DAY IS BEGINNING OF A NEW YEAR
New Year! No, I haven't confused Valentine's Day with Jan. 1. I'm referring
to the ecological New Year, the time of rebirth and rejuvenation for
much of the natural world.
A new year
heralds new beginnings. But deciding when the new year begins depends
on who's doing the deciding. Jan. 1 opens the door for standard calendars,
whereas the U.S. government fiscal calendar begins on Oct. 1. For many
universities, the New Year begins on July 1, to accord somewhat with
the artificial academic year. Throughout history, various cultures have
defined the year's beginning and end by dates related to seasonal celestial
and animals, various activities associated with courtship, mating and
countless other vital functions determine when the New Year begins for
particular species. Last Valentine's I wrote of how certain lizards,
birds and turtles respond to the approach of spring with mating patterns
and other behaviors. Following are questions I have been asked about
the spring-related activities of a couple of other animals.
When is alligator mating season?
The mating season in most parts of the American alligator's native range
usually starts in early spring with males displaying territorial behavior
toward other males and courtship behavior toward females. The females
lay eggs in early summer in a large nest made from mud and vegetation
that they build on shore. The babies hatch out in late summer or early
fall. When the babies begin to hatch, they sometimes make little grunting
sounds and the mother will come out of the water and dig open the nest.
I have watched a mother alligator pick up eggs in her mouth, crack them
open so the babies can get out and then carry as many as three babies
at a time down to the water until all were there. An awesome spectacle.
The female is protective of her young for a year or more.
I have heard that small freshwater fish called darters change color
during the springtime. If this is true, why do they do so? Where do
darters live? My daddy went fishing all the time when I was a little
girl in Tuscaloosa, and I never heard him mention a darter.
Darters live in small sandy or rocky streams throughout the eastern
United States, especially in the Southeast. They go mostly unseen because
of their small size and tendency to stay near the bottom, which may
be why your father never noticed them. The greatest biodiversity of
darters is in Alabama, where more than 50 species are found, more than
in any other state. Many are found nowhere else, a statistic Alabamians
are similar to birds in displaying color differences seasonally and
between the sexes. Males may display spectacular color displays during
the breeding season, but like birds, female darters are generally drabber
in appearance. The color change is part of the male's effort to attract
a mate. Presumably, the more impressive the color display, the more
attractive a suitor looks to the female.
color patterns that many male darters take on in the spring can include
combinations of red, blue, green, yellow and orange that rival those
of the most stunning tropical birds. The male Christmas darter of Georgia
and South Carolina displays bright red and green bars. Males of the
redband darter of Tennessee sport bright blue and orange on their fins
and body. Valentine pink does not seem to be a popular color among the
dazzling darters, but many of them begin their breeding rituals in February.
still have some wintertime left, but before long the sights and sounds
in the natural environment should have us all agreeing that a great
new year has begun. Why not observe Valentine's Day with more than candy
and a card? This year, take a walk outside and celebrate this seasonal
you have an environmental question or comment, email