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Current Challenge: Conifer

Welcome to Find-A-Feature Photo Challenge! Periodically, we will showcase a new geological or ecological feature and challenge you to find something similar in your neighborhood. Science is everywhere - take a look around! Show us what you see! Tag us on Twitter or Instagram (public accounts only) @USGS_YES with #findafeature or send your pic to 

This image shows conifer trees and the Grand Canyon in the background.
Conifers on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, AZ. 

What are conifers?

Conifers are trees that bear their seeds in cones. 

Most conifers have needle-like or scale-like leaves and most of them keep their needles all year, so scientists often refer to these trees as “evergreens.” 

Examples of conifer trees include species of pine, fir, cypress, juniper, sequoia, and more. 

USGS Ecosystems Mission Area scientists study conifers, including research conducted at the Western Ecological Science Center (WERC) in California/Nevada and the Forest and Rangeland Ecological Science Center in Oregon. 

Also, see WERC's page, "Twelve Days of Conifer Trees and How We Study Them" and follow along on social media with the hashtag #12daysofconifers.

What is dendrochronology? 

Dendrochronology is the study of tree growth rings, and can help scientists to understand rates of tree growth, historical temperatures and precipitation, fire history, and more - even records of avalanches. The USGS New Mexico Dendroecology Laboratory uses dendrochronolgy as a research tool to understand ecological research that focuses on the effects of climate variability on forest ecology, fire ecology, and ecohydrology. Much of the research is applied and is designed to inform forest, fire, and ecohydrology resource management.

Learn more about USGS tree ring research here:

How can beetles affect conifers? 

Some species of beetles can harm conifers. Mountain pine beetle outbreaks can result in the loss of millions of pine trees throughout western North America. The beetles lay eggs and develop in the bark of pine trees, especially lodgepole, ponderosa, Scotch, and limber pines. The beetles carry fungus spores, which infect the trees. Both the beetles and the fungi eventually kill their host trees. In the Southern Rocky Mountains, an epidemic outbreak of mountain pine beetles (MPB) has caused levels of tree mortality unprecedented in recorded history. This USGS study, initiated in 2010, aims to increase understanding of MPB outbreaks and their impacts. Reddish, dry needles can be an indicator of pine beetle damage.  Mountain pine beetles are tiny, but what the beetles can do to a pine forest can even be seen from space, as seen in this short video about pine beetle damage from USGS Earth Observation Resources and Science Center (EROS). 

What about forest fires? 

Learn all about USGS wildland fire science here:, then learn about the tools of the trade with the “I am a Fire Ecologist” video and download this complimentary coloring sheet, too.   

Color a conifer!

Find USGS coniferous coloring sheets such as the whitebark pine and the Tecate cypress here

Outline drawing of the top of a cypress with round cones
Coloring sheet of a Tecate cypress, a rare closed-cone California conifer.




















Wait a minute, that’s not a conifer! 

The goal of our Find-A-Feature Challenge is to find something near you that looks like a geologic or ecologic feature. What can you find near you that looks like a conifer? Here’s one example (photo below) of something that looks like a conifer, but isn’t. Christmas tree worms live underwater and can attach to corals!

Image: Brain Coral Christmas
(Credit: Christina Kellogg, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)












We'll be watching Twitter and Instagram (public accounts only, we can't see or follow private accounts) for some great #findafeature examples and may share them here with the first name or initials of the contributor, and a general location. If you tag us with @USGS_YES you are giving us permission to use your image. Please see the USGS social media sharing policy at: Or, you can e-mail photos to us at and we may share them on this page or on social media. Thanks for participating and for seeing science all around you!