Hidden Habitats

Have you ever stumbled across wildlife in the most unexpected place? Whether it is a rafter (group) of wild turkeys parading a residential neighborhood, or a monarch chrysalis firmly attached to a golf cart, we’ve all had encounters with wildlife in an unusual environment.

These encounters get us thinking more critically about what those animals need and where they find it in seemingly odd settings. It also gets us thinking about how we can better support them in different environments – if they are there now, is there more that we can do to help them survive?

As a society, we often think of vast expanses of forest or grassland when we think of ‘homes’ for land-dwelling wildlife. This isn’t always the case – as these vast expanses of native habitats have been broken up by land conversion and development, some wildlife have sought to be flexible and use those new and different environments.

Heavily fragmented or intensively altered habitats can have drawbacks, but despite that, many species manage to successfully use them for food, shelter, and breeding opportunities. These hidden habitats offer more flexible species, like monarch butterflies, more opportunities for distribution and survival in an increasingly fragmented landscape.  If you take the time to explore or look differently at fragments of wild space, not necessarily intended for wildlife, you might be surprised by what you find!  

Earlier this summer, the MJV Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program team experienced this first-hand while monitoring the margins or in-betweens of agricultural lands. Searching for milkweed and monarchs on the fence line between two crop fields, the team encountered a surprise. They nearly walked on top of a mallard hen before she finally flushed from her nest, exposing several beautiful eggs! They enjoyed nature’s beauty briefly, but moved on quickly with the hope she would soon return to her post. 

This edge between fields was not created with habitat in mind; it was simply a divide between two parcels of land. In the resulting space, trees, milkweed, nectar plants and grasses were thriving, attracting many different fauna. That day, the MJV team found monarch caterpillars of varying stages and an abundance of milkweed and nectar resources. In addition to discovering monarchs and mallards, the team relished the sounds of birds chirping in the trees and spotted deer tracks and bedding areas.  

We may not pay much mind to these spaces, but wildlife are using them for reproduction, nourishment, shelter, and simply to more easily traverse the landscape to get to a more suitable habitat. It’s important to notice, value and protect or enhance these hidden habitats.

Whether you are interested in monarchs, pheasants, songbirds, deer or anything else, take a look around and think creatively about the spaces you have influence over. Your home garden, back alley, hunting land, office campus, community park, roadside, hiking or bike path, field margins, or somewhere else – these small spaces weave together a larger network of habitats helping make a difference for wildlife!

By thinking outside the box about finding, protecting, enhancing and documenting these often under-appreciated landscapes, we find realistic and innovative solutions to improve habitat for wildlife of all sorts. Nature is everywhere- see what you can find today!

Find out here how anyone can get involved in monarch conservation using the lands and resources available to them.

 

The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Header photo by the Monarch Joint Venture. Chrysalis on chain link fence photo by Cyndie Hornblower, Monarch Larva Monitoring Project Volunteer. Eggs in nest photo by Wendy Caldwell, Monarch Joint Venture.