With the warmer weather coming, you'll probably be going outside more. If you look around melt spots like trees, building edges and lawns you may see many black spots that look like dirt. Look closer and you will see that these spots are moving and jumping. Cool, eh?These are most commonly known as snow fleas. These critters are not fleas but are really another type of insect called springtails. Snow fleas can jump extremely well like fleas, 100 times their body size, hence the nickname.Fleas have large jumping legs whereas springtails have a tail-like appendage that folds under their body. When released, this appendage can launch the insect high into the air.These critters are wingless insects belonging to the Collembola group. They have six legs but differ from other insects because of their eye set-up, a tube structure called a collophore that acts like a glue peg, and of course their spring-like tail.Springtails are very small ranging from 1-3mm in length. They can range in colour anywhere from dark blue, cream or green. They are found everywhere from the Arctic to the Himalayas and have even been collected in amber from 45 millions years ago.Snow fleas feed on decaying matter and play a large part in the decomposition cycle. A square metre of dirt can conceal tens of thousands of springtails. We see them on warm days when the weather has enticed them to come up to the surface to browse for pieces of vegetation.They are of no harm to humans, animals or live plants. For us scientists, they are a treat to see as few adult insects are seen in the winter.
As the weather starts to warm up (yes, it will), we can expect to receive a few calls about finding a butterfly outside on the snow.How does this happen? Well, not all of our butterflies go south for the winter. Many of them can stay and overwinter here as eggs, pupae, caterpillars and adults. This means an adult butterfly whose life normally consist of weeks can live for up to ten months.One of the butterflies that stays here as an adult and toughs out the winter like us Northerners do is the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), a large butterfly recognized by its brown wings with yellow edges and blue dots. The Mourning Cloak is a very successful species with a worldwide distribution in the Northern Hemisphere from the subtropics to the Arctic Circle.How do they survive? Hibernating adults can survive through the winter by the use of “antifreeze” chemicals (glycerols) in their blood. They squeeze into spaces like tree cavities, beneath loose bark, in unheated buildings, and anywhere else they can fit into, to protect themselves from winter winds, birds and squirrels. Spots like these are called hibernaculums.On warm spring-like days when the snow is still on the ground and the temperature rises, the butterfly wakes up from its slumber. Thinking it's spring, it rushes outside to find a mate and wham, the cold temperature renders it incapable of moving. So, like I suggest to the people who call about this, if you find a butterfly in the snow, please pick him up and find him and nice isolated spot to finish his winter.
Cats make great pets. In fact, I have two of my own who are exclusively indoor animals.There are many reasons to keep cats indoors, both for their own good as well as for the good of our wild creatures. Outdoor cats face many dangers, including cars, other animals, potentially harmful chemicals, and diseases. The Humane Society estimates that outdoor cats have a 5-year lifespan while indoor cats have a 15 to 18 year lifespan.The biggest problem with outdoor cats is their impact on wildlife. Cats kill a staggering number of animals every year. A recent study in the U.S. put the number of birds killed at 3.7 billion and other small animals at nearly 20 billion.Some people may feel that keeping cats indoors at all times is unfair to the cat. I would suggest that an outdoor enclosure be set up to provide an enrichment area for the cats and to protect nature at the same time. If you are worried about stimulating your indoor cat, you can spend time with the cat by playing games or, if possible provide a second feline companion. You can also plant certain grasses indoors, such as oats or wheat, which aids in their digestion, and provide them with fresh catnip.Here are a few suggestions to help minimize or eliminate a cat’s impact on wildlife:The best thing to do is keep your cat indoors; this is better for wildlife and better for the cat.Make sure that you have your cat spayed or neutered as millions of unwanted cats are born every year.If your cat does go outside, place a bell on their collar. Studies have shown that this reduces their hunting success rate by at least half.Cats are excellent pets that provide affection and entertainment to many people. So while wild cats like bobcat and lynx belong outdoors, their domestic counterparts, our feline companions, should be kept inside to help protect them and our wildlife.
The time of year has come to say goodbye to the holidays and those beautiful colourful blooms on your Christmas cactus. How do you get those blooms to return next season?Christmas cactus belongs to a succulent group of plants native to the jungles of Brazil. It is characterized by flat, modified stem segments called cladodes that resemble leaf-like pads that are joined to one another. The flowers are usually held at the tips of the stems or in the ‘leaf’ axils. Although these plants are called cacti, they are truly different from the common desert cactus. These plants, called epiphytes, are found in the same environments as orchids and bromeliads. They are most often found in the forks of tree limbs where they grow in decayed leaves and other natural debris that accumulates there.Christmas cactus grows best in light shade with well-drained soil and will burn if left in full light during the summer months.To help rebloom a Christmas cactus, it will need longer nights at a temperature around 55˚ – 65˚. Start this shortening of daylight hours in September until it reaches 13 hours of darkness. Once flower buds appear, keep the plants away from drafts, keep soil moist but not waterlogged and do not interrupt the darkness. A basement or a cool front living room window can be used. Humidity is also important, keep it at least 50 – 60% with a tray under the pot itself.The cactus will do better if potbound and only needs to be repotted every three or so years.
Ladybugs are beetles. They come in many colours other than red, such as brown, dark blue, yellow and pink. Not all have spots; some may have stripes.When fall arrives, we always hear about some of these critters “infesting” peoples’ homes. What they are doing is searching out hibernation areas in which to overwinter.Once one finds a suitable spot, it releases a pheromone that attracts others to come and check out their pad. This scent can last for years.Ladybeetles do not eat when they are hibernating, and only eat other bugs and pollen at other times, so your furniture is safe. Sealing all cracks around baseboards, pipes and siding help avoid this situation but takes time.To help ladybeetles find suitable hibernation spots that do not include your home, try putting up a hibernation house. Place hibernation boxes in a southwestern exposure. If they are already getting in your house use a shop vac to pick them up and move them outside where they will scent mark their new home.For more information about ladybugs and other beetles, visit the 2nd floor at Science North or leave a question or comment below.
The redhead pine sawfly is a serious pest in the red pine plantations of Southern Ontario. It is an invasive forest insect. Adults of the species have four wings, and resemble amber-coloured bees. They are most active in May and June, which is around the same time that eggs are being laid. The eggs are laid in a row of evenly spaced slits along one edge of the needle. Up to 140 eggs may be deposited in a cluster of needles near the tip of the previous year’s growth. The larvae have reddish-orange heads and yellow bodies with six rows of black spots along the back and sides. They feed in groups until late summer, and then drop to the ground to overwinter in cocoons beneath the litter. Feeding at the ends of mature foliage leaves reddish straw-like remains of partly consumed needles. Older larvae devour entire needles. Late in the season they attack the current year’s foliage and even the bark of young shoots. A single complete defoliation usually kills the tree.Control MeasuresPopulations tend to build up gradually and decline suddenly. The collapse of infestations may be affected by such things as parasitic insects, bird and rodent predators, virulent disease organisms, periods of hot, dry weather when the larvae are migrating, or low temperatures before they have completed feeding. When branch or tree mortality appears imminent, or when Christmas trees are likely to be disfigured by defoliation, sprays of organic substances such as BT may be applied.Knowing more about tree health can help you recognize and know the difference between exotic pests and native diseases. Follow our posts here on Northern Life to learn more over the next few weeks.Do you have a question about your tree? Leave a comment below, come see us, or ask us on twitter! @dan_chaput
Black knot is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa, and is a common disease of plants in the genus Prunus (plums and cherries). This disease spreads rapidly, and high infection rates may result in the eventual death of the plant.The most distinguishing symptom of Black knot are the black, tar-like swellings that develop on the branches. Small, olive-green swellings develop after fungal spores land on a growing point or fruit spur. Each new swelling can grow for 2-3 years until it is mature. The mature galls are hard, black, 10-15 cm long and may be ruptured. Mature galls produce vast amounts of spores, which cause rapid increase in infection in other locations. The fungus continues to grow until it eventually girdles (totally circles) the branch, which cuts off the nutrient supply, killing the branch. Control Measures:Remove infected branches at least 15-20cm below the knot. Diseased wood should be destroyed immediately (burned or removed from site). Diseased knots can produce and release spores up to four months after removal from the tree.Knowing more about tree health can help people recognize and know the difference between exotic pests and native diseases. Follow our posts here on Northern Life to learn more over the next few weeks.Do you have a question about your tree? Leave a comment below, come see us, or ask us on twitter! @dan_chaput
There are several species of mites that cause galls on the leaves of maple trees. Maple gall mites are very small, and can only be observed under magnification. The only way that a mite can be identified by a naked eye is by the galls that they produce. Each mite produces a gall with a unique size, colour and shape. In Greater Sudbury, you're likely to find a few species of gall mite. Crimson perineum mite (Eriophyes regulus) causes red patches on upper or lower surfaces of the leaves of sugar, silver and red maple. Maple gall bladder mite (Vasates quadripedes) causes small, rough growths on the upper surface of the leaves of silver and red maple. Maple spindle gall mite (Vasates aceris-crummena) causes spindle shaped growths on the upper surface the leaves of sugar, silver and red maple. Maple gall mites are often unsightly, but the health of the tree is not usually affected. The mites overwinter on twigs at the base of the bugs. When spring arrives, the mites crawl onto unfolding leave, infect them, and the gall formation begins.Control Measures:Apply a dormant oil spray in the spring before buds open, and the temperature is above 20 C. Make sure you talk to a specialist before attempting this method, as some species of maple do not respond well to treatment.Knowing more about tree health can help people recognize and know the difference between exotic pests and native diseases. Follow our posts here on Northern Life to learn more over the next few weeks.Do you have a question about your tree? Leave a comment below, come see us, or ask us on twitter! @dan_chaputImages: University of Kentucky Entomology.
The gypsy moth is a defoliator of hardwoods and conifers, but is a particular pest of oak, poplar, and birch. They are a non-native species that was introduced accidently to the United States around 1868. In the spring, the eggs hatch and the larvae climb the trees to feed on the new foliage. This causes considerable damage to the tree, as the caterpillars are capable of consuming lots of foliage in a very short time. Initially the caterpillars feed during the day, but as they grow they begin feeding at night to avoid predators. The feeding stage is typically done by July. The mature larvae are 50mm long, dark coloured and hairy. Their backs have a double row of five pairs of blue sports, followed by a double row of six pairs of red spots. The larvae pupate in sheltered area. When they hatch, the male moth is light brown with a slender body, and the female is white and heavily-bodied. The eggs are laid in masses of 100 or more, and are covered with a mat of tan-coloured hairs from the female's body. The female moths do not fly, so the spread of the population depends on the young caterpillars being blown considerable distances by the wind. The pests can be spread accidently through the transport of firewood, logs, lumber, or any other material where eggs are laid. Recreational and other vehicles travelling in and from infested areas also carry eggs, larvae, or pupae. Trees can typically survive one infestation, but not consecutive infestations. Control Measures:Control of the gypsy moth is possible with BT, a bacterium that specifically attacks the caterpillar’s gut.Knowing more about tree health can help people recognize and know the difference between exotic pests and native diseases. Follow our posts here on Northern Life to learn more over the next few weeks. Do you have a question about your tree? Leave a comment below, come see us, or ask us on twitter! @dan_chaput
Hypoxylon Canker (Hypoxylon mummatum) is seen on many kinds of poplar, but it is most common on trembling aspen. It is very common in the Sudbury area. In certain localities of the region, it affects the majority of trembling aspen, effectively eliminating that species from those areas. The disease affects the trunk of trees, and appears as a wound ranging up to 1 metre in length, and up to 15 centimetres in width.The bark of the tree appears relatively normal, except that it is yellowish to orange for a few centimetres outwards from the wound. From the edges of the wound inward, the whitish, thin layer of the outer bark is raised and broken into rectangular pieces. The underlying bark is dark and rough with elevated sections.Between the bark and the wood there are strands of lightly coloured mycelium or root like fungal structures. In the centre of the canker, the surface has thick, crusty patches of fungal tissue, which have powdery white, spore-producing structures. Brown ooze may streak the bark around the wound.Infections may last for several years, depending on the size of the tree. When the trunk is girdled, or circled, by the canker, the parts of the tree growing above the canker die.Trembling aspens with dead tops are very common in our region, and their death is almost always attributable to hypoxylon canker. Often the tops of these trees will still have brown leaves attached. This disease is most common in areas where the soil or environmental conditions are not favourable.Control Measures:It is important to maintain a healthy environment for trees to grow in in order to reduce the risk of infection. Trees that show signs of infection should be immediately removed, and if possible the affected material should be burned to prevent the spread of the fungus. Smaller infections can be cut out, but larger infections are incurable. Avoid making holes in the bark of the tree, as this opens up new sites for infection.Knowing more about tree diseases and pests can help people recognize and know the difference between exotic and native pests and diseases. Follow our posts here on Cool Science to learn more over the next few weeks.Do you have a question about your tree? Leave a comment below, come see us, or ask us on twitter! @dan_chaput
Many people come into Science North with questions regarding the health of their trees. In this new blog series, my colleague Jaqueline Bertrand and I will be addressing some of the more common tree pests and diseases found in the Sudbury region and throughout Ontario.Tree pests and diseases native to Ontario are part of a natural cycle of life and death in our forests. There is however, a growing list of pests and diseases that have been introduced into our forests. These pests and diseases have no natural method of control. In some cases, the elimination of a tree species from its entire range is a looming possibility. Several examples come to mind such as Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, and butternut canker. The most recent newsworthy pest, is the emerald ash borer. Knowing more about tree diseases and pests can help people recognize and monitor the spread of these exotic pests and diseases. Follow our posts here on Cool Science to learn more over the next few weeks.Do you have a question about your tree? Leave a comment below, come see us, or ask me on twitter! @dan_chaput
If you have ever visited the F. Jean MacLeod Butterfly Gallery here at Science North, you would have likely encountered between 400 and 600 free flying butterflies. All of those butterflies are shipped to Science North every two weeks from the Philippines, Malaysia, El Salvador and Costa Rica. We need to replenish our butterflies every two weeks because, for the most part, that’s how long butterflies live. The butterflies are shipped to Science North as pupae or chrysalis.One of our pupae suppliers is El Bosque Nuevo, or “The New Forest”, in Guanacaste province, Costa Rica.El Bosque Nuevo was established in 1995 with the help of Florida businessman John Fazzini and others who provided support in the form of loans, legal guidance, scientific support and administrative services. The goal was to provide subsistence to farmers with an opportunity to administer their own natural resources while protecting the environment and to provide their families with a good income and a promising future. El Bosque Nuevo specifically recruited families because butterfly farming allows its workers to care for their homes and children while they work.Originally, the El Bosque Nuevo consisted of 91 hectares of land: 41 hectares were clear-cut land and 50 hectares were virgin rainforest. The 50 hectares were set aside as a preserve that has remained untouched. The remaining 41 hectares were planted with over 70 000 trees utilizing good agro-forestry standards established in conjunction with the farm, scientific consultations and the Costa Rican government. El Bosque Nuevo has experimented with cut flowers, ornamentals, spices and medicinal herbs, but it is the butterfly production that has proven to be the most lucrative for the farmers.In late 2007, I received an invitation to visit the El Bosque Nuevo butterfly farm. They would provide food and accommodation for myself and about 20 other butterfly conservatory managers and operators from throughout North America. They wanted us to be confident that they were running a sustainable, profitable and eco-friendly operation.In March of 2008, my colleague Jacqueline Bertrand and I arrived at the El Bosque Nuevo butterfly farm. The farm had a bunkhouse that could easily accommodate all of us. The bunkhouse is also made available to visiting scientists who wish to study the surrounding forest. It is equipped with a gas refrigerator and stove, and electrical demands are powered by solar cells with a back-up generator for emergencies. After many consultations with experts from around the world, El Bosque Nuevo began to set up for the production of butterflies. Two greenhouses were erected near the farmhouse. These greenhouses provide a predator-free area for the butterflies to feed, mate and lay their eggs. The host plants for the butterfly larvae (caterpillars) are planted under established trees. The larvae remain there in mesh bags to protect them until they pupate, at which point they are sold or used to restock the greenhouses. There are no handouts at El Bosque Nuevo. All the money that was initially needed to buy and establish the farm has long been repaid, with extra profits used to pay salaries and increase the farm’s land holdings. As the person responsible for the purchase of butterflies for the F. Jean MacLeod Butterfly Gallery, I need to be sure that the butterfly pupae we purchase are farmed in an ecologically friendly, sustainable method that provides farmers with a good source of income. El Bosque Nuevo has left me with no doubt.
What comes to mind when you think of “cool science?” A concoction of exploding liquids? The science behind a magic trick? What about shoreline restoration? Ok, it may not sound as enticing as spontaneous combustion but some of us biologists/ecologists/naturalists happen to think it is!What is the Healthy Shoreline Demonstration Site?Take a look at the shoreline, just east of Science North’s patio and you may notice what used to be a barren beach is now an ecologically restored shoreline. Science North is situated just upland of the shore of Ramsey Lake, a valued source of drinking water, recreation, and serenity for many Sudburians. We wanted to do something that would have a positive impact on the health of the shoreline, and to support the City of Greater Sudbury’s Year of Biodiversity initiative. The site demonstrates to shoreline homeowners how they can improve the health of shorelines on their property. Why protect the shoreline?Shorelines are especially rich in diversity, and where many wildlife species begin their lives. Some continue to live in water, while others have varying needs at different stages in their lives, move on and then return to begin the cycle again.What role do plants play in a healthy shoreline?Think about the amazing impact plants have on our ecosystem. For instance, we planted Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) last fall at the Healthy Shoreline Demonstration Site, and this summer what magically appeared were none other than five Monarch butterfly larvae feasting on the leaves of their host plant. Perhaps ‘magical’ isn’t a scientifically accepted term for this phenomenon, but for a female monarch butterfly to find these newly planted specimens in the midst of hundreds of other plants and lay an egg right on its offspring’s dinner is quite fascinating! (Monarchs only lay eggs on Milkweed because it is the only plant the larva can feed on.) In addition to a number of erosion control measures, recycled limestone walkway, and interpretative signage, native plants are the cornerstone of this and any healthy shoreline. On this site, over 1050 native plants of over 40 different species have been planted. The more variety of species, the healthier your shoreline will be!Native plants provide habitat for a vast number of fauna, filter the water, regulate its temperature and help stabilize shoreline with rich networks of roots. After plants die, they continue to contribute. A fallen tree trunk provides nesting and refuge to wildlife, a spot for a turtle to soak in the suns’ rays; decomposing greens add nutrients to the soil. Of course, it will take time for shrubs to reach mature height, thickets to form and the shoreline to be completely restored. We’ve already seen a huge growth spurt in plants and in a short amount of time, wildlife have already begun to visit and take up residence at the site, in large part due to these cool and fascinating plants! Watch the video to take a tour of the shoreline with us, and have a look of some of the plants that are in bloom right now!
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