Chinook salmon

The Chinook salmon is an important keystone species of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. It is a vital food source for a diversity of wildlife, including orca whales, bears, seals, and large birds of prey. Chinook salmon is also prized by people who harvest salmon both commercially and for sport. Chinook are the largest Pacific salmon species. On average, these fish are 3 feet long and approximately 30 pounds, but some individuals can grow to over 5 feet long and 110 pounds! Chinook salmon live about three to seven years. Juvenile salmon stay in freshwater habitat for the first year or so, before moving to the estuaries and then the open ocean. Estuaries provide a lot of food and nutrients to the developing salmon. The fish will spend approximately two to four years feeding in the ocean before returning to the spawning grounds to breed and die.

 

The Chinook Salmon is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. The Sacramento River winter-run population in California is classified as endangered wherever it is found. Other naturally spawned populations in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington are classified as threatened. Why the Chinook and other Pacific Northwest salmon have declined is no mystery. The causes are known as “the four H’s”: harvest, habitat, hatcheries, and hydroelectric power. Harvest refers to the overfishing of these species by commercial fishing interests. Habitat refers to the degradation of habitat, usually by pollutants or sediment in the water that make it uninhabitable by the salmon or their eggs. Captive-bred hatchery fish, released in the waterways used by native fish, compete and interbreed with the natives, weakening their stocks. Hydroelectric dams have had perhaps the largest impact, blocking migration routes and changing the quality, quantity, rate of flow, and temperature of the water in rivers, lakes, and tributary streams that once supported tens of millions of salmon. Protection of Chinook salmon is crucial to maintain healthy Pacific Northwest ecosystems and to provide a delicious food source for years to come.

Just like in classic murder mysteries… a pretty face pressed behind glass and poising as art is really a deceptive killer.

Bracken fern (royalty free from Unsplash)

Perhaps being a deceptive killer is really just a clever survival strategy. Fossil records over 55 million years old show Bracken ferns is one of the oldest plants around.  

Bracken ferns grows throughout all temperate and tropical regions. In Oregon we see the subspecies P. aquilinum pubescens or Western Bracken which grows from Alaska to Mexico and east to Wyoming, Colorado, and Texas.

The plant prefers well-drained soils and will often grow on hillsides. It will also grow in burned-over areas near woodlands or other shady places and in open pastures and ranges with sandy, gravelly soils.

Colonization

It colonizes areas two different ways. Triangular fronds may reach 16 feet or taller in a season. Fronds provide some shade and protection but discourage native species through large volumes of plant litter and chemical emissions.

Tiny, lightweight spores are on the underside of the frond. Spores easily spread in the wind or fall from fronds to the ground.  

Spores sprout into plants and lead to the development of deep-set, black roots called rhizomes. Bracken rhizomes creep underground up to 1,300 feet sending up fronds as they grow. The lowly Bracken is surprisingly one of the largest plants in the world.

Dried Bracken fern (royalty free Unsplash)

Silent Killer

Every part of the Bracken contains poisonous, carcinogenic compounds—even the spores are toxic. The plant emits poison into the surrounding soil through spores and leaf litter. These toxic chemicals remain in the soil even after the fern is removed.

Bracken fern is toxic to dogs, cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs. This fern is linked to cancer in humans. Even milk from cows grazing Bracken fern may be hazardous to humans.

Grazing animals may consume Bracken when normal foods are unavailable (such as during adverse weather). Ptaquiloside has a cumulative effect. Cattle consuming large amounts of Bracken in short periods of time can become poisoned. The disease has a delayed onset and poisoned animals rarely recover. The disease is often chronic in horses.

Some cultures consume young fronds called fiddleheads and rhizomes. Ptaquiloside will damage DNA and potentially lead to digestive tract cancers. There are ways to reduce the level of this chemical through cooking and other detoxifying techniques.

Hydrogen cyanide is released when mammals or insects eat this fern. This chemical causes repeated insect molting leading to death. Bracken is under investigation as a possible new insecticide.

Eradication

Bracken invasions threaten biodiversity and habitat loss. Once established, this deciduous plant and its chemical foot print are very difficult to eradicate.

Removal and long-term management can encourage the re-establishment of native habitats. Bracken ferns are listed as an invasive species in several areas and considered to be among the world’s worst weeds.

REFERENCES:
–Encyclopedia Britannica (https://www.britannica.com/plant/bracken)
–USDA Agricultural Research Service (https://www.ars.usda.gov/pacific-west-area/logan-ut/poisonous-plant-research/docs/western-bracken-fern-pteridium-aquilinum/)
–Wikipedia, Bracken (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bracken)

What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.
Abraham Lincoln

A skunk’s publicity, as referenced above, would be its chemical defense system. All skunks have a highly developed, musk-filled scent glands (even the babies have developed the glands by day eight).

The pungent musk can be sprayed from two special glands near the skunk’s anus up to 10 feet away about five times before running out of fluid. It takes about ten days for the musk to be fully regenerated.

Predators

Ernest Thompson Seton (one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America) described the oily, yellow-colored musk as a perfume with the essence of garlic, burning sulfur and sewer gas “magnified a thousand times.”

As such, the skunk has few natural predators which include cougars, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, foxes, and predatory bird such as eagles and owls. Hunting a skunk, and the associated risks, make this a ‘starvation’ choice rather than a normal act.

Their black and white coloring makes skunks highly visible during the day and fairly invisible at night when they are most active. The coloring may not be for camouflage but as a warning advertisement for other animals. This strategy is called ‘aposematism’ and is used by many insects, birds, and other mammals.  

Except for Human Predators

Humans trapped and captively bred skunk for their fur and sometimes as pets. At one time skunk fur was highly sought after. Compared to other animals the fur is more durable and has a rich luster.

Skunk furs were the second most harvested animals after the muskrat. In the late 1890s, skunk farming became popular as a way to meet foreign trade demands. Captive selective breeding and selecting is fairly simple compared to other fur animals. There was high demands for blacker pelts. Skunk faming did not generate a great deal of revenue.

A pet or meal?

Some folks adopted skunks as pets and used them to rid barns of mice and rats. Skunks are highly adaptable to human-conditions and are easy to tame compared to other animals.

Skunk meat was eaten by trappers and indigenous people, and sought after by Chinese immigrants not only for the met but some medical properties. The meat has been described as “white, tender, sweet and more delicate than chicken.”  Maybe that is where the phrase “tastes like chicken” came from. You think?

Prey

Striped skunks frequently consume insects and their most favorite insect is the yellow jacket. Skunks are immune to the yellow jacket venom and will dig up their underground nest and eat the bees as they escape.

In the winter, skunks supplement their diet with mice, voles, and other small mammals. They will also feed on eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds, crabs, and beached fish, and vegetable matter (such as fruit, corn, and nightshade vegetables).

Home, Stinky, Home

Skunks make their homes in the ground, under buildings, and in hollow logs and often den communally. They will inhabit unused dens from other animals. They typically occupy dens during late fall, winter, and early spring for rearing kits.

REFERENCE:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Weasels, Skunks, Badgers, and Otters (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/weasels-skunks-badgers-and-otters)
–Brainy Quotes (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/lloyd_doggett_307751?src=t_skunk)
–Wikipedia, Ernest Thompson Seton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Thompson_Seton), Aposematism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aposematism), and Striped Skunk (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Striped_skunk)
–Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center & Woods Garden (https://www.cmnh.org/perkins-wildlife-home/woods-garden/striped-skunk)