From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission


Pennsylvania Bats

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Game Commission photo/Greg Turner

Have You Seen Any Bats Lately?

In our travels throughout the state, many people have told us they have noticed fewer bats are flying at night during the summer. It is no coincidence that Game Commission surveys report significant declines for many of our state’s hibernating species of bats. These declines result specifically from white-nose syndrome, a disease that infects bats as they hibernate.

One new site we surveyed recently had an extensive network of interconnecting passages, with a multitude of locations where bats could spend the winter. However, from the thousands of bats that existed prior to this disease, we only saw a few survivors. So few, in fact, you could count them on one or both hands at most sites. Those left seem to prefer only the coldest areas nearest to the entrance. We saw this repeating itself as we surveyed more and more sites. We are starting to think that this is an adaptation by bats to deal with and improve their survival from the annual infections imparted by this new disease.

Bat Hibernacula

With so few bats remaining, we are always on the lookout for leads to where bats are spending the winter. If you have a bat hibernaculum in your neighborhood, we’d love to hear about it. Drop us an email at pgccomments@pa.gov. Title it “Bat Hibernaculum” and ask that it be directed to me.

– Mike Scafini, Endangered and Threatened Mammals Biologist, Pennsylvania Game Commission

Appalachian Bat Count

Please join us in monitoring the health of Pennsylvania’s summer bat colonies through the Appalachian Bat Count. Colonies can be monitored by conducting a “bat count” at a summer colony in your area.We ask that you count bats as they exit their summer roost at dusk in June, then again later in the summer to see how the colony has grown as pups begin flying.

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Springtime Alert-Do Not Disturb Young Wildlife

The leaves are green, the flowers are in bloom and, once again, a new generation of wildlife is making its arrival.

Young Wildlife

This time of year, it’s almost a certainty that Pennsylvanians will encounter young wildlife, whether in their backyards or high on a mountain. And some of those animals – whether they be young deer, birds, raccoons or other wildlife – might appear to be abandoned.

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PGC Photo/ Jacob Dingel

Not Abandoned

Usually, they are not abandoned. In fact, their mothers might be watching over them from somewhere nearby. And the best thing people can do is to leave those animals alone.

Adult animals often leave their young while they forage for food, but they don’t go far and they do return.

Hider Strategy

Wildlife also often relies on a natural defensive tactic called the “hider strategy,” where young animals will remain motionless and “hide” in surrounding cover while adults draw the attention of potential predators or other intruders away from their young.

Deer employ this strategy, and deer fawns sometimes are assumed to be abandoned when, in fact, their mothers are nearby.

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PGC Photo/Jacob Dingel

Leave Young Wildlife Alone

The Game Commission urges Pennsylvanians to resist the urge to interfere with young wildlife or remove any wild animal from its natural setting.

Such contact can be harmful to both people and wildlife. Wild animals can lose their natural fear of humans, making it difficult, even impossible, for them to ever again live normally in the wild. And anytime wildlife is handled, there’s always a risk people could contract diseases or parasites such as fleas, ticks and lice.

Wildlife that becomes habituated to humans also can pose a public-safety risk. A few years ago, a yearling, six-point buck attacked and severely injured two people. The investigation into the incident revealed that a neighboring family had illegally taken the deer into their home and fed it as a fawn, and they continued to feed the deer right up until the time of the attack.

Keep the Wild in Wildlife 

It is illegal to take or possess wildlife from the wild.  Under state law, the penalty for such a violation is a fine of up to $1,500 per animal.

Under no circumstances will anyone who illegally takes wildlife into captivity be allowed to keep that animal, and under a working agreement with state health officials, any “high risk” rabies vector species confiscated after human contact must be euthanized and tested; it cannot be returned to the wild because the risk of spreading disease is too high.

Safety Concerns

Animals infected with rabies might not show obvious symptoms, but still might be able to transmit the disease. Though any mammal might carry rabies, the rabies vector species identified in the agreement are: skunks, raccoons, foxes, bats, coyotes and groundhogs.

People can get rabies from the saliva of a rabid animal if they are bitten or scratched, or if the saliva gets into the person’s eyes, mouth or a fresh wound. The last human rabies fatality in Pennsylvania was a 12‑year‑old Lycoming County boy who died in 1984.

Wildlife Rehabilitators

Only wildlife rehabilitators, who are licensed by the Game Commission, are permitted to care for injured or orphaned wildlife for the purposes of eventual release back into the wild.  For those who find wildlife that truly is in need of assistance, a listing of licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be found on the Pennsylvania Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators website (www.pawr.com).

If you are unable to identify a wildlife rehabilitator in your area, contact the Game Commission region office that serves the county in which the animal is found so that you can be referred to the appropriate licensed wildlife rehabilitator.  Region office contact information can be found on the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) by putting your cursor over “ABOUT US” in the menu bar in the banner at the top of the homepage, and then clicking on “Region Information” in the drop-down menu listing.

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PGC Photo/Jacob Dingel

By: Travis Lau, Pennsylvania Game Commission Press Secretary


Acorn Production

As long as there are no more frosts, the 2015 Pennsylvania spring weather should result in a great acorn crop for both 2015 and 2016 said Pennsylvania Game Commission Forestry Division Chief Dave Gustafson.

How can he predict the 2016 crop? There are two oak groups with differing acorn production schedules. Oak trees are classified into one of the two oak groups based upon physiological differences.

The white oak group includes white oak and chestnut oak.

The acorns from the trees in this group mature in one year. The flowers produced in the spring result in acorns the same fall.

The red oak group consists of red oak, black oak, scarlet oak and pin oak.

Oaks in this group require two years to produce an acorn. Spring oak blossoms will not mature to an acorn for 16-17 months.

Acorns

If you look closely in this photo of a black oak, you can see two generations of acorns at the same time. The young acorns are growing on the autumn oak limb, and the mature acorns have already dropped onto the driveway. Photo: Dave Gustafson

Prime Acorn Weather

The best acorn crops seem to follow warm spring weather. Acorns require dry weather for about a week in mid-May when the tree produces pollen. The weather during that week is critical to acorn production. If it is cool and wet during the time of pollen production or if a frost hits the tree after it has produced pollen, it will result in a poor acorn crop that fall. The same weather conditions that influence the white oak group also affect the red oak group. However, the results of the weather are not manifested until about a year and a half later.

Acorn Availability

Acorns from the red oak group do not send down roots until the following spring. This is because these acorns require a cold period to germinate. White oak group acorns on the other hand send out a radical (root shoot) almost immediately to establish a root before the winter. For this reason, red oak group acorns are a more available food source through the winter than white oak group acorns.

Acorn Production Variability

Overall, acorn production is highly variable among trees even in good seed years. Some trees are always poor producers while others are always good producers. Crown size seems to be the most important tree characteristic affecting acorn production. Dominant or codominant trees with large, uncrowded crowns produce more acorns than trees with small, restricted crowns.

Stress

Another factor in acorn production is stress on the trees. Insect defoliation, drought, fungus, and other stresses can limit acorn production. In some years of extreme stress, oak trees will even abort the developing acorn crop in order to redirect nutrients to keeping the tree healthy.  In years following a stress event, most of the energy is used to rebuild and heal instead of going toward acorn production.  This could cause smaller acorn crops for a few years, even when all other conditions seem perfect.

Acorn Crop

Both oaks begin to produce acorns around age 30 or so, but usually do not produce big crops until about age 50. Bumper crops for reds are usually about five years apart, whites can be farther apart.

Factors Affecting Acorn Production

In summary, the two main factors that affect acorn production are spring weather and tree stress.

ACORN FAQ

How long does it take an acorn to mature?

White oak acorns mature in about four months, red oaks in 16. Therefore, if pollination is mid-May, then the acorns will drop in mid-September.

How long do oak trees drop acorns?

It takes about a month for a tree to drop all its acorns.

Which type of oak produces the smallest acorn?

White oaks produce the smallest acorn. Red oak and black oak acorns are medium-sized.  Chestnut oaks produce the largest acorns.

Acorn

PGC Photo: Tony Ross Red oak acorns

Which acorns do wildlife prefer?

White oak and chestnut oak acorns are low in tannins, which make them more palatable than red and black acorns.  Chestnut oaks have a high carbohydrate level and thus are the favorite for bears.

Learn about the Game Commission’s role in habitat management here: http://ow.ly/MWzwQ

 


Eight-Legged Beasts

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Warmer weather has arrived!  Bringing with it the picnics, the cookouts, the gardening….and the ticks. Yes, people aren’t the only species more active when the temperatures rise.

Ticks and Deer

Ticks are the most important ectoparasites infesting white-tailed deer in North America.  Eighteen species have been reported from white-tailed deer in the United States.  For deer, tick infestation and/or complications can include local irritation, anemia, secondary infections, and disease transmission. However, most deer show no signs of adverse effects nor do they exhibit serious health impacts from the unwanted hitchhikers. Those that are affected almost always are from populations that are malnourished and have high levels of internal parasites.

Disease Transmission

Ticks play a major role in disease transmission. Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne disease and probably the most well know but there are many other diseases that ticks can transmit like babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rock Mountain Spotted Fever. Tick-borne diseases and their transmission are complex. While deer play a role, there are many factors involved in a diseases’ persistence in tick populations and its transmission to people. To learn more about the relationship between Lyme disease and deer check out Lyme Disease & Deer: Revelation or Red Herring, found on the deer page.

Life Cycle

Ticks have a multiyear life cycle and tick density varies significantly from year to year. These fluctuations depend on acorn and small mammal abundance. Acorns support small rodents and small rodents are essential to the tick life cycle especially the larval and nymph stages.  Adult ticks, most active in the fall, feed and mate on large animals, like deer, to complete their life cycle.

People are most likely to contract Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases from the bite of an infected nymph-stage tick. Woodland rodents, especially white-footed mice, are most likely to infect larval and nymph stages of blacklegged ticks with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Deer do not become ill with Lyme disease. And as the final host, deer do not infect ticks with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. If a tick found on a deer is carrying Lyme disease, it likely was infected in an earlier life stage by a small rodent.

Rodent Hosts

Abundance of rodent hosts (i.e., mice and chipmunks) and acorns (rodent food supply) were the most important factors affecting the risk of Lyme disease in a 13-year study. While a 3-fold change in deer abundance did not affect risk of Lyme disease.

Related Links

More information on the tick life cycle and Lyme disease can be found in the Game Commission’s Wildlife Disease Reference Library – Lyme Disease, CDC website, or the Lyme Disease fact sheet from PennState. Connecticut also has a fact sheet – Managing Ticks of Your Property – that may be helpful at keeping those 8-legged beasts at bay.

By: J. T. Fleegle

Wildlife Biologist, Deer & Elk Section

Pennsylvania Game Commission

Management/Prevention
People should take certain precautions to reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease. When spending time outdoors in potential tick habitats, long pants tucked into socks or boots, and insect repellant are recommended. Each day spent in tick habitat should be followed by a thorough “tick check”. Ticks found on people or pets should be removed promptly and completely. Veterinarian recommended tick control products should be used on pets that spend time outdoors. Lyme disease vaccines are no longer available for humans, but vaccines are available for pets.

-Excerpt from the Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Reference Library-Lyme Disease


4 Tips for Harvesting a Gobbler and Not a Bearded Hen

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Bearded Hen Photo: Rex Everett

1. Look for a bare, red head; hen heads are blue-gray with feathers up the back of the neck.

2. Check for iridescent, black-tipped breast feathers; hen breast feathers are more dull, and brown-tipped.

3. Observe the beard thickness. Hen beards are usually thinner than gobbler beards.

4. Pay attention to the bird’s behavior. If it looks like a hen and acts like a hen, it’s probably a hen, despite the beard.

Spring hunting regulations in Pennsylvania allow for the harvest of ANY bearded turkey. However, sparing a few more hens in the spring (and adult hens in the fall) equates to more gobblers to hunt in years to come.

By: Rex Everett & Mary Jo Casalena
Pennsylvania Game Commission, Wild Turkey Program