Maryland Biodiversity Project's Journal

June 21, 2021

Northern Snakehead protecting its young

Here is one of the reasons the Northern Snakehead has been so successful in expanding its range in our region. Shown here is a parent actively protecting its recently hatched larvae in Montgomery Co., Maryland. Photo courtesy of MBP contributor and iNaturalist user @drennack.

"Female snakeheads average about 40,000 eggs but can release up to 100,000 eggs and can spawn multiple times per year. Newly hatched larvae are protected by one or both parents until they reach the juvenile stage. Sexual maturity is reached in two years when the total body length is about 12 inches." (MD DNR)

"In 2002, a reproducing population of northern snakeheads was discovered in a pond in Crofton, Maryland. The snakeheads were exterminated and subsequently assigned injurious wildlife status under the Federal Lacey Act which prohibits import and interstate transport. A mid-Atlantic Aquatic Nuisance Species council was formed and a management plan for northern snakeheads was drafted. Despite intense media and political attention, increased awareness did not serve to prevent further introductions. In 2004, northern snakeheads were found in the Potomac River near the nation's capitol and have since established a reproducing population." (MD DNR)

The species continues to expand in our area.

Northern Snakehead at Maryland Biodiversity Project:
https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/275

Bill

Posted on June 21, 2021 13:11 by billhubick billhubick | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 16, 2021

Mississippi Kites are nesting in Maryland!

After years of steadily mounting evidence, we have very clear nesting confirmation this year in Rockville, Montgomery Co., Maryland. (Other nesting locations are likely.) Here's a photo of a Mississippi Kite on its nest in Montgomery Co., Maryland courtesy of Tim Frye via iNaturalist. (c) Tim Frye, some rights reserved.

This rare but increasing spring migrant is now expected on favorable raptor migration days late April and May. As it increased as a breeder in the northeastern U.S., it became clear that nesting in Maryland was all but certain. They have a special affinity for hunting dragonflies on the wing and are certainly benefiting regionally from the periodical cicada (Magicicada) emergence.

And let's always remember why abundant insect biomass and biodiversity are important to MIKIs (great banding code) and other birds. Their incredible migrations require huge amounts of fuel and summer food supplies to fly from distant wintering grounds. That's why MBP is kicking off more targeted data collection efforts such as the Turkey Point Bird Count and new Summer Nocturnal Insect Surveys. We need a LOT more data to ensure we can protect the world's biodiversity and great natural spectacles.

And where will these Mississippi Kites go after breeding in Rockville or Oklahoma or Georgia? Why, all the way to central South America! Switch this eBird map filter from year-round to June-July and then to December-February to see reports focused around Paraguay and northern Argentina.

Amazing! Neotropical migrants aren't OUR birds that "fly south for the winter." They're tropical birds that visit for a bountiful breeding season, and that bounty is, for most species, insects! Let's ensure these epic migrations remain worth their while! Birds need biodiversity.

Thankfully, all insect eaters are pretty much covered every 17 years thanks to our region's Magicicada emergence and overwhelming protein extravaganza.

Here's to everyone having any easy summer after this last year!

More at Maryland Biodiversity Project:
https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/1002

Bill

Posted on June 16, 2021 12:49 by billhubick billhubick | 2 comments | Leave a comment

June 09, 2021

Flypoison and MBP tags

Flypoison (Amianthium muscitoxicum) is a beautiful native plant species that is ranked "S2" (state rare) in Maryland. This means there are less than 20 known extant populations in the state. Like many of our rare and striking native plant species, damage by White-tailed Deer browse is a primary challenge to conservation.

MBP coordinates with Maryland DNR's Natural Heritage Program (NHP) to keep our MBP tags in sync with updates. We also share data to assist with their reviews and plans. In some cases the MBP community has discovered enough new populations to downgrade listing, allowing the program to free up resources for higher conservation priorities!

You can see tags like S1, S2, S3, Threatened, Endangered, Non-native, Invasive, Exotic, and many others next to the species name. You can also click the tags to view a checklist of other species with that tag.

Flypoison at Maryland Biodiversity Project:
https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/1776

Beautiful photos courtesy of Jim Brighton (above, with surrounding habitat in Frederick Co., Maryland) and Bonnie Ott (below, with dark background, in Howard Co., Maryland).

Bill

Posted on June 09, 2021 13:09 by billhubick billhubick | 2 comments | Leave a comment

June 08, 2021

What are those white patches?

What are those white patches? Are they another fungal pathogen attacking these lovely insects? Nope! This time, it's a feature, not a bug (um, on the bug).

This is a female Broad-headed Sharpshooter (Oncometopia orbona) and those white patches are brochosomes. These waxy patches contain proteins and can be applied to their eggs to prevent them from drying out. Many leafhoppers also "wax" their "integument" (i.e., skin, exoskeleton) to retain that fancy, polished sharpshooter look (and very useful water resistance)! Amazing!

On brochosomes at Wikipedia: "After each molt, most leafhopper species release droplets of the brochosome-containing fluid through the anus and actively spread them over the newly formed integument.[11][12][13] This behavior is called anointing.[12]" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brochosome)

On integument at Wikipedia: "In arthropods, the integument, or external "skin", consists of a single layer of epithelial ectoderm from which arises the cuticle,[3] an outer covering of chitin the rigidity of which varies as per its chemical composition.It is present in ovule and also work in it with nucelleus." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integument)

Photo courtesy of Judy Gallagher. More at Maryland Biodiversity Project: https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/10381

Posted on June 08, 2021 19:19 by billhubick billhubick | 2 comments | Leave a comment

May 25, 2021

Brood X Magicicada - Please document species feeding on them

The Brood X periodical cicada emergence is an incredible phenomenon and we're excited to document it. This periodic super-abundance of insect protein means an easier than usual year for many species. For example, a wide variety of birds will have higher nesting success (i.e., more young successfully fledged), including the high potential to raise additional broods of young.

Let's try to document as many species feeding on Magicicada species as possible in Maryland this year. Please feel free to tag me (@billhubick) on iNaturalist for species feeding on periodical cicadas and I'll try to keep a master list on the MBP Magicicada page. There are also many folks studying the Magicicada emergence and the major effects on the local ecosystems. I'm sure they'll appreciate as much documentation as possible. I may also be sharing some requests for additional predator-prey detail requests soon for those really enjoying documenting these relationships. As for the periodical cicadas themselves, remember this is their amazing strategy for success - totally overwhelming and saturating the galaxy of predators so a massive remainder is successful. They sing and reproduce while their predators snooze in hammocks, fat and happy.

Here's an Eastern Chipmunk with Magicicada prey in Montgomery Co., Maryland. Photo courtesy of Emily Keith. Yes, this discussion will also show that nearly every species will take a little protein on the side when it's right there for the nibbling.

More at Maryland Biodiversity Project:
https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/18964

  • Bill

Posted on May 25, 2021 13:07 by billhubick billhubick | 2 comments | Leave a comment

March 17, 2021

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

According to Wikipedia, "a shamrock is a young sprig, used as a symbol of Ireland. Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron saint, is said to have used it as a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity. The name shamrock comes from Irish seamróg [ˈʃamˠɾˠoːɡ], which is the diminutive of the Irish word seamair óg and simply means 'young clover.'"

There isn't consensus over what species should be considered the "true" shamrock, but Wikipedia summarizes some data points suggesting that Trifolium dubium (Suckling Clover) and Trifolium repens (White Clover) are leading candidates (see "Botanical Species" here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamrock)

Another biodiversity reference associated with Saint Patrick is that he "drove the snakes out of Ireland", though Ireland - like many islands - didn't have any snakes to drive out. The web site Irish Central quotes National Museum of Ireland in Dublin keeper Nigel Monaghan: "At no time has there ever been any suggestion of snakes in Ireland. [There was] nothing for St. Patrick to banish," The story seems to be an allegory for banishing paganism through the introduction of Catholicism.

Photo of Trifolium dubium courtesy of Ashley Bradford. More at Maryland Biodiversity Project: https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/3857

MBP lists 20 species between the two genera of Trifolium and Oxalis: https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/viewChecklist.php?genus=Trifolium,Oxalis

  • Bill

Posted on March 17, 2021 13:14 by billhubick billhubick | 1 comment | Leave a comment

December 02, 2020

Some reasons Patent Leather Beetles are awesome

The Patent Leather Beetle (Odontotaenius disjunctus), or Bess Beetle, or Horned Passalus Beetle on iNaturalist - it is known by many names - is a large, lovely, and distinctive beetle that is common in rotting wood.

Here are just some of the reasons they are awesome:

  • They are big, beautiful, common, and harmless. As the father of two daughters who have repeatedly found and handled them, I can attest to their harmless good nature. Kid-tested and father-approved!
  • They live in family groups and protect their families from intruders. This is pretty rare in insects. The parents and even older siblings stick together and tend to the young. Remember to put them back where you found them!
  • They talk! I believe this species still has the distinction of the only beetle with an audio file on the MBP site (link below)! The species is known to create at least 14 distinct sounds, presumed to have different meanings such as warning signals. With what we've learned about other living things' languages in recent years, I recommend opening our minds to the distinct possibility that everything is more complex and awesome than most people assume.
  • Like many beetles, Patent Leather Beetles are part of the world's recycling crew, the decomposers. Like earthworms, they are part of what keeps healthy life cycles turning in our forests.
  • The eat poop. Wait, it's cool. They're an amazing example of the interplay between species and their symbiont microorganisms. Without the microorganisms to digest tough plant fibers, this (and many other species) can't survive. They will literally die of starvation if not allowed to first eat the microorganisms left, intentionally and consistently, by their parents. Look no further for awesome examples of symbiosis and the critical importance of gut biomes. Most animals, very much including us, are also habitat and hosts to welcome guests needed for survival.

It's all connected, man...

We still need two county records for this species: Garrett and Wicomico Counties.

Photo by Scott Housten in Dorchester Co., Maryland. More at MBP, including audio of one protesting our affections.
https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/9086

Bill

Posted on December 02, 2020 14:10 by billhubick billhubick | 4 comments | Leave a comment

November 30, 2020

Maryland's cetaceans

Today's photo is a Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) in Maryland waters in August 2009. The Fin Whale is second only to the Blue Whale as the largest creature that has ever lived. Think of what wonders persist in the world - creatures larger than any dinosaur in our oceans!

Maryland waters are traversed by at least 23 species of cetaceans (Order Cetacea) - the whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Our species list includes Blue Whale, Sperm Whale, Orca and others. It may be possible to add other species to our list as we mine data sets and publications. Here's the MBP checklist: https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/viewChecklist.php?order=Cetacea

Please support ocean conservation in addition to our local efforts. I try to balance my conservation/environmental donations with a mix of local and global/international. Healthy oceans are critical to our long-term survival on this planet. We

Have a great week!

Bill

Photo by Bill Hubick. More at Maryland Biodiversity Project:
https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/826

Posted on November 30, 2020 13:52 by billhubick billhubick | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 25, 2020

What is a fish? Part 2 - On lampreys and hagfish

Enjoy part 2 of Tom Feild's excellent summary of the amazing evolutionary history of what we call "fish" (and a bit on "birds")!

Yesterday's post discussed the classification of the jawed vertebrates, including sharks and rays (Chondrichthyes) and bony fish (Actinopterygii). There are two much smaller, but equally interesting classes of fish found in Maryland: the eel-like hagfish (Myxini) and lampreys (Cephalaspidomorphi or Hyperoartia).

Hagfish and Lampreys are from lineages even more ancient than the sharks. These branches appeared prior to the evolution of jaws. Instead of jaws, lampreys have concentric circles of bizarre rasp-like teeth that can be used to latch onto fish and to abrade the flesh. They also feed on carrion and filter-feed. Hagfish have similar feeding habits, but they have teeth arranged in two rows. To increase the strength of their jawless bite they sometimes tie themselves in an overhand knot as they feed and pull their head through the loop this forms, squeezing the head as it goes through to push the teeth together and assist in taking a bite from their prey.

The Sea Lamprey is pelagic, but other species can sometimes be seen in shallow coastal plain streams in the spring. In our area hagfish are generally seen only seen at sea, where they are sometimes seen by fishermen when they prey on fish that have been caught on lines or in nets.

Hagfish lack true vertebrae, but it is believed that they evolved from ancestors that had them, rather than branching off the evolutionary tree prior to their evolution. So, hagfish have no vertebrae, but are considered vertebrates! Strange, but in accordance with the goal of defining taxa consistent with evolutionary relationships.

A final note on the tetrapods: mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. The goal of ensuring these taxa are consistent with evolutionary relationships was complicated by the discovery that birds descended from therapod dinosaurs. It is currently believed that the closest living relatives of the birds are the crocodilians. Birds are more closely related to alligators than alligators are to lizards, snakes, or turtles. To be consistent, birds should be placed within the class Reptilia. Some authorities have taken this step (See ‘Reptile’ in Wikipedia), but traditions are hard to change!

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Thanks, Tom! This was fantastic. - Bill

Least Brook Lamprey (Lampetra aepyptera) photo courtesy of Ben Springer. More at Maryland Biodiversity Project: https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/160

Posted on November 25, 2020 14:06 by billhubick billhubick | 0 comments | Leave a comment

What is a fish?

I am delighted to share the first of two guest posts from our dear friend Tom Feild. Read on today to learn why we are more closely related to trout than trout are to sharks!

What is a fish?

Many of us remember learning five classes of vertebrates: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. While this traditional arrangement is generally still followed for the latter four groups, what are typically called fish have now been divided into at least four distinct classes. This is due to the richness and diversity of the world’s fish fauna, with nearly 34,000 living species, more than half of all vertebrates. This diversity is driven by the long history of vertebrate evolution.

When Linnaeus first defined the classes of vertebrates, relationships were based on structure and behavior, which can be subjective. The theory of evolution provided a more objective framework, and modern taxonomy strives to define taxa (e.g., species, genus, family, etc.) according to their evolutionary relationships. Each taxon should be defined to include all descendants from a common ancestor. Thus, every member of a taxon should be more closely related to every other member of that taxon than they are to any member of a different taxon.

One of the major developments in vertebrate evolution was the development of non-cartilaginous bones. Sharks and Rays have cartilaginous skeletons; this branch of the vertebrate tree first appeared prior to the evolution of bones. The other major group of fish, called bony fish, appeared after the evolution of bones. Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, collectively called tetrapods, also have bones. This shows that the sharks diverged from the other “fish” before the tetrapods diverged from the bony fish. We are more closely related to trout than trout are to sharks! If we maintained the class Pisces as defined by Linnaeus to include sharks and bony fish, this taxon should also include mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles – a fishy arrangement indeed!

Instead sharks and rays are placed in class Chondrichthyes and bony fish in class Actinopterygii. For this reason, MBP places the sharks and rays on a separate page from the bony fish. The taxon Gnathostomata is defined to include all jawed vertebrates, so sharks and rays, bony fish and tetrapods are all within Gnathostoma.

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Join us tomorrow for Part 2 of this guest post, where things get even stranger!

  • Bill

Posted on November 25, 2020 14:04 by billhubick billhubick | 2 comments | Leave a comment