Tag Archives: Connecticut RIver watershed

Beach Day for Beetles!

The largest-ever reintroduction of an endangered tiger beetle happened quietly in the morning of October 19th, 2017, on a foggy beach in the Connecticut river. These beetles are the rare Puritan Tiger Beetle, Cicindela puritana , or “PTB” as tiger beetle experts call it. This species is listed as federally threatened and state endangered due to a century of human use that has changed the Connecticut River’s flow. This change has reduced desired habitat, and left only one viable population of PTBs in New England. This reintroduction of more than 700 laboratory-reared PTB larvae is only part of a multi-year, team-project to establish sustainable populations of PTB in the Connecticut River.

Endangered Puritan Tiger Beetle male.

This project, which is supported by the Cooperative Recovery Initiative program and based at the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center in partnership with Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, unites a seasoned team of over 30 Federal & State wildlife officials, professional Biologists, Academic partners, students, and generous volunteers. Together, this group is pioneering methods to acquire land, captive-rear larvae, manage habitat, and use field-techniques to ensure the survival of PTB throughout one of the largest rivers in the Northeast.

Volunteers from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Student Conservation Association, and the University of Massachusetts prepare a plot before larva reintroduction.

To restore a healthy river ecosystem that includes these tiny apex predators, lab-reared PTB reintroductions are key to establishing new populations. To do this, the PTB team uses aerial “butterfly” nets to carefully collect adult beetles from the single source-population. The adult beetles mate and lay eggs in the lab, which hatch into larvae that grow progressively larger through 3 growth phases, called instars. In the wild, it takes about 2 years for PTB larvae to reach their third instar, but in the lab, this time can be reduced to just a few months.

Rodger Gwiazdowski moistens the top layer of soil with river water at 1 of 7 reintroduction plots.

The reintroduction sites were carefully selected by the PTB team. Finding good habitat requires expertise to determine sediment size, beach slope, and the abundance and diversity of prey that PTBs prefer. To be reintroduced, PTB larvae are transported to the site, each in their own small sand-filled vial, and released into plotted-areas on the beach where they immediately dig vertical tunnels in the sand to develop through their instar stages. 

Volunteers release PTB larva into the sand.

Over the next 2 years, the PTB team will revisit the reintroduction sites to count the number of PTB burrows and adult beetles, which will indicate the success and survival rate of the lab-reared PTBs.

Stay tuned for 2018 updates on the PTBs!

The Internship of Opportunities

Hispanic Access Foundation Intern, Kelsey Mackey, does it all through outreach and environmental education with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Be sure to join us all summer as we hear from our interns about their work and experience. 

My name is Kelsey Mackey, and I am graduating from the University of Connecticut in July 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in biological sciences. Currently, I am a cross-programmatic intern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Hispanic Access Foundation. My love for wildlife and passion for conservation developed at a young age, and I continue to epitomize these values both personally and professionally. I connect on a personal level with the mission of the Service – to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

Kelsey Mackey teaching students about the Connecticut River Watershed at Cops & Bobbers, Hooks & Ladders Youth Fishing Program in Hartford, CT.

I am grateful and excited for the opportunity to make an impact in urban and underrepresented communities through community outreach and environmental education. During my time at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, which represents the Connecticut River Watershed, I will be involved in the Sustainable Springfield Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership that aligns with the Service’s Urban Wildlife Conservation Program. Specific outreach events include Cops & Bobbers, Hooks & Ladders youth fishing program, designed to teach kids to fish, connect with the outdoors, and develop positive relationships with law enforcement in their communities, and community block parties designed to engage, educate, and inspire people to become environmental stewards in their own community.

In addition to actively participating in the Sustainable Springfield Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership events, I will also work for the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center. Current research at the center includes glochidia propagation in an effort to restore native populations of mussels throughout the Connecticut River Watershed. As a cross-programmatic intern, I will also have the opportunity to work in the Service’s Northeast Regional Office in External Affairs, where I will work on projects in communications and the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. My overarching goal is to educate and inspire communities to work together in collective action to ensure a bright future where both people and wildlife can thrive and coexist.

MAKE WAY FOR BEETLES!

The tiny Puritan Tiger Beetle is a ferocious predator, but is a having hard time surviving in an increasingly competitive world. Today we hear from evolutionary biologist Rodger Gwiazdowski of Advanced BioConsulting, LLC, who is leading a research team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Student Conservation Association in hopes of creating a successful breeding population in their historic native New England habitat.

Adult Puritan tiger beetles are less than half an inch long, but are fast and ferocious predators. Photo Credit: USFWS/Susan Wojtowicz

Adult Puritan tiger beetles are less than half an inch long, but are fast and ferocious predators. Photo Credit: USFWS/Susan Wojtowicz

They slice into prey with sharp jaws – and eat everything they catch. Tiger beetles, (named for their ferocious hunting behavior) are tough, tiny insect-predators, who thrive in harsh places like deserts and beaches. Despite their tenacity, many species of tiger beetles are on endangered species lists. Unfortunately their individual “toughness” is not enough to ensure survival. What they need is to be part of something bigger – a group of many interacting populations; something ecologists call a metapopulation.

Metapopulations reduce extinction, because if any one population in the group fails (a normal event) then individuals from nearby populations can move back, or grow new populations in new habitat. But a single population that’s too small, or too far away from new habitat – risks extinction.

Larval tiger beetles are also predatory, but live in deep self-dug holes. Larvae can be translocated to establish new populations, and here they are being carefully dug out by Service employee Susan Wojtowicz. Photo credit: USFWS

Larval tiger beetles are also predatory, but live in deep self-dug holes. Larvae can be translocated to establish new populations, and here they are being carefully dug out by Service employee Susan Wojtowicz. Photo credit: USFWS

On a narrow riverside beach along the Connecticut River, the sleek Puritan tiger beetle, Cicindela puritana (or ‘PTB’ as tiger beetle experts call it) lives on, as the only viable population in New England.  A century of human use has changed the Connecticut River’s flow, reducing critical habitat for the PTB, and eliminating a healthy metapopulation of beetles.

But now, thanks to some serious advocates, restoring a PTB metapopulation is possible. For the first time in the United States, a team from the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge in western Massachusetts, is combining over a decade of PTB adult surveys, habitat management & acquisition, larval translocations, and captive rearing, to establish new populations of beetles at sites where they once historically flourished.

In the Puritan tiger beetle rearing lab, at the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center, staff prepare for daily care of the adults, and larvae. Photo credit: USFWS.

In the Puritan tiger beetle rearing lab at the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center, staff prepare for daily care of the adults and larvae. Photo credit: USFWS.

Throughout 2015-2016, a team of biologists, interns and volunteers have successfully translocated a small number of larvae to historic habitats, and worked with the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center in Sunderland, Massachusetts to create a dedicated PTB lab that can rear beetles by the thousands.

Much of the project is made possible through the Cooperative Recovery Initiative program, which aims to recover federally listed species on National Wildlife Refuges and surrounding lands.

Larvae will dig their new burrows under the protection of transport containers. Student Conservation Association intern Cathleen Johnson releases the larvae into their new habitat. Photo credit: USFWS

Larvae will dig new burrows under the protection of transport containers. Student Conservation Association intern Cathleen Johnson releases the larvae into their new habitat. Photo credit: USFWS

Later this fall, the team plans to reintroduce hundreds of PTB larvae, now growing in the lab, to a historical site in Massachusetts. In addition,  students at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Elkinton Lab will help cold-incubate PTB larvae over the winter, which will also be reintroduced. Looking ahead a few years, the team has set their sights on several historic PTB locations, with the aim of establishing several new populations, to help re-make a PTB metapopulation in the Connecticut River.