But without question, they are. And the Rhode Island Natural History Survey set out to prove it during the last weekend of June in an event they dubbed Backyard BioBlitz.
Due to the pandemic, the organization could not hold its usual bioblitz, an annual event in which hundreds of biologists, naturalists and other volunteers come together at one site – usually a large conservation area – to identify and count the species found. They typically tally more than 1,000 species on a property of about 500 acres.
Because of social distancing requirements this year, the Natural History Survey instead
encouraged participants to identify as
many species as possible in 24 hours on the plot of land where they live.
Nearly 300 people took up the challenge, including me, at 125 different sites
around Rhode Island. And in backyards of every variety – from urban to rural,
coastal to inland, forested to mowed – they tallied a remarkable total of more
than 2,400 species.
|A jewel-tailed slug moth clinging to my house during Backyard BioBlitz|
At my yard, a five-acre parcel of mostly forest and wetland with a few small perennial gardens and hardly a lawn to speak of, I thought I knew most of what was there. I’ve been identifying the birds in my yard for 30 years and have seen more than 130 different species at one time or another. My backyard trail camera gives me an idea of the variety of mammals that stroll through, and I was pretty confident that I knew about the amphibians in the wetlands as well.
I was wrong. I totally underestimated what was living on my property. And I’m so glad that I spent those 24 hours documenting the biodiversity that I live with every day.
It rained for the first 7 hours of the count, so my wife and I – and her two cousins – mostly focused on identifying the plants and trees immediately around the house and taking pictures of whatever bugs we could find for identification inside when the rain got heavier. By the time the rain stopped, it was getting dark, so we hung an old bedsheet from a volleyball net and pointed a black light at it to attract moths. By 3 a.m., we had counted 42 moth species, plus a dozen more beetles and flies.
After less than an hour of sleep, it was time for the dawn chorus of birds, plus more plant ID. We then sifted through leaf litter and rolled over stones and rotting logs in search of worms, millipedes, crickets, slugs and whatever else we could find. And in our only few hours of sunlight, we visited every blooming flower to look for bees and other pollinators.
When our time was up, we had tallied 252 species in my yard, many more than I expected. The most notable specimen was a single blooming stem of a rare flower called greater purple fringed orchid, which was growing in a far corner of the property that is always so wet and thick with brush that I’m sure I’ve never visited before.
All of which proves that despite the many legitimate threats to biodiversity around the globe, our own backyards can still provide us with plenty of surprises. All you have to do is look for them.