Tick Sampling at Beaver Creek

Ticks are a commonly feared insect for the fact that they can carry diseases such as Lyme disease. Researchers Dr Maarten J. Voordouw, and others from the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina conducted research about ticks at Beaver Creek Conservation Area. Their research included documenting different environmental factors to try to determine which areas ticks thrive in the most.

The Study Method and Technique

An American dog tick found in the Meewasin Valley

On June 26th, 2020, the group of researchers from the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina went sampling for ticks at Beaver Creek Conservation Area. The day was sunny and due to the park closure the trails were devoid of visitors. To standard way to capture ticks is the dragging technique, which involves pulling a white flag attached to a dowel over the vegetation. Ticks are sit-and-wait predators that climb up the vegetation and wait with outstretched legs to grapple onto a passing host. The moving flag simulates a host and the dark-coloured ticks are easy to spot against the white background.

What’s the Purpose of the Study?

The point of the study is to look for the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), which can transmit Lyme disease. However, as this tick species is not very common in Saskatchewan, trying to find it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In contrast, the researchers had no problems finding the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), which is by far the most common tick species in Saskatchewan. More than 95% of all tick bites in the province of Saskatchewan involve this tick species, which is not competent to transmit Lyme disease. In the USA, American dog ticks are known to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, but previous research has shown that the risk of these tick-borne diseases in Saskatchewan is low (for reasons that are not entirely understood).

The Results

The researchers dragged the flags for a total distance of 2 km. The protocol requires the measurement of GPS coordinates every 25 meters as well as measurements on leaf litter depth, soil humidity, and canopy cover. After completing the 2 km transect, more than 60 American dog ticks had been collected and placed in vials filled with 100% ethanol. Storing the ticks in this way prevents the degradation of DNA and allows the ticks to be tested for micro-organisms in the future.

This work is part of a long-term tick pan-Canadian sampling effort to determine the risk of exposure to blacklegged ticks and Lyme disease, which varies greatly across Canada. Over the last 30 years, the blacklegged tick has invaded and established itself in Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, and Manitoba. In contrast, self-reproducing populations of blacklegged ticks have not yet been detected in Saskatchewan or Alberta. One possible explanation is that the dry prairie habitat throughout much of southern Saskatchewan is not suitable for blacklegged ticks, which are found in more forested areas and are very sensitive to desiccation. For this reason, the risk of Lyme disease in Saskatchewan and Alberta is much lower compared to other Canadian provinces. However, there have been locally acquired cases of Lyme disease in Saskatchewan.

How Else do we Get Exposed to Ticks?

If blacklegged ticks are not established in Saskatchewan, what explains these locally acquired cases? The answer is believed to be migratory birds. During the spring, migratory birds are estimated to drop off millions of blacklegged ticks in Canada. Some of these ticks are infected with Lyme disease and they can survive in the environment and bite another unlucky host. So, while the risk of Lyme disease in Saskatchewan is low, it is important to remember that there is still a risk. One more reason for the researchers to keep monitoring the tick situation in Saskatchewan.

Conclusion

The University of Saskatchewan’s Tick Surveillance program

Although the risk for being infected with Lyme disease from ticks in Saskatchewan and the Meewasin Valley are quite low, it is still important to know how to identify and add to the research done on them.

If you find a tick on yourself or your pet, you can learn how to identify it, remove it, and submit for research on this Government of Canada page. The University of Saskatchewan also has a tick surveillance program, which you can contribute to by simply taking a photo. Learn more about on their webpage.

Most of this article was written by: Dr Maarten J. Voordouw, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology at the University of Saskatchewan

10 Easy Ways to Celebrate Earth Day, Every Day!

Meewasin wants to share these 10 easy tips to celebrate and give back to the amazing planet that sustains our lives. We hope you use these tips not only today, but all the time! #EarthDayEveryDay

  1. Plant a garden and native species in your yard – they will help the local
    Prairie Crocuses are some of the 1st native plants to flower in the year, helping pollinators in the early Spring!

    pollinators, and have better chance or survival in our climate! The Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan has some great resources to get you started.

  2. Avoid single use plastic – Use reusable water bottles, and try reusable bags and containers for shopping in bulk. (Confirm with your store before bringing reusable bags during the COVID-19 pandemic). Saskatchewan Waste Reduction is sharing ways to continue recycling during this time. Meewasin also has some great reusable products in our online store!
  3. Be mindful of the harmful materials that can easily get washed into the storm drains, which lead directly into our fresh water (the river!). This includes the litter from your yard, pet waste and runoff from maintenance, including from washing your car at home.
  4. Immerse yourself in the outdoors! Download our Backyard Bingo for some ideas on how to connect with nature and the ecosystems living in it, or watch our video on how to practice nature mindfulness.

    This is bee hotel built by U of S students! Check out the full story on our blog!
  5. Create habitat in your yard to make safe spaces for wildlife by building a bee hotel, bird box, or bat box. For more information, check out the City of Saskatoon’s Healthy Yards page.
  6. Utilize active transportation – good for both your health and the planet’s, active transportation is an important aspect to reducing your personal carbon footprint. Walk, roll or bike when you can!
  7. Choose local – the more local you purchase the less pollution and carbon emissions from packing and transporting get released. The Saskatoon Farmer’s Market is now online!
  8. Purchase second hand products – fast fashion is so out! Some research says a new pair of jeans takes roughly 1,800 gallons of water to make. Save some money while saving the planet and shop used! Thredup is an onlineretailer for your online shopping needs!
  9. Become a citizen scientist and help contribute to our understanding of the natural world around us by recording observations of plants, insects and animals using iNaturalist on the web or as an
    Join our Eco-Scavenger Hunt volunteer events, or use the iNaturalist app any time!

    app. Watch meewasin.com for our seasonal DIY Eco-Scavenger Hunts for species to look out for!

  10. Unplug appliances and devices when not in use + turn your lights off to help lower your energy consumption as well as benefit the nocturnal wildlife that call our city home. Appliances will still draw a small amount of power even when they’re switched off. These “phantom” loads, as they’re referred to, can happen in most appliances that use electricity. A power bar will make switching off easier.

6 Native Flowers in the Meewasin Valley that Have Indigenous Roots

To celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day 2020, Meewasin feels it is critical to acknowledge and honour that the land on which we enjoy our days and steward in the Meewasin Valley is in Treaty Six Territory, the traditional territory of the Cree people and the homeland of the Métis people. Meewasin recognizes this as part of our reconciliation efforts and values the original caretakers of the land to steward the land of Treaty Six Territory.

Integrating Indigenous Perspectives

Over the next year, Meewasin, which itself is the Cree word for beautiful, is working on the Western Diversification project to expand on the Indigenous content available in the Valley and ongoing work to better integrate Indigenous perspectives into conservation and interpretation.

National Indigenous Peoples Day

To celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day, Meewasin wants to recognize the significant historical and cultural use of native plants in indigenous culture. Our friends at Wanuskewin will also be hosting a live celebration for on Sunday, June 21st as well – It will be an afternoon of music and dance performances, storytelling, interpretation of the Wanuskewin valley, and a chance to explore the history of the land. Check out the event on their Facebook page.

To recognize the significant historical and cultural use of native plants in Indigenous culture, we have highlighted 6 different wildflowers that you can find in the Meewasin Valley and some information about their traditional uses.

Three Flowered Avens

Three Flowered Avens (Sooyáíaiihtsi) These flowers named for growing in groups of three, can be boiled down to form a gel, which is used as an ointment on cuts and sores. Traditionally the boiled root extract was also used for eyewash. Seeds that are boiled to make tea are also known to be good for sore throats. Seed pods can also be crushed and used as a perfume! [1]

Buffalo Bean (Otsiikin) Elders used the flower to dye a skin bag or arrows yellow. They would make a strong tea and soak whatever they wanted colored in the tea. All parts of Buffalo Bean are considered poisonous, so the tea is not safe to drink. [1]

Giant Hyssop (Ka-wikipakahk, Cree) Giant Hyssop is commonly used to make teas or flavour food. Cree people add the leaves to store bought tea to improve the flavour; the leaves were also used as a medicinal tea. The flower head could be chewed as a breath freshener. You can dry some leaves to make tea, or simply enjoy watching the wildlife these flowers attract. [2]

Prickly Rose

Wild Rose/Prickly Rose (Kaminakuse, thorn plant, Cree) Most parts of the rose plant may be eaten with the rose hips being very healthy. Petals and hips are eaten raw or cooked. The young green shoots may be peeled and eaten raw or cooked as a pot herb. Roots and stems were used to make medicine, the inner bark was a tobacco. You can also make tea from the rose petals, using about one cup of rose petals for every one to two cups of boiling water. Ojibwa and other indigenous people used green rose hips to make toy pipes for children and sometimes the firm, ripe rose hips were strung together to make a necklace. [2]

Blanket Flower

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata) Gaillardia was used as a medicine and the flowers were put into soups. Flowers were also rubbed on rawhide bags to waterproof them. [1]

Western Red Lily (Wapayoominusk, Cree) The flowers, seeds, and bulbs were all used as food; Cree and other First Nations people would eat the bulb fresh or dried. The roots and flowers were used medicinally by First Nations people living within the plants range, including the Ojibwa, Algonquin and Malecite. [2]  The plant is a protected species under the Saskatchewan Emblems Act and the roots can’t be harvested.

Bibliography

[1] G. E. Network, “Nitsitapiisinni Stories and Spaces: Exploring Kainai Plants and Culture,” 2016. [Online]. Available: https://galileo.org/kainai/three-flowered-avens/.
[2] S. Grieve, “Native Plants for the Playground and,” Sakatchewan Publications Centre, p. 1, 2010.

 

Have You Heard the Buzz about the Air Bee-and-Bees?

Meewasin and University of Saskatchewan Bee Hotel Project

Meewasin exists to ensure a healthy and vibrant river valley, with a balance between human use and conservation for current and future generations. With our funding partners, including the University of Saskatchewan, we work closely to strengthen the community within Saskatoon in regards to education and conservation, collaborating on a variety of projects, solving real world concerns.

The bee hotel project

During fall 2019, students from the U of S College of Education took part in a Pedagogies of Place class participated in a class project which taught them about place-based learning and stewardship. The class worked with Meewasin to create and set up a ‘bee hotel’ at the Northeast Swale, to improve the habitat for our local pollinators that call this important site home. We spoke to a few of the students about their experience.

Why do bees need a hotel and what are they made of?

Solitary bees, who are fantastic pollinators, live alone instead of in hives, so they must find a small

hole to lay their eggs, so a bee hotel gives them a place to do so. The class built their bee house out of old pallets, plywood, gathered sticks and logs and drilled holes in them, big enough so that the bees can fit inside the holes and lay their eggs. These types of bees also depend on wild flowers native to our local ecosystem to provide essential resources of pollen and nectar for them to survive, making the Northeast Swale a wonderful area for them.

Why is this an important project?

The purpose of the project is to help “create a healthy bee population, as it’s something that is essential for our current climate situation.” In addition to this, they chose this project, because it “was something that we could all come together on and combine disciplines, because we’re all from different teaching practices.” According to the students, Meewasin was a big influence in deciding to pursue this project, as it taught them about how new developments around the Northeast Swale have a concerning impact on the local bee populations. This influence began with introducing some of the students to the Swale for the first time, and describing its importance to our ecosystem and the surrounding residents of Saskatoon.

Meewasin’s role as stewards of the river valley

The students learned a lot about what Meewasin’s role is in the community and as stewards of the river valley, about which they noted, “It’s inspiring to see what Meewasin is working to protect in the Saskatoon region. We were inspired seeing that you can take action and make a difference in that way. Because Meewasin showed us that, it inspired us to start our own project”. They noted that this connection with Meewasin is very rewarding, and allowed them to access many other resources, saying it’s a partnership they can take forward into their own classrooms.

Why is this a good project?

The class was more than enthusiastic about the project, responding with “Absolutely”, “Definitely”, and “For sure” when asked if they would do a similar type of project with their future classes. The undergrads spoke about the value they see in a project like this; including:

  • Allowing students to see the impact they are making
  • Teaching younger generations about ecological and social justice action
  • Promoting the creation of connections and collaborating in new ways that you wouldn’t experience just sitting in a regular classroom, and
  • Driving the inquiry process in a way that is more in the hands of the students.

Another significant benefit was promoting a sense of ownership for students to go out and act in their community, and to discover what difference they can make.

Advice for future educators

For other soon-to-be or established teachers, the group gave some advice, remarking “It might seem like a lot of planning, but it’s totally worth it. Not only do you get a lot of kids coming together, but you get interdisciplinary focuses, you are actually doing something authentic so it’s worth collaborating and taking the time to plan it”. Another student said it’s a rewarding experience because “You can really see it, you have a physical thing you can appreciate after you’ve worked together, which is very accomplishing.” It also “teaches your students how important the environment really is, and what is going on in the world, and it connects them to it as they’re the ones making the impact.”

In Conclusion

Solitary bees are amazing creatures that help pollinate much of the food that we eat. We want to help them out by building bee hotels, since they lay their eggs in small holes. Educators and nature lovers of all kinds should involve collaborative projects into their lives that also allow them to learn about the environment and natural spaces, such as a bee hotel. You can build your own be hotel to help out this crucial native species. Learn all the how tos at Nature Conservancy of Canada’s ‘Bee our Guest’ blog.

Meewasin works to engage students and lifelong learners about the benefits and the opportunities to make natural areas an outdoor classroom learning experience. If you are interested in reading more about Meewasin’s partnerships and work with students, or how to get involved, please visit www.meewasin.com and sign up for our eNewsletter!