Nov 182017

The news about the American Chestnut trees that I have been bringing along up near Kinmount for the last 15 years is not good, I’m afraid. First: None of the nuts I planted last Fall sprouted so I had no new seedlings to plant this year. Second: I think because we had such a cold and wet Spring, only one of my three trees produced blossoms. Being dioecious (separate male and female trees), this meant there was virtually no hope of producing viable nuts this Summer, unless there are surviving American Chestnut trees nearby. Third: I hope it was due to a late frost but the new growth of leaves on all three of my trees exhibited noticeable deformation, although the remainder of the trees remained healthy-looking until they dropped their leaves. I’m hopeful that this isn’t a symptom of that devastating blight.
I am happy to report though that we saw bats at our cabin regularly through the Summer. I would say that their numbers are coming back up there. We also saw quite a few Monarch butterflies; more than in the past several Summers. We have never seen so many Moose as this summer: Two siblings (I presume) together on a game camera in the Spring, one big bull Moose in September and another, different bull Moose just a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, only two days after we saw the first bull Moose in our meadow, huge rack and all, my wife had a collision with him on Crystal Lake Road. Miraculously, and thankfully, she was completely unhurt, although the car was extensively damaged. The only other bit of good news coming from that is that the Moose ran off into the woods, apparently unhurt. The Moose we caught on camera a couple of weeks ago was younger, with a smaller rack and he appeared healthy.
We saw a Quail crossing Fire Route 397, and I believe they are considered endangered in Ontario now. For the first time ever we captured a Pine Marten (I believe) on a game camera. We also caught many does, a few bucks, several foxes, turkeys, raccoons, porcupines, rabbits, coyotes/wolves/coywolves . . . and a hunter trespassing on our property, shotgun in hand, who stole one of our game cameras. As always, notifying the police is a waste of time. He better not have shot one of our quail, or anything else for that matter.

Michael Doran, Peterborough

Pine Marten – Gord Belyea

American Chestnut leaves and nuts (Wikimedia)

Aug 292017

Now’s the time to be looking for migrating Common Nighthawks. The best time to see flocks is late afternoon and evening. They feed as they fly and are often seen over water. In my experience, they often turn up after a rain event.

Here are some recent sightings from Tim Dyson who lives in the Warsaw area. As of August 16, he has seen a total of 549 of these birds. Most were seen over the Indian River near/at Back Dam Park on Rock Road.

1.On the evening of August 16, I saw 41 Common Nighthawks over the Indian River just north of Warsaw. I watched for 30 minutes, just after the sun had set. They were moving along southward in groups averaging about five per group.

2. August 18th between 6:24pm and 6:27 pm, no less than 98 Common Nighthawks passed overhead where I am just n/w of Warsaw. Through a curtain of moderate rainfall, they were heading roughly s/w at average nighthawk height (100+ meters from the ground). Not really darting here and there much as is typical of them, but seemingly more intent on the direction they headed and the altitude they were keeping. Appearing as three loosely-connected bunches, it was difficult to count them at times, therefore I am glad they weren’t in whirling masses as is sometimes the case. They stretched to the eastern and western horizon, and despite my frantic searching, I could not bring the total to an even hundred birds or more. Although I have lived in a fair number of locations in the county over the past 25 years from Belmont Lake, Rice Lake, Buckhorn, and Nephton and places in between, interestingly, the Warsaw area has always yielded the highest numbers for migrating nighthawks in my experience, both now, and in the early-to-mid 1990s).

3. August 19th I got home to Warsaw just before dark in time to notice only 2 nighthawks flying past from east to west. I waited around another ten minutes or so, but saw no more.

4. On the morning of August 20th, (the date I’ve always considered to be average for observing large numbers of the species), 14 nighthawks just appeared to the north, gathered, (and very much like migrating Broad-winged Hawks will about four weeks from now), they “kettled” in a thermal and rode it straight up and out of my sight. This happened at 10:30am, it is sunny, humid, and 24 degrees outside. I find this far more bizarre than seeing more than one hundred nighthawks during an evening observation. That’s pretty normal. But a small kettle of them before noon… that’s just plain odd for me!

5. On the evening of August 20, despite hoping for a bumper crop of nighthawks to pass overhead on what is often “the peak date”, I only saw six of them from my favorite viewing spot and they were all observed at 6:45pm.

6. On August 21, I set up to watch for nighthawks just after 6:00pm, and none appeared in the sky until 6:50pm when 17 came into view just above the treetops heading roughly southward. Just as suddenly as they had appeared, I found myself staring at an empty sky once again. Yes, there were lulls in the passage of them, but before I went inside at 8:35pm. I had seen 65 for the night. Interesting this evening was the number of swallows, (however, I did not count them). Although most were quite high up,
some that were close enough to me to see well, seemed to be Bank Swallows. After a brief period of no visible nighthawks, they began to fly past again in small numbers and I found myself having to differentiate between them and the swallows as their flight style is somewhat similar, and their altitudes were variable. At about 7:25pm, one of the larger birds appeared to drop on a near 90 degree angle and slam right into one of the swallows! (Raptor experienced or not, my first thought was “That nighthawk is some kind of idiot!”) But as the two connected, there was a little puff of feathers and they never parted. “Of course! Duh!” I thought, as the Merlin that had just snatched a swallow veered to come almost directly overhead carrying it’s late-evening dinner. (see photo) As the landscape darkened by 8:30pm, two large bats began doing their rounds
over the former horse paddock, as a deer walked out for some evening grazing. He had a full crown of fuzzy antlers, and was unconcerned as he fed with his back to me only 20 meters away. A Gallium Sphinx visited some of the various flowers in the gardens around the house. I think I’ll sit out tomorrow night, too.

7. On August 22, between 7:30 and 8:30pm, Drew, my friend Angela, and I counted 33 nighthawks over Back Dam Park on Rock Road. They were flying south in groups of 2-7, with a few single birds. A few foraged as they flew, but most were making a beeline south. The wind was from the west and there had been heavy showers over much of the afternoon and into the early evening. The sky had cleared by the time we started watching for nighthawks. We also saw a Great Egret.

8. On August 23, Angela and I put the kayaks in at Back Dam Park at about 7:20pm. Paddled north almost to the power line, and turned around at 7:50pm and headed back. Five minutes later, the first nighthawk of the evening flew along the western
shore of the river and was actively feeding. About ten minutes later, there was the first good pulse totaling seven birds. Over the next twenty minutes others in small groups and singles appeared from the north and north-east. After a short lull, three more came along to wrap up the night’s total at 22 birds. Other things of interest were three River Otters (very curious, coming back out of vegetation to squeak and squeal at us), and a lovely waxing crescent moon.

9. Despite sitting out at home for nearly two hours on the 26th of August, no more than 9 nighthawks were seen – three as singles and three groups of two each.


On the evening of the 24th I was visiting someone at PRHC, and despite spending twenty minutes outside the hospital and another twenty minute
drive back to Warsaw during the magic hour, not a single nighthawk was seen.
The 25th, however, was a little better. Putting in the kayaks at the Back Dam near Warsaw with friends Angela and Lori, we began a northward paddle up the Indian River at about 6:30pm. Looking behind for some reason, I spotted the first group of nighthawks at 6:55pm. There were initially four that caught my eye, and then over the next seven or eight minutes, a total of 55 of them passed overhead.
Strange thing, was that they were all heading north!
Also interesting, was that they were very high as they came into view, and were gliding on set wings that rarely flapped. They were making a gradual decent.
I have seen this behavior in migrating raptors (Broad-winged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, and Turkey Vultures) that often travel in groupings. In the case of the raptors, it is often a large low pressure area that they have come upon, and almost always, rain ensues shortly afterwards. The hours prior were usually filled with sunny skies and rising warm air, but when they come to that change in the sky with rain to follow, they will often stream for several minutes as they descend to either hunt, sleep, and/or wait out the weather.
I am wondering if these nighthawks had already put some good miles behind them this evening and were just descending into a traditionally good feeding area, or just to feed at all. The weather did not (and was not forecast to) change for the night, but perhaps they only needed to feed for a while. Direction of flight while descending out of a migration stint doesn’t seem to matter to the hawks and vultures coming down to avoid poor weather, so should it matter to hungry nighthawks? I would guess it does not.
Nighthawks returned to view coming in lower from the east and continuing westward out of sight. Groups numbering 9, 7, 4, and 18. As we headed back around the last bend, we could see another 12 actively hunting quite low over the little dam and playground area where we were parked. They hunted there for nearly fifteen minutes before they all gradually
seemed to head out higher and over the trees towards the south west. Once I had the boats loaded, I turned to take a last evening look at the water, and one more nighthawk appeared, (as it seemed to nearly hit me in the face
as it whipped in fast and low!)  So, that would make 106 for the night. I’m no longer too disappointed having not seen any the night before.

10. On August 27, traveling from home (3kms north and west of Warsaw) for an evening paddle on the Indian River, Angela and I counted 22 nighthawks from the moving vehicle as they zipped their way southward at 6:35pm. Paddling up the river from the Back Dam on Rock Road we saw nighthawks in waves streaming from north to south and of course there were the usual lulls. After one hour, our total for the night had risen to 54 nighthawks, when at 7:35 the sky to the north was suddenly full of them!! Our total rapidly grew to 96 nighthawks as 42 more made up the count for this bunch. Before the evening count was over when we returned to our launch place at 8:25pm, we had seen 147 nighthawks for this 27th of August 2017.
That brings my season total (since August 16th) to 549.


Common Nighthawk – Wikimedia

Nighhawks over Buckhorn Lake – Aug. 15, 2016 – David Beaucage Johnson

Nighthawk on left, and Merlin carrying swallow on right – Warsaw – Aug. 21, 2017 – Tim Dyson

Jul 102017

I live in Ennismore on 4 acres in a century home. The article you wrote about declining bat populations and White Nose Syndrome is old but I thought I’d reach out to you since I found it interesting and I’ve got bats – Little Brown Bats, I think. They’re living in my barn which is probably typical for this area, but I’ve also got them in my soffit and behind a pillar at the front of my house. I’m a nature lover and don’t want to hurt them, I wouldn’t mind building a few bat houses if that would entice them out of the soffit.

David Hrivnak (

Note from Paul Elliott, a local bat expert: “Bats very rarely cause any damage to the structure of a house. They only use available access points and spaces and are incapable of gnawing through stuff and so on. Their droppings are very dry and they produce only small amounts of urine because their opportunities for drinking are limited. The only circumstance in which the droppings may become a problem is if the space they are in is not watertight. A leaky roof can cause the guano to become moldy and smelly. As long as your roof is sound, you should not have any problems. Thanks for caring about bats.

Little Brown Bat with White Nose Syndrome (US Geological Survey)


Nov 202016

I was out on the acreage on October 12 doing my usual pre-hunt checkout, and came across this lovely Eastern Hog-nosed Snake. On the 13th, I was documenting some history for my museum about mining in the area and came upon these bats in an abandoned uranium mine near Crystal Lake.

Marie Windover, County Road 507

Bats in abandoned mine near Flynn's Corner - Oct. 13, 2016 - Marie Windover

Bats in abandoned mine near Crystal Lake – Oct. 13, 2016 – Marie Windover

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Oct. 12, 2016 - County Road 507 - Marie Windover

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake – Oct. 12, 2016 – County Road 507 – Marie Windover

Aug 282016

I have some news that I think is important. On Friday night (August 19) we were driving home from some friends’ place over at the 5th line of Selwyn near the Lakefield Highway, and coming back we saw at least ten bats flying above the road over the km or two between their place and Chemong Road. Also, we were up at our cabin in the woods on the weekend, near Crystal Lake and just south of Kinmount and there were at least two bats flying around after dusk. Although they were once plentiful up there, we haven’t seen them for several years, until this Summer. One came out of its normal daytime roost on the west gable of the house on one particularly hot afternoon and had a bit of a rest on the screen of our porch (picture attached; note the Daddy Longlegs living dangerously beside him).

Probable Little Brown Bat - Crystal Lake near Kinmount - August 2016 - Michael Doran

Probable Little Brown Bat – Crystal Lake near Kinmount – August 2016 – Michael Doran

I am also happy to say that the American Chestnut tree that I wrote to you about four years ago (See Nov. 11, 2013) that had produced a few chestnuts (but hasn’t since) is now laden with nuts. Better still, one of the other three American Chestnut saplings that I planted in 2002 also has one single nut on it. I figure that’s a good start. I hope to beat the squirrels to most of these and plant them, ultimately spreading the saplings throughout our property and beyond. With large enough numbers, I am hoping that the many nut-loving animals that are around won’t find all of them. Our trees haven’t shown any sign of susceptibility to the blight that killed off most of the trees in North America early in the 20th century (I presume they used to grow in our area up there).

I bought the American Chestnut plantings as seedlings about 30-40 cm tall from the Grand River Conservation Centre in September 2002. The tree that is now loaded with nuts is about 5-7 m tall and its diameter at chest height would be about 12-15 cm. The other two, which grow in shadier spots, are maybe a metre or two shorter and proportionately slimmer. One of them was topped by a moose a few years ago (grrr!!!!), partly explaining its stature; nevertheless, it has one single nut on it! I was told when I bought them that they were grown from chestnuts that came from trees in a small, surviving enclave of American Chestnut trees somewhere in the GR conservation area. I don’t know if that’s good news or bad; I hope it means they have a natural immunity to the fungus.

American Chestnut Tree - Michael Doran - August, 2016

American Chestnut Tree – Michael Doran – August, 2016

American Chestnut - Pennsylvania - 1914 (Wikimedia)

American Chestnut – Pennsylvania – 1914 (Wikimedia)

American Chestnut leaves and nuts (Wikimedia)

American Chestnut leaves and nuts (Wikimedia)

We have seen only one Monarch Butterfly at a time up at the cabin this Summer. I’m hopeful that the one I saw this weekend is the offspring of the one I saw earlier in the Summer. Their numbers are much reduced up there over the last decade too, sad to say.

In other news, we saw a Scarlet Tanager this summer up there (I have a grainy photo to prove it, taken through the porch screen), the first time in many years too. It has been very dry up there (no surprise, I’m sure), but it is the best year for Evening Primrose that we have seen since 1993.

Bears aren’t as plentiful as they once were, but at least they are well behaved, unlike in 2004 when a gang of four of them tried to break into our cabin while we were there.

Last year, for the first time ever, we saw three Eastern Bluebirds checking out the bird house that I put up in the meadow. Sadly (for us), they found more appropriate accommodation. We saw two again this spring, but they too moved on. I don’t think that the presence of a Sharp-shinned Hawk while they were inspecting the house helped. So I will tweak the bird house and hope for better luck next year (I used American plans; our bluebirds should be a bit bigger, it being colder here, so I will make the opening just a bit bigger).

I love your column and books. Please keep writing!

Michael Doran, Crystal Lake, near Kinmount, ON

Apr 302015

At dusk tonight, April 29th, a bat flew by getting insects. I don’t know my bats but thought this is good news because of “white nose syndrome”  and thought people would like to know the date first sighting of the spring.

Jane Philpott, Kawartha Hideaway, Buckhorn Lake

(Note: This may have been a Big Brown Bat, a species less affected by White Nose Syndrome. Little Brown Bats, a formerly far more abundant species, have been devastated by WNS with upwards of six million dead and the species most likely heading towards extinction.  D.M.)

Big Brown Bat - Wikimedia

Big Brown Bat – Wikimedia

Little Brown Bat (with WNS) Wikimedia

Little Brown Bat (with WNS) Wikimedia

Feb 072015

In a cave, tunnel or old mine near you…nothing is stirring. Some of our most fascinating animals survive the cold of winter by hibernating. They enter a deep torpor, a kind of suspended animation. By allowing their body temperature to fall dramatically they reduce their metabolism to a level at which it is just ticking over, slowly consuming stored fat reserves as they wait for spring. Bats are among the animals that adopt this strategy. Since all Canadian bats are insectivorous it is no surprise that they have evolved to do this since there is precious little for them to eat during the winter. Some of our local bats prolong their feeding opportunities by migrating further south before hibernating and a few of our larger tree-roosting species may keep the need to hibernate to a minimum by flying as far south as Mexico. Many other bats are quietly hibernating right here in Peterborough County. Hibernating bats need cool, frost-free, stable conditions where humidity is high and they are safe from the attentions of potential predators. Caves, old mines, tunnels and other sites offering these conditions suit them best.

Like us, bats are mammals and so are warm-blooded creatures. While they are active, bats maintain a core body temperature very similar to our own, around 35oC to 37oC, but unlike us, they can allow their body temperature to fall during periods of inactivity and so conserve energy. They can do this at any time of the year, but during the winter this torpor becomes their long-term condition. Hibernating bats are largely inactive with only basic body functions operating at a level to keep them alive. They will occasionally wake up, use their fat stores to quickly raise their body temperature back to normal levels and then go in search of a drink to avoid death by dehydration. During these periods of wakefulness some male bats will also take the opportunity to mate with unaware, slumbering females. The sperm they deposit stays viable until the females become active and ovulate in the spring.

Most bats, including all Canadian species, are very small mammals. The adults of species found locally range from just 3g. to 39g.. It is surprising how long such small animals can live. Some species regularly survive in the wild for over twenty years while animals well into their thirties have been recorded in Ontario. These impressive figures have caught the attention of researchers interested in improving human longevity, since bats have the longest life spans of any mammals in relation to their size. Research shows that the bat species with the greatest life spans produce two specific proteins that may be linked to their longevity Bats are also generally very good at fending off disease so the efficiency of their immune systems is also attracting interest. Unfortunately however, their immune system is not fool proof.

Little Brown Bat with White Nose Syndrome (US Geological Survey)

Little Brown Bat with White Nose Syndrome (US Geological Survey)

Tragically, the last eight years have been a perilous time for our hibernating bats as a new disease has emerged against which they have little defense. In 2006 at a cave near Albany, New York State, bats were found to be sick and dying. Around their muzzles was a growth of a powdery fungus. The new disease became known as White Nose Syndrome. We know now that this fungus, previously unknown to science, originated in Europe and Asia. Bats on those continents can carry the fungus, but do not appear to be made sick by it: they must have evolved immunity to the fungus, possibly over thousands of years. It is assumed that spores of the fungus reached Albany on the clothes or footwear of a visitor to the cave system. Since 2006 the fungus has spread at terrifying speed and is now found in five Canadian provinces, including Ontario and twenty-five US states. It is estimated to have killed well over five million bats.

The White Nose fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, gets into the skin of hibernating bats and disrupts their hibernation cycle. Infected bats wake up repeatedly, causing them to burn up their limited fat reserves and become dehydrated. Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and Wisconsin University recently discovered that hibernating bats with the disease use twice as much energy as healthy bats. Additionally, the infected bats show physiological imbalances that could disrupt processes such as as normal heart function. Infected bats will often leave their hibernation site in search of water and needlessly use up stored energy in a futile attempt to feed. Five of the eight species found in Ontario are thought to be vulnerable to the disease and the vast majority of infected bats die. The Little Brown Bat, formerly by far the most common bat in this part of the world, is one of the most hard-hit. The fungus is transmitted primarily from bat to bat and some experts believe it is causing the most dramatic population decline ever witnessed in mammalian populations anywhere in the world. Fortunately the fungus does not appear to pose a risk to humans, pets or livestock.

Bats consume vast quantities of insects, including mosquitoes and pests of agriculture and forestry, so the ecological and financial impact of losing so many bats to White Nose Syndrome is expected to be considerable. It is thought to have already cost agriculture many millions of dollars in extra pesticides to cope with the rise of pest populations that bats would previously have suppressed. Canadian crops most likely to be hardest hit include wheat, barley, corn, oats, canola, flaxseed, and other oilseeds. The loss of bats from natural food webs will also have unforeseen consequences as some species suffer as a result of the loss and others exploit the decline in bat numbers.

In response to the White-Nose crisis the federal government has added three species of bats to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk in Canada (also known as Schedule I of the Species at Risk Act). These three bats species – the Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus), the Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) and the Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus) are all found in this area and have been listed as Endangered.

It is believed that some North American bat species may be facing extinction because of White Nose Syndrome. Others may eventually develop immunity, but because most female bats are capable of producing only one pup per year, it may take centuries for their populations to recover. Researchers are desperately trying to find ways to protect bats. They are hoping to find natural agents that may help to rid hibernation sites of the deadly fungus.

A scientist documenting a victim of White Nose Syndrome (US Geological Survey)

A scientist documenting a victim of White Nose Syndrome (US Geological Survey)

What can ordinary people do to help bats? The most important thing is to avoid entering hibernation sites such as caves and disused mines, especially during winter. It is easy to disturb hibernating bats, causing them to unnecessarily use up their stored fat, making them even more vulnerable to disease. If we have to enter such sites we should follow the Ministry of the Natural Environment’s guidelines and take precautions to avoid disturbing bats and spreading fungal spores from one site to another. Unusual bat activity or deaths can be reported to the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre (1-866-673-4781) or the Natural Resources Information Centre (1-800-667-1940). We should all do what we can to avoid disturbing bats at any time of year. We should protect their summer roosts in trees, barns, roofs and bridges and help maintain the natural habitats they depend on.

Oct 232014

For some people, the natural world can be an intimidating place. Although it might seem illogical to be afraid of a tiny creature like a spider or bat, we can’t deny that some animals do indeed elicit a fear response. With Halloween upon us, what better time to talk about fear of the natural world, be it anxiety at the sound of thunder or revulsion at the sight of a spider running across the bathroom floor.
An aversion to particular animals was almost certainly critical to the survival of early humans. As much as being too fearful would have made survival difficult, insufficient fear would have led to reckless behaviour and possibly death. In the 21st century, however, you can still have these feelings of angst and at the same time experience a deep appreciation and respect for the animal in question. Stephen Kellert, author of “Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World” says that: “While aversive emotions towards (certain) animals are typically strong, they can also be positively channeled into fascination, curiosity and exploration.” For example, a fear of snakes or wolves doesn’t have to provoke destructive behaviours.
When I was teaching, I always made of point of encouraging my students to hold or touch the many animals that visited our classroom or that we encountered outside. However, there was always the odd student who would refuse to do so. I would sometimes be a little facetious and say something like: “Did you have a bad experience with a snake once and get bitten?” Never was this the case. So, where do fears like this come from and what are we to make of them?

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake  (Joe Crowley)

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Joe Crowley)

Snakes – Approximately one adult human in three suffers to some degree from ophiophobia, a fear of snakes. Some people are afraid of even thinking of snakes or looking at images of them. This fear may be an inherent reaction, however, and we aren’t alone in this regard. An innate fear of snakes is present even in our closely-related primate cousins, the monkeys. In one famous experiment, monkeys literally panicked when suddenly exposed to snakes, even though they had been raised in a laboratory and had never seen these reptiles before.
Snakes and early primates may have been involved in an evolutionary “arms race” of sorts. According to Lynne Isbell, an anthropologist at the University of California, the survival of early primates depended to a large extent on ways to detect and avoid snakes. Fossil and DNA evidence suggests that the snakes were already around when the first primates were evolving some 60 million years ago and were among the first serious predators our ancestors faced. Early primates were adapted to living in trees, searching for food at night and sleeping in the canopy during the day. Snakes slithering through those trees would have been a constant threat. This may explain the evolution in primates of adaptations such as a better eye for colour, detail and movement. All of these abilities would have been very important for detecting threats at close range. To keep up with primate evolution, snakes had to get better at killing their prey. This may have driven the evolution of venom, according to Isbell.

Bats – A fear of bats may simply be related to the natural startle response experienced by an unsuspecting person when a bat somehow finds itself into a house and flies about erratically looking for a quick exit. Tied to this are vague notions of these flying mammals getting caught in your hair (never happens) or that most bats have rabies, which isn’t true either. Even among sick bats submitted for rabies testing, only a tiny percentage ever test positive, and those that do are usually clumsy, disoriented, and unable to fly. We should also remember that you can only get rabies if a rabid animal bites you. Contrary to a widespread misconception, only three species of bats feed on blood – mostly livestock – and these species all live in Latin America. In fact, the majority of bats are terrified of humans and see man as a potential predator.

Little Brown Bat (with WNS) Wikimedia

Little Brown Bat (with WNS) Wikimedia

If anything, we should be afraid FOR bats, not of them. White-nose syndrome (WNS) named for a distinctive fungal growth around the muzzles and on the wings of hibernating bats, has resulted in the deaths of at least 6 million North American bats. In fact, the once-abundant Little Brown Bat is expected to go extinct in the wild. In Ontario, it is now on the list of endangered species. In the seven years since WNS first showed up, Ontario’s bat population is estimated to have dropped by over 90 per cent. This is an extinction tragedy of unprecedented proportions. You don’t have to find bats warm and cuddly to feel great sadness in the crisis they are now facing. Their disappearance is making the natural world a lonelier and less fascinating place.
Wolves – When it comes to the complicated relationship between fear and fascination for a wild animal, there are few better examples than the wolf. Wolves used to be universally reviled and many people wanted to annihilate them altogether. Yes, they may have represented a real danger to our distant ancestors. In modern times, however, wolf persecution is more closely linked to reasons such as livestock depredation. Thankfully, attitudes towards wolves have now shifted dramatically. Much of this has to do with a growing understanding of wolf biology and the huge ecological value of these animals. When wolves are behind bars in a zoo or wildlife park, however, and any element of danger has disappeared, the sense of wonder they inspire falls precipitously. That is why having healthy populations of wild wolves is so important.
Invertebrates – Bugs – to use the vernacular – seem to attract an especially widespread aversion. It’s true that a healthy respect for wasps, leeches, spiders and similar creatures is a useful trait, since it helps us to avoid pain and disease. There are certainly deeper psychological reasons, too, for a dislike of “creepy crawlies.” Their lack of feeling and reason is a probably a big part of it. As Kellert writes: “All they seem to have in common with us are vaguely familiar body parts and a passion to survive and reproduce.” Despite this innate dislike on the part of many people, it’s still possible to learn to respond to these creatures with curiosity and a sense of wonder. There is still so much we don’t know about the invertebrate world. An entire scientific career awaits curious, young researchers.

Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) Wikimedia

Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) Wikimedia

So, what should we be afraid of in 2014? I would argue that climate change should be near the top of any list. It’s clear that living in a highly technological society where so much of nature has been subdued has greatly reduced our fear of extreme weather. This may partly explain why we continue to engage in the dangerous behaviour of pouring ever-greater amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This is why I was so discouraged last week by the cries of joy when the cost of gasoline plummeted. Why aren’t more people joining the dots linking low fuel prices, increased consumption, increased greenhouse gas emissions and accelerated disruption of the climate? Evolution, however, never prepared us for slow-motion threats like climate change. We’re much better at reacting to something like the Ebola outbreak where the impact is immediate and dramatic.