Thursday, March 29, 2012

A few September Missouri plants

More untimely yet chronological posts!

silvery lichen close up
A hike to The Place of Great Moss almost always delivers. Any time after some rain, except in the very hottest months, this one area just glows with soft bright green mosses and silvery lichen.

Lichens are composite organisms of a fungus and an alga or two. They’ve plunked lichen in the fungal kingdom. I have no beef with that.

(Also, I didn’t put that leaf there. I just showed up.)

moss and lichen hill
Special scratch-n-sniff image!
I hope you can feel the soft and moist in this photo, and if you (lightly!) scratch your screen you should be able to smell it—soft air, wet leaves, and damp earth and green. It’s just beautiful! I don’t know why there’s such a big swath of moss growing here…nothing else on this bluff in either direction looks much different…maybe some mysterious mineral deposit makes for prime conditions for this luscious moss neighborhood?

There are many different kinds of moss growing here. I’ve got my hands full with mushrooms, so unless I stumble upon their ID (see below), they’re just “moss.” Nothing personal.

Next is a tiny beauty that I actually revisited with my tripod. Looking down on the whole plant, it was ornate soft sparkles, which I simply could not capture. The texture of the flower heads made them stand out in organized patches, but the colors were too subtle for my camera to differentiate enough to show. Or, it could have been my own ineptitude. I tried! I swore a little!

Still, there was a lot going on in each flower head. Very tiny white-to-pink 4-petaled flowers, maybe 1/16”, and 3-lobed seed pods forming right next to them, green with blushes of rich red.

several toothed spurge flower heads
Euphorbia dentata, “toothed spurge.”  Please view large.

Euphorbia dentata flower head
Above, toothed spurge seedpods.

toothed spurge on fingers-001

TINY flowers.

It's considered a "noxious weed" by the USDA, so that's pretty bad. Another source points out its milky latex, which can cause blisters and dermatitis, and don't get it in your eyes! Yet another says it has 5-lobed flowers, which it clearly does not, and my dumb little "Weeds," a Golden Guide, casually throws out that "All have numerous clusters of tiny male and female flowers that lack both sepals and petals." I dunno, those sure look like petals to me...

I confess I had shrugged and walked away, regarding finding a name for this one. There’s a lot of weedy-looking, small, common native plants that don’t get featured in most field guides. My only “weed” guide is my little 4 x 6 Golden Guide. The only reason I was able to identify this was because there happened to be a photo of it in the March issue of Missouri Conservationist!

I’ll keep trying to get a satisfying overall shot of this one. I thought it was a captivating little plant. Don't tell the Feds!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

September fungi—a few uncommon polypores--Spongipellis unicolor, Berkeley's polypore, Abortiporus biennis

I found a few things that were visually appealing, but mystifying when it came to ID.

This small pale blob (about an inch across) was intriguing, with its lumpy network of holes, but I could not find anything remotely like it in any of my books or online. I wasn’t even sure it was a fungus! Could have been an egg-case, maybe. The problem, as it turned out, was this was a very young growth stage of this fungusbut thanks to the magic of the internet, I posted the image on you-know-where, tagged it with the names of the authors of some of the best mushroom books, and somebody ID’d it definitively in minutes (Gary Lincoff himself!). Then I plugged in the name, and got somewhere!
very young Abortiporus biennis
                                       Abortiporus biennis

As Abortiporus biennis matures, it turns into what Michael Kuo ( calls “…a gnarled, messy-looking mass…” and it oozes a reddish juice. Yum!

After seeing some images of mature ones, I realized I must have stumbled upon them, but thought they were something moldy or too far gone to bother getting any closer. You can look them up, if you want, but they do look a mess. In any case, many thanks, Gary Lincoff! Your years of experience are a true treasure.

Next on the menu is another peculiar polypore which also stumped me.

Spongipellis unicolor (2)
                         Spongipellis unicolor

I confess that when I see most bracket-like tree fungi I often roll my eyes and keep walking, mainly because I have a lot of trouble with them—to me, they tend to blur together, and I can’t keep track of which is which. Never seen these before, though, and they were quite distinctive. Had to pull out the big guns and pester the pros again.

Spongipellis unicolor close up

Looks like some kind of bread or cake! Or, as Michael Kuo so eloquently puts it, “…kind of a big, doinky doofus…” among polypores. That must be why it got my attention! He also says “…it is not often mentioned in field guides (perhaps because it's too much of a doofus?).” The above specimen is about 5” from top to bottom. They grow on oaks, mostly. They’re parasitic.

Below is a nice swirling Berkeley’s polypore, Bondarzewia berkeleyi. It was a good 16” across. And there were three of them. These are not uncommon (and they come up in the same spot for years), and I didn’t have to send telegrams to experts for this one (partly due to an ID mishap when I found one before. Now I know!).

Berkeley's polypore
                                             Bondarzewia berkeleyi

Just a pretty fungus swirl on the forest floor.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Polyphemus moth caterpillar (September)

(Note: while the next several posts may not be exactly timely, I try to always post things in the order I found them.)

So we were hiking around during the 2011 summer/fall drought (meaning, bad for mushrooms), and my hiking pal came upon this bright bright BRIGHT green fat fat FAT caterpillar.
bright green caterpillar on the ground

It was the caterpillar of a Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus)—a big elegant silkworm moth, many shades of brown with nice eyespots on the wings. The males have enormous feathery antennae (a pic of one I found, here), for detecting pheromones from the females.

It was really hard to get a good photo of this caterpillar, because it wouldn’t stop walking. Apparently, at this time of year, they won’t stop walking. If you pick them up, they just keep walking. You try putting it on your friend’s arm to get a better shot, and they just keep walking. You try blocking it with a leaf, and it won’t stop walking.

I read that when these silkworm moth caterpillars are getting ready to make their cocoon, they stop eating, and start walking—they’re called “wanderers.” I’m guessing they’re looking for the right place to park for the winter?

If it tries to get around you and your leaf, and falls approximately 1” off a little rock, it might stop walking and curl up defensively.

green caterpillar back

This particular brand of (fat!) caterpillar has a tendency to withdraw their heads into their fat, translucent, luminous bodies when they’re not marching ever forward. Seems to be a characteristic pose they strike. I would probably do that too, if I had folds of beautiful, neon-green, floppy soft skin.

fat green caterpillar head withdrawn
Polyphemus caterpillar head  fat green caterpillar head

When he fell approximately 1”, thanks to my pestering him with a leaf, he grabbed onto a little clump of loose moss and leaf, and didn’t let go.

Polyphemus caterpillar underside prolegs

This gave me a chance to get a passable shot of his prolegs—something I never took any notice of, until a Flickr contact posted this exquisite macro shot of them. Since I saw that image, caterpillar prolegs have become one of my most favorite things in the world. The prolegs are the dark grey and brown crazy-shaped things (note the fifth pair at the very end). Of course you can see why I’m nuts about them. Ask my friends--they'll tell you! "Oh, don't get her started about prolegs..."

The prolegs are tipped with “crochets,” little hooklets all around the edge. (In my image you can’t actually see them--they're way too tiny--they’re on the very end of the brown bits.) The number, size, and arrangement of the crochets are used in identification. Who knew! Not me!

The six pairs of legs near his head are true legs—with joints and everything, and little claws at the end. Prolegs aren’t jointed, and have limited musculature. One source said they operate via hydraulics.

*Warning: if your supposed caterpillar has more than five pairs of prolegs (counting the ones at the very end), it is not a moth or butterfly! Run!

Anyway, rather than going on about caterpillar proleg crochets that you can’t actually see in these images, I’ll wander back to an overview of the super-cool prolegs. Of all the caterpillars I’ve seen in all my years of seeing caterpillars, I never really noticed their prolegs, which are bizarre, stumpy and wonderful. I never tire of caterpillar prolegs.

There’s also the issue of this caterpillar’s gorgeous translucence.  He really did look like a bioluminescent water balloon creature. If you click on the images to see full-sized, you can see how the light is passing through it, making him glow.

I’ve found more than one of their cocoons. I’m pretty sure whose cocoon it is, since I found one right before it hatched, and saw who was inside. Here’s one with a portion of the pupa’s exuvia still inside.

silkworm cocoon showing pupa exuvia

Well, that’s about it, really.