Tuesday, December 13, 2011

White Spots on Trees

Recently I've been noticing the various white spots found on the bark of trees.  Many of these spots are actually crustose lichens of one sort or another, growing within the upper bark tissue.
Many of these white, splotchy, bark dwelling lichens sport various black spots or squiggles (apothecia in various shapes).  These features can aid in identification, but ultimately it seems that a microscope is needed to make any kind of exact identification.
To make identification more difficult, there are also unlichenized fungi that look very similar growing on the bark of the trees
I suppose they aren't much to look at, but they do add a bit of contrast to the woods, especially this time of year in Minnesota.  But what I think is interesting is that they are fairly common and easily seen, but largely unknown to most of us.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mushrooms in the Snow

Winter Mushrooms - Flammulina velutipes
Flammulina velutipes, commonly known as the Winter Mushroom, aka the Velvet Foot, aka the Velvet Stem.  Winter Mushroom might seem like an apt name given the above picture, taken today with the snow.  But F. velutipes can be found during fall, winter, and spring.  Most books use the name Velvet Foot, or Velvet Stem.  They all use F. velutipes (by the way, there are two other identical species, that differ in their habitat.  In Minnesota we just have F. velutipes).

  Another cluster of F. velutipes from November.
From October.
From June?  I'm not one hundred percent positive that these are F. velutipes.  They didn't quite look right.  And all sources I've checked indicate that F. velutipes is a mushroom that grows anytime but summer. But I can't come up with anything else.  Maybe I'll find them again next June for further study.
From April, growing on the same tree as in the first picture.

By the way, the name Velvet Foot or Stem comes from the fact that the lower stem of this mushroom has a black, slightly fuzzy appearance.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spilt Cattail

I found this unusual cattail (Typha sp.) at Westwood Hills Nature Center.  There are a lot of cattails at Westwood, and I occasionally find one that has been split into two or more spikes.  I'm not sure how common this occurs, or what causes it.  I've never seen it anywhere else, but I have found a few pictures online from other locations.  I haven't found an explanation for why a cattail would grow in this way.  One opinion I came across speculated that it might have been caused by hail damage, but I don't recall any hail from midsummer when the cattail's were "flowering" (cattails are technically a flower, even though they don't resemble our typical image of a flower with colorful petal and such).  I wonder if an insect, or some other small organism feeding on the cattail flower causes the split.  I'm curious to know if you have ever observed this phenomenon, and what you think the causes might be.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Eastern Speckled Shield Lichen

Eastern Speckled Shield Lichen - Punctelia bolliana
I arrived at this identification based on the following features:
  • bluish-grey thallus
  • growing on the bark of deciduous trees 
  • rather large brown apothecia (first picture below)
  • brown to black dots (pycnidia) on the thallus surface (see second picture below)
  • white, grainy spots (pseudocyphellae) on the thallus surface (see third picture below)
  • whitish to tan underside with pale rhizines
  • K + on the cortext (I got a greenish-yellow color)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lichens on Gravestones - Orrock Cemetery

Yesterday I took a trip to Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge for some bird watching.  I wanted to take some back roads to get there to vary the scenery, and while looking on google maps I noticed that there was a cemetery named "Two Stones Cemetery" along the way.  It sort of sounded old and forgotten (don't know why), so I decided to stop along the way to see if any of the gravestones had lichens on them.

Some of the gravestones were quite old, with a few dating back to the late 1800s.  On these older gravestones I found plenty of lichens, including what I think are Sunburst Lichens (genus Xanthoria), pictured above and below.
Most of the gravestones had similar assemblages of lichens (pictured in the first three photos here), but one of an obviously different type of rock had different lichens (last three pictures).  This gravestone looked to me to be made of marble, but I don't really know much about rocks and stone.
The lichen in the photo above had a subtle greenish-yellow hue about it.  My pictures, unfortunately, didn't capture the color I saw in the field.  Could this lichen be a Golden Moonglow Lichen (Dimelaena oreina)?  I didn't do any chemical test on any of the lichens I observed or bring any home for observation under a dissecting scope; after all, they were growing on gravestones, and it didn't seem appropriate to interfere (or deface).  I mentioned the name Golden Moonglow Lichen to my six year old daughter Naomi, and showed her a picture from the book "Lichens of North America".  She really liked the name and thought the picture was pretty, but quickly said "Let's do something else other than look at lichens" or such.  Later though, she said she thought some of her kindergarten classmates would be interested in lichens.  I considerately told her probably not; after all, I want her to have friends in school . . . 
 Above, more of the same lichen.  Below, more lichens on the same gravestone.
I didn't actually end up at the Two Stone Cemetery, these pictures are from the Orrock Cemetery.  According to the Sherburne History Center, the two cemeteries are very close together.  Down the road from Orrock Cemetery I notice a little sign for another cemetery.  The sign read Gronnerud Cemetery, along with mentioning a scout troop and the Sherburne County Historical Society.  I got out of the car and followed a barely noticeable trail into the scrubby woods until I came across two gravestones.  They were from the late 1800s, but were apparently tended for with a little bench and some flowers and were fenced in with a chain link fence, the fenced in area being about 5' x 5' (though a big tree had recently fallen on the fence).  I wondered if this was the Two Stone Cemetery?  Perhaps more importantly, it made me stop and contemplate the history of the two places I had just visited, in the sense of the stories of the people buried there, and of the natural history and how the two might possibly have intertwined.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cicada Exoskeleton and Hen of the Woods

This cicada exoskeleton has been partially enveloped by the fruiting body of a Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa).  I thought it made an interesting picture, and interesting to see how some fungi just grow over and around whatever is in their way.

I'm not sure why I picked this specimen of G. frondulosa (I picked it in September), it was already quite dried up and not edible.  I suppose it was the dry fall we've had and the general lack of fungus; I needed something to satisfy my myco-curiosity.  I think in this case it paid off.

Speaking of dried fungus, curiosity and pay offs, I once tried drying some Giant Puffball slices in the oven to see if I could make "Puffball Chips" (my own uniformed idea, since I've later learned that Giant Puffballs become leathery with drying).  The odor of the puffballs drying in the oven was intense and filled the entire house quickly.  My wife, Sara, was pregnant with our second daughter Adele, and the smell made her sick.  The experiment was quickly ended and the windows were promptly opened.  Anyway, I brought this Hen of the Woods with the cicada exoskeleton home and kept it inside, but not for long; it had the same overpowering odor, and it quickly went outside until I got my camera out to take the above picture (after which it went into the compost bin).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wingless Geometrid Moths

I've made a few posts recently about a three different species of moths in the Geometridae family that I've found on a garage at Westwood Hills Nature Center.  All three are cold weather moths, and all three have females that are wingless.  The two pictures in this post are of the wingless females (presumably of two different species), also found on the same garage.  I'm not really sure which of the three species each picture is of, but I'm pretty confident they are each photos of a wingless female of one of the three species.
Earlier in the week, there were about 75 moths, between the three species, on the garage, which was the highest count this fall.  Their number rapidly declined over the week; one day this week I saw a Black-capped Chickadee flying to and from the garage, picking off resting moths and eating them.  Today there were about a dozen.

For a little more information and thoughts about these moths, visit three of my older posts: Bruce Spanworm Moth, Fall Cankerworm Moth, and Linden Looper Moth.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


More photos of a conk at Westwood Hills Nature Center I've been keeping an eye on since March.  This first photo is of the conks highest up on the tree, or more appropriately the half of a tree; it's broken off at about twenty feet up.  I need to balance on a log I move over to the tree to take pictures, shimmed underneath to provide a somewhat level surface, since they are about ten feet off the ground (I've almost toppled over on more than one occasion).  My last pictures of this conk were in June.  They are now almost completely white (new growth), and more defined in some way (take a look at the pictures taken in June).

A picture taken looking down (while balanced on my bark-shimmed log).  These conks were just little white nubs when I first started watching in March.
A picture taken from the ground up, a safer position.  I tell kids that I'm leading on various hikes that they are a troll ladder (kids usually notice them without any prompting from me)

A new conk just starting to develop.  I've looked through various field guides and websites, trying to determine the identity of these, but no luck.  Take a look at some of the older posts to see the development of these conks since March (click on labels below).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bruce Spanworm Moth

Bruce Spanworm - Operophtera bruceata

This is the third species of moth to show up on the garage at Westwood Hills Nature Center late in the fall.  It's another cold weather specialist, like the Fall Cankerworm Moth and the Linden Looper Moth, both featured in previous posts.  And like those other two species of moth, the females of the Bruce Spanworm are flightless.  Presumably the reason for flightless females is a trade off; being able to fly in cold weather for an insect takes a lot of energy and producing eggs takes a lot of energy, so something had to give, so to speak.   
The other day we did a class for 3rd grade students at Westwood that focused on adaptations and how they relate to seasonal changes.  I told the group about these cold weather moths and the flightless females.  On a hike I brought the class I was with to see the moths.  I asked them to count how many moths there were on the garage.  They were so excited!  It might seem surprising that these kids would be so enthusiastic about a bunch of little brown moths, but I think they caught on to my genuine interest, and the fact they could conduct a little "scientific" survey.  In the bigger picture, I think it's interactions like these at a young age that foster positive attitudes towards the natural world and the environment later in life.  No big messages (not yet), mostly enthusiasm and observation with a little bit of guidance.

By the way the counts were anywhere from 30 moths to 100 (total of all three species).  I think there were probably about 60 moths, the most yet this fall.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Linden Looper Moth

Linden Looper - Erannis tilliaria
Also known as the Winter Moth.  I've been seeing them here and there since some time in September.  The caterpillars are a type of inchworm (family Geometridae).  The Linden Looper is well adapted to the cold, which hasn't mattered much this fall given the warm weather.

I've found a lot of Linden Looper Mothsthis fall perched on the side of the garage at Westwood Hills Nature Center.  The males are attracted to the lights that stay on all night on the garage.  They don't seem to be doing much; I've found a number of them in the exact same spot for days; I haven't counted how many days in a row, more than three I suppose, usually by that time I can't resist the urge to poke at one to see if it's still alive.  They always are and fly away.  My question from this observation is why don't they move at all, apparently not even at night since they'll stay in the exact same spot (until I get too curious).  If they are in one spot for days, they aren't feeding or mating, the only two things that moths really do (as far as I know).

The female Linden Looper Moths are flightless, which is the case for a number of cold weather Geometrids.  I wonder why this is, and if flightless females are found in other groups of moths in other seasons.  I'm only aware of flightless females in the Geometridae (but I'm by know means a moth expert).  From an evolutionary perspective you would wonder what the advantage of this trait is, and it how might be related to the cold (there are Geometrid moths with flightless females active in the spring and fall).  I found an article that may provide some answers entitled "Evolutionary Adaptation of Contractile Performance in Muscle of Ectothermic Winter-Flying Moths" by James H. Marden in The Journal of Experimental Biology.  I'll let you know what I find out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

False Turkey Tail

False Turkey Tail - Stereum ostrea
I took a walk at Wolsfeld Woods SNA today, near Long Lake.  I had the place to myself, it being a rather chilly, windy, and rain spattered day.  The woods looked quite bare, but still appealing; the ground was carpeted with various browns from the fallen oak and maple leaves, and since most of the leaves were on the ground I had a clear view of the completely appropriate for October grey sky.  Despite the bareness and openness of the woods, I somehow felt comfortably enclosed and sheltered, with the sky and ground seeming closer together than usual.  I suppose you had to be there.

I found many logs covered with False Turkey Tails, Stereum ostrea, all bleached out in appearance due to the mostly dry weather we've been having I suppose.  I knew it could be a more colorful fungus, so I tried an experiment; I sprayed one with water, taking a picture after each spray.  The change was dramatic . . .
another spray (and waiting for the flash to recharge or whatever it does) . . .
more water . . .
one last spray . . .
It stayed this color for the ten or so more minutes that I hung around (nothing better to do than watch fungus dry).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Oak Leaves

Black Bumps on a Silver Maple Leaf

These black bumps are the dried up galls of the Maple Bladder Gall Mite, Vasates quadripedes.
 For more information about these mites, visit my previous posts, Silver Maple in June and Red Bumps on a Silver Maple Leaf - Maple Bladder Galls

Saturday, October 8, 2011

White Mushroom on a Cottonwood Log

Destructive Pholiota - Pholiota destruens
The Destructive Pholiota (a pretty dramatic name).  I found this one growing out of a cut Cottonwood log (Populus deltoides).  The cap is covered with cottony scales, soft to the touch. 
 The stalk is also covered with cottony scales, with a vague ring, above which the stalk is smooth.
The cottony scales also overhang the margins of the cap. 

It produces a cinnamon-brown spore print; you can sort of see the brownish stains of the spores on the gills in the above photo.

It's edible, but not one to seek out.  The name, Destructive Pholiota, apparently comes from the fact that it quickly decays the wood it inhabits.  It'll be interesting to watch this log and see if it indeed does seem to decay away more quickly (I'll report back in a few decades).

Smeared Dagger Caterpillar

Smartweed Caterpillar - Acronicta oblinata
Also known as the Smartweed Caterpillar.  The caterpillar is fairly variable in it's coloration, but seems to usually show the yellow blotches along its side and the reddish hairy warts (a little more clear in the second picture).  It's a member of the Noctuidae, the largest moth and butterfly family in the world.

Along with its coloration, its food preferences are also variable.  The name, Smartweed Caterpillar might lead you to think it favors Smartweeds (Polygonum spp), but it eats a wide variety of forbs, shrubs and trees.  This one was munching on Cattails (Typha).  The adult moth is pretty drab, with  variously shaded, nondescript brown markings on a whitish background.  This caterpillar was found at Westwood Hills Nature Center; next time I find a vaguely brownish moth at Westwood, I'll see check first to see if it's a Smeared Dagger.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Large Maple Spanworm Moth

Large Maple Spanworm Moth - Prochoerodes lineola
I've been photographing moths I find on walls or windows.  I've gotten some strange looks.  I suppose to a passerby, it does look strange, because they probably don't see the moth, and it looks like I'm taking a close up of just a wall or window.  Or maybe they do see the moth and they still think it's strange.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall Cankerworm Moth

Fall Cankerworm Moth - Alsophila pometaria
A small drab moth.  I didn't think I'd be able to identify it without a lot of work and randomly searching through moth pictures.  But I stumbled upon its photograph in "Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods" by Jim Sogaard while trying to identify a different moth.  When I saw the picture it made sense.  Cankerworms have been quite common at Westwood Hills Nature Center (where I found this moth and a few others) the past few springs.  Last year there were so many Cankerworm caterpillars that you would hear what sounded like rain falling in certain parts of the woods at Westwood.  The sound was all the frass (caterpillar poop) falling through the leaves.  Some trees appeared to be almost completely defoliated, but none seemed to suffer permanent damage.

The Fall Cankerworm overwinters as an egg, the caterpillar feeds in the spring, pupates, and the adult moth flies and mates in the fall, often in cold weather.  The similar (especially the caterpillar) Spring Cankerworm, Paleacrita vernata, feeds as a caterpillar in the spring, like the Fall Cankerworm, but drops to the ground and burrows, waiting until late winter to pupate.  The adult Spring Cankerworm flies in the early cold spring.  In both cases the females are flightless.