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Wildlife Lookout

Wildlife Lookout: Louisiana Bats

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by Chelsea Cochrane

Northern yellow bat

A common sight at dusk, bats are the only mammal capable of true flight. Their order, Chiroptera, is the second largest order of mammals after rodents, comprising about 20% of all classified mammal species worldwide. There are over 1,400 species of bats in the world – 45 are native to the United States, 11 can be spotted in Louisiana. These were originally divided into two suborders, the megabats and the microbats. Recently further knowledge of these unique mammals gave way to new classifications, dividing the order into the Yinpterochiroptera and Yangochiroptera suborders. The creation of these new subdivisions is largely based on molecular genetics data, unlike the old classifications which were more related to the bat’s eating or behavioral habits.

some species of bats hibernate for the winter

Despite what is presented in popular vampire culture most bats eat insects or fruit. In fact the largest bat species affectionately called “flying foxes” are harmless fruit bats (if you’re not a fruit farmer) including the impressive giant golden-crowned flying fox, Acerodon jubatus, which can have a wingspan of over 5 feet. We won’t see any of those here though – they prefer the tropics and subtropics of Asia. All bats found in the southeast United States are insectivorous, nocturnal, and locate food primarily by echolocation. Of over 1,400 species of bats, only three species feed solely on blood. These ‘vampire bats’ are found in Central and South America and rarely make their way into the US. Really.

Many tourist visit Carlsbad Caverns to see the massive colonies of Mexican free-tail bats

Insectivorous bats are generally deemed a good thing, as long as they are not nesting in your attic. These heavy feeders eat many pest insects, like crop-eating beetles, moths, and mosquitoes, reducing the need for pesticides. Their waste, called guano, is mined and used as a popular fertilizer. Some species nest in huge colonies whose nightly flight can be a popular tourist attraction. Unfortunately some bats make great hosts for many pathogens like rabies, and it is advised to never interact with bats, and to take special precautions if an interaction occurs.

Bats have long been admired for their precise and maneuverable flight. Their wings have hand-like digits that connect to a pivotal “wrist”, covered with a tight thin membrane of skin called patagium. The order name Chiroptera means “hand-wing”. This gives them an advantage in agility over birds. Many also use echolocation – emitting an ultrasonic frequency to determine the exact location of an object by its reverberations. The bat’s highly developed ears can pick up the fluttering of a moth’s wings, and even the movement of underground insects!

Bats in Louisiana

There are 11 documented species of bats that can be found in Louisiana. Here is a list with short descriptions.

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In the vesper bat family Vespertilionidae, the big brown bat occurs widely throughout the US, Canada, Central America and the Caribbean into South America. It’s large for a microbat, with a wingspan of up to 15 inches. Commonly seen just at dusk, the big brown bat can adapt to many environments, including urban settings.

Mexican free-tailed batTadarida brasiliensis
The Mexican free-tailed bat or Brazilian free-tailed bat of the family Molossidae is widely regarded as one of the most abundant mammals in North America. Nevertheless their natural habit of roosting in enormous numbers can cause massive fluctuations in populations due to habitat destruction and disease. The free-tailed bat holds the record for fastest documented flight speed of any animal, with a top ground speed of over 100 MPH.

Tricolored batPerimyotis subflavus
The tricolored bat is a member of the vesper family native to eastern North America. It was formerly called an eastern pipistrelle based on its resemblance to the European Pipistrellus species, however further genetic studies revealed it is more closely related to the canyon bat and those of the vesper family. The name is derived from three distinctive bands of color on its back. Once common in this area, the tricolored bat has suffered significant decline since 2006 due to a fungal disease. The tricolored bat along with the silver-haired bat are the two bats most associated with carrying rabies.

Eastern red batLasiurus borealis
Another member of the vesper family, the eastern red bat is considered among the most common in Louisiana, and is widespread throughout most of eastern North America. Its entire body is very furry, males are a rusty brick red, females have more gray dusting. Both have distinctive white patches on their shoulders.

Evening batNycticeius humeralis
Another quite common in our area, the evening bat is also in the vesper family, native to North America with a relatively small range over the southeast region. These small bats hunt strictly at night. They have short lifespans for bats but are heavy breeders – females will form “maternity colonies” consisting of 15 to 300 bats. 90 percent of births are twins, some singles and some triplets. They are known to be good pest-eaters.

Hoary bat Lasiurus cinereus
Also in the vesper family, the hoary bat can be found throughout most of North & South America, with some disjunct populations in the Galápagos Islands and Hawaii. It has a 15 inch wingspan and a thick coat of dark fur with white tips, giving it a gray-ish white frosted or ‘hoary’ appearance. The hoary bat is mainly solitary, though it will occasionally nest with other bats in a cave.

Northern Yellow BatLasiurus intermedius
The northern yellow bat has a very specific region bordering the Gulf of Mexico through the US and into Central America. It tends to inhabit wooded areas near a permanent water source with Spanish moss or palm trees. This species of vesper bat uses Spanish moss exclusively for nesting. Its coat can vary from yellow-orange to gray-brown.

Rafinesque’s big-eared batCorynorhinus rafinesquii
Sometimes called the southeastern big-eared bat, this species has big ears. Over an inch long, which is quite big for a bat averaging 3 – 3.9 inches long. They are vesper bats in the genus Corynorhinus, meaning “club-nosed”. These are not the most attractive bats, and they are fairly uncommon throughout their range. Similar to the Townsend’s big-eared bat.

Seminole batLasiurus seminolus
The seminole bat is another vesper with a relatively small distribution, found exclusively in the southeastern US. It is often confused for the red bat because of its similar coat. This bat feeds on a relatively large amount of ants, bees and wasps, as well as beetles, moths, flies and some cicadas. They also use Spanish moss for their nesting.

(c) adamdv18, some rights reserved
(CC BY-NC)

Silver-haired batLasionycteris noctivagans
A solitary, migratory species of the vesper family, the silver-haired bat is the only member of its genus. Its range consists of much of North America, wintering in the south just into Mexico and summering all the way up to Alaska. We are actually on the very edge of its range here in St. Tammany. This bat has dense black fur with white tips, giving it the frosted appearance for which its named. The scientific name translates to “night-wandering”, an ode to these creatures’ nocturnal habits.

Southeastern myotis batMyotis austroriparius
Another bat with a very specific range, centered closely around the Gulf. These small bats vary from gray to bright orange-brown, weighing 5 – 8 grams. This species nests and hunts around open water and can be found in thick hardwood forests. It sometimes roosts with the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat. This myotis stands out among its genus as a heavy breeder, often producing twins. During nesting season the southeastern myotis is an important food source for barred owls.

Flora of Covington

Flora of Covington: Goldenrod and Ragweed – Friend or Foe?

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by Chelsea Cochrane

It seems like every season is allergy season for something in the South, especially in our particularly sub-tropical region of it. The fall allergens combined with the change in temps seem to hit me the hardest for some reason. Like many people do, I would see the bright yellow plumes of goldenrod flowers and assume that they were to blame for my distress.

Such a shame that these golden beauties get such a bad rap! Their only fault is they happen to share a season with the less conspicuous ragweed. It’s easy to see how the confusion is made – the tiny brightly-colored flowers seem like they would harbor mini pollen bombs waiting for a good breeze. Actually, goldenrod has a thick, sappy pollen that is adapted for insect pollination and does not become airborne. This is opposed to the wind-blown ragweed pollen, adapted to travel hundreds of miles to coat your car and sinuses.

Goldenrods are actually a genus of about 100 to 120 species of flowering plants called Solidagos. Part of the aster family, Asteraceae, most goldenrods are native to North America, with a few South American and European species. According to the U.S. Geological Survey there are at least 13 species of goldenrod found in southern Louisiana. The most common may be the Louisiana goldenrod, Solidago ludoviciana, which can grow to 5 feet and produce as many as 140 flowers per plant.

Goldenrod has many beneficial aspects. As most species are fall bloomers, and heavy bloomers at that, goldenrods serve as some of the last food sources before winter for our pollinating insect friends. Many cultures praise goldenrod for having various medicinal benefits, such as anti-inflammatory and mild pain-relieving effects, and even kidney and bladder cleansing properties. Through several studies by the European Medicines Agency on goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea), non-clinical data shows diuretic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic and spasmolytic, antibacterial, antifungal, anticancer and immunomodulatory activity. Add this to its showy golden blooms and you can see why some people consider the goldenrod lucky and feature it in their gardens.

Ragweed is also a member of the aster family in the genus Ambrosia, of which there are about 50 species. It is native to southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico and distributed heavily across tropical and subtropical regions. The most common ragweed species in North America is Ambrosia artemisiifolia. The Greek name Ambrosia translates to “food or drink of immortality/the gods”.

Ragweed is believed to heal many ailments and was widely used in Native American medicine. Surprisingly, it is most well known for its astringent qualities in the treatment of hay fever. According to King’s American Dispensatory, 1898, ragweed is used for “excessive irritation of mucous membranes…with free mucous discharge” of the nose, throat, mouth, urethra, and bowels. The pharmaceutical industry has even caught on to the use of ragweed to treat allergy symptoms, developing a Ragweed Sublingual Immunotherapy Liquid extract (RW-SAIL) for individuals suffering from chronic allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, from their ragweed allergies.

common ragweed

So in conclusion, I would say both plants have their purpose, although both can become invasive if left untended. But as far as allergies go, pull the ragweed before the goldenrod. And maybe make it into a tea.

Wildlife Lookout

Hoot Dat! A Guide to Louisiana Owls

Published by:

by Chelsea Cochrane

long-eared owl

Owls are birds that make up the order Strigiformes, comprised of over 200 species. Mostly solitary and nocturnal, defining characteristics include upright posture, a large, broad head, binocular vision, binaural hearing, sharp talons, and feathers adapted for silent flight. These birds are classified into two families, the Strigidae or true owls and the Tytonidae or barn owls.

According to the Louisiana Bird Records Committee (LBRC) of the Louisiana Ornithological Society, there are four owls of the family Strigidae and one in the family Tytonidae that are common in Louisiana. Those are the eastern screech owl, the barred owl, the short-eared owl, the great horned owl and the common barn owl.

The Barn owl (Tyto alba) is set apart from true owls in its own family Tytonidae. This is due to its heart-shaped face, short tail and smaller eyes. Its a small family, comprised of only about 20 species, divided into two genera, Tyto and Phodilus. Nocturnal, barn owls hunt by swooping low over fields or marshes, listening for small rodents. Due to its white underside and pale plumage it can be mistaken for the larger snowy owl, especially in flight. So named for its habit of roosting in quieter parts of man-made structures like silos, church steeples or barn lofts. Barn owls are among the most widely distributed owls in the world and one of the most widespread of all birds.

Barn owls don’t hoot the way most owls do – instead they let out eerie screeches in about 2 second bursts. Purrs and hissing are also part of this birds vocale. Listen here: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Owl/sounds

All other owls are classified as true or typical owls in the family Strigidae. These owls have what is called a cosmopolitan distribution as they are widespread around the world, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. There are three accepted subfamilies comprising nearly 220 species: Striginae, Asioninae, and Surniinae.

The Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops aslo) is fairly common in our area, although most know it better by its signature call – not quite a screech, but more of a whinny and soft trills, becoming active at dusk. Screech owls are small, stocky bird, ranging from 6 – 9.5 inches in length. They are generally a speckled grey, although there is a rusty Rufous morph which tends to be more common in the south. The complex patterns provide excellent camouflage against tree bark. These shy, tiny birds are hard to spot but are actually quite common in residential areas, where a person may not know they have an owl for a neighbor.

Listen to the sounds of an Eastern screech owl here:
www.bird-sounds.net/eastern-screech-owl

The Short-eared owl (Aslo flammeus) are medium-sized, spotted brown, white underside, with a pale face rounded and yellow eyes, accentuated by deep black outlines. Ears are unnoticeable, generally only up in small tufts when the bird is in a defensive pose. These owls primarily hunt early in the morning or late day. It shares the widespread distribution and much of the same habitat as the barn owl, occurring on every continent except Antarctica and Australia.

From Wikipedia: Owls belonging to genus Asio are known as the eared owls, as they have tufts of feathers resembling mammalian ears. The genus name Asio is a type of eared owl, and flammeus means “flame-coloured”.

The short-eared owl is not especially vocal, but can be heard giving a series of a dozen or so hoots. Listen here:
www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Short-eared_Owl/sounds

The Barred owl (Strix varia) is also maybe better known as the “hoot” owl for its distinct “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” call. A large bird with brown eyes and brown-and-white-striped plumage, the barred owl is native to the east and is quite common in our area. Although mostly active at night, it is not as fully nocturnal as most owls, and can be spotted in the early morning, at dusk, and even on overcast days. Extremely vocal, other calls include a “siren call” and a “monkey call”. The barred owl is only slightly smaller than its cousin the Great Horned Owl, but markedly less aggressive, and in territory disputes will often leave to find a new home.

Listen here: www.audubon.org/news/hear-many-different-hoots-barred-owl

The Great Horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is the third largest owl in North America and fifth in the world. It is the largest owl here in the southeast, although rare sightings of its slightly larger cousin the Snowy owl have been documented. The great horned owls is the most widely distributed owl of the Americas, with a habitat ranging over most of North America. So named for its long, horn-like ear tufts, it is an intimidating looking bird, broad and barrel-shaped, with bright yellow eyes and a 3 – 5 foot wingspan, averaging 4.6 feet. Sometimes called “tiger owl” for its stripes, orange-red highlights and aggressive hunting practices. They are also sometimes called “hoot owls” for their deep, warbling “hoot”.

Listen here: www.birdnote.org/listen/shows/voices-and-vocabularies-great-horned-owls

Learn more about the Great Horned Owl here: www.covingtonweekly.com/2012/10/03/the-great-horned-owl/

Danny (left) with father and daughter

Local Danny Burke, owner of Life Somatics, shares these photos from 10 years ago of a baby horned owl who fell out of its nest and was in the street. The owl (nicknamed “Bud Light”) was brought to LSU Vet School for care and eventual release back to nature.

If you should ever find a wild animal in need and are not sure how to help the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries has a list of Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitators here.

Owls in Local News

Photo credit Covington Police Department Dec 2015

Most of us remember a few years back on Christmas Eve when Officer Lance Benjamin was attacked by an owl that flew into his police cruiser. The incident made nation news: www.cnn.com

It appears a barred owl was the culprit. Both the assailant and the officer were able to depart the scene unharmed, relatively in the case of Officer Benjamin, who suffered minor clawing and pecking in the incident.

Healthy Living Local Events

Thanksgiving Eve Activities at Our Place Studio

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Our Place Studio hosts two fun and energetic classes the evening before Thanksgiving.  Free to members, non members may register for $10/person.   opcovington.com  Members may bring friends or family for only $5 a person!  Ages 8 and up, children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.  Come move around!

opcovington.com

op thanksgiving eve