Yellowstone National Park

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Lower Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Yellowstone National Park protects a vast array of spectacular and invaluable natural features within its 3469 square miles (8985 square km) in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It contains the world’s largest collection of geysers as well as many other geothermal features like hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots. Expansive mountains, canyons, and valleys harbor serene rivers and magnificent waterfalls. And across the dense forests and lush valleys, innumerable wildlife call this place home.

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American bison near Fountain Flat. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Although this region was known to various Native American tribes for thousands of years, it didn’t become known to European Americans until 1807. John Colter, a member of Lewis and Clark’s 1804-1806 Corps of Discovery Expedition, decided to leave the group during their return from the Pacific coast. Wanting to become a fur trader, he spent the winter of 1806-1807 wandering alone throughout the geothermal areas of what is now Yellowstone.

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Lower Geyser Basin photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

When Colter returned to civilization he told others about this land of “hidden fires, smoking pits, noxious steams, and smell of brimstone” but no one believed him. Many people mockingly referred the place from his fanciful stories as “Colter’s Hell.”

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Beryl Spring photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Subsequent exploration would vindicate Colter, however, and ignite a great deal of interest in the region. This interest would lead to the creation of the first national park in the world, and a new public concern for protecting the last few remaining wild places.

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Upper Terrace near Mammoth Hot Springs. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America…That the tract of land in the territories of Montana and Wyoming, lying under the headwaters of the Yellowstone River…is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people…”

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Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance, dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

With these words the United States created the world’s first national park on March 1, 1872. The land in what is now Yellowstone National Park so impressed and inspired the explorers, artists, politicians, and people who witnessed or heard about it that they quickly worked to set it aside as a protected area for posterity. The concept of a “national park” had never before been conceived by mankind, but neither had the superlative features of this unique and wonderful place.

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Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen in nature. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Numerous geothermal areas decorate the surface of Yellowstone, fueled by the presence of a massive supervolcano beneath the surface. Mammoth Hot Springs, West Thumb, and the Norris, Lower, Midway, and Upper Geyser Basins are the literal hot spots in this park.

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Part of Fountain Paint Pot in the Lower Geyser Basin. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Each location features bubbling mudpots, steaming fumaroles, sporadic geyser eruptions, and crystal-clear hot springs colored only by heat-loving bacteria and the minerals upwelling from deep below.

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Black Pool in the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Although many geysers can be found throughout Yellowstone, the most famous and most reliable is Old Faithful. This massive geyser erupts every 60-70 minutes like clockwork.

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Old Faithful Geyser photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Away from these hot spots cooler waters prevail. The largest body of water is Yellowstone Lake, dominating the landscape in the southeastern area of the park.

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Yellowstone Lake photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Just north of here is Indian Pond, a calm and reflective pool often occupied by waterfowl.

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Indian Pond photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

To the east of Yellowstone Lake is Sylvan Lake, a quiet corner sometimes frequented by grizzly bears.

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Sylvan Lake photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Many more lakes and ponds can be found all across Yellowstone. Some are so small they don’t even have names, but are still worth a gaze when you happen upon them.

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Unnamed pond north of Golden Gate. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

A number of beautiful rivers also crisscross the park. They include the Snake River to the south…

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Snake River near the South Entrance. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…the Madison River to the west…

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Madison River west of Madison. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…and the Gardner River to the north:

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Elk crossing the Gardner River near Sheepeater Cliff. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Along many of the forested waterways there are abundant elk (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Cervus canadensis).

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Elk south of Mammoth Hot Springs. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

In late summer and autumn mature male elk can be heard bugling. Late in the season they spend much of their time herding their harems, fighting off competing males, and mating. What’s left of their time is spent eating and resting in the tall grass.

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Bull elk along the Madison River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

The Yellowstone River is perhaps the most interesting watercourse in the park. Near Canyon Village is Upper Yellowstone Falls…

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Upper Yellowstone Falls photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…as well as Lower Yellowstone Falls.

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Lower Yellowstone Falls photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Below the falls is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone:

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Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Further downstream is a scenic view of the Yellowstone River and Specimen Ridge near Tower Fall:

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Yellowstone River and Specimen Ridge photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Upstream the Yellowstone River also cuts through the middle of Hayden Valley, a wide grassy area near the middle of the park.

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Yellowstone River and Hayden Valley photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

This valley is only one of many places where American bison (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Bison bison) can be found. Yellowstone was perhaps the only reason these magnificent creatures survived being hunted to extinction. After about 30 million bison were slaughtered during the nineteenth century, the last few hundred remaining individuals found a safe haven within this protected area.

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American bison in Hayden Valley. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Thanks to conservation efforts, today there are several thousand bison within Yellowstone’s borders. They’re so common here that herds occasionally block roads within the park, leading to “bison jams.”

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Bison jam on a bridge over the Yellowstone River near the Lamar River. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Rugged highlands are another abundant feature at Yellowstone. Sylvan Pass (8530 feet/2600 m) and Grizzly Peak (9948 feet/3032 m) dominate the gateway to the park from the East Entrance.

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Sylvan Pass and Grizzly Peak photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Near the center of the park is Dunraven Pass (8859 feet/2700 m) and Mount Washburn (10243 feet/3122 m). This is one of the best areas in the park to see bighorn sheep.

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Bighorn sheep near Dunraven Pass. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

A lot of other wildlife can be found throughout Yellowstone, including mule deer…

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Mule deer near Sheepeater Cliff. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…white-tailed jackrabbits…

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White-tailed jackrabbit near Mammoth Hot Springs. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…pronghorn…

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Pronghorn near the North Entrance. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…osprey…

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Osprey along the Madison River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

…and even bald eagles:

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Bald eagle along the Madison River. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Although Yellowstone is only the eighth largest national park in the United States, it is still huge. The photos and accounts written here represent only three days of exploration, primarily along the park roads. Yellowstone contains vast areas of wilderness containing an array of additional natural features, wildlife, and scenic vistas. A person could dedicate their life to exploring this park and still not see it all.

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Sunset over the Firehole River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

When the people of the United States created Yellowstone National Park, they set an example for the world on the importance of preserving remarkable locations for the benefit and enjoyment of mankind. Since 1872 the United States has established 59 national parks as well as over 300 other federally-protected places of national importance. Over 100 other nations have also followed our lead, creating approximately 1,200 other national parks around the globe. The historical importance of this remarkable park weighed on my mind from the time I first set foot in it at the South Entrance, and memories of it will be with me always.

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The author at the South Entrance. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Posted in Botany, Culture, Ecology, Geology, National Parks, Vertebrate Zoology | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Random Insect: Caddisfly

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Caddisfly (Trichoptera) photographed 09/29/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Caddisflies (order Trichoptera) are often mistaken for moths (Lepidoptera) because they share a number of similarities. Like some moths, caddisflies hold their wings tent-like over their abdomens when at rest. Like some moths they are often attracted to lights at night. And like some moths they have long, thread-like antennae. Closer inspection, however, reveals a few key differences. While moth wings are covered in scales like butterfly wings, the wings of caddisflies are instead covered in fine hairs (the order name “Trichoptera” is Greek for “hairy wing”).

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Caddisfly (Trichoptera) photographed 09/29/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Moths also have sucking mouthparts (proboscises) that are conspicuously coiled under their heads when at rest. They use these mouthparts to siphon nectar from flowers. Caddisflies instead have chewing mouthparts. Although most adult caddisflies don’t feed, these palpi are left over from their lives as aquatic larvae. Young caddisflies live in streams, lakes, and ponds, and most species construct cases out of available material to conceal and protect themselves. They use their chewing mouthparts to feed on detritus, although some species are predatory on other aquatic invertebrates.

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Caddisfly (Trichoptera) photographed 09/29/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Finally (and this is a bit more of a generality) moths with thread-like antennae tend to hold them outward or backward. Caddisflies, in contrast, tend to hold their antennae directly forward.

Knowledge of these few details can help anyone become an expert on distinguishing caddisflies from moths. Next time you’re gathered around a porch light marveling at all the insects you can impress your friends. Assuming you enjoy gathering around porch lights to marvel at insects. Which you should.

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Plant-Insect Interaction: Ant on a shrubby cinquefoil

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Ant visiting a shrubby cinquefoil flower. Photographed 08/08/2014 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa, Rosaceae) is an important source of food for many insects. Its wide distribution, cold-hardiness, and relatively long flowering period make it a reliable source of pollen and nectar for a variety of bees, wasps, butterflies, and even ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae).

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Ant visiting a shrubby cinquefoil flower. Photographed 08/08/2014 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

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Grand Teton National Park

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Oxbow Bend along the Snake River against the Teton Range. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Just south of Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming is one of the most exquisitely beautiful locations in the entire United States. Here serene waters, thick forests, and lush meadows provide a haven for a vast amount of wildlife, all set against the dramatic and jagged peaks of the Teton Range. Although the peaks themselves were first protected in 1929 as Grand Teton National Park, a long series of political battles went on for another thirty years before the pristine surroundings were added to the park.

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South Teton, Middle Teton, Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot Mountain from Antelope Flats. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

The Tetons are the centerpiece here, dominated by Grand Teton at 13,700 feet (4197 m). The surrounding peaks of South Teton, Middle Teton, and Mount Owen all approach 13,000 feet (3962 m) as well. They rise dramatically from the low, wide plain of Jackson Hole, a valley 7,000 feet (2134 m) below.

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The Teton Range from Antelope Flats. Please note that is not a volcano, and that is not a puff of smoke. It’s just a cloud that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

About 100 million years ago this region appeared very different. At that time a vast inland sea inundated a relatively flat area, and over millions of years thousands of feet of marine sediments accumulated over thick igneous and metamorphic basement rocks. Beginning around 70 million years ago tectonic collision slowly uplifted this region. Then around 10 million years ago a different type of tectonic force began to pull the crust apart. As the crust stretched, thinned, and cracked, massive faults began to form in the rock. The Teton Fault is the most significant here, and as the crust pulled apart the floor of Jackson Hole gradually fell in relation to the higher Teton Range. As the rocks separated along the fault, the sides of the mountains exposed the parallel sedimentary beds that had accumulated tens of millions of years earlier.

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Parallel bedding exposed near the south end of the Teton Range. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Over the last two million years alpine glaciers have slowly carved the Tetons into their present shape. Although climate change has reduced their area, they still continue to chip away at the rocks of the Tetons.

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Alpine glacier on the flank of Middle Teton. There’s also a black diabase dike running up the middle of this peak. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

To the east of these impressive mountains are an equally impressive variety of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Formed predominantly from the snow melt from the surrounding peaks, these waters nurture dense forests, lush meadows, abundant wildlife, recreation opportunities, and gorgeous scenery.

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Glaciated Mount Moran and Owbow Bend along the Snake River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

At nearly 40 square miles (104 square km) in surface area, the largest body of water is Jackson Lake. Boating and fishing are popular activities both here and on Jenny Lake to the south.

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The Tetons and Jackson Lake from near the Jackson Lake Overlook. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

The main waterway through the park is the Snake River. In many places it’s lined with sand and gravel bars as well as thick conifers. Beneath the surface the river is teeming with a variety of fish.

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The Snake River near Moran Junction. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

These waters are world-renowned for trout fishing. Cutthroat trout (Salmoniformes: Salmonidae: Oncorhynchus clarkii), brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), and lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) draw a number of anglers to the park every year.

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The Snake River near Moran Junction. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

The waters of Grand Teton provide habitats for larger animals as well. A number of waterfowl can often be found around Oxbow Bend on the Snake River. Most notable are perhaps Trumpeter Swans (Anseriformes: Anatidae: Cygnus buccinator), the largest waterfowl in North America.

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Trumpeter Swans on Owbow Bend along the Snake River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Near the north end of Moose-Wilson Road is a modest pond that moose (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Alces alces) seem to like. The small crowds of onlookers suggest moose gather here on a regular basis.

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Moose in a pond along Moose-Wilson Road. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Farther away from the water, the open meadows provide a home for herds of American bison (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Bison bison).

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American bison along Antelope Flats. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Among these grasslands there are also a fair number of pronghorn (Artiodactyla: Antilocapridae: Antilocapra americana). As the fastest land mammals in North America, these animals need the space to run from predators.

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Pronghorn near the Taggart Lake Trailhead. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

More forested areas harbor a large number of elk (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Cervus canadensis). In late summer and autumn mature males can be heard bugling. These mating calls serve to warn competing males and attract females.

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Bull elk near the Taggart Lake Trailhead. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Both grizzly bears and American black bears (Carnivora: Ursidae: Ursus americanus) can be found hidden among the thick foliage:

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Large black bear along Moose-Wilson Road. Photographed 09/04/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Smaller mammals like chipmunks (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Tamias spp.) also seem to be everywhere.

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Chipmunk at the Signal Mountain Lodge. Photographed 09/04/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

After each day exploring the geology, scenery, and wildlife of this diverse national park, the Tetons and accompanying lakes stand ready to frame some fabulous sunsets.

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Sunset over the Tetons and Jackson Lake from the Signal Mountain Lodge. Photographed 09/04/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

It seems odd that Yellowstone National Park just to the north receives about 3.6 million visitors per year, while Grand Teton sees only about 2.6 million. That seems to suggest about one million people per year miss out on the grandeur of Grand Teton in spite of being right next door. It’s sort of a shame since Grand Teton National Park is one of America’s best.

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Badlands National Park

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Hills photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Located in southwest South Dakota is the beautiful and fascinating terrain of Badlands National Park. This park encompasses 381 square miles (987 square km) of colorful, jagged hills that decorate one of the largest remaining mixed-grass prairies in the United States.

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Hills photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Situated in this park are ancient sediments spanning tens of millions of years. These rocks and soils contain a myriad of fossils from the organisms that lived in the varied ecosystems that once existed here. The prairie that exists today nurtures a number of equally impressive animals, including bison and pronghorn.

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Hills photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

The sediments that make up these gorgeous hills were deposited from about 75 to about 28 million years ago. During the late Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs still ruled the earth, the Great Plains were inundated by a vast inland sea. The mud that accumulated in that sea was later buried by younger sediment and turned to stone, preserved today as the Pierre Shale. As the tectonic collision and uplift of the Laramide Orogeny formed the Rocky Mountains and Black Hills to the west, this area too began to see higher and drier times. As the top layers of shale were exposed to the air they slowly weathered into the contrasting Yellow Mounds.

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Hills photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Between about 37 and 34 million years ago this area was blanketed by a vast floodplain. Runoff from the new, higher elevations to the west created numerous streams and rivers that flowed through this region. The rounded, gray hills of the Chadron Formation contain alligator fossils, supporting other evidence that this location was once closer to the equator and more tropical at that time. From then on tectonic activity would slowly move North America away from the equator.

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Hills photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

The alternating tan and red layers of the Brule Formation were deposited from about 34 to 30 million years ago. This formation contains interbedded mudstones, siltstones, sandstones, and ash from volcanoes to the west.

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Hills photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

From about 30 to 28 million years ago North America continued to gradually migrate to the north and west, away from the equator. As the North American plate overrode the Pacific and Juan de Fuca Plates, subduction generated significant volcanism to the west of the Badlands. Volcanic ash is a significant component of the Rockyford Ash and Sharps Formation, and today they represent the most jagged peaks in the park.

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Hills photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Sediment accumulation likely continued here for millions of years as streams and rivers carried weathered particles from the Black Hills and deposited them in this area. That all changed about half a million years ago when the Cheyenne River captured these streams and changed their course. Waterways no longer deposited sediment here and instead began to carry it away. Erosion began in earnest, leading to the landscape that exists today.

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Hills photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Erosion acts relatively quickly on the soft rocks of the Badlands, and it’s estimated that they will be completely gone within the next few hundred thousand years. As the hills erode, however, they expose a library of animal fossils from the last few tens of millions of years. Although fossils can be found throughout the park, they’re front and center on display along the Fossil Exhibit Trail.

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Fossil Exhibit Trail photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Fossil casts of many large, impressive prehistoric animals are on display here, along with interpretive signs. Some of the more interesting include rhino-like mammals known as titanotheres

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Titanothere fossil cast along the Fossil Exhibit Trail. Photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

…as well as the saber-toothed cat-like mammals known as nimravids:

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Nimravid fossil cast along the Fossil Exhibit Trail. Photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Today equally impressive mammals still roam these hills, including herds of American bison (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Bison bison)…

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American bison (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Bison bison) photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

pronghorn (Artiodactyla: Antilocapridae: Antilocapra americana)…

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Pronghorn (Artiodactyla: Antilocapridae: Antilocapra americana) photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

black-tailed prairie dogs (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Cynomys ludovicianus)…

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Black-tailed prairie dog (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Cynomys ludovicianus) photographed 08/17/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

…as well as rabbits:

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Rabbit photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Along the stream beds one can even find amphibians seeking solace in the few moist places among the Badlands:

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Frog photographed 08/17/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Grasses and wildflowers also blanket the prairies here, including sunflowers…

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Sunflower photographed 08/17/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

…and snow on the mountain:

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Snow on the mountain (Euphorbia marginata, Euphorbiaceae) photographed 08/17/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Badlands National Park is equal parts geologic history and prairie ecology. One can travel back through the last few tens of millions of years of earth history here along the roadways, marvel at the beautiful rocks that were formed in the varied environments, and be delightfully interrupted along the way by the impressive organisms that live here today.

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Pronghorn (Artiodactyla: Antilocapridae: Antilocapra americana) photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Most people seem to visit the eastern reaches of this park, sticking to the comfortable lodge, developed campground, and paved roads found here. Although I only spent two days in this park, it seemed as if the real treasures were to be found to the west. Along the remote gravel roads are more animals, more plants, and a deeper understanding of the geologic history. Near the western extent of the park is the Sage Creek Campground, a pleasantly primitive area free from traffic and crowds. It was amazing to fall asleep under the dark sky and abundant stars while listening to the howls of coyotes.

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Sunset over the Sage Creek Campground. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Posted in Botany, Ecology, Geology, National Parks, Paleontology, Vertebrate Zoology | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Plant-Insect Interaction: Argid sawfly larvae on a hedge false bindweed

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Argid sawfly larva (Hymenoptera: Argidae: Sphacophilus sp.) feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Convolvulaceae). Photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Sawflies and their kin are wasp-like insects with about 8000 known species. Larvae often resemble moth or butterfly caterpillars but can be distinguished by the presence of at least six pairs of prolegs. These stumpy, fleshy structures extending from their rear abdominal segments disappear when they undergo metamorphosis and become adults. They’re much shorter than the three pairs of “regular” legs that the insects retain as adults, but they do help the larvae crawl around.

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Argid sawfly larva (Hymenoptera: Argidae: Sphacophilus sp.) feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Convolvulaceae). Photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Although sawflies are in the same insect order as wasps, their larvae behave much differently. The larvae of most wasp species are maggot-like and feed on paralyzed arthropods provided by their mothers. Sawfly larvae, in contrast, are more like moth and butterfly larvae. They actively crawl around on their host plants and feed on the foliage. Most species of sawfly larvae are pretty host-specific; they only feed on certain plants. Knowing the plant a sawfly larva is feeding on can help identify the genus or species.

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Argid sawfly larva (Hymenoptera: Argidae: Sphacophilus sp.) feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Convolvulaceae). Photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

The individual shown here is a particular genus of argid sawfly (Hymenoptera: Argidae: Sphacophilus sp.) that was feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Colvolvulaceae). I let these “weeds” grow up on a fence in my yard to see what they would attract, and this interesting insect was one of the rewards.

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Glacier National Park

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Mountain view photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Two mountain ranges, 25 alpine glaciers, and over 700 lakes contribute to the rugged and beautiful landscape of Glacier National Park. Located in northwest Montana along the border with Canada, this park preserves 1583 square miles (4101 square km) of soaring peaks, lush meadows, primeval forests, serene lakes and waterfalls, and a vast array of interesting organisms.

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Cataract Creek spilling off of Reynolds Mountain. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

The jagged topography of this park originated long ago. Between about 1.6 billion and 800 million years ago this region was part of a shallow sea. During that time thousands of feet of sand, silt, mud, and dead marine organisms accumulated, and pressure from overlying sediment slowly compressed these deposits into solid rock.

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Mountain view photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

In more recent time periods of collision between tectonic plates forced these sedimentary rock beds upward. From about 170 to 50 million years ago these slow but relentless natural forces pushed older rock bedding up and over younger bedding, thrusting it gradually toward to sky. Today the parallel bedding of the ancient marine sediment is visible in many of the mountains, including East Flattop Mountain near the outpost of Saint Mary:

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East Flattop Mountain photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

In the millennia since their uplift these mountains have been slowly eroded. Ice in particular has contributed most to carving these peaks into their present forms. Vast glaciers blanketed the landscape here during ice ages that ended about 12,000 years ago. Evidence for the sculpting they performed can be found in the U-shaped valleys…

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Mountain view photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

…glacial cirques

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Mountain view photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

…and numerous meltwater lakes that radiate outward from the highest peaks:

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Going-to-the-Sun Mountain and Saint Mary Lake near Sun Point. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Today 25 functional glaciers can be found within this national park. As recently as 1850 there were about 150, and the disappearance of ice here is one of only many lines of evidence for climate change. It’s estimated that within the next ten or twenty years there will be no more glaciers at Glacier National Park.

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Jackson Glacier, one of the few remaining “permanent” ice fields left in the park. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

For the time being, however, these melting glaciers feed a variety of water features. Streams, lakes, and waterfalls speckle the terrain, providing unparalleled natural beauty. Avalanche Lake, carrying meltwater from Sperry Glacier and Gunsight Mountain, is perhaps among the most impressive:

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Avalanche Lake photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Sunrift Gorge is worth the short hike:

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Sunrift Gorge photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

The view of Saint Mary Lake from Sun Point is gorgeous:

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Saint Mary Lake from Sun Point. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

The cobbles and distant peaks around Lake McDonald are worth a stop…

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Lake McDonald photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

…as is McDonald Creek which feeds the lake:

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McDonald Creek photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Within these verdant environments are a variety of tall trees…

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Tall trees along the Trail of the Cedars. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

…as well as innumerable wildflowers:

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Unknown wildflower photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

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Unknown wildflower photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

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Unknown aster photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Seventy species of mammals call these mountains home, including mountain goats (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Oreamnos americanus)…

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Mountain goat near Logan Pass. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

bighorn sheep (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Ovis canadensis)…

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Bighorn sheep near Logan Pass. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

ground squirrels (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Spermophilus sp.)…

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Ground squirrel near Logan Pass. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

…and even grizzly bears (Carnivora: Ursidae: Ursus arctos):

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Grizzly warning sign along Sun Point Trail. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

Glacier National Park is among the best in the nation and for good reason. The scenic and fascinating mountains, lakes, waterfalls, streams, plants, and wildlife make this a location rivaled by few, and important enough to attract nearly two million visitors annually. Although somewhat remote, it’s definitely worth the trip.

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Mountain view photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

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