Category Archives: Overthinking It

Destiny of Waters

Is it a lake or a pond or a wetland?

Recently someone asked me about the body of water beyond my backyard—if it was a lake or a pond and what’s the difference? My first answer was that it is a pond by name. A pond or lake may be named as such the way “street,” “lane,” or “road” are often interchangeable. Secondly, a lake and a pond have differences at the ecological level—in terms of aquatic life, and in terms of limnology.  I also explained that the differences had to do with acreage and depth of the water body. Sometimes a “pond” can be bigger and deeper by comparison to a nearby lake, as in the case of Long Pond (113’ deep) and Echo Lake (66’ deep) in Acadia National Park. In that case, Echo Lake is technically considered a “great pond” under Maine state law because it’s a natural pond greater than 10 acres.  But usually lakes are bigger and deeper than ponds. State definitions generally include both lakes and natural ponds as “waters of the state.” Under the Cowardin classification system, ponds are wetlands.

What I did not explain to my friend very well was the natural gradation of lakes into ponds into wetlands, and their evolution as waters.  What made sense to me as an ecologist, that one type would naturally grade into another water type, was harder to explain. What’s even harder to illustrate is the concept of an ecotone—the transitional area between two ecological communities adjacent to one another. As usual, I thought of movies.

The phenomenon of distinct communities existing side by side can be observed in film.  For example, the liminal space between cultures—a cultural transition area—can be viewed as bordercrossings, illustrated effectively in films like “Night on Earth” (1991). Jim Jarmusch’s film took place entirely in taxi cabs in five different time zones throughout the world. The concept is that no matter where you go, at one point in time, there are eerily similar transactions and interactions taking place in taxi cabs—a kind of cultural habitat, if you will—for humans migrating from one place to another. Some water bodies, like taxi cabs, are mobile; some are stationary, like an ‘off-duty’ cab.  And that’s where the changes from lake to pond to wetland, or the line between adjacent ecological communities, can get a little fuzzy to someone standing on the curb, er, the edge of the water.

Over what period of time do lakes become ponds? How long does it take for ponds to become wetlands? For wetlands to become meadows? The short answer is several thousand years, if nothing has interrupted (or accelerated) the natural evolution of these waters. This is called succession. Biology students learning about wetland succession in a classroom can experiment with an aquarium—starting with a mini pond or wetland habitat. For a biology teaching guide written by BioMedia (Russell) that outlines the key ingredients to such an experiment for a year-long study,click here. Limnologists say, “lakes are destined to die,” whereas ponds are the “death of a lake” and the “birth of a marsh.” For an explanation on pond succession, click here.

So how does a pond become a wetland? The first stage, called the ‘pioneer’ stage of wetland succession, starts with the pond without plant life at the bottom. Plankton, which inhabit the pond, and carry miniscule plant and animal life, arrive on the winds or wings of insects.  Over time, plankton die on the pond bottom and create a mucky layer, which is rich enough for water emergent plants to grow, such as water lilies, ancient wetland plants. As water lilies form a blanket over the surface of the water, they cut off the sunlight to the bottom, killing off the submergent plants. These processes can take a variety of timeframes from a matter of years to a matter of millennia. Trees, shrubs and grasses move into the space that was once the pond and a wetland takes shape. This is a dynamic process with many variables. Some wetland ecologists have argued against the idea of wetland succession because of these variables.

Succession is not a sure thing. It does not occur with all lakes in the U.S.. (For instance, there is no scientific concern that the Great Lakes will eventually turn into ponds, or meadows.) There are many factors that can interrupt a “natural” succession process such as a changing climate, soils, drainage, land development, introduction of invasive plants or other aquatic species, phosphorus run-off (causing dissolved oxygen) or other factors.

In addition to the possible succession pattern of pond to wetland, some wetlands can be turned into ponds. In the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Status & Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004-2009, ponds are recognized as a type of freshwater wetland. The report indicates a net increase of 207,200 acres of ponds between 2004-2009, an increase of 3.2% in ponds nationally (FWS).  The trouble with ponds, for example, farm ponds, being created while another type of freshwater wetland is lost, is that there is a difference between constructed ponds and wetlands—including natural ponds, in terms of their ecological functions. According to the Status & Trends Report, the majority of ponds in the U.S. are constructed farm ponds. Only 31% of the ponds in the lower 48 states are natural.

Mankind has a dramatic impact on natural landscapes frequently disrupting succession. This means it’s an uncertain destiny for our lakes, ponds, streams, rivers and wetlands. For those working to protect wetlands, and to harness the power of wetlands to sequester carbon and provide unique and solvent ways to fight climate change’s impact on our planet, this is cause for concern. Save wetlands, save ourselves.

Helpful Resources:

Massachusetts Lake and Pond Guide

Wisconsin’s Natural Communities

Michigan DNR: Succession – Changing Land, Changing Wildlife

Wetland Ecosystems by William J. Mitsch, James G. Gosselink et. al. (2009)

Wetland Ecology: Principles and Conservation, 2nd Edition by Paul Keddy, (2010)

ASWM’s Wetland Science web resources

Other recent blogs on wetland succession:

Conservation Maven: Study finds post-restoration wetland succession highly variable

Ian Lunt’s Ecological Research Site: There’s a wetland in my grassland

Constantine Alexander’s blog: Artificial wetlands can provide benefits over the long haul(on Bill Mitsch’s work on wetland creation and succession)

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A Land Ethic 60 Years Later: Growth of the Land Trust Movement

A recent article in The American Spectator highlights the impressive accomplishments and growth of the land trust movement in the U.S. over the last 60 years. Census data collected by the national Land Trust Alliance indicates significant growth in land conservation by these private—and usually small—nonprofit land trusts since 2000. See Tocqueville Would Be Proud. There are more than 1700 land trusts in the U.S. that have conserved 37 million acres of land.

Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (1949) and his other writings were highly influential to the conservation movement in the 1950s-1970s. Last week was Aldo Leopold Weekend in Wisconsin. His idea of a land ethic, a guiding principle for the actions of people and their relationship to land, evolved into some of the early visions of land trusts, now considered conservation leaders, beginning in the 1970s.

One example, Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), established itself as a conservation organization in 1970.  Through its “municipal program” (1975-77), the statewide land trust determined that conservation commissions were very important but local land trusts were also needed to perform the necessary land protection work throughout the state. “Local land trusts (LLTs) can provide response flexibility, confidentiality and credibility that is often lacking on the part of town government,” wrote Earl Ireland in an early planning committee memo to the Land Trust Program.  MCHT began to list “assistance to local land trusts” as part of its services in 1978. A number of other state-wide land trusts formed using that model in other parts of the country.

Ten years ago I conducted a research project on land trust collaboration, which continues to be a topic of discussion at the Land Trust Rally, an annual training event hosted by the Land Trust Alliance. The Land Trust Alliance is a national, nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that provides leadership to the local, regional and state wide land trust communities across the country, as well as some international land trusts.

While I focused much of that 2001-2004 study on Maine land trusts, I traveled to meet with land trust and conservation professionals in Wyoming, California and Maryland, and attended the Land Trust Rally to learn about land trust work nationally. I also gained first-hand knowledge by working with Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

What struck me then was the difference in how people thought about “collaboration.” I had assumed that collaboration was a good thing but learned that some people saw it as “giving up” or “giving in,” while others defined it as “working together.” In success stories about local land trusts in Maine that collaborated by merging with neighboring trusts, a regional land trust could take on larger conservation easements, raise more funds, hire more staff, update/digitize maps, etc.  The Land Trust Alliance encouraged this mode of professionalizing land trusts throughout the U.S.. In success stories about local land trusts (LLTs) that collaborated in other ways—through partnerships, shared staff or shared GIS, peer-mentoring programs or regional coalitions, LLTs maintained their local identity and protected more land using ‘whole-place’ planning or a watershed approach and the benefits of working with conservation partners.

Since then, land trusts have turned collectively to the development of state conservation easement statutes and to new challenges, such as addressing climate change. LTA conducted a 2007 survey among land trusts and found that 60% of responding land trusts were incorporating climate change into their conservation action plans and 30% were engaged in influencing climate policy. Learn more about the developments of land trusts and climate change issues on LTA’s website.

ASWM posted a list of land trusts working to protect wetlands and provided a number ofpublications relevant to land conservation work on its website. In addition, visit ASWM’sLocal Wetland Programs page and its “I am a Landowner” page for related information about local governments, local land conservation programs and general information about wetlands protection for landowners.

Romantic Ecology: Fairy Tale or Serious Thing?

If you’re like me, you can’t resist a good fairy tale. I’ve been hooked on the new CBS series, “Grimm,” based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. One of the theories in analysis of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen is that the characters in fairy tales represent problems in nature that humans must face. Sometimes a fairy tale depicts a “lost Eden,” a lost paradise, but in more cases, a fairy tale presents an environmental problem and the characters symbolize various solutions. Often the hero of the fairy tale makes a choice based on something equivalent to “best professional judgment” and the morals to the story deal with making the “right choice.” Many of Andersen and Grimm fairy tales were set in a natural environment—a marsh—as in “The Marsh King’s Daughter,” the woods, a riverbank, even—in the case of Thumbelina, upon the water lily pads in a stream. This has been called “nature romanticism,” or “Romantic Ecology.” 

            Thumbelina – a wetland fairy tale

Far out in the stream grew a number of water-lilies, with broad green leaves, which seemed to float on the top of the water. The largest of these leaves appeared farther off than the rest, and the old toad swam out to it with the walnut-shell, in which little Thumbelina lay still asleep. The tiny little creature woke very early in the morning, and began to cry bitterly when she found where she was, for she could see nothing but water on every side of the large green leaf, and no way of reaching the land. Meanwhile the old toad was very busy under the marsh, decking her room with rushes and wild yellow flowers, to make it look pretty for her new daughter-in-law. Then she swam out with her ugly son to the leaf on which she had placed poor little Thumbelina. The old toad bowed low to her in the water, and said, “Here is my son, he will be your husband, and you will live happily in the marsh by the stream.” For the full fairy tale, click here.

Readers may recognize the imagery associated with “romantic ecology” in fairy tales like Andersen’s “Thumbelina.” This romanticism is present in some classic poetry and other literature, too. Romantic ecology is a phrase first coined by Jonathan Bates in his book, Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (1991) but the term is later used by a number of environmental writers. Romantic ecology in literature is believed to have shaped environmental consciousness and action, influencing readers of poetry and literature—spanning a wide spectrum of people with varied beliefs and values—and appealing to their sense of the natural world. For some, the idea of a “paradise lost,” a beloved homeland or wild place, which has since been developed for urban or suburban use, is most persuasive. For others, it’s simply the beauty of nature—a romanticized version, seeing the naturalenvironment through rose-colored lenses, as depicted in love poems or nature writing from the era of The Romantics that inspires readers to fall in love with the environmental cause. I must admit I fell under their spell, long ago as a teen-ager. My high school classmates weren’t assigned to read The Romantics—but a favorite aunt encouraged me to read Wordsworth and Blake, for starters, and I’m sure that their words affected my budding interest in ecology. I carried thick biology books along with slim volumes of poetry as if they were a combined discipline.

But is it just a fairy tale, or does “romantic ecology” give roots to something more important? The writings of early American “nature writers” persuaded us to shift our perception of the environment—in essence, to care about it. In the early part of the 20thcentury, critics of the Nature-Study Movement wrestled with whether it was a romanticized version of ecology, or if it should be taken seriously. Given the success of that movement, and how The Romantics are required reading for any student of environmental studies in colleges today, it is clear that “Romantic Ecology” is beyond the blush of fairy tales. It’s gotten serious.

Sons & Daughters of the Nature Study Movement

Over the past few weeks, a number of tweets on Twitter have related to the topic of women in science—with posts about equality, so-called “science kits for girls,” and fighting stereotypes. While reading a biography on Rachel Carson, a daughter of the “Nature-Study Movement,” I became curious about this educational movement that drew young women to science during the late 19th/early 20th centuries.  In Carson’s case, it was her mother, Maria, who shared an interest in natural history with her daughter, Rachel, from a very young age. It is clear from Rachel’s writings that her mother was influenced by the nature-study movement. How did this movement come about? What engendered it? For those of us studying and working in the natural sciences, I wondered:  Are we daughters—and sons—of the nature-study movement?

Cornell University became one home to the nature-study movement.  The university at one time received state funds to teach ‘nature-study’ in rural New York schools.  During the depression of 1893, the state of New York established a Committee for the Promotion of Agriculture. It grabbed onto the ideas of Liberty Hyde Bailey, a Cornell professor, “who believed that children should grow up appreciating nature.”  He wrote some of the first leaflets on “nature-study,” promoting new classes and a whole program at Cornell during the summer of 1897. Bailey founded the American Nature Study Society, the oldest environmental organization in the U.S., in 1908. But Bailey did not act alone—he hired Anna Botsford Comstock, who ran the program in New York.

Other writers and naturalists such as Gene Stratton Porter, Louis Agassiz and Wilbur S. Jackman were early members and founders of the nature-study movement.  ‘“Nature-study” attempted to reconcile scientific investigation with spiritual, personal experiences gained from interaction with the natural world.” (Armitage, 2009)  Naturalist Louis Agassiz coined the phrase “study nature, not books,” which meant that the emphasis was placed on learning from tangible things outside of the classroom.

Anna Comstock explored the idea extensively in her 1930 book, Handbook of Nature Study: “Nature Study is for the comprehension of the Individual life of the bird, insect or plant that is nearest at hand.” Comstock described “nature-study” as both an aesthetic and as a discipline. She writes, “But it should not be thought that nature-study is not a science. The promising science of ecology is merely formalized nature-study; indeed it might be said that nature-study is natural science from an ecological rather than anatomical view.” To critics of “nature-study,” especially male scientists, some of whom considered ‘nature-study’ to be romantic or sentimental, Comstock argued that nature-study was more than a science—that it was “not merely a study of life, but the experience of life.” Her book spelled out a philosophy of life.  Many of those who joined the nature-study movement shared this philosophy.

The nature-study movement inspired a change in school curricula for children in many of areas of the country, according to Nature, not books: scientists and the origins of the nature-study movement in the 1890s by Sally G. Kohlstedt (2005), and because of this shift, it allowed young women to study and prepare for scientific vocations, and more importantly, to find jobs. Rachel Carson, and other female scientists, benefited from this major shift in thinking about the way science was taught—in both the lab and field.  Kohlstedt’s more recent book,Teaching Children Science: Hands-On Nature Study in North America, 1890–1930, (University of Chicago Press, 2010) examines this phenomenon more closely. For example, in the state of Wisconsin, from 1915-1920, the number of female biology teachers increased by 50-67%. (Tolley, 2003) Moreover, the movement influenced male and female environmental leaders alike, including Aldo Leopold. For more information, look for The Nature Study Movement: The Forgotten Popularizer of America’s Conservation Ethic by Kevin C. Armitage (2009).

For related blogs on the Nature-Study Movement, visit:

William Temple Hornaday and the Progressive Era Nature Study Movement
http://gregshistoryblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/william-temple-hornaday-and-progressive.html?showComment=1323277806846#c5029543604266133864

Darwin, Schoenberg, and Sibley: A New Dawn for Nature Study?
http://blog.aba.org/2011/12/darwin-schoenberg-and-sibley-a-new-dawn-for-birding.html

Anna Comstock: http://drkv.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/anna-comstock/

How to Make a Swampthing Halloween Costume

Admit it: You’ve always wanted to go to a Halloween costume ball dressed as Hydrilla the Invasive Aquatic Witch.  No? What about Swampthing? Designing original—and often, obscure—Halloween costumes is a specialty of mine. Growing up in haunted houses with a childhood phobia of rubber masks has made it a big deal for me to venture out to any Halloween event. But I have over-compensated by turning the fear factor into a challenge:  the fun of coming up with an original costume that will surely win points in a costume contest.  Readers may remember my Ode to Swampthing in which it was revealed that the original Swampthing’s costume was made of heavy thick rubber. That’s not very realistic for the average Trick-or-Treater, or costume party-attendee. Here’s a Strange Wetlands take on the Swampy costume, or if you prefer,Creature of the Black Lagoon, or Black Lagoon Lady. Images are from others’ take on it.

Wetland professionals probably have most of the necessary materials for a Swampthingcostume. If not, it would be easy enough to assemble some of these things to augment what you don’t already own. Pull together the following things:

  1. An old wet suit (already torn, or one that can be cut)—or, waders/rubber boots
  2. Old rubber gloves, preferably green – as many pairs (up to 10 pairs) as possible
  3. Netting – e.g. fishnet stockings, fishing net that can be altered and stained green or black
  4. Dark green wig, or dye a light-colored wig dark green, or buytemporary green hair spray
  5. Green plastic bath loofa sponge (or a couple of them)
  6. Real or fake vegetation (houseplant cuttings, weeds from the garden, wrack, or artificial green vines, plastic flowers) Or, cut strips of green cords, or gift wrapping ribbon
  7. Elmer’s glue and green body paint, green, black and brown Halloween make-up, or real mud—to create scales; optionally, colored glitter
  8. Green bathing suit/tank top/tights/short dress (for women) or green shorts/pants and tee shirt/tank top (men) Last resort, green sweat/work pants will suffice.
  9. Small clean sponges for applying green body paint or make-up (to create scale effect)
  10. Paper plates (preferably green, at least 10 paper plates)

While there are many variations on how to create the underlying “Swampthing” costume, which ranges from wearing parts of an old wet suit to green clothing and rubber boots—to a full-bodied foam suit spray-painted with two shades of green, the main challenge is to create an aquatic look, without dripping all over the dance floor.  The degree of difficulty varies from costume to costume.

Step 1. To make gills, cut paper plates into pie-shaped triangles with the scalloped edges included.  Layer three pieces of paper plate, fan out the shape and glue the points together.  Fasten twosets of “gills” on either side of a hair band, or pin them into the wig/hair to hide your real ears.

Step 2. To create webbed fingers, use glue and green body paint to add a thin layer between fingers, or stretch an old pair of green tights over your hands, cutting the nylon to make fingerless gloves.  As an alternative, wear green rubber gloves and glue fake green fingernails onto the fingertips of the gloves to create monster claws. (See also, Martha Stewart photo). Alternatively, use an old pair of gardening gloves and add strips of green tissue paper to the fingers to create a scraggly look.

Step 3. Create a scales effect. Stretch fishnet stockings (or fishing net) over arms, parts of the neck and face, and apply green body paint or make-up over the netting to create a patterned effect that looks like scales; remove the fish netting to reveal the pattern. 

Optionally, apply body glitter here and there to create a wet, sparkling—fresh from the swamp look! A little goes a long way.

Step 4. Fake a supernatural aquatic look. Create the look of water bubbles sticking to skin or fake “scales” by squeezing a soapy sponge or plastic bath loofa in a few places, leaving suds behind to dry. Apply green/yellow/brown costume make-up to face and neck in clumpy dabs to create the appearance of bumpy, scaly skin. Or, if you want a more appealing version, use green make-up, eye shadows and lipstick.  For full supernatural effect, make an aquatic-looking Swampthing nose and ears with fimo polymer clay or soft nose putty, fastened to an altered animal nose worn around the head on an elastic string, or simply apply make-up artistically to distort facial features. Alternatively, glue bits of moss or fake moss (as found with model train sets) onto face, neck and arms.  A Google search can show several ideas for costume make-up.

Step 5 (optional). Make it scary. Use toilet paper and glue, applied to the face with a papier mâché method, to create a scary aquatic look. See this video for a quick how-to (an alternative to wearing a store-bought rubber mask—warning, this look is frightful): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iemwLymV0uk

Step 6. Assume a “vegetated” state.Assemble what you plan to use for weeds, vines and leaves—and it’s up to you whether to use a combination of real and fake vegetation.  Keep in mind:  don’t trail invasive weeds to someone’s Halloween party. Garden supply stores, craft stores and flower shops carry silk flowers and plastic plants, often with vines, cattails and weedy choices. Alternatively, use strips of green cloth.

Here are some other alternatives to using real vegetation:  Unravel green bath loofas and sponge dark green paint onto parts of the loofa netting and leave it to dry for a while.  After the loofas are dry, loosely wrap the long netted parts of the unraveled loofas around arms and waist to create a vegetated look. Or, curl green, black and yellow/gold ribbon and hang this from a belt, tank top strap, pin onto a tee shirt, and/or fasten into a messy looking green/black wig. Instead, if preferable, wear a hunter’s camouflage hat with the fake tree litter attached to it and wear camouflage netting. Create the look of leaves using real leaves and wax paper—the same way kids seal fall foliage in wax paper—but with green leaves. Cut out the leaves, keeping a wax paper border to prevent them from falling out, and glue to various parts of your costume.
The wax paper will make the leaves look wet.

Step 7. Walk like a swamp creature. (Optional) Decorate a pair of diving fins with washable green paint, glitter and/or molding clay. The ideal look to achieve is along the lines of webbed feet, or “Creature from the Black Lagoon” alligator feet.

Alternate articles with other ideas on designing a swamp-themed Halloween costume:

Here’s a guy who went all out for his Swampthing Halloweencostume and tested it in this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MwSlNJIuNc

Martha Stewart’s silk leaf swamp costume—a more conservative option (for men and women):http://www.marthastewart.com/274774/no-sew-halloween-costumes/@center/276965/halloween#268517

A variation on Swampthing costume (totally covered in weeds):http://www.halloween-online.com/costumes/swamp-thing-halloween-costume.html

How to make a Swampthing or sea creature costume (intended for kids): http://www.ehow.com/how_2316666_make-swamp-thing-halloween-costume.html

Swamp Monster make-up and costume how-to video (for teens and adults):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WXJsslkR6I

Legends of the Snapping Turtle (Part 2)

There are many old myths about the snapping turtle. Folks warn, “If a snapping turtle bites you, it won’t let go until it thunders,”and in places like Alabama, snappers are nicknamed “thunder turtles.” One colorful story about a New York fisherman was published in the New York Times, July 1885 –“Fighting a Snapping Turtle” http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=
F20C16FC3B5D10738DDDAF0894DF405B8584F0D3
 It’s interesting how the farmer’s wife manages to leap from the lakeshore into the man’s boat, which was presumably at a distance while he was fishing, to save him from the “pesky critter.”

Some of the legends are partly true. For example, snappers sniff out carrion and rotting flesh—so police have (occasionally) benefited from following snapping turtles, which have led law enforcement to human remains.http://www.strangecosmos.com/content/item/141325.html But usually if a snapping turtle shows up on a police log, it is because someone called the Animal Control Officer, as happened last month in Boston: http://www.boston.com/yourtown/
news/norwood/2011/06/the_police_log_stolen_tires_an.html

It is also commonly believed that snapping turtles are fearless and aggressive to the point of attacking swimmers. Having swum among snapping turtles in a lake for many years as a curious child, who probably got too close on many occasions, I can say that I have never been attacked by a snapping turtle (nor was my brother ever bitten). Snappers aren’t fond of deep water, so it would be rare to come across one while swimming in deep freshwater. But there are probably rogues or circumstances that lead a turtle to bite a human. Here is a video of a researcher rescuing a snapping turtle from a net, in which the turtle is prompted to bite the scientist, who has just explained that snappers are usually safe to swim around (Some expletives are edited out): http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=a81_1273383345&comments=1 One take-away message: do not attempt to save/rescue a snapping turtle that’s been caught in a net unless you are a professional with pliers on hand in case of a bite.

Amidst snapping turtle lore, there is often confusion in associating the alligator snapping turtle with the common snapping turtle but they are not closely related. The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is a large freshwater turtle that lives primarily in southern U.S. waters. It looks like a plated dinosaur and is the sole living member of the Macrochelys genus. Very quickly, it can be identified as an alligator snapping turtle by the three rows of spikes on its carapace, which the common snapper does not have, instead having a smooth carapace. The alligator snapping turtle is endangered, in part due to fishing and the exotic pet trade.

One snapping turtle truism is surrounded in a fog of foul musky odor, which a snapper releases if it is threatened, or about to defend itself, e.g. bite. All turtles in the musk family, most famously—the Stinkpot—give off a foul odor, released from musk glands, when bothered. However, it is a misconception that the safest way to pick up a snapping turtle is by the tail—this can injure the snapper! For a fascinating video that sets the record straight on how to safely move a snapping turtle, see this expert pick up a snapper (“Easy, fella”): “How to Move a Snapping Turtle off the Road” July 2011 (The young man making the film says of snapping turtles, “They’re kind of like shotguns. If you don’t have experience with them, you probably shouldn’t play with them.”)http://neveryetmelted.com/2011/07/16/how-to-move-a-snapping-turtle-off-the-road/And for a funny video of a PA-based “Turtle Derby” see:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrhfhfbZtT4&feature=player_embedded

 

The Gastropods That Restore Us

“Sometimes these animals are crushed seemingly to pieces,
and, to all appearance, utterly destroyed; yet still they set themselves
to work, and, in a few days, mend all their numerous breaches…
to the re-establishment of the ruined habitation.”
-Oliver Goldsmith, 1774

As a little girl, I loved picking up periwinkles and humming to persuade them out of their shell. Even after a painful incident with a blue mussel that heldfast to my toe in the Sheepscot River, I have always held a fond regard for mollusks. But slugs? Not so much. Gardeners might feel some frustration during the wet part of early summer when the slugs invade. My mother puts sharp sea shells in the soil because the slugs don’t like to crawl over them. Gastropods—slugs, snails and whelks—are particularly sensitive to their environment. Just as gardeners will insist that not all soil is the same, so will snails help wetland managers to monitor the success of wetland restoration sites. The slow-moving creatures are the time-keepers and monitors. They keep us in the know. They have the power to restore wetlands. They restore us.

I just finished reading Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s natural history/ memoir The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010), which moved me to tears of joy. In the vein of Annie Dillard and Terry Tempest Williams’ nature-inspired narrative, Bailey’s voice is both clear and magical.

While she is bedridden with a strange illness at the age of 34, a friend brings in a pot of violets to put on her bedside table along with a snail from the woods. Bailey admits she “couldn’t imagine what kind of life a snail might lead,” but grows more and more fascinated with its nocturnal trips up and down the pot of violets, where it nibbles tiny holes in her letters and makes a meal of a wilted violet petal. Bailey’s bedroom window looks onto a saltmarsh and she longs to walk in the woods with her dog but her illness has trapped her into an uncomfortable stillness. When a friend freshens up the soil in the pot of violets, Bailey observes that the snail is unhappy about this—until the garden-enriched soil is replaced with humus from the Maine woods where the snail had lived.

Bailey writes that they were “both living in altered environments not of our choosing.” After a few months of co-habitation with the snail, a friend brings a glass terrarium and fills it with many types of moss, lichen-covered birch, rotten sticks, a mussel shell filled with water and ferns. The snail investigates her new forested ecosystem and dines on mushrooms. I was struck by Bailey’s breathtaking observations, at once emotional and ecological, the way she confused time: the ticking of the clock and the “unfurling of a fern frond” in the small slow world of the wild snail. She writes, “the snail kept my spirit from evaporating,” as she watched it drink from the mussel shell. The book is rich in wetland description and the science of gastropods. http://www.amazon.com/Sound-Wild-Snail-Eating/dp/1565126068/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309460437&sr=1-1

Bailey’s wild snail went onto lay eggs inside the terrarium once surrounded by the right vegetation and fueled by bits of mushroom, its favorite meal. In the wild, certain species of snails may be used as indicators of success in wetland restoration sites. If the native snails reestablish communities, it is one sign of success, however, sometimes invasive snails migrate into a restored wetland, which is a different story. For example, nonnative gastropods may pose a threat to endangered lichen as explored in a recent issue ofCanadian Field Naturalist in a study by Robert Cameron:http://www.canadianfieldnaturalist.ca/index.php/cfn/article/viewFile/697/697

While much of coastal wetland restoration falls back on the “field of dreams” assumption: built it and they will come, the richness and diversity of species that return naturally to a restored wetland are not always as wetland managers had hoped. In some cases, wetland managers will try reintroducing certain species to reestablish a community, for example, gastropods in a restored marsh in coastal California. A 2004 EPA study evaluated the restoration of benthic invertebrate communities, specifically the California horn snail, in a marsh.http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/upload/2004_8_18_wetlands_
MitigationActionPlan_performance_ArmitageandFong2004.pdf

Whereas in a 2009 study of invasive apple snails, the gastropods are observed to feed on both native and invasive aquatic plants at the Great Lakes Center (Buffalo State College in New York). One of the findings was that apple snails should not be considered a bio-control in wetland restoration sites. While they ate the invasive aquatic plants, such asEichhomia crassipes, the snails also ate the native vegetation, e.g.  Ruppia maritima, at an even faster rate.  http://www.buffalostate.edu/greatlakescenter/documents/
burlakova_et_al_2009.pdf
 Ironically, the same apple snail—native to the Florida Everglades, is the sole preferred food source for the endangered Everglades snail kite. This means that apple snails are critical to the successful restoration of Everglades habitat for the bird. http://fl.biology.usgs.gov/sofla/apple_snail.pdf (See Strange Wetlands: http://aswm.org/wordpress/strange-wetlands-endangered-species-day-the-first-list/)

As part of a large 2004 wetland restoration project in the Klamath Basin in Oregon, over a dozen species of endemic snails were identified as at-risk invertebrates and priority species http://www.oregon.gov/OWEB/GRANTS/docs/acquisition/Acq
Priorities_Klamath.pdf?ga=t
 For more information on the Klamath Basin Restoration work in Oregon, visit: http://www.oregonwild.org/waters/klamath/a-vision-for-the-klamath-basin/the-klamath-basin-restoration-agreement

Wetland scientists look to even smaller organisms, trematode parasites, which occur in gastropods, as indicator species for biodiversity in managed wetlands. Some studies have shown that the richness in diversity among trematodes increases after coastal wetland restoration. For a brochure published by the Pacific Estuarine Ecosystem Indicator Research Consortium, go to: http://www-bml.ucdavis.edu/peeir/
brochures/Parasites.pdf

For further reading and enjoyment, here are some interesting recent wetland blog posts on gastropods in wetlands with some great images, too:

Gaunt and Glimmering Remains of Gastropods
http://www.evilmadscientist.com/article.php/wetlandsnails

Some gastropod humor at Southern Fried Science blog
http://www.southernfriedscience.com/

Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project’s Photos
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ballonarestoration/5716284945/in/photostream

Poem: Persuading Periwinkles
http://aswm.org/wordpress/53-2/110-2/persuading-periwinkles/