Wednesday, August 23, 2017


I love pearly everlastings. Every summer, I collect a fresh handful to dry for winter flowers; they last all winter, and on into the next year, as white and delicate as they were the day they were picked.

Western pearly everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea

The plant is another of the asters; the "flower" is a cluster of tiny, yellow flowers, in a showy head of papery bracts. The flowers fade, but the bracts persist until next year's crop pushes them aside.

Each flower head is about 1/4 inch across.

I made a mistake this year. I always hang the fresh plants stem up in a dry place until the yellow flowers and the leaves are dry. Last week, I was in a rush, and plopped the whole handful into a vase where a broken hollyhock stem was being cared for. Then I forgot all about it.

When I looked at them again yesterday, the sap was still running. And the stems were covered in fat, dark aphids.

Where did they come from? I'm sure there were none when I brought them home.

When host plant quality becomes poor or conditions become crowded, some aphid species produce winged offspring, "alates", that can disperse to other food sources. (Wikipedia)

Oh. So they may have flown in. Or ...

From KULeuven

(Text: "Did you know? In one season, just one aphid could produce over 600 billion descendants. During their asexual reproduction, the aphids give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. These young already contain their own young, meaning that an aphid gives not only birth to their children, but also their grandchildren.")

They were born here. And they're just getting started!

One aphid, showing off her siphunculi.

Most aphids have a pair of cornicles (or "siphunculi"), abdominal tubes through which they exude droplets of a quick-hardening defensive fluid containing triacylglycerols, called cornicle wax. (Wikipedia, again.)

These aphids are probably in the genus Uroleucon.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Fairybells in the forest

In the woods beside Woodhus Creek, the summer flowers are gone; it's berry time.

These are Hooker's fairybells, aka drops-of-gold, Prosartes hookeri.

The berries start off yellow, and ripen to red. Some BC First Nations people ate them, but most think they're poisonous. I haven't tasted them. I will, someday when I'm feeling adventurous.

The berries are finely hairy.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Woodhus Creek after a dry summer

We discovered Woodhus Creek in 2010, after a rain. When we went back in 2010, (and again last summer) the sandstone bed was mostly dry. This year, 7 years and a day later, after this hot, rainless summer, it's even drier. Crispy, in parts.

Bare sandstone, and the bottom of the fish ladder.*

That same patch of stone, Aug. 16, 2012. The edge of the fish ladder is at the far left.

Shallow streams trickle down to the river below.

Alder leaf and evergreen needles, barely floating.

Near the edges of the creek, the stone wears moss This year, it's hard and crunchy. But down in holes worn through the sandstone, a few plants find moisture and shade.

And wherever there was water, there were water striders.

Two water striders. The shadows are always bigger than the insects, and usually a distance away, depending on how deep the water is and the angle of the sun.

One water strider, possibly an Aquarius remigis, on very shallow water. It has orange spots down the sides of its abdomen.

And another. Look closely at the feet; see how the water fans out into round or long feathery shapes? The legs have thousands of hairs to grab the surface.

Last July, I found many caddisfly larvae in these waters. I looked and looked for them this time; there was nary a one to be found. Too late? Too dry? I'll look again next year.

Still, the shallow puddles, even without larvae or water striders, were interesting.

Needles and a wing of an unidentified insect, floating over bubbly algae and pond scum.

More bubbly algae.

*And a grumble: in that first photo, there are two extraneous objects. One is my bag, which I brought in and hauled out, of course. The other is a two-litre orange juice container, emptied and left on the fish ladder. I found its plastic lid down in a pool. Why, people; why? Is it too much work to cart your leavings out?

I took it, and the lid, out with me. I'll even get a few cents for recycling it.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Web and wall

At the fish ladder on Woodhus Creek, a spider takes advantage of the summer drought to build her web.

Cement, rocks, and fine silk, catching the sunlight. The spider is there in the centre, dazzling white in the afternoon sun.

So fragile, that web; I can brush it away with a finger; a frantic wasp can tear a great hole in it. And yet pound for pound, it's stronger than the rocks beneath, stronger than the heavy concrete wall.

And at the end of the day, the spider will eat it, and reprocess it for tomorrow's web.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Identify this moss

It's been hot and dry for so long; even in the shady woods, the mosses are crispy and dark. This one was struggling along on a rock beside Woodhus Creek.

Unidentified moss. The leaves are still trying to stay green, and it's making spores.

The sporangium (spore case) is barrel-like, with teeth at the mouth (the peristome), standing upright on a tall stem (the seta). And this stem is twisted into a spiral.

Zooming in.

I don't know what species of moss this is. I remember once seeing something about a moss stem twisted this way, but I don't remember where. And I haven't found it in several hundred photos on Google.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Limpet, snails, etc.

A few August aquarium critter shots: the residents who wander close to the glass, where bubbles and amphipods and bits of seaweed don't get in the way.

LImpet. The yellowish bits are limpet poop.

Limpets are built like snails; because they have retreated into a shell that opens only on one side or one end (snails), their anatomy has to be twisted away from the "normal" head to tail shape of other animals. For example, they have two kidneys, as do we. But the left one is tiny, because it just wouldn't fit otherwise. On the exposed bottom of a limpet, we see the mouth, two tentacles, with their eyes, the big foot, with the gills laid alongside. (Not visible in this photo.) And the anus is up near the head. Which could be a problem.

The anus of most molluscs and indeed many animals is located far from the head. In limpets and most gastropods, however, the evolutionary torsion which took place and allowed the gastropods to have a shell into which they could completely withdraw has caused the anus to be located near the head. Used food would quickly foul the nuchal cavity unless it was firmly compacted prior to being excreted. (Wikipedia) (My emphasis. "Nuchal" means near the neck.)

One of the tinier hermit crabs. The eelgrass is about 1/4 inch wide; half its width is visible here. So the hermit, shell and all, is about 3/8 of an inch long.

Channelled dogwinkle, Nucella canaliculata. It eats barnacles, prefers mussels. I don't bring many mussels home for them, though; they (the mussels) trap and kill my hermits.

Channelled dogwinkle finishing off a stonefull of barnacles. There is one still alive, still cheerfully trolling for supper, at the bottom right. Sometimes I feel sorry for them.

Bejewelled (or at least, be-sanded) Japanese nassa, Nasarius fraterculus. The fine sand must be stuck to the algae growing on the shell. Average sand grains beneath it: these are not stones.

Knobbly column of a pink-tipped green anemone. The neighbours are a limpet, a couple of Asian mud snails (invasive Batillaria), a hermit, and another pink and green anemone. There are 11 of these in the tank now; they keep cloning themselves.

And the chiton is still on his moon snail shell.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pacific rose

Delicate blades of red algae:

Pacific rose seaweed, Rhodymenia pacifica

This seaweed, common enough among the scraps tossed up on the shore by the tides, but usually out-competed in the intertidal zone by the sea lettuces and rockweed, is the only one that loves its home in my tank. Other seaweeds float around, sometimes for a couple of weeks, until the hermits and crabs have worn them to shreds. Eelgrass holds out a bit longer, but eventually turns black and disintegrates, leaving only the roots.

Rose seaweed grows and grows and grows. I rip out handfuls every time I clean the tank. But it's a popular hangout; the handfuls always come with a crowd of amphipods, a couple of hermit crabs, and maybe a snail or two. I have to wash them out carefully and return them to the tank.

So I always leave a small clump, usually attached to a rock. And a few days later, it's grown and taken over half the tank. I think it likes it here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

No lights, please!

Last February, among the barnacles I brought home for my intertidal snails, a small chiton was hiding. He joined the other beasties in the aquarium, and trundled about happily for some time, cleaning algae off the glass walls and the stones. Then he disappeared.

Much later, cleaning the aquarium, I found him, inside an old moon snail shell. He'd grown some, was obviously thriving.

Since then, I've seen him often, on the outside of the moon snail shell, sometimes deep inside, sometimes on the bottom. But always on the snail shell; he never explores the glass walls any more, nor the sandy floor, nor even other shells. The moon snail shell is home.

Woody chiton, Mopalia lignosa , on algae-encrusted moon snail shell, fleeing the camera.

Chitons are slow animals, as slow, almost, as limpets. (Although a limpet on a mission can trot right along.) And on the beach, the chitons don't seem to mind being partially out of the water at low tide. I thought that maybe I could get some clear photos of "Woody", and maybe get a close look at his spines with the microscope, if I took his shell out of the tank. I put him in a tray with a half-inch of water, and set up the lights and camera.

But Woody didn't approve. As I rolled the shell around to get him within reach, he kept turning, heading down, towards the bottom of the shell, under the water. There are light-sensitive spots on his plates; he saw those bright LED lights, and hated them. Every photo I took was of him hurrying away. I didn't even try to aim the microscope at him.

He never left the moon snail shell. It's his safe place.

Side view.

The small, soft spines on his girdle arise from light freckles. The girdle is quite flexible; at one point, he galloped up and over the limpet, lifting the edge of the girdle to fit.

I gave up and replaced his home in the tank. He stopped racing around; he must have been pretty tired. He's still on the moon snail shell.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Moth, brown and tan, with greenish eyes.

The teeniest moth ever:

Less than 1/4 inch long, resting on my  wall under a lamp.

So small, and yet so smart! As soon as I approached with the camera, he started to run; two shots, and he scooted down a crack and disappeared. I waited, but he never showed his face again.

I'll send his photo in to BugGuide.

And he's already identified; that was quick! A Diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella. Thanks, Steve!

Leftover Claytonias

Over two months ago, at the end of May, I went down to Comox, looking for Claytonia plants for seed, and posted a few photos here and here. There were more, but I learned that I had misidentified some of the plants, and left the rest aside until I could sort them out.

A mistake. I'm still confused, and the photos of these beautiful plants have been languishing on my hard drive. So here they are; Claytonias all, but different species.

At the base of a log. The stem leaves are in pairs, joined like a collar around the seed clusters.

On Twitter, a botanist and Claytonia lover, Tommy Stoughton, was very helpful. There are two different shapes of the stem leaves, he said: linear or spatulate (spoon-like). The basal leaves may be linear or egg-shaped (this is from E-Flora).

In different species of Claytonia, the stem leaves may be paired and fused along both margins (e.g. C. perfiolata), paired and half-fused (C. exigua), or completely separate (C. sibirica, aka Siberian miner's lettuce).

These basal leaves are egg-shaped. The stem leaves underneath the seed clusters seem to be paired, but separate.

A tiny plant, definitely identified as C. exigua. The leaves are more elongated, and separate.

The common C. perfiolata? I don't see basal leaves, but the stem leaves are round, and joined to form a cup around the seeds.

So very pink! Round stem leaves, separate. Egg-shaped basal leaves.

Now, I just have to wait until next spring to find some more, earlier so that I find flowers. And then, look more closely.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

This and that

Clearing the decks; photos I intended to post, but misfiled. Most of these are from July. In no particular order.

Alyssum in my garden. With purple innards.

Or yellow.

Sweet William. This plant has been with me for years; it keeps coming back.

Path through the salal. McIvor Lake.

Teeny-tiny spider on a ceramic chicken.

Evergreen blackberry, Rubus laciniatus. "They're red when they're green," we used to remind ourselves. Hard and acid at this stage, still edible.

Seeds of Indian consumption plant, Lomatium nudicale, in the shade, with a sunny field behind. Aka Bare-stem desert parsely. This patch is at the edge of the dry dunes at Oyster Bay.

Seeds of the same plant, when the clouds parted to allow the sun in.

Green apple on an old apple tree. Oyster Bay

Two green apples.

And last; kitten at midnight, watching a crane fly. Flash in a dark room. The kittens have gone on to their new homes now; this was Tig's last night.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Salt lovers

At Oyster Bay, water currents, over the last 5 years or so, have built up a long spit at right angles to the breakwater, gravelly on the higher portions, pure sand at the inner edge.

The new spit almost encloses the bay (to the left). At the lowest tide, it is almost possible to walk to the mainland from here.

The spit, so far, is almost barren of plant life, but at the upper end, a healthy population of pickleweed is settling in happily.

Pickleweed, aka glasswort, sea aparagus, samphire, Salicornia pacifica.

Pickleweed is a halophyte, a salt plant.

The word derives from Ancient Greek ἅλας (halas) 'salt' and φυτόν (phyton) 'plant'. (Wikipedia)

Whereas salt kills most plants, some Salicornias can't survive in fresh water. It is a land plant; it needs to be out of the water at some point during the day; but where there is no salt, whether from tidal waters or salt spray, it will not grow.

At the very end of the breakwater, the tide comes in, bathing the growing pickleweed. This whole area, rocks included, will be completely underwater at high tide.

Salt, however, is a problem in plant tissues. The concentration has to be contained within certain limits: if there is too little, if the cell juices are too watered down, in these plants that live in salt water, osmosis draws the water out into the more highly concentrated sea water. It's as if the plant were living in a desert.

But if the salt concentration in the plant tissue is too high, the normal functions of the cell are disrupted. Pickleweed deals with this by concentrating salts in the terminal segments of the stems; eventually these tips turn red and fall off, taking the salt with them.

Flowering tips of pickleweed

The plant is a succulent; it has fat, leafless stems, each with a knobby tip, sometimes pink or red, sometimes green. The flowers are found on these knobs, but are extremely small, clustered in groups of 3 in the joints. They are wind-pollinated, and will produce one seed per flower.

Zooming in, to show the pale yellow flowers.

A curious discovery: I had walked out to the end of the new spit, and was returning, hurrying to beat the incoming tide. At the spot where the spit meets the breakwater, (the third photo above) the water was already ankle deep. But the current was moving from the inner bay to the outer ocean.

In the photo above, the water comes from the open strait, but once it breaks over the spit, the direction changes; water goes down to the end, into the bay, and out into the strait again, washing the bay as it goes. With time, this may change the muddy, stinking character of the inner bay. Something to watch.