Thursday, May 21, 2015

Return the Favor to a Horseshoe Crab

Beach season at the Jersey Shore is upon us. While wandering the ocean or bay beaches, you may happen upon a horseshoe crab. We love horseshoe crabs and often write about their role in the ecology, for medicine, for commercial fishing and as a food supplier to migrating shorebirds.

reTURN the Favor, at, is a collaborative effort that enables organized volunteer groups to save horseshoe crabs who are stranded on New Jersey’s seasonally closed and open beaches.

Their stated goals are to rescue stranded horseshoe crabs; Provide an organized way to rescue horseshoe crabs on New Jersey’s closed beaches; Increase awareness of horseshoe crabs, shorebirds and their management; and collect data and information on stranded crabs, potential hazards, and tagged crabs to aid in management and restoration.

You can certainly get involved with the group and their activities. And, if you happen upon a live crab who has been overturned,return the favor and turn it right side up!

To save a stranded Horseshoe Crab, they ask that you follow these simple guidelines:
  1. Plan your outing around a falling or low tide.
  2. Hold crabs by their sides, not the tail – crabs are harmless!
  3. Gently place crabs on their feet pointing towards the water.
  4. Leave crabs where you find them – do not remove live or dead crabs from the beach.
    * New Jersey has a moratorium on pos­session of Horseshoe Crabs, so please do not remove live or dead crabs from beaches.
  5. If you encounter shorebirds please do not disturb them – walk well away from flocks to allow them to feed and roost undisturbed.
  6. Do not enter into a closed beach unless you are on a sanctioned reTURN the Favor walk. To sign up visit:
  7. Ask for permission if you need to enter private property

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Federal Protection of Endangered Species

The NJ threatened Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

Federal protection of endangered species dates back to the Lacey Act of 1900, when Congress passed the first wildlife law in response to growing public concern over the decline of the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). The Lacey Act prohibited interstate commerce of animals killed illegally and required the secretary of agriculture to preserve, introduce, distribute, and restore wild bird and game bird.

As public awareness of environmental problems initiated political activism in the 1960s, the Department of Interior formed a Committee on Rare and Endangered Wildlife Species to identify species in immediate danger of extinction.

The Redbook on Rare and Endangered Fish and Wildlife of the United States, published in 1964, served as the first official document listing species the federal government considered to be in danger of extinction. Two years after the Redbook list was published, Congress passed the Endangered Species Protection Act of 1966—the first piece of comprehensive endangered species legislation.

The goal, as stated in the 1966 Act, was to "conserve, protect, restore, and propagate certain species of native fish and wildlife." It was under the 1966 Endangered Species Preservation Act that the very first list of threatened and endangered species was created,

There are more than a thousand listed - see

Some are well known to the public and others are largely unknown. Here are some mammal examples

Indiana Bat - Myotis sodalis
Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel - Sciurus niger cinereus
Timber Wolf - Canis lupus lycaon
Red Wolf - Canis niger
San Joaquin Kit Fox - Vulpes macrotis mutica
Grizzly Bear - Ursus horribilis
Black-footed Ferret - Mustela nigripes
Florida Panther - Felis concolor coryi
Caribbean Monk Seal - Monachus tropicalis
Guadalupe Fur Seal - Arctocephalus philippi townsendi
Florida Manatee or Florida Sea Cow - Trichechus manatus latirostris
Key Deer - Odocoileus virginianus clavium
Columbian White-tailed Deer - Odocoileus virginianus leucurus
Sonoran Pronghorn - Antilocapra americana sonoriensis

The Gray Wolf, (Canis lupus), is a good example of a species that is both loved and mythologized by the general public, but also seen as a nuisance predator by some farmers and ranchers.

It is a "keystone predator," and is an integral component of the ecosystems to which it typically belongs. The wide range of habitats in which wolves can thrive reflects their adaptability as a species, and includes temperate forests, mountains, tundra, taiga, and grasslands.

Gray wolves were originally listed as subspecies or as regional populations of subspecies in the contiguous United States and Mexico. In 1978, they were reclassifed as an endangered population at the species level (C. lupus) throughout the contiguous United States and Mexico, except for the Minnesota gray wolf population, which was classified as threatened. (Gray wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes were delisted due to recovery in 2011 and 2012)

Each state has its own unique list of species that are federally protect and exist in that state, and also species that are listed as threatened or endangered in that state but not across the country. (See the NJ list at

The general public often doesn't realize that listings include not only mammals but also birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, insects and plants.

An example of the plants is the NJ Swamp pink (Helonias bullata.

Swamp pink was federally listed as a threatened species in 1988.

A perennial member of the lily family, swamp pink has smooth, oblong, dark green leaves that form an evergreen rosette. In spring, some rosettes produce a flowering stalk that can grow over 3 feet tall. The stalk is topped by a 1 to 3-inch-long cluster of 30 to 50 small, fragrant, pink flowers dotted with pale blue anthers. The evergreen leaves of swamp pink can be seen year round, and flowering occurs between March and May.

Supporting over half of the known populations, New Jersey is the stronghold for swamp pink.  Swamp pink occurs in Morris, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Atlantic, Salem, Cumberland, and Cape May Counties.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Scholarship Contest for New Jersey High School Students

New Jersey High School Students who love both media and technology and have an interest in our endangered species can combine both and possibly win a scholarship.

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey's "Species on the Edge 2.0 Multimedia Contest" is open to all New Jersey high school students.

The contest invites students to submit a video, app, podcast, digital graphic design, webpage, or other multimedia component showing why wildlife is important to protect in New Jersey.

All entries are due by Friday, May 22, 2015.

Prizes, sponsored by PSE&G, include:
1st prize: $1,000 in scholarship money
2nd prize: $500 in scholarship money
3rd prize: $250 in scholarship money

All entries will also be eligible to win a drawing to spend a day in the field with a wildlife biologist!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Full Moons, High Tides and Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe Crabs at Delaware Bay 
Photo: Greg Breese/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The recent Full Moon for May is a reminder to me that the time is here for horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) during the high tides of the new and full moons of early spring.

The ancient horseshoe crab evolved during the Paleozoic Era (540-248 million years ago) and although we call it a "crab," it is a species more closely related to spiders and scorpions.

The female horseshoe crabs will emerge from their muddy beds this month for spawning and will dig several nests to lay their eggs.

The males, one-third the size of females, attach themselves to the rear of the female's carapace and are pulled over the nests to fertilize the eggs.

Horseshoe crabs "protect" their eggs by covering their nests with sand, but wind and waves and especially visiting migratory shorebirds take many of those eggs. Shorebirds stopping in Delaware Bay on their travel along the Atlantic coastline. Shorebirds almost double their weight from feeding on horseshoe crab eggs which gives them the energy source that enables them to continue their migration north.

Red Knots at Delaware Bay
Photo: Greg Breese/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Until the 1990's, the harvest of horseshoe crabs was regulated by individual states, but in 1998, an Interstate Fisheries Management Plan was adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Biologists from state and federal agencies participate in a Cooperative Tagging Program to gain information about horseshoe crab migration patterns, distribution, abundance, and mortality.

Horseshoe crabs will molt several times before they reach sexual maturity at between 9 and 11 years of age.

Horseshoe crabs are harvested commercially primarily as bait to catch whelk (conch), American eel, and sometimes catfish. Pharmaceutical companies extract their blue, copper-based blood which contains a chemical substance, hemocyanin, which clots when exposed to bacteria. The blood is used to test drugs and medical equipment for the presence of harmful bacteria.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Coyote Sightings and Attacks Increasing

There has been an increasing number of media stories about coyotes in New Jersey because of an increasing number of coyote sightings and encounters.

Bergen County residents have actually been attacked by aggressive coyotes several times since last fall and two people have been bitten by coyotes this year. Most recently, officials shot and killed a coyote suspected of attacking a county resident near a wooded area in Norwood. A nearby K-8 school canceled outdoor athletic practices and instituted an indoor recess policy for the remainder of the week after two coyote dens were found near school grounds.

There were also reports of coyotes in Harrington Park and in Ridgewood a coyote was seen lurking around the Willard Elementary School area (though neither was found).

The first sighting of a coyote in New Jersey was in 1939, but official sightings have been irregular in the years since. They are now reported in almost 400 municipalities across all 21 of the state’s counties, with a population estimated at 3,000.

Coyotes are adaptable to humans and generally stick to rodents, rabbits and sometimes small deer for food. They rarely attack humans, but recent incidents include coyotes investigating humans walking dogs and dogs alone in backyards. Increased fear comes from several cases in which the attacking coyote has been found rabid.

On the night of April 30th, a coyote grabbed a Yorkshire terrier in a backyard and retreated to the woods with it in Randolph Township.

New Jersey and New York City residents are reporting an increased coyote presence this spring.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Spring at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Spring is a popular time to visit New Jersey's Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Although it is just 26 miles from New York City’s Times Square, the refuge consists of 7,768 acres of varied habitats, and the refuge has become an important resting and feeding area for more than 244 species of birds. Fox, deer, muskrat, fish, and a wide variety of wildflowers and plants can be found on the refuge.

People are encouraged to observe, study, photograph and walk with nature in designated public areas. The best times for observing wildlife are early in the morning and late afternoon. Because of large number of visitors in the spring and fall, wildlife viewing on Sundays is often crowded.

The refuge has close to 11 1/2 miles of foot access trails, with varying difficulty from which wildlife can be viewed. There are also three wildlife observation blinds and one wildlife overlook. Pleasant Plains Road is a good place to view wildlife from your vehicle.

The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge also recommends that you visit nearby the Raptor Trust (for information please call 908-647-8211), the Somerset County Environmental Educational Center (for information please call 908-766-2489) and the Morris County Outdoor Education Center (for information please call 973-635-6629). There is also the Watchung Reservation, Morristown Historical Park, Sherman Hoffman Aubudon Center and several other outdoor recreation areas located close to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Red Fox kit - Photo by Matt Sullivan
Know Before You Go
  • The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. Occasionally, the refuge is closed due to special events or hazardous weather conditions (e.g. flooding/snow). Call ahead to insure they are open: 973-425-1222.
  • You should start your visit at the Helen C Fenske Visitor Center Thursday-Friday 12am-4pm or Saturday-Sunday 10am-4pm to orient yourself to the refuge. There you can learn the history and find where the wildlife hotspot of the day is. 
  • While out on the refuge, waterproof footgear or old sneakers are recommended during most seasons in the Wilderness Area. Mosquitoes, ticks, and deer flies may be numerous from May to September throughout the refuge, so insect repellent and protective clothing are advisable. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, which has been found in the area.
Download the refuge brochure (pdf)

More information at