Celebrating National Wildlife Week

National Wildlife Week is celebrated annually around the first week of April in order to highlight the special wildlife species that call the United States home. Below you’ll find a wide variety of stories, videos, and sketching tutorials I’ve created in honor of our nation’s wildlife. Enjoy!

SPOTLIGHTED SPECIES

Pacific Giant Salamander

Aptly named, this is one of the largest salamanders in the world, growing up to 13 inches long! They sport a beautiful, marbled pattern on their skin that cryptically camouflages them in the mountain streams and moist forests of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, such as near my home in Oregon’s Cascades.

As you can imagine, the large adults are formidable predators, devouring a wide range of prey like insects, mollusks, and crayfish while keeping a watchful eye out for their own predators which include weasels, otter, shrews, and garter snakes. Interestingly, when threatened the salamander creates an impressive defense strategy of tail lashing, biting, arching of the back, and even emitting a warning bark.

Like other amphibians, salamanders face many unnatural threats including habitat loss, logging, climate change, and water pollution.

 Black-footed Ferret

Did you know that the Black-footed Ferret is among North America’s most endangered species?
Historically Black-footed Ferrets roamed throughout the great plains, desert grasslands, and sage steppe habitats of our heartland, always near prairie dog towns since these rodents make up 90% of their diet.
Beginning in the early 1900s their populations plummeted due to a combination of hunting, trapping for pelts, introduced diseases, and loss of habitat.
Scientists thought they were extinct in the wild but in 1981 seven ferrets were discovered in Wyoming and ever since then the Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to breed and reintroduce them back into the wild with about 300 enjoying a new lease on life across 30 sites in the Midwest.

 

Gila Monster

When one thinks of ‘wildlife’, it’s the charismatic megafauna like polar bears and bald eagles that come to mind. But I’d like to share some cool facts about one of my favorite species that’s not so cute and cuddly; the Gila Monster.
This species and its close relative; the Mexican Beaded Lizard, are the world’s only venomous lizards. You may think that the Komodo Dragon wins this title, but no, it’s not truly venomous, though its bacteria-infested saliva can indeed be deadly.
The Gila Monster bears a neurotoxin in its saliva created by glands in the lower jaw and it uses this toxin as a potent weapon in subduing its prey.
Its diet is wide, enjoying everything from eggs, nestlings, rodents, frogs, insects, worms, other lizards, and even carrion.
The Gila Monster is named after the Gila River in New Mexico; one of the states in the southwestern deserts where this largest lizard of the United States lives. It grows up to 2 feet long and 4 pounds and can live over 20 years!
These lizards spend much of the year deep in an underground burrow, usually stolen from a rodent, and emerge in the spring to mate, lay eggs, and search for food. The Gila Monster can eat up to 30% of its body weight at once and it stores fat in its tail as an emergency energy source when the weather is too cold or too hot for hunting.
Amazingly, this lizard can go months without eating, living off the energy reserves in its tail and reducing its metabolism when resting.
Their bright red and black coloration serves as a warning to would-be predators that their bite is venomous and their uniquely beaded skin is composed of scales embedded with tiny bones called osteoderms.
Gila Monster lizards are declining throughout the desert scrublands they call home, threatened by habitat loss, climate change, non-native predators like cats, and collection for the pet trade. In 1952, they became the first venomous species of wildlife in North America to be given legal protection.

Whooping Crane

 

The endangered Whooping Crane is named after its loud, single-note alarm call. And indeed, this species has plenty to be alarmed about as one of the rarest birds in North America with less than 1,000 remaining.
Cranes once ranged widely from Canada to Mexico in tallgrass prairies and their freshwater wetlands where the birds dine on mollusks, crabs, clams, insects, minnows, frogs, snakes, fish, and rodents.
These stately birds are also our tallest – up to five feet and among the longest-lived – up to 40 years. They are also famous for their elaborate courtship rituals that include leaps, bows, billing points, and wing flaps.
Once pairs are formed, they are bonded for life, spending summers in Canada and winters along the Gulf Coast.
Throughout their lifetimes, Whooping Cranes face many threats including illegal hunting, loss of prairie and wetland habitat, power lines, climate change, and loss of genetic diversity.

 

MORE STORIES ABOUT WILDLIFE

Below you’ll find a list of stories I’ve written to help educate the public about a variety of wildlife species from North America. Enjoy!

LEARN ABOUT WILDLIFE THROUGH SKETCHING

As you may know, I’m a strong advocate for using drawing as a tool to deepen people’s understanding of wildlife. For once you’ve looked at an organism long enough to sketch it, you’ll have noticed things about its anatomy and behavior that you might not have appreciated before. This, I hope, will lead you to have greater empathy for the species, and be inspired to support its conservation in the wild.

Below you’ll find links to my tutorials that will lead you step-by-step through drawing a variety of flora and fauna. As I demonstrate how to draw each species, I’ll also share cool facts about their biology, ecology, and anatomy to help you understand them better. You can also find dozens of wildlife education and sketching workshops on my live streaming page on Crowdcast.

 

VIDEOS ON AMERICAN WILDLIFE

LINKS TO ARTICLES ABOUT WILDLIFE

Monarch Butterfly

 

 

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