Nature Awareness #8

This entry was posted on February 21, 2011 under Clergy Program, Generalists Program, Nature Awareness. Written by:

Name and provide the following information for each of three species of animals (birds, mammals, insects, fish, etc.) and three species of plants native to and currently found in your area:

1. Its status (endangered, threatened, thriving, overpopulated)
2. A brief physical description of the species, noting if you have seen it, and where.
3. Describe at least one of the following:
1. a way it is or has been used by humans (for example, as food source, medicinal use, raw materials for tools, clothing, housing, etc.)
2. a way in which it has been affected by human presence or development
3. a way in which it has adapted to or entered into an ecological relationship with human presence or human development.

When researching local flora and fauna in the State of Pennsylvania (which thankfully is very similar to my homeland in Maryland since I’m only 40 mile away), I wanted to pick things to write about that I’ve had a relationship with or feel I can relate to in some way. I may provide some back-story with a few of these just to show their influence on my life and environment.

Animals

White-tailed Deer

The Pennsylvania state animal is the white-tail deer, adopted as of 1959. To me the white-tail deer is also a pretty iconic American symbol, especially for those that come from a more down-to-earth family of hunters like myself. Being raised with these beautiful animals gives me a special relationship with them that most people don’t have these days. Especially being raised to live in unison with the White-tail deer, from knowing their sleeping habits, identifying deer runs (their most traveled trails) and rubs (where they rub their antlers on trees), their preferred habitats and even the difference between the male and female hoof-prints.

Growing up, the white-tail deer was always a nuisance with gardens and overpopulation in my family. It seems to fluctuate back and forth from thriving to overpopulated, but it’s regular enough to assume that there is no threat of the white-tail towards endangerment anytime soon in this area. Now in other states however, such as Florida and Northwest States, there are two species of white-tailed deer that are on the endangered species list due to urban and agricultural development. Locally, however, this is not the case.

Most of the local overpopulation concerns come from the fact that the main predators (wolves and cougars) of white-tail in Pennsylvania are extinct in the same areas that the white-tail thrive, and also because modern society is producing less and less hunters or those with “back to your roots” skills. There is also a health concern with overpopulation of the white-tailed deer, simply because of the onset of lymes disease that they can carry and spread throughout suburban communities.

In general, white-tail deer have not been too affected by human development as most species would. However urban development that replaces an entire forested area would be detrimental to the local deer of that area for obvious reasons. They are very adaptable to human presence so long as food is still available, such as from suburban gardening and landscaping. They are often found in both rural and suburban communities, and along major highways which often impacts driving safety during the twilight hours.

The white-tail deer gets its name because of the white underbelly of its tail, which it predominantly flips up as it is running away so that all you can see is a white fluff of fur disappearing into the woods. They also have a very keen sense of smell which allows them to pick up human scent quickly, allowing them to run and hide. They are reddish brown in the summer, and in the winter their coat turns a dark gray to help blend in with the lack of foliage. They feed mostly on twigs, grasses, fungi, and various nuts, seeds, and crops readily available, which can be a problem for local farmers. Male white-tails can weigh up to 400 pounds, and in general white-tail can run up to 35mph, are excellent swimmers, and jump over obstacles 8 feet in height.

As mentioned, the biggest use of the white-tail deer is hunting, both for food and hides. It’s widely known that there is a trophy sport behind hunting various species of deer, mainly for the amount of points on their antlers. The skins are used (and I have tanned for on many occasions) in various types of clothing when made into buckskin, or tanned normally for décor and use in furniture.

References:

“White-tailed Deer.” StateAnimals.com. StateAnimals.com. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://www.stateanimals.com/states/pennsylvania/whitetail_text.html>

“Pennsylvania State Animal, Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus Virginanus), from NETSTATE.COM.” 50 States – Capitals, Maps, Geography, State Symbols, State Facts, Songs, History, Famous People from NETSTATE.COM. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://www.netstate.com/states/symb/animals/pa_whitetail_deer.htm>.

“White-tailed Deer Odocoileus Virginianus.” ENature.com. ENature.com. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://www.enature.com/fieldguides/detail.asp?recNum=MA0046>.

(Word Count: 562, not counting titles or references)

Red-tailed Hawk

The red-tailed hawk has the most special place in my heart above all other animals. It has been my totem for years and years, even before I realized it. In Native zodiac lore, the red-tailed hawk is my zodiac animal instead of the Aries ram. In the mid-2000’s a baby red-tailed hawk fell from a tree in our woods, and my father and I took care of him until he was able to be on his own. Even at such a young age, his talents were deadly. We named him Comanche, and he often dive-bombed the neighbors while they were outside after we released him.

Some further spiritual relations I have with this animal, being a devotee of Athena, is that a few years later we caught a Great-Horned Owl going after our chickens. Owls are obviously sacred to Athena, but I also discovered much information about the relationship between the Great-Horned Owl and the Red-tailed hawk, in so much as they are polar opposites. The Red-tailed hawk is a day-feeder in the same exact terrain as the Great-Horned Owl, which is a night-feeder. And often the Great-Horned Owl will take over the next of the Red-tailed hawk and force it to relocate elsewhere. Having both of these animals with much spiritual significance in my life gives me a sense of balance.

The Red-tailed hawk is a very popular and adaptable predatory raptor, with prominent thriving numbers. It has been found and can survive in pretty much every terrain available in the United States. Locally we are more mountainous and forested, so that is the particular terrain they are found in here. Suburban and highway development provides a lot of wooden light and telephone poles that the Red-tailed hawk has become accustomed to for favorable hunting. Economical development can and has destroyed their nesting grounds, but in general because of their adaptability they are able to relocate fairly efficiently.

This hawk is rich with brown and white feathers, and a bright orangish-red tail that makes it stand out when soaring through the sky and is a sacred relic for many native tribes. Their main food sources consist of small rodents like mice and rabbits, but they will eat small to medium sized birds like pheasants and blackbirds, or reptiles such as snakes. However they are not usually found in suburban areas to feed from bird-feeders and domestic feeding grounds. They are avid hunters, and the most popular hawk used for falconry in the United States.

References:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Red-tailed Hawk, Life History, All About Birds – Cornell Lab of Ornithology.” All About Birds. Cornell University. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-tailed_Hawk/lifehistory>.

Various. “Red-tailed Hawk.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red-tailed_Hawk>.

(Word Count: 415, not counting titles or references)

Firefly

Who doesn’t have fond childhood memories of catching fireflies at dusk in early summer months and placing them in jars for a keepsake? Oddly enough, fireflies are not actually considered flies, but are in reality a beetle, because they do not have the correct number of wings to qualify as a fly. Flies by definition have one set of wings, rather than most other insects that have two sets. Their bright yellowish-green luminescence is a product of a chemical reaction between Lucifern, Luciferase, adenosine triphosphate, and oxygen. However, the method of which fireflies are able to turn these lights off and on is unknown at this time. Theories suggest that it has to do with the flow of oxygen that the firefly lets into its body (sorta like breathing), which would make the most sense. Fireflies also use a pattern of flashing their luminescence to attract the opposite sex.

The firefly nests in warm areas with rotting wood and various other loose sundries in the forest, as well as along edges of streams where moisture is retained longest. They are not, however, usually found west of the state of Kansas here in the United States, and actually thrive the most in tropical areas of Asia and South America. The larvae and the adult fireflies have different diets, the larvae mostly feeding on worms and snails, whereas the adults are thought to feed mostly on plant nectar.

Several human interactions can affect having fireflies in their environment. Using chemicals on your lawn can destroy them and their habitat. Adding extra lighting interferes with their signals which can interrupt their ability to find mates, and lack of low-hanging trees and vegetation will prevent them from having places to rest and live. Even in suburban neighborhoods, however, I recall seeing them fairly populated during their time of year. Some researchers claim that fireflies are starting to disappear due to economic development and light pollution.

References:

Branham, Marc. “Firefly Facts.” Firefly Facts. Museum of Biological Diversity, Ohio State University. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://hymfiles.biosci.ohio-state.edu/projects/FFiles/frfact.html>.

Pfeiffer, Ben, and Rank Smart. “Firefly & Lightning Bug Facts, Pictures, Information About Firefly Insect Disappearance.” Firefly.org. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://www.firefly.org/why-are-fireflies-disappearing.html>

(Word Count 321, not counting titles or references)

Plants

White Oak

When I think of a white oak tree, or any oak really, I instantly think of it as a representation of a solid American tree. Big beautiful forests with large oaks and walnuts and hickory trees. That iconic symbol of the tall oak on a the top hill in a grassy field where you come to picnic, read in the shade, meditate, or play with your children.

The White Oak is particularly special in the region I came from, where I grew up in Maryland as well as just over the border where I am now in Pennsylvania. In Baltimore there was a white oak called the “Wye Oak” which was the honorary tree of Maryland, and largest White Oak in the United States. It was supposedly 460 years old, but was destroyed during a thunderstorm in 2002. What pieces and branches the state didn’t want to use for building a new desk for the governor, were given to Marylanders who wanted a piece of Maryland history. Several members in my Grove went down and gathered lots of pieces to keep at the Grove. I have a branch I keep on my home shrine, and consider this a very special and powerful piece of American tree lore to represent my heritage. It was a very sad loss for the state.

Now another White Oak in Maryland, the “Linden Oak” is the largest White Oak in the United States.

The conservation status of the White Oak, courtesy of “Nature Serve”, is a G5, which means it is secure. Considering how predominant this tree is across the United States, especially the eastern half, and how hardy the tree is in general, I can’t see it becoming an endangered species of tree in my lifetime.

The White Oak is not usually very tall compared to other trees, but instead is very widespread, and can live up to 600 years with our current knowledge. The bark is a light gray and particularly rough as if peeling off. The leaves are a seven to nine-lobed light pink in the spring, which eventually fades to white before turning into a yellowish green.

References:
Wikipedia. “Wye Oak.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wye_Oak>.

Wikipedia. “Quercus Alba.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quercus_alba>.

(Word Count 359, not counting titles or references)

Black Walnut

The Black Walnut tree is one I am particularly familiar with due to its abundance in almost every place I’ve grown up. I have mostly fond memories of almost tripping over black walnuts that have fallen during the autumn season, or listening to them fall with a loud bang on top of my bronco. As a child I liked to use the black “gook” from inside the black walnut to paint my face, much to the dismay of the adults.

The Black Walnut is a type of hickory tree and grows to be rather large (98-130 feet), with furrowed gray bark and long creased leaves. The nuts look like small tennis balls, which are difficult to open but reveal black drupes encasing a black walnut shell containing the fruit of this wonderful tree.

The Black Walnut has to be one of the trees with the most varies uses. Not only does it produce a favorite snack and cooking favor with the walnut meat, but the wood is a dark-colored heartwood often used to create gun-stocks (as the wood shrinks and swells less than any other wood), furniture and other wood-working related creations. The drupes were used for dying hair and clothes or staining wood and various other crafts requiring this dark brown/black dye. Even the hard shells were made useful by being crushed and used for drilling oil wells and cleaning jet engines. In fact, it is such a desirable wood that there is actually an issue of “walnut poaching”.

The fact that Black Walnut provides various profitable uses, there are a lot of businesses that work towards growing Black Walnuts to provide for these various demands. Also due to high demand, and the risk of poaching, there is also a threat to their lively-hood. Recently there has been developments of a fungus carried by the walnut twig beetle that has been threatening the Black Walnut tree in the western states, and recently found to move eastward in Tennessee. This fungus affects the trees with “Thousand Cankers Disease”.

References:

“Black Walnut.” Ostermiller.org. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://ostermiller.org/tree/blackwalnut.html>.

Hasler, Lauren. “Disease May Affect MO’s Black Walnut Trees.” KBIA.org. University of Missouri Board of Curator, 11 Nov. 2010. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://www.kbia.org/news/disease-may-affect-mos-black-walnut-trees>.

Wikipedia. “Juglans Nigra.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juglans_nigra>.

(Word Count 341, not counting titles or references)

Mountain Laurel

The Pennsylvania State Flower is the native Mountain Laurel, which was chosen in 1933 by then Governor, Gifford Pinchot. It is a beautiful shrub with pink and white bushy blossoms that bloom in late May to early June. It can grow from four to ten fee high and is usually found in rocky hills, which probably affords it more protection than most plants, since economic development is less likely in such rocky terrain.

Since Pennsylvania has large amounts of Appalachian terrain, this particular evergreen is available nearly everywhere, either naturally or as an ornamental plant. Unlike Maryland’s State Flower, the Black-Eyed Susan, the Mountain Laurel is not under any protective status from being harvested. Additionally, unlike most evergreens, the Mountain Laurel does not lose its leaves during the winter months.

References:

PA DCNR. “Mountain Laurel – Pennsylvania’s State Flower.” PA DCNR. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/mountainlaurel.aspx>.

(Word Count 130, not counting titles or references)



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