Sunday, August 02, 2015

Dancing anemone

I've been asked for photos of my entire setup. I'm working on it, but it's easier said than done. This is part of the reason why. I get sidetracked.

The big brown anemone that came home on Canada Day stands front and centre, more or less. Usually less; he's sulking. If the water's too cold, or too warm, or too old, or too slow, he sulks. If a hermit steps on him, he sulks. Sometimes, for no reason that I can see, he puckers up his mouth like a baby tasting a pickle, hunkers down, and sulks for hours.

And in between those times, he sometimes dances.

Lift those skirts!

Siamese anemones?

For a few minutes, I thought he was going to split in two, but no, he slid entirely off the shell he came home on, flapped his skirts a few more times, then slid back onto the shell and stood there sedately. He's there now, tall and glorious.

I'll post the whole kit and kaboodle tomorrow, I think.

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Saturday, August 01, 2015

All the little mouths

They bite.

Close view of a starfish's busy coat.

Solid white spines, translucent gills, and the biting pedicellariae; all those little open jaws.

I've been spending time sitting in front of the tank, chasing an annoying white crab, and noticed interactions between the mottled star and the other residents. The starfish wanders about slowly, minding his own business (finding something more to eat), ignoring anything not edible. He can afford to be complacent; he's wearing his own security guard.

A hermit crab passes him, and touches - just barely - an arm of the star, and immediately yanks away his pincer and backs off. The little annoying crab swats at anything that comes near him, like a kitten does. Unless it's the starfish. He raises a pincer to hit it, remembers, changes his mind, and goes to hide under a shell.

I watched as a few grains of sand fell onto the back of the starfish. They immediately started to move up over the arm, and off the other side.

The pedicellariae are at work.

More on the crab, later. I'm trying to get a photo of the shape of his carapace, but I'm sure he recognizes the camera already; he runs away as soon as he sees it.

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Friday, July 31, 2015

Stained glass wings

Aren't these wings  pretty?

Wood gnat, Sylvicola sp.

The fly, about a quarter of an inch long, turned up in my kitchen. His thorax was nicely striped, and the wings looked interesting, so I captured him. But he didn't like captivity, even after a calming rest in the fridge; never stopped racing around and around, upside-down on the glass I'd covered his container with. I finally gave up trying to get a head shot, or see if he had halteres or not, to show that he was a true fly, let alone see those stripes on the back. I lifted the glass a crack, and let him escape.

And he flew directly to the flashlight I was using as a side light, and stood there, posing for me.

And yes, I can see the halteres, one on either side, where the second pair of wings would be if he weren't a fly.

I sent his photos in to BugGuide, where they identified him as a Wood Gnat, genus Sylvicola. These flies live in damp areas, eating decaying plant matter. There's not much of that around here, this dry, dry summer, except in my compost bin. Maybe this one came inside to check out the source of all the goodies.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Leftover legs

A barnacle lives his entire adult life standing on his head, glued to something hopefully solid. He has one eye, which he never gets to use***, locked down there inside his castle. His two tentacles are barely there, and glued down, besides.  He never leaves home.

Barnacle community. Photo from last April.

He* does have sensitive hairs on his legs, and he waves them about in the water, so he's not completely out of the world. He has to eat, somehow.

He's a crustacean, like the crabs and my hermits and shrimp. And crustaceans molt. They discard the suit they've grown out of, and grow a whole new one. Crabs and shrimp back out of their old carapace, pincers, legs, eyestalks and all. Hermits, living in a borrowed shell, have to leave the shell first, then back out of the old skin.

But the barnacle; does he molt, down there in his dungeon? How does he manage?

Every so often, I see a transparent barnacle body floating in the aquarium. Today, one got stuck on the wall, where I could get a photo.

Shed barnacle molt

The barnacle can't back out; he's glued in place. So instead, he has pushed his outer casing off, as we would take off a pair of pants. Inside a one-person tent. Sitting on the tent floor. And once he had it off, he tossed it out the door and let the current wash it away.

And then he swells up a bit, grows a size, and somehow - explanations vary - pushes or erodes the inside of his walls to make his tent** fit until the next molt.

A crab leaves behind a recognizable crab, carapace, legs and all. A hermit molts and leaves his head and thorax and all those legs and tentacles and flags, but the abdomen is always just a shred. The barnacle's leftovers are a bit harder to identify,

This may help. Image from University of Southern California

The long, feathery appendages in the second photo are the legs, or cirri, which is all we usually see, waving about, fanning food bits towards the mouthparts; those smaller spiky things. The rest is body, but it doesn't conform to the usual head, thorax, abdomen; everything is simplified and rearranged. And then shredded, as the barnacle yanked it all off, splitting it open at the head end, where he is nailed to the floor.

* "He" is really s/he; a hermaphrodite. But "he" is easier to say.

** Castle, dungeon, tent, suit, trousers, nails: whatever metaphor works at the time.

*** Update: except as a sensor for his garage door opener.

The University of Puget Sound museum has a good barnacle page.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015


I had taken a wrong turn and was tangled in streets that curved away from where I wanted to be, and then dead-ended, when I passed a small sign at an opening into a brushy, weedy, dark ravine. "Al Cleaver Park," the sign said. It didn't look park-like, nor inviting, but I was fed up with driving in circles. I parked and went in.

Well. An old trail led along the edge of the ravine, down a hill, past weeds and trash, and ended up underneath the road I had been looking for. And there, where I never would have seen it in years of hurrying home, was a bright crop of Queen Anne's lace, dancing in the breeze.

With bugs, to boot.

Flower head, opening up. With soldier beetle.

Common aerial yellowjacket, Dolichovespula arenaria, I think.

Harmless Syrphid fly, pretending to be a big, bad yellowjacket.

Pair of soldier beetles doing what soldier beetles do.

"Hi, friends! Mind if I join you?"

The busy pair ignored him, and he wandered off alone.

I took too many photos, and I still haven't sorted them. I've still got a bunch of critters from the Serpentine Fens, etc. And I'm due a visit to the beach to collect hermit treats. I'll catch up one of these days!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Thistle buds, Serpentine Fens

Bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare. Also known as Spear thistle.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Scat, berries, and bugs. And a rat.

The Serpentine River lives up to its name. It winds across the flat Fraser Delta farmland, spreading out into wetlands where it finds opportunity, dawdling on its way down to the flats of Mud Bay. In the Fen, a wide, gravelled path winds with it, Northwest, then South again, almost meeting itself as the river carves out a bulbous finger of marsh.

I took a side path, leading across a small bridge, through a thicket, and past tall stands of cattails bordering a former lagoon, now mostly dry, cracked mud, in spite of the previous day's rain.

No wonder the birds are elsewhere! Two stubborn Canada geese waiting for the water to come back.

From here, the path turned west, ducked through a narrow tunnel of bush - I'm short, and the branches brushed my head - and then along a straight path, hawthorns and baneberry on the left, great mounds of the invasive Himalayan blackberry on the right, sometimes three times or more my height, and loaded with purple-black berries. I passed people with buckets, picking. I tried a few; ripe and sweet. Even after I had left them behind, when the breeze picked up, I could smell their perfume.

Hard at work, pollinating. More berries on the way!

He's carrying big bags of pollen to take home to the nest.

A common red soldier beetle, Rhagonycha fulva.

Another turn, a short, noisy walk alongside the highway, and then the path came out onto the river bank again. Beautiful silence!

This end of the fen is old farmland, with remains of fences and groves of hawthorn and crabapple, all showing their dismay at this dry summer.

Hawthorn, needing water.

Here the path is bordered on the inner side with weedy grass, all brown and dead. I poked along, chasing grasshoppers and big blue dragonflies, with no luck, and dodging coyote scat.

This one has some sort of fungus.

Besides the coyote scat, every few steps, (one with a hawthorn berry on top, like the cherry on a cupcake), the grass was full of rabbit pellets. Predator and prey, but the rabbits seem to be doing ok.

A hawk was patrolling this dry land, swooping low over the grass, looking for small birds and mice, and maybe a juicy rabbit, too.

Tiny fly, unidentified. About half an inch long. Update: Sand wasp. Thanks, Christopher!

White feather. What bird would this be from? About three inches long.

And a final surprise; swimming along the shore, going downstream at a good clip, I saw this big rat:

Not a house rat.

And over the river, a pair of swallows were catching mosquitoes. Good!

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

On the banks of the Serpentine

The weather was perfect; windy and cool under a heavy cloud cover, just the sort of day for a long walk in the open. The Serpentine Fen beckoned. It's been quite a while since we visited.

Serpentine River, facing northeast.

It's a wildlife area, a wetland following the meandering path of the Serpentine River, home to thousands of birds, even in midsummer. But not today. I walked the entire circuit, 4 kms, and saw two swallows, one heron, three sandpipers, a gaggle of geese, a hawk and a crow. And a white feather. That was all. The rest - I caught a glimpse of them from the highway as I was leaving - were congregated in the No Public Access area.

Never mind; the bugs made up for it; I came home with 250 photos to sort. Bees, bee mimics, flies, soldier beetles, all very busy pollinating the tansy. I'll be busy for a bit.

Tansy, grass, and blackberry leaves. No bees on this one.

Goldenrod and tansy

Hardhack, dried flower heads. They bloomed early this year.

What else I saw, tomorrow.

A Skywatch post.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Wit, wit, wit

It was a hot afternoon. Too hot. Too hot to be walking in the sunshine, too hot to want to eat. So said the mallards at Reifel Island. They sat in the dust, inert, ignoring me and my bag of goodies. Too hot to move.

I went to look, instead, at the carp in the pool, and one mallard roused herself enough to join me on the fence.


"You know, I think I could manage to eat a crumb or two."

I gave her a handful of seeds and she nibbled them gently out of my palm.

In a second group of dozing mallards, one female stood at the edge, complaining. "Wit, wit, wit, wit ..." she kept saying. Not a quack or a squawk, just "Wit, wit, wit ..." over and over and over. I think that's mallard for "Too hot, too hot ..." She was right, too.

(They'll have been happy today; it rained. All day. Just like old times!)

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Friday, July 24, 2015

The marital status of moths

I found this moth on the washroom eaves at Reifel Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Solitary underwing. Catocala sp.

Before I sent it in to BugGuide, I spent a while scanning their photos to see if it was there already. And I found a match; the Betrothed Underwing, Catocala innubens. Except that its range is 'way over on the East coast.

I gave up and submitted my photo. A few minutes later, I had an answer; it was possibly either the Once-married, unijuga, or the semirelicta, which translates as "Half-widowed", both very similar, but found on this coast.

Researching these, I found mentions of other look-alike underwings: the Old-wife, palaeogama, the Little Wife, the Connubial, the Mother, the Sweetheart (amatrix), the Bride (neogama), the Widow, the Divorced (repudiata), the Cheater (adultera), and even the Girlfriend.

Some are named after interesting women from history and legend: Delilah, Magdalen, Sappho, Scarlett, Aholibah, Helen (of Troy?), Andromache, Desdemona.

Or they are named after their mood: Dejected, Tearful, Sad, Mourning, Penitent, Inconsolable. I didn't see any happy underwings, although one is called Serene.

The common names given to species of Catocala are often fanciful and arbitrary. (BugGuide, Unijuga page)

I noticed.

For a more complete list, look at this Moth Photographers' Group page, or the Wikipedia list of Palearctic species.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Muddy bassinets

Do spiders eat wasps? Do wasps eat spiders? We've been discussing this in the comments on yesterday's post. Conclusion; yes, and yes.

Even baby wasps eat spiders.

The porch of the building behind the washrooms at Reifel Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a quiet corner, rarely visited. There, swallows tend their nests in the eaves, and moths sleep on the walls, undisturbed. And in the shade at the top of the inner wall, black and yellow mud dauber wasps build their baby incubators.

A dozen little cradles, all in a row.

Half a dozen. A new nursery, under construction.

Each little tube contains one wasp egg and provisions for the growing larva. The female wasp collects mud from the edge of the pond nearby, and molds it into tubes on the wall, working from both sides, making ribs which meet in the middle and are cemented shut.

As each tube is finished, she goes grocery shopping, bringing back a half-dozen or more spiders, live, but paralyzed by a shot of wasp venom. They will never wake up. In each tube, then, she lays one egg, and seals the tube up with mud. When the eggs hatch, the growing larvae will eat the spiders, still alive up to that point.

The two open tubes in the photos above are still unfinished; the others all contain comatose spiders and developing eggs.

Here's a mother wasp, working on an open tube.

Once most of the eggs are laid and provisioned, she starts daubing the whole mass with another layer of mud. This will dry hard and seal in the babies until they're ready to break out.

Adding spiders to the latest tube. The spider hiding on the left doesn't realize her danger!

Of course, nothing is foolproof. Other species of wasps, ichneumonids* and cuckoo wasps**, look for mud dauber nurseries under construction, and lay their eggs inside while the mother is off catching spiders. When the invaders' eggs hatch, they eat the spiders and the mud dauber larvae, too, then burrow their way to the surface of the mound.

Look at an old mud dauber nest and you can decipher what happened to the offspring. A large hole chewed out at the end of a cell means an adult mud dauber successfully emerged. Small holes along the length of the cell mean some kind of parasite came out instead. (From BugEric)

About names: the common name is simply Black and Yellow Mud Dauber. Its scientific name is Sceliphron caementarium; hard to pronounce, but it makes sense: caementarius means "mason, builder of walls." Of cement, of course.

* Ichneumonids. Christopher Taylor called them Icky Newmans. A good mnemonic, and it helps with pronunciation, too!

** Cuckoo wasps. Brilliant green; I saw a fair number at Reifel Island on Tuesday. I'll look again at those nests later on, to see who were the final hatchlings.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Cruel disappointment

At Reifel Island:

"Supper coming! My fave! Yum!"

"Hey, where'd it go?"

"Life's not fair!"

Time elapsed, elation to despair: 4 seconds.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015


It's amazing, sometimes, how such a voracious, efficient killing machine as a starfish can look so huggable.

Leading arm of hunting mottled sea star. Baby blues and soft pinks, for extra innocence.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Empty shells

From my tank:

All that's left of my bubble shell snails

Bubble shells thrive in my tank, in season and out. They go on mating and laying more and more egg masses all winter and well into the spring. But eventually they get tired, they get careless and let the current take them where it will; right into the hungry maw of the big anemone. A day later, she spits out the empty shell, and if I find it before it's crushed, I save it, just because it's beautiful.

And from various beaches:

Assorted clam shells. I can't resist collecting these miniatures.

The pink shells are Macomas, mostly from Boundary Bay and Iona Beach. The yellow ones, also Macomas, are rarer; I found these at Iona Beach, where there were vast numbers tossed up on the sand just above the tide line.

They are as delicate as they look. The stained one, beneath, is a different species.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Always something new

The tiny six-armed starfish was eating barnacles at the front of the aquarium, so I thought I could get a clear photo of all his equipment; gills and biting pedicellaria and questing tube feet and all. I was hoping to see how they compared to the tool chest of a mottled star.

Star and barnacles. He is about 1/2 inch eye to eye.

The mottled star's spines form definite lines along the centre of his arms. Like so:

Mottled star, out of the water, looking at me. (The eyes are those two red spots on the tips of the arms.)

Six's spines seem to be scattered almost randomly. They are white on the pale outer arms, and orange on the central star pattern. The gills are fat, translucent posts clustered mainly in the centre, although some of the shorter ones could possibly be pedicellaria; their tips are split, like those of the mottled star, but they're much bigger in proportion to the spines.

I couldn't see the ocelli (eyes), nor the tube feet.

But there was a surprise; in these photos, the madreporite, the intake valve on one side of the central medallion, turned out to have a circular fan-like structure in the opening, like the intake on the bottom of my computer.

The madreporite, slightly highlighted.

Six, two hermits, and barnacles. These are small barnacles; the hermits are even smaller.

I wanted a better look, so I removed the barnacled shell from the tank, with Six along for the ride. Immediately, all his varied skin ornaments went flat and inert. I'll have to try another tactic.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Busy, busy!

More test shots; back to the aquarium and live critters again.

This first photo is as taken; despeckled, resized, and sharpened only. I left the "dust" in place; it's part of the action.

In the upper levels of the tank, like it would be on the intertidal flats, everything is in constant motion. Here, the red algae sways in the water, and a small family of blue anemones glued to a fragile blade waves its tentacles, hoping to catch some of the swimmers that muddy up the current. Behind, bubbles dance; large ones going down, from the pump; small ones heading back up to the surface, carrying goodies collected en route. Released at the top, the goodies float back down; more specks in the water.

This red algae gathers "dust". I pour clean water over it, or take it out and swish it around in fresh water, and it looks beautifully clean. A few minutes back in the tank, and it's covered in these little specks. Some may be sand, some is detritus, leftovers from critter meals or floating fragments of rotting eelgrass, and the rest is made up of small animals, copepods and amphipods eating detritus, and tiny worms eating copepods and amphipods.

And I hadn't even noticed the hermit until I looked at the photo. There's usually one or two hidden somewhere in this mess.

Everything going at once

On the other end of the tank, and up close to the wall, things are more peaceful.

Leafy hornmouth snail, Ceratostoma foliatum, sleeping.

The water is clearer away from the current; I removed only a handful of swimmers and a scratch on the glass. This snail eats barnacles; in between times, he wanders around the walls, then goes to sleep for a day or so.

His shell started out white and pink, but as he grows it gets craggier and darker. He's beginning to show the "leaves" that give him his name; for now, they're just sharp lengthwise ridges.

Setup for these photos: black poster board behind tank, white reflector above and on both sides, spotlight aimed at top reflector, flash ditto. This seems to work on the upper levels, but not down on the sand. More experimentation needed.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Pale beige moth

The spot where I usually find moths, the wall beside our front door, has been abandoned. I haven't seen a moth there for months. It's too hot there this summer, maybe. Instead, I find them in cool spots; hiding in my potting shelf, in my bathroom, deep in the rhododendrons. This one was behind the hose when I went out to water the gardens.

Interesting antennae; notice how they fold down into a V. Sometimes he holds them flat.

He looks worried. No need.

Waving the antennae, uncoiling his proboscis; "I'm thirsty!" he says.

He was a very active moth, even after two long sessions in the fridge, and the photo session went on and on as he rambled about. When it was over, I gave him a few drops of water with a pinch of sugar. He drank with the proboscis in the water, tipping his head from side to side the whole time, as if to look at the droplet with one eye, then the other. I've never seen a moth do that before.

I'll send him in to BugGuide in the morning. I've looked at 1,000 of their 171.475 photos of moths, and gave up. So many moths, and all so different! I know they say the beetles are God's favourite beastie, but I think moths come second in his heart.

Update: BugGuide has identified him as Speranza lorquinaria, Lorquin's Angle.

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