Thirsty Thursday: World Oceans Day

Well, World Oceans Day was yesterday… but it’s never too late to discuss the importance of oceans! Truly, every day we should be celebrating and respecting the environment in which we live, but it doesn’t hurt to have a day dedicated to oceans.

The oceans are an important part of our weather cycle. According to, oceans provide $21 TRILLION in goods and services. Cosmetics and medicine contain ingredients sourced from the ocean. Oceans provide jobs for us – fishing, aquatic sports and hobbies, life guards, etc. However, despite the ocean providing many resources for us, we continue to dump plastic, sewage, garbage, oil, and other pollutants into it. There is at least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean – and that is only an estimate! The tiny beads in your tooth paste and soap, the classic six-pack plastic rings, soda bottles and caps, and many more items are being dumped every day into the ocean. According to National Geographic, nearly every seabird on Earth is consuming plastic – they are mistaking it for food. Fish are also eating plastic and passing the potential contaminants up the food chain, which can make some species of fish very dangerous to eat (barring the fact that some are dangerous to eat on their own – looking at you fugu).

So what can we do about this? SO MANY THINGS. There are quite literally so many things we can do to clean up the oceans and environment.

-Reduce your waste: recycle everything you can, compost your food waste, use cloth bags, use reusable coffee cups, donate your clothing and shoes, repurpose items when possible

-Recycle: recycling starts at home – check with your local township or city to see how you can recycle at home. Encourage your place of employment to also recycle, if they aren’t already. Don’t let plastic end up in a turtle’s nose.

Sustainable seafood: If you’re going to eat seafood and shellfish, make sure you know the source of your food and how it was caught.

Other useful information



My 2015 Bioblitz

The first UPenn Bioblitz at Rushton Woods Preserve in early June of 2015 was truly an experiment and a success. When I first spoke to Lisa Kiziuk, WCT Bird Conservation Director and Penn Lecturer, about my capstone and what I was interested in doing, she suggested a bioblitz as a way to collect a lot of data in a short time and effectively take a snapshot of Rushton’s biodiversity. After some research involving contacting others who had conducted bioblitzes, it seemed like it would be a great approach to documenting the fauna and flora at Rushton Woods Preserve and a lot of fun. The whole point of doing a bioblitz at Rushton was to both establish a baseline for future comparison and to explore what we already suspected – that Rushton Woods Preserve’s Rushton Farm, a small-scale, organic operation, coexists with and benefits wildlife and plants. This is important when considering how harsh conventional, large-scale agriculture is on the land. If research can demonstrate that a small-scale, sustainable operation is better for ecological health, as well as productive and profitable, there could be a shift towards more environmentally-friendly agricultural practices.

I started my Master of Environmental Studies degree at Penn in the spring of 2015, and am now in my second and final year – I expect to graduate in December of 2016. As soon as I started my Masters coursework, I got to work with Lisa and Blake Goll, Nature Education Coordinator, on figuring out the dates and logistics. I received a lot of help from my peers in organizing the appropriate data sheets and from Sue Costello, GIS Coordinator, in making a map to pinpoint survey points for birds and plants. However, it was more than just birds and plants we intended to survey – mammals (including bats), reptiles, amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, insects, and fungi would also be sought out during the nearly 24-hour bioblitz. The bioblitz ran from 6:00PM on Friday, June 5, with a 5- hour break from 12:30am-5:30am, until 4:00PM on Saturday, June 6.

This bioblitz was completed with the assistance of 30 volunteers whom I recruited through Penn, my alma mater Juniata College, various online list serves, and just good old fashioned word-of-mouth (or rather sometimes, word-of-email). Volunteers were affiliated with following the institutions and organizations: University of Pennsylvania, Juniata College, Willistown Conservation Trust, University of Delaware, Millersville University, Villanova University, PA Amphibian Reptile Survey, Pennsylvania Master Naturalists, Delaware Department of Natural Resources, Warwick School District, and New Jersey Certified Volunteer Master Naturalist.  This truly was a remarkable group effort motivated by the enthusiasm, curiosity, and expertise of many people, I could not have done this alone.

The 2016 field season should be as productive, and likely busier, than in 2015. I have planned two bioblitzes at Rushton for June 3-4 and September 9-10, in order to compare results between June 2015 and June 2016 and to capture seasonal differences between early summer and early fall. In addition, there are plans to conduct a bioblitz at a conventional, large-scale farm using the same methodology in order to compare biodiversity with that observed at Rushton in late June 2016. I welcome additional help.  If you’re interested in volunteering or have any questions, please contact me at


Willistown Conservation Trust

University of Pennsylvania

Fantastic Friday: Interspecies Bonds

**Normally, this would have been published on Friday, however due to the blizzard that hit the east coast of the US, it’s getting published now. Thanks for staying tuned.**

Here’s something to warm your heart on the day of the imminent blizzard that will occur tonight on the east coast. I am guilty of going on to Buzzfeed too often and checking out their articles, mostly due to the fact that the majority are short formats and are a quick read. However, today is not about the newer and popular source of media that is Buzzfeed. Today is about relationships, and I’m not writing about the ones between humans that sometimes result in children. Bonds and relationships formed between two organisms of different species is something truly fantastic to behold. Normally these bonds are either friendship or a mother adopting the abandoned offspring of another species. What caught my attention today was a female rhesus macaque adopting a stray puppy in New Delhi, India. Since monkeys and other primates are cousins of humans, it’s striking to see another primate bonding and caring for the most popular of human companions, a dog.

A rhesus macaque holding her adopted puppy in a New Delhi street. Credit: Dinamalar, Facebook.
A rhesus macaque holding her adopted puppy in a New Delhi street. Credit: Dinamalar, Facebook.

Since the internet began, pictures of cute animals have been around. But, today’s newest cute animal picture got me thinking how widely is this animal adoption phenomena studied by scientists, and is this a normal phenomena? Are the animals that adopt the young of an offspring inferior to other members of their species, therefore not given as many chances to mate and reproduce, and this adoption fills a need/void that the individual may have? Or, are these pictures and articles just the result of people having too much time on their hands, and the result of humans bringing species together that normally wouldn’t have interacted? Lots of questions, and below are some answers, or at least some cases to look at.

Articles on Animal Adoption:

Cross-genus adoption of a marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) by wild capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidinosus): case report

Adoption in Anthropoid Primates

A Case of Animal Adoption (Cow & Mule)

12 Cases of Interspecies Relationships

Penguin Awareness Day

Apparently, January 20 is World Penguin Awareness Day. The East Coast of the US has plunged into penguin-preferred temperatures, so look at some articles on these adorable examples of birds. (Note: most penguins don’t actually live in frigid temperatures, but four penguin species (Adelie, Chinstrap, Emperor, and Gentoo) have given the rest of the penguin species that iconic image of a tuxedo bird in an icy environment.)

A Penguin Photobombs The US Coast Guard
A Penguin Photobombs The US Coast Guard

From Antarctica to Africa, Penguins Are Facing Extinction (CNN)

Scientists Dress Up A Rover To Infiltrate A Flock of Penguins

A Pair Of Male Penguins Become Fathers (Perhaps a subject for a later Fantastic Friday…)

Penguins on the NYSE? SeaWorld Becomes A Publicly Traded Company

Penguins Learning To Swim (Chester Zoo, UK)

22 Reasons Why Penguins Are The Best Damn Animal On Earth

Twitter Celebrates Penguin Awareness Day

Fun Facts About Penguins (USA Today)

A Dark 70-Years-Old Secret About Penguins


A Banner Month For Elephants?

Two breaking news items on the elephant conservation front over the last few days. First, Ringling announces the retirement of their elephants more than a year earlier than originally planned. Now, only 19 days into 2016, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced plans to “phase out” ivory sales in the city. In a city where 400 sellers are allowed to trade ivory material and products despite the ban of importing and exporting ivory in Hong Kong, this comes as a welcome reprieve for elephants everywhere. However, this is a city where this black market item seems to flourish in sales, it could be difficult to get trade to stop all together.

While banning ivory may not seem like a complicated issue, it has a long history of being in demand around the world and it has not been easy to get the trade to diminish. Ivory is used in souvenirs, art, instruments, clothing, and traditional medicine in some cultures. Ivory is the teeth of elephant and mammoths but the term has also been applied to other large mammals whose teeth are of commercial trade interest (US Fish & Wildlife). In 2015, the US Government hosted an Ivory Crush in New York’s Times Square to demonstrate to ivory traffickers world-wide that the trade of ivory will not be tolerated by the United States. More than 100,000 elephants in three years were killed for their ivory and these numbers are not sustainable for the continuation of the species. To put that into further prospective, roughly 1 in 12 African Elephants were killed for their ivory in 2011 (National Geographic). Elephants have a gestation period of almost 2 years, spend the first 3-5 years with their mother, and then between the ages of 8-13 years elephants sexually mature. Adulthood for elephants, like humans, starts around the age of 18 and they have a lifespan of up to 70 years in the wild. Elephants are typically found in herds dominated by females; and adult males tend to be loners and only find females during the mating seasons. According to the IUCN, current African Elephant populations are increasing but only at a rate of 4% per year.

All elephant populations face the same conservation issues, but the Asian Elephants are listed as endangered whereas the African Elephants are currently listed as vulnerable. Elephants need more time than say a mouse species (which can have 5-10 litters of 4-6 young per year in some cases) to bounce back from poaching and hunting. The efforts of governments world-wide to ban the illegal trade of ivory is admirable, but governments need to continue enforce their laws and regulations in order to help save these species from disappearing from Earth’s landscapes. So, is it a banner month for elephants? Perhaps, but more work needs to be done – just like with many other species and landscapes facing extinction.


Elephant Life Cycle

US Fish & Wildlife Ivory Ban Questions & Answers

History of the Ivory Trade (NatGeo)

Stop the Ivory Trade

Fantastic Friday: Mating Rituals

Kick off your weekend learning about the diverse mating rituals of different species across Earth – both past & present. Click on the source (i.e., National Geographic) for the full article. 

A new spider species in Australia uses paddles to attract mates

“In a bizarre ritual, an amorous male hides on the underside of a leaf and thrusts the paddle high enough for a female on the other side of the leaf to see it. The researchers know of no other jumping spider that conducts such a peekaboo courtship—nor of one that has built-in paddles on its legs, according to a study published January 7 in the journal Peckhamia.” – National Geographic 1/15/2016

spider paddle
J. remus waves his paddle hoping to attract a lady. Source: National Geographic & Photo Credit: Jurgen Otto

Where dinosaur head ornaments used for sexual selection?

“Another paper in 2012 notes that it may have been the case that, for many dinosaur species, both males and females had prominent features, and both sexes preferred mates with the most elaborate structures.” – IFLS 1/14/2016

Clash of the Titans & Other Animal Mating Rituals

“One of the most fearsome of such battles occurs every spring among bull elephant seals. The Sumo wrestlers of the animal world, male elephant seals are quivering masses of blubber weighing up to 6,600 pounds. When they go at each other, a pair of bulls rear up, roar loud enough to make the earth shake, and collide with a thunderous crash. The whites of their bulbous eyes showing, they gnash at each other’s fleshy necks with blunt teeth that leave grievous-looking wounds and nearby beach water stained crimson with blood. It’s a dangerous game, but the payoff is enormous.” – PBS 12/1/2001

Albatross Romance & Mating Ritual

As narrated by David Attenborough: YouTube 2/12/2007

Albatross species with nestling. Source: Alphacoders

What Do Dinosaurs Find Irresistable? Sexual Dimorphism in Dinosaurs

“Non-avian dinosaurs were weird. That’s one of the reasons we love them so much. There’s nothing quite like a slender-necked Barosaurus, a beautifully-crested Dilophosaurus or lavishly-ornamented Pentaceratops alive today. If such dinosaurs were anything, they were bizarre, but why were they so strange? Each case demands its own explanation, and paleontologists have continuously tussled over whether particular ornaments were weapons, sexual displays or something else.” – Smithsonian 9/7/2012