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Welcome sign at Gulf Islands National Seashore
Welcome sign at Gulf Islands National Seashore

The United States has ten protected areas known as national seashores and three known as national lakeshores, which are public lands operated by the National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior. National seashores and lakeshores are coastal areas federally designated by Congress as being of natural and recreational significance as a preserved area. All of the national lakeshores are on Lakes Michigan and Superior, whereas nine of the ten national seashores are on the Atlantic Ocean, including two on the Gulf of Mexico. National seashores are located in ten states and national lakeshores are in two other states. Florida, North Carolina and Michigan each have two. The largest national seashore or lakeshore is Gulf Islands (sign pictured), at over 137,000 acres (550 km2); the smallest is Fire Island, at 19,579 acres (79.23 km2). (Full list...)

Today's featured picture

European paper wasp

The European paper wasp (Polistes dominula or Polistes dominulus) is one of the most common species of wasps in the genus Polistes. Originally described in 1791 by German naturalist Johann Ludwig Christ as Vespa dominula, it is native to southern Europe and North Africa, as well as temperate parts of Asia as far east as China. It has also been introduced to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Americas. The species is common and cosmopolitan due to its exceptional survival features, such as a productive colony cycle, a short development time and a higher ability to endure predator attacks. It generally lives in temperate, terrestrial habitats, such as chaparral, forest and grassland biomes.

This picture shows a young European paper wasp queen guarding her nest and eggs.

Photograph credit: Joaquim Alves Gaspar

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