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National Parks: Test Your Knowledge

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collageII.JPGWhat's the oldest national park? The most visited? Where can you find active volcanoes, crocodiles, America's driest desert or the world's biggest trees? Find out, in this puzzle!

To solve the puzzle, fill in the boxes with the answers to the clues below. When you're done, check the green column to discover the most visited national park in the country!

National Parks.jpg1. This swamp in southern Florida is home to flamingoes, alligators and the only population of wild crocodiles in the USA.
2. Situated on Montana's US-Canada border, this park is named for the icy deposits on its mountains.
3. You can find the biggest trees in the world in this California park.
4. This park features Utah's most iconic rock formation.
5. Devil's ____ is a rock outcropping in southeast Wyoming; Native Americans believed the spot was holy.
6. You can climb mountains of sand in this Colorado National Monument.
7. Most visitors snorkel or scuba-dive around the coral reef in this Florida park.
8. This very big Kentucky cave shares its name with an extinct relative of the elephant.
9. This northern California park preserves the tallest trees in the world.
10. This gorge-ous canyon, near Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, is truly fit for a -- royal?
11. The first national park in the USA, geysers, bison and hot springs dominate the landscape.
12. This deep Arizona gorge, carved by the Colorado River, is the second-most visited park in the country.
13. This park in southwest Colorado contains the ancient stone dwellings of the Anasazi Native Americans.
14. This Colorado park shares its name with the ____ Mountains it's situated in.
15. This Nebraska landmark (Scott's ____) greeted settlers on the Oregon Trail.
16. An active volcano in Oregon, Mt. St. _____ last blew its top in 2008.
17. This California park encompasses the hottest, driest desert in the US.
18. This preserve sits on Maine's northern coast; it shares its name with a former French-Canadian colony.
19. Naturalist John Muir and his friend President Teddy Roosevelt saved this park, home to Half Dome and El Capitan.
20. Hawaii _______ still spew lava, so watch out if you visit this park!
21. Paleontologists search for the fossils of these extinct reptiles in this Colorado national monument.

When you're done, you can check your answers below (no cheating!)...

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Happy Birthday, LBJ!

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Lyndon and Lady Bird.jpgTo sustain an environment suitable for man, we must fight on a thousand battlegrounds. Despite all of our wealth and knowledge, we cannot create a redwood forest, a wild river, or a gleaming seashore. But we can keep those we have.                                                                                                               -- Lyndon Baines Johnson


Lyndon.jpgLauded for his contributions to civil rights and maligned for his role in the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson is seldom hailed as a great environmentalist. His sweeping domestic program, the Great Society, is usually thought of as an economic agenda. Of course, he was deeply committed to putting "an end to poverty and racial injustice," as he explained in May 1964 to the graduating class of the University of Michigan. "But," he continued, "that is just the beginning." Listing his goals, he declared that it was vitally important to ensure that everyone had access to "a place where man can renew contact with nature."

LBJ also understood that many people, especially the poor, were isolated from natural beauty. Places like Yellowstone and Yosemite were great, but they were also very remote. Lyndon's job was fusing the traditional conservation movement with the changing realities of America's increasingly urban society. "We must not only protect the countryside and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities," he explained. Urging local governments to beautify towns and create city parks and greenways, Lyndon pledged to create new parks and recreation areas within driving distance of major cities.

In February 1965, he spoke to Congress about conservation: "Association with beauty can enlarge man's imagination and revive his spirit. Ugliness can demean the people who live among it. What a citizen sees every day is his America. If it is attractive it adds to the quality of his life. If it is ugly it can degrade his existence."

Lyndon Johnson passed more National Park Service-related legislation than any other president, creating a staggering 52 parks, recreation areas, national historic sites, wildernesses, monuments, seashores, lakeshores and memorials! He even set aside working farms and created a national park dedicated to the performing arts (Wolf Trap National Park, in Virginia). Moreover, he created the National Parks Foundation, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Trails System. Among the diverse group of historic sites and national landmarks set aside during the Johnson Administration are:

Lady Bird wildflower.jpg•    Biscayne National Park, Florida
•    North Cascades National Park and San Juan Island National Historic Park, Washington
•    Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site and Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
•    Arches National Monument and Canyonlands National Park, Utah
•    Redwoods National Park and John Muir National Historic Site, California
•    Eisenhower National Historic Site, Pennsylvania
•    Agate Fossil Beds National Park, Nebraska
•    Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland-Virginia
•    Herbert Hoover National Park, Iowa
•    Roger Williams National Historic Park, Rhode Island
•    Roosevelt Campobello International Park, Maine-Canada
•    Ellis Island National Monument and Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, New York
•    Padre Island National Seashore and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
•    John F. Kennedy National Historic Site, Massachusetts

(Fittingly, LBJ's ranch is now a national park in its own right.)

At the urging of his wife, Lady Bird, he championed the Highway Beautification Act. This law tore down billboards and removed "beauty-destroying junkyards and auto graveyards," planting flowers and trees in their place. As Lyndon said, "The roads themselves must reflect, in location and design, increased respect for the natural and social integrity and unity of the landscape and communities through which they pass."

With the help of the Democratic Congress, he passed dozens of bills designed to limit pollution, preserve rare habitats and protect endangered species, like the Air and Water Quality Acts, the Pesticides Control Act, the Wetlands Preservation Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

And now... Test your environmental knowledge with this word search! When you're done, copy the unused letters into the blanks to discover a little-known fact about LBJ...

Lyndon wordsearch.jpg

Here are the answers (no peeking!)


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LBJ house.jpg

Lewis Gompertz: Animal's Friend

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I admit it as an axiom, that every animal has more right to the use of its own body than
others have to use it.
                                                   
Lewis Gompertz, 1822

It was June 16th, 1824. Dusk was falling on the London streets as Lewis Gompertz pushed open the door of Old Slaughter's Coffee House. The shop was already crowded with reformers of all stripes: Arthur Broome, the incompetent clergyman who had organized the meeting; Richard Martin, the dashing Irish M.P. whom the Prince of Wales nicknamed "Humanity Dick;" and William Wilberforce, the benevolent abolitionist who spent most of his time juggling the forty charities dependent on him.

Forty-year-old Lewis Gompertz was a retired diamond merchant with a mission. The youngest child born into a Jewish family, he had been unable to go to college, enter politics, or even take a large part in society. Animal rights had always been his primary interest; now, he had plenty of time to dedicate to the cause.

Two years before, Richard Martin's bill forbidding cruelty to domestic animals had passed in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, the law was often disobeyed. Soon after the act's passage, Arthur Broome had tried to form a society to enforce the statute. This failed miserably, as did a Liverpool-based "Society for the Suppression and Prevention of Wanton Cruelty to Animals."

Tonight, however, these philanthropists who gathered around the table had the prominence -- and the money -- needed to make their venture a success. Soon, the activists had worked out a charter appointing committees to distribute tracts and influence public opinion and for "Inspecting the Markets and Streets of the Metropolis, the Slaughter Houses, the conduct of Coachmen, etc.- etc." The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was born.

Before long, Arthur Broome had spent all the Society's money chasing impractical schemes. Gompertz and Richard Martin came to his rescue. Broome promised not to repeat his mistakes, so Gompertz and Martin went over the account books and straightened things out, paying the remaining expenses out of pocket. Once Broome was out of trouble, however, he resumed borrowing money to throw away on his plans -- landing himself in debtor's prison. Needless to say, these actions reflected poorly on the minister and his entire group. Gompertz stepped in once again to save the Society, bailing Broome out and taking his place as the organization's head.

The Society flourished during Gompertz's six years of leadership. He attended police courts, arranged meetings with magistrates to discuss the importance of upholding the anti-cruelty statutes, coordinated fundraisers, wrote letters, participated in public debates, broke up dogfights, helped in the parliamentary struggle to ban bull-baiting, and endeavored to set a legal limit on the loads horses could pull. A vegan, Gompertz refused to ride in a carriage. He famously wrote, "How can man do without the aid of horses?... That is his business to find out."

Despite Gompertz's competent command, jealousy and strife were rife among the members. Some of them -- the hunters and meat eaters -- were concerned by his veganism. Others resented his Judaism. A man named Greenwood denounced Gompertz for following "Pythagorean" principles and passed a bill saying that the Society would be governed in accordance with "Christian" doctrines and that "certain sects" would be denied entrance. Several members, including William Wilberforce, Countess Selina Hastings (a humanitarian socialite) and many Quakers, were deeply offended by this resolution. Rallying around Gompertz, they encouraged him to break with the SPCA.

Disgusted, Gompertz did resign. With the help of his friends, he started a new group called the Animal's Friend Society. Rather than simply stopping inhumane practices, Gompertz' new association was intended to actively benefit animals. Before long, the Animal's Friend Society was outdoing the SPCA in terms of membership and contributions.

Under the auspices of his organization, Gompertz organized a periodical: The Animal's Friend, or, The Progress of Humanity. In his role as editor, Gompertz kept busy writing articles showcasing his innovative theories. He republished his book, Moral Inquiries: on the Situation of Man and of Brutes, which described how humans ought to interact with animals. In it, Gompertz deplored the practices of hunting, slaughtering animals for food, and vivisection (the dissection of living creatures in the supposed interest of science). A long, rambling text, it also included his observations on the injustice of the property laws and the oppression of women.

Then, suddenly, Gompertz's wife, Ann Hollaman Gompertz, fell terminally ill. To spend as much time with her as possible, Gompertz gave up his activities. Lacking a leader, the Animal's Friend Society disbanded. Following Ann's eventual death, the reformer dedicated his energies to writing.

Gompertz Bike.jpgAn avid inventor, he collected many of his ideas into another book with a whopper of a title: Mechanical Inventions and suggestions on land and water locomotion, tooth machinery and various other branches of theoretical and practical mechanics. Spurred by a desire to lessen animal labor, Gompertz also made improvements on the then-developing bicycle. The existing model had no chain: the rider's feet pushed it along the ground. Gompertz added a pole -- sawed off a hobbyhorse -- and a gear to the front wheel of the bicycle, maximizing the distance one could travel with every step. He even devised methods to keep horses from falling while pulling carriages! Some of his inventions are still used, including the expanding chuck on modern drills.

Although Gompertz's writing style looks stilted today, his dialogues between Messrs. Y and Z are typical of Victorian essayists. This excerpt is from Moral Inquiries:

Y: In the first place, you dispute the right invested in mankind of slaughtering other animals for food, and of compelling them to labour for his benefit, for which purpose they have been created, their flesh and their services have been made palatable and necessary to man, without the nourishment of which he would soon grow sickly and unfit for his station - his life would be painful - his death premature.

Z: First, how do you prove that mankind is invested with the right of killing them, and that brutes have been created for the purpose you assert them to be? Secondly, is it to be observed that the flesh of man himself possesses the same nourishing and palatable qualities? And are we then to become cannibals for that reason? ...


Mr. Y goes on to say that animal populations, if left unchecked, will destroy each other, starve, or overrun the world. Thus, he contends, it is better to "cause them to have a short and happy life, than a long and miserable one."

Z: Then it is right for one to kill another, if he fear not the laws of his country, and if he fancy that it is to the benefit of the other... But even allowing it to be so, the two are unconnected with each other, and I do not see what right one animal has to deprive another of its small importance to prevent himself from losing more: if this theory be generally admitted, a young man might kill an old man, to save his own longer expectant life. And are we authorized to kill one animal for the benefit of another of its species?


Other parts of the same book read as essays:

Who can dispute the inhumanity of the sport of hunting, of pursuing a poor defenceless creature for mere amusement, till it becomes exhausted by terror and fatigue, and of then causing it to be torn to pieces by a pack of dogs? From what kind of instruction can men, and even women, imbibe such principles as these? How is it possible they can justify it? And what can their pleasure in it consist of? Is it not solely in the agony they produce to the animal? They will pretend that it is not, and try to make us believe so too, that it is merely in the pursuit. But what is the object of their pursuit? Is there any other than to torment and destroy?

In Gompertz's day, the British economy was entirely dependent on animal labor for food, construction, transportation, clothing and glue. Gompertz was consequently labeled a radical and a revolutionary -- a man determined to undermine the foundations of civilization. Yet his persistence paid off: many of his inventions were displayed in public, and Prince Albert awarded him a medal. Though Lewis Gompertz is largely overlooked by today's animal rights activists, he gave an impetus to the movement that can never be forgotten.



Smoky Mountain Salamanders

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Salclss 2.JPGAn iconic attribute of the Great Smoky Mountains is its salamanders - over thirty species live in the national park alone, from the elusive, twenty-nine inch "Hellbender" to the four-inch Jordan's red-cheeked salamander, which is endemic to the park. We joined in "Slimy Salamanders," a ranger-guided program in which the object was to catch these creatures, and subsequently we glimpsed the fast reflexes that these species must have; salamanders are small, fast, and well camouflaged, for the most part. The ranger instructed us to place them in a water-filled plastic bag once we had successfully captured them, so that they could breathe, the oils on our hands would not harm them, and so the other participants could see them as well.

Salamanders are typically thought of as aquatic creatures, but some are actually terrestrial, and we discovered the largest number of species living on land. In fact, the word "salamander" comes from the ancient Greek phrase meaning "fire animal," for they could be seen crawling out of burning logs and it was therefore believed they were born from fire. (Actually, they were just escaping the flames, since they tend to live under fallen vegetation or stones).

They belong to the order Caudata, along with newts, and they are carnivorous and mostly eat invertebrates, such as earthworms, grubs, and beetles. Some species of terrestrial salamandersSalhand.jpg are unique in that they do not have gills or lungs, but breathe through their skin instead. Most American salamanders le underground in the winter and during the daytime to avoid being eaten by predators and to stay cool and moist. In common with some lizards, they can shed their tails if attacked.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a great place to see salamanders because they are diverse and commonly spotted. They are easily found under almost any rocks, logs, or just in shaded pools. According to the National Park Service, on any given day in the Smokies, the majority of vertebrates there, humans included, are salamanders!

State Birds Word Search

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state bird wordsearch.jpg
Since 1927, each state has been represented by a native bird. Washington, D.C.'s official fowl is the Wood Thrush, famous for its beautiful song. Henry David Thoreau, a fan of the thrush, wrote in his journal entry for July 5, 1852:

woodthrush.jpg"The wood thrush's is no opera music; it is not so much the composition as the strain, the tone -- cool bars of melody from the atmosphere of everlasting morning or evening. It is the quality of the song, not the sequence. In the peawai's note there is some sultriness, but in the thrush's, though heard at noon, there is the liquid coolness of things that are just drawn from the bottom of springs. The thrush alone declares the immortal wealth and vigor that is in the forest. Here is a bird in whose strain the story is told, though Nature waited for the science of aesthetics to discover it to man. Whenever a man hears it, he is young, and Nature is in her spring. Wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him. Most other birds sing from the level of my ordinary cheerful hours--a carol; but this bird never fails to speak to me out of an ether purer than that I breathe, of immortal beauty and vigor. He deepens the significance of all things seen in the light of his strain. He sings to make men take higher and truer views of things. He sings to amend their institutions; to relieve the slave on the plantation and the prisoner in the dungeon, the slave in the house of luxury and the prisoner of his own low thoughts."

After you find all the birds in the word search, you can check your answers below:birdswordsanswers.jpg

Using Special Relativity to Solve Cosmic Puzzles

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lagoon-nebula.jpgQuantum Fluctuations in the Early Universe
     In the very early universe, there were no particles, only photons zipping about at immense speeds. Those photons must have collided with each other at some point or other, resulting in one of them absorbing the other and therefore creating slightly higher energy densities in certain areas (that is, quantum fluctuations in the early universe). Then energy cooled and the photon concentrations turned into tiny concentrations of mass (which particles later began to form atoms as the universe cooled). As the cosmos expanded, the mass concentrations began to form nebulae as they were spread out over the increasing distances -- and gravity began to draw more matter to them and shrink them into the first stars.

How Particles Acquire Mass

    The mass-energy equivalence states that as a photon is emitted from an electron or any other particle, the mass of the particle increases, because the energy (e) is equal to the mass (m) times the speed of light squared (c). This is because the net mass (the energy + mass) needs to stay the same to prevent a particle from changing, say, from an electron to a quark and so forth. This creates a logical explanation for  how mass is acquired, and the Higgs mechanism is not required.

Edward I: Environmentalist by Accident

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Edward I.jpgEdward the First, the fifth Plantagenet king of England, is famous for clobbering the Scottish and Welsh armies, getting clobbered by the French, banishing the Jews, going Crusading, taxing everybody he could get his hands on, and performing other violent acts.

Tall for the times at 6'2", Edward had a terrible temper. When his son requested an earldom for his friend, the king tore out fistfuls of the boy's hair. When the Dean of St. Paul's entered the throne-room, mustering his nerve to discuss lowering taxes, he was supposedly killed on the spot by the mere sight of the king.

Is it feasible that this ferocious king, represented in medieval allegory not as the "noble" lion but as the "powerful" and "volatile" leopard, had a good side? It's possible. He maintained a good relationship with his parents, and loved his own wife and children. At fourteen, young Prince Edward married Eleanor of Castile, who was about the same age. Unusually, they were dedicated to each other; Edward didn't have affairs, and he didn't lock Eleanor up in a tower! When Eleanor died after thirty-six years of marriage, Edward was devastated, and built Eleanor Crosses wherever the funereal procession stopped. (His second marriage, to the young Margaret of France, also turned out well, despite their fifty-four-year age difference.)

Yet less well known is the fact that if Edward had had his way, coal pollution would never have been an issue.

Coal was so abundant on England's northeast coast that it was collected in wheelbarrows. People could even pick it up on the beach! It had been used since prehistoric times -- in the Bronze Ages, Welsh funeral pyres were fired by coal -- but when the Romans conquered "Britannia," they fell in love with the fuel.  At first, they thought it was very pretty, and fashioned it into ornaments for themselves. They called it gagate; this word would evolve into "jet," a dense variant of coal still used in making jewelry. (However, the Roman artisans often mixed up the higher quality jet with ordinary coal.) They also popularized burning it. After the Romans had cleared out, the Britons forgot about coal and resorted to wood. The early historian, St. Bede, describing the abundant "jet," didn't mention that it was used for heat, but observed that the smoke kept snakes away.

At any rate, until the 12th century, everybody in London burned wood. Soon, however, London began to grow, and the forests dwindled. Wood became expensive and rare. Instead, the Londoners decided to try the cheaper, easily-obtained coal. There was only one problem. Burning wood produced some smoke, but a lot of heat. Burning sea-coal produced a little heat, but a lot of sulfurous smoke. Nevertheless, instead of thinking of a better solution, everyone decided to burn more coal. The thick smoke combined with the natural fog and hung over the city for days.

In 1306, Edward, instigated by a group of prominent noblemen and clerics, passed legislation banning the burning of sea-coal. The king's mother, Eleanor of Provence, had gotten so sick from the smoke surrounding Nottingham Castle that she had had to flee the town. (Edward I's great-grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had had a similar experience with the burning wood around Tutbury Castle.)

Despite the king's commands, the law was disregarded. The poor didn't have the money to buy wood and there weren't any other alternatives. Edward altered his bill. Now, first-time offenders were subject to immense fines. If they were caught a second time, their furnaces were destroyed. Unfortunately, this didn't work either. The atmosphere was getting tense. Edward altered his bill again. This time, a death penalty was installed for burning coal. One person was seized and executed. But everybody kept on burning coal. Edward couldn't execute his whole kingdom. Besides, even if he could have, then he wouldn't have had anybody to tax or beat up, so what's the point of that? Consequently, the law was ignored, although Edward II, Edward I's successor, tortured a few people who were unable to meet its terms. Astoundingly, that didn't help.

princess elizabeth.jpgSubsequently, others tried to exterminate the burning of coal, including the kings Richard II and Henry V, whose palace at Westminster was permeated by the odor. By the time Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne, the situation was worse than ever. Short beds, which forced sleepers to sit up, were popular, as people had difficulties breathing if they lay down. The queen was reported to be "greatly grieved and annoyed with the taste and smoke of sea- coales," and tried to get it banned, at least while Parliament was in session.

Later, in 1661, a prominent Cavalier named John Evelyn was asked by Charles II (whose palace at Whitehall was getting all the fumes from a nearby duke's residence) to write a book against coal. He complied, and the result was Fumifugium: or, The Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoake of London Dissipated, Together with some Remedies humbly proposed by J. E. Esq., to His Sacred Majestie, and to the Parliament now Assembled. The title "Fumifugium" was compounded of two Latin words, fumus, meaning "smoke," and fugit, "to escape or get  away from." (It's actually pretty terrible Latin, just for the record.)

John Evelyn.jpgEvelyn's book was one of the first comprehensive studies of the dangers of coal burning, and one of the earliest to discuss air pollution. (It also blamed the English Civil Wars on bad air caused by coal fires, not on any political issues!) Not only did it berate the smell of the smoke, it also attacked it as being unhealthy and aesthetically unpleasing. Evelyn wrote that the fumes were

"...so universally mixed with that otherwise wholesome and excellent Aer, that her Inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick Mist, accompanied with a fuliginous and filthy vapour, which renders them obnoxious to a thousand inconveniences, corrupting the Lungs, and disordering the entire habit of their Bodies; so that Catharrs, Phthisicks, Coughs and Consumptions, rage more in this one City, than in the whole Earth besides."

He also complained that "Whilst these [the "Chimnies of London"] are belching it forth their sooty jaws, the City of London resembles the face rather of Mount Ætna, the Court of Vulcan, [or] Stromboli, ... than an Assembly of Rational Creatures, and the Imperial feat of our incomparable Monarch," adding that the black particles in the smoke ruined the facades of palaces, churches, and houses. Evelyn goes on to say that it killed birds and insects and blighted flowers and fruit trees. He adds that travelers could smell the city long before they could see it.

Evelyn did not advocate the prohibiting of coal-burning; he merely said that trades, such as brewing, dyeing, lime-burning, which put out a significant amount of smoke should be relocated to where the soot would not affect the city. He also proposed moving other noxious businesses, such as butchers and chandlers, out as well. To promote cleanliness, no burials should be permitted in churches or even within the city walls. Not even this approach, however, gained much support.

James Watt.jpgThe Industrial Revolution effectively destroyed any hopes of outlawing this pernicious fuel, as it was considered indispensable to development. Anyone who was opposed to coal was opposed to progress. Factories relied on it to fire their huge furnaces. It heated workers' homes. Worst of all, it provided the steam for James Watt's new steam engine. Getting rid of it was impossible. In fact, coal usage in Great Britain multiplied by 100 between 1800 and 1900.

The coal-produced smog, called "fog" by the Londoners, was familiar to people such as Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Darwin, James Russell Lowell (who was proud to have survived the smoke), Arthur Conan Doyle, Heinrich Heine, and Thomas Carlyle, who called it "fluid ink." Finally, in 1956, four years after a four-day "fog" killed approximately 4,000 people, Parliament passed the Clean Air Act, which reduced coal burning to a large extent.

To this day, coal continues to be one of the worst energy sources on the planet. It is the largest contributor to man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, one of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The difference that the success of Edward I's 1306 law would have caused is unfathomable. Even though he was a terrifying warrior and sometimes a cruel king, ironically he deserves to be remembered as one of the earliest environmentalists.

Crocodile Crossword

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croccross.jpg
CrocCrossClues.jpg
If you need help figuring out the clues, you can try consulting any of these websites:

American Crocodile Facts, Defenders of Wildlife
American Crocodiles, National Geographic
American Crocodile, Wikipedia
Crocodile, Wikipedia
Saurian (definition), Dictionary.com

After you finish solving the puzzle, check your answers below (no peeking!):

crocodileanswers.jpg

Does Shelling Harm Wildlife?

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Shell.jpgRecently, we were walking on the beach just after low tide. Rims of seashells marked where the waves had come. Many of these were fragmented, and the majority had been bleached by the sun. There were some pretty scallops and cockles, and several still-connected bivalve shells. Then, Mom found a beautiful conch. The shell was mottled with shades of brown, edged in red. The spiked tips were pointed and distinct, unlike some of the worn ones we had collected earlier.

conch shell.jpgMom picked it up and held it up to the light. It was inhabited, and we could see the conch's claw. We put it back where an occasional wave would wash over it. The prettiest shells we found had creatures in them. Many were conches, but some of the shells had been claimed by hermit crabs. We didn't take any of the ones that were alive, but we saw other people carelessly collecting them. One lady had two grocery bags filled with large, colorful shells. Although the signs along the boardwalk read "No Live Shelling," several people were ignoring that rule.

hermit crab.jpgOn many beaches, collecting live animals is illegal. For instance, Washington State has banned the taking of any invertebrate, and in most national parks it is illegal to take anything. In addition to wanting the shells, people get them for food and bait, or as pets for their home aquariums. However, even in places where there are no laws preventing this collection, it is a bad idea. Not only does it harm the individual animal, but overharvesting of a species can lead to a decline in its population, making it endangered or even extinct. When this happens, the natural balance is also upset, because the creatures that relied on the animal for food or used the shells as shelter are no longer able to find them.

Buying shells commercially is not environmentally-friendly. Many companies catch live shellfish, which are killed for their meat, their shells, or both. Live sand dollars and sea stars are also captured and sold. Because they are caught in such huge numbers, many rare species are threatened by this practice.

One example is the Queen Conch. Its shells are used as jewelery or decorations and its meat is eaten or used as bait. They were captured so extensively that their numbers declined. Although they are not officially endangered, many Caribbean countries are trying to conserve the conches living near their shores and have agreed not to export them until the populations have stabilized.

The critically endangered Black Abalone is another animal which has been depleted by the meat and shell industry. They were once plentiful along the Pacific coast, from California to Mexico. Its meat was more popular than its small, smooth shell. At the time they were being harvested, there were no rules about protecting an individual species. After the California fishery had run out of one species of abalone, they would switch to another. Withering syndrome, a disease, also decreased the numbers. Today, hunting these mollusks is illegal, although some poaching occurs.

Collecting empty shells at the beach is harmless, except in parks where removing anything is illegal. Just make sure they are empty before you take them!

Don't Passerine By This Entry

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Painting Bunting.jpg
The Painted Bunting is a colorful songbird with bright coloration of red and blue on the male, and quiet, pleasing olive green to brown on the female. They are sometimes proclaimed the most beautiful bird in North America. They both have melodious songs, but unfortunately, because of that, they are often illegally sold in the pet trade.  

Indigo Bunting.jpg
Another member of the bunting family, the Indigo Bunting can be easily distinguished by its electric-blue plumage, once more on the male's part. The female is again subtly plumed, to look much like the female Painted Bunting. Juvenile males are both brown and blue. Indigo Buntings can interbreed with Lazuli Buntings. The Lazuli Bunting, during the breeding season, has a head and wing of deep sky-blue and a body of white with an orange necklace. Yet again, females are brown. 

Alone on the ice, higher than any of its relatives, lives in the Arctic the Snow Bunting. The male, as well as the female, is brown and white when not breeding; in breeding season, his plumage turns black and white. It nests in rock cavities. 

A sparrow in disguise lingers among the members of the Bunting family. It is the state bird of Colorado, the Lark Bunting. Its breeding plumage is black and white, and a male looks like a female the rest of the year. It is one of only six species of passerine songbird that lives on the Great Plains. 

Buntings are often common & easy to spot if you know what to look for. Here are a few of their songs: 

Painted Bunting

Indigo Bunting


Lazuli Bunting

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Science category.

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