Fauna: Perimyotis subflavus

Studio portrait of a tricolored bat, National Geographic Photo Ark

Tricolored bat
Perimyotis subflavus

Tricolored bats are very small, weighing about the same as a U.S. quarter, though its wingspan can reach up to 10 inches across. Their fur is a mix of black, brown, and light brown, giving them their name. The species used to be called Eastern pipistrelle, but a 2019 DNA test showed they in fact are not related to the Pipistrellus genus. The new genus, Perimyotis, indicates its similarities with the Myotis or mouse-eared bats.

Larisa Bishop-Boros – A healthy hibernating tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus)

The first known specimen was collected in Georgia by John Eatton Le Conte, a naturalist and a captain in the United States Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. Among other locations, he was stationed in the Savannah harbor and at Ossabaw Sound. Le Conte’s tricolored bat specimen was studied and categorized by zoologist Frédéric Cuvier in 1832.

Tri-colored bat with visible WNS symptom, USFW, Darwin Brock

Males are solitary, while females can sometimes be found living in small colonies. They may take up residence in a cave but they are also found in trees, overhanging water. Scientists have also recently discovered colonies living in tree lichen (like Spanish moss), presumably because the lichen has natural anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-insect properties. This is especially important as the tricolored bat is susceptible to the deadly white-nose syndrome, which has killed about 70% of the population since 2006.  Though numbers have stabilized, this bat remains on the Endangered Species List as “vulnerable and threatened.”

Like most bats, this species hunts in early evening and at night, using echolocation to find its prey. It eats mainly insects like mosquitoes, moths, cicadas, and ants. It loves to hunt in areas near water, especially. It’s a very efficient hunter and is able to consume a quarter of its own weight within a half an hour.

Fauna: Acipenser brevirostrum

NOAA

Shortnose sturgeon
Acipenser brevirostrum

The shortnose sturgeon is a hefty freshwater fish that can be nearly five feet long, weigh upwards of 60 pounds, and generally live about 30 years — some females have been known to live 70 years! Though they can be found feeding in saltwater environments, they live, and spawn, entirely in coastal, freshwater rivers, including the Ogeechee.. Because of this, their survival depends on two types of healthy ecosystems. Shortnose sturgeon are currently listed on the Endangered Species List.

Native Americans fishing, John White, 1530. Public domain.

Sometimes called a ‘living fossil,’ the shortnose sturgeon has been thriving in coastal areas for millions of years. There is evidence that the species has been fished by humans for at least 4,000 years. However, overfishing contributed to a swift decline in the late 1800s. According to NOAA, In 1890, more than 7 million pounds of sturgeon were caught in that year alone. In 1920, only 23,000 pounds of sturgeon were caught.

via NY Post

Their trademark ridged back is formed by bony plates called ‘scutes,’ giving them the appearance of armor. They lack teeth but have bony plates in their esophagus which serve to crush their food. They use their barbels — sort of like fish antennae — to find insects, crustaceans, and bivalves on the ocean floor or river bottom. 

Due to their low numbers, protecting their habitat and spawning ability is crucial to the species population. Sturgeon require free flowing, unobstructed rivers and streams in order to swim upstream and spawn. They also need healthy intertidal zones to feed and rest.

Original art by Caroline Rose

Fauna: Pandion haliaetus

Larry Stamm/Audubon Photography Awards

Western osprey
Pandion haliaetus

This large bird of prey can often be spotted in the Ogeechee watershed as they feed almost exclusively on live fish. They are adept hunters, diving in shallow waters and pulling up fish in their opposable talons. As a species they have adapted fairly well to living near human settlements. They often built sturdy nests on tall structures like telephone poles and channel markers, as well as trees overlooking waterways.

The nests are put together from sticks and other natural materials but can grow to be more than 10 feet wide over many years. Aside from breeding and nesting, ospreys are usually solitary birds. They hatch 1-4 fledglings each year and their numbers have stabilized since the ban on DDT which harmed their eggs.

Ospreys at Nest, by Jake Dingel, PGC

The birds seem to live about 15-20 years, and according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they have been known to log more than 150,000 migratory miles in their lifetime. One can spot the osprey with its mostly white coloring, especially on the underneath side of their nearly 6-foot wingspan. They sport the well-known hooked beak look of a bird of prey.

Artwork by Caroline Rose

You can watch local osprey nests on Skidaway Island. The live cameras are operated by Skidaway Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Watch baby ospreys grow up, leave the nest, and adults come home to roost, or choose clips of past highlights. 

Fauna: Geomys fontanelus 

Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center

Geomys fontanelus
Southeastern pocket gopher

You might never have seen a pocket gopher as they live almost entirely underground. They are fossorial creatures, meaning they are excellent diggers and prefer to burrow. They flourish in the type of soil found under the longleaf pine, which makes them very happy in the Ogeechee River basin. With giant front teeth and long claws, they look threatening, but are mostly harmless rodents.

They can be annoying for farmers as they dig up mounds of dirt in their fields, but they are ecologically significant in the aeration and mixing of the soil. They are particularly helpful in restoring forests after a prescribed burn by eating subterranean roots and preparing the land for a new planting of pine trees.

You are also unlikely to see a pocket gopher due to their threatened status and declining number. They were listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1989 and were even thought to be extinct for a number of years. Scientists are now finding small, locally-abundant populations but they are overall quite scarce.

A very annoyed gopher. Photo by Jim Ozier, GA DNR Wildlife Resources

There are a handful of subspecies in the Ogeechee River basin. G. p. cumberlandius is found only on Cumberland Island in Georgia. G. p. fontanelus is an isolated population near Savannah, and G. p. colonus is restricted to coastal plains in Camden Co., Georgia.

Fauna: Dolichovespula maculata

By Beatriz Moisset – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Bald-faced hornet
Dolichovespula maculata

The bald-faced hornet, also called the bald hornet or the white-faced hornet, is technically a wasp and only a close cousin to the true hornet. It gets its name for the black and white coloring (rather than the typical black and yellow) of its body.

Still, it behaves much that same, living in colonies of several hundred and building paper nests created from chewed wood pulp mixed with saliva. Nests high in trees or rocky overhangs are common. These beautiful nests can be up to two feet long.

A bald-faced hornet nest in a tree along the Ogeechee River. Photo by Samarra Mullis

The nests include many layers of hexagonal combs inside of an outer layer protective paper. They also create air vents in the upper portion of the nest that heat to escape.

The adult hornets are omnivores, eating other insects as well as fruit, meat, spiders and plant nectar. Perhaps more fierce and frightening than butterflies or bees, they are also important pollinators.

This species lives throughout most of America and Canada but are most commonly found in the American southeast. They are a stinging insects, though rarely do so unless disturbed. When found in urban or suburban areas it is recommended the nests be moved by professionals.