Friday, April 30, 2010

I Like Galls

I enjoy tree galls.  Maybe it is their diversity of colors and shapes.  Maybe it is the mysterious way an insect's egg makes the tree produce the foreign nutrients and structures necessary to sustain their larva.
Frankly, I think part of it is their names.  I can't remember wildflower names, especially when there are multiple flowers with the same common name.  For instance, there are many plants called White Snakeroot.  This might seem to be a small annoyance, but not if it is White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima).   Drinking milk or eating meat from a cow which has been eating it can cause Milk Sickness, described in Wikipedia as the cause of Abraham Lincoln's mother's death.  It would be important to differentiate it from Snakeroot, White, Eupatorium rugosum, which is also poisonous.
For this reason, we rely on Latin genus and species names to keep them straight.  My memory of a year of high school Latin is of a tiny elderly lady teacher who cried when she saw someone had penciled in crossed eyes on her marble bust of Julius Caesar.   I do recall "e pluribus unum" which I believe translates to "lets all have a beer."  I think that the yellow composites should be named Gollithayall lukalika
Galls, on the other hand, have names that a guy can love.  Oak apple gall.  Cherry leaf gall.  Oak stem gall.  Oak apple rust gall.  These are guy names- short, simple English, descriptive and you can move on to "How about them Cubs."  (Editor's note: The writer is being sexist, as happens sometimes.  Gals love these names too.)
The Cherry leaf gall pictured above is a beautiful bright addition to the leaves.  It is caused by a Eriophyidae gall mite.  The gall mites are microscopic creatures, looking like a worm with two pair of legs.  The effect on the tree is cosmetic.  None of us are likely to see a gall mite but their effects can be seen on a number of plants.  A coconut gall mite in the same species can destroy up to 90% of coconut production in infested areas.
To see a wide variety of galls, check out http://www.hainaultforest.co.uk/3Oak%20galls.htm

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Turkeys Gone Wild- Part I

I was attacked by a turkey while vacationing in Turkey.  Yes, I know that turkeys are native to North America.  No, I don't know how they got a large gobbler to their rural restaurant.  But I do recall how he ran at me, flew up several times with his spurs extended and chased me for 50 feet.  Now that was an invasive species!
Each year there are more news stories about aggressive turkey encounters with humans. This time of year is mating season and gobblers get very jealous of any one who seems to be a threat to their masculinity.   They try to establish dominance toward humans as well as other gobblers, using bluffs and outright fighting tactics.  In addition to a bad attitude, they have spurs which are sharpened by dragging them on the ground.
Turkeys have a pecking order, and if they are accustomed to humans they may treat you like another turkey.    The best defense according to the Illinois Extension is to be more dominant by making noise, waving your arms, and chasing them with a broom or an umbrella.  Running like I did is not considered the best approach, although it seemed like a very good idea at the time.  Next time I will carry my umbrella everywhere. (Editor's note:  I'm certain he won't be carrying a broom.)
USA Today just ran an amusing story on "turkeys gone wild."   It describes turkeys discovered in a house and a business, entering after they broke out a window.  Not being the sharpest fowl in the bird world, they have no sense of self, and attack their reflection in the window.  Weighing in at over 100 times the weight of the cardinal that routinely hammers our window, it is no surprise that they end up "breaking and entering".
I guess their attitude toward us is to be expected as we do have seasons dedicated to hunting them.  This raises a final question.  If turkeys are so slow and stupid, why do so many intelligent people who go into the woods in full camouflage, armed to the teeth, come back home empty handed?
More information is at the Minnesota Extension.
Stay tuned for Part II.

Information on handling an aggressive turkey is found here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cedar Apple Rust Gall

When I arrived home Sunday night, my neighbor Harry came over, anxious to once again play "Stump the Master Naturalist"  Another neighbor's cedar tree was covered with 40+ bright orange growths, visible from across the street.  As usual, Harry had done his homework.  Fortunately, I knew this one.

A spring rain, like in the last few, days typically produces the Cedar Apple Rust Gall.  In Missouri they are commonly seen on our Eastern Red "Cedar" trees (actually a Juniper-  Juniperus virginiana - there are no native cedars in North America.)  Unlike many other galls, these are due to a fungus infection which are caused by the fungus called, appropriately enough,  Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae.
Rust gall in first year
The two year life cycle of this fungus is complex, requiring it to attack cedar one year, apples the next and them back to cedars.  On the red cedar they form perennial galls on twigs that mature in two years.  When spring rains hit as we have seen this week, the pits of the gall swell and extrude multiple bright orange jelly-like horns.  They occasionally can cause significant damage to the junipers.  The spores these galls produce can only infect trees of the rose family, which include apple trees. 

When they spread to apple or crab apple trees, the leaves develop yellow spots.  If there are heavy rains such as this week, the leaves and buds can be severely attacked, affecting the health and production of the tree.  With dry weather, the tree may lose most of its leaves.  Later in the summer the leaves produce rust-colored spores that infect only a juniper host, completing the cycle.

See the Missouri Botanical Garden site for treatment options.
A more complete description including a graphic demonstration of the fungal life cycle is at this Wikipedia Site.

Rocky Barrens in the Rain

Mike Skinner of MDC graciously offered to lead a field trip to Rocky Barrens CA to look at the Missouri Bladderpod.  Glades were described in our training as a dry, rocky, desert-like environment.  Well, one out of three ain't bad.
Mike knows everything there is to know about glades and glade plants and fauna, but is not so strong in weather forecasting.  We all were expecting to cut the trip short because of the drizzle with intermittent rain, but the trip was so enjoyable we continued for over 2 hours.
It has been a bad year for seeing Bladderpod, with only 2 dozen found last weekend and two this trip.  The petals close up tight on cold cloudy days, an option that I envied as I dripped water while photographing them.  Mort, being smarter than I, remained zipped up and asked for a copy of the picture when I got home.  In 1835, Elias Barcroft, a government land surveyor, described the land as "rocky, barren, covered with limestone bedrock and unfit for cultivation", thus unknowingly naming the future CA.  Our own Merrill Dubach lived nearby around 1994, and found Missouri Bladderpod on the glade after seeing a picture of it in the Missouri Conservationist.  It is an endangered species, occuring in only 4 counties in Missouri
One of the highlights was finding two different aromatic sumac bushes.  Rhus aromatica var. aromatica on the right, and Rhus Aromatica var. serotina bloom at different times, so finding them  side by side in the same picture was a special treat.  More Rhus aromatica  pictures are at Missouri Plants.
While Bladderpod was the mission, we covered the history of the CA and surveying in the 1800's, glade plants, and why Mike believes you shouldn't reach under a rock in scorpion country.  Oh, and we learned a little bit about meteorology- always check the radar before getting dressed.
We found Tharp's Spiderwort on top of the glade.  Called the short stem Spiderwort, it is typically found in rocky prairies, open woodlands and glades in unglaciated prairie areas in six counties in the southwestern corner of the state.  When the spiderwort stems are cut, a viscous stem secretion is released which becomes thread-like and silky upon hardening (like a spider's web), hence the common name.  
This MDC site has good information on the Missouri Bladderpod.  Go to this site for Rocky Barrens Information.  And be sure to visit Rocky Barrens with Mike on a nice sunny spring day.
Survivors were Marlyss Simmons, Jennifer Ailor, Mort Shurtz, Barb and myself.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wool-sower Gall


Spring is a great time for gall watching.  As the leaves and buds are coming out, it is easy to spot plant galls which are frequently at their most colorful.  I will be posting a few galls over the next weeks.

The wool sower gall is an excellent example with a complex life cycle.  The gall to your right is the size of your finger tip and looks like a cotton ball with distinctive pink spots.  Like many tree galls, this is produced by a Cynipid (sin-a-pid) gall wasp.  These wasps are from 1-8 mm in length and many have a distinct hump on the back.  They lay their eggs on a specific plant and the eggs produce the grubs whose secretions cause the gall formation.  The gall in turn provides both protection and nutrition.  How it does it remains a mystery.  The most common host plants for the Cynipids are oak trees.  see Wikipedia on Gall Wasps
The Wool-sower gall is also called an Oak Seed gall, due to the seed-like appearance of the early larva inside the gall.  The gall is produced by the secretions of the grubs of a tiny gall wasp, Callirhytis seminator.  "These wasps invariably have alternation of generations in which one generation develops in one type of gall (leaf gall) and their offspring develop into another type of gall (stem gall). Wasps of each alternate generation are slightly different in size, resembling their grandparents more than their parents.  The galls of each generation are enormously different from the parents. The wool sower gall may be the leaf gall of this species because of its transient nature."  (See NC Link).
Look for them on white oak trees in the spring.  They don't cause any significant harm to the tree.  You can put a fresh wool sower gall in a plastic bag and wait for one to three weeks for the tiny wasps to emerge.  Keep it out of the direct sun so it doesn't cook, and remember that in spite of the name wasp, this family is totally harmless.

From North Carolina University

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tent Caterpillars

When we see a web like this in the crotch of a tree, we attack it with a stick to destroy the nest before the caterpillars strip the leaves from the tree.  After learning about the Eastern Tent Caterpillar's family life, I will always think twice (and then usually go ahead with the attack.)
Life started for this tent from the mass of eggs which were tightly glued to a small stem on this small wild plum tree.  Tent caterpillar host trees are in the Prunus (cherry, plum, peach, apricot, almond) and Malus (apple) family.  Eggs over winter in this hard wad and the larvae chew their way out as the trees bud out in the spring.
Since it was in a grove of multiple small plum trees near the house, I decided to watch the caterpillars develop.  The web was only two inches long at the start and there was no apparent activity.   The web grew daily as the leaves of the plum diminished.  There were now signs of caterpillars crawling over the web surface most of the day.

The Eastern Tent Caterpillar is the most social of the Missouri caterpillars.  Typically they move out to feed three times a day- before dawn, mid-afternoon and after sunset.  They leave a pheromone trail between the feeding site and the tent. When a caterpillar discovers a particularly good site, it leaves a stronger trail, sometimes recruiting the whole colony.
Although they would appear to be sitting ducks for predators, they have their defenses.  When attacked by a parasitic insect attempting to lay its eggs on a caterpillar, it starts thrashing about, followed rapidly by the whole colony, creating a confusing target.  Caterpillars feeding on cherry leaves acquire cyanide from them which they can regurgitate on predators.  Needless to say, few birds (except for the cuckoo) acquire a taste for them.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about them is their construction skills.  They daily crawl over the tent surface, laying down silk as they go.  As the silk dries, it shortens and pulls away from the underlying layer, creating a space.  A large tent is made up of multiple concentric layers which they can enter.  They are able to control their temperature this way.  A colony huddled together in the center of the web during a freeze emits metabolic heat and can maintain a temperature of 70-80 F.
The last of the six instars leaves its siblings to develop a cocoon on the ground.  The moth that emerges is ordinary.  Its only claim to fame is a faint resemblance to a gypsy moth.
Most of the trees which are denuded of leaves will leaf out again in a few weeks with no permanent harm.  For that reason, I could easily let all of them alone to complete my life cycle, except for one thing.  My wife will still rip down their tent with her accustomed violence.
Another view of the life of a different species of caterpillar is in this utterly fascinating 5 minute Video  of the life of a caterpillar which is parasitized by multiple wasp larvae.  Fantastic footage, so don't miss it, but don't watch it during dinner.
A good source of information is at the Henderson State site.
Trivia:  Ingestion of these caterpillars by horses can cause 
Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome'

Stone Fly

I had one of the creatures pictured here land on my lap last week.  When I tried to catch it, it ran away each time, and its only attempt to fly was an awkward flight of a few inches to my other leg.  Its shape and the distinctive antenna-like cerci sticking out from behind its abdomen defined it as a stonefly.   I had seen them as larva (nymphs) when working on stream teams, but never as adults.
They are sometimes referred to as winter stone flies as the adults are usually seen between winter and June.  The escape strategy it had employed is typical of these weak fliers which would rather run,  flying only inches away when forced.  They spend much of their adult life crawling around on stones in fresh water.  The females carry hundreds or even thousands of eggs in a ball which they then deposit in the water.
The adult only lives a few weeks and many don't have a even have a digestive system.  They live as adults only long enough to breed.
The nymphs may live in the stream for 1 to 4 years, going through 11 to 30+ molts before achieving maturity and taking to land.  They require well oxygenated water to survive, so finding them in a stream assessment is a sign of good quality water.
I couldn't find any source for identifying genus and species but the Wikipedia Article is a good resource for their life cycle.  There is a lot of geographical information and references at USGS Stoneflies of the United States.  Bugguide has more than enough photographs to satisfy anyone.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

WOLF School

Our Master Naturalists have had three opportunities in the last week to make presentations to WOLF school students.
The name WOLF is perfect for the students who have a voracious appetite for wildlife information and already have answers to many of the questions we put before them.  Our group has made presentations on Native Americans and the Bison, Invasive Species, and The History of Southwest  Missouri before 1833, which relates the changes to the land as humans moved in.  Butterfly Life Cycle is scheduled next.
In a nutshell, the Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility (WOLF) is an innovative Springfield Public Schools program that accommodates two classes of 5th grade students.  Two WOLF teachers instruct students in the same core curriculum as other Springfield 5th graders. The difference is that all subjects are taught in the context of nature and conservation education.
Students attend WOLF each day school is in session. Their physical classroom is at the Wonders of Wildlife Educational Center, 720 W. Sunshine. However, they spend a substantial amount of time engaged in hands-on inquiry “in the field,” including the Wonders of Wildlife museum and field trips into the outdoors.  You can find a lot more information and pictures at the WOLF School web site.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Garlic Mustard

Last Sunday was a black day in the history of Bull Mills, our little patch of Bull Creek south of Ozark. Barbara stopped to check a small oxbow pond in the flood plain and came out with several specimens of Garlic Mustard.  This is a new species for us, but a real bad actor that requires aggressive management.  Just listen to Linda Ellis' tale of woe. 
"I was involved in the attempted eradication of this plant from a Nature Conservancy holding north of Kansas City in the early 80s when it was first recognized as invasive.  The first year, we pulled up the plants and stuck them in the notch of trees so they wouldn't accidentally re-root.  That's when we found out that the plant will expend every bit of it's final energy to mature it's seeds and drop them.  The next year, we collected every plant showing and carried them away for disposal.  The following year, the place looked like we had never been there.  It was covered with the beastie.  Over the next 3 years, it was estimated that 7 tons of garlic mustard was removed before it quit coming up." 
To quote from this MDC link, "Garlic mustard aggressively has invaded numerous forested natural areas and is capable of dominating the ground layer in many areas. It is a severe threat to many natural areas where it occurs because of its ability to grow to the exclusion of other herbaceous species."  Translation- it spreads voraciously, overwhelming the wildflowers of the forest floor.
An excellent video at this site covers its growth characteristics.  In addition to tolerance to shade and a wide variety of habitats, it grows tall enough to shade out other plants and small trees.  It is a prolific seed producer and these seeds are easily spread by contact with clothing, shoes and animal fur.  Also, it's roots produce an allelopathic chemical that kills the fungi that many native plants and trees require for survival, clearing room for more of it's seeds to sprout.
A predator has been identified.  The weevil Ceutorhynchus scrobicollis may eventually be an answer to controlling invasive garlic mustard.  Information on the creature is at this site.   Until then, the best description of the plant and its eradication is from the National Park Service.
It is a native European herb where it is picked in the wild or grown in gardens.  Its mild garlic flavor is popular in salads and on sandwiches and the leaves are also cooked in sauces.  Garlic mustard with exceptionally large leaves is said to have taproots with a horseradish taste. Excellent plant photographs as well as eating and cooking suggestions are at this web site.
We are anxious to try eating it this week- after Barbara rips it out by its roots with a blood-curdling scream and vicious grin on her lips.  You are welcome to share in our bounty.  Bring lots of plastic leaf bags and a sturdy back for pulling plants.  Come to think of it, we'll provide the bags.

Invaders of Missouri

At my co-editor's urging, we are starting an Invaders of Missouri series.  She was pushing for an Invader of the Month but I am not that organized.  Before we get started, a few definitions from Wikipedia are in order.
  • Invasive Species- non-indigenous species, or 'non-native' plants or animals that adversely affect the habitats and bioregions they invade economically, environmentally, and/or ecologically.
  • Naturalized species - any process by which a non-native organism spreads into the wild and becomes naturalized. A population is said to be naturalized if its reproduction is sufficient to maintain it.
  • Exotic Species- (introduced, alien, exotic, non-indigenous, or non-native species) is a species living outside its native distributional range, which has arrived there by human activity, either deliberate or accidental. 
Now it gets complicated.  Recall that an exotic is generally a species that is native to one area and displaced to another.  As you can see, an exotic species that becomes naturalized is a potential invasive species looking for a place to happen.  Frequently it just needs the right biological niche such as a lack of predators or competition, or a particular unique biologic skill which allows it to out compete its new neighbors.  Some of these skills in plants are below.
  • Early blooming, seed production and rapid growth, allowing a plant to shade out competing plants.
  • High volume of seed production with efficient dispersal mechanisms.  Each flower head of a Musk Thistle produces thousands of feathered seeds capable of broad wind dispersal.
  • Deeper taproot systems tapping into scarce water resources.
  • Wide range of habitats and tolerance (alkaline soil, acidic soil, shade and sun tolerance, etc.)
  • Reproduced by seed or vegetative reproduction- above ground or below ground “runners” (stolons and rhizomes)
  • Allelopathic chemicals that inhibit the growth of near by plants.  Tree of Heaven is notorious for producing ailanthone which is reported to possess non-selective properties similar to glyphosate (Round Up) and paraquat.  Some native species, such as Black Walnut which produces juglone, use this strategy as well.
  • Bad taste which deters animals from eating it.  Sericea lespedeza has high tannin levels which make it less palatable to both livestock and insects which then eat other neighboring plants.
It is unclear why plants native to one area are so much more aggressive when they go on a foreign vacation and decide to stay there, but it may be related to coevolution, a concept first proposed by Darwin.  As plant and animal species evolve they adapt ways to share available resources.  They may develop strategies to overcome allelopathic chemicals, develop the tools to eat otherwise indigestible plants or otherwise evolve a strategic parity with its neighbors over thousands of years of living together.  When they are suddenly in a totally new place, none of their neighbors know how to handle them.
Over the next year we will be covering current invaders- from the vicious to the early, possible future concerns.  My goal is to provide a source of convenient online resources to identify and attack the Invaders of Missouri.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A New Oceanic Garbage Patch

A new "Garbage Patch" has been found in the Atlantic Ocean.  Yahoo News reports that the patch is located between Bermuda and Portugal's mid-Atlantic Azores islands.  Unlike many of the great geographic discoveries of the past, this one is not one is not one that nations are anxious to claim.  "The debris is harmful for fish, sea mammals — and at the top of the food chain, potentially humans — even though much of the plastic has broken into such tiny pieces they are nearly invisible."
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also known a the Pacific Trash Vortex) was predicted back in 1988 by NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration).  Based on finding of high concentrations of marine debris accumulating in regions governed by ocean currents, they hypothesized that similar conditions would occur in other parts of the Pacific.  Unfortunately, they were right.
It was found and reported in 1997, described as the "Eastern Garbage Patch" (EGP).  It was implied that it was large chunks of visible debris, but it primarily consists of particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye.

Although frequently described in the media as "twice the size of the continental United States", it is actually hard to measure.  Little debris is seen from a vessel in the middle of it and it can't be seen from the air.  Actual sizes are best guesses as they are based on the random sampling.  Since the size of the patch is determined by a higher-than-normal degree of concentration of pelagic debris, there is no "bright shining line" between the "normal" and "elevated" levels of pollutants to define the area.  Never the less, the findings are alarming as we produce more indestructible trash each year.
Information on the photodegradation of plastics, the effects on wildlife, and the potential for reduction and cleanup are all at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on Wikipedia.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Water- Our Thirsty World

Mike Kromrey of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks sent me this reminder to crack open the latest National Geographic- April 2010 on Water- Our Thirsty World.  In his words:
I was excited to see that National Geographic devoted a whole issue to water, but absolutely blown away by the depth, insight, and dedication to future coverage of water.  Here are links to some of the articles (dial in to “Water is Life” Barbara Kingsolver fans)…you might just want get a copy this landmark (or maybe watershed) edition.
For those of you who don't get National Geographic,  the full text of three important articles, minus the photographs, can be read by clicking on the titles below.

Water is Life by Barbara Kingsolver
The amount of moisture on Earth has not changed. The water the dinosaurs drank millions of years ago is the same water that falls as rain today. But will there be enough for a more crowded world?
Silent Streams by Doug Chadwick
Freshwater animals are vanishing faster than those on land or at sea. But captive-breeding programs hold out hope.
The Last Drop by Elizabeth Royte 
We may not get all the water we want.  But we can have the water we need.

I would agree with Mike- ignoring the "Watershed" pun- that this is an important issue you may want to keep.  The pictures without the context are at this National Geographic page.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Scabiosa- Good and Bad

What could possibly be bad about the Pincushion Flower (Mourning Widow, Scabiosa atyropurpurea)?  It is a beautiful flower and attracts butterflies like mad.  Its seeds and information on propagation is readily available on many commercial Internet sites and it is easy to grow- in fact too easy.
California Invasive Plants Council reported a problem in 2005.
Scabiosa atropurpurea (pincushion flower or mourning bride) — Very common cultivar. Began to escape into wildlands 4-5 yrs ago and form near- monotypic stands in San Bruno grasslands. Spreading along trails and fire roads between Claremont Canyon and Strawberry Canyon in Berkeley."
Since that time it has been listed as an invasive species in Texas and there are a lot of reports of its spreading to other areas.  Linda Ellis reported her first discovery of it while traveling in Arkansas in the Spring 2009 Claytonia.
"We saw scores of butterflies and other pollinators feasting on plants that
were a total mystery to me.  We began to photograph the thick stand of the spindly plant with the pale, multi-floret flowers.  The Bugman put together a list of the butterfly species we found nectaring on the blooms and we estimated that about a third of the Arkansas and Missouri species normally found in the area were represented.  So intense was their feeding that they ignored our presence as we photographed them."
Sounds like a great discovery so far.  As they drove home, they started seeing dense stands of it covering the roadsides and choking out the native flora.  Eventually it was identified as Scabiosa atropurpureai.  There are now reports of its spreading to Kansas and other states. 

Common teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) and cut-leaved teasel (Dipsacus laciniatus) are two other members of this family, officially listed as noxious weeds in Missouri, and are especially common on disturbed land and roadsides.  Unfortunately, we are not alone with this problem.  The Global Compendium of Weeds identifies it as a naturalized cultivation escapee and back in 1992 in Australia it was characterized as a "garden thug".  Pincushion flower has now been identified in Greene, Stone and Barry counties.
What can you do?  1) Avoid planting Pincushion Flower and remove any that you have growing to reduce seed dispersal.  2) Consider planting butterfly gardens of native plants.  (See Grownative.org). 


Resources:
Download a checklist of butterflies commonly found in Southwest Missouri from this Friends of the Garden site.
A comprehensive list of host plants can be downloaded at Friends of the Garden butterfly Host Plants.
A description of a butterfly garden is at this Missouri Extension site.
A web site with comprehensive information by individual species is at http://www.thebutterflysite.com/missour ... lies.shtml

The following description of the Pincushion Flower is from here.
Plants have a daisy-like head of small flowers (florets). Scabiosa atropurpurea (purple pincushion, mournful widow) is a much-branched annual or short-lived perennial growing to 1m. The leaves are in opposite pairs, the basal leaves lobed, upper leaves much dissected, with linear segments. The flower heads are 2-4cm across, with dark purple, red, pink or white florets, of which the outermost are the largest. Flowers in spring and early summer. The bristly fruiting head is oblong in outline.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fungus Among Us


Two Fungus Stories

Truffles Are Sexy!
If you think of truffles at all, it is probably as 1) a ridiculously expensive French mushroom which grows underground and )2 they are hunted by people using pigs to sniff them out.   This article in the
New York Times describes recent research including the decoding of its genome.
"Truffles are the fruit of fungi that infect the roots of certain trees. They are of keen interest to pigs, particularly sows, because some secrete androstenol, a hormone produced by boars before mating. People who use sows to hunt for truffles often find it hard to prevent a sex-crazed animal from eating the truffle she has found and may lose fingers in the attempt.
It turns out the truffles, too, have sex lives, said Dr. Francis Martin, a plant biologist at the University of Nancy in France and leader of the research team. The precious fungi had long been thought to lead an asexual existence, but Dr. Martin and his colleagues have found that they have two sexes, or mating types.
The fungus’s major concern is to spread its spores, a matter of some technical difficulty for an organism that lives underground. So it produces the redolent odors that will compel surface dwellers of all kinds to search for it, eat it and distribute its spores after they have dined."
At the top of the truffle food chain are gourmets who pay gold-like prices for the delicacy, leading to the sale of mushrooms stained with walnut juice to create counterfeit truffles.  "Dogs have taken over truffle detection duties from pigs because if one is trying to harvest a truffle wood discreetly without alerting the locals, it’s generally a mistake to show up walking a pig on a leash."  Next in line are boars and squirrels, driven wild by the truffle perfumes designed to mimic their own sex hormones.
"Last, there are the truffle flies which lay their eggs in the truffle. From the fungus’s perspective, the insects are just another way of spreading its spores. So it attracts them by releasing anisole and veratrole, two insect pheromones, when the truffle has reached maturity. Truffles can often be detected by looking for congregations of truffle flies.
Don’t the fly’s eggs and larvae degrade the edibility of the truffle? It seems the opposite is the case. “If collected at late maturation stages, the truffles will likely carry eggs and larvae — adding proteins and aroma to the truffle,” Dr. Martin said. "
I don't know about you, but the fly eggs sound a lot worse than the occasional tiny insect hiding in the pit of my morel.  At least then, you can add a little black pepper- then you will never know.  So get outside this weekend (not in my morel patch) and start hunting.   Francis Skalicky has some hints in the News-Leader.

 White Nose Syndrome (WNS) in Bats

 WNS Infected Bats

 Melvin Johnson sent me the latest on White Nose Syndrome in bat populations.
"It is believed that WNS is transmitted from bat to bat; however, humans may also carry WNS from cave to cave on their clothing and gear. Thus, bats could feasibly transmit WNS from one location to another during migrations. This may be the case with a Long- Eared Bat afflicted with WNS being discovered in Dunbar Cave, Clarksville, TN early spring 2010. Tennessee State Park immediately closed the cave to all tours.
Through the winter of 2008-09 WNS had spread and been documented in bat hibernacula in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. That was enough for several federal and state agencies along with organizations and groups to start closing both open and permitted caves to cavers and the general public. Early spring 2010 WNS was also discovered in Maryland.

The recent discovery of WNS in Clarksville, TN brings the bat health crisis to within a little over 100-miles of Missouri. That's close enough for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to likely release its WNS Policy, and likely close some key bat caves late spring or early summer 2010."
The whole article can be downloaded by clicking on The Park.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

 Editors note:
These stories come from the Buck Keagy Collection.  We are not responsible for the stories, the "facts" and especially for Buck.  His scientific "studies" are apparently all conducted in an alternative universe.

With apologies to all.

BOX TURTLE VOCALIZATION

A research team from Wichita State University was on a 5-week study of Banded Sand Crickets in the Southeastern corner of the Flint Hill region of Kansas – when one of the leaders, a Prof. Kcub, accidentally discovered that on moonlit nights in early spring, the male Three-toed Box Turtles utter a very low-pitched series of “growls”!

Further research arrived at the conclusion that this nocturnal vocalization achieved two distinct results. It established a territorial boundary of approx. 27 meters in all directions from the stallion turtle! (Most always from a slightly elevated location, and away from dense vegetation).

The call was also instrumental in attracting female turtles… which typically come into estrus in early spring.

Three toed Box Turtles do not mate for life, but in any giver year, a pair bond is established, and both parents share in the nest building and brooding of the eggs. Shortly after hatching, the stallion turtle leaves the mother turtle and hatchlings, and thereafter leads a solitary life the remainder of the year!

The very low-pitched call (between 29 and 42 cycles), is well below the human hearing frequency, and thus was never before discovered. The way that the turtle vocalization was discovered; the research team was recording the very low frequencies of the Sand Crickets, then super-imposing a 105 cycle beat frequency beneath the low frequencies to allow them to be audio recorded within the human hearing range. (The actual low frequencies are easily observed on an oscilloscope display however).

Since Sand Crickets only vocalize at dusk – the turtle sounds were never before discovered, but quite by accident, a microphone was left “on” one full moon night and the tape recorder fortunately captured this amazing new discovery!  Further turtle research is in the planning stage for next spring.
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CIRCLE SNYPE
     A previously unknown species of shore bird has recently been discovered in the Tundra regions on northern Minnesota! A research team, while doing a new study of beaver scat in an isolated region of the iron range, for the National Geographic Society – discovered a never-before seen species of a nocturnal shore bird, believed to feed primarily on tadpoles and cattail beetles. 
      The most unusual attribute of the snype is the fact that the left leg is always longer than the right leg, and has a webbed foot! The right leg is much shorter than the left, and has five long, rather narrow toes. This adaptation is because the Circle Snype always feeds in a counterclockwise direction around the water line of the lakeshore – left foot in the water, the right foot on dry land!
     Further research has revealed that, due to the unusual leg configuration – the snype are not able to breed in the normal manner. Seems that the cock Circle Snype passes a sperm packet to the hen, and she, with her long slim beak, fertilizes herself. The parents do not brood the eggs, as they float due to a small air pocket inside the shell. Due to the heat absorbed by the sooty-black eggs – it appears that the chicks emerge when the inside temperature reaches the approximate range of 87.3 to 87.9 degrees F.
     Another rather unusual characteristic of the Circle Snype, they do not migrate south as most other Minnesota species – they fly to the Hawaiian Islands to spend the cold winter months! While living on the islands, they always feed in a clockwise direction around the island coastlines. (So the longer left leg is on the waterside).
      A further research effort is scheduled in the near future to determine if this new species would be a candidate for “Threatened/Endangered Species” protection by the federal government.
To read more about the Circle Snype – look somewhere else!