Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bee Plant Wise

Urban plantings frequently include non-native plants that may not provide nectar for our native species of bees, butterflies and moths.  They usually can't serve as host plants needed for food for native caterpillars.  We encourage homeowners to "Bee Wise and Plant Natives."

Our Master Naturalist chapter is participating in the Native Plant Market at the Springfield Botanical Center on May 5th from 10:0AM to 2PM.  Our focus will be on invasive ornamental plants that are harming Missouri's wild and urban ecosystems and the wisdom of replacing them with our natives. We'll be offering walking tours at 10:30AM and 1PM of the Native Shrub Garden and adjacent efforts to remove the invasive garden escapees that threaten to overwhelm it.

There's a wealth of reliable resources on the internet to help the curious (as well as the obsessed) when it's time to chose ornamental plants for our yards and public spaces.  Perhaps the first question we should ask when making decisions about plants is "Is it a known invasive or known to have invasive tendencies?"

  • The Invasive Plant Atlas of the US has lists of plants that have invaded and degraded natural areas throughout the US. 
  • For information about invasive plants in general, their environmental impacts, and specific plants that are known to be invasive in our area check out Missouri Botanical Garden Invasive Species. 
  • Missouri Botanical Garden has a Native Landscaping Manual in PDF form.  Chapter Four is an excellent guide for gardeners wanting to landscape with native plants.
  • If you want information about control and identification of invasive species link to Chapter Three.
  • Grow Native! is Missouri's best resource for all things relating to native plants, including advice for beginners as well as the experienced, pollinator and wildlife habitat, water protection, and local resources. 
  • To learn more about common invasive ornamental plants, how to identify and control them see this Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) link.
Local sources for native plants and landscaping include:
Remember- NoMOInvasivePlants

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Wildflower Walk 2018

Hannah Parker and her new pet - April 14!
The Wildflower Walk II got off to a roaring start 3 hours early with a visit from Greater Ozarks Audubon birders.  As usual they heard lots of species that don't fall in my hearing range, pointed out broadwing hawks circling that I would have thought were red-shouldered and some other cool finds, but the best one didn't have feathers.

Hannah Parker spotted the rather tattered female Monarch butterfly on our Mail Trace Road.  It patiently rode her finger for a while until we transferred it to a container.  It will be living on a potted milkweed in her house.  In spite of its arduous journey, we hope it will lay some eggs.

We reported it to Journey North which tracks the Monarch migration and it was the second one reported this year in Missouri.  The first was reported flying overhead in St. Louis.  You can see the report here.

From there on the day was a continued success.  We saw a lot more finds with the trained eyes of Michelle Bowe and her students (MSU) and Ioana Popescu (Drury). They provided lots of Greek, Latin and botanical pearls while some of us just carried the cameras and listened in awe.

Pussytoes - female
Dainty little pussytoes have just blossomed with their tiny fuzzy heads.  The botanical name Antennaria plantaginifolia is less catchy than its other common names such as plantain-leaved everlasting and ladies' tobacco.  It typically grows in acid soils on prairies, or dry or rocky slopes, and glades which are abundant along Bull Creek.

Male flowers of pussytoes
It propagates vegetatively by runners under the soil (stolons) and can occur in large clusters.  Stolons are stems that run parallel to the ground or just below the ground and form new roots and essentially new plants which are genetically identical.

I had only seen the pure white blossoms but Michelle pointed out to us that they are dioecious, i.e. male or female flowers are on separate plants.  This area had the pure white heads which are the female flowers with an adjacent patch of male flowers that have tiny brown anthers. The seeds produced by the female plants have fluffy tufts on them to aid their dispersal by wind.

For those like myself who have forgotten their flower anatomy many times, here is a refresher.

A list of wildflower species found at Bull Mills with Saturday's finds highlighted is here.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Bank Stabilization

After a moderate flood - Click to enlarge
Like many other streams, Bull Creek is challenged in recent years by larger rain events and increased flooding.  Continued development in the upper reaches of the watershed includes more impervious surfaces such as roofs and paving.  Lawns replace native grasses, shrubs and trees with deep roots that previously captured some of the rain with each storm.  This leads to larger peak flow creating increased bank erosion and gravel deposition as well as silting in of Lake Taneycomo with serious implications for the economy of Rockaway Beach.  Below you can see the changes from 2008 to 2018.

Undercut bank
When the creek gives us more water it takes away more soil.  The Christmas flood of 2 years ago and the following April flood caused a loss of 50 feet of bank in a 300 foot stretch including 6 rows of recent riparian plantings.  More important it threatened the remaining mature trees along the east bank downstream.  This is located in the middle of an 8 mile stretch of Bull Creek which is designated as one of Missouri Outstanding Resource Waters.

Dave Woods, of the Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries division designed an initial plan for stream bank remediation with the construction of a bank stabilization structure which was just completed.  The project was funded by the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation through the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund which is described here.

The objectives of the project were to mitigate the unnatural rate of stream bank erosion, improve the channel stability by reinforcing three light equipment stream crossings, augment and protect more than 30 acres of bottom land forest to maintain a healthy riparian corridor.  It included establishing a perpetual easement to protect over 1.5 miles of the high quality Ozark stream, its tributaries and the associated corridor.  The easement permanently protects the high quality riparian areas along the creek from unnatural disturbance and development now and by any future land owner.

This remediation involved bringing in 1,400 tons of rock to stabilize 320 linear feet followed by replanting 2.7 acres of seedlings along the restored bank.  Detailed engineering plans were created by Chris Cash and the construction work was by Kelpe Contracting, a firm that specializes in riparian remediation.

Dave and Andy harvested 8' willow and sycamore poles (logs really) and these were held upright in trenches with the bottom end below water level in the hyporheic zone, the stream water that flows under a gravel bar.  Here they will sprout roots and grow to begin the riparian tree restoration even before the seedlings are planted next spring.

The project was completed in 5 days with a pause for a flood that tested the bank which passed with flying colors.  A video of the project is at this Youtube link.  Special thanks to Dave Woods who shepherded the project through a two year gestation to delivery and to Andy Humble for his logging skills and strong back.  Many thanks to the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation for all they do for conservation in our beautiful state.

Downstream portion of bank stabilization - Click to enlarge

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Hydra Microblog

Microblog from Linda Bower MN

Green Hydra - Wikimedia
Linda Bower sent me this fascinating video she filmed of a green hydra in pond water.  Like the crinoids of old, it ingests nutrients into a dead end stomach, expelling undigested particles back out the way they came.  What is not to love about a simple system like that?

New to hydra?  Here's an excerpt from an article by Northern State University of South Dakota, USA: "Hydra are named after the nine-headed sea snake of Greek mythology and are freshwater relatives of corals, sea anemones and jellyfish. All are members of a primitive phylum, the Cnidaria. The gut of cnidarians has only one opening. Unlike more complex animals, cnidarians are designed around 2 sheets of tissue: the ectoderm, lining the exterior; and the endoderm, lining the gastrovascular cavity. The two are separated by a gelatinous partition...greatly expanded in jellyfish, but is much reduced in hydra."

Chlorohydra viridissima is a bright green species, owing to the presence of numerous algae called zoochlorellae, which live as symbionts within the endodermal cells. Their relationship is mutualistic as the zoochlorellae carry out photosynthesis and produce sugars that are used by the hydra. In return, the carnivorous diet of the hydra provides a source of nitrogen for the algae.

Hydra viridissima - Wikimedia
At the base of the tentacles is the mouth. Smaller animals which blunder into the tentacles are stung and paralyzed by structures called cnidocytes, the little bumps seen along the tentacles in Larry Wegmann's photograph below.  The tentacles draw the prey into the mouth, and body fluids leaking from puncture wounds stimulate a simple feeding response as the shortening of the tentacles shorten, the opening of the mouth expands, and the victim is engulfed.  Digestion of the prey item in the gastrovascular cavity proceeds over several hours. Cuticles and other undigested remains are subsequently expelled through the mouth. Almost any small invertebrates, up to the size of the hydra, may be consumed, including annelid worms, rotifers, insect larvae, and (especially) small crustaceans, such as Daphnia, Chydorus and Cyclops spp."

Hydra budding - Larry Wegmann
Most hydra reproduction is asexual by budding as seen above.  A new but genetically identical hydra is extending from the body and will break free from the parent.  Hydras can occasionally reproduce sexually.  Most species being hermaphrodites, they form both an ovary and testicles on the same individual.  A single fertilized egg can be held until the conditions are right for its release.

You can read more in the Northern State University article.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Blueberry Stem Gall

Mark Bower sent me this picture of a "weird thing" he found while out photographing mushrooms.  He described it as being hard and growing off of a plant.  Now when a man whose passion is photographing fungi thinks something he found is "weird" I have to take it seriously.  To me it appeared to be a deformed part of a plant stem, likely a gall.

Gall in winter - Joshfecteau.com 
Using my years of Master Naturalist training and botanical skills, I Googled "kidney shaped gall" and came up with several pictures of blueberry stem galls.  That opened up a lot of references to the gall and the wasp that forms it, Hemadas nubilipennis.  I was intrigued by the name and searched for the origin of this name and only came up with "pennis" which is Latin for "feather" or an aluminum coin of Finland  eliminated with the introduction of the Euro.   But I digress.....

H. nubilipennis - John van der Linden
The wasps are tiny, measuring less than a tenth of an inch.  They emerge during the blooming season and most are females.  Following mating, a female wasp lands on a tender shoot, frequently under the leaf litter. Facing the tip, she plunges her ovipositor into the stem to deposit an egg, then moves slightly forward to repeat the action multiple times. There are typically 12 eggs in a gall.

Wasp larvae in the gall - Molly Jacobson
The eggs will hatch in 12-14 days and the damage of the larvae feeding causes the stem to swell,  producing the gall.  This provides nutrition and protection for the developing larvae.  The gall turns hard in the fall and the larvae will pupate in it in the spring.  Extension.org

Galls are a major problem among blueberry growers and the primary treatment is pruning of parasitized stems.  Elimination of the wasps takes persistence over years.  Although blueberries are self-pollinating, cross pollination by insects produces larger fruit.  Spraying insecticide as a secondary treatment against the wasp is tricky as the wasps emerge in blooming season at the same time as honeybee pollination.  Michigan State

Wasp emerging from a Blueberry Stem Gall - Nature Posts
There is a fantastic set of photographs of the tiny gall wasps emerging on the Nature Posts blog but they aren't all of the gall with H. nubilipennis.  It turns out that at least 6 other parasitic wasps call these galls home.  One is a chalcid wasp called Ormyrus vacciniicola.  I went straight to Charley Eiseman's Bugtracks where he describes two more eurytomid wasp species that are known to parasitize Hemadas nubilipennis exclusively,  Eurytoma solenozopheriae and Sycophila vacciniicola.  This is where it gets really weird.  He goes on to say:
"Eupelmus vesicularis (Eupelmidae) has also been reared from these galls, and by contrast is one of the least host-specific chalcidoids–its known hosts include six different orders of insects.  It is thought to have been introduced from Europe in straw, and the list of host species in North America is said to be “tiresomely long.”
So of my gall emergences so far this year, one in four has been the actual gall inducer, and the rest have been parasitoid wasps.  I think this is pretty representative of what’s going on out there–there seem to be more parasitoids than anything else.  Hemadas nubilipennis galls are multi-celled, so it will be interesting to see what else comes out of the ones I collected." - Charley Eiseman
We haven't identified many blueberry plants in our valley and I wonder how the wasp found a victim.  We will start looking more carefully for other plants.  Details on the lowbush blueberry are at llinoiswildflowers.info.  For an interesting history of the blueberry stem gall read pages 14-17 of this 1981 Ospry newsletter.
Some of the findings from MN Wildflower Walk I are at this link.  WW II (not the war) is on April 14th at 1PM.

Friday, March 30, 2018


Critter trails through scouring rush on Bull Creek
One of the banks along Bull Creek is thick with an evergreen that doesn't get much press.  It doesn't flower, has no seeds or leaves, and stands less than three feet tall.  It is an ancient species and definitely a "horse of a different color."  Equisetum (horsetail) is as primitive as it looks, a genus of living fossils, the only surviving members of its class named Equisetopsida which were quite common 100 million years ago.  There were many diverse species filling the understory of the forests, some growing 90 feet tall. Layered in the earth for millions of years, its relatives produced our coal beds.

Our species is Equisetum hyemale, a.k.a. scouring rush, so named because of the silica concentrations in its stem.  Native Americans used it for polishing and settlers scoured pans with it.  Modern day craftsmen still use it for fine polishing and clarinetists use it to polish their reeds.  Like almost any living plant, some have touted Equisetum as a medicinal or a wild food although the descriptions of preparation could also probably be applied to serving sandpaper for supper.  ASPCA sources describe its toxicity in horses.  Fortunately, it is a survivor and is likely to outlast these few uses.  It grows aggressively along the water and is considered an invasive species in South Africa and Australia.

Jointed stems of Equisetum  - John Hilty at Illinoiswildflowers.info
It has another virtue appreciated by children.  You can pull them apart and slip them back together like joints on a fly rod.  Each stem is hollow with joints every few inches.  The joints have fine longitudinal ridges and with magnification you can see tiny black teeth on the upper rim that may break off with age.

 Multiple lateral cones - John Hilty
Spore-bearing cone - John Hilty
Equisetum reproduces primarily by rhizomes which are more numerous than their stems.  They can work their way down 6 feet into the soil and are therefore resistant to pulling.  They also reproduce sexually like ferns by producing spores from a cone at the tip or sometimes several lateral cones.  Once they release their spores in late spring or early summer the cones drop off, much like vascular plants shed their flowers. 

Rhithrogena germanica subimago on Equisetum hyemale.jpg
Mayfly hanging on Equisetum  -  Richard Bartz CC
I find the best website for detailed information on Missouri plants is Illinoiswildflowers.  It also is rich in faunal associations and has great photographs, many of which are available to non-profit organizations like ours through their photo use policy.  A big thanks to webmaster John Hilty and his team.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ephemeral Mayfly

We were standing near the creek when my wife, Barb, started giving me a strange look.  I get a lot of those looks from her but in this case she said, "There is an interesting bug on your hat."  We then did what any Master Naturalists would do, she held my hat while I photographed it.

This was our first mayfly of the season.  There are 6,000 species of them worldwide which make up the order Ephemeroptera.  Surprisingly their closest relatives are dragonflies.  The "ephemer" comes from the Greek "living a day" and that pretty much sums up the life span of the adult, a trait noted as far back as Aristotle.

They come out suddenly in large numbers and tend to occur in swarms just above the water after emerging.  With such a short lifespan they don't waste time eating or drinking but get right to business in the mating game.  It is described like this in Wikipedia.
"Each insect has a characteristic up-and-down pattern of movement; strong wingbeats propel it upwards and forwards with the tail sloping down; when it stops moving its wings, it falls passively with the abdomen tilted upwards. Females fly into these swarms, and mating takes place in the air. A rising male clasps the thorax of a female from below using his front legs bent upwards, and inseminates her. Copulation may last just a few seconds, but occasionally a pair remains in tandem and flutters to the ground."
Mayfly nymph - Tom Murray
The female will then lay 400 to 3,000 eggs on the surface of the water.  After anywhere from a few days to a year, the larvae, called nymphs, will emerge and begin a series of 10-50 moults, more than almost any other order of insects.  It is these critters that we count in our stream team surveys.  The next step toward adulthood gets very interesting.  I will yield to UC Berkeley to describe it.
When it comes time for the last nymph stage to molt into a subimago (the first flying stage), the guts empty out and the mid-gut section fills with air. Often, many nymphs will then simultaneously let go of their hold on their anchor in the water and float up to the top. Once they reach the air, the cuticle splits open on the thorax and the wings come out. This is the time of greatest vulnerability in their lives as they float on the water before they are strong enough to fly. The subimago has short hairs on the wings and on the body; the wings are dull and pigmented.
Once it gains some strength, it flies from the water to some form of shelter such as a tree, long grass, or the underside of a bridge and molts again within 24 to 48 hours. This additional molt to an adult called an imago allows the legs and tails of the insect to grow more. Longer tails give more stability in flight, and longer legs make it easier for the male to grasp the female in mating."
The adult on my hat took off, either headed back to the creek to look for love or else ready to give it up.  The species depends on high volume reproduction for survival as the eggs and larvae are an important link in the food chain.  The eggs are eaten by aquatic snails and caddisfly larvae and the nymphs feed flies, water beetles, fish, frogs, and birds, as well as fly fishing fanatics who will spend more time tying the perfect imitation mayfly than the original does mating.

Prong-gilled mayfly - Linda Bower
Rhithrogena germanica subimago on Equisetum hyemale.jpg
 Equisetum - Richard Bartz CC
Linda Bower MN has this video of a Prong-gilled Mayfly (Leptophlebia intermedia) larva feeding and, of course, her trademark  "pooping."

I am including this March brown mayfly resting on a rough horsetail, Equisetum hyemale, stem, because it is resting on a scouring rush, a plant species coming soon to a blog near you.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Microblog Volvox

Our micro-videographer Linda Bower is producing fantastic videos with her microscope at a rate I will never be able to keep up with.  We will start posting her videos with her comments and a listing of their length under the title Microblog.  I plan to write on topics such as cladocera and water bears when I "get around to it."  And don't bother sending me one, I will have to find the time on my own.

 Volvox birthing 3:50

This Volvox mother colony was found in farm pond water located in the Missouri Ozarks, USA. Guest appearances by Cladocera and a variety of plankton.

New to Volvox? No Linda, Barb and I talk about them every day at breakfast!

Volvox is a genus of some 20 species of freshwater green algae (division Chlorophyta) found worldwide. Volvox form spherical or oval hollow colonies that contain some 500 to 60,000 cells embedded in a gelatinous wall and are often just visible with the naked eye.  Read more here: at Britannica.com's Volvox entry.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Soused Mouse

Chardonnay de mus

A friend who shall remain unnamed had a half full wine bottle left open on his kitchen cabinet in his cabin for a week.  When he returned he found a mouse floating in the chardonnay quite glassy-eyed.  How he got in there is the big mystery.  Yes it was a male," Barb said, "What else did you expect, probably did it to impress a buddy."

The internal diameter of the bottle neck is 3/4" which looks like a tight fit.  Schwartz's Wild Mammals of Missouri says that a House Mouse,
Mus musculus, can fit through an opening 1/2" in diameter.  The real question I have is how did it climb up the slick glass bottle?  It must have had a powerful thirst!

Unlike the other 12 mouse species listed for Missouri, the House Mouse is an invasive species.  Mus domesticus, western European house mice, and Mus castaneus, southeastern Asian house mice are two of the seven different strains that have adapted quite well to life with humans.  As a group they tend to breed year around, leading to high numbers in our structures.

They are more omnivorous than the native mouse species, adapted to a wide variety of insects as well as our stored and prepared foods, soap, glue, and apparently white wine.  They have a wide variety of predators but most of them don't have access to our structures.  In our creek house, its main threats are the resident Black Rat Snake and Barb.

Mus domesticus, western European house mice, and Mus castaneus, southeastern Asian house miceThey are 
I broke the bottle open as my friend said he didn't want to save the wine.  The mouse was totally pickled and quite relaxed. His next stop is in a flower pot in the garlic field to give insects a chance to clean the skeleton.  A story like that is worth preserving.
Lisa Berger's note:
Bouquet: Notes of 3-day old toast, and pickled mus-kleberries
Mouth feel: Exquisitely full bodied, especially if the mouse is in your first sip

Editor's note:
We have named the mouse George in honor of George, Duke of Clarence who was said to be executed by drowning in a butt of malmsey wine, as it is described in Shakespeare’s play Richard III.  This link describes the controversy over this which I think is confusing with facts a better story.  Long live George, but not in our case.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Spring Peeper Babies

Tadpole emerges left upper, intact egg with tadpole to the right - Linda Bower
Linda Bower just sent me this incredible video of spring peeper tadpoles emerging from their eggs so I decided to update a previous blog on the little mighty mouths.  We first started hearing the chorus four weeks ago.  According to Animal Diversity Web:
The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days).
"The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days)."
The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days).
The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days).
Most of these eggs won't survive to produce adult peepers or we would likely be deafened by the songs.  Frog eggs and tadpoles are at the bottom of the aquatic food chain, eaten by any denizen of the shallows that can get its mouth around them.  Linda captured one of those attempts in this video of a dragonfly nymph attacking a peeper egg just before it could hatch.

Dragonfly nymph attacking peeper egg with tadpole inside - LB
This time of year the sound of spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) rings across the valley from a nearby pond.  They spend the winter in torpor, hiding in leaves and under logs.  So how do these apparently soft and tender amphibians survive the winter? 

"The spring peeper produces glucose, or sugar, and "freezes" itself for the winter. In winter, peepers' bodies freeze--but their cells don't rupture because of the concentrated sugars in them. These sugars act as a kind of natural anti-freeze.
Like many of the chorus frogs, the spring peeper is often heard, but not seen. It gets its name from its call, which consists of a single clear note or peep, occurring once a second. Only the males sing, calling from shrubs and trees standing in or overhanging water.
The faster and louder a male sings, the more likely he is to attract a mate. A male peeper may also give a lower-pitched trilled whistle, usually when another male has moved too close to its calling site. During the daytime, peepers often call during light rains or in cloudy weather."  Maryland DNR
X marks the frog - REK
Peepers are hard see, let alone to photograph as they are watching for anything moving above them  At less than 1.5" almost everything is higher.  They have great camouflage, with a faint "X" on the back as their distinguishing mark, the reason for the name P. crucifer (crucifer = “cross-bearer”).  Because of the cacophonous chorus, it is hard to localize an individual frog.

A few years ago I chose a pond with a six foot high dam so I could approach the water unseen.  The chorus was in full voice by 4:45pm while the low lying sun was still reaching the pond surface.  I crawled up the side on my belly like Uncle Sam taught me in Vietnam, discovering in the process that my belly wasn't the same one I had used in 1967.

I reached the top and peered over and saw....nothing!  There was the water, dead leaves and floating sticks with even a few mushrooms, but no frogs.  The cacophony continued unabated, scattered voices from all around the pond edges.  Finally I made out a tiny bump that seemed to vibrate on a log to my left. 

Crawling six feet to the left and then peeking over the edge I was face to face with a singing peeper.  He (only males call) watched me closely as I ever so slowly brought out my pocket camera.  I waited several minutes with my arms outstretched until he again joined the chorus.  The next 10 minutes I continued to film it, pausing when it became suspicious and stopped singing.  Mission accomplished with this video!

A final confession.  I broke the rule of "Take nothing but pictures leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time."  When I got home I discovered I had taken a number of ticks from the pond dam. You can guess the killing part.
Speaking of mating calls, here is some research into how birds modify their songs when loud noise pollution makes finding mates difficult.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Leucistic Cardinal

Cardinal of a different color - Andy Schiller
We had a strange visitor hanging around the Stream Team meeting at the Watershed Center Thursday evening.  Andy Schiller spotted it and managed to get a cellphone snapshot.  It was competing with cardinals and chickadees for feeder space, looking somewhat like a cross between a cardinal and a cockatoo.
Same bird earlier - Charley Burwick
I first called it piebald, a common word, better described as leucistic.  While albino is used to describe the total loss of pigmentation, including pale red eyes reflecting the color of blood, leucistic can be various shades from spotty like our friend to nearly complete.  It gets a lot more complicated as described in Sibleyguides.com's Abnormal Coloration in Birds page.

In addition to drawing the attention of birders, leucism has other disadvantages.  Since melanin is structural as well as a pigment, feathers may wear out sooner, affecting flight and temperature control.  The reflection of heat can be a big disadvantage when facing cool spring winds.

Piebald, leucistic, you name it. - Pinterest
The more obvious problem is looking different.  It might affect survival, especially in more camouflaged birds like a sparrow although a male cardinal can hardly be called cryptic.  Attracting a mate may also be a problem in Spring when all the other guys are bright red, although who knows, maybe looking different helps - think of teenagers with tinted hair.

Be on the lookout at Monday's meeting and maybe we will get a chance to see it alive and in color, sort of.
3-20-2018 addendum
Dave Shanholtzer shared with me that he was a passionate birder with Greater Ozarks Audubon Society in the 1980s, the lone kid on their field trips.  He had a leucistic cardinal at his backyard feeder that he followed.   This is little David out with GOAS in the 80s and that might be Burwick in the skirt.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Two Hepaticas

Liverleaf (Hepatica) found by Jill Hays
Jill Hayes was down prowling the creek today with her friend Hannah and sent me pictures of the first hepatica of Spring.  Another common name is liverleaf and both names refer to the deep beef red color of the leaves in winter.  The leaves are three lobed and stand up on a hairy stalk.  As spring warms up the leaves will turn green as it produces chlorophyll to start the new growing season.  The brownish green basal leaves are said to be poisonous and it seems unlikely that they are eaten by mammalian herbivores to any significant extent.

Hepatica leaves green up later in the spring.  Note the hairy stalks - REK
According to the USDA Forest Service link "the flowers are most commonly blue or lavender, although white forms may be common locally, especially in southern areas, and there may be various shades of pink." They too are on a hairy stalk. Missouri is in the southwestern edge of its range.

Liverleaf is also commonly called hepatica because of its previous species name Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa.  That was in the "good old days," but since it was one of the few plant names I knew, they had to change it to Anemone americana to confuse me as rationalized here.

One of the cool things about liverleaf is its propagation.  While it is self-pollinating and doesn't need insects for that step, it depends on ants to move and plant its seeds.  Each seed has an elaiosome, a small, soft appendage that contains fatty nutrition.  Ants pick up the seed and take it home with them, eating their treat while not harming the seed, a process called myrmecochory.  Frequently it ends up in a pile of ant poop, dispersed and fertilized at the same time.

A hepatica of a different color - and family - REK
Liverleaf is not the only hepatica you can see at Bull Mills.  This is Fistulina hepatica, commonly called the beefsteak or oxtongue fungus.  It is a polypore fungus that is primarily saprophytic, growing on tree trunks and stumps, a sign that the tree has seen its better days.  The flesh is soft and when cut or squeezed it exudes a blood like juice.  And no, it is not edible, not that anyone I know would be even tempted.
More on liverleaf is at skymea  dows.info.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Timberdoodle Love Song

Timberdoodle - Paco Lyptic
This time of year Timberdoodles (American Woodcocks) pass through Bull Mills on their way north to find nesting sights and wait for the ladies who will follow.  A few years ago we wrote about research several of us participated in to better understand the habitat they choose for their overnight stop.

The Timberdoodle is a fascinating bird and I don't have the words to describe it.....at least not as well than our favorite Bug Lady.  Linger not here, go straight to her description at this Bug of the Week link.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Missouri's Smallest Bears

SEM image of Milnesium tardigradum in active state - journal.pone.0045682.g001-2.png
Scanning electron microscope view of a tardigrade - Wikipedia
Linda Bower found some "water bears" (tardigrades) in a spoonful of farm pond water/muck and has been filming their antics. These are tiny, water-dwelling, eight-legged, segmented animals ranging from 0.05 millimeters to 1.2 mm (0.002 to 0.05 inches) long.  From Livescience.com*:
"Tardigrades, often called water bears or moss piglets, are near-microscopic animals with long, plump bodies and scrunched-up heads. They have eight legs, and hands with four to eight claws on each. While strangely cute, these tiny animals are almost indestructible and can even survive in outer space. Tardigrades eat fluid to survive. They suck the juices from algae, lichens and moss. Some species are carnivores and even cannibals."
Their fame comes from their survival skills.  They are among the "Most Likely to Survive" contestants in the case of a catastrophic Earth event such as a massive asteroid strike.  Some of their survival records:
  • 300 degrees Fahrenheit (water boils at 212)
  • -328 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Pressure 6 times greater than the deepest part of the ocean.
More to the point, they are really cute!  Linda says of her recent Youtube video:
 “This footage offers a view of tardigrades moving freely among a variety of plankton. It is fun to watch them walking around underwater although they are too tiny to get much detail with my current equipment. Seeing how they move may help if you are going to try to find them yourself.”
The Livescience posting on tardigrades is an excellent overview of these cute yet indestructible critters including images and video links.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Anesthesized Plants?

When I was young, the feelings of plants didn't get much respect.  They grew out of the ground at our pleasure, or in the case of dandelions, our displeasure.  We modified them painlessly with clippers and lawnmowers just like caterpillars chewed on them.  They felt nothing. 

We have learned more over the last 60 years.  Plants seek out the sun like some people migrate to Florida in the winter.  Many plants aim their leaves toward the sun, and trees grow their branches toward the available sunlight. Vines touching a branch will start slowly wrapping around it, a process called thigmoplasty.  Sensitive briars and Venus flytraps close rapidly by a similar process called thigmonasty, responding again to touch, just much faster. Venus flytraps actually seem to count, awaiting a second stimulus before closing.

Plants have feelings? - Bizarro.com
So if plants can "feel" and can respond to injury, is that pain?  But what actually is pain?  If I touch a hot pan, I withdraw rapidly to avoid a more serious burn.  Likewise, some plants produce chemicals to discourage an insect from chewing on it and even broadcast chemical signals to its cohorts to release defensive chemicals, just as I might warn someone, "Don't touch it, it will burn you."  This and many other examples are described in a fascinating book, What a Plant Knows - A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz.

A new study has shown that these senses can be dulled with the same anesthetics that are used on mammals, including us, in surgery or the dentist's chair.  I came across this in a NY Times article, Sedate a Plant, and It Seems to Lose Consciousness. Is It Conscious?   It describes the results of research reported in the Annals of Botany.

In an experiment, scientists sedated plants that display thigmonasty, such as the Venus flytrap. They blocked their response to touch and "when the drugs wore off, the plants came back to life, almost as if they were regaining consciousness."

One of the plants they tested was sensitive briar,  Mimosa nuttallii.  Its normal response to touch is the rapid folding up of its leaves, seen in this video.  Diethyl ether in the air of its container, or lidocaine on its roots, caused it to stop responding to touch.  Withdraw the anesthetic and seven hours later it had returned to a normal response.

These same anesthetics were used on Cape sundew, Drosera capensis, a well-known carnivorous plant and Venus flytrap, Dionaea muscipula.  They rapidly lost their capture response to crushed dead flies.  Yes, I feel the same about dead flies, but in their case these are like M&Ms to carnivorous plants. After several drug free hours they recovered their appetites and responded normally by quickly closing around the treats.

Obviously there is a lot of difference between responding to an anesthetic and actually feeling pain.  Plants don't think, as far as we know, but some might say they are aware of the insult.  While these findings may cause a few more readers to become vegans, I suspect it won't keep many homeowners off their riding lawnmowers.