Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

July 12, 2007

Lov’n the Water Lily Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:42 pm

  After a long hot summer day, the marsh rebounds with new life. While the windy mid-day marsh is a hot bed of dragonfly activity, swaying cat-tails and blooming flowers, the setting sun prompts a change in décor and clientele. The large white flowers of the Water Lily conceal their petals and the third day blossoms are drawn back underwater. Their leathery pads seem to unfurl and relax under the caress of the gentle twilight breezes. Deprived of their solar power, Blue Dasher dragonflies retreat to nighttime shelters and yield the insect air space to the clouds of emerging caddisflies.

  Now is the time for the muskrats to venture out to do what they do best – eat.   It is no secret that muskrats get sick and tired of eating cat-tail shoots every day. They are restrained from going completely bonkers from the monotony of their diet because they have very tiny brains with little room for emotion. Cat-tails are the staff of life, but for a lowly mushrat the quality of life sometimes demands something more than quantity. The choice salad offering presented by a bed of lily pads is nothing short of heaven sent sanity.

  Seeing a muskrat rip into a lily leaf betrays this cat-tail dementia. All professional restraint is abandoned when scarfing down early summer pads. By late season, the allure will wear off, but for now the first and last thing on the menu is water lily. The leaves are right at mouth level, so it is only necessary to approach and inhale. There are different styles of consumption, however.  Some hold the leaf like a cinnamon covered Elephant Ear and take bites while rotating the edge around.  Others roll the leaf over into a taco shell and eat it like one. On this evening, I was witness to a third style akin to a contestant at a hot dog eating contest.

  I did a sketch of this gluttonous performance just to document it for the sake of posterity.  My frantic little ‘rat was rolling the leaves into a cone and literally shoving them down his throat like a tree chipper.  He took no pause in the chewing process.  Engrossed in the dining experience, he often drifted beyond vertical and leaned back in Sea Otter fashion. I’ve never seen one, but I would guess this is what an aquatic circus barker would look like while eating his bullhorn.

  Next to this display of sheer eating mastery, few could compare. Though the evening light was fading, I did spot a competitor on the lily eating stage. A rock and a head had surfaced nearby.  The head repeatedly shot out in a clumsy attempt to grab the exposed edge of a lily pad and the rock rippled the water with each effort. This new contestant was a sizable snapping turtle and the rock was his shell.

  There is probably no creature on earth less known for its plant-eating abilities than the Common Snapper. In the dimming twilight the creature was free to pursue some fresh greens without tarnishing its killer reputation.  Up to one third of this carnivorous turtle’s diet is made up of water plants. Al Capone probably ate bean sprouts, but no one – and I mean no one – would ever mention such a thing.  Here I was witnessing a rare thing indeed.

  The turtle finally nipped off a chunk of leaf after a half a dozen tries and swallowed it without fanfare. His next bite was landed with swift completion after a slow start. Not surprisingly, he looked more like his passive cousin the Box Turtle munching on a strawberry, than a flesh eating monster.

  In terms of reputation, it is equally odd to learn that Muskrats will eat flesh on occasion. Fish, baby turtles, mussels, and each other will find their way onto the menu. Tonight, the muskrat was boldly proclaiming his vegetarian side and the turtle was exercising his freedom of choice.

  I’m sure the ‘rat and the ‘snap continued their feasting into the night, but as a daytime critter I was forced to retreat from the lily loving scene with a taste for some salad.

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