Indiana Master Naturalist Summer Newsletter

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I saw my first Coleoptera Lampyridae of the season this weekend. (There I go again, using big words that I couldn’t pronounce, or didn’t know what they meant, until I looked them up.)  Coleoptera Lampyridae, are more commonly known as fireflies, or lightning bugs, and I saw a couple hovering over my front lawn Saturday and Sunday evenings. I have always enjoyed watching the “light show” these little insects put on during summer evenings. As a kid, I would get a Mason jar from my mom, stuff some grass in the bottom, cut a piece of screen to fit the top, catch a bunch of them, screw on the top ring, put the jar on my desk, and watch them light-up from my bed at night. I quickly learned I needed to release them the next morning to avoid having some dead bugs the next night.

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Fireflies are nocturnal members of the Lampyridae family, and they’re not really flies, they are a type of beetle. The name comes from the Greek word “lampein,” which means to shine, although not all fireflies glow. (Fireflies in the western US do not produce light.) In some species, only one gender lights-up, but in most species, both do. Light is produced through a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. They have light organs, located beneath their abdomens, that mix oxygen with a pigment called luciferin to generate light. The flashing part of a firefly is called a lantern, and depending on the species, the light can be green, yellow, orange, or red.

The light produced is not only very efficient, it produces very little heat. Since nearly all of the chemical reaction becomes energy, it might be the most efficient source of light in the world. The light is used to attract prey, members of the opposite sex, and to warn off predators since fireflies taste bad to to those that may want to eat them thanks to a defensive steroid called licibufagins.

firefly

Male fireflies try to attract mates by flashing their light while in flight. The blinking pattern is used to help them locate a receptive female. The females wait in the grass, on trees, or on shrubs, until they are attracted by the light display of a male. They respond with a single flash, indicating their interest, timed to follow the male’s flashes. However, there are some species where the female uses the response to attract a potential meal. Occasionally, fireflies will synchronize their flashes and put on flashy shows; in the US this only happens in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, usually during the late spring.

While the larvae, which are carnivorous, can live 1-2 years, adult fireflies have a very short life, usually three to four weeks long enough to mate and lay eggs. They need a moist climate like forests, fields or marshes near lakes, ponds, rivers or streams, and are found on every continent except Antarctica. Unfortunately, firefly populations are shrinking. Habitat loss, pesticides, and light pollution, (which is thought to reduce the ability for fireflies to find mates), are all thought to contribute to the decrease in the number of fireflies. When their habitat is gone, they do not relocate, they just disappear.

When you see some male Coleoptera Lampyridae doing their thing this summer, take a few moments and enjoy the show, I know I will.

Chuck

The IMN Prairie Posse

John Gevers, IMN

prairie

I started volunteering alongside other nature lovers at Stillwater Hospice, formerly known as Visiting Nurse, in Fort Wayne in 2021 as we began the reclamation process of restoring the not-for-profit organization’s two-acre native Indiana prairie. It was planted in 2006 to benefit local ecology and provides comfort to family members of loved ones who are in the sunset of their lives. The pathways in the prairie also provide an inspirational nature break for Stillwater’s compassionate staff and, since the prairie is open to the public, for members of the community. It is adjacent to the city’s public trail system.

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The prairie had become overgrown, however, with more than 500 invasive trees, plants, and weeds, more than 50,000, if you count individual teasel and crown vetch plants. The good native plants were there, but they were being stressed and choked and the pathways were overgrown. It was a prairie in succession and in the process of becoming something vastly different.

While working to reclaim the prairie to native status six of my fellow prairie volunteers, affectionately known as The Prairie Posse, decided to sign up for the 2022 IMN coursework offered in Allen County this winter and spring and encouraged me to do the same. Going through the coursework and field hikes to become an Indiana Master Naturalist has long been on my retirement bucket list, even though retirement is still a ways off. I still work and have considerable home duties, but I decided that going through the educational training of the natural world with my great new friends was too good an opportunity to pass up.

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As 2021 drew to a close, Stillwater Hospice created a new position of groundskeeper to look after its 8-acre campus, which includes the native prairie. I had been looking to ratchet back my professional photography business at this stage of my career and pursue a part-time job, so the chance to work for an organization with a great mission while working in my much-loved outdoors was easy to say ‘yes’ to.

As 2022 began and we members of the Prairie Posse headed towards our first IMN class, I mentioned to my Stillwater supervisor that the coming months were going to be extra busy for me as I pursued IMN certification. She asked me questions about what that certification would mean. A few days later she informed me that Stillwater was going to pay my IMN registration fee and support me in my training to become an IMN. They realized the benefit of employing a groundskeeper—and manager of its native Indiana prairie—who was an IMN. I was grateful and elated.

Now that I’ve successfully completed the coursework and doubled down on my lifelong love of learning about the natural world, I get to work for an employer who values that and wants me to share it with those who come onto our campus. Stillwater also wants to move its long-term landscaping goals to include more native species trees and plants to improve sustainability, successful growth, and help the creatures who depend upon native species.

If you ever find yourself in the 46814 zip code in Fort Wayne, please stop by Stillwater Hospice at 5910 Homestead Road and check out what’s currently blooming in the native prairie.

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IMN 20th Anniversary Celebrations

Throughout the year there will be celebrations of the IMN program’s 20th anniversary at various locations throughout the state. Each one will have its own format and programming. Everyone is welcome to attend any of these. At the newsletter deadline information was trickling in, so look for more detail in an email from Jody Heaston later. Here’s what we have so far:

July 30 at Prophetstown State Park and/or Tippecanoe River State Park

August 20 at Versailles State Park

August 27 at Mounds State Park

September 9-11 IMN Gathering in Indianapolis (Fort Harrison State Park, Eagle Creek Park and Holliday Park)

October 8 at Kosciusko County—held at Koinonia Environmental Retreat, just south of Pierceton

November 5 at Indiana Dunes State Park 

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Mussels are Nature’s Filters

Phil Cox, IMN Council Member

Last February Brant Fisher, Nongame Aquatic Biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, was the guest speaker at the Vermillion County Soil & Water Conservation District’s Annual Meeting. Fisher gave a fascinating presentation about Indiana’s freshwater mussels and their conservation. Obviously, mussels are not glamorous like many of our other species of fauna, but they are a very important part of our ecosystem. In fact, I dare to say that most people have not seen a live mussel in the wild.

Freshwater mussels are very unique animals. Mussels have two hard, external shells and soft tissue inside. Did you know that mussels have one foot? That is how they move about (however slowly) and because of this limitation the movement of mussels is limited. Most mussels stay in one place for their entire lives, but some mussels use their single foot to move around on the bottoms of waterways. Seeing one moving along a streambed is a most memorable experience, as my family saw one leaving its trail in Sugar Creek (Montgomery County section) back in the late summer of 2013 while wading during a creek cleanup day.

Threehorn

Just like us, mussels have a heart, kidneys, a stomach, and a mouth. Like fish, mussels also have gills. The gills of mussels help these animals filter water. Mussels survive by taking in water, keeping microorganisms and nutrients for food, and releasing water back to the waterway cleaner than it was when it first entered the mussel. Mussels feed by filtering water, but filtering water also means that mussels are highly vulnerable to pollution. High concentrations of pollution, bacteria, and sediment in rivers make mussels sick and can kill off entire populations. A tributary that is unable to support healthy populations usually indicates it has poor water quality.

Mussels also have this amazing and unusual lifecycle that includes fish as a host. Glochidia (or mussel larvae) attach themselves to the gills of fish, where they develop into juvenile mussels before detaching into the stream or river. This process does not do any harm to the fish. Mussels have to “go fishing” in order to get fish nearby to release the glochidia for attachment. To attract fish, some mussels have developed very ornate lures that resemble small prey fish. Specific mussel species have specific host fish species. So, anything that harms a host fish species will also affect the mussel species that depends on it for reproduction. You can watch a couple of videos of this amazing interaction at: wildlife.IN.gov/wildlife-resources/animals/freshwater-mussels. Once the glochidia are attached to the host fish, they will develop over the course of weeks and then drop off onto the bottom of the waterway. Isn’t Mother Nature amazing?

Mussels are a critical part of the ecosystem and work hard to keep our waterways clean. Nearly half of Indiana’s eighty native freshwater mussel species are either already gone (extirpated) from the state or are listed as endangered or species of special concern. Alterations to waterways, (channelization, dredging, dam construction), changes in hydrology, exotic species introductions, and pollution are major threats to these animals. The Parke and Vermillion county portions of the Wabash River historically hosted about 61 species of mussels. Currently the number of species reproducing in that portion of the Wabash has dwindled to about 25. Some of these include those with descriptive common names such as: Pimpleback, Wabash Pigtoe, Plain Pocketbook, White Heelsplitter, Black Sandshell, Threehorn Wartyback, Hickorynut, Mapleleaf, and Pistolgrip. Mussel populations are in decline after being harvested by the millions in the 19th and 20th centuries. Freshwater mussel harvest was legal in Indiana until 1991, when it was suspended to help protect dwindling populations. It is still illegal to take or possess a live mussel or dead shell material from Indiana waters.

There are several strategies that you can incorporate into your activities to conserve mussels in the Wabash River and its tributaries.

  1. FORGET THE FERTILIZER– and protect your shoreline from erosion! By reducing your fertilizer use and stabilizing your shoreline by planting native vegetation, you will reduce nutrient and sediment runoff from your yard to the river. For ideas on what to plant, search inpaws.org/landscaping.
  2. CARRY YOUR CANOE/KAYAK. While they may seem hard and tough, like rocks, many mussels are actually fragile. Their shells do a great job at protecting them from predators but they can still be crushed. When a canoe or kayak drags over them in really shallow, rocky parts of a waterway it may crush the mussel. They may be heavy but carrying your canoe/kayak will just add to your experience and give you a chance to cool your feet off in the water.
  3. DON’T PICK ME UP. Do not collect mussels. They may seem like great souvenirs to remember your trip but please don’t take any home with you. Mussels will die if they are out of the water for too long. Also, because they are endangered it is illegal to collect any part of a mussel, alive or dead. So, if you really want something to remember your trip take some pictures or keep a journal of the wildlife that you saw.
  4. DON’T LITTER. Pick up your trash! It may seem easy to drop your sandwich bag on the river shore or your apple core in the river, but if you have any trash from your trip please take it with you to the nearest trash receptacle. Mussels work really hard to keep the waterways clean and any extra trash just makes their job harder.
  5. BABIES GO BACK. Put back fish with glochidia on their gills so the mussels can disperse. Check the gills of fish from the river for glochidia (baby mussels that attach to the gills of fish but don’t hurt the fish). Glochidia look like tiny grains of salt. Mussels attach their eggs onto fish gills so their babies can drop off in different parts of the river.
  6. WASH YOUR BOAT. Mussels and many other species are vulnerable to the spread of invasive species. Controlling the spread of invasives is very easy. Simply wash your boat when transporting it from one place to another and either freeze your other equipment or allow it to dry completely over the course of a week.
  7. DONATE. During the annual meeting Fisher advocated helping mussels by donating to the Indiana Nongame Wildlife Fund when taxpayers file their Indiana state form. If filing with paper forms, use Schedule 5/Schedule IN-Donate. If donating through online tax programs, you will be prompted to donate at the end of filing. Another alternative is to complete a form and send it with your check or money order. For more information see endangeredwildlife.IN.gov. Fisher also said another way to help mussels and other wildlife species is to buy a combination hunting and fishing license online or from a retailer for $32, even if you don’t hunt or fish. The $32 will be matched by the federal government and the money will be used to manage Indiana Fish & Wildlife Areas to benefit wildlife and people.

Thanks to Fisher, Heart of the Tippy (purdue.edu/extension/mussels) and the DNR for providing this information and photo.


Summer/Autumn Volunteer Opportunities at Carmel Clay Parks

(in the Indy area, but anyone from anywhere is welcome to help)

Caitlin May

Volunteers will be able to register for these events. If registration is successful, volunteers will receive a day-of logistics email the day before the event. Have questions? Ask Caitlin at volunteer@carmelclayparks.com.

Summer Foray—Aug. 20, noon to 4 p.m. Come be a scientist for the day. We are very excited about the launch of our Citizen Science: Mycology track in 2022 and would love to invite you out for a mushroom foray. This event contributes to Hoosier Mushroom Society’s Summer Foray which is a part of the larger North American Fungal Diversity Survey. Learn about mushroom identification, foraging practices, and how to become a citizen scientist mycologist.

Project Wingspan Native Seed Collection & Sorting Project Wingspan is an initiative supported by a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Federation. It is administered by the non-profit Pollinator Partnership, which is leading a coalition of partners to enhance land across the Midwest to support our imperiled pollinators, especially monarch butterflies and rusty patched bumblebee. You can help us make a difference. All seed that is collected will be shipped to the main nursery with Pollinator Partnership where it will be processed (cleaned and sorted) and distributed to predetermined conservation areas to help these pollinators survive.

  • Native Seed Collection Opportunities
    • Tuesday, Sept. 13 at Hazel Landing Park, 1 to 2:30 p.m.
    • Wednesday, Sept. 28 at Founders Park, 2:30 to 4 p.m.
    • Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Central Park, 1 to 2:30 p.m.
    • Friday, Oct. 21 at West Park, 10 a.m. to noon
  • Native Seed Sorting Opportunities
    • Tuesday, Sept. 20 at Monon Community Center, 10 a.m. to noon
    • Wednesday, October 5 at Monon Community Center, 2 to 4 p.m.
    • Wednesday, October 19 at Monon Community Center, 1 to 3 p.m.
    • Friday, October 28 at Monon Community Center, 10 a.m. to noon

Autumnal Equinox Celebration—Sept. 22, 3 to 5 p.m. Central Park. The autumnal equinox marks the first official day of fall, a season of change and beauty. Celebrate the arrival of autumn by giving back to one of our most beloved parks. Partner with us as we clean up a section of Central Park and receive a sustainable goodie bundle to take home.

World Habitat Day Tree Planting—October 3, 4 to 6 p.m. Vera Hinshaw Preserve. The purpose of World Habitat Day is to reflect on the basic rights of all to adequate shelter. It is intended to remind the world that we all have the power and responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns. Habitat for plants and animals is a very important aspect of our ecosystem. Removing non-native plants and replacing them with native species is a way to provide essential food and shelter for the wildlife that call our parks home. Come join us for an afternoon of planting trees in the Vera Hinshaw Park & Preserve. This 10-acre woodland is adjacent to the Monon Trail and north of the 96th Street Trailhead.

Look for two additional opportunities in the autumn newsletter.


Juliet Strauss and the Spirit of Turkey Run

Mike Lunsford

Special to the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, May 21, 2022

Juliet

Just a few steps from the quiet coolness of a dark hollow, I paused on a mossy green slab of Mansfield sandstone to listen. For the first time in a few hours of hiking, I heard no other voice, just the untroubled trickle of shallow water running over rocks and the subtle complaints of the rough-winged swallows that pirouetted through the canyon.

I went to Turkey Run State Park a few weekends ago to find Juliet Strauss, not just the statue that is dedicated to her memory there, not just the black-and-white image of her on a message board along the trail either. She is there in spirit, her words still whispering in the maidenhair ferns that sprout from its steep cliffs and gently spoken by the wind-rattled leaves of her beloved tulip poplars.

Dead for over a century now, Strauss is credited, along with a few other true believers, as being instrumental in saving the land and trees and ravines and dappled sunlight of Turkey Run from commercial development, or, most likely, devastation. First known as Bloomingdale Glens, the area was her childhood playground, and long before it was noticed much by tourists and campers, she wandered along Sugar Creek—which she called “Rock River”—and took wonder in the magnificent forests that grew amid the hills and hollows and stone outcroppings that geologists say were carved and scoured by the glacial waters of the ages.

Aaron

Indianapolis News reporter William Herschell, who came to know Strauss well, said she believed the place to be, “God’s first temples, and she worshipped there.” To me, there is little doubt about that: she is still there, intangible and ethereal, but present.

Aaron Douglass, Interpretive Naturalist at both Turkey Run and its neighbor to the north, Shades State Park, has literally walked in Strauss’ footsteps for the past few years. “I don’t know what locations she liked the most,” he says. “Stories just say she loved Turkey Run, but not a specific place. I assume Gypsy Gulch may have been a location she enjoyed since it is based off of her childhood nickname. Her father called her his ‘little gypsy girl’ and her sister and mother called her ‘Gyp’ all her life.” 

Book

Had Strauss never sounded the clarion call to save the land at Turkey Run, she would have been remarkable nonetheless. Long before most women were seen and heard in public forums, she forged a career as a journalist, first as a teen-aged local columnist in the Rockville Tribune in 1880, eventually as an editor and contributor with her “Squibs and Sayings” in that same paper; her husband, Isaac Strouse, (Juliet used a variant of the name) took full ownership of it in 1893. By 1903, Strauss, calling herself “The Country Contributor,” began a weekly column for the Indianapolis News, and two years later she began monthly stories, called “The Ideas of a Plain Country Woman,” for The Ladies’ Home Journal. She maintained that workload until her death in 1918 at just 55.

Strauss was thematically traditional for the era, most often writing about both the joys and challenges of rural life and women’s time-honored roles as homemakers and family managers, yet she was far from conventional. Strongly influenced by a mother who went her own way in the wake of two mostly-absent husbands, she once wrote, “I have never followed anyone’s lead. If I wished to ride a horse or play a game of cards, or go wading in the creek with the children, I always did it. I never ruined my eyesight or wracked my nerves to arrive at small perfections. I avoided rivalries and emulations. In short, I lived.”

Although Turkey Run’s property owner, the eccentric and aged John Lusk, had resisted temptation to sell off his land for over 35 years—allowing only a small campground and dining house to be developed there, first by the Indianapolis, Decatur, and Springfield Railroad, and later managed by both William Hooghkirk and R.P. Luke—it became apparent with his death in 1915 that the land and its resources would soon be sold for harvesting. Strauss, already caught up in the burgeoning nationwide conservation movement, penned a remarkable letter in April 1915 to Indiana Governor Samuel Ralston that pleaded he do something to preserve the nearly 2,400 precious acres. To his credit, Ralston acted, appointing Strauss and two others to a special Turkey Run Commission to develop strategies to preserve and purchase the property.

The commission, however, was virtually powerless, and as vocal as Strauss was in her writing and her recruitment of Indianapolis News Managing Editor Richard Smith to the cause, it took Ralston’s eventual appointment of Indiana conservationist Richard Lieber to the commission to get much traction. In fact, the property was first sold to a timber developer at auction, the commission’s efforts falling a mere $100 short of the highest bid of $30,200. But, through a merger with the State Park’s Memorial Commission (Indiana’s centennial year was 1916), and backed by considerable private funding (Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Carl Fisher, racing enthusiast Arthur Newby, and their associates were critical), Strauss, Lieber, and their allies, were able to buy the property back, handing the veneer company that first bought it a $10,000 profit. Turkey Run soon became the second state park in Indiana along with McCormick’s Creek.

Douglass, now just 30, says his job is special, that he feels privileged to be able to breathe the cool air of Rocky Hollow, to lead a group of visitors to explore the beauty of the Punch Bowl and Falls Canyon, to steer wondering eyes toward spring wildflowers. “In Strauss’ time, Parke County would have been even more rural and less built up,” Douglass says. “She noticed something special about Turkey Run and wanted it protected forever. She would have enjoyed the same canyons, hollows, and gulches as we do now. Albeit, with fewer other people,” he said.

statue

He’s right, of course. Strauss once wrote, “Wild columbine and mountain pinks are splashed against the gray rocks in impressionistic blurs of coloring, and the place is never more lovely than in May when dogwood and redbud make conventional patchwork against the budding trees.”

I regretted having to leave the park that day. Far from foot-sore but pressed by other obligations, I climbed the stone steps near a muddy Sugar Creek to Sunset Point and made my way to a memorial statue located near the Inn and first dedicated to Strauss by the Women’s Press Club of Indiana in 1922. According to the sculptor, Myra Richards, the memorial “reflects the spirit of Strauss’ writing—the subjugation of the material to the spiritual.” From there, it was just a short walk back to the parking lot along an uncharacteristically level and open trail, lined with typically impressive poplars, oaks, and beeches, and I recalled something Strauss also wrote:

“And then the trees, the magnificent giant trees lifting their splendid boles through sun-flecked undergrowth, shadowing paths that lead us, luring us on and on through beauties yet more inspiring.”

You can contact Mike Lunsford at hickory913@gmail.com; his website is at mikelunsford.com. To learn more about Juliet Strauss, the writer recommends Ray Boomhower’s “The Country Contributor: The Life and Times of Juliet Strauss (Guild Press of Indiana, 1998).

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