Friday, May 2, 2014

goosefoot violet seeds ~ 05/02/14 ~ Chews Ridge

goosefoot violet seeds and seed capsule
Viola purpurea ssp. quercetorum seeds and seed capsule

Chris Tenney has kindly been my local butterfly mentor as I seriously pursue butterflies again.  This week he wanted to introduce me to a couple of butterfly researchers out of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA.  He's been helping them study the unsilvered fritillary (Speyeria adiaste). Sure!  I'm just following the path laid out at my feet here, and don't think I haven't considered graduate school.  However, I have my own questions I'd like to pursue, not someone else's.  If a professor out there wants to sponsor me while I do my thing, then all the better.  Eh-hem...

Dr. Ryan Hill and his soon-to-defend Master's student Khuram Zaman met us in the middle of nowhere.  They pulled up in Khuram's flashy black BMW sedan with vanity plates.  Haha!  I had to laugh, because only in CA would serious field researchers drive a fancy-schmancy car.  The reason for their 3-hour drive down was to collect goosefoot violet plants and seeds, and census the violet population.  You see, before you can raise butterflies, you first have to raise and propagate their natural host plant.  It sounds easier than it really is.

Before my mentor Sonja died, she was figuring out how to reintroduce the extirpated regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) to Ohio.  She used a grant to purchase a large incubator with timers, lights, and heat.  It looked like a fridge, but was the exact opposite.  She had me practice rearing leps in the incubator, first with cabbage butterflies.  It ended horribly when we ran out of cabbage from her garden, bought some from Whole Foods, washed it twice in huge tubs knowing there'd be Btk residue, and it still killed all my stock.  I cried, because all my babies died and it was a month's worth of work down the drain.  Remember, organic does not mean pesticide free.  In any case, she didn't get very far with the regals, because she couldn't find a violet she could successfully grow and that they'd eat.  So, I totally feel for Dr. Hill's predicament.  

If anyone has a source for native Viola purpurea ssp. quercetorum, please contact Dr. Hill!


locally known as Johnny jump up
Viola pedunculata (most likely)

When studying butterflies, it's helpful to know your plants, because they can be incredibly picky about which foods they eat.  Ryan and Chris have been working on verifying that V. pedunculata also grew on the hill. Growing on a dry southwest facing slope was a group of plants that seemed to intermingle with V. purpurea.  Chris suggested they were V. pedunculataRyan couldn't confirm this from specimens collected last year and wanted to study them more.  Two weeks ago, Chris asked what I thought about the different violets, and we discussed it.  Ryan was finally convinced on this trip by the golden yellow petals of V. pedunculata (vs. lemon yellow), the more heavily marked nectar guides in V. pedunculata, the large root mass complex with many rhizomes in V. pedunculata (vs. simple in V. purpurea) and the relatively large and glabrous capsule of V. pedunculata (vs. smaller and pubescent in V. purpurea).  Funny enough, none of Ryan's plant keys mention the nectar guides that I use to distinguish V. pedunculata from other native violets.  To me, they're very distinctive with the bold, forks/splits/frayed on each side of the center guide, regardless of what the leaves look like.  I actually don't know if that's a reliable diagnostic, but that is what I use to distinguish what's found locally.  Of course, this doesn't help if the flower is not in bloom.  Ha!

tea-bagged violet seed capsules
tea-bagged Viola purpurea ssp. quercetorum seed capsules

This was Ryan's method to bag the seed capsules for collection after they've ripened and popped.  I think he said violet seeds can fling themselves out of the capsules by 6 ft. or so.  I like the high-tech use of emptied tea bags and a stapler.  He'll return later to collect the dried seeds.  Very cool stuff.

view from Chews Ridge

I always like taking a step-back look, because over time with all the close-up shots, I tend to forget what it really looked like.  This day will forever remain in my memory as a good day.

ps -  Please note, I allowed Dr. Hill to edit this blog post for factual accuracy, and I found some of his edits rather humorous.  It wasn't his car!  Hehe.  Plus, he added additional usage of the scientific names, more than what I would typically use for Nature ID.  That's fine, he writes for a different audience in peer-reviewed papers.  I try to be casual, accurate, and first-hand so that anyone can understand.  Have I ever mentioned it's because of my hearing impairment that I prefer common names?

western yellow-bellied racer ~ 05/02/14 ~ Tassajara Road

(ssp. North American racer)

Chris stopped the car rather quickly.  Snake!  On the road!  I jumped out with my camera to find it stretched out in long waves.  It still makes me laugh how snakes just lie there on the road, as if their usual hiding spots are too cramped and they just need to stretch themselves out for a bit. Reminds me of how I feel the need to stretch out on a flat bed after a long flight in a cramped airplane.

As soon as I got closer, it coiled up and made the most amazing continuous backwards movements onto itself.  According to Gary's CA Herps (linked in the scientific misnomer above), this Northern American racer is not a constrictor, and it bites aggressively.  I didn't know that at the time, but I'm always a bit cautious around snakes I don't know.  Chris, who stayed with the car should another car come barreling around the corner, shouted for me to get video.  Ha!  As if. I was just hoping I could get at least one non-blurry photo, because so often these opportunities are fleeting.  Little did I know the snake wasn't too keen on moving anywhere.  It held its ground and watched me closely.  I didn't want it to get run over by a car, so I tried herding it to the side of the road with a nudge from my boot and then a stick to pick it up.  That's how I got the yellow belly picture.  It was extremely reluctant, but once it decided to go, it went in a flash.

After I got home and looked at my pictures, I noticed the oozy stuff here and there on its back.  Click second picture above for closeup.  It was my first shot out of the car before I molested it with my picture and herding activities.  What is that shiny stuff?  Did it already get run over?  Was it in some mammal's mouth and dropped?  Is it some kind of defensive secretion?  Is it the result of a twisted mating position?  Hmm...

Ken @ Nature of a Man has an excellent blog post on Coluber mormon.  Some view this snake as its own sp., not a ssp.