Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 7, 2013

On Gaping Clams and Panting Squirrels

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 12:42 pm

The haphazard and somewhat random nature of this posting stems from the fact that I am writing this while on the road. Do you have any idea how demanding it is to type, scroll , and formulate meaningful thoughts with one hand on the wheel, the other on the keyboard and the third on a cup of coffee…er, I meant the second on the cup and the… see what I mean? Watch out for that deer. OMG it’s so small and…it…it’s not a deer it’s a lawn statue. O.K., where were we? Oh, yes…the blog. I have a collection of thoughts based on a few photos.

My road trip took place during an especially hot weekend towards the end of August. The thermometer was edging past 95 degrees in spite of the fact I was in northern Michigan.  There was a vigorous wind blowing but it wasn’t refreshing in the slightest – more like a blast from Hades (aka a Beazulbub blow). Nature is used to such events by this point in the summer and the deep leathery green of the leaves attests to many such scorchings.

I stopped at a roadside park and watched as a black Grey Squirrel sauntered across the path in front of me. It did not bound, but instead snuck across in that weasel-like way often associated with these weasely squirrels. The beast ignored my presence completely and plopped itself belly down on a cross rail of a split cedar fence. Pressing his tummy directly against the shade-cooled wood of the rail, it allowed one foot to dangle lazily down and leaned its chin on a pair of pensively folded front paws. It looked and acted hot. What a bummer, I thought, to be a long-haired jet black creature on a hot day.

This thought prompted a memory of an earlier conversation I had about black phase Grey Squirrels. A random color variation of the Grey, black varieties become much more common the further north you go in the squirrels range. In some places, even though the melanistic (black pigment) gene is supposively recessive, the black phase dominates (three out of the four Grey Squirrels I ran over on this trip, for instance, were of the black type). I’m not sure anyone really knows why this is so. Some have theorized that it is due to the colder nature of the climate in northern areas. Because black absorbs heat, ergo, blacker beasts stay warmer in northern climes. Indeed this may be true to some extent, but upon analysis this fails to hold any water (or heat).

Northern animals tend toward whiteness as a matter of fact. Some, like snowshoe hares and some weasels, even convert from dark to white as the seasons progress into coldness. Polar Bears do have black skin, but are covered head to toe with white fur and they live in the Arctic.  Skunks are black but they are also nocturnal. Large Black Bears are diurnal and they are just as black in the steamy environs of Louisiana as they are in chillier climes of northern Michigan. No, there must be some other hidden selective force at work and I am not smart enough to figure it out… at least for today.

Now that I think of it, perhaps the effect is the opposite. The black squirrels are the “normal” ones and the grey varieties are the odd ones. The gray Greys predominate in the southern population where long hot summers prevail. Northern black Greys cook in the southern sun and tend to melt away like tiny Wizard of Oz witches. Yes, that might be it. I will accept my genius award at the next rest stop.

A stopover at a shallow cedar lined pond revealed several freshwater mussels on the silty bottom. Their shells were gaped and they were feeding. The warmth of the day probably had little effect upon them and they may have been enjoying the rays of the late day sun (you know what they say about happy clams).

A feeding clam is a fascinating creature. The tiger-striped folds of the fleshy mantle are exposed and constricted to form a small intake siphon tube and a larger outflow siphon tube. Sediment/detritus rich water is sucked into the intake and blown out the outflow.  This is what a mussel does all day with little thought for black squirrels or lawn deer. Suck in –blow out. Easy.

These particular mussels also revealed a great pile of stringy poop piling up aft of their outflow siphons. Lack of current, or movement, on their part has enabled a sizable pile to accumulate. I realize that such an observation may not be especially pleasing to the reader, but it affords an opportunity to fully appreciate mussel anatomy. It also allows us to realize that even clams are smart enough to direct their poo away from their intake.

As cool weather approaches the clams will shut down and burrow into the muck to wait out the winter. The black squirrels will stand out like sore thumbs as the winter snow flies but at least they’ll be slightly warmer by the time they are grabbed by a passing hawk.

And now, let’s end with a shot of a bountiful crop of wild grapes and move on down the road.

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