Conserve Wildlife Blog

Critter Chaos Round One Update!

March 8th, 2022

By Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

Our search to find the worthy winner of the 2022 CWF Darwin award has officially begun! In
round one of Critter Chaos, 16 competitors headed into the arena to battle for advancement
within their division.

First up, representing the Shorebirds & Raptors, were the red knot vs. the American
oystercatcher and the American kestrel vs. fan favorite, the piping plover. Despite a valiant
attempt by the oystercatcher and her mate to defend their Atlantic County foraging grounds, the
territorial pair were out-manned, out-numbered, out-planned by a group of red knot, busy
bulking up for an Arctic migration. Guess somebody ate their Wheaties—or should we say
horseshoe crab eggs. Similarly, the piping plover and his new mate were driven off their
intended nesting grounds in Cape May County by an American kestrel that made a bee line for
the young male. Plover’s speed saved him from a grizzly end, but for the good of the species,
they had to flee. Perhaps they’ll have better luck at Todd Pover’s Plover Park!

In the Reptiles & Amphibians division, the ground skink took on the federally threatened bog
turtle while the eastern spadefoot toad and the pine barrens treefrog went head-to-head.
Ground skink was headed toward a cloud of flies, congregating over a pile of cow dung in a
Salem County pasture, when he noticed bog turtle basking in a nearby hoof print. Startled by
the appearance of such a bizarre creature, ground skink abandoned the flies and sought refuge
under a rotting log. That turtle may be small, but hey- so was Napoleon… Unfortunately for the
pine barren’s treefrog, it’s battle with the spadefoot coincided with a fierce storm, resulting in an
explosive breeding event for the latter. As the spadefoot is part of the family Scaphiopodidae
rather than Bufonidae and thus, is not a true toad, pine barren’s treefrog exited to a neighboring
vernal pool, unwilling to learn if boils or a thunderstorm of hail and fire were to follow this plague
of frogs.

For the Mammals Division, week one was a battle of bats and rats, with the Indiana bat’s
impressive appetite for insects fueling a win against the higher ranked (and larger) northern
long-eared bat, proving once again that size isn’t a guarantee of strength. Looking at you, bog
turtle! The next match up was between the tricolored bat and the Allegheny woodrat, both listed
as endangered species in New Jersey. The tricolored bat may have had literal flight on its side,
but it would appear it doesn’t matter what you float like if you can punch like a woodrat….

And in our final category, the Grassland Birds & Invertebrates division, we had invasive species
enter the scene! You knew they were going to… It was the robust baskettail (a state threatened
dragonfly) and the frosted elfin (a state threatened butterfly) vs. the dreaded emerald ash borer
and spotted lanternfly, respectively. The battle of dragonfly vs. borer occurred in a wooded
wetland in Camden County. One of the top invertebrate predators of the littoral zone, the robust
baskettail never stood a chance against a falling swamp ash, weakend by ash borer activity.
RIP, soldier. Happily, for the frosted elfin, the recent inclusion of Monmouth County on NJDA’s
quarantine list for spotted lanternflies meant that the “see it, stomp it” campaign was fresh on
the minds of residents. A group of hikers in Assunpink Wildlife Management Area saved us from
a long and likely uneventful standoff.

Red knot, American kestrel, bog turtle, eastern spadefoot toad, Indiana bat, Allegheny woodrat,
emerald ash borer, and frosted elfin all move on to round two!

If you’re enjoying Critter Chaos and you’d like to support our work with New Jersey species, consider symbolically adopting your champion!

We have digital certificates for 12 competitors available in our square store

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