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Nature Notes – Spiders
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Nature Notes – Spiders

Let’s face it: spiders don’t have a very good press. They have an image problem. Some people fear them, others dislike them, and some outright hate them. This is unjust and unfair, because we all benefit from their presence.

In fact, spiders are very useful and play a vital role in ecosystems. They kill pests, aphids and other plant-sucking insects. They control flies, beetles and grasshoppers but leave alone pollinating insects. Thus, they are a gardener’s best friend, according to biodiversity expert Cameron Smith. We should respect them. As we shall see, they are also very interesting creatures that have a few neat tricks up their eight hairy legs. They are a food source for many animals, forming an important link in the food chain. Many species of birds and other predators feed exclusively on spiders. Without spiders, insect populations around the world would explode, food crops would be obliterated, and insect-borne diseases would skyrocket. Spiders eat tons of insects every year. Spiders live among us in almost every conceivable habitat. Evolution has equipped them with a myriad of techniques for capturing insect prey: jumping spiders leap, crab spiders ambush, wolf spiders give chase and web-weaving spiders entrap. No other group of animals has been hunting insects so efficiently for so long. But they also have predators: birds, toads, frogs, ants, wasps, and centipedes. Scientists say there are 42,000 known arachnids and probably another 40,000 yet to be identified species; 1,500 species live in Ontario. Spiders can be daunting to identify as the colour of a species is often quite variable, even when mature, while immature spiders are sometimes very different than adults. Males and females of the same species may be similar or quite different in coloration and size. Males are slightly or much smaller than females. Most spiders have eight legs and eight eyes – two main eyes that focus on details within a small field of vision, and six secondary eyes that detect patterns of light and dark. However, they generally have poor eyesight. Most spiders lay their eggs in a finely woven silk web and take off, letting the eggs fend for themselves – but not the wolf spider. Wolf spiders strap their eggs to themselves and carry them around for up to 10 days. Once the little ones hatch, female wolf spiders continue to care for them, even letting them hitch a free ride on their backs until the young are old enough to care for themselves. [caption id="attachment_41733" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Jumping Spider[/caption] All spiders are poisonous, but 99% of them are harmless to humans. Almost all spin silk of different kinds, 1/100th the diameter of human hair, but twice as strong as steel, stretchable and elastic. Spiders use silk for lining their burrows, protecting their egg sacs, anchoring themselves with safety lines, and of course, building webs – either orb webs, mesh webs, cobwebs, sheet webs or funnel webs. Spider silk is also used by some birds for nest-building. Spider webs can contain more than 60 meters of silk, some contain more than 3,000 attachment points, and spiders eat part of their old webs to produce silk for new ones, so they are recyclers by nature. The remarkably durable, tough and flexible spider silk is currently being used to drive advances in medicine, and bioengineers have developed ways to turn the protein found in spider silk into a biodegradable adhesive to repair broken bones. But not all spiders spin webs. Many simply hunt for their prey or lurk in dark corners waiting for their prey to come to them. Spiders native to Southern Ontario include the black and yellow garden spider, found in gardens and orchards, and considered Toronto’s unofficial spider; the zebra jumping spider, hunting on walls and fences; the common house spider; the northern black widow spider, feeding on insects as well as on millipedes and centipedes; the orchard orbweaver, that prefers bushes and low trees in moist, wooded areas; and the cellar spider, also known as daddy-longlegs or harvestman. The most common spiders in our area are the orbweavers. They construct ornate, expansive, vertical bug nets, up to 75 cm wide. They sit in the centre of these spirally-ringed sticky silk webs in sunny but sheltered spots, waiting for their prey, which sticks to the spider net. But how come that spiders don’t stick to their own webs when the walk on them? That’s another one of their neat tricks. A spider begins by attaching a single strand of silk horizontally between two supports. It then builds an outside rim, like a bicycle wheel, and then attaches spokes and a spiral from the centre to the outside of the web. These parts of the web are all composed of non-sticky silk. With this frame firmly in place, the spider adds the sticky strands, once again in a spiral pattern. It then connects this spiral to the non-sticky spokes. So when the spider runs across from the centre to grab a prey, it travels along the spokes, stepping on the bits that are not sticky. The male mating instinct can affect the quality of the web. Male orbweavers can build proper webs as juveniles, but as soon as they become adults, their attention is elsewhere. At that stage they make lousy webs because they don’t want to waste time and rather grab some dinner. Then they hang around females waiting for a chance to mate – keeping, of course, to the non-sticky threads. They serenade a potential mate by plucking a tune on a female’s web. Most Ontario spiders mate in early summer and then wrap their eggs in cocoons. Soon after hatching, the tiny spiderlings swarm to the tops of plants or shrubs and spin a thin thread of silk which catches in the slightest breeze and lifts them up into the air. This is called “ballooning” and in Ontario it occurs in autumn. This manoeuvre distributes them over wide distances and keeps the spider population from becoming too concentrated in one area. As night falls, the silk becomes laden with moisture and the tiny paratroopers drop back to the earth. The ant-mimic jumping spider is rewriting natural history after scientists discovered that it produces milk and suckles its young for up to 40 days. The fluid secreted by these spiders is four times as nutritious as cow’s milk. Feeding continues long after the little spiderlings can forage on their own. It probably evolved during a period when food was scarce.

Green Resolutions for the New Year
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Green Resolutions for the New Year

New Year, greener you? Here are some actions that you can take every day to reduce your impact on the planet. These steps can be adopted by everyone, and are friendly to the environment, and to our wallets! Adding these tips to our to do lists will help us reduce our carbon footprints and energy consumption, contribute to our local economy and feel better! Start the year on the right (and green) foot!

Lights: Switch to LED and turn them off!

Needless to say, consider turning off the lights when you are not at home or try keeping them turned on for shorter periods of time. On top of this, switching to LED lights, solar powered lights, or lights powered by rechargeable batteries can help you save energy!! LED lights use about 33% less power and last longer!

Turn down your thermostat!

Consider turning down your thermostat during the day when you’re out of the house and at night. Not only will this save you some money, but it will also reduce your carbon footprint! It also means you can wear on your cosiest sweater and slippers around the house and have a better sleep if the room is cooler!

Add some greenery to your home!

Now that the days are shorter and snow is beginning to fall, we could all use some more green nature in our lives. Consider getting some indoor plants for your house. Not only will they help purify the air in your home, but they will also add a cozy and happy atmosphere to your home, as well as help retain moisture and heat!

Eat green, and eat local!

During the winter months going to local farmer’s markets can be tough, however there are indoor winter markets in most cities. Try to buy local seasonal produce this winter. Not only will this help support local businesses, but it will also help prevent excess shipping and packaging of produce. Plus, the produce will probably taste better when it’s fresh!

Carpool or take public transportation

In the winter we tend to leave our engines running longer to warm up the car before heading out to work. This winter, consider finding a carpool buddy or take public transportation whenever possible. You will be helping the environment by reducing your carbon footprint and saving money on gas. If you must use your car regularly, try minimizing your car idling time.

Curtains: Open and Close

Closing your curtains at night can help keep the heat in, but if it’s a sunny day consider opening your curtains to let in some natural heat during the day.

Get outside as much as you can!

Try to get outside as much as possible, even if it means a short walk around your building at lunch. Spending time in the light can also help suppress that sleepy feeling and keep you energized for the rest of your day! On weekends, try to get outdoors, whether it’s walking around your neighbourhood or city, going on winter hikes, or doing winter sports such as skiing and skating. The more you spend outside, the happier you’ll feel!

January Calendar Image: The Mountain Bluebird
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January Calendar Image: The Mountain Bluebird

The Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides), which is largely found on the west coast of North America, can be easily recognized by its beautiful sky-blue colour. Although this deep blue colour is only found in males, the females, which are mostly grey-brown, also have a tinge of pale blue on their wings and tail.

Both male and female Mountain Bluebirds tend to be a similar size, somewhere between a House Sparrow and an American Robin, about 16 to 20 cm in length, weighing approximately 30 g.

The habitat of the Mountain Bluebird varies between breeding and nonbreeding seasons. During their breeding season, these little birds prefer open areas of short grasses, shrubs, and trees. This range extends from Alaska to the North-western United States and east towards Manitoba. As a migratory bird, the Mountain Bluebird will travel south for the winter, sometimes travelling as far south as central Mexico.

When these birds are in breeding season, the males will seek out nest cavities, and the females will choose the best one. Although, due to human interest in these animals, there is a preferred attraction to nest boxes making this species vulnerable to human associated hazards. Due to this, little is known about natural nest cavities as most research has been focused on human made nest boxes. Once a male has settled on a nesting site, he will sometimes mime the act of bringing in nesting material to attract a potential female to inspect the site. Once the female has accepted the site, she will then begin to gather and build the nest out of dry grass and other vegetation. A usual clutch size for these birds is about 4 to 8 eggs.

Like many other bluebirds, the Mountain Bluebird will forage from perches. However, they are also excellent aerial foragers and will hover (similar to kestrels and hawks) before dropping onto their prey. This hovering technique is usually only used when food is scarce as it takes up more energy than hunting from a perch.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, this species benefited from the increased forest clearings as it opened up new habitats for foraging and nesting cavities. However, as more settlers arrived, more habitat was destroyed, leading to a decline in the population. Naturalists were afraid that the Bluebirds would become extinct, therefore, bird boxes were made in an attempt to repopulate the species. Luckily, the Mountain Bluebird is of a Low Concern conservation status. However, there are still certain populations where decline can be observed. Areas where trees are too small to provide sufficient nesting cavities and where forest management are reducing available nesting sites are one of the bigger problems. As well as, there is competition between other bluebird species, House Sparrows, European Starlings, and House Wrens for the nest boxes and nest cavities.

These are a species that bird lovers will most certainly try to protect. Their bright colour and beautiful song are only two of the many reasons that make this bird so special!

Exemptions from federal environmental review for oil and gas projects unjustified, say environmental groups
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Exemptions from federal environmental review for oil and gas projects unjustified, say environmental groups

Ensuring federal assessment of high-carbon projects is critical if Canada is to step up Paris Agreement ambitions at COP 24.

For Immediate Release – December 6, 2018, OTTAWA – Some of Canada’s largest and most polluting industrial projects may get a free pass on federal review under a new law if the government capitulates to industry demands, warn leading environmental groups. The groups are calling on Canada to expand the list of projects it reviews to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental damage from proposed industrial development are minimized. Bill C-69, which includes the Impact Assessment Act, has been subject to intense lobbying in the Senate to weaken or kill the Bill. In recent weeks, the oil and gas and nuclear industries have also begun claiming that their projects – some of Canada’s riskiest – should be exempt altogether from the new law. The Impact Assessment Act mandates the government to weigh the positive and negative impacts of projects that affect the environment, considering factors such as climate change, potential harm to watersheds and endangered species, public safety, and Indigenous rights, in order to minimize harms and boost benefits. The environmental groups have developed a comprehensive list of major projects that should be reviewed under Bill C-69 if Canada is to meet its climate targets. Highlighted project categories include:
  • All projects that propose to emit more than 50,000 tonnes of GHGs per year until 2030, descending to 5,000 tonnes by 2040, including in situ oil sands projects, cement plants, and oil and gas pipelines;
  • All projects requiring permits under the Fisheries Act and Canadian Navigable Waters Act, including hydroelectric dams;
  • Projects located in National Parks, National Wildlife Areas or other federal protected areas, including new roads, ski hills and tourist attractions;
  • Construction or installation of nuclear reactors, including small modular reactors;
  • Projects that impact species at risk and their critical habitat; and
  • Projects that will induce further development, such as roads and transmission lines into relatively undeveloped areas.
How can Minister McKenna claim that Canada is stepping up its ambitions with respect to the Paris Agreement, when her government does not even plan to assess how to reduce pollution from high-carbon projects such as in situ oil sands projects and cement plants?” says Stephen Hazell, Director of Policy and General Counsel at Nature Canada. “The purpose of impact assessment is to look before you leap,” says Anna Johnston, Staff Lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law Association. “In this era of catastrophic climate change and mass extinction, we need to ensure we are making wise decisions that minimize environmental harm and benefit communities. Impact assessment is the right tool to do that, but only if it applies across the board.” -30-
For more information, please contact: Stephen Hazell | Director of Policy & General Counsel, Nature Canada 613-724-1908 (cell) 613-562-3447 ext. 240 (office) shazell@naturecanada.ca Anna Johnston | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law Association 604-340-2304 (cell – on Eastern time zone) ajohnston@wcel.org Karine Péloffy | Legal Counsel, Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement 514-746-6597 (cell, available in FR and ENG) k.peloffy@gmail.com Patrick DeRochie | Climate & Energy Program Manager, Environmental Defence 416-576-2701 (cell) pderochie@environmentaldefence.ca Josh Ginsberg | Lawyer, Ecojustice 613-562-5800 ext. 3399 jginsberg@ecojustice.ca
View the recommended entries to the project list. Click here for the PDF version of this press release.

Holiday Wishes for Canada’s Nature!
Photo of a Bill Maynard
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Holiday Wishes for Canada’s Nature!

Holiday Wishes for Canada’s Nature!

Thanks to thousands of Nature Canada members for taking time to let decision makers know you care dearly about Canada’s wildlife and wilderness. Here’s an inspiring WISH LIST from members like YOU showing your compassion and dedication to nature: Canada needs to focus on environmental leadership, intact biomes and preservation of wild areas for the future. -Beth We are all citizens of the world.  We are all connected through our common requirement of a healthy environment to survive on this planet.  -Mona We can chose to turn the corner on environmental decline and make protection of our natural habitat the priority that it needs to be.  -Eileen Future generations of Canadians deserve to live in a Canada rich with Caribou, Otter, Whales, Wolverines, Owls and Cougars.  -Michael The collective future of the flora and fauna should be placed before short term and short sighted goals!  -Marjorie Let’s recognize and understand the very powerful yet delicate balance of the natural world.    -Lauri Stewardship and care of the diverse landscapes of Canada should be a priority for our government.  -Marcus

THANKS to YOU again – our generous donors – for your kindness and trust to help defend nature!

Five reasons to protect Bighorn Country!
Bighorn Sheep by Tim Hopwood
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Five reasons to protect Bighorn Country!

The Alberta provincial government is currently asking Canadians for their comments on protecting Bighorn Country. The area is the missing piece of parkland that would connect Jasper and Banff National Park and a critical piece of habitat in the eastern Rocky Mountains. The provincial government has just begun it’s Bighorn Public Consultation. Permanently protecting the area is a really important step, but Canadians need to tell the government that conservation is important - otherwise, it may not happen. Read on to learn why we need to protect the Bighorn.

1. Protection for iconic Canadian wildlife

It goes without saying - Bighorn Country is big country for Bighorn Sheep. Who else lives there? Important and at-risk species including Grizzly Bears, Wolverines, Mountain Goats, Rainbow Trout and Bull Trout. These animals need large ranges of mountain territory to survive amidst increasing development and human pressure. The protected areas in Bighorn are adjacent to Jasper and Banff National Parks, securing more uninterrupted habitat for these iconic species.
 
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2. Protect our drinking water

Wildlife isn’t the only group relying on natural resources in the Bighorn. The area is the source to both the North Saskatchewan and Red Deer rivers, which provide drinking water to more than 1.5 million Canadians across the western provinces, including the city of Edmonton.
 
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3. Protection for outdoor adventure

Bighorn is a treasure for people who love to get outside - whether it’s hiking, skiing, paddling, fishing, horseback riding, hunting or rock and ice climbing. Many groups and organizations that care about getting out into nature have supported the park proposal, including the Alberta Hiking Association and the Alpine Club of Canada. The plan includes protecting access to the backcountry, investing in front-country facilities to manage camping and day hiking and preserving Public Land Use Zones east of the Bighorn for quads and snowmobiles.
 
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4. Encourage sustainable tourism

The plan for Bighorn includes establishing eight new Alberta parks and recreation areas - ensuring that the protected area has something for everyone. New frontcountry facilities will help manage increasing tourism and keep the backcountry pristine. The provincial government has committed funding to refurbish 240 existing campsites and the creation of more than 150 new campsites. That will include money for parking lots, trails and extended tourism leases to help manage visitors to the Alberta camping area.
 
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5. Helps Canada meet 2020 promises to protect nature

Under the UN Aichi biodiversity targets, Canada has committed to protecting 17 per cent of land and freshwater by 2020. The good news is, protecting Bighorn Country (approximately 4000 square kilometres of new park) will count towards that goal.
 
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So what can you do to help?

What can you do? Send a Bighorn letter of support to Premier Notley and the Bighorn Consultation Group in support of the plan to protect Bighorn Country. The government is also looking for responses to a detailed survey, which will take 15-20 minutes to complete. CPAWS Alberta has provided a “quick comment” survey guide. Thanks for using your voice to protect nature! Nature Canada would like to give special thanks to CPAWS Alberta, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and Alberta Wilderness Association for their work on this campaign.

Beekeepers and ENGOs Fight to Protect Bees from Harmful Effects of Neonicotinoids
Bees Activities by Clay Ross
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Beekeepers and ENGOs Fight to Protect Bees from Harmful Effects of Neonicotinoids

In early December, I had the privilege of meeting representatives from the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association and the Fédération des Apiculteurs du Québec to hear about their advocacy work with respect to neonicotinoid pesticides. Since first experiencing wide-spread hive die-offs in 2012, beekeepers have been concerned about the excessive and unprecedented losses of colonies from the inappropriate use of neonicotinoid pesticide treated seeds. In response, the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association and the Fédération des Apiculteurs have urged provincial ministers to take action to rapidly and drastically reduce the amount of neonics in the environment. After years of inaction at the federal or provincial levels, the beekeepers associations have taken their fight to court. On February 20, 2018 the Superior Court of Quebec authorized a class action lawsuit on behalf of beekeepers of Quebec against Bayer CropScience Inc., Bayer Inc., Bayer CropScience AG, Syngenta Canada Inc., and Syngenta International AG in connection with neonics. The class action is based on allegations that the Defendants studied, designed, developed, produced, distributed, marketed and/or sold the neonics that would have caused the loss of bee colonies, resulting in financial damage or loss to beekeepers. Beekeepers of Ontario have launched similar action in Ontario court and await a decision certifying the class action. At the same time, David Suzuki FoundationOntario NatureFriends of the Earth Canada, and Wilderness Committee, represented by Ecojustice lawyers, are engaged in a lawsuit arguing that the way Canada currently regulates neonics is unlawful. They are asking the court to rule that the PMRA’s “approve first, study science later” approach is unlawful and that the practice of granting approvals without science cannot continue.

Nature Canada sends its best wishes all of these advocacy organizations in their fight to protect Canada’s bees – and all other critters – from the harmful impacts of neonicotinoids.

European Union Neonic Ban to Protect Bees
Photo by Sandy Nelson
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European Union Neonic Ban to Protect Bees

The EU’s ban on neonicotinoid pesticides is set to come into force on December 19, 2018; giving bees and other critters a chance to thrive in the New Year. The EU has adopted a near-total ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. The use of all three neonics across the EU has been restricted to non-flowering crops since 2013. The new ban would go further, completely prohibiting their use outdoors. The ban is in response to a science review conducted by the European Food Safety Authority – Pesticides Unit, which concluded that the outdoor use of neonics harms bees. Exposure of both honeybees and wild bees (bumblebees and solitary bees) to neonics was assessed via three routes: residues in bee pollen and nectar; dust drift during the sowing/application of the treated seeds; and water consumption. The ban does not extended to all neonics or uses of neonics. Two neonics - sulfoxaflor and thiacloprid - are not covered by the ban. In addition, farmers may still use clothianidin, imiacloprid and thiamethoxam in greenhouses.

It is a step towards protecting bees and birds from the harmful impacts of neonics. It is time for Canada to follow suit!

Cree Nation Government proposes an impressive network of Protected Areas
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Cree Nation Government proposes an impressive network of Protected Areas

Nature Canada is thrilled to learn of the Cree Nation Government’s proposal to protect 30% of its territory. Working with the Cree Nation Government and other partners on bird conservation, we know the Cree have a strong connection to the land and a deep knowledge of how best to protect their territories. It's no coincidence that their careful stewardship – over thousands of years – has resulted in some of the richest areas for wildlife, including caribou, bears and rare birds. Many years of work have gone into the Cree Nation Government’s proposal, including careful analysis of watersheds, biodiversity, wildlife surveys and mapping projects. The project combines scientific data (including Nature Canada efforts) with Cree knowledge about culturally significant sites and species. Many of the locations included in the submission to the Quebec Government at the end of November are both ecologically and culturally important. Nature Canada and Cree Nation work on Important Bird Areas Since 2012, Nature Canada has been working in partnership with the Cree Nation Government, as well as the Eeyou Marine Region Wildlife Board, the Cree Trappers Association, several First Nations along the East Coast of James Bay, and Nature Quebec, to protect birds. Our work to date has concentrated in the traditional territory of the Cree Nation of Waskaganish, including Rupert Bay, Charlton Island and Boatswain Bay. This year we have also begun work with the Cree Nation of Wemindji. Many local community members were involved in this work, which:

  • identified important habitat and populations for the endangered Rufa Red Knot.
  • confirmed one of the densest breeding populations for the Special Concern Yellow Rail.
  • confirmed a previously unknown breeding population of the Special Concern Horned Grebe.
  • encountered other species at risk including Common Nighthawks, Olive-sided Flycatchers, Red-necked Phalaropes and very large numbers of shorebirds and sea ducks.
  • observed Woodland Caribou and Polar Bears in the course of our surveys.

Exempt Oil and Gas projects from Federal Law?
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Exempt Oil and Gas projects from Federal Law?

Nature Canada supports passage by Parliament of Bill C-69, which includes the proposed Impact Assessment Act. This law mandates the government to weigh the positive and negative impacts of projects that affect the environment, considering factors such as climate change, potential harm to watersheds and endangered species, public safety, and Indigenous rights, in order to minimize harms and boost benefits. The oil and gas industry has been lobbying in the Senate to weaken or kill the Bill, which was passed by the House of Commons in June. The oil and gas industry has also been lobbying to ensure that in situ oil sands projects, most pipelines, and fracking projects should be exempt from the new law even if it is passed. Nature Canada and other environmental groups are calling on Canada to expand the list of projects it reviews to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental damage from proposed industrial development are minimized. In particular, Nature Canada is arguing that federal assessments should be required for all projects that propose to emit more than 50,000 tonnes of GHGs per year, that require permits under the Fisheries Act and Canadian Navigable Waters Act and projects located in National Parks, National Wildlife Areas or other federal protected areas (e.g., new roads, ski hills, tourist attractions).

Here is the link to the joint media release and comprehensive list of project categories that should be assessed.  

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