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Southern Colorado’s tarantulas are disappearing — and climate change is a big part of it

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Southern Colorado’s tarantulas are disappearing — and climate change is a big part of it

About this time every year, southeastern Colorado towns like La Junta see more visitors looking to glimpse saucer-sized Texas brown tarantulas as they scurry out of their burrows and across fields and roads in search of a mate.

The eight-legged spectacle might not last long: Scientists say climate change, theft and human development are cutting into tarantulas’ population, with fewer emerging year after year.

“It’s a noticeable numbers game,” said Ryan Jones, a research associate at the Denver Museum of Nature of Science. “If you compare pictures, you can tell that there are just fewer males out looking for love.”

If the tarantulas in southeastern Colorado die out, they’ll start a domino effect in the ecosystem, entomologist Maia Holmes said, likely allowing their prey to multiply and the creatures that eat them to starve.

“Once we cross that line we can’t go back,” Holmes said.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Maia Holmes, director of the Colorado State University Bug Zoo, poses for a portrait with a Texas brown tarantula at the zoo in Fort Collins on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.

Scientists don’t have precise population data because there isn’t a dedicated group focused on the tarantulas in the region, but Jones, who is working on his PhD in program integrative and systems biology at the University of Colorado Denver, said people who live in that part of the state call and email the museum every year — people who used to have a hard time driving around without squishing tarantulas on the road.

Compare that to what a former colleague of Holmes, who is the director of Colorado State University’s Bug Zoo, told her. Twenty years ago, he said he’d see hundreds around La Junta on a given day but “now, if you drive around all night you’d maybe see 20 or 30,” she said.

The shriveling tarantula population acts as an early indicator that climate change is worsening in Colorado, Holmes and Jones said. Indeed, Holmes said, the largest single factor for fewer tarantulas is climate change because warming temperatures and less rainfall make for a less hospitable environment.

Studies suggest arachnids are particularly susceptible to changing temperatures and weather patterns, which could also cause different species to grow larger or even become more aggressive, according to Sérgio Henriques, co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Spider and Scorpion Specialist Group.

1632148058 16 Southern Colorados tarantulas are disappearing — and climate change is

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

FORT COLLINS, CO – SEPTEMBER 16 : Photo taken a Texas brown tarantula at Colorado State University Bug Zoo in Fort Collins, Colorado on Thursday, September 16, 2021. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Aphonopelma hentzi, which is the species found in southeastern Colorado, live as far south as Texas and as far west as California. But since habitats vary widely across the American South and Southwest, Holmes and Jones said it’s difficult to know whether populations will shrink everywhere else.

Here, at least, diseases that can kill tarantulas survive better in warmer weather, and hot days can trigger the arachnids to come out of their burrows too early, which burns their much-needed energy reserves. Or they’ll emerge too late, leaving them unable to prepare their burrows properly for winter, Holmes said.

“And no water means no plants and if there’s no plants, there’s no prey,” Holmes said. “They can starve. They can die of dehydration.”

Every decade, National Weather Service staff in Pueblo calculate 30-year averages for temperatures and rainfall in the region, NWS meteorologist Eric Petersen said.

In 2020, they recorded a 1.3-degree annual temperature increase and rainfall decrease of about half an inch, indicating a warming and drying trend for the region. Typically, Petersen said, 30-year average temperatures change by about a tenth of a degree.

“So 1.3 degrees is a fairly large change,” Petersen said. “And we live in a climate where we only get about 12 to 14 inches of rain a year, so half an inch is a fairly substantial drop.”

Tarantulas take eight years to mature, Holmes said, so scientists can also take into account fires, droughts and hot years that will kill more adolescents than normal.

“Eight years ago was a really bad fire year, a really bad drought year,” she said.

Steve Keefer has lived in southeast Colorado for about 30 years, and said he’s seen a lot of tarantulas in his time. The district wildlife manager for the state’s Department of Parks and Wildlife said hasn’t noticed fewer tarantulas as much as they’re emerging later in the year and in different locations. At least one person told him they had seen tarantulas as far north as Colorado Springs.

Typically, Keefer said, they’d show up around Labor Day, and infrequently in late August. Lately, it’s been late September and early October, which he said would coincide with reports of warmer weather.

As of Thursday, Keefer said he’s seen only three tarantulas.

Arachno-mania and sprawl

Here’s where humans come in: The more we build, the more we cut into the habitat in which tarantulas live and burrow, Holmes said. And especially since reports of the tarantulas’ presence spread across the country in 2019, there’s been an uptick of people scooping them up and taking them home, either to keep as pets or to illegally sell on the black market.

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh on defense’s ‘biggest problem,’ Patrick Mekari’s ankle injury and more | NOTES

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The Ravens’ biggest problem on defense this season hasn’t changed. If they can’t tackle, they can’t succeed.

Tackling woes again plagued the Ravens in their 41-17 loss Sunday to the Bengals, with Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow amassing nearly half of his career-high 416 passing yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus. Running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine also ripped off fourth-quarter touchdowns against a defense that couldn’t bring them down.

As the Ravens enter their bye week on a low note, their defensive fundamentals are under the microscope. That has been the case seemingly all season, even after spirited wins.

“The biggest problem we have on defense right now, in terms of big plays, is not getting guys on the ground, whether it’s been underneath slant routes or screen routes or, in one case, we got the screen-and-go,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday, referring to Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah’s 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter Sunday when he slipped past safety DeShon Elliott in the open field.

When the Ravens return in Week 9 for their home game against the Minnesota Vikings, there will be little letup for the defense. Running back Dalvin Cook averaged a broken tackle every 9.5 carries last season, according to Pro Football Reference, though his elusiveness has slipped this season. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who starred alongside Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase at LSU, is ninth in the NFL with 542 receiving yards.

“Until we get [tackling] fixed, we’ll be a very mediocre defense, generally speaking,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys understand that. … When we play really good defense, we’re tackling. And that’s got to get done. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. Sometimes they’re not pushing to the right zone, so there’s more space in there than there should be. Other times, we take a bad angle. Sometimes a guy’s not covered.

“There’s different reasons for it, but the results are uniformly not good. And you’re a consistent, good defense when you consistently do all the little things well. And when we start doing all the little things well, then we’re going to be a better defense.”

Mekari hurting

Harbaugh declined to comment on right tackle Patrick Mekari’s condition, saying only that he has an ankle injury. The NFL Network reported Monday that Mekari, who was hurt in the second quarter, suffered a high-ankle sprain and is “seeking more feedback.” High-ankle sprains generally take at least a month to recover from.

Mekari is the Ravens’ highest-rated tackle, according to PFF, and played every offensive snap from Week 2, when he took over after Alejandro Villanueva moved to left tackle, to Week 6. Harbaugh said last week that he “couldn’t ask for a better player there [at right tackle] right now.”

With Ronnie Stanley (ankle) sidelined for the season, the team will likely turn once more to Tyre Phillips, who started at left guard in Week 1 before suffering a minor knee injury. He replaced Mekari on Sunday and struggled against Cincinnati’s pass rush.

“We’ll just see where it goes,” Harbaugh said of Mekari’s injury.

Extra points

  • Harbaugh called the Ravens’ performance Sunday “our worst game of the season, worst game in a long time.” But he stressed that the team is not even at the midpoint of a long season. “We’ve got 10 games left,” he said. “We need to keep growing as a football team and building on what we’ve done and what we haven’t done and make the strongest run we can for the next 10 weeks, and that’s what we’re planning on doing.”
  • After Ravens running backs combined for 29 rushing yards on 11 carries Sunday, Harbaugh was asked about the position’s struggles on the ground. “We just have to block better, scheme better, run better,” he said. “There are specifics in there in terms of schemes, and every play stands on its own. But we can’t go through all — how many run plays have we had this year that haven’t been successful? You can go through every one of them and you get the specific answer.”
  • Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe (hip/back) is “very close” to returning to practice, Harbaugh said. Wolfe has yet to play this season after suffering an injury in training camp. “This week, next week, hopefully, and we’ll see,” he said.

©2021 Baltimore Sun. Visit baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Patriots-Chargers injury report: Devin McCourty not listed, 15 limited Wednesday

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Oct. 28—The Patriots listed 15 players on their initial practice report Wednesday — and that meant good news in New England.

Why?

Veteran safety Devin McCourty, who missed the second half of last Sunday’s game with an abdomen injury, was not listed. As a full participant in Wednesday’s padded practice, McCourty should be expected to play this weekend at the Chargers.

None of his teammates were absent Wednesday, including rookie corner Shaun Wade, who had missed the last three weeks with a concussion. Pats linebacker Dont’a Hightower has also recovered from the hurt elbow that contributed to him missing Sunday’s win over the Jets. He’s now only limited because of an ankle injury.

The Patriots’ complete injury report is below. The Chargers’ will be released later Wednesday evening.

Limited

C David Andrews (ankle)

LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (ribs)

WR Kendrick Bourne (shoulder)

DT Carl Davis (hand)

S Kyle Dugger (neck)

K Nick Folk (left knee)

DT Davon Godchaux (finger)

LB Dont’a Hightower (ankle)

LB Brandon King (thigh)

G Shaq Mason (abdomen)

TE Jonnu Smith (shoulder)

LB Josh Uche (shoulder)

LB Kyle Van Noy (groin)

CB Shaun Wade (concussion)

DE Deatrich Wise (knee)

(c)2021 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Omar Kelly: Dolphins players say lack of veteran leadership contributes to skid

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Omar Kelly: Dolphins players say lack of veteran leadership contributes to skid

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Last year Ryan Fitzpatrick lost his starting job to Tua Tagovailoa, the rookie quarterback the Miami Dolphins wanted to build around.

Nevertheless, the savvy veteran was still called on in emergency game situations when clutch play was needed and retained his alpha male status in the locker room, which is why he was given the Leadership Award by his teammates at the end of the 2020 season.

Ereck Flowers taught Miami’s young offensive linemen how to be pros on and off the field, and former Dolphins center Ted Karras taught them how to study film and made proper in-game protection calls.

Former Dolphins safety Bobby McCain held the secondary together, making all the coverage checks and calls, keeping the unit on one accord.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy made many of the front-line checks and got everyone in position. According to team sources, Van Noy also routinely challenged the coaching staff about troublesome game plans and in-game calls, keeping them accountable to the players.

If we’re doing a deep dive on what’s gone wrong this season with the Dolphins — attempting to explain how a 10-6 team in 2020 delivered a 1-6 start in 2021 — we have to bring up the purge of leaders that took place this offseason.

As a free agent, Fitzpatrick moved to Washington, where he was named the starter before injuring his hip in the season opener, and Tagovailoa has struggled to come out of his shadow as a leader, not player.

“He’s great, and he’s trying,” one Dolphins player said about Tagovailoa, who owns a 7-6 record as Miami’s starting quarterback heading into Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills (4-2). “But it’s not Fitz.”

Releasing Van Noy and McCain, trading away Flowers to move up 14 spots in the seventh round of the draft, and not re-signing Karras created cap space. But their departures left leadership voids on units that have struggled this season.

Miami’s linebacker unit has have been a mess, and Jaelan Phillips has struggled to replace Van Noy. The secondary constantly features breakdowns, although Jevon Holland has shown early promise as the starting free safety. The offensive line is on its third starting center and lacks a quality NFL starter like Flowers, who has started every game for Washington this season.

In a tough stretch like Miami’s six-game losing streak, leadership matters, because it is those veterans who are responsible for the heavy lifting when it comes to restoring morale and instilling fight and belief into the team.

Elandon Roberts, Jesse Davis and Clayton Fejedelem, who were all captains in 2020, and receiver Mack Hollins are doing their best to steer the Dolphins into less troubling waters.

But somehow, this team has lost its way.

“As a leader, you learn that it’s hard to motivate people. You’ve got to learn from each individual person what each individual person needs,” said Hollins, who was named an offensive captain this season.

“There are guys that need to get [yelled at]. There are guys who need to be brought over to the side. There are guys that you need to tell their best friend that [they] need to talk to them. Being able to maneuver that is something all leaders [must do]. You never complete that job. It’s never I know how to work with everybody, especially in this league because there are always people changing, there are always new teammates, there are always new players.”

And that’s part of the problem the Dolphins have had trying to build on 2020′s success.

Two weeks ago, the Dolphins held a players-only meeting to address what they felt were the team’s pressing issues.

There was talk about accountability, lack of effort and commitment, doing the extra things in practices and the team’s preparation, the need for more excitement and energy on the field.

Plenty of talk happened.

The problem is, it didn’t stop the bleeding, and sources say the solutions proposed — more energy, more accountability — weren’t going to fix anything, because it’s on-field execution that has been the issue.

“Are players who make mistakes getting benched?” a Dolphins defender asked. “Are they losing their roles? They pushed out the veterans for the young guys, and then wonder why we don’t look the same. It’s because mistakes keep getting made, and who is being held accountable?”

More importantly, who has this team been able to lean on for performances that back up the words of wisdom, or inspirational prep talk?

After all, words are better followed up with action.

“We’ve just got to take it one game, one play and one practice at a time. It’s no secret,” said Roberts, who will likely have more responsibility if Jerome Baker, the team’s leading tackler, is sidelined by the knee injury he suffered in last Sunday’s 30-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

“There’s no magical thing that you need to do as a captain or as a teammate. It’s nothing. You just got to come in every day with the work mentality to get it right, and that’s by taking it one practice at a time, taking it one play at time and taking it one game at a time.”

©2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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