Ever since we moved into our house in Leavenworth, Kansas, USA, in mid-May of this year, we have been keeping a tally of all the species of animal life we see on our property, or from it in the case of flying birds. As of August 12, we have surpassed seven hundred (700) taxa, and that is likely conservative.
A taxon is any level of taxonomic classification: Domain to Kingdom, Phylum, Order, Family, Genus, or species, and various divisions in between. It is often impossible to distinguish various species, or even genera or subfamilies, from images of the living creature in the “wild,” so many of the insects and arachnids we have observed may never be identified specifically.
A bioblitz is typically a twenty-four-hour event at a specific location that is intended to inventory every kind of living organism within the boundaries of said property. More recently, bioblitzes have been conducted over two days, sometimes more, to enhance the experience of participants and get a more thorough survey accomplished. Sometimes, bioblitzes target one particular taxon of interest, like dragonflies and damselflies, for example.
The website and smartphone app iNaturalist has become a handy platform for recording the results of bioblitzes, such as this one at Corral Bluffs Open Space, a new park near Colorado Springs, Colorado, internationally famous for the discovery of several new fossil species, especially early mammals. Making such data and observations widely accessible to the public, as well as to scholars, is an overriding priority for bioblitzes, and it inspires more bioblitzes.
I have been slowly uploading observations of wildlife at our home, and elsewhere we have traveled, to iNaturalist, but I am over one month behind.
Our property is modest, with a front and back yard, a back porch and a side porch, and a detached garage. We have not yet planted anything new, save for a handful of daisies and coneflowers from a local nursery. We do mow what passes for the lawn, and intend to replace most of it eventually with native plants, and maybe add a small water feature and bird feeders. The front yard is dominated by an enormous red oak.
How have we amassed so many species in so little time? We are privileged to have the luxury of unlimited free time at present. Heidi spends most mornings looking and listening for birds in both yards, and beyond. The pigeons are usually flying over the federal penitentiary located two blocks behind us. A pair of Eastern Wood-pewees raised a family in a tree across the street from our front yard. I make a circuit around the yards at least once per day, usually.
We have not yet tried much in the way of trapping for insects. We did hang up a bee block under the eave by the living room window, but apparently weren’t watching it at the right time of day. About a week ago I noticed two of the holes had been plugged with mud, likely the work of a mason wasp. We occasionally set out overripe fruits, but those are quickly overrun with ants unless we take precautions like standing a section of log like a pedestal in a container of water that acts like a moat.
We do blacklight fairly regularly, though at present my camera flash has ceased to work. My back-up cameras have repeated lens error issues whereby the extendable lens gets stuck. Finding another camera has been problematic as there are shortages of almost every item now due to the pandemic. That said, blacklighting has been the overwhelming source of our diversity. I frequently find “bonus” insects in images where the intended subject was something else entirely.
Here is my challenge to you: although we are no longer confined to our homes by the novel coronavirus, consider staying put anyway and devoting time to bioblitz your own place. Even the most sterile apartment is likely to have a few dozen species. You might have to break out a magnifying lens, but they are there. Share your results on iNaturalist, Project Noah, or similar platforms. Ask for help if you are at a loss for ideas on how to get started. Happy hunting!