Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Compilation of Forest Findings Spanning Six Weeks of Mostly-Bad Weather for Mushrooms

I wish I had tons of beautiful and wondrous mushroom pics…spring started off with a glorious wet bang, but then it got really, really HOT and there was NO RAIN for WEEKS, so all the mushrooms said, “Catch you later if you can come up with some rain" but I could not make it rain. I did manage to scrounge up other aspects of small forest life over several weeks. There’s a few mushrooms here, from early on.

Here they are, in order of encounter. As ever, click images to view full-screen, revealing marvelous details.

Black Horse Fly (Tabanus atratus)

A giant beast of a horsefly, on a black truck bed liner. This isn’t colorized or anything—that’s just him, steely-grey and sinister. Over an inch long. Look at those eyes! His eyes are his whole head! He was very wary--I barely got this one shot.
*9-13 Edit: This is a male Tabanus atratus, "black horse fly". The females have a little space between their eyes, the males don't. The females bite. The males don't!


A little chanterelle. This was July 9th, and things were starting to get pretty dry…but I did find a nice number of them before it got bad.

Old man of the woods Strobilomyces floccopus

Above, a nice natural composition of Old Man of the Woods mushroom (Strobilomyces), a piece of hickory shell and a little red Russula.

Stan photographing lobster

Above, that’s Stan, photographing a lobster mushroom, which might seem pretty boring, except nobody finds lobster mushrooms around here! But then, I did! And word got out, and Stan, Wild-Edible-Mushroom-Hunter-Supreme-King-of-Kings, asked if I could find the spot again, and I did! He wanted to see the environment they were associated with—what kinds of trees? Overgrown or open?--etc. I mean, if Stan hadn’t found them yet, well, then they just weren’t out there. So let’s just say I was lucky, and I found the first ones ever found around here. We found the stumps of the ones I’d already cut, and I found another one! Look:

Missouri lobster mushroom Hypomyces lactifluorum

You might need to sit down for this next part. Lobster mushrooms--Hypomyces lactifluorum—are actually mushrooms being parasitized by another fungus. The Hypomyces attacks only two “regular” mushrooms--Lactarius or Russula (as far as we know). It turns the surface of the gilled mushroom host into a cooked-lobster orange crust, and makes the flesh white, and they get all gnarly and distorted, and it makes them taste of shellfish.  Don’t believe me? Read Tom Volk’s entry and Mushroom Expert’s entry, and search “lobster mushroom.” It's all true.

Hypomyces lactifluorum LOBSTER 3 on rock
Above, the “gnarly” part I mentioned.

Hypomyces lactifluorum LOBSTER in hand

Well, we have a lot more to cover here, so yes, I ate them, and yes, they were delicious, I hope I find many more, etc., etc.

Missouri snake Misssouri snake-1

Above, a pretty little snake, as yet unidentified. I only have so many field guides. If you know, leave a comment!

partially-skeletonized leaf

A partially skeletonized leaf I found, ravaged by Japanese beetles, I know because I saw them eating other ones (not in the woods).

13-year and dog-day cicada shells

Shell of the periodical Magicicada (left) next to the regular "annual" cicada.

Magicicada and annual cicada shell side-by-side

These weren't out at the same time; I just found their leftover shells. Big long post about Magicicada/13-year Cicadas here.

Lycoperdon perlatum gem-studded puffball

A fresh little Spiny Puffball, Lycoperdon echinatum.

Below, Gem-studded Puffballs, Lycoperdon perlatum.

3 gem-studded puffballs 2 Lycoperdon perlatum

Below, the infamous “dog vomit slime” (Fuligo septica)! For real! That’s what it’s really called!

dog vomit slime mold

Dog vomit slime Fuligo septica

I've found a couple references to these “red, blood-like spots from the liquefied breakdown of fungal tissue”, but I don’t know why dog-vomit slime mold does this, and nobody else does. Doesn't anyone care???

chanterelle harvest

Above, proof of chanterelles. Yes, I rinse my mushrooms (when necessary), because I saw a video of a real live chef trying to figure out once and for all if it mattered if you washed your mushrooms (since most of them have a lot of liquid in them anyway), and he sautéed washed and great un-washed mushrooms at the same time, side by side, and declared that he couldn't find any difference.

Below, a sprawled-out napping squirrel, July 31, one of the very hot days.

napping squirrel

Pandorus sphinx-5

Pandorus sphinx

Above, a Pandorus sphinx moth! I became nearly hysterical when I saw this, because I’d seen pictures of Oleander Hawk Moths, and I thought this was one, even though there’s no Oleander around here (except in pots, as annuals), and I thought they lived in Africa and Asia, and I’d decided that Oleander Hawk Moths were the most beautiful moths I’d ever seen. Look them up, you’ll see.

I was saying hello to a pal and we were out by the parking lot and she said “Look at that big green moth on the wall over there.” Just like that. And I didn't have my camera on me, and I tried using her cell phone but the moth was too high even with a stepladder, and she brought out her real live DSLR camera but the battery was dead, so she gave me a ride home so I could get my camera (I had walked downtown), and I backed my friend’s truck right up to the building so I could stand on it and try to get close enough, and the people inside the store came out and one of them was a guy studying katydids so that was good and he had his camera and we both took some pictures and then I said “Hey, you should try to get him onto your hand and then we can take more pictures maybe closer and it will either get on your hand or fly away but maybe it will fly someplace better” and he tried, and it flew away but it did land someplace better, onto some black metal stairs (closer to where we could reach, at least), so we took more pictures and I was mostly satisfied.

Eumorpha pandorus

Eumorpha pandorus, click to view large, you can see individual scales…gorgeous! The colors! The shape of the wings!

Then, a few days later, I came home and at my front door was this:

Pandorus sphinx moth in a box

I had ranted enough to someone about finding this moth that he told someone else about it, and the guy he was talking to said “Hey, there’s a big dead moth in our stockroom” and came out with this. How sweet!

honeycomb in fallen tree

 Here’s some honeycomb in a      fallen tree in the woods. We  couldn't quite figure out why it    was all exposed like this, if it  was  normal, etc. The bees were  calm,  not like the tree had just  fallen  over or something…

Above, some mushrooms that I haven’t taken the time to ID yet. It’s right on the tip of my brain…

We found a nice fruiting of oyster mushrooms. Below, after we cut off what we wanted, some ants moved in.

close oysters and ants

The ants were very interested in whatever they were finding, I think it was the tiny larvae of beetles that were exposed when we cut the mushrooms. That long flat white thing is a gill--picture a regular store-bought mushroom, cut across the cap. This is one of my favorite images.

2 green acorns

Some very attractive green acorns. Don’t know what kind.

Below, horrible, horrible seed ticks (and one regular horrible tick), on packing tape, that I got off my pants after a hike. First, I found about 15 on my socks, then I started to look more closely at my other clothing.

seed ticks on packing tape

If you click on this, to see full-sized, you can barely see that these have only 6 legs, because when they first hatch, that’s how many legs they have. After their first molt, they have 8. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.

So I left this on the kitchen counter (no, I don’t know why), and the next day I got curious and looked at them with a viewing loupe, and of course they were still alive, and waving their legs around. Why should they be dead? I read somewhere about ticks surviving things like being kept near-freezing for a year--a year--and then being brought to room-temp, and they just pick up like nothing happened. So I folded the sticky sides together, and smunched it all up, like that would fix anything.

Stay tuned, faithful readers, the fall mushroom parade of beauty and edibility will start soon (if I can figure out how to make it rain. Apparently, closing my eyes tightly and wishing very hard isn't how).

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Barred owl in my urban backyard

Barred owl II

Funny, just recently I was listing off all the animal friends I’ve seen in my urban backyard (here's the yard), because I discovered a ground hog is living under the shed (don’t tell my landlord! except I think he’s subscribed to this blog…):
  • ground hog
  • squirrel
  • bunny
  • mole
  • raccoon
  • possum
  • blue jay
  • dove
  • white-throated sparrow
  • tufted titmouse
  • cardinal
  • European sparrow
  • starling
  • red-bellied woodpecker
  • downy woodpecker
  • ruby-throated hummingbird
  • Carolina wren
  • robin
  • brown thrasher
  • crow
  • cowbird
  • garter snake
  • butterflies X many
  • cicada
  • slug
  • snail
  • all other insects
So, the blue jays reliably gang up and yell when cats wander through, but when there’s something more sinister they are much louder! Usually it's a hawk that I only see flying off and can't get a good look at, but at 10:00 this morning they were really going at it, at the back of the yard next door, and I went out to see if I could tell a cat to lay off, but I didn’t see anything even though I was only about 10 feet from the blue jays, and then a BARRED OWL took off from right over my head! I mean like FIVE FEET over my head!

Those things are BIG!

I hurried inside and grabbed my camera and he had conveniently relocated to a tree in my back yard. He was maybe 15 feet up.

Barred owl
Sorry about that leaf in his face.

The gang of blue jays were hysterical, and not in the good way. They were perched pretty dang close to the owl, mere feet away, shrieking and screaming and bouncing all over the place. If I was an owl, with exceptional hearing, and those jays were screaming 2 feet away from me, I’d be hard-pressed not to just leave, but he didn't.

When I made tiny squeaky noises, he’d look down right at me. He really didn’t seem too concerned about any of us.

Anyway then one of the blue jays just couldn’t take it anymore, and took a swipe at him:

Owl and blue jay

You can see his nictitating membrane as he reflexively closes his eyes! That’s what made his eye look hazy blue. They have 2 sets of eyelids, the nictitating one moves horizontally. It protects their eyes and they can still see through it.  I hear they have voluntary control over them. They close them when feeding their chicks, to protect their eyes from all that beak action. All kinds of animals have them—dogs-cats-polar bears-all birds-camels-aardvarks-most reptiles-amphibians-sharks…one source says that owls close them when flying at high speeds, so their eyes stay moist and clear, so they don’t miss anything. Peregrine falcons blink them repeatedly during their famous 200-mph dives.

It’s also called a “haw”.

(By the way, this was a completely lucky shot. I was using a point-and-shoot, with no tripod, on full zoom, just clicking and clicking…I had no idea)

Owl launching

Well, after that, I guess Owl was finally fed up, and he launched himself off to another tree (only about 15 feet away), and I got THIS awesome shot, which I also didn’t know I was getting until I looked at the pics later. Those feet can tear your face off.

I looked at him some more, and he looked at me some more.

This made my morning.

*Edit: he was there later in the evening, around 6:00, and I called a friend who came and looked too, and she noticed there was a hummingbird having a go at him! Flitting at him, then landing a foot away, buzzing him again, etc. 
Hummingbirds are pretty fearless, maybe because the whole world moves in slow motion for them.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Brood XIX—the famous 13-year “Great Southern Brood” Magicicada emergence!

Yes, yes, it’s a mushroom blog, but I keep finding other marvels too, and I take pictures and then I have to post about it.  And sometimes it’s just in-between mushrooms.

I’ll stall a little to give you a chance to leave, if you’re not into big close-ups of bug faces and bulging red eyes (especially the very last image) and waving bug legs, and worse, because that’s what’s coming up here. I even heard some “Bleah” and “Ew” from people who aren’t all that squeamish and “love nature.” I got a little squirmy about some of this too. But I did it anyway, even after telling myself not to get all swept up in this crazy Magicicada phenomenon because half the internet was going to be filled with images of emerging cicadas, so why should I make pictures of the same thing? But I couldn’t resist, once I saw it.
It was nuts!

(Last chance—leave now if you’re not into giant bug faces)

So, let us begin.

Mid-Missouri (and many other states) just experienced the emergence of millions of 13-year cicadas. There’s “annual” cicadas and “periodical” cicadas, and the broods are made of periodical cicadas, and Brood XIX is Magicicada with a 13-year life-cycle (there’s four in the genus, I don’t know which one we had, could be more than one).

Periodical cicadas have 13- or 17-year lifecycles. The "annual" ones actually have 2-to-7 year cycles, depending on the species (there’s not really a one-year model) but some come out every year. They’re not synchronized, so even though a species may have a 3-year cycle, some come out one year, and another group comes out the next, kind of leap-frogging. The "years" refer to time spent underground as larvae, quietly feeding on sap from tree roots. Broods are named for life-cycle length, and region, and the fact that they’re periodical, and synchronized so they all come out the same year. Brood XIX only comes out every 13 years, and in a particular area. It’s also the biggest brood (numbers-wise), showing up along the east coast to the Midwest, in about 15 states! All at once! Pretty much! Depending on weather and soil temp. I can’t tell you how long it took me to get this straight. I hope I have it right.

I’ve never caught the familiar dog-day cicada molting (well, once, but years ago, and no camera), but there were so many of these (let me stress that—SO MANY) that it was hard to miss. For at least a week, you could just walk outside and see them all over the trees and walls and fences around the house, before they took to the trees and started singing and looking for mates. Pretty much everywhere. I took pictures over several weeks, so some are on fences, and some are on trees, and some are in state parks and some are in my front yard, etc.

Here we go!

Cicada-4         DSC09545 

Cicadas busting out of their shells (things that make you go “bleah”)

cicada bulge

Their best option is to be vertical. After they split their shell (“eclose” from their “exuvium”) they stick out horizontally for a while, with the end/tip of their abdomen still in the shell.


(From above--the camera’s aimed towards the ground)


I like their little orange armpits.

Nobody talks about how their tiny empty feet stay grabbed onto things.

cicada face top view

Above, that’s one of my favorites…

cicada emerging top view

They just hang there for a couple hours, doing whatever secret things they do. Their wings start to un-crumple.

What happens next is they wiggle all the way out of their shell and grab onto it (or a tree or whatever) and hang vertically, as their very delicate wings take shape and dry. If they’re not in the right position when they come out of their shells, things don’t go right. Sometimes they can’t get into the right position, sometimes because there’s so many other cicadas in the way, but their sheer numbers (hundreds of thousands per acre) compensate for the ones that don’t make it. I skipped pictures of problems. Big fat “ew” there.

There’s billions total in this brood, no lie.


They start out pink and tender (just like soft-shelled crabs!) with tomato-red eyes and two dark patches.

cicada hanging on shell side view

cicada hanging

Cicada wings flat
I wonder if they saw me looming over them in their most vulnerable state and thought, “Oh sh*t oh sh*t oh sh*t”…sorry!

Here’s one (below) in an in-between stage, starting to darken…
halfdry cicada

brood 19 cicadas on bush                             

  brood 19 many on bush

Above left, dozens of cicadas and shells on bushes in the backyard      
Above right, hundreds on bushes at the edge of the woods

Here’s five of them marching along a blooming rose bush, really lush colors all around, fresh cicadas, after a spring morning rain
brood 19 5 cicadas on rose bush

Let’s see what else we have here--

Fresh cicadas

Mating cicadas!
mating cicadas on ground2

They lay their eggs in slender branches, near the end, by cutting a series of slits in them, and laying a bunch of eggs in each slit. I didn’t catch them laying eggs, but I did find all kinds of evidence of this. First I saw crazy numbers of branch tips all over the place, which I thought was just an odd result of some recent violent storms. They were everywhere, for weeks. These branch tips had a lot of people scratching their heads! Eventually I understood that the branch ends must have been weakened by the slit-making, making it easy for storms or wind to tear them off the tree.

cicada flagged branches

cicada flagged branch
Above, a torn-off branch. If you click to enlarge you can see many slits along the broken end.

Below, cicada egg-laying slits.
 cicada egglaying slits

Here’s one with my finger for scale:
Cicada egg-laying slit with finger for scale

Then I got even more curious, and started messing with the branches, and broke one open, and there were the eggs (sorry)!
cicada eggs

They look like little grains of rice. They lay 24-28 eggs per slit.

Shortly, the eggs will hatch, the nymphs will burrow into the ground (oh, how I wish I could have found some newly-hatched nymphs!), and spend 13 years underground, sucking sap from roots and not doing much of anything else, as far as I can tell. Occasionally molting as they get bigger. That’s really all.

So, over about six weeks, mid-May to the end of June, this whole 13-year cicada thing happened.

Bonus: I noticed that shiny black cars with their brake lights on looked like Magicicadas!

The red light of their eyes goes out when they die:
dead cicada

And this, below, turned out to be my all-time favorite image capture of the whole crazy phenomenon:

cicada head and ants

I owe a lot to these websites that helped me untangle the facts:
What's that bug?                                                                              
Cicada Mania                                                                            

The end!