Monday, June 11, 2018

Not All Who Wander...

This is what 5 a.m. looks like after I was up until midnight either cataloging specimens or listening to people walking around as my daughter and I lay in the tent.

"Not all those who wander are lost." 

That's what J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in "The Lord of the Rings".  Indeed, Strider, a Ranger, wanders Middle Earth learning much of the nature of plants and animals, as well as the nature of Man.  He who would become king prefers to observe and learn in his travels.

It is fitting that one of the first creatures I encountered at Bioblitz 2018 was a water strider.

I was working with a high school student from School One and a recently retired kindergarten teacher going through wet leaves pulled from a creek, looking for macroinvertebrates. (A stiff paint brush will help with this.)  As we searched for anything that moved, the creek's residents revealed themselves.  (The presence of certain species will indicate water cleanliness as some are more pollution-tolerant than others.)  The blackfly larva and leeches are very tolerant, but there was also  a damselfly nymph (moderately sensitive), amthopods, and a backswimmer.  Later, I would see the moth collectors find a stonefly adult, one of the most sensitive to water quality.

Stonefly adult, female
Damselfly nymph
Black fly larva


Red larva...?

Where were we?  Camp Fuller in Point Judith Salt Pond in South Kingston.  Bioblitz is in a different location each year.  (Last year it was at Snake Den in Johnston, RI.)  For 24 hours, volunteers collect and identify species to assess biodiversity.  

With mammals, they are caught and released.  A chipmunk and a mouse with a two-toned tail were found.  Last year, a fox carcass turned up.  You never know what you may find, and you will not find everything.

Burying beetle

Many a fish and frog are returned, after menhaden get their water oxygenated in the salt tank and bullfrog tadpoles and catfish swim around in the fresh tank.  Volunteers use high-tech or university-discarded microscopes, dishwashing bins and buckets, experience and experiments, and field guides galore.  (One year, I used a Chromebook box and corrugated cardboard to mount my bees.)

Menhaden, food for many in the food chain, including right whales.


 Talenti pints seem to be the container of choice, but I prefer deli salad containers.

What is the point of all this collecting and identifying?  If we don't know it's there, how can we protect it?  Several volunteers collected fungus from the area, the experts mentoring the inexperienced.  It's a great way to learn (and to network if you have resources to offer).

Aquatic plants, of which I know little.

Often, categories overlap.  Here's a wood cockroach in a rotting log, but what else is eating it?

Wood louse/sow bug.

Looking under logs outside: Ground beetle and earthworm.

Leaves show evidence of insect or fungal activity or even viruses or bacteria. 

Maple Eyespot Gall, caused by midge.

Spindle gall caused by mites.

I "may" have a collection of galls at home...

To my great pleasure, Neuroptera (aka "nervewing", aka "lacewing", aka "fairy")!

Crane fly.  (Eats mosquitoes!)

Bees collected by Aya last year.

Below is a bumblebee with SERIOUS pollen baskets.  These recesses in their back legs have hairs that can hold pollen for travel.  Being generally hairy, all the hairs are good for getting pollen.  But by grooming herself, the pollen is kept neatly on the tibia of her back legs.  She uses a notch in her front legs with hairs that act as combs for grooming the pollen down to her back legs.   Other bees have scopa to carry pollen, but on the bumblebee or honeybee, it's called a corbicula.  This is very efficient as female bees must visit hundreds of flowers to collect enough pollen (and nectar to stick it together) to leave their young when they lay their eggs.  

Bombus griseocollis female.

Bombus griseocollis, possibly male (no pollen, longer antenna).

I let most of my collection go, but those too tiny to identify without the dissecting microscope I added a little nail polish remover (acetone) to the container to make them still.

Agapostemon (Sweat bee)

Nomad (Cuckoo) bee


I also identified Bombus impatiens, Bombus sandersoni (worker), Bombus vagans (queen), Andrena forbesii (male), Ceratina calcarata, Lasioglossum, and Xylocopa (Carpenter bee). 

Andrena forbesii, male

Ceratina calcarata or blue Lasioglossum?


I am always facinated by the beauty of the moths.  I do not know many of them, so just enjoy the pictures:

And then there was the spider with babies...

Trochosa (Wolf Spider)

We watched the eggs hatch on the dissecting microscope.  They were tiny and transparent.

After getting buggie-eyed (no pun intended) looking through field guides and microscopes, I grabbed my camera to see what else I might find.

Chipmunks and robins were everywhere.  I also saw a red-winged blackbird, a yellow warbler, and a hummingbird.  Then, talking to a woman about birds, I saw an orb weaver chasing a crane fly.  It had already mummified a caterpillar...

My 11 year old daughter accompanied me and spent most of the 24 hours either sleeping or drawing.  The art table was full of drawing materials and specimens.   The theme for this year was the fiddler crab, and we both struggled to draw a living specimen that did not stand still.  I looked for shapes and textures.  She looked for colors among the paints.  We both watched it scoop water from the container and bring it to its mouth.  We saw behaviors.  We saw life.

My daughter's painting, age 11.

Pen and ink, trying to capture that tiny front claw.

As we were leaving, my daughter grabbed me to show me something above the door: Three paper wasp nests!  This one was the largest.  They were just doing what they do: Building and laying eggs.

So I wandered, not lost, while my daughter found herself at the art table.  What will we discover next?