Heating up the Hot Springs

Kootenay National Park is a long, thin park with the highway running down the middle through a large valley and with mountains rising up on either side. The valley is made up of coniferous forest and it is very susceptible to forest fires. Following the highway up through the park, you pass through an old, forested area and then suddenly you pass into a huge burnt area full of dead trees from the highway right up to the treeline on the mountains on both sides. This is result of a huge forest fire that swept through in 2003 and we decided to set up one of our sites in this unique burn area. In the park there is also a small burn area from a fire last year and we’ve been told a small fire is burning in the park right now. Of all the parks we’ve visited Kootenay has been the most obviously impacted by fires. There is even a valley called Lightning Alley where thunderstorms occur very often and are known to spark fires.

Remnants of the 2003 forest fire
Remnants of the 2003 forest fire

We have been lucky this whole trip to have had great neighbours at all the campgrounds and RV parks we’ve stayed at. Here at Kootenay has been no different! We’re staying at a cabin at the fire operations centre and in the cabin next door is a crew of four forest fire rangers from Quebec. They were very friendly and we were able to learn more about the management of forest fires from them. The most recent fire they had responded to was in Yoho National Park. Most fires are left to burn but they are contained to prevent it from spreading, however in Yoho there was what they call “value at risk”. There was a road, a railroad and buildings nearby so in this case the fire needed to be put out. Thanks to the fire rangers, the fire did not cause any serious problems.

Outreach event at Radium Hot Springs
Outreach event at Radium Hot Springs

While here in Kootenay we also had an awesome afternoon of outreach, talking to the public about what we do. We set up at the Radium Hot Springs pools alongside Rachel, from Parks Canada, who was talking about wildlife monitoring programs in the park. Over the course of a few hours we had over 100 people come check out our displays! Lots of kids came by with stories about the biggest, craziest insects they’ve seen and stories about catching insects in their backyards. It’s great to see kids getting excited about insects. And, of course, they love the insect buttons and bookmarks we give out! After spending the afternoon talking to the public at the Hot Springs, we couldn’t resist checking out the hot springs for ourselves and going for a quick swim. At 102°F it was really hot! And relaxing after a day of work.

Swallowtail caterpillar displaying osmeterium
Swallowtail caterpillar displaying osmeterium

And now one of our coolest insect finds here in Kootenay…At our seasonal wetland site, I came across a bunch of really cool caterpillars. There were about six caterpillars feeding on a small plant surrounded by piles of frass (caterpillar poo). When I grabbed one with my forceps to collect him, he shot out two long orange projections from his head and suddenly it smelt really bad. A few seconds later these orange ‘horns’ were retracted and he looked like he did when I found him. The ‘horns’ are known as an osmeterium and it is also responsible for the bad odour to deter predators. It was an awesome defensive display to see! After consulting the textbook we have with us, my best guess is that this caterpillar belongs in the Swallowtail family of butterflies (Papilionidae).  This guy was definitely one of my favourite finds from this park! I’m looking forward to more cool insects at our last park, Darkwoods, a Nature Conservancy property.

– Beverly

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