Saturday, November 22, 2014

Salt-water chameleons

Maybe it's because they're transparent. Maybe it depends on what they're eating this week. Maybe it's where they've settled. Maybe they're akin to mood rings: whatever the reason, the orange-striped green anemones, Haliplanella lineata, in my tank are never the same colour twice in a row.

This is the largest of these tiny anemones, parked for the moment on sea lettuce in a bed of deep red Turkish towel and red leafy algae.

Open, showing mouth lining. Pinkish today.

Almost closed. Just the slightest hint of orange. And the green base is blue.

I don't know what those white lines inside the closed anemone are. Ingrown tentacles, maybe?

Tomorrow I'll be travelling, and won't be posting. See you Sunday!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Blue blood and dinner forks

My hermit crabs have come down with spring fever. Most of the larger males are courting; some trying to convince a female to allow herself to be carried, others, each clutching his chosen mate, sitting on high places, waiting for her to molt.

Hopeful parents, on top of the big abalone shell. Waiting.

And as always, there has been some competition for mates, a few tug-of-wars with the unfortunate female as rope, a couple of frantic chases, and, sadly, a few duels; pincers at a quarter inch. A smaller male was the loser in one of these battles, and limped away with two legs on one side, none on the other. And no pincers. I thought he would die, but he's tough.

He still gets around; slowly, dragging his over-sized shell behind him. He rests in the shadow of a kelp holdfast or in a tangle of eelgrass roots, out of the way of his more active neighbours. But his blue and orange flags still wave happily, he manages to find food and eat it, even without his hands.

What's more; twice I've seen him "flirting"; face to face with a female, trying to hold the lip of her shell in the customary fashion, without success, not having the required pincers. The girls were not impressed and soon wandered away.

There's hope for him; if he can hold out until the next time he molts, he will have grown back some of the missing limbs.

I've been keeping an eye on him, making sure food lands in his vicinity morning and evening, admiring his persistence.

I noticed a blackish spot on his maimed side. A lump, glossy blue-black, the blue-black of a mussel shell. A parasite? Or what? I kept watching, trying to get a photo or get a clear view with my hand lens, worrying.

With the extra light from the flash, the addition is deep blue.

I finally got close enough to see; it's a forming pincer arm, still coiled, still without movement, but with all the parts; joints and pincer tips, well formed. Hermit crab blood is blue, which may explain the colour.

The white ovals behind it are the stubs of the missing two legs.

The stub of one leg is clearer here.

How does a hermit crab, bereft of hands, manage to eat? This guy holds onto something solid with one back leg, drags over a chunk of food with the pointed tip of the second leg, and then uses his first set of mouthparts, or maxillipeds, to grab it and bring it to his mouth.

The first two maxillipeds serve as forks.

He's lucky to have three separate sets of maxillipeds; the inner two sets do the work of jaws. So he won't starve.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

November afternoon, with mallards

Cougar Creek Park, south lagoon.

The water is high; the beavers have been hard at work making dams.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Off the beaten track

I spent much of today on the road, hurrying along freeways and up city streets, racing the clock. On the way home, I was feeling very sleepy, and on the spur of the moment, took an unfamiliar exit off the highway, and then, to get out of the way of trucks, dodged down a dead-end street, going south towards the river.

A quick walk in the cold without my coat woke me up. And my little old camera was in my purse (and the battery was charged - oh, joy!). I wandered about snapping photos of everything and nothing until my fingers went numb, then got back in the car and came home.

I liked these 4 photos.

Above a ditch full of blackberry canes, these dead fireweed stalks reach for the sky.

At the dead end of the dead end, a rough trail led to this fence, and to one of the tugboats that ply the river, in for repairs. The trees are on the bank of the river.

Frozen roses, crispy and shrunken, but still pink.

I'm back on the road home, waiting for the light at my turnoff, and looking at the back side of  Burns Bog. I love this view in winter; in the summer the skeletons of the trees are hidden behind a green blanket.

On the road again tomorrow. I hope the weather holds.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cold weather haven

The weather has turned cold this week. At night, the thermometer dips below freezing. Where the sun shines in the daytime, it warms up, but in my shady garden, the bird bath stays frozen all day and even my winter-hardy bergenias and primulas have wilted.

Chickadees come to my door early, calling to me; "Hurry up with our breakfast!" They've got a busy day ahead, getting enough to eat to stoke their tiny furnaces overnight. After them, come the juncos and a towhee or two, poking around in the frozen earth, looking for anything edible, mostly tiny weed seeds. In my garden, the native bleeding hearts bloomed just before frost; their black seeds were ripening this week. The astilbes, the heather, and the lemon balm were still dropping seeds, too.

The smaller animals have gone into hiding. There are no slugs to be found, even under flowerpots and heavy leaves. No sowbugs. No beetles. Spiders have crawled into crevices: the babies have hatched and ballooned away. The bees and wasps are gone. I saw one harvestman a couple of days ago, and a small moth last week. It's winter. The sleepy season.

I needed a piece of lumber for a small repair, and remembered I had a plank propped against the wall in the corner of the patio, behind the compost bin. I moved the bin and retrieved it. And was surprised to see small things (and some not so small) scuttle off in all directions. It's not winter yet in that protected corner.

A couple of fair-sized spiders came along with the board.

Mid-sized Tegenaria. If you look closely, you can see that the surface of the wood is covered with spider webs.

A plump cobweb spider, probably Steatoda sp. The frass on the left includes a spider leg, either the remains of a molt, or of her unfortunate mate.

Neither of these two wanted to leave their warm board. I shooed them off, and they ran to the edge and over to the underside. I flipped the board, and they moved to the new underside. Again, and again. I finally convinced them by brushing and shaking the board vigorously, and they scooted down the side of the compost bin. There's still another board back there; they've got a few weeks more before the cold reaches them there.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Rainbow leaves

They come in every colour but blue. But for that, we have skies.

One of Laurie's hostas, under a mulch donated by the trees overhead.

This one turned up by the back door, blown in from a neighbour's tree.

Detail of dead maple leaf

Sunlight through sweet gum leaves and seed pods. At the mall.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Wave catchers

Last week, I was walking along the shoreline at Boundary Bay, head bent, concentrating, hands full of bags for eelgrass and barnacled rocks, collecting goodies for my critters. Something made me look up, maybe a small sound, maybe a hint of movement, and there, on a rock barely three or four feet ahead, a half-dozen sandpipers were standing still, just, watching me.

I reached for the camera, and they all flew away, and kept on flying until they were almost out of sight.

I kept a lookout for them the rest of the afternoon, but never got so close again.

These were watching the waves near the boat launch, later, but kept moving north as I walked closer to them.

They seem so fragile, but the waves rolling in don't even make them wobble.

All facing the incoming water, except for the one watching me. Lookout duty, maybe?

And then I got too close.

Flying from sunlight into shade.

There don't seem to be as many birds on the water and beach as there have been in previous years. Mid-afternoon isn't the best time to see them, but even then, there should be hundreds, not dozens.

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Role model

If barnacles could dream ...

Barnacles on crab carapace and the big burrowing anemone

I went out and bought a new tank for my critters today. It's twice the size, roomy enough for a small forest of eelgrass and a rockery (stonery?) for the hermits to climb on. And the main thing: the glass is not scratched! Several years of hermits banging about, snails scraping algae, me scraping leftover algae, and the pump sand-blasting everything had turned the glass walls hazy.

I've moved everyone into their new home, and they seem happy with it. And I'm going to bed.

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Friday, November 14, 2014


Just snails.

On dying bergenia leaf

On mildewed painted wood.

That's all.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Once you get to know them ...

Starfish have always seemed to be curiously inert animals, in spite of their reputation as predators. When we pick up one on the beach, it's stiff and solid, nothing but arms covered with a bumpy skin. The only sign of life seems to be on the underside; those tube feet that cling to the rocks and refuse to let go.

So I've been surprised by the three starfish (not counting the baby) that came home on the kelp and holdfasts. In the tank, they're almost always in motion, climbing the walls and stones, investigating the pump, sliding over snails and barnacles, sometimes pausing to eat one, and even, this afternoon, trundling along a blade of eelgrass near the top of the tank.

And, underwater, they suddenly become soft and furry; the hard, spiny top is coated with a living coat, swaying in the currents; the arms are tipped and bordered with long, questing tube feet, in the shape of a land snail's eyestalk, a thin, flexible, extensible tube with a round knob on the end. But instead of two per critter, there are hundreds.

Part of an arm, underwater.

Through the glass and an inch of water, the edges are blurred, but we can see three main skin structures. The pale, traslucent orange "nipples" are dermal banchiae, gill structures, absorbing oxygen from the water. These are constantly in motion while the starfish is underwater. The white, four-pointed "jaws" are pedicellariae, little snapping pincers, which may capture small prey, or alternately, protect the other skin structures. (Could this be why we don't find starfish wearing barnacles or mussels?) Underwater, they extend enough to almost hide the spines. And, like the gills, they are always moving, snapping at anything that comes near.

Out of the water, the pedicellariae subside, and the spines are more visible. I moved the largest starfish (about 4 cm across) to a small plate, where he immediately crawled to the edge, off the white background that I'd chosen.

Two arms, showing pattern of spines, each one surrounded by a ring of pedicellariae, and with gills mainly along the outside edge of the arm. The white patch in the centre is the madreporite, the intake for the water circulation system of the starfish.

Zooming in on one of these arms:

Spines, small and large, each surrounded by biting pedicellariae. A few gills along the bottom.

Zooming in still more:

Here you can see the open "mouths" of the pedicellariae. These are two-sided; some starfish may have three-pronged "peds". The starfish is wet, but out of the water, so the "peds" are shrunken and relatively peaceful.

And the starfish has eyes! Five ocelli, one on each arm, at the tip.

Each one is well protected in a ring of tube feet and pedicellariae. They don't see much other than light and shadow.

I've been watching the three of them climb my glass walls, which gives me a good view of how the tube feet move, stretching, reaching, pulling. A starfish can move quite quickly on these, when he's motivated.

The medium star, longer-armed than the big one. The tube feet at the tip of each arm are extended mostly in the direction of travel. I saw one of these come up to an anemone on the wall; when the first tube foot touched an anemone tentacle, the starfish reacted, pulling the arm back and curling it away from the wall. Then the star changed direction, carefully skirting the danger zone.

We watched a starfish eat a limpet on the wall this afternoon. It everted the stomach, pulled in the limpet, pointed shell inwards, then after a few minutes of chewing, ejected the limpet shell, this time pointed end outwards.

I don't know what this one was eating; I just caught it in time to see its everted stomach.

Probably eating algae or something too small for me to see. There were no shell remains.

Zooming in further, to see the everted gut structure.

Here on the underside, the pedicellariae are not so obvious, and most of the structures are tube feet. They have been traditionally understood to work by suction, but recent research suggests that they expel a chemical glue, which leaves a residue on the surface.

There are only two limpets left in the tank, but plenty of snails; mud snails and Nassas, which both seem to breed here. The big anemone eats some of them, but there will be enough to share with the starfish, so no worries. Otherwise, they will compete with the leafy hornmouth snails for what barnacles I can gather.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Still working on a starfish . . .

Sensory tube feet on the tip of a starfish arm.

I never imagined there was so much to discover in a simple starfish. Coming up; gills, spines, snapping pincers, red eyes, and a stomach. Tomorrow, if all goes well.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Snaky star

As soon as the holdfasts I'd brought back from the beach were out of the bag and in a bowl of clean salt water, three brittle stars squirmed out from among the roots. They were so tiny, so almost colourless, that I wouldn't have seen them if they hadn't been trying to escape the light.

The first brittle star, captured in a plastic cup. Missing half an arm.

Brittle stars are not starfish, but are related to them. They do not use suction cups on tube feet to move, but rather wave the arms about wildly to swim, in a haphazard fashion, going where the current takes them.

The arms break off easily, leaving a hungry predator with a mouth full of spines and no meat. The star grows the arm, or arms (up to 4) back. The detached arms themselves don't regenerate a new brittle star, though. (As some starfish do.)

A second brittle star, in the aquarium. Parts of two arms missing. The star-shaped opening at the centre is the mouth.

These are possibly the dwarf brittle star, Amphipholis squamata, aka  the holdfast brittle star, aka the small serpent star (for the movement of the long arms). The ones we found a few years ago in Campbell River had much longer arms, and were probably the long-armed brittle star, Amphiodia occidentalis.

Much bigger, much more wriggly. More here and here.

Within a few minutes of being placed in the tank, all three had disappeared. I've been looking for them since Brat intervals, with a lens and flashlight, but have seen no sign of them. They seem to prosper in other aquaria, so they may show up again, with all their arms intact.

I've been watching that bigger starfish; the more I look, the more interesting it gets. I just took another batch of photos, to process tomorrow, I hope.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Fuzzy, woolly, cuddly plush toy

Just the thing for a sleepy hermit!

"So soft!"

Except that it's all wet. And hungry. And an efficient killing machine. But then so are bears and we turn them into Teddy bears and give them to babies. So I'm naming this a Teddy starfish.

This one, and two others like it, came home with me on a blade of kelp. It's the big brother to the baby in the holdfast, probably.

Details tomorrow.

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Sunday, November 09, 2014

In a bag full of holdfasts

In winter, along the high tide line in Boundary Bay, most of the washed up plants are eelgrass, torn out of their beds halfway down the beach. Occasionally, there's a scrap of Turkish towel and a blade or two of sea lettuce. Not much else.

But the recent windy weather has been working on the kelp forests in the deep water at the centre of the bay, and on Friday, the eelgrass rolls were tied around stipes and blades of several varieties of kelp.

Floating bull kelp bladder, with attached fronds. All very scratched and beaten, from rolling up the beach.

Torn blades of sugar-wrack kelp.

I collected a few blades of a smaller kelp, and all the holdfasts I could find. There were no bull kelp holdfasts; the weather is still too mild to damage them. All the holdfasts were of the smaller varieties of kelp, and attached to shells and stones. I planned to put a few of these in the tank for my critters to play on; the rest would be interesting to examine to see what was living there.

Small holdfast, on clam shell. Probably a sugar wrack kelp; the stipes are only a few inches long. (Bull kelp stipes may be over 100 feet long.)

At home, I put my haul in a big bowl of sea water, and watched to see what showed up. Plenty of worms and amphipods, of course, but there was much more.

Here's one of the smaller residents:

Pale pink baby starfish!

More tiny treasures tomorrow.

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Saturday, November 08, 2014

Just one of those November days

On Boundary Bay.

Looking toward Crescent Beach, at high tide.

And I'm too tired to say much more. Found some goodies, listened to birds, filled my shoes with wet sand.

Going to bed now.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Looks good enough to eat!

It isn't. Don't try. It's the extremely poisonous fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, var. formosa.

15 caps will kill you. Fewer (but how many fewer?) will just make you crazy.

This is the common variant around here, with a yellow or orange cap. I have seen some of the deep red ones, up north in the Bella Coola valley. Very pretty; the mature mushroom caps were flat discs, as big as a cherry pie. A cherry pie with a sprinkling of sugary crumbles on the top.

Fly agarics are known for the unpredictability of their effects. ... (they) can range from nausea and twitching to drowsiness, cholinergic crisis-like effects (low blood pressure, sweating and salivation), auditory and visual distortions, mood changes, euphoria, relaxation, ataxia, and loss of equilibrium. ...
In cases of serious poisoning the mushroom causes delirium, ... characterised by bouts of marked agitation with confusion, hallucinations, and irritability followed by periods of central nervous system depression. Seizures and coma may also occur in severe poisonings. (From Wikipedia)

They're still beautiful.

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Fish-eye lens

I took the car in for some work this afternoon, and as usual, went to commiserate with the bored fish in their cramped tank while I waited. A couple of the residents found the camera's eye on the far side of the glass interesting.

"Ohh! And who are you, and how did you get out?" 

"Looks fishy to me!"

And then I got the car back and went out into the sunshine. While the prisoners in their tank swam round and round, back and forth. If they were lions, they'd be pacing.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Carpe diem

"It's only four o'clock, and it's already getting dark!" a cashier grumbled today. Daylight Saving Time has spoiled her afternoon; no more daylight for her on work days until spring.

So I came home, grabbed the camera, and went out to catch the last bit of light.

4:24, walking towards the light in the sky. Taken with flash, to catch the leaves. And then lightened a bit, ditto.

Heading north

The last light in the west.

And I turned and walked back home, facing east, into the falling dusk.

A Skywatch post.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2014


I'm busy trying to come to terms with an Elements upgrade, and feeling sort of crabby about it.

I'll get over it. She won't.

Why do they always tweak the things that work, and leave the bugs alone? (Mumble, mumble, gripe, whinge . . . )

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Monday, November 03, 2014

Another puzzler

I discovered these little white capsules on the outside of my bedroom window. I don't know what they are.

About half the size of a grain of rice.

These were taken from the inside, through double panes, while it poured rain outside. The window is relatively sheltered, so the white capsules were just damp.

I went outside to check, and they looked the same from that side. But I was getting wet, so I took no photos.

There were several clumps, all with those little cyan spots in them. They have the texture, to look at, of bird poop. Formed pellets of bird poop.

What do you think? Insect eggs? Bleached snail poop? The beginnings of a stealthy invasion of interstellar pod creatures?

#UPDATE: I went out and brought a clump in. It detached itself from the glass with only a touch. (That goes against insect eggs, which would be glued down.)

In spite of the heavy rain, they felt barely damp. They crumbled easily.

I looked at them under the microscope. The little cyan specks are still there, and the white mass has a bit of sparkle, like sugar crystals.

Crumbled, they are the same all the way through. The crumbs look fluffy, sort of like my sugar substitute, the kind you spoon into your coffee, not the packet stuff.

There is no odour that I could detect.

I vote for snail poop, bleached. I've never seen white snail poop before. I wonder what they've been eating.

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