Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Bug's-eye view

On knees and elbows in the meadow at Oyster Bay Shoreline Park, I followed a beetle, trying to take his photo; he wasn't interested.

So I looked at the meadow, instead. It's another world down there.

Mosses, red sorrel, and what looks like Prairie pepper grass, but is only an inch or two tall.

Roadside rock moss, and a couple of sporophytes on twisty stems.

Caught up with the beetle/bug. Has wings, but never tried to fly. And never stopped running.

Indian consumption plant.

Spittle bug spit. It was on anything taller than a hand's breadth.

Hairy stems of wild strawberry.
Back on my feet, I looked down at those wild strawberries. They're growing everywhere, flowering prettily, but I've never seen berries here. Maybe this year.

Two open flowers, four past their prime. Pollinated? I hope so.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Fat aphids

Every rose has its critter.

Native wild rose, and well-fed aphids, sleeping it off on a leaf.

If you look closely, there are a round, fat, very fat, short-legged beastie and a pointy-nosed critter (a fly or a weevil?) and a couple more half-hidden insects, all foraging for pollen among the stamens of the rose. So tiny! The largest no bigger than the heads of the aphids!

So  busy, so happy (after the manner of insect happiness), so intelligent, smart enough to go out and find a good rose, "knowing" its pollen will be good to eat. Sure, not as smart as you or me, but amazing, nevertheless, if you think about it.

We underestimate the brilliance of the tiny things.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

On a wild rose

The wild roses are blooming, and bees of all sizes and shapes are happily harvesting pollen. One small bee was too busy to worry about me and my camera.

A long, skinny, non-fuzzy bee. Her* saddlebags are half full of yellow pollen.

"Gotta check the back side, too! Don't want to miss any!"

And I always have to ask; is it a bee or a bee mimic?

Bee. Fuzzy photo, but shows the eyes and double wings.

This one's a bee. Small eyes; a hover fly's eyes take up most of its head. Four wings, two stained-glass ones, two folded underneath. Long antennae, with an "elbow". Flies have stubby little antennae. And the saddlebags for carrying pollen, showing she's a female.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

AKA Puzzlegrass

It belongs here; it's a native. It grows enthusiastically in waste places, roadsides, ditches. "They" say it is edible, with caution. Sometimes it's useful; in a campsite, it makes a handy pot scrubber for those fire-blackened camp kettles. Along the edges of my lawn, and under my bedroom window, it's embarrassing, proclaiming to the neighbourhood that I'm not being careful; it's a pest. A pest that refuses to be exiled.

Horsetail. Weirdly fascinating. Beautiful, if I stop to look at it.

Sterile horsetail stems and a wilting, spore-producing strobilus on its own unbranched stem. With a pink and black fly for company.

The spore-producing stems appear first, then die down. The green, branched stems grow tall and hang around all summer. They grow from a rhizome that can be up to 4 metres underground, making them almost impossible to root out. They will thrive where nothing else except dandelions will take root, poking through gravel or cracks in the pavement, pushing aside stones in the drainage channels along the walls, and spreading out from there.

I wondered how far the spores disperse, and what is the mechanism; wind, water dispersal, shooting out under pressure, etc. I looked it up; now I'm itchy.

The spores have four elaters that act as moisture-sensitive springs, assisting spore dispersal through crawling and hopping motions after the sporangia have split open longitudinally. (Wikipedia)

Crawling, hopping? Legless hoppers? Just outside my window? Somehow it doesn't seem proper plant behaviour.

Branched stem. The green parts are the stems.

And these brown fringes are the leaves.

The hollow stems are photosynthetic, but not the leaves.

One of our local species, the giant horsetail, Equisetum telmateia, usually grows around a metre high, or a bit more, but can grow up to 2 1/2 metres in wet conditions, easy enough to find in our rainforest ecology. The ones under my window, field horsetail, Equisetum arvense, are usually just under a metre tall. I tear them all out several times in a summer; they always come right back up.

The whole plant feels rough, sandpapery. Our First Nations people used them for polishing wooden tools; I think I'll try them on my next project.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Meanwhile, back in the tank ...

The new hermit with the blue pincer is settling in nicely.

Big Blue, in hiding deep in the tank, in the semi-dark. He likes it there.

So far, he's selected three girlfriends, holding onto each one for several days, then abandoning her, probably after he's mated with her. I'll be watching them for growing eggs.

Deep in the tank, the blue pincer fades to green. When he comes up front, to the light, it glows as brightly blue as the day I saw him first, on the shore.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In a spring garden with a macro lens

I took my aquarium lens, the one I use to photograph the eyes of my hermit crabs, for a walk around my garden, to see what my old eyes are missing.


Apple blossoms. Looks like there'll be a good crop this year.

The holly tree.

I had never noticed the holly flowers before; they're tiny, and the holly sheds sharp-thorned leaves into the grass to puncture my toes, so I've kept my distance. The flowers are almost waxy and each clump has one of those upright sprigs growing from the center.

I'm not sure what this is. I bought the pot full of buds at a garage sale. I like the papery bud wraps.

A bowlful of pink flowers and white crepe paper.

Wild bluebells. And pink bluebells.

The genus is Hyacinthoides, meaning "like hyacinth". Except that they don't have the strong fragrance of hyacinths. These are possibly H. hispanica, the Spanish bluebell.

Araneus diadematus. Not a flower, but a bright point in the garden.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


My carport is half sunken. Beside it, about shoulder height, the wall opens to a garden area crammed, at this time of year, with hyacinths. I drive in, open the car door, and immediately the perfume envelops me. And this is my eye-level view.

Breathe deep!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

So green!

I was in bed, ready to sleep. I reached out to turn off the light, and saw a spider, tucked in nicely in his own bed, behind the lamp. And he was green! I was no longer sleepy.

Here he is, all wrapped up in his own blanket.

He wasn't moving, even when I turned the lamp over to shine on him, and when the camera flash went off a few inches away. I finally poked at his blanket, gently, with a pencil, trying to open a gap where I could see him better.

He ran out, but settled down a few inches away, and went back to sleep. (Or whatever spiders do when they're not moving.)

A light watermelon-rind green belly.

I've never seen a green one like this. I tried to identify him, going by the eye arrangement, comparing it to BugGuide's chart, but gave up; there are too many, and they're too similar. I'll send the photos in to BugGuide for an ID.

He sat still until I put away the camera and replaced the lamp in its place. When I looked next, he was back in his web, belly out as before. He left the next afternoon, leaving his web behind.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Never saw a shy tulip before

HIdden away behind and beneath the blooming apple trees, back against the fence, I saw a square inch of red. I thought it must have been a piece of plastic bag, blown in during the last windstorm, so, muttering about careless people who toss plastic into the street, I pulled aside branches and squirmed behind trunks to remove it.

A pleasant surprise! Not plastic, after all!

Shy tulip

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Creeping Charlie

Weed or ground cover? Invasive lawn pest, or salad green? Kill it, or pot it?

Creeping Charlie, aka ground-ivy, run-away-robin, catsfoot, etc. Also Glechoma hederacea. Not an ivy; a mint.

When I Googled Creeping Charlie, the first screen of links were mostly to "How to kill" sites, but one, instead, had a wild beer recipe. In my mixed, half-wild lawn, it fills in the gaps where I've ripped out grass-poisoning hairy catsear, and holds back the stubborn buttercups; I'll let it be for now.

The plant creeps through the lawn, with occasional stems standing to 5 or 6 inches tall. It doesn't mind mowing.
The flowers grow in clusters of two or three near the tip of the plant.

Each pollinated flower can produced up to four seeds, which are dispersed by the stem bending over and depositing the ripe seeds in the ground adjacent to the parent plant, although ants may carry the seeds further. (Wikipedia)

A vast improvement over the catsear, which produces thousands (up to 6000 per rosette!) of wind-blown seeds that germinate quickly in the neighbour's lawn as well as mine.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Pink violet

Tiny. Wild. Old Faithful; it comes back every year, blooming in a broken pot.

Perennial early violet.

These were blooming in the lawn in Delta. I transferred one clump to a pot, and there they thrived. Over the second winter, the ice cracked the pot open; the violets hung on, even with some of their roots in the air. Three years ago, I moved the broken pot with me to Campbell River, dropping shards as we went. The pot now provides the most tenuous of support and protection; the tiny flowers still appear with the first warmth of spring.

Old Faithful!

Monday, May 07, 2018

The secret lives of stubbies

Isopods: the name means "same legs". Because their 7 pairs are all more or less the same, as compared to the hermits and crabs, whose "legs" can be anything from huge claws to rudimentary grabbers and tiny brooms.

Stubbies, Gnorimosphaeroma oregonensis, on the underside of a rock.

The stubby isopods hang out in large groups, hidden away out of the glare of sunlight. When I turned over this stone, several dozen scrambled for cover. A handful rolled up into balls and rolled away. These few opted for pretending to be part of the rock. The largest are about 1 cm long.

Isopod females carry their young internally until they are ready to join the crowd. They do not have a swimming larval stage, like crabs do. The tiniest ones in this group of stubbies are youngsters, mostly female. After they reach adulthood and raise a family, they become males, large enough to compete for smaller females.

Wosnesenski's isopod. 4 times the size of a large stubby.

Crustaceans molt. We're used to seeing the remains of a crab molt on the beach; the upper carapace, sometimes with legs and lungs still attached. Hermit crabs back out of their hardened upper body shells, dragging the eyes and legs after themselves. I find their empty exoskeletons floating near the bottom of my tank, look around, and find a new-looking, clean, and slightly larger hermit, often in a new, larger shell.

The isopods are the only crustaceans that molt in two stages; first, they squirm out of the rear section, then later, back out of the front, eyes, antennae and all.

As adults, isopods differ from other crustaceans in that moulting occurs in two stages known as "biphasic moulting". First they shed the exoskeleton from the posterior part of their body and later shed the anterior part. (Wikipedia)

Crabs and hermits and other hard-covered invertebrates mate in the brief interim between the molt and the hardening of the new exo-skeleton. Isopods mate in between the two half molts.

(It always makes sense to re-read Wikipedia articles: I often notice things I had missed on an earlier read. This time, I noticed the line about molting, then searched Google on isopod molting and found out about the mating strategy.)

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Missing the mark

Pulling into another parking space, I notice the big rocks used as a border. (So much better than yellow-painted cement!) My eyes are drawn to the bullseye lichen circles on many of them, and I take yet another photo.

Bullseye, Placopsis sp, probably Placopsis gelida.

So blatant are these, such attention hogs, that I usually forget to look at the rock surrounding them. Big mistake.

Area to the right of the bullseye.

The whole rock is infested with lichen! Some of these are obviously baby bulleyes, but what are those orange smears? And the dark blue smudges? And those dark chocolate squares?

Area to the left of the Bull's-eye.

I think those little grey pits may be another stage of bullseye. Or maybe not.

Another patch. Probably a different species of Placopsis. Surrounded by pale green lichens.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

So pink!

Another of our early spring wildflowers: red-flowering currant.

Ribes sanguineum. The Latin name means "bloody", but the colour varies from pale pink to almost red. This vibrant pink is the most common in this area.

Red-flowering currant is native to BC.This week, they're blooming in the museum woods at the end of my street, along the sides of the road in various places, and probably, unseen, in open areas along our unvisited coast.

The berries are bluish black. They are edible, but tasteless, to humans. The birds like them, though. And hummingbirds visit the flowers.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Here's looking at you, kid.

I had a visitor today.

A baby jumper!

He was tiny, so small that at first I thought he was just a crumb on the countertop. But then he turned to look at me.

"Who are you, and are you good to eat?"

Look at those eyes! In the first photo, you can see deep into their depths.

Jumping spiders have excellent vision; with those headlight eyes, they can see colour and distance, probably better than I do, although over a much more limited area. And then, there are all those other eyes, so useful! Every human parent should be asking for a few of these! There are four side-facing eyes, and a pair that looks straight backward. They don't see as well as the front pair, but they can detect motion and shadow, so that little Salty, here, saw me as soon as I moved in his direction.

Diagram of visual fields of a jumping spider. By David Hill, via Wikipedia.

Salty's side and rear-view eyes.

I found an article on Wired by Gwen Pearson, Spider Vision Made Clear, describing the movement and focusing of a jumping spider's eyes, and including this video, where the head is transparent, and the inner workings are visible. Watch:

YouTube video, By wmaddisn

The movement you’re seeing in the video is the front eye tubes and the muscles that adjust and point them. There’s a second lens at the end of the tube, and unlike the outer lens it’s flexible. Basically, jumping spiders have built themselves two little telescopes.  By adjusting the angle and shape of the inner lens, the spiders can focus and zoom in on what they are looking at. (Gwen Pearson, Wired)

Diagram of a Salticid eye, from the fabulously named paper, “‘Eight-legged cats’ and how they see”. Illustration: Fair Use; OA primary research

Salty watched my camera lens for a while; that one big, black eye! What monster was looking through it? And then he decided it wasn't going to leap or do anything but shine lights in his eyes, and it wasn't edible, anyhow, so he turned his back on it and went about his business. Watching me behind him all the time, I'm sure.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

There will be berries

Salmonberries are the first to leaf out, then the first to flower in spring. Now the sides of the highway north are lined with their cheerful greens and pink accents.

Rubus spectabilis. The one in back has already lost its petals, and will start a green berry ripening very soon.

Flower and new bud.

The birds and the bears and I will be happy to see the first red and orange berries.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Seen by the side of the road

Fawn lilies! Pink fawn lilies!

With an ant.

Erythronium revolutum

The basal leaves have an interesting pattern.

There were only five plants, in a spot that is liable to be mowed and/or walked on. I will be going back later on to collect seeds to try and establish them in my yard.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Maternity ward

Shore crabs are busy little critters. They dig holes under rocks and shells, lifting huge (for them) rocks aside in the process. They re-arrange the landscaping in my aquarium. They pester the anemones and roll the hermits out of their way. Occasionally, they go jogging.

I had taken a big male back to the beach, exiled because he was bullying everyone else in the tank. And then the female, left alone, went mad. She ran around and around the aquarium, scraping at the walls as if she were trying to find an exit. She tried to climb the walls, standing on tiptoe and reaching, reaching for the top. She never gave up. Day after day, she ran.

I found a small male at the beach and brought him home. She attacked him on sight. I realized why a couple of days later when he came up to my light at the wall and I saw his purple polka-dotted pincers. He's a purple shore crab; she's a green.

I found a green male and brought him home. She settled down immediately and went back to weight-lifting oysters and barnacled rocks; normal crab behaviour.

And then one day last week, she came to the glass to show off her new brood. She was carrying a belly-full of eggs.

"Look what I've got!" Photo taken the 24th; it took a few days to catch her in a decent light.

Showing off.

This is why female crabs have wide abdominal plates. They need to provide housing for thousands of babies. The males' abdominal plates are narrow and pointed.

The structures at the sides, the feathery pleopods, serve as anchor points and safety gates.

She grooms these babies constantly, opening and shutting her abdomen to provide a scrubbing current, picking away at them with those giant chelipeds, clearing out debris. Motherhood is hard work!

They're getting quite big already.

The female's rounded abdominal flap can carry more than 10,000 eggs at once. (Biodiversity of the Central Coast)

Yesterday, the night of the 25th, she came to the glass wall again.


And now the eggs have eyes!

Looking out at the world from the shelter of Mommy's tummy.

Zooming in ...

Tiny cuties!

This morning, Ma crab greeted me when I turned on the lights. She's slim again. The babies are gone, out swimming in the current.

I don't expect to have 10,000 crabs in the tank. Many will get lost in the filter, others will be eaten quickly. The anemones all looked quite perky this morning, after their crabby breakfast.

Maybe one or two will escape the voracious filter and the reaching anemones, hide under the sand, or on the backside of one of the seaweeds, and show up one of these days, a pinhead crab on her way to adulthood.