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Going Batty – The Little Brown Bat

The little brown bat, or Myotis lucifugus is the most common bat in Alberta. Aptly named for its size and colour, the little brown bat weighs approximately 8.5 grams and is light brown to reddish or dark brown in colour. Their ears and wings are dark brown to black, and their wings generally lack fur. Their wingspan is between 25 and 27 centimeters, with females being moderately larger than males.

The little brown bat is a true flying mammal that relies on echolocation to obtain information about its location as well as to find its food. The bats’ echolocation calls have a very high frequency and cannot be heard by people. When not searching for food, little brown bats make echolocation calls at about 20 calls per second, but when hunting, they can give out as many as ten times more calls per second. Little brown bats eat a large variety of small, flying insects. They normally eat mosquitoes, mayflies, moths, flies, beetles and midges but will feed on whatever type of insect is available. The bats normally go out on two feeding expeditions a night, once at sunset and then again before sunrise. In between feedings the bats rest and digest their food before heading out again. Suckling females can consume up to their weight in insects each night. In general most little brown bats ingest about 1000 insects per night, which is approximately half their body weight!

Little brown bats hibernate in the winter. They prefer cool, dark, humid places where the air does not move. Bats come out of hibernation in the spring when the temperature goes up and insects are emerging. This could be as early as April or as late as May. The bats’ summer roost commonly includes attics, rafters, under siding and barn hay lofts but they also use places like hollow tree trunks and bat houses.

Unfortunately, little brown bats are at real risk of contracting White Nose Syndrome disease, a destructive disease that grows in caves where bats hibernate. White Nose Syndrome is a fungus that was likely brought to Canada by cave explorers or spelunkers who may have carried dirt from European caves on their gear. This disease causes a fluffy white fungus to grow on the bat’s nose, wings and other bare skin during hibernation. The growth on the nose causes the bats to wake from hibernation due to dehydration as well as possibly to groom the fungus off.  This repeated waking drains the bat’s fat reserves, causing them to starve during hibernation.

At present the fungus is in Eastern North America but may work its way to the west. Researchers believe that European bats have developed an immunity to the disease but as little brown bats have not been exposed to the virus they have not developed an immunity to it.

Although some people are afraid of bats and think they are spooky and scary, little brown bats are very beneficial to humans. They help people to enjoy the outdoors more by devouring large quantities of pest insects. This may even further help humans by limiting the spread of diseases and reducing the need for pesticides. Little brown bats have their place in nature, just as any other creature does!

By Linda J. Schlegel

Sources:

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/mammals/bats/little-brown-bat.aspx

http://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/going-to-bat-for-bats-a-new-community-program-aims-to-turn-homeowners-into-citizen-scientists

https://albertaep.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/albertas-happy-hibernators-bats/

http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/little-brown-bat.html

 

Alberta Wildlife Recoveries: Ord’s Kangaroo Rat

What are Ord’s kangaroo rats?

Ord’s kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordii) is a subspecies of kangaroo rat native to western North America, including parts of southern Alberta and central Mexico (Patton 2005).

Kangaroo rats have elongated tails with bushy tips, and belong to the family Heteromyidae (kangaroo rats and mice). They derive their name from the elongated hind legs and powerful feet that produce their jumping movement, not dissimilar to the kangaroos they are named for.

Ord’s kangaroo rats can be identified by their orange-brown colouration, five-toed feet and reduced forelimbs (Recovery Plan 2013-2018). They have been listed as “threatened” under the Alberta Endangered Species Act, and it is illegal to harm or disturb the species or its habitat.

Where are Ord’s kangaroo rat found?

Ord’s kangaroo rat, like other species of kangaroo rat, are highly adapted for survival in arid, sparse, or shrubland habitats. Spending most of the daytime inside their burrows, they emerge at night to look for food and/or mates (AEP). In Southern Alberta, Ord’s kangaroo rat is distributed mainly in the area between the Red Deer and the South Saskatchewan Rivers (Recovery Plan 2013-2018).

According to the Alberta Ord’s Kangaroo Rat Recovery Plan (2013-2018), it is not currently clear as to whether the kangaroo rat population of southern Alberta have contact with that of the southern Saskatchewan population, just that they are separated from the Montana population by several hundred kilometers (COSEWIC 2006).

Population modelling of the kangaroo rats of southern Alberta has proved difficult, due in part to the fluctuating nature of the population (Recovery Plan). It has been theorised that increased human activity and the past few years of extended severe winters and spring flooding events has had a large impact on their survival.

What is being done to protect Ord’s kangaroo rat and why?

The Alberta Ord’s Kangaroo Rat Recovery Plan for 2013-2018 was created with the goals of “ensuring a natural, self-sustaining population resistant to the risk of extinction in the province”. To achieve this, the recovery plan focuses on “reducing the negative effects of human land uses on population size and fluctuations; conserving and enhancing the quality of open-sand habitats; and educational outreach to highlight the importance of the species”.

As the only species of Dipodomys in Alberta, Ord’s kangaroo rats are an essential part of the sand dune ecosystem, by “exerting substantial effects on the plant communities, soils, and predators” of the region (COSEWIC). They are also a focal point of conservation of the prairie sand dunes, rare and declining habitats that other endangered species and biodiversity depend on (COSEWIC; Finnamore & Buckle 1999).

What more needs to be done, and how can we help?

As is always the case with threatened or endangered species, improving knowledge in the wider public is vital to the success of species at risk recovery plans. This can be achieved via public education and outreach programs, as well as contacting and keeping engaged with landowners about land conservation and stewardship programs.

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer

References

Patton, J.L. (2005). “Family Heteromyidae”. In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 847.

http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=CCF2EBBC-1&offset=11&toc=show

Finnamore, A.F., and D. Buckle. 1999. Arthropod component report: the stinging wasps (Hymenoptera: Chrysidoidea, Vespoidea, Apoidea) and spiders (Araneae), Canadian Forces Base Suffield National Wildlife Area Wildlife Inventory. Report for Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Region, Edmonton, Alberta. 199 pp.

http://naturecanada.ca/what-we-do/naturevoice/endangered-species/know-our-species/kangaroo-rat/

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/species-at-risk/species-at-risk-publications-web-resources/mammals/documents/SAR-AlbertaOrdsKangarooRatRecoveryPlan-2013-2018.pdf

Photo Credit: By NPS (http://www.nps.gov/glca/naturescience/mammals.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Tale of Two Beavers

In June of 2016, a baby beaver was found on a Calgary-area golf course, alone and with an injured tail. The baby beaver, who was estimated to be between four and six weeks old, was taken to AIWC for care.

 

Beavers remain close to their young for several years, so it was unusual to find such a young beaver all on its own. It was suspected that this youngster may have been carried off and abandoned by a predator.

 

At AIWC’s facility, the baby beaver’s injuries were addressed, and she was taken out to the pool several times a day so she could drink and bathe. You may remember this video, which made the news worldwide and had over 15 million views!

 

Then in June of 2017, AIWC admitted a two-year-old male beaver who was found in a storm drain, suffering from deep bite wounds on his lower back. After some care, the male beaver was moved to an outdoor enclosure, next to the female beaver patient. One evening, staff witnessed both beavers walking along the fence line together. Despite the fact that beavers in captivity typically do not bond well, a friendship was forming!

 Slowly, the beavers were introduced to one another, and they got along swimmingly! Bonding the two beavers together means they will be stronger together once they return to the wild. The pair spent their remaining days at AIWC enjoying each other’s company.

 

On May 18, 2018, both beavers were released back into the wild. They will make their home in the Sandy Cross Conservation Area in an area far from hiking trails, that requires special permission to access. It is hoped this pair will continue to thrive and will live a long, happy life together in their new home.

 

If you are interested in helping AIWC create more happy endings like this one, please visit https://aiwc.shop/products/donate-to-aiwc.

Baby Fever!

Spring has sprung, and this means one of AIWC’s busiest seasons has arrived! Through spring and summer, AIWC will admit hundreds of new patients, many of them babies.

Many babies that will be admitted will be orphaned or injured, but some are taken by well-intentioned members of the public when the babies are not actually in danger. Remember that mother hares often leave their babies alone for hours during the day to avoid attracting predators with her scent or movement! If you spot a baby that you believe may be in need of assistance, please call AIWC for advice before intervening.

Since it’s baby fever season, it’s a perfect time to review the proper names for animal babies so you can wow your friends with your animal knowledge!

  • Did you know that while we typically call a baby rabbit a bunny, the technical term is actually a kitten? Skunk, bobcat and cougar babies are also called kittens.
  • Most of us know a baby bear is called a cub. A baby fox is also called a cub, or a kit, and a wolf baby can be called a cub, pup, or whelp!
  • A baby buffalo and baby elk are called a calf.
  • A baby duck is a duckling, a baby goose is a gosling, a baby hawk is a chick or eyas, and a baby pigeon is a squab or (more adorably) a squeaker!

It costs AIWC anywhere from $100 to well over $1,000 to rehabilitate a single animal, and each year, the demand for AIWC’s services increases. Here’s some examples of costs during AIWC’s peak seasons:

  • Food for 1 fox kit for 1 day: $5.25
  • 1 bottle of antibiotics for injured wildlife (lasts 7-14 days depending on quantity needed): $19.35
  • Specialized feeding nipples for mammals: $200.00
  • 30,000 mealworms (this will last for 7-8 days in our peak spring and summer seasons): $565.00
  • Fresh produce for patients in care (will last 4-5 days): $343.00
  • Milk replacer for baby mammals: $1,800.00

If you are interested in helping support AIWC in their quest to care for orphaned and injured wildlife, here are some ways you can help!

Our Smelly Neighbour – The Striped Skunk

Of the four skunk species that live in North America, the striped skunk Mephitis mephitis is the most common and is the only one of the four that lives in Alberta.   Striped skunks can be found across the province but they are most commonly found in settled central and southern areas. They inhabit farmlands, grasslands and forests, and can also be found in towns and cities.

The striped skunk is about the size of a house cat, with adults weighing between 2 and 4 kilograms and measuring about 74 cm in length. They have a distinctive look, with their thick glossy black coat and white markings that start as a narrow stripe down the centre of the face extending into a wider stripe at the back of the head, separating at the shoulders and continuing as a white stripe along each side of the back to the base of their tail. Their tail is mostly black but stripes may extend down it.

The striped skunk is a member of the weasel family Mustelidae, who all have well developed scent glands; however, the striped skunk has taken this to the next level! In fact, the scientific name mephitis is Latin for ‘bad odour’. The striped skunk’s scent glands hold approximately 15 cc’s of an oily yellowish liquid which is a sulphur compound n-butyl mercaptan. The skunk can spray this fluid 4 – 5 metres and up to 6 times in a row.  The odour is strong enough to carry almost 1 km on the wind.

Skunks are not aggressive, but they may spray if they feel threatened. A skunk may show its intentions by growling, hissing, stamping its front feet and raising its tail. To avoid getting “skunked”, back away slowly and quietly, and avoid making any sudden movements.

Striped skunks are omnivores. Their diet consists of insects, including grasshoppers and crickets. They also eat insect larvae such as white grubs and army and cut worms which they dig for with their sharp front claws. Skunks also eat mice, shrews, ground squirrels, young rabbits, birds’ eggs and various plants. In the fall and winter, a skunk’s diet consists mainly of almost equal amounts of plant and animal food.  Approximately 70% of the skunk’s diet is beneficial to humans, with only 5% being harmful to human property. Skunks have been known to visit bee hives and hen houses.

The striped skunk does not hibernate, but is not active during the coldest of winter months. Although it is not normally a social creature, it will share its den with other skunks in order to keep warm. The striped skunk gathers leaves for its den by stuffing them beneath its body and shuffling along with the leaves between its legs.

As spring is definitely in the air, no doubt the striped skunk will be making its appearance across the province!

By Linda Schlegel, AIWC Volunteer

Sources and further reading

aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/human-wildlife-conflict/skunks.aspx

https://www1.agricgov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex4663

www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/striped-skunk-html

Alberta’s Pollinators

What is pollination?

Pollination is how plants and flowers reproduce and obtain the ability to grow seeds, which involves the transfer of pollen (a grain-like substance that contains the “male” gametes) from one flower to another, usually facilitated by other sources, whether abiotic (wind, rain) or biotic (animal dispersal). Some plants are even able to self-pollinate, or even hybridise with another species to create new subspecies of offspring.

Pollination is essential for the reproduction and spread of plant species, and the animals that help facilitate the exchange of pollen are perhaps even more so.

Since it is finally spring, today we will be taking a closer look at the process of pollination, and how Alberta’s animal species help to distribute and benefit from these plant species.

Alberta’s pollinators

The honeybee (Apis mellifera) is probably the first animal that springs to mind when you think of pollination. But there are several bees found in Alberta, such as the bumblebee and leafcutter bee, that are responsible for spreading pollen from almost every single flowering plant (which they pick up while foraging for nectar).

However, bees are an endangered species, on the decline in many areas of the world, including Alberta, where winter records have shown a 40% decrease in colony populations in some areas (Edmonton Journal).

It isn’t just insects that help our native flowering plants, we also have a large variety of birds, such as the rufous hummingbird (Selaphorus rufus), which can be seen appearing in parts of the province around May if you are lucky enough to see one. Hummingbirds use their extremely long beaks to get at the nectar of flowers, and so are covered in pollen when they arrive at the next flower and pollination occurs.

Speaking of “hummingbirds”, Alberta is also home to one of the few moth species that do act as pollinators, the aptly named hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thetis). This moth flies and feeds on flower nectar in the day time, and even mimics a hummingbird’s flight and hovering behaviours.

How does pollination help us?

Around 90% of flowering plants require some form of animal-mediated pollination to reproduce (Ollerton et al), and so the spread of pollen by animal species is essential for flowering plants, the majority of which constitute our crops and foods (fruits, vegetables and nuts). It is also important to remember that it’s not only humans that use these plant products, and that they fuel the herbivores of every ecosystem which in turn provide for the carnivores. Without pollinating plants, it is very possible for an ecosystem to destabilise.

What can we do?

Many people plant native Albertan species in gardens to encourage their spread by pollinators; beekeeping is also another way to help the declining bee populations as they are kept safe and secure and free to pollinate.

Using a good variety of different flowering species with different colours and shapes will attract a wider variety of species, as well as reducing the amount of chemical pesticide you use on your garden. Providing clean water and helping support land stewardship and conservation are great ways to ensure that our amazing pollinator species and the plants that rely on them will be around for years to come (NRCS).

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer

Sources

https://naturecanada.ca/news/blog/the-hummingbird-moth-one-of-canadas-coolest-creatures/

http://edmontonjournal.com/news/insight/diagnosing-bee-pathogens-northern-alberta-centre-provides-critical-services

https://globalnews.ca/news/3466162/planting-bee-friendly-gardens-can-help-bee-populations-in-southern-alberta/

http://www.greencalgary.org/blog/7-great-canadian-pollinators/

Ollerton J, Winfree R, Tarrant S: How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals? Oikos2011, 120(3):321-326.

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/pollinate/gardeners/

Waterfowl and bread: a good idea?

Now that the weather is warming up and the ice is thawing, and waterfowl start to return to Alberta, you may see people by the river, feeding bread to the ducks and geese. It may look fun, and you might be tempted to join in, but did you know that feeding animals can sometimes do more harm than good – especially if they are being fed bread?

Feeding bread to waterfowl has been linked a condition known as “angel wing syndrome”, which causes the end joints of the birds’ wings to develop abnormally. Bread is high in carbohydrates and lacks several minerals that are vital to proper waterfowl bone development. This syndrome completely prevents affected birds from flying at all, leading to an early death for many of these animals.

AIWC recommends that people do not feed any species of wildlife, as feeding can habituate animals to humans and increase the likelihood of them being injured by human-related activities.

Think you’ve spotted an injured or orphaned animal? Call our clinic at 403-946-2361! If you have any questions about local wildlife, you can also e-mail us at info@aiwc.ca

Hop to it: fun rabbit facts that will put a spring in your step

Thoughts of springtime are usually accompanied by images of cotton-tailed bunnies munching on verdant buds and freshly grown grass. But there’s more to these hopping carrot lovers than meets the eye. For instance, did you know that hares and rabbits are distinctly different animals?

To brush up on your knowledge about these symbols of springtime, here are a few fun facts about the rabbits and hares you might spy in Alberta this spring:

  • The difference between rabbits and hares can be easily observed in their respective sizes. Hares typically have larger ears and hind feet, while rabbits are smaller in scale. Additionally, rabbits are more social animals, while hares are less social and more skittish.
  • Similarly, another difference between hares and wild rabbits is that the coats of the latter remain one colour (usually grey or brown) all year round, while the former changes from brown in the summer to white in the winter in an effort to blend in with their surroundings.
  • Baby rabbits are called ‘kittens’ or ‘kits’, while infant hares are known as ‘leverets’.
  • With the way that rabbits’ and hares’ eyes are positioned on their heads, they are afforded a complete 360 degree field of vision. This lack of visual blind spots comes at a price, though, as their depth perception is shoddy.
  • Looking to spot some hopping four-legged friends in Alberta this spring? Keep an eye out for the following critters, all of which are native to the province:
    • Mountain cottontail rabbits are AB’s resident rabbit, and an adult rabbit typically grows to weigh just over 2.5 lbs. They can be easily identified by their shorter ears and hind feet, as well as their grey-brown colouring that gives way to a white coat on their bellies.
    • Just like the name suggests, the snowshoe hare’s hind feet allow the animal to seemingly float above deep snow, instead of letting it sink into the cold snow. This allows for quicker transportation and a higher level of agility when dodging predators.
    • Though the name may be misleading, the white-tailed jackrabbit isn’t actually a rabbit by definition. This hare typically grows to weigh about 7.5 lbs., and can generally be found in southern Alberta’s grassland, parkland, and foothill regions.

By Giselle Wedemire, AIWC Volunteer

Sources: AEP Alberta, ThoughtCo., National Geographic

The Cormorants are Coming!

Every year in late April to early May, seabirds known as double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritis) make their homes on and near Alberta lakes and rivers to breed and raise their young. So named because of the long, fine feathers that appear behind each eye in spring, they are one of approximately forty sub-species in the world.

The name cormorant is a contraction of two Latin words; corvus and marinus which when put together mean “sea raven”. With their penchant for fishing and their black colour it is easy to see why.

The double-crested cormorant is a large black bird with a long sinuous neck and a yellow-orange throat patch. They weigh between 1.2 and 2.5 kilos and are exceptional divers, some able to dive to depths of 45 meters using their powerful webbed feet and using their wings as rudders. Cormorants eat a wide variety of fish along with some crustaceans, amphibians and insects. Their long beak, with the tip of the bill shaped like a hook, is an excellent aid in catching prey.

A cormorant’s time is spent almost equally between fishing and resting. Some people believe that their oil glands are insufficient for waterproofing, and although these oil glands may help them be a better diver, it also means they must spend a large portion of time drying their wings. Observers will often find cormorants on top of tall trees of telephone poles with their wings outstretched to catch the drying rays of the sun.

Cormorants are colonial nesters whose guano has been known to kill the very trees they perch upon. At the very least, it will stain and discolour any rocks below. Cormorants are also known to create pellets of undigested bones and fish scales which they expel much the same as some species of owls.

If spring ever comes, we can expect to see double-crested cormorants soon after!

By Linda J. Schlegel, AIWC Volunteer

Resources and further reading:

https://oceanwildthings.com/2012/10/05-cool-cormorant-facts/

https://allaboutbirds.org/guide/Double-crested-Cormorant/lifehistory/

https://oceanwide-expeditions.com/to-do/wildlife/cormorant-1

Invasive Species in Alberta

Last month we blogged about why biodiversity is so important for ecosystems and how different ecological functions are performed. But what if there are species in the ecosystem that did not originate there, and are threatening to the health of that ecosystem? These are known as invasive species and we are going to take a closer look at exactly what they are, and how they affect Alberta’s ecosystems.

What are invasive species?

An invasive species is a species that is not native to the area in which they are found, and has been introduced (whether accidentally or intentionally) from elsewhere. An invasive species can be threating to, or have severe impacts on native species they share an ecosystem with (AEP).

A species being labeled as “invasive” typically means that because it did not originate in the ecosystem it is “invading”, it has no natural predators and will likely be able to out-compete native species for food and other resources, which can have a dramatic effect on the biodiversity and function.

Which invasive species affect Alberta?

The biggest, and most likely well-known invasive species is the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), which was introduced into North America in the 1700s and followed the spread of colonisation across the continent, with the earliest recorded in Alberta in the 1950s. Brown rats can have severe impacts on the environment, not just for the other animal species but us as well. Destruction and contamination of food and livestock, weakening of man-made structures through tunneling, and of course the various dangerous diseases that they carry.

Thankfully, Alberta is known as one of the world’s biggest “rat-free” populations, because there is no breeding population here and we have extensive rat-control programs that prevent many of them from entering the province (Conservation Alberta 2016; Alberta Agriculture and Forestry 2017).

Another example that may not seem quite as obvious is the common goldfish (Cassius auratus), a very common pet species, native to eastern Asia. The main threat goldfish (and other pet fish) pose to the natural ecosystem is likely competition for food and resources, but they may also carry diseases and parasites that the native species have never developed resistances to.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of goldfish found in the “wild” were dumped there when they became to difficult or inconvenient to keep as pets, likely into freshwater ponds, which do usually connect into flowing water and thus the wider water basin, and these goldfish can spread very quickly if left unchecked (Conservation Alberta 2016).

Invasive species are not necessarily only animals. There are also highly threatening plant species that can take over an ecosystem. In Alberta, one of the more highly known is the flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus), which infests freshwater habitats like lakes or streams, growing in thick, choking “mat-like” patches. This reduces the water quality, displaces native species, and disrupts the flow of water across the basin. Careful removal of flowering rush is essential, as even small pieces lost can infest a new area if left unnoticed (AEP).

What can we do to avoid spreading or introducing invasive species?

The majority of invasive species control is directed by the Alberta and smaller local governments, who are also responsible for creating and developing education about which invasive species affect Alberta and what can be done to prevent/control them.

Collaborative work between the government, volunteer groups and landowners aiming to improve public awareness and improve co-ordination and communication is key in decreasing the risk of invasive species (AEP).

On an individual level, being aware of which species may be threatening, and taking care not to introduce (whether accidentally or on purpose) foreign species into the wilds are the best steps we can take to helping preserve our native ecosystems.

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer

References

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/invasive-species/default.aspx

http://www.ab-conservation.com/publications/conservation-magazine/spring-summer-2016/

http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex3441

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/invasive-species/aquatic-invasive-species/documents/AIS-QuickfactsFloweringRush-Oct-2017.pdf

 

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