Friday, November 30, 2018

Puffins

Just after dawn on Thanksgiving Day, I slipped on running shoes and jogged along the gravel road in my own, make-shift, turkey trot. As I chugged uphill and began huffing and puffing, the phrase “No Puffin Please” popped into my head, along with an image from my summer in Alaska. I never tired of seeing the punny anti-smoking signs that featured a black and white bird with a cigarette clamped in its colorful beak. Why not brag about one of your most adorable residents while also using humor to announce a law?




Two species of puffins nest along the rugged coast of Kenai Fjords National Park in southern Alaska. Their torpedo-shaped black and white bodies and fish-eating ways are reminiscent of the killer whales we also spotted from the tour boat, but perhaps it’s a stretch to really compare them. While killer whales can be 26 feet long and weigh six tons, puffins stand only 15 or 16 inches tall and weigh only a pound-and-a-half.

While I was excited to see both animals, neither killer whales nor puffins were entirely new to me. Back in the 1980s, before controversy ended Sea World’s orca shows, I watched as my older brother sat in the “splash zone” and laughed with glee when Shamu sent a wall of water over the railing. A decade later, my family endured a cold, foggy boat ride off the coast of Maine to see Atlantic puffins.

My wildlife boat tour near Seward, Alaska, was not much less foggy or cold than that day in Maine, but having a large indoor space with tables and windows did make it less uncomfortable. Not long after our hearts stopped fluttering from the amazing encounter with the orca playing and rolling right next to the boat, we were easing in among the craggy, life-filled cliffs of the Chiswell Islands.

One of the Chiswell Islands. Photo by Emily Stone.

Seabirds of all kinds bobbed on the waves, rested on rocky perches, and swooped through the mist. The steep cliffs offer them protection from terrestrial predators and easy access to a seafood buffet. We spotted gulls, oystercatchers, cormorants, auklets, and murres, but the puffins were my favorites.

Horned puffins look pretty similar to Atlantic puffins. Black backs, white bellies, round white faces, orange and yellow bills, and a striking crease like Cleopatra’s winged eyeliner extending back from their eyes earn them the nickname “clowns of the sea.” Horned puffins have an additional fleshy black protrusion extending elegantly up from their eyes—their horn. Tufted puffins have entirely black bodies, with a wedge-shaped white patch on their faces that sweeps back into a tuft of golden head-plumes.


Horned puffins. Photo by Emily Stone.

A tufted puffin. photo by Emily Stone.

All puffins are diving birds. Like our common loons, puffins must flap furiously to keep their stocky bodies aloft while flying. Once underwater, though, both puffins and loons are deep and proficient divers. While loons propel themselves almost entirely with their huge webbed feet, puffins flap their wings for speed and use their feet for rudders.

They’re all on the hunt for fish. A loon chick will float on the surface while their parent dives below and daintily offers one minnow at a time. A puffin pair’s single puffling must sit in their cliff-side crevice (horned puffins) or burrow (tufted puffins) waiting for their parent to arrive with a snack of up to 65 fish carried crosswise in their bill.

Feeding time in a common loon family is relatively tame compared to a puffin parent arriving with 65 fish carried crosswise in their bill! Photo by Emily Stone.

Both loons and puffins share the incubating and feeding responsibilities of parenthood and may have the same mate for many years. Loon pairs seem to stay together simply as a result of both returning to the same territory year after year. In contrast, when puffins return from their winter at sea, they gather in huge groups on the water and mated pairs are reunited there.

My turkey trot was not nearly as long as a winter at sea, but it ended in being reunited with my family, too. Waiting for me at the house were my parents who had just recently returned from a trip to Brazil. If you noticed more typos than usual in my last couple articles it’s because they (my editors) were off gallivanting. After dinner we enjoyed looking through a small fraction of the thousands of bird, jaguar, and waterfall photos that Dad took on the trip. The dark-colored toucan with its thick, colorful beak reminded me of a puffin.

Toucans and puffins live in very different habitats, but you can see the resemblance, right? Always looking for connections...Photo by Larry Stone on his recent trip to Brazil.

While Alaska and Brazil are very different worlds, they both contain rainforests. I’ll soon be exploring another rainforest, on a Natural Connections in Costa Rica trip hosted by the Cable Natural History Museum. How do Alaska’s Chiswell Islands—with an average annual temperature of 40.3 degrees and more than 70 inches of rainfall a year—compare to the Costa Rica’s Tortugero National Park with an average annual temperature of 79.3  and 188 inches of rain?

Since I can find similarities between orcas, puffins, and loons, I’m sure I’ll be able to make some connections in Costa Rica, too.

Now you can also listen to Emily’s columns as podcasts on Google Play or iTunes! Sponsors needed!

Emily was in Alaska for the summer. Follow the journey in this column, and see additional stories and photos on her blog: http://cablemuseum.org/connect/.


For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: “Bee Amazed!” is open.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Real-life Truffula Trees

“What do you miss the most about Alaska?” is a common question for me these days. It comes up so frequently in fact, that I added my answer to the end of the “Adventures in Alaska” slideshow I’ve been presenting at local venues. The answer? Avens.

I think that there is a good chance that Dr. Seuss was acquainted with the seed heads of avens before he illustrated The Lorax.  Photo by Emily Stone.

Mountain avens, entireleaf avens, and yellow dryas are all flowers in the genus Dryas whom I encountered frequently throughout Alaska. Their flowers are beautiful, with silky white or yellow petals and sunny yellow centers, and their habitats on tundra slopes and fields of glacial gravel are fun to explore. It’s their seed heads that captured my heart and my imagination, though.
Dryas octopetala, Mountain avens, Photo by Emily Stone
Dryas drummondii, Yellow dryas, Photo by Emily Stone.
Dryas integrifolia, Entireleaf avens. Photo by Emily Stone

Like an elegant dandelion, each of their many, small, dry, seeds comes with its own fuzzy parasol. As the seeds are maturing, those feathery styles spiral from silky, pink swirls into shimmering white fairy puffs. Truffula trees from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax spring to mind immediately, and the fuzzy tufts also conjure images of Einstein’s signature hairdo. I delighted in taking photos of these amusing little beauties throughout my summer. Rain or shine, they brought me joy.

Dryas sp. Photo by Emily Stone

Dryas sp. unfurling, Photo by Emily Stone


Dryas sp. unfurling, Photo by Emily Stone


Even soggy Dryas seed heads are amusing! Photo by Emily Stone.

I didn’t start out to tell you all about avens, though. That just slipped in. This is actually a story about a mystery plant that a Museum member brought me a photo of last week. Taken of the shrubs in a soggy road ditch, her focus was on some curious, spikey clusters that decorated the slender twigs. “Avens tree,” she had labeled the photos, and wanted not only an identification, but to feed my obsession clearly evident above.

Even willows growing in wet ditches in Wisconsin can have delightful seed heads. Photo by Emily Stone.


The photo confused me. Avens doesn’t grow in Wisconsin. The only Dryas here was the Younger Dryas, a period of colder temperatures 12,900 to 11,700 years before present. It was the last hurrah of the glaciers, and it’s named after the abundance of Dryas flowers preserved in Scandinavian lake sediments of that age.

Insect galls? Clematis? What could these be? But when Vivianne brought a sample into the Museum, one look at the slender, orangey twig and single, dark purplish scale covering each bud told me it was a willow. The fluffy, avens-like baubles she’d noticed are simply their dried out catkins with fuzzy seeds still clinging on. Of course. The willow family—Salicaceae—also contains cottonwoods.

We can easily imagine willows being fuzzy in the spring, as their catkins expand and the fine, gray hairs protecting their emerging flowers form the phenomenon we think of as pussy willows. After bees have pollinated those flowers while greedily making use of one of the earliest sources of pollen and nectar, the plant begins to develop seeds.


  
Cottonwoods use wind instead of bees to pollinate their flowers, but the result is very similar: both cottonwoods and willows produce Lilliputian seeds attended by downy, flight-ready fluff. Cottonwood seeds—and the related aspen and poplar seeds, too—are hard to miss when they create summer snowdrifts on your lawn. While many allergy sufferers grumble during this phase, the fluff is not the cause of allergies—the pollen that created those seeds was the problem.

I’m not sure why we so rarely notice the second fuzzy stage of willows around here. My standard response to having missed any late spring or early summer phenomenon is that it must have happened during mosquito season, when I don’t spend much time walking slowly through the woods.

Happily, since my summer in Alaska lacked both mosquitoes and a bicycle, I had ample opportunity to hike among wildflowers in all their stages of development. Willows are common on the tundra, and several of the fourteen Salix species that grow in Denali National Park are delightfully tiny, easy to observe at eye-level if you’re willing to belly-crawl (which, of course, I am). For example, netleaf willow grows as a creeping shrub. Its deeply embossed leaves are a normal size, but it doesn’t grow more than a few inches high. Its catkins are actually larger than those of pussy willows, and stick jauntily upright.






By late August when I traveled up to the tundra on the North Slope of Alaska, I was able to enjoy both the lemony yellow fall colors of willow leaves as well as the fuzzy fingers of their catkins gone to seed.




A few of Vivianne’s funny little willow catkins are still floating around my office, and they’re reminding me that avens-like delight can be found right here at home.


Now you can also listen to Emily’s columns as podcasts on Google Play or iTunes! Sponsors needed!

Emily was in Alaska for the summer. Follow the journey in this column, and see additional stories and photos on her blog: http://cablemuseum.org/connect/.


For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: “Bee Amazed!” is open.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Killin' It

She's waving at us! Photo by Emily Stone.


“That’s a sighting for the history books!” Excitement crackled through Captain Mike’s voice as it boomed over the tour boat’s sound system. Eager passengers on the Kenai Fjord Tour clung to the deck railing and stared into the waves, hoping to catch another glimpse. The gracefully arched dorsal fin of a female killer whale cut through the ocean’s surface one last time before vanishing.

Countershading is a common pattern of camouflage in which an animal's coloration is darker on the upper side and lighter on the underside of the body. The wavy shape of their white belly also helps obscure their outline and their size when viewed from below. Photo by Emily Stone.
  
A few minutes earlier that killer whale had been playing almost directly below our admiring eyes. She started with a wave of her flipper, turned a few somersaults to show off the smooth white shapes on her belly, and then swam at the surface to give us an extra-good look. Such fluid grace in such a large package is a recipe for awe. We saw several more pods throughout the day, plus humpback whales, sea lions, puffins, and more, but none came as close as this.

Why would this creature of the sea spend time at the surface? It’s easy to look at their fish-like body and forget that killer whales need to breathe air. Of course, seeing the misty spray of their spout should jog your memory. Killer whales are toothed whales, and are the largest members of the dolphin family, which are mammals. It’s a fact I’ve been hearing since grade school, but it’s a fact that refuses to stick. These are smooth-skinned, fin-flipping, deep-diving, cold-water mammals.

Can you see the mammals in the kayaks? Photo by Emily Stone.


It’s no secret that I’m a mammal and I love jumping into cold water (Lake Superior and Boundary Waters lakes especially), but I generally spend just a few seconds scrubbing off layers of camping grime and then pop back out with a gasp. I watch warm-blooded loons diving all summer, but their well-oiled, heat-trapping feathers look dry even as they emerge from a dive. The body of this killer whale was smooth and dripping wet.

Near Seaward, Alaska, water temperatures go from a low of 39 degrees in March all the way up to 58 degrees in August. But even an 80 degree swimming pool feels cold to us when we first jump in. Water conducts heat about 25 times faster than air of the same temperature, and washes the warmth away from a body. According to Captain Mike, the water is so chilling that harbor seals pull out onto ice floes in order to warm up in the sunshine! Indeed, the floating ice of one glacial bay we explored was dotted with groups of seals. Many of them looked a little bit like bananas—their heads and flippers held up off the cold surface. Hauling out on ice floes also leaves seals inaccessible to land predators and less visible to their most common predator: the killer whale.

Banana-shaped harbor seals on an ice floe. Photo by Emily Stone.


Killer whales are all fierce predators, but not all killer whales eat seals. The gregarious, easily-seen “resident” populations of killer whales (like the one who I saw surface) focus on catching fish like chum and chinook salmon in a nearshore environment. This makes them a favorite of tour companies.

In contrast, transient populations of killer whales feed on seals, sea lions and porpoises. They may live in the same neighborhood, but they have to be stealthy and secretive in order to sneak up on their intelligent prey. While offshore populations of killer whales are the least-studied, it’s their diet of sharks and large pelagic fish that may have earned their species its name. One theory is that Basque whalers named them “killer of whales” after observed pods of orcas hunting baleen whales.

Some people prefer to leave out the “killer” in their title and call them orcas, in reference to their scientific name, Orcinus orca. In Latin, orca can mean either a large-bellied pot or jar, or a whale.

Large-bellied indeed! No matter what they eat, it’s remarkable that killer whales don’t need to eat more than a land mammal of the same size in order to keep their furnace running hot. Their large size and low surface-to-volume ratio help retain body heat. A thick layer of blubber under their skin adds more insulation. Using an adaptation that is shared with the ducks still migrating through our marshes and the chickadees flitting among snowflakes, orcas use countercurrent heat exchange to allow warm blood flowing to their extremities to heat up cold blood flowing back toward their heart.

On a chilly walk out in the woods today, my hands and toes went cold, but my core stayed warm. A diving killer whale will likewise send blood from its skin to its core to help retain heat.

Another important heat-conserving adaptation these marine mammals count on is that while they have to breathe air, they don’t have to breathe very often. On a cold winter day, we humans breathe an average of 12 to 20 times per minute while resting. Each breath brings cold air in and lets warm air escape. Resting orcas breathe only about 3 to 7 breaths every 5 minutes, and every breath is a conscious choice.

Killer whales must choose to come to the surface to breath. Photo by Emily Stone. 


As a fellow mammal who enjoys cold water, I feel a bit kinship with these great beasts. They are said to be the most widely distributed mammals in the world (aside from humans), and I do love to find those far-flung connections. As a Midwesterner, though, who grew up in an ocean of prairie, most sea creatures seem like aliens from the deep. Captain Mike was right; this sighting was one for my history books.

Now you can also listen to Emily’s columns as podcasts on Google Play or iTunes! Sponsors needed!

Emily was in Alaska for the summer. Follow the journey in this column, and see additional stories and photos on her blog: http://cablemuseum.org/connect/.


For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: “Bee Amazed!” is open.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Ptarmigans on Top of the World

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Damp oak leaves crinkled under my boots, but few other sounds broke the North Country Trail’s tranquility. Then the whump-whump-whump of a ruffed grouse drumming filled my chest. It’s a sound usually associated with spring, but this male had a legitimate purpose. As young males leave their brood and seek a territory, established males reassert their claims, effectively telling the youngsters to move on.



The sounds of grouse—even the startling ruckus they cause when flushing—are a quintessential part of the Northwoods. But I wonder if they would sound odd to an outsider? This summer in Alaska I met some cousins of our ruffed grouse, and boy did they sound odd to this outsider!

The day after my amazing experience under the northern lights dawned frosty and clear. I continued driving north along the Taylor Highway and then east on the Top of the World Highway. As I neared and then crossed the Canadian border, it became clear that the road was aptly named. The views across rocky, round-topped hills were spectacular and generally unobstructed by trees. I pulled over at every opportunity, and at one turnout I found a dirt road scraped into the tundra that disappeared over a distant edge. With the childhood favorite “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” running through my head, I started walking.

Top of the World Highway just across the border into the Yukon.


Soon another sound cut in. An odd series of hollow little clucks and rattles emanated from a patch of lichen-crusted rocks. Was there a friendly alien hiding nearby? Or maybe a Star Wars character that only Han Solo can understand? With short, jerking movements the identity of the chatterboxes materialized from the camouflage: ptarmigans.




Our ruffed grouse grow comb-like bristles on the sides of their toes to provide snowshoe-like floatation and traction on icy aspen twigs. In contrast, ptarmigans have feet so fuzzily covered in feathers that their genus, Lagopus, means “hare-footed.” They are well-suited to the tundra habitats they prefer.

Close-up of a rock ptarmigan's feathered feet. Photo by Emily Stone.


Look closely at the feet of this spruce grouse--you can see the pectinations on his toes! Photo by Emily Stone.


Can you see the fringe of pectinations on the sides of these ruffed grouse toes? Photo By Emily Stone.


All grouse and ptarmigan seem well-adapted for snow-shoeing. 
Alaska is home to three species of ptarmigans. White-tailed ptarmigans seek out alpine neighborhoods with marmots, mountain goats, and Dall sheep. Their range is limited to North America. Willow ptarmigans prefer the lush vegetation of streamsides and marshy tundra. Rock ptarmigans prefer high elevations and latitudes where sparse vegetation reveals their namesakes. Both willow and rock ptarmigans are circumpolar, and can be seen in Scandinavia, Russia, Japan, Scotland, and the Alps.

A willow ptarmigan in Denali National Park.


Peering through my camera, I could barely pick out birds among the rocks. Fine bars of dark and light brown, flecked with white draped over one bird’s top half, while pure white pantaloons peeked out underneath. A scarlet eyebrow labeled that one as a male. Most other birds in this flock of a dozen or more lacked that conspicuous eyebrow and had brown patterns extending much lower—females and young. Based on the location, and the fact that willow ptarmigans would have been more rufous brown, I guessed that these were rock ptarmigans.

Male rock ptarmigans keep their white feathers longer into the breeding season. Photo by Emily Stone.

 
Ptarmigan seem tricky to identify by their plumage, though, because it is always shifting with the seasons. Most birds have just two different plumages per year—breeding and non-breeding. Ptarmigans moult three times a year in order to stay camouflaged in the ever-changing tundra. A pure white winter coat is the classic look for all rock ptarmigans. Only the outsides of their tails and a stripe from eye to bill remain dark. When spring winds whisper, males don an avian tuxedo in the form of dark feathers on their head and neck, and they strut about with red combs inflated. Meanwhile, females fade into the background with mottled brown and flecks of white. They are so well-camouflaged that Arctic foxes have been observed walking right past them.

Female rock ptarmigans have such amazing camouflage that they are hard to spot from even a few feet away. Photo by Emily Stone.

As the snow melts, the remaining white feathers on males’ bellies really stand out. In fact, their breeding plumage may be a little too eye-catching. The predation rate on male ptarmigans skyrockets during breeding season. That’s probably why they roll in the dust as soon as their mate begins egg-laying. Using this style of camouflage, bachelors and polygamous males can precisely customize how long they stay sexy in order to maximize breeding opportunities. Once they’re safely dirty, a full moult into summer browns can proceed at their leisure. Finally, both males and females gain grayish feathers for fall and then almost immediately turn back to white for the winter.

 Of course I didn’t know all of that as my eyes were going crossed trying to see these amazingly camouflaged birds among the rocks. I just enjoyed their odd sounds and the “Where’s Waldo” game of trying to spot them. Although the ptarmigans were nearly invisible, they were also pretty tame. It’s no wonder that they are an important game bird in the far north and have been named the official bird or game bird for Nunavut, Newfoundland, and Labrador.



Ptarmigan were also important to gold miners trying to survive brutal winters in the late 1800s. Earlier that morning I’d passed through an old gold mining town that wanted to honor the tasty birds who kept them alive through long winters. Unfortunately, Ptarmigan proved too hard to spell, so they ended up naming their town Chicken—just one more thing on the tundra that sounds odd to an outsider.

One of many giant chickens in Chicken, AK.


Now you can also listen to Emily’s columns as podcasts on Google Play or iTunes!

Emily was in Alaska for the summer. Follow the journey in this column, and see additional stories and photos on her blog: http://cablemuseum.org/connect/.

For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: “Bee Amazed!” is open.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Natural Connections now a Podcast!

Natural Connections articles are now available as a podcast each week! 

Each 6-7 minute episode features Emily reading her column. Occasionally you'll be treated to bird songs and other sound effects to enhance your experience. 


You can listen or download podcasts on the Cable Natural History Museum's website,
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Thanks! and Happy Listening!

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Challenges of Rain

Even when it wasn’t raining, mud splattered the windows every time a semi-truck passed us on the Dalton Highway. Every so often Tessa, a grad student from the University of Alaska Fairbanks volunteering on her lab-mate's project, or I would get out and wipe off the worst of it with a grubby towel, just to make sure we could carry out our duties as caribou counters. When we actually spotted a caribou, though, we had to roll the windows down to use our spotting scope and rangefinder. Thin clouds of the summer’s last mosquitoes floated in and out but weren’t aggressive about biting.

Overall, that first day of caribou counting was a little underwhelming. Driving 132 miles on a wet, bumpy, rutted, gravel road is not a very elegant way to travel. Looking back at photos I know that I had several sunny days throughout my summer in Alaska, but it’s the rainy ones that challenged my attitude and still cloud my perception.

There was at least one bright spot, though.

Halfway through our day, a dark shape materialized up ahead, in the space between the road and tall thicket of willows. I’m sure Tessa recognized it before me, but she just put on a little smirk and waited for me to figure out the blob’s identity. Soon the shaggy brown hair, stocky body, and slight hump resolved into what I knew from photos must a muskox. After that, we saw herds of muskoxen every day.

When I zoomed in on my photos later, I could see clumps of the muskox’s woolly underfur–still in the process of its summer shed—clinging to its shoulders. This soft “quiviut” is finer than cashmere and both warmer and stronger than sheep’s wool. It is a highly prized fiber, with a price to match—between $40 and $80 per ounce. The coarse hair that covers the wool grows to be the longest hair of any North American mammal. Also clinging to that hair was a swarm of hungry mosquitoes.

The thick hair of muskoxen protects them from the extremes of -40 degree winter winds, as well as clouds of summer mosquitoes on the summer tundra. Photo by Emily Stone.

A muskox’s thick coat is good for more than just fine scarves and bug protection, though; it also allows them to function normally in temperatures down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit with high winds. That’s important for a year-round resident of the Arctic tundra.

After crossing to Alaska on the Bering Land Bridge about 90,000 years ago, muskoxen found refuge in the far north away from the early hunters, as well as roaming as far south as Kansas. After the glaciers retreated, the muskoxen expanded. Along with bison—only a distant relative despite their similar appearances—the muskox was one of the few species who survived the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna.

As strange as these animals may seem to us southerners, theirs is a familiar story. By the late 1800s, muskoxen had been hunted out of Alaska. Their classic defensive technique of backing into a tight circle made it too easy for early hunters. By the 1920s, only Arctic Canada and East Greenland still held populations of this iconic animal. In 1930, reintroduction efforts began in Alaska. The first animals were brought to Nunivak Island, allowed to thrive, and transplanted from there to likely habitats in northern and western Alaska. Muskoxen were also reintroduced to Quebec, Svalbard, Western Greenland, Norway, and Russia.

Both male and female muskoxen have horns, but males like this one grow a thick boss at the base of each horn with little space in between. Photo by Emily Stone.


The next chapter in their story is also unfortunately familiar. Recent research indicates that their populations are at risk due to climate change. The culprit seems to be rain-on-snow events that encase the tundra vegetation in ice. While rainy days challenged my ability to keep a positive attitude all summer (and to see mountains), rainy days may also be challenging the muskox’s ability to survive. Through the short summer, muskox browse on grasses, sedges, and willow leaves. For the rest of the year, these big animals must use their acute sense of smell and big, round hooves to paw down through the snow to find their food. It’s tough work.

Big weather events provide a stunning example of the problems that ice can cause for muskoxen. In 2003, twenty thousand muskoxen starved after a rain-on-snow event prevented them from reaching food. (Ruffed grouse share a similar fate in Wisconsin, where crusty snow can prevent them from using insulating snow caves. Athletes and organizers of the American Birkebeiner Ski race can also attest to the problems cause by winter rains.)

Even a slight increase in winter rains can reduce the ability of pregnant muskoxen to find food. Their calves are born smaller, stay smaller, are more vulnerable to starvation and disease as they grow, and take longer to produce their own calves. Even though those are sub-lethal effects, they may have a dire impact on muskox herds into the future.

Their Arctic habitat is warming at twice the average global rate. Could these big, lumbering beasts be canaries in the oil field?

The animals haven’t given up yet, though. As Tessa and I pulled over to observe a herd, we noticed a big bull following a cow nose-to-tail. The rut had begun, and the cow was probably in or near estrus. Later, I filmed him aggressively rubbing his pre-orbital gland on the ground vegetation—a dominance display aimed at other males. The muskoxen themselves are doing all they can to survive. The real question, then, is what will we do to help moderate the changing climate?

The Muskox rut begins in August and lasts through October. Bulls will follow cows, and they will also battle for dominance with other bulls by charging at each other and colliding squarely at the base of their horns. Photo by Emily Stone.


Emily was in Alaska for the summer! Follow the journey in this column, and see additional stories and photos on her blog: http://cablemuseum.org/connect/.


For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: “Bee Amazed!” is open.