Thursday, October 13, 2011

Log rolling

Rotting logs are great places to explore, especially with children.  Logs are home to a variety of invertebrates: centipedes, millipedes, slugs, wood lice, earthworms, mites, harvestmen, snails, and beetles.  Often larger creatures such as snakes, salamanders, and toads can be found under and around rotting logs.  Logs also host a variety of fungi. Decomposers like fungi and bacteria break down logs into soil material.

So, here's what we found on a recent log rolling hike:

(1) Lots of leopard slugs (Limax maximus) also called giant garden slugs and their eggs.

These large noctural slugs devour fungi and dead plant matter as well as smaller slugs. Leopard slugs are hemaphrodites (they contain both male and female reproductive organs).

(2) Spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) digging their way into the soft soil where they will live during the fall and winter.  Here the salamanders will find plenty of worms, slugs and spiders to eat.  In the spring, they will join other spotted salamanders headed to the nearby vernal pool to mate and lay eggs.

 (3) Redback salamanders and their eggs - redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) are common throughout Massachusetts.  They hunt at night for small invertebrates, so log habitats are perfect places for keeping moist and finding food. Unlike spotted salamanders, redbacks are terrestrial throughout their life cycle.  Eggs are laid in clumps under logs and take about two months to hatch. 

(4) Red efts (Notophtalmus viridescens) which represent one of the four stages of the life cycle of the red-spotted newt (egg - larvae - eft - adult).  Efts are terrestrial juveniles that feed on spiders and other invertebrates.  Like other brightly colored creatures, efts' bright orange skin warns predators of their toxicity.

(5)  Baby garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) - this very young garter snake was one of several born during the last 2-3 weeks.  A log provides a great hiding place from hawks, opossums and other predators as well as plenty of worms to eat.  This little one was okay with being handled, but did not like the camera.

(6)  Sow bugs or wood lice are actually crustaceans.  Because they have gills, they need humidity to live.  A wet rotting log not only provides moisture, but also the decaying matter which these isopods feed on.

(7)  Common black ground beetles (Pterostichus melanarius) looking for soft-bodied prey such as maggots and caterpillars.

(8)  Rove beetles looking for maggots, other insects and decaying matter. 

(9)  Beetle larvae or grubs

As you can see, there's plenty to discover under a log.  Happy hunting and don't forget to put rolled logs back into their original position.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Name Those Larvae

Waiting for the school bus on a rainy morning last week, my daughter peered curiously at the ground.  "That looks like a moving piece of rope," she said pointing to a spot on the sidewalk.  We both hunched down with our faces just inches off the ground to take a closer look.  What a curious sight!  There, making its way across the sidewalk, was a "rope" made up of tiny larvae with black heads and rears piled high on top of one another.  They moved in unison and carried along two or three larger white larvae.  At one point there was dissent among the ranks as some of the larvae in front decided to head toward the right while others branched leftward.  After a few seconds, the rebellious right-going larvae changed direction and headed left with the rest of the gang.  Every other larvae in line followed right along, one sliding over the other in a sticky train. 

Six hours later, after school, my daughter and I headed back to the same spot and were amazed to find that the larvae train was still there!  I snapped some photos and a short video so I could try to identify these strange critters.  Cucumber beetle larvae?  Please comment if you know what these are!

Pond Visitors

Yesterday afternoon when the sun was blazing, I stopped at our small pond to see if anything new had arrived.  I wasn't disappointed.  At first, I saw this garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) sunning itself atop the frogbit.  It wove itself in and out of the pickerel weed, then quickly slid out of the pond, under the fence and into my neighbor's stone wall. 

But then I noticed a snout pushing out from the frogbit.  Another larger garter snake was hidden beneath the surface.

My son and I watch for about 15 minutes as this larger snake emerged from the pond and basked on the rocks.  Perhaps it had just had a meal since it was sluggish, did not seem bothered by our presence, and readjusted its jaws 4 or 5 times as it shifted positions on the edge of the pond.

This green frog who lives in the pond returned from its hiding place in the garden once the snake left.

A wooly bear caterpillar was unfazed by all the activity and kept munching away on frogbit.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fungi Galore

All this rain, rain, rain has resulted in some amazing fungi eruptions.  I'll confess right now to not knowing much about identifying mushrooms.  What we see are just the fruiting bodies of fungus which is undergound.  The underground portion can be quite massive.  How massive, you ask?  According to an article in Scientific American the largest fungus is located in Oregon and is estimated to be 2,400 years old.  It covers 2,200 acres. Click this link for another interesting article about  huge fungi.

I hiked around and photographed as many different types of fungi as I could.  The variety of colors, shapes and sizes are amazing.  Don't forget fungi's important task: breaking down organic matter.   I used the book, Mushrooms and Other Fungi of North America by Roger Phillips, to help identify some of the fungi I found. The book contains large, clear color photos.  Still, it was no easy task.  Please feel free to correct a label or add one.  Above all, please don't eat wild mushrooms unless you know what you are doing!  Enjoy the fungus photo shoot.


polypore - bracket fungus



one of my favorites - coral fungus (Ramaria)

coral fungus



polypore - bracket fungus

puffball fungus

Another favorite - bird's nest fungus (Cyathus) - note the tiny dark "eggs" or basidiospores which are used in reproduction.  These were growing in a flower pot.

This fungus looked like a white brain growing from a rotted log.

Orange jelly fungus

Coral fungus (Ramaria)

a coral or tooth fungus (Ramaria)

another polypore - turkey tail

and another polypore ....