Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

June 28, 2015

A Midge with Mites Upon’em

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 4:32 pm

Midge with Mites photo IMG_0198_zps5neiliim.jpg

A midge with mites upon ‘em

might be covered top to bottom.

Though small the midges are,

Their mites are tinier by far.

Let me start out by saying that Chironomid Midges are not Mosquitoes.  Similar looking to their blood-sucking dipteran cousins, they do not, and cannot, bite humans. I figure that knowing this will enable you to reserve your slapping energy this summer.   As larvae, midges live in the water and glean a living off microscopic plant matter and detritus. As adults they emerge and engage the world as flying beasts – seeking sap and each other.

Several of these critters landed around me one afternoon. All of them were males seeking refuge from the wind under the porch eaves. I was reading a book about making moonshine whiskey but I doubt that had anything to do with my sudden attraction.  Male Midges have hairy “plumose” antennae which make them easy to separate from the narrow-antennaed females. Heeding my own advice I did not try to shoo them away. Instead, I did the opposite and carefully observed them through the lens of my camera. When several revealed that they had passengers in the form of tiny red mites I was, as they say, “engaged.” Those ensy-weensy flies had ensy-weensier cargo attached to their legs.

Without getting into details, there are probably dozens of species of mite that infest midge flies alone. I found at least nine species over the course of my cursory review of the subject and all are members of a group known as Hydrachnidia. Like the midges, the mites are aquatic in the very first stages of life. They attach to the midge nymphs and transfer to the adult when it emerges. While attached they feed on the body fluids (aka blood) and eventually drop off into the water to resume an aquatic life. While their young are parasites (specifically ecto-parasites – which means they stay on the outside of the body), the adult mites are aquatic predators. Mites are related to spiders and possess eight legs when adult.

Midge with Mites photo IMG_0194_zpsawidav81.jpg

Given the amount of mites glomming onto the two midges I photographed it is amazing that their host could fly, yet all flew with ease. The mites were concentrated on the legs and thorax and left the wings unencumbered. There is no way I could identify the specific mite species involved here because even on an enlarged image they looked like fuzzy views of the planet …er, excuse me…the planetoid Pluto. Researchers, however, have done some work on this topic and discovered that some feed exclusively on the thorax while others concentrate on the long segmented abdomen.

Midge with Mites photo IMG_0181_zps8semsyz9.jpg

My small, along with their smaller, visitors would take flight after a few minutes and leave me to ponder several final thoughts. First, I assume that it is bad taste among midges to mention, or otherwise point out, the presence of mites on their fellow midges much in the same way as it is verboten to point out pimples or warts on humans. Secondly, it is imperative that these midge mites return to the water. It is their duty, therefore, to suck just enough blood out their host to live on but leave enough so that they can return to the lake. The idea is for the male midges to assemble with the females in huge midge clouds for the purpose of mating. I am guessing this is the moment chosen for the mites to drop off or forever regret their decision. There is much I do not know about midge mites, but for the moment this will have to do. Moonshine whiskey sounds a bit more fascinating for the time being.

June 18, 2015

Queen Among Snakes

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 9:14 pm

Queen Snake photo IMG_0135_zpssncjkewt.jpg

I was at the Huron River boat launch waiting for my group to show up and had time to kill (and no problem killing it because the rain clouds were still a half hour away). Looking over the edge of the board walk at the water’s edge I spied an interesting snake draped on the grape vines below.  It literally looked as if was carelessly tossed onto the greenery.

Small and dusky blue gray in color, the creature lacked the expected mottling or patterning of a Northern Water, Garter, or Fox Snake – the common local species of record. A creamy yellow side-stripe bordered by a chocolate stripe pegged it as a Queen Snake and a truly interesting find. I’ve only managed two sightings of this unique critter over the past 30 years or so.

Queen Snake photo IMG_0146_zpslukecwmd.jpg  Queen Snake photo IMG_0140_zps7qwvao5v.jpg

Queens are only found in southern and southwestern part of the state and are never common within their range. In fact, these water snakes are becoming a bit scarce because of their sensitivity to polluted or heavily silted waters. They specialize on crayfish as prey and seek freshly molted individuals as a way to prevent hard shells and pinching claws.

I am at a loss to completely describe the background meaning of the Queen Snake’s name and the scientific name is of little help. Dubbed Regina septemvittata, the whole thing can be translated as the “seven-striped Queen.”  Only young snakes exhibit the seven stripes of note. The adults darken in color and only display four real stripes. While King Snakes are snake eaters, and thus rule over all snakes, I can’t come up with a good generality about Queens other than they tell everyone to eat cake! In the long run, it really doesn’t matter.

The rain clouds traveled faster than expected and a heavy cloudburst eventually propelled the reptile back into the water after a few minutes. Fortunately, I got a good viewing of the Queen and was happy for the opportunity to share it with you.

Queen Snake photo IMG_0144_zpsccliya83.jpg

June 7, 2015

Red-bellied Retreat

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:00 am

Pink Version of Red-Bellied Snake photo IMG_9761_zpsvv86xfzl.jpg

Sometimes life comes at you in themed bundles where things seemed related. We certainly notice this on days when nothing goes right but there are also times when a certain word pops up several times or speckled dogs are uncommonly common. As an interpreter I’m always looking to relate natural events together as a packaged unit such as a blog, article, or subject of a speech. The shore side yard at Dollar Lake recently provided me with a Red-bellied Day – sort of.

Raking away the accumulated oak leaves around the fire pit I exposed a small snake sitting upon the moist bare earth. Seeing that it didn’t immediately dart for cover I snatched it for a closer look. My initial glance pegged it as a Brown, or Dekay’s, Snake. The belly proved to be much pinker than usual for this species, however, and cast doubt upon my first impression (this is a nice way to say that I was probably mistaken).

Pink Version of Red-Bellied Snake photo IMG_9763_zpsud7lzdu8.jpg

During the following photo session the little beast did something unusual. Curling its upper lips back into a sneer, it revealed a row of tiny teeth set into black gums. This was Red-bellied Snake behavior. I was looking at a pink-bellied version of a Red-bellied Snake – species whose tummy color can run the gamut from scarlet red to pale pink.  Grouped with Brown and Ring-necked Snakes, Red-bellies are worm-eating snakes only slightly larger than their chosen prey.

As if a pink-bellied Red-bellied snake wasn’t enough, one of the local Red-bellied Woodpeckers showed up on the trunk of a nearby Red Maple later in the day.  Now, I’ve addressed this subject before, but for the sake of bundling I’d like to re-mention that Red-bellied Woodpeckers do not really have red bellies. True they have a reddish “rash” about their tummy parts, but this feature is the least remarkable thing about their identity. Red-bellies (Woodpeckers that is) have a remarkable red-backed head and were it not for the well named Red-headed Woodpecker should be called Red-headed Woodpeckers.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker photo IMG_9788_zpshjrcqzhg.jpg

The woodpecker in this case was an especially reddish individual, however, and even the tannish portions took on a pinkish or salmon-tinged glow when framed in green maple leaves. Please excuse the over use of “ish” in the previous sentence, but nature often requires it when describing creatures or flora that cannot be defined.

My Red-bellied Day, really more of a pink-bellied day, was yet another great Dollar Day on the lake.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker photo IMG_9792_zpsbcfxdqmd.jpg

Powered by WordPress