Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Whiskers in the Swamp

Though they were not true whiskers on the animals, that's what they looked like to the summer campers at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  While exploring the forest and swamp near the nature center, we discovered a mere puddle of water in a depression at the base of a hollow tree.  This was all that was left of the water pooled behind the beaver dam and will likely disappear by the end of the day tomorrow.  Elsewhere, water cannot be seen from the boardwalk until the approach to Goodson Lake at the end of the boardwalk.  Naturally, the hole that is Goodson Lake continues to hold ample water to support the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus), Bowfin (Amia calva), Yellow-bellied Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) and other aquatic or semi-aquatic organisms.

In the puddle of water behind the beaver dam, we found numerous small fish and a meatier 3-inch long fish.  All were too muddy from their struggles in the shallow puddle to be identified, but we grabbed a few to show the campers waiting a the swamp's drier edge.  While showing the campers the larger fish, we discovered, via a fin jab in the hand, it was a species of catfish.  As the catfish would likely be dead by morning from either the disappearing water or the return of the herons, ibis and raccoon whose tracks were still in the mud from the night before, we put the catfish in a jar of water and hauled it out to Goodson Lake to give it a fighting chance.

As we moved along the treeline at the edge of the power line corridor, campers were able to spot a variety of native insects feasting on an abundance of native plants.  There were pollinators like butterflies, bees, beetles as well as an assortment of other flying insects, including several species of insect-hunting dragonflies.  Native fauna and native flora have evolved together and therefore maintain a system of checks and balances within the ecosystem.  The introduction of non-native flora or fauna can throw the system out of balance as predators may not exist for the non-native fauna or the native fauna may not be able or willing to eat non-native flora, which in turn may crowd or eliminate native flora.  One of the native species the campers found was a Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar in search of pipevine on which to dine.  It is apparently unpalatable and therefore has little fear of becoming a meal itself.  The whisker-like, fleshly projections give the caterpillar a fearsome look and might give a predator a scare.

Images by Mark Musselman

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