MTPR

Montana Natural History Center

Krummholz: The Bonsai Opportunists Of Timberline

Jun 19, 2017
Flickr user, famartin. (CC-BY-3.0)

Winds lash the peaks. Snow pelts the ridges almost every month of the year. The warmest average monthly temperature is a mere 50 degrees F. The conifer forests of the high Northern Rockies appear hunched, twisted and bent. In fact, there’s a word for the dwarf form of subalpine tree species which in other environs would grow tall and straight: “krummholz,” which translated from German means “crooked wood.”

Fishing With The King: The Belted Kingfisher

Jun 13, 2017
A female belted Kingfisher with her catch.
Teddy Llovet (CC-BY-2)

While recently visiting the Rock Creek area to simply go fishing I became distracted as I cast my red skwala into the clear, frigid stream. I was not distracted by the surrounding beauty of grasslands and different flora, or my ongoing love/hate relationship with fly-fishing, but rather the immense variety of sound echoing off the rock outcroppings surrounding the area.

Ceanothus: Life From The Kiss Of Fire

May 30, 2017
Ceanothus velutinus, a plant with more common names than zip codes in California.
Walter Siegmund (CC-BY-SA-3)

Thirty-plus years ago when I was studying wildlife management at Oregon State University, we learned that Ceanothus was a highly preferred forage plant for deer and elk during the winter. I knew that Ceanothus was the genus name of a large group of western shrubs and I even knew enough to recognize a few of the individual species back then.

Bumblebee (Bombus nevadensis).
Sesamehoneytart (CC-BY-SA-4)

I headed home with my head full of questions about what the bumblebee had been doing and why. Why would it ignore food in favor of bare and uninviting ground?

Pronghorn antelope at the National Bison Range.
Josh Burnham

Pronghorn are unusual because their twins are the only surviving winners in some pretty serious battles within the womb. Soon after fertilization, there can be more than seven developing embryos, which begin to elongate in what pronghorn biologists call the “thread-stage.” These thread-like embryos literally entangle and often knot together till they pull each other apart. Wenfei Tong explains in this episode of "Field Notes":

Ponderosa Pine Bark: Rocky Mountain Aromatherapy

May 8, 2017
Flickr user Tim Jones (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The bark of any tree is more than just a good-looking façade. Even the most graceful aspen or stately ponderosa requires bark to protect its sensitive inner flesh from disease, parasites, and other environmental stresses, such as fire.  Much like our skin, this outer layer is a necessity to protect the biological functions occurring within its protective covering. 

The Story Behind Sagebrush, An Icon Of The West

May 1, 2017
Big sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata)
Matt Lavin (CC-BY-SA-2)

Break off a sprig of big sagebrush and inhale its aroma: the fragrance is clean, sharp and as cool as the smell of winter. Call it camphor blended with a touch of Christmas. Crush a few leaves between your fingertips and the scent is suddenly somewhat bitter and more pungent. Let the sprig dry for a few hours and you’ll find that the fragrance gradually loses its bite, softening to crisp evergreen with a hint of juicy berry.

Paintbrush: The Prettiest Parasite On The Prairie?

Apr 25, 2017
Indian paintrbrush (Castilleja linariifolia) in Grand Teton National Park.
(PD)

Most people are familiar with the showy red or yellow flowers of the Indian paintbrushes. They can be found from the dry valley grasslands to lush alpine meadows. There are 21 species of the paintbrush just in Montana, including bristly paintbrush, the red-flowered species of dry slopes and scarlet paintbrush which is common in meadows and along streams.

Burnt snags in western Montana
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-NC-2)

One of my favorite places to look in the forest is up. I love the way trees frame patches of sky, and how rays of sun slide over the branches and slant into pockets of darkness. On a recent stroll through the woods near Echo lake, I found myself, as usual, looking up. I saw mostly fir and birch trees, and I took their narrow trunks and modest heights as signs of a young forest. But it was a much older tree that caught my eye.

'Field Notes': The Tale Of Montana's Strangest Frog

Mar 26, 2017
Ascaphus montanus tadpole.
(PD)

Several decades back while working as a biologist in Oregon, I was picking rocks off the bottom of a rushing stream. While investigating the underlying aquatic insects, I encountered an odd animal. It was what appeared to be a tadpole stuck to the bottom of the rock! Assuming all frogs and tadpoles occur in swamps, not in high elevation rushing streams, I wondered what it was doing there.

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