Have you ever heard of myrmecochory? It may not pop up much in casual conversation, but this strange word is your doorway to a tiny, fascinating world of ant-plant interactions. Myrmecochory is seed dispersal by ants (don’t worry, we cover how to pronounce it in the episode), and while it may seem simple on the surface, it’s a beautifully complex spectrum of behaviors and benefits, , including some questionable ones.
Myrmecochory has long been considered a classic example of mutualism, in which two species benefit from a shared interaction, but recent research has called this idea into question. Are the ants really benefiting? Is it possible that plants are parasitizing the ants? Are the ants inadvertently ‘cleaning’ the seeds, inoculating them against harmful soil microbes? There is so much more to myrmecochory than Bill and Steve ever imagined! Join the guys as they hit the trail, exploring the seldom-seen world of ants and plants.
In spring, a naturalist’s fancy turns to thoughts of Timberdoodlin’, and that means heading out into the spring twilight, finding a brushy meadow, and listening for the buzzy “Peent!” of the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) . AKA the Timberdoodle, this odd bird (it’s a shorebird that doesn’t live near the shore) performs a strange and stunning sky dance that is a must-see for any wildlife lover.
Join the guys as they focus on the fascinating natural history of this bird and head out on a cold March evening to see if they can witness the Woodcock in action.
Spring is here, and the guys hit the trail to discuss spring-related science, including how climate change is impacting global plant growth and how it’s changing bird migration. Plus, Bill gives a (sort of) rebuttal to Steve’s unprovoked and vicious attack on Charles Darwin from last episode. Happy Spring!
It’s Snow-and-Tell time! We’re deep into winter right now, and spring seems snow far away. So, we decided to embrace the season and look into recent research around a topic that would be sure to provide plenty of puns for this write-up: SNOW! We delve into recent studies about how much snow actually falls on North America, if the indigenous peoples of the north really have 100 words for snow, how climate change is affecting snowfall levels, and how those changes impact Snowshoe Hare populations (Lepus americanus) . Plus, in honor of Darwin Day, Steve insults the father of natural selection. All this, plus, we follow up on last episode’s cliffhanger, filling you in on the results of Bill’s Lyme disease test. Enjoy!
Did you ever wonder why Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers look so much alike? No? Neither did we, but it was because we always assumed they were simply closely related species. Maybe you did, too, but thanks to the wonders of DNA analysis, we now know that these two look-alikes are not even in the same genus. So, what gives?
Researchers recently looked into this stumper-of-a-problem, and, in this episode, Bill and Steve break down what might be the cause.
Oh, and Bill talks about how he might have Lyme disease.
This episode was recorded at the Owens Falls Sanctuary in East Aurora, NY on January 6, 2019.
“Richer than millionaires! Happier than Kings! Envied by multitudes! May be said of hobnobbers with Hart’s-tongues.”
So said one enthusiast of the Hart’s-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum) long ago, and we think you’ll agree. This species is exceptional in many ways; its appearance (it doesn’t look like your typical fern), its uncommon habitat, and it’s rarity all add to the Hart’s-tongue fern’s mystique.
This month, the guys hit the road, traveling to central NY and hitting the trail with Mike Serviss, a conservation biologist working with New York State Parks. Among his many duties, Mike is researching the most successful ways to restore this picky plant to its habitat, and he’s also a fantastic science communicator.
Join us as Mike helps us peel back the mystery of what’s involved in restoring an endangered species.
Have you ever heard of a burrowing crayfish? We hadn’t, until our much-smarter-than-us friend, Dr. Wayne Gall, shared the story of how he discovered one particular species living in western NY 30 years ago - Cambarus diogenes - the Devil Crayfish.
Wayne invited us to join him on a hunt for this species, to see if it was still present at Tifft Nature Preserve, three decades later.
Now, we invite you to come along with us, braving deep mud, crayfish pincers, and audio challenges (Tifft is lousy with the sound of trains, barges, and jets overhead). Along the way, Wayne proves himself a consummate storyteller, spinning the yarn of amazing coincidences that led to his connection with this species and publishing research about its presence in New York. We also give some visitors to the preserve a good scare.
A big thank you to Wayne for his time, expertise, and persistence. This episode may be shorter than usual, but we want you to know that Wayne spent hours with us at Tifft, his arms buried in the mud up to his shoulder, searching for our target species.
Imagine a gathering of nature-lovers where, for three days, you could attend hikes, talks, and other programs on dozens of natural history topics. Such a gathering takes place each year in Allegany State Park in southwestern NY. For over sixty years, The Allegany Nature Pilgrimage has taken place the weekend after Memorial Day, bringing like-minded individuals from across the country to share their knowledge of and passion for all things nature-related. The guys were invited to lead a hike at this year's Pilgrimage, and, in this special bonus episode, you can listen in on what it sounds like when a big group of people join Steve and Bill for a hike in the woods.
Our program was titled "The Skeptical Naturalist", and we focused on common natural history myths and some of the most interesting stories from past episodes. Enjoy, and we hope to see you at the Pilgrimage in the future!
Nearly every year, somewhere in the eastern US, a brood of periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.) emerges for the first time in 13 or 17 years. Each brood contains millions of individuals and it's probably one of the most spectacular displays that you would be lucky enough to experience. Before the episode, Steve and Bill traveled to Syracuse to see the tail end of Brood VII at a property owned by the Griffin Hill Farm Brewery. They recount that experience, explore the biology of cicadas, discuss why periodical cicadas live underground for so many years, and talk about the history and current status of brood VII. Enjoy!
During this bonus episode, Bill interviews Gordon Maupin, former director of the Wilderness Center in northeastern Ohio and, along with Joann Ballbach and Gary Popotnik, the former host of "Wild Ideas...The Podcast".
"Wild Ideas" was (and is) an excellent resource for information on natural history and it was a strong influence on our decision to start our own podcast after it ended in November 2014- less than a year before we released the first episode of The Field Guides.
Enjoy the episode and "...as always, all you moms and dads, make sure your children get outside. Always great to let them go out there and roll over a log, turn over a rock. Make sure they get wet, muddy, and dirty, Just make sure they get outside and play."
Have you seen the light? This month, the guys take their first foray into the world of fungi, specifically bioluminescent fungi! Although fireflies and other glowing critters have been well researched, fungi that glow are not nearly as well understood. Often referred to as "foxfire" or "fairy fire", their glow was first documented way back in ancient times, but researchers are still figuring out what it's all about. Join Bill and Steve as they shed some light on the latest research into these fascinating fungi.
This episode was recorded in the Eternal Flame Falls section of Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, NY on July 4th, 2018.
This is the story of two guys who enter the woods looking for Arisaema triphyllum, the graceful woodland wildflower known to many as Jack-in-the-pulpit. Not only is it beautiful to behold, but this member of the Arum family has a fascinating natural history; it can switch its sex, fool midge flies, and cause botanists to have heated debates about subspecies. During the episode, Steve makes a contribution to botanical history by coming up with the best alternative common name Bill has ever heard (see title), and we wrap things up with Bill eating some of this toxic plant. Listen to the end to see if Bill dies. Enjoy!
The great salamander migration has begun! ...and ended... Every spring there is a small window of time when adult spotted salamanders emerge from their subterranean homes and mate in nearby seasonal wetlands. Bill, Steve, Rich, and Donna venture out to find these elusive critters.
The first half of the episode takes place at Beaver Meadow Audubon center and is recorded in the typical style (...we see one salamander). The second half takes place at Donna's property and is much more free-form than usual (AND we see more salamanders than we can count). Enjoy!
It's not a skunk... and it's not a cabbage... This month, Steve and Bill discuss Skunk Cabbage. The guys go over the spathe, spadix, contractile roots, and thermogenesis, among other things. We also pose maybe too many questions to our audience:
1. Is Skunk Cabbage a clonal species?
2. Can Skunk Cabbage have multiple inflorescences?
3. Do warblers nest in Skunk Cabbage spathes?
4. Does Skunk Cabbage heat up to to promote cross pollination?
Enjoy (and help us answer these questions)!
Today we begin the first of many future episodes about spring ephemeral wildflowers. During this episode, Steve and Bill talk about Coltsfoot's adaptations, life cycle, use as a cooking spice, and toxicity. Unfortunately, the guys never figure out what the species name, farfara, means... if you know, share the love. Enjoy!
Can one specimen of a native plant be more "native" than another? For those ecologists who are working to restore damaged ecosystems, whether or not they should use local ecotypes is an important question to consider. In this episode, Bill and Steve hit the road to visit Sonnenberg Gardens and the NYS Parks staff working to help restore ecosystems with an emphasis on natives and local ecotypes.
Steve and Bill start off 2018 with an episode about Eastern Screech-owls. The guys talk about the Eastern Screech-owl's dichromatism, adaptations for hunting at night, and even call one in during the podcast. Make sure to wear headphones for this one- the birds calling in the distance aren't always easy to hear. Steve also gets really nervous about being killed by a bobcat for some reason... Enjoy!
*it doesn't actually fly.
Steve and Bill wrap up 2017 with an episode about Flying Squirrels. They talk about their adaptations for gliding, evolutionary history, and baculum morphology. They also talk about the new species that was discovered earlier this year. Enjoy!
We hope you're ready for a bonus episode all about Cooper's Hawks in cities. We teamed up with The Urban Wildlife Podcast for this episode's topic, so make sure that you go check them out. We also announce an artsy relationship with Always Wondering Art, as well as a tasty relationship with Boxerbar Energy Bars. You should go show them all some support. We hope you enjoy the episode!
This episode is all about the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA)! Steve and Bill explain this insect's history, biology, and it's negative effects on Eastern and Carolina Hemlock. The guys dive into what damage has already been done, what damage is still projected to happen, and what we're currently doing to stop the spread of this destructive asian hemipteran! We hope you enjoy!
Eastern Hemlocks are a staple of northeastern US forests. During this bonus episode, Steve and Bill make some tea and dive into what makes this tree so special. Historically, Hemlock has experienced 3 major declines, with the most recent happening right now. The culprit is an introduced hemipteran from Asia. Later this month, the guys will release a regular episode on that insect. But for now, enjoy this primer for episode 23!
This episode is nuts! Like peanut butter and jelly, Blue Jays and oak trees go together - they have a fascinating relationship that plays out in our forests every fall. Jays (and many of their corvid relatives) collect boatloads of acorns and engage in a caching behavior called scatter hoarding. The extent to which oaks have evolved to rely on this behavior is startling, and in this episode, Bill and Steve (he's back!) pull back the curtain on the fascinating world of acorns and corvids, revealing why these two groups are MFEO (Made For Each Other),
This episode was recorded on Oct. 30, 2017 at 18 Mile Creek Park in Hamburg, NY.
What's better than a regular episode about ticks? That's right, a bonus episode featuring someone who actually spent their career as an entomologist specifically studying ticks. Enter entomologist, Dr. Wayne Gall.
The first half of this episode follows Steve and Wayne sampling for ticks at Stiglmeier Park in Cheektowaga, NY. The second half takes place at the Julia Boyer Reinstein Library where Wayne dives into more detail about his work in Western New York.
This episode was recorded in spring 2017, but we're releasing it during mid-October. Believe it or not, Autumn is still an important time to think about ticks and Wayne would often hold off sampling for ticks until early to mid October. We hope you enjoy this special bonus episode!
Grasslands birds and the habitats they depend on are some of the most threatened components of our North American landscape. But take heart! Because people like this month's guest co-host, Kyle Webster, are working to restore and maintain grasslands for the birds (and other organisms) that require them. As a member of New York State Park's environmental field team, Kyle works to use the latest research to understand and improve the management of these critical habitats. Join Bill and Kyle (Steve's still in Illinois) as they discuss birds, burns, and conservation biology.
So, how do you feel about deer? Over the past 100 years, populations of the White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) have gone from scarce to ubiquitous. There’s a significant body of research pointing to the detrimental impacts of deer overbrowsing on our forests. Here at The Field Guides, we don’t like to exclude anyone, but we are interested in learning about deer exclosures – structures designed to keep these plentiful herbivores out of an area. Usually they are placed to allow for forest regeneration or to study the effects of deer exclusion; often, it’s done for both reasons. So what does the research show? Does excluding deer lead to healthier forests? This episode will shed some light on the answer. Listen to this rare, Steve-less episode as Bill is joined by Kristen Rosenburg, an environmental educator with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. They discuss deer exclosures, check some out at Kristen’s work site, and talk about what happens when researchers “Build That Wall!”. Special thanks to Kristen for sharing her time and expertise with us, as well as to the NYS DEC for allowing us to steal Kristen away for a morning.
This episode is all about ticks! Bill and Steve describe the difference between Ixodidae (hard ticks), Argasidae (soft ticks), and Nuttalliellidae (a single extant African species with ancestral tick traits). They also discuss the right way to remove a tick, Lyme disease, and how ticks may be partly responsible for humans being “naked apes.” We hope you enjoy!
During this episode, Steve talks about EVERY SINGLE extant non-human animal that drinks xylem or phloem sap. Join the guys as they explore the paradox of phloem sap, the barriers to eating it, how squirrels tap maple trees, hemipterans (true bugs), yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and much, much more. This episode stands alone, but we highly recommend listening to episode 17, "The Sappiest Podcast Ever..." either before or after this one. Either way, we hope you enjoy the episode!
During this episode, Bill and Steve talk about nature's junk food - sap! Join the guys as they cover how sap moves through Maple trees, as well as how climate change will affect Maples and the sap collecting season. They also interview two volunteers at the Beaver Meadow Audubon Center about turning Maple sap into syrup, cream, and sugar. Enjoy the episode!
Our 2nd bonus episode has arrived! This episode, Steve is joined by Matt from ‘In Defense of Plants’ & Sara from ‘Midwest Explorer’ for a hike at Hunter’s Creek Park. They talk about tree bark, bird poop, and American Sycamore Trees. Steve also ventures into Buffalo, NY to see the oldest American Sycamore in the world… allegedly (but probably not). Enjoy!
This episode, Bill and Steve discuss whether or not we should be feeding birds. Do filled feeders stop birds from migrating? Do they help birds survive the winter? Do they contribute to spreading disease throughout bird populations? All this and more - enjoy!