“Listed Animal Species” Take the Spotlight

North Carolina’s “listed animal species” took center stage in the Aleen Steinberg Center classroom on July 31st. Species that make this list are at risk of extinction. The slide show and lecture played to a full house as Alan Cameron, a volunteer with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission since 2005, introduced us to thirteen “listed animal species” including: one snake, one lizard, one turtle, one rodent, four bats, and five salamanders.

Alan, an intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency for 37 years, has spent thousands of hours in DuPont State Recreational Forest carefully exploring streambeds, peering in rock crevices, and looking under fallen trees to find animal species that most of us have never seen.

The crowd attending Alan’s talk learned that the yellow and black Timber Rattler’s eyes get clouded over by a lubricant before it sheds its skin. After bearing three or four live babies during a three-month gestation period, the female rattler chooses warm rocks and direct sunlight to raise her brood. Surprisingly, Copperheads and Rattlesnakes often raise their broods within the same den.

We learned that wild turkeys, hawks and foxes are natural enemies of Timber Rattlers. Man is also a predator, catching and using them for their skins and rattles . . . and, sometimes, for expressing faith in an Almighty by snake handlers in churches.

A small gray or brown lizard, the Coal Skink can be identified by four light stripes down its back, two on each side. Females lay clutches of several eggs in rotten logs or in the damp and humid soil near stream edges.

Seeds, berries, insects, worms and snails comprise the diet of the tiny, four-inch Bog Turtle whose yellow patches on each side of its head are an identifying feature. They are hard to find, spending most of their time buried in mud or under water. Fewer than 100 have been documented in North Carolina.

Wood Rats can be distinguished by their large black eyes, brownish fur and white feet. The female Wood Rat produces two to three litters a year, with two to three young per litter. Nuts, fruits, and seeds comprise their diet, and like other rodents, they must constantly gnaw on tough fibers to wear down their incisors.

Also known as “pack rats” or “trade rats,” these solitary rodents construct large nests of sticks, twigs, leaves, along with any found, shiny objects, such as bottle caps, coins, and pieces of aluminum foil tucked in here and there. Hunted raptors, fox and bobcats, Wood Rats are an important part of the food chain.

Alan taught us that bats aren’t blind; they can all see to one degree or another. They are good parents that reproduce slowly, and the only bats that drink blood live in Latin America. We also learned that some species eat as many as 6,000 mosquitoes a night, less than 1% of bats carry rabies and they won’t tangle in your hair if caught in the house. If confronting a bat indoors, just open a door or window and the bat will find its way out. DuPont’s listed bat species are the Indiana Bat, the Eastern Small-Footed Bat, Rafinesque’s Big Eared Bat, and the Little Brown Bat.

White Nosed Syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that was introduced from Europe in 2006, affects bats that hibernate in caves. The fungus makes bats’ noses itch, causing them to awaken from hibernation too early. As a result, they are unable to find enough insects to eat and they starve. WNS has been found in Transylvania, Henderson and Rutherford Counties. Unfortunately, a cure remains elusive.

Among the 66 salamander species found in North Carolina, the Hellbender, Mole, Green, Four-Toed and Mudpuppy Salamanders have been officially listed as either “Threatened’” or “Endangered’”. They are being monitored by Cameron, who is known in some circles as the “Salamander Whisperer.”

Salamanders are a diverse group of amphibians. They hide in streams, in and under rocks and rotting logs, in burrows, in the trees, and in the leaf litter catching earthworms, flies, spiders, grasshoppers, beetles and even other salamanders for food.

Green SalamanderCurrently Cameron is monitoring 25 Green Salamander egg nests in DuPont. The eggs, laid mostly in mid-June, hatch in late August/early September. The young emerge from the egg looking like miniature adults, and are guarded by the mother for several more days before she finally goes off to feed and then begin her winter hibernation. ”

Cameron introduced a number of non-threatened critters found in DuPont to those in attendance. This included information on the Golden Eagle Project, a program to estimate the distribution of these magnificent birds. Photos of a “staked deer” and the animals and birds it attracted captured the attention of the audience. For the uninitiated, a “staked deer” is road kill that is used by volunteers with the Wildlife Resources Commission for scientific studies. The deer is staked out in a clearing within a remote area. The size of the clearing used is critical- too large and the eagles will not descend. They like small clearings of maybe 100 feet on each side. When Golden Eagles do arrive they usually sit in a tall tree for a while checking out the situation below them before coming to earth.

In January and February of this year the Wildlife Resource Commission established nine sites in these western mountains. Golden Eagles were found in seven of them. A motion-triggered camera was placed near the bait to record activity. The eight deer that were staked out brought in bobcats, raccoons, coyotes, ravens, crows, turkey vultures, black vultures, and red tailed hawks.

Though Golden Eagles have recently been sighted in the vicinity of DuPont Forest, none showed up for the free lunch. Maybe next year.

– Article by Aleen Steinberg