Fall is in the air. Birds are flocking up for the flight south. I’ve heard reports and seen some photos of a vast congregation of Swainson’s hawks near Whitewater Draw in Arizona. Here the Juncos and towhees are gathering. Tarantulas are on the prowl looking for lovely lady friends. This week we have seen three of these large fuzzy arachnids near the house. The males wander around looking for a receptive female this time of year. The sun’s angle is lower in the sky, the air is cool, and spiders are on the loose. Fall….
Recently I’ve been pondering the mass loss of species in our life time. It is very troubling and sad but there are some funny aspects. Most of the great extinction we are currently in is from habitat loss and climate change. The two causes are linked. Some habitat is destroyed by human development and some habitat has succumbed to sea rise and desertification. Meanwhile climate change is rerouting migratory paths as birds follow food sources and weather.
Not all change is bad for everybody. Insects are likely to do very well in a warmer, wetter world. Say hello to roaches, ticks, and fleas Montana. Parasites I thought I left behind 30 years ago in Georgia are making their way across the Mississippi and up the Rockies. Abandoned snakes are thriving in Florida. Anacondas and pythons can claim more territory as land masses sink, sea levels rise, and marshes move inland. I was reading up on pythons and anacondas recently. After I saw the yoga mat posing as an anaconda in the marsh I wanted to make sure I wasn’t crazy for leaping to that conclusion. I’m not. Anacondas are here in the US. Yes, twenty foot long, 500 pound anacondas are here. Like alligators they may soon be moving up north. Here’s the disturbing thing I found in my research. Pythons were thought to be a menace in Florida but, unexpectedly, they have reached a sort of stasis. The python numbers seem to have plateaued because they have a natural control. Pythons are being eaten by another invader species. Fire ants are eating pythons while they nest. Mother pythons lay eggs and sit on the eggs until they hatch. Floating squadrons of fire ants find these nests and eat mom and eggs. Anacondas don’t nest. Anacondas have live births. Let that sink in. Anacondas are now presumed to be the menace that pythons were predicted to be. I’d have preferred to take my chances with the python rather than an alligator eating snake. Pythons crunch your bones and don’t always kill you before they stuff you down the gullet face first. So the snake invaders, a problem caused buy irresponsible pet owners, have met the expanding habitat brought by warmer and wetter conditions in the south. Keep an eye out Fifi.
I realize I’m going a little overboard here. The point is I am trying to get you paying attention. Fleas, starlings, knapweed, chagas disease, malaria…it’s all on the move. A species finds a nitch and grows to fill it. Everything is in flux. Warmer is not better.
Here’s a funny anecdote about human caused species migration. The case of Escobar’s hippos cannot be blamed on climate change but climate change may play a role in what happens next. Pablo Escobar (narcotraficante of Cloumbia and the 80s) had a zoo on his estate. Escobar was killed in a shoot out at the estate in 1993. Like many eccentric and too wealthy people he had a personal zoo. This zoo featured many animals from all over the world. After their owner died, most of the animals were farmed out to nearby zoos. Some animals were euthanized. Not everybody met such fates. Pablo also had four hippos. Hippopotami weigh two tons each. This pod of a male and three females were left to their own devices on a pond behind a fence. Nobody wanted to move 16,000 pounds of hippo. These four hippos bred and lounged and eventually broke free. Now there are reports of up to 200 hippos in the countryside around the estate. Hippos in Columbia are reproducing at a younger age and a quicker rate than in their home country. Hippos are poised to take over Columbia. Meanwhile they are heading towards extinction in there homeland. No natural predators, more food, and a nice warm home.
All of this to help you imagine the niches our viral, bacterial, and invertebrate friends are finding in the new world we are creating. Hope they find a way to vaccinate for malaria soon, folks. Me? I like spiders.