Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Name that Lichen!



One of the joys of working with the Missouri Master Naturalists is sharing finds and identifying the discoveries of friends and neighbors in the community.  We do this both in meetings with "show and tell" specimens, field trips and discoveries shared via the web.

I found this beautiful little growth on a walnut tree I was pruning in a strip of riparian plantings we planted along Bull Creek 15 years ago.  The healthy tree had already produced a few walnuts last year but I had never expected it to "grow flowers".   I sent the picture with an inquiry to the Blechs and the Shandas, two couples in the Springfield Plateau Master Naturalists that specialize in lichens and had a response from each within an hour.  The summary:
Golden-eye lichen- Wikimedia
"It is a fruticose lichen, Teloschistes chrysophthalmus, common name gold-eye lichen. Outstanding, aren't they?"- Schandas

"Thallus pale to deep orange, 3-7 cm broad, loosely attached; branches flattened to round, becoming finely spinulate at the tips; apothecia common.  Common on exposed trees in prairie regions or open dry uplands".  How to Know the Lichens, Second Edition, Mason E. Hale. One of our very favorite lichens!- Blechs
Golden-eye Lichen  -Wikimedia
T. Chrysophthalmus is wide spread in warm climates on both hemispheres.  It tends to grow in well lit areas on twigs, shrubs and small trees.  It is threatened in the UK and Northern Ireland, and its range is probably affected by changes in climate.  It is interesting that many of the websites in a search come from the UK and Ireland, suggesting once again that we learn to appreciate the common most when it becomes threatened.
Telochistes range- .discoverlife.org

A description quoted from Arkive.org describes its biology more fully.
 "Lichens are remarkable organisms; they consist of an alga and/ or a cyanobacteria and a fungus living together in a symbiotic association (5). A general rule is that the fungal component of a lichen is unable to live independently, but the alga may live without the fungal partner as a distinct species (5). Many lichens are known to be very sensitive to environmental pollution, and they have been used as 'indicators' of pollution (4)."
This species produces fruiting bodies called 'apothecia' which occur on short stalks. These contain a bag-like structure called an 'ascus', which contains spores. Because the fruiting bodies are produced only by the fungal partner of the lichen, after the spore has dispersed it must acquire cells of the correct alga or it will be unable to survive (2)."
The last sentence is important.  Many lichen are dependent on good air quality.  When you see a lichen growing exuberantly on a dead cedar branch, it isn't a bad sign.  It may just be telling you to "take a deep breath and enjoy the good clean air available here."

Pictures of other Telochistes species can be seen at .digitalmycology.com and stridvall.se/lichens/gallery/ .

Monday, February 25, 2013

Waxwings of Winter


Cedar Waxwings*-Click to enlarge
An minor ice storm like last week's brought new things to see in nature.  We tend to hunker down till the thaw, taking only a few cautious steps out to get the newspaper.  As thawing starts however, there are always new things to see.  Bob Ball sent this out to GOAS* members.
"We had five Eastern Bluebirds and nine Cedar Waxwings (both unusual for our backyard) at our heated birdbath this morning.  Unfortunately, we had an aggressive American Robin chasing EVERYTHING away (including starlings!)--apparently claiming the birdbath as his own private property. "
Cedar waxwings are not only beautiful but have interesting habits.  We don't often get to see them in our thick cedar glades on Bull Creek as they have acres of cedars to choose from and avoid the area around the house.  They do leave their mark, especially on the snow, when they swoop down on a female cedar tree en mass and gobble up the cedar "berries" (actually little miniature cones) and dust the ground with their debris.

Since they concentrate on cedars, the partially digested seeds in their poop tends to accumulate under the tree.  The other major cedar berry consumer is the robin, flocks of which are seen all winter along the creek bank.  After dinner they fly off to the fields, sit on fences and relieve themselves, and plant the next generation of little cedars you see along any fence line.

Rusty Blackbird- Bob Ball
Meanwhile, back at the birdbath Bob had a rusty blackbird show up.  I likely would have thought it was just another starling among the hundreds that swoop down, ravage the ground and then flush into the sky.  The attention to detail separates us amateurs from the true bird watchers. Click on the picture to see the rusty color.

We headed back to the creek on Friday afternoon, creeping down the steep section of Red Bridge Road to avoid putting our truck on the deck of our downhill neighbors.  The ice was starting to melt but there was just enough clinging to the trees to create a beautiful crystal glow in the late afternoon sun.

Witch hazel, January 26  -Click to enlarge
We stopped near the gravel bar to check out a grove of witch hazel.  The flowers blossomed the last week of January this year and have persisted until now.  They always prematurely announce the arrival of spring, then hang around until they are proven right.  If you look up witch hazel on the web you may find this confusing as most articles are about the fall blooming Eastern witch hazel, ignoring the vernal Ozark species, Hamamelis vernalis.

Some of the blossoms are hanging on a month later, now decorated with the remains of the ice which fights for survival in the late afternoon sun.  The flowers are said to close up on cold days to avoid frost damage.  Will these flowers on the right survive to produce seed?  Probably, they have done this for thousands of years and seem to have early blooming figured out.

How do they get pollinated in the first place at a time when normally self-respecting pollinators wouldn't be making their rounds?  One source has seen fly pollination and we have seen some gnat like creatures out on sunny days.

*  These backyard bird photographs by Bob Ball of Greater Ozarks Audubon Society (GOAS).   You can see his more formal pictures from around the country at GOAS meetings from time to time.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bean Weevils

Bob Korpella sent me the picture on the right with the note below and a challenge to identify the beetles.  You can see that they had developed in the seeds and then chewed their way out as adults.
Seeds and Beetles- Click to enlarge
"These were found by some teachers here at the Nixa Early Learning Center. The teachers had brought in honey locust seed pods each year for their students, and this was the first time they found insects.  The bugs were inside the seeds and seed pods from a honey locust." Nothing warms the Master Naturalist heart like fielding a question from kids- but it is humbling if you can't find the answer.
Not having my Kaufman's insect field guide handy, I googled "honey locust seed larva" and came up with the picture of the locust seed beetle,  Amblycerus robiniae.  It is a member of the Bruchidae family of bean weevils or seed beetles.
"Bruchidae are found on every major land mass except Antarctica and New Zealand. Eggs are usually laid on the seed or fruit of a plant suitable for development of the larva. Immature stages are spent inside seeds that have been excavated by larval feeding. Adults live free and feed on pollen and nectar. 
Approximately 84% of the known hosts of Bruchidae are in the plant family Leguminosae (pea or bean). The remaining hosts are scattered among 31 other families. Sixteen plant families support larval feeding in the United States and Canada." John Kingsolver *
Bean Weevil - Amblycerus robiniae-Jon Rapp
With its bean like seeds in a pea-like pod, you might assume that the honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos, is a member of the bean/pea family.  The honey locust seed beetle, aka bean weevil, like some children, apparently like its beans if you don't call them peas.



Silver spotted skipper- Linda Ellis
This is not the only connection the honey locust has in the food web.  Illinois Wildflowers has a list of 51 other insect species that feed on honey locust.  The common silver spotted skipper lays its eggs on the leaves for its caterpillar larvae to feed upon.  Extinct megafauna such as the giant sloths and wooly mammoth are suspected of feeding on these seed pods, digesting the fiber and spreading the seeds in their waste.**  With their extinction, this function has been assumed by domestic cattle.


This serves as a reminder of how interconnected our trees are with the whole ecosystem.  It is not however a one-way street. The large herbivores not only disseminate the seeds in their feces, their digestive enzymes break down the hard shell, helping the seeds to germinate.  The fecal material not only provides fertilizer but also protects the seeds from the seed beetle above which might otherwise lay its eggs on them.   Many butterflies, moths and other insects will feed on the nectar of its flowers, pollinating them as they do so.

George Sims' final reply to the pictures above- "Although I have seen larger weevil specimens, you should always choose the lesser of two weevils."
 

*    Handbook of the Bruchidae of the United States and Canada, John M. Kingsolver 
** There is much more on these relationships in The Ghosts of Evolution, pages 37-39.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Springtail Video

Dan Crane gave me a jar full of black powder to identify last week, swearing that they were bugs that had been covering an area of his cousin's driveway and walk, stacked deep on each other.  He had used a paint brush to sweep them into the jar.  Now several days later they were dead and resembled coffee beans that had been ground way past fine.

Given their size, the location of the thick mat described and the recent rain I guessed immediately that they were springtails having written about them in this blog last year. I didn't expect I would be able to identify them at this time but put them under the microscope anyway.

Even with my modest instrument I was able to identify them as springtails.  Identifying the species is way beyond me and even most entomologists* but I was intrigued by the bright iridescent blue-green color they exhibited when lit from the side.

Springtails clustered on stone- Georgia P.
Since I had written about springtails before I wasn't going to repeat it.  Meanwhile I sent these pictures to Dr. Chris Barnhart and he responded with a fascinating David Attenborough video which was just too good to pass up.  After all, who could fail to love pictures of a speck of dust jumping the equivalent of the Empire State Building and rolling over from its back by using its spit?

After that introduction, I dare you to skip The Incredible Springtail.
2017 Linda Bower's video of a water Springtail feeding if a fun view.
* An exceptional entomologist who described many springtail species was John Lubbock who wrote this classic monograph in 1873, now available free on Google Play.  He did this while being a successful British banker, MP, philanthropist, biologist, establishing archaeology as a scientific discipline, and influencing nineteenth-century debates concerning evolutionary theory.  He wrote books on hymenoptera and other scientific subjects.  He sired six children, although how he found the time hasn't been recorded.  Thanks Chris.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sampling for Chytrid Fungus

Harbinger of Spring- Click to enlarge
Before we talk about chytrid fungus I have to show you Barb's Harbinger of Spring, found after searching the leaf littered forest floor.  After two days of scouring the ground like a beagle sniffing a rabbit, she tracked one down.  This set of tiny blossoms officially proclaimed the season change in mid-February.

We had received a call from Rhonda Rimer of the Missouri Department of Conservation who wanted to come to Bull Creek to check out our amphibians.  She was hoping to find wood frog eggs which look somewhat similar to spotted salamander eggs that also also appear February or March.  She also wanted to sample for chytrid fungus.  This was a good excuse to avoid work.

Newts look like bait!
Why the interest in chytrids?  There are over 1000 chytrid species in the world that occur in water and moist soil.   Most feed on dead or rotting organic matter but a few are parasites of plants or invertebrates.  They flew under the radar of the public until the discovery of a new species was found on the skin of frogs in 1999.  It was named called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis that translates as "frog chytrid".  This is usually referred to as simply Bd.

This new finding quickly took on great importance as it appears able to infect virtually all amphibians.  It is now proven to cause severe population declines and extinctions and has been called “the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates in terms of the number of species impacted, and it’s propensity to drive them to extinction." (Gascon et al, 2007)

Rhonda is sampling amphibians around the Ozarks as part of a Missouri-wide screening.  She began by wading into the muck of our pond, sweeping the bottom debris into a large net.  We hit pay dirt, counting 27 central newts clustered along the sunny side with none in the shaded colder water.  One net full of debris yielded the 10 squirming males, apparently a fraternity party preparing for the arrival of the females.

Swabbing for Bd
One lucky newt got the swab massage for Bd.  After wiping both ends carefully with cotton and the other end of the stick, the swab was placed in transport media to keep any Bd alive until it reached the lab.  The newt didn't seem to mind the strokes and I thought he might have giggled a little as she tickled it under the chin, but it might have been my imagination after seeing too many Geico commercials.

Egg clusters on sticks underwater
We didn't have any luck finding wood frog eggs but did find globs of spotted salamander eggs in two ponds.  In one pond the water was shallow and clear enough that we could see them from the bank.  The difference between spotted salamander and wood frog eggs, both deposited in early spring, can only be appreciated by holding them.


Our spotted salamander eggs

Salamander (left) and frog eggs- NY DEC
The salamander egg mass is covered by a heavy coat of clear jelly, holding the mass firmly together.  Wood frog eggs have a separate layer of jelly around each egg without the outer coat holding them together.

It was a great day in nature, even if we did have to miss a day of working in the woods.

More on herp eggs?  (Frog and salamander)  Check out this site.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Apolitical Newt


Barb and Julian
We spent Sunday afternoon with Michelle Bowe collecting twigs and buds for the next Master Naturalist meeting.   It is always humbling to go out with a pro and have several of my identifications of small trees and shrubs gently shot down.  The one that hurt was what I thought was a yellowwood, a very uncommon plant, in southern Missouri.  Mine was so uncommon it turned out to be a big and very common Carolina buckthorn.

Michelle's accomplice was young Julian, a good natured and irrepressible young bundle of energy accompanied by his bodyguard, her husband Brian Edmonds.  There is no better way to spend an afternoon than wandering the woods with a young naturalist who views the world from a knee-high vantage point.

Julian and newt-found friend
Brian's specialty is amphibians and we patrolled our ponds looking for them.  We didn't try to explain to Julian that "Amphibians are ectothermic, tetrapod vertebrates of the class Amphibia"*  as he didn't seem interested.  However he was on the alert to explore everything less than a foot from the ground, including testing the temperature of creek and pond water on his legs.

We struck out looking for spotted salamanders but Brian spotted a pair of newts swimming in the pond.  With patience he was able to catch one by hand and demonstrated its features to Julian who was more interested in petting it.


Adult Male Newt
Brian explained that there is only one newt species found east of the Rockies.  It goes by the undistinguished name of a eastern, or more formally as Notophthalmus viridescens.  There are four subspecies of the eastern newt and ours is the central newt, Notophthalmus viridescens. v. louisianensis .  Get past the dull names and everything about them becomes interesting.


Red Eft Phase- Patrick Coin
Newts hatch from eggs in the water and live as tadpoles initially.  In late summer they lose their gills and crawl out on land to live for several years as a form called an eft.  Although the color can vary, they are commonly called red efts.

Eventually they reach sexual maturity and head back to the pond to live the aquatic life while looking for love.  They no longer have gills but are able to absorb oxygen through their skin.  They eat a varied diet of insects, molluscs, worms and the eggs of other amphibians.

So how do you tell the boys and girls apart?  Like many species, they develop some distinguishing characteristics during mating season.  The rest of the year we can't separate them and they might not care during that time either.  Here are some clues which Rhonda Rimer taught me the next day. (see the next blog for more amphibians)
  • Males during breeding season develop a higher fin and a swollen cloaca, below on the left.
  • They develop cornified, hard bumps called tubercles on the inside of their thighs, which aid in their grasp of the female, below right.

Swollen orange cloaca
Cornified thigh nodules













A newt has a very interesting sex life.  I am referring to the aquatic newt, not the capitalized Newt in the Austin Lounge Lizard's song on Youtube.  The female is very much in charge of accepting the favors of the male, including whether to pick up the sperm packet or leave it alone to wither.  Tom Johnson describes the scene in Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri.

The male climbs on the back of the female and holds on for several hours, an act of amplexus similar to frogs.  Next he hangs on while waving his tail in the water to push currents with a pheromone "scent" forward to excite her into taking his gift to her.  He also rubs his chin against her snout as seen in detail at wcsu.edu.

He then performs some dance moves in front of her, and if she expresses interest by nosing his tail, he releases his spermatophore into the shallow water.  He then tries to herd her to his sperm packet on the bottom.  If she continues to express interest, she will settle over it and pick it up in her cloaca, ready to fertilize her eggs.  However, even then, she may change her mind leaving his gift and his high hopes lay deserted on the bottom of the pond.  If he is successful, the female will spend the next several weeks depositing her fertilized eggs one at a time.

As if he didn't have enough troubles, rival males may try to displace him during amplexus or interfere with his herding the female while dropping his own spermatophore.  Rivals have even been seen allowing a male to mount them and discharge his spermatophore, therefore depleting the competition's fertilization chances.

Much more detailed information including toxic skin and neoteny where they skip the eft phase is at wcsu.edu and caudata.org.
*  Wikipedia

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Virile Crayfish

The Ozarks, Home of the Long-Pincered Crayfish


There has been some pressure recently to loosen the restriction on selling live crayfish for fishing bait. Given the recent history of bad effects from releasing non-native species, this subject is worthwhile discussing. In this case it is more complicated as it is the virile crayfish, a species that is native in most prairie streams in Missouri.

The Missouri Conservation Commission passed a regulation amendment to the Wildlife Code of Missouri in August 2011 that prohibits selling, buying and importing live crayfish for fishing bait. This action was a culmination multi-year research efforts (see 2009 MDC study) by state and university biologists in Missouri and other states on invasive crayfish to determine their actual and potential effects on biodiversity and fish species.

The intent of the regulation was supported by numerous national and international experts on crayfish biology, ecology and fisheries as a common sense, practical proposal to limit the damage that invasive crayfish species might do to our native fauna and fisheries. Further research by MDC showed economic and social consequences would be minor.

Virile Crayfish- MDC
Now some parties with an economic interest are proposing to the Department of Conservation that the regulation be amended to allow the sale of one crayfish species – the virile crayfish (Orconectes virilis) – as fishing bait.  It is now found in some rivers where it isn't native, likely due to accidental release or dumping bait at the end of the day.

The long term impact of this crayfish on native populations in streams where it is foreign is unknown. Examples such as zebra mussels and Asian carp have shown us that populations take time to build up and the decline or loss of native species is only discovered with time.

The probable effect, again supported by numerous distinguished crayfish ecologists and fisheries scientists, is that this new regulation would be unenforceable, easily evaded, and, most importantly, ineffective in protecting our valuable aquatic resources. In this time of overextended resources, what agency has the manpower to inspect bait shops and which bait shop has the expertise to identify species of crayfish to see if they are legal?

The Orconectes virilis occurs in most northern parts of the state. The name virilis should be a clue as this is the predominate trait of most invasive species. This MDC Discover Nature page describes it this way:  "The virile (also called “northern”) crayfish (Orconectes virilis) occurs in just about any prairie stream capable of supporting crayfish. The virile crayfish is probably Missouri’s most widespread species."

The map on the right shows Missouri prairie areas where O. virilis is native. Notice that it doesn't include the Ozarks. Unfortunately, they are now found in the White River system and on the Current River.  O. virilis is even now found in George Washington Parkway waters in Washington D.C.!   Here is the Current River description as described by MDC biologists.
“In February of 2012, U.S. National Park Service (NPS) biologists contacted MDC to report they had discovered an invasion of virile crayfish in the upper Current River watershed. They had discovered the species at 13 locations along the Current River watershed, totaling about 42 stream miles. Invasions were later confirmed by MDC staff, working with NPS staff.

Nobody has yet studied this invasion to determine effects. However, NPS biologists noted several sites where virile crayfish outnumbered native crayfish and numbers of native spothanded crayfish (Orconectes punctimanus) were notably lower than expected (relative to observations from around the watershed).”
Long-pincered crayfish MDC

This is a little more personal to me. We live on Bull Creek one of several streams that is the home to the large and beautiful long-pincered crayfish. It is unlikely that the White River population of O. virilis will make it upstream 10-20 miles on Bull or Swan Creek to offer a threat to our native crayfish. It is likely that with regulation changes and time it will make it up here in a bait bucket.

If this isn't enough of a threat for you, how do reports of catching piranha in Lake of the Ozarks since 2007 "grab you"?   You can read more by Shelly Cox including the quotes below from her MOBugs site.
"Bait fishermen also are unknowingly spreading invasive crawfish species. About half of U.S. states and Canadian provinces have restricted use, sale, and transport of crawfish, or are considering doing so because the threat that these invaders pose to native crawfish and the fisheries that they inhabit.

In considering regulations to prohibit the import and sale of crawfish, the Missouri Department of Conservation discovered 25 invasions in its streams. It also learned that 40 percent of anglers surveyed release live bait that they don’t use, more than 50 percent of bait shops sell species not native to regions where they are sold, and 97 percent of bait shop owners admitted or showed that they didn’t know what species they were selling.

“It is important for anglers to understand that any crawfish species moved from its natural range to new water bodies has the potential to become invasive in those new waters and to adversely affect fisheries,” said Missouri biologist Bob DiStefano.

Not surprisingly, the aquaculture industry and Farm Bureau oppose Missouri’s proposed regulations, citing economic hardship for those who import, grow, and/or sell crawfish. In the Mid-South years ago, fish farmers made the same argument in convincing resource managers to allow them to import and sell bighead and silver carp."
Whether you support the change or not, consider sending your opinion in a letter to the Missouri Conservation Commission (c/o Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102.)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Twig and Bud Keys

The more definitive way to identify an unknown winter tree or shrub is by studying twigs and buds using a key.  This is not as simple as it sounds.  In fact, chasing through the blind alleys of a key has brought grown aspiring naturalists to tears!  Take a deep breath and give it a try.

I am writing this based on my experiences, including the crying mentioned above.  Most of my frustration comes from not recognizing the features described in the next step of the key.  Learning these features will save you a lot of time, frustration, and quite a few tissues.  A sharp pocket knife and a small 10x magnifier will help too.  The magnifier is helpful for looking at buds and a necessity for older eyes to count the bundle scars.

These two examples demonstrate some features you need to know.  The picture on the left shows that the leaf scars below the bud are at different levels.  This tells you that the leaves are alternate.   You can even make out multiple vascular bundle scars (tiny white spots) in the leaf scar on the left side of this tulip tree twig.  The key will ask you about the location of the leaf scar and the number of bundle scars.  Notice the two scales fit tightly together in a straight line, called "valvate"in a key.

On the right, the sugar maple has opposite buds and complex overlapping scales, referred to as "imbricate".  Twig color, hairiness, and the shape and arrangement of the leaf scars are all important identifying features in a key.

The "key" to using a key is to know your twig anatomy.  Every time I get lost, it is because I couldn't properly identify twig features in the next step.  If you don't know a vascular bundle scar from a stipule, start by learning a few basic structures.  A good place to start is this forestry.about.com diagram which will open in another window.  Look it over and then come back here.

Now that you are back, open bobklips.com twig pictures.  Bob writes from Columbus Ohio, an area with similar trees to Missouri's.  (My New York friends think Ohio is the Midwest- actually it is just the eastern edge.)  He has some vivid bud and twig pictures which will help you visualize what you saw in the diagrams above.

Now that you have seen Bob Klip's examples of bud arrangement, leaf scars and vascular bundles, you are ready to key in.  I would suggest that you head outside and get a few twigs from trees whose identities are known to you.  Sycamore, walnut and maples are good species to choose as their features are larger and you are more likely to find early success.


The knife mentioned above is used to get to the pith in the center of the twig.  Most pith is just that, a soft homogenous material filling of the center as seen at the left in the Tree of Heaven (or Hell depending on your feelings about invasive plants).  Some species such as the black walnut on the right have chambered pith, and a few other species are actually hollow.



Now you may want to go to the Virginia Tech vTree Twig Key which will open in another window on your browser.  Plunge in and enjoy.  Oh, you might also have a box of tissues nearby if you fail your first attempts, but just keep on keying.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter which you can buy at the Nature Center.  It is handy to use in the field. 
Virginia Tech has a vTree Android app which is helpful as a key with over 900 species fact sheets.  It takes a long time to install but is well worth the wait.
Thanks to Bob Klips for the pictures.  The emphasis is on plants with gorgeous detailed photographs on his bobklips.com website.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

ID Trees of Winter

Honey locust or hawthorn?
Lately we have been trying to sharpen our winter tree identification skills.  Leaves not only provide us shade, they also are the main way we identify many trees and shrubs.  When the leaves leave, I have been left with the knowledge of some distinctive barks, and even that fails me in reliably separating a walnut and some hickories.

Shagbark hickory
Some trees are obvious.  Shagbark hickory has a bark easily identified by a child once they have seen it.  The sycamore can be identified at a distance by the distinctive white trunk where the bark peels away and by the seed balls hanging from the branches.  Not all trees are that distinctive, especially when young without their typical bark and fruit.

For many trees in winter, you have to identify them by their twigs and buds.  These distinctive features are present in all but the first months of leaf out and the spring growth spurt.  Identification is even more challenging when the unknown is small and could be a small tree or a shrub.  Like seeing a friend in a crowd, familiar features occasionally may pop out, letting you immediately identify a species you are familiar with.

Some young tree species have characteristics that are relatively distinctive.  Once you learn the face (twig or bud pattern) it can be yours forever (or for me as long as I can remember anything).  Features such as the presence of thorns, bark color and the shape of buds can put the plant in a group.  An example would be zig-zag twigs, which are easily identified and leads to a number of choices such as elm, sycamore, hackberry, redbud, osage orange and locust trees.  This MDC website lists twigs by a few of their distinctive characteristics.

A great place to learn some distinctive twigs and test yourself using pictures like those below is at  fieldbioinohio.blogspot.com/.   The picture of hawthorn thorns below on the left immediately made me think of honey locust but the twig wasn't right.  The hint to look for blood red buds in winter helps identify it as a hawthorn.  Lacking the buds, look for secondary spines off the main spine which will identify the tree on the right as a honeylocust.  I don't see red spines on our honeylocust at Bull Creek unless it is my blood.











This is an Ailanthus altissima or Tree of Heaven twig on the left.  These twigs are easily identifiable from a distance.  You can remember this by thinking of Little Red Ridinghood- "My what big leaf scars you have... the better to cut you down to your invasive stump."  The sassafras on the right has distinctive buds, especially when combined with the bright green twig, brown bark further down and the distinctive odor when it is broken or abraded.

For most twig identification I have to turn to a key.  That will be the subject of the next blog.

Special thanks to Field Biology of Southeastern Ohio for the use of the pictures.  It is a good place to test your eye.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Invasive Plants- Attack or Embrace

Bush Honeysuckle
Invasive plant species are everywhere and they seem to be winning.  Some press reports suggest we take the Dr. Strangelove approach and "relax and learn to love them" as they aren't causing extinctions in studies of islands or large areas.  Other studies of smaller plots show the disappearance of many native species, a significant threat.  So which studies are right?

A study reported in sciencedaily.com suggests they both are.  They show the differences in these studies results is a matter of scale.  This Washington University study suggests that examining smaller areas demonstrates more loss of diversity, e.g. fewer native plant species growing that would ordinarily be found there.

"At small scales, invaded plots had many fewer species than un-invaded plots, but they picked up species more rapidly, and at broad scales the invasives' effect on diversity virtually disappeared," Kirsten Powell, one of the authors says.  As the study area increases, more native species are found, it just takes longer and more extensive areas to find all the normal species.

Bush honeysuckle which covers the roadsides in northeast Missouri is a good example.   We are referring to several Asian invasive species such as Lonicera maackii and L. fragrantissima.   An innocent smaller native Diervilla found in the Northeastern US goes by the same common name.  L. maackii  grows rampantly, leafing out early in the season and thus blocking the sunlight from the native species which open their buds later.  It also remains green into November, further blocking out sunlight.  It also may produce allelopathic chemicals, toxins that reduce growth of other plants in the vicinity.

By the shear volume of blossoms as they take over an area, they outcompete natives for pollinators, further reducing the native plants' reproduction.  The seeds are spread by birds which eat the prolific fruit.  Unfortunately the berries are not as nutritious as native species.  They are high on sugar content but low on fat and protein required by birds storing up energy for their winter survival or migration.  Essentially they are consuming the equivalent of giant soft drink bottles, even in New York.

Bush honeysuckle hasn't become a problem along Bull Creek...yet.  My lovely editor would say "Death to all invasive plants," an impossible feat on our tree farm, let alone the whole planet.  On the other hand, it proves her thesis that there is benefit in local control, especially when our goal is maintaining diversity in the valley. In a final note of irony, as bush honeysuckle spreads through the US, it has become endangered in Japan.  Go figure.

Bush honeysuckle control measures are outlined on the mdc.mo.gov/ site


Friday, February 1, 2013

Hard Animals to Find

Find the Peeper- Click to enlarge
Looking long and hard for something different?  If so, Master Naturalist Dan Crane has just the thing for you, and it is free.

Dan sent me a link to the Daily Mail, not exactly my usual source for nature news.  It features a number of pictures demonstrating the art of crypsis at its finest.  The skills of of blending into your surroundings can be a benefit for a turkey hunter.  For an animal it can be a life saver, whether it is a potential prey avoiding a predator or being a predator waiting for a meal to come along.  More on crypsis from Wikipedia:.
"In ecology, crypsis is the ability of an organism to avoid observation or detection by other organisms. It may be either a predation strategy or an antipredator adaptation, and methods include camouflage, nocturnality, subterranean lifestyle, transparency, and mimicry.  Crypsis can in principle involve visual, olfactory or auditory camouflage."
When looking at these Dailymail.co.uk link pictures, try to find the animal before looking at the caption.  It is much easier to find them when you know what you are looking for, unlike a predator in the wild which is just looking for anything for lunch.