Wildlife

The giant crocodiles that once roamed prehistoric B.C.

Plus: Montreal’s mischievous fox, the supersized goldfish invading Canada’s lakes, Arctic fungi under threat and an Indigenous-led movement to collect Canada’s seeds.

Crocodylus acutus, the American Crocodile, are less than half the size of the crocodiles that roamed ancient B.C. (Photo: Tomás Castelazo via Wikimedia commons [CC BY-SA 2.5])
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The B.C. of the cretaceous period — around 95 million years ago — was rather different to the B.C. of today. For one, although the continent of North America had drifted away from Europe, it wasn’t connected to South America and was connected to Asia. Mountains were popping up to the east of the province, volcanoes were creating new land to the west. Oh, and gigantic crocodiles the length of a bus were scratching and sliding along the muddy bottoms of northeast B.C.’s lakes and rivers. This is according to a new article in Historical Biology, which details the first detailed trace fossil evidence ever reported of giant crocodylians, found in sites in the Peace Region of northeastern B.C., north of Tumbler Ridge.

The trace fossils were made when the giant reptiles scraped the muddy river beds with their claws and show remarkable detail. They were recovered in 2020 after a crane company donated time and personnel to obtain four large blocks containing examples of the crocodile tracks and traces. Now residing in the Tumbler Ridge Museum, the fossils will be used in future exhibitions. 

At 12 metres long, these ancient crocs were double the size of the largest crocodiles living today. They would have weighed around five tonnes and been the top predator in their habitat. 

Big fish, small pond

Invasive goldfish pulled out of Hamilton Harbour (Photo: Fisheries and Oceans Canada via Twitter)
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It’s the very definition of big fish in a small pond — in this case, a whole lot of supersized goldfish in a Toronto-area stormwater pond.

Last summer, biologists were surprised (and more than a little concerned) to discover some 20,000 goldfish in a pond the size of a couple of basketball courts. Likely flushed down the toilet, the tiny pets were obviously thriving. Not only are they breeding, but some have become massive three-pound versions of the ubiquitous fish in a bowl.

Given that stormwater ponds are incredibly dirty and polluted, ecologists are the University of Toronto and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are concerned that the extra-large, extra-tolerant fish may become “superinvaders” that will outcompete native species as they invariably spread and make their way into the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The story, reported in Scientific American, noted that Asian carp are already present in the Great Lakes, but that these urban pond fish could wreak even more havoc as they have adapted to a low-oxygen, warm-water environment.

Future management comes down to prevention. Fish owners need to know how important it is to return unwanted pets to the store or give them to a friend instead of dumping them. And land developers and engineers may need to design stormwater ponds, perhaps building barriers between ponds and adjacent waterways or stocking them with goldfish predators such as native largemouth bass.

Outfoxed

A wily Montreal fox has resisted rescue. (Photo: Rethinktwice/pixabay)
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“Animal rescuers forced to think outside the fox,” said the punny headline in the Montreal Gazette in late March. The wily fox made headlines throughout March as it eluded members of Sauvetage Animal Rescue intent on removing it from the Old Port of Montreal.

Would-be rescuers, who tried everything from traps to nets to chasing, were concerned that the fox, which had been sheltering beneath the King Edward Pier, might end up in the water once the ice melted. If it couldn’t get back up onto the pier, they believed it risked being swept away by the current.

Eventually, the Quebec wildlife department (the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs ) stepped in, telling the group to cease and desist. “Foxes are independent and autonomous,” said ministry biologist Jean Sébastien Messier. “The animal is not in danger. It has all the means at its disposal to move, whether by walking or swimming.” 

There have been no fox updates since March 23, so it would seem the fox has, indeed, outsmarted both man and ice.

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Less room for mushroom

The Walker Glacier on the northern coast of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian High Arctic. (Photo: Yukiko Tanabe [NIPR])
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From the polar bear’s plight to never-before-seen levels of wildfire, the rapid loss of ice in the Canadian High Arctic and bad news are a well-known combination. The latest in the list of potential casualties is fungal biodiversity, according to findings published in the journal Sustainability. As glaciers melt and retreat, researchers on the Walker Glacier on the far northern coast of Ellesmere Island found that the fungi on the glaciers are losing their habitat. Fungi play crucial roles in the nutrient cycle of High Arctic ecosystems as decomposers, however little is known about the fungi living in these regions. 

The Walker Glacier has retreated more than 80 meters in the last 70 years, and the rate of retreat is accelerating sharply. We now lose 3.3 metres per year. The scientists involved with the study found multiple new strains of fungi that are unique, ice-dependent and unable to survive in the areas surrounding the glaciers called glacial forelands. Their adaptation to extreme temperatures, bright light exposure and winter deep freezes means they are likely to have many unusual biochemical properties that may be useful in industrial production, pharmaceuticals and other sectors. 

“A loss of such fungi before they are even discovered would be a great loss to society,” says lead author of the study Masaharu Tsuji of Asahikawa College, Japan.

Planting a seed

A handful of corn seeds. The new Indigenous Seed Collection Program, delivered through Natural Resources Canada’s National Tree Seed Centre, will help incorporate Indigenous knowledge into seed collection. (Photo: gardengrowhow/Pixabay)
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You could say it started with a seed. But the movement to rematriate seeds back into Indigenous communities, across Turtle Island, is growing. Rematriating seeds — that is, returning them to Mother Earth and the peoples who have been stewards of the land since time immemorial — can be a “beautiful act of reconciliation.” This Indigenous-led movement is being given a boost by a federal program which aims to build capacity in Indigenous communities to collect seeds from tree species of cultural, spiritual and economic importance. The new Indigenous Seed Collection Program, delivered through Natural Resources Canada’s National Tree Seed Centre, will help incorporate Indigenous knowledge into seed collection, as well as providing training and equipment to Indigenous students and researchers. Making sure the “right tree is planted in the right place” is vital as the program works with communities to restore threatened ecosystem, create new habitat and plan forest conservation strategies.

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