Spoonhunter Seminar Canceled

Due to the potential risks of the Covid Delta variant, we have made the decision to err on the side of caution and cancel the August 19 Harlow Seminar with Dr. Tarissa Spoonhunter.

If you are interested in Traditional Ecological Knowledge or would like to learn more, please stay tuned for future updates! We still plan to host Dr. Spoonhunter and will make an announcement in the future – keep an eye out for that and for news about the September Harlow Seminars.

Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

Small gold, brown, and black salamander rests on someone's hand in GTNP

Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

The highest diversity of salamanders is found in Southeast United states, but Wyoming is unique to have their only native salamander as their state amphibian, the tiger salamander. These salamanders have several different color variations within the species, subspecies, and region, but typically are dark grey, brown or black with brownish markings (nwf.org). 

Tiger salamanders may be seen after heavy rains, but most of the year they are found burrowed underground. They mate during late winter or early spring at breeding ponds and eggs are laid between 24-48 hours after. After eggs hatch, tiger salamanders are able to live up to 14 years in the wild. To learn more about the Tiger Salamander, check out this article for some fast facts and an easy read!

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja sp.)

An Indain Paintburhs, a red flower with tubular petals, with Phelps lake far away in the distance, tucked between steep mountainous hills

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja sp.)

With over 200 species of Castilleja, this species of Indian Paintbrush is native to the United States. Wyoming’s state flower is specifically Castilleja linariaefolia, but we will focus on the species coccinea. Coccinea refers to the red petals that resemble cup-like structures. When we think of plants, we know they photosynthesize and get their energy from the direct sunlight, but these plants are hemiparasites, meaning that they get some of their nutrients from other organisms as well. Most of the time, they will parasitize the perennial grasses that accompany them (USFS), as well as sagebrush.

Like any other flowering plant, Indian Paintbrush rely on pollinators to help them reproduce year after year. Because of their interesting petal shape, ruby-throated hummingbirds are a great pollinator of the Indian Paintbrush in general, and other members of this genus. Since hummingbirds have the long, slim bill to reach the nectar, they are a perfect pollinator for these tubular-type flowers.

Click here to learn about how the Indian Paintbrush got its name.

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

Wolverine (Gulo gulo)

Large wolverine pushes itself over a fallen log

Wolverine (Gulo gulo)

The wolverine is one of the largest members of the family Mustelidae, or weasels. They are found in alpine forests, tundra, open shrublands and boreal areas of the northern hemisphere. These weasels require large home ranges of undisturbed habitat to be able to survive and reproduce, so the population density in any one area is very low. Due to this, and their need for undisturbed habitat, it is quite rare to see one, particularly in the United States where sightings are extremely rare. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department have deployed camera traps in the Bighorn Mountains and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) in recent years in an effort to determine distribution of wolverines in Wyoming. While quite rare, a few camera traps have managed to capture photos of these elusive creatures in the past few years, including two in the GYE.

Wolverines are solitary creatures, only coming together to mate in the summer every other year. They are also extremely aggressive and territorial and will not tolerate individuals of the same sex encroaching on their territory. Lack of resources and territoriality result in home ranges of wolverines ranging from 600 to 1000 square kilometers for the males. They have anal glands which they use to mark their territory to ward off would-be intruders. They are so ferocious, in fact, that they have been known to fight off black bears and wolves from a kill. While a sighting would be incredibly rare, be sure to keep your head on a swivel if you are ever in the high elevation backcountry of the Teton range! Learn more about these mighty mustelids.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: Mathias Appel on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/2ixjhA5

Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Skunk sniffing dry grass

Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Striped skunks are an iconic member of the family Mephitidae. These mesocarnivores are from coast to coast in the United states and into southern Canada and northern Mexico. They inhabit a wide array of habitats including woodlands, forests, and plains ecosystems. As humans have encroached into more and more of their natural habitat, they have also expanded into more urban environments, similar to the way racoons have. Striped skunks are one of the most easily identified animals in the world with their black coat and thin white stripe on their snout and forehead. They also have a white marking on their nape that runs along the back and splits into a V-shape towards the rump end.

These docile critters usually ignore other animals and live a solitary lifestyle, except during breeding season. While normally they are quite passive, one of the most well-known things about skunks is their defensive behaviors. Mephitids have extremely enlarged scent glands, from which an odorous musk can be discharged up to 6 meters to deter threats. If they are approached, they will face away from their opponent and raise their tail while stomping their forelegs on the ground, occasionally even doing a handstand. Learn more about these stinky skunks.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: Daniel Arndt on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/GeTxnA

Northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus)

Fuzzy flying squirrel sniffing seeds on a platform in a pine tree

Northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus)

The northern flying squirrel is a small rodent most commonly found in conifer dominated forests from the treeline in northern Alaska and Canada and down into the middle of the continent in Michigan, Wisconsin, California and Colorado. They can be found in deciduous and mixed forests throughout their range, and while they are not frequently seen or overly abundant, they have been found in the Jackson Hole area and Grand Teton National Park. These silvery grey squirrels inhabit treetops and, as the name suggests, they can “fly” from tree to tree to get around the forest. They do this with a furred patagium which extends from their wrist on the forelimbs to the ankles in the hind limbs. This is very advantageous to them as they are quite clumsy on the ground, so being able to glide from tree to tree and fill up on nuts, acorns, and lichen protects them from becoming an easy meal.

Even if you do happen to be in an area populated with flying squirrels, don’t expect an easy viewing opportunity. As evidenced by their large black eyes, Northern flying squirrels tend to be more active at night making them pretty tough to spot in the canopy for the casual wildlife viewer. Learn more about these rambunctious rodents.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: Daniel Arndt on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/mtGtPQ

North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)

A big porcupine walks over a fallen tree trunk

North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)

The North American porcupine is one of the most easily recognizable animals throughout the continent. Their range extends throughout most of North America from the arctic reaches of northern Canada and Alaska down to Mexico. These massive rodents occupy a wide variety of habitat types including open tundra, deciduous forests, and desert shrublands. Their lifestyle also varies geographically with porcupines in the Pacific Northwest spending most of their time on the ground while those in New York typically hang out in the trees.

The second largest rodent in North America, porcupines are easily identified by their slow, waddling gait and their spiny coat. These barbed quills run from head to toe along their back and each individual has approximately 30,000 of them. This is an excellent defense against predators, as some predators have been known to die due to being stuck from a porcupine.

These rodents are relatively common in much of Wyoming, including Grand Teton National Park, but as they are nocturnal critters, not many people have seen one in the wild. They are also considered a “predator” in Wyoming and are treated as pests due to the stress they can cause in environments. Learn more about these rowdy rodents.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: Grand Teton on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/K44P49

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

Dark grey wolf crossing a snowy road in GTNP

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

Despite what their name might suggest, gray wolves aren’t just gray. Their coats can vary between gray, black, white, and tan. They usually live in packs of two to over twenty wolves, communicating through scent, body language, and vocalizations. As a pack, they often hunt together to bring down large prey like bison, elk, and moose, and they also work together to raise their young pups. While it is possible to spot wolves in Grand Teton National Park, you are far more likely to view them in Northern Yellowstone at dawn or dusk, when they are most active. In GTNP, bring binoculars and keep an eye out while exploring sagebrush flats or when visiting the Elk Refuge – you might get lucky!

Wolves play an important role in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), sharing complex relationships with other species in the area. Ecologists staying at the UW-NPS research station have had the unique opportunity to study the effects of wolf reintroduction in the GYE, and in our most recent annual reports, you can read about wolves’ impact on elk, moose, aspen, and beaver.

Source: https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolf-restoration.htm

Written by Shawna Wolf
PC: YNP on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qsNk2e

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

A vibrant yellow, black, and red bird perched on top of a small branch

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

Western Tanagers are a species of small passerine birds found in forested, mountainous areas from Alaska to Panama.  On average, they are about 7 inches long with an 11-inch wingspan, and typically weigh 28 grams. As with many species of songbirds, the males are much more vibrantly colored than their female counterparts. Males are easily identifiable by their bright yellow body, reddish-orange head, black back and wings, and white wing bars. The females have an olive-green body and head, with grey wings and white wing bars.

Western tanagers typically spend winters in the tropical forests of Central America. They are monogamous and will form pairs either in their wintering grounds or during migration. When they arrive in their breeding grounds in April or May, they establish territories that they defend with songs and by chasing out rival males. While they mostly catch and eat insects in flight, they have also been known to eat fruits and nectar from plants.

Most birds with red plumage get their coloration from plant pigments called carotenoids, but Western Tanagers get their scarlet coloration from a rarer pigment known as rhodoxanthin. It is thought that they obtain this pigment from insects in their diet. Learn more about these pristine passerines.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/9C1gCY

Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)

A large spotted brown trout, being held just above water level

Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)

Even though they’re non-native to the United States, Brown Trout are one of the most plentiful fish in Grand Teton National Park; if you see a nearly invisible shape at the bottom of a stream or river, chances are, you’re looking at one of these common fish. Brown trout are not especially skittish, and if you’re really careful you can occasionally touch one with your bare hands while they’re still swimming. In fact, it’s been said you can even catch one like that, too… Just make sure you have a permit before trying!

These trout are not only valuable to anglers looking for a big catch, they also have advantageous scientific uses. They won’t breed in highly polluted waters, so researchers sometimes observe them to determine the level of pollution in rivers and streams.

Written by Shawna Wolf
PC: USFWS Mountain-Prairie on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/2hpYLxX

Other Sources: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=931