"Bio-blitz" in U.S. Park Uncovers Astounding Array of Species

Mike Swift
The Hartford Courant
June 14, 2001

A group of U.S. scientists recently journeyed to an exotic—even bizarre —world that few people see.

They found an animal that can reproduce only inside dead bodies. They captured another that has no mouth, because it never eats during its adult life. They found a third species that uses delicate-looking filaments dangling from its body to inject its parasitic young into the bodies of its hosts.

The journey was one part around-the-clock endurance race and one part slumber party for the scientists. Called a "bio-blitz," it occurred not in some distant rain forest or coral reef, but in a city park in Fairfield County, Connecticut, in early June.

It was the third consecutive year in which scientists from the University of Connecticut, Yale University, the U.S. Forest Service, and other schools and agencies gathered at an urban park in Connecticut to see how many species of animals and plants they could collect in 24 hours in one place.

This year, more than 160 scientists and other surveyors of species participated. Working relentlessly from Friday through Saturday afternoon, they collected and identified 2,519 species—obliterating last year's U.S. record total of 1,898 species collected at a park in the area.

The list included many birds, reptiles, plants, mammals, and fish. But the real stars were the array of insects and other invertebrates that make up species far more numerous—and in many cases, more exotic, even though they are literally underfoot in the suburbs and cities.

"We're starting to hear the word biodiversity a lot more, but it's always with the rain forests, the tropical areas," said Ellen Censky, director of the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at the University of Connecticut, who organized the event. "This is a great way to show people that there's a huge amount of diversity in their backyards."

Competitive Spirit

The event attracted adults and children throughout the day to Tarrywile Park in Danbury, Connecticut, to watch the scientists work.

The National Geographic Society documented the "bio-blitz" for a National Geographic EXPLORER cable television program, which is scheduled to air in August on CNBC.

A few hours after dawn on Saturday, a buzz filled the tent where the species that had been collected only hours earlier were being cataloged. The buzz came from the scientists sitting at rows of microscopes, not from their subjects.

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