Monday, March 3, 2014

habitat ~ 03/03/14 ~ Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve

Fellow blogger Ken @ Nature of a Man and I met up at Purisima Creek to look for salamanders and whatever else we could find.  He's very familiar with the preserve and all its contents since it's closer to where he lives. Even though it's an easy 2 hour drive north along Hwy 1 for me, I had never been before.  We watched the weather pretty closely to maximize our sightings potential, but then we ended up deciding it didn't always have to be newt parades and ladybug parties, like last month.  The redwoods here are gorgeously dark and cool.  That lush flush of bright green soothes my parched soul.  I loved tromping all over, including in the creek.  As with rain, you try to stay dry, but once you slip and get wet, then it's a free for all.  I definitely want to return with Andy sometime.  Thank you, Ken, for sharing one of your favorite perennial creeks with me!  The specific IDs will be forthcoming. 

CA slender salamander ~ 03/03/14 ~ Purisima Creek

Cutie.  This is a fairly small salamander, thinner than the width of a pencil.  It looks pretty much like the Santa Lucia Mountains slender salamander (B. luciae) that I found April 29, 2012 as I was digging around at home.  Well, okay, this one is not covered in dirt and has a longer tail.  Field markings are almost no help for several look-alikes, because they appear to have just as much variation within as between spp.  Thanks to the expert ID I received from Gary Nafis @ California Herps and John Sullivan @ Wild Herps for my B. luciae, I understand the currently acceptable way to distinguish slender salamanders is to pinpoint location found.  Here's a map of Batrachoseps spp. distribution.  It doesn't seem very intuitive, but whatever, I'll go with it.  I kinda wish I had retaken molecular genetics back when I transferred to a larger (read: better funded) university, because I might have appreciated what the PCR craze is all about.  As it is, the statistical models, like Tajima’s D and Fu’s Fs, sound like rap names to me.  Eh, I guess I'm getting old and staid.

rough-skinned newt ~ 03/03/14 ~ Purisima Creek


Often, I have to see something in person to really "get it".  Ken @ Nature of a Man showed me these very clearly defined rough-skinned newts.  Their dark color is distinctive, especially with a sharp, solid color divide, under the eye area, extending around the upper lip.  I found the color in my newt pictures can be wholly misleading from what I remember, depending on lighting conditions, and/or if a camera flash is used, and/or what the predominant surrounding color is, like these redwood needles here.  They look much darker in real life than my pictures indicate.

OK.  Love, love the toes.  Four in front, five in back and all dipped in yellow around the purlicue.  I find myself silently squealing like an 80's Valley Girl, "Like, oh my god!  Awesome!"

Yeah, but... I still don't get the eye margin and lower eyelid diagnostics when compared to CA newts (T. torosa).  We've noted quite a bit of gradation of characteristics among individual newts, especially at Stevens Creek where we saw so many.  It seems like T. granulosa and T. torosa intergrade, but I'm not sure that's known for a fact.  I believe Ken is gathering observational evidence.

I dunno, everyone sees things a little differently.  A friend once claimed that different cultures see colors very differently, and I suspect he was right.  I didn't necessarily agree with his claim of cultural basis, although that could very well be true.  I figure different groups of people would have natural genetic differences in how their eyes physically process information.  It's like how I, an Asian, can squat very low, and my husband, a Scandanavian, can barely cross his legs.  Same difference.

regenerating newt tail

It's crazy cool how newts can regrow body parts.  Remember for a while there, I had considered going back to school to study salamanders?  After talking it over with numerous people, I have decided it's not the best idea for me.  First, I didn't have any pressing questions about them.  What would I research?  I already know I don't like working on someone else's passion project, particularly when they die on me and leave me with a mess of handwritten scraps.  I want to follow my own questions and paths.  Plus, if I were honest, I truly only wanted to raise newts and salamanders 'cause they're cute, but under the guise of "in the name of science" (hey, it happens).  To do this, I'd have to handle them a lot.  Guess what?  They're toxic, very much so, producing tetrodotoxin (TTX), "the most poisonous nonprotein substance known to scientists."  Yeah, sure, you can be careful washing hands and such, but can you be sure to be careful all the time?  Ever since my first collegiate research project involving the unusual mating ritual of an x-large, yet incredibly beautiful, tropical mosquito (Limatus durhamii), I knew fairly quickly from first-hand experience (i.e., many itchy, sleepless nights with arms swollen from a colony's worth of female mosquito bites) that I did not want to study anything that sucks blood, bites, stings, poisons, or kills.  Seriously.  Then, there's another conundrum surrounding all herps, the dratted pet trade.  I don't know if it is "dratted" and bad, but it's what I've heard.  So that leads to a lot of secrecy, loads, so secret the CIA... uh, nevermind.

dog lichen ~ 03/03/14 ~ Purisima Creek

Peltigera sp.

Finding any lichen ID matches online is a challenge, even with a public-friendly common name such as dog lichen.  Apparently, there are some dog lichens that are considered pests on lawns.  Who knew?  I didn't find an exact match for this lettuce-leafy specimen with chalky white back and blistery reddish-orange nodules scattered across the top surface (yes, my own descriptive words).  I also have pictures (sorry, not posted) of this same-looking dog lichen from Stevens Creek on February 10, 2014, which makes me think it must be fairly common in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  I'm guessing many ID'd photos online may be incorrect to sp.  However, I did find a couple decent dog lichen photo series on Stephen Sharnoff's Lichens Index 9 and Andrew Khitsun's Lichens of Wisconsin (for both sites, do a find for "peltigera" to quickly get to spot on page).  I've added their home pages to my online ID resources under fungi, lichens, and slime molds. 

CA giant salamander ~ 03/03/14 ~ Purisima Creek

Dicamptodontidae (formerly Ambystomatidae)
If I had grown up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, you probably would not have been able to get me out of the creek.  As it was, my mother would express disgust at how muddy I got when playing in our irrigation ditch looking for crawdads and toads.  Hey, I'm thrilled to learn of the CA giant salamander.  For better pictures of this individual, check out randomtruth's flickr here and here.  This larvae is good sized and very comparable to the size of most adult newts that I've found.  They can be quite quick in the creek (say that fast 3 times).  Ken told me he had one bark at him.  Although, to me this recording from CA Herps sounds more like a fart than anything fearsome.  Read all about Ken's first-hand encounters with full-on beasties at Nature of a Man.  They're not named "giant" for nothing. Lastly, as a comparison, Blue Jay Barrens has a recent post of a fatty salamander in his Ohio backyard.

unidentified white slime mold ~ 03/03/14 ~ Purisima Creek

plasmodium of an unidentified white slime mold

Cool, eh?  Can you ID?  Much like Hermione in Goblet of Fire, I feel like the library, er, internet, has finally failed me.  Just as well, considering I never even knew moving (yes, moving!!!) amoeba-like slime molds (mold being a misnomer) existed until I posted a yellow-colored many-headed slime (Physarum polycephalum) over 3 years ago.  I haven't been able to tack down an ID on this small white beauty.  Oh, I found plenty of other slime molds, which all seem to be peculiarly named like tapioca slime (Brefeldia maxima), chocolate tube slime (Stemonitis splendens), pretzel slime (Hemitrichia serpula), and dog vomit slime (Fuligo septica).  Lovely.  It doesn't help with ID that slimes change quite a bit as they age, as Stevie Smith captured so well over the course of 60 hours.  I found his pictures through this Flickr Hive Mind that has some beautiful pictures (Is "hive mind" supposed to be like a shared BBC's Sherlock "mind palace"?).  Interesting to note, this slime completely avoided the redwood cones, and yet it seemed to like the needles.  Do the cones taste bad?  Or had they only recently fallen?  I wished I had remembered to go back and check how this one progressed after a couple hours.  How quickly do slime molds move in real time?

stream violet ~ 03/03/14 ~ Purisima Creek



If Ken hadn't pointed out the subtle differences in leaf shape, I would not have known there were 2 different violet spp. here.  I often make the mistake of assuming look-alikes in the same location are, in fact, the same.  Nope.  I believe I got the above sorted correctly with the stream violet having the pointier leaf shape and the redwood violet being more rounded.  Right, Ken?  I find it interesting how the leaves handle water.  Those droplets on the leaf margins are intriguing.

ps 03/10/14 - Per my comments below, I wonder if the "pointy" lower petal of the stream violet, similarly shaped to the leaves, can be considered diagnostic.  Ken has a stunning redwood violet photo in bloom.

mayfly ~ 03/03/14 ~ Purisima Creek

I first spotted a bright yellow blob flying above my head through a clearing in the forest.  I tried to capture it with my hands, but my best reach with hiking boots is only 6'5".  Fortunately, Ken is quite a bit taller and was fast on his feet.  He gently used his hat as a makeshift net so that I could get a picture.  He wants to know what kind of mayfly it is, but I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint.  

The thing with mayflies is that each species has a unique wing vein pattern.  I was hoping this one would be common enough to be represented online.  Nope.  The closest match I could find was an illustration done by Professor N.J. Kluge out of Saint Petersburg State University.  I've sent him an e-mail query with hopes he may be able to ID this ephemeral beauty.  We'll see if he responds.

I gotta say, this was one of the most entertaining IDs I've researched in a while.  Looking through online images, I found a lot of incredibly realistic mayfly ties and lots of people big and small proudly hugging large fish.  Haha.  In fact, the best online key I found for mayflies in North America is made by The Fisher Monk.  It works better if you have a specimen in hand.  His links don't work so well, but scrolling down shows some very useful illustrations.  It takes a bit of talent and practice to accurately draw wing venation, even with the use of modified scope projectors.  Back in the days before macro digital photography, I was an honorary adjunct professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art (the other CIA) for their Medical Illustration Program.  I gave 2 classes a year, line and form in the fall and color in the spring, using insects from the museum's collections.  The methods for illustration have changed quite a bit since then, including the use of scanners, like what The Dragonfly Woman does.

Lastly, while searching for information, I came across a couple impressive sites:
2012 Mayfly Emergence @ Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory on Flickr 

ps 03/10/14 - I heard back from N. Kluge.  He believes "this female imago belongs to the taxon Epeorus/fg2; possibly to Irondes".  I added links in the updated ID above.  This "Meet the Mountain Mayflies" article by Rick Hafele says Irondes is its own genus, but Mayfly Central @ Purdue Unviersity does not include it.  There's quite a bit of fly fishing information, and the Epeorus nymphs are called yellow quills for good reason.  I'll have to remember that fishermen call the subimago a dun and the imago a spinner.  Thank you, Dr. Kluge, for your ID help!