Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

For our endangered species of the week, I’m rerunning an earlier post about a very “Halloweeny” species – the Kauai Cave wolf spider!  So read through and then learn 7 facts about spiders that you might not have known!

The Kauai Cave wolf spider (Adelocosa anops), also known as pe’e pe’e maka ‘ole in Hawaiian (from Earth’s Endangered Creatures) is found in only three caves on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.   Like other wolf spiders, the Kauai Cave wolf spider doesn’t build a web to capture prey; it relies on speed and chases down its prey.  Like all other spiders, it is venomous; it has three teeth for biting it’s prey.  What’s really amazing about this hunting style is the fact that these spiders don’t have eyes (from Arkive)!  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Action Plan, the main threats to the spider are alteration of the caves and surrounding vegetation, non-native predators, and pesticide run-off.

So really, who cares?  It’s just one little spider in a few caves in Hawaii.  The answer is:   when we protect these little spiders, we help ourselves.  If pesticides from agriculture are bringing these spiders near extinction, there’s a pretty good chance those pesticides in water run-off are also affecting human populations.  It’s in our best interest to clean up the water – the spiders win and humans win!
Seven Spooky Spider facts!
  1. North America is home to over 3,000 of the approximately 40,000 species of spider worldwide!
  2. The largest spider is the Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula, which can grow as large as a small dinner plate!  Check out this National Geographic video:  http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/animals/bugs-animals/spiders-and-scorpions/tarantula_goliath/
  3. Spiders are not insects – they’ve got 8 legs and 2 body parts (as opposed to insects with 6 legs and 3 body parts)
  4. Spiders don’t have internal skeletons – they’ve got exoskeletons made of chitin (the second most common carbohydrate on Earth!)
  5. Some spiders spin webs each day and eat them at the end of the day to recycle the protein in the strands!
  6. Pound for pound, spiders’ silk is one of the strongest fibers on Earth!
  7. Spiders have been sent into outerspace!  For more information on these “spidernauts”, see NASA’s website.  Check out Esmerelda as she dines at zero-gravity on the international space station!
Earth’s Endangered Creatures.  2006-2013.  http://www.earthsendangered.com/.  Accessed 10/31/2012.
NASA.  2011.  International Space Station, Research Website.http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/space_spiders_live.html.  Accessed 10/31/2012.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  2006.  Kauai Cave Wolf Spider (Adelocosa anops), 5-Year Review:  Summary and Evaluation.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The last straw!

After my lecture today, I decided that I deserved a little treat.   I headed over to McDonald's to get myself a Coke (and yes, Coke does taste better from McDonald's than anywhere else).  Once I filled up my cup, I dug into my purse to pull out my reusable metal straw.  It's finally a habit!

The Washington Post today included a great article on disposable straws, calling them the "gateway plastic" that numbs us to the ubiquitous use of "disposable" plastic in our everyday lives.  Did you know that Americans dispose of 500 million straws each day?  Think about all of the other plastics we also use and throw away each day.  These plastics are made with fossil fuels and don't biodegrade.  So what's a greenmomster to do?
  • Read the Washington Post article for a little background on the topic
  • Check out greenmomster's post on my plastic challenge
  • Get yourself some reusable plastic straws (they're easy to find online!) and start using them.  Just say no to disposable straws, like the one above.  It'll become a habit before you know it.
Think of substituting reusable straws for disposable straws as your "gateway sustainability!"  Next stop -- meat-free Fridays, public transportation, and thrifting!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Wild Mushroom Farro

This tasty recipe comes from Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen, by Chloe Coscarelli.  The only change I made was to add about 1-2 tblsp of red pepper flakes to add a little zip!  Enjoy!

Wild Mushroom Farro with Lemon, Mint, and Artichokes


  • 3 tblsp olive oil
  • 1 lb mixed mushrooms, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 14 oz. can quartered artichokes
  • 1 tblsp jar garlic
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 cups cooked farro (cook like you'd cook rice, with about 4 cups of water)
  • 2 tblsp chopped fresh mint
  • zest of 1 lemon (plus I added the juice from the lemon as well)
  • 1-2 tblsp red pepper flakes
  1. In a large pot, heat oil and saute mushrooms with salt and pepper until soft.  Add artichokes and garlic and saute another couple of minutes.
  2. Add wine and cook until the liquid is almost gone.  Add broth and farro and cook again until the broth is almost gone.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in mint, lemon zest, and lemon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Migrating monarchs

My neighbors took in a few monarch caterpillars this fall in the hopes that they could raise them to the butterfly stage.  Lucky me -- I got to witness the last one as it emerged from the chrysalis (it was my "work from home day")! 

The excitement started when we all noticed the monarch was very close to emerging:

(Fun fact:  did you know that the caterpillar basically liquifies in order become an adult butterfly?  They don't just grow wings.)

All we had to do was wait.  First, the adult emerged with its wings still folded and wrinkly.  After a little time (pumping hemolymph into the wings -- this substance brings nutrients to the cells), our boy was ready to fly!

How do we know it's a male?  Check out the little pheromone spot on the lower vein of his wing (the black line that gets a little fatter).

Now he's off to Mexico!  If you've never learned about monarch butterflies and how the eastern North American population takes 5 generations to complete the annual migration, be sure to check out Four Wings and a Prayer by Sue Halpern.  This migration is an incredible feat of nature that's right under our noses!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Act locally!

"Our class had just finished watching a video about plastics and their impact on the environment. The students enthusiastically debated the best ways to influence public behavior – how could we get people to decrease their purchases of single-use plastic bottles and disposable plastic bags? The answer that the students came up with is the same one they come up with every semester – education! If people just understand the impact of their actions, they will change their behavior.

Unfortunately, research strongly suggests this assumption is not accurate. Understanding environmental impacts doesn’t seem to lead directly to pro-environmental behavior. Research indicates that two of the tools that do seem to encourage pro-environmental behavior are:
  • the removal of barriers to pro-environmental behavior, and
  • modeling of pro-environmental behavior by role models."

Want to learn more?  I detail how we can promote environmentally sustainable behavior and provide an example of how this behavior is supported at the local government level on Virginia Tech's Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability blog -- check it out!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mammal Monday -- seals!

To ring in the arrival of Fall, this week we have an arctic two-for-the-price-of-one deal.  Let’s take a look at two cold-weather-loving species that are protected under both the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Both are threatened by the loss of Photo: Ringed seal just below the surfacesea ice due to climate change -- ringed seals (Phoca hispida)  (photo from Paul Nicklen at http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/ringed-seal/) and bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus),

The ringed seal is the smallest seal (averaging 110-150 lbs and 5 feet in length) in the arctic, feeding on fish and invertebrates.  They are generally solitary animals.  Females reach sexual maturity around 4 years, while males don’t mature until about age 7.   Gestation lasts about 9 months, and the females give birth in ice “lairs” that they build out of the thick ice in their habitat.  These small seals can live 25 to 40 years.  Seal fun fact:  these guys can dive for 45 minutes without a breath!

On the other end of the spectrum, the bearded seal is the largest seal in the arctic, weighing in at a hefty 575 to 800 lbs!  These seals also have a lifespan of about 25 years and are thought to reach breeding age around 6 to 7 years.  These seals are divers, feeding on benthic creatures such as shrimp, cod, crab, octopus, and clams.     For a very cool video of the bearded seal, see this Arkive video!

Seals are an important indicator species regarding the arctic and the effects of climate change.  Just another reason to get involved – write those letters and reduce your carbon footprint!  

Still want more info on seals?  Be sure to check out Arkive's 10 Epic Facts about seals!

National Geographic.  2012.  “Ringed seal (Phoca hispida)”  Accessed online 12/23/2012.http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/ringed-seal/
NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. 2012. “Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus)” December 21, 2012. Accessed online 12/22/2012.http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/pinnipeds/beardedseal.htm
NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources.  2012.  “Ringed Seal (Phoca hispida)”  December 21, 2012.  Accessed online 12/22/2012. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/pinnipeds/ringedseal.htm