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Archive for August, 2011

Eyelash Cup Fungus

Fungi can be divided into two groups – basidiomycetes and ascomycetes.  Basidiomycetes (gilled mushrooms, coral fungus, hedgehog  mushrooms, puffballs, bird’s nest fungus) produce spores on the surface of microscopic cells called basidea.  Ascomycetes (morels, cup fungi, stinkhorns) produce their spores within microscopic sacs (asci).  The slug in this photograph is dining on an ascomycete  — eyelash cup fungus (Scutellinia scutellata), the rim of which bears many stiff, eyelash-like hairs.


American Goldfinches Fledging

American goldfinches are late nesters – it is not uncommon for them to be raising young in August, and occasionally even into September. Recently while walking through a wet meadow, I became aware of a sudden burst of activity to my right.  Unbeknownst to me, I had come quite close to an American goldfinch nest which was full of nestlings on the brink of fledging.   As I passed by, the young burst explosively from their nest.  Two fluttered to the ground and quickly sought cover, one flew a short distance into some shrubs, and one remained in the nest.  Regardless of where they sought shelter, the young will be fed and cared for by their parents for the next three weeks or so. 


AMERICAN TOADstool

Look closely at the base of this fungus for its true namesake.

                                     


Nodding Ladies’ Tresses

The downward “nodding” curve of its tubular flowers gives Nodding Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes cernua) part of its common name. ( I’m not sure where the reference to tresses, or a woman’s long  locks or braid of hair, comes from.)  The bright white flower spike of this relatively common member of the Orchid family stands out in moist meadows of green grasses.   A perennial, Nodding Ladies’ Tresses grows between 4 and 12 inches tall, and is pollinated by both long and short-tongued nectar-seeking bees. 

 


Common Gartersnakes Giving Birth

Most species of snakes lay eggs (oviparous), but some give birth to live young (viviparous), including the common gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis).  Gartersnakes are born at this time of year, and are on their own from the moment of birth.  The greatest number of gartersnakes to be born in a single litter is 98, but 14 – 40 is more typical.  The common gartersnake in the accompanying photograph is a newborn, measuring 6 inches in length.


Dead Man’s Fingers

Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha) is a fungus that can be found growing from the bases of rotting stumps, and gets its common name from the way its fruiting body pokes up through the ground like a dead man’s fingers.   “Xylaria” refers to growing  on wood and “polymorpha” means many forms.  This species has a very variable fruiting body, sometimes with many separate “fingers” and sometimes with the fingers fused into something more like a hand.


Ants Farming Aphids

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Some species of ants “farm” aphids.  Ants and aphids have a mutualistic relationship, in which each benefits from the presence of the other.  The aphids feed off of the sap of plants, which is low in nutrients.  They must therefore consume a lot of sap in order to get adequate nutrition.  As a result, the aphids excrete large quantities of waste, called honeydew, which is high in sugar content.  This is where the ants come in – they love honeydew, and have actually learned to “milk” aphids by stroking them with their antennae, which stimulates the aphids to release honeydew.  In return for this delicacy, the ants protect the aphids from predators. Chemicals on the ants’ feet tranquilize and subdue the aphids, and even inhibit their wing development, keeping them close by as a ready source of food.  Ants have also been observed tearing the wings from aphids before they can become airborne.