Habitat Heroes Explore More Utah Biomes

Utah is a wildly diverse place. Ecological and biological diversity are usually tied to an abundance of water; but here in Utah, despite our relative lack of the wet stuff, we boast of at least nine unique biomes spanning from the low-elevation Mojave Desert around St. George to the high Alpine Tundra of our many snowcapped mountain ranges. You can think of a biome as a large community of similar organisms and climates or a collection of similar habitats. Just recently, my third grade students wrapped up a semester-long investigation into seven of those biomes found in Utah including the high Alpine Tundra, Riparian/Montane Zone, Sagebrush Steppe, Wetlands, and the Great Basin, Colorado Plateau, and Mojave Deserts. We explored those biomes by way of researching a specific animal endemic in Utah to each of those biomes. We called our project “Habitat Heroes.” I’ll let a few of my students explain their findings.

(Student readings)
Zach's Rubber Boa  Head, Tongue and Scales Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
Zach’s Rubber Boa
Head, Tongue and Scales
Courtesy & Copyright EBLS
(Full Student Name Redacted)
Zach’s Rubber Boa:
My name is Zach, and my animal is the rubber boa. The rubber boa lives in the riparian/montane biome in Utah. The rubber boa eats shrews, mice, small birds, lizards, snakes, and amphibians and is usually found along streams and in forests and in meadows.
Noah's Ringtail Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
Noah’s Ringtail
Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
Noah’s Ringtail:
This is Noah, and I’ve been studying the ringtail. The ringtail lives in the cold desert biome on the Colorado Plateau in Utah. The ringtail is gray and furry with a long black and white tail. How ringtails catch their food: number one-being very sly and waiting for the right time. They live in rocky deserts, caves, and hollow logs.
Muskrat Collage Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
Muskrat Collage
Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
The Muskrat:
My animal’s the muskrat. The muskrat lives in the wetland biome in Utah. Muskrats live in Mexico, Canada, and the United States where there are marshes, ponds, and vegetated water. Muskrats go out at night and find food like aquatic plants, grass, and fish. They have special abilities that can be used for a very special reason to help them survive.

Elizah's Long-tailed Weasel Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
Elizah’s Long-tailed Weasel
Courtesy & Copyright EBLS
(Full Student Name Redacted)
Elizah’s Weasel:
My name is Elizah, and my animal is the long-tailed weasel. The long-tailed weasel lives in the Great Basin biome in Utah. They are brown and yellow all year long except for winter. They are white during winter. [The] long-tailed weasel’s scientific name is Mustela frenata. They are mostly nocturnal.

In addition to researching the different biomes and learning about the adaptations animals must possess in order to survive there, these third graders have been visiting the several biomes local to Cache Valley and investigating their research animals’ habitats. These experiences have been powerful in helping students realize what it’s really like to exist in the wilds of Utah.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!

Investigating Beaver Habitats Along Temple Fork Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Investigating Beaver Habitats Along Temple Fork
Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Exploring an alpine-type biome along beaver creek Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Exploring an alpine-type biome along beaver creek
Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Flying like the birds; Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Flying like the birds; Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Looking at tree migration in Green Canyon Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Looking at tree migration in Green Canyon
Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Investigating Beaver Curtis Creek wanderings; Hardware Ranch; Blacksmith Fork Canyon Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Investigating Beaver Curtis Creek wanderings; Hardware Ranch; Blacksmith Fork Canyon
Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS

Credits:
Images:
    Artwork Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling’s 3rd Grade students
    Photos Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, Edith Bowen Laboratory School Field Experience Director
Sound:
Text: Josh Boling, 2017, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Sources & Additional Reading

Boling, Josh and students, Habitat Heroes Explore Utah Biomes, Wild About Utah, Mar 4, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/utah-biomes/

Edith Bowen Laboratory School, https://edithbowen.usu.edu/

Biomes, Kimball’s Biology Pages, http://www.biology-pages.info/B/Biomes.html

Mission Biomes, NASA Earth Observatory, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/experiments/biome

The World’s Biomes, University of California Museum of Paleontology, UC Berkeley, https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/glossary/gloss5/biome/

State Symbols

Most people could probably name the state bird or the state tree, but what about the state gem? The state grass? State fruit? Do you know why they are important to Utah? Here are just a few of Utah’s State Symbols that you might not have known.

State Symbols: Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard's Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard’s Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
Topaz was named Utah’s state gem in 1969 because of its abundance on Topaz or Thomas Mountain in Juab County. In this area, perfect topaz crystals can be found and collected. This semiprecious gem can also be found in Beaver and Toole counties. Topaz can be found in a variety of colors, but in the Thomas Range it is known for its sherry hue. When exposed to sunlight, amber colored topaz will often become clear. Topaz collecting is free and open to the public in most areas and could be a great way to get to know Utah a little bit better.

Utah’s state grass was selected in 1990 to be Indian Ricegrass. As you might suspect, indian ricegrass was given its name because of the significance in Native American life. This tough bunchgrass was a common food source and was absolutely crucial to survival when the corn crop failed.

Indian Ricegrass Courtesy US National Park Service
Indian Ricegrass
Courtesy US National Park Service
It can be found in wet and dry areas throughout the West. Long ago this grass was important for Native Americans; now it is important in fighting wind erosion and grazing cattle.

The cherry did not become the state fruit until 1997 when a group of second graders did their research and petitioned for the fruit to be recognized. Cherry was discovered to be the most economically beneficial fruit for Utah when compared to other fruits like peaches and apples. Both sweet and tart cherries are grown commercially in Utah. Utah is the only state ranked in the top five cherry producing states for both types of cherries.

US Cherries for sale in Korea Courtesy USDA
US Cherries for sale in Korea
Courtesy USDA
The cherry is native to Asia, but flourishes in Utah’s environment.

The state insect might be a little easier to guess than the state grass and state fruit. Utah is known as the beehive state, so naturally our state insect is the honeybee. When settlers first arrived in Utah they called it Deseret which means honeybee. Some native bees are listed as endangered species, but many Utahns have become “backyard beekeepers” to help these bees survive.

Honeybee Extracts Nectar Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
Honeybee Extracts Nectar
Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
Bees might seem insignificant, but are actually the unsung heroes of the world’s food supply. Growing bee friendly plants or becoming a beekeeper yourself are great ways to help Utah’s honeybee thrive.

No matter where in the state of Utah you are, you can learn more about these plants, animals, and rocks and see them in action. As a Chinese proverb says, “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

This is Aspen Flake and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US NPS and US FWS
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Aspen Flake

Additional Reading & Listening

State Symbols, as found on OnlineLibrary.Utah.gov, http://onlinelibrary.utah.gov/research/utah_symbols/

Utah as found in StateSymbolsUSA.org: https://statesymbolsusa.org/states/united-states/utah

Gorman, Steve, U.S. Lists a Bumble Bee Species as Endangered for First Time, Scientific American, A Division of Nature America, Inc., Jan 11, 2017,
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-lists-a-bumble-bee-species-as-endangered-for-first-time/

Hrala, Josh, 7 Bee Species Have Been Added to The US Endangered Species List, ScienceAlert.com, 3 OCT 2016, https://www.sciencealert.com/seven-species-of-bees-have-been-added-to-the-endangered-species-list

Insects: Bees in trouble and agriculture decline, Endangered Species International, Inc. http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/insects6.html

Ingraham, Christopher, Believe it or not, the bees are doing just fine, Washington Post, October 10, 2016
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/10/believe-it-or-not-the-bees-are-doing-just-fine/

The Urban Ecotone

Urban Ecotone: Urban Mule Deer in Central Utah Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham
Urban Mule Deer in Central Utah
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham
A small herd of deer bounded away over the manicured grounds of the Logan Cemetery, tumbled through its faux wrought-iron gateway, and hurdled across empty campus streets. I watched the deer disappear into alleyways between ocher-bricked University buildings, contemplating their explosion of wild life as my city woke to a quiet dawn.

I’ve spent the majority of my life in cities. They have a human element to them I have not yet been able to forgo, but one I sometimes find myself running away from, toward the wooded hinterlands to hide. This experience, though, with the deer in the cemetery, startled back into my memory a truth inherent to our humanity. Our domestic metropolises are just another type of ecosystem for wild beings to populate. After all, we are wild beings ourselves.

An ecotone exists where differing ecological systems meet; and along their shared border, a great wealth of biodiversity abounds- the edge effect ecologists call it. I bore witness to a variation of this phenomenon along the Northern Wasatch urban ecotone on a chilly October morning as a half-dozen deer escaped my advance.

The urban ecotone wears a wardrobe of many styles, the most obvious being the type I’ve described wherein a conspicuously wild ecosystem-my home range of Bear River Mountains in this case- meets a decidedly civilized humanscape- the small city of Logan, UT. We call Logan the “city on the edge” for good reason. It’s the last great bastion of the Wasatch Front’s human imprint before wilderness takes over. From here, our Bear Rivers bear northward into an unobstructed wall of mountains all the way to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. These mountains are, in fact, one of the last intact ecological corridors connecting the northern and southern Rocky Mountains, and Logan sits on the edge of it all, reaping all the wild benefits thereon.

The subtler iterations of this sort of ecological spectacle may be smaller but are no less exciting. Ripping out a conquering crowd of last season’s mint crop in my garden this spring produced a surprised garter snake from an abyss below pungent leaves. The thin serpent slithered quickly away only to find himself upon a barren concrete expanse of patio. It paused for a moment to assess the situation, looked back at me and its former dwelling, then skipped on its belly across a freshly mown lawn and into the bushes adjacent to the creek that runs beside my home. More weeding produced several wolf spiders, a praying mantis, and a plethora of earthworms. I look forward to next year’s garden cleanup now.

Then there are the green spaces: parks and natural areas that make a city worth living in beyond what we humans may more or less bring to it. Indeed, the scientific evidence is clear; those cities, towns, and villages whose urban ecotones are active and robust produce not only a slew of diverse wild species but a slew of wildly content people as well. It seems happy people go hand in hand with happy critters and their accompaniments.

A 17-year study conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School in the UK concluded that, quote, “Findings show that urban green space can deliver significant benefits for mental wellbeing.” In an interview with the UK’s renowned Guardian Newspaper, another researcher is quoted: “We’ve only really had mass urbanisation for the last 200 years, say, out of our hunter-gather experience of 100,000 years.” End quote. Perhaps we have not grown as far from the natural world as we sometimes fear. Even in our cities, these brightly lit harbingers of our species’ growth and accomplishment, we are reduced to our elemental selves by a flash of fur through dawn’s fog. In those moments, we are just animals again.

This is Josh Boling writing and reading for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

Alock, Ian, White, Matthew; Green spaces deliver lasting mental health benefits, Exeter University, Jan 7, 2014, , http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_349054_en.html

Van Woerkom, Erik, Urban Legends–Trophy mule deer in city limits, Muleyfreak.com, June 30,2016, https://muleyfreak.com/2016/06/30/urban-legends/

Urban Deer Management, Logan City, http://www.loganutah.org/residents/conservation/urban_deer/index.php

Greene, Jack, Jack’s Urban Deer, Oct 31, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/jacks-urban-deer/

http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/news/local/article_9a1d5a06-decd-11e4-adb9-b7f399e014b1.html

https://news.hjnews.com/news/court-date-set-in-shooting-of-beloved-hyde-park-buck/article_49bc16d0-a438-11e4-9ff4-ab67a6a36548.html

Trotter, Rachel, Pesky deer a widening problem in North Ogden, Standard Examiner, Ogden Publishing Corporation, Mar 12, 2015, http://www.standard.net/Local/2015/03/12/Deer-a-problem-in-North-Ogden

Non-Lethal Deer Population Control for Urban and Suburban Environments, DeerFriendly.com, http://www.deerfriendly.com/deer-population-control

Utah Mule Deer Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation, https://muledeer.org/state/utah/

Mule Deer Working Group. 2003. Mule Deer: Changing landscapes, changing perspectives. Mule Deer Working
Group, Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. https://wildlife.utah.gov/pdf/mule_deer_wafwa.pdf

National Wildlife Refuge System, The Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds, US Fish & Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/refuges/education/urbanBirdTreaty.html

Urban images from GoHunt.com (Images may not scroll), GoHUNT LLC, https://www.gohunt.com/tag/town

What are California quail doing in Utah?, Wildlife, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Sept 17, 2013, https://wildlife.utah.gov/uplandgame/quail/quail.php

UPDATE: Bountiful Urban Deer Translocation, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Mar 8 3027,
https://sfw.net/2017/03/08/update-bountiful-urban-deer-translocation/

Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Last modified: September 22, 2017, https://www.fws.gov/urban/

Gayle, Riana, Planning For The Future, A Bioregional Approach, UPR Utah Public Radio, Nov 19, 2018, https://www.upr.org/post/planning-future-bioregional-approach

Autumn Migrations

Autumn Migration: Redhead Ducks Courtesy US FWS Nate Rathbun, Photographer
Redhead Ducks
Courtesy US FWS
Nate Rathbun, Photographer
Here comes Autumn, especially noticed in the northern parts of Utah: the colors, the cool air, the absence of many insects, the falling leaves, and the occasional dusting of snow in the mountains.

In these weather-changing conditions, wildlife species have four options: adapt to colder weather, migrate to better conditions, hibernate…or die. Today, we’ll consider migration.

As recorded by the National Geographic Society, Entomology Professor Emeritus, Hugh Dingle, mentions five basic characteristics of migration:

Prolonged movements that carry animals outside familiar habitats.

  1. They tend to be linear, not zig-zag patterns.
  2. They involve special behaviors of preparation and arrival (such as overfeeding).
  3. They demand special allocations of energy.
  4. They maintain attention to the greater mission. Meaning they are undistracted by temptations, and undeterred by challenges, that would turn other animals aside.
  5. They feel they can eat, rest, or mate later.

The entire migration movement involves body shape, physical processes, and genetics of each species.

For ten years, scientists have been documenting one of the largest aerial mass migrations on earth. According to Science Magazine, three and one half trillion insects were recorded on radar traveling from southern England to Africa and back. They represented 3,200 tons of biomass (living tissues), which was more than seven times that of the thirty million songbirds that make that same annual flight.

Movements don’t have to be monumental to be considered migratory. For instance, some consider the daily changes in depth of ocean zooplankton to be a form of migration. They spend the day near the surface benefiting from the food provided by sunlight, then sink to darker depths at night to hide.

Some rattlesnakes in Western Canada are also considered migratory as they have been tracked to relocate anywhere from 5 to 33 miles each year. This movement is spurred by cold temperatures which reduce food, and a scarcity of good den sites below the earth’s surface, which must be warm enough and at times capable of holding up to 1,000 snakes. In contrast, Arizona rattlers travel far less because they don’t require that need.

Pronghorns, which are not really antelopes, travel far and fast, around 60 miles per hour. One group travels hundreds of miles from north-central Montana up into Alberta for breeding in the Spring. Another group of nearly 20,000 goes from Grand Teton National park south to the sagebrush plains near Pinedale, Wyoming for the winter. The routes of both groups do not vary, which can be hazardous if they are blocked by snows.

Biodiversity of ecosystems and processes, which enable each species to survive, is critical. But Conservation scientists also try to preserve migrational behaviors.

Monarchs in Mexico Courtesy FWS Pablo Leutaud, Photographer Licensed under Creative Commons
Monarchs in Mexico
Courtesy FWS
Pablo Leutaud, Photographer
Licensed under Creative Commons
No doubt, there are fragile creatures which travel south to avoid cold temperatures as well as lack of food. The Monarch butterfly comes to mind. The disappearance of flowers, and freezing cold would spell doom for them in northern climates. So they embark on a 3,000 mile journey to Mexico, or southern California. Let’s consider some other long-distance, roundtrip travelers:
*Salmon and Caribou also migrate 3,000 miles.
*Dragonflies will go 10,000 miles.
*Leatherback turtles swim 12,000 miles.
*Elephant seals and Humpback whales swim over 13,000 miles.
*For birds, Northern Wheatears and Pectoral Sandpipers fly 18,000 miles.
*Sooty Shearwaters fly from the Falkland Islands to Arctic waters, a roundtrip of 40,000 miles.
*The champion distance migrant, the Arctic Tern, flies 44,000 miles from the Arctic north of Greenland to Antarctica every year!
*And the longest nonstop flight goes to the Bar-Tailed Godwit at over 7,000 miles from Alaska to New Zealand in nine consecutive days!

An entire program could also be dedicated to human migrations including various Native American tribes, the Nenets who herd reindeer 400 miles in the Russian Yamal Peninsula, and the ancient people who crossed the Bering Strait to settle in the Americas.

As we close this session of Fall migrations, consider the words of George Eliot who wrote
the following in 1841: “Delicious Autumn. My very soul is wedded to it. And if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive Autumns.”

This is Ron Hellstern for Wild About Utah


Credits:

Images: Readhead Ducks, Courtesy US FWS, Nate Rathbun, Photographer; Monarchs in Mexico, Courtesy US FWS but licensed under Creative Commons, Pablo Leutaud, Photographer
Text:     Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

https://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/monarchpopulation2016.html

https://www.fws.gov/radar/migration/index.html

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1290

Canary in the Cornfield: Why the Fuss about Monarchs?

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/news/snake-migration/

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/08/060808-bird-migration.html