Arthropods are invertebrates possessing an exoskeleton, a segmented body and paired jointed legs. Crustaceans make up one group of arthropods. Insects, spiders, ticks, mites, crabs, lobsters, woodlice, centipedes and millipedes are all crustaceans. Underneath a rotting log I recently discovered a crustacean resting right next to a clump of eggs. Not wanting to disturb the creature, I hazarded a guess as to its identity from what I could see. Its form narrowed it down to either a woodlouse (also known as sow bug, pill bug and roly-poly), centipede or millipede. Most centipedes have one pair of legs per body segment, eliminating them from the field of possibilities, for the photographed crustacean has two legs per body segment, as do millipedes and woodlice.
The next clue had to do with the eggs, which I presumed were produced by the creature right next to them. Woodlice have a “marsupium,” a chamber under the thorax which is filled with water in which their (often several hundred) eggs are brooded. Millipedes, on the other hand, lay from ten to three hundred eggs at a time, and deposit them on moist soil. In some species an adult remains to guard the eggs.
I cannot categorically say that today’s subject is a millipede and its eggs, but all signs point to it. If there is a crustacean expert among Naturally Curious readers, please confirm or correct my deduced identification!
For the first few days of a loon chick’s life, both of its parents are ever-present, catching and delivering small fish, crayfish and invertebrates for their one or two chicks. Their initial buoyancy and their lack of experience prevent the chicks from procuring their own food for the first month or so, although they soon learn how to chase fish. During the first couple of weeks, the parent loon, having caught a crayfish, small fish or other prey, swims right up to its young and offers the chick its next meal. The chick grasps the food while it is still in its parent’s beak. The parent lets go, and the chick attempts to swallow the crayfish (in this case). In the beginning, the chick often drops its meal. The parent then dives down to retrieve it and once again offers the same crayfish to the chick. This sequence of events can happen over and over until the chick finally manages to hold onto and shift the crayfish into a head-first position in order to swallow it. By the third week this beak-to-beak service begins to be replaced by a practice designed to teach the chick how to capture its own meals. The parents start dropping the food they’ve caught for their chick into the water in front of them, forcing the chick to dive and develop the skills necessary for survival. (The pictured loon chick is well into its second week. Close examination reveals that the chick’s “egg tooth,” used to exit the egg, is still present at the tip of its beak. By week #3 it is not evident.)
Although Great Egrets (Ardea alba) do breed sporadically as far north as Vermont, seeing one in northern New England is always noteworthy. The likelihood of a sighting increases as summer progresses, due in large part to the phenomenon of post-breeding dispersal. After young Great Egrets have fledged, individuals wander well outside their typical breeding range, as far north as southern Canada. The northward dispersal of juvenile birds peaks in August and September. (This Great Egret is about to dine on a crayfish.)