Friday, November 25, 2016

Another Fuzzy Orange Gall

For some reason, when I saw this gall I immediately thought of the recent political campaign.  At a distance it looks like hair but close up (below) it is more fuzzy strands.  It was attached to the center vein of a white oak leaf.  I had recently written about Fuzzy Orange Galls and it didn't look like the spiky Callirhytis furva.

Not hair on closeup - definitely a leaf gall
I put the pictures on Bi-State Bugs and got a rapid response from Charley Eiseman who asked if it was on white oak.  Since it was, he explained "Then it is Andricus quercusflocciCallirhytis furva would only be on hosts in the red oak group."

Galls are identified by the species they appear on as well as their individual appearance.  Looking for information on the cynipid gall wasp C. furva contains is an exercise in frustration.  In this case, Bugguide references a 1911 book, California Gall-making Cynipidae: With Descriptions of New Species by Mary Isabel McCracken which you can download for free.  The description:
"Gall -  Brown elliptical, thin-walled, surface reticulate and covered with a rusty brown mat of fibers, two to many balls on a leaf, lying adjacent or strung along on the midrib, usually beginning at the base of the leaf, at least 1/2 mm in diameter.  Persistent, falling to the ground with the leaves in the fall.  Adults emerge in the breeding room in March."
Identification in 1911 required detailed descriptions compared to today when even a 5th grade WOLF student has a camera (now called a cellphone) to compare with pictures online and we can even send the question to a world-class expert with an answer in minutes.  Inaturalist and Project Noah can help you identify galls by pictures, and commercial photographers are happy to sell you their images for publication.  Mary Isabel McCracken would be so jealous.

Gall cut open - REK has links and says that "More than 150 species and subspecies of Andricus have been described" but none of these describe or picture the little wasp that has no findable photos on the web. 

Somehow it is reassuring that in this day of instant information, Snapchat, Wikileaks, and the hacking of the Internet, this little wasp can remain photographically anonymous.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Liverworts Anonymous

Green things that grow on rocks usually raise the question "Is that moss?"  At that point we all look at each other and shrug.  Gala sent me these pictures from a late October trip described below.  A few days later Chris Barnhart sent me photographs of a liverwort and I decided to dive into the subject of which I know nothing.  First from Gala:
"Oct 27- Allan, Jennifer and I took a field trip to Peck Ranch in hopes of viewing elk. The day was beautiful and a warm 80°, perhaps too warm for critters to be out and about at mid-day elk to be found. Regardless of the lack of elk sightings, we had a lovely day and decided to stop at a low water bridge and hike the stream bed. It was a losing stream with several remnant pools and a few sections of flowing water here and there. Among the fall leaves, we noticed the vibrant green of some interesting plants clinging to large rocks, we stopped for closer inspection. 
The plant looked a little "fern-like" but was close-growing on the rocks, not upright or loose. I pulled at the top of a "leaf" and discovered tiny "roots" attaching the plant to the rock itself. If you zoom in, it looks like interlocking scales or plates.  We took some photos for later identification, that's where Bob comes in...!"
I sent the photographs to Nels Holmberg for identification.  He responded that "This is Conocephalum salebrosum (formally Conocephalum conicum), the Great Scented Liverwort.  It is common along streams. And it does have a robust aroma."  Most of the information such as this detailed site is under the C. conicum name.

E. pardella moth - Wikipedia
It is also called the Common Mushroom-headed Liverwort, or Snakeskin Liverwort.  It gets its snakeskin name from the tiny hexagonal scale-like surface.  C salebrosum is the largest of the thalloid liverworts.  In the Pacific Northwest it is the host plant for the Epimartyria pardella moth.  The Conocephalum genus has two known species and a worldwide distribution. 
Day before the rain - Barnhart
A few days later Chris Barnhart sent me pictures of a liverwort outside his office.  There was a dramatic difference before and after a rain.  Nels Holmberg tentatively identified it as Asterella tenella, a thaloid liverwort which usually spreads out one plant deep.  Since this was in a thick pad he sent it on to the Missouri Botanical Garden where the ID was confirmed.

Day after a rain - Barnhart
A. tenella - Barnhart
When viewed close up, you can see the purple scales growing on the tips of the thalli.  This description, "Plants green with purplish undulate margins and purplish underside; branching dichotomous, rarely with intercalary branches" only gets more dense as it goes on.  This is a reminder that understanding bryophytes requires a whole new language.   

Even the the question "Is that moss?" can be complex.  The overall physical similarity of some mosses and leafy liverworts means that confirmation of the identification of some groups can be performed with certainty only with the aid of microscopy or an experienced bryologist.  Help is on the way when Nels comes to our March meeting.  Until then I will probably dabble around the edges rather than plunge deeply into the field of bryophytes.

An Introduction to Bryophytes

Friday, November 11, 2016

Nature for Fun

"Now this is fun"
From time to time I receive interesting stories about nature that are worthy of passing on, new discoveries or just for fun.  I will be adding some of these unrelated links at the bottom of future blogs.  There will be no extra charge for this feature.  Here is your starter dose.

Meet the Bird that Filled an Antenna With Acorns
Thanks to Shanholzer.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


A few years ago our neighbors brought us several gigantic leaves from a tree up on top of our hillside.  They wore them draped over their heads like huge sun hats.  This was our introduction to Paulownia, an Asian invasive species.  Barb isn't smiling, that is actually a grimace.

This is the Princess Tree or Empress Tree, Paulownia tomentosa, a tree that you can love and hate at the same time.  Let's start with the love.  It is planted as an ornamental in gardens and parks.  It was even awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in England.  It has large, colorful and fragrant flowers.

Paulownia flowers - Wikimedia
It is rapid growing, a pioneer plant adept at growing on barren ground.  Its massive leaves can enrich the soil and while it grows tall (35-80 feet) rapidly, it doesn't tolerate shade of the taller trees that in China will grow more slowly and eventually replace it.

There is now a growing market for Paulownia as a rapid growing soft wood that carves easily and can be used in plywood.  It is said to be strong and lightweight, "ideal" for surf boards and wooden boats.  It is also being touted as rapid growing carbon dioxide sink.  The sites selling it talk about the ease of the trees spreading and the fact that stakes cut from the stems readily root.  Can you spell invasive?

One year growth - click to enlarge

"Rapid growing" is like calling Moby Dick a big fish.  I cut the three trunks of our specimen last fall and was amazed to return this year and watch the growth.  The young trunks are flexible and hang in a curve with the weight of the leaves.  Richard Herman joined us and was able to pull the 12 foot high plant down for pictures.  The picture on the right is one of the trunks after we cut it off at ground level without spraying the stump last fall.  You can just make me out in the hat in the lower right hand corner.

The first few years Barb and I battled on the fate of the tree.  I wanted to leave it alone at least until we saw blossoms and fruit.  Barb wanted it cut and killed immediately.  We compromised on cutting it when it blossomed, while she told every visitor that saw the tree that when she died they had a sacred responsibility to come to our tree farm and cut it down in her memory.

This year in the spring the tree produced buds and she called in her debt.  With a heavy heart, I cut down the trunks and photographed the results.  The poor buds died before fulfilling their biological mission to "go forth and multiply."

Paulownia stems
Paulownia trunk

This did give me the opportunity to study the wood, which demonstrated how it can grow so rapidly.  In addition to being very soft and light weight, the young trunks are hollow in the center!  As you might expect, this rapid growth is at the expense of strength.  Two strokes of a hand held Silkey Saw halfway through the trunk and it broke off.  

The final question was how did this get into the middle of our timber stand, several miles from the nearest residential yard.  The answer lies in the tiny light weight winged seeds,  These can easily be spread by wind and water.  So are Paulownia trees good or bad?  As usual, the answer is "it depends."

5-14-2017  6 month update
We stored several of the cut 2" trunks in the garage for future use.  Last week one sprouted several sets of leaves.  As Bill Bryson* said, "Life just wants to be; but it doesn't want to be much."

* A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson

Monday, November 7, 2016

Bloodsucking Conenose

Eastern Bloodsucking Conenose - REK
I found this bug crawling along the ground in the gravel beside our well house.  I could tell it was in the Reduviidae Family of Assassin Bugs but had to rely on Bugguide to finally identify it.

Chilled after an hour in the refrigerator.  Do you have one in yours?  - REK
It goes by the catchy name of Eastern Bloodsucking Conenose (EBC) - Triatoma sanguisugaIt tends to live in nests of small mammals, especially the Eastern Wood Rat, Neotoma floridana that commonly dwells in the well house.  It is also said to feed on bed bugs and other insects.  What is not to love about this guy?

Still chilling out - REK
The answer is that it considers us mammals and can bite humans as well.  Consider its alternate common names, Big Bed Bug or Mexican Bed Bug.  They are also known as "Kissing Bugs" for their habit of biting humans usually on the mouth or around the eyes, leaving painful sores.  It gets worse.  They are also known to carry Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasitic protozoan that causes Chagas disease in humans in Latin America.  The only good news for us is that this doesn't occur here as it is spread by the insect's frass (poop) and the North American variety does not defecate while feeding,  This is probably more than you wanted to know.

The female carries her eggs until mating and then eats a blood meal before becoming fertile.  She then scatters them around where they will grow through eight instars over two years before maturity, each instar requiring a blood meal before each molt, a total life cycle of three years.  And we thought Dracula was thirsty.  They can find the blood from any mammal including rats, opossum, raccoons, and other wild critters.  Because they do not succumb to the bites, these animals can continue to serve as hosts.  We are not their prime target, just another mammal, you know.

Warming up to take off.  - REK
They have incomplete metamorphosis, each stage resembling somewhat the adults, lacking mainly wings and sexual maturity.  They are a fact of life, but fortunately, our Conenoses are continent, i.e. don't poop while feeding so they won't infect you.  The good news is you aren't likely to have them around you unless you have rats.  The bad news is that we have rat neighbors.

Friday, November 4, 2016


The WOLF Students found these insect larvae while studying a rotting log.  These are large wireworms, the larvae of a click beetle.  They are a dramatic example of complete metamorphosis where the larva bears no resemblance to the adult.  They have the typical mouth parts and six legs but lack the shape and the wings of an adult.  Our wireworms spend a lot of time backing up which demonstrates the rigid way it holds its body in this video.

Head and thorax - dorsal view
Wireworm is a generic name for the larvae of all species of click beetles in the family Elateridae.  They have tough bodies like a crawdad, the abdomen hinged in 10 segments.  These were 45 cm long with a color pattern common to many species such as the Large Wireworms - Orthostethus infuscatus, but I will leave further identification to the experts.  Most wireworms are saprophagous, living on dead organisms, but some are predator of insect larvae.  Some species are agricultural pests of corn and other crops and they get most of the studies.

The most popular of the click beetles is the Eyed Elater, Alaus oculatus.  It is larger than most click beetles, almost two inches long and its distinctive appearance separates it from any other beetle. The prominent false eyes on the beetle are presumed to be a defense against predators although no proof of this exists.  Its wireworm larvae are predators of larvae of wood boring beetles and flies.  They have two anal hooks which our specimens lack.  These wireworms and some other species spend 2-5 years as larvae in soil and rotting wood.

Click beetles are named for their ability to flex their body forward and snap a spine on the prosternum into a groove in the mesosternum, producing a violent "click" that can bounce the beetle into the air.  The description of this mechanism is still somewhat confusing to me but the beetle has it down pat.  When the beetle is on its back it is unable to right its self with its legs.  The "click" sends it up to 8" in the air but its landing on its feet is a random event out of its control so it may require several tries.  This also may be an effective way to escape predators.

If you run into an Eyed Elater, test its click out.  Holding the abdomen will frequently get it to click repeatedly.  Putting it on its back should get it to jump as in this video of one in a glass dish, slowed to quarter speed for me by Linda Bower MN.  If annoyed enough it may fly away but it is slow, awkward and seldom goes very far.  Then let it go to do its good work, producing more wireworms*.

Most comprehensive source of the Eyed Elater is at this site.
This video show more about it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

“A Puffball is a Puffball is a Puffball”

Puffing Puffball - Mark Bower
Story and photographs by Mark Bower 

Not all puffballs are created equal. It turns out that there are a wide variety of fungi called puffballs which have adopted the strategy of forming their spores within a spherical case, and subsequently releasing the spores when the case ruptures. Some of the puffballs are closely related to gilled mushrooms (for example Lycoperdon and Calvatia), and some are related to the Boletes (Earthballs). Others are even more distant taxonomically, especially if you consider truffles to be in the “Puffball” category.

Here are a few examples of puffballs found locally:

These are young Stump Puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme). As they age they
will lose their spines and become the smooth, whitish puffballs which grow
gregariously on dead logs. Their clustered habit earns them the title “Bananas
of the Fungal Kingdom”. Bob Kipfer described these in his recent blog post.
He mentioned the fact that “Lycoperdon” means “wolf fart”; one wonders who
had the inclination to sit behind a wolf and experience this event.

This is the “Gem-Studded Puffball” (Lycoperdon perlatum). I think it is virtually
identical to L. pyriforme, but it grows on the ground, not on wood. By the way,
it is fun to make puffballs “puff”, but I wouldn’t recommend inhaling too many
of the spores. They have been known to germinate in lung tissue!

Here are the two “Spiny Puffballs” found in this area, Lycoperdon echinatum (top photo) and L. pulcherrimum (on the right). When young, they display elegant spines on the surface which join together at their tips.

The “Brain Puffball” (Calvatia craniiformis) is most likely to be found lurking in
your yard than in the forest.

Earthstars (pictured is Geastrum saccatum) are little puffballs which are
enveloped by a tough outer layer which splits and opens up to form a star-like

Pseudoboletus parasiticus parasitizing Scleroderma  - Wikimedia
Earthball, Scleroderma-
Earthballs are weird little things that superficially resemble the more common
puffballs, but they have a much tougher “skin”. Pictured is Scleroderma (“hard
skin”) aerolatum. They are considered poisonous, but probably not deadly.
Interestingly, a Bolete named Pseudoboletus parasiticus which is closely related to Scleroderma specifically parasitizes Scleroderma sp. as seen above..

Lastly, we have to include the “Deer Truffle” (Elaphomyces granulatus), which
is the round structure in the photo. Truffles (in this case, a “false truffle”) grow
underground. This one was located by finding the mushroom which
parasitizes it, Tolypocladium longisegmentum.