ANIMALS ARE AROUND THAN YOU THINK
biodiversity is all around us. In a recent presentation, I used a photograph
that gave impressive confirmation of the fact that more animals are
around us than meet the eye. The photo shows a gray treefrog sitting
on a gray tree trunk. Everyone sees the tree when they first look at
the picture. Few notice the frog because it blends in so well.
is part of the region's biodiversity. So is the frog. Because of its
superb camouflage, the frog is hidden biodiversity, but it is no less
important in Mother Nature's ecological scheme than the tree. Most animals
comprising our native biodiversity hide from us and their predators
for safety reasons. For most animals, being conspicuous is tantamount
to offering themselves up as a meal.
predators use camouflage. Does a tiger or leopard want to be seen by
its prey? Absolutely not. Stripes or spots on an orange or yellowish
coat create a blend that mimics a partially shaded forest. Copperhead
snakes with their leaflike patterns of brown and tan are hiding from
the few enemies that might attack them. But they are also concealing
themselves from any potential meal - such as mice, lizards, and frogs
- that might happen by.
is not the only reason for the hidden biodiversity phenomenon. Animals
have a world of ways to stay out of sight. Some remain hidden for the
greater part of their lives. Colorful salamanders, such as the spotted
salamander with its shiny black body and bright yellow spots, spend
the majority of the year beneath logs or leaf litter. The only time
someone is likely to see a spotted salamander is on a rainy night in
winter or early spring. Hence, most people who live around them have
never seen a live one in the wild.
offer some superb examples of hidden biodiversity among larger animals.
For instance, one or more species of softshell turtles occur in most
of the midwestern and eastern states. Large, impressive animals, softshell
turtles resemble Paul Bunyan-size pancakes and are about the same color.
Their shells are so leathery that the edges will actually bend. These
flattened, nearly circular animals can be more than a foot and a half
in length. Yet I have talked to hundreds of people who reside near a
stream, river, or lake where softshell turtles live who have never seen
one. One reason softshells are part of our hidden biodiversity is that
they virtually never leave the aquatic habitat, except when females
lay eggs. Softshells avoid predation by having webbed feet that make
them remarkably fast swimmers; they also look almost identical to bottom
sediments when they come to rest.
have equally specialized ways to stay out of sight and avoid detection.
For instance, some animals only come out at night, which reduces the
chance of their being seen by people. But they are still with us and
around us. And they make up an important part of our natural heritage,
as do the habitats that sustain them. A small wetland of only an acre
or two that has no wet areas during late summer may be the breeding
site for literally thousands of frogs and salamanders. Every year on
chilly rainy nights in many parts of the country, a suite of amphibian
species emerge from surrounding forests, most often to breed. They stay
for a few hours or days and then return to their forest home, unlikely
to be seen or heard by humans for the rest of the year.
biodiversity is as important to our natural ecosystems as the more obvious
birds and large mammals. And in most of the country, these animals are
the neighbors of people who have never seen them. If we destroy woodland
and wetland habitats, we are unquestionably destroying our natural heritage
in the form of countless fascinating animals that rival any of the exotic
species seen on nature shows.
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