Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Missouri Bald Eagles

Bald Eagle at Lake Springfield - Charles Burwick

Bald Eagles of Missouri - by Charles Burwick

“See any eagles?” This is a common remark from a person standing nearby while I am scoping Lake Springfield, or any large body of water in Missouri. I am reminded, every time I hear that refrain, of a lady asking me if the eagles being viewed during an Eagle Days Event at Lake Springfield were, in fact, wild eagles.

We all are aware of the period of time when Bald Eagles, and other raptors were in precipitously decline. There was deep concern that Bald Eagles and many other raptors were going to becoming extinct as a result of DDT. Actually, early on, we didn’t even know why their populations were declining. As a youth there was not even talk of any chance we would ever or expect to see a Bald Eagle in Missouri.

Fortunately the publication of the book “Silent Spring” authored by Rachel Carson, brought awareness of the cause of declining bird populations and saved the day for many birds including raptors and our National Emblem, the Bald Eagle. However, that still left us a long way from seeing a Bald Eagle, much less nesting Bald Eagles in Missouri,

In the 1990s Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) initiated a program to re initiate Bald Eagle populations into Missouri. The program was an outstanding success. Today there are more than 750 nesting Bald Eagles in Missouri. Interestingly, the Bald Eagles that are hatched and fledged in Missouri do not migrate from Missouri. They are year-round residents.

The population of Bald Eagles that migrate into Missouri from other States provide opportunities to see large numbers of Bald Eagles during the winter. The eagles are drawn to Missouri in the winter because of the many large lakes in our State, and of course the two major rivers, the Mississippi and Missouri. 

Eagles at Stella, Missouri, 2010   -   Jeff Cantrell

Large numbers of Bald Eagles congregate in the early part of the winter in and around Stella, Mo. This happens as a result of the many chicken farms around the area.  In the past, dead chickens were thrown out on the open ground, which is now illegal, imprinting the eagles on that location for winter food.

MDC puts on several Eagle Day events across the State, as well as other towns, or organizations along the major rivers, and lakes. It is easy to Google for Bald Eagle event locations across the State.  Here just take a drive to Lake Springfield, cross over south of the lake bridge, and turn right into the parking lot. View west towards a distant tree line, and you can view an active Bald Eagle nest.

Nesting eagle east of Springfield near the James River  -  C. Burwick

To me the real excitement of Bald Eagles sightings is because you may spot an eagle any day of the year. While birding around Greene and surrounding counties, I frequently spot, and take pictures of Bald Eagles during every month of the year. In our part of Missouri, as a Bald Eagle flies, they are really never far from rivers and/or lakes of every size. 

Prince William Sound, Alaska - Mark Bower

While the eagle’s diet is prominently fish, they are quite opportunistic feeders, and are frequently spotted eating road kill, and other carrion. So, when you are driving around just enjoying the Missouri landscape be aware that the large bird sitting in the field, on the road, or in a tree may well be a Bald Eagle. Also, remember that it takes 3-5 years for a Bald Eagle to molt to adult plumage with the white head, and tail, so don’t mistake an immature eagle for a hawk.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Carnivorous Fungi!

 

Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) - Worm killer!

The oyster mushroom above is one of our favorite edibles once you get past the fact that it eats worms.  Mark Bower explains this below.

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Fungi can play various ecological roles in a wide variety of ecosystems. They decompose dead organic material, they have extensive mycorrhizal relationships with plants, and they can be parasitic on plants, animals and even each other. However, there is another role that is less well known, and somewhat surprising. Over 700 species of fungi have evolved the ability to capture, kill and digest nematodes, utilizing them as a supplemental nitrogen source. They have chosen their prey wisely, since nematodes are the most abundant animals on earth, accounting for 80% of all animal individuals.

They have devised various ways to kill their prey. Some species have sticky hyphae which adhere to the worm. The fungus then secretes chemicals to paralyze and kill the nematode. It then sends other hyphae into the nematode’s mouth and anus to digest it. Other fungi are more sophisticated. Some secrete chemicals which attract the nematodes, luring them to their deaths. Others have specialized structures on their hyphae, such as adhesive knobs, spiny balls and even little loops which lasso the poor critters.
 

Orbilia sp.
Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)

It can get even more complicated! Nematodes are great consumers of bacteria. When attacked, some bacterial colonies secrete urea, which can trigger a fungus to activate its nematode-killing mechanisms, thus protecting the bacteria from predation.

Here are a couple of examples of nematophagous fungi in this area. Tiny 1-2 mm Orbilia species above are the most ubiquitous worm killers on the planet. They really don’t look that vicious!  

At the other end of the lineup of suspects, the Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus), looks the part of an evil worm killer.

As a side note, nematodes do have their supporters. Here is Barbara Kipfer (Homo sapiens) capturing and killing oyster mushrooms in order to protect the local nematode population. 

To watch fungi attacking nematodes with different strategies, watch this video.

The first 3 minutes shows the capture mechanisms.

There is more information on carnivorous fungi at this link.






Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Twig Mystery

My friend Bryan sent this photograph of a branch on a baby crabapple, thinking it might be a scale insect as INaturalist proposed but an alternate possibility was insect eggs.  I suggested he peel one off to test its consistency and attachment, then cut it open carefully with a razor blade to see what is inside. Here is what he found:

"They are layered up like 7mm scales, with the bottom of the teardrop attached and the top of the teardrop overlapping the scale above. Using a razor blade, the answer is --- A bunch of yellow, very runny goo. Unfortunately there is no discernible morphology inside the egg. I wonder if they need more time to mature."

Closeup- Click to enlarge

Meanwhile I sent the picture on to Chris Barnhart who identified them as eggs of a katydid, "probably in the genus Microcentrum." While I can't identify these further without raising them, it lead me down a Covid-induced deep rabbit hole. After looking a a number of katydid egg photographs,  I settled on the greater angle-wing katydid (GWA) as the best example to study. This is Microcentrum rhombifolium described here in Bugguide.  An example of GWA eggs is below and you can see others here


Broadwinged katydid - Whitney Cranshaw, CC

Sticking with GWA as a tentative ID I made a much deeper Googling dive and came up with this information from Illinois.

"The lifespan of a katydid is about a year. Females usually lay their eggs at the end of summer. Most katydids overwinter in the egg form. The males have sound-producing organs on their front wings. They use this sound for courtship. During courtship there often is antennal contact between male and female. 
Katydids are eaten by birds and mammals and may be the target of insect predators and parasites including horsehair worms, wasps and flies. This species is common in trees. It can be found in forests, urban areas and edge habitats. The eggs are glued in double rows on the sides of twigs roughened by biting."

Their "song" is produced by stridulation when a scraper is dragged across a set of ridges, much like dragging a phonograph needle across a record.  (For those of a younger generation, substitute dragging a fingernail across a comb).  Songs of insects has a good description of the GWA and a recording of the high pitched song, so listen carefully.

So what is the risk of waiting to see what emerges?  "Although rare, leaf damage, particularly to young trees, can be extremely severe. " Texasinto  They can be a significant problem in citrus groves.  I suggested to Bryan that he cut and bag the stem and see what emerges.  Meanwhile you can see the whole lifecycle in these photographs on Bugguide. 

Covid reminder to self:  Avoid the news, put down computer and go for a long walk.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Ants Under Bark

L. americanus closeup- REK

A while back I was moving a downed tree when the bark fell off and I was confronted with a frantic mass of ants.  They were desperately trying to drag their young to safety as you can see in this Youtube video.  After photographing them I covered up the crime scene with rotting bark.  I sent a photograph to James Trager who identified them as Lasius americanus.   According to James they are a woodland ant species that often lives in rotting wood, but also in sedge hummocks in fens, or simply in moist soil.

"It's a bit of a mystery what they eat, though honeydew from root-feeding aphids and related insects is known to be an important part of the diet. By the way, that brood you see is in fact larvae rather than pupae. Ant pupae look like tightly folded adult ants, or in the case of this species are in a cocoon, which shows no discernible head or other segments. The larva early in the video does appear to be a prepupa though, because it is all white, having eliminated the dark meconium, or larval gut contents."

Ant, aphid and honey dew dripping- James Trager

He attached the picture above of another species in the genus, L. aphidicola with aphids on a tree root. Note the droplets of honeydew exuded by the aphids nearest the ant.  Many ant species actually farm ants like dairy cows, protecting them from predators and lapping up the honeydew waste product, the ultimate in recycling.  

According to Antwiki:

"This omnivorous species collects elaiosomes from seeds, live insects and carcasses of dead ones, and tends a wide variety of aphids, scales, and treehoppers, and coccids that feed on plant roots."

When exploring rotting logs, it pays to put them back as close to their original condition as possible.  They will appreciate it, even it they don't wave goodbye Or you can show your love by raising them, available online!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Winter Mosquito?

Our "mosquito" - a non-biting midge.  REK

In the last blog I posted "Two weeks earlier I saw an insect fly slowly and land on the kitchen counter.  It sat there patiently while I got my camera to document it as a visiting "mosquito" in mid- December.  I can't identify it to species."  Kevin Firth then sent me this suggestion.

"I think your winter mosquito might actually be a Chironomidae family (non-biting midge). From what I recall of my fishing days, midges are about the only aquatic insect that will hatch in every month of the year, so winter trout fishing (never something that held any appeal for me) is all about midge flies."

I think he is right and I missed it.  After a shallow dive into a deep subject here is what I have come up with.

  • Proboscis - Extends forward on a mosquito, non visible on this insect.
  • Antennae - Both have plumose antennae with the mosquito having shorter hairs in front and increase in length to the rear. (1)
  • Wings - Mosquito wings tend to be longer than their body.  The midge's wings do not extend beyond the end of its body. (2)
  • Midges hold their body straight on a side view while mosquitoes have a humped back. I noticed this but couldn't get a photograph.
  • Midges fly slower than mosquitoes, which was striking watching this insect hover slowly over the sink before landing. (3)
  • A mosquito's wings bear scales which create a fringe-like border on the trailing or posterior edge.  Because the midge's wings are not covered in scales, there is no visible "fringe" along the edge of each wing" and they are clear like a pane of glass.
  • Finally midges tend to fly in all seasons.  Winter trout fishermen use midge patterns because the trout know this.  "Midges are, basically, the most important source of food for trout. In fact, midges are the bulk of a trout’s diet November thru February. Midges are a major food source year-round for trout.  They hatch in freezing temperatures and hatch by the thousands.  When aquatic insects are less inactive in the winter, opportunistic trout key in on drifting midge larvae. Because midges mature and develop year-round, trout depend on them for easy pick’ins". (4)

I am grateful for Kevin's response and the education.  Until I hear different from a more authoritative source, I think this winter critter is a non-biting midge.

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  1. Ask Nature 
  2. Thoughtco 
  3. Pediaa 
  4. Theflycrate

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Pests of Winter

 

I just had my first Christmas Day tick.  Just a little itching on the underside of my forearm led me to the surprise.  I have to give it points for tenacity, engorging on a 34 degree day but it didn't survive the tweezers.  Identification of an engorged tick is difficult but I can rule out a Lone Star tick.  This is most likely a Dog Tick.  

Deer ticks that can transmit Lyme Disease will occasionally come out of dormancy to bit on moderate winter days.  I have never seen a Black Leg Tick/Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis) in 20 years and we are at the western edge of their territory according to the CDC.  Infectious disease doctors locally tell me that the uncommon Lyme Disease cases they see are generally acquired from the eastern US.

We tend to talk about late spring as tick season here in the Ozarks but apparently this one hadn't checked the calendar.   

"In general, the species of ticks that transmit diseases to humans in the U.S. tend to become inactive during the winter. The combination of cold weather and shorter days triggers a kind of hibernation, known as diapause, says Ellen Stromdahl, a retired entomologist from the tick-borne disease laboratory of the U.S. Army Public Health Center at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland."  Consumer Reports

Winter Mosquito - December 12, 2020

Note:  See next post, I now think this is a non-biting midge.

 Two weeks earlier I saw an insect fly slowly and land on the kitchen counter.  It sat there patiently while I got my camera to document it as a visiting mosquito in mid- December.  I can't identify it to species.

According to multiple sources in cold weather—below 50° F, according to the Connecticut Mosquito Management Program—mosquitoes aren’t active.  "Winter" is a relative term and the first first 12 days of December had 4 nights barely below freezing after a low of zero on December 1 according to the National Weather Service.  Either way this is one tough mosquito.

Lots of other "bugs" show up in our creek house in addition to the ones we bring in for study.  Spiders, beetles, flies and crickets are common.  While most normal people bring out the insecticide, we tend to collect and identify them.  We are not alone in this.  Researchers at North Carolina State University have conducted a study of  Arthropods in our Homes.

As discussed in Zmescience, they studied 50 homes within a 30 mile radius.  

"In total, they searched over 500 rooms, and just 6 of them were insect-free. To be honest, they probably also missed some insects because they never checked underneath carpets and in drawers or cabinets."

“The vast majority of the arthropods we found in homes were not pest species,” Bertone says. “They were either peaceful cohabitants – like the cobweb spiders (Theridiidae) found in 65 percent of all rooms sampled – or accidental visitors, like midges and leafhoppers (Cicadellidae).”

Click to enlarge - Zmescience

I think you will find this detailed summary of their finds as interesting as I did, or else you will be putting in a call to your local exterminator.


Sunday, December 20, 2020

Stinkhorn Eggs

I found these white rubbery eggs when I rolled over a rotting log.  I didn't know if they were animal or plant in origin but suspected they were fungi based on the stringy root like structures resembling mycelia.  Mark Bower quickly confirmed that they were stinkhorn fungus eggs.   Stinkhorn eggs commonly occur in mulch, gardens, etc, but also can be found in the forest or in grass. 

Curiosity overcame any sympathetic feelings of parenthood and I sliced one open with a razor blade.  The skin was thin and the green mass was jelly-like.  The white portion felt more like a mushroom in consistency.  Now feeling a moral responsibility for the young ones,  I quizzed Mark further.  I asked Mark to provide more information on fungus eggs. 

 

"Those stringy things are rhizomorphs, also called mycelial cords. Numerous parallel hyphae twist together like a rope. This allows for more efficient transport of water and nutrient than a mess of individual hyphae. What you have there is a stinkhorn egg. The ingredients should have been gelatinous. They are actually edible, people pickle them. This is something I would never recommend, since they can be confused with Amanita eggs."   (Bower)

It didn't take much prodding to get him to expand on his favorite subject.          ===================================================

Who doesn’t like to have eggs for breakfast? Well, before you dig in to your stinkhorn eggs and ham, make sure you know what you’re eating. There are other “eggs” in the woods which may not be so appetizing! A good practice when gathering round white fungi such as puffballs and stinkhorn eggs is to slice each one in half and examine the interior. Puffballs should have a solid white interior, with no “mushroom-like” structure present. Also, the skin of the puffball should be thin and easily torn. With stinkhorn eggs, you should see the structure of a nascent stinkhorn, with the olive-colored spore mass present.

Outline of cap

The eggs above look similar to stinkhorn eggs or puffballs, but the interior has the outline of a baby Amanita as seen on the right. Consuming one Amanita egg could easily kill a person (photo by Mark Stinmetz).  

(Editor's note: Never eat any fungus unless it identified by an expert like Mark, preferably one without his sense of humor.  If he hands one to you to eat and starts to photograph your expression, run away)


Here is another example of eggs you do not want to have for breakfast. They are “Pigskin Puffballs”. The interior is solid white when they are young, but quickly turns purple. The important identifying feature of these fungi is their thick, tough skin. They are poisonous, but probably won’t kill you.  
 
Seriously, you think anyone would consider eating that black mass?

There is only one thing more fun than eating an ugly, gelatinous stinkhorn egg. Take an egg or two home, along with some of the dirt. Place them in a bowl and keep them moist. Within a few days the eggs will “hatch” and the stinkhorn will emerge. Once they break through, they can grow to adulthood in a matter of a few hours! At right is Phallus impudicus, which I hatched on our kitchen counter. The aroma was delightful! You can see the action in this video.

Mark is a mushroom expert and a fantastic physician but a gourmet of eggs he ain'tPoor Jan!



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Mark explained the speed of stinkhorn birth from an egg in this 2019 blog.
He showed us some different stinkhorn shapes in this blog.