American Invasion

Eurasian Collared Dove, Courtesy invasivespecies.org, Joy Viola, Northwestern University, Photographer
Eurasian Collared Dove
Streptopelia decaocto
Courtesy & © invasivespecies.org/bugwood.org
Joy Viola, Northwestern University, Photographer

Colorado Potato Bug, Courtesy insectimages.org/bugwood.org, USDA ARS, PhotographerColorado Potato Beetle Adult
Leptinotarsa decemlineata
Courtesy IPMimages.org/bugwood.org
USDA ARS, Photographer

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

More and more you are likely to hear this sound in Utah yards, parks and fields. [Eurasian Collared Dove, Courtesy Ryan O’Donnell, www.xeno-canto.org/98068] That’s the call of the Eurasian collared dove. Originally from Asia, this dove has been expanding its territory around the world at an incredible rate. The first sighting in Utah was in Orem in 1997. And now the doves are everywhere. So far, it doesn’t look like our native mourning dove is affected. But such rapid population explosions rarely occur without some sort of undesirable ecological consequence.

In America, the Eurasian collared dove is an invasive species. But not all non-native species are invasive. “Invasive” only applies when species spread far beyond the area where they are first introduced. Luckily, not all invasive species turn out to be serious pests. Ecologist Mark Williamson suggested the tens rule. About 10% of introduced species establish lasting populations and 10% of those go on to become problems.

There’s a long list of Eurasian invasives in Utah. Among them is the highly flammable cheat grass that comes from southwestern Asia. Those massive clouds of starlings? They come from Europe. Tamarisk from Eurasian deserts lines the Colorado River and tributaries. The common carp is an unwelcome Eurasian colonist of our lakes and large rivers. And the American west’s iconic tumbleweed is an invader from the Russian steppe.

Why so many invaders from Eurasia? Well for the last 500 years, there has been a net outflow of Eurasians—especially Europeans—to other parts of the world. And this human population carried its biological baggage along with it—in the form of animals, plants and diseases. Some ecologists believe that the physical geography and human history of Eurasia has conditioned its species in such a way that they will consistently outcompete the species of other continents. But that’s debatable. For in the last decades the New World has started to lob some pretty competitive species over to Eurasia.

For example, the American mink was brought to the Eurasian continent in the 1920s for use on fur farms. But–because of deliberate releases and accidental escapes–the mink is now common in the European wild. And it’s a pest. The American mink is taking the place of the European mink which is now threatened with extinction. Furthermore, the American mink is gobbling up populations of many ground-nesting birds.

Unless you are involved in agriculture, you might not have heard of the Colorado potato beetle. But potato growers around the globe know this striped orange and brown beetle from the American southwest very well. It has a voracious appetite for potato leaves and quickly develops resistance to any chemicals used against it.

And a final example: the American bullfrog is considered one of the world’s most damaging invasives. The bullfrog does amazingly well in a variety of habitats –even artificial ones like millponds, irrigation ditches and reservoirs. Its incredible adaptability helps it spread and outcompete native frogs. Moreover, it has been transmitting a deadly fungus to previously unaffected populations of frogs, toads and salamanders.

Thanks to Lyle Bingham for information on the Eurasian collared dove. And to Ryan ODonnell for his audio recording from xeno-canto.org. For more information on the Eurasian collared dove and other invasive species go to www.wildaboututah.org.

For Wild About Utah, and the Quinney College of Natural Resouces, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

1. Photographer Joy Viola, Northwestern University, Bugwood.org http://www.invasive.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=5413582
2. USDA ARS Photo Unit, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood. http://www.insectimages.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=1321015

Audio of Eurasian collared dove:
Ryan P. O’Donnell, XC98068. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/98068.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:

Bingham, Lyle. 2009. The New Dove in the Neighborhood. Wild About Utah Program http://wildaboututah.org/the-new-dove-in-the-neighborhood/ October 8, 2009.

di Castri F. 1989. History of biological invasions with special emphasis on the Old
World. In: Drake JA, Mooney HA, di CastriF, Groves RH, Kruger FJ, Rejma´nek
M, Williamson M, eds. Biological invasions: a global perspective. Chichester, UK:
John Wiley and Sons.

European Environment Agency, 2012. The impacts of invasive alien species in Europe EEA Technical report No. 16/2012. EEA, Copenhagen.

National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC): Gateway to invasive species information; covering Federal, State, local, and international sources.
http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/index.shtml

Simberloff, Daniel. 2013. Invasive Species: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press

Wind and Sagebrush

Wind and Sagebrush: Mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. Vaseyana) in flower - Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz
Mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. Vaseyana) in flower – Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz

Wind and Sagebrush:Three-tip sage (Artemisia tripartite) with visible yellow flowers. - Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila ShultzThree-tip sage (Artemisia tripartite) with visible yellow flowers. – Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

By late summer, most of Utah’s flowering plants have fizzled out for the year—those that remain are looking pretty spent. But not true for the sagebrush. It’s show time for over 20 types of sagebrush of the Intermountain West.

Like grasses and conifers, sagebrush plants are pollinated by the wind. They have no need for the specialized traits designed to attract live pollinators. Instead, they have evolved other strategies to survive and multiply.

For instance, wind-pollinated plants don’t need showy, colorful petals to attract insects or birds. The wind is going to do its job anyway regardless of visual cues. Thus sagebrush flowers are very small and nondescript. In fact, when passing by flowering sagebrush you might not even notice that it’s in bloom. Look for long spikes with clusters of tiny flower heads. The pale yellow flowers are concealed by petal-like bracts, which are the very same color as the rest of the plant.

While the flowers of sagebrush lack in beauty, they make up in quantity. A single flowering stem of the most common sagebrush—known simply as big sagebrush–can hold hundreds of flower heads that produce a massive amount of pollen. Most wind-blown pollen grains won’t end up anywhere near the female part of another plant. So to make up for this risky method of fertilization, individual plants must produce greater volumes of pollen. In contrast, plants with live pollinators get door to door service during fertilization. Far less pollen is needed to get the same job done.

Scent is another way for plants to attract live pollinators. Species pollinated by bees and flies have sweet scents, whereas those pollinated by beetles have strong musty, spicy, or fruity odors. However, the iconic western scent of the sagebrush has absolutely nothing to do with pollination. Instead, the pungent aroma of the sagebrush is a by-product of certain chemicals produced in the leaves. These chemicals evolved to repel animals and to reduce the odds of being eaten or grazed.

The chemicals—bitter terpenes, camphors and other secondary compounds–—peak in early spring. But as the late-summer flowering period approaches, the chemicals start to break down. By winter, browsers like deer and elk can nibble on the protein-rich seed heads without getting a nasty aftertaste.

Thanks to botanist Leila Shultz for sharing her knowledge of sagebrush. For a link to the online version of Leila’s book Pocket Guide to Sagebrush, go to www.wildaboututah.org
If you’d like a hard copy of this Pocket Guide, send an email to wildaboututah@gmail.com We have 5 copies to give away to listeners from across the state.

For Wild About Utah and the Quinney College of Natural Resources, I’m Holly Strand.

NOTE: The copies are gone. You can view the book as a .pdf here or check here for the next printing from http://www.sagestep.org/pubs/brushguide.html.

Credits:

Photo Courtesy & Copyright 2007 Dr. Leila Shultz
Text: Holly Strand, Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading:

Dudareva, Natalia. 2005. Why do flowers have scents? Scientific American April 18. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-flowers-have-scent/

Shultz, Leila. 2012. Pocket Guide to Sagebrush. PRBO Conservation Science. http://plants.usda.gov/java/
As pdf: http://www.sagestep.org/pubs/pubs/sagebrush_pock_guide.pdf

Shultz, L. M. 2006. The Genus Artemisia (Asteraceae: Anthemideae). In The Flora of North America north of Mexico, vol. 19: Asterales, pp. 503–534. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. Oxford University Press. New York and Oxford.

USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database, National Plant Data Team, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS):
http://www.plants.usda.gov

VanBuren, R., J. C. Cooper, L. M. Shultz and K. T. Harper. 2011. Woody Plants of Utah. Utah State University Press & Univ. Colorado. 513 pp.

Owls & iPods

Owls & iPods: Great Horned Owl and Chick, Courtesy US FWS Digital Library, George Gentry Photographer
Great Horned Owl and Chick
Photographer: George Gentry
US FWS Digital Library

Hi I’m Holly Strand.

In early spring, my friends and I went owling in a northern Utah canyon. We were hoping for modest success—just to see or hear a northern pygmy or great horned owl — both common owls in our area.

To better the odds we brought an iPod with prerecorded owl sounds. We played the northern pygmy call for 20-30 second intervals and listened intently in between intervals.

After 10 minutes of off-and-on playbacks we heard an answering call from a nearby conifer grove. We were ecstatic that we had made contact with an actual owl. But wait! Was it an owl we heard or just another iPod user?

Pygmy Owl, Courtesy US FWS Digital Library, Bob Miles Photographer
Pygmy Owl
Photographer: Bob Miles
US FWS Digital Library

According to David Sibley, author of the Sibley Guide to Birds, the proliferation of digital audio devices and recorders among birders has both pluses and minuses. On the plus side, you can often entice certain birds out of hiding using playbacks. For example, if a territorial male thinks a rival bird is threatening to encroach on its territory, he may come out to confront the intruder. Or he may sing his “I’m Here, So Stay Away” song. A female bird might approach the recording source as a potential date. Using playbacks, you can target specific species to see or hear without disturbing others.

On the flip side, overuse of these playback devices can cause unnecessary stress and distraction in the target birds—and annoyance among other birders. In one study, the use of playbacks upset the avian apple cart by causing high-ranking black- capped chickadee males to lose status. The rest of the flock perceived them as losers as they were unable to drive away an unwanted phantom intruder.

Because the widespread use of recorded playbacks is relatively new, proper etiquette is still evolving. But here are some key points.

  • Keep the volume low and use only occasional snippets of sound—less than 30 seconds at a time. Leave a long pause between snippets. Definitely do not broadcast loud or continuous sound.
  • It is illegal to disturb endangered or threatened species. And these recordings can be interpreted as disturbance. So stick with sounds of non-threatened species.
  • Finally, check the rules at your birding location. The use of playback is prohibited in some parks and refuges.

For source material and websites with bird sound recordings, go to www.wildaboututah.org.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy US FSW Digital Media Library
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:

Sibley, David. 2011. The Proper Use of Playback in Birding. Sibley Guides: Identification of North American birds and trees. http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/04/the-proper-use-of-playback-in-birding/ [Accessed May 19, 2011]

Recordings:

Soundscapes for Birders by Kevin Colver http://www.7loons.com/

http://www.xeno-canto.org/ shared bird sounds from the whole world

Beletsky, Les, editor. 2010. Bird Songs Bible: The Complete, Illustrated Reference for North American Birds Contains digital audio player.

Ipods and mp3 apps:

iBird http://www.ibirdexplorer.com

Audubon Birds Field Guide http://www.audubonguides.com/field-guides/mobile-apps.html

The Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America http://www.mydigitalearth.com

It’s Miller Time – Miller Moths

Miller Moth Adult, Courtesy IPMimages.org, Whitney Cranshaw, Photographer
Miller Moth/Army Cutworm Adult
Euxoa auxiliaris
Courtesy IPMimages.org/bugwood.org
Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Photographer

Miller Moth Adult, Courtesy IPMimages.org, Whitney Cranshaw, PhotographerMiller Moth/Army Cutworm Adult
Euxoa auxiliaris
Courtesy IPMimages.org/bugwood.org
Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Photographer

Miller Moth Adult, Courtesy IPMimages.org, Frank Peairs, PhotographerMiller Moth/Army Cutworm Larva(e)
Euxoa auxiliaris
Courtesy IPMimages.org/bugwood.org
Frank Peairs, Colorado State University, Photographer

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

World Cup Colombian soccer player James Rodriguez isn’t the only one with a flying insect problem. For several weeks many Utahns have been coping with a bumper crop of miller moths. These dusty gray nuisances have been mobbing our lights, dive bombing our heads and plopping into our nightstand water glasses. Miller moth annoyance levels seemed highest along the Wasatch Front but other areas experienced high numbers as well.

Miller moths begin their lives as army cutworms. The larvae eat their way through the winter chomping on winter wheat, alfalfa, and many other types of crops and plants. After eating all winter, the army cutworms burrow into the ground to pupate. They emerge six weeks later with a yen for flower nectar. This sets them migrating to the alpine elevations of the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains. However, flowery trees and gardens along the Wasatch front are powerful diversions; thus our yards function as filling stations along the miller moth migration route.

Army cutworm populations soar during relatively warm winters with little snow cover. And that’s what happened this year in the south central counties of Utah. And that’s why we have so many moths now. But to keep this issue in perspective—know that the numbers we see in UT are nothing compared to the annual invasions experienced by populations on the Rocky Mountain front range. In Denver, annual spikes in vehicle crashes, therapist visits and broken light fixtures clearly coincide with the influx of miller moths.

Luckily, the moths are no more than a nuisance – they won’t eat your food or damage clothing or upholstery. And while sometimes it seems as if they are targeting your head, they really aren’t. If they are in your house, it’s because they were seeking shelter from the daytime predators by seeking a dark crack or crevice to crawl into—and then got into your house by mistake.

If you swat these unfortunate moths, they’ll get back at you. They leave a dusty gray, powdery mess. The powdery dust is really the moth’s tiny scales and is what gave the moth its name. For these scales are reminiscent of the dusty flour that covers the clothing of someone who mills grain.

For a clean resolution to the problem, veteran miller moth killers from Colorado suggest you suspend a light bulb over a bucket of soapy water. Moths will flick off the bulb into the water. At our house we catch them with a butterfly net and set them free outside. For I imagine that they will be off to the mountains as quickly as possible after that experience.

In early fall, the moths return to lower elevations to lay their eggs. Enough have died during the summer so we won’t notice them much if at all. But if next winter is also mild, we will be hosting our miller moth friends again.

Thanks to USU biologist Diane Alston for sharing her entomological expertise.

For pictures, sources and tips for living with miller moths, go to www.wildaboututah.org

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy IPMimages.org/bugwood.org & Colorado State University Extension, Whitney Cranshaw and Frank Peairs, Photographers
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Cranshaw, Whitney. Quick Facts about Miller Moths. Colorado State University Extension, Fort Collins, CO http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05597.html

Cranshaw, Whitney and Frank Peairs, Questions and Answers about Miller Moths Colorado State University Extension http://webdoc.agsci.colostate.edu/bspm/Miller%20Moths-Question%20and%20Answers.pdf