Sunday, September 28, 2008

In a handful of duff

It keeps raining. And raining. Except for the times I can't get out of the house.

And I had a Bioblitz assignment to do this week.

So, I improvised. I did a mini-blitz. I went out with a pair of plastic bags and filled them, one with the duff from under a nearby pine tree, the other with assorted cones dropped in the vicinity. And inside, warm and dry, and with good lighting, I examined my haul.

There were a dozen Douglas fir cones, and a few tiny cedar cones. I was surprised not to find any cones under the pine tree; last year they were plentiful. I think the squirrels have been harvesting them, because I did find quite a few individual seeds, broken off the cones.

Douglas fir.

And the duff, about two double handfuls: It looked good, brown and rich and fragrant. Just the stuff for acid-loving plants and insects looking for a warm place to winter. Sorting through it, I found:
  • pine needles and seeds - the bulk of the duff
  • dying ivy leaves
  • skeletons of deciduous leaves
  • tendrils of assorted mosses
  • broken twigs
  • tiny cedar cones
All well and good. But there were also:
  • a ball of fibers, seemingly scrapings from a plastic rope
  • strips of transparent plastic
  • a couple of chunks of styrofoam
  • shreds of treated lumber from a recent roof job.
Not so good.

A sampler of duff ingredients.

Both the bags, duff and cones, were crawling with assorted beasties, the same general mix in both.

Pillbugs were everywhere.

So were springtails.

These little guys were really hard to pin down for photographs; they would be right in front of the lens as I pressed the shutter, and by the time it had clicked, they were several inches away. I never saw them go, they bounced so quickly.

Here's the mechanism:

A long spring attachment that folds under, then releases with a snap. (This guy had been inadvertently squished; I think that's brains leaking out the top end. It's the only way he would have lain still for a photo.)

I tried to capture a springtail by floating them in water; it worked before with the little white ones. Not these; they sprung off the water just as merrily as on solid ground.


Here they are, on water, directly under my lamp. They come in all sizes; some of the tiny specks are also springtails. Note those little round critters; I'll get back to them in a minute.

Detail of the previous photo. See how the springtail's feet make deep depressions in the water surface? And yes, that is just plain water.

And here's another of those little round things:

I've seen these before; they're barely visible to the naked eye. (If you know where they are, and they're on a white background, you can see a tiny dot moving.) Under a hand microscope, they're semi-spherical, reddish-black; no features visible except for toe-tips. And they're tough; I've sandwiched them between strips of Scotch tape, and watched them crawl (slowly but steadily) through the glue and out to freedom.

I don't know what they are. I've got some more Googling and BugGuiding to do.

This one was easier:

Isn't he cute? He's on the tip of my microscope tool, about as thick as a sewing-machine needle. And below him is a snail, not much bigger than he.

The snail. I don't know what species this is; I've never seen a beehive-shaped one here before.

And another snail, a bit smaller. This one is our common grove snail, I think.

There were a few of these white springtails. They scuttle in and out of crevices, always busy, never stopping...

One last photo. I am wondering about this one.

Just another pillbug. But see, down at the bottom, that black and white strip? What is that? It almost looks like another of the western conifer seed bugs, except that there are too many sections, and it is too small.

I was surprised to find no slugs, nor centipedes. A few metres away the soil is full of them. And I think I saw one tiny earthworm, but it slid out of sight into a fir cone before I could be sure.

The other half of the Bioblitz project entails identifying the finds. My eyes are burning already.

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