Smoky Mountains Wildlife & Biodiversity

  1. Studies Offer Insights into Behaviors of Park Bears

    Bear searching trash for food

    By Steve Kemp

    Four research projects focused on bears in the Great Smoky Mountains are currently underway or have recently been completed. Of the four, the results of two are troubling, one is encouraging, and on the last it’s too early to tell.

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  2. Curiosity Cabinet: Hellbenders

    Curiosity Cabinet: Hellbenders

    By Peyton Proffitt

    Growing up in a gateway community, I spent most of my childhood summers swimming in the rivers of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of my happiest memories are of looking for salamanders with my friends and sketching the specimens in my notebook. For my first Curiousity Cabinet entry, I decided to feature the biggest salamander of all: the hellbender.

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  3. DLiA’s Science at Sugarlands Focuses on Fish Restoration

    Pat Rakes

    By Frances Figart

    Part of the mission of any national park is protecting and restoring species that were once native. Restoring native fish is an exciting area of Smokies science that goes unseen by those who are not swimming or snorkeling in park waters.

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  4. Science at Sugarlands Features Wildflowers

    Science at Sugarlands Features Wildflowers

    By Frances Figart

    You couldn’t pick a more perfect month than May to head out on the trails to spot wildflowers. to help you learn more about them, Discover Life in America will host Wildflowers: Gems of the Smokies at the Sugarlands Visitor Center Friday, May 17, from 1–3 p.m.

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  5. The big and small of it

    Photo by Jessica Hill with Shutterfox Photography

    This month, my Experience Your Smokies class got another peek behind the curtain of park operations and traveled to Twin Creeks Science Center to fish out aquatic invertebrates.

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  6. EYS Exotics & Invasives: Larry and the Lady HWAs

    Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

    During my most recent Experience Your Smokies class, I learned the details of a sad story. It all started in 1951, when a seemingly innocent shipment of trees made its way from Japan to Richmond, Va. The trees were intended for used as exotic suburban showpieces. Unfortunately, they carried with them an invasive species that would, in 40 years time, almost completely destroy one of the most ecologically important tree species in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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  7. Things get wild at EYS

    On a foggy morning just off U.S. 441/Newfound Gap Road, a park ranger’s truck was spotted hauling an olive green culvert to the back of Chimney Tops picnic area. A few folks had gathered to eat an early lunch and take photos of the river. Two rangers approached the group and pose the following question: “Would you like to see a bear today?”

    The thrilled visitors surrounded the culvert at the rangers’ request. To their delight, the rangers opened the culvert door and a young male black bear bolted up the mountain, heading deep into the woods.

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  8. DLIA Brings Beetle Mania to the Smokies: An interview with Claire Winfrey

    Beetle Study

    Did you know… about one in every four animals on the planet is a beetle! Of the  roughly 400,000 species of beetles known, some are pollinators, others recyclers –some even help to offset the effects of climate change.

    “Insects are an instant connection to the wild and an extreme example of Earth’s biodiversity,” says Claire Winfrey, a beetle expert and second-year Ph.D. student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Especially in warmer months, take some time to look in almost any type of habitat and you can find them.”

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  9. Smokies Life Redux: Rhododendron Revisited

    Rhododendron

    Did you know that there are more than 1,000 species of rhododendron in the world? Can you name the four species we have in the Smokies?

    I learned these things and more when I edited an article by Courtney Lix for publication in the current issue of Smokies Life. Courtney's story provides insight into this ubiquitous and resilient plant—one that might easily be taken for granted by locals and repeat visitors to the park.

    “The most common is the rosebay (R. maximum), which grows most abundantly at lower elevations but can be found nearly everywhere throughout the national park,” Courtney wrote. “Small-leaved rhododendron (R. minus) occurs frequently as well, although in smaller numbers than rosebay. The other two rhododendron species grow in mid- and high elevations, mostly above 3,500 feet: the Carolina rhododendron (R. caroliniana), and Catawba rhododendron (R. catawbiense).”

    A native of eastern Kentucky, I am most familiar with the Catawba variety, which was discovered in North Carolina by French botanist and explorer Andre Michaux in the late 1700s. Thanks to Courtney, I’m beginning to recognize the other types while hiking.

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  10. The Benefits of Spiders – An Interview with Kefyn Catley

    Spiders tend to get a bad rap, but they are actually critical to the balance of our ecosystems. Kefyn Catley will explain how on Friday, July 20, as part of Discover Life In America’s Science at Sugarlands series, a free public event at Sugarlands Visitor Center at which participants will get to go on a spider hunt.

    Catley, a biology professor at Western Carolina University, teaches and conducts research in the evolutionary biology of spiders. He holds a Ph.D. in arthropod systematics from Cornell, was a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History, and has taught Spiders of the Southern Appalachians at Highlands Biological Station in North Carolina since 2004.

    FF: It’s not every day you meet someone who has studied spiders on four continents. Why do you find them so fascinating?

    KC: Spiders have an ancient lineage originating some 400 million years ago. They are the largest and most important group of predators on the planet and are considered a mega-diverse taxon with more than 47,000 described species with an estimated total number in the range of 75,000-190,000. Spiders are excellent models for studying ecology, behavior, biochemistry, competition, speciation, sexual selection and biogeography, among other fields. They contribute to research in biological pest control, venom chemistry and the cloning of silk.

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