Pennsylvania Students Seek to Make the Hellbender State Amphibian

The hellbender is North America’s largest amphibian. (Dave Harp)

According to the Bay Journal,  the Eastern Hellbender won’t win any beauty contests. It’s picked up such unflattering nicknames as “snot otter” and “old lasagna sides.”

But because the rarely seen giant salamander can only live in the most pristine of streams, a small group of Pennsylvania high school students thinks Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis should be named the official state amphibian, as a sort of clean water mascot. By calling attention to the existence — and decline —of hellbenders, the students hope to foster awareness in Pennsylvania of the need to restore the health of its rivers and streams.

“We want hellbenders to become a household name,” said River Sferlazza, 16, a member of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Student Leadership Council in Pennsylvania. “If it’s the state amphibian, hellbenders will become harder for people to forget.”

The student leadership council is an experiential learning program for young advocates for clean water in the Bay watershed.

Science Friday is on the Hunt for Desert Bees

Wild bee burrowing into a barrel cactus bloom. Photo by Christopher Intagliata. by Christopher Intagliata, on April 4, 2017

During our recent Science Friday segment about springtime wildflower blooms, UC Riverside bee biologist Hollis Woodard talked about the wild desert bees that profit from this year’s abundant flowers. While she was on, she shared some awesome bee lore: like the fact that deserts are actually bee biodiversity hotspots; that the majority of bees are solitary and live underground; and that one desert-dwelling bee, Centris rhodopus, has a really weird diet: it collects oil from the fuschia flowers of the Krameria bicolor bush to feed its larvae. That unusual relationship between the Centris bees and Krameria was first characterized in the 1970s by a couple of bee science giants, the husband-and-wife team of Jack Neff and Beryl Simpson.

Viva Puerto Rico

El Yunque National Forest, La Mina Falls. Photo: Nancy Coddington 

Nature Viva Puerto Rico airs on WSKG-TV April 12, 2017 at 8pm

Viva Peurto Rico follows the work of three conservationists and the ways in which each is trying to restore populations of the island’s most endangered species: the Puerto Rican Amazon parrot, Leatherback turtle, and manatee. There are important conservation efforts underway in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to protect its endangered native wildlife from extinction on land and sea. Once home to ancient rainforests that covered the Caribbean island when Columbus first landed in 1493, centuries of development have impacted Puerto Rico’s rich natural resources. By 1900, only five percent of its rainforests remained, causing a major loss of habitat.

The Pros and Cons of Potential Development in National Parks

Yellowstone Canyon, from Shutterstock

Science Friday airs on WSQX Fridays between 2-4pm. With the National Park Service turning one hundred this week, discussions continue on how to make the parks financially lucrative.  More than 300 million tourists visited the national parks in 2015, a five percent increase from the previous year. Of those visitors, more than five million flocked to Grand Canyon National Park alone. With a surge in hikers and bikers come more parking lots and developments.

The Great Polar Bear Feast

 A polar bear eats at the Bone Pile, with the town of Kaktovic in the background. photo: Andrew Brown/Renegade Pictures

 

The Great Polar Bear Feast airs on WSKG TV June 22, 2016 at 8pm. The Great Polar Bear Feast is the astonishing story of an annual natural phenomenon that occurs in early September on the north slope of the Arctic. Every year, up to 80 polar bears gather on the frozen shores of Barter Island, near the village of Kaktovik, to feast on the hunter-harvested bowhead whale remains. This extraordinary gathering is highly unusual because polar bears are known as solitary predators, rarely if ever moving in a group.

Best of Big Blue Live

photo courtesy of Monterey Bay Whale Watch. 

Best of Big Blue Live airs on WSKG TV June 15, 2016 at 8pm. Join scientists, animal behaviorists and other experts in Monterey Bay, California, to view its once endangered, now thriving, ecosystem, where nature’s most charismatic marine creatures gather to feed on an abundance of food.  

The event showcases marine life along America’s West Coast. It documents the extraordinary rejuvenation of the once endangered and now thriving ecosystem of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in California. Some of the world’s most charismatic marine creatures – humpback whales, blue whales, sea lions, dolphins, elephant seals, sea otters, great white sharks, shearwaters, and brown pelicans – convene in this once-a-year confluence.

The National Parks, America's Best Idea

National Parks America’s Best Idea rebroadcasts on WSKG TV April 25-30, 2016 at 9pm.  

Take a historic look behind the development of America’s National Parks with Ken Burns’ six-part film series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” Relive the epic scenery as Ken Burns takes you on a chronological journey through the inspiration and development behind America’s most beloved preserved lands. Filmed over more than six years at some of nature’s most spectacular locales – from Acadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades of Florida to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska -this program is a story of people: people from every conceivable background – rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; people who were willing to devote themselves to saving the land they loved. View more National Parks: America’s Best Idea on the WSKG video page. The narrative traces the birth of the national park idea in the mid-1800s and follows its evolution for nearly 150 years.

Wild Ways

NOVA Wild Ways airs on WSKG TV  April 20, 2016 at 9pm. Four-lane highways may be a necessity to our modern society, but they can be a death traps for millions of animals that try to cross them. Around the world, wildlife need to roam for breeding, foraging, and to carry out their traditional migrations–but they are often blocked by ranches, farms, roads, and other human-made obstacles. While national parks and preserves offer some protection to wildlife, even the magnificent Serengeti and Yellowstone parks are too small to sustain healthy populations over generations. But now comes new hope for wildlife through an approach called “connectivity conservation.” Some of the world’s most beloved species–lions, bears, antelope and elephants–can be preserved by linking the world’s wildlife refuges with tunnels, overpasses, and protected land corridors.

E.O. Wilson – Of Ants and Men

At age 78, E.O. Wilson is still going through his “little savage” phase of boyhood exploration of the natural world. In “E.O. Wilson- Of Ants and Men” PBS profiles this soft-spoken Southerner and Harvard professor, who is an acclaimed advocate for ants, biological diversity, and the controversial extension of Darwinian ideas to human society. E.O. Wilson – Of Ants and Men is a two-hour film about the life and extraordinary scientific odyssey of one of America’s greatest living thinkers, E.O Wilson. It is an exciting journey of ideas, but also an endearing portrait of a remarkable man; often dubbed “a Darwin for the modern day.” Starting with his unusual childhood in Alabama, it chronicles the lifelong love for the natural world that led him to Harvard and the studies that would establish him as the world’s foremost authority on ants. But that was just the beginning.

Gorongosa Park | New Blood & Hidden Worlds

During episode three of Gorongosa Park- Rebirth of Paradise, Bob and the lion team find one of the female cubs with a life-threatening wound and face a race against time to save her. Lions aren’t the only ones who need help. During the war, most of the big grazers were killed for their meat. With less than 20 zebra and 100 eland, the park needs to make a tough choice to save them. A massive relocation mission is launched to bring them back.

Louisiana’s Swamp Defenders

Dean Wilson. (Photo: Emmett FitzGerald)

Once, cypress swamps covered hundreds of thousands of acres across the American South. Logging, oil and gas extraction and swamp drainage transformed the landscape. But over recent years, Dean Wilson has worked to protect the remaining cypress swamps of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin from illegal loggers and oil prospectors. Recently, the European biomass industry has set up shop in the state, and conservationists are concerned for the future.

Gorongosa Park Rebirth of Paradise

First established as a hunting reserve in 1920, Gorongosa became a national park in July 1960 under Portuguese colonial rule. It quickly became a premiere destination not only for international tourists, mainly from Portugal, but also for celebrities including John Wayne, Joan Crawford and Gregory Peck. But, two years after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975, the country was engulfed by a civil war. By the time the war ended in 1992, a million people were dead and several million more were maimed, traumatized and displaced. The web of life within Gorongosa’s park was likewise left in tatters.

Testing Ocean DNA, Americans Pass a Science Quiz, and Polar Bear Diets

Tune into Science Friday today on WSQX from 2-4pm and learn how in California, monitoring marine protected areas can get expensive. Current efforts—which include underwater surveys conducted by scuba diving volunteers—have already cost the state $16 million, and in some places, there’s no funding left. But testing DNA in water samples could provide an effective alternative to more costly methods. KQED’s science and environment reporter, Lauren Sommer, discusses this story and other science news from the week. Plus, when it comes to their diet, polar bears aren’t so finicky.