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Calendar Image: The Lynx
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Calendar Image: The Lynx

The Lynx is a medium-sized wildcat, easily recognized by its short tail, long legs, large paws, and its tufted ears. There are four species of lynx found around the world. The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) tend to be larger than the North American species, the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). There is also the familiar Bobcat (Lynx rufus) that is the most abundant wildcat in the United States. The final lynx species, the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is also the world’s most endangered cat, with a population of about 400 individuals. Lynx species tend to weigh approximately the same, ranging from 5 kg to 14 kg, and measuring around 90 cm in length. The habitat range of lynxes varies between species. For example, the North American bobcat is widespread in the United States, and can be found in southern Canada as well as Mexico. Whereas the Canada lynx can be found in most boreal forests across Canada, and in western Montana, Idaho, Washington and Utah. The Canada lynx tends to prefer forested habitats, such as old growth boreal forests, where they can make their dens underneath fallen trees, tree stumps, or thick bushes. However, the lynx will populate other habitats providing there is an adequate number of prey, and minimal forest coverage. Lynxes tend to be very territorial and solitary animals, only being around other lynxes during the winter breeding season. Mating usually occurs between February and March of each year, with the young being born in April and May. The kittens are born under brush piles, uprooted trees, or in hollow logs to provide shelter from the cold, and are reared solely by the female. Female lynxes can start breeding as they approach one year of age, but this depends on the availability of snowshoe hares and on their own physical conditions. Figure 1. Habitat range of the Canada lynx (Canadian Geographic).In the winter, more than 75% of the lynx’s diet consists of the snowshoe hare. When snowshoe hare abundance is large, a lynx may kill one hare every one or two days. In the summer, the lynx’s diet appears to be more varied consisting of hares, grouse, voles, mice, squirrels, and foxes. Like most members of the cat family, the lynx hunts silently and will hunt at night, watching and listening to their prey. The lynx has a few predators, including cougars, wolves, and coyotes. However, the biggest threat to lynxes are humans. In Canada, fur trapping is one of the biggest causes of death for lynxes, apart from the population decline of their main prey, the snowshoe hare. Lynxes are fairly easy to catch, and when prices rise for their fur, most lynxes can be removed from a given area. Even today, the lynx is trapped in all provinces and territories except Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Luckily, there are regulations put in place to restrict the number of lynxes that can be killed during the given year. Biologists have also suggested closing trapping seasons if the lynx population drops into a low cycle. It is important to keep studying the effects of fur trapping and monitoring the populations to ensure the Canada lynx does not become a threatened or endangered species!  

5 Tips to Raise a Nature Lover
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5 Tips to Raise a Nature Lover

Any parent knows that taking your kids in nature is extremely beneficial for physical . However, in a world dominated by technology and screens, it becomes very complicated to make your kids go out and enjoy a day in nature. Even though the outside world is fascinating, it is tough to take kids away from all the electronic games they can play indoors. So, what can be done? The best solution is to start from an early age and raise your kid with a love for nature. Here are five tips to raising a nature lover.

1. Take activities outside

Not every parent has the necessary time to go hiking in a park, or easy access to walking trails. Fortunately, there are several indoor activities that can be relocated to the outdoors. For example, you can read your kid’s favorite stories on the porch of your house or in the backyard. If you do not have access to a backyard, you can also have playdates at the park, or even have an outdoor picnic with family! Do not worry if it is cold outside – there are also plenty of mom-approved winter activities to get kids into nature!

2. Cultivate a curiosity for nature

Kids are curious by nature. The outdoors offer endless opportunities for exploring, and discovery. This is why it is crucial to expose children to nature and cultivate their sense of wonder at an early age. Once they’re outside, challenge them to use all their senses! What animal sounds can they detect in the forest? How many colours do they see in one natural space? Can they see any animal marknigs on the ground, or feel the direction in which the wind is blowing?

3. Include nature in your family traditions

Good habits should always come from the family. Thus, if you want your kid to love nature, then you should do it as a family tradition. For instance, you can have a regular family tradition to spend time outdoors on several occasions. You can go each month for a picnic or have dinner under the full moon. Don’t be afraid by stormy nights. If you have any fear related to nature, then it will be transmitted to your kid as well. So, even if it’s “pouring cats and dogs,” take your kid’s hand and go out for a full moon walk, showing him how nature changes its face under heavy rains. Furthermore, you can create other family traditions like collecting snails after rain or stones shaped in weird forms. Start with something that’s easy and fun to accomplish together.

4. Build memories

One great activity is building specific memories that will encourage your kids to identify with nature. While it is great to discover new places, there is value to creating a routine by taking your kid back every year to a natural spot they enjoyed in the past. Point out how the place changed each year and make them curious and excited to come back the next year!

5. Allow your kid to spend time alone in nature

Even though you are nearby, you should let children have their moments of solitude in nature. Give them enough time and space to explore and analyze the natural world. This will encourage them to observe and appreciate nature on their own from a young age.
Daniela McVicker is a freelance writer, psychologist and a family counsellor. Her passion is writing about leading a healthy family life and helping people enjoy their lives to the fullest.

Not Every Bug Is Harmful – 7 Most Common Household Bugs That Aren’t Harmful
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Not Every Bug Is Harmful – 7 Most Common Household Bugs That Aren’t Harmful

The sight of insects in the house has most reaching for a swatter or bug spray. But did you know that there are quite a few insects, commonly found in or around our homes that aren’t harmful? In fact, they are actually good for the ecosystem, meaning that you and the environment can benefit from leaving them as they are! Before you reach for a fly swatter or bug spray - make sure you aren't

The Honey Bee

Bees are an crucial aspect of ecosystems because they help with the pollination process of flowers and crops. On average a single bee can pollinate up to 100 flowers in one trip!

You don’t really have to worry about a honey bee unless you spot a beehive around your home. It is better to have the hive removed unless you plan on starting a bee farm.

The Ladybug

Ladybugs, are one of the most harmless insects you can come across. They may be a nuisance if they come inside your home but they do no harm. They do play a role in eating smaller pests such as mites, aphids, and fruit flies. So they actually do you a favor by ensuring there is no infestation of smaller pests in your home. Pests that can actually be harmful, more so than the ladybug.

© Lucie Gagnon

Spiders

You rarely find harmful spiders such as the black widow or brown recluses in homes. Those are obviously spiders you need to be careful because of their venom. The common house spider, wolf, and the long-bodied cellar spiders are not harmful. Like the ladybug, these spiders also help get rid of household pests and smaller insects around your home. So these can actually prove to be quite useful to keep around.

The Praying Mantis

If you have a garden, then you are probably well aware of the wonders of the praying mantis. The insect can help keep your garden clean of all types of pests. This ensures that the insect population is controlled and your plants remain intact. Of course, we recommend you make sure that the mantis stays outside and doesn’t come in. But that doesn’t occur very often as the mantis prefers the outdoors.

The Solider Beetle

The soldier beetle isn’t the most appealing insect, it kind of resembles a cockroach. However, they are beneficial for the ecosystem of your house garden. The beetle feeds on aphids, which can be dangerous for the health of your garden. They also help with pollinating flowers, helping your garden grow.

The Centipede

While the centipede is one of those creepy crawlers that we hate encountering, they aren’t harmful to humans. They usually have anywhere from 15 to 177 pairs of legs, which give it that repulsive look. While it contains venom, the centipede doesn’t have the capability to prick through the human skin, so it isn’t harmful. It does keep other insects in check and ensures that pests don’t easily infest your home.

The Yellow Jacket Wasp

The yellow jacket wasp looks a lot like your honey bee, but they are bigger in size. Like the honey bee, they are also great for flower pollination. Besides this, they also prey on numerous pests you find around your home like grubs and caterpillar. These wasps do sting harder than the bee but you normally have nothing to worry about with them.


Insects aren’t all harmful, make sure you know the insect you encounter before you exterminate it. If they fall in this list, it is probably better if you learn to live with them. They will prove to be more beneficial than harmful for you and your home.

About the Author

Luqman Butter has been a pest control technician for over 20 years. He is passionate about solving people’s pest and wildlife control problems through innovative, eco-friendly and humane methods.

Reducing Anxiety Through Nature
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Reducing Anxiety Through Nature

Sherry has taken her upbringing in rural Saskatchewan, together with a career in public health, to the "natural" conclusion that time in nature is good for us, physically, emotionally and socially.

Is “fight or flight” a friend or foe?

For millennia, the biological 'fight or flight' reaction has served to protect members of the animal kingdom from harm. It kicks in when there is potential danger; for example, when a rabbit senses a fox.  There is an autonomic cascade of reactions that is activated in the amygdala in the brain.  In turn, it signals the hypothalamus which launches a series of reactions of the sympathetic nervous system.  Adrenaline floods the body causing increased heart rate and respiration.  Glucose goes to the muscles for instant energy; senses are heightened to hear, see and smell danger.  If the threat continues, additional hormones are released, including cortisol, to sustain the stress reaction for longer periods of time[i]. This physiological response enables the "fight"- the buffalo charges the wolf, the blue jay attacks the owl, the mother bear protects her cubs.  In some species it enables the 'flight'- the slap and swim of the beaver, the skittishness of songbirds, the sudden dive of a frog. Quick response to danger is vital to survival of the organism, and ultimately of the species.

The Human Experience

Humans also experience this biological phenomenon when we are stressed. Nowadays, the stress is seldom related to a predator's attack, but we do experience a stress response to difficult life events as well as day to day challenges.  We feel our heart pound, our breathing quicken, our muscles tense, our gut clench. This response helps us respond to emergencies and extract ourselves from uncomfortable situations.  Mild stress can be positive; it heightens our senses, motivates us and improves performance. But what happens when our body stays in a persistent stress response?  We become overly anxious, worried, tense, tired and even depressed.  We experience panic attacks without provocation.  Chronic stress with elevated hormones is hard on our blood vessels and cardiovascular system; it increases the appetite leading to weight gain[ii]. If it reaches a level where it interferes with daily living it can become a clinical anxiety disorder:  phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety, post traumatic stress syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder[iii].  According to Statistics Canada 8.6% of Canadians have a diagnosed anxiety disorder[iv].

The Effects of Time In Nature

Time in nature can directly counteract some of the physiological and psychological effects of anxiety.  Research is showing that for healthy individuals time in greenspace contributes to mental health; for those with diagnosed mental illness, including anxiety disorders, time in nature can be an effective component of treatment[v]. Spending time in, or even passively viewing, greenspace, has beneficial psychophysiological effects[vi] by lowering blood pressure, muscle tension, and heart rate.  Cortisol is lower in people when they are in nature.  The Attention Restoration effect reduces some of the mental fatigue of being in protracted fight or flight mode.  Time in nature decreases rumination, which is the persistent recurrence of unwanted negative thoughts[vii].  The affiliated effects of time in nature, in particular increased physical activity and increased social connectedness, in and of themselves, are beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety[viii].

Getting nature in your day

With the hectic holiday period soon upon us, let all of us ensure that we build time in nature into our daily routines.  Walk through the park on the way to work, watch the birds at the feeder for a few extra minutes, get out on the snowshoes in the woods.  Use a natural scene as your computer screensaver, put up some photographs from your camping trip, get some plants or fresh cut flowers for the house, start a nature journal to record thoughts, observations, doodles and poetry. There is some irony that nature where generations of humans experienced “fight or flight” is now our respite from stress. The natural world is balm for the senses; even in the winter, the smell of balsam, the fresh cold on the face, the sound of running water, the serenity of snow covered trees can help us de-stress and calm the anxious mind. Wishing you all time in nature, and may it bring you peace and good health in 2019! Sherry, RN BSN
[i] Harvard Medical School.  Understanding the stress response.  Downloaded on November 8, 2018 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response [ii] ibid [iii] Canadian Mental Health Association.  Anxiety Disorders.  Downloaded November 9, 2018 from https://cmha.ca/documents/anxiety-disorders [iv] Statistics Canada.  2017. Mental Health Disorders and Life Satisfaction in Canada. Downloaded on November 8, 2018 from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2017033-eng.htm [v] National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health. 2015. Summary:  Review of Green Space and Mental Health.  Downloaded October 2016 from http://www.ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Summary-Greenspace_Mental_Health_Mar_2015.pdf [vi] Beyer, K. M. M., Kaltenbach, A., Szabo, A., Bogar, S., Nieto, F. J., & Malecki, K. M. (2014). Exposure to Neighborhood Green Space and Mental Health: Evidence from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin . International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 11(3), 3453–3472  Downloaded November 8, 2018 from https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/11/3/3453/htm [vii] Bratman et al. 2015.  Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation.  Downloaded May 3, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507237/#!po=8.62069 [viii] National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health. 2015. Summary:  Review of Green Space and Mental Health.  Downloaded October 2016 from http://www.ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Summary-Greenspace_Mental_Health_Mar_2015.pdf
 

Swimming with Species – The Porbeagle Shark!
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Swimming with Species – The Porbeagle Shark!

Ever wonder how life is in the deep blue sea? What lives among coral reefs, undersea mountains and volcanos, grooves and caves? What the differences are between freshwater and saltwater biodiversity? What’s the biggest species? The fiercest? The weirdest? Well, we wondered too; and thus, let’s go Swimming with Species to find out all about animals that lurk in the waters around Canada!


Today’s species is the Porbeagle Shark!

The Porbeagle shark is found in open seas in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. In the North Atlantic, if you are anywhere from Newfoundland to New Jersey to Greenland and Russia, you might have the opportunity to witness one. But do not fear, the Porbeagle shark is known not to feed on other mammals, and is actually recognized for its playful behaviour!  The main diet of the Porbeagle shark consists of herring, lancetfish and mackerel. However, they do also dine on cod, redfish, haddock, squid and shellfish. Overall, their diet consists of pelagic (open sea) creatures. If you think you see a Porbeagle shark, look for its distinctive features. It has dark bluish-grey to bluish-black colouring on its back with white colour underneath. On its tail, it has a secondary keel underneath its longer primary keel. This shark has a stout head, with a pointed snout and large black eyes. Its teeth are small and smooth-edged narrow, with lateral cusps at the base of each tooth. But its most recognizable feature is the white spot at the base of the first dorsal fin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHmWe0Qj4w8 The Porbeagle shark joins the other species of sharks found in Canadian waters including the white shark, salmon shark, and shortfin mako. Different from other shark species', the Porbeagle shark has to keep moving in order to breathe. It also has a heat regulating mechanism that keeps its body temperature 3 to 8°C above the surrounding water temperature. This shark is limited to where it can go, and so, it spends most of its time in waters between 8 and 13°C. When not in the cooler waters, the mature female Porbeagle sharks migrate south to the seas between Cuba and Bermuda. It has also been seen near Brazil and Chile. It is in the warmer waters that the females pup, which occurs in late winter or early spring. Yet, their mating occurs in southern Newfoundland, in September to November. The Porbeagle shark prefers to remain in deep waters between 1,350 to 4,400 feet, but they often shift from shallow to deep, even being sighted in waters as shallow as 3.3 feet! The female can produce between 1-5 pups, but generally it is only four that are between 60-75cm long at birth. The female Porbeagles reach sexual maturity at a size of 217 cm long (which they reach around 13 years of age), while males mature at 174 cm (8 years old). The adults can reach a size of over 3 meters (10-12 feet)! Usually, it is only between 1.5-1.8 m and 135 kg (298 lbs). They have a life expectancy of 30-40 years, with most Porbeagle sharks indicating growth rings in the vertebrae that indicate at least 26 years of age before death. The biggest threat that the shark is facing is overfishing, both by fishing on purpose and by accident. This makes the Porbeagle very likely to be caught as bycatch. Luckily, directed fishing has been suspended, which does provide some hope for this helpless shark, but they still continue to be caught as bycatch. When caught, fisheries have strict rules that they must be returned to the water in a way that is least harmful. Since the fishing of the Porbeagle shark was suspended in 2013, no licenses that have been issued since that year. The population has not been estimated since 2009, but it was estimated between 197,000 to 207,000 individuals, including approximately 10,000 to 14,000 spawning females. The Porbeagles are very vulnerable to over-exploitation because they have a late age of maturity, and a small number of pups (average of 4 per litter). Sadly, the mortality rate for the Porbeagle shark is estimated at 100 tons per year (that is approximately 600-700 Porbeagle sharks per year). In addition to threats posed by fisheries, there are other human related threats. These threats include noise associated with offshore petroleum exploratory seismic surveys, and marine pollution. This species is endangered, but there are things you can do to help!
  • Learn about sharks to better understand them!
  • Reduce purchasing shark products, anything from meat to oils (found in any beauty items and health nutrition)
  • reduce your seafood consumption, this would also assist in stopping the accidental bycatch as seafood would be in less demand, so less fishing would occur.
  • In order to reduce pollution, begin your ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ regime! You have the potential to make a difference.
  • Lastly, share this with your friends and family so that can learn about this 'playful shark' that needs our help!

Herping Around with the Blanding’s Turtle
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Herping Around with the Blanding’s Turtle

Ever wonder about unusual creatures? What’s it like to be cold-blooded? Or to breathe with your skin? Ever think about what it’s like to have scaly skin and no limbs? What about hoping versus walking? Or having a shell on your back? What’s the smartest species? The cutest? The strangest? Well, we wondered too; and thus, let’s go Herping Around in Canada and learn about snakes, lizards, toads, frogs, and turtles!

Today’s species is the Blanding’s Turtle!


[caption id="attachment_38567" align="alignleft" width="317"] © Joe Crowley[/caption] Is that an army helmet laying on the ground? NO! It’s a Blanding’s Turtle! The shell of a Blanding’s Turtle is medium-sized, dome-like and resembles that of an army helmet; which is unlike most other turtles that have a wide, flatter shell. It is easily identified by its bright yellow throat, chin and shell underbelly. Its shell has black to brown yellow flakes and streaks and can reach up to 27 cm long. Apart from its bright yellow throat, its head and limbs are black-grey. Unlike other Ontario turtles, the Blanding’s Turtle can completely close their shell after pulling in their head and feet, because the bottom of the shell is hinged. This is very useful when the Blanding's Turtle is in danger! The Blanding’s turtle lives in the Great Lakes Basin, with a few other populations in the United States and elsewhere in Canada. It is found in shallow water, usually in large wetlands and shallow lakes with lots of plants. If you see one a few hundred meters away from the water, do not panic, as they often venture to find a mate or nesting site! When in hibernation, they are in the mud at the bottom of permanent water bodies, from the Late October to end of April. What’s interesting, is that the female species do not mature until at least the age of 14, with individuals living to be over 75 years old! That’s old for something so small! The female will lay up to 22 eggs in late May or early June after excavating a nest in a sunny area with good drainage. Hatchlings three to four centimeters in length, emerge in the fall and the incubation temperature of the eggs determines the gender of the offspring! Blanding’s Turtles are omnivorous (feed on plants and animals), specifically on crayfish, insects, fish, frogs and a variety of plant material. Different from other aquatic turtles who feed exclusively in the water, Blanding’s Turtles feed both in the water and on land. Blanding’s Turtles are threatened primarily due to the destruction of wetlands, their home. Not only this, but shoreline development can destroy nesting areas and disturb the land beside the water. Since Blanding’s Turtles can wander from the water a few hundred meters, that creates a new threat if the turtle ends up on the road. The more that they wander on the road, the more likely they are to be crushed. This is especially harmful to the females who need to return to the nest. Shockingly, this is one of the species that people remove from the wild to use as food or as pets! But don't worry, you can help! If you see a Blanding’s Turtle, report the sighting! This will hopefully help the city create signage for drivers or pedestrians, so that everyone can be more careful around that area! Also, you can volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park in surveys focused on species at risk. And if you live on property near the habitat where Blanding’s Turtles can be found, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of the species and its habitat. As well, if you are interested in purchasing a turtle, never buy a native species of turtle, or any that have been caught in the wild. If you see a turtle for sale that came from the wild, REPORT immediately. If you are reporting illegal activity regarding plant or wildlife, call 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667). Lastly, share this so that your friends and family can learn about the danger that the Blanding’s Turtle is in, and how they too can help!

Ants in Autumn – Nature Notes
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Ants in Autumn – Nature Notes

Retired Harvard professor and entomologist Dr. Edward O. Wilson, now 89, is the undisputed world expert on ants. He has spent his entire life studying them and has written and published a long list of books and many scientific articles about his findings. In this Nature Notes essay about these fascinating insects I draw heavily on Wilson’s insights and several other sources in an attempt to summarize what we know about these interesting creatures. Ants cover the planet in almost unimaginable numbers – a million billion by Wilson’s conservative estimate. They are found everywhere, except in polar cold, but it is in the tropics that ants achieve spectacular diversity. There are 10,000 named species of them worldwide, and likely another 10,000 unnamed ones. Canada has more than 100 species of ants, and there are 93 species in Ontario. Ants are a complex and fascinating group of insects. In terms of numbers and individuals they are the most abundant six-legged insects on Earth, making up about 10% of the total animal mass. One hectare of rainforest contains more than nine million ants. They dominate a wide range of habitats, including arid deserts, frozen tundra – and kitchen garbage cans. Ants are related to bees and wasps and are completely social insects, dependant on others in their colony for survival. They pass through life in four stages – egg, larva, pupa and adult. They are well adapted for life underground because they are almost entirely blind. Their life is run by chemical smells and tastes. Ants are generally easy to recognize; their colour is usually black, dark brown, red, or tan. Depending on the species, their size can range from 1 to 13 mm in length, with some exceptions. Like all insects, the body of an ant is divided in three distinct parts: head, thorax and abdomen. The thorax is joined to the abdomen by constricted petioles, also known as nodes. All ants have three pairs of legs used for walking, and they do not have wings, except for the reproductive swarming ants, which have two pairs of functional wings used for mating flights. Ants are social insects that live in sophisticated societies, colonies with populations often reaching hundreds of thousands. Most ant colonies build nests in soil. Some species, like the carpenter ant, tunnel into wood to create nesting chambers. A colony functions as a single organism, centered about the queen, who is the mother of the colony. Her task is to constantly lay eggs to keep the colony populated. Most colonies have only one queen and will die when she dies, although in some species a colony can have several queens. Most other colonies’ numbers can vary from 100,000 to 250,000 individuals. A typical ant colony consists of three distinct social castes: the queen, drones, and workers. To establish new colonies, ants undertake nuptial flights: swarms of winged sexual ants depart the nest in search of another location and mate for about 30 minutes. The males die shortly thereafter, along with most of the females. A small percentage of the females survive to initiate new nests. Pharaoh ant workers live only a few weeks. Workers of many other ant species can live up to three years. Most queens live more than five years. An anthill, in its simplest form, is a pile of earthsandpine needles, clay, or a composite of these and other materials that build up at the entrances of the subterranean dwellings of ant colonies. Legions of worker ants carry tiny bits of dirt and pebbles in their mandibles and deposit them near the exit of the colony.  They normally deposit the material at the top of a hill to prevent it from sliding back into the colony, but some species sculpt the materials into specific shapes and may create nest chambers within the mound. Some ant behaviour is truly remarkable. Fire ants build rafts with their bodies to escape floods. Others, again using their bodies, build towers. Ants have no architectural plans, they operate on a few rules, such as “wander aimlessly upward and if you find a non-moving ant, attach yourself to it and become a building block.” They build tower structures on wide rings at the bottom and narrow rings at the top, spreading out the weight so that any individual ant has only to support the weight of three other ants. Another striking thing about ants is that some of them just sit around doing nothing. Researchers at Georgia Tech studied groups of 30 colour-coded ants digging tunnels. About 30% of them did 70% of the work. Others did very little or nothing. Interestingly, when the researchers removed the hard-working ants, some of the previously less active ants stepped up and began working harder. Ants are also better traffic engineers than humans. They never run into stop-and-go traffic or gridlock on their trails. If an ant comes across a blockage on the road, it will pick up the obstacle, move it off the road and continue walking, making sure that traffic is not interrupted. There never is a traffic jam. Although the brains of ants are smaller than pinheads, they are engineering their highways and adjusting road traffic. They establish routes from their nests to their foraging areas, then straighten out the roads, maintain them, and create shortcuts. While on the road, they adjust where they go and how fast they go. One of the key roles that ants display in an ecosystem is dispersing seeds. European fire ants are very good at that, better than native woodland ants. A new study from the University of Toronto suggests that European fire ants are also helping to spread an invasive plant, the greater celandine. Most ant species found in Canada are omnivorous, feeding on a wide range of food sources. The dietary requirements of ants change throughout the year, depending on the season and needs of the colony. During mating season, from spring and into the summer, the colony requires ample protein to facilitate the development of the maturing larvae. Consequently, the ants forage for food high in protein, including preying on other arthropods and small invertebrates during this time of the year. As the summer continues, the colony begins to focus on preparing the nest for winter or relocating to a suitable overwintering site. Due to the energy needed to perform such tasks, ants switch from a protein-based diet to one primarily consisting of carbohydrates. The varied diet of ants regularly includes fungi, plants and organic matter, seeds, and a wide range of food items stored and consumed by humans, as well. Common structure-infesting ant species found in Canada include the black carpenter ant, pavement ant, pharaoh ant, odorous house ant, Argentine ant, and thief ant. Pavement ants, depending on the location of nests, can be a bit of a nuisance, especially if nesting indoors. Reddish pharaoh ants are another indoor nuisance pest, often attracted to foods high in protein and sugar. They commonly nest in small cavities inside furniture or behind baseboards. Carpenter ants build colonies of 3,000 or more. They are drawn to damp areas, easy-to-chew wood, often around window sills and door frames. Controlling ant predators of crops or pests in a home is a daunting challenge. Despite the vulnerability to cold (these insects do not thrive in temperatures below 20 degree Celsius) ants are remarkably hardy. Some can survive flooding. One species can live up to 14 days submerged in water! Peaceful ant colonies flourish at a greater rate than warring colonies. By studying pairs of colonies, scientists observed that after 70 days, non-aggressive colony pairs had significantly higher population numbers than combating colony pairs. Ants thrive as a cooperative female society. Perhaps these are messages we should think about. S.G.


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Sources: Canadian Wildlife Federation, Ontario Nature, Wild City (Bennet & Tiner), The Green Book (Gahbauer), E.O. Wilson, articles and personal filed notes. Nature Notes are posted as blogs on the website of Nature Canada. Earlier editions are archived on the websites of the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre and of the Rouge Valley Naturalists.
 

Swimming with Species – Orcas
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Swimming with Species – Orcas

Today’s species is the Orca!

Orcas, also known as Killer Whales, are among the best-known marine animals. They are iconic mammals of Canada’s wildlife, and hold an important symbolism among the Native communities. Orcas are super easy to identify with their unique tuxedo-like colouration and white “eye” patches. Since they live in all five oceans, we can find them to the east, west, and north of Canada! Now, we really should call them Orcas because “killer whales” is quite misleading. You see, Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family, (not whales)! By large, we’re talking males up to 9 meters long and weigh 6 to 9 thousand kilograms, that’s 7-10 tons! Females are a bit smaller, and are about 7 meters long and 4 to 7 thousand kilos (5-7 tons). [caption id="attachment_38463" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Photo by Nicole Peshy, an Orca hunting a Sea Lion.[/caption]   Like most members of the dolphin family, Orcas are highly social. They live in groups called a pod which can consist of 10 to 40 related individuals. Research has found that there are different “types” of pods, for which scientists have used to classify and identify groups of Orcas. These are; Northern and Southern Resident type, Northern and Southern Transient type, and Offshore type. Differences between types can be subtle such as variations in vocal patterns and dorsal fin shapes, or more pronounced such as their preferred diet. Offshore and Residents Orcas will feed predominantly on fish; schooling fish for the Offshores, and coastal fish and squid for the Resident Orcas. Transient pods, on the other hand, feed almost exclusively on other marine mammals. Speaking of food, Orcas got their nicknames, killer whales, from their hunting strategy. Orcas are apex predators, or top predators of the oceans, and hunt in packs, quite fiercely. When a pod isn’t hunting, they spend time socializing with each other. They’ll travel, rest, explore, and play together. The most famous play behaviour is called breaching; when they dived out of the water’s surface into the air with leaps and twirls. In essence, they need to breach to come to the surface for respiration, but, they do so with fantastic style! Orcas aren’t the only ones though, most whales and dolphins perform these jumps, twirls and tail slaps. In addition, Orcas communicate with echolocation, which mean the use of sound waves to locate and identify objects within their surroundings. This helps them navigate for foraging and just for an Orca to tell another Orca their location. Orcas have long lifespans! They can live up 40-50 years old. However, females tend to live longer and can reach up to 80 years of age. Both females and males reach sexual maturity in their “teens” being 12-17 years old. Pods of different families will find one another to mate with. This keeps their genetic make-up stronger, versus if they were to inbreed. The gestation period is a little more than a year with 17 months. Babies are born with the same colouration as adults, so they really do look like miniature versions of their mother! [caption id="attachment_38462" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Photo by Eileen Redding[/caption] As social animals, offspring need their mother and pod members to learn behaviours, feed, and be safe from predators. It takes about a year before a baby is weaned, therefore it is crucial that mom and baby stay together during this time. If a baby gets lost, or gets separated from their mom, they will have a high chance of dying, not knowing how to survive on their own. Once weaned, the offspring stays with its natal pod for life. Orcas intrigue scientists with their complex behaviours. They are still so much to learn about them since scientists have only be able to conduct studies close to shores, and/or in captivity. Not only are parenting behaviours observed among pods, but pod members have been observed to teach younger members foraging and hunting skills. Pods of different “types” developed their own “dialect” for whistles, calls, and clicks, which is passed on to their offspring! But most fascinating is their ability to mourn. For example, when a baby dies, a mother will carry the body for days until she has “moved on”. This has been called a “Tour of Grief”. According to the ICUN, there is insufficient data to conclude a species assessment status other than “Data Deficient (DD)”. However, Orcas are still victims to many threats, most of them human-related. For one, commercial fisheries contribute to increased accidental net entrapment and decreased prey availability to native wildlife. Oil spills and toxic build-up via human waste affects all large species like Orcas, because toxins will accumulate in dangerous amounts within their fat cells. In addition, just as there are more cars on the roads, there are more ships asea. We don’t think of it; however, water traffic affects water acoustics, which then effects echolocation for Orcas and all other species that use this method of communication! Fortunately, they are people who do not take the threat of Orcas’ disappearance lightly. Conservation organizations like Nature Canada are pressing governments to urge the continuation of research projects, recovery plans, and imply more wildlife protection. Do you want to help out but think “oh well I’m just one person, right?” Wrong! You can help! Every step counts. Become more aware of what you’re buying and try to buy environmentally friendly items. Support sites such as Nature Canada that educate the public about our endangered species and provide guides to good stewardships. Participate in Orca educational programs with your provincial wildlife organizations. And lastly, spread the word! Post, share, and tweet about saving orcas. References: http://naturecanada.ca/what-we-do/naturevoice/endangered-species/know-our-species/orca/ http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15421/0 https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Orcinus_orca/ https://bc.ctvnews.ca/orca-s-tour-of-grief-over-after-carrying-dead-calf-for-nearly-3-weeks-1.4049902  

A Walk in the Park, and the Importance of Protected Areas
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A Walk in the Park, and the Importance of Protected Areas

Growing up in Toronto, where the city seems to slowly creep ever farther over the landscape, parks provided the perfect green haven away from the concrete jungle. It’s where I saw my first moose, learned how to canoe, and, most importantly, where I first connected with nature. Over the next twenty years, I would realize how far-reaching the positive effects these parks would have, not only on me, but on the national conservation of our wilderness. [caption id="attachment_38437" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario.[/caption] While inspiring me to enter into the field of biology, these parks also gave me my first scientific job - working as a student naturalist. Here, the park shifted from being a playground to a teacher. In the park, we ran a variety of programs including guided hikes celebrating the overlooked plants of the understory and pond explorations where families caught darting aquatic invertebrates. They would peer through foggy glass at these wonderful and freaky creatures from the deep, eyes wide with wonder. Kids would go running back to their campsites to share all the amazing things that they had learned with their family and friends, allowing the knowledge to grow and gain a life of its own. We had some kids return in future years who were inspired to create their own “Interpretive Centres” full of antlers, rocks, and anything they were lucky enough to scrounge up back at home.  It was surreal to know that these park educational programs could form an intricate understanding between the public and nature. It was here that I realized that a park is a place of inspiration, where future generations can learn more about the natural world. Parks aren’t just refugia for humans however. Of course, they are also a home to a beautifully diverse range of species. These areas act as a haven to maintain pristine environments which, in turn, allows wildlife to thrive in peace. After graduating from university, I had the opportunity to delve into this realm wherein I worked on a variety of biomonitoring projects in parks across the country. Some of these projects were hands-off, including using motion-sensing trail cameras and timed audio-recorders to track species remotely throughout the landscape. These tools allowed us to non-invasively capture the shy and elusive critters in the area and gives us insight into their behaviours and habitat preferences. [caption id="attachment_38436" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Snug Harbour in Gros More National Park, Newfoundland.[/caption] For example, at Blue Lake Provincial Park, this system allowed scientists to discover the presence of the Olive-sided Flycatcher, a species-at-risk within Ontario. Other research projects were species-specific. For example, in Gros Morne National Park, scientists set up a fish fence every year in the park’s streams to monitor Atlantic salmon populations. These counts allow them to track the population trends and actively manage this declining species. Over time, I realized that the list of research conducted in our parks goes on for miles, from vegetation monitoring to species re-introductions. Through this vast array of scientific work, we are expanding our understanding of these ecosystems which consequently allows us to better preserve the many species that call our protected areas home. [gallery columns="4" link="none" size="medium" ids="38670,38668,38673,38675"] What I’ve learned through my life spent in parks is that they are wildly complex. From inspiring people to appreciate and learn more about the great outdoors, to actively managing species-at-risk, our parks play a huge role in ensuring that the landscapes and wildlife we enjoy today are still here for future generations. Parks are living organisms, acting as playgrounds, teachers, and scientists. They fill up our imaginations and hearts, transporting us from the confines of the city into vast and untamed landscapes. These parks are so much more than what meets the eye, you only need to take the time to get out there and then you can begin to appreciate and explore. Parks have helped shape who I am today, and I am excited for what else they will teach millions of other Canadians in the years to come. The author drew her inspiration for this post from her time spent as a naturalist for Ontario Parks at Blue Lake Provincial Park.

Sable Island – “The Smile of the Atlantic”
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Sable Island – “The Smile of the Atlantic”

This blog was written by Sue Ratcliffe, Sue is a photographer with a deep passion for shooting wildlife, horses, birds of prey and people throughout her travels around the globe. Sue’s passion is capturing the beauty and grace of nature, and all that lives and thrives within it. Sue was one of the winners of the 2017 Nature Photo Contest, her beautiful photo of the Bald Eagle soaring over the clear water is the feature image of the Nature Canada Calendar this month. Feel free to email Cheyanne, at crichardson@naturecanada.ca if you have any questions about the Nature Photo Contest or would like to make a donation and get a copy of the Nature Canada Calendar.


Sable Island is a narrow, crescent-shaped sandbar, giving it the name “the smile of the Atlantic”. It is wild, windswept and remote, fascinating and mysterious. For years I have been entranced by the tales of Sable Island and passionately drawn to the wild horses that have long lived there. These famous horses lend a near mythical and ethereal quality to this elusive island whose allure is pure and magical and has long kept us captivated and spellbound. Sable Island is nearly 42 kilometers long and about 1.5 kilometers across at its widest point with shifting sand dunes that change from year to year. The island’s extensive beaches are home to the world’s largest colony of grey seals, and freshwater ponds that sustain rare plant life. Plants, birds, and insects have adapted to life on Sable, some of which are found nowhere else on earth. The island is prone to intense fall and winter storms, frequently making travel there difficult. The only way to get there is by air or by sea. I traveled there with Adventure Canada on “The Ocean Endeavour”, traveling to the island daily on a zodiac. Sable Island is the most hurricane-prone part of Canada and the foggiest spot in the Maritimes. I visited Sable Island in July and encountered fog three days out of the four days we permitted to visit the island. The federal government announced in May 2010 that protection of the island would be transferred from the Canadian Coast Guard to Parks Canada. Sable Island became a National Park Reserve on June 20, 2013. The island is home to over 550 free-roaming horses and are protected by law from human interference as by the 1950s they were in danger of extinction from round-ups. The horses likely descended from horses confiscated by the Acadians and released on the island in the late eighteenth century and soon became feral. Additional horses were later transported to the island to improve the herd's breeding stock. The horses are small and usually dark in color. The herd is unmanaged, constantly exposed to the elements and shifting landscape, surviving off the wild marram grasses that grow in the sand and what grows in the few freshwater ponds. Sable Island has a long and fascinating history spanning more than four centuries. 350 plus vessels have been wrecked due to rough seas, the fog, and sandbars surrounding the island, earning the title “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. Several bird colonies are resident there including the Ipswich sparrow which breeds only on the island. The unique landscape, the history and the wild horses have made Sable Island an iconic place in Canada. It is a photographer’s dream. Myself and my wild horse photography friends, affectionately referred to as “the pony girls” on our trip with Adventure Canada, photographed the horses and all that we experienced on the island. Each day was an adventure as we drank in the beauty of the landscape and sat with the wild horses. We were in awe but blessed for what we were experiencing … not knowing when or if we would have the chance to return. We were experiencing the wildest and most remote island in the world. As we slowly departed Sable Island watching the horses graze, we were in reverence of what we had experienced and the fact that we had finally lived our dream was the more astonishing … wild and natural Sable Island … live your dreams and visit the island that fables are made of.
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