Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Cultured Fungus: Canned Mushrooms

I love visiting Asian grocery markets. Thankfully these days the Twin Cities metro area has quite a few of them, though that hasn't always been the case. At first the fascination was the opportunity to shop for, buy, and try all sorts of unfamiliar foods. These days I visit them mostly to browse the ramen aisle and to supply my kimchi habit - and to marvel at the canned mushroom selection.
Canned mushrooms. You might be expecting me to continue with a comparison of mushroom species eaten by different cultures, or maybe that I'm about to share some tasty, canned-mushroom based recipes. But no - my fascination with canned mushrooms is much more superficial - it's the labels. They are typically so unappetizing. The colors of the labels never seem to rest easily with the inevitable photograph of the mushrooms to be found in the can. And the photograph always seems a bit over exposed and a little too saturated; the mushrooms often seem to glisten in a way food isn't supposed to (though I admit my impression of how food is supposed to look is heavily influenced by a food-reality disconnect promoted by most food labeling that I'm used to in the US). I think the word "garish" sums it all up nicely.

Why are the labels of canned mushrooms in Asian grocery stores so often unappetizing? Maybe it's some sort of cultural insider joke, like ugly Christmas sweaters. Maybe I'm the only one who views them this way, it's just a personal quirk; some combination of amateur mycologist, appreciator of thoughtful and creative depictions of mushrooms in art, and general lover of Asian food.
So I intend to share a series of photographs of canned mushrooms. I've had this idea floating around in my head for awhile, but I've never had any decent photographs; this is probably because I would furtively take pictures of mushroom cans with my phone while in the grocery store, always looking over my shoulder for suspicious shopkeepers and trying to block the glare from fluorescent lights. So the last time I visited Shuang Hur Oriental Market in south Minneapolis I bought about ten cans of mushrooms of various types and brands so I could take the picture in a more controlled environment.

This first can of mushrooms happens to feature a Black-necked Stork (Grus nigiricollis) on the label, which is pretty cool. I like bird watching as much as I like mushroom hunting. I'd like to think of this mushroom can label as a good omen, maybe some kind of bioglyph indicating a future of excellent mushroom identifying and many additions to my birding life list. But I think it mostly just indicates a cupboard full of canned mushrooms.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Flies That Aren't Flies: Wasp Mantidfly

And that aren't mantids or wasps. The picture below is of Climaciella brunnea, the Wasp Mantidfly. Mantidflies are a family of insects in the order Neuroptera, which also includes the lacewings and ant lions.
The colors on a Wasp Mantidfly mimic those of paper wasps (genus Polistes). Their enlarged front legs and triangular head resemble those of mantids (order Mantodea). Like mantids, the front legs are raptorial and used for grasping insect prey.
Thanks Heidi for sharing this insect with me this summer, and the pictures!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

What a Wooly Bear Turns Into

Who doesn't like a Wooly Bears? Even if you hate insects, you'd probably make an exception for Wooly Bears. While many know that a Wooly Bear is a caterpillar, and that caterpillars are the larva of butterflies and moths, most are unclear what they eventually turn into, which is an Isabella Tiger Moth, Pyrrharctia isabella a member of the Tiger Moth family, Arctiidae.
While the Wooly Bear has a firm place amongst the charismatic micro-fauna of eastern North America, the Isabella Tiger Moth, despite its impressive name almost qualifies for the LBM category.
One reason for the Wooly Bear's popularity is its tendency to wander about during the day, which makes them easy to find. Most caterpillars stay hidden with their food plant and/ or are mostly active at night to avoid predators. Why they wander isn't really known. It could be to find a suitable hibernation place. Another explanation is they are seeking certain plants to eat. Although Wooly Bears eat a large variety of low growing plants and grasses, it is thought they seek out certain plants containing toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
P. isabella overwinters as a caterpillar. They are often active later into the fall than most other caterpillars. I found the wooly bear pictured above in mid-November. The moths are active in the early summer. The individual pictured in this post was found in late June on an otherwise mothless night.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mushroom Log - October into November

Thin-maze Flat Polypore - Daedaleopsis confragosa
Parasol Mushroom - Macrolepiota procera
Psathyrella sp.
Distinguishing features include dark. A brown spore prints, two-toned caps, and fragile stems
Unknown polypore
The texture of the cap was almost soft and velvet-like. They were growing on a fallen hardwood branch. There are number of species of Polyporus that are similar, but none seemed to quite match.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Moths in Late October Snow

I have an enduring memory of moths flying under a street light in a late October snowfall. The scene has stuck in my head for over ten years. It must have been a pretty unique day weather-wise (in other words a fairly standard weather day in Minnesota); unseasonable warmth that ended with a night time snowfall
I'm not sure what species of moth they were (this was well before my moth phase). But the following three species are adapted to colder weather, and are active in the fall:
Winter Moth - Erannis tiliaria
Fall Cankerworm Moth - Alsophila pometaria
Bruce Spanworm - Operophtera bruceata
(Don't bring me down)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Illustrated Life List: Rock Wren

Rock Wren, Salpinctes obsoletus at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Co. in Holbrook, Arizona, from last April while on a family road trip through Arizona.

I was drawing in the car, waiting for the rest of my family to finish their browsing in Jim Gray 's. I was in the car because overall I'm not a big fan of shopping. Or stores in general. I consider myself to be fairly browse challenged (though I have to admit this store was pretty cool to browse through) I'd like to say I was waiting patiently, but I'm sort of squirmy.

During my wait a Rock Wren was perched on a back hoe sort of thing, singing non-stop. Rock Wrens are known for their large repertoire of songs and this one seemed intent of showcasing its entire catalogue. While enjoying its performance, I was struck by how odd the overall scene was.

First, dominating the picture was this little bird, one of the smallest details present, perched on top of a machine much larger, more powerful, and potentially louder; but despite its ability to dominate the scene,the back hoe was just a stage for the Rock Wren's performance. The back drop was a sign advertising "Wild Bill", a 1.2 million year old fossilized alligator who hung out somewhere in the rock store. Pretty casual - but to try and imagine a time span of over a million years is impossible, it defying our senses and imagination. But even more mind boggling was the 200 + million year old petrified log laying in the parking lot next to our car. Beyond ancient, it displayed arresting colors and complex patterns that formed an abstracted visual record of the past. Yet there it was just lying in a parking lot, with me impatient over a few minutes of waiting, while listening to this bird singing, each song ephemeral and on the time scale of seconds but just as colorful and complex as my mineralized companion in the parking lot.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Mushroom Log: Late September 2015

Stinkhorn - Mutinus sp.
Chlorophyllum sp.
Compare this young, unexpanded mushroom to the Shaggy Mane below. They start out looking similar, but develop very differently. The Chlorophyllum mushroom develops into an attractive toadstool, while the Shaggy Mane dissolves into black goo.
Shaggy Mane - Coprinus comatose
Leucocoprinus cretaceus?
I found these mushrooms scattered here and there in lawns throughout my northeast Minneapolis neighborhood. Features include a whitish, scaly and often lined cap with a tan central bump. White gills that are free from the stem. White, shaggy stalk with loosely defined ring. Growth in loose clusters in the grass. After a day or so, most of the scruff had worn off leaving a very smooth, whitish mushroom with a tan cap.
I put the question mark after the name because L. cretaceus is described as growing in wood chips or garden soil, not in grass. And I only found one description of L. cretaceus, at the Mushroom Expert website. They are a few other leptiotoid mushrooms with a very similar appearance, but differ in small details.
Wine-cap Stropharia - Stropharia rugosoannulata
Fairy Ring Mushroom - Marasmius oreades

Monday, September 21, 2015

Quarry Park and Nature Preserve Macro Tour

The prime attraction at Quarry Park and Nature Preserve are the many water-filled old granite quarries, and the large grout piles. But also worth exploring are the exposed bedrock areas that hold miniature moss and lichen landscapes. And I always seem to find plants that are new to me, that have flowers scaled down to fit the macro-scenery.
Brittle Prickly Pear - Opuntia fragilis
I thought Minnesota was home to only one species of cactus. There are actually two, the second one being the Plains Prickly Pear, O. macrorhiza (which might actually be O. ) which is found only in a few spots in SW Minnesota and has special concern status in the state.
Long-leaf Bluet - Hedyotis longifolia
Most sources name this plant Houstonia longifolia. The genus name, Hedyotis is used in MN. I wonder why . . .
Blood Milkwort - Polygala sanguinea
Black Onion Fly - Tritoxa flexa
A little blurry, but it looks too cool to not include. A member of the Picture-winged Fly family, Ulidiidae. The larva are known to feed on onion bulbs and other Alliums.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Mushroom Log - Mid September 2015

Purple-gilled Laccaria - Laccaria ochrepurpea
Luecopaxillus sp.
Features of this genus include a white spore print, thick mycelium at the stalk base, and gills that separate in a distinct layer from the stem.
Cortinarius sp.
Cortinarius is probably the largest mushroom genus in the world. North America alone may have up to 500 species. A number of them feature slime, violet colors, and bulbous stems.
Russula sp.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bees vs. Wasps vs. Yellowjackets


"Ouch, a bee just stung me!" But are you sure it was a bee? More than likely it was a yellowjacket or a wasp, not a bee. You're response might be something along the lines of "Who cares, what's the difference, it stung me!"

I think the difference does matter. Although bees, wasps, and yellowjackets are related and superficially similar, their ecology is different and their propensity and "reasons" for stinging are different. And I think there is value in knowing your neighbors, even the ones with six legs, four wings, and stingers.

So first, a list of similarities.

  • They are all in the order Hymenoptera, which includes all types of bees, wasps, ants, and sawflies.
  • The insects under consideration in this post are all social insects, meaning they live in groups of predominately female workers with generally one egg laying queen.
  • They are commonly encountered by people.
  • They are known for their ability to deliver painful stings.
  • They are often yellowish and blackish.
  • The common names used for these insects (bees, wasps, yellowjackets, etc) serve mostly to confuse which insect you're actually talking about.

Note that there are many, many, many (times many) more types of bees and wasps, but they are some combination of small, solitary, not aggressive, not yellow and black, or rare and thus not encountered or noticed by most of us.

Now for some brief, very non-technical descriptions. As I researched for this post I realized that it was difficult to make clear-cut distinctions between the various insects known as "bees". I hope that I haven't over simplified anything here, but still provide clearer idea of the "bees" found in Minnesota.

Honeybee - Apies mellifera

Slightly fuzzy insects with golden yellow and brown stripes. They collect pollen and nectar from flowers, make honey, and construct hives of wax (honey comb) in cavities such as tree holes, or more commonly in hive boxes when kept by people. Hives can contain many thousands of individuals. The whole hive overwinters and resumes activity in the spring. They are not aggressive. Unless you mess with their hive too much.

In my experience, people are confused about what a honeybee actually is. They are not the bright yellow and black insects that harass you at picnics; those are yellowjackets. Unless someone keeps honeybee hives in your neighborhood you are unlikely to encounter a honeybee, they are fairly rare in the wild these days. And they are not native to North America, which surprises many people.

Bumblebees - Bombus spp.

Fuzzy insects with yellow, black, and sometimes orange markings. There are about 20 species in MN. They collect pollen and nectar from flowers, and make very, very small amounts of honey. Most species construct small nest underground and make small amounts of wax. Nests contain up to a few hundred individuals. Only queens raised at the end of the summer overwinter. These queens start new nests in the spring. They are not aggressive, but are capable of stinging (like if you try to hold one in your hand).

Honeybees and Bumblebees are both in the family Apidae. The next three groups are all in the Vespidae.

Yellowjackets - Vespula spp.

Not fuzzy, generally yellow and black. There are about 14 species in Minnesota. They hunt other arthropods to feed their larva, while the adults feed mostly on sugary foods such as over ripe fruit. The usually construct papery nests underground. Nest of some could contain a few thousand individuals. They tend to be aggressive, even when away from their nest, and especially so late in the summer and early fall. Only queens raised at the end of the summer overwinter to start new colonies in the spring.

Species of Vespula are the "bees" that most people have unpleasant encounters with. They are not bees, they are in a separate family, the Vespidae and play a very different role ecologically. I think most people if asked to form a mental image or draw a picture of a bee would produce something that very much resembles a species of Vespula. I think this point is important as most people believe it is bees that harass them at picnic, when it is likely to be yellowjackets.

Along with being called bees, yellowjackets are also known as ground bees, and as hornets. Taxonomically, North America has no native species of hornets, which are in the genus Vespa.

Aerial Yellowjackets (including Bald-faced Hornet) - Dolichovespula spp.

Not fuzzy, black with yellow or ivory markings. Probably four species in Minnesota. They hunt other arthropods and consume sugary foods. They usually construct enclosed, papery nest above ground, sometimes high up in a tree. Nests of some could contain up to a few thousand individuals. They can be aggressive, but aren't generally encountered as often as species of Vespula. Only queens raised at the end of the summer overwinter to start new colonies in the spring.

The papery, aerial nests of Dolichovespula species are often called "bee" nests or hives, which is incorrect. And note that the black and ivory insect known as a Bald-faced Hornet, D. maculata is not, taxonomically, a hornet.

Paper Wasps - Polistes spp.

Not fuzzy, some combination of yellow, brown or black and orange with a noticeably skinny "waist". I'm uncertain how many species are found in MN. They hunt other arthropods, especially caterpillars. Like the previous two wasp groups, the adults feed on sugary foods, but are much more likely to visit flowers for nectar. They build open paper nests in protected areas, with some species often on man-made structures. Nest can contain up to a few hundred individuals. They can be aggressive, mostly near their nest. Only queens raised at the end of the summer over-winter to start new colonies in the spring.

I made the chart at the top of the post to try and pictorially show similarities and differences between the five genera commonly called "bees" in Minnesota. I could have added more traits, or not included some; what got included was mostly an aesthetic choice. The main comparison I wanted to make was how the usual common names don't correspond well to actual species.

I primarily used the following sources for this post:

The BugGuide pages on the Hymenoptera

This article from the U of MN extension service "Social Wasps and Bees in the Upper Midwest

And this Identification Atlas of the Vespidae from the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification