April 17, 2013
April is the time when we start to hear some of Michigan’s 13 species of frogs and toads making noise. While the green frogs pictured above were confusing their Frogbook friends in July, most of the distinctive spring frog calls are males advertising that they’re looking for love. The Michigan frog & toad page from the DNR explains:
As temperatures rise in early spring, frogs begin to move to their breeding sites. The actual timing depends on the warmth of the air and water, and the humidity, but there is noticeable order in which the various Michigan species become active and begin voicing their breeding calls. For example, in southern Michigan the raspy voice of the Western Chorus Frog is usually heard first, often in late March, followed quickly by the highpitched peeps of the Spring Peeper. In a few days the woodland swamps are filled with the quack like calls of the male Wood Frogs, while in another week in open marshes the low snores of the Leopard Frog are barely heard over the squeaky songs of newly arrived Red Winged Blackbirds.
The first warm rains of April bring American Toads out of the woods to the breeding ponds, where the air is soon filled with their melodious trills. Several of our frogs postpone their breeding activities until later in spring, when air and water temperatures are higher. Included in this late group are the Gray Tree Frog, Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, and Green and Bull Frogs.
Frogs are far more often heard than seen. Most frog sounds are the advertisement calls of the males, intended to attract the females for breeding. Frog voices may carry for long distances, especially the higher pitched calls of the smaller species. The males increase the loudness of their calls by ballooning out their throats or special sacs at the sides of their throats, creating a kind of resonating chamber. Only males produce advertisement calls, but both sexes may give shorter warning calls or screams when danger threatens. Males can also produce distinct calls that warn away rival males that approach their calling or breeding sites.
Female frogs and toads may lay hundreds or even thousands of eggs. These are usually attached to underwater vegetation or left floating in large masses at the surface. During egg laying, the male clings to the female’s back and fertilizes the eggs. The small, dark eggs are protected by layers of a jelly like substance. They may be in rounded masses (as in Wood and Leopard Frogs), loose clusters (Gray Tree Frogs), long necklace like strings (Toads), thin surface films (Bull and Green Frogs), or deposited singly or in small clusters (Spring Peeper). Many frog eggs are eaten by predators such as fish, turtles, and aquatic insects, or are lost to drying or destruction by micro organisms.
April 3, 2013
Yesterday Michigan in Pictures regular Mark O’Brien shared Nature’s Drone, Pretty and Deadly. The article says that although lions (25% hunting success rate) and great white sharks (50% success) look deadly, the dainty dragonfly may be the most effective hunter in the animal kingdom:
When setting off to feed on other flying insects, dragonflies manage to snatch their targets in midair more than 95 percent of the time, often wolfishly consuming the fresh meat on the spur without bothering to alight. “They’ll tear up the prey and mash it into a glob, munch, munch, munch,” said Michael L. May, an emeritus professor of entomology at Rutgers. “It almost looks like a wad of snuff in the mouth before they swallow it.”
Next step: grab more food. Dragonflies may be bantam, but their appetite is bottomless. Stacey Combes, who studies the biomechanics of dragonfly flight at Harvard, once watched a laboratory dragonfly eat 30 flies in a row. “It would have happily kept eating,” she said, “if there had been more food available.”
In a string of recent papers, scientists have pinpointed key features of the dragonfly’s brain, eyes and wings that allow it to hunt so unerringly. One research team has determined that the nervous system of a dragonfly displays an almost human capacity for selective attention, able to focus on a single prey as it flies amid a cloud of similarly fluttering insects, just as a guest at a party can attend to a friend’s words while ignoring the background chatter.
Read on for more including some very cool videos of dragonflies in action.
More science on Michigan in Pictures!
March 26, 2013
I’d like to offer an apology of sorts for this photo. It goes like this: “I’m really, really sorry that I sometimes have to blog photos of the ugly things that threaten what’s beautiful in Michigan. I wish I didn’t have such a good reason to!”
Michigan has only the tiniest sliver of Lake Erie shoreline, so little that we sometimes forget that it is one of the lakes that define our Great Lakes State. Lake Erie served once at the canary in the coal mine for pollution of the Great Lakes, and it may once again be sounding a warning call. A recent front page of the New York Times featured scary news about algae blooms on Lake Erie:
For those who live and play on the shores of Lake Erie, the spring rains that will begin falling here soon are less a blessing than a portent. They could threaten the very future of the lake itself.
Lake Erie is sick. A thick and growing coat of toxic algae appears each summer, so vast that in 2011 it covered a sixth of its waters, contributing to an expanding dead zone on its bottom, reducing fish populations, fouling beaches and crippling a tourism industry that generates more than $10 billion in revenue annually.
…Dead algae sink to the lake bed, where bacteria that decompose the algae consume most of the oxygen. In central Lake Erie, a dead zone now covers up to a third of the entire lake bottom in bad years.
“The fact that it’s bigger and longer in duration is a bad thing,” said Peter Richards, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University in Ohio. “Fish that like to live in cold bottom waters have to move up in the thermocline, where it’s too warm for them. They get eaten, and that tends to decrease the growth rates of a lot of the fish.”
Read on for a whole lot more including how farming practices are intersecting with invasive zebra mussels and climate change to magnify the dangers.
More Lake Erie on Michigan in Pictures.
March 20, 2013
EarthSky.org is a fantastic site for all things astronomical, and their post detailing everything you need to know about Comet PANSTARRS has great info on the first of 2013 major comets. The comet was discovered by the PANSTARRS telescope in Hawaii and they explain that:
Comet PANSTARRS is still visible through binoculars in the Northern Hemisphere, if you know right where to look. Note where the sun sets in the west. Some 60 to 75 minutes after sundown, seek for the comet about two to three binocular fields to the right, or upper right, of the sunset point on the horizon. Comet PANSTARRS now sets at nightfall or very early evening at mid-northern latitudes. From here on out, the comet will dim a bit day by day, while the waxing moon will brighten daily. So it’s hard to say how much longer Comet PANSTARRS will be readily visible through binoculars. Each day, Comet PANSTARRS goes a few degrees northward (to the right) on the sky’s dome, toward the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen.
…No matter how bright it gets in March, the comet will surely fade as April arrives, as it moves away from the sun and back out into the depths of space. But it will be located far to the north on the sky’s dome and will be circumpolar for northerly latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. That means it might be visible somewhere in the northern sky throughout the night for northern observers. What’s more, the comet will be near in the sky to another beautiful and fuzzy object in our night sky, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the nearest large spiral galaxy to our Milky Way. If the comet truly is bright then, and if it still has a substantial tail, it’ll be an awesome photo opportunity!
Ken shot this last weekend. You can see it on black, check out the sunset he captured before this and see more great work in his Night Sky slideshow. If you’re looking to purchase this or other shots, definitely head over to KenScottPhotography.com!
More nighttime photography on Michigan in Pictures.
March 5, 2013
Lake Michigan Ice Boulders, photo by Leda Olmsted
Todays post is from the “Ain’t it Cool” Department. A couple of weeks ago Leelanau County resident Leda Olmsted was walking the Lake Michigan shore in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore when she came across this incredible scene. TV 7&4 reports in Ice boulders roll onto shores of Lake Michigan that Leda took some photos, uploaded to the news station’s Facebook and:
Leda says she was shocked by the response. Olmsted explains, “From there it got like 800 shares and thousands of likes and overnight I had Good Morning America and The Weather Channel calling me, so it has been a really crazy weekend!”
Deputy Superintendent from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Tom Ulrich says, “It’s not that it never happens and this is a once in a decade thing, it happens more often than that, but these are very large and got bigger than they normally get.”
The ice balls or boulders along the shores of Lake Michigan are about the size of giant beach balls or basketballs and weigh up to 50 pounds.
Click to watch the video from UpNorthLive with Leda.
I looked a little further into the phenomenon and found and AIR PHOTO INTERPRETATION OF GREAT LAKES ICE FEATURES by Ernest W. Marshall in the Great Lakes Digital Library at the University of Michigan. With the help of Marshall’s information, here’s an explanation of how ball ice forms:
Ball ice consists of roughly spherical masses of slush and frazil ice that accrete in turbulent water. Frazil ice (via Wikipedia)is a collection of loose, randomly oriented needle-shaped ice crystals that form in open, turbulent, supercooled water. Lumps that form in the less turbulent zones are typically flattened discs, while those formed in the extremely turbulent zone near the shoreline ice where wave action is strongest form into spheres.
The author explains that ball ice is a feature common to all of the Great Lakes and can occur at any time during the winter where water turbulence breaks up a slush layer. You can read more about this in Great Lakes Ice Features.
February 9, 2013
On Michigan in Pictures I usually blog beautiful things, but today I’m featuring an ugly thing that we in Michigan should all be concerned about. Traverse City based Circle of Blue has an in-depth feature on the record-low level of Lake Michigan-Huron:
The latest numbers released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on February 5 show that both lakes Michigan and Huron — which are two connected lakes — are experiencing their lowest point since records began in 1918. Water levels were an average of 175.57 meters (576.02 feet) for the month of January, approximately 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) lower than the previous record set in 1964.
“Not only have water levels on Michigan-Huron broken records the past two months, but they have been very near record lows for the last several months before then,” said John Allis, chief of the Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office at the Corps, in a press release. “Lake Michigan-Huron’s water levels have also been below average for the past 14 years, which is the longest period of sustained below-average levels since 1918 for that lake.”
The low water levels, which the Corps attributes to: below-average snowfall during the winter of 2011-2012, last summer’s drought, and above-average evaporation during the summer and fall of 2012, have the potential to hurt the Great Lakes’ shipping industry.
…For the water levels on Lake Michigan-Huron to reach even near-average water levels again, the Corps said it will take many seasons with above average precipitation and below-average evaporation.
Read on at Circle of Blue for much more including the struggles that wildlife are having with the changing climate. You can also view the release from the Army Corps of Engineers and see historic Great Lakes levels back to 1918. From the Army Corps, I learned that at 1 1/2 ft below normal, ships are losing 8-10% of their carrying capacity.
Beyond harm to the multi-billion dollar shipping industry which feeds countless industrial endeavors, the low lake levels are making many of our recreational harbors inaccessible. These feed our multi-billion dollar sport fishing industry and this has prompted Gov. Snyder to endorse a $21 million emergency dredging plan, $11 million of which would come from Michigan’s general fund. With over a half a million jobs in Michigan alone tied to the health of the Great Lakes, getting a handle on the threats that impact them are likely to be at the center of our policy and spending for a long time.
In a curious bit of synchronicity, you can see just how vital the Great Lakes are to Michigan in Michigan Sea Grant’s reports on Economic Vitality and the Great Lakes. View this photo bigger and see more in their Grand Traverse Bay Low Water slideshow.
February 8, 2013
This photo, taken on January 24, 2013, illustrates how ice on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore can achieve heights of many feet; by accretion of floating snowball-size ice balls thrown upward by wave action. The maximum wave height (crest to trough) on Lake Michigan on this day was approximately 6 ft (2 m). What results is a landscape that looks almost volcanic. Click here to see video of this phenomenon. Note that the lake itself is a slurry of ice and water.
More EPOD awesomeness on Michigan in Pictures!
January 31, 2013
Judas test: Will carp betray their own? on the Great Lakes Echo says that University of Minnesota researchers are working to put a new tool in the arsenal of those seeking to thwart the voracious and invasive Asian carp.
The researchers are fitting common carp, or “Judas fish,” with transmitters to lead them to other, larger schools of common carp, the station reports.
“(Carp) seem to be actually exceptionally social, they really hang out together,” researcher Peter Sorensen told the station. “We have to confirm that, but it sure looks that way.”
Watch the report from CBS Minnesota to learn how researchers hope to use the same technique to locate Asian carp populations for extermination.
More fish on Michigan in Pictures.
December 27, 2012
The sign in front of this hill (back right) reads:
The hill in front of you, known as a kame, was formed thousands of years ago when water from melting glacial ice flowed through a large crack in the ice. Glacial melt water carried sand, gravel, and rocks, depositing them at the base of the crack to form the kame. To help picture this, imagine how sand flows through an hourglass and creates a rounded pile of sand in the bottom of the hourglass.
More geology on Michigan in Pictures.
December 8, 2012
Welcome to the “Spot the Geminid Meteor” edition of Michigan in Pictures! EarthSky’s Meteor Shower Guide for 2012 says that the last meteor shower of 2012 will be the Geminids, peaking late night December 13 until dawn December 14:
The final major meteor shower of every year (unless one surprises us!) is always the December Geminid shower, often producing 50 or more meteors per hour. It is a beloved shower, because, as a general rule, it’s either the August Perseids or the December Geminids that give us the most prolific display of the year. Best of all, the new moon guarantees a dark sky on the peak night of the Geminid shower (mid-evening December 13 until dawn December 14). But the nights on either side of the peak date should be good as well. Unlike many meteor showers, you can start watching the Geminids by 9 or 10 p.m. local time. The peak might be around 2 a.m. local time on these nights, because that’s when the shower’s radiant point is highest in the sky as seen around the world. With no moon to ruin the show, 2012 presents a most favorable year for watching the grand finale of the meteor showers. Best viewing of the Geminids will probably be from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. on December 14.
Click through for some meteor viewing tips and here’s hoping for another Aurora Borealis/Geminid combo!
Paul shot this north of Lansing in December 2006 when the Geminid shower was complimented by a fantastic Northern Lights display! Can you see the meteor a little right of center? Click to view on black, see more in his The Night Sky slideshow or view all 80 photos from the evening in his December 14, 2006 gallery.