Archive for category Natural History

Make Every Butterfly Count at the Antioch Dunes (2017)

Throughout August and September this year, wildlife biologists at the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge will be conducting their annual Lange’s metalmark butterfly counts to determine the health of this rare butterfly species.

The Lange’s metalmark butterfly (Apodemia mormo langei) can only be found at the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in Antioch, California. There, this butterfly’s life revolves around its host plant, the Antioch Dunes buckwheat. Adult butterflies are short-lived and weak fliers, relegating them to this relict 67-acre pocket of sand that was once part of a greater dune complex that connected the San Joaquin River to dunes in the Central Valley and beyond. After years of sand mining at the Antioch Dunes, today the Lange’s metalmark butterfly is nearing extinction.

That’s why refuge staff need your help censusing the butterfly population. Butterfly counts are scheduled once a week (typically, Thursdays), every week, until counts zero out sometime in September:

  • August: 3, 10, 17, 24, and 31
  • September: 7, 14, and if they are still active, 21

Newcomers and veterans alike are welcome to participate, but you must be 18+ years or older. Training begins on site at 9:30 AM, and the counts continue until 4 PM. Volunteers are cautioned to wear layered clothing in anticipation of the unpredictable cold, wind, or listless heat; sturdy shoes/boots and long pants (jeans) for uneven terrain and spiky weed seeds; sun-protection (e.g. sunblock, sunglasses, hat) and plenty of water; and your lunch.

If you are interested in volunteering for the Aug-Sept. butterfly counts, please contact Susan Euing (by email at susan_euing@fws.gov or by phone at (510) 521-9716). If you leave a message, please leave your name, phone number and email address, and Susan will contact you as soon as possible to confirm.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that writing about the Lange’s metalmark butterfly and the Antioch Dunes for Bay Nature magazine in 2005 was the genesis behind my children’s book, Sardis and Stamm. You can read more about the book – and order a copy for your shelves – here:
http://www.sardisandstamm.wordpress.com/

 

Directions:
Surveys will be held at the Sardis Unit at 1551 Wilbur Avenue in Antioch, 94509.

From I-680 heading north (near Walnut Creek/Concord), take Hwy. 242 E, which will lead you onto Hwy 4 E towards Pittsburg/Antioch.

From I-680 heading south (from Benicia/Martinez), take Hwy 4 E towards Pittsburg/Antioch.

At Antioch, take A Street/Lone Tree Way exit and go left under the freeway. Proceed about 1 mile on A Street and then go right onto Wilbur Avenue. Proceed on Wilbur approximately 1 mile, cross over a concrete bridge and look for two large PG&E towers on your left. The entrance gate will be on the left between the two towers. Look for the large brown refuge sign next to the gate; park at the bottom of the driveway.

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Herpetological Review: The Herpetological Art of Robert Cyril Stebbins

It has been some time since my last contribution to the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles‘ journal, Herpetological Review (see also SSAR’s facebook page), so I was honored when I was asked to contribute a retrospective on the late herpetologist and artist Dr. Robert (“Bob”) Cyril Stebbins (March 31, 1915—September 23, 2013) for the column, “Art in Herpetology.”

Hot off the presses in the second issue of the 2017 volume (page 472-473), The Herpetological Art of Robert Cyril Stebbins looks back at the life and career of a man whose contributions to the field of herpetology are still not only celebrated, but put to work on a daily basis as biologists young and old pick up their copy of Stebbins’ field guide, A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, and thumb through the pages to identify this or that lizard, check a species’ range, or compare a specimen to the carefully illustrated plates within.

In the process of preparing this piece, I had the opportunity to handle Dr. Stebbins field notebooks and original intricate illustrations at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and Bancroft Library, and had the pleasure of speaking with Professor Emeritus David B. Wake, former Director and Curator of Herpetology at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and Theodore Papenfuss, research specialist at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, about their experience working alongside this venerable herpetologist. But nothing says more about Dr. Stebbins’ passion for herpetology than his artwork.

Full Citation: Bettelheim, Matthew P. 2017. Art in Herpetology: The Herpetological Art of Robert Cyril Stebbins. Herpetological Review 48(2): p 472-473.

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Count Your Blossoms at the Antioch Dunes (2016)

Throughout April and May this year, biologists at the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge will be conducting plant surveys for the endangered Antioch Dunes evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides howellii) and Contra Costa wallflower (Erysimum capitatum angustatum).

ADEPrimrose_IMG_9664_smThese two plants are exclusively found at the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in Antioch, California, where years of sand mining at the Antioch Dunes has pushed these plants (and the Lange’s metalmark butterfly) nearer to extinction. That’s why refuge staff need your help counting plants to inventory the refuge’s populations. Plants counts are scheduled for the following dates:

  • Wednesday, April 26th – 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Contra Costa wallflowers)
  • Thursday, April 27th – 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Contra Costa wallflowers)
  • Wednesday, May 24th – 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Antioch Dunes evening primrose)
  • Thursday, May 25th – 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Antioch Dunes evening primrose)

Newcomers and veterans alike are welcome to participate, but participants must be 18 years or older. Volunteers are cautioned to wear layered clothing in anticipation of the unpredictable cold, wind, or listless heat; sturdy shoes/boots and long pants (jeans) for uneven terrain and spiky weed seeds; knee-pads; sun-protection (e.g. sunblock, sunglasses, hat) and plenty of water; and your lunch.

If you are interested in volunteering for the April/May plant counts, please contact Susan Euing (by email at susan_euing@yahoo.com or by phone at (510) 521-9717). If you leave a message, please leave your name, phone number and email address, and Susan will contact you as soon as possible to confirm.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that writing about the Lange’s metalmark butterfly and the Antioch Dunes for Bay Nature magazine in 2005 was the genesis behind my children’s book, Sardis and Stamm. You can read more about the book – and order a copy for your shelves – here:

http://www.sardisandstamm.wordpress.com/

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The 2017 Jepson Herbarium Workshops

The Friends of the Jepson Herbarium recently announced the program for The Jepson Herbarium Workshop’s 2017 series on botanical and ecological subjects. These programs are open to the general public and consist of basic, introductory one- to four-day basic botany workshops and more technical one- to five-day weekend workshops.

The basic botany series includes “Introductory Plant Morphology for the Botanically-Curious” and the not-to-miss “Fifty Families in the Field: San Francisco Bay Area,” an excellent workshop I had the pleasure of taking in 2007 with instructor Linda Beidleman (co-author of Plants of the San Francisco Bay Region: Mendocino to Monterey) (and, in the past, the late ever-entertaining Richard Beidleman, the author of California’s Frontier Naturalists which was reviewed with great enthusiasm here). Among this year’s technical weekend workshop series are such select, wonkish offerings as “Northern California Seaweeds,” “Butterflies: Biology, Behavior, and Identification,” “Exploring the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness,” “Climate Change in California: Past, Present, and Future,” and “Insect-Induced Plant Galls of California.

The workshops run throughout the year, but class sizes are limited and waiting lists back up quickly. Sign up soon.

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Game Review: Evolution

evolution_box_rt_2nd_edition_1024x1024Evolution (2nd Edition), by North Star Games (http://www.northstargames.com), 2015 [ages 12+, 30-minute play time, 2-6 players] $54.99.

In the game of life, survival is key. And that’s not so different in the board game Evolution, the breakthrough Kickstarter success story in its second edition by North Star Games whose very DNA mimics our dog-eat-dog world.

As the game begins, each player takes charge of a new “species.” During each player’s turn, the species in their hand can be enhanced by playing or trading trait cards. Trading in a card to level up a species’ body size or population size makes them harder to be attacked or driven to extinction, but doing so comes with the added burden of needing additional food to sustain them. Playing a trait card confers that species with unique abilities that help them collect extra food (e.g. “scavenger,” “long neck,” and “fat tissue”), fend off attacks (e.g. “climbing,” “hard shell,” and “warning call”),  or attack other species (e.g. “ambush,” “pack hunting,” or “carnivore”). Each species is limited to three unique traits, but these cards can be swapped throughout the game to “evolve” in response to the competition as new species come and go.

In lieu of leveling-up the prehensile proto-llama or feathered faux-ferret you’ve created, each player also has the option of instead adding a new species to their hand to create various amalgams. And with every new species spawned (and their numbers grow), the food begins to dwindle as the watering hole gets that much more crowded. Because Evolution‘s game mechanics allow enough plasticity to repeatedly reboot or rebrand any number of species combos, the game play continues to change as different species thrive or fade to extinction. With a swap of one trait card you can transmorgify your seed-gathering arboreal pocket mouse into a blood-thirsty carnivorous arboreal pocket mouse who, because strength lies in numbers, may be the downfall of an opponent’s saber-toothed salamander.

Especially for those with a science background, it’s hard not to try and imagine real life examples of the pseudo-species you’ve created in the petri dish that is your “hand” of species. Whatever hand you’re dealt, you had better hope it has teeth because when the food runs out, no one is safe.  As players fight to evolve or eliminate the competition, they may have to cannibalize their own creations to become the last pygmy manatee standing in a playing field truly red in tooth and claw (or, if you play your cards right, hoof and trunk).

Evolution’s game play is so carefully crafted and expertly executed, it appears to have been lifted straight from the pages of Biology 101. Inhabiting a unique niche among board games as both tool and toy, Evolution has no equal. Imagine a lesson plan so addictive and so illustrative, the act of learning – a journey of enlightenment about species interactions, competition, and survival – unfolds unconsciously. One can only imagine the trajectory scientific progress might have taken if the Beagle’s own Charles Darwin and Captain FitzRoy had sat down to tinker with this board game in the captain’s parlor during their long voyage at sea instead of frolicking after a few fickle finches.

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