The Meat-Eating Pitcher Plant
Summer visitors to the Main
River are likely to notice the
tube-shaped leaves and single,
drooping reddish flower of the
pitcher plant. They may be aware
that the unusual-looking plant
is Newfoundland's provincial
flower, but they may be surprised
to learn that it is carnivorous.
Digestion: The pitcher
plant's diet, which includes
not only insects, but also mites,
spiders and the even the occasional
small frog, has evolved to supply
nitrogen which is lacking in
the soil. The plant's prey,
attracted by the red-veined
leaves, is trapped by downward
pointing bristles which not
only prevent escape, but force
it further down into the rain
and dew held by the "pitcher."
It is then digested by an enzyme
and absorbed into the plant
Precarious Pine Marten
The Newfoundland pine marten is an elusive
animal. Solitary, agile and largely nocturnal,
it is rarely seen by naturalists. But this
dark-eyed, bushy-tailed member of the weasel
family (about the size of a housecat) has
one other, sometimes fatal, characteristic:
it is intensely curious. Inquisitive - and
perpetually hungry - martens are easily
lured into traps and snares meant for rabbits
and other animals. Accidental trapping,
along with habitat disturbance caused by
commercial logging, have combined to put
the Newfoundland pine marten population
on the endangered species list.
Scarce, and Getting
Scarcer: The pine marten is one of
only 14 mammals that are truly native to
Newfoundland. Although the island isolation
of the province has resulted in a subspecies
not found anywhere else, the Newfoundland
pine marten population has probably never
been robust. A naturally-occurring scarcity
of prey - voles, squirrels and snowshoe
hares - has limited its growth.
But as mature coniferous forests have disappeared,
the modest but healthy marten population
which once covered the entire island is
now restricted to small pockets of suitable
habitat, such as the Main River watershed,
Little Grand Lake and Red Indian Lake. In
the early 1980's, it was estimated that
there were between 630 and 875 pine martens
in Newfoundland. By 1998, the total population
had declined to 300.
Preservation and Recovery: Pine martens
thrive in mature forests, with dense underbrush
and fallen trees. Destruction of habitat,
primarily due to commercial logging, continues
to be the major threat to the Newfoundland
pine marten. In the Main River watershed
(home of the second-largest population of
Newfoundland pine martens), plans to log
much of the watershed's forests have alarmed
biologists and conservationists.
Big Steady Meadowlands
Sandwiched between the rocky upper
river and the lower rapids of
the Main, the Big Steady is an
enriched floodplain of calm waters,
bordered by lush meadows. Ancient
birch and spruce trees, some with
trunks as large as 75 centimetres,
line the banks, and several plant
species near their northern and
limits thrive in the surrounding
grasslands. Moose, woodland caribou
and black bear are drawn to the
Big Steady river valley. Canada
geese, common goldeneye, black
duck, green-winged teal and red-breasted
mergansers are among the waterfowl
that are drawn to the tranquil
Commercial trapping of pine martens in
the province has been illegal since 1934.
In some areas of the island, where marten
populations have been identified, traps
and snares have been forbidden altogether.
In others, trappers are required to turn
in any martens that are accidentally caught.
A Newfoundland Pine Martin Recovery Team
was established in 1990, with the goal of
restoring the island's marten population
to a point where it is no longer considered
threatened with extinction. Habitat protection,
captive breeding and re-introduction are
all part of the strategy. Re-introduction
of martens to the Main River watershed during
the 1970's may have contributed to the population
which currently exists in the area.
Pine Marten Profile
(Martes Americana atrata) The Newfoundland
pine marten is a larger, darker subspecies
of the American marten. The marten is an
arboreal (tree-climbing) member of the weasel
The Newfoundland marten has a slender
body, short limbs, long, rounded ears, black
eyes, yellowish-brown fur, and a light buff
patch on its throat and belly. Its tail
is about half the length of its body. Both
male and female martens have scent glands
under their tails and under the skin of
their bellies. They drag their bellies over
logs and vegetation, using their abdominal
glands to mark their territories.
Habits: Unlike other members of the
weasel family, pine martens are agile tree
climbers, but they do most of their hunting
on the ground. The pine marten is omnivorous,
feeding on small mammals, birds, amphibians,
reptiles, carrion, fruits, nuts and insects.
Mice and red squirrels are favoured prey.
The marten is largely nocturnal. It does
not hibernate, and is active all winter.
Newfoundland martens reach sexual maturity
at 15 months of age. Mating takes place
once a year, in spring. Females den in hollow
trees, crevices or vacant ground burrows,
and give birth to 1 to 5 "kits."
Preferred marten habitat is coniferous forest
with a mixture of mature and fallen trees.
Martens avoid open and disturbed habitat.
Do Not Disturb:
The Old Growth Forests of the Main
Although the oldest trees in the Main River
watershed are no more than 260 years old,
the Main's woodlands are sometimes referred
to as an ancient forest. The reason? The
Main's boreal ecosystem has remained intact
since it was established after the retreat
of the glaciers thousands of years ago.
forests of the Main have remained insulated
from insects, disease, fire and wind, the
natural enemies of boreal forests elsewhere
in Canada. Relatively, undisturbed by the
large-scale blowdowns, raging forest fires,
and spruce budworm infestations that have
ravaged other Newfoundland woodlands, the
balsam fir and black spruce of the Main
have been left to live out their natural
cycles of birth, growth, death and decay.
Forest Family: The lack of disturbance
to the Main watershed has resulted in a
highly diverse, multi-generational forest
"family" rarely seen in modern
environments. Balsam fir lives to 3 times
their normal life span. Trees of many different
sizes and diameters grow side by side, interspersed
with fallen trunks and decomposing logs.
Very old trees, still standing, and branches
that have fallen to the forest floor are
often covered with mosses and lichens. Woodland
caribou are drawn to "old man's beard,"
a lichen that grows on the trees of the
Main. Decomposing fallen logs often become
"nurse logs," acting as a seed
bed for young trees.