Monday, March 27, 2017

A quiet place to sleep

Limpets are amazing critters. Like their cousins the snails, they trundle along, waving two white antennae cheerfully, scrubbing away at stones, seaweeds, old shells, and, in the aquarium, the glass walls. Comes low tide, and they pull in the antennae, clamp themselves to those walls and stones, and go to sleep. Some have homes they go to: indentations in the rock, carved out with their teeth, spikes on a ribbon-like radula, scraping away at solid rock. Determined little beasties.

Limpet species can sometimes be identified by the shell pattern and shape. Not so easily when they're old, though; the surface gets battered and broken. The limpet inside is fine.

Young limpet, wearing a pale checkerboard pattern. Note the off-centre peak. Possibly a shield limpet, Lottia pelta*. And, lower left, an elongated, more delicate limpet.

In the aquarium, I can push sideways, gently, at a limpet on the glass. Its grip is weaker on this smooth surface, and I can slide it down to a spot I've already cleaned, without removing it from the glass. On a stone or shell, it's fixed in place; I can't move it without killing it.

On the beach, at low tide, they may as well be part of the stones they're clamped to.

The top limpet, a young'un, is probably the Mask limpet, Tectura persona. In the centre, a baby clam. I don't know what it's doing there.

A bashed, cracked,porous limpet shell. The peak is well to one side; the owner may be a slippersnail.

Another oldster. The pattern is almost gone, and the peak is off-centre. Another Mask, possibly.

The green colour is painted by algae. There's still a few hints of the original checkerboard pattern.

All these limpets were found in an area a few steps wide on the shore of Tyee Spit. I replaced the stones exactly as I found them; most of the limpets were hiding in the shade.

*Any of my limpet ids are extremely tentative.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Luscious red

Looks good enough to eat.

Sea noodles, aka Succulent seaweed, Sarcodiotheca gaudichaudii.

When fresh the red string seaweed may be used in salads.  In the Philippines it is made into a sweet desert. (from Puget Sound Sea Life)

I found a generous helping of this last October, but it looked shop-worn, and I didn't taste it. And this time, there was so little of it, I didn't want to deprive the shore critters, so I still haven't tried it. Next time. I wonder if there's a recipe for the dessert.

Red, green, brown. All green shore crabs, Hemigrapsus oregonensis.

I like the red eyes of the centre crab. I feel a sort of kinship with her: she's an insomniac, like me, maybe?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A wormy post

Marine biologists count some 67,290 species of sea worms. (I checked each wormy page on this site and added them up.) And with millions - trillions - of individuals of the more prolific species, no wonder I find worms everywhere I look!

These were waiting out the low tide in the shelter of loose rocks on the Tyee Spit shore.

Shiny, multicoloured polychaete

I find these in the sand underneath the rocks, rarely on a rock or stone. They are shy and quick; mostly, if I look first at the rock, then at the sand, all I see is the last few segments of the worm squirming down underground. The only way to get a photo is to hold the camera ready and aimed, then lift the rock.

Their mouths vary depending on their diet, since the group includes predators, herbivores, filter feeders, scavengers, and parasites. Most have a pair of jaws and a pharynx that can be quickly turned inside out, allowing the worm to grab food and pull it into the mouth. (MESA)

There are 12,000 species of polychaetes. My encyclopedia lists 44 more or less free-living polychaetes in the Pacific Northwest.

A Mud nemertean, Paranemertes peregrina, and something green in a long tube.

Paranemertes, aka the Wandering ribbon worm, or the Restless worm, is easy to identify. It's a long ribbon, up to 25 cm. long, with a purple back and a creamy belly, usually found wandering alone, searching for its dinner: other worms, even worms much larger than itself.

On contact with nereid prey, P. peregrina pulls its head back and everts its light-colored proboscis, which wraps around the prey.  The prey is soon paralyzed, ...  P. peregrina then swallows the nereid.  After feeding it follows its own slime trail back to its burrow.  It eats about one prey worm per day ... (

I can't identify the green worm in the long tube, other than to guess that it's another ribbon worm.

A typical squirm of green ribbon worms, Emplectonema gracile. And a lone, brown flatworm.

The green ribbon worms are gregarious; where you find one, there are probably several more entwined with it. It eats barnacles, mostly the small acorn barnacles, slithering into cracks or the open mouth of the barnacle, using a poisonous needle-like stylet* to paralyze its prey. (That isn't going anywhere, anyways, but you never know.)

The flatworm also eats barnacles, and is so thin and flexible that it seems sometimes to be simply a brownish coating on the barnacle it's attacking.

In this photo, I've been puzzling over a perfect circle in the bottom of an empty barnacle shell. (Just above the flatworm.) It looks like the edge of one of those finger cots that I use instead of bandaids. A short worm, maybe? A mini Ouroboros?

*Photo of the stylet, here, at the bottom of the page, Row 1, on the right.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Barnacles and barnacle eaters

Tyee Spit serves as a breakwater between the mouth of the Campbell River and Discovery Passage, the main sea route between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Its shores, on the saltwater side, are mostly clean pebbles, scrubbed by the fast currents racing down the narrow channel; a few miles north, at Seymour Narrows, the currents reach up to 15 knots; here at the Spit, they run around 10 knots.

Sometimes, flipping stones on that shore, I find a crab or two, sometimes a limpet. But mostly, there are just more stones.

I happened to be passing a few days ago when the tide was unusually low, and saw that the lowest level of stones were rough, barnacled. I hurried down to look.

Here's one stone, and its community.

Swarming with life. Left to right; barnacle-eating nudibranchs, hermit crabs in periwinkle shells, maybe some snails in their own shells, barnacles, egg mass, Wosnesenski's isopods, "grape" seaweed.

Zooming in on the busy end. There are a couple more nudibranchs here, too. Click to see the individual eggs in the egg mass.

Look again at those barnacles above. The small, grey ones have an oval opening, and in the large, mostly dead ones (in this photo), the opening is approximately diamond shaped.

Acorn barnacles, Balanus glandula, and Little brown barnacles, Chthamalus dalli.

The grey barnacles (Little brown) is the smallest of our acorns. They are often found on rocks at the very top of the intertidal zone, where they may only be underwater and able to feed half of the time.

The larger, lighter, almost yellowish barnacles are the ones I see most often on the beach. Look closely; the plates enclosing the mouth lock together in a wavy pattern, somewhat like a W. (Or an M, if it's facing the other way.)

And here's one of the nudibranchs, Onchidoris bilamellata.

These tiny nudis (about as long as my fingertip is wide) eat the barnacles, drilling through the shell like a snail does. Underwater, they extend their two antennae and the feathery gills at the rear. Here, waiting for the tide to return, they are hunkered down, so that it's hard to tell which is the front end. (I think it's towards the right on this one.)

More low tide photos tomorrow.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Teeth and hair

One more item from the moss walk: some hairy, toothy mushrooms on a tree.

Unidentified small shelf mushrooms. Soft, spiky haired on top, toothy on the underside.

A better look at the teeth.

I've searched my guide and a few mushroom sites on the web, and haven't found this. Does anyone recognize it?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Skinny leaves and stretchy cords

Where there is moss in our coastal forests, there is also lichen. I am fascinated by its myriad forms; so intriguing!

Here are some of the photos taken on the moss walk, identified only to general type.

This would be a leaf lichen. Shrub lichens have cylindrical stems; this has flattened stems, like skinny leaves.

Another skinny leaf lichen.

A ruffled leaf, or rag lichen. (Ragbag?)

Appressed leaf lichen. 

A hairy, "beard" lichen, fallen in great clumps from the trees above.

Fuzzy photo through a wet lens. Usnea sp.

This lichen genus (Usnea) is easily identified (to genus, anyhow) by the tough central cord. Our guide is demonstrating here. The cord is elastic; if you pull gently on both ends, it stretches out visibly, uncoiling. Release it, and it springs back.

I brought home a sample. I just re-tested what's left of it, dry and stiff after a week in a bag. It still stretches.

A bit of everything, all growing together. At least four lichens, yellowish shelf mushrooms with purple borders, two mosses, and salal leaves, on a dead branch.

More mixed lichens on an evergreen branch. The recent wet weather brought down many branches from overhead; usually these are out of reach.

This week, I walked most of the Ripple Rock trail, and brought back more moss and lichen photos, as well as some interesting spiders and mushrooms. Then I flipped rocks on the Tyee Spit beach at low tide; a treasure trove! I don't know which I'll post first; all the photos call out to be processed, "now! Me first!"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

These shelf fungi are black

Black. Midnight black. Shined shoe leather black.

Black polypores dwarfing the stump they're growing on.

I think this may be a Ganoderma sp., but any photos I find of them on the web are labelled only "Black bracket fungus". They seem to have a pale lip, maybe the edge of a light underside, but I couldn't get close enough to see that.

Monday, March 20, 2017

March equinox

First day of spring! I thought it would never come!

This calls for something sunny. Something yellow, maybe.

Fingertip yellow jelly fungus. (Tremella. See comments.)

Dead evergreen branch with a bunch of fingertip yellow fungi.

More yellow jellies, with a different growth pattern. On old log. (Dacrymyces chrisospermus?)

Very yellow jelly. With hungry slugs.

Baby yellow jellies on peeled log, with insect tunnels.

And the sun shone all day today. The sky was blue, the clouds white and fluffy. My forsythia is finally - finally! - putting out yellow-tipped buds, the crocuses are blooming in front of the library, and I found a clump of brand-new baby skunk cabbages. Yay, spring!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Trying to understand

Mosses are confusing enough. But Ma Nature likes to have us completely bewildered. So we have liverworts, which look like mosses, act like mosses, and grow intermingled with mosses. Our guide on the moss walk kept pointing out bits of green that looked like all the other bits of green, and calling them liverworts. Even with the hand lens I was carrying, I couldn't see the difference.

"And what is that one?"

Everything's somewhere on the web, if you look long enough. I found a site from Australia that explains the difference so clearly that even I can see it.

First, look for sporophytes, the spore-bearing capsules.

The green or red capsules are sporophytes, growing spores.

It's always possible, and very easy, to determine whether you have a moss, liverwort or hornwort if sporophytes are present. Remember that a sporophyte consists of a spore capsule, with or without a supporting stalk or seta.
Are groups of spore capsules held aloft on complex structures?
The bryophyte is a liverwort.
A fuzzy head, like a pussy willow or a grass ear, would be a complex structure. If the "moss" has those, it's a liverwort.
If the stem is translucent (and often colourless) the bryophyte in question is almost certainly a liverwort.
If the stalk supporting the capsule is opaque and coloured green, brown or red the bryophyte in question is a moss.
 If sporophytes are absent you'll naturally need to look at some gametophyte features, the first step being to see whether you have a thallose or a leafy bryophyte. A thallose bryophyte is either a liverwort or a hornwort. A leafy bryophyte is either a moss or a liverwort.
(Hornworts are aquatic; we can ignore them for now.)

If the plant has no clear stems or leaves, it is thallose, and therefore a liverwort.
The first thing to do is to see whether you have a thallose or a leafy bryophyte. The almost leathery thallus of a robust thallose bryophyte is fairly easy to pick. Similarly, in some leafy species the leaves-on-stems growth habit is very easy to see. 
For this, with some of the plants, we need a lens; some liverwort thalli look like stems and leaves to the naked eye.

So the photo above is clearly a moss. The sporophytes are simple, held on a tall stalk, with red tints. The leaves grow attached to the stems, not as continuations of the stem. (Look at the stem below the red sporophyte on the right.)
In the great majority of moss species the mature spore capsule opens by means of a well-defined mouth. Remember that a liverwort spore capsule never has a well-defined mouth.
To see that, a lens is probably needed. And being there at the right time, when the spores are mature, or already released.

There is much more info on the page I'm quoting, details on how to distinguish thallose from leafy structures, photos, and exceptions to the rules. (Aren't there always?) But the sporophyte detail is enough for a rough guide, for now, for me.

The moss is green and leafy; even in this photo, the stems are visible as a separate structure from the leaves. The liverwort is one of the leafy ones; the leaves are short and stubby. Luckily, it's red.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Hanging millipede

"Don't touch this," our guide said. She was pointing at a fallen branch covered with small, purplish-brown leaves. "Some people are allergic to it," she added. We clustered around, looking, but keeping our distance.

Frullania nisquallensis, "Hanging millipede liverwort".

It's not a moss, but a liverwort*. It grows on alder and maple; in this particular bit of forest, the large deciduous trees are mostly maples. And it may cause contact dermatitis, which gives it an alternate name: "Woodman's eczema".

Good to know, if you're scrambling about in the rain forest. I Googled it and read a few reports; contact with the wet bark or with fallen fragments of the liverwort can cause an eczema that lasts several weeks. Gloves are no protection, unless they're waterproof and no water seeps in through the wrists, but most eruptions are on the face and other exposed areas. It seems to be no problem in dry weather.

Frullania nisquallensis, commonly known as Hanging millipede liverwort, is a reddish-brown species of liverwort in the Jubulaceae family. It is found in western Washington and British Columbia, including Vancouver Island. The plant grows in mats, sometimes in mats that hang from tree branches (particularly those of alders, or maples), or growing close to the substrate. (Wikipedia) (My emphasis)

That explains the "hanging" part of the name, "hanging millipede." It doesn't look much like a millipede to me, though. There's a whole page of photos on INaturalist, which may be helpful if you're planning to go looking for firewood on a wet day. But stay dry!

*More on this, later.


The rain had used up the water reserves in the clouds, and was reduced to a sporadic sprinkle when we started on the moss walk. That was out in the clear; under the trees, masses of moss overhead substituted for clouds, holding the water for a while, then dropping large blobs on our heads - splat!

A handful of wet moss can feel almost dry, until you squeeze it; then water gushes out.

I was glad I was carrying only the pocket camera; it's easier to keep dry, and cheaper, in case it's ruined. Within five minutes inside the forest, I had to start drying the lens between shots; many were blurry. And before we finished the circuit, the camera just plain refused to take any more photos. An hour in the warmth beside a wood stove, with its innards exposed to the air, fixed it; it works again. Whew!

This sampler of moss photos are no-name-brand; I haven't been able to identify them with any confidence.

The woods were hairy, dark, and deep. (Sorry, Robert Frost!)

And lumpy.

A different variety of lumps. With leaf lichen and infant Cladonia in the open spaces.

Wet country. Even the sign is wet.

Dead but still standing; a tall stump carries the black shelf fungi that killed it. One of the naturalists on the walk is properly dressed for the weather; Tilley hat and rubber rain gear.

Another stump, well rotted, full of woodpecker holes, with a crown of dangling moss.

At least three different mosses here, with last year's maple leaves, and fresh new buds on a twig.

Almost looks like electrified cats' tail again. With leaf lichens.

Leafy moss with sporophytes. The ripe ones are red; green sporophytes are immature. Raindrops run down some of the stalks. (Aka setae.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Electrified cat's tail

Mosses are difficult to identify. (Typical Canadian understatement; begin again.) Mosses are fiendishly difficult to identify.

They change from one day to the next, depending on the weather. They grow in compact mounds, uniformly coloured, one leaf blending into the next. They are multicultural; as many as 40 different species can live together on one tree, intermingled. Male and female plants may seem to be separate species. And they are best seen in the pouring rain, when cameras and magnifying lenses are at a disadvantage.

Back at home, Googling mosses, looking at photos, I find apparent matches. But most of them, once I follow the links, refer to them generically, as "moss". It seems that other people are as befuddled as I am.

Moss experts try to help, giving specific mosses easily remembered names. "Finger-licking good moss," "palm tree moss," "beaked moss," "wavy-leaved cotton moss," "goose-neck moss," and my favourite, "electrified cats'-tail moss." Now, the problem is remembering which of all those green, spiky mosses goes with which handy name.

This, I think, is Oregon beaked moss. I could (easily) be wrong. Note the lone, red sporophyte. (Or Rhytidiadelphus loreus? See comment by Matt Goff.*)

And this should be Electrified cats-tail, Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus.

Zooming in on one of the dozens of mosses on a short trail. Unidentified, for the moment. (Buckiella undulata*)

This one has a strong central stem. (Oregon beaked moss?*)
And in this one, the stem and branches are brown, even on a wet, green day. The branches here are opposite: compare to those on the Oregon beaked moss, which are alternate. (Glittering wood moss, Hylocomium splendens.*)

A hanging moss. These grow mainly on branches. (Brachythecium?*)

I thought I had memorized the order in which our guide, Jocie Brooks, had showed us the mosses, and could co-ordinate them with the sequence of photos. I was too optimistic. We saw repeats at random throughout the walk, and my list got scrambled in my mossy brain.

At least I remember clearly which one was the "Finger-licking good moss". Unfortunately, by then my camera had gone on strike because of the rain. Can't win.

*Updated after comments by Matt Goff.