Coyotes & Food

A coyote trots off with a duck for dinner at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Mouser Williams)

By Mariana Rivera Freeman, Field Science Specialist

Coyotes can be controversial. To different people and cultures, the coyote carries diverse significance. But outside of the meaning we give these animals, they have a natural purpose of their own. While they go about that purpose, they occasionally come into contact with us, whether in the wilderness, where coyotes prefer to spend their time, or in human spaces.

Read more Coyotes & Food

Virtual Field Trip: Spectacularly Spooky Animal Senses

This jumping spider has excellent vision and uses its eyes to hunt prey. (Photo by Beth Cortright)

Find out all about animal senses, and use your senses to explore your world, in this virtual field trip for young children. If you’re a teacher, please contact us at to let us know if you’re using this content in your classroom. Enhanced content may be available for teachers.

Click the links below for a spectacularly spooky animal senses adventure!

1) Watch this video:

Find out how skulls can give us clues to how animals use their senses in this video featuring PEEC Field Science Specialist Mariana Rivera Freeman.

Texto del video en español.

2) Outdoor activity: Animal Senses Scavenger Hunt (Versión en español)

3) Meet PEEC’s Spectacularly Spooky Critters: Meet some of the critters that call the Los Alamos Nature Center home! Watch the recording of our tour here.

Share your experience with us! Email us at to share your pictures and stories. You can rate our field trip using our evaluation form.

Virtual Field Trip: Bird Banding

A student releases a bird after banding during a field trip at Bandelier National Monument. (Photo by Rachel Landman)

Bird banding is a scientific method for collecting information about bird populations. Whether you’re a student or a bird enthusiast, join us on a virtual field trip to find out more about bird banding! If you’re a teacher, please contact us at to let us know if you’re using this content in your classroom. Enhanced content may be available for teachers.

Click the links below to take a virtual bird banding field trip!

1) Watch this video:

Learn more about bird banding in Bandelier National Monument in this video by bird banding intern Zoë Moffett.

Texto del video en español

2) Hands-on activity: Build and band a bird (Versión en español)

3) Outdoor activity: Birds in your community scavenger hunt (Versión en español)

Share your experience with us! Email us at to share your pictures and stories. You can rate our field trip using our evaluation form.

Bears in the Sky: Ursa Major and Ursa Minor

This drawing depicts the constellation Ursa Major. Notice the bear’s long tail. Do black bears have tails like that? (Drawing by Johannes Hevelius)

By Elizabeth Watts, Educator

Most of the time when you go outside at night, you don’t want to encounter any bears. However, there are always bears around if you know where to look — up in the stars! Luckily these bears won’t be bothered by your presence. 

The bears are the constellations known as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, or the Greater Bear and the Lesser Bear. The stars that make up these constellations are almost always visible in the northern hemisphere. While the Greeks, Romans, and Native people of the Americas saw bears, other cultures saw a wagon, a plough, a coffin, and many other things. Since this is Bear Fest, we’ll focus on the bear stories. 

These drawings represent the constellations Ursa Major (the Greater Bear) and Ursa Minor (the Lesser Bear). Can you find the Big Dipper within Ursa Major? The two stars at the bottom of the bowl point to Polaris, the North Star. (Archives of Pearson Scott Foresman)

The written history of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor goes back thousands of years. Ptolemy listed Ursa Major and Ursa Minor as one of 48 constellations in one of the earliest surviving books on astronomy. It is mentioned in even earlier works, such as a poem by Aratus in 275 BCE. In this blog post, the author lists myths going back even farther in history.

As with many stories from history, there is more than one version of the myth of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. One version is that Ursa Major represents Callisto who had a child with Zeus, king of the Greek gods. When Zeus’ wife, Hera, found out, she turned Callisto into a bear. Then one day Callisto’s son was out hunting and saw a great bear, not realizing it was his mother. To save them both Zeus threw them into the sky. Callisto became Ursa Major and her son, Arcus, became Ursa Minor. In other stories, Zeus turned Callisto into the bear to hide her from Hera. Other stories use the Roman form of the gods, Jupiter and Juno.

The bears in ancient Greece were Eurasian brown bears that are related to the grizzly bears found in North America. These bears are different from the black bears that live in New Mexico. Currently, there are estimated to be 450 brown bears living in the mountains of Greece. In general, bears are in declining numbers in Europe due to loss of habitat, but several groups in Greece are working to protect their bears. 

In the drawing of Ursa Major based on the Greek myths, many people notice something unusual — the bear’s tail! Bears did not have long tails like this, even thousands of years ago. One story says that when Zeus threw the bear into the sky, he stretched out its tail. Interestingly, some of the Native people in the Americas told stories of a bear in this collection of stars. However, they did not see the handle of the dipper as a giant bear tail. Instead, the stars were seen hunters that were following the bear. As with the Greek and Roman myths, there are many versions of this story amongst Native people. Here is one version of an Iroquois story of the Hunting of the Great Bear.

You can also watch a video version of the Never Ending Bear Hunt from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Many other stories explain these stars, like this legend from the Cheyenne people about the Big Dipper called “The Quillwork Girl and Her Seven Brothers.”

Many of us are familiar with the Big Dipper. This group of stars is visible all year even in places with light pollution and is very recognizable. The dipper is not a constellation itself, but is called an “asterism” which is a collection of stars. While the Big Dipper is part of Ursa Major, it is not all of it. In the picture above you can see the dipper is just part of the larger bear. The Big Dipper is also known by other names around the world, such as the Plough, the Seven Sages, a boat, a salmon net, and others.

This photo shows how close Polaris, the North Star, is to the North Celestial Pole. If you can find this star at night, you can figure out which way is north! (Photo by Giuseppe Donatiello)

In addition to the fact that the Big Dipper is so easy to find, another reason this asterism is so widely known is that it helps people find north. Look at the above illustration of the two bears. The two stars at the end of the “bowl” of the Big Dipper point to Polaris, the North Star. Polaris also happens to be the end of the tail of the Little Dipper, but it is much easier to find the Big Dipper first. 

In the last photograph, you can see all the stars rotating around the North Celestial Pole. Polaris is also shown so you can see how close it is to lining up with the pole. If you can find Polaris at night you can figure out what direction you are going. 

Since the Big Dipper rotates around Polaris, you can use its position to approximate what time it is! Here’s an article on how to make your very own star clock. Try it out if you go camping or just in your own backyard. Just try not to disturb any wildlife that may also be out at night, like a real bear! 

Also remember when you are looking at the stars that it is fun to look for constellations that other people recognize, but it is also fun to look for your own patterns in the stars. Maybe you can write your own story from what you see in the stars and send it to us!

Getting to Hibernation: Best Practices for Living with Bears

A black bear crosses a road near Bandelier National Monument in 2018. (Photo by Jonathan Creel)

By James Robinson
Los Alamos County Councilor

I have been receiving many emails, text messages, and phone calls concerning our increased bear activity, and I thought I would share some best practices to use until winter.

First, some education.

An American black bear this far into the year needs to consume over 10,000 calories a day to build the weight necessary for the winter. Bears are the world’s greatest calorie counters, and easy calories are always the best.

Traditionally, bears would get their calories by eating grasses, berries, acorns, and occasional meat sources. However, when these sources are limited due to drought, bears will often find their way into our roll-carts. These carts are full of better tasting, high calorie food than the bear would find in nature, and we tend to line it up nicely for them on the street — an easy way to make their calorie goal. Like a kid in a cookie jar, once they have positive reinforcement, they will keep coming back for more until the cookie jar is removed or they are punished.

Negative reinforcement of bears can range from yelling and screaming, to electric shocks, rubber bullets, and relocation. Ultimately, the bear might have to be euthanized. All because it kept coming for the cookie in the cookie jar.

This is where we, as residents of this area, come in.

As our area continues to experience extreme drought, we will continue to see more and more bears coming into town looking for food. It is up to each and every one of us to make sure that they cannot find easy food. Only then, can we assure that these bears will not have to face relocation or euthanization.

I have asked the County staff to begin procuring more bear resistant roll-carts. My goal is to get every household a bear resistant roll-cart, however, it will take time to get the carts and deploy them. In the meantime, I am asking all residents of Los Alamos to get creative in keeping bears out of our roll-carts. The easiest solution is to lock the roll-cart in a garage or shed until the morning of your scheduled collection. If you have this ability, PLEASE do this right away.

For those, like myself, who do not have a garage to store our roll-carts, my first recommendation would be to find a way to secure the lid of your roll-cart. This video demonstrates how this can be done using ratchet straps. Another option is to purchase an electric fence (similar to those used for dogs) and build a barrier around your roll-carts. Bears are very pain adverse and often will give up after one shock. Here’s some information from Bear Smart Durango on how to use electric fencing to deter bears.

Other options I have heard is cleaning your roll-cart regularly with ammonia, or even storing dirty diapers in the cart. We are a creative community. I feel we can come up with a million ways to build a better bear resistant roll-cart!

Ultimately, it is up to each and every one of us to protect our bears. I will continue to work on community wide efforts to help our citizens, however, due to the limitations of the Anti-Donation Clause, many of these options are up to the individual household.

As the adage goes, “a fed bear, is a dead bear.” Los Alamos has already seen one bear attack, and a mother bear and cubs relocated. Most likely, these bears will not be the last. By changing our habits, and working a little harder, we can make sure we live in harmony with our bears. It is up to us to take responsibility for the waste we generate.

To learn more about living amongst black bears, be sure to tune in for a talk from Kathleen Ramsay on Tuesday, September 1 at 7 PM. She will discuss the ways that bears access food in our communities, and what we can do to prevent this behavior.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at

If you’d like more information on living with bears, I encourage you to visit this website as well for information on preventing problems.

Night Friends

Bats are extraordinary creatures that benefit people in myriad ways — the world would be infinitely poorer without them. Bats come in an incredible variety of shapes and sizes and have a great diversity of lifestyles. They are among the most diverse and successful mammals on the planet.

Consider this: Do bats play any part in the production of …

  • Bananas?
  • Chocolate?
  • Coffee?
  • Tequila?

It turns out that …

  • Wild banana plants — the source of all commercial varieties — require bats for pollination.
  • Without bats and birds controlling pests, cocoa bean yields would fall about 30%. That would mean less chocolate!
  • Likewise, on coffee farms, bats are voracious eaters of insects that attack these crops.
  • The agave from which all tequila is made relies on long-tongued bats for pollination. Where would New Mexico be without tequila for margaritas!?

Let’s take a moment to thank bats for life as we know it!

Bats show up in the fossil record around 50 million years ago, so these creatures have been inhabitants of this planet for a long time! There are more than 1,400 bat species worldwide. In the United States, we have 47 bat species, 23 of which are found in New Mexico. Our state’s species include the big brown bat, hoary bat, little brown bat (now endangered), Mexican free-tailed bat, pallid bat, silver-haired bat, Townsend’s big-eared bat, and western pipistrelle (also known as the canyon bat).

Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis), commonly known as Mexican free-tailed bats, are noted for long, narrow wings and quick, straight flight patterns. These bats are the fastest mammals on earth, and have been recorded flying at speeds of 100 mph. These bats can also fly at heights of up to 10,000 feet! They start searching for food right after sunset and keep hunting throughout the night. We can thank them for eating thousands of insects each night, keeping mosquito and other harmful pest populations at bay.

Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) eating a moth while in flight in Texas. (Photo by

Mexican free-tailed bats are also the most famous mammals found at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, in southern New Mexico. This large colony wows visitors every evening from spring through fall with spectacular outflights. Bracken Cave Preserve, near San Antonio, Texas, hosts the largest group of Mexican free-tailed bats in the U.S. where as many as 20 million bats are located in a single cave. These bats alone can eat over 200 TONS of insects in one night!

Closer to home, you can see outflights of tens of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats at El Malpais National Monument in Grants. Bandelier National Monument had a colony of about 10,000 individuals that frequented a cave along the Main Loop Trail between 1986 and 2002. It isn’t known exactly why this colony stopped using the cave: an ecological mystery!

Did you know that bats have had to deal with their own pandemic in North America? A deadly fungus known as White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) was discovered in Upstate New York in 2006. It thrives in cold environments where bats hibernate and has been decimating bat populations by keeping them from sleeping properly (much as you might sleep poorly when you are sick). The lack of sleep causes bats to use up their fat reserves before the end of winter, and consequently starve. The outbreak has resulted in millions of bat deaths and the epidemic is considered the worst wildlife disease outbreak in North American history.

A bat flight photographed from Natural Entrance at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. (Photo by Thomas Hawk)

WNS is less likely to be seen in warmer regions and has not been seen in migrating bats. Most Mexican free-tailed bats, for instance, migrate to Mexico and Central America during the winter and WNS has not been seen in this species. WNS has not been identified in New Mexico, but has spread westward to Texas and Oklahoma. Wildlife biologists in New Mexico are watching the spread of this disease with concern and are doing research and taking precautions to protect our bats. This interactive map shows how WNS has spread in the United States since 2006.

Bats may also prove useful in helping humans deal with our own pandemic. Because COVID-19 did not evolve with humans, our bodies have few defenses against it. Bats, on the other hand, have likely been evolving alongside coronaviruses for millions of years. Most importantly, bats might actually help to provide the solution for COVID-19 and other viruses. Bats do not get sick from many viruses that might kill humans, and research on how bats achieve this could hold the key to help us fight this and future outbreaks. This is one of many articles now appearing on this topic

How you can help bats: 

  • Learn about bats and teach others about bats.
  • Give bats the best habitat and resources to survive.
  • Put up bat houses, plant gardens that attract insects, avoid pesticides.
  • Avoid caves where bats are hibernating.