Field Guide to North Carolina
Between Virginia, Maryland, and now North Carolina, I have finished the only three states that I have extensive familiarity with in this project, which makes the rest of this endeavor daunting. One of my aims with the project was to do more than just draw a spattering of animals from a given state, but to try to get a biogeographical portrait of the region, and see how it shifts throughout the continent. The best way to capture that feel is to immerse yourself in the area, which I've done for these three states (and it's something I hope to do for a few more), but the next best thing is doing lots of lots of research.
And on that note - North Carolina! I traveled quite a bit to Lake Gaston and the coastal regions as a kid, but only in recent years started exploring the mountainous western part of the state, and a couple of years ago went out to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest - a rare East Coast old growth forest. Though there's some obvious similarities to Virginia's habitat, I was interested by the small differences - you notice more warm temperate species creeping in with the more mild climate (e.g. alligators, yucca). Here's a few notes I picked up along the way with this guide -
Marbled Salamander - Anyone who has visited North Carolina can tell you (with either delight or dread) that it is a herpetologically rich state. The warm temperate Southern Appalachian forests provide the perfect habitat to host the largest number of salamander species in the world, including a few unique endemic species. The Marbled Salamander was recently designated a state symbol, and because it spends the majority of its life underground in wetland habitats it is particularly susceptible to run-off from pesticides.
Opossum - Another polarizing critter, but after spending a good amount of one on one time with these bumbling cuties during my time volunteering at the Virginia Living Museum, I am here to spread the gospel of how wonderful and misunderstood North America's only marsupial is. Contrary to extensive and engrained popular belief, it is extremely unlikely for an opossum to carry rabies due to their physiology - their low body temperature simply keeps them resistant to many diseases. Similarly, they are one of our strongest allies in the increasingly hard fight against Lyme disease - not only are they one of the most efficient animals in killing ticks, their bodies are resistant to Lyme disease, so the ticks that do land on them are not picking up the disease. They are a wonderful asset to your yard, and will diligently tend to insects, rodents, and snakes. They have a peculiar physical feature that is common in ancient creatures - fangs for prehensile grasping. And in a little behavioral note that I find both charming and relatable, they're also extremely solitary little critters, and when one sees another it simply walks away. I could go on and on about these fascinating little creatures, and have plans for a possum specific project, but I hope that you're encouraged to treat our quiet little neighbors as welcome groundskeepers, not pests.
Milkweed Bug - These brightly colored orange and black bugs consume milkweed, which renders them toxic to predators. In a fascinating little natural phenomenon called Mullerian mimicry, they share their bright orange and black pattern with several other milkweed consuming bugs with shared predators (the monarch butterfly, milkweed beetle, and milkweed tiger moth). Mullerian mimicry allows species to share honest warning signals for mutual benefit - when a predator consumes one species with the pattern and becomes ill, they are unlikely to consume another with the similar pattern.
Keeping this one brief to catch up on things in the new studio, but I hope it's been interesting! I know I said I was going to do West Virginia next, but I'm hoping to plan a trip out there to do some actual field drawing, so I'm putting that on hold for now. It's getting difficult to decide how to choose the order of the states - as much as I'd like to jump around to some new regions, I really enjoy seeing the subtle changes as I work my way through contiguous states.