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Saving Hellbenders with the Wilds: Virtual Field Trip, Oct. 23rd

The hellbender salamander, also called the ‘snot otter,’ is on the decline in Ohio. The Wilds, near Zanesville, Ohio, is trying to change that. Photo: Andrew Hoffman, licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A smile I simply cannot resist! Hellbenders are North America’s largest salamander. They can grow up to approximately two feet in length (twenty-nine inches). Nicknames include:

  • Snot otter
  • lasagna lizard
  • mud devil
  • devil dog
  • ground puppy
  • (Do you have another one?)

These impressive creatures have been around for more than 150 million years, but are in danger. On this week’s virtual field trip, biologists at the Wilds will give us a tour of their hellbender recovery project.

CHOOSE AN ACTIVITY TO LEARN ABOUT HELLBENDERS:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, October 23 at 10:30 a.m. Details below!

On your own, inside: Read about hellbenders below. Then make lasagna to honor lasagna lizards!

On your own, outside: take a stream selfie and clean up litter.

Hellbenders at the Wilds: Virtual Field Trip

Friday, October 23, 10:30am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11:00am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, the conservation biologists at the Wilds will give us a tour of their hellbender salamander lab!

They’ll show us baby and adult hellbenders. They’ll share how the Wilds is helping the hellbender population grow–and how you can help this endangered species too! You’ll also learn about what it’s like to be a conservation biologist.

The Wilds is a safari-style ‘zoo’ in Cumberland, Ohio. They have turned damaged, strip-mined land into a center for threatened animal recovery.

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

~~We’ll post the recording of the field trip here the following Monday~~

Tips for finding this salamander

Hellbenders are a fully aquatic species of salamander! Clean, fast-moving river water is an ideal habitat. The water must be cool, so shady trees help. Look for large rocks with accessible crevices and places where this salamander can hide.

They are very sensitive to pollution and sediment (bits of dirt and dust) in the water. That is why it is so rare to see one. But we keep hoping we will one day!

Worth Pugh measuring a hellbender
Scientists measure a wild hellbender salamander. Photo: USFWS/Southeast/license CC BY 2.0

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE

They have a flat head, wrinkly body, and paddle-shaped tail. Usually these salamanders are dark grey or brown in color with dark spots along the back.

They breathe through their skin! So the wrinklier their skin is, the more oxygen they get from the water.

WHAT IT EATS

These salamanders feast on crawdads, smalls fish, snails, and worms. Hellbenders are also known to be cannibalistic. That means a bigger salamander may see a smaller salamander as an opportunistic meal! Gulp!

WHERE IT LIVES

Rivers in the eastern United States, including the Appalachian region.

Hellbender
 An adult hellbender salamander. Photo: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region, licensed CC PDM 1.0

What’s your favorite nickname for the hellbender? I personally love snot otter. Post your answer in the comments and tell us why!

On your own: Make Lasagna!

In honor of their nickname, lasagna lizards, bake some lasagna for your next meal! This activity may require adult supervision. Benders have flaps of skin on their sides, which provide extra surface area to help them breathe through their skin, but it also kind of makes them look like lasagna, which is where the nickname comes from.

Smiley woman cooking in the kitchen Free Vector

Traditional lasagna recipe

Vegetarian lasagna recipe

Own your own: Snap a selfie!

More cheese, please! Cheese, as in smile, that is! Participate in Stream Selfie. This is a citizen science project that was designed to help monitor waterways (and healthy waterways are crucial for hellbenders).

Take a picture of yourself in or by a waterway, tell us your location and the condition of the stream. Some things to pay attention to might be:

  • how big is the waterway?
  • is the water clean?
  • are there fish living in there?
  • what other species of animals do you see?
    • learn more about using insects/fish to tell if a stream is healthy in this post.
  • what might make this good or bad habitat for a hellbender?

Post your selfie in the comments!

Rock creek park Free Photo
Promising hellbender habitat.

While you’re there, take some time to pick up any litter around the stream. Hellbenders and other species are very sensitive to pollution. By keeping the creek clean, you help the animals that live there.

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Ohio

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! We celebrate this on second Monday of every October.  This is the same day as Columbus Day.  

What does ‘indigenous’ mean?
Indigenous people are the people who lived in a place before colonization. In the U.S., the many different tribes of Native Americans are all indigenous. They lived here thousands of years before Europeans arrived, and still live here today.

We celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day to honor the histories and cultures of indigenous people all over the world. It is celebrated in many cities, towns, and states.  Some areas  have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  Many celebrations include dancing, sharing food, and singing songs of local tribes.

You can learn more about Indigenous People’s Day at history.com.

Re-thinking the “Discovery” of America

“In 1492 Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue.” Where did he end up? What did he discover?

As many of you might already know, Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, set sail to chart a route to China in 1492. This became his most infamous voyage with his “discovery” of the Americas. Upon arriving in the Americas, Columbus encountered the people, who he referred to as Indians, that inhabited these lands and called them home.

From the perspective of some indigenous Americans, it isn’t exactly a “discovery”if thousands of people already live there. This holiday is a chance to remember indigenous people’s part of the story as well.

Ideas for Celebrating Indigenous People’s Day

  • Learn about the Native Americans of southeast Ohio and try seeing your home from a different perspective! Keep reading this post for more info.
  • Attend a cultural celebration and participate in dancing, song, and eating foods from local indigenous tribes. If there are not any celebrations available to you locally, consider trying to make your own cuisine.
“The Sioux Chef” teaches about how to cook Native American cuisine and why it is important. To learn more or get their cookbook, visit sioux-chef.com
  • Watch a movie! Choose a movie that celebrates indigenous people and their accomplishments. Look for a movie that shows indigenous people in an authentic way, but avoid inaccurate Hollywood movies. We Shall Remain is an inspirational and educational series!  It covers  the “discovery of America” and its colonization from various perspectives.  It includes the perspective of the indigenous peoples who lived in the Americas. Watch it here.
  • Read folklore stories from the Wyandot, one of the influential tribes of Ohio.  Choose your favorite folklore story  and post a comment to the blog!   Myths from Wyandot Tribe.

Native Americans of the Hocking Valley

Hartman Mound in The Plains, Ohio was built around 2000 years ago by the people known as the Adena. They were sometimes used for group gatherings or rituals, or burials.

Indigenous peoples thrived in Athens and Southeast Ohio for thousands of years. Many places in our towns were first made by native people.

For example, many of our roads were first created by indigenous peoples. The James Rhoades Appalachian Highway (including US 33 and US 50) and East State St (in Athens) used to be a well-travelled path made by Indians in the region. This road was called the “Buffalo Trace.” Some of the trails through Strouds Run State Park also connected to this system.

In The Plains, Ohio, you can find mounds built by the Adena people about 2000 years ago.  This is the third largest concentration of Adena mounds in the eastern portion of the United States. Drive by Mound Street in The Plains to see the largest one! You can also watch our virtual field trip at the mound here.

The Adena were the ancestors of the Shawnee. The Shawnee, as well as the Wyandot and Delaware tribes, were the people living in the Hocking River valley when European settlers arrived. Most of the Shawnee were forced to move west in the 1800s. Today, most Shawnee live in Oklahoma, but still have connections to Ohio.

Learning from indigenous forest management

Pawpaw fruit is a wild fruit in Ohio. Local people tended it and encouraged it to grow near their homes. Photo: “Pawpaw fruits” by naomivantol is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

European settlers cleared many forests. They needed room for agriculture and timber for building. The forest looked wild to the settlers. But evidence shows that indigenous peoples carefully tended the forests. This helped give them food and shelter.

They made choices to encourage helpful trees, plants and animals to grow. They increased the number of oak, hickory and fruit trees in our forests. These trees make delicious food! Have you ever tried them?

Go on a Forest Resource Scavenger Hunt

The forests are still full of trees that indigenous people cultivated. Try hunting for the trees on the list below in your local woods! Share a picture or tell us where you found them in the comments.

TIP: Consider using a field guide like the ODNR TREES OF OHIO field guide to help identify trees!

PlantPicture/Identifying FeaturesLocation/Hints
Pawpaw TreeTry hiking through Sells Park and the Ridges! These trees bear fruit that ripens in September and October. 
Persimmon Tree


Find the Persimmon Tree on Radar Hill. There are some at Strouds Run, too!
Red Mulberry Tree


Go to Highland Park! There is also a Mulberry tree at the top of Radar Hill. 
Sumac Tree


Sumac trees have red leaves in the fall. Check around the pond  at the Ridges!
Oak Tree


These are plentiful!  If you find acorns on the ground, it fell from an oak tree!
Eastern Redbud Tree


This tree has heart-shaped leaves that are bright yellow in the autumn! Can you find a bright yellow leaf?

Chestnut Tree




The leaves on this tree are long and jagged. We’ve seen a few on the the east side of Athens! Watch out for their nuts!
Osage Orange Tree



Check out fence lines! These trees were the original barbed-wire. Look for the hedge apples!
Maple Tree



There are several varieties of the Maple. You just have to find one! Do you have any in your yard?

How did you celebrate Indigenous People’s Day? Leave a comment!