Saturday, June 16, 2012

June "Bug" Larvae Demo Insect Breathing Spiracles

 I'm finding many June "Bug" (beetle) larvae in my wood chips. To the eye they look like normal white grubs with orange heads and legs.  But the camera flash makes their skin transparent, and the design of their breathing holes, or spiracles, is revealed.

Look at the incredible network of tubes that take the air in and exhale carbon dioxide.  Probably not a major contributor to global warming, but fascinating to see up close.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Flowers and Froglets

On the edges of Springbrook's wetlands the wild Iris is in full bloom.  The splash of color mixed in with the new greens of summer adds to the scenery on the trails. 

And at the same time the Iris is blooming, the male green frogs begin to call near the base of the plants, staking out territories, trying to attract females into their space.

 The Green Frogs are all along the long floating boardwalk at Springbrook, and easy to see.  I took this picture from the boardwalk on Friday.

This is a male, and is distinguished from the females by the eardrum being bigger than its eye.  The female's ear drum is smaller.
At the same time the males are setting up territories, last year's tadpoles are metamorphosing into frogs.  They have legs and breath air, but still have a long tail.  The tail on this one near the boardwalk goes under the little feather at the far left of the picture.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Yellow Slime Mold That Isn't

 Yellow Slime Mold has been showing up in the woodchips and dead logs at Springbrook lately.  If you see it shortly after it "erupts" it looks like a plate of macaroni and cheese. Really!

But it turns out that it is not a slime mold at all, or even in the fungi family.  Science has reclassified it as an Amoebozoa. Kind of like the very old scary movie "The Blob."  But this one is real, and it eats micro-organisms in dead plant material, helping with decomposition. 
Scientists have determined that what appears to be a "mold" like organism is actually thousands of protozoa like amoebas that behave very differently when they come together.  Under the surface they first form these filiment-like "gatherings" and within an hour or so they multiply and sort of bubble up to the surface, as you can see in the next picture.
 Within another hour this "blob" grows and becomes shiny and wet.  It may get big enough to cover a dinner plate, and 2 or 3 inches high on the top of the surface of the woodchips.
 It begins to fade after a few hours, and by morning it has lost its color, and is either some tan filiments, or a faded brown blob that must be dead amoebas, because it stays for days until washed away, as can be seen in the pictures below.
 I think this picture is remaining amoebas escaping back into the woodchips. 

Writing this blog gets me to double check my facts, and also learn new things.  For many years I have been telling folks about slime molds, thinking this was one. 

What is great about science is that it keeps checking on itself, and when a mistake is discovered, it corrects itself, and everyone moves on with the new knowledge.  Wouldn't it be great if that worked for other life issues as easily?
This Yellow Slime Mold that isn't is very interesting, and I hope some time to look at it under a microscope.  Maybe I can get some pictures and post them here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hellgramite Wandering Equals Dobsonfly Pupae

 Hellgramites are one of the largest and most agressive aquatic insects around.  They are fierce predators in fresh water streams, rivers, and ponds here in Minnesota.  They live for 3 or 4 years under water getting bigger and developing very bad attitudes. 

But after their years in the water, about mid May, the older ones leave the water and begin to wander looking for a safe place to hide while changing into an adult insect.

The one in this picture is 4 inches long and was hard to get to sit still for a photograph.  They move constantly, and bite hard when picked up.  This one was found wandering across a gas station parking lot.  It crawled around the cage I put it in for a week before it curled up and lay quietly for another week under a large piece of bark on some wood chips.

It has six true legs but appendages on each segment of it's abdoman look like additional legs. They are useless as legs, though.  But notice the 4 "claws" on the tail end.  It uses these to thrust itself backward very quickly, much like a crayfish.

 Here you can see it's large and powerful jaws. 

Last Friday night, after a week of quiet, it shed the black/brown larval  skin and entered the pupae stage of its life. 
 I think it looks like a baby dragon about to emerge as an adult.  You can see it already has the wings, the antennae, and the long legs that will be promenent as an adult Dobsonfly.  I will post pictures of that after it emerges.

It twists and turns as if it is having dreams of an active adult life. When I took these pictures it used its jaw and body to try to push itself back under cover.  It could move quickly.

And its jaws still work and look pretty mean as can be seen in the bottom picture.

This is a very cool insect that looks very different in its separate life stages.  As you will see in a future post, the adult is not yellow, so why this color is present in the pupae is a mystery, especially after the larvae was so color blended with its habitat.