Science

Sunday, February 26, 2017

HumBug: Beacon Islands on a Dreary Day

Posted By on Sun, Feb 26, 2017 at 3:00 PM

A tiny fly using its long mouth parts to gather nectar from a pussy willow. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A tiny fly using its long mouth parts to gather nectar from a pussy willow.
It was sunny when I went to get my hiking boots but by the time I got dressed and out the door, it was 49 degrees and drizzling. I went anyway. The path down to the river was dark, the only sounds were the gentle “pok, pok” of water dripping from branches. The burning in my fingertips told me it was too cold for insects to be servicing the barely open Indian plum flowers. Down on the flood scrubbed river bar were scant traces of life.
A bumblebee on a pussy willow branch. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A bumblebee on a pussy willow branch.

Near the end of the trail, out in the open, something buzzed furiously around me three or four times then headed off. From the quick glimpse I got I knew it was a bumblebee. It headed for a big pussy-willow about 50 meters upstream. Against the subdued damp earth tones of the river bank, dark overcast sky and somber evergreens, the yellow green of their catkins stood in sharp contrast, beckoning nectar and pollen feeders.

A teensy wasp gets in on the pollinating. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A teensy wasp gets in on the pollinating.

It was busy despite the cold. Insects were there in numbers. I started taking pictures and realized except for a couple of tiny bees they were all flies of one sort or another. Members of the order Diptera they are unique among the orders of insects in having only two wings instead of four. In my opinion it is the most diverse order. They fill the same niches as most of the other orders from parasites and hunters to, in this case, nectar feeders, which provide pollination services to a great many flowering plants. My college entomology professor did his thesis on pollinators of the wildflower Clarkia. To everyone's surprise, the majority of insects to visit the flowers he monitored were various species of flies. It may be true for willows as well.

A black fly pollinating on the same plant. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A black fly pollinating on the same plant.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monday, February 20, 2017

HumBug: Season's Greetings

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2017 at 7:26 PM

Ferelia februalis. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Ferelia februalis.

Undaunted by the rain, I was out barbecuing a chicken a few nights ago when, attracted by my porch light, a moth buzzed me. I kept working but noted where it came to rest. Of course I had to investigate, and when I did I noted it was decorated with a lacy black pattern on a pale green background.

A little research in a book I got for Christmas Moths of Western North America led to identifying it as Feralia februalis. No common name is listed. I think I'll call it the February moth.
An odd hover fly on a milkmaid flower. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • An odd hover fly on a milkmaid flower.

I've noted some wildflowers along the roadsides — milkmaids (Cardamine californica) are coming on strong now and with them the insects they attract, including an oddly shaped hover fly. I guess I'm going to have to put that book on identifying flies on my wishlist. Investigating one patch of flowers I found another mystery. I've seen these possible spider holes around for years, but never seen what's making them. I poured a pint of water down one but ran out before anyone made an appearance. Guess I need a bigger bottle.
A mystery among the milkmaids. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A mystery among the milkmaids.
Another less conspicuous but no less striking wildflower out now sports a less charming name: fetid adder's tongue (Scoliopus). All of which signal that, despite our recent weather, there is hope: Spring is on the way.
Fetid adder's tongue, aka brownies. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Fetid adder's tongue, aka brownies.


  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , ,

Sunday, February 12, 2017

HumBug: Winter Pygmies

Posted By on Sun, Feb 12, 2017 at 3:00 PM

A 1/2-inch grouse locust on my garage door. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A 1/2-inch grouse locust on my garage door.

Today, on the front garage door was the tiniest grasshopper you are ever likely to see, its body measuring about ½ inch long. Its general body shape, short antennae, and large hind legs, were unmistakably those of a grasshopper (sub order Caelifera). Its size, coloration and the fact that it was out in the middle of winter told me it was a member of the Tetrigidae family or grouse locusts also known as pygmy grasshoppers. Both regular grasshoppers and their pygmy cousins are members of the order Orthoptera, which also includes crickets, camel crickets, Jerusalem crickets and katydids (all of which have long antennae).

A 1-inch shield backed katydid. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A 1-inch shield backed katydid.
Unlike most other grasshopper families, adults of this group are known to survive through winter. During the summer I've seen many of these tiny hoppers along river bars, where they feed on algae on rocks. With the river swollen from recent rains, I guess they've headed for higher ground. This is the third one I've seen lately at my house which is about half a mile from the nearest river.
An immature katydid (about  3/4 inch long) eating one of my roses. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • An immature katydid (about 3/4 inch long) eating one of my roses.

Once I get my fly tying paraphernalia back together I may try to imitate these. Since they live so near the water, the fish may well see them as a tasty and familiar morsel.



  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , ,

Sunday, February 5, 2017

HumBug: An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

Posted By on Sun, Feb 5, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Striped willow beetle, about 1/4 inch long. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Striped willow beetle, about 1/4 inch long.

The great geneticist and evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane once said, “The creator, if he exists, has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles.” It is believed there are more species of beetles than any other order of animals on the planet. They fill so many niches in the environment it is no surprise to happen across one in an unexpected place.
Predacious diving beetle about 3/4 inch long. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Predacious diving beetle about 3/4 inch long.

I recently stopped to chat with a friend near a puddle; it was an inch or so deep and as large as the shadow under a pickup truck. I was distracted from our conversation by strange ripples on the water's surface. When I looked I found a predacious diving beetle. Adapted to an aquatic life, they have paddle-shaped hind legs and often hang head-down with just the tip of their abdomens touching the surface to replenish the air supply they keep trapped under their wings. (And we thought we invented scuba diving.)

These beetles are good fliers, allowing them to escape a drying pool but having only a bug's brain, they often land on shiny, dark cars.
A western tiger beetle standing tall. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A western tiger beetle standing tall.
Beetles fill so many different roles in nature it is impossible to catalog them all and entire books are devoted to this one order. Two excellent volumes from my collection of entomological books devoted to just this one order are Field Guide to the Beetles of California and Peterson Field Guide to the Beetles.
Like Cruella DeVille: "You come to realize you've seen her kind of eyes watchin' you from underneath a rock!"  A pretty common ground beetle hereabouts. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Like Cruella DeVille: "You come to realize you've seen her kind of eyes watchin' you from underneath a rock!" A pretty common ground beetle hereabouts.


  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , ,

Sunday, January 22, 2017

HumBug: All Aglow

Posted By on Sun, Jan 22, 2017 at 3:00 PM

A florescent millipede of the Mytoxia genus needs no black light to glow. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A florescent millipede of the Mytoxia genus needs no black light to glow.
The other day I received my new ultraviolet (black light) 51 LED flashlight from Amazon.com ($9.99). A significant upgrade from my old one. I discovered that some millipedes glow brilliantly under UV. Outside in the dark it's like a different dimension in a sci-fi story — the trees are in the same places but everything else changes. Wherever the rhizomes of the Redwood Sorrel break the surface the black light makes them glow mightily in the yellow green part of the spectrum, while their leaves light up a dim, dark red.

Spots where animals have urinated glow a diffuse yellow, bird droppings light up and here and there some (but not all) mushrooms fluoresce in various colors.

A modest mushroom under white light. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A modest mushroom under white light.

The same fungus, but more fun. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • The same fungus, but more fun.

The real stars of the show are the millipedes. While some light up brilliantly throughout their entire body, the cyanide millipede (Harpaphe haydeniana) appears as a twin chain of moving dots.

The cyanide millipede under black light. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • The cyanide millipede under black light.
The cyanide millipede by day. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • The cyanide millipede by day.
It gets its common name from emitting hydrogen cyanide when it is disturbed. A bit of research on millipedes (class Diplopoda) led me to the High Sierra genus Motyxia, whose members glow even without the need for a black light. There is an interesting article with a cool video clip of them on www.nationalgeographic.com.  
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , ,

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Return of the California Condor

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 11:01 AM

Yurok Wildlife Program biologist Tiana Williams releases a condor in Big Sur. - COURTESY OF THE YUROK TRIBE
  • Courtesy of the Yurok Tribe
  • Yurok Wildlife Program biologist Tiana Williams releases a condor in Big Sur.
The Yurok Tribe led a major effort to restore a bird that hasn’t been seen on the North Coast for over a century. The Tribe teamed up with a number of agencies, including PG&E, The National Park Service, U.S. Wildlife and Fisheries and the National Park Foundation to restore the California condor population.

“The condor has played a major part in Yurok ceremonies and culture since time immemorial,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., chairman of the Yurok Tribe, in a press release. “It is through collaborative projects like this that we will bring balance back to our natural world.”

The condors will be released into the Yurok ancestral territory located in Redwood National Park. “The park staff at Redwood National and State Parks is excited to work alongside the Yurok Tribe and our park neighbors to eventually return the iconic California condor to its historic range along the North Coast,” said Steven Prokop, Redwood National Park superintendent, in a press release.

The National Park Service is seeking public comments on Jan. 24, at the Wharfinger building, in Eureka. This public meeting will be one of five held in order to listen to public comment on the restoration project.


Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, January 15, 2017

HumBug: No Bugs Today

Posted By on Sun, Jan 15, 2017 at 3:00 PM

A red headed sapsucker inspecting a pepperwood for bugs in my yard. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A red headed sapsucker inspecting a pepperwood for bugs in my yard.

Last week, for the first time in several hundred excursions along the Van Duzen River spanning over 20 years, I saw no bugs. Only the sad remnants of a few abandoned spider webs and a bit of residual leaf damage testified to their existence. Despite a lifetime of experience at picking out tiny critters and a bit of effort, the cold and rainy weather had pushed them all into dormancy and hiding.
A robin taking a worm in my front yard. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A robin taking a worm in my front yard.
There were however, a great many birds looking for bugs as if their lives depended on it. That's because they do. Insects, spiders and other creepy crawlers are the basic food group for many birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians.
A bluegill (photographed this summer) feeds mostly on aquatic insects. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A bluegill (photographed this summer) feeds mostly on aquatic insects.
Because they are a place in the biosphere where proteins and other essential nutrients are concentrated, species like swallows and bats are adapted to be strictly insectivorous and many more take supplemental bugs as a part of a balanced diet. Hummingbirds take small flying insects and collect spider silk to line their nests.
An adult swallow going out for another order of regurgitated bug for the kids. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • An adult swallow going out for another order of regurgitated bug for the kids.
No matter the weather I always see something marvelous in the woods.


  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , ,

Sunday, January 8, 2017

HumBug: Great Beginnings

Posted By on Sun, Jan 8, 2017 at 5:13 PM

Side view of the blister beetle. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Side view of the blister beetle.

A great way to start the New Year! Astronomically, meterologically and biologically, winter solstice marks the end/beginning of our annual cycle. My year is starting off most auspiciously. About 1 a.m. on December 21st I counted eight glow work rms in the little grove, a record for the year.
Variegated Meadowhawk on a rock. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Variegated Meadowhawk on a rock.
The day started sunny and bright so I took a walk along the Van Duzen River and counted a dozen variegated meadowhawks, the little dragonflies I have reported overwintering every year for the last five in my area. This was unheard of before I started reporting it, so I guess it's my claim to fame, and this is a record number for me sighting them in this area.
Variegated Meadowhawk on alder leaf. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Variegated Meadowhawk on alder leaf.
A couple of large Caddisfly larvae were making tracks in the mud along the river margin.
Caddisfly larva making tracks. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Caddisfly larva making tracks.
Caddisfly larva dragging its cylindrical "house" with it.  Kind of like a hermit crab. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Caddisfly larva dragging its cylindrical "house" with it. Kind of like a hermit crab.

Finally, getting ready to go to a Solstice Party I noted a large black beetle on the garage floor. I have seen one of these in the same place every year for as long as I can remember. I have no idea why. I knew it was an “oil beetle” of the genus Meloe, family Meloidae, or blister beetles. So I took extra care collecting it to photograph later. Like their infamous relation the Spanish fly, their bodies contain the blistering agent cantharidin and can be seriously toxic to cattle who ingest them. This species has tiny useless wings which do not cover it's distended looking abdomen. Its larvae have a sort of parasitic relationship with bees.
Blister beetle on a centimeter/millimeter grid. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Blister beetle on a centimeter/millimeter grid.
So hooray, the omens are good, we can look forward to to seeing interesting insects in record numbers in 2017! Don't everybody cheer at once.


  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , ,

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Return of the Great Gray Owl

Posted By on Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 1:43 PM

The rare great gray owl returns for the second year in a row. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • The rare great gray owl returns for the second year in a row.

Prior to last winter, it had been 30 years since the last sighting of a great gray owl locally (both times in Redwood National Park). And now we have another one here to make it two winters in a row. Seeing the owl was quite a gift in between continual snow/rain showers on Monday, Jan. 2 near Alder Grove Road in Arcata.
On a fence on private property in Arcata. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • On a fence on private property in Arcata.
Members of a family living nearby said the owl appeared in their back yard just after Christmas, feeding on voles and gophers on their property. They reported their grade-school age son has been collecting video and photos and and intends to do a project about the owl for an upcoming science fair.
The great gray owl is the longest owl in the world. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • The great gray owl is the longest owl in the world.
Owl-watching advice for this location: Unlike the easy access and parking availability in Redwood National Park, this is all private property on both sides of the narrow road with limited parking. This owl appeared more sensitive to the presence of humans and noise than the one in the park last year. Get more advice from local bird-watching experts here.
This is only the fifth recorded sighting of a great gray in our area. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • This is only the fifth recorded sighting of a great gray in our area.
I watched the great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) move frequently from perches on nearby fences and on tree branches, listening for distant voles to reveal themselves. The world's largest owl (by length), it has remarkable hearing partly due to it having the largest facial disc of any raptor. Also called Phantom of the North, cinereous owl, spectral owl, Lapland owl, spruce owl, bearded owl and sooty owl, this is only the fifth sighting on record locally. Fewer than 100 are found in the Sierra Nevada (the southernmost population of the species' range) and they are listed Endangered under California's Endangered Species Act.
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , ,

Sunday, December 25, 2016

HumBug: Don't Lick the Newts

Posted By on Sun, Dec 25, 2016 at 3:30 PM

Our poisonous friend under water; you can see the roughness of the skin on its back. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Our poisonous friend under water; you can see the roughness of the skin on its back.
Sometimes when I'm out looking for insects to photograph, I see other things. Imagine a creature sporting a neurotoxin hundreds of times more deadly than cyanide in sufficient quantities to kill a full grown man. And it's common in our area.

The Rough Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) sports the same toxin that makes the pufferfish and harlequin poison-dart frogs so deadly, tetrodotoxin. I wasn't at all familiar with this species until I had the pleasure of seeing several in a slackwater portion of the Van Duzen River periodically surface, breathe and almost disappear among the dead leaves lining the riverbed.
Newt surfacing to breathe. (There are two in this photo: one in the lower right just hangin' out on the bottom.) - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Newt surfacing to breathe. (There are two in this photo: one in the lower right just hangin' out on the bottom.)
According to the Seattle Times, a 29-year-old man in Oregon swallowed one on a dare and died within hours. The toxin interferes with the transmission of nerve impulses, causing progressive numbness, paralysis and eventually cardio pulmonary failure. There is no known antidote. Fortunately, the toxin does not transmit through skin, which is why children have played with them with no ill effect. It is totally a defensive weapon.
The newts have two known natural enemies: the common garter snake and other larger rough skinned newts, both of which have a limited tolerance for the poison.
Just swimming along, all deadly and stuff. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Just swimming along, all deadly and stuff.
So, if you're out and about and see a dark-backed, orange-bellied salamander, keep your pets and kids away from it — all in all it's probably best for everyone to just let it go its own way.



  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , ,

Recent Comments

socialize

Facebook | Twitter

© 2017 The North Coast Journal

Website powered by Foundation

humboldt