Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Round Tuit

I've been holding onto this photo since last September, waiting till I got around to searching BugGuide for a match. It's a moth that I found on the wall by our door in late afternoon.

The wing pattern echoes the feathery antennae motif.

Enough procrastinating! I spent the evening on it tonight. And after scanning all the "white moths" (2933 moths) and all the moths with a mention of feathery antennae (only 52) on BugGuide, and umpteen more on Google, I gave up and submitted my photo.

Which I should have done to start with, long ago.

The feathery antennae mark this moth as a male. He uses them as a "nose"; they're loaded with olfactory receptors - up to 60,000 in some species. And what he's smelling is a female, emitting her alluring pheromones. Somewhere, maybe miles away.

So sensitive are these organs and so characteristic and powerful is the scent, that a female has been known to summon a male from eleven kilometres away. At such a distance there must be as little as one molecule of scent in a cubic yard of air, yet it is sufficient to cause the male to fly in pursuit of its source. (From AskNature)

UPDATE: The BugGuide people are so quick! The moth is a Phantom Hemlock Looper;  Nepytia phantasmaria. Here's a link to a female: note the straight antennae.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Snail in a bottle

Round and round and round ...

... and no way out.

It's his own fault; he came in on his own, riding on the BirdCam. I'll send him back outside in the morning.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Yesterday's mushroom

The rain stopped. The sun came out. The puddles dried up. So I went out and picked the mushroom from yesterday's photo, and brought it in to Laurie, sitting in the shade, watching new leaves dance in the wind.

Looks tasty. Smells good, too.

The gills have the colour and texture of dried apple slices.

Just another unintended resident in the hospital garden. And there's a whole patch of them, coming along nicely.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rainy afternoon, with mushroom

... In the hospital garden.

Red leaves, and sky-coloured flowers. And one mushroom.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Green and white lichen

The Canada/US border marker on the Boundary Bay beach has a tall cement base, lapped at the bottom by the highest tides. Looking for seaweeds the other day, I made the marker my turn-around point, and stopped to look at the marker itself.

On half of the Canadian side, above the reach of the tides, a colony of interesting lichens has settled in.

Green spots, up to about 3 inches across, with white borders.

There's even a little broken heart.

I was just carrying the little pocket Sony, since I'd come directly from the hospital, so the detail gets lost in noise. Next time, I'll make sure to carry the good camera, and get a better look.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

They chew holes in rocks.

Limpets, in the wild, often grind out circular holes in the rocks, "nests" to sleep in while the tide is out. I've read that they do this by scraping with their shells, but how does a soft carbonate shell scrape a hole in granite?

They use their teeth. Microscopic teeth set in soft limpet flesh scrape away even the hardest rock.

My teeth hurt, just thinking about this.

A new study from the University of Portsmouth, published just last month, has calculated the strength of these limpet teeth, and found that they are harder than steel, stronger than spider silk, resist breakage better than diamond.

(I found the study because a report on the study used my photo as illustration.)

Limpet chewing algae on glass.

The tiny teeth on a conveyor belt structure in the mouth, owe their strength to fibers of goethite, an iron-bearing mineral found in soil.*

High-magnification electron microscopy images of the tooth cusp. From RSIF.

From the Conclusion of the study:

We show that the tensile strength of limpet teeth can reach values higher than spider silk, considered currently to be the strongest biological material, and only comparable to the strongest commercial carbon fibres. ... As the limpet tooth is effective at resisting failure owing to abrasion, as demonstrating during rasping of the tooth over rock surfaces, corresponding structural design features are expected to be significant for novel biomaterials with extreme strength and hardness, such as next-generation dental restorations.

Zooming in on a limpet's mouth, showing the radula, with its scraping teeth.

I looked up tensile strength values, because the report said the limpet's teeth were 5 times stronger than spider silk, and I didn't find those numbers in the study. I found them, eventually, on Wikipedia. Here's a selection from their table:

Original, complete but long, table here.

* And now I'm wondering how they get the goethite in their teeth. Do they find it in the soil and eat it, like some nudibranchs borrow venom from anemones? Are they born with it? I wonder if there's a study on that?

(Study source, including photo:  Extreme strength observed in limpet teeth
Asa H. Barber , Dun Lu , Nicola M. Pugno
DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2014.1326 Published 18 February 2015

Under a Creative Commons license)

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Just another lost hospital visitor

Hospitals are for humans. Multi-legged critters are not invited. But somehow, this western conifer seed bug found his way in, down the hallways, through automatic doors, around corners. And couldn't find his way back.

"Which way is the exit?"

We found him in a sunny window, on the sill. I took a couple of photos before my battery died. So instead, I picked him up and let him wander around my hand. After a bit of exploring, he flew off, smacked into the window, and dropped to the sill where we had found him.

He was all tangled up in threads and dust; no telling how long he'd been roaming, looking for a way out.

So I picked him up and carried him carefully around those corners, through those doors, down the Garden Walk, to the door to the outside. And he flew off my hand, up and away over the garden wall.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

By the silvery moon ...

... We want to spoon ...

... love's tune ...

Spring is here, even in my indoor tank. This couple of Nassa snails hung out just under the water surface, cuddling, for a full day. And when the flash reflected this way, I couldn't resist turning it into a moonlight scene, by smoothing out the background.

A few pairs of youngsters, half adult size, got into the mood and are trailing each other around the walls, in pairs, but have never figured out what to do next.

"Love's young dream"

Snatches of song from:

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Tiniest hermit

I caught just a hint of movement in the depths of a ruined holdfast. Hermit-type movement; the constant flick of antennae and waving pincers, in a place where none of my smallest hermits can fit.

I had to wait, but eventually, "Tiny" came out to get a look at the world. (They do love to climb!)

"I'm the king of this castle!"

The hermit crabs below him are a couple of the smaller hairies, in half-inch mud snail shells. Tiny is wearing a new Nassa shell, in blue and pink. These shells lose their colour as they grow, and are usually a mix of greys and off-white.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015


I caught up with a polychaete worm out hunting, right up close to the glass wall. He's made himself a hideout with a rolled-up piece of red seaweed, and slides out tentatively, stretching without ever leaving his shelter completely. At the least disturbance, a hermit treading on the far side of the seaweed, or the shadow of my camera, or the flash, he zips back into the tunnel, so fast my eye can't follow him. But he's out soon, waving his tentacles about until he finds something tasty. Then he snatches it and drags it into his dark dining room. He won't be out again for a while.

Searching, searching ...

Zooming in to see the rows of paddle feet, each with its long spine. This is the underside, so at the head what is visible is the mouth, the stubby palps, and assorted tentacles, good for sniffing out yummy meals.

These worms tie together bits of shell, sand, rotting seaweeds, and anything else they can gather, live or dead, into messy clumps and strings. When I take this hodge-podge out of the water and pull on a shell, it's usually so well glued on that I can't get it off without ripping the whole shebang apart and killing the worm.

Wonderful glue; I wish I could find some that good in the stores!

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Not a bubble in sight.

I've been chasing spring-feverish bubble shell snails. They've not been co-operating, so instead, I have photos of worms and such. For starters, here's a pretty amphipod.

Striped orange and green backed amphipod, on red alga and rotting sea lettuce in an enamel tray.

Worms tomorrow, I think. Unless the bubble shells start to behave.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

White azalea

In the hospital "garden":

New buds are red, but they open to white.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Millennium hand and shrimp

Terry Pratchett has died.

A good man. A wise man. A gentle, angry man. And funny withal.

I can only echo Foul Ole Ron, railing at the injustices of the universe: "Bugrit. Millennium hand and shrimp. Bugrit."

Links: Neil Gaiman
Foul Ole Ron

P.S. I hate Alzheimer's.

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Salad greens

Miniature sea lettuce, with salt water dressing. What could be more delicious?

The hermits polished off this patch overnight.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Not a prickly pear

In the new planters that make up the "garden" in the hospital's "Garden Walk", the gardeners' choices - native salal and white azaleas - are struggling. The soil is too dry; the spring rains evaporated quickly in the warm weather. Salal, especially, is a rainforest plant, and thrives on cool, dripping cliff faces. Only one of the azaleas has managed to produce flowers: two small flowers.

Tiny Drabas are pinch-hitting; each planter holds several, all blooming merrily. No water? No problem! Morning dew will do; or last night's brief fog.

Draba sp. One of 400+. White, four-petalled flowers, long, purplish siliques. 

Most of the leaves are basal. And very hairy.

Those white blobs looked interesting. Zooming in: 

A white, plastic-looking foam. Under the microscope, they're the same; blobs of foam, some with a torn top.

And look at that prickly pear imitation! No wonder whoever added that white stuff chose the underside of the leaf!

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Yellow, yellow

The forsythia is an uninspiring shrub most of the year; an unruly sprawl of small-leafed, rough stems, a shapeless tangle in the hedge, usually untrimmed, sheltering weeds out of the reach of all but the most obsessive gardeners.

But in the early spring, while the alders and cottonwoods are still wearing winter drab, the forsythia bursts into glorious, riotous, brilliant yellow blooms from the base of the branches to the new green shoots at their tips.

Each spring, I look for a bush that has overstepped its boundaries, obstructing a sidewalk or moving into a neighbouring property. There, I gather an armload to bring home and brighten my kitchen table.

Bursting out all over

Zooming in. Tidy round anthers in a circular cup. 

The flowers don't last long. The ones I picked two days ago are already folding their petals; new leaves will soon replace them.

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

A bagful of bugs

Over the winter, I wrap a few of my more sensitive potted plants in several layers of recycled brown paper bags. In the spring yard cleanup, the bags get their second (or third) recycling, this time shredded into the compost. After I remove the critters that have used it for their winter quarters, of course.

In the bags around my sausage vine, besides a humongous slug, I found a nice assortment of tiny creepy-crawlies.

A striped springtail, Orchesella cincta. Most of these were impossible to catch, and went into the compost with the bag. This guy was lucky.

A quick red mite.

There were quite a few of these long snails, about the size of a short grain of rice. (Update: Columella edentula)

Spiderling with a yellow belly.

As I demolished the bags, I brushed off all the little ones I could into a pill bottle. Before I took them outside and set them free, on a whim, I pointed the camera straight down into the bottle. I liked the result:

8 or 9 snails, several different springtails, a couple of spiders, and a handful of sowbugs. The mite is in there somewhere, too.

And then they all went out into the warm spring night to find a new home.

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Friday, March 06, 2015

Test shot: cloudy night, with moon

As I was coming home tonight, the moon was playing peek-a-boo behind dark clouds. I stopped in a handy parking lot to get a photo before they swallowed it altogether.

No man in this moon.

The little pocket Sony was fast enough to deal with camera shake without a tripod in the dark. (The curvy car door doesn't make a good substitute.) The background was noisy, though; I don't know if all the colours were from the Home Depot lights behind me, or from the moon's halo in the clouds.

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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Just another pretty face

Blue-eyed shore crab, looking at her reflection in the camera lens.

"Handy mirror!"

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Fly on the wall

The first indoor fly of the year. He was still lethargic, since I've turned off the heat, so he stayed put while I climbed on a chair and reached up, camera in one hand, slave flash in the other, balancing shakily on tiptoes. I got two photos before he turned and ambled off, out of my reach.

I love his outfit: blue-striped jacket with black beads, and a steam-punk hat. (Click on photo for full-size view.)

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

As seen by the BirdCam

Birds by day...

Junco and box of heather

Sparrow and cowslips, just opening.

And sometimes a coon by night ...

Just passing through.

And with every batch of photos, a few shots of my bare feet. But I'll spare you those.

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Sand dime

It's too small to be a dollar.

So I measured it: 11/16 inch. The size of a Canadian dime.

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

A mouthful of centipedes

Rows of spores on a hart's-tongue fern in Laurie's shade garden.

Asplenium scolopendrium, I think.

A cluster of spores makes up a sorus, from the ancient Greek for "pile, heap". In the hart's-tongue, the sori are long rows; in our common native ferns, they're round dots. These long sori reminded somebody of a centipede, so the fern was named, in Latin, for a centipede: "scolopendrium".

(They look more like caterpillars to me, but according to the naming conventions, the first person to describe a plant or critter gets to name it.)

Here's the whole fern. And the fronds are supposed to look like deer's tongues. With centipedes on the underside.

The imagination boggles.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Flash mob

Baby crabs love the light. Swarms of them jitterbug on the aquarium wall by a side light. Here they are, dancing attendance on a visiting Nassa snail.

She may be eating a few as she goes.

When I collect an eyedropper-full of these and look at them under the microscope, most of them are the wriggly, leggy crab zoea. Some will be copepods, and there is a certain amount of detritus; floating bits of shrimp, snail poop, shreds of algae and the like. I wash off the slide in the water, and within minutes, the critters are dancing in the light again.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Bouncing back

Sometimes the resilience of tiny critters bowls me over. I carefully remove every hermit and crab I can find from the sand in the aquarium, then churn the sand around, back and forth, changing the water and churning again several times, to get all the crud out. Then I pour in clean water and smooth everything out, and a pinhead-sized hermit bounces to the top, not in the least disturbed by the upheaval.

I scrub down a wall, then notice that I've dislodged an infant anemone and it's caught in my towel. No problem; I rinse out the cloth, and the anemone drifts away in the current. A bit later, I find it happily anchored on a fresh piece of seaweed.

Tonight, cleaning the tank again, I ran my fingers through the sand in one corner, looking for a tiny clam I'd seen there two days earlier. I didn't find it; it will show up eventually. But once everything was back in its place, I happened to look at that corner, and there was a miniature tubeworm, standing tall, as if there had been no major earthquake in that spot just half an hour earlier.

Feather duster worm, about 1/4 inch tall.

My hermits get in a fight. One ends up maimed, with both pincers gone. She struggles along, avoiding confrontation, holding her food with her spare mouthparts, hanging around the roots of eelgrass, unable to climb it. And then she molts, and stretches out her new pincers, still baby-sized, but serviceable. Next molt, she'll be back to normal.

"See my new hands!"

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

In the absence of raccoons

I keep the BirdCam loaded and aimed at my birdbath, where raccoons occasionally come to drink. Every few days I check the photos. Usually, they're of juncos and chickadees, chickadees and juncos, and sometimes a raccoon tail, just leaving. This week's take was a disappointing series of me, out in the night murdering slugs.

As I went to replace the memory and start the camera going again - never give up! - I saw movement on the edge of the lens. A little springtail going around and around, following his own footsteps, like Piglet. The BirdCam delivers, one way or another.

"There's gotta be an end to this path."

"Maybe back this way?"

I'll have to send this in to the Springtail group for an ID; Entomobrya sp. or Orchesella, possibly.

While I'm at it, here's a carpet beetle that dropped in to visit. He's a giant alongside the springtail.

Not a raccoon, either.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pink beach

I made a quick run to the beach to pick up goodies for my hermits and crabs, but it's been a busy day, and by the time I drove into Beach Grove, the sun was setting behind me.  The tide was halfway out, and the beach, when I finally got there, was dark grey, except where tidepools reflected the pink of the clouds above. There were a couple of ducks and a heron in the distance, and I could hear gulls arguing over supper, but couldn't see them in the dusk.

A perfect time to try out a new camera, right? I took a half dozen photos, then got to work looking for eelgrass. By shape; I couldn't see colours any more, other than the pink sheen on wet areas.

The ducks. At maximum zoom, in the dusk. The photo turned out lighter than what I was seeing. Yes, the water was pink. What looks like a dead body on the sand is a log.

With the pink light, even mud with worm poop looks good.

I chased down the heron, but he flew away and all I got was a blur of wings. And by the time I'd collected my small bag of seaweeds (mostly rockweed and a kelp holdfast), the first star was out. Time for coffee at Tim Horton's, and the road home.

My hermits are happy tonight, swarming over the seaweeds and peeling the skin off the holdfast.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

New camera

One day without a pocket camera was one too many. I went out and bought another; a little Sony like the last one. This one is the DSC-WX350.

By the time I got it home and set up, it was too dark to take it for a run outside, so I took a few trial shots into the aquarium.

Red algae, a shred of sea lettuce, and the little blue anemone.

Hairy hermit.

Juvenile leafy hornmouth, bearing three very tiny baby blue anemones. 

One of the miniature orange hermits, on eelgrass.

So far, so good. It's about the same size as the one it replaces, but with better zoom. In this first test, it gives me good colour; difficult through algae-coated glass. It's fast, so it stops even walking hermits in their tracks. Unfortunately, the photos are noisy, and focussing is iffy on tiny things. But I do like its speed.

I won't be using it for my critters, though. The real test will be tomorrow: skies, stuff, buildings, roadsides, people.

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