Ladybugs Show up on Weather Radar – don’t see wildlife numbers like this often enough #nature #biology #radar

ladybugs on a tree trunk in ColoradoVolunteer weather spotters – citizen scientists – solve a mystery for the pros.

National Weather Service meteorologists noticed something puzzling on their radar screens in Southern California… weather spotter told them the mysterious cloud was actually a giant swarm of ladybugs

Ladybugs are common in California, people even breed and sell them to home gardeners for aphid control, so swarms aren’t unusual. A swarm ten miles wide might be a good sign for the environment or not. There isn’t enough data to say.

Huge displays of wildlife were once a mark of North America. From bison to ladybugs to passenger pigeons (which we of European extraction destroyed – my elegy is here.)

While hiking in Colorado I once came across a swarm of ladybugs that had landed, covering a rocky slope as far as I chose to explore. On a ridge in New Mexico, I found another group blanketing short trees on a sunny ridge between huge Ponderosa pines. It’s good to share the land with wildlife, and it’s not a choice of people or bugs. We can have, and we need, both.

Glimmer of Hope – This 100 Year Old Girl Proves Her Species Not Extinct – Yet #nature #extinction #Galapagos

I’ve writen several posts about the sad loss of species to extinction. It’s time for some good news, even if it’s only a glimmer of hope.

Tweet about re-discovered Galapagos TortoiseA rare species of giant tortoise was feared extinct after over 100 years without any sightings on the Galápagos Islands. But now, officials say they’ve found one.

An adult female Fernandina Giant Tortoise, or Chelonoidis phantasticus, possibly older than 100, was found on Fernandina Island… The animal was transported to a breeding center on Santa Cruz Island [for] genetic tests. USA Today

Where’s there’s one, there may be more! Introduced species like rats, cats, pigs, and goats destroyed a lot of Galapogous wildlife, and the poor tortoises made excellent living pantries for early European sailors, but this particular species was threatened by lava flows over 100 years ago.

Today, only two groups of giant tortoises remain around the world – those on the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean and others on Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean.

I wish the old lady and her keepers the best of luck. Lonesome George mated with females from his own island, but the eggs never hatched. Whether scientists learned anything from George that will help this Fernandina tortoise, I don’t know, but of course one lone female can’t breed on her own.

She’s already quite old – the tortoises are thought to have averaged 100 year life span before contact with humans, and some may have lived for 150 years. Their best chance at recovery may be if more individuals have survived, and if people and our traveling-companion animals will now leave them alone.

 What are the odds? Two bits of good news in one day. The world’s largest bee isn’t extinct either, though no one knows how many may survive. Check out the comparison picture to a standard honeybee.

Some Unintended Consequences Are Good for Wildlife and You Won’t Believe This One #wildlife #chernobyl #nature

Chernobly fox

Wild fox accepts a tourist’s handout

A few years ago I remarked on the strange fact that wildlife is better off living in a radiation/contamination area where there are no people, than sharing a clean habitat with us. Recent studies show that’s still true.

You may recall that, in 1986, explosions destroyed a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine, and released huge amounts of radioactive fallout. Residents were evacuated and a large exclusion zone created, where no one was allowed to live. Scientists have entered, and recently the area was opened to tourists. Wildlife viewing may be a good reason to travel there, because removing people created a de facto preserve.

Initial studies were depressing. The radiation killed trees, and deformed animals and birds were spotted. Animal populations dipped for a while. But recent studies find that many species have multiplied enormously. The list is impressive:

  • wolf,
  • badger,
  • wild boar,
  • roe deer,
  • red deer,
  • moose,
  • beaver,
  • white-tailed eagle,
  • black stork,
  • western marsh harrier,
  • short-eared owl,
  • and herds of European bison and Przewalski’s horse introduced since the accident to take advantage of this “involuntary park.”

With Chernobyl, the first thing people think about are mutations, [however] we have no evidence to support that this is happening. It is an interesting area of future research, but it is not something I would worry about.

The nuclear accident was a horror, but this aftermath holds hope. Nature can bounce back if we give her a chance.

Wise Ravens #poem #poetry #nature #wildlife #birdwatching #birds #raven

raven perched in tree

One of my ravens, waiting

Morning chores they watch me do,
I prune and weed until I’m through.
The bowl of kibbles that I carry
Commands attention, so they tarry.

I feed the ravens every day.
No need to wait, is what I say,
Like chickens scratching at my feet
You’re welcome to come near and eat.

But wisdom in a raven’s mind
Says keep some distance from my kind.
A human who seems calm and mild
Might plot to hurt a raven child.

So I retreat when I am done.
On whispering wings, the ravens come
To share the bowl I left for them,
In a world I share
with feathered kin.

Kate Rauner

Not my usual science-inspired poem today, but I claim a poet’s prerogative to rhyme about whatever suits me 🙂

Humans Slaughtered Mammoths But Can They Save Us from Climate Change? #globalwarming #rewilding #elephant #climatechange #nature #EndangeredSpeciesDay

Feral horse

Rewilding is “large-scale conservation aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and core wilderness areas.” In North America and Europe, projects are underway to protect and reintroduce large wildlife, including predators, and reverse habitat loss.

Pleistocene rewilding seeks to restore ecosystems from ten thousand years ago – for example, by introducing elephants, lions, and cheetahs to protected areas in the American Great Plains.

Rewilding aims to save animals and ecosystems, but a project now underway in Siberia is “a radical geoengineering scheme” with a human-centric goal: to slow climate change.

During the last Ice Age, vast areas of grasslands beyond the edges of glaciers locked up huge amounts of carbon in Siberia (not something universal in the Arctic.) As today’s permafrost melts, release of all that carbon dioxide threatens to create a positive feedback that would accelerate global warming and make climate change worse for you and me – and our progeny. But returning these areas to Pleistocene grassland could slow or prevent the change by keeping “permafrost frozen by giving it a top coat of Ice Age grassland.”

All we need are the animals that created that grassland ecosystem. Horses, bison, musk ox, and reindeer have already been moved into what was once a Soviet-era gulag of gold mining, but the project needs something bigger – mammoths.

Cloning may jump into your mind, but it’s not likely. DNA degrades even when frozen and we may never find a viable mammoth cell. But mammoths are closely related to elephants, and scientists from across the globe are working to resurrect the mammoth by turning on genes that will adapt elephants to the Arctic climate by giving them heavy coats, thick layers of fat, and smaller ears, among other changes.

That seems like the easy part. If embryos are eventually created, they can’t be placed in surrogate elephant mothers – Asian elephants are endangered. So artificial wombs are needed.

A womb isn’t just a bucket of fluid.

The mammalian mother–child bond, with its precisely timed hormone releases, is beyond the reach of current biotechnology. But scientists are getting closer with mice… [There are] hopes to deliver the first woolly mammoth to Pleistocene Park within a decade.

Even if the technical problems are solved, there’s still a cultural issue. A baby needs a mother. Elephants – and, no doubt, mammoths – are highly social animals.

Older mammoths would have taught the calf how to find ancestral migration paths, how to avoid sinkholes, where to find water. When a herd member died, the youngest mammoth would have watched the others stand vigil, tenderly touching the body of the departed with their trunks before covering it with branches and leaves. No one knows how to re-create this rich mammoth culture, much less how to transmit it to that cosmically bewildered first mammoth.

It’s an amazing, overwhelming undertaking. But there are people out there working on it. Perhaps we’ll see reconstructed, de-extincted mammoths in our lifetime.

Thanks to for their article, with some help from

Carlsbad Cavern National Park #findyourpark #cave #travel #nature

Snapshots don't convey the scale - you've got to go.

Snapshots don’t convey the scale – you’ve got to go.

Here’s my advice. Visit Carlsbad Cavern after peak season and arrive as the Visitors’ Center opens. No guided tour for your first descent. Take the footpath that corkscrews down through the natural entrance. Let your steps rouse cave swallows lingering on their perches. Feel the depth.

Imagine ancient Native Americans setting fires every so often as they climbed, passing wood down from the surface to enter a holy place. Or the first Anglo cowboy, sliding across wet rocks, the feeble light from his candle unable to breach the darkness above.

Walk among immense slabs. Did any humans hear the cavern-features-300x225echoing thunder when they fell from the ceiling or walls? Surely that was the voice of gods.

Without the crowds – up to 5,000 visitors on a peak day – you’ll have passageways to yourself and share the big rooms with the brothers and sisters of your soul.

cavern-feature-2-225x300Down and down. On and on. Straws and curtains, stalactites and stalagmites, columns and domes, calcite lilies and cavern pearls – tinted sepia in the artfully positioned lights – decorate a gloom that, in the cavern’s natural state, is impossibly black.

The rangers say hundreds of thousands of individual features have been broken off and carried away by tourist-in-cavern-300x225souvenir hunters, perhaps starting when the last Ice Age receded but mostly since the 1800s. But the cavern is so enormous, its ceiling so high and walls so steep, that vastly more features were beyond greedy reach and remain untouched.

They say strings of adjectives betray a writer’s poor grasp of language. So be it. I am overwhelmed.

Vast. Magnificent. Spectacular. Humbling. Breathtaking. Inspiring. Mystical. Endless.

find-your-park-300x225I’ve rhymed about the Carlsbad bats, too.

Cavern Bats #poem #poet #nature #nationalpark #bats #writing

Statue in Carlsbad Visitors' Center

Statue in Carlsbad Visitors’ Center

Rising from the cavern,
As swirling clouds,
As living smoke,
Spiraling up from the pit
Come the bats.

Tourists watch, still and silent.
Bats make no sound,
No chirp nor chatter,
No flap of wings
Comes with the bats.

No group can be silent for long.
Someone coughs,
A baby cries.
Still the bats come.

Feet shuffle
As a few people leave
Beneath the stream of wings.
A cricket trills its evening song.
Still the bats come.

Distant city lights glow,
On a plain beyond the cliffs.
People trickle away
Until less than half remain.
Still the bats come.

I no longer see them
Circling in the pit,
Only their silhouettes
Against the evening sky.
Still the bats come.

Stars begin to shine
High overhead.
The Summer Triangle,
The Northern Cross.
Still the bats come.

Darker now.
Too dark for my eyes
To see a bat against the sky.
I rise.
I leave for that city’s glow.
Still the bats come.

By Kate Rauner

R&R 3 coversCarlsbad Cavern National Park and the bats’ nightly flight from its enormous natural entrance. All my books, including collections of my science-inspired poetry, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. You’ll also find paperbacks at Create Space and all major digital formats at Smashwords. Read one today.