Friday, April 29, 2011

Jelly Dance

When my boys held one of these miraculous gelatinous salamander egg masses...
... the first question they asked was, "How can a salamander lay all those eggs?".
The boys were thinking the spotted salamander is quite a handful, but obviously not big enough for laying that volume of eggs.
Spotted Salamander
   Well, the short answer is that when the spotted salamander laid those eggs, the eggs were much smaller. Then after the eggs were laid, the egg jelly swelled with water. That answer is good enough for a bog slog, but the real answer more complicated.  Just look at the picture below and notice the several layers of jelly surrounding the embryos. They each have their function and a lot of how's and why's to expound on. Maybe someday I'll delve into more details on salamander egg jelly. 
For now, let's just say that the jiggling jelly layers are doing their jobs.
   As I mentioned in my last post, there is more going on in those egg masses than jiggles and wiggles. The embryos are not actually wiggling yet, but they do move. Their motion could be described as a slow, but graceful circling around inside the egg. I timed some embryo's rotations, and a full circle took about four minutes. This turning is accomplished by cilia created currents, not by muscular action.  The embryos are almost constantly gliding around like clock hands. What an amazing thing to watch!
 I took these next three pictures over a span of a minute or so, to illustrate the embryo's rotation.
... and round
... and round we go.
In your mind, picture (in fast forward) all of the embryos in this egg mass rotating in different directions.
That's what I call the jelly dance.
 There will be even more to admire about the eggs in my next post.
More to explore:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bog Slog II

Today was such warm spring weather, we decided to go for another bog slog.

   I introduced my boys to a floating mat of sphagnum moss and cranberry.  They thoroughly enjoyed making waves across the mat. I must say it is a rather strange experience to see the "ground" heaving like waves on a water bed.
  Since the last time we were at the bog, a few more spring arrivals have shown up.
 The fern's fiddleheads are making their appearance.

 The marsh marigold's flowers also showed up.

 We checked on the status of the wood frog egg masses.  The tadpoles were hatching!
We noticed the red-spotted newts were congregating around those egg masses.
 I'm sure the freshly hatched tadpoles were easy meals for the newts.

We also checked on the salamander egg masses.
 The salamander eggs were not as developed as the wood frog eggs.
They were, however, as abundant if not more so.
   We saw single salamander egg masses, and clusters, scattered all around the bog.
The best part of today's bog slog was when the boys held an egg mass.  I had them cup one of those miraculous gelatinous masses in their hand. Now, that is an experience! 
Oh but, "they ain't seen nothin' yet". 
Just wait until I show them there is more going on in there than jiggles and wiggles!
Read about it in my next post...
a post about Yellow-spotted Salamander eggs.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Migrating Myrtle

Yesterday the warblers showed up!
 I thought I heard a yellow warbler singing, but I doubted myself, until I saw this myrtle warbler in the front yard.  This one was flitting among the tree branches, feasting on stoneflies.  Fortunately, it was also acting a bit like a flycatcher and watching for flying stoneflies out over the river channel. Otherwise, I doubt it would have sat still enough for me to get a decent photo.
Wow! The warbler migration has begun. 
Soon the tree branches will be graced with many colorful warblers each singing their cheerful tunes as they move through here on the way to their summer homes.
I'm thrilled they like the trees on my river bank.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Little Trout Lily's Big Connections

This trout lily's small, sunny flower has been a long time in the making...    
   ...many years, in fact.  Most trout lily plants manifest themselves as a single leaf.  The older plants eventually (seven years or so) grow two leaves and a brilliant yellow blossom.
On sunny days the flower petals open as in the picture above, but they close at night.
On rainy overcast days, the petals remain closed and look rather sad and bedraggled.
   You rarely see the trout lily growing by itself. Mostly they are found in patches.  This is because the trout lily clones itself by growing new plants from its spreading roots.
   Therefore, this grove of trout lilies could be a big clone patch. 
These groves can be composed of genetically identical plants of various ages that have been spreading for years, even decades.
That's a big family connection!
   Trout Lilies are also connected with ants by a symbiotic relationship. The trout lilies have ant bait attached to their seeds for the purpose of encouraging the ants to move the seeds to a new location and plant them. This seed dispersal system is called myrmecochory.  Another early spring flower that uses this seed dispersal system is hepatica.
   The trout lilies are an important supply of nectar and pollen for early pollinators. Since there are few other flowers blooming this time of year, the trout lilies enable the early pollinators like bumblebees to get an early start establishing their colonies.
  The trout lily has a genetic connection with its colony and a symbiotic relationship with the ants, but the biggest connection it has is the common mycorrhizal network that it is tapped into.
Trout Lily
  The lilies form a symbiotic relationship with certain fungi in the soil.  These fungi (the common micorrhizal network) help provide the lilies with nutrients and water and in return the lilies share food with the fungi.  Other plants can access this network of mycorrhizae as well, so it is entirely possible that the photosynthesizing lilies could be sharing resources with the budding maple trees. In other words, the trout lilies network with the maples
Just think! This trout lily is part of a clone patch that employs ant colonies and mingles with the maples..
The little trout lily has some really big connections.
More to explore:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Bog Slog

I recently introduced my children to a bog I frequent.
My son said, "This is the most awesome bog slog I've ever been on!"
Maybe the reason was the the unusual scenery, or maybe the fact that the Red-spotted Newts were everywhere we looked.
Maybe one of the reasons the bog slog was so fun, was some of the salamanders reminded them of miniature alligators.

 Anyway, there are a lot more discoveries lurking in and around those dark waters.
My children are excited about returning to the bog soon.
They don't even know about the heron rookery, or the orchids, or the carnivorous plants. 
Just think of the discoveries and adventures that await other bog slogs!
I'll take you along with my posts.  See, Bog Slog II

Incidentally, here is a link for an explanation of those fluffy cattail heads pictured above.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spring is Spreading

Green is spreading across the valley floors.
 The yellow-green of early spring is taking hold of the plants close to the ground and is spreading up some bushes and some trees, like the willows. 

 The green carpet of the grasses extends into the woods with the Trout Lilies and Mayapples.

The spicebush flowers' yellow haze blends with the green of other budding bushes.  

 Higher up, spring is stirring the buds of the trees like the maples.  The swelling buds give the tree tops a reddish tinge that is already reaching partway up the mountainsides.

  There is a mini field trip in the next picture.
  The skunk cabbage greens up the the valley floor, while the trout lilies green up the slopes.  Spicebushes contribute yellow to the yellow-green of the bushes.  The maples give the reddish tinge to the upper story.  Take notice in the upper right corner of the picture, there are some lingering leaves on a young marcescent oak.  Also, the spathes of the skunk cabbage are still present, although overshadowed and fading away.
  Part of the beauty of spring is watching the yellow-green of young leaves spreading across the forest floor, through the trees, and up the mountainside.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Waiting, Part IV

  Just two weeks ago my vernal pool was quiet and still. 
   I've been waiting for the pool to awaken.  Winter's grip has been fast slipping away with the melting snow. 
Now, my wait is over.  The frog calls around the pool are almost deafening and there is some kind of activity wherever I look.
 With the very balmy weather we had yesterday, the peepers were calling in earnest. They were so involved in making a cacophonous din that they were very approachable, so I was able to capture these close-up shots.  Here are two screen shots of a movie I took that show the frog's vocalization techniques.
   In the left picture the spring peeper is preparing to call by partially inflating its vocal sac and filling its lungs.  Then to produce the "yeeep" it passes the air expelled from its lungs (right picture) over its vocal chords into the vocal sac.  Since the vocal sac is elastic, the air is pushed back reinflating the lungs for another "yeeep".  Think of the process as similar to taking a balloon and twisting a constriction into the center then squeezing the air from one side of the constriction to the other.  Basically the frog is doing the same thing only with vocal chords in the constriction which are producing the sound. A rather energy efficient system, eh? 

That loud chorus of spring peepers "yeeeping" is the males calling for mates.
Soon there will be peeper tadpoles

The wood frogs are also hanging around the pool.

Even a few spotted salamanders were present.
Spotted Salamander in a Vernal Pool
That's a lot of salamander!

  Way out on the top of the mountain all alone in the sleeping woods, my vernal pool has been transformed into a very busy place.  Consequently, among all the pool's inhabitants and their interactions, I have many marvels to examine.

More to explore:
  • Here is a link to an abstract on some research regarding vocal sacs: Frogs In Helium
  • Here is a book on vernal pools. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Waiting, Part III

Spring has been waking up my vernal pool.
  We have been observing some very fascinating signs of life.  For instance, in the picture above, my son is looking at some "eggs" that he found on the moss, leaf litter, and fastened to some twigs by the pool.  The next picture is a close-up shot of one.

The frogs are the most obvious sign the pool is awakening.
The wood frogs have been busy pairing up and laying eggs.

Those speckled, gray, gelatinous masses attached to the submerged branches are the wood frog's eggs.

Wood Frog Eggs
  I'm thinking those eggs are a sure sign the vernal pool is "coming to life".  Imagine all of those tadpoles that will soon be wiggling out of their eggs and swimming about.  That's alot of tadpoles!

  By the way, I'm very pleased that I have a waterproof digital camera  that I can carry around in my pocket, even in the rain. Then if I encounter something like these frog eggs, I can just stick my Pentax optio w90  under the water for some great shots.  Out in the field, I was looking at the frog eggs and didn't even see those salamander eggs in the lower right corner. Thanks to the waterproof camera, I noticed them when I looked at the pictures.

  Later, I snapped this picture of the same egg mass.
I'd say the eggs have been developing awhile.
  The spring rains and warmer temperatures have definitely awoken this quiet, isolated, temporary pool. 

  When I was young, I practically lived in one of these vernal pools.  If I wasn't in the pool, I had some of the pool in the dining room.  So I kinda know what all is beginning to happen there at my vernal pool.  I'll be checking on the pool occasionally and sharing some of the amazing things I find as the season progresses.
 See Waiting, Part IV about the awakening vernal pool.