This column is written by our resident junior environmentalist from the perspective of the endangered and threatened species in our watershed. Each month we hear from one of these animals, with information about their life cycle, threats to their survival, and tips to humans regarding how to protect their habitat in the future.
Me with my bat box installed on the roof of a building in downtown New Brunswick
The plight of the Indiana Bat has been on my radar since 2015, when I first researched this species as part of a blog series I wrote about endangered species in the Lower Raritan Watershed. At that time I became aware of several obstacles the bats face, including development of their natural habitats, overcrowding of colonies due to lack of habitat, increased exposure to predators (due to unsubstantial habitat cover) and White Nose Syndrome. This year, as I started my 8th grade service project, I knew I wanted to do something to help the bats. The thing was, I had no idea where to start.
Originally, building a bat box was not even on my mind. I thought I was either going to plant trees that the bats could roost in, or do an outreach campaign to raise awareness on the bat’s plight. It seemed however that it would be difficult to find the exact right place to plant trees, and it would take too long for them to grow. I also felt that general outreach would not make a specific measurable impact. As I continued my research I came across a Youth Service Action article that listed 10 different projects to do to help the environment. Building a bat box was on the list. I thought “Perfect! What’s better to help the bats than to build a safe habitat?”
I downloaded bat box building instructions from the National Wildlife Federation, raised money to fund the project, and reached out to different entities to gain permission to install my bat box on their property. I had three possible sites in mind, two on New Brunswick park land and one on private property – all sites known to have bat activity. The City of New Brunswick never returned my emails or phone calls, but the landlord of an apartment complex gave me permission to install the bat box on the roof of his building.
After securing permissions, I purchased supplies from Home Depot and constructed the bat box with help from my uncle. The building process of the bat box took just a few hours; I hand cut the wood, stained the wood with a non-toxic dark stain, assembled the bat box and painted the box. The whole process took less time than I thought, and I waited two weeks to install the box on April 17th. I decided to wait to install the bat box on April 17th because the 17th is National Bat Awareness Day.
I had an amazing time completing the project, and I am very glad I built the bat box, because it helps address a very serious local environmental issue. I hope my act of service inspires you to also perform service in your local community.
Hello! I am Lynx Rufus, but you can call me Blossom the Bobcat. I am New Jersey’s only native wildcat, and have been on New Jersey’s endangered species list since 1991. Sightings of me in the Lower Raritan Watershed and throughout the state are increasing, but are still rare.
You might think “Oh, bobcats must survive just fine. They are at the top of the food chain. They have no predators.” I am sorry to say, that’s just not true. Some of my predators are mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, owls, wolves and humans. I can’t say I blame them as I also prefer a carnivorous diet. My prey includes rabbits, rats, squirrels, ground-nesting birds, turkeys and even small or sick deer. But predator threats are not my biggest concern.
My species used to be abundant and flourishing in the coniferous and mixed forests of New Jersey until humans started deforesting our homes. Clearing land for retail, corporate and housing developments has a huge impact on my survival. And disruption of our habitat by pipelines has huge impacts on us and other endangered, threatened and special concern species. Other issues that affect me are hunting and being hit by cars. Getting hit by cars, development and pipeline installation are linked. Fragmentation of my habitat makes it hard for me to find shelter from the weather, cover for hunting and raising my babies, and forces me and my family to cross roads to find our dinner and safe spaces to hide. Please slow down through forested areas! When humans ruin my home, push me onto their roads, and drive too fast through the woods it really gets my angry purring going.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program’s Bobcat Recovery and The Nature Conservancy’s Bobcat Alley are both doing a great job restoring bobcats in New Jersey, but plans for pipelines and proposals to reduce protections under the state’s Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act and the federal Clean Water Act put our population recovery into question.
I must head to my den to check on my kittens, but I want to let you humans know how important it is to keep track of the numbers of my species. To report a bobcat or other endangered species sighting, please contact NJDEP. Thanks! And I say that with a final meow!
Hi! I’m Acipenser Brevirostrum, but you can call me Simon the Sturgeon. I am here to tell you about the many challenges I face as a two year old, juvenile short nosed sturgeon in the Raritan River. To start, I’d like to say how glad I am to be a sturgeon in 2017, even though my species has been federally endangered since 1973. Being a sturgeon living 120-150 years ago was even worse. Between the years 1870 and 1900, sturgeon were hunted for meat, but especially prized for their eggs for caviar.
We were nearly driven to extinction! Sturgeon are still feeling the effects 120 years later. Our population is only 12,000 in the waters New York and New Jersey, which truth be told is not a lot as female sturgeons lay 40,000 to 200,000 eggs per year. Caviar and hunting weren’t the only obstacle we have had to swim around to be able to survive. Another issue we face is river pollution. As bottom feeders we have a subterminal snout, we use our snout to vacuum our food from the substrate into our protractile mouth. This means that we pick up a lot of pollutants off of the substrate that isn’t food. We deserve to at least eat our meals of crustaceans, clams, mussels, snails, marine worms, flounder and plant matter, without having to guzzle down chemicals for dessert!
My species is considered a living fossil. We have been around for longer than 12,000 years and have retained a lot of primitive features that were common way back then, like our subterminal mouth and our barbels, a whisker like sensory organ. We have been in this area for longer than humans have, we have survived the caviar craze, and even industrial dumping that was common in Raritan for decades. That dumping residue along with the new stuff that has made its way to the Raritan (like expired medication, fertilizers and pesticides). These can turn into Endocrine System Disruptors (E.S.D) which damage our bodies and can either kill us or make us very sick. A lot of the pollutants also contain cadmium, arsenic are heavy metals that are extremely toxic.
Some ways you can help us live our natural life span of 35-70 years is by making sure to protect us from non-point source pollution. (That’s the pollution that is in stormwater runoff like pesticides, fertilizers, road salts and motor oil). You can make sure that streams have adequate buffers of plants and streams, and cleaning up our habitat will help. Also please let the NJDEP know if you see us. We are brown- gray fish with a yellow underbelly with a short rounded snout, heterocercal tail and a subterminal mouth, that is 18-22 inches long. Now I have to be going I see some yummy algae floating by. Though it isn’t fast food, but it sure moves pretty quick. Simon the sturgeon splashes out!
By Maya Fenyk (age 12), LRWP youth consultant and “Endangered & Threatened Species” series contributor
American Bittern, by Maya Fenyk (age 12)
Hi! I am Botaurus Lentiginosis but you can call me Anthony, the American Bittern. I live in thick marshy areas that are dense with vegetation, such as wetlands or freshwater marshes. Unfortunately humans have destroyed and drained most of my natural habitat. This act alone almost diminished my population to 0 throughout the first half of the 20th century. Sadly my species faces even more threats to our survival, such as hunting. Even now in the 21st century where we have a lot of environmentalists looking out for us, there still aren’t enough protective measures in place to take us off the Endangered Species list. We are a shy bird, hard to research, and the amount of American Bitterns in New Jersey is still unknown. Scientists aren’t even sure if our population is increasing or decreasing!
Not much can be done by the ordinary citizen to help bring back our population. I would ask, though, that you don’t hunt my species, and if you see me report the sighting to an environmental agency pronto. I also have a favor to ask of the big development companies. Stop developing on wetlands and other habitats of animals! The act of developing on our homes alone severely destroys our species and others alike. But it’s not just for my sake I am saying this, wetlands are a natural barrier between water and other habitats (of animals and humans). And wetlands decrease flooding risk, which could potentially save lives.
If you saw my species regularly, which I doubt since our feathers camouflage us into the reeds of our marshy habitat, you would say we are kind of cute. We are a stocky medium-sized wading bird that is striped white and brown on our heads, neck and upper part of our body for the rest we are light brown. But watch out, even though we are shy and prefer the flight response instead of fight if we are corned we will use our yellow spear-like bill! At each stage of our life cycle we are pretty cute too. We hatch at about 24 days and stay in the nest for 2 weeks but even after we fledge we remain dependent on our mom for food and shelter for another two weeks.
Humans, don’t worry. Even though I have a spear-like bill I won’t eat you. But still, don’t approach me. My species eats small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, and insects. And even though I am the Lower Raritan Watershed’s resident American Bittern, my species can be found from Canada to Mexico! Thank you for reading about me today – and please make a pledge that you won’t damage my habitat further, right? Now excuse me I hear a great horned owl – I must hide! Kok-Kok-Kok. (that’s the sound of my call).
by Maya Fenyk (age 11), LRWP youth consultant and “Endangered & Threatened Species” series contributor
Hello! I am Myosis Sodalis, but you can call me Clementine the Indiana Bat. I am an endangered species, which means that I am likely to become extinct. Because of my endangered status, my habitat is considered “critical.” This means that special efforts are supposed to be taken to protect the important characteristics of where I live. I live in caves and roosts throughout the central part of the United States and the East Coast, including parts of New Jersey and the Lower Raritan Watershed.
Clementine, the Indiana Bat (drawing by Maya Fenyk)
Some people are scared of me (and of bats in general), but they shouldn’t be. Bats do a lot of work for humans! We are great at pest control, pollination and spreading seeds. Farmers especially appreciate what we do. And if you think about how many pesky mosquitos we eat every night you will start to appreciate us, too! Even though we help out in so many ways there are a lot of issues that make it hard for me and my friends to survive and to do our important jobs. There are lots of threats to our survival – like development near caves and old mines (the places that we stay during hibernation), deforestation of our summer roosts, the use of pesticides, and White Nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is really scary – it is a fungus that grows on our bodies that leads to starvation and to our freezing to death. Did you know that there are things that YOU can do to help protect me and my habitat? There are things you can do that will make it so that my friends and I can survive and continue to do the pest removal and farming work that helps you humans out!
Before I tell you how you can help out, you should first know a few things about me, like where I live and what I look like. I’m a relatively small bat, only 3.5 inches long. But I have a ginormous wingspan of 10.5 inches! I have black eyes, big ears, a pink nose and very short toe hairs. I also have very strong ridged calcar (the cartilage between my wing joints). I really like to find secret and protected areas to stay with the rest of my maternity colony during the winter months. The maternity colonies – in abandoned mines or caves – are wonderful happy places. I have a lot of friends there. I’m a mommy bat, and the other mommy bats and I work together to keep our babies safe and fed. Unfortunately, over the years a lot of development near caves and old mines has made it really hard for me and my friends to meet together in the large mines or caves that allow us to share the protections of maternity colonies. This means that I often have to find isolated caves to live in, and when I go out to hunt food I have to leave my babies alone without my friends to help me watch over them. As a result my babies end up as easy prey for predators including snakes, owls and raccoons. Development has also affected our summer habitat.
When my kids become juveniles they need time outside of the cave to mature and to learn to hunt bugs and to live on their own. But deforestation and removal of our trees has led to fewer and fewer places for us to safely spend our summers. I do have one favorite summer home on the banks of the Raritan River in New Brunswick – I know that there are protections in place there that keep municipal maintenance crews out of my home during the crucial summer months. Thanks to attention to state laws no one comes in to bother me and my kids!
Indiana Bat Habitat in New Brunswick, NJ (image: Heather Fenyk)
Even though we might not have humans coming directly into our summer homes we still have to deal with poisoned food. That’s right – the White Nose Syndrome I told you about is most directly linked to eating bugs that are sick from pesticides that you humans put on your fields and lawns. WNS creates a fungus that makes my hair fall out, and that covers my nose and makes it hard to eat. And when my hair falls out I might freeze during the winter! Other ways that WNS is spread is by coming into contact with gear that humans carry from cave to cave when they explore our homes.
There are things that you can do to help protect me. These include protecting my habitat, including my winter and summer roosts. My summer roost is in the inside of a dead oak so it is very important that you don’t cut down dead trees unless they are diseased. Not only could that decomposing tree in your backyard be MY home, it is also important to the health of the soil to have the decomposing plant matter enrich the soil. And keep my summer roost clean! But only clean-up during winter months (November through March) so you don’t disturb me while I’m roosting. Please respect my winter roost, too. My pups are experiencing their first hibernacula in our winter roost – a cave. My pups are trying to conserve energy for when it becomes warmer and are very vulnerable if I have to go out to hunt for bugs to feed them. You should know not to come into my cave, and if you do at least clean your gear before you do because WNS can be spread from cave to cave on the gear of humans.
Please clean up my habitat! (Image: Heather Fenyk)
Other ways you can help save my species is to stop using pesticides in your garden, stop cutting down trees and leave the wild as it should be. It’s great to meet you – please look for me at twilight when I’m out hunting bugs. The Lower Raritan Watershed is an especially good place to find me during the summers – it is the middle ground for my long range from Michigan to North Carolina. And if you see me or any of my friends please contact the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership to let them know. They are working to document Indiana Bat sightings to help to protect our habitat. Now please excuse me. I must go prepare to move for it is the time of year where we are readying our juveniles to head to our summer roost. Clementine the Indiana Bat signing off!
by Maya Fenyk (age 11), LRWP youth consultant and “Endangered & Threatened Species” series contributor
Hello! I’m Maya, a green floater mussel (less commonly known as Lasmigona subviridis). I live in the Lower Raritan Watershed of New Jersey, but my relatives can be found as far south as the Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina, and as far north as the Lawrence River Basin in New York. I am two years old, no longer a baby glochida relying on a host fish for food and safety. Now that I’m a juvenile I bury under the sediment at the bottom of the Raritan River for protection. My favorite foods are plankton and little bits of plant matter that drift through my filter.
Green Floater Mussel Life Cycle (Image: Texas Parks & Wildlife)
I bet you are wondering what I look like. Well, I have a trapezoid bivalve and my outer shell is yellow and brown with many green streaks. My nacre (the inside, or lining of my shell) is white or blue and iridescent. I am also very small, just a little more than an inch now, but when I’m a grown up I’ll be almost 5 inches! It will take me another four years to get that big, and I can’t wait! Then I will be able to float around the Raritan River looking for food. Some of my relatives have lived until they were 100. If I’m lucky to live that long, I’ll be able to explore a lot of the River in my lifetime!
Green Floater Mussel (Image: New Jersey Conservation Foundation)
Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons why I might not live to be 3 years old let alone 100. I might be eaten by predators like raccoons, muskrats, bears, otters, heron, waterfowl, turtles or sturgeon. Or my species might go extinct for human-caused reasons. You careless humans are using my home as a trash can, dumping waste right into my river! You have also built a lot of dams, which had led to the removal of some of the host fish our baby glochida rely on to survive until we are juveniles.
Another huge issue is the introduction of foreign species like the Asian clam to our neighborhood. These non-native species compete with us for the same limited food supply and sometimes we don’t get enough to eat. Another problem I’m facing now as a juvenile is the erosion of the sediment on the bottom of the river. This sediment is supposed to be a cozy blanket of protection for me and friends, keeping us hidden from predators as we grow into adults. But erosion makes the silt move, threatening to reveal my hiding place. This erosion happens from things like building and farming, and the use of road salt on the roads in the winter. My corner of the Raritan River also has a history of people dumping not just sewage but toxic industrial waste. Yuck!
Unfortunately, a lot of the river habitat in the United States has been used as a trash can for centuries. Although the 1972 Clean Water Act has made a huge difference in reducing point source pollution, the erosion of sediment in my habitat contimues primarily because of non-point source (NPS) pollution. EVERYONE can do things to help stop NPS, and I would REALLY appreciate your help keeping me safe.
Some of the things you can do to help me survive include:
-Keep debris (litter, pet waste, leaves) out of street gutters and storm drains
-NEVER dispose of used oil, antifreeze, paints or other household chemicals in storm drains or down the sink
-Eat less meat! Animal manure, and the impacts of agriculture (water, fertilizer and pesticide use) associated with animal feed, really does a number on aquatic ecosystems
-Landscape with native plants and plants that have low requirements for water, fertilizers and pesticide
-Leave lawn clippings on your lawn
-Stabilize erosion-prone areas
-Use less water when showering, washing dishes or clothes, or brushing your teeth
-Drive less! Automobiles release a lot of pollution, which increases acid rain that ends up in my River
-Clean up after your pets!
Nice talking to you, but I have to hide quick! I just spotted a hungry sturgeon heading my way!
If you want to know more about me and how to protect my habitat check out this video by Maya and Heather with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership:
Click here to read more from the “Voices in the Watershed blog” series.