Thursday, April 30, 2015

Guest student post: Short-eared Owl by Adrienne Feisel

Asio flammeus
The short-eared owl, Asio flammeus, or competitor of the barn owl has been endangered in Pennsylvania since 1985's Species of Special Concern in Pennsylvania. This endangered species is protected under the Game and Wildlife Code but also under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
Strangely enough, Asio flammeus is active during dusk, dawn and even during the day, so they are a more commonly spotted species of owl. They are medium sized (34-43 cm) with a wingspan that can range from 85-103 cm. The short-eared owl has long and rounded wings which make their wing beat slow resembling that of a moth. The underside of their wings is white while the tips of them are dark in color. They generally weigh around 206-475 grams with the females being a little larger than the males. Short-eared owls are pale in color with dark brown and white patches scattered on their bodies. They have short black bills, black talons, round-shaped big heads, big eyes, and small ear tufts. The name of "eared owl" comes from their appearance of having "ear" tufts, which are seen when the owl is defending itself. They are also characterized by the white ring of plumage that surrounds their eyes like a mask. Flammeus is Latin for "flaming, or the color of fire." This name suits them because they have large yellow-orange eyes, and each are each circled with black rings. Their voice can be described as that of a nasally dog bark, "wak-wak."

Asio flammeus pontoppidan belong to the family Strigidae and the Order Strigiformes. This family is the more diverse of the two. Their genus Asio only contains seven species. The short eared owl, Asio flammeus, has a decent number of subspecies, but only the species Asio flammeus flammeus is found in North America.
While their overall geographic range includes every continent except Australia and Antarctica and they have one of the biggest distributions in the world, they are found to declining throughout most of this range. On a smaller scale, in Pennsylvania, they are more commonly found during the winter in groups circling over fields in search for prey, meadow mice, but their overall abundance depends upon the amount of prey available to them. Their ideal habitats include areas of uncut grassy fields, meadows, strip mines, and even marshlands. They have been found in western PA nesting from Clarion County south to Allegheny County along with scattered areas within the middle of the state. But, the Breeding Bird Atlas from 2004-2008 only confirmed one breeding record, and they were only sighted within seven out of 4,937 atlas blocks in PA.

Even though these owls typically hunt meadow mice, they eat other animals like small birds, rabbits, bats, shrews and other small mammals. They most frequently use their asymmetrical ears and acoustical cues to hunt their prey.

Unlike you would expect, these owls nest on the ground in bowl-shaped depressions usually during May and June. Each clutch can range from four to seven eggs, which hatch around three weeks after the eggs are laid. The mother takes care of the young, and the father provides protection and food for the young. At the end of September/October, the breeding owls will migrate to their wintering grounds.

Unfortunately, their endangerment is due to an insufficient range of habitat available to these owls. Ideal habitats for the short-eared owl include areas of uncut grassy fields, meadows, strip mines, and even marshlands, but most of Pennsylvania's open land is farmland which is highly susceptible to disturbances. Due to these disturbances like intensive agricultural practices and development, the short-eared owl's habitat which is essential for nesting is being taken away. This decline is not only in Pennsylvania, but also all over the short-eared owl's entire geographic range.
Conservation efforts include constructing big, herbaceous reserves fitting for grassland nesters like strip-mines or large pastures. These areas should also be managed to assure that the Asio flammeus are able to have nesting seasons without any disturbances. There are several Important Bird Areas today which are sites that allow these owls as well as other wintering owls to nest disturbance free!
Anderson, J., Antifeau, T., Armleder, H., Bradry, M., Beauchesne, S., Bennett, R...., & Zwickel, F. (2004). Accounts and Measures for Managing Identified Wildlife. Identified Wildlife Management Strategy, (Version 2004), 121-128. Retrieved March 15, 2015.

Felbaum, & Mitchell. (2007, January 1). Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus). Retrieved March 15, 2015.

Haffner, K., & Gross, D. (2014, August 19). Short-Eared Owl: Asio fammeus. Retrieved March 15, 2015.

Liguori, S. (2010). New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide (B. Beans & L. Niles, Eds.). Retrieved March 15, 2015.

Short-Eared Owls. (2007). Retrieved March 15, 2015.

Short-Eared Owl: Asio flammeus. (2014). Retrieved March 15, 2015.

Student guest post: Bog Turtle by Chrissy Bergey

Bog Turtle: Glyptemys muhlenbergii

Listing Status: Threatened (since 1997)
Global Status:  Apparently Secure
   Kingdom: Animalia
       Phylum: Chordata
           Class: Reptilia
               Order: Testudines
                   Family: Emydidae
                       Genus: Glyptemys
                           Species: muhlenbergii

The family Emydidae includes approximately 95 species in 33 genera. Members are distributed throughout North America, northern South America, Europe, northwestern Africa, and Asia (Harding 2002).
The genus Glyptemys comprises two species: G. muhlenbergii (bog turtle) and Glyptemys insculpta (wood turtle).  The wood turtle is also a species of conservation need, though wood turtles, unlike bog turtles, are not listed as threatened or endangered either at the federal level or in PA.  Because a substantial portion of the world’s breeding population of wood turtles occurs within the state of PA, the state has a significant stewardship responsibility for this species. The global status of the wood turtle, like the bog turtle is Apparently Secure (G4, NatureServe 2009).  

Geographic Range
Two separate geographical populations of bog turtles are recognized.
1. Northern Population: NY, MA, CT, NJ, PA, DE, MD
PA and NJ contain the highest number of extant bog turtle sites within the northern population.  Bog turtles are limited in distribution to portions of 15 southeastern and eastern counties and possibly other isolated areas in northwestern PA.
2. Southern Population: VA, NC, TN, SC, GA
Threatened by Similarity of Appearance

 Distribution of the Bog Turtle
 Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services.

“The bog turtle is a habitat specialist that relies on early successional, groundwater-driven emergent wetlands.”  
1. Early successional habitat: Sedges and other low herbs (meadows)
In PA, typically sedges, skunk cabbage, cattails, red maple, silky dogwood, alders, and willows
2. Persistent groundwater discharge
3. Saturated soil/mud: 7.5-10 cm deep to facilitate burrowingC:\Users\Chris_000\Downloads\2012-10-06 22.38.49.jpg
In PA, typically a saturated mineral soil

Diet and Predation
Bog turtles are omnivorous and mainly consume insects, slugs, worms, frogs, salamanders, Carex seeds, Japanese beetles, berries, cattails, skunk cabbage, snails, and carrion.
Main predators include raccoons, skunks, dogs, and foxes. Bullfrogs, snapping turtles, water snakes, egrets, herons, crows, birds of prey, mink, and muskrats are also potential predators of bog turtle eggs, hatchlings, and adults.
Breeding occurs from late April through early June, but in PA, nesting is generally observed from June through early July.  The female lays one clutch of eggs per nesting season and may only nest once every two or three years.  On average, three eggs per clutch are observed.  The eggs are deposited within a sedge hummock of sphagnum mat, or in soft soil above the water line; hatchlings typically emerge after 45-65 days.  Heat and humidity are required for proper incubation of the eggs, but it is unknown if the species exhibits temperature dependent sex determination.  The bog turtle’s life span is approximately 40 years. Bog turtles are reported to hybridize with spotted turtles, which are similar in size and overlap in habitat preferences.  
Primary factors
1. Wetland habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation
2. Illegal collection and trade

Secondary factors  
1. Predation
2. Small, isolated nature of remaining colonies
Restore bog turtle distribution through protection of extant populations.
1. Focus on watersheds that contain multiple occurrences of bog turtle in wetland systems that are dynamic
2. Conduct searches for new populations
3. Aggressively halt illegal collection and trade
Ensure the long-term viability of this species
1. Investigations into bog turtle landscape scale requirements and land-use management
2. Stewardship programs that attempt to balance human uses within the bog turtle’s agricultural wetland landscape

Barton, A.J. & J.W. Price, Sr. 1955.  Our knowledge of the bog turtle, Clemmys muhlenbergi, surveyed and augmented. Copeia 1955:159-165.
Ernst, C.H., J.E. Lovich, & R.W. Barbour. 1994.  Turtles of the United States and Canada.  Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., USA.
Harding, J. 2002. Glyptemys muhlenbergii: Bog Turtle.  University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. <>.  Accessed 18 April 2015.
Hulse, A.C., C.J. McCoy, & E.J. Censky. 2001.  Amphibians and Reptiles of Pennsylvania and the Northeast.  Cornell University Press, Ithica, New York, USA.
NatureServe. 2009. Version 7.1. Nature Serve Explorer: an online encyclopedia of life.  NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA. <>.
Nemuras, K.T. 1967. Notes on the natural history of Clemmys muhlenbergi.  Bulletin of the Maryland Herpetological Society 3:80-96.
Somers, A.B., K.A. Bridle, D.W. Herman, & A.B. Nelson. 2000.  The restoration and management of small wetlands of the mountains and Piedmont in the Southeast: a manual emphasizing endangered and threatened species habitat with a focus on bog turtles. Natural Resource Conservation Service. < >.  Accessed 19 April 2015.
Steele, M. A., M. C. Brittingham, T. J. Maret, & J. F. Merrit, eds. 2010. Terrestrial Vertebrates of Pennsylvania: A Complete Guide to Species of Conservation Concern.  The John Hopkins University Press.  Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  2001.  Bog Turtle (Clemmys Muhlenbergii), northern population, recovery plan.  Hadley, Massachusetts, USA.

Student guest post: Delmarva Fox Squirrel by Tori Rudovitz

Delmarva Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus)
The Delmarva Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) is the largest out of ten subspecies of fox squirrels, and is recognized often by its dark gray color.

Kingdom Animalia
     Phylum Chordata
          Class Mammalia
                  Order Rodentia
                          Family Sciurida
                                   Genus Sciurus
                                           Species niger

The Delmarva Fox Squirrel prefers open forests with little understory and quiet wooded areas, especially mature loblolly pine and hardwood forests. Delmarva Fox Squirrels are regularly found in smaller stands of old timber and is also found in woodlots near farm fields and groves of trees near water. It spends most of its time on the ground, rather than in trees like the common gray squirrel. Represented by ten subspecies and found only in small isolated populations on the Delmarva Peninsula, range extended the eastern two-thirds of the United States from western New York to Florida and from Mexico to Canada. The historic range of subspecies in Pennsylvania included the southeastern corner of the state.
The Delmarva Fox squirrel mostly feeds on seeds of oak, pine, beech, walnut, and hickory. These squirrels will also eat parts of animals if it is available. One characteristic the Delmarva Fox Squirrel shares with the common gray squirrel is that they both hoard much of their food individually. When the weather changes to spring the Delmarva Fox Squirrel will also eats different buds and flowers because of a shortage of food.

The reproductive season for Delmarva fox squirrels lasts from the end of the winter into the beginning of the spring each year. Litter sizes can range from one to seven, the pregnancy usually lasts forty-four to forty-five days. The weaning process occurs ten weeks after birth. The birth will occur in a den in the tree hollow and after born can live up to six years.
The Delmarva Fox Squirrel was listed as an endangered species in 1967 in which the population fell to 10 percent of its historic range, confined mostly to remote areas of Virginia because of habitat loss and hunting pressure. Humans are the major cause of this squirrel being endangered due to agricultural expansion, and more human development. Another factor posing threats to the Delmarva Fox Squirrel are predation risks, traffic mortality, and competition from the common gray squirrel.

  The Delmarva Fox Squirrel is most likely extirpated from Pennsylvania so there is no plan currently to conserve or monitor it. However in other states such as Delaware the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, has issued a conservation plan. Their goal was to advance the recovery of Delmarva Fox Squirrel's in Delaware without causing regulatory burdens often associated with endangered species. A translocation plan will be used to bring squirrels into unoccupied habitat that meets the criteria for long-term Delmarva Fox Squirrel's population viability. The specific goals for Delmarva Fox Squirrel’s populations in Delaware are to double the distribution of squirrels by adding them to a minimum of two new locations in Sussex County, increase the occupied habitat by a minimum of 900 acres to ensure that all populations are secure.
Regionally, the fox squirrel's recovery has been impressive, aided by the government protections, changes in area forest use and the lack of hunting. The regional population of fox squirrels has increased from that 10 percent figure in 1967 to 28 percent.

"Animals For Young Fox Squirrel." Animals For Young Fox Squirrel. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
"Chesapeake Bay Program." Bay Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
De Division of Fish and Wildlife. DRAFT DELAWARE DELMARVA FOX SQUIRREL CONSERVATION PLAN (n.d.): n. page. Web.
"Extinction Risk of the Delmarva Fox Squirrel." Extinction Risk of the Delmarva Fox Squirrel. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
Steele, Michael A. "Delmarva Fox Squirrel." Terrestrial Vertebrates of Pennsylvania: A Complete Guide to Species of Conservation Concern. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010. N. page. Print.