With stay-at-home orders in place, many of us are stretching our legs with a walk around the yard or neighborhood, perhaps seeing things with different eyes. Even if you are only in the backyard or on the lanai, now is an ideal time to explore and ask questions about the plants and animals that surround you.
Investigating surrounding sights and sounds can enhance your connection to the amazing place we call home. The simple exercise of paying attention to the call of a bird or identifying the plant growing at the edge of the yard or along the road can provide a respite from current stresses and anxieties. And it helps our environment.
Early detection – finding a plant or animal before it becomes widespread – is a key step in addressing invasive species. You don’t have to be a degree-holding botanist or entomologist to find these pests. Noticing what is different and asking questions can turn you into a backyard sleuth.
Many online resources can guide your inquiry. These activities can also become outdoor lessons if you happen to be sequestered with keiki. Some suggestions:
- Do an ant survey. Early detection of little fire ants is critical to preventing our islands from becoming overrun with this pest. All you need is 45 minutes (mostly spent waiting for the ants to arrive) and (not much) peanut butter. Samples can be sent through the mail. Find a video online at more information at stoptheant.org.
- Send the kids outside. If you have keiki, send them on a scavenger hunt to find plants and animals using Seek, an app by the website iNaturalist. Suitable for beginners young and old, Seek has image recognition software that can suggest species identifications.
- Start with what interests you most. iNaturalist is a good overall resource. Accessible online (inaturlist.org) and as an app, this online community of citizen scientists and naturalists collaborates on species identifications for plants, animals, mushrooms, spiders, and more.
- Get to know your backyard birds. If feathered friends fascinate you, check out eBird online (ebird.org) and the affiliated Merlin Bird ID app. You can find out what species are in your area. This citizen-science website is run by the experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and illustrated checklists and bird song recordings help you learn the birds of your backyard. Another Hawaiʻi-specific resource for bird song recordings is soundshawaiian.com
- Turn over rocks. The Hawaiian Entomological Society has an excellent Facebook page where experts help the less entomologically oriented identify the strange 6-legged, 8-legged, and occasionally legless critters of our islands. Pay close attention to requirements about posting.
- Test your plant knowledge. If you have some existing knowledge of plants, check your identifications against the Starr Environmental website (starrenvironmental.com). Organized by plant family, genus, and species, their thousands of photos can help you compare plant families and verify species identifications. The Hawaiʻi Plant ID group on Flickr allows you to submit a photo if you are still stumped.
- Report pests: For observations from anywhere in the state, you can report plants or animals you suspect may be invasive. Find the pest reporting platform online and as an app: 643PEST.org
Becoming knowledgeable about the plants and animals in your own backyard or neighborhood is an important first step. Ask questions, seek advice, and test for questionable species. These actions can make a huge difference in slowing or stopping the spread of invasive species.
Even in these uncertain times, you can stay safe, stay home, and help protect the world around you.
Lissa Strohecker is the public relations and education specialist for the Maui Invasive Species Committee. She holds a biological sciences degree from Montana State University. Kia’i Moku, “Guarding the Island,” is prepared by the Maui Invasive Species Committee to provide information on protecting the island from invasive plants and animals that can threaten the island’s environment, economy, and quality of life.
This article was originally published in the Maui News on April 11, 2020 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
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