Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thick and thin

"Val", the big green anemone in my tank, has grown to about 4 inches tall, and the same distance across the tentacles when she's waiting for food. Most of the time, these days, she stands tall above the sand, making a cave  for lurking hermit crabs.

She's a pale, greyish green, with darker stripes and white spots on the tentacles. But the column is more a pale blue-grey.

She glues bits of stone and shells to her column, not enough to serve as protection against pincers and knocks, nor, as the experts tell me it's for, to keep her from drying out at low tide; for that, she buries herself. But does she need a reason? It's what she does.

The top, or collar of her column.

When she captures an especially tasty morsel, a shrimp or piece of clam, she drags it quickly into her mouth and pulls in the tentacles after it. If she is not fast enough, one of the big hermits is bound to climb onto her oral disc and start a tug-of-war over the prize. (She never eats the hermit.)

Closing down, she exposes the top of her column, still blue-grey, and covered with rows of knobby protrusions. No shells stuck here, though.

Zooming in to get a better look at these nodules, I captured something unexpected: the delicate red seaweed beside her, against the light.

The light exposes the individual cells of each branch.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In the shade of newly-leafed trees

House finch on fence post at Cougar Creek park.

It looks like this is a favourite perch.

All around us in the trees, his companions were singing, every one of them invisible among the leaves.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Jugs full of eggs

Two years ago, in April* of 2012, I brought home a clamshell that contained, under a crowded community of snails, hermits, worms, and more, a set of little brownish jug-like things. Eventually, commenters identified them, tentatively, as Murex snail egg cases, possibly trophon snails.

"Jugs" Photo from 2012.

And now, the mystery is solved! Yes, they are trophon eggs.

Remember the two-toned trophon snail that has been eating barnacles in my tank? I brought her** home a companion from our last trip to the beach; another trophon, slightly smaller.

For several days, they've been circling each other, warily, approaching then backing off. Neither showed an inclination to bury themselves in the sand, or eat another barnacle. Today, only the newcomer was visible, though, until Laurie found the other hidden behind an abalone shell in the back of the tank in the evening. She was busy; laying eggs, in a sort of grid pattern stuck to the glass.

After an hour or so, the newcomer joined her. She stuck herself to Snail #1's shell and waited until she had finished.

I rigged up some lighting, and a mirror behind the tank, and took their photo in the mirror, since I couldn't even get the camera into the small space.

More "jugs", with their bottoms glued to the glass, facing us.

Snail #1 is finished, now. She's moved to the bottom. She looks skinny, as if the shell were now too big for her. Snail #2 is twisting herself around beside the egg cases; getting ready to lay her own, maybe?

*It looks like April is the egg-laying month for these snails.

** I wrote then, "*Most snails are hermaphrodites, but these ones have separate sexes. I don't like calling a conscious critter an "it", so I've opted for calling this guy a male." I guessed wrong. She's definitely female!***

***She needs a name. I can't keep saying Snail #1, #2.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

The longest way home

I went to Chilliwack yesterday, driving there as usual, on the freeway; a good hour of stressful driving and another half hour of puttering along city streets first. On the way back, as usual again, I moseyed south and west across Fraser Valley farmland, taking my time, relaxing after a noisy party.

Except that this time I lost my bearings in the pouring rain, and ended up going east instead of west. I didn't realize my error until I ended up at a dead end against the mountains south-east of Chilliwack. It probably would have been a pretty drive along the Vedder River, if the clouds hadn't been practically parked on the road.

Several times, the clouds lifted long enough for me to squint at the sky, looking for the light in the west to guide me home. Of course, since I was looking east, I didn't see it. I did manage to take a few photos out the car window; mostly dark fields and blue mountains.

Farms and the southern slopes.

This hill is just across the border, in Washington State.

Heron in a muddy ditch.

I got home ok. Just late.

A Skywatch post.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mothering is a full-time job

One of the hermit crabs that came home with me the other day was in berry, carrying her brood of eggs just inside her shell. Today, I noticed another one fanning her babies. And I think there's a third; I just caught a glimpse of pink inside the shell mouth.

One of them spent most of the day yesterday perched on the highest blade of eelgrass, periodically fanning and picking at the eggs. She has to keep them clean and oxygenated until they are ready to be released into the water. And it seemed to me that sometimes she was just getting comfortable: pulling the mass out of the shell and stretching her back legs, scratching her back against the shell interior, taking a few deep breaths, as it were, before she gave the eggs a quick brushing and pulled them back under cover. (Human females may wish they had that capability!)

Pink and greenish berries. And are those black dots eyes?

It's safer up on the eelgrass, even if she needs to hold on constantly as the grass sways in the current; the ravenous crab below would love fresh eggs for breakfast. And the oxygen levels are higher just under the surface. Growing babies need their air!

She's in a broken shell, so the white interior of the first round provides good contrast for the eggs. This may be a disadvantage in a crab-infested environment; another reason to stay out of reach.

The eggs at this stage are pink. I've seen a few mothers with blue or even purple eggs; these are mature and ready to be released. That may be a few weeks from now.

UPDATE on the baby nudibranchs: they're thriving in the other tank, congregating near the bubble stone, and growing like weeds.

Tomorrow (well, today, really) I'll be going to Chilliwack for a triple party: three kid birthdays, Easter egg hunt, and welcome home party. I'll probably be too tired to blog tomorrow night. See you Sunday!

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Another fat-bellied spider

Laurie brought me another spider. He's getting good at catching them.

She looks like another Steatoda*, but the pattern on her back is different than the previous dark brown ones.

I have her in a jar with some moss for tying down her web, and a few woodbugs, since those are some Steatoda's favourite lunch, but she has been ignoring them. I sprayed the jar with water, to keep the woodbugs alive and active, so she's all wet. And not happy about it.

Hanging belly up, in her normal position.

Another one for BugGuide. And I'm getting behind; now I have three critters lined up to be sent in, and I've been too busy to settle down and get them done.

*Steatoda grossa, Steatoda bipunctata.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lumpy babies

When I bring home seaweeds for the hermit crabs, I always wash them well, sort through them to choose the best for planting in the aquaria, and set aside the broken and torn ones in clean water. Eventually, they will go on the garden, but there's usually something hiding in the lot. After a bit, tiny (really tiny, half-pinhead size) snails start to climb up the walls of the containers. Or assorted worms come to the surface as their oxygen evaporates.

This time, among the amphipods and worms, some little blackish lumps showed up along the water line. At first, I thought they were just shreds of hydroids, until one moved.

They were all about the same size, 2 mm. long, and oddly-shaped. I couldn't make sense of them until I saw them under the microscope.


These are baby nudibranchs, or sea slugs, probably Dotos, possibly Doto columbiana, the British Columbia Doto. As adults, they will be about half an inch long. They live among the hydroids, their hiding place and source of food.

The lumpy appendages along the back are the cerata. They contain branches of the digestive tract, and the colour depends on what they are eating, in this case, dark brown hydroids. An adult will have from 5 to 7 pairs of cerata. I see 5 here.

Towards the front there are two upright rhinopores, which dectect odors. The eyes (in the yellow patches) are rudimentary, and probably distinguish only light and darkness. The two white-tipped appendages in front are oral tentacles; more sensory organs, for taste and smell, and only the nudis know what else.

Another nudibranch. Side view.

After I'd taken a few photos, I moved the slugs to the second tank, the one without a water filter to trap them in. And also, a place without hermits competing with them for the hydroids. (The hydroid-infested eelgrass I gave to the hermits yesterday is pretty well all cleaned off now.)

Two nudis making a doughnut on glass.

I never expected to see them again, so tiny and in such a forest of hydroids, but this evening, two of them were feeding on the tip of a hydroid-coated seaweed stalk near the top of the tank.

I hope they like their new home and grow up fat and happy.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beach finds, new and old

Rotting sugar wrack kelp, stranded on the sand at mid-tide:

From a distance, I thought it was a dead fish.

We brought home a bag full of goodies for my hermits and crab; two varieties of sea lettuce, fresh eelgrass, one of those delicate lacy red seaweeds, a long rope of bladder chain. All of it was coated thickly in hydroids and diatom fuzz; the hermits are in heaven!

As usual a fair number of animals came along for the ride. There are more hermits, one a pretty greenmark in berry, and a few speedsters, those very hairy hairies. Amphipods, of course, and copepods. Some skeleton shrimp, a dozen or so limpets on the eelgrass, and several species of snails. Worms; green and red, smooth and paddle-footed. Unidentifiable egg cases. The usual.

The "home" hermits that aren't climbing the eelgrass to stuff themselves with hydroids are busy cleaning diatoms and green algae off the shells of the newcomer hermits and snails. I won't need to feed them tomorrow.

And -- oh, the amazing surprises the shore always has for us -- out of the mess of leftover torn dark fuzz crawled a half-dozen baby nudibranchs, barely a few millimetres long! Story and photos tomorrow.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Update on the instant antique trees

I've been keeping an eye on those new "antique" trees along our street. The flower buds have opened in the last couple of days.

White and green

The flowers are very like an apple blossom, maybe a crabapple, but they are smaller than most. There is a faint hint of pink on some, but at a distance, the impression is of a pale green cloud, maybe because the leaves are so very green, and glowing.

I don't remember seeing any fruit last year, nor as many flowers, but these are very young trees, merely saplings, notwithstanding their coat of lichen and moss, and the cracked and weathered bark on the trunks.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring fever season starts.

It was sunny and warm for the second day in a row. So of course, we went out and bought oodles of dirt and compost, a hose hanger and lavender just ready to flower. And Laurie spread manure and raked, while I lazily sat on the ground in the sun and took photos of tiny wild violets.

Volunteers; no fussing needed. My ideal plant!

And I found a strange fly on the rhododendrons.

Another one for BugGuide.

All in all, a productive afternoon.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Winter quarters

Another few old photos; these are from last October.

Woodbug in rotting pine cone, with snail.

Every fall, I pile some of the current crop of pine cones underneath a potted cedar, to help keep the cold out. In a pot, without the insulation provided by the surrounding soil, a plant is more vulnerable to cold, so even when the plant itself is winter-hardy, I wrap and cover its pot.

Over the winter, the centers of the cones rot, liberating the seeds. Some of these sprout, but that's not the point. The tightly-closed cone becomes a mini-compost pile, its own heat source; even when the ground is frozen hard, the center of the cone stays cool and moist. So it's a winter home for the small animals that don't necessarily go into stasis during these months.

Several times during the cold weather, I bring in a few cones and break them up to see who's living there. There are always a fair number, all wide awake.

In this batch, I found several snails, a family of woodbugs, a few baby slugs, earthworms, two species of springtails, millipedes, and one plant louse. Smaller things scuttled and slithered out of sight as fast as I broke off the scales of the cone; probably more 'pedes, and a spider or three.

Cyanide millipede

Another millipede, sleeping. And the head of a long earthworm, plowing through the composted wood.

Plant louse, exploring a sheet of paper on my desk. Seriously cute.

A pinhead snail, not the same species as the one above. He hid when I moved him to the paper, but a minute later, set out to explore the desk. I put him back in the cone.

When I was done, as usual, I collected the remains of the cones, critters and all, and replaced them under the tree, covered with a layer of duff for warmth.

They made it through the winter; this afternoon, when I moved a couple of pots in the garden, they were all there, with a crowd of their friends and relations.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grey-eyed dragonfly

Another lost photo: I must have put this dragonfly aside to send in to BugGuide, and filed it in the wrong folder, along with kitten and baby photos. It's from 'way back in May of 2008, found in Queen's Park, New Westminster, and taken with my little Canon point-and-shoot, then cropped close.

Interestingly patterned abdomen and cat-like backwards "nose".

I couldn't find this in my bug books, nor on BugGuide. Still can't, after a couple of hours of searching tonight. It's unusual, with those bright colours of the abdomen, and the pale grey eyes.

I'll have to follow through on my original plan, and send it to BugGuide. They'll know.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Edible glass

Another forgotten photo: hydroids on eelgrass in my aquarium.

Tiny, glassy structures waving in the current. Some of the spots are bubbles, but at least a few are the new medusas just released by the hydroid parents.

Ephemeral beauty; the hermit crabs polish off the hydroids overnight, and the millimetre-wide jellies are swept into the pump and smushed into the black ooze.

The orange-brown tentacly circles are anemones on the aquarium wall.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The lettuce eaters

Winter in the intertidal zone is difficult, even here where it barely gets cold. The water is often turbulent, the nights are long, the daylight dim. The plants and algae, the seaweeds and eelgrasses, die back, leaving no shelter from the flocking thousands of sandpipers foraging in the shallows.

We see little more than worm tubes and holes, snails, those everlasting invasive Asian mud snails mostly, and the hermit crabs that use their abandoned shells, fewer hermits than we would see in warmer weather. Many don't make it through to spring.

My tank residents have it easy. The temperature stays the same year-round. The current rarely changes, except when I'm cleaning the pump. There is daylight 16 hours a day, always bright, never clouded over. And there are no birds. No birds!

The one small bump in this easy road is the intermittent supply of greens. Often, on a trip to the beach, I manage to bring back only a few handfuls of skimpy eelgrass and a bit of half-dead kelp. It's rare that I find sea lettuce for them in the winter, or Turkish towel that isn't all torn and rotting. Sometimes their tank is almost empty of vegetation; when I then bring the hermits a mess of hydroid-covered eelgrass, they climb on it and never leave until it's bare.

This winter has been exceptionally hard for them; they have been getting a small taste of what their cousins on the beach go through every year. What with one thing and another, the weather, and the state of our health, and other time constraints, we haven't been down to the beach since mid-February. I did bring back a couple of pieces of fresh sea lettuce then, and I found a big leaf of fresh Turkish towel, which lasts well in the tank. But there was little eelgrass to go with it, and no replacements since then. The tank is bare; an underwater desert, decorated with small shreds of fading Turkish towel, stripped of any food value.

One of the smaller hermits, on a barnacle-covered stick.

I read somewhere that hermits will eat ordinary people-food lettuce. Worth a try; I tore off a bite-sized piece and anchored it in the sand. Within a minute, the largest hermit and the crab were having a tug-of-war over it, yanking and pulling and at the same time tearing off pieces and shoving them into their mouths. (It's handy having so many grabbing mouth parts.)

I added a few more pieces of lettuce for the rest of the crew. That was a couple of hours ago. They have eaten it all, leaving only a few floating shreds, as thin as soggy tissue paper.

Hermit on lettuce leaf, all stretched out to grab as much as possible before the rest get there.

Hermit on the far side of a scrap of lettuce. His shell is showing through the hole someone has already torn.

As far as I can tell, all the hermits got a chance at the lettuce. The largest one stuffed himself so much, finishing off one piece and going to the next, and the next, that I wonder how he fits into his shell now.

I saved a leaf for them tomorrow; I ate the rest.

Hurry, hurry! Dinner is served!

I wonder if they like cilantro? I've got a big, fresh bunch.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Blood-red eyes, and fly babies

Sorting photos from last year, I found several folders of still-unprocessed raw files. I've been plowing through these, and struck gold:

6 legs and 1000 eyes. (Or thereabouts.)

Syrphid, or hover fly.

These are from last July. In a later folder, of tiny critters holed up under rotting maple leaves, waiting out the cold snap, I found the next generation.

These are such pretty flies, but the larvae don't have any of the appeal of the adults. My photos are fuzzy; the larva was sopping wet, and I hadn't even seen it on the leaf until I was processing the photos. But I've looked them up on BugGuide and other places, and they don't get any better looking.

Spiky, splotchy, segemented larva. Eats aphids. Even in winter.

We're looking at it from the rear. Those pointed tubes at the back are its spiracles, or breathing tubes.

More discoveries to come...

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Free lunch

It hasn't been a good winter for birds around our place. Whether it's the weird weather, or the unusual lack of insects, or something else, I can't tell. But only a few chickadees have been using the sunflower seed feeder, and a mere handful of juncos has been feeding on the ground in the sunny patch. Apart from those, we've seen a pair of varied thrushes, a sparrow or two, and one little wren that comes occasionally to use my birdbath.

I set out a suet cake on top of a winter-bare planter, hoping to attract more birds, and possibly to help them over the freezing days. One junco came, almost daily. Last week he brought a partner for a few minutes.

No-one else was interested.

Until today; the juncos have gone, but a squirrel followed his nose to the planter, and I found him chowing down with gusto.

"This is yummy! And wasted on silly birds!"

Showing his teeth.

In other years, the squirrels and I were at loggerheads; they kept trying to steal the suet, and I kept chasing them off; that was bird food!

That was then. This little guy is welcome to finish up the whole cake. I don't think the junco will mind.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Red pondweed

Another forgotten photo, this one of an unidentified* pondweed for sale last August in our local nursery.

The large green leaf is an average waterlily, about a hand's breadth across. The pondweed leaflets are a bit larger than those of the wild pondweed we find in ditches around here.

*Update: it's Azola caroliniana, native to the east coast, all the way from Ontario to Argentina.
(Thanks, Bronwen!)

And I'm going to have to take another short break; I'm having some minor surgery on Friday. Nothing to worry about, but I'll be out of commission for a couple of days. I'll be back Monday.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

(Almost) Wordless

'nuff said.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Sidewalk ornament

Finally, a sunny, warm day! All day, too! We spent a couple of hours walking around the neighbourhood, looking for early flowers.

I'd never noticed this little beauty before:

Squill or squill hybrid, possibly Scilla bifolia, nestling close to a sun-warmed log.

It's a spring-flowering European import, related to the hyacinths. It grows from a bulb, but also self-seeds, is winter-hardy and tolerant of shade or sun. Here, it was growing beside the sidewalk, in a weedy patch. (You can see dandelion leaves in the background.)

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Mine! Mine! Mine!

I'm still sorting photos. I keep running across files that I had put aside for later, and then forgotten. I've started a list to be processed and posted; some are from as far back as 2009.

I found this tiny spider on a rock this afternoon, in a photo series from 2012:

"Hey! Who are you? And no, you can't have any of my lunch! Scram!"

Did she know she had such a large, threatening shadow? I doubt it, because when I came a bit closer, she dropped her meal and jumped back to assess the situation. I stopped moving, and she came right back to pick up where she left off.

"Better grab it quick or that nasty one-eye will take it. She can go catch her own. I'm not sharing!"

Looks like her meal was another spider, or maybe a small harvestman. She was welcome to it.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Stone chicken and barnacle tentacles

It rained again yesterday and the day before. The sun came out for a few minutes at noon, just long enough for us to decide to go to the beach; it's been too long. We didn't make it. Before we went for our jackets, the weather was back to wet and windy.

Just as well; we've been making great progress on sorting and clearing out years of photos, film and digital. Laurie's prints are down to two trays (from 21), and I've got a few extra Gigabytes to play with on the hard drive. Another week of this weather, and I'll have everything in some logical order.

But I do miss the beach!

These two photos are from 2012, on the White Rock beach.

I see a chicken in that egg.

Just an ordinary barnacled rock, but I could easily imagine it to be a large camouflaged cuttlefish.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Instant antiques

A couple or three years ago, the city planted a row of saplings along the street behind our house. I haven't been able to identify them, but they are covered with pale creamy greenish flowers in the early spring.

I went out to see if there are any buds yet, and discovered that all the trees, now about twice our height, are covered with lichens and moss; the bark and even the wood itself is cracking, as if from extreme age and weathering.

There are a few buds here and there, at the tips of branches.

I'm wondering what went wrong, or is premature aging a characteristic of these trees? Did our weather have something to do with it? The climate? Pollution from a busy street? Come to think of it, last year, the whole lot were warming with ants. Did they cause this, or were they attracted by the growing lichens?

Questions, questions. I'll be watching the trees closely over this spring and summer.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Cherry blossoms

The rain stopped. The clouds blew away. And just before supper-time, the sun came out.

So did the cherry blossoms.

The first open flowers on the tree.

Only two days ago, all the buds were mere swollen pink tips, tightly closed. All they wanted was a few warm hours.

Bumper crop coming up!

Now, if it would only stay dry for the weekend, we, and half the Lower Mainland, could head for the beach.

A Skywatch post.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

180 calories

Laurie's pop can airplane, one of two that he bought some 8 years ago at a collectibles fair.

The propeller spins with the least little breeze. But it never goes anywhere.

Just wandering around, taking wild shots at anything that strikes my fancy. Waiting for the rain to stop.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Rain and mud and flowers

It's been pouring rain again, keeping the birdbath full and the pathways muddy, keeping us looking out the window at garden work to be done when and if it ever dries out. In my shade garden, winter-demolished plants are lifting their heads, putting out new, optimistic growth. The primulas are covered with flowers now, white and yellow, and all spattered with mud. Laurie's lupins, planted from seed last year,are almost six inches high already. (The ones I planted in the semi-shade barely made it through last summer; I don't expect to see them again.)

Baby lupins on the last sunny day

And after budding, being frozen back to the ground, growing and budding again, and being frozen yet again, the various hellebores have rebounded, as if that's the sort of winter they were expecting. One in the semi-sunny garden is in full bloom, even though the plant itself is short; this is its first spring.

I had to clean off some mud, of course. Quite a bit of mud, actually.

And last year Laurie kept saying he wanted a Daphne, and finally found a small one near the end of the summer. I couldn't see his point: the flowers are tiny, stiff-looking, and dwarfed by the leaves; the sap may irritate skin, and they're prone to a variety of diseases like root rot, yellowing, and leaf browning. And they should be planted in the spring, anyhow!

I've changed my mind.

Waxy flowers in a rosette of leathery leaves.

Yes, I see the brown spot. And the yellowing of the leaves. But the buds started forming while everything else was still frozen, and now they're fully open, while the other plants are barely getting started. And the flowers are high enough to be out of the mud, too!

More: reading up on these, they're supposed to be fragrant. I hadn't realized, and so I didn't bend down to take a sniff. As soon as it stops raining, I'll remedy that.

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