Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

May 22, 2011

Midnight at the Oasis

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:56 pm

The world at the end of my Dollar Lake dock is shrouded in mystery after the sun sets. There are sounds, splashes, ripples, and peeps originating above the surface and movements in the inky darkness beneath it. By day it is a definable world but by night it is altered.  I ventured to the end of my dock late one night in order to peer into that dark world.  The Spring Peepers were in full calling mode. I wanted to see if I could locate one and see it in the act. Perhaps my resident muskrat might glide by on a feeding foray or I may see some pike coming up into the shallows while on the hunt.

I was surrounded by the ventriloquistic calls of the peepers as I reached dock’s end.  It was a dark still night and all the sounds were issued without competition from the wind. All were so close yet so non-directional. I could tell that most of the peeps were coming from the cat-tail patch south of the dock, so I prepared to walk back along the shore. First, I casually swung the beam of my flashlight across the water in the hopes of catching an eye gleam or a ripple before turning around and letting the beam descend into the water.

Once illuminated, I could see that every submerged stem, stick, or dock post was inhabited by a flock of snails. I don’t know what a bunch of snails is properly called (a shell, a twist, a slime?) but in this case “flock” is an appropriate designation. These particular snails are called Banded Mystery Snails. They are medium sized mollusks, about 2 inches long, with characteristic brown stripes that follow the axis of their whorls. To say they are common here is an understatement, for a multitude of their empty shells litter the shoreline. Even so, it is hard to find a live snail during the day.  My flashlight revealed why this was so – Banded Mystery Snails come out to play at night.

These snails were everywhere. In fact, they were even crawling on top of each other.  Grazers by nature, each snail protruded a proboscis equipped with a set of rasping teeth (see detail photo above) and they were feeding upon the meadows of algae. Eye stalks were much in evidence as were the large pad-like feet upon which these creatures crawled about. Barely visible on the upper side of these extended feet were the oval operculums which act as front doors when the snails withdraw into their shells.

The shell of each snail was fringed with a wig of algae filaments. Out of the water this fringe would have looked like a sodden mat, but when suspended in water it stood out like electric hair and produced a graceful effect.

You’ll note that there appears to be a host of cream-colored filaments floating in the adjacent water in the above photo. These are artifacts of the slow speed of the digital image.  Each represents the path taken by a host of micro-crustaceans (mostly Daphnia – aka Water Fleas) swimming in the water column around the snails. Since the camera shutter needs to stay open for a long time in such dim light the creatures were recorded as streaking tracks of life. Needless to say, the slower snails hardly moved at all during the exposures.

I finally pulled myself away from the snail scenery – one can only watch snails for so long – and walked to the shore in order to find the peepers. My hunt was futile. The beam of the flashlight failed to produce the sight of any calling frogs. Even though they appeared to be “right there” there was no pinpointing them either visually or audibly, so I opted for a different tactic. Aligning my camera along the flashlight beam, I slowing panned through the cat-tails in the hopes that a later examination might reveal a frog or two. The effect was interesting, but unproductive. True, I did get a good mood-setting backdrop for a Spring Peeper soundtrack but no sight of the swelling throats or shiny eyes making those sounds. There was a surprise, however.

Take a look at, and a listen to, this video and you’ll see what I mean. You probably won’t notice it the first time through, so you’ll have to view it a few times.  Exactly half way into the shoot (13 seconds in) you’ll notice a fleeting glimpse of the striped figure of a Northern Watersnake slinking through the stems. It appears briefly in the beam at the right side of the frame and moves off as the view continues left. I never saw this serpent as I was shooting. It was only later that I realized that I was not alone at the time of filming. It appears that I was not the only one looking for Peepers out there in my little snail filled oasis.

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