Monday, September 01, 2014


Two weeks ago, the underwater filter in my aquarium shorted out and electrified the water, then smoked it as well. Several of the largest of the grainy hand hermits died. I changed the water several times in a row, to leach poisons out of the sand, and I've bought and installed a much better filter, one that hangs on the outside of the tank.

Now all seems to be well. The rest of the grainy hand hermits were lethargic for the first week, but are back to normal. The other two species of hermits, the hairies and the tiny orange ones, didn't seem to be affected at all.

So I've been doing a complete inventory of the critters in the tank these last few days, checking to see that everyone's healthy and happy.

One resident that doesn't seem to have suffered at all is this big polychaete worm:

Standing tall, about a quarter out of his burrow, looking for shrimp pellets to steal from the hermits. The snail is on the glass in front of him.

Just poking his head out of the hole, with his mouth open.

I count 4 tentacles, a fat palp, and then a smaller tentacle, just on the right side of his head. It makes me wonder: do each of these tentacles have a different function?

And then, there are the eyes. This worm is quite tame, and let me get a fairly clear view of them; usually, these guys disappear into their burrow the minute anyone comes near, or a light is aimed in their direction.

Four purplish-blue eyes.

Out of the sand, he's about 6 inches long, and as fat as a large earthworm.

More tank residents tomorrow.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Now that the flowers are gone

A tribe of rhododendron leafhoppers provide sparks of colour:

I love the yellow comb legs.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Brand new wings

A glittering green fly, freshly emerged from the pupa, rests in the garden while his wings unfold and dry out.

So very shiny!

When I came back a few minutes later, he had gained the use of both wings and flown away.

(He's sitting on the back of an old plastic turtle who works in the garden supporting transplants and sheltering pillbugs.)

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Worth a second look

Gardens should be approached on our knees. So we don't miss things like this:

Flower unfolding from its bud

Comes in blue and lilac, with pin-stripes

I've forgotten what plant this was; it got transplanted by mistake with a batch of primulas. Once the flowers are completely open, I may remember.

UPDATE: It's a Himalayan Blue Poppy, Meconopsis baileyi.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Where there's a will ...

A month ago, Tim asked, "I've wondered how a limpet moves from one piece of glass to another with a flattened shell. Or maybe they dont? Post a photo of that if you ever see that happen!"

They do, and I'd seen it often. So I've been watching all month, and never caught even one near a corner. Contrary beasties!

But I did find one making its way over a bumpy snail shell, demonstrating the cornering technique on a gentler angle.

Limpet on trophon snail

The shell lifts up to straddle the gap, and the soft body slides, sluglike, from one pane of glass to the next. Or from a stone to a snail shell or to a waving blade of eelgrass.

The limpet is not really glued to the surface, unless he wants to be; then he's almost impossible to remove. I can slide one along wet glass with a fingertip, but if there's any roughness on the surface, he's stuck fast.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Doorstep gift, unwrapped.

Last month, I posted the photo of a cocoon that I found on my doormat one morning.

Wooly bear caterpillar cocoon, found July 6th.

I put it in a plastic container with a perforated lid, and left it outside, near the door where the caterpillar had chosen to sleep. I made sure to check it every day.

24 days later, July 27th, something was fluttering around inside the container. But it was not the expected moth.

Not a moth.

BugGuide identifies it as a Braconid wasp, in the genus Macrocentrus. These are parasitoids; parasitic animals that inevitably kill their host. The female wasp lays an egg in a larva of her preferred species. The egg hatches and the wasp larva grows inside the caterpillar until it (the caterpillar) pupates. Then the larva of the wasp begins to feed off the host's body, pupates inside the dead caterpillar's cocoon, and finally emerges as an adult, ready to mate and find itself another caterpillar to start the cycle again.

Exit hole.

Face view. I'm not sure how that extra insect leg got in there.

Pretty stained-glass wing.

Dried out and warmed up, ready for take-off. Work to do!

This wasp is a female; the spike at the end of her abdomen is the ovipositor, the egg-laying tool. She's got about a week to find herself a mate and a moth larva before she dies.

Some species of these wasps are used as pest control, to kill the caterpillars and other larvae that damage our crops. And wasps though they are, they don't sting humans.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Trapped in the rocks

Walking along the Crescent Beach shore at high tide last week, I stopped often to look at the rocks. They've been dumped here to support the railway that runs just above the beach; I don't know where they originated. Not all from the same place, it seems, because they can be anything from soft sandstones to hard granite. They may be grey, black, brown, or white; solid colours or broken up with veins in green or white, spotted or striped, round or sharp-edged. Like live things, there are no two alike.

And I tried, I really tried, to see them as rocks with their own story, without adding layers from my own silly imagination on top. And then I looked at the photos at home, and the trapped rock dwellers showed up. Here are two of them. (Laurie saw them, too, without me pointing them out. So they must be real, right?)

Conglomerate, with woman wearing lipstick. (That's the real colour of the rock; I didn't add it.)

Textured sandstone, with long-nosed critter just leaving his bed.

Ok. 'Nuff silliness. I'll be sensible tomorrrow.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rock Flipping Day update

It's confirmed; this year, our host for the International Rock Flipping Day (#rockflip) will be Heather Mingo, on her blog, At the Edge of the Ordinary.

Heather is another of my favourite BC bloggers. She describes herself as,

... a writer, blogger, and amateur naturalist living in a small town in the Canadian province of British Columbia (one of the most beautiful places in the world) with 3 cats, 700+ books, and 40+ house plants. ... a geek about plants, fungi, insects, ecosystems, and all that, and I even have a degree in natural resource science to prove it.
... and her blog:
The edge of the ordinary is a place where you can remember your interdependence with the rest of nature, rediscover your inherent creativity, and simply be.  The edge of the ordinary is not in the wilderness or far from home.  It is here, all around you: in the sky, in the air, in the vacant lots, in the cracks in the sidewalk, in the small details that most people ignore.  At the edge of the ordinary you will discover a world of depth and meaning and everyday wonder.  A world peopled by plants and animals and fungi and slime moulds and mountains and rivers and stars and atoms and galaxies.  A world in which to be human is to be both very small and also very large.

A perfect fit for all us Rock Flippers!

So the weekend of September 13/14, then, go out and flip your rocks, record your findings, and send your links to Heather by email or by filling out her contact form. I will be monitoring the Flickr group and passing those links on to her, as well. Any other links that arrive here, I will simply forward.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Making their own sunshine

Nasturtiums: they're not supposed to bloom in deep shade. But these ones forgot that rule.

Facing what little sun shows up in the afternoon

This basket doesn't even get that. A few stray rays, maybe, some mornings.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014


I thought I was taking photos of pretty rocks.

I didn't even notice the crab and limpet until I got home.

And not until I looked closely, did I see the many photos of my granddaughter and me. And the rampaging dinosaur.

(You probably need to click on this to see it full-size to find the selfies. Or an even larger photo is on Flickr. There, click on Download to see the "View full size" link, then arrow right until you find the bubbles.)

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pick your rocks and mark your calendars!

September 14th, the second Sunday in September, is International Rock Flipping Day.*

It's the day we celebrate the wild things that live in their hidden homes just under our feet, so close but usually so forgotten. And all we have to do to find them is flip a rock!

Because I'm lazy, and it's late, I'll cut and paste the history and instructions from 2011:


Rock Flipping Day was started by Dave Bonta and Bev Wigney in 2007. The idea is simple; in Dave's words,

... we pick a day for everybody to go outside — go as far as you have to — and flip over a rock (or two, or three). We could bring our cameras and take photos, film, sketch, paint, or write descriptions of whatever we find. It could be fun for the whole family!

37 bloggers joined in that first September.

On 9/2/2007, people flipped rocks on four continents on sites ranging from mountaintops to urban centers to the floors of shallow seas. Rock-flippers found frogs, snakes, and invertebrates of every description, as well as fossils and other cool stuff.


If you're joining in for the first time, here's a quick rundown of the procedure.

  • On or about September 14th, find your rock or rocks and flip it/them over.
  • Record what you find. "Any and all forms of documentation are welcome: still photos, video, sketches, prose, or poetry."
  • Replace the rock as you found it; it's someone's home.
  • Post on your blog, or load your photos to the Flickr group. (Even if you don't have a blog, you can join.)
  • Send me a link. Or you can add a comment to any IRFD post.
  • I will collect the links, e-mail participants the list, and post it for any and all to copy to your own blogs. (If you're on Twitter, Tweet it, too; the hashtag is #rockflip.)
  • There is a handy badge available for your blog, here. (Or copy it from this post.)

Important Safety Precautions:

A caution from Dave:

One thing I forgot to do in the initial post is to caution people about flipping rocks in poisonous snake or scorpion habitat. In that case, I’d suggest wearing gloves and/or using a pry bar — or simply finding somewhere else to do your flipping. Please do not disturb any known rattlesnake shelters if you don’t plan on replacing the rocks exactly as you found them. Timber rattlesnakes, like many other adult herps, are very site-loyal, and can die if their homes are destroyed. Also, don’t play with spiders. If you disturb an adjacent hornet nest (hey, it’s possible), run like hell. But be sure to have someone standing by to get it all on film!

About Respect and Consideration:

The animals we find under rocks are at home; they rest there, sleep there, raise their families there. Then we come along and take off the roof, so please remember to replace it carefully. Try not to squish the residents; move them aside if they're big enough; they'll run back as soon as their rock is back in place.

Previous Rock Flipping Days:

  • 2007 (In the halls of the mountain millipede)
  • 2008 (IRFD #2)
  • 2009 (The early bird gets the worm.)
  • 2010 (Mongoose Poop?)
  • 2011 (We Haz Critters)
  • 2012 (Great Expectations)
  • 2013 (And in 2013, I totally forgot until it was too late. Never again!*)

This year, another blogger has offered to host IRFD; if that works out, I'll post the address to send your contributions to. Otherwise, I will post the list, as before. In any case, you can also send your links here, and I will forward them.

Rocks, Crescent Beach. Much too big to flip.

Detail of layered sandstone.

*(I remembered this year, and on time, too!)

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Underwater textures

Cake decoration ripples:

Small trophon snail, on barnacles. About 1 cm. long.

Smooth and rounded:

Anemone and bubble. Also about 1 cm. tall.

Layered and prickly:

Scale worm on rock.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Keeping an eye on us

These critters all dropped in to visit this week.

Hornet under glass

Hundreds of eyes, and toothed jaws.

Winged ant termite*. Running.

Not running.

Crane fly on carpet. Sleeping with his eyes open.

1/3 of the crane fly. I cropped out miles of leg.

Shot in the dark. Fly on outside of window, 10:00 PM.

Mosquito, with double reflection from glass door.

June bug. He came to help with the watering.

And a cute jumping spider, very small, was running around on my kitchen stove. Luckily for him, I wasn't cooking.

Such nice fuzzy pedipalps!

Eyes in the back of his head. Very useful.

Sitting up to beg like a puppy. Sorry, I had no spider treats for him.

I took him outside; the stove is no place to practice your jumps on.

*See comments. Thanks, Christopher!

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Not a cuke

I give up. I can't identify this plant. Can you?

About the size of a pickling cuke.

These were growing out of a mass of thistles mixed with several other plants beside a lagoon in Reifel Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary. They look like small cucumbers, but grow from a stiff stalk, not a vine. I thought they might be day lily pods, but they hang down, instead of standing upright on the stalk. And they're bigger than any lily pods I've seen.

Two of three on one stalk.

No leaves were visible among the thistles, and I couldn't reach them to dig through and find the base of the plants.

What do you think?

(Google daily mix-up: why, when I Google "lily pods", do I get a photo of the rear end of a zebra?)

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hungry, hungry!

Outside the warming room near the entrance to Reifel Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, a pair of barn swallows is raising their brood. Two weeks ago, the chicks were feathering out, and - so they claimed - half-starved.

Laser-bright mouth, "Put food here!" it says. But Ma and Pa Swallow are taking a short break.

I noticed that, although the youngsters seemed to be yelling, and I was only a few feet away, I couldn't hear anything. It may be that while the parents were resting, the chicks were only practicing their gape, or that their cry was beyond the range of my aging ears. Audubon has a recording of the chicks' begging cry, here. (I can hear this fine, even at the lowest volume.)


Two chicks, two parents.

Chin feathers like one of those rubberized hairbrushes. 

They grow quickly; by now, they'll be trying out their wings.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Afternoon sun, with mirror

Just because

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Unequal match

The sad story of Fang, Part II

Recap: I found Fang in the kitchen, took his photo, and sent him to play outside.

Why I named him Fang. He's about 3 inches across, toe to toe.

These warm days, I do a "bug run" every day just outside my door, finding mostly spiders; house spiders, cross spiders, crab spiders, and the occasional wanderer, like Fang. (Usually much smaller, though.)

Cross spider in her web. 10 PM; these ones work night and day.

Yesterday evening, there was a new one, a pinhead-sized white spider. I had to set up the tripod to get a photo; the web was dancing with every tiny breeze, and there was no leeway for an additional shaking hand. I had to move a few plant pots to set up the tripod, and Fang came running out from under one of them. I shooed him off, away from where I would be standing.


I got my photo, and was heading back inside, carrying the camera still attached to the tripod, when I saw Fang on the wall, below the web of one of the fat web spiders I've been watching. He was facing the proprietress of the web; she was darting in towards him, then backing off in a hurry.

And his fangs were as long as her entire body! This was not going to end well.

In the few minutes that I took to re-position the tripod, the situation had changed. Fang was sitting quietly, while Ma G. (for Gordita) was poking at his legs.

He's still threatening her with those big fangs.

She'd found his weak spot; she went around and around him, systematically stinging the joints in his legs, where he has a flexible membrane, rather than the hard exoskeleton.

Spiders extend their legs using hydraulics, rather than muscles, as we do. To run, they increase the pressure in the cephalothorax (the head/upper body section), sending blood down the legs. Small muscles then return the liquid to the body, returning the legs to the relaxed position. So a shot of paralyzing poison to the legs soon invades the whole body.

Biting his knee. He's settling down, now.

Once he was still, she started to work on tying him up, starting at the legs, then running over and under the body, until he would be unable to move even if the poison stopped working. She paused, a couple of times, now that he was immobile, to sting the underside of his belly, another weak spot.

He has extruded what I presume is a blob of silk from the spinnerets, in his death throes.

Once that was done, she returned to her usual spot at the top of her web, and slowly winched him up until she could anchor him in her dining room. It was slow going; he was heavy and ungainly. It was getting dark, and I left before she'd finished.

I came back just before dawn to see what was going on. She was busy eating.

She's used a lot of silk, tying up those long legs. She'll eat it again, when she cuts him loose. Spiders recycle!

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