Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 30, 2014

A Large Coffee with Two Earth Stars, Please –Amendum

Filed under: BlogsMonroe,Plants — wykes @ 10:49 am
Dog Stinkhorn photo 35250823-c171-4d7d-9d27-9f16f8c6f2d4_zps0db06cbc.jpg
Blogs, like fungi, pop up out of nowhere and grow old quickly – they soon rot away into obscurity. Because of this I feel the need to add something to my most recent offering before it too dissolves. You will recall that I was addressing the bark bed outside the local Tim Horton’s Coffee shop and the wonderful assortment of fungi that it offered. The Dog Vomit fungi, Earthstars and Bird’s Nest Fungi were worthy of attention according to my admittedly twisted view. This weekend a Dog Stinkhorn was added to the list.
Long and slender, this particular stinkhorn had a pock-marked orangish stem topped with a pointed slimy cap. These fungi emerge from a circular egg-like bud and a remnant of this “shell” was attached to the top. It is with some trepidation that I mention the reasons behind the name but will point out that it refers to the anatomy of a dog…a male dog, to be precise.
Stinkhorns, true to their name, are smelly “things.” Their stench ranges from fecal to rotten deer in character. One source ironically described the smell of the Dog Stinkhorn like “cat feces.” I was unable to take a personal sniff because it was right next to the car lane but it’s safe to say that it smelled to high heaven and stunk to low hell. All this stenchiness is meant to attract flies and invite them to tromp about the spore-laden goo covering the cap. These visitors leave with the spores betwixt their toes and therefore serve as a means of distribution.
The Dog Stinkhorn never made the menu and promptly disappeared within a few days. It probably means nothing, but I feel compelled to mention that a very large and creepingly silent crow was watching me the whole time I was photographing this fungi.  I cannot say for certain, but feel that this bird may have been working for Timmy Ho’s and…this is getting creepy, we’d better drop the subject for good.
A Watching Crow photo IMG_6598_zpse492c663.jpg

September 24, 2014

A Large Coffee with Two Earthstars, Please

Filed under: BlogsMonroe,Plants — wykes @ 5:26 pm
Earth Stars with a Large Coffee photo IMG_6404_zpsb92da212.jpg
I am fascinated by the fungi selection at the local Timmy Ho’s (that’s familiar-speak for the Tim Horton’s/ Coldstone Creamery coffee shop). I’m fairly sure this is not something the proprietors deliberately market, but in my mind it ranks right up there with their Cinnamon Rolls and Coffee. For some strange reason they are not on the menu board and I feel there is a missed opportunity here. Fortunately, there is ample opportunity to review the collection right outside your window as you wait in the car line.
These fungi sprout from the magic bark chips bordering the take-out lane. In years past, large patches of Dog Vomit Fungus have dominated the bark bed. Looking exactly like the name implies, they appear as amoeba-shaped blobs of yellowish puke (without the chunks). There could not have been much demand for this product and I assume this was why it was quietly removed from the list this year. The Earthstars and Bird’s Nests which replaced it, however, are a different story. They might well cut into the pastry sales– especially after we give them a closer look. Each has an intriguing lifestyle to go along with their intriguing appearance.

Earth Stars photo IMG_6394_zps3113dbde.jpg

Earth Stars photo IMG_6399_zps346ffdae.jpg

The Tim Horton’s Earthstars are especially robust examples of their kind. These unique organisms look like miniature white puffballs when they initially pop out of the ground (or the chips in this case). The outer layer splits and peels back to expose an even smaller puffball inside. This central portion is full of micro spores which are ejected from the center hole in dirty little puffs when disturbed.

Earth Star photo IMG_6401_zps58bbae71.jpg      Earth Star photo IMG_6400_zps90b2bbbb.jpg

The “petals” on an open Earthstar expand or contract according to relative humidity. Wet conditions compel them to curl backwards – detaching the fungus from its base and lifting it, spider-like, off the surface. Dryer conditions then cause the petals to curve inward and return the structure to a roundish shape. Aerodynamically free and clear to follow the whims of the winds, the earth star will roll across the landscape like a tumbleweed and spread the spores to other Tim Horton’s.

Bird's Nest Fungi photo IMG_6426_zps342c07d7.jpg

While Earthstars walk and roll, the tiny Birds Nest fungi blast their spores into the surrounding world. There is little need to explain why these things are called what they are. One look shows each fungus to be a blackish “nest” containing 4 to 5 flattened “eggs” inside. To say that the eggs actually look more like Lentil beans and that the nest looks more like a funnel spoils the simplicity of this picture, so I’ll try to refrain from mentioning this again and stick with the bird analogy.

Bird's Nest Fungi photo IMG_6429_zpsf745a77f.jpg

Bird's Nest Fungi photo IMG_6430_zps550b01d0.jpg

Each nest egg, called a peridole, contains a “yolk” –in reality a spore sac -attached to a tightly coiled cord with a glue ball at its end. The whole unit, the shell of the “egg” in this increasingly awkward description, is loosely attached to the base of the nest via a fragile stem.
The eggs violently hatch upon being struck by rain drops from a heavy shower. As random drops pummel the open nest they are funneled to the bottom, rip open the eggs, and propel the spore case into the air. The coiled cord on the spore sac unravels and the sticky end flings about in until it strikes, and attaches to, an elevated plant stem a few inches off the ground. Dangling from this lofty (a relative term when it comes to lowly fungi) perch, the spore sac bursts and sends forth its load of dusty cargo.
Walking earthstars and fungal cannonballs make Tim Bits and Pumpkin Donuts sound rather lame don’t they? I’ll take mine with one cream and no sugar, please

Bird's Nest Fungi with a Large Coffee photo IMG_6435_zps990fe6a7.jpg

September 15, 2014

Second Nature: Un-caterpillars

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 3:43 pm

Second nature: something that should be natural and easy to do –such as a short piece on a small subject based upon a few moments of nature observation. Get it? Second, as in part of a minute, and…never mind.

Leafy Spurge Sphinx Pupae photo IMG_6351_zps0099dd5f.jpg

You may recall my blog from a couple of installments ago in which I told the riveting details of my encounter with a Leafy Spurge Sphinx (a new species in Michigan). O.K., so it wasn’t riveting – I merely picked the thing up as it was crossing a Northern Michigan road. The only riveting part was when a truck nearly ran it over before I could nab it. At the time of writing I mentioned that I would await the coming pupal stage of this beast as the next point of interest in this story. Well, he has finally “taken the plunge” and I am duty-bound to bring you up to date.

Leafy Spurge Sphinx Pupae - fancy container for pupation photo IMG_6364_zps35b5a892.jpg

Safe within the confines of its high-tech enclosure (a coffee cup partially filled with sandy soil) the caterpillar shed his colorful skin and converted to an intricately patterned pupa. It tunneled down about an inch and created a chamber whose walls were held together with a loose mat of silk before performing the transformation.
The pupa retains the caterpillar’s horn and spiracles (breathing holes), but otherwise displays – via outlines on the exterior of the casing – the new look it will have as a sleek adult. Large compound eyes sit opposite on a well-defined head. A long tongue has replaced the chewing mouthparts. Destined for sipping nectar from tubular flowers, the tongue appears down the center along with the two linear antennae. Both are framed between the leading edges of the folded mini-wings. The sixteen legs of youth have been reduced to six and they are neatly aligned with the tongue and antennae.

Leafy Spurge Sphinx Pupae photo IMG_6355_zpsbec69625.jpg

Leafy Spurge Sphinx Pupae photo IMG_6358_zps10ee8bb1.jpg  Leafy Spurge Sphinx Pupae photo IMG_6363_zps7c8c5cbb.jpg

Inside this simple casing a remarkable transformation is occurring. The muscles of old are dissolved and re-created to serve powerful wings, tongue, and legs. Evidence that the abdominal muscles are already functioning, the creature wiggles freely when handled. This, of course, makes for riveting footage (see here) but we’ll have to wait until next spring before the final exciting chapter in this metamorphosis takes place. This thing is more moth now than caterpillar – straight and peaceful (unlike Darth Vader).

Dogwood Saw Fly Larva photo IMG_6376_zps54a5652a.jpg

On the subject of non-caterpillars, Dogwood Sawfly larvae (see above) are chewing away at the refugee Gray Dogwood sapling next to my house. Although they look very caterpillar-like they are very not (odd wording, I know, but I’m sticking with it). Sawflies are closely related to bees and wasps and the adult stages bear this out. The larvae are plant eaters that live and eat like caterpillars and therefore have adapted like traits and appearances. There are a few distinctions that separate them from moth/butterfly (let’s call them lepidopteron) larvae, however.

Dogwood Saw Fly Larvae photo IMG_6370_zps137cfa90.jpg

Sawfly larvae have a solid head capsule with two prominent eyes, whereas lepidopterans typically have three sets of tiny eyes and a divided head capsule. The leps have only four sets of fleshy legs in the center of their body and the sawflies have six or more pair. Even though some caterpillars are colonial, Sawflies are always colony feeders so you rarely find just one.
Dogwood Saw Fly Larvae photo IMG_6371_zps83765e6c.jpg
Members of the family have the unusual habit of raising their hind ends when disturbed – as if to say “my butt to you.” The Dogwood sawflies take this to such an extreme that they actually curl up like miniature cinnamon rolls. Younger stages of this species, such as these examples, are covered with a waxy down.
These little fellows will lose that downiness and take on a smooth stark black and yellow skin as they approach their last stage of larvalhood. Like the sphinx moth they will burrow under the ground and overwinter as a pupa. Both the Spurge Sphinx and Dogwood Saw Fly will spend the winter as un-caterpillars:  one as a “never was” and the other as a “used-to-be”.

September 8, 2014

Second Nature: I Spy Flies

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 11:56 am

Second nature: something that should be natural and easy to do –such as a short piece on a small subject based upon a few moments of nature observation. Get it? Second, as in part of a minute, and…never mind.

Machimus Robber Fly photo IMG_6195_zpsd28841fc.jpg

A large golden fly landed on my arm as I was standing on my Dollar Lake dock. The thing was so bizarre looking, and appeared so suddenly, that I briefly thought it to be some sort of twisted “bluebird of happiness.” I would not have expected a long-legged, hunchbacked, fuzzy yellow insect to be a bringer of fortune but at my stage of life I am open to suggestion. Unfortunately it took off and briefly landed on the dock before vanishing into thin air. I actually felt slightly sadder after the encounter, and so conclude it was merely a “fly that reminds people how average looking they are.”
This was no average looking fly, however. Called a Hunch-backed Bee Fly, this critter is a member of a group of so-called flower flies. The adults feed on nectar and the maggots steal food from solitary wasps. Hunch-backs specialize in coneflowers and daisies. I guess that my cone-shaped head must have tricked it into approaching me. Apart from the legginess and humpiness of this individual, the peculiar antennae are worth noting because of their un-flylike length and fuzziness. In some texts they are sometimes referred to as scalehorn flies for this reason.

Hunchback Bee Fly photo IMG_6215_zps28fadcf8.jpg

Scientifically this fly is labeled Lepidophora lutea; meaning “yellow scale bearer” or something like that. This is a good name. Even the wings have a light coating of buttery-hued scales. It is a much better name than “the stupid fly that mistakes people for flowers.”

Machimus Robber Fly photo IMG_6197_zpsf10e509e.jpg

Back on the shore I came upon a robust fly of a very different sort (see above). It was a Robber Fly in the process of draining the life out of a tiny moth. Unlike the humble Bee Flies, Robbers are aggressive predators. They tackle flying insect prey with stout legs and then inject them, via a blade-like proboscis, with toxic spit. This fluid paralyses the victim and liquefies the organs so that the fly can leisurely suck out the mix like a McDonald’s shake. The flavor of the hour in this case was a diminutive moth called a Small White Grass Veneer Moth (see below).

Small White Grass Veneer Moth photo IMG_6229_zps71b0c278.jpg

All of Robber flies share a generally hairy look and often possess a “Snuffy Smith” mustache of sorts bordering the lower face. Their maggots are predatory (in other words “not cute”). Like all flies, the adults have only one pair of wings. The second pair are reduced to tiny clubs called halteres (look closely under the wing in the first picture below). These organs rotate about when the creature is in flight and act as gyroscopes.

Machimus Robber Fly photo IMG_6200_zpsb1f90e89.jpg  Machimus Robber Fly photo IMG_6196_zps100b77ae.jpg

There are thousand of species of Robber flies in the world. Based on cursory investigation I’d say this particular life-stealer was a female member of the genus Machimus. The Greek origins of the genus name refer to “war-like” or “soldier” depending on how it’s used. There was a city in Greek legend called Machimus which was populated by huge warrior people and Machimus was one of the 50 dogs that attacked and ate the hunter Actaeon after he was turned into a stag. You see he accidently came upon a bathing goddess and saw here naked and…forget it. Greek stories are far too complicated to explain here, so let’s leave this discussion where it lay.

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