The Great Southern Brood

“……there was a numerous company of Flies, which were like for bigness unto Wasps or Bumble-Bees, they came out of little holes in the ground, and did eat up the green things, and made such a constant yelling noise as made all the woods ring of them, and ready to deaf the hearers;……”

“……there was such a swarm of a certain sort of insects in that English colony, that for the space of 200 miles they poysond and destroyed all the trees of that country. There being found innumerable little holes in the ground, out of which those insects broke forth in the form of maggots, which turned into flyes that had a kind of taile or sting, which they struck into the tree, and thereby envenomed and killed it..”

The excerpts above were taken from accounts by New England Colonists in the late 17th century. The shock of encountering the deafening blanket of the cicada's call for the very first time must have shaken the colonists, wary of so many new sights and sounds in the New world. 

The image that you see above is of a 13-year periodical cicada of Brood XIX. In May of 2011, cicadas from this particular group began to emerge all over the Southeast, Alabama included. By June, the cicadas had begun to die off en masse. 

Periodical cicadas are divided into 13-year and 17-year groups, each corresponding to a particular "brood." Broad XIX covers almost all of the Southeast, including Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, South Carolina, and Virginia. The immature (nymph) cicada finds roots on which to feed underground and will spend anywhere from 2 to 17 years feeding and tunneling below the earth's surface. Upon emergence, the nymph quickly finds and attaches itself to a tree to begin sloughing its exoskeleton. When the nymph has fully freed itself, it begins its new life as an adult cicada and the process starts all over again! 

Your next chance to see, or hear, Brood XIX will be in 2024. For now, they wait below the surface, till they emerge to sing their song once more. In our fast-paced world of instantaneous connection and ephemeral pleasure, we should consider the time-scale of the cicada, its rhythms and reliance on the earth itself as time-piece. 

The Common Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)

This little guy was recently found on Ruffner Mountain. Box turtles are quite common at Ruffner, as they are over much of North America. The Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), pictured here, and the three-toed box turtle, are the two most common subspecies of box turtle in Alabama. They have a dome-like carapace and a hinged plastron (that's the shell covering the belly) which allows for complete enclosure, creating a sort of closed box, hence the name "box" turtle. Box turtles usually live extremely long lives, and they are slow to develop; this fact, coupled with their propensity for few offspring, make box turtles particularly susceptible to human-induced mortality. So, the next time you're on the trail or the road, look out for our reptile friends!  

Wild South & Ruffner Mountain Present: Wrenched

Edward Abbey was an American author and essayist noted for his advocacy of environmental issues, criticism of public land policies and anarchist political views. His best known works include the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, which has been cited as an inspiration by radical environmental groups, and the non-fiction work Desert Solitaire.

The film Wrenched captures the passing of the monkey wrench from the pioneers of eco-activism to the new generation which will carry Edward Abbey’s legacy into the 21st century. The fight continues to sustain the last bastion of the American wilderness – the spirit of the West.

On Friday, May 20 at 7 p.m. Wild South and Ruffner Mountain will proudly present an exclusive screening of the film, Wrenched. Tickets are $10 online (which includes one drink) and $15 at the door (no drink ticket included). All proceeds will be donated to Wild South and Ruffner Mountain. Seating is limited to 40 so purchase your ticket now to secure a seat!

"Hiding", Celeste Amparo Pfau, botanical mono print with ink drawing on green cotton fabric. This is just one of many pieces in Eco Stories, an exhibition of work by local artists in conversation with nature. Check it out today at the Nature Center!

Snakes at Ruffner Mountain

The weather is warming up, and that means that much of Ruffner's wildlife normally hidden from plain view or undercover in the colder months is venturing out in the open to soak up some rays, and snakes are no exception. As cold-blooded animals, snakes have to sunbathe on rocks and other head-absorbent surfaces in order to raise their body temperature and maintain a healthy metabolic rate. This is why, for the most part, you see more snakes in the spring and summer months, though their numbers actually stay about the same throughout the year. This is important, because snakes are a wonderful natural population control of insects and rodents, which make up a large portion of their diet. 

One large rat snake can eat dozens of rats and mice each year!  Without our slithery friends, we would be swarming with unchecked populations of rodents. Snakes are also a very important dietary item for animals such as owls and hawks. So, as you can see, just like every tree, flower, and insect, like all species of flora and fauna at Ruffner, snakes constitute an absolutely essential link in the chain of ecological interdependence. 

Just the other day, I was hiking on the Quarry Trail when I came across a Gray ratsnake. Initially, I was a bit startled, freezing in my tracks, but soon I continued on my way. The snake couldn't have cared less, He might as well have been on Spring Break. If you see a snake on the trail, leave it be. They're just trying to stay warm. 

Here are some snake tips from our Wildlife Curator, Chivon Morse, and remember, Ruffner is big enough for us all, from insects to snakes to human beings. 

There is no sure way to keep a snake out of your yard. However, there are a few things you can do to make your yard not as inviting:
1. Keep your grass mowed short. Snakes, like most animals, like to hide under cover. So do the small mammals that snakes eat.
2. Remove all unused debris from your yard, such as wood piles and abandoned toys. Snakes are quiet creatures that like to hide under and in things that aren't used or moved often.
3. Do not leave pet food outside. Pet food attracts rodents, which then attracts snakes.
4. Clean up under your bird feeders. Anything birds might drop can attract squirrels and other rodents, which will then attract snakes.

At Ruffner:
1. Wear closed toed shoes and long pants when hiking
2. Pay attention to where you are walking; snakes like to bask in the sunlight while stretched out on trails
3. Keep your pets on leash at all times. A dog who is off leash doesn't just scare other hikers—off-leash dogs can also scare snakes and other wildlife who may react defensively. 
4. Do not go into any caves or mine sites not just because they are unsafe, but they might also be hiding spots for snakes temporarily escaping the heat of the day. Same goes for reaching under or turning over large rocks.

If you get bitten by a snake and are unsure if it is venomous or not, call poison control at 1-800-222-1222. If you suspect it was a venomous snake, go to a hospital immediately. Snake bite kits and other methods of first aid are generally ineffective.

Why Are Native Plants So Important?

First off, let’s differentiate a “native” from an “invasive” plant. Native plants are “uncultivated flora indigenous to geographic regions, which have adapted over time to various environmental and social influences such as soil types and hydrology, micro-climates, and human influence.” In other words, these are plants that have not been moved from the natural milieu in which they have adapted, been genetically altered or generally affected in any way by humans or natural forces. Invasives, on the other hand, also known as “exotic”, “non-native”, “introduced”, or “alien”, are plants that have been transported from one geographical location to another by humans, weather, migratory birds, or other fauna.

Oftentimes, exotic plants are introduced into a new environment with minimal to no effect; unfortunately, this is not always the case, and it is up to us, the stewards of the natural world of which we are a part, to reduce or eliminate the effects of invasive species and restore the land to its natural dynamic of interdependent exchange.

So, why are native plants so important? For one, they more naturally facilitate pollination, supporting local wildlife such as butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, as well as the all-important pollinators themselves—bees.

Native plants are only one half of the symbiotic relationship from which new life arises each spring. Native bees are nature’s couriers, pollinating native plants, while avoiding many invasive species, as they extract from native flowers the nectar that is so precious to their own survival.

The true danger, and the reason to avoid or remove invasives, lies in their ability to crowd or shade out other varieties of flora, thereby reducing the variety of both flora and fauna species. Without genetic-species variety in nature, links in the circle of ecological interdependence are broken, leading to the reduction or complete disappearance of plant and animal species.

The best reason to plant native species rather than their non-native counterparts is the support they provide to local wildlife populations. Simply put: If you plant native species—any native species—you will support a greater array of wildlife than if you had planted the same area with non-native species.

To learn more about native plant species, visit the Nature Center at Ruffner Mountain, or the Mountain itself, where you can take a walk or hike and see a vast array of native plant species!

"Native Beauties", Christina Daniel, 2016

Introducing Tawodi, our Broad-winged Hawk!


We are pleased to introduce our Broad-winged hawk, Tawodi! After sustaining a broken ulna and radius in his right wing, he was rehabilitated and brought to Ruffner Mountain by the amazing staff at the Alabama Wildlife Center. We then gained approval from the National Fish and Wildlife Service, and this broad-winged hawk was transferred to his new home at RMNP.

Tawodi got his name when our Wildlife Curator, Chivon Morse, spoke with Mr. Greg Drowning Bear, a fluent speaker of Cherokee. He chose the name "Ta-wo-di" because it means "hawk" in Cherokee and is pretty easy to pronounce.

The character of Ta-wo-di shows up in many Cherokee legends, namely the origin story of the flying squirrel, one that we love to share with students when they visit our Nature Center.

Next Saturday, April 30, come out to our Native Plant Sale, where you will have the chance to meet Tawodi the hawk (10:30 am or 12:30 pm) while checking out our huge selection of native plants! We hope to see you there!

Many many thanks to the good people at Turkey Creek Nature Preserves, where he was found injured, and the Alabama Wildlife Center for saving his life. Tawodi will never be able to fly again, but because of these two organizations, he will live the rest of his life in comfort. - Chivon Morse, Wildlife Curator