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Features (Creature Feature)

Marvels lie under the sea

Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you

     –The Little Mermaid: Under the Sea

Thousands of photos and videos of the seafloor, its creatures and the coastline — most areas never seen before — are now just a mouse-click away, thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal.
    The Portal is a treat for you and me and a great help for coastal managers faced with decisions from protecting habitats to understanding hazards and managing land use.
    The largest database of its kind, it delivers detailed, fine-scale representations of the coast plus maps of the exact location of each recording.
    A work in progress, the Portal so far covers the seafloor off California and Massachusetts with aerial images of the Gulf of Mexico and Mid-Atlantic coastlines.
    Some 100,000 photographs have been collected along with 1,000 hours of trackline video covering 2,000 miles of coastline.
    Upcoming are Washington State’s Puget Sound, Hawaii and the Arctic.
    Start with the tutorial:
    Then dive in:
    Learn more about USGS science:

Vote bracket by bracket for the Live ­Science champion

Which scares you more? A scorpion crawling up your leg? Being devoured by the King of the Jungle? Swimming with a killer whale?
    As March Madness brings the nation’s top college basketball teams into quick-death competition, the website Live Science jumps in with a parallel competition in the Animal Kingdom. Bracket by bracket, you’re invited to advance your worst fears in its no-holds-barred Killer Animal Tournament.
    Starting March 16 and for the next three weeks, vote for the animal you believe should win in four divisions: Land, Air, Sea and Creepy-Crawly. As eliminations progress, you’ll vote in new pairings until, from 16, only eight, four, two and one are left standing.
    Competing are:
    Land Lubbers: African lion versus white rhino; and polar bear versus African elephant.
    Creepy Crawlers: king cobra versus Brazilian wandering spider; and poison dart frog versus deathstalker scorpion.
    Sea Dwellers: killer whale versus saltwater crocodile; and great white shark versus hippo.
    Airborne: African-crowned eagle versus mosquito; and lappet-faced vulture versus peregrine falcon.
    Cast your votes at
    Share your votes on social media using the hashtag #LSAnimalMadness.
    Watch for the announcement of the Killer champion on April 6 at 3pm.
    Local shout out: Two of the contenders earn a local shout out. Peregrine falcons in residence on the 33rd floor ledge of the Transamerica skyscraper in downtown Baltimore are now Reality Television stars. See them live 24/7 at the Chesapeake Conservancy’s new webcam:
    In a science first, an Andinobates geminisae froglet has hatched in captivity, Smithsonian Institution researchers report. This tiny poison dart frog, the size of a dime, is a conservation-priority species in its native Panama because of an amphibian-killing chytrid fungus.

Look and listen before they leave

Trumpeter swans returned to Chesapeake Country after many years.
    “I have lived at this location on the Chesapeake Bay for 19 years and have never observed trumpeter swans before,” said life-long bird watcher Randy Kiser of Shady Side. “Their sound was unmistakable, so different from the tundras.
    “They stayed for about an hour and then moved on,” Kiser said.
    He wasn’t alone in his trumpeter sighting.
    A D.C. Ornithological Society birdwatcher confirmed that Kiser’s five “was the largest group identified in a long time.”
    Five were also reported in St. Michaels that same February afternoon.
    How to tell them apart from the more common migratory tundra or invasive mute swan?
    Trumpeters have all-black bills, while tundra swans have black bills with a tear­drop of yellow near their eyes and mute swans have bright orange bills with a black knob on top.
    Trumpeters have their necks kinked back at the bottom in a hard C-shape.
    The biggest difference is sound.
    Trumpeters have a very loud, trumpet-like call; hence their name. It’s mainly a gentle honk, like a single short toot on a horn, repeated, often in series of two to three notes, do-do-doo.
    Hurry to catch a glimpse of these Chesapeake visitors. The spring thaw in mid-March to early-April signals their departure. So Chesapeake County is vacated by swans just about the time osprey return.

Oh, the creatures we’ve seen

You find them sitting atop shelves at libraries, inside toy chests and in the hands of parents turning well-worn pages in a nighttime ritual of reading the rhymes, words and wisdom of Dr. Seuss and his unforgettable characters.
    From 1928 until his death in 1990, Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote and illustrated 60-plus books for children and adults as Dr. Seuss.
    The Seuss menagerie includes Horton the elephant who preaches that all people are important; the mischievous brat Cat in the Hat; the Lorax, who speaks for the trees from his thorax; the Grinch, who rescues Whoville in a pinch; and Sam I Am, who pesters an unnamed character in a text of 50 words to try Green Eggs and Ham.
    If Seuss were alive, he’d be celebrating his 111th birthday on March 2, a day that’s been adopted as National Read Across America Day.
    On July 28, more creatures will join the menagerie.
    The literary equivalent of buried treasure, Dr. Seuss’ What Pet Should I Get? is set for release. Probably written between 1958 and 1962, the manuscript was found in his office by his widow and secretary in 2013. Two characters are the brother and sister who listen to Seuss’ telling of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

After 9 years, Coast Guard mascot Rosie gets First Class promotion

At a Coast Guard station, where the crew is often separated from friends and family, the extra boost provided by a dog goes a long way. About half of all Coast Guard stations has a mascot dog.
    “It’s about morale” says fireman Justin Singleton, who’s been at Coast Guard Station Annapolis for a year. “She keeps us in good spirits.”
    Rosie, a black Lab, had served as station mascot for nine years without a promotion. All Coast Guard promotions — even First Class Dog — must be earned. So with dedication and a generous supply of training kibble, Rosie’s crewmates helped her master the skills and commands to rise to First Class.
    With three gold stripes to signify her new rank, Rosie continues her primary duty at the station.
    “She’s usually the first to greet visitors,” say Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Andrew Vardakis.

Read more about Rosie at:

This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count needs your help

The drakes are displaying, showing off their splendid colors, their best dance moves. Cardinal and Carolina wren pairs cavort; the chickadees are singing. Love is in the air.
    You can learn about the birds, if not the bees, this Valentine weekend in the 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, February 13 to 16. Citizen scientists all over the world help the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada by counting birds in back yards, fields, woods and waterways. This four-day count produces an annual snapshot of bird population trends. How many snowy owls, pine siskins and redpolls —birds irrupting from far northern climates this year — are in Maryland right now? Let’s find out.
    Anyone can help. You join the count by tallying the total numbers of each bird species you see while watching for 15 minutes or longer on one or more days of the count. To record tallies, go to There you’ll learn how to set up a free account and enter your checklists. Submit a separate checklist for each new location, each day or the same location at a different time of day.
    Need help?
    Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary volunteer coordinator Lindsay Hollister can help. “We train on Saturday, February 14 at 2pm,” she says. “Everyone is welcome, the more the merrier.”
    On the Count website, you’ll find an online bird guide, birding apps for your phone, tips for tricky bird IDs, (is that a white-throated sparrow or a song sparrow?) and local events you can join with other birders.
    There’s also a photo contest for your pictures of both birds and watchers.
    Look for the prehistoric-looking pileated woodpecker hammering in the trees, for swarms of robins drinking in puddles, black vultures and turkey vultures (yes, we have two kinds) soaring overhead and bluebirds popping up in fields and even at the beach. In 2014, Great Backyard Bird counters saw close to 4,296 different species. That’s 43 percent of all the bird species in the world.
    Last year, more than 144,000 checklists were submitted worldwide, including almost 4,100 from Maryland, which ranked 11th among U.S. states.
    With your help, we can make the top 10 this year.
    “We especially want to encourage people to share their love of birds and bird watching with someone new this year,” says Dick Cannings of Bird Studies Canada. “Take your sweetheart, a child, a neighbor or a coworker with you while you count birds. Share your passion, and you may fledge a brand new bird watcher.”

Maryland Zoo seeking humans

See the Zoo like you’ve never seen it before — on the scene and behind the scenes.
    The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is seeking 200 new volunteers to help make successes of such events as ­BunnyBonanZOO, zooBOOO! and Brew at the Zoo.
    January 25 is your once-a-year opportunity to learn the aardvark to zebra of volunteering at the third oldest zoo in the United States, representing nearly 200 species in natural settings replicating their native habitats.
    The Zoo’s 1,000-plus volunteers work with humans, animals and plants. Working with animals is at the top of the training ladder. Long-timers may request to handle animals like chimpanzees and the Animal Ambassadors, including the Baltimore ravens Rise and Conquer.
    New volunteers typically bring special skills — like face painting or gardening — or start with visitor relations. Entry-level jobs range from leading crafts and games at special events to answering visitors’ questions to keeping animals and humans on their best behavior at the Goat Corral or Camel Rides.
    “Nine times out of 10, the number one question is where’s the bathroom,” says Jane Ballentine, Director of Public Relations.
    Volunteers as young as 14 are welcome in the Junior Zoo Crew. There’s no top age limit for volunteers. Perks include free admission to the zoo and field trips.
    “We try to set up at least two field trips a year to other zoos and aquariums to keep the camaraderie going,” says Ballentine.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore’s Volunteer Open House: Sunday, January 25, 11am-2pm: Mansion House Porch: 443-552-5266;

Robert Kyle gives a new meaning to frozen drinks

How do creatures of the wild quench their thirst when outdoor water freezes to ice?
    Robert Kyle replenishes bowls with water in its liquid state for “cats, birds and whoever else is thirsty” at his Huntingtown home.
    “I have several water bowls around our place,” Kyle writes. “When the water freezes overnight I add fresh water.”
    As a side effect of his Franciscan charity, Kyle has invented a new art form: Cat Bowl Ice Art.
    “Recycling the frozen water, I remove the bowl-shaped ice and balance them upon each other,” Kyle explains. “After assembly the sun comes up, causing the opaque ice to glow. My daughter in Los Angeles tells me the sculptures resemble Zen balancing stones.
    “To my knowledge, I’m the only person in the Bay area that makes these,” Kyle adds, “as most people have better things to do at 6:30am on a cold morning.”

Coast Guard’s sea turtle rescue brings them Internet fame

It’s all in a day’s work.    
    The day was August 12, when a boater reported an entangled sea turtle 30 miles off New Jersey’s southern coast.
    Using the boater’s GPS coordinates, the Cape May Coast Guardsmen and staff of Marine Mammal Rescue Center set out on a rescue mission. Finding a turtle in the Atlantic could have been as hard as finding a needle in a haystack. But the coordinates led straight to an ensnared leatherback.
    The team got close enough to grab the offending gear — a floating marker on a long pole ending in a rope. Then, the Coast Guard team “used their bare hands to control the struggling 800-pound creature.” Amid the grappling, the line was disentangled and the turtle swam free.
    Videotaping actions is also in a day’s work in the modern Coast Guard. Over the last two weeks, YouTube viewers chose the Coast Guard’s Video of the Year from 10 action-packed sea rescues and adventures. The leatherback rescue earned second place. So in sweet symbiosis, the sea turtle saved by the Coast Guard makes the rescuers stars.
    See the Coast Guard’s Top 10 of 2014 at

Calvert Marine Museum’s new baby cephalopod

True names rise from a creature’s character. That’s the Native American way. Cats, too, have true names, but theirs are inscrutable to humans, according to poet T.S. Eliot in the poems that became Cats of musical fame.
    Octopi are as curious as cats, certainly as inscrutable and maybe as intelligent. These creatures of the deep can change both the color and the texture of their bodies to disappear into their environment. They use their eight tentacles to explore, and in captivity, where food may be presented in jars to test their skill, they’ll take lids off and pull out what’s inside.
    Calvert Marine Museum’s new River to Bay exhibit welcomes a pint-sized octopus from Virginia’s offshore waters. The pound-and-a half cephalopod is “very inquisitive,” according to keeper Linda Hanna.
    “It’s fascinating to work with an animal who can tell you’re there and wants to interact with you,” Hanna says. “Every time she’s fed, she has to get her food out of something. We’ve used jars, toys, even Mr. Potato Head. When you try to take something out of the tank, she’s like a two-year-old who wants it back and will grab onto it so you can’t take it out.”
    Such a creature can’t just be called the octopus.
    To find her true name, the museum invites you to enter its Name Our Octopus Contest.
    You’ll have to see her to discover what that name might be. Visit through January 30, pick a name and drop your suggestion in the ballot box in the museum store.
    The octopus herself will choose the winner on Tuesday, February 10. All names are also entered in a drawing to win a basket full of octopus-related goodies.