The native plant garden at the Royal BC Museum, with more than 300 species of plants, is a haven for wildlife in an otherwise heavily urbanized setting. The garden was initiated in 1968 in part to promote landscaping with our diverse native flora. The diversity of bird species that are known to visit the garden is truly impressive considering the downtown setting, and the garden also harbours a wealth of invertebrate animals: butterflies, bees, dragonflies, and damselflies, as well as many others.
Some of the animals are just passing through on their migration – for instance the eye-catching Green Darner dragonflies that have been seen there in the fall on their way south (yes! -some dragonflies migrate!) and the gorgeous Wilson’s Warblers that pass through on their way north each spring. Others are year-round residents in the garden: Song Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, while others come to the garden in the winter months and then head off to points north as the rest of the province warms up: Golden-crowned Sparrow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
It is not just that the garden offers a patch of greenspace though. What makes the garden a preferred location for our native wildlife are the native plants that inhabit it. The plant species that are native to this region co-evolved with the animals that also live here, seasonally or permanently – they need each other. There is no better example of this then examining the butterfly species reported from the garden. They come to this small area because the plant that they lay their eggs on and that their caterpillar eats can be found in the garden. Some examples include willows for two of our local Swallowtail butterfly species, Ocean Spray for the Lorquin’s Admiral, and Sedum for Moss’s Elfin. In the fall elegant Cedar Waxwings are regularly seen gobbling up the Black Hawthorn fruits, as well as those of some of the other shrubs in the landscape. These fruits are a critical food source for birds that they cannot typically find in urban settings.
The winter garden has value as well: native trees and shrubs offer a year-round source of food to the birds of the region because many invertebrates live on the plants; providing a source of protein to insectivores like Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Bushtits. This past winter a flock of as many as fifty Yellow-rumped Warblers spent many months foraging in the garden – always able to find food among the regionally-adapted plants because of the insects feeding on them.
I don’t expect to get new lizard range records in mid-November, especially since the weather has been so grey and cool. This month it seems we have had wind storm after wind storm. Our northern alligator lizard (Elgaria coerulea) should be down for winter—maybe an occasional one will appear on really warm days. Common wall lizards (Podarcis muralis) will emerge, but only when it is sunny. I have seen wall lizards active in sun-exposed locations when the air temperatures are only 5–7°C. But since I have been indoors, I have resorted to correcting United States lizard misidentifications on iNaturalist.
This Monday morning (November 16th, 2020) is grey and cold, and another wind storm is due tonight. But to my surprise, I received an email from Nicole Greenbaum at Paridon Horticultural Ltd. in Delta, BC. She found a lizard in the company’s tropical greenhouse and had correctly identified it as a western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis). Nicole’s discovery is western fence lizard #2 for British Columbia (and Canada).
Canada’s second confirmed western fence lizard; photo by Nicole Greenbaum.
The greenhouse is heated throughout the winter, and so if they are not able to catch this little lizard, it will have quite the winter. Of course I have asked them to catch it to represent BC’s first specimen for the museum collection. Photos are useful, but a specimen is better.
Who wouldn’t want to live in a tropical greenhouse? Photo by Nicole Greenbaum.
This lizard is a juvenile, with a body just over 3 cm. From the photos, I can’t tell whether it is male or female. But the record is now in iNaturalist.
It is possible that a female laid eggs and even more are in the greenhouse, but most likely, this is a single stowaway that came in with a shipment of plants. We have no idea where it originated, nor when it arrived. The greenhouse has not received plants from the United States in some time (it is 2020 after all), so the lizard has likely lived there all summer. I suppose that is effective, pesticide-free insect control.
I wonder when the next one will make its way north of the United States border?
Nature is unrelenting. The zoonotic origin of the SARS-CoV-2 novel virus responsible for COVID-19 is a powerful reminder of the connections between human activities, health and biodiversity. As I write this, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact all aspects of human society, while the urgency to document, understand and protect biodiversity remains unabated. Museums in particular face the dual challenges of keeping the public engaged and maintaining their research programs. In many institutions, fieldwork, normally a major component of research activities during the summer months, has had to be postponed. Many aspects of learning, public engagement and curation of collections have moved online.
Researchers at the Royal BC Museum are considering the direct and indirect consequences of the pandemic on biodiversity while continuing to meet the challenges of biodiversity research. Aside from anecdotal reports (indicating, for example, that in many places biodiversity may be benefitting from reduced human activity), it is too early to provide a definitive answer to how the pandemic is affecting biodiversity. Given time, and with ongoing communication among scientists in natural history collections and the wider scientific community, this question can be answered by mobilizing and using biodiversity data found in natural history collections.
Ongoing communication of natural history collections is important, especially during this challenging time. Many people experience natural history collections only as museum exhibits. In this context, it can be difficult to visualize museum collections as baseline biodiversity data that are fundamental to diverse scientific fields. However, natural history specimens constitute the data for documenting biodiversity and constructing phylogenies, and they address evolutionary, ecological and biogeographic questions. Additionally, possibilities extend beyond the physical specimen, and may include genomic, behavioural and occurrence data. Therefore it is crucial that collections be maintained, that they grow, and that their data be continually enriched and shared. Through collections, we can improve our understanding of evolving species interactions, including those of pathogens and their hosts, which can help to better predict the risks of novel zoonotic diseases.
What about fieldwork? To cope with the travel restrictions and safety conditions surrounding the pandemic, some researchers have adopted different strategies. For example, in place of large-scale, rapid, people-intensive biodiversity surveys, some locations are studied in great detail over time, with fewer people. One project is the Quadra BioMarathon, conducted by researchers from the Hakai Institute to assess the diversity, abundance and composition of plankton just offshore from Hakai’s Quadra Island facility. The Royal BC Museum provides taxonomic expertise and advises on collection, preservation and identification of specimens.
Curators, collection managers and other researchers at the Royal BC Museum continue to work on collections, expanding, refining and making accessible the data through online collaborations with colleagues from as close as across town or as far as halfway across the globe. We are also committed to making biodiversity data and knowledge accessible to our diverse communities online.
Ongoing projects by Royal BC Museum researchers include taxonomic analysis, linking specimens to nucleotide, genome or protein data, and making data accessible through the Royal BC Museum online database.
“Don’t let it loose.” That is the message to all pet shops in the province. Shoppers should see the logo that the Inter-Ministry Invasive Species Working Group (IMISWG) asked pet shops to display:
A blue-eyed panaque was caught in a ditch leading to Shawnigan Lake.
A flowerhorn cichlid was found in Kelowna. Flowerhorns are a man-made hybrid and do not exist in the wild.
Goldfish and rosy-red (fathead) minnows appear in BC with alarming regularity.
All of these abandoned animals originated in the pet trade.
And in 2019, two redbelly piranhas (above, the caught in September; below, the one caught in July) were found in Westwood Lake in Nanaimo. This is a South American species with a famous reputation, exaggerated by several really bad B-movies.
Piranha also may have been released in Langford Lake—a fish enthusiast who routinely dumped his piranha when they grew too large was reported by a friend. We are fortunate that piranhas won’t survive our winters and that most BC lakes are too cold to sustain them even in summer. However, it does show the frequency with which pets get dumped, and you have to wonder what motivates people to abandon pets, especially pets that are potentially harmful to the environment (and in this case, to people).
According to Fuller et al. (1999), the native range of the redbelly piranha is lowland central and southern South America east of the Andes, including the Amazon and Parana basins and the coastal drainages of Brazil and Guianas. In North America, the species has been found in Florida, Hawai’i, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. You can bet all of these are aquarium releases. Individual white piranha (S. rhombeus) also have been released in Florida, and a sinkhole pool at a Florida tourist attraction was stocked intentionally in the 1960s. The pool supported a population for about 14 years before state officials used rotenone to wipe them out. Other piranha, which were not identified, have appeared in California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington.
I don’t think we have a synopsis of records in Canada, but I know pacu and silver dollars—relatives of the piranha—have appeared in Manitoba and Ontario, so who knows how many piranha have also been dumped in this country.
If you don’t want a fish, take it back to a pet shop, find it a new home, or if you have to, have it euthanized humanely. Our waterways are cool to cold, and it is unfair to make tropical fish suffer in cold water. And released tropical fish present a disease risk to our native fishes. Don’t release pets. BC becomes less beautiful with every abandoned animal (and aquarium plant—but that is another story entirely).
This is the month that the garden explodes with food—and lizards. Everywhere you look, there is food to harvest. We try to weigh everything to get an idea of the cash value in our garden, but sometimes you just have to eat things right off the vine.
Our tomatoes are ripening daily, with the Pineapple Cherry tomatoes at their delicious best now that we are nearing the end of August. Several of our tomatoes are not your typical variety: the Snow White ripens a pale cream-white colour, Black Prince are red-brown when ripe, and then we have the Green Zebra, which (as the name suggests) is striped green when ripe. They are all fantastic.
We have already started saving seeds for next year. The seeds are left in water for a few days to simulate the rotting fruit, then we drain and dry to store seeds over winter.
Zucchini, cucumbers, squash and melons are all producing fruit, though I don’t think the melons will amount to anything. Our pumpkin went nowhere. C’est la vie dans la grande ville. We will buy pumpkins to carve for Halloween and support a local grower in the process.
Cabbages are being converted to sauerkraut. Some cucumbers were grown specifically for pickles, others to eat straight up.
We have collected over 6 kg of blackberries, and our strawberries are still producing. The yellow raspberries produced just enough fruit for all three of us to enjoy a quick snack.
Apples are nearly ready. And if this wasn’t enough fruit, our neighbours have offered some pears—we just have to pop over and pick them.
A grey squirrel has figured out that our garden has loads of food and destroyed our mini-sunflowers. It also has been eating plums, leaving sticky scraps on our compost bins. That is part of gardening—sometimes you have to share. Wasps and house finches have nibbled on their fair share of the blackberries.
Even without our greenhouse—it got crushed by the snow last winter—we still grew some nice peppers, and the Italian parsley and New Zealand spinach are growing well. Carrots are our biggest failure; only a few grew.
Lizards have hatched—everywhere you look, a lizard the size of my pinkie finger darts off to hide in our rock walls and garden beds. The adults are still here too—but they seem to be less interested in basking in the midsummer’s sun. Perhaps the females don’t need to bask so much now since they are not carrying developing eggs.
Much of the work now shifts indoors. Berries and tomatoes are being frozen for winter use. Beans are being shelled and left to dry for winter chili, stews and soup. Onions are pulled and drying on the deck so they will store well. Only the Scarlet Runner Beans are still growing and will be picked later in the season.
The bean plants that are finished are now pulled and left on the ground to decay and add substance to the soil. We still need to harvest the potatoes in our front garden, and then in the next few weeks we will plant a cover crop. Once the cover crop has grown a few centimetres, we will cover it with a tarp to let worms and other recyclers enrich the soil.
And even while the harvest is in full swing, we are planting lettuce and kale starts for autumn and winter. It is amazing to be able to walk outside in winter and get fresh produce when you need it.
This has been a good summer for food production. We have hundreds of dollars in produce, with over $50 in blackberries alone at current market rates. We added oak-leaf mulch and some horse manure early in the season, watered when we needed to, and that is about it. Even a modest city garden can produce plenty of good clean food.
I have been watching a female lizard in my garden slowly increase in girth as her eggs developed in May to early June. I recorded each day whether she was gravid or not, and noted when she lost her tail. Simple observational science is something I could do to better understand common wall lizard biology in BC while working from home.
My notes around the time I think eggs were laid went as follows:
June 5 – basking on rocks, 80% tail lost in the last few days, still looks gravid.
June 6 – not sighted
June 7 – not sighted
June 8 – not sighted
June 9 – rainy, cold, not sighted
June 10 – basking on rocks, has folds of skin along the flank suggesting eggs laid.
I have watched our resident female wall lizard as her tail regenerated, and I saw her again yesterday (July 30) sporting a tail several centimeters shorter than the original.
I patrol the garden daily to see what the lizards are doing, and when and where they are active. My wife will confirm this obsessive behaviour. But this morning (July 31) I dropped my daughter off at a day camp, and on return home, as I walked up my driveway, I spotted our first hatchling.
I gasped—I am not ashamed to admit it.
Lizards invaded our garden in 2019, and one year later we have a home-grown baby lizard. It looked pretty comfortable in its new habitat, so perhaps it hatched yesterday (July 30) or the day before. And there is no way to tell, without perhaps a series of DNA samples, whether this hatchling came from the female I have been studying, or whether some other female dug a nest in our garden. Young lizards leave their parents’ territory to avoid cannibalism, so this one may head for the hills. But it does give us an estimate of timing between egg deposition (somewhere between June 6–8, assuming eggs were not laid June 9 when it was cool and rainy) and the first appearance of hatchlings July 31.
Females mature in their second year and can have one to three clutches of eggs each summer, depending on latitude and local conditions, with clutches ranging from 2 to 10 eggs. In nature, incubation ranges from 6–11 weeks. Embryo development is about halfway at oviposition, and females bury eggs in sandy or crumbly substrates at the end of 10–20 cm tunnels (Van Damme et al. 1992). In a laboratory experiment, temperature dramatically changed incubation times, with wall lizards incubated at 32–35°C hatching 10 days earlier than lizards incubated at 28°C, and over five weeks earlier than those incubated at 24°C (Van Damme et al. 1992). We had a cool spring, and I am not surprised then that 50–52 days passed between the first evidence that the female had laid eggs and the appearance of a hatchling.
Hatching success is high in the 24–28°C incubation range, and Van Damme et al. (1992) suggested 28°C is the best trade-off between hatching success, incubation rate and hatchling health. I wonder how many more hatchlings will appear in the garden?
For more information:
Van Damme, R., D. Bauwens, F. Braña and R.F. Verhyen. “Incubation Temperature Differentially Affects Hatching Time, Egg Survival and Hatchling Performance in the Lizard Podarcis muralis.” Herpetologica 48, no. 2 (1992): 220–228.
It is 2020, and people are asking whether this year will get any stranger.
How about barracuda in BC waters? Does that qualify?
I received several emails and other messages today (July 10) noting that a 5.4 kg barracuda had been caught off Vancouver Island this week. This is a really cool record, and I hope it’s added to iNaturalist.
Pacific barracuda (Sphyraena argentea) are known to range all along our coast, and as Alaska-based biologist Scott Meyer notes, they range north to Alaska during El Niño years. The first record from Alaska (off Kodiak Island) dates back to 1937, when a school of barracuda was sighted, though only one was caught. The surface waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean must have been warm that year, because a barracuda also was caught off Sooke, British Columbia. Another barracuda was found in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in 1958. In BC they are known also from Queen Charlotte Sound and the Prince Rupert area (see Hart 1973). Pietsch and Orr (2019) detail several barracuda records from the Salish Sea in their magnum opus, Fishes of the Salish Sea.
The first record along the BC coast was a specimen cataloged at the Royal BC Museum (RBCM 33), caught at Otter Point in Sooke, July 27, 1904. It is the only Pacific barracuda in the RBCM collection. According to Peitsch and Orr (2019) the earliest record of Pacific barracuda in the area comes from Gig Harbor, Puget Sound dating back to 1878.
I wouldn’t mind another specimen for the museum collection to accompany the 1904 specimen and our other warm-water strays: the louvar and finescale triggerfish found here in 2014, the North Pacific argentine from 2010 and the spotted porcupinefish from 2019.
I wonder what fish is next? Maybe we will get more hammerhead sharks? They were seen off Ucluelet in 1952 and 1953. Sure would be neat to have them here again.
Carl, Clifford C. “The Hammerhead Shark in British Columbia.” Victoria Naturalist 11, no. 4 (1954): 37.
Cowan, Ian McTaggart. “Some Fish Records From the Coast of British Columbia.” Copeia 1938, no. 2: 97.
Hart, John Lawson. Pacific Fishes of Canada. Fisheries Research Board of Canada Bulletin 180. 740 p.
Quast, Jay C. 1964. “Occurrence of the Pacific Bonito in Coastal Alaska Waters.” Copeia 1964, no. 2: 448.
Pietsch, Theodore, and James. W. Orr. Fishes of the Salish Sea, Puget Sound and the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca. Victoria: Heritage House, 2019. 1032 pages.
Van Cleve, Richard, and W.F. Thompson. “A Record of the Pomfret and Barracuda from Alaska.” Copeia 1938, no. 1: 45-46.
See Claudia’s Research Gate profile, which includes her recent publications and peer reviewed articles.
Working at home has allowed me to pay plenty of attention to the individual lizards in our garden. I can watch where they go, locate preferred basking spots in the garden, watch what they eat, and try to figure out when eggs have been deposited and, later, when hatchlings will emerge.
Individuals are easy to identify based on size, sex and scarring. Most lizards have tails that have regrown, and the relative length of the original tail helps identify each animal.
Our gravid female had a perfect tail until recently, but on June 5, I noticed that she had been attacked. Her tail was now less than a quarter of its original length. The stump was still fresh and had not grown over with new skin.
We have several domestic cats vying for our garden (they also like using our garden beds as a litter box). The complexity of our garden attracts lots of birds, and it’s prime hunting territory for pudgy suburban felids to roam and kill at will. One cat (we know him as Meow, because that is what he said when we asked him his name), is a frequent visitor to our yard. He is likely the local lizard lacerator.
It appears that the growth is slow at first as the tail heals and the tissues organize themselves, but between June 19 and July 4, the tail grew an estimated 26 mm. The regrown tail will never be as long as the original, but it can be shed again if the lizard is attacked.
Nature is amazing. Field bindweed, an invader from Eurasia, grows at an alarming rate in our garden. Beans can go from a mere sprout to a massive flowering plant in a few weeks. And we can add lizard tails to our list of fast-growing crops.
When we harvest leafy veggies like lettuce, chard or New Zealand spinach, we take a few leaves for our meal and leave the rest of the plant to grow. The would-be predator attacking the wall lizards in our yard is also harvesting tails and letting the lizards regrow a new crop. I don’t think domestic cats have the mental capacity to intentionally farm lizard tails, but that is effectively what is happening.
Robb Bennett¹,², David Blades², Gergin Blagoev³, Don Buckle⁴, Claudia Copley², Darren Copley², Charles Dondale⁵, and Rick C. West⁶
1 Corresponding author – firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Natural History Section, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, Canada
3 Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada
4 16-3415 Calder Crescent, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
5 Canadian National Collection, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, 960 Carling Ave, Ottawa, ON, Canada (retired)
6 6365 Willowpark Way, Sooke, BC, Canada
In 2006, the Royal British Columbia Museum began systematically documenting the full diversity of British Columbia’s spider fauna. Initially, museum specimens and literature records were used to update an existing checklist and identify poorly sampled habitats in BC. Annual field surveys of spiders, primarily targeting alpine and subalpine habitats, began in 2008; barcode identification of previously unidentifiable specimens commenced in 2012. These efforts have resulted in significant increases in the area of BC that has been sampled for spiders, the number of species documented in the BC checklist, and the number of specimens in the RBCM collection. Many of the additions to the checklist represent the first Canadian or Nearctic records of those taxa or are undescribed species. By 2017, data from more than 9000 spider specimens had been entered into the RBCM database.Data from many specimens, however, remain unrecorded and currently (2017) the RBCM collection is estimated to house more than 90 000 specimens. The number of species recorded in BC has climbed from 212 in 1967 through 653 in 2006 to 859 in 2017. Here we present BC localities data and general global distributions for those 859 taxa. The progress of the RBCM’s work has made the RBCM an important repository of western Nearctic spiders and shown that British Columbia is an important area of Nearctic spider diversity.
The distribution of northern British Columbia alpine plants is poorly documented. To improve our understanding of the flora of this vast, remote region, we collected more than 11 000 specimens from 65 mountains during 2002–2011. Most of these locations had not been visited by botanists. Of the more than 400 species we have collected, two are new to the province, others represent significant range extensions. Twelve species share elements of a disjunct distribution that has apparently not been previously recognized and consists of three regions: (1) northwestern North America; (2) Beartooth Plateau; and (3) northern Colorado. These 12 species appear to be absent from the extensive areas of suitable habitat that occur in the intervening areas. The most reasonable explanation for this pattern is that these species, adapted to arctic–alpine tundra conditions, migrated throughout western North America during the Pleistocene, a time when suitable habitat was much more widespread than now, and subsequently went extinct in many areas as the climate warmed during the Holocene.
Many plant species comprising the present-day Arctic flora are thought to have originated in the high mountains of North America and Eurasia, migrated northwards as global temperatures fell during the late Tertiary period, and thereafter attained a circumarctic distribution. However, supporting evidence for this hypothesis that provides a temporal framework for the origin, spread and initial attainment of a circumarctic distribution by an arctic plant is currently lacking. Here we examined the origin and initial formation of a circumarctic distribution of the arctic mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna) by conducting a phylogeographic analysis of plastid and nuclear gene DNA variation. We provide evidence for an origin of this species in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau of southwestern China, followed by migration into Russia c. 11 million yr ago (Ma), eastwards into North America by c. 4 Ma, and westwards into Western Europe by c. 1.96 Ma. Thereafter, the species attained a circumarctic distribution by colonizing Greenland from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Following the arrival of the species in North America and Europe, population sizes appear to have increased and then stabilized there over the last 1 million yr. However, in Greenland a marked reduction followed by an expansion in population size is indicated to have occurred during the Pleistocene.
Keywords: ancestral location; arctic flora; circumarctic distribution; migration; species origin.
Many plants, especially at high latitudes, have both widespread and highly discontinuous geographical distributions. To increase understanding of how such patterns originate, we examine genetic patterns in the arctic–alpine plant Sibbaldia procumbens . We evaluate the contributions of refugia and the role of long‐distance dispersal in shaping the current range of this species.
Northern Hemisphere, especially North America.
We sampled Sibbaldia from 176 localities, including 168 for S. pro‐cumbens . We analysed sequence variation in three plastid DNA non‐coding regions (the atp I–atp H and trn L–trn F intergenic spacers and the trn L intron), performed Bayesian phylogenetic analyses and statistical parsimony analyses on the combined sequences, and analysed the geographical patterns of haplotype distribution and genetic diversity using data from all populations.
Sibbaldia procumbens probably originated in the mountains of South and East Asia. We identified highly distinct clades in Europe and North America, which overlapped on oceanic islands of the North Atlantic indicating long‐distance dispersal capability. The North American clade included two lineages, one in California and the other widely distributed across the continent and North Atlantic. Haplotype diversity in the latter lineage was markedly higher to the south, suggesting mid–late Pleistocene southward displacement of North American populations with subsequent migration northwards into previously glaciated regions. In Europe, disjunct geographical regions generally harboured distinct haplotypes.
Multiple Pleistocene refugia for S. procumbens occurred in both North America and Europe. North American refugia existed in California and in the southern Rocky Mountains, but in contrast with most widespread arctic–alpine species we found no evidence for a Beringian refugium. Cryptic refugia may have existed within the Cordilleran Ice Sheet. Episodes of range expansion and contraction and long‐distance dispersal have all contributed to the genetic structure and widespread but fragmented distribution of this species.
I recently spent a glorious sunny day on Willows Beach in Victoria. Staghorn sculpins (Leptocottus armatus) and many small soles raced to deeper water as we walked along in ankle-deep water. The tide was out. People were everywhere, but no one was lifting rocks to see everything hiding in plain sight.
Further up the beach was a line of marine macroalgae (especially Ulva, sea lettuce) stranded by the receding tide. Under each rock you can expect a handful of isopods, as well as shore crabs and small Dungeness crabs that scuttle away, and even the tiniest puddles under a rock sheltered up to 8 fish—sculpins and gunnels. The sun heated the beach, but under the algae-draped rock, water stayed shaded and cool and kept everything alive until the tide returned.
Most pools had tidepool sculpins (Oligocottus maculosus), and most were the typical grey-brown mottled form. But there also were many of these green sculpins—the same species as the typical grey-brown tidepool sculpin. These green sculpins are perfectly camouflaged in patches of sea lettuce.
A bright-green tidepool sculpin sure stands out from its typical grey-brown relatives.
Without the usual coloration to rely on, you have to look more carefully to see whether this is a tidepool or fluffy sculpin (O. snyderi). Fluffy sculpins have cirri (little wispy flaps of skin) along the lateral line in clusters of three to six, and the clusters of cirri follow the lateral line along the flank of the body. This photo—even though it was taken with my old iPhone 6. which performs poorly when taking macro shots—shows that the cirri along the lateral line are only found near the head, and they are single. This clearly is not a fluffy sculpin.
Next time you are on the beach and the tide is out, take some time to explore tidepools and rocky ledges along the shore, and carefully lift some rocks. You probably will find a lime-green sculpin or two. You may also find lime-green penpoint gunnels (Apodichthys flavidus) or rosylip sculpin (Ascelichthys rhodorus). If you are really lucky, you will find sculpins with bright-pink colouration to match coraline algae, or a blue-and-red-banded longfin sculpin (Jordania zonope). Even in this city, there is plenty to see along shore.
On June 16, I received notification that my blog post on introduced lizards in Hawaii was live on the internet. The last paragraph in that article is about western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis), where I ask people who see them in BC, to report the observation (with a picture if possible), or tag the occurrence in iNaturalist. Western fence lizards were on Matsuda et al.’s (2006) radar as a potential immigrant since the species exists so close to the Canadian border.
Between submitting that blog post and it going live, the plea for lizard sightings was answered. A report came my way of a western fence lizard loose in BC. I had always assumed the first record would surface in the Okanagan region, since several anecdotes from there suggest fence lizards are already present as far north as Oliver. Furthermore, field guides show western fence lizards just south of the Okanagan region (St. John 2002; Stebbins and McGinnis 2018) and Storm et al. (1995) presented a range map for western fence lizards having a straight line at the international border. Lizards don’t recognize political boundaries, so there is no way Storm et al.’s map is accurate. Fence lizards would do really well in the orchards, fence lines and piles of fruit crates of the southern Okanagan.
Instead of the Okanagan, the first record of a western fence lizard in British Columbia came from the Cloverdale area of Surrey, on June 6, 2020.
Our first confirmed western fence lizard was a juvenile, and it had lost its tail to some would-be predator. We have no idea how this lizard arrived in BC; most likely it is a stow-away from south of the international border. It could have been an escaped pet, or maybe there is a population now in the area that has gone unreported. The lizard is still loose, but we are hoping to catch it and add it to the museum collection.
The lizard is strangely coloured for a western fence lizard, but it does have the yellow-orange tint to the rear surfaces of the fore and hind limbs. The other possible look-alike in the region, though not in Canada, is the sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus), which has white on the undersides of its limbs. Sagebrush lizards are in Washington, but nowhere near as close to BC as western fence lizards (Storm et al. 1995; St. John 2002; Stebbins and McGinnis 2018). The nearest population of western fence lizards in Puget Sound is at Cherry Point, about 27 km south of where the Cloverdale specimen surfaced, thanks to a researcher in 1990 who released a handful of fence lizards to see if a population would get established.
In addition to this Cloverdale record in Surrey, a western fence lizard was reported on iNaturalist, April 2019, at MacNeill Secondary School, Richmond, British Columbia. However, this 2019 report cannot be verified since neither specimen nor photograph are available. Perhaps a second western fence lizard is loose in BC. Maybe it’s a sagebrush lizard. It would be great to get a picture of that Richmond reptile to verify the species.
And I am still not giving up on the Okanagan—if you live anywhere between Summerland and the international border, keep your eyes peeled for fence lizards!
Some background information:
Matsuda, B. M., D. M. Green, and P. T. Gregory. 2006. Amphibians and Reptiles of British Columbia. Royal BC Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Stebbins, R. C., and S. M. McGinnis. 2018. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts.
St. John, A. 2002. Reptiles of the Northwest, British Columbia to California. Lone Pine Press, Renton, Washington.
Storm, R. M., W. P. Leonard, H. A. Brown, R. B. Bury, D. M. Darda, L. V. Diller, and C. R. Peterson. 1995. Reptiles of Washington and Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle, Washington.
Rain this June has reduced our watering bill. Rain helps the plants we want, and also helps the weeds, so we spend a few hours each weekend weeding here and there. We are now well into the growing season, and we got a few new plants. From left to right below: the wasabi plant; behind it, an acacia (which will be potted—can’t wait to see it flower); a raspberry that creeps along the ground (YAY—ground cover in the food forest that produces food and limits the regrowth of grass); and a gooseberry. The ferns (below) we have had for a while in the shade along the side of the house and they need some TLC. Both sides of the house need some thought and effort once the main food-producing areas are established. The wasabi is growing well, and that acacia was so crazy looking that I couldn’t resist.
In the front food forest we have apples, cherries and blueberries well on the way.
Beans, onions and potatoes are growing fast.
The honey berries ripened early and we had them in pancakes. The front third of the garden is covered in wood chip and has three new sea buckthorns (far right below), a rose (middle) has set itself along the driveway, and I buried a few salmon berries to see if we can grow a few of those—that’ll bring in the hummingbirds. It is an area the deer can access. They seem to leave it all alone, and now that the grass is bashed back, only minor weeding is needed.
The back yard is looking lush. Along the eastern fence (on the right in this panorama) is our thornless blackberry—last year we had about 3 kg of berries—this year it is COVERED with flowers. What a bounty—and we save them frozen for winter crisps and smoothies (or for a small human who likes eating frozen berries like candy). The area around the sunken patio needs some effort—there are herbs in there—but the grass and other agressive plants have run wild.
The peppers, squash, cucumbers and pumpkin are growing nicely out back, although they are along the west side of the garden and our neighbour’s cedar hedge does drain the life from that soil. Plants grow poorly the closer they are to the cedars. Volunteer kale holds on and will seed again—yay kale.
Strawberries are ripening daily. You can’t beat the flavour of home grown strawberries warmed in the sun.
Ladybird beetles are everywhere. We have at least seven lizards in the front garden, and maybe three or four in the back. The female wall lizard which was obviously loaded with eggs now looks lighter, so we can expect hatchlings in a few weeks. The photo below is the male that may be the father of this year’s hatchlings, and as far as I can tell, our only garden lizard in the front yard with an intact tail.
The poppies are popping up all over the place. Tomatoes and cabbage are rocketing up, and the New Zealand spinach is ready for selective harvest. Chives have gone to seed, a leek has a seed head taller than Anna, and the lettuce is still growing well. There’s so much to eat in such a small space.
The usual avian suspects are flitting about—Bewick’s wrens; crows, which are now dive-bombing pedestrians; robins, which have nested and are much quieter; and Anna’s hummingbirds, chipping sparrows and house finches, which pop by regularly. We were buzzed by an osprey the other day—that was neat to see.
And I finally got around to protecting our grape with netting (above). The local mule deer seem to notice it once it grows about six leaves, and then they strip the plant. Not this year.
The garden is never finished, and it is always a learning experience. We are starting a chop-and-drop program to leave cut debris in place rather than taking it over to a separate compost pile. The chopped and dropped debris acts like leaves in a forest to reduce rain compaction of soil, and eventually it rots and adds organic matter to the surface – to be re-worked by nature. Probably the greatest thing to see is our daughter learning about the seasons in the garden, where food really comes from, what is ready to eat and what is not.
What does a cork have to do with my research? Cork was produced in Europe and North Africa and shipped to North America in bulk until the Atlantic was blockaded during WWII. Stow-away pests were inevitable.
In the 1940s, the western green lizard (Lacerta bilineata) was introduced repeatedly to Gloucester, New Jersey, as a stowaway in bales of cork bark (Kraus 2009; Burke and Deichsel 2008; Lever 2003; Conant 1945). In 1944, a single specimen of the ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus) also was caught on the Gloucester piers (Conant 1945). Common wall lizards (Podarcis muralis) also appeared over several years in New Jersey in the 1940s from shipments of cork bark (Kraus 2009; Conant 1945). The diversity of stowaway lizards underlines the ease and risk of accidental transport of lizards. Maybe the switch to synthetic stoppers has plugged this international leak in border security.
All corks aside, British Columbia’s wine region has been invaded twice by common wall lizards (that we know of). In 1983, a handful of these invasive lizards were intentionally released in two private gardens in Summerland. Fortunately for the ecology of the Okanagan valley, the Summerland introductions failed. The second invasion, in 2015, consisted of a lone wall lizard found at a vineyard in Osoyoos, transported as a stow-away in a shipment of grapes from Vancouver Island. Fortunately for fans of BC wines, the lizard was removed before grapes were crushed, and died in captivity.
You can see the record in iNaturalist, though the exact location in Osoyoos area has never been pined down.
While writing this short post I tripped across a website for the LacertA Winery in Romania. Their label showcases the eastern green lizard (Lacerta viridis), which grows to 45 cm total length. Imagine if eastern green lizards had been released here instead of the much smaller common wall lizard!
Photos courtesy of Walter Friedl, managing partner, LacertA Winery.
According to Speybroeck et al. (2016), Romania has us beaten for lizard diversity with the snake-eyed skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii), eastern slow worm (Anguis colchica), slow worm (A. fragilis), the steppe runner (Eremias arguta), sand lizard (Lacerta agilis), Balkan green lizard (L. trilineata), meadow lizard (Darevskia praticola), viviparous lizard (Zootoca vivipara), common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) and Balkan wall lizard (P. tauricus). And now I can’t look at, or open, a bottle of wine without thinking of lizards.
Burke RL, Deichsel G. 2008. Lacertid Lizards introduced into North America: History and Future. 347-353. In: Urban Herpetology. Mitchell JC, Jung Brown RE, Bartholomew B. (eds). Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. Salt Lake City, Utah.
Conant B. 1945. More reptiles in cork shipments. Copeia 1945(4):233.
Engelstoft, C., J. Robinson, D. Fraser and G. Hanke. 2020. Recent rapid expansion of European Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis) in British Columbia, Canada. Northwestern Naturalist 101(1): 50-55.
Kraus F. 2009. Alien Reptiles and Amphibians: A Scientific Compendium and Analysis. Invading Nature: Springer Series in Invasion Ecology 4. Drake JA (ed). Springer, New York.
Lever C. 2003. Naturalized Reptiles and Amphibians of the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Speybroeck, J., W. Beukema, B. Bok, J. Van Der Voort, and I. Velikov. 2016. Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Britain and Europe. Helm Field Guide Series, Bloomsbury, London, United Kingdom.
I learn new things just by sitting in my garden and watching the behaviours of common wall lizards (Podarcis muralis). Flies may be fast, but lizards nab them. I put cutworm grubs on a pile of rocks and lizards happily sneak up and grab them too. Lizards eat ants.
People tell me wall lizards eat earthworms, even dried earthworms. I have received photos of wall lizards eating wasps. Wall lizards eat each other. They eat their own eggs.
But one thing that is abundant in my garden that lizards leave alone is the ladybug. We have several species of ladybug. The lizards have specific rock piles they seem to hold as resident territory, especially this pair of adults (above)—these two are always close to a small rock pile in my garden.
Right now, those same rocks are covered with larvae, pupae and adult ladybugs. Ladybugs smell bad because they emit:
The smell is described as a mixture of nutty, green bell pepper, potatoes and mould. I assume ladybugs taste like they smell. Even the yearling lizards in my garden are leaving the pupae and larvae of ladybugs alone, so they must learn early to leave ladybugs alone.
Even a small number of ladybugs can taint a batch of wine, and since lizards taste their way through the garden, constantly flicking their tongues, it is no wonder they leave ladybugs alone. Lizards likely don’t even have to bite a ladybug to know it is unpalatable.
Ladybugs and wall lizards do however eat the same prey—aphids. Gardeners may be happy to have both of these colourful predators in their gardens.
The chemicals in ladybug emissions are from:
Rovner, S.L. 2007. Why Ladybugs Smell Bad. Chemical & Engineering News. https://cen.acs.org/articles/85/web/2007/03/Ladybugs-Smell-Bad.html
I do prattle on about the invasive common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) on Vancouver and Denman Islands, and the recent appearance of one Italian wall lizard (P. siculus) in Vancouver, but to put things into perspective, only two lizard species have appeared here, and only one is established. Others from the pet trade, or arriving as contaminants in tropical plant shipments (e.g., bearded Dragon, brown anole, green iguana), represent individuals that escape and never get established. Tropical species will not survive our cool wet winters.
Hawaii, by contrast, has more exotic lizard species than BC has reptiles. The common wall lizard pales by comparison to the Green Iguana.
The books I have for Hawaii are out of date, but they will serve to express the magnitude of the problem posed by accidental import, accidental release from the pet trade, and intentional release in areas where exotic species will survive.
Combined with records on iNaturalist, the lizards introduced to Hawaii include the green iguana, green anole, brown anole, knight anole, Jackson’s chamaeleon, mourning gecko, stump-toed gecko, Indo-Pacific slender gecko, common house gecko, Madagascar giant day gecko, orange-spotted day gecko, gold-dust day gecko, Tokay gecko, delicate garden skink, mottled snake-eyed skink, moth skink, copper-tailed skink and azure-tailed skink. Two species of horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum and P. coronatum) were released on Oahu, but failed to establish populations, and the azure-tailed skink probably is extirpated—an invasive ant may have caused its demise.
The green anole, a common pet lizard. This one was in captivity.
If we include species that died out, there are 20 species of lizard introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, with 7 species accidentally transported by Polynesians, and the rest more recently from the pet trade or as stow-aways in packing material. Only the yellow-bellied sea snake and sea turtles are native to the Hawaiian Islands, all other reptiles and amphibians were introduced by humans.
A female common wall lizard in Saanich, Vancouver Island.
I am sitting in my dining right now and looking out at the grey sky, knowing that it is 8 degrees Celsius outside. Tropical lizards have no chance on Vancouver Island, and so I am not alarmed at the annual wave of brown anoles that arrive as eggs in plant shipments from the USA. The lizard species that could survive here need to be able to withstand freezing temperatures. European lacertids, like the green lizard, western green lizard, Ibiza wall lizard, Dalmatian wall lizard and Italian wall lizard that at one time or another were established in the United States, and the viviparous lizard which appeared in Japan, are the only lizards that fit the profile. Perhaps the entire family should be prohibited from the pet trade in North America to limit the risk of introduction.
The western fence lizard also is a species that could survive in BC—it may be in the Okanagan region already, as far north as Oliver—so keep your eyes peeled for these guys. They have also been introduced to the Puget Sound area in Washington and would do fine on southern Vancouver Island. These prickly lizards are common around human habitation. They have bright blue patches on their bellies and do push-ups as a territorial display—if you see one, let me know or tag it in iNaturalist.
After picking up a range of starters at the local nursery, we are finally ready to plant the rest of the beds in the garden. A pumpkin starter arrived from the garden of Steve and Amy Lewis—they started a few too many mega-pumpkins—we were happy to get a seedling. Wasabi is the experimental plant for this year.
Soil was turned over, manure mixed down a bit, and weeds were pulled in preparation for planting. One of the most invasive plants in our front garden is Calendula—ours has a gorgeous orange flower, but this flowering plant had overgrown a third of the front vegetable bed.
Seeds arrived by mail, and we bought a range of peppers, some hotter than others—the scorpion pepper will be interesting.
All our tomatoes went in, as did cabbages, and we have a few hundred New Zealand spinach plants poking up. Ladybird beetles are pupating and there are loads of adults, so let’s hope they keep busy dealing with aphids.
New Zealand spinach (above) has an odd textured leaf and is not to everyone’s liking, but as it’s an edible weed, I am OK with it. Between New Zealand spinach, alexanders, kale, chives, oregano and leeks growing wild in the garden, we will always have some garden fresh food. The lettuce we bought as starters has overgrown its pot!
Lizards are active and emerge by 08:30 as the sun hits the front garden. Two larger lizards seem to have replaced the three yearlings that were on the back fence, and our gravid female still has not laid eggs. Two lizards seem to have been attacked—tails were shortened—but that seems to be it for lizard drama in the last few weeks.
Bewick’s wrens are nesting in our back yard, bushtits are stocking up on spider webs (and the cotton thread we use to tie up plants), crows are building nests, robins have hatched over a week ago, and Anna’s hummingbirds, chipping sparrows and house finches pop by regularly to liven up the garden.
Now to set up the watering schedule and let nature do its thing.
Light rain all day yesterday and the soil is nice and damp, but now warmed by today’s sun. Everything smells fresh and amazing. Lettuce starters are doing really well.
Last year’s kale is in full bloom, ensuring we have kale year round with zero effort. Other flowers do their part to attract bees.
Fruit trees flowering everywhere you turn. Blueberries soon will flower in the front yard.
Strawberries in bloom, rhubarb growing nicely, the fennel is up, and red sorrel pops up where it wants.
Rosemary attracts bees to the garden, while our raspberries and thorn-less blackberries send off many new leaves. Their flowers will soon appear. Oregano is everywhere in the raspberry bed.
Forgotten onions are growing, others have been planted. Potatoes and carrots are planted. Free range chives, kale and chard is as luxuriant as ever.
And our tomatoes—grown from seeds saved from last summer’s successes—are enjoying the sun on our south-facing deck.
And the lizards are increasing in abundance. This one likely hatched out early last summer. I haven’t seen our gravid female in a few days—maybe she is digging a nest.
Bewick’s wrens seem to have staked out territory and may nest here this summer. Chipping sparrows appear daily, as do American robins, dark-eyed juncos, chestnut-backed chickadees, house finches and our resident Anna’s hummingbirds.
Turkey vultures and bald eagles soar in thermals. And Cooper’s hawks keep the smaller birds on edge.
This city garden is alive.
Not much has changed in the garden itself since late March. Some weeding has been done, and I am specifically targeting a few plants that produce seeds early. Purple Deadnettles are everywhere and the battle with them essentially is a Kobayashi Maru scenario. Hairy Bittercress is another I target early since it catapults its seeds early in spring when the seed pods dry. Other than weeding and a bit of cleanup, we are now starting seeds indoors.
Thyme, tomatoes, basil (the seeds were not faulty), cilantro and peas came up nicely.
The arugula and cress are grown as “microgreens” to go directly into salads and sandwiches instead of into the garden. Growing microgreens is a year round thing for us—we have a small light stand with LEDs to start plants from seeds. We also have some flowering plants just for the flowers.
Leftover potatoes and newly bought onions are getting planted this Eostre weekend.
One of my favourite plants in the garden, however, is not something we eat. Mosses—mosses grow like mini forests and while some people power-wash the moss away, I like moss. I wish lawns were entirely made of mosses. Moss is soft on the feet, requires no mowing or maintenance or fertilizer, there is no need for aeration, and it makes plenty of habitat for tardigrades. I may never see a tardigrade in my garden, but I hope they are there and thriving. Since they can survive exposure to outer space, my garden likely is a tardigrade-happy place.
I remember the lifecycle of mosses from my time as a teaching assistant in Intro Biology (course # 71.125) at the University of Manitoba. Moss plants—more specifically, the haploid gameteophyte (gamete producing plant)—we are used to seeing come in a male and female form. The female and male gametophytes produce gametes—egg cells and sperm cells respectively. When water splashes on the male plant, some sperm splashes on top of the female plant, and fertilization of the egg cell occurs. Fertilization of an egg (syngamy) merges each haploid copy of the species genes into one cell (the zygote) which continues to grow with its diploid gene complement.
The sporophyte (or spore producing plant) is the next stage of the plant which grows as a stalk out of the top of the female gametophyte. The stalk elongates and develops a pod (known as a sporangium) at the tip where haploid spores are produced by meiosis. Those haploid spores are released and produce the next generation of haploid male and female gametophytes. This is my memory of the basic moss lifecycle—not bad considering I last taught intro biology labs in the early 1990s.
And I will end this Printemps-post with a gratuitous photo of one of our Common Wall Lizards, one of four (possibly five) which have taken up residence in the front garden. They were basking in the sun at 08:30 this morning.
ROBB BENNETT, CLAUDIA COPLEY, DARREN COPLEY
Apostenus ducati sp. nov. is described from montane areas in or adjacent to the Columbia River Basin of southeastern British Columbia in Canada and northern Washington and northwestern Montana in the United States. This is the second Nearctic species of this primarily Palaearctic genus. Unlike most liocranids, A. ducati apparently is restricted to open rocky habitats, such as talus and scree slopes, and on mountain peaks. Throughout most of its range, specimens occur in low numbers and populations are patchily distributed. Also, populations appear to be concentrated in the upper regions of the Flathead River watershed in British Columbia, an area of significant and competing ecological and economic values. Because of these factors, A. ducati is potentially a species of conservation concern.
When a trawl net goes down to the sea floor, you have no idea what will appear when the net is hauled to the surface. Some fish are caught as the net descends, others as the net ascends, but most are caught at the target depth. One thing is for certain, trawl nets sample very specific habitat – open smooth substrates where the net is unlikely to snag.
Since we don’t drag nets over rocky habitat, that habitat is poorly known. You’d think that in the dark depths, substrate wouldn’t matter – but apparently it does. And you’d think we’d already know whether a fish the size of a coffee table inhabited our waters. Not so. Since 2005, we have discovered three new skates in BC, and you guessed it, one was the size of a coffee table. The first Angel Shark for British Columbia was discovered in 2016, and captured on camera, not a net.
The Pacific White Skate (Bathyraja spinosissima) was caught in a trawl net by accident. From footage from submersibles, we know this species cruises about 1 m above rocky habitat. The single specimen caught in 2005 had strayed over net friendly habitat. When this skate was caught, we were unable to assign it to species. Its DNA suggested it was a species from the Atlantic. After a careful measurements, we determined it was a Pacific White Skate, and its discovery was published by Orr et al. (2019).
Bathyraja spinosissima (Pacific White Skate) – this specimen was the first to be included in DNA barcoding which gave us strange results when the tissues were originally sequenced. This large male is the first adult male in museum collections, a first from BC, and extended the known range north from Oregon.
Orr et al. (2019) also listed a second new skate species for BC, the Five-spined Skate (Bathyraja microtrachys). Five males were collected west of Tofino, off Vancouver Island in 2005. These are the only adult males known for this species.
Bathyraja microtrachys (Five-spined Skate) – originally thought to range from Washington south to San Diego, we now known they range into Canadian waters.
In 2009, a third skate species was discovered, the Commander Skate (Bathyraja lindberi), and was published by King et al. (2019). This is a northern skate, and the discovery in British Columbia extends the species’ range south about 600 km.
Bathyraja lindberi (Commander Skate) – appeared in 2009, and now is known from the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, south to Queen Charlotte Sound.
Finally, in 2016, a Pacific Angel Shark (Squatina californica) was spotted and photographed by Mark Cantwell while diving off Clover Point, Victoria. The photograph was proof enough of the species’ presence (King and Surry 2016). Since this species was known from a single specimen in Alaska, one from Puget Sound in Washington, and exists south to the Gulf of California, its discovery in British Columbia was only a matter of time. More details on the Angel Shark can be found in Pietsch and Orr’s (2019) magnum opus on Fishes of the Salish Sea.
Squatina californica (Pacific Angel Shark) – was is known from one specimen in Puget Sound, Washington and an old record from Alaska, and finally has been confirmed for British Columbia. Photograph by Mark Cantwell, April 30, 2016 off Clover Point, Victoria, Vancouver Island.
For more details on all cartilaginous fishes in British Columbia, buy the latest RBCM handbook by King and McFarlane due out May 2020.
Non-game fishes receive little attention and of these, the deep sea anglerfishes (Families Oneirodidae, Melanocetidae and Ceratiidae), are among the poorest known. Deep sea anglers live at extreme depths and few people study them.
Alive they are quite elegant with black-brown skin, flowing fins and globular bodies. But when hauled to the ocean surface and preserved in museum collections they tend to resemble shrivelled hockey pucks – with teeth. Most of what we know about these fishes is based on the females. Males are minute but have enlarged olfactory chambers. Males have one goal – to find and latch onto a female. Once attached, males draw nutrition from the female’s bloodstream. Sometimes more than one male attaches to a female, and they are in place ready to mate whenever a female is ready to release eggs. Some have said this relationship is parasitic, and while males do derive nourishment from the female, they fertilize a female’s eggs. In contrast, a parasitic relationships is one-sided. Perhaps the only time the relationship is parasitic is when a male attaches to a female of a different species – he draws nourishment, but provides no genetic contribution.
Because these fishes rarely reach the surface in good shape (trawl nets are not forgiving to soft-skinned fishes), many deep sea anglers are difficult to identify. Identification often is based on the structure and shape of tip of the lure – a structure called the esca – which sits at the tip of the first ray of the dorsal fin. If that delicate structure is lost, identification can be difficult without DNA barcoding. With DNA barcoding, we can identify species based on unique genetic sequences taken from tissue samples. One of the fishes photographed in this article, Oneirodes thompsoni, had been sampled for DNA barcoding to get a representative sequence for this species. The white tag with a code number is attached to the fish so that the fish and its genetic sequences can be matched later.
Until the paper by Weil et al. 2015, only three species, had officially been recorded from BC waters. Specimens of the large Krøyer’s deep sea angler fish (Ceratias holboelli) had been preserved, but no one had detailed where the species had been found. Several other dreamerfish had been misidentified in museum collections. The review of species known to exist here was prompted by the identification of a specimen of Melanocetus johnsonii in the RBCM collection, and the discovery of Oneirodes acanthias and Cryptopsaras couesii in 2006. The other species deemed new to BC, or representing significant range extensions, were discovered during the preparation of the paper by Weil et al. and his review of the RBCM collection.
Below is the list of anglerfish species known to exist in British Columbia (as of March 2020):
Oneirodes thompsoni, RBCM 010-00196-009, 10.9 cm Standard Length (above); and O. bulbosus, RBCM 004-00005-001, 8.8 cm Standard Length (below), are the most commonly caught dreamers along the entire BC coast. Photo by G. Hanke.
Oneirodes eschrichtii, RBCM 998-00323-002, 8.3 cm Standard Length, represents the first of its species in BC and a northward range extension of 1700 km in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Photo by G. Hanke.
Oneirodes acanthias, RBCM 010-00197-004, 10.5 cm Standard Length, represents the first specimen from BC, and a range extension of 600 km north of the species previously known range off Oregon. Photo by G. Hanke.
Chaenophryne melanorhabdus, RBCM 999-00107-002, 8.9 cm Standard Length, is another commonly caught dreamer, but we have no records north of Vancouver Island. Photo by G. Hanke.
Chaenophryne longiceps, RBCM 998-00344-001, 9.8 cm Standard Length, is one of three specimens now known from BC, roughly 600 km north of the species previously known range off Oregon. Photo by G. Hanke.
Melanocetus johnsonii, RBCM 01400308-001, 9.8 cm Standard Length, is the only specimen known from BC waters and is the first record north of Oregon on this side of the Pacific. Photo by G. Hanke.
Ceratias holboelli, RBCM 999-00081-001, 42.0 cm Standard Length, is our largest deep sea anglerfish, distinctive with its thick elongate fin rays and cover of large thorny denticles. Photo by G. Hanke.
Cryptopsarus couesii, RBCM 014-00309-001, 14.2 cm Standard Length, was caught as bycatch from the commercial fishery and since it was so strange, was kept for identification. It represents the northern most record for the species in the eastern North Pacific Ocean and a first for BC. Photo by G. Hanke.
Spring has sprung, and it is great time to get going on a garden. There are a ton of things you can grow at home to supplement your diet and reduce your dependence on grocery stores. My wife and I have jokingly named our property UF1510 (Urban Farm 1510). Our street address obviously is 1510, and our garden is the only one on this street fully devoted to food production.
Planting seeds for this summer.
When we bought the house over 10 years ago, the front yard had a small patch of St. John’s Wort, a spindly ornamental shrub, a sizable Laurel tree, an isolated Camelia bush and a dodgy coniferous tree. But the majority of the front yard was a flat expanse of lawn. Everything but the Laurel was removed quickly, and over the years, the lawn has been eliminated. We have dedicated a third of the front yard to bare ground for potatoes, beans, carrots and a few other crops. The remaining two-thirds is a “food forest.” We planted blueberries, sour cherries, apple trees, hazelnut bushes, asparagus and a range of flowering plants to attract pollinators. Don’t forget the bees—if you want tomatoes, berries, cucumbers, squash—you need pollinators.
Alexanders (left) and Salad Burnet (right) are available in winter as a supplement to salads.
The back yard also was a monoculture of grass when we moved in. It now is changed to a series of raised beds and we grow many varieties of tomatoes, kale, chard, onions, leeks, chives, cucumbers, squash, blackberries (a thornless variety) and raspberries—to name just a few of our home-grown food items. Many of our plants self-seed and effectively are edible weeds (cilantro, salad burnet, alexanders, arugula, kale, leeks and chives are weeds in our garden). I also eat dandelion leaves.
The back yard with its raised beds just waking up from the winter. Oregano, chives, raspberry canes and leeks are going strong—we will have to wait for the raspberries of course.
This change in gardening practice took us from a flat lawn which needed to be mowed regularly (wasted energy, in my opinion) to a garden we can walk around and pick fresh produce for our daily meals. Even in winter (because we live on southern Vancouver Island), there is food available in the garden. We also leave the deadfall from the previous summer in place all winter. Why leave the deadfall in place?
1) I am lazy.
2) it is habitat, shelter and a source of food for overwintering birds.
Our garden is chemical-free so there also are insects—but thanks to our local birds (and the invading wall lizards), we get free pest control, entertainment and a dash of colour as they flit about.
Rhubarb, kale, chard, rosemary, and winter cress seem to look after themselves.
This year I am going to post a series of blog articles to show the progress in the garden—this early in the spring it looks messy—weeds have grown, and last summer’s deadfall has yet to be cleared away. But the garden is full of life—birds are everywhere. Lizards skitter around on the warmer days (they invaded in 2019 from a small population to the north of us). We welcome spiders, but we do draw the line at rabbits and deer – they are not permitted.
Strawberries, a potted peach tree and some early flowers.
This month, we will clear out the dead stems and weeds. The dead stems go into the compost—they form the dry brown material that alternates with wet kitchen scraps. We don’t eat meat, so everything from the kitchen goes into the compost. And in the kitchen we have light stands to start seeds. Once the risk of frost is gone, the seedlings will be planted.
This summer’s tomatoes will be started indoors.
I hope this series inspires people to change their gardening practices and replace lawns with food plants. Even a deck or apartment balcony can provide a small mountain of food. You can even grow your own sprouts in your kitchen to add some home-grown greenery to a sandwich. Our garden is a green security blanket, a source of exercise, entertainment and also nourishes us with food and a sense of pride.
Tonight, we are having homemade soup which will have diced leaves of home grown kale, chard and alexanders. To kick the series off, here is the recipe for the soup.
2 chopped carrots
1 chopped medium sized yellow onion
2 chopped celery stalks
3 cups of vegetable broth plus 3 ½ cups of water
1 pack of simulated shredded chicken
about 1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning (I never measure exactly, this is cooking not chemistry)
about a 1 cup of pasta or 1/3 of a package of spaghetti or linguini
1 cup or so of frozen peas
We sauté the carrots, celery and onions in a large pot on medium heat for 5 or so minutes. Then we add the broth, the 3 ½ cups of water, fake chicken, and seasoning and bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes – maybe more – until the veggies are cooked. Then toss in the pasta and peas and simmer until the pasta is to your liking, and then we add a handful of chopped kale, alexanders, and chard at the end. Season with salt, pepper to taste. I also add a few drops of a decent hot sauce to my bowl.
Thank you garden.
When is a whale not a whale? When taxonomy conflicts with everyday language.
According to the author of a recent article on the internet, “Although they’re called killer whales, orcas are not actually whales; they belong to the oceanic dolphin family, of which they are the largest members.”
That statement is both correct in that orcas are in the family Delphinidae, and also incorrect at a higher level—and such statements are ubiquitous on the internet. Using this logic, a goldfish is not a fish because it is a member of the carp family. You are not a placental mammal because you are in the family Hominidae. And roses are not plants because they are in the Rosaceae.
Carp are fish. Minnows are fish. Goldfish are fish. Placing species in family groups in manmade taxonomic schemes does not eliminate the larger more inclusive groups defining types of organisms. A goldfish is a cyprinid, cyprinids are a type of fish, and therefore, goldfish are fish.
Orcas presently are in the family Delphinidae. The family Delphinidae is one of many cetacean (whale) families. So by the transitive relations: orcas are whales.
Whales ultimately evolved from a group of terrestrial mammals, derived from synapsid reptiles, which evolved from amphibians, which evolved from lobe-finned fishes. So mammals, including whales, also are a subset of fishes, if we take this to a crazy extreme. I take great delight in being a fish and a Pisces—not that the present alignment of stars is an indicator of anything.
Prior to 2010, the eels of British Columbia had been poorly studied and only 6 species of eels and eel-like fishes were known from our coastal waters. Two species of cutthroat eel (Histiobranchus bathybius and Synaphobranchus affinis) were expected to appear here because they range from the west coast of the contiguous United States to Alaska, but as of February 2020, neither species has been discovered in British Columbia.
Kamikawa and Stevenson (2010) led the charge with the publication of range records for Aldrovandia oleosa, including those from British Columbia. Their new records from 819-2014 m off California and British Columbia represent a range extension of 11,000 km from the nearest historic records in the western central Pacific Ocean.
Hanke and Roias (2012) announced the discovery of two duck-billed eel species in British Columbia. As of January 2020, only one specimen of Venefica ocella has been found in BC waters, off the southern end of Haida Gwaii at 1669 m. Five specimens of V. tentaculata have been found at depths of 1757 to 1869 m, from northwest of Haida Gwaii to Vancouver Island. These specimens extend the range of the genus at least 900 km north in the eastern North Pacific Ocean and suggest these eels also range north into Alaska.
Hanke et al. (2014) added another 4 new species to the fish fauna of British Columbia, and updated the known ranges of another 4 species. The Snub-nosed Spiny Eel, Notacanthus chemnitzii, had been caught repeatedly in British Columbia, and had been noted in several checklists (Gillespie 1993, Love et al. 2005), but details of the species’ range, and the depths it inhabits (1480 to 2400 m) along our entire coastline went unpublished until 2014. The first specimen of Synaphobranchus brevidorsalis for British Columbia was caught in 2006 at 1751 m off the north end of Vancouver Island and is significant as the first record for the North Pacific. Nemichthys larseni, the Pale Snipe Eel, was caught roughly 18.5 km inside the Canadian Exclusive Economic Zone at a maximum depth of 300 m, and to date is the only specimen from British Columbia. Hanke et al. (2014) also extended the range of Cyema atrum (the Bobtail Eel) north from Oregon to British Columbia with the 2006 collection of a single specimen from 1890 m off the north end of Vancouver Island.
There have been no other eel species discovered in British Columbia waters since 2014, and below is the list of 13 spiny eel, gulper eel and true eel species known to exist off here (as of February 2020):
Most new fishes found in the last two decades were caught during deep water surveys and are adapted to cold water – they probably are not new, just newly discovered. However, marine life is known to stray north during el Niño years, and with the warm water “blob” events in the last decade, unusual northward range records were expected. But northward strays are not a new phenomenon, with historic records of smooth hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna zygaena) off Vancouver Island (Carl 1954, McFarlane et al. 2010), and a tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) and finescale triggerfishes (Balistes polylepis) as far north as Alaska (Mecklenburg et al. 2002).
Only a few of the new range records in BC likely are attributable to warmer surface waters, including the appearance of the North Pacific argentine (Argentina sialis), which historically was known north to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon (Love and others 2005). In 2011, a single North Pacific argentine was caught west of Clayquot Sound from 118 m, and represents the first record of the species in British Columbia.
Three years later, during the height of the 2013-2015 warm blob event, a finescale triggerfish (Balistes polylepis), was caught alive and well off the west side of Vancouver Island, and a fresh louvar (Luvarus imperialis), was found on the beach near Massett. The louvar and finescale triggerfish represent significant strays north of Baja. With its body evolved for open water cruising, it is easy to see how the louvar made its way this far north, but even triggerfishes which swim at a leisurely pace, have strayed into southern Alaska during el Niño events.
Jump forward 5 years, and a spotted porcupinefish (Diodon hystrix) was found dead at low tide, Jordan River, southern Vancouver Island. The specimen was fairly fresh and had not been scavenged. A second porcupinefish was seen on that same stretch of beach on September 26th (Jerrett Taylor pers. comm.). The second fish was not recovered. Following the coastline, the fishes found at Jordan River are about 2100 km north of their previous range limit off San Diego. It seems unlikely they swam along the coast against the California Current, where upwelling keeps the water cold, but instead took an offshore route in water 2-3°C warmer than normal. Open water excursions are possible given that spotted porcupinefish have crossed open ocean to reach Hawaii, Pitcairn, Easter, and the Galapagos islands. Spotted porcupinefishes have an long larval phase in open water and according to Leis (1978), this is ample time for dispersal.
Were these the first porcupine fishes in BC? Yes. But a relative of the porcupinefish, a burrfish (Chilomycterus affinis; RBCM 610), was found in BC in July 1939, along Dallas Road in Victoria. The specimen looks like an inflated curio from a tourist trap and Carl and Wilby (1945) were suspicious and did not put the burrfish on the list of fishes known to inhabit our waters.
Cusk-eels and brotulas of British Columbia have been poorly studied, and until recently, only two species were known from our waters – Spectrunculus grandis and Brosmophycis marginata. However, deep-sea survey samples from 2002-2006, and the commercial fishery provided six new species, with a seventh revealed during re-examination of museum specimens.
One specimen of Cherublemma emmelas was identified from commercial fishery bycatch in July 2006. It was in a trawl haul from 1097 m in Kyuquot Canyon, west of Vancouver Island, and extends the species’ range roughly 2890 km into British Columbia.
Shrimp survey samples, and the commercial fishery in the southern Strait of Georgia, British Columbia revealed an additional cusk-eel species (Chilara taylori) at depths of 78 to 109 m. These two fishes have since been joined by others added to the collection, and represent a modest extension of the species’ range north of Willapa Bay, Washington.
A single specimen of Acanthonus armatus was taken during deep-sea research collections from near Triangle Island at 1778 m and is the first record for the eastern North Pacific Ocean as well as Canada. The announcement of this fish’s presence here netted some unexpected attention because of its common name, the Bony-eared Assfish. The rest of the new cusk eels failed to draw the same level of attention.
Four specimens of Bassozetus zenkevitchi were collected from depths of 1909 to 2125 m west of Vancouver and Graham islands, show the species ranges along our entire coast. It is likely that others were caught years ago, but were mistakenly identified as Arrowtail, Melanonus zugmayeri, and discarded.
A single specimen of Cataetyx rubrirostris taken from 2000 m, roughly 18 km east of the Tuzo Wilson Seamounts in Queen Charlotte Sound, represents the first record in British Columbia and a 750 km northward extension from the previous known occurrence west of Nehalem Bank, Oregon. And as of January 2020, only one specimen of Porogadus promelas is known from BC waters, taken roughly 22 km east of the Tuzo Wilson Seamounts in Queen Charlotte Sound. This fish extends the species’ range into the eastern North Pacific, and also represents the northern-most record of the genus in the Pacific Ocean. The genus Porogadus presently is being revised, and since the RBCM specimen is in such good shape, it is being studied by experts in Copenhagen
During the preparation of the manuscript detailing these new records, I re-examined cusk eels in the Royal BC Museum collection. In the process, a single specimen of Spectrunculus crassus was identified from among the few S. grandis preserved at the Museum. Spectrunculus crassus had been split from S. grandis in 2008, and to date, is the most recent addition to our cusk-eel diversity.
Because of increased sampling effort since 1999 and re-examination of museum specimens, we now know that 9 species of cusk-eel live in our region.
During the yuletide season of 2014, Rhapsody was found dead. Her unborn daughter had died days earlier. Rhapsody was unable to expel her calf and died from the decay and infection. Her calf was examined at the pathology labs in Abbotsford, then returned to Vancouver Island so that we could prepare her skeleton. She sat in a freezer while we debated the best way to prepare so delicate a skeleton.
In the spring of 2019, Mike deRoos of Cetacea Inc. decided we should immerse the calf’s remains in a tank of warm water which was oxygenated with an airstone, and let bacteria do the work for us. Once the tank was ready, I drove to Saltspring Island with a fragrant tub in the back of my car.
Months later, the bones were ready for pickup. My car is nicknamed Tydirium – after the shuttle from the Return of the Jedi – it still smells new inside. Fortunately, the car still smells ok after shuttling a foetal orca back and forth from Saltspring Island.
Now I have the task of sorting out all the disarticulated bones and putting them back in order. Rhapsody and her calf will be displayed alongside each other in our Orcas exhibit opening May 2020.
Like humans, bones of a newborn are still growing – and skull bones are not solidly sutured together. The skull bones from Rhapsody’s calf came apart. Vertebrae are not fully formed either – the neural arches, lateral processes, centra and cookies are all separate. What a puzzle! Ribs, sternal ribs – all of these need to be sorted out. And then there are the finger bones in the flippers – I was not looking forward to sorting these out.
But here is where Mike deRoos saved the day – he arranged to have the calf’s flipper x-rayed, and the image printed at full size is better than an IKEA or LEGO instruction booklet to guide reconstruction of both left and right flippers.
The three carpals and a few of the distal phalanges are not formed – and the metacarpals and phalanges are widely separated by cartilage. But the size and shape of each bone is so distinctive, that I was able to place each bone where it should go in minutes. Two phalanges from the fingertips of the right flipper were lost during preparation – but overall the flippers look great.
Ribs are next.
We rely heavily on technology – integration – connectivity. This was the downfall of the newer generation of Battlestars when the Cylons attacked. Today the government network was down. But it was still possible to connect my phone and a memory stick and write something. And today I am writing about an integrated, connected global network for biological information which at the moment, is inaccessible to me.
For a few years now I have been collecting lizard range records in a spreadsheet to support a research paper on rapid range expansion in the Common Wall Lizard. That paper now is in-press and will be printed this autumn. Now that we don’t need to be so secretive with our data, we have changed strategies and are encouraging people to report lizard sightings directly to iNaturalist.
iNaturalist is a global initiative where anyone can sign up, and then report the species they find. A global network of experts help make sure identifications are accurate, and the combined efforts of thousands of observers creates incredible maps for each species. Obviously the species reports are biased – the maps detail where humans go, and microscopic life and invertebrates are underrepresented because they are really hard to ID from a simple photo. But fungi, larger insects, plants, vertebrates – all are mapped in amazing detail.
These location records now are available to people around the world to track species ranges and how species ranges may change in the future – climate change, habitat loss – you name it – the data is out there to study.
To enter a record, first you need to get a photograph –you can make a report without a photo – but it is impossible for others to verify what species you found. Photos need to be as good as you can get – a fuzzy blur is not much help. You also can report a sound recording (bird calls for example, or maybe sound files from bat detectors).
This weekend my wife and I were walking around Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, and the organism I found – no surprise – is a Common Wall Lizard. In the case I detail below, I have iNaturalist on my phone, and this series of images depict the process of discovery to creation of iNaturalist record. The process takes seconds.
You take the photos – and this can be tricky – some animals are skittish. I get a basic shot and then slowly close in to get better photos until the subject runs away (botanists and mycologists don’t have this problem). Even a fairly bad photo like the one below is good enough in some obvious cases- but better photos makes identification easier.
Link the photo(s) to the record.
Then you specify what species you think you have found – or you can leave it to genus, family, or blank.
Then you specify the location and date – you can do this manually, or the software draws the location and date from metadata in your photographs.
Then click on the submit record button – and the record now is live for others to view.
If your identification is correct, the global community will also ID the organism as you did, and the record goes to a status known as ‘research grade’.
If you are wrong, people suggest other identifications. You can choose to agree or let the global community of experts come to consensus. Several of my spider and insect identifications have been corrected by experts – and that is the power of this network. We help each other refine the accuracy of these data.
When I take off with my phone to make iNaturalist records, I say I am Nattering. May has well have a fun name for this activity. It is kind of like trophy hunting – but you create a digital record for the world to see rather than a stuffed animal, or pressed plant, or pinned insect. It’s also highly educational – I have no idea of the identity of many of the insects I photograph, but the software and global community really helps teach what is living right in my own neighbourhood.
It costs nothing to load and use the software and for my wife and I, we use it as a fun activity we can share while enjoying hikes on this Pacific island, or while our car charges during road trips.
Why not join the team and photograph what ever you want – starting with Common Wall Lizards and plot their locations in this software. It is fun and you’d be contributing to science.
In science fiction, FTL means Faster Than Light. But today I am changing the acronym to suit my needs – Fast Tiny Lizard. On June 19th, 2019, Cathy Judd caught a lizard in an industrial area of Vancouver, and reported to Ashlea Veldhoen (Habitat Acquisition Trust) for identification. I got an email from Ashlea stating that a small green coloured lizard had been caught in Vancouver. I could hear Captain Piccard bellowing Red Alert in my nerdy mind, and I replied with questions and an urgent plea: “PLEASE DO NOT LET IT LOOSE.”
Then I asked for pictures.
I was expecting to see a photo of a Common Wall Lizard in any reply – but nope – to my delight and horror, the lizard in the photograph had two well defined stripes and a pale belly with no dark blotches – it was obviously not a Common Wall Lizard.
This little lacertid was an Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus) – a species known from scattered locations in the United States including a population on Orcas Island, Washington. They apparently have existed on Orcas island for about 12 years now, but had only been reported in 2018.
Dorsal view of the female Podarcis siculus (RBCM 2187, TL = 143 mm, SVL = 59 mm) from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Ventral view of the female Podarcis siculus (RBCM 2187) from Vancouver, British Columbia.
This lizard, a female, based on its light build and weakly developed femoral pores (males have well developed pores along their thighs) is a first for BC, and possibly also for Canada.
This lizard could have carried a clutch of 5 or more eggs. But no others have been seen in the area, so I assume this Italian immigrant was a lone stow-away. How it got here is a complete mystery. Was it a dumped pet? Did it stow away in camping gear used on Orcas Island? Or was it hiding in shipping materials from Italy or one of the colonized locations in the USA? We may never know. Perhaps some enterprising student will want to examine its DNA and see if there is a match for a source population.
Since Italian Wall Lizards are established on Orcas Island in the same climatic zone as southern Vancouver Island and Vancouver, is successful in cooler climates elsewhere in North America, and known to prey on animals as large as shrews, it represents a high risk invader. At least this one is safely preserved in the RBCM collection, and won’t be the matriarch of a second invading Podarcis species.
Some people get angry when they miss a bus. This morning as I crossed Bowker Creek, and saw my bus heading south. It was a cool morning. It had rained overnight. The air smelled of spring. Birds were everywhere. Missing the bus was a good thing.
Even along suburbian streets, you can do a bit of bird watching when you miss a bus. Regulars along my street include: Northern Flicker, Common Raven, Northwestern Crow, American Robin, Bewick’s Wren, Merlin, Spotted Towhee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and Anna’s Hummingbird.
A nesting Anna’s Hummingbird – our neighbour’s Holly bush makes pretty safe nesting habitat.
Overhead you can see a range of gulls, Great Blue Herons, Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Bald Eagles. Mallards and Canada Geese fly over on their way to and from the local golf course water traps, and a pair of Mallards have taken up residence on the neighbour’s lawn.
And it is no surprise we have exotics like the California Quail, House Sparrow, and European Starling.
Violet-green Swallow – always fun to see them overhead.
In summer we get Violet-green Swallows, Barn Swallows, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, White-crowned Sparrow, Purple Finches, and the occasional Western Tanager, Wilson’s Snipe and Common Nighthawk. A few years ago over 30 nighthawks cruised the neighbourhood – that was neat. Steller’s Jay, Varied Thrush, Golden-crowned Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco are more common in winter.
Missing from this list is owls – there have to be suburban owls in my neighbourhood – especially Barred Owls – I just haven’t seen any.
Great Horned Owl – not in my garden though (the jesses give it away).
This morning I walked smack into the middle of an irruption of Bushtits, Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets. It’s hard to be mad at missing a bus when you are surrounded by those tiny energetic birds, each searching for a morning meal. Then an Anna’s Hummingbird chased one crow away, and while another crow flew by with nesting material in its beak. Seconds later, the bus arrived to ruin the fun – everyone on board staring at their smartphones.
I wonder if any of the passengers were checking a birding app? Were they on iBird? Ebird? Or adding a sighting to iNaturalist? I wonder how many know that a smartphone can be used for more than playing Angry Birds.
The diversity of wildlife apps is increasing at a time when global biodiversity is in peril. Some apps like the Sibley’s bird guide on my phone are more for simple identification and to log your life list. Others feed into bigger networks that help science and feed into wildlife management decisions.
Not sure which app is right for you? Read this review of 5 top birding apps.
If you aren’t interested in slogging through a birding app in a phone or tablet, maybe this would be for you – a project proposed for Google Glass – Glass Birds – as for this YouTube video though – anyone can ID a Western Tanager.
I wonder if Glass Birds is refined to ID birds like this Rock Wren? I need the Google Glasses for gulls, some sparrows, fall warblers, flycatchers, and shorebirds, and best of all, I would be a taxonomic cyborg!
We hear on the news about our armed forces personnel helping people overseas during peacekeeping missions. This year we saw our forces helping flood victims and airlifting communities threatened by forest fires here in Canada. But military presence also can help wildlife – yes, wildlife can flourish even on live fire ranges where tanks range far and wide.
A frame from Sebastian Koerner‘s film footage of a wolf pup and a Marten (Marder) in the Munster-Military training area Lüneburger Heide, Germany.
A recent article in the NewScientist detailed how military ranges are benefitting wolves in Europe. Large carnivores tend to fare poorly when in close contact with our species – we shoot them, our highways and industry fragment and destroy their habitat, and we can thank our automotive industry and its infrastructure for the term Road Kill.
On military ranges, the gun fire is routine and predictable and animals get accustomed to the episodic timing of activity. The range itself and the area nearby generally is devoid of people – except for the short periods during training exercises – and the military presence is a huge deterrent for poachers. I took a Wildlife Management course years ago, and the professor said, “Wildlife management is not about controlling wildlife, it is about controlling people.”
Regulation of human activity in military training areas is so effective, wolves seem to prefer testing ranges in Germany – they are more abundant in military training areas than in nearby wildlife management areas. In addition, roads in testing ranges make convenient thoroughfares for large carnivores and have far less traffic compared to highways near parks.
While reading this NewScientist article I had a flashback to my M.Sc. supervisor, Ken Stewart and his recollection of a misty morning searching for snakes around the Canadian Forces Base in Shilo, Manitoba. The testing range near CFB Shilo is adjacent to the Sprucewoods region and what was once Lake Agassiz beachfront, is now undulating terrain and perfect for training against hidden targets. For tank crews, this sandy, gravelly substrate reduces the risk of ricochets during live-fire exercises and makes it easier to retrieve ordnance. This same sandy habitat also is home to some rarely encountered animals and plants in that province.
The Plains Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus); photo by Dean Hester.
Ken described his morning, bushwhacking through a forested area adjacent to the base and how the conifers reminded him of the Ardennes Forest and the Battle of the Bulge. He imagined he morning’s sub-silence shattered by the clanking tracks and diesel engine of a Tiger Tank, and said, “All I needed was Lili Marlène playing on an old turntable to complete the scene.” But when Ken was there, it would have been a Leopard, not a Tiger ensuring that all but the most intrepid herpetologists were kept well-clear.
Leopard 1 Main Battle Tank; photo by Sergeant Dennis Power, Army News-Shilo. ©2008 DND/MDN Canada
Essentially, this pocket of land within the ranges of the Northern Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis) and Plains Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus) is protected by our armed forces and right next door to Spruce Woods Provincial Park. Ken’s story dates back years before he and I met – and so the concept of military ranges as critical shelter for wildlife is certainly not new. CFB Shilo, recently saluted for its work on wildlife conservation, has a Base Biologist who oversees natural resource management, gives tours of the sand dunes, and facilitates research in this restricted area. Other bases like CFB Suffield provide grassland habitat for a myriad of species including Burrowing Owls, Sprague’s Pipit, Pronghorn and Ord’s Kangaroo Rat. CFB Gagetown is working to protect one of nature’s tanks – the endangered Wood Turtle.
Sandy blow-out areas and mixed woods habitat protected by CFB Shilo, image courtesy of the Manitoba Association of Plant Biologists.
Since the concept of military ranges as shelter for wildlife is not new, the NewScientist story on wolves serves to reinforce the fact that human activity now is the primary factor influencing nature – as also stated in Bill McKibben’s book, The End of Nature. If we restrict human activity, nature thrives. Since wolves in BC capitalize on human activity and use pipelines, roads and seismic lines cut during oil and gas exploration, and well-packed snowmobile trails as easy avenues to track Caribou, you can bet BC’s wolves also could adapt to military ranges as their relatives do in Germany. The list of species protected on Department of National Defense (DND) land is extensive and it is good to see that in areas where soldiers practice and you’d expect disruption and devastation – the opposite is true – human activity is restricted, and life adapts to, and is protected by our armed forces.
Marmots were hunted in many parts of British Columbia for their furs and their fat content. Both Coastal and Interior peoples went into the mountains every fall to hunt them. Some First Nations continue to hunt marmots. See Appendix 1, First Peoples and Marmots of British Columbia, for a detailed regional overview of the role of marmots in Indigenous societies.
Deadfall traps and snares of various sizes were used for catching most species of mammals as well as birds. There are several types and sizes of artifacts in this general category of trap devices that were used by the Tlingit and their inland relatives for trapping mainly marmots and ground squirrels.
Small deadfall trap assemblages have ended up in museums, but it is the carved trigger mechanism of this mainly wooden trap device, especially those made of whale bone, that have been acquired for museum collections in the past. These are generally called marmot trigger sticks (Figure 2). The larger type would more appropriately be called marmot snare stakes. These are composed of a stake or peg pounded into the ground near a marmot den with an attached quill or leather noose. The latter are assumed to be larger than trigger sticks.
There is often confusion in the ethnographic and historic literature as to which type is being referred to. If they are called “trap sticks” it is not clear if they were the trigger mechanism of a deadfall trap or a stake with a noose stuck in the ground near a marmot hole. Both trap triggers and trap stakes were often carved from whale bone and had a carved design at one end.
A large number of those in North American Museums were collected by one person, Lt. George T. Emmons, from 1869-1894. Of the twenty examples in the American Museum of Natural History, all range in length from 24.3 to 30.3cm with one exception at 13.3cm (Cat. No. E/324 from Wrangell Island). The three examples from the RBCM collection range in length from c. 19.3 to 23.5cm. I am referring to these as trap triggers. There is no clear size separation in the broader museum examples between what can be called trap triggers and trap stakes. Museum specimens that still have a noose attached to them can be assumed to be trap stakes for sticking in the ground and not trap triggers. A 13cm whalebone stick would be a trigger, as it would not be long enough to hold firmly in the ground for catching small rodents.
Both deadfall trigger sticks and trap stakes have similar animal designs on one end. Both are curved down to a pointed end. Designs in museum collections include whole marmots; human heads with hats, marmot helmets, or below a wolf head; humans with fish or marmots on their heads; birds of prey eating small mammals; a fish on the top of a bird head or marmot head; a bird coming out of the mouth of a fish or a pair of small mammal heads.
Some of the symbolism may be related to traditions of the hunting families. The theme of the large predator bird eating a rodent is a common one. Thunderbird is frequently seen on wooden poles on the northern coast. On the poles of the family of Kweeyaiht at Kispiox, there is a depiction of a “Thunderbird holding a ground hog in his claws”. The Thunderbird or Mountain eagle frequently appears as a crest among members of the Sky clan (Barbeau 1929:88-91). Some family stories indicate that they had close associations with marmots as told in the story of The Man Who Became a Marmot (Teit 1921).
The designs on the stakes and triggers were used to entice the marmots based on the belief that they had special powers. Among the Tlingit: “Each boy was expected to learn the story of Kayak, the hero hunter, who did so much to free the world from monsters, and who also taught the people how to make carved halibut hooks, carved salmon spears and carved traps for catching game. He taught just how to carve so that some spiritual power would come and inhabit the hook or trap and thus make it more effective to attract the game to it” (Corser 1920:53). Anthropologist Fredericka de Laguna noted that for marmots the “magically effective designs or figures” used were “not considered necessary in trapping other animals” (de Laguna 1991:136).
In the ethnology collection of the Royal B.C. Museum we have three carved whale bone trap triggers (Figure 2). These triggers are all made of whale bone. The carved ends depict (bottom) a predator bird eating a small animal; a bird coming out of the mouth of a fish (top); and two animal heads (one broken) which represent marmots (middle).
RBCM #4127. Whale bone. The carved top has a 6cm long figure of a bird coming out of a fish head. The total length of the artifact is 12cm, but a large portion of the bottom is missing The broken lower portion is only 6cm long, but its estimated original length is 20cm based on having similar proportions to stake #18157. The top of the long round bottom portion below the carved figure is 1.3cm in diameter. This Tlingit artifact was originally in the collection of William Tolmie of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The on old paper tag attached had, “Carved bone from Juneau S. E. Alaska” – “382”, written on it. It was on a for sale list produced by his daughter in 1927 as #49. “Carved bone (382) birds – part of Marmot trap. Juneau Al.”. It was likely collected by Tolmie in the late 19th century.
RBCM #18156. Whale bone. The carved 5.2cm x 3.5cm top has two marmot heads, one above the other. The total length of the artifact is 18.5cm, but a portion of the bottom is missing. The round top of the bottom portion below the carved figure is 1.3cm in diameter. The broken bottom portion is (13.3 cm) long. Its estimated original length is 19.3-20.3cm. The bottom portion shows extensive rodent chewing on one side. This, as well as artifact RBCM #18157, were both purchased in 1983. They once: “Belonged to Ernest V. Steele a blacksmith in the Omineca area in the early 1900’s. His brother William was a trapper in the same area”.
RBCM # 18157. Whale bone. The 5cm x 4cm carved top is of a predatory bird eating a small animal. The total length of the artifact is (23.5cm). The nearly complete bottom portion is (19.5cm), with the original length being c. 21cm. The top of the oval shaped bottom portion below the carved figure is 1.2cm X1.7cm (see information on RBCM #18156).
These triggers helped to support a central post which held up heavy logs. The point of the trigger was delicately set into a notch. A trip wire of twisted rawhide looped between the trigger and the support post. When the marmot tripped on the rawhide cord the trigger was released causing the post to collapse and drop the heavy logs on to the marmot.
Schwatka provided a firsthand account of marmot hunting in Tagish territory in the Narns-Bennet Lake area of northern B.C. while they were camped near a lake caribou crossing:
“Ouite a number of marmots were seen by our Indians, and the hillsides were dotted with their holes. The Indians catch them for fur and food … by means of running nooses over their holes, which choke the little animal to death as he tries to quit his underground home. A finely split raven quill, running the whole length of the feather, is used for the noose proper and the instant this is sprung it closes by its own flexibility. The rest is a sinew string tied to a bush near the hole if one be convenient, otherwise to a peg driven in the ground. Sometimes they employ a little of the large amount of leisure time they have on their hands in cutting these pegs into fanciful and totemic designs, although the Sticks .. are usually much inferior to the Chilkats in these displays, and the illustrations give on page 112 are characteristic rather of the latter tribe that the former. Nearly all the blankets of this Tahk-heesh [Tagish] tribe of Indians are made from these marmot skins, and they are exceedingly light considering their warmth“ (Schwatka 1894).
The drawing from Schwatka is reproduced here in figure 7. These are trap stakes and not trap triggers – as they have nooses attached to them. The trap stake on the right with the marmot carving on top is now in the Metropolitan Museum as No. 1979.206.899. It is 26.2cm long. A very similar one is now in the American Museum of Natural History as Catalogue No. 19/562 recorded as “Tlingit Auk”. It is 28.2cm long. It was collected by Lt. George T. Emmons somewhere in the period from 1869-1890. Emmons collected most of the marmot trap triggers and stakes in North American Museums. The stake on the left side of Schwatka’s drawing was in a private collection and is currently being sold in an auction in the United Kingdom with the incorrect function listed as “salmon trap stake or trigger” (see figure 7a).
A study of the sizes and context of all museum artifacts referred to as marmot trap triggers and marmot trap stakes needs to be undertaken to see if it can be determined if there is a distinct size difference between the two items. Those artifacts with nooses attached near the top are clearly trap stakes, as in the examples of Schwatka. Where trap stakes have lost their nooses or they have become detached and catalogued separately in Museum collections it will be difficult to classify them except on the bases of size. Whatever they may be, the trap devices and their designs demonstrate an interesting relationship between marmots and humans as perceived by Indigenous peoples.
Barbeau, Marius. 1929. Totem Poles of the Gitksan, Upper Skeena River, British Columbia. National Museum of Canada. Canada Department of Mines. Bulletin No. 61. King’s Printer, Ottawa.
Corser, H. P. 1920. Totem Lore and the Land of the Totem. Including Totem Lore Seventh Edition and Through the Ten Thousand Islands of Alaska. Third Edition. The Nugget Shop, Juneau, Alaska.
de Laguna, Frederica. (Ed) 1991. The Tlingit Indians. George Thornton Emmons. Edited with additions by Frederica de Laguna, Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver.
Emmons, George Thornton. 1991. The Tlingit Indians. Edited with additions by Frederica de Laguna and a biography by Jean Low. Douglas & MacIntrye, Vancovuer/Toronto. American Museum of Natural History, New York. 134-136.
Schwatka, Frederick. 1894. A Summer in Alaska. A Popular Account of the Travels of an Alaska Exploring Expedition Along the Great Yukon River, From Its Source to its Mouth, in the British Northwest Territory, and in the Territory of Alaska, St. Louis, MO, J, W. Henry.
Teit, James. 1921. Tahltan Tales. No. 65. The Man who became a Marmot, pp. 343-345. In: The Journal of American Folk-Lore, vol. 34, Oct.-Dec. No. 134.
By GRANT KEDDIE, ROYAL B. C. MUSEUM, 2003.
During the visits of fur trader John Meares to the Northwest coast of America between 1786 and 1788, he observed that the skins of marmots occurred in “great quantities” (Meares 1790:2).
Ethnographer Philip Drucker, in speaking of the Northwest coast in general, notes that: “The marmot… furnished a light but finely furred pelt, prized throughout the area for clothing. In days before European blankets, these hides were one of the chief articles used in potlatches. Marmots were plentiful in many localities in the higher mountains. The grounds were usually privately owned, and huts or cabins were built on them. The hunters with their families went up in the fall when the fur had set but before time for the marmot to hibernate. The season was a short but rich one, for the animals were easy to catch, and the hunting parties came out with quantities of valuable furs.” (Drucker 1950:246)
I provide here an overview of select sources to give the bigger picture of the role of marmots in the Indigenous Cultures of British Columbia.
On the northern coast wealth was directly measured in marmot skins among the Tlingit and the Gitksan of the upper Skeena River (Drucker 1950:233). Drucker notes that the: “Skins of the whistling marmot were regarded as very valuable, particularly among Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and the northern Kwakiutl divisions. It seems that anciently a robe made by sewing together many of the small soft-furred hides was about equal in value to the sea-otter robe (Drucker 1955:39).”
Along the Skeena River area before European trade blankets were introduced, “caribou and groundhog skins were the standards by which the values of other articles were compared. Bundles of forty caribou skins, and later blankets, were used for the larger potlatch gifts” (Garfield, 1939:329). It would appear that the large number of marmot skins allowed their use as a kind of small change in the trade economy. One large caribou skin exchanged for 40 marmot skins or a small caribou skin for 30 marmot skins. Forty marmot skins were traded for one large box of olachen grease; ten skins for one large hemlock bark cake or a box of pressed seaweed cakes. In comparison, only one seaweed cake could be obtained for a martin or beaver skin (Garfield, 1939:329-30).
In 1822 the chief trader William Brown observed that the Carrier of Babine Lake gave the visiting Gitksan traders marmot skin robes and dressed skins when their other furs did not equal the value of the coastal goods brought by the Gitksan (Brown 1822).
Marmot skins were distributed by wealthy families at important events. To announce the birth of a child of a chief, marmot skins were “distributed to every lineage head in the village” and when a chief died marmot skins were “carried by relatives to every dwelling in the tribe to which the deceased belonged. One was given to everyone, man, women or child” (Garfield, 1939:221, 239).
Among the Gitksan of the upper Skeena River area a secondary crest was a “white groundhog”. This was a headress made of the whole skin with head and paws of the marmot or a headress and a robe. Among the coast Tsimshian, of the Lower Skeena river area, was a crest known as “garment of groundhogs” used as a robe (Beynon n.d.:432, 452).
The significance of marmots is reflected in the naming of moons. The Yakutat Tlingit of Southern Alaska refer to September as the “digging moon” when marmots “put up food for the winter” (de Laguna 1972:801).
To the Kispiox Gitksan, September is the “marmot hunting moon” when marmots were hunted on the upper Skeena river (Drucker 1950:271). Today marmots are not present in most of the traditional territory of the Nishga, Coast Tsimshian and Southern Tsimshian and are not found on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands).
It is therefore of interest that the Kitkatla or Hartley bay Tsimshian of Dolphin Island and the Gilutsau and Kitsumkalum Tsimshian speakers of the lower Skeena River are reported to have hunted marmot (Drucker:174; McDonald, 1985). These people either moved long distances up the Skeena River to hunt with relatives in other groups or marmots were eliminated from some of their traditional territory during the fur trade period.
At Kitselas Canyon, 120km up the Skeena River, marmot remains were recovered from the Gitaus site in the Gitaus phase dating between 4300 B.P. and 3600 B.P. (Allaire 1979).
The Tsetsaut in the upper Portland Canal region had territory once stretching from the southern headwaters of the Stikine to the headwaters of the Nass. One of these groups displaced from the large flat area at the headwaters of the Nass River – that was heavily populated by marmots – were the “Tse etseta ‘people of the adult marmot headgear’”(Duff 1981:444-5). A Tsetsaut Levi Dandjalee told Boas that:
“before our times the country was inhabited first by the ts’ak’e’, who wore marmot-skins; later on, by the futvud’ie’, who wore bear-skins”, but these people spoke the Tsetsaut language (Duff, 1981:455). ”Their principal food was the marmot, though they also relied on mountain goat, bear, and porcupine. …For both sexes traditional clothing consisted of pants of cured skins and thigh-high marmot skin ‘boots’ (probably the Athapaskan all-in-one moccasin legging). Mittens, jackets, short coats, robes, and belts, all of skins, complete the costume … For taking marmots, deadfalls were commonly used” (Duff 1981:456).
The Russian trader Khlebnikov, writing in 1820 about the marmot pelts the Tlingit supplied to the Russian trade, mentions the: “tsukli, the familiar pelts of marmots from the Charlotte Islands, which are very much liked by the native inhabitants of North America. The Kolosh [Tlingit] receive about 30 rubles per 100 of these pelts.” (Dmytrshyn and Crownhart-Vaughan 1976:70).
There is no evidence, at present, that marmots were once present on Haida Gwaaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands), it is most likely that this statement of Khlebnikov indicates that the Haida were the middlemen in trading marmot skins obtained from other groups on the mainland.
On the central coast, in Bella Coola territory, marmot skin blankets are mentioned in traditional stories as being given as a reward for assistance and as being used by the hero of an event (McIlwraith 1948:1:305; Vol. 2:487). Mackenzie reports the taking of marmot furs on July 17, 1793:
“we descended into a beautiful valley, watered by a small river [Kohasganko River]. …we came to the termination of it, …and began to ascend. We now perceived many ground hogs, and heard them whistle in every direction. The Indians went in pursuit of them, and soon joined us with a female and her litter, almost grown to their full size. They stripped off their skins, and gave the carcases to my people”. [Rainbow range between Dean and Bella Coola River]. (Lamb 1957:211).
The Oowekeeno, Bella Bella, Haihais, Haisla and Bella Coola, all hunted marmot with deadfalls (Drucker 1950:174).
On the southern coast Peter Puget documented the use of Marmot in 1792. While visiting a village on Eld Inlet, Northwest of Olympia Washington, Puget mentions that: “The Natives had but two sea otter skins which were purchased & a variety of marmot, rabbit, racoon, deer & bear skins were also procured” (Bern, 1939:27). On April 8th, 1825 while at Baker’s Bay near the Columbia River John Scouler noted the existence of “a robe made of the skins of a species of marmot” (Blackwood, 1826:378). These first documents are probably in reference to Marmots of the Olympic peninsula. On the west side of the Olympic peninsula the Quinault and Qeets hunted marmot from June to September (Singh 1966:67).
Ethnologist Ronald Olsen was told by Quinault elders, on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, that of all the furs sewn to make robes, the marmot was the favorite (Olsen 1936:57). The Marmot or kwukwu’k were “usually sought during the season of elk hunting in the mountains. They were easy to kill. Their skins were much used in the manufacture of bed blankets. Small shoulder robes of four to six skins of the animal were sometimes made. A single skin made a handy seat when one had to sit in a cold or damp spot. The flesh of the marmot was regarded as excellent and well-flavoured meat because they eat grass” (Olsen 1936:43). The Quinault Bob Pope (born c. 1835) and others “had pet marmots, but people grew tired of their infernal and eternal whistling so let them go” (Olsen 1936:137).
In referring to the natives of Puget Sound in the 1880s Myron Eells records that they made robes of “the skins of the deer, elk, bear, whistling marmot, and wild cat” (Castile 1985:122). A Chinook story is recorded which includes the trading of twined willow bark rope from Shoalwater Bay to Chehalis to “exchange it for ground-hog blankets” (Boas 1894:220).
In 1826 David Douglas refers to “The ground rat, or a species of Arctomys, the skin of which the Chenooks and other tribes of Indians near the coast make their robes, I have been unable to procure. They are plentiful in the upper parts of the Cow-a-lidsk River” (Douglas 1914:156).
Among the Twana a man named “Tyee Charley” got his medicine power in the 1840’s when encountering a marmot on a spirit quest to Mt. Elinor on the east side of the Olympic peninsula (Elmendorf 1992:212). In July of 1858, Mrs. Manson, while camped on Manson’s Mountain near Hope, reported that their cook “went out hunting and brought back two marmots” (Lugrin 1928:113).
The Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)is recognised by Alexander C. Anderson of the Hudson’s Bay Company in his notes written between 1834 and 1867: “The skins of the marmot sewed together make a light warm robe. The rocky mountain marmot of the mainland are generally grey in colour whilst the marmot of Vancouver Island and some of the Northern mountains are black or very dark brown. Robes made of alternate grey and black skins are very effective and valued accordingly” (Anderson 1920). While in Kyuquot territory at Nootka Sound in 1786, Alexander Walker observed marmot skins, but these may not necessarily be products of Vancouver Island. Furs of mainland animals such as fox and rabbits were also observed (Fisher 1982).
Anderson talks in general about aboriginal peoples in winter digging up the “mountain marmot”. He mentions that: “From fifteen to twenty occupying a lair and being in good condition both as regards the flesh and fur are quite a prize” (Anderson 1920). It is uncertain which species Anderson is talking about but it is not likely that he is referring to Vancouver Island marmot. In 1867 he refers to the “Rocky Mountain Marmot” which he notes “resembles closely in its habits the Alpine variety, but is larger” (Anderson, 1867:81).
George Louie, of the Ahousat First Nation, provided me with the anglicised version of the local southern Nuu-chah-nulth name for the marmot, which is Shee-shee teelth. The literal interpretation has not been ascertained but it is clear that the Shee-shee part is an onomatopoeia for one of the calls made by these marmots – namely the chirping sound that is repeated at intervals.
George Hamilton reported to ethnologist Philip Drucker that the Opetchesaht of the Port Alberni area hunted marmots with deadfalls (Drucker 1950:211). Luke Swan of Hotspring Cove and Ahousat, who was born in 1893, recorded information in his native language on the ownership of resources in Manhousat territory. The Manhousat lived to the north and west of the Ahousat before merging with them in historic times. George Louie translated a tape which notes that only one chief owned the high forested areas along the mountains which included the homes of the fur bearing animals such as the wolf, bear, and elk but implied that “no one” had ownership rights over the Marmots. This statement shows recognition of the presents of Marmots but may reflect knowledge from a time period in which marmots were no longer hunted.
Philip Drucker mentions that the Gold River Muchalat were one of the smaller groups of Nuu-chah-nulth who depended more on land based resources. They alone of the northern groups ate grouse and also beaver and “an animal that sounds, from modern vague descriptions, like marmot.”(Drucker 1951,p.36; p.61).
Marmot furs were not traded on the northern and central coast at Hudson’s Bay Company forts from 1828 to 1855. A change occurred in 1856 when 575 marmot furs were taken at Fort Simpson and another 1337 the following year. The steamer Beaver trading along the coast collected 1032 marmot furs in 1856 and 2188 marmot furs the next year. At Fort Rupert on the N.E. coast of Vancouver Island 166 marmot furs were acquired in 1857. This represents a total of 5298 marmots taken in a two-year period. No marmot furs were acquired in these years at Fort McLoughlin or Fort Victoria.
The best information regarding the hunting of the Vancouver Island marmot is in the archaeological record. Marmot remains were found at the old native village now known as the Shoemaker bay site (DhSe2) in the upper Alberni Inlet (McMillan and St. Claire 1975a, 1975b, 1982; Field and Laqueur 1975; Calvert and Crockford 1982). In the upper part of the Shoemaker site, which dates from about 500 A.D., 24 marmot bone elements were found distributed both horizontally and vertically within the deposits. This would indicate that marmots were utilised at least sporadically throughout the last 1400 years.
Four marmot-hunting sites have been located in high mountain areas where the Vancouver Island marmot is now extinct.
In 1987, a collection of about 300 marmot bones representing a minimum of 13
animals was found in a cave in Sutton pass on the Clayoquot Plateau at an elevation of 1220m (Nagorsen 1989). These were dated to between B.C. 807 to B.C. 600 (Beukens 1987, 1989). Many of the remains show evidence of butcher marks and are clear proof of aboriginal use of this resource in the Clayoquot area about 2500 years ago.
In 1992, a cave containing large concentrations of the bones of a minimum of 81 marmots (as well as small numbers of deer, bear, martin and blue grouse) were found at an elevation of about 1220m on Mariner Mountain at the south end of Strathcona Park (Keddie and Nagorson 1993). This location is above the headwaters of the Bedwell River in the historic territory of the Owinmitisaht group of Nu-chan-nulth people who eventually amalgamated with the Ahousat.
Many of the bones show skinning and butchering cut marks. It appears that the marmots were skinned for their furs and the bulk of their body fat taken away attached to the backbone and ribs – most of which are missing from the sample.
The bones were associated with four artifacts. Fragments of a Mytilus californianus shell were possibly part of a knife used in the process of removing or scraping the hides. A green stone flake with a sharp edge was likely used to skin and butcher the animals. However, many of the cut marks are made by a very thin and sharp blade. There is an overhang of bone on one side of many cuts. This is suggestive of the use of a finely sharpened iron blade. A sandstone abrading stone may have been used for sharpening knives made of different raw materials. A tree branch knot was burnt at one end suggesting use as a torch.
Six bone samples from five separate bone concentration areas provided radiocarbon estimates with a time range of 1022 A.D. to 1211 A.D. (971 to 782 years ago), or representing a maximum period of 189 years. This strongly suggests a relatively short time span during which the marmots were hunted and deposited in this cave.
A second site in Strathcona Provincial Park on the S.E. side of the Golden Hind Mountain is indicated by the presents of marmot bones from 4 individuals in a rock shelter. One bone that exhibited evidence of cut marks dated to 1225 A.D.
In 1993, a marmot hunting rock shelter was located at the 1185m level on the north side of Limestone Mountain which is located between central Alberni Inlet and the headwaters of the Nitinat River. A bone sample recovered from an alcove in the shelter included remains from a minimum of 52 marmots along with some bear, deer, two martin and a blue grouse. The site was used for a short period of time judging from the dates of 990 A.D. and 1015 A.D. on bones from the bottom and top of the litter mat – which contained them.
The Vancouver Island marmot was used as a source of furs and food by at least some native groups at intervals over the last 2600 years. The distribution of the species in prehistoric times was far beyond that of its present habitat. The effect of hunting on the distribution of this species over long periods in prehistoric times and the possible effects of intensified hunting for pelts to be exchanged in the European trade system in historic times remains to be determined by archaeological evidence and a more detailed examination of fur trade records.
The fur trade records show that as the Hudson Bay Company became more established in local areas the furs of a greater variety of species were traded. The scale of harvesting of smaller species of animals was greatly increased when animals began to be hunted more for their exchange value in European trade goods (Hammond 1988). If this was the case with the Vancouver Island marmot its numbers may have been reduced to a critical point where overhunted areas were no longer re-colonised as they may once have been with larger populations and more closely spaced colonies.
Another likely cause for the elimination of the marmot from some areas of the island may have been a result of more recent hunting by prospectors or minors using the animals as a food source or the shooting for “sport” by hunters. The answer to the later question may yet be determined by interviews with long term residents of the region and archaeological examination of bullet cartridge distribution and bones in areas where marmots are know to have disappeared in more recent times.
The effect of changing environments undoubtedly had a broad effect on the distribution of marmots over time and possible a serious effect in some areas during short periods of more dramatic local change. The marmots at three of these sites were hunted in the warm period before the Little Ice Age that began about 1300 A.D. If marmot-hunting sites are not found after 1300 A.D. in some areas this would strongly suggest that the cooling climate may have been responsible for eliminating Marmot habitat. Further recovery of archaeological and paleontological remains of marmots will undoubtedly show a more complex picture of marmot history than we can now imagine.
In September, the middle Taku River Inland Tlingit: “after several weeks of berrying, and upland hunts for ground squirrels, groundhogs, and big game, began to gather in settlements near their supplies of stored salmon” (McClellan, 1981:472).
The Tagish living on the headwaters of the Liard River in the Yukon and N. B.C. – “By late summer, families began to move upland in groups of two or three households to hunt groundhogs (woodchucks, Marmota monax), caribou, moose, and sheep. They cached the dried meat in convenient spots to which the younger men could return for supplies in winter or to which the families themselves could move”(McClellan, 1981:483).
Kaska Honigmann used the term’s “ground hog” and “gopher (marmot)” (1954:14;146). Sinew thread for traps is from the backbone of caribou or in emergencies tendons of Mt. Sheep and goats (p. 29). In (Honigmann 1981:444) he uses ‘gophers’ and ‘groundhogs’(marmots)”as some of the animals that were hunted “in late summer, when game fattened, hunters and their families moved into the mountains to hunt goats, sheep, woodland caribou, and…” (above)
“Sleepers lay covered by robes of woven rabbit or ground-hog skins or blankets containing a number of beaver and marten pelts sewn together.” (Upper Liard Kaska) (Honigmann, 1954:60). “People lived on a carpet of spruce brush and at night covered themselves with robes of sewn marten and ground-hog pelts or plaited rabbbit-skin.” (Dease River Kaska) (Honigmann, 1954:62). “During cold weather fur robes supplemented tanned-skin garments. These had been tanned by women workers or else been plaited from strips of rabbit, ground-hog, and gopher skins without the aid of a frame.” (Upper Liard Kaska) (Honigmann, 1954:63). “Ground-hog skin sewn to the front of a man’s winter parka probably served both for warmth and adornment”. (U. L. Kaska, Honigmann, 1954:65). “In winter men and women added coats of ground-hog, fox, sheep, and other skins to the previously mentioned garments. People avoided fur when traveling because they feared perspiration and dangerous chilling. Woven-skin clothes originated from the pelts of ground-hogs and squirrels, the lines cut from the skins of those animals exceeding the strength of rabbit fur.” (Ibid p 67). “The simp[lest type of headgear for both sexes consisted of an approximately triangular piece of tanned skin that was lined with muskrat or ground hog fur. In wearing these the fur rested next to the head. The lower edges tied beneath the wearer’s chin this covering the ears and cheeks.” (Dease River Kaska, Honigmann, 1954:68). “Hunters knew specific, and presumably lucky, moose, ground hog, caribou, and beaver songs. All chants were generally wordless and in essence consisted of a few syllables repeated over and over in a minor key.” Dease River Kaska, Honigmann, 1954:73).
Upper Liard Kaska – quoting (Field, Unpublished manuscript ) – Pelley River people – moved into ‘a good game country about the end of August when all game is fat, to put up a cache of dry meat for the winter months.’ In fall women busied themselves drying groundhog and gopher.” (H. p. 46). Tselona Kaska – animals eaten “ground hog”. “Ground hog, the informant pointed out, furnished a far more important source of food in the aboriginal period than did the rabbit. Women preserved a large number of ground hog from the fall for winter consumption.” (H. p. 45).
Upper Liard Kaska – “Taku people used to meet the Kaska at a Groundhog Lake near the headwaters of the Rancheria River. Here the Kaska went in autumn to hunt groundhog.” (H. p. 22).
Upper Liard Kaska – The translation of the name of the Kaska name – “?ustelisa” for October is “female ground hog moon” (Honigmann 1954:32). Ground hog snares featured a rock toggle and required two-strand twisted babiche. The family provided itself with a number of six- or seven-foot long forked poles in the fall and packed these above the timberline. The trapper firmly planted one such pole for each snare in a rock cairn near a ground hog den. On either side of the pole ran a small fence about a foot high. After forming the snare loop between these fences, the snare line was bent and knotted around a small trigger stick [see his fig. 3. p.34] before continuing through the fork of the pole. Halfway below the fork the line was weighted with a 20-pound rock. The trigger stick was fitted under a convenient knob or protuberance on the upright pole, the toggle’s weight serving to keep it fixed until an animal entered the snare and dislodged the stick, whereupon the rock fell to the ground. The weight of the falling toggle lifted the animal off the earth. In timbered areas lifting-pole snares like those frequently used for rabbits were also set for ground hog. In fact, the rock toggle appears to represent an adaptation of the lifting-pole principle to treeless country. Men, boys, and women built ground hog snares.” (Honigmann 1954:33). “ground hog were also hunted with deadfalls”.. “Ground-hog deadfalls also followed the platform pattern, the 14-inch Samson post consisting of a bent alder limb or crooked spruce root”. (H. p.34).
“After gutting a gopher, a person placed a stick reaching from the head to the hind quarter in the body cavity and allowed the carcass to dry in the sun. A light pounding softened dehydrated meat [meat in general here] before it was stored in a skin bag. From dried meat came pemmican, the flesh being heavily pounded and mixed with fresh berries on a sheet of babiche. After adding melted grease the product was stored in untanned groundhog skins or in a casing of cleaned intestines.” (H. p. 40).
Sekani – In cold weather they wore “a rectangular robe of marmot or hare skins, fastened on one shoulder and cinched with a belt”(Denniston, 1981:437) “The hunter who killed an animal useful for food would not even retain its hide, but presented it so some other man in the camp, lest he should be accused of unsociability and niggardliness. The only exception was the skin of the groundhog, because it had little or no value”(Jenness, 1937:44). A baby was “wrapped in a bag of groundhog or rabbit fur, was carried on its mothers back”. (Jenness, 1937:54-5). Up until the 1880s coffins carved out of a large spruce and set in tree branches sometimes had a lid cover of “groundhog robes” instead of a board (Jenness, 1937:59).
Among the Sekani peoples the hoary marmot was also killed with “sticks, after smoking them out of their holes or flooding them out by diverting a stream; and if the ground hogs retreated into crannies among the rocks they twisted long sticks in their fur and pulled them out into the open” (Jenness 1937).
“Their dress consists of robes made of the skins of the beaver, the ground hog, and the reindeer, dressed in the hair, and of the mooseskin without it. All of them are ornamented with a fringe, while some of them have tassels hanging down the seams; those of the ground hog are decorated on the fur side with the tails of the animals, which they do not separate from them. Their garments they tie over the shoulders, and fasten them around the middle with a belt of green skin, which is as stiff as horn”. (MacKenzie, June 10, 1793:122).
Observed in cache at Portage lake between Parsnip River and James creek above MacGregor river – “a kind of wooden trap, in which, as our guide informed me, the ground hog is taken.” (MacKenzie, June 12, 1793:130)
“In cold weather both sexes threw over the shirt a rectangular robe (tsede’) of groundhog or woven rabbit skins, fastening it over one shoulder and drawing it in at the waist with a belt. Some of the best hunters had robes of marten fur, but they disappeared as soon as marten fur became commercially valuable. The groundhog robe, though no longer worn on the person, survives as a sleeping robe or covering for a bed. An average specimen 5 feet by 6 feet … contains about twenty-four skins arranged in parallel rows, trimmed to fit and sometimes roughly matched for colour.” … “In winter both sexes wore round caps (tsa”) of various furs, beaver, marten, fisher, groundhog, etc.” (Jenness 1937:30).
In the early 1800s, Daniel Williams Harmon reports “There is a small animal found only on the Rocky Mountain, denominated, by the Natives, Quis-qui-su, or whistlers, from the noise which they frequently make”. (Lamb, 1957:266).
The Nak’azdli Carrier chief named Kwah, from the Stuart Lake area offered “a marmot robe and a beautiful necklace of dentalium shells” as an appeasement gift (Morice 1904:28). In an 1836 food provisions list from New Caledonia, Peter Ogden noted “8 marmots” (Morice 1904:173). In 1870, when Father McGuckin went to visit the Sekanais of Bear Lake, he “crossed over the snow-capped mountains which lie between the Skeena and Fort Connolly, living on marmot and dried salmon” (Morice 1904:333).
Simon Fraser’s trip to the confluence of the Stuart and Nechaco Rivers in June 1806 where they met 30 men “arrayed in robes of beaver, lynx, and marmot skins.” (Morice 1904:60).
On June 12, 1793 Alexander MacKenzie, while on Portage Lake between Parsnip River and James Creek above McGregor River, saw an aboriginal cache with “a kind of wooden trap, in which, as our guide informed me, the ground hog is taken.” (Lamb, 1960:130).
Driftwood Valley Mountains – Stanwell-Fletcher report that Marmota monax petrensis was rare during 1937-41 but was told by aboriginal informants that they were common previous to this time. The Marmota caligata oxytona was reported as common during the former period.
On June 18, 1808 while at a Nlaka’pumux village on the Fraser River – one mile north of the Stein River where there were a mixture of Lillooet and Thompson peoples – Simon Fraser and his men were given a marmot to eat (Lamb 1960:86).
In regard to the trading region around Fort Alexandria in the central interior of B.C. – “The marmot …affords an exquisite repast and excellent covering made into Robes” (McGillivray 1827).
Okanagon (Teit 1930)- “Every one had one or more robes to wear, as conditions required, and to sleep in. Probably the most common robes were those made of skins of deer, fawn, antelope, buffalo, beaver, otter, marmot, coyote, and lynx, all dressed in the hair. Robes of twisted strips of rabbit skin were made and worn by all the tribes. …Most cloaks and capes were made of skins of small animals …marmot”. …The principal smaller kinds of game hunted for food were rabbits, marmots, and beaver.” (Teit 1930:230-31).
Tete Jaune Cache to Jasper area – At Tete Jaune Cache July 17, 1863 – “From these Indians also, Milton, …obtained a couple of marmot robes” (Milton and Cheadle 1865:267). “They were clothed merely in a shirt and marmot robe, their legs and feet being naked, …These Shushwaps of the Rocky Mountains inhabit the country in the neighbourhood of Jasper House, and as far as Tete Jaune Cache on the western slope. They are a branch of the great Shuswap nation, who dwell near the Shuswap Lake and grand fork of the Thompson River in British Columbia. Separated from the main body of their tribe by 300 or 400 miles of almost impenetrable forest, they hold but little communication with them. Occasionally a Rocky Mountain Shuswap makes the long and difficult journey to Kamloops on the Thompson, to seek a wife. Of those we met, only one had ever seen this place. This was an old woman of Tete Jaune Cache, a native of Kamloops, who had married a Shuswap of the mountains, and she had never re-visited the home of her youth.
When first discovered by the pioneers of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the only clothing used by this singular people was a small robe of the skin of the mountain marmot.” (Milton and Cheadle 1865:241) They sleep at night “wrapped in a marmot robe” …”They live by hunting the bighorns, mountain goats, and marmots”… The Shuswaps of Jasper House formerly numbered about thirty families, but are now reduced to as many individuals.” (Milton and Cheadle 1865:242).
The Stein River was a ‘noted hunting area where mountain goat, deer, bear and marmots (“groundhogs”) could be found. …Whistlers, also called hoary marmots, but commonly referred to as ‘groundhogs’, were shot at Mount Roach and Akasik Mountain [according to Andrew Johnny] where they live in burrows in sandy sidehills [according to Louis Philips]”. [S. of Stein River. Mount Roach is S. E. of Stryen Creek and Akasik Mountain between Earl Creek and Stryen Creek].
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In 2006, the “Spirit bear” was adopted as the provincial mammal of British Columbia.
The term “Spirit Bear” has to a large extent been overused as a media hype word. It has often been misinterpreted as a direct aboriginal name of a unique type or species of bear. The circular movement of information between indigenous peoples and popular writers, have created some modern myths such as comments that white bears, also referred to as “ghost bears” were not traditionally hunted. Today they are referred to as a subspecies of black bear called Ursus americanus kermodei.
The environmental movement of the western world has over-simplified the portrayal of all white coloured black bears by using them as a symbol of political opposition to the destruction of our valuable ecosystems. In a positive way this has produced an expanded awareness of the role of bears in the forest eco-systems of British Columbia and resulted in the protection of some of our valuable habitats. However, we must see the protection of habitats and the genetic diversity of all plants and animals as important. Discussions need to expand beyond what we call “endangered species” to what we think of as “common animals” that have, and continue to be, extirpated from many parts of our Province. Caribou (which are reindeer) once expanded over large areas of the Interior of the Province. It should not be necessary to find ones with red noses to justify saving their habitat.
The Strategic Plan for our planets biodiversity developed by participants to the 2010 Convention on Biological diversity adopted 20 targets. Target 11 involves making 17% of land and inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine areas into conservation areas (Piero et al 2019). By world standards British Columbia is a leader in developing conservation areas like the Great Bear Rain Forest. However, as Piero and colleges emphasize, we cannot use square kilometers as a measure of success but need to document the biodiversity impacts of conservation areas. By placing a focus on protecting white coloured black bears we need to understand what effect are we having on the bigger long term picture of the genetic diversity of black bears.
The white fur coloration in bears is caused by a single recessive gene called Mc1r, a melanocortin 1 receptor which is involved in melanin production. Melanin is primarily responsible for the pigmentation of the skin, hair and eyes of humans and other animals. The chemistry involved here is called melanogenesis. The Mc1r gene produces enzymes such as tyrosinase which play an important role in melanin synthesis. The same chemical process is used today in making tooth whiteners, where chemicals are used to suppress the tyrosinase enzyme and stop the production of colouration (see Reimchen and Klinka 2017; Hedrick and Ritland 2011; Klinka and Reimchen 2009; Marshall and Ritland 2002; Ritland et. al. 2001).
The chemistry produced by this gene causes some bears fur to be white or black. If both a female and male have the recessive Mc1r gene, one of their four offspring will have white hair and two of them will have recessive genes for white hair. A white furred bear mating with a bear with the recessive gene will have two white bears and two with the recessive gene. There are other genes related to thyroid hormone production that create combinations of white and black fur colours in bears (see Crockford 2006; 2003).
There is currently discussion as to how one uses genetics (with or without obviously physical morphology) to define an animal subspecies. It is likely there are genes with currently unrecognized functions that are far more important for the survival of black bears than genes that affect hair colour. Today we could target and edit out the single gene that produces the tyrosinase enzyme that affects pigmentation, and make all black bears white albinos if we choose to. Responsible people, of course, would not do this, but it emphasizes how such minute genetic differences can affect cultural attitudes and land use policies that affect species diversity and the future of animal and human survival.
The flogging of the name “spirit bear” stems out of activities of the early 1900s when there was an over-abundance of new species and sub-species of bears named on the bases of sometimes flimsy physical evidence (see Merriman 1918; Holzworth 1930). In 1905, we saw the naming and promotion of black bears with the recessive genes for white fur being mistakenly given status as a separate species, Ursus kermodei – after the Provincial Museum director Francis (Frank) Kermode.
White coloured bears were documented in Northwestern North America as early as 1805, during the Louis and Clark expedition. In the 19th century British Columbia Indigenous people were known to bring in white bear skins to fur traders. Mayor Findlay of Vancouver wrote about his observations of white bear skins: “I have in my possession a skin which I secured in 1896. In Bella Bella in the store of John Clay, five skins at one time, brought there by the Bella Bella Indians of Princes Royal Island. I have at other times seen skins of this bear in Robert Cunningham’s store at Port Essington, as well as one or two in cannery stores in Rivers Inlet” (Daily Colonist Nov. 23, 1912, p. 6).
It was Robert Cunningham, of Port Essington, who previous to 1904, provided Francis Kermode of the Provincial Museum with the first white furred bear specimens which included a mother and two cubs. These were mounted at different times in two museum display cases seen in figure 2a&b. It was reported that Kermode was “at a loss to classify it” and sent the skin of a female bear to Dr. W.T. Hornady, the director of the New York Zoo. Hornaday was in Victoria in 1900, where he “was led to believe that such a white bear existed by the discovery of a skin at the premises of J. Boscowitz” (Daily Colonist 1905; 1925). The mother bear and cubs were mounted specimens that were not catalogued into the Museum collection at the time they were received. The Provincial Museum’s 1909 Natural History & Ethnology Catalogue, in referring to the Ursus Kermodei (Hornaday) notes that: “now the species is represented by a group of five specimens” (1909:18). This reference seems to refer only to those five mounted bears shown in the display case in the same publication. At this time only four specimens had received catalogue numbers, which did not seem to include one or two of these mounted bears. The two cubs shown in the exhibit case were later given catalogue numbers RBCM 020317 and RBCM 020318.
The Museum received a male partial skull and white skin of a bear from Gribbell Island in May of 1904 (RBCM 001369). This became the type specimen for what was later seen as a species and then a sub-species. Other specimens of white coloured black bears in the Royal B.C. Museum collection include another two from Gribbell Island. One was the skull of an immature bear (RBCM 001371) collected May 22, 1906 and the other a mandible of a young bear (001638) collected May 28, 1907. Two specimens were later collected from Princess Royal Island, an adult skull (001367) collected on June 1, 1908 and an adult male skull and skin (001370) collected May 22, 1910. Future DNA analysis will be needed to match a few of the skins with the other catalogued remains.
In 1911, “One whole specimen Kermode’s white bear” was shipped to Vienna Austria for an exhibit at the international Sportman’s Show which was reported on by B.C. hunter Warburton Pike (Daily Colonist 1911). This resulted in an international interest in acquiring specimens of the white bear. In 1912, the Victoria Daily Colonist reported that Dr. French of Washington was willing to pay $250 for a live white bear (Daily Colonist 1912b).
A live six month old white colored black bear was captured on Prince Royal Island in 1924, by Indigenous people and brought to Ocean Falls where it was sold to a Virginian, O.W. Flowers for $60. Flowers brought the bear to Powel River and then to Vancouver. It was seized by the Game Commission in Vancouver and sent to Kermode in Victoria. It was put into a cage in Beacon Hill Park on July 31, 1924 (figure 3). It remained in the Park until it died in December 1948. The skull and skin where put in the Provincial Museum collection on December 5, 1924 (RBCM 005526).
Much later two specimens came to the RBCM from the Terrace area, an immature male skin and skeleton collected in September 1, 1974 (RBCM 009047) and a skin, skull and hyoid bones collected in May 1985 (RBCM 016007). A specimen from the Penticton Game Farm that died at the age of 19 years was acquired on January 26 1990 (018558).
More recent summaries based on morphological studies have defined five subspecies of black bears in British Columbia: ursus americanus altifrontalis, ursus americanus carlottae, ursus americanus cinnamonum, ursus americanus kermodei and ursus americanus vancourveri (Hatler et. al. 2008). Ongoing DNA studies have, so far, identified three subcontinental clusters (lineages or haplogroups), which are further divided into nine geographic regions. The Western genetic population cluster included the region from western Alaska along the Pacific Coast to the American Southwest (Puckett et. al. 2015). More extensive whole genome research will be needed to gain a better understanding of the range of genetic diversity and the extent of the various recessive genes found in black bears in British Columbia.
In traditional societies, indigenous people were very aware of the complex physical and behavioral diversity of animals. The term “Spirit bear” is a little more complex in its meaning than what is generally presented in the media. Indigenous peoples knew that this was a variation of the black bear. If we were to go back in time and observe Indigenous bear hunters we would probably label them all – to use the modern jargon – as “bear whisperers”. Before the introduction of the rifle, bears were hunted in their winter dens and caught in dead fall traps (see appendix 2. Bear Traps and Indigenous Laws Pertaining to Bear Hunting). Detailed knowledge of bear behavior was crucial for survival. First or second hand observations about bears by Indigenous peoples are scattered through the ethnographic and historic literature. A selection will be presented here that make reference to the complexity of bear fur colours and the in depth relationship of Indigenous peoples with all bears.
The term Moksgm’ol (different ways of writing it) which can be interpreted as “spirit bear” is used in a Tsimshian Raven creation story. Various Tsimshian and Niska families have held family crests with names translated as “white bear”; “white grizzly”; “robe of white bear”; “hat of white bear”; “grizzly of winter”; “robe of white breast [of bear]”. There are both grizzly and black bears with various degrees of white as well as albino bears (Sapir 1915). Figure 4, shows a person dressed in a bear costume in a theatrical ceremony that demonstrates the alliance of the Fort Wrangell Tlingit chief Shakes with the bear family from whom he traces his descent (Niblack 1888).
Tlingit and Tsimshian stories mention bears with unusual white markings. The “Story of the White-faced Bear”, is about a bear that was once a human who had killed too many bears. As a bear he had killed many humans. He was considered invincible: “Each time that he kills a man he tears him, and examines him carefully, as if he is searching for some marks on his body. He is unlike other bears, in that his head and feet are white” (Golder 1907).
Some of these stories are told as more recent historic events and others in the context of a man marrying a bear-woman or a woman marrying a bear-man in the distant past. A Tsimshian story relates how their clan is descended from the survivors of a great flood – a woman and a bear with white fur. A Tlingit hunter killed a bear with a “white furred belly”, which after he skinned it, turned into a woman who helped him (Swanton 1908:228-229). Stories of bears transforming themselves into humans and marring humans are common – such as the story told by Tsimshian, Henry Tate (Maud 1993) or the story told by indigenous peoples of Hartley Bay of a marriage to a female bear with a “very white belly’ (Cove and McDonald 1987).
In 1972, I had discussions with the late Leo Taku Jack (1909-1979) of Atlin, who told me about the variations in white markings on the belly, sides and necks of black bears that he hunted along the Nakina and Taku rivers in the 1930s to 1950s period (see figure 5).
Indigenous bear hunters were good observers and aware that black bears came in variations of browns and various degrees of creamy white, as well as the white of albinos. When I talked to the Bella Coola bear hunter, Clayton Mack in 1969, he would specify white markings on grizzly bears when telling stories of hunting episodes. This seemed to be a way of remembering events surrounding individual bears.
Individual bears might be noted in stories because of their distinct colour patterns – but they were all recognized as being black bears (Ursus americanus) or grizzly bears (Ursus horribilis) and noted as such in the various indigenous languages. Because of genetic variation there is a greater propensity for certain colour variations to be located in specific regions. Pale blue-grey, coloured individuals of a black bear litter were more common near glaciers in the area from Mount Saint Elias to the Skeena River. Hunters often called these “glacial bears”. George Emmons recorded observations of Tlingit hunters in the 1890s. The Tlingit called all black bears “tseek” but recognized colour phases. They called glacier bears “klate-utardy-seek or klate-ukth-tseek” meaning “snow like black bear” or “tseek noon” meaning “grey black bear” (Emmons 1991:133).
Based on hunter’s accounts and fur trade records, the all white black bears were once more widely distributed along the mountains of the mainland coast from the Skeena River to the Bella Coola regions but have since been extirpated from much of the area. White bear skins were rarer and therefore more highly valued. Cultural selection in the past may have played a role in reducing the gene pool that allowed for the recessive genes to take affect and produce more white furred bears in some areas.
It appears from early written accounts that there were a greater occurrence of regional colour and or size variants of both black and grizzly bears (see appendix I). Over hunting in the last one hundred and fifty years may have exterminated some of these regional genetic variants. In 1909, Richard Pocock presents the state of knowledge of non-indigenous peoples about bears of the northern coast forests:
“The White bear (Ursus Kermodei), a few specimens of which have been shot at points along the extreme northern coast, are confined to a very limited area; but a similar variety, ranging in colour from almost pure white to a dirty grey, are seem or shot occasionally in the Western Cascades from Bella Coola north to Taku River, including the lower reaches of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers. These bears are small in size, and called by the various names of white bear, rock bear, white rock bear, blue bear, glacier bear and ice bear” (Pocock 1909).
Pike notes in referring to “Ursus Kermoda” in 1910, that: “this little white bear has so far been found only in that part of the coast range of mountains which lies immediately South of the Skeena River and on the adjacent islands known as Gribbell and Princess Royal Islands, and perhaps a dozen specimens in all are to be seen in the museums of North America. It has lately been classified by American naturalists as an entirely distinct species of bear; but there is still no record of any white man having seen this animal in the flesh, although now and then an Indian brings in a skin to one of the small trading posts of the mouth of the Skeena.” (Pike 1910)..
Holzworth, while on Admiralty Island in 1928, noted that an elderly Indigenous person told him of “a very peculiar type of bear, a dark brown with a yellow stripe which runs all the way down its sides from the shoulders to the rump, about four inches either side of the back bone. He saw two or three hides himself, all from the same locality on Admiralty Island. They were killed by Anderson a white man about fifteen years ago, who found them in the interior of the northern section of the island. An Indian had killed two or three similar ones on Chichagof Isle” (Holzworth 1930:73-74).
It was generally believed by indigenous peoples that the spirit of a bear (as with other animals) could be acquired as a guardian spirit. Bear spirits were considered one of the more powerful spirits. Clan crests, with social and economic rights, are linked to these early encounters between humans and bears.
The bear hunter had to purify himself by bathing and fasting. It was important for the hunter to refrain from announcing that he was going bear hunting for it was believed that a bear could hear and understand everything that humans said and be forewarned of its approaching death. When a man killed a bear he and those with him painted their faces and sang a bear song or prayed to the bear as a way of appeasing or thanking it for allowing itself to be killed. When being butchered it was believed that the bear could sing through the body of the hunter. Sometimes certain parts of the black bear would be ritually burned during a prayer ceremony (see Swanton 1908:228-229; Swanton 1905:94-95).
In 1970, I was told by the late Jack Koster of Canoe Creek a story of an experience of his father in the 1920s when he went hunting with an Indigenous uncle who was an old bear hunter from the Canoe Creek Reserve. After the bear was killed, the old hunter chanted a prayer and “cut off the tip of the nose and tongue and took out the bear’s eyes and eardrums to bury together. They believed that a bear’s spirit would return in the form of a bad man to seek revenge. This was necessary to eliminate the senses so the bear – as the Indians said – ‘will not find me again’.”
The importance of bears in the cultures of Siberia and their similarity to those of cultures of the New World was brought to the forefront of academic discourse by the publication of A.I. Hallowell on Bear Ceremonialism in the Northern Hemisphere (Hallowell 1926).
On the Eastern Pacific Coast bear imagery can be seen on everything from monumental poles and house screens, to boxes, rattles and combs. These physical objects are a manifestation of a complex way of life that involves Indigenous beliefs and practices. Bears have played a role in the ceremonialism and magico-religous practices of human cultures across the northern forests of the world for thousands of years.
Indigenous traditions suggest that bears are the shamans of the animal world. Skinned bears resemble humans. On the northern coast bears are considered ancestors due to the earlier encounters, and sometimes resulting marriages, between transforming bears and humans. Clan crests, with social and economic rights, are linked to these early encounters between humans and bears (for example see: Swanton 1908:228-229; Swanton 1905:94-95) .
On the west coast of Vancouver Island, the butchered remains of bears are commonly found in cave and rock shelter sites. One recorded site, that was briefly visited, is reported to have contained 22 bear skulls in four piles. Bears appear to have been, at least, partially butchered in these more remote locations away from village sites (Keddie 1994). There are still stories to be told about human-bear relationships waiting to be revealed by archaeology.
Black bears with the genetic variants that produce white or partly white furred bears are believed by indigenous peoples to have special spirit powers – but so do all bears. Bears that have unusual markings and more extensive white in their fur may be seen as being of special significance because they occur more rarely. Indigenous peoples, however, did not see all white bears as a separate and distinct species and give them distinct names meaning “spirit bear”. Older traditions show that white markings allowed individual bears to be identified, and that indigenous understanding was much more complex than that presented in the media.
Non-indigenous people from the cities related to bears in the 1950s in a way that we would find appalling by current standards (see appendix 3). The spotting of white coloured “Spirit bears” or “Ghost bears” is increasingly become a focus of the Tourist industry and sometimes the cause of a romanticized view of the natural world. We need to step back and think about how this behavior will be looked upon 50 years into the future
David Thompson, while travelling in western Canada in the 1798-1807 time period noted that: “The only bears of this country are the small black Bear, with a chance yellow Bear, this latter has a fine fur and trades for three Beavers in barter, when full grown” (Thompson 2009:122). He notes that the black furred bears trade for one or two Beaver skins depending on their size. As Thompson discusses the grizzly bear elsewhere, it appears he is referring here to the “yellow Bear” as a variation of the black bear.
Daniel Harmon was an early observer of bears in the Interior of B.C. In 1810, around Ft. St. James, he observes: “The brown and black bear differ little, excepting in their colour. The hair of the former is much finer than that of the latter. They usually flee from a human being. …The brown and the black bear, climb trees, which the grey, never does. Their flesh is not considered so pleasant food as the of the moose, buffalo or deer; but their oil is highly valued by the Natives, as it constitutes an article of their feasts, and serves, also, to oil their bodies, and other things. Occasionally, a bear is found, the colour of which is like that of a white sheep, and the hair is much longer than that of the other kinds which have been mentioned; though in other respects, it differs not at all from the black bears.” (Lamb 1957:260).
Black, travelling on a branch of the upper Stikine River on August 3, 1824, with an Indigenous Slave notes bears of a pale white colour. Black explains “there are Bears, Black, blue or Grizzly & brown of different shades & they all appear large, the Old Slave is by no means inclined to attach them, the other day Mr. Manson & the old Slave in Company saw two Bears of a pale white colour, but the old Gentleman would not consent to attach them, such is the Idea of these Indians regarding Bears” (Rich 1955:153).
Crompton, who travelled extensively in B.C. in the mid 19th century stated: “The black bear is subject occasionally to albinism like most for the other animals on this coast thus I have seen white (black) bears, white otters, white racoons, white martins and white minks. The Indians set a great value on the white bear skin & I was shown one which was supposed to be the paternal originator of the Tsimpsean race after the flood for their tradition of the deluge is that only a woman & a bear were saved on a mountain & that from this peculiar miscegenation the Tshimsean race arose.” (Crompton 1879:51).
Frederica De Laguna acquired information from both Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in the territories of Tlingit peoples in the 1930s to 1950s, which shows the confusion of bear descriptions at the time: “The Yakutat people; face a variety of large brown bears and grizzlies. These have never been classified to the satisfaction of biologists, but for the native all these large species are “the bear” (xuts; Boas, 1917, p. 158, xuts), the prize of the intrepid hunter and an important sib crest. The very large, dark grizzed Dall brown bear, Ursus dalli, lives northeast of Yakutat Bay, especially along the Malaspin Glacier. The forester, Jay Williams (1952:138),
reports this huge bear at Lituya Bay, it may be another variety, or there may be a break in its distribution between Yaktat and Lituya Bays. Apparently confined to the south-eastern side of Yakutat Bay is the Yakutat grizzly, U.nortoni, a large true grizzly with yellowish or golden brown had and dark brown rump and legs, the whole looking whitish from a distance. It seems to range as far south as Lituay Bay (Williams, 1952:138). Also known at Yakutat is the giant brown bear of Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula and Prince William sound, U. Middendorffi. The Alsek, U. Orgiloides, a cream coloured medium sized bear with long narrow skull, ranges the foreland east of Yakutat, especially along the Ahrnklin, Italia, and Alsek Rivers. It is not known whether this bear, or the closely related Glacier Bay grizzly, U. Orgilos, is the form found at Lituya Bay. Between Cross Sound and the Alsek delta is the large Townsend grizzly, U. Townsendi, the exact range of which is undefined.
The black bear (sik), found along the coastal glaciers form Lituya Bay (or Cross Sound) northward to the eastern edge of Prince William Sound or Cape Saint Elias, is very much smaller than the ordinary American black bear. Furthermore, in addition to the usual black and brownish colors, many from the same litter are blue-gray or maltese. These are called glacier bears, U. Americanus emmonsii, formerly Euarctos emmonsee or Ursus glacialis. The Indians make no distinctions, as far as I know, between the color variants, unless what Boas (1891:174) recorded as the “polar bear” (caq, i.e., cax) is really the blueish glacier bear. A few bones of the black bear were found in the site of Knight Island.” (Laguna 1972:36-37).
Swanton (1905:58-69) was told the story of a bear hunter and his traps by a Haida, Jimmy Sterling. In telling the story he gets a detailed description of how the traps are constructed. Haida names were provided for each part of the deadfall trap.
In the Haida bear path deadfall trap shown in figure 9b, the letters indicate: A- Four posts, two on each side of the bear trail. B-Short cross posts tying each set of vertical posts together. C- Between the posts lays a post on the ground. D- The deadfall log that drops on the bear. E- The suspended end of the deadfall post is held by a loop which passes over a short stick E. Stick E is supported by post B. A rope is fastened to the inner end of stick E and carried down to a notched in stick F which is tied to a stake pounded into the ground on one side of the bear trail. Other cords G are fastened across the two front posts and down to the same loop. The bear steps over the log and comes against these latter cords causing the rope to slip out of the notch and the deadfall log to fall (Swanton 1905:6).
Koppert gives one of the better explanations of the use, design and traditional laws around the subject of bear traps or “Chim mis yek ”. Koppert was informed that, if one eats “bear meat or venison, one must abstain for two months from eating fish, especially salmon and halibut”.
In regard to the hunting grounds of bears: “There are no special districts set aside for hunting. Traps are set in places frequented by the animals. An Indian has full right to an animal trail as long as his traps are there. Once he removes his trap, any other Indian may put his trap there and claim all the animals on the trail. An exception to this law is made with regard to the bear trails. The bears are a very valuable animal to the Indians, and the trail is, therefore, owned by the individual whether he has his trap set or not. No one may hunt on such ‘roads’, even though no trap is set. Such bear trails, as well as creeks in which certain Indians have the sole right to fish with trap-boxes, are called ha-how- thle, meaning: belonging to so and so”. These (ha- how- thle) are inherited in the same manner as “house grounds”. They may, however, be ‘leased’, or given away and be lost forever to the family and descendants. A traveller may not take or capture an animal if traps are set in the vicinity.
Koppert describes how bears are trapped in the following manner: “poles driven closely together into the ground near a stream where the bears follow the creek. These poles are about four feet high and arranged in a semi-circle with a diameter of about three feet [See Fig. 10]. The top and sides are covered with branches and sod to make the trap and ‘cave’ appear natural and to make the interior dark. The entrance, at the center of the semi-circle, is just large enough to admit the head and shoulders of the bear. Over the entrance are erected two uprights and a cross-piece. Resting on this cross-piece and projecting about six inches, is a pole reaching back to the farther end of the ‘cave’. A strong string is tied to the inner end of the pole and let down into the ‘cave’; three stakes are driven into the ground at the back of the ‘cave’; to the tops of these stakes and lashed to cross-pieces forming a V …the V is closed by a stick held in place by the pull on the cord which in turn is tied on the ‘tripper’; the ‘tripper’ suspends the weighted log at the entrance of the ‘cave’. To the same stick, a stout string is tied at the end of which is the bait of salmon. Above the entrance, a log is suspended by a thong from the end of the pole resting on the cross-piece. The log at the other end has a dozen or more other logs resting on the top of it as well as heavy stones. When the bear snatches the fish he releases the string that suspends the weighted log over the entrance, and is crushed under the weight of the fallen log. This effective dead-fall is still commonly used. It either kills the bear outright or so cripples him that he cannot run away.” (Koppert 1910:78-80).
In the type of trap shown in figure 10, the bear sticks its head into the cave-like structure and pulls the bait on the rope. The rope pulls a short post out from the edge of a rectangular structure that is holding down, by a rope, one end of a long pole that extends across the cave and over a post across the entrance to the cave. The other end of this post is tied to the large heavy deadfall log. The release of distant end of the long post causes it to flip up over the entrance post causing the deadfall log to come crashing down on the bear.
Father Morice wrote how the Carrier of the Interior began to ritually prepare “a full month previous to the settling of his snares. During all that time he could not drink from the same vessel as his wife, but had to use a special birch bark drinking cup. The second half of the penitential month was employed in preparing his snares. The omission of these observances was believed to cause the escape of the game after it had been snared. To further allure it into the snares he was making, the hunter used to eat the root of a species of heracleum (tse’le’p in Carrier) of which the black bear is said to be especially fond. Sometimes he would chew and squirt it up with water exclaiming at the same time: Nyustluh! May I snare you! Once a bear, or indeed any animal, had been secured, it was never allowed to pass a night in its entirety, but must have some limb, hind or fore paws, cut off, as a means of pacifying its fellows irritated by its killing. …The skulls of bears whose flesh had been eaten up are even to-day invariably stuck on a stick or broken branch of a tree. But the aboriginals fail to give any reason for this practice (Morice 1893:107-108).
In the type of deadfall trap in figure 12, the bear crawls part way into the wooden structure to get the bait on the inner end of a bait stick. The outer end of this bait stick has resting on it a short post holding up the deadfall log. This upright support post is in a notch on the bait post. When the bear swings the bait post around the short upright support post slips out of its notch and causes the deadfall log to crash down.
In the 1950s bears were often seen as entertainment animals with little understanding of their relationship to their natural habitat. As bears lost their fear of humans they mingled together (see figure 13). When I camped in Banff and Jasper as a child it was common to see large line-ups of cars on the highway feeding bears. Ice cream cones were their favorite treat. My father would drive us to the local open garbage dumps where large number of bears came at dusk (figure 14a&b). In one incident a large bear climbed up onto the front of our car and looked at us through the windshield. My father (not a “bear whisperer”) blasted his car horn causing him to be required to explain later how his company car received some very large scrape marks down its entire front. We know today that feeding of wild bears usually ends in them having to be shot. We need to continually educate people not to do this.
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I recently spent an enjoyable day hunting Common Wall Lizards to help Camosun College students with a research project. Lizards were easily caught with nooses, by hand, and using elastic bands. These lizards are to be used in a diet study to see whether there is any pattern between historic and current arthropod diversity in pitfall trap samples, and to determine what lizards are selecting from the available invertebrates.
We sampled at Haliburton Farm in Saanich, here on Vancouver Island. Lizards were everywhere – and that is no exaggeration. Every few steps would cause one or more lizards to skitter way into the forest of potted plants and garden veggies growing at the farm.
My Google Earth Map totally under estimates the number of lizards because I couldn’t map the location of each one. There were hundreds of lizards in each section of the farm. Adults were predominant in the heavily modified areas, and yearlings seemed to be occupying peripheral areas that were almost semi natural – young ones likely avoided the main farm to avoid cannibalism.
The tree and a closer view of the knot-hole where the Wall Lizard sought refuge.
One lizard stuck out in my memory – because it was trying to shed the “wall lizard” stereotype by living in a tree. I spotted an adult male well up a tree – and as I approached, it bolted into a knot-hole. The knot-hole led to a significant cavity inside – I used a long dry grass stem to get an idea how large the cavity was. It was at least 20 cm long, plenty of room for an adult Wall Lizard. Years ago Richard Hebda noted that Common Wall Lizards had started to occupy grassy habitat as well as the typical more solid habitat. This lizard seemed more interested in becoming a Tree Lizard – sorry Podarcis, you can change habitat, but not your taxonomy. Luckily Urosaurus ornatus does not live here and won’t have to deal with this arboreally inclined invader.
The armoured glyptodonts and ankylosaurs are one of my favourite examples of convergent evolution, the evolutionary phenomenon in which distantly related animals evolve similar structures or body shapes. Ankylosaurs are the armoured dinosaurs covered in bony plates called osteoderms, and are one of my favourite groups of dinosaurs. Glyptodonts, on the other hand, are mammals – they’re an exinct group of giant, herbivorous armadillos that disappeared about 10 000 years ago. The last time glyptodonts and ankylosaurs shared a common ancestor – a great-great-great-great-grandparent, if you will – was over 300 million years ago, but these two groups of animals evolved similar anatomical features. Most unusually, both ankylosaurs and glyptodonts evolved weaponized, sledgehammer-like tails.
In this study, I worked with my colleague (and former postdoctoral supervisor) Dr. Lindsay Zanno at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to figure out whether or not ankylosaurs and glyptodonts had followed similar evolutionary trajectories when evolving their unusual tail weaponry. Lindsay and I have previously worked on understanding the evolution of bony tail weapons across amniotes (turtles, lizards, crocodilians, birds, mammals, and their extinct relatives) and found that certain anatomical features like armour, large body size, and a stiff backbone were correlated with bony tail weaponry. For our new study, we dug deeper into the anatomy of ankylosaurs and glyptodonts. We wanted to know whether or not ankylosaurs and glyptodonts evolved some of their distinct features in the same way – did certain features evolve before others in both groups? By studying fossils in museums around the world, we were able to map features onto the family trees for ankylosaurs and glyptodonts and see at what points different features first evolved. It turned out that, despite a few differences, the overall pattern was the same: both groups evolved armour, large body size, and stiff backs before weaponizing their tails, and tails became stiff before the tip of the tail was expanded.
What does this similar pattern tell us about how or why tail clubs evolved in glyptodonts and ankylosaurs? When we see similar adaptations in unrelated species, it tells us that there might only be a few good solutions to the challenges that nature throws our way, or in other words, similar features evolve when species are faced with similar selective pressures. In this case,
Lindsay and I speculate that a heavy, expanded tail tip might not be able to evolve unless the tail is already modified to support the extra weight. Similarly, swinging a heavy tail club around might be easier if you have a stiff backbone to help brace against impacts. And lastly, the rarity of species with tail clubs in the fossil record also suggests that tail clubs aren’t easy structures to evolve, and might only be able to evolve when a lot of other anatomical features (like armour) are already in place.
Funding for this research was generously provided by NSERC, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the Jurassic Foundation.
Arbour VM, Zanno LE. 2019. Tail weaponry in ankylosaurs and glyptodonts: an example of a rare but strongly convergent phenotype. The Anatomical Record.
Abstract: The unusual clubbed tails of glyptodonts among mammals and ankylosaurines among dinosaurs most likely functioned as weapons of intraspecific combat or interspecific defense and are characterized by stiffening of the distal tail and, in some taxa, expansion of the distal tail tip. Although similarities in tail weaponry have been noted as a potential example of convergent evolution, this hypothesis has not been tested quantitatively, particularly with metrics that can distinguish convergence from long‐term stasis, assess the relative strength of convergence, and identify potential constraints in the appearance of traits during the stepwise, independent evolution of these structures. Using recently developed metrics of convergence within a phylomorphospace framework, we document that convergence accounts for over 80% of the morphological evolution in traits associated with tail weaponry in ankylosaurs and glyptodonts. In addition, we find that ankylosaurs and glyptodonts shared an independently derived, yet constrained progression of traits correlated with the presence of a tail club, including stiffening of the distal tail as a precedent to expansion of the tail tip in both clades. Despite differences in the anatomical construction of the tail club linked to lineage‐specific historical contingency, these lineages experienced pronounced, quantifiable convergent evolution, supporting hypotheses of functional constraints and shared selective pressures on the evolution of these distinctive weapons.
Last summer my wife and I bought a new car – it is less than a year old and has already transported quite an assemblage of BC species (Southern Resident Killer Whale foetus, Mule Deer, River Otter, Red Fox, Northern Alligator Lizard, Common Wall Lizard, Commander Skate, and 49 species of birds – including the museum’s first Brown Booby). The most recent passenger was a 1.2 meter Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrhinchus) which easily fit into the back of a 2018 Nissan Leaf. Chalk up another reason why electric cars are awesome.
The Mako Shark (wrapped in plastic) arrives at the RBCM loading bay.
As far as I know, this is the second Shortfin Mako Shark specimen from BC waters. The first specimen, from 185 nautical miles west of Cape St. James (Haida Gwaii), was made into a taxidermy mount and only a few of its teeth were deposited in the Royal BC Museum collection (993-00039-001). You have to wonder how often they range this far north?
The mako shark thawed and ready for a long soak in formaldehyde.
This new mako, found September 27, 2016 on shore in Florencia Bay, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is almost perfect. It had been studied by Jackie King (Fisheries and Oceans Canada), tissue samples were taken, and then was shuttled to the Institute of Ocean Sciences (IOS) in Sidney. I picked up the fish at IOS and kept it frozen until I had the time to prepare the shark for the Royal BC Museum collection. Mako sharks are most streamlined representatives of the Family Lamnidae, the same family containing the Great White Shark. It was a thrill to see this amazing fish up close. Its only damage came from scavengers – the left eye is missing, and something – a wolf(?) – had ripped at the gills on the left side.
Tooth rows are easy to see in the jaws of this Shortfin Mako.
The teeth are amazing – and let’s face it – this is what most people want to see on a shark. But have a look at the tail! Without an efficient tail – the teeth would have nothing to bite. Mako sharks are amazingly fast and almost appear nervous when they are swimming – they are certainly the Formula-e cars or jet fighters of the shark world.
The base of the tail on our new mako shark.
Makos have a lateral keel at the base of the tail which allows the fish to efficiently oscillate its tail fin from side to side. In lateral view the base of the tail is narrow – in dorsal / ventral view – the tail base is broad. Salmon Sharks (Lamna ditropis), Porbeagles (Lamna nasus) and Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) have this same feature – it is all about efficient locomotion – hydrodynamics which submarine designers envy. Even the Ninespine Stickleback (Pungitius2) has this basic tail structure – but on a far smaller fish. Evolution is awesome.
Enough fish worship – back to the task at hand. Preservation of a large fish. You have to make sure the internal organs and muscles fix – and since formaldehyde takes time to infiltrate tissues – you inject 10% formaldehyde deep into the muscles to make sure the specimen fixes from the outside in, and inside out.
If the specimen does not fix fairly rapidly – then decay of the tissues begins. The specimen degrades and gas is produced. A gas-filled specimen displaces fluid and can result in a bit of a mess in the lab. When I was a student, we put a sizable sample of suckers in a vat of formaldehyde, closed the lid, and then left them to fix. Oily suckers are always a challenge to fix, and these were no exception. They bloated over night and displaced formaldehyde – which spilled out of the vat. The spill was large enough to draw the attention of the University of Manitoba’s Workplace Health And Safety team. Ooops.
Reptiles also can be tricky to fix – their skin slows the uptake of formaldehyde. As a dewy-eyed student I was keen to check out all the specimens in the vertebrates lab – and was particularly happy to find a forgotten jar with dark brown glass – a mystery. I had to know what was inside. When I reached in and grabbed the snake – it simply fell apart – ribs straining through my fingers. The mouth and cloaca allowed formaldehyde to enter and so the snake’s head and tail preserved well. Its body though, had rotted from the inside out and was mush.
The rattle from the rotten Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus).
I now use a needle to perforate reptile legs and tails to make sure formaldehyde infiltrates everywhere. I also inject 10% formaldehyde into the body cavity to make sure the internal organs of reptiles fix rapidly.
This mako shark was no different – I injected about 500 ml formaldehyde into the body cavity to make sure the internal organs fixed well – then left for the weekend. After a day in formaldehyde, the body already was rubbery and well on its way to making a decent specimen (yes I came to work on a Saturday to check on my precious). It also was not floating – that is a really good sign that the specimen is fixing well and not filling with decay gases.
The mako shark after a day in formaldehyde.
Once the mako shark is fixed (maybe three weeks in formaldehyde just to be sure), then it will get a rinse in water for a few days, and will go into a vat of alcohol for permanent storage. Alcohol is far easier on the eyes and nose than formaldehyde. Ethanol or Isopropanol are our preservatives of choice. Call me crazy, but I am guessing this shark will be a popular item during museum collection tours, so it better be stored in a manner that is fairly safe for visitors. I may as well get a few more larger fishes preserved while the formaldehyde vat is fresh – next up is a 1 meter Blue Shark (Prionace glauca) and a similarly sized Pacific Sleeper Shark (Somniosus pacificus).
Museums contain the commonplace, normal, typical specimens as well as the specimens we call TYPES which serve as the golden standard when doing systematics research. But the real attention goes to the oddities – they seem to naturally draw your eyes away from all other specimens. Leucistic birds, albinos, a marmot with overgrown incisors, an Orca with nasty dental issues, an Orca with spinal deformity – these are the specimens that get the WOW vote on collections tours.
Albino Starlings in the Royal BC Museum Ornithology collection – abnormal specimens certainly do catch your eye.
A year or so ago we were clearing out an area we referred to as Room 17 (our version of Area 51), and found jaw fragments from a Sperm Whale mixed with the bones of other whales. Sperm Whales have teeth along the lower jaw but no teeth along the upper jaw and Sperm Whale jaws are long and straight. It does not take a scientific eye to notice what is wrong with these jaws.
The section of Sperm Whale jaw in the Royal BC Museum collection.
Both dentary bones are hooked to the left and it looked like the teeth were fairly normal with decent sized sockets. We have no idea what the upper lip looked like – but I assume these jaws just hooked out of alignment and hung out to the side of the animal. What a drag that would have been. The jaws are large – so this animal was able to feed – the teeth towards the back of the jaw probably functioned normally and it certainly could have performed suction feeding to catch fishes and cephalopods.
Strangely enough, there is no information with these jaws to say when and where the animal was caught. Whaling here in BC ended within my lifetime (including the live capture of Orcas as a form of whaling – some would say jailing) – so I can only assume this jaw was collected pre-1970s when whaling stations were still actively processing Sperm Whales.
Sperm Whales with normal straight jaws (Image A-09221 (top) and Image A-09220 (bottom) courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives).
Jaw deformities are not that rare in Sperm Whales – there are several reports published and some of the deformities are shocking – some are stubby, others in a tight spiral like a conispiral snail shell (see: Murie 1865, Thomson 1867, Nasu 1958, Spaul 1964, and Nakamura 1968).
This specimen is not cataloged in the Royal BC Museum Mammalogy collection, there is no record in our database, and no mention in the museum’s annual reports. Perhaps whaling records will mention this animal – I can’t imagine this whale was processed in the ‘fishery’ and the set of jaws saved with no comment made of the deformity. Time to go CSI on this dentary record.
To dig deeper:
MURIE, J. 1865. On deformity of the lower jaw in the cachalot (Physeter macrocephalus, Linn.). Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1865: 396-396.
NAKAMURA, K. 1968. Studies on the sperm whale with deformed lower jaw with special reference to its feeding. Bulletin of the Kanagawa Prefecture Museum of Natural History, 1: 13-27.
NASU, K. 1958. Deformed lower jaw of sperm whale. Scientific Reports of the Whales Research Institute, 13: 211-212.
SPAUL, E. A. 1964. Deformity in the lower jaw of the sperm whale (Physeter catodon). Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 142: 391-395.
THOMSON, J. H. 1867. Letter relating to the occasional deformity of the lower jaw of the sperm whale. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1867: 246-247.
When reptiles and amphibians take shelter from the cold, they seek refuge above freezing, but not too warm – maybe 2 to 4°C. If it is too cold, tissues freeze and for most animals, this is fatal. Death comes from ice crystal growth which essentially shreds body cells at a microscopic level. Some animals like the Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) are freeze–tolerant, and consequently are our northern most ‘herpetile’ along the coast of the Arctic Ocean/Beaufort Sea.
Wood Frog photographed in a ditch near Winnipeg.
If the refuge is too warm, the animal’s metabolism burns stored fat and the animal loses weight. My father had a pet Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) when he was a child – and in winter, his parents put the tortoise in a box, surrounded it with hay, and placed it in the boiler room to hibernate. The boiler room was too warm for hibernation – the tortoise starved or died of dehydration. Consequently, my grandparents bought a new tortoise each year after burying its ‘hibernating’ predecessor. I am not shore how many tortoises they went through.
Hermann’s Tortoise image from Wikipedia.
On March 5th (2019) I received a set of photos of a frozen adult Wall Lizard found by John Hunter, a Colwood resident. It appeared that the cold, frosty nights of Late February and Early March 2019 had claimed at least one lizard life. The lizard had taken refuge in John’s gardening shoes. Its body was placed on a rock in the garden – presumably nature would deal with the remains. March 6th – the lizard awoke and ran off.
Resurrection? No. The Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis), like the Wood Frog, has a physiological ace up its sleeve. It can freeze up to 28% of its body water and still survive. As long as the cold snap is not too long or too severe, they usually survive without trouble. The mild winters of southern Vancouver Island were almost tailor-made for these invaders.
However, shoes obviously were not ideal shelter from the cold. Shoes keep our feet warm because our feet produce heat – the shoe only slows heat loss to the environment. Has anyone ever said to you, “Here, this blanket will warm you up.” Truth is, a blanket doesn’t provide heat, only slows heat loss – just like winter boots. With no source of heat, and with the open cuff/collar, footwear would act more like a sci-fi cryo-tube than a cozy refuge. At best the shoes shielded the lizard from scavengers.
I left my gardening boots outside last week – they were a bit too muddy to bring indoors. But since lizards are still about 60 meters north of my garden – I don’t think I will find any lost souls lining the insole.
Robert A. Cannings¹
1 Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
Since Corbet’s thorough 1979 overview of Canadian Odonata, hundreds of regional works on taxonomy, faunistics, distribution, life history, ecology and behaviour have been written. Canada records 214 species of Odonata, an increase of 20 since the 1979 assessment. Estimates of unrecorded species are small; this reflects the well-known nature of the fauna. A major impetus for surveys and analyses of the status of species is the work of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada which provides a scientifically sound classification of wildlife species potentially at risk. As of 2017, six species have been designated “Endangered” and two “Special Concern” (only five of which are officially listed under the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA)). The Order provides a good example of molecular bar-coding effort in insects, as many well-accepted morphological species in Canada have been bar-coded to some degree. However, more bar-coding of accurately identified specimens of many species is still required, especially in most of the larger families, which have less than 70% of their species bar-coded. Corbet noted that the larvae of 15 Canadian species were unknown, but almost all larvae are now well, or cursorily, described. Extensive surveys have greatly improved our understanding of species’ geographical distributions, habitat requirements and conservation status but more research is required to better define occurrence, abundance and biological details for almost all species.
barcoding, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, climate change, identification, Odonata, species at risk
Jade Savage¹, Art Borkent³, Fenja Brodo¹¹, Jeffey M. Cumming², Gregory Curler⁴, Douglas C. Currie⁵, Jeremy R. deWaard⁶, Joel F. Gibson³, Martin Hauser⁷, Louis Laplante⁸, Owen Lonsdale², Stephen A. Marshall⁹, James E. O’Hara², Bradley J. Sinclair¹⁰, Jeffey H. Skevington²
1 Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada 2 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 3 Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 4 Mississippi Entomological Museum, Mississippi State University, Starksville, Mississippi, USA 5 Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 6 Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada 7 California Department of Food and Agriculture, Sacramento, California, USA 8 Unaffiated, Montreal, Quebec, Canada 9 University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada 10 Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 11 Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
The Canadian Diptera fauna is updated. Numbers of species currently known from Canada, total Bar-code Index Numbers (BINs), and estimated numbers of undescribed or unrecorded species are provided for each family. An overview of recent changes in the systematics and Canadian faunistics of major groups is provided as well as some general information on biology and life history. A total of 116 families and 9620 described species of Canadian Diptera are reported, representing more than a 36% increase in species numbers since the last comparable assessment by JF McAlpine et al. (1979). Almost 30,000 BINs have so far been obtained from flies in Canada. Estimates of additional number of species remaining to be documented in the country range from 5200 to 20,400.
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Diptera, flies, systematics
David C.A. Blades¹
1 Research Associate, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
The Mecoptera are represented in Canada by 25 extant species in four families, an increase of three species since the prior assessment in 1979. An additional 18 or more species and one family are expected to occur in Canada based on distributional records, recent collections and DNA analyses. The Bar-code of Life Data System currently lists 24 Bar-code Index Numbers for Canadian Mecoptera. There are nine species of fossil Mecoptera known from Canada
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Mecoptera, scorpionfly
James Miskelly¹, Steven M. Paiero²
1 Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St., Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 9W2, Canada 2 School of Environmental Sciences, 50 Stone Rd. East, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
In the last 40 years, the number of species in the orthopteroid orders has increased by ~10% from that known in 1979. The largest order, the Orthoptera, has increased from 205 to 235 species known in Canada. The number of Blattodea has increased from 14 to 18 species, while Dermaptera has increased from 5 to 6 species. The number of species of Mantodea (3) and Phasmida (1) known in Canada have remained unchanged. Most new species records reported in Canada since 1979 have resulted from new collections along the periphery of the range of more widespread species. Some species reported since 1979 are recent introductions to Canada, including species restricted to homes or other heated buildings. The taxonomy of these orders has also changed, with only the Dermaptera having maintained its order definition since the 1979 treatment. Additional orthopteroid species are likely to occur in Canada, particularly in the orders Orthoptera and Blattodea. DNA bar-codes are available for more than 60% of the species known to occur in Canada
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Blattodea, cockroaches, crickets, Dermaptera, earwigs, grasshoppers, katydids, mantids, Mantodea, Orthoptera, Phasmida, stick insects, termites
David W. Langor¹
1 Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, 5320 – 122 St. NW, Edmonton, Alberta, T6H 3S5, Canada
Based on data presented in 29 papers published in the Biota of Canada Special Issue of ZooKeys and data provided herein about Zygentoma, more than 44,100 described species of terrestrial arthropods (Arachnida, Myriapoda, Insecta, Entognatha) are now known from Canada. This represents more than a 34% increase in the number of described species reported 40 years ago (Danks 1979a). The most speciose groups are Diptera (9620 spp.), Hymenoptera (8757), and Coleoptera (8302). Less than 5% of the fauna has a natural Holarctic distribution and an additional 5.1% are non-native species. A conservatively estimated 27,000–42,600 additional species are expected to be eventually discovered in Canada, meaning that the total national species richness is ca. 71,100–86,700 and that currently 51–62% of the fauna is known. Of the most diverse groups, those that are least known, in terms of percent of the Canadian fauna that is documented, are Acari (31%), Thsanoptera (37%), Hymenoptera (46%), and Diptera (32–65%). All groups but Pauropoda have DNA barcodes based on Canadian material. More than 75,600 Barcode Index Numbers have been assigned to Canadian terrestrial arthropods, 63.5% of which are Diptera and Hymenoptera. Much work remains before the Canadian fauna is fully documented, and this will require decades to achieve. In particular, greater and more strategic investment in surveys and taxonomy (including DNA barcoding) is needed to adequately document the fauna.
Arachnida, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, checklists, Entognatha, Hexapoda, Insecta, Myriapoda, surveys, taxonomy, Zygentoma
David C.A. Blades¹
1 Research Associate, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
The Neuroptera of Canada consists of 101 extant species, an increase of 26 (35%) since the previous assessment of the fauna in 1979. More than 48 additional species are believed to occur in Canada based largely on recent DNA evidence and new distribution records. The Bar-code Of Life Data System (BOLD) currently includes 141 Bar-code Index Numbers (BINs) for Canadian Neuroptera. Canadian fossils have thus far yielded 15 species in three families of Neuroptera.
antlion, aphidlion, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, lacewing, mantidfly, Neuroptera, owlfly
Robert G. Foottit¹, H. Eric L. Maw¹, Joel H. Kits¹, Geoffey G. E. Scudder²
1 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa Research and Development Centre and Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, K. W. Neatby Bldg., 960 Carling Ave., Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0C6, Canada 2 Department of Zoology and Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada
Th Canadian Hemiptera (Sternorrhyncha, Auchenorrhyncha, and Heteroptera) fauna is reviewed, which currently comprises 4011 species, including 405 non-native species. DNA bar-codes available for Canadian specimens are represented by 3275 BINs. Th analysis was based on the most recent checklist of Hemiptera in Canada (Maw et al. 2000) and subsequent collection records, literature records and compilation of DNA bar-code data. It is estimated that almost 600 additional species remain to be discovered among Canadian Hemiptera.
Barcode Index Number (BIN), biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, DNA barcodes, Hemiptera, true bugs
David C.A. Blades¹
1 Research Associate, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
There are eight species in two families of Raphidioptera known from Canada, an increase of one species since the prior assessment in 1979. Another four species are likely to occur in Canada based on DNA evidence and distributional records. The Bar-code of Life Data System currently lists ten Bar-code Index Numbers for Canadian Raphidioptera.
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Raphidioptera, snakeflies
Robb Bennett¹, Gergin Blagoev², Claudia Copley¹
1 Department of Entomology, Natural History Section, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 9W2, Canada 2 Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, 579 Gordon Street, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
In 1979 nearly 1400 spider species in 32 families either had been recorded (1249) or were believed to occur (~140) in Canada. Twenty years later, although significant progress had been made in survey efforts in some regions, Canada’s spider inventory had only increased by approximately 7% to roughly 1500 species known or expected to occur. Th family count had increased to 38 but only two additions were truly novel (fie family additions and one family deletion were the result of advances in family-level systematics). The first comprehensive taxonomic checklist of Canadian spider species was published in 2010 documenting the regional distributions of 1376 species representing 42 families (three novel since 1999). From 2010 through 2017 new national records steadily accumulated resulting in the current (2018) Canadian inventory of 1477 species classified in 45 families (one novel since 2010). Although there has been close to a 20% increase in the number of spider species recorded in Canada since 1979, much greater increases have occurred in some of the regional species checklists, indicating increasing knowledge of the regional distribution of species previously recorded elsewhere in Canada. For example the regional checklists for Newfoundland, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island have increased by 69%, 339%, and 520%, respectively. The national and regional increases reflect significant advances in the fist two decades of the 21 st Century in spider faunistics research in previously under-sampled habitats and regions and the development of molecular techniques and consequent bar-coding of spiders. Of the 1477 species recorded in Canada, 92% have been successfully DNA bar-coded resulting in 1623 unique Bar-code Index Numbers (BINs). At least 25 of the BINs are associated with relatively easily distinguished but undescribed morpho-species. Th majority, however, appear to indicate the existence of many cryptic species within Canada’s known spider fauna. Thse data, coupled with the fact that novel Canadian or even Nearctic spider species records (including of undescribed species) continue to accumulate annually (especially in habitat-diverse regions such as British Columbia), suggest that Canada’s tally of spider species may approach or even exceed 1800.
Araneae, BINs, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, checklist, classification, DNA barcoding, faunistics, spiders
I’m thrilled to announce the publication of my first book, Zuul: Life of an Armoured Dinosaur! Co-authored with my colleague Dr. David Evans (Temerty Chair of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum) and published through the ROM Press, this book explores the discovery of a spectacular armoured dinosaur skeleton and what it’s revealing about the evolution and biology of these unusual dinosaurs.
For over a decade I’ve been interested in the palaeobiology of ankylosaurs, a fascinating group of extinct dinosaurs with a spiky, armoured appearance. I’ve studied how they used their unusual tail clubs and how those tail clubs evolved, how different species around the world are related to each other, and how those species changed over time. In 2016, when I joined David’s lab at the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto as an NSERC postdoctoral fellow, I had the incredible opportunity to study a brand new dinosaur known from a nearly complete, exceptionally well-preserved skeleton. David and I named this new dinosaur Zuul crurivastator in a May 2017 paper published in Royal Society Open Science. The genus name, Zuul, is after the Ghostbusters monster of the same name, and the species name, crurivastator, means ‘destroyer of shins’ in Latin, in reference to its sledgehammer-like tail club.
In Zuul: Life of an Armoured Dinosaur, David and I pull together our recent and ongoing research on Zuul, my experience studying the biology of armoured dinosaurs as a whole, and David’s work on the dinosaurs of southern Alberta and Montana. We share how Zuul’s skeleton was discovered and excavated in the badlands of Montana and how it made its way to Toronto. We describe how it was named and how it fits into the bigger family tree of ankylosaurs, and what this new specimen is teaching us about ankylosaur armour and weapons. We even get to share what we know about Zuul’s broader ecosystem: the remains of many different species of plants and animals were found alongside Zuul’s skeleton, allowing us to understand Zuul’s friends, foes, and food.
Throughout the book we’ve been able to feature beautiful photographs of this amazing specimen, brand new illustrations by world-renowned palaeoartists Danielle Dufault and Julius Csotonyi, and behind-the-scenes peeks at ongoing scientific research on Zuul. It’s been a blast getting to study this wonderful specimen and work with such a talented team of fossil preparators, artists, exhibit developers, scientists, and the ROM publishing team to bring this book to press. I hope you’ll get a chance to appreciate the beauty and intrigue of these dinosaurs as much as I do!
Signed copies of Zuul: Life of an Armoured Dinosaur are available in the Royal Museum Shop now!
Zuul: Life of an Armoured Dinosaur
Victoria Arbour and David Evans
ROM Press, 2018, 9” x 12”, 96 pages, hard cover
Lettuce is shipped to Canada regularly. Plastic-wrapped-produce crosses our border every day – it is inspected and then it goes to grocery stores across the province. The lettuce then gets purchased, bagged and taken home – sometimes for sandwiches, salads, or maybe for juicing.
Green goodness at a local grocery store.
This November 27th, a bag of leafy goodness was opened after crossing the international border with a stowaway – a small frog in lettuce from California. It emerged – and was taken to the local SPCA. From there it was sent to me at the Royal BC Museum for identification.
The stowaway was sent to me in a container filled with damp moss.
On first glance this refugee looks like our Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla) which ranges south of BC to California. The taxonomy of the Pacific Chorus Frog is quite contentious though. Historically only one species was defined – P. regilla. In recent years, mitochondrial DNA suggested three species exist in California in what was once a wide-ranging Pacific Chorus Frog. Based on mtDNA, our Pacific Chorus Frog was thought to only range into extreme northwestern California. To the south, the Sierran Chorus Frog (P. sierrae) ranged across central California, and Baja California Chorus Frogs (P. hypochondriaca) were scattered across southern third of that state. If that wasn’t enough to upset a frog’s personal identity, work in 2016 placed the Pacific Chorus Frogs in a new genus Hyliola. Then in 2017, after referring back to a 2014 analysis of nuclear DNA, the three species were once again lumped into Pseudacris regilla. Or is it Hyliola? I bet the frog is confused too.
The range of the three chorus frog species based on mtDNA, from: http://www.californiaherps.com/frogs/maps/pregillamap3species3.jpg
Call me lazy, but if they are all lumped into one species – P. regilla – that makes my life easier. If the Pacific Chorus Frog was split into three species, then either I’d need to take a tissue sample to get an identification (and the frog would not enjoy that), or I’d need to know exactly where the lettuce came from. Odds are grocery records are pretty tight in this era of E. coli-tainted tracheophytes, but I have some doubt we’d ever know exactly where a given bag of lettuce originated.
A Pacific Chorus Frog from just north of the Nighthawk border crossing in the Okanagan.
Let’s just assume we are lumping all the Pacific coast Pseudacris into one species – then this refugee regilla is the same species as our Chorus frogs in BC. If this is the same species, can I just let it go? No way. It is genetically distinct since it comes from so far away, and there always is the risk of disease transmissions posed by exotic frogs. At least this Californian frog didn’t come from a pet shop where it could encounter a range of other exotic frogs and their diseases.
To be honest, I am really impressed that the frog was contained in the first place – people have a habit of releasing stowaways rather than turning them in for examination. Years ago a couple returned home from Mexico and found a red and black snake in their luggage. The snake didn’t seem well, but they released it somewhere in Metchosin. Presumably that snake died, but if it had been a gravid female, it could have deposited 7-10 (or more) eggs, and we’d have an instant population. What species had infiltrated their luggage? I have no idea – it could well have been venomous. When I was an undergrad student, a red and black snake appeared in the pet trade in Winnipeg – it was labeled Honduran Milk Snake and looked like this. I assumed it was harmless based on the old rhyme:
Red-on-Black, Safe for Jack.
Red-on-Yellow, Kill a fellow.
I was wrong – the snake in the pet shop was rear-fanged and bit me. It was my first (and currently only) venomous snake bite. Bottom line is: Better to be safe than sorry. And as a member of IMISWG (Inter-Ministry Invasive Species Working Group) we always say that it is better to not release something, than try to clear out exotic species later. Turn in stowaways to your local SPCA or Natural Resource Officers. It is safer for the environment. Frogs obviously are harmless, but if you think you have something dangerous in your groceries – an Eyelash Viper in a bunch of bananas or a Brown Widow Spider in your Californian cauliflower – call your local Natural Resource office and arrange for a professional to remove the offending animal.
Above all else, don’t let it loose.
This year’s fieldwork was our 17th in the alpine of the northern B.C. We made collections from six mountains. The area is so vast and remote and access is difficult, thus few if any biological inventories have been undertaken in many large areas. Many peaks and lakes have no names; in fact there are no names on entire mountain massifs. I feel like we are to some degree just ‘scratching the surface’ of what is out there.
We again worked together with the insect and spider experts at the museum. And we followed our typical approach of setting up camp for 2-3 days and collecting specimens of every species we encounter, being intentional to reach as many different habitats as possible.
At one mountain, Mt. Whitford, we were joined by two staff and a contract photographer of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative https://y2y.net/about-us and their guest freelance journalist who produces pieces for both CBC and NPR. At a second mountain, south of Tumbler Ridge, we were joined by two staff members of the Tumbler Ridge Geopark, http://tumblerridgegeopark.ca/. What is a Geopark? According to their website “A UNESCO Global Geopark is an area recognized as having internationally significant geological heritage.” These groups are all interested in knowing as much as possible about the biota of these areas and we will share everything we learn with them.
As we have in the past, we contacted the local indigenous groups and informed them of our work and will provide them species lists when the identifications are complete.
We are often asked if we notice any of the effects of climate change during our fieldwork. Treeline is controlled by temperature, not elevation and is highest at the equator – where temperatures are warmer at higher elevations – and becomes lower and lower further north and south. One likely consequence of a warming planet is that forests will advance into the alpine, reducing the available habitat for tundra plants that generally require open, i.e. non-shaded habitats.
For a number of years I’ve noticed small trees in the alpine and of course wonder if their appearance is related to climate change as a consequence of global warming. I’ve also noticed the absence of dead trees. The absence of dead trees may mean that tree populations in the alpine are relatively young, compared to lower elevation forests where trees have been growing and dying for thousands of years.
But a further question is this: have the young trees in the alpine arrived relatively suddenly and recently because of recent rapid increase in global temperatures, or are they gradually moving upwards due to a long term warming trend that has been taking place ever since the end of the Pleistocene, ca. 13,000 years ago? Dating trees by their growth rings could provide the answer by measuring the ages of trees along an elevation gradient from well below tree-line into the alpine. I suspect this kind of research is underway.
Every year we seem to encounter botanical surprises, either range extensions or species that we haven’t seen before. I like these kinds of discoveries because distribution patterns tell us something about the history of the landscape and when those distribution patterns are found to be different from what was previously known, the background story might change.
One notable collection this year was Dodecatheon frigidum (northern shootingstar) that we collected in northern Graham Laurier Provincial Park, about 200 km south of where it has been collected previously near the Alaska Highway. We’ve visited 8 mountains in the intervening area and have not encountered this species. What does this occurrence mean? Have we merely overlooked it in other areas or is it in fact not present for this 200 km distance?
Another interesting find was Claytonia lanceolata (western spring beauty) which I saw in the alpine for the first time. Previously I had encountered it at lower elevations in Botanie Valley north of Lytton. Indigenous people in the southern interior of BC eat the tubers either fresh or cooked. Perhaps indigenous people in the Tumbler Ridge area also eat the tubers. I haven’t had a chance to ask local people or to investigate the literature.
When it was never published in the first place.
The Royal BC Museum fish collection contains a specimen which had been locked securely in one of our type cabinets since the 1980s. It was designated as the holotype for a new species – Sebastes tsuyukii – there was even a manuscript noted on the specimen label (Westreim and Seeb 1989). It sounded legit – and no one checked until recently.
Jody Riley – my ever diligent volunteer – flagged this record when she was re-organising the fish collection. She checked what is in our old paper catalog, checked the electronic database, then looked to see if the actual specimen exists. When Jody hit Sebastes tsuyukii, and found no record of the species online, yet here in her hands was the jar with a big yellow tape label saying Holotype for Sebastes tsuyukii, she knew something was fishy.
In the end, we can take this large jar out of the cabinet designated for type specimens, Sebastes tsuyukii now is a nomen nudum (a naked name), and I can delete the species from the taxonomy in our museum database. Some database problems are easy to solve.
But this reminds me to get my fingers in gear and type the type descriptions for species I have yet to publish.
Nitinat (T12A) was a well known Orca along the BC coast. Born in 1982, he was a fixture along the BC coast and an active participant in the 2002 attack on a Minke Whale in Ganges Harbour, Saltspring Island. This animal – with its characteristically wavy dorsal was found dead off Cape Beale near Bamfield, September 15th, 2016. Funds weren’t available to prepare the entire skeleton, so I had to settle for the skull and jaws.
As you can imagine, the head of an orca would pop the frame of any domestic chest freezer, and it blocked the aisle of the walk-in freezer at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. It was also no small feat to fork-lift the head into the museum’s van, and then get it back out of the van and wheel it to the museum’s walk-in freezer. It also was a surreal experience driving around with an orca head in the truck. The head is heavy – and slippery – and difficult to tie down – so I drove smoothly to avoid having the head roll around behind me. Imagine explaining to an insurance company how an orca head caused you to lose control of your vehicle?
Nitinat’s head was prepared by Mike DeRoos and Michi Main – their internationally acclaimed business, Cetacea, focuses on cleaning and articulating whale skeletons. While preparing this skull for burial, they noticed that Nitinat had broken teeth. Given that I broke a molar on a frozen Reese’s Piece in a Dairy Queen Blizzard, I could imagine how Biggs Orcas could break a tooth when biting down on a sea lion or elephant seal. Large pinnipeds have dense bones.
Once the skull was cleaned, Mike and Michi found that not only were teeth broken, there also is a nickle-sized hole in the palate and many teeth were abscessed. The hole in the palate is particularly interesting. It has smooth sides and so certainly had healed before Nitinat’s death. Was it a puncture and the source of the infection that caused the distortion of the teeth? Or was it a channel for the abscess to weep into Nitinat’s mouth (not a pleasant thought regardless).
Normal teeth (left) have a long root and recurved crown, with natural wear for their ecotype – but the abscessed teeth were stunning with their broken crown and expanded root. They almost remind me of some squash varieties that are available.
One of the teeth is so swollen that it couldn’t be removed from its distorted socket.
Red lines beside the skull indicate expanded tooth sockets – perhaps age and infection combined to create this effect. The sockets for the abscessed teeth were eroded and far larger than normal sockets (in this non-mammalogist’s opinion). Erik Lambertson made a great scale bar.
Nitinat’s teeth are enough to make anyone who has had a toothache cringe, and a dentist’s eyes pop with fascination. I am just waiting for the day someone requests to see Nitinat as the focus of a pathology research paper. For now, he is a permanent addition to the Royal BC Museum collection and will soon get his official catalog number.
I don’t know if the title of this article is an accurate way to say fork-tailed lizard in German, but the Gabelschwanz-Teufel – the P-38 Lightning (the fork-tailed devil) could take a lot of punishment and still get home at the end of a sortie. A fork-tailed lizard has a parallel story – it has taken a beating and survived.
It is common to find lizards with regenerated tails or tails that are recently dropped – with their tell-tail stump. Sometimes the tip is lost, others about 90% of the tail is lost. The regrown tail segment is never as nice as the original and has different scale patterns and colouration.
This male Wall Lizard photographed by Deb Thiessen, lost its tail near the base and the regenerated tail is obvious. Its meal had a perfect tail.
I have seen fork-tailed, even trident tailed lizards in photos – I remember images like this in the books I poured over earlier in my ontogeny. Had I ever seen one in person? Not until now. During my PhD thesis work, the only fork-tails I thought about were thelodont fishes known from Early Devonian rocks of the Northwest Territories.
This July, Robert Williams, a colleague from University of Leeds in England was here working on Wall Lizards. He was trying to determine if our native Northern Alligator Lizards react in any way to the scent of the European Wall Lizard.
Live animals are not allowed at the Royal BC Museum, so Rob had to perform scent trials in my dining room. The lizards were held in containers in my kitchen – and I thank my wife for her patience.
The work helps give a frame of reference to reactions between the native Sand Lizard in the UK and introduced Wall Lizards, but you’ll have to wait to hear the results. While hunting Wall Lizards on Moss Rocks here in Victoria, Rob caught a fork-tailed specimen.
Since this was such a neat specimen I requested it be saved intact for the Royal BC Museum’s collection. Here is a photo of a fork-tailed Wall Lizard from England, but Rob had to come all the way to the Pacific coast of Canada to catch one.
In museum collections, space is critical. We can’t waste space. Every millimeter of shelving is critical. If you can arrange cabinets more efficiently, do it. Can you pack more jars in a given area? Do it. If you can make space. Do it.
I have been on a binge of deaccessioning lately. What is deaccessioning? It is the museum practice of removing accessioned/cataloged specimens from the collection. Once deaccessioned, we either send specimens to other museums where they are relevant, or give them to teaching collections or perhaps to nature centers. Only rotten specimens are destroyed. We try everything we can to re-purpose specimens before we resort to destruction.
This surfperch, Embitoca lateralis, is a rare candidate for destruction. It has been deaccessioned – someone had cranked the clamp too tight years ago and the glass at the apex of lid popped. Alcohol evaporated and by the time it was noticed, it was too late. If the fish in the jar could speak, they’d say, “There’s a fungus among us.”
Deaccessioning allows me to make space in the collection for new material. Since I am trying to keep the Royal BC Museum’s vertebrate collection focused on British Columbia, the eastern North Pacific Ocean and any adjacent territory, specimens with no relevance to this region obviously have my attention. Specimens with incomplete information (or no information), also flare my obsessive nature and are on my deaccession hit list. Space is created on a jar-by-jar basis.
Putting ‘incomplete information’ in everyday terms – if we are going to meet somewhere, you generally expect some level of detail. If I say I want to meet in Tofino in June, what would you say? Imagine now that I didn’t even give you my name – but still wanted to meet in Tofino in June. I am betting you’d put on your best Monty Python-esque King Arthur and say, “You’re a Loony.” Incomplete or missing data is a real issue.
My long suffering volunteer Jody found a jar of flatfish this weekend which had never been cataloged, but was in the collection. It was only a 125 ml jar – so not a huge waste of space. On closer inspection the fishes were identified (Parophrys vetulus, English Sole), there was a location (Tofino), and a date (June 1985).
Where was I in June 1985 – oh yea – just about to graduate from grade 12. Oh the 80s – I am listening to Duran Duran while typing this – RIO – the obvious choice with its maritime theme.
Yep, that was me in 1985.
Parophrys vetulus is a common fish here in BC, so it is likely you can catch them all around Tofino in June – but it would be nice to know which beach relinquished its sole. And when did it happen? Was it at night? Was it a full moon? On the 1st of the month, or mid month? Were they in ankle-deep water or at 10 meters depth? Open beach or a tidepool? Caught by hand or with a net? Inquiring minds may want to know. And with no collector noted in the hand-written label – I can’t even badger someone by email to jog their memory or review old field notes.
These are the lost soles Jody found. Is one of them yours?
To a museum, data is everything. If you collect and preserve a specimen, record as much as you can about the event. If you are giving me your sole, then tell me its secrets.
I have said before that European Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis) will eat smaller conspecifics – there are a few photos online from elsewhere on Earth – but until now I didn’t have solid evidence of lacertophagy (lizard eating) here on Vancouver Island.
However, this last week, Deb Thiessen took a few videos of a Wall Lizard eating a yearling Wall Lizard on her property just north of Victoria. These are really good videos and clearly show that Wall Lizards can stuff down a huge meal.
Posted by Deb Thiessen on Friday, June 1, 2018
In this first video the smaller Wall Lizard is already dead, and I suspect that the larger lizard killed it. Looks like another lizard had thoughts of stealing the meal. Sure looks like breathing is an issue while stuffing down so large a meal. Snakes solve the problem of eating and breathing by pushing their trachaea (windpipe) out of the mouth so that food does not block air flow.
Posted by Deb Thiessen on Friday, June 1, 2018
The victor looks like a male, and in the second video you can see how quickly it disposes of the tail rather than having that part of the meal hanging out of its mouth for a few days.
Almost all of the victor’s own tail had been lost some time ago. You can always see where its original tail ended and the re-growth takes over – the new tail is never as neatly patterned.
Be glad Wall Lizards aren’t the same size as Varanus prisca, otherwise we’d be on the menu.
Or if you are an astronomer, then your science is Sirius. If you are a geologist, then your science is pretty gneiss. Don’t take science for granite.
I have been tracking Wall Lizards now for a while – and I am sure my wife will say lizard tracking has become an obsession – a serious obsession. I look at rock walls as we drive around town. I look for lizards on our weekend hikes. I watch for lacertids when I walk our daughter too and from school. Science is serious.
I have been watching the range expansion of two nicely segregated populations of lizards in Victoria – one population is about 0.63 km SSW from our house west of Hillside Mall, and the other is about 0.24 km north of us near Doncaster School – not that I have measured.
Each year I walk the perimeter of these populations to get an idea how fast lizards disperse in urban environments – again – this is serious science. Stop laughing. I can hear you laughing. Rolling your eyes does not help.
Wall Lizards seem to spread 40 to 100 meters – and it is the young ones that do the dispersing. Why? They race off to new habitat to avoid the cannibalistic tendencies of their parents. Parents with a 40 year old trekkie in the basement may want to consider this option as an incentive to get kids to move out.
Young lizards head for the relative safety of boring lawns – garden areas with lots of structure are occupied by hungry adults. Homeowners sometimes claim their lawn is crawling with young lizards in August – when all the summer’s eggs have hatched. In contrast, adults are relatively sedentary – once they find good sunny, rocky (complex) territory, they tend to move very little from year to year.
Now imagine my surprise when I walked up my driveway last night (May 23rd, 2018) and heard the characteristic rustling sound of a lizard in our food forest (yes, the lawn is gone and we have a food forest – the entire front garden is devoted to plants we can eat, and plants that attract bees to pollinate the plants with edible bits – but I digress). The lizard I found is at least 0.24 km from the nearest known population of lizards in my neighbourhood, and is an adult – with a perfect tail too – must have lived a charmed life free of bird and domestic cat attacks. Did this adult go walkabout? I doubt it.
The new colonist in the food forest at UF1510 (yes, as sci-fi nuts we gave our place a code name Urban Farm1510)…
Furthermore, the lizards nearest to my house are not brightly coloured – in fact they are kind of drab as far as Wall Lizards go. But our new lizard is gorgeous – more like ones from Triangle Mountain or farther north on the Saanich Peninsula.
This male is from Durrance Road – far more colourful than the ones near Doncaster School or Hillside Mall.
Is this a case of seriously good science prank? Was this a drive-by lizarding? Did a neighbour just buy some new garden supplies and a stow-away lizard emerged to find utopia in our food forest? I may never know.
My daughter has named the lizard Zoom. I guess he is there to stay.
Here’s a link to a new paper by: Luke R Halpin, Jeffrey A Seminoff, and myself.
Source: Northwestern Naturalist, 99(1):73-75.
Published By: Society for Northwestern Vertebrate Biology
This new paper provides the first photographs of a Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) from west of Vancouver Island. The species has been spotted in the region before and as far north as Alaska, but until now, there were no photographs or specimens as solid evidence.
While the photos in this paper are black and white – the original photographs by Luke Halpin are color and van be viewed upon request. PDFs also are available – just send me an email.
British Columbia is now within the range of 4 species of marine turtle. This Loggerhead survived into February of 2015 because of the unusually warm water in the eastern North Pacific Ocean (the Warm Water Blob), whereas Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) wash up dead (or near dead) in early winter. Unfortunately, the fate of the Loggerhead from 2015 is unknown.
Years ago after coming off parental leave, I found a series of photographs of Wall Lizards and a Google Earth image of a road intersection marked to show locations for a lizard colony. Quick search in Google Earth showed that this colony was in Nanaimo. I fired off a fast blog article to generate interest and get people looking for Wall Lizards.
It worked. Reports came in.
Jump forward a few years and now that street (Flagstone – site 1) is crawling with lizards according to eyewitnesses. But we now also have another site (2) along the Nanaimo Parkway near Douglas Avenue and Tenth Street. Oh wait, there’s also a third site (3) in the Chase River Estuary Park, and as of this weekend, there’s another (4) – way north of the rest along Arrowsmith Road. The report of the lizards in the Arrowsmith Road area was accompanied by video – there was no doubt as to the identification of those lizards – and that was a big jump from previous known occurrences.
There you go Nanaimo, the invasion has picked up pace. Keep your eyes peeled for lizards with a green tint to their scales, minute scales on their back, and generally more delicate proportions than the native Alligator Lizard.
Look at this post to help identify any lizards in your neighborhood.
If you find suspected Wall Lizards – email me at: email@example.com
If you find a lizard that is not a Western Skink, Northern Alligator Lizard, or European Wall Lizard – I definitely want to know about it.
Please record the date and street address (or prominent landmark) to pin down exactly where the lizard was seen. A photo would be really helpful to confirm the lizard’s identification. Happy hunting.
Heidi N. Gartner, Cathryn Clarke Murray, Melissa A. Frey, Jocelyn C. Nelson, Kristen J. Larson, Gregory M. Ruiz and Thomas W. Therriault
Marine fouling communities on artificial structures are invasion hotspots for non-indigenous species (NIS). Yet, little is known about NIS infouling communities of British Columbia (BC), Canada. To determine NIS identity and richness in BC fouling communities, we deployed settlement plates at 108 sites along the coast of BC between 2006 and 2012. Of the 295 invertebrate taxa identified to species, 20 were NIS while an additional 14 were cryptogenic, including several global invaders. This study documents the range expansion of tunicates Botrylloides violaceus Oka, 1927 and Botryllus schlosseri (Pallas, 1766), including the first known records on Haida Gwaii. NIS were detected within each of the six distinct geographic regions with the southern, more populated regions of BC (Straits of Georgia and Juan De Fuca) having the highest NIS richness and frequency of occurrence compared to the less populated northern regions. This study provides a contemporary baseline of invertebrate NIS identity and richness in fouling communities that will allow comparisons through time and a means to focus research and prioritize management efforts.
Key words: non-native species, introduced species, invasion, Northeast Pacific, West Coast, North America, biofouling
The Special Issue of Aquatic Invasions on “Transoceanic Dispersal of Marine Life from Japan to North America and the Hawaiian Islands as a Result of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011” has been published as Volume 13, Issue 1, pages 1-186 (totalling more than 220 pages with supplementary files).
The Special Issue includes the 14 papers (all Open Access) by 39 researchers, including Dr. Henry Choong, Curator, Invertebrate Zoology.
Funding support was provided by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) of the Government of Japan, through the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES), which made this Special Issue possible.
The Introduction to the Special Issue provides vignette summaries of examples of notable Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris objects, and also details contributions to the knowledge of Japanese and North Pacific marine biota as a result of JTMD research. These contributions include new species, new species records for Japan, and a rediscovered species (last documented in 1929). A final summary table in the Introduction provides examples of molecular genetic contributions to our understanding of JTMD biodiversity.
The JTMD project, which commenced in 2012, and which is now entering its 6th year of research, as we continue to monitor for the potential arrival of living species, 7 years after the tragic disaster of March 11, 2011.
Calder, D.R., Choong, H.H.C., Carlton, J.T., Chapman, J.W., Miller, J.A., and Geller, J. 2014.
Fourteen species of hydroids, including two anthoathecates and 12 leptothecates, are reported from the west coast of North America on debris from the tsunami that struck Japan on 11 March 2011. Six species were found on a dock that stranded at Agate Beach, Newport, Oregon, five from a boat at Gleneden Beach, Oregon, four from a dock in Olympic National Park, Washington, and two from a boat in Grays Harbor, Washington. Obelia griffini Calkins, 1899, the most frequently encountered species, was collected on three of the four derelict substrates. Eight of the species are known to be amphi-Pacific in distribution. Of the rest, at least five (S tylactaria s p . ; Eutima japonica Uchida, 1925; Orthopyxis platycarpa Bale, 1914; Sertularella sp.; Plumularia sp.) are not previously known from the west coast of North America. Hydroids of E. japonica occurred as commensals in the mantle cavity of the mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis Lamarck, 1819. Obelia griffini, O. gracilis Calkins, 1899 (not its secondary homonym Laomedea gracilis Dana, 1846) and O. surcularis Calkins, 1899 are taken to be conspecific. Of the three simultaneous synonyms, precedence is assigned to the name O. griffini under the Principle of the First Reviser in zoological nomenclature. The species is sometimes regarded as identical with O. dichotoma (Linnaeus, 1758).
Henry H. C. Choong* and Dale R. Calder
Invertebrate Zoology Section, Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum,100 Queen’s Park, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 2C6
The leptothecate hydroid Sertularella mutsuensis Stechow, 1931 is reported on debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami that came ashore on 5 June 2012 at Agate Beach north of Newport, Oregon. Its discovery on a barnacle (Semibalanus cariosus) from a derelict floating dock originating at Misawa, Honshu, confirms the capability of successful transoceanic dispersal for this species. We compare our specimens to Stechow’s syntype material of S. mutsuensis in collections at the Zoologische Staatssammlung München, and designate a lectotype and paralectotype of the species.
Key words: Leptothecata; hydroid; lectotype; transoceanic dispersal; anthropogenic debris; Oregon coast
It is always satisfying to update taxonomy in the museum’s database or find and correct mistakes. This week I spent some time sorting out details on Royal BC Museum specimens of California Yellowtail (Seriola dorsalis) and Great Amberjack (Seriola lalandi). Turns out that since these fishes were collected, Seriola dorsalis has been sunk, and all our fishes are Seriola lalandi (as noted by Gillespie 1993). This carangid fish is known to move into our waters in warmer years.
While reviewing what we knew about the first BC specimen (979-11312) it became obvious that the Royal BC Museum’s database was missing some information for that fish. Fortunately, this information was easily updated – the original report was published in the Royal BC Museum’s extinct periodical Syesis (see Nagtegaal and Farlinger 1980).
Drawing of Seriola dorsalis – oops lalandi (979-11312) by K. Uldall-Ekman.
In fixing that record, I noticed that some online sources had given incorrect coordinates for this fish. Contrast the capture location of 54°35’N, 131°00’W in Caamaño Passage as reported by Nagtegaal and Farlinger (1980), with online sources which state the fish was caught at 54°35’N, 31°00’W. That missing 1 in the reported longitude determines which ocean is linked this fish.
The takeaway message? Always check the original paper rather than relying on internet sources. Precise data is everything – and in the words of a well known scoundrel: “Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star, or bounce too close to a supernova and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it.” Or in this case, you’d be landing southwest of Iceland to look for Great Amberjack.
Gillespie, G.F. 1993. An Updated List of the Fishes of British Columbia, and Those of Interest in Adjacent Waters, with Numeric Code Designation.Canadian Technical Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 1918. 116 p.
Nagtegaal, D.A. and S.P. Farlinger. 1981. First record of two fishes, Seriola dorsalis and Medialuna californiensis, from waters off British Columbia. Syesis 13:206 –207.
I’ve received a steady series of emails this year detailing European Wall Lizard locations here on Vancouver Island, and it’s now April and wall lizards certainly are active. However, an email arrived April 11th which gave me a WTH (What The Herp) moment. The email contained a beautifully focused photo of a new turtle for BC. Then it occurred to me that I’d lost count of how many turtle species have been dumped here – unwanted pets that outlived the interest of their owners.
I really like when people send me photos of things they think are unusual – and this week’s email was no exception. We know that Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), Yellowbelly Sliders (Trachemys scripta2), and a Map Turtle (Graptemys sp.) have been dumped in Goodacre Lake, and Red-eared Sliders into Fountain Pond, but this new turtle photographed by Deb Thiessen (see below) certainly was not just an odd coloured slider, nor was it another map turtle. As an aside, I haven’t had a chance to catch the Map Turtle in Beacon Hill Park to get a good look at it, but I have seen it at a distance, and ID’ed it based on photos from Darren Copley and James Miskelly. It looks like a False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica). I think that’ll be a summer goal, to get good photos of that turtle to be sure which species it represents.
A Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis) from Fountain Lake, Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, BC. Photograph by Deb Thiessen, retired CRD Parks naturalist.
As you can see from Deb Thiessen’s photograph, this new turtle has a large shell for the size of the head, and the stripes on the neck are crisp, and bold yellow offset by black. The bold markings to me suggested Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis). The short claws on its forelimb indicate it is female. Males would have claws double the length of those in the photo. This animal is way outside its normal range – Peninsula Cooters are from Florida.
This animal brings our list of pet turtles to 10 species abandoned in BC ponds and lakes – that we know of. Here is the list I have of turtles that have been found in BC – way out of their native range – and (shockingly) it parallels species available in the pet trade here in BC.
Trachemys scripta (Pond Slider – both T. s. elegans and T. s. scripta)
Pseudemys peninsularis (Peninsula Cooter)
Pseudemys concinna (River Cooter)
Chrysemys picta marginata (Midland Painted Turtle, possibly also Southern Painted Turtles, C. p. dorsalis)
Graptemys pseudogeographica (False Map Turtle)
Emys orbicularis (European Pond Terrapin – always did like the word Terrapin – a bit of nostalgia from my British roots)
Chinemys reevsi (Reeve’s Turtle)
Malaclemys terrapin (Diamondback Terrapin)
Apalone spinifera (Spiny Softshell Turtle)
Chelydra serpentina (Common Snapping Turtle)
Fortunately most turtles are dumped one at a time and do not reproduce. Sadly though, I can’t say the same for the Red-eared Sliders – they now can reproduce successfully here in British Columbia (I have two pets from the first successful clutch found on the south coast of BC, ca. January 11, 2015). Red-eared Sliders now are common in artificial and natural ponds and in lakes here in southwestern British Columbia – and until recently, we were sure that each adult represented an abandoned pet (or maybe the occasional escapee). Now males are finding females. Females are finding decent nesting locations. And eggs are surviving to hatch.
Knowing that sliders can breed here, I stopped to check whether sliders and cooters can hybridize, and it has been suggested to be possible – but no solid proof. And since it is better to be safe than sorry… Does anyone know how to neuter a Cooter?
This time of year, my garden is one big mudslide. Sunny days with a blue horizon are not that common here on Vancouver Island in winter – but when they occur, we certainly enjoy them. So do our slim little European Wall Lizards.
This January and February I collected lizards which were active when the air temperatures were between 5° to 7°C. As a survivor of the Canadian prairies, collecting lizards in winter seems about as strange as an empty room in a museum collection.
I found lizards along Derby Road in my neighborhood, on Moss Rocks, at Gardenworks Nursery in the Blenkinsop Valley – winter lizard activity is nothing new here on Vancouver Island.
Lizards were found in south-facing locations with full sun exposure and when caught, were very warm to the touch. It is obvious that they are effective solar collectors and can elevate their body temperatures well above that of the chilly air – even when it is a bit windy. It is not uncommon to see lizards only exposing their head for a while, then the rest of the body. Perhaps this is a low-risk way to warm blood via blood vessels in the throat before they venture out and deal with intruding conspecifics. I haven’t seen any wall lizards feeding in winter – but that doesn’t mean they don’t. I’ll have to examine museum specimens to see what’s in the stomachs of winter-caught lizards.
An adult European Wall Lizard caught on Derby Road in Victoria, February 26th, 2018.
As of this February, the Royal BC Museum collection has 30 lots of European Wall Lizard specimens representing surface activity for each month of the year. Some people collect trading cards to get a complete set, I collect lizards to get one per month. Wall Lizards are active in winter as far north as Denman Island, and given that range, probably could extend further north of Campbell River in areas with a warm microclimate.
The collection of lizards for each season put a song from 1971 into my head – so I reworded the chorus a bit…
Winter, spring, summer or fall,
All they have to do is crawl,
And I’ll be there, yes I will,
Their spread has to end.
Tristan A. McKnight & Robert A. Cannings
Abstract: Stackelberginia cerberus sp. nov. (Diptera: Asilidae) is described from the Amargosa desert (USA: Nevada) and compared to related taxa. This is the first record of the genus in the Western Hemisphere; other species live in the deserts of central Asia. Stackelberginia Lehr is proposed as the sister taxon to Lasiopogon Loew in the subfamily Stichopogoninae based on morphological characters and a Bayesian species tree estimated from one mitochondrial (COI) and three nuclear protein-coding loci (AATS, PEPCK, wingless). Stackelberginia has the medially divided epandrium and rotated hypopygium of Lasiopogon, but the facial gibbosity is flat, macrosetae of thorax, head, and legs are unusually long, and phenology peaks in late autumn.
Key words: Stichopogoninae, robber fly, assassin fly, species tree, molecular, Palearctic
Joel. F. Gibson
Abstract: The thick-headed flies (Diptera: Conopidae) are rarely observed parasitoids. Confirmed hosts include many species of bees and wasps. Often collected from flowers, conopids may serve as either pollinators or pollinator predators. The last detailed checklist of the Conopidae of British Columbia was published in 1959. An updated checklist for British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska is presented based on over 1,000 specimens and specimen records. Geographical distribution, using an ecoprovince approach, is documented for each of 26 species in the region. Host, plant association, and hilltopping behavioural records based on past literature and new observations are also included. An identification key to all species recorded is included.
Key words: parasitoid, biogeography, plant associations, host associations, Nearctic
Colin J. Curry, Joel F. Gibson, Shadi Shokralla, Mehrdad Hajibabaei, and Donald J. Baird
Abstract: We reviewed the availability of cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) sequences for 2534 North American freshwater invertebrate genera in public databases (GenBank and Barcode of Life Data Systems) and assessed representation of genera commonly encountered in the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) database. COI sequence records were available for 61.2% of North American genera and 72.4% of Insecta genera in public databases. Mollusca (73.9%) and Nematoda (15.4%) were the best and worst represented groups, respectively. In CABIN, 85.4% of genera had COI sequence records, and 95.2% of genera occurring in >1% of samples were represented. Genera absent from CABIN tended to be uncommon or members of groups not routinely used for biomonitoring purposes. On average, 94.1% of genera in well-identified samples had associated sequence data. To leverage the full potential of genomics approaches, we must expand DNA-barcode reference libraries for poorly described components of freshwater food webs. Some genera appear to be well represented (e.g., Eukiefferiella), but deposited sequences represent few sampling localities or few species and lead to underestimation of sequence diversity at the genus level and reduced confidence in identifications. Public COI libraries are sufficiently populated to permit routine application of genomics tools in biomonitoring, and ongoing quality assurance/quality control should include re-evaluation as new COI reference sequences are added or taxonomic hierarchies change. Next, we must understand whether and how established biomonitoring approaches can capitalize on high-throughput sequencing tools. Biomonitoring approaches that use genomics data to facilitate structural and functional assessments are fertile ground for future investigation and will benefit from continued improvement of publicly available sequence libraries.
Key words: COI, invertebrates, biomonitoring, high-throughput sequencing, DNA metabarcoding, identification,
genus, Biomonitoring 2.0
Robert A. Cannings & Russell V. Pym
Archilestes californicus McLachlan (California Spreadwing) is a large damselfly native to western North America, ranging from Washington and Idaho south to New Mexico, Arizona and California and, in Mexico, to Sonora and Baja California Sur (Paulson 2011; Westfall and May 2006). This note records the species for the first time in Canada—from three sites in the southern Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BC; Figure 1).
Russell Pym saw several males and females at a small, shallow, artificial pond at the end of an artificial stream near the entrance to the Liquidity Winery at 4720 Allendale Road, Okanagan Falls, BC (49.32553°N, 119.54993°W). He observed them from 13:00 to 14:00 PDT on 26 September 2016; one male was photographed (Figure 2). From 16:30 to 17:00 PDT the same day, he recorded a female in knee-high grass, three to four metres from the shore of a dugout pond across the road from Walnut Beach Resort, 4200 Lakeshore Drive, Osoyoos, BC (49.01825°N, 119.43580°W). Cattail (Typha latifolia) and willows (Salix spp.) lined the pond margins.
Plants make molecules that chemists could never imagine. Chemical poisons that deter herbivores are advantageous for organisms that can’t move. For humans, depending on the dosage, these molecules can be either poisonous or medicinal. The small shrub circled here is Pacific Yew. In 1962 it was discovered that its tissues, especially the bark, contain ‘taxol’ effective in treating cancer. It took many kg of bark (in 1993 34,000 kg were harvested in BC) for a single dose – and killing the tree. Now the drug is synthesized in a lab using precursors from the needles. The seed is surrounded by red, fleshy tissue called an ‘aril’, sometimes incorrectly called a ‘berry’.
In an earlier post I mentioned that Luke Halpin was out surveying marine mammals and birds from the deck of the CCGS John P. Tully, and spotted something totally different west of Brooks Peninsula. The fish was estimated at 3.5-4 meters in length, and was cruising against the current just below the surface.
But until the paper announcing his find was accepted by a scientific journal, I didn’t want to spill the beans and say what he had found. His research paper (Halpin et al. 2018) will be published in the spring issue of the Northwestern Naturalist.
Photo by Luke Halpin, September 5th, 2017
This picture says it all – there is no debating what this fish is – only one species that fits the bill. Swordfish are known north to the southern Kuril Islands in the western Pacific, but Luke’s find is the northern-most record for the species in the eastern Pacific and is conclusive evidence of this species right along our coast.
A Google Earth image showing where the Swordfishes from 2017 and 1983 were found relative to Vancouver Island.
A previous record from 1983 (see Sloan 1984, and Peden and Jamieson 1988) was from just inside of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and barely qualified as a BC fish. The 1983 specimen was caught as by-catch at 47°36’N, 131°03’W, during an experimental fishery survey by the M/V Tomi Maru. The rostrum and tail were preserved in the Royal BC Museum’s fish collection (RBCM 983-1730-001). I am guessing the edible bits in between were cut into steaks, and ended up on someone’s dinner table. At least Luke’s Swordfish was left alone and for all we know, is happily cruising south to slightly warmer water.
Halpin, L.R., M. Galbraith, and K.H. Morgan. 2018. The First Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) Recorded in Coastal British Columbia. Northwestern Naturalist, 99(1): XX-XX. (pages not set)
Peden, A.E., and G.S. Jamieson. 1988. New distributional records of marine fishes off Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. Canadian Field-Naturalist, 102(3), 491-494.
Sloan, N.A. 1984. Canadian-Japanese Experiental Fishery for Oceanic Squid off British Columbia, Summer 1983. Canadian Industry Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences No. 152: pp. 42.
Keep your eyes peeled for deep-sea fishes while strolling along our shores. In the last month, three King-of-the-Salmon (Trachipterus altivelis) have washed up in the Salish Sea. Two were found in September (21st and 26th) in the Oak Bay area, Victoria. One of these was still swimming when found. A third was found October 3rd in Hood Canal, in Puget Sound. The first Oak Bay specimen will be preserved for the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea in Sidney, the second was not recovered, and the third will be preserved in the Burke Museum’s collection. The Royal BC museum has 18 Trachipterus specimens, with several of these from the Salish Sea area.
The King-of-the-Salmon from Hood Channel, photographed by Randi Jones.
Is this species new to the region? No. The species ranges from Alaska to Chile, and knowledge of this species pre-dates European arrival on this coast. Is this trio of King-of-the-Salmon a case of post-spawn mortality? A sign of change in our oceans? We don’t know. Actually, when you look at the diversity of marine fishes off our coast, there is a lot of basic biology that we don’t know. We also get Longnose Lancetfishes (Alepisaurus ferox) washing up from time to time, although it has been a few years since I have heard report of a Lancetfish in the Victoria region.
King-of-the-Salmon swim by passing a sine wave down their dorsal fin – they can get a fair bit of speed just by doing that. They can also reverse using the same fin flutter. They slowly turn by putting a curve in the body. However, in the first few seconds of the linked video you can see that they also swim in a more typical fishy way (using eel-like body oscillation) when they need a burst of speed or a really quick turn. If you’d like to see this form of locomotion in person – you can see it in a pet shop. Knife fishes use the same basic locomotion method – except they use their anal fin rather than the dorsal.
Close up of the head of the King-of-the-Salmon showing the premaxillary (red) and maxillary (green) bones extended, photographed by Randi Jones.
Note also in the video that the fish has a very short face compared to the Hood Channel specimen photographed onshore. As with many fishes, the jaws of the King-of-the-Salmon are protrusible – the premaxillary and maxillary bones swing out to create a tube – the gill chamber dilates, and water rushes into the mouth along with the prey. The same sort of suction pump mechanism is used by a wide variety of fishes – from tiny seahorses to giant groupers. Once the prey item is inside the fish’s mouth, the mouth closes, water is released through the gills and the prey is swallowed. The entire sequence is lightning fast – even in pipefishes and seahorses – blink and you miss it. In some fishes, the process is even audible – you can hear a snapping sound when seahorses slurp up crustaceans (and fishes). You can’t hear the same snapping sound when larger fishes engulf their prey, but it is no less dramatic an effect.
In 2014, a Louvar and a Finescale Triggerfish were found in BC – a double-header of interesting southern fishes in our waters. But wait… it looks like 2017 is also a double-header for cool coastal fish.
This summer of 2017 (and in 2016), Basking Sharks were sighted here in BC. I think every Basking Shark is newsworthy given that they were nearly eliminated here in an ill-conceived plot to protect BC fisheries (see Wallace and Gisborne 2006 for that sad story). This year’s Basking Sharks were found in Caamano Sound in July, and near the Delwood Seamounts in August. Was it one roving shark? Or two? Are there others?
This September however, Luke Halpin was out surveying marine birds from the deck of the CCGS John P. Tully, and spotted something totally different west of Brooks Peninsula. The fish is estimated at 3.5-4 meters in length, and was cruising against the current just below the surface.
We are really fortunate that it was sunny and seas were so calm – because his picture leaves no doubt as to the fish’s identification. The best part about the story is that the fish is still out there. Don’t get me wrong, I’d have loved to have the fish as a specimen for the museum’s collection – but then again, it would require a custom vat – three to four meter fishes don’t fit in jars.
This species is known north to the southern Kuril Islands in the western Pacific, but Luke’s find is the northern-most record for the species in the eastern Pacific and is conclusive evidence of this species as a new addition to our coastal fish fauna. Which species did he find? You’ll have to wait until he publishes his observations in a scientific research paper. Consider this a trailer – a teaser – there’s a big fish out there – it is cool… and I am jealous. I would love to see this fish alive.
The Doncaster population of the European Wall Lizard probably is 6 years old based on conversations I have had with home owners. In the Google Earth image – the white dots are known locations – the green dots are new locations for 2017.
How do I know these are new? Homeowners specifically said they had no lizards in 2016 – but they certainly do now. That’s the power of local knowledge and citizen science. The green dots along Oak Crest Drive were newly reported in the spring of 2017, with at least three adult lizards now known on the property. The two green dots along Cedar Avenue to the northeast are based on sightings of at least three young lizards – probably lizards that hatched this year and got well-clear of their parent’s territory. Cannibalism is a good emigration motivation.
Based on where lizards were known in 2016, these 2017 records represent range extensions from 20 to 100 meters. Compared to their body size, that’s pretty decent dispersal given that adult lizards only grow to 21 cm (those fortunate enough to have a perfect tail), and in many cases, the dispersing lizards are young-of-the-year at 8 or so centimeters in total length.
If younglings continue to bolt at this rate and make a bee-line south, I will have lizards in my garden in 2 years. More realistically, it will be another 3 years before we see them along our raised beds or in our greenhouse – not that I’m counting.