by | May 2, 2023

Above: Marine team members in a marsh during a previous BioBlitz. Photo courtesy of RINHS

The upcoming Rhode Island Bio Blitz allows everyone to get down and dirty with nature

By George D. Christie

So, there is this kid, no, two kids, standing unfortunately close in front of you. They’re a muddy mess. One of them is disinterestedly inspecting a rather gruesome thorn scratch on her forearm, the other, somewhat younger, is holding something that is wriggling. One pair of jeans has a new hole and somehow a sock has managed to disappear from a foot that still has a shoe on. What could these youngsters possibly want now? You ask yourself, where are their parents?

“Mom!” the younger one says, destroying your illusion of self-awareness time, “I found a click beetle larva! Isn’t it great?!” 

“Elateridae,” the older girl says.

Instantly you regret ever having told them to Google it. It turns out children who love nature can find out all kinds of cool stuff on the internet. For just a second you wonder what the return policy is on muddy children, but then you face brightens, you kneel down (what’s one more pair of muddy knees in the heavy-duty load of wash you know is coming up) and say, “Yes, that’s really interesting!”

If any of this sounds familiar, perhaps the Rhode Island Natural History Survey’s BioBlitz 2023 is right for you. Over a 24- hour period, people of all ages, united solely by a drive to find cool living stuff while ruining perfectly good clothes, come together to inspect as many trees and shrubs, streams and puddles, meadows and hillsides as they can to catalog the amazingly diverse biota of Rhode Island. Here a group of people debates the fine points of a fungi encrusting a fallen log, over there a group listens intently to a calling frog. Back at Science Headquarters, a botanist returns with grass and sedge samples that will keep the team up most the night, and the freshwater invertebrate team heads towards a nearby swamp to search for tiny things.

Of course, you don’t need muddy children to attend, though they are more than welcome. Nor do you need to be an ace naturalist. All you really need is curiosity and a willingness to learn and help. This year, at the invitation of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, participants in the 24th annual BioBlitz have a unique opportunity to explore tribal lands in Charlestown. Rarely open to this kind of exploration, the area includes a rich diversity of ponds, streams, meadows and woods. I should note, you must pre-register to attend a BioBlitz and there is a fee. See below on how to learn more about and register for BioBlitz.

The Blitz starts at 2 p.m., Friday, June 9, and ends at 2 p.m. June 10. Biologists from 5 to 90 gather at Science Central waiting for David Gregg, director of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, to blast the bullhorn “GO!” signal. Most already know which direction they are headed, the birding team ready to write down 10 songs they already heard, the butterfly crew looking towards a meadow-woodland edge, where small fluttering forms are beckoning. The litterbug team is readying their traps to collect all the small creatures that live in the moist leaf litter of the forest. I’ll be there, too, with small traps baited with old tuna and horse manure, revealing my fondness for flies.

Then, 24 hours and over 1,000 species later, David will sound the bullhorn again and it will be over. Dragonflies and mice, lichens and mosquitoes, rare plants and interesting fish will all be included in the count. Tired folk will take down tents (you don’t have to spend the night, but many do) while kids take one more run through their new-found favorite place. David will read out the (preliminary) results, as teams cheer their best-ever lists, or vow they’ll be back stronger than ever next year. 

An hour or so later, as the last vehicle pulls out, the land is quiet again, and all across the state and beyond, people as diverse as the organisms they cataloged drive home wondering where this unusual flock will alight next year, already thinking about what they hope to find.

To find out more about and register for this year’s BioBlitz, click HERE

There is an orientation May 11 at Kettle Pond Visitors Center in Charlestown. RSVP required, contact RINHS to RSVP for either. You do not have to attend an orientation, but, for first timers, it’s worth attending if at all possible. Finally, to ensure you get all the details in a timely fashion, be sure to sign up for their newsletter HERE

Formally trained in entomology and landscape architecture, George Christie has worked in mosquito control, environmental education and garden design and plant sales. He currently works for the Rhode Island Natural History Survey managing their rare species database.

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