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Friday, February 17, 2006

Out of the Blue Zone

Out of the Blue Zone is a new feature on the Blue Ridge Gazette. We will take a look at things going on in other regions of our natural world. Today, Queensland, Australian and Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA.

Fooling with Mother Nature

What happens when we fool with Mother Nature can be devastating to our environment; and usually is! First, Bufo marinus (cane toad) in Queensland, Australia. Then, the nutria, (Myocastor coypus) and the gaffe in the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

A poisonous cane toad sits on a keeper's hand at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. The cane toad (Bufo marinus).

”Darwin's nightmare: Toxic toad evolves to secure supremacy”

PARIS (AFP) - He's fat, ugly and poisonous -- and he's mutating. He's the cane toad (Bufo marinus), a species which was introduced into the Australian state of Queensland 70 years ago to tackle insect pests in canefields and has since become an ecological catastrophe.

Weighing in at to up two kilos (4.4 pounds), the unwanted anuran has extended its range to more than a million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) in tropical and sub-tropical Australia, crushing native species in its relentless advance.

A team of University of Sydney toad watchers positioned themselves on the front line of the invasion, 60 kilometers (35 miles) east of the city of Darwin, and for 10 months caught toads, some of which they radiotagged and let loose again.

They were astonished to find that the creatures can hop up to 1.8 kms (1.1 miles) a night during wet weather, a record for any frog or toad.

To read the rest of this story click here.

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

I grew up primarily in Virginia Beach, Virginia and spent a great amount of time at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, fishing, hunting and trapping.

Back Bay Refuge contains over 8,000 acres, situated on and around a thin strip of coastline typical of barrier islands found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Habitats include beach, dunes, woodland, farm fields, and marsh. The majority of refuge marshlands are on islands contained within the waters of Back Bay.

The varied habitats at Back Bay Refuge provide food and cover for mammals such as river otters, white-tailed deer, mink, opossums, raccoons, and the red fox Nutria, introduced to the United States from South America in the early 1900's are common in refuge marshlands. Other non-native species include feral horses and pigs. These animals compete with native species for food and cover, and are responsible for negative impacts to the managed environment. Nutria damage dikes through burrowing activity; pigs uproot valuable marsh vegetation; and horses trample plants and litter the area with their droppings.

In the 1960’s a bounty was put on the nutria, (Myocastor coypus), is a large semi-aquatic rodent. They were brought in from South America for two reasons, the fur trade and in hopes of controlling the Muskrat, which was doing a lot of damage to marshlands through their burrowing. Nutria nest and were thought to nest above ground and not to be burrowing. Instead they used the tunnels that the Muskrats created only, because of the nutria’s size, the tunnels grew larger; result, even more damage. (Nutria weigh an average of 12.0 pounds (5.4 kg).

In addition to their size, adding to the damage problems, nutria are prolific breeders.

They breed year round and are extremely prolific. Males reach sexual maturity between 4 and 9 months, whereas, females reach sexual maturity between 3 and 9 months. Sexual maturity may vary with habitat quality. With a gestation period of only 130 days, in one year, an adult nutria can produce two litters and be pregnant for a third. The number of young in a litter ranges from 1-13 with an average of 4.5 young. Females can breed within a day of having a litter. Litter size can vary with age of female, habitat quality and time of year. The young nutria at birth are fully furred and the eyes are open. Newborn nutria feed on vegetation within hours and will nurse for 7-8 weeks.

Also, nutria predominately feed on the base of plant stems and dig for roots and rhizomes in the winter. They often construct circular platforms of compacted, coarse emergent vegetation, which they use for feeding, birthing, resting and grooming. Nutria may also construct burrows in levees, dikes and embankments.

Will we ever learn to leave Mother Nature alone?

Note: I no longer hunt or trap, and rarely go fishing; usually for native trout.

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