell, but does produce enough chemicals to positively glow when exposed to ultraviolet light.  This is perhaps another way of warning predators to stay away.
Euryrurus leachii under normal light.

Euryrurus leachii under UV (ultraviolet) light.  Find these under logs with a black light at night.
Photo by Robyn Wright-Strauss
Mating occurs when a male and female find each other, probably through tracking pheromones.  The sexual organs are found between the 2nd and 8th pair or legs, so when they mate, they end up "chest to chest" facing each other.  Eggs will be laid soon after under debris on the forest floor.

Pseudopolydesmus serratus found mating in September.
Chemical warfare used by millipedes, to protect themselves is not fool proof.  One creature adapted to feed on these chemical laden subjects are glow worms.  Beetles in the genus Phengodes are silent assassins of millipedes.  The larva of the beetle sneaks up to the millipede and incredibly knows where to burrow in between the millipedes legs and cut the cord to the nervous system.  This prevents the millipede from using gas to deter the predator.  The glow worm can then dig its way into the millipede, eat it from the inside, and leave behind the exoskeleton.

Not a millipede (notice the 3 pairs of legs), this Phengodes plumosa larva feeds on millipedes.

Glow worm beetle larva bioluminescing (glowing) in the dark.  This millipede hunter produces light!


Glow worm larva sneaking in for the attack on a Narceus americanus.  It is burrowing its way into the center of the millipede.
Enjoy this video of a running millipede being chased by a predator (my camera) until all its legs get tired.  At the end of the video is a cute hatchling of a North American giant millipede.  The baby just hatched out of an egg which was enclosed in feces.  The feces ball, looking like a cocoa puff, is full of nutrients the juvenile eats to begin its life.  



Hopefully people admire the interesting millipedes they come across.  Not only are they a major player in decomposing the debris around us, but they are also interesting and attractive.  Even if their beauty is just a warning to stay away or you will be gassed.  Since their fossil records date back 420 million years, they are quite possibly the first breathing animals on land.  Now that deserves a little respect!
A big thanks to Derek Hennen for making the search for millipedes on our preserve so much fun.

Posted by: Mark Zloba