Bites at Animal Planet


23 Aug

Plant Milkweed for Monarchs!

Monarch butterflies are in serious trouble. Their populations have crashed and are at an all time low, and experts fear that this iconic black and orange butterfly species could disappear altogether if action isn't taken. 

Monarch butterfly on milkweed. Photo by Rick&Brenda Beerhoorst via Flickr Creative Commons.

Monarchs, like all butterfly species, require host plants where they lay their eggs and where their caterpillars feed. Through the process of co-evolution, over hundreds of thousands of years each butterfly species has evolved immunity to the chemical defenses of just a limited number of plants. These are that species' host plants.

In the case of monarchs, milkweed (Asclepias spp.) is their only host plant, and unfortunately, we have done a bang-up job at a massive elimination of milkweed from coast to coast. Like many native plants that support wildlife, milkweed has gotten a bad reputation as a "weed." The default position of both conventional commercial agriculture as well as conventional home gardening is to eliminate it.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed. Photo by Brian Garrett via Flickr Creative Commons.

With the help of herbicide-resistant GMO crops that allow industrial farmers to spray massive amounts of chemicals to eliminate every last milkweed, and the emphasis of the home gardening industry on exotic ornamental plants that don't support wildlife over native plants like milkweed, we have been tremendously successful at wiping out milkweed.  And the monarchs are suffering.

It's not all bad news. We each can all do something to turn around this dire situation: PLANT MILKWEED IN YOUR GARDEN!  I'm not exaggerating with my capitalization. What we do in our gardens can literally save this beautiful butterfly species from oblivion. Add milkweed into your flower beds, plant it in containers on your patio, or if you have the space, grow a wildflower garden with milkweed and lots of othe native plants. 

Swamp milkweed
Swamp milkweed seed pods in my garden. Photo by David Mizejewski.

There are a few dozen species of milkweed native to North America. Many are actually beautiful ornamentals that are increasingly being sold in garden centers. You can get seed packets for some species as well. You can collect milkweed seeds (if you can find any wild plants) and grow them yourself. Not only is milkweed the host plant for monarch caterpillars, it's also an excellent nectar plant for adult butterflies and many other pollinators.

I'm currently growing two kinds of milkweed in containers in my urban backyard: swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa). These two species are found over much of the continent and are the two you're most likely to see in your garden center. Mine are part of the American Beauties Native Plants line.

So far, I haven't had any monarch caterpillars. Monarchs are one of the few migratory insects. The last generation to hatch in late summer will delay sexual maturity and migrate down to a few locations in the mountains outside Mexico City, or scattered locations in central California where they'll go dormant for up to five months before migrating back across North America. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that in the coming weeks, my milkweeds will serve as host to this last generation of the season.

Swamp milkweed seeds
Swamp milkweed seed pods. Photo by David Mizejewski.

Even if they don't this year, I've begun gathering seeds from my milkweeds. I will keep them in the refrigerator for a couple of months to simulate winter weather conditions the seeds need in order to germinate, and then plant them indoors around January. By the time spring rolls around, I'll have dozens of small milkweed plants that I can add to my garden and share with my friends.

Saving a species can really be that simple, but we all need to do it for it have an impact. I hope that you'll add milkweed to your garden and help save the monarchs!

Plant a Garden for Monarch Butterflies with the National Wildlife Federation 


9 Aug

RARE Wild Animals - Part 2



Here is part two of my highlight on some of the rare wild animals the conservation organization Rare works to protect.  (See part one here.)

Yellow Eared Parrot
The population of the yellow-eared parrot is only about 1,000 since its rediscovery in 1998 near Roncesvalles, Colombia.  It is bright green with yellow ear patches and a dark, heavy bill. Considered critically endangered, it nests and lives among wax palms in a few areas of Colombia where it nests in the hollow trunks of the palm trees in cloud forests about 1800 – 3000 meters above sea level.  Its main food is fruit of the wax palm, which is itself an endangered species.  The yellow-eared parrot has declined dramatically in the face of hunting for food and habitat destruction for farming and cattle.

Here's more on this rare parrot species:


The bird’s habitat and survival are now better protected because of a Rare Pride campaign.  Water agreements have been forged between the government of Roncesvalles and the utility company, for watersheds supplying the town and several downstream locations. Water users pay a voluntary fee in their water bill that goes toward a water fund that provides an incentive for long-term owners to conserve the wilderness, forests and endangered yellow-eared parrot found in the area.   

Harlequin Frog
Colorful harlequin frogs are found in neotropics from Costa Rica to Bolivia. They belong to the genus Atelopus and include about 80 species.  Most live in forested mountains where rainfall is abundant, and most have only a small range or area where they live. Night-owls as well as daytimers, they are active 24/7.  Harlequin frogs are small-to-medium size amphibians (20-60 mm from the tip of the nose to the vent) with females always larger than males. Rising temperatures, habitat destruction, and the spread of the deadly chytrid fungus have wiped out dozens of species of harlequin frogs in recent years. Further, most of the harlequin frog species are listed as critically endangered.  


Harlequin frog Photo by Brian Gratwicke via Flickr Creative Commons. 

For several years Rare worked to protect water sources in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador, which feed the urban and rural systems of water from different parts of the city of Cuenca and provide habitat for endangered species such as the frog Atelopus Nanay, commonly known as the harlequin frog Jambatu Black Boxes.  Nanay means sadness in Quechua, deriving from the extinction of many species of frogs in this region. 

The local utility started a small water fee to support conservation projects upstream.  The Pride campaign aimed to show creating such water agreements are a “win-win" for people and conservation.  Some of the Andes’ most valuable ecological indicators and most threatened inhabitants are myriad frog species whose populations are so imperiled that numbers do not even exist in science.  Rare developed strong relationships with the Cajas National Park to work together in the reproduction of the species of harlequin frog Jambatu the Black Boxes, including a plan for reintroduction in riparian forest areas once they achieve an appropriate degree of recovery.


Harleguin frog photo by Brian Gratwicke via Flickr Creative Commons.

Pride campaigns use proven marketing techniques to move the hearts and minds of local communities, accelerating the adoption and increasing the sustainability of the solutions. Rare has conducted over 250 Pride campaigns in more than 50 countries, empowering local communities across geographies and cultures to shift from resource users to become natural asset managers.

To see Rare’s work all over the world, click here.


5 Aug

RARE Wild Animals


Long time readers know that I'm a naturalist National Wildlife Federation, one of Animal Planet's R.O.A.R. partners, and I sometimes highlight NWF's work in my Animal Oddities posts. In this post I want to give a shout out to a fellow conservation organizations, Rare.  Rare looks for proven conservation solutions and trains local leaders to inspire communities to adopt them and make them their own through its signature Pride campaigns. They are pretty awesome. 

And it just so happens that a lot of the species Rare works to protect through these campaigns are pretty odd. Here are two of the most unusual species they work with:

Leaf Cutter Ant
The Leaf Cutter ant is considered a delicacy in parts of South America.  During its reproductive season the Leaf Cutter ant’s abdomen swells and it flies around in a sexual flurry only to be caught and grilled by the local people.  An average nest of leafcutter ants contains over 5 million ants.  They are also known as 'parasol' ants because of the way they carry leaves above their heads.  The ants can carry over 50 times their own body weight.

Here's Jeff Corwin exploring these awesome ants.

Continue reading >

13 Jul

Massive School of Anchovy Swarm Southern California Coast

A massive school of anchovy swarmed the waters of the Pacific Ocean near Scripps Pier at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego in La Jolla, Calif., last week on July 8. The incredible event was witnessed by many marine enthusiasts and beach goers — many of whom took to the waters.

Watch the video below and see the amazing lava-lamp-like ebb and flow of the school of fish as curious swimmers approach and as they ride the current:

Researchers haven't seen an event like this in over 30 years and have no explanation for its occurrence.  The school consisted of millions — possibly even over a billion — of the fish, called the Northern anchovy.

The anchovy returned the next day, Wednesday, and many swimmers, snorkelers and surfers hit the waters to take full advantage of the rare opportunity to swim with the phenomenon.  See the Scripps YouTube playlist for more footage of the amazing event >>

Photo: YouTube image 

The Northern anchovy is harvested off the West coast.  It is mostly used as bait by commercial fishermen.

Continue reading >

30 Jun

10 Things You Should Know about the Elephant Crisis


R.I.P. mighty Satao. One of the largest and, arguably, most-loved elephants on the planet was recently killed for his massive tusks. According to The Tsavo Trust, 45 year-old Satao was shot dead by poisoned arrows May 30. His legendary tusks, which nearly touched the ground, were hacked off by poachers to feed what seems to be an insatiable demand for ivory across the globe.

For nearly five decades the iconic Satao thrilled tourists and evaded poachers in Tsavo East National Park. During that time he fathered many offspring. Some are still out there trying to avoid his fate. Whether or not they survive . . . is up to us. Here are 10 things to know about the elephant crisis.

Ellie silhouette_8867

10 Things to Know

1. One elephant is killed every 15 minutes. 

2. Over 20,000 elephants were poached in 2013.

3. At the current rate they’ll be extinct in 20 years.

4. Violent conflict and ivory poaching are interconnected. Heavily armed crime cartels and militias use ivory funds to finance terrorism and wars in Africa.

Continue reading >

19 Jun

President To Expand Pacific Ocean Sanctuary, Here's Some of the Marine Life He Will Help Protect

President Obama announced a proposal earlier this week to expand marine sanctuaries of the Pacific Ocean, doubling the size of the currently protected oceans.

The plan would expand the protected region around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, increasing the sanctuary from 87,000 to 782,000 square miles — an area twice the size of the state of Texas. The protection would limit fishing, drilling and other resource extraction or destruction, waste dumping and other commercial activities specifically directed at energy development.  The move would also require federal agencies to make moves toward combatting over-fishing, pollution and acidification of ocean waters.

Photo: The island country of Kiribati is on average only seven feet above sea level. They are directly combatting the effects of climate change that may literally drown their nation in the coming decades. See the Report >>


President George W. Bush established the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument as protected oceans on January 6, 2009. It includes a number of islands which you can find here >>

Continue reading >

6 Jun

PHOTOS: Bees: Up Close and Beautiful

Many probably think of bees as those pesky things that come around during picnics and manage to give everyone a good scare.  Sam Droege, a biologist at the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab, however, gives everyone a chance to see these insects in a beautiful new light with his brilliant photographs.


Photo Credit Sam Droege

Droege's role is to document many of the 4,000 species of bees that can be found here in North America.  From this information he is able to work with his colleagues to track fluctuations in different species’ populations.  The photographs are magnified to show the bees at up to five times their actual size according to

Continue reading >

16 May

Jumping Crocodiles Offer Strong Reminder to Never Get in the Water Again

8rk74In further evidence supporting our decision to never enter the water again, this video of amazing crocodiles leaping majestically out of the water to catch some meat on a fishing line proves that these chomping beauties aren't creatures to be messed with.

The video, from Northern Territory, Australian Outback YouTube channel shows how you can get up close and personal with the crocodiles (in a safe, smart manner, of course). Check it out.

As for us? With all of our Monster Week research, we'll stick to dry land, thanks. Check out more reasons to never get back in the water - including this piranha whose teeth can bite through steel:

Tune in for a brand new Monster Week - starting THIS Sunday at 9PM E/P

(with specials premiering at 8PM E/P too!)

7 May

A Moment In Monster History: Meet The 10-Ton Sarcosuchus

Crocodiles can come in a variety of sizes, from as a small as a few feet, to as long at 18 feet. No matter what size they come in, there’s no denying the species is one of the most revered and respected in the wild.

But what if we told you there was once a predator bigger than the giant crocodiles we’ve seen recently in Uganda and the Philippines?

Meet the Sarcosuchus:

Based on fossils and other research, scientists discovered that the Sarcosuchus weighed around 10 tons and had the strength to dominate other large predators, including dinosaurs. (Photo by Vassil)

Continue reading >

22 Apr

VIDEO: Google Glass – A News Lens for Conservation in Nepal

Contributed By Shubash Lohani, Deputy Director, Eastern Himalayas Program, World Wildlife Fund (WWF)



Last month, I wrote about Nepal’s tremendous feat of zero poaching of rhinos, tigers and elephants for an entire year. Today, we are at 429 days and counting…

The main reason Nepal has been so successful in curbing poaching within its borders, as I mentioned in my previous post, is the strong collaboration between the government, NGOs and local communities. Nepal is also at the forefront of using new technologies that have helped them achieve these kinds of conservation results. From satellite based GPS collaring to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to biogas stoves for rural families, Nepal has been a testing ground for cutting-edge innovations and ideas that could help turn the tide in favor of global conservation efforts.

Recently, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had the opportunity to take part in another tech “exploration” in Nepal. Selected to participate in Google’s Giving Through Glass program, we had the opportunity to brainstorm creative ways and test how Glass – Google’s wearable smart glasses – could help us do our work more efficiently in the field. While still early in the process, one thing we’ve been working on is a new Glass-specific app (“Glassware”) that could help field researchers take notes hands-free during rhino monitoring by recording information on a rhino’s condition, habitat, activity, location and other key data, and then uploading the information so that it can be easily shared among members of the research team. While the Glassware is still in beta phase and we’re still early in the process of testing it out, such a tool could be very helpful to field biologists and conservationists working to protect rhinos and other threatened species.

You can see Google Glass in action in this short video featuring my colleague Sabita Malla – senior research officer at WWF-Nepal – testing it in the field.

about the blog

Welcome to the Bites @ Animal Planet, where you can connect with the people who bring Animal Planet to life. Find out what's in the works here at Animal Planet, share your feedback with the team and see what's getting our attention online and in the news.







stay connected

our sites