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CassieBash's Critters fall 2018 and winter 2019 edition

Gardens & Books

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Edited: Sep 24, 8:49am Top

Starting a new thread with a new critter; you can see my previous one here.

Happy fall equinox (a couple of days late...)!

I promised on the last thread that there would be turkey pictures, so let there be turkey pictures. We'll make the wild turkey our Critter of the Week, while we're at it.

This handsome fellow (called a tom) was at one of the bird feeding stations yesterday evening. He let me get a little closer than the hens, but then he doesn't have a brood to protect. Right now, the females (called hens, just like female chickens) and their young are still flocking together, while the guys are hanging out either in their bachelor groups or going solo. There were other turkeys nearby when I was taking his picture, so I'm not sure if he was a solo male and the group I saw were the ladies and their young, or if it was a small group of the guys and he was the only one brave enough (or stupid enough, depending on your perspective) to risk feeding close to a group of humans. I suppose scenario 3 could be that he's a young one from this year's brood starting to break off on his own, but he seems a bit big for that yet. You can tell he's a male by the "beard" that hangs from his chest--though in some populations, it's not unusual for some of the females to also have beards.

Turkeys used to have a huge range across North America, going as far south as parts of Mexico and up into Canada; until relatively recently, they'd been extirpated (made extinct in a portion of their range) in Indiana, but in the past 10 or so years, were re-introduced (for hunting reasons, no doubt), and their numbers have soared in places. We have a relatively small but stable flock in our area, and they have been delighting us with almost daily visits, mostly from the ladies and their young, to our back yard bird feeder station, cleaning up the seed that the smaller songbirds drop. Hey, they might as well get it before the raccoons, skunks, and opossums do! They also eat insects, nuts, snails, and berries--many people think that after the farmer has harvested his field that turkeys are out there eating the corn or soybeans, but many specialists think they're probably more likely after the insects that their harvesters have disturbed.

Unlike their domesticated cousins, which are descended from them, wild turkeys can and do fly, sleeping on roosts off the ground. They like mature wooded areas with borders of cleared fields--great for roosting and foraging--and in particular like nut trees. The turkey family includes pheasants, partridge, grouse, prairie chickens, and ptarmigan. The turkey is native to America, but there's a bit of confusion as to how it got it's name, involving several countries. There's an amusing story that Benjamin Franklin actually wanted the turkey to be the national bird, instead of the bald eagle, but technically, that's a half-truth at best. Franklin found the eagle to be a bird of dubious character, commenting in a letter to his daughter that it was a thief who, too lazy at times to do his own fishing, would steal from the industrious fishing hawk. (He also proclaimed the bald eagle a coward, as the smaller birds could drive him away easily, much as sparrows will attack crows and hawks.) He comments further that the eagle design adopted for the U.S. seal looks more like a turkey anyway, and that a turkey would be a better choice, as they, though a bit "vain and silly", are far braver " and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards”.

Brave, indeed, for he let me get within 8 feet of him and, after retreating a little ways when I came to take the bird feeders down for the night (raccoons will climb up and knock them down for you if you don't), he returned until a low-flying helicopter scared him back into the overgrown grass in the horse pasture. He wasn't gone for long; he came back yet again to enjoy one last snack before bedtime.

Sep 24, 8:54am Top

Wow! What a beauty he is. And your capture of his picture is amazing.

Sep 24, 5:03pm Top

>2 2wonderY: Well, he was highly cooperative. He seems to not be too concerned around people--a detriment during hunting season. Wish I could tell the critters that visit us that while we may not hurt them, somebody else might, and they need to be careful when they're not on our property, where hunting isn't allowed. And unfortunately, he was standing in deep shade in the evening, so the pictures are a little dark. He'll probably be back again tonight if it's not raining; I've noticed they, like raccoons and foxes, follow a pattern, almost like a ritual.

Sep 26, 7:38am Top

The slowdown in emergences as I run out of chrysalises for those who won't sleep through the winter is, of course, normal at this time of year. And the number of emergences will depend on the weather, as cooler temperatures slow development (plus too cool, especially with limited or no sun, and a butterfly can't fly). Yesterday saw 4 monarchs emerge; today I expect maybe one or two at best, as our high is only supposed to be 64F, since we had some rain and storms move through the area with a cold front. Postings will probably start being fewer and farther between because of that--but perhaps I'll focus on sharing photos during slow times. I'm not sure yet how much winterizing of my poor garden--hard hit during our 2+ weeks of virtually no rain--I'll do this season, as I'm working long hours at the library and by the time I get home and do what needs to be done feeding and tending animals, the sun's well on its way down. Weekends have been busy, too, but I'm going to prioritize cleaning some of the empty tanks this weekend (rain possibility permitting) and try to get the section of the barn devoted to my caterpillars and garden statuary cleaned up a bit and tidied.

The asters in my garden, and a couple of stubborn phlox, are all that's left of the blooming flowers, and unfortunately, I think the rain from early yesterday morning and last night, though a good soak, was probably too little, too late.

Sep 27, 7:27am Top

Well, that was a surprise: 4 more monarchs and a buckeye butterfly emerged yesterday, despite the cooler temperatures. The temps are supposed to remain cool for a few days, then go back up, and then back down. Welcome to the roller coaster of Indiana fall weather!

Sep 28, 8:19am Top

1 monarch and 1 question mark emerged--plus I "caught" a wild buckeye that I found sitting on the grass in the shade.

I suspect it was just cold and therefore didn't mind being picked up by a warm hand and moved out of the way (it was in danger of being stepped on where it was) into what sunlight was left. I can tell we had the equinox; sunset is coming a lot faster now, it seems.

I love all butterflies, of course, and think that they're all pretty, but the buckeye is one of Indiana's more colorful and intricately-marked species.

Oct 1, 7:24am Top

I'm down to about 8-10 monarch chrysalises and one or two larvae, a couple of inchworms and a couple of buckeye larvae, one or two question mark chrysalises and maybe half a dozen buckeye chrysalises, and say about 2-3 dozen spicebush swallowtail larvae. Oh, and I collected a few of the oak-eating Juvenal's skipper from the horse pasture, as we'll be cutting it soon (hopefully) to take out the sapling trees (again) and a lot of the weeds. We wanted to wait until the monarchs were pretty much done for the season.

Oct 2, 9:45am Top

Let's start our October edition of the Critter with a creature whose name (or at least one of them) is quite fearsome-sounding: the hellbender salamander.

By Ns4571a - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38538502

The hellbender has a lot of nicknames, including devil dog, water dog (apparently someone thinks it looks a bit like a canine?), mud devil, grampus, snot otter (my personal favorite), and the Allegheny alligator. At least I can see the alligator resemblance, far more than a dog. But the "dog" thing may also come from confusion between the hellbender and a similar species, the mudpuppy. There are some key differences, such as external gills (mudpuppies) and loose, folded skin (hellbenders) due to the different ways they breathe--mudpuppies are aquatic and thus the gills, while hellbenders breathe through their skin, the folds creating more surface area from which to breathe. They are green or brown in color, with wide, flat heads and short, stubby legs ending with clawed toes suited to grasping and holding onto rocks. Their rudder-like tails help them to steer when swimming.

Hellbenders are also much larger; they can easily reach 2 feet, while mudpuppies generally top out at 14 inches. Hellbenders are the third largest salamander in the world, but it can claim to be the largest amphibian in North America--at least for the moment. It has a limited geographic range (select parts of 16 states) that has seen a lot of human encroachment, so its numbers are shrinking and it has become endangered or extinct in many of the states it inhabits--including Indiana (endangered), where it's range has been reduced to the area known as the Blue River Basin along the Ohio River in southern Indiana (it was once widespread across the state). Most feel that pollution, habitat loss, and the pet trade have hurt its numbers across most of its range, and scientists fear that it, being an indicator species (an animal or plant whose decline or rise in number indicates how healthy a habitat is), the declining numbers of hellbenders mean something is wrong in the ecosystem, perhaps water pollution. Purdue University has a repopulation effort underway, with captive breeding and habitat restoration. Part of the issue is that it needs not only clean water, but also moving clean water, with swift, shallow rocky rivers and streams.

Hellbenders are nocturnal, and between their night-time ways and their nasty appearance and slime (they are amphibians, after all) probably gave rise to its name. They are living fossils, basically unchanged for millions of years. During the summer, crayfish tend to make up most of their diet, with fish becoming the more prevalent food source during the winter--probably due to relative activity levels, and thus availability, of its prey. They are territorial and will, once they find a spot they like, stay there unless they need to mate (but only if they're females) or search farther afield for prey. Breeding is in the fall, with the male preparing a nesting site and waiting for the female to come to him, at which point he herds her into the site and keeps her there until she's laid her eggs (up to 200), which he fertilizes externally. Males have been known to do this with more than one female, so that a nest could have the eggs of several females--over 1900 have been counted in at least one nest. It's daddy who takes care of the eggs, protecting them from predators and making sure that the eggs have plenty of oxygen by creating currents of water when needed.

There are a few subspecies, but all are endangered; the Ozark hellbender has under 600 individuals in the wild, and the entire population in Missouri suffer from a disease called chytridiomycosis, a fungus that has had a deadly impact on amphibian populations world-wide.

Oct 8, 9:01am Top

I don't do fish very often, so let's make this week's Critter the witch flounder. Like the hellbender, it also has several other names, including gray sole, pole flounder, and Craig fluke, but nothing nearly as creative as the hellbender's nicknames. (I still like "snot otter.) If you've ever eaten Torbay sole, then you've eaten witch flounder. Someone (I'm guessing someone named Torbay), somewhere, decided this name was more appetizing than any of the fish's other names.

This public domain picture, Glyptocephalus cynoglossus, is from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It's found in deep sea mud in the North Atlantic and is of interest as an edible fish--though I look at it and wonder how much meat you can get from this or any other flatfish, personally. It's seldom caught in water shallower than 10 fathoms (that's 60 feet) and is commonly caught between 60-150 fathoms (360-900 feet), though the deepest I've found on a reliable source regarding maximum depth for this species is 858 fathoms off Nova Scotia. That's over 1,500 feet deep, so this species can withstand a lot of pressure.

Like all flatfish, the witch flounder is asymmetrical, with both of its eyes on the right side of its head, making it a right-eyed, or dextral, flatfish. It is, like most flatfish, 2.5 to 3.5 times longer than its breadth, which gives it a general oval shape, and its body is covered in smooth scales that make it difficult to hold onto, probably helped along by the mucous pits that are located on its head, on the left side. It has small, sharp teeth and are generally a brown or grey-ish brown with tiny black spots. Their sharp teeth are for catching and eating small crustaceans, molluscs, and worms. They have a long spawning time--May through Septemeber--and the eggs can develop normally between the ranges of 44.96-54.986F (7.2-12.77C). It takes three or four years for the fish to become mature enough to mate, but when they do, watch out. Females can harbor egg clutches numbering in the tens and even the hundreds of thousands, with the size of the fish determining how many (the larger the fish, the larger the clutch of eggs). A 60 cm. specimen can have over 500,000 eggs.

Oct 12, 12:46pm Top

Found and starred your new thread. Love the pictures, of course!

Oct 12, 3:27pm Top

>10 fuzzi: Have things settled down, weather-wise, in NC? My weather-prayers are with Florida now.

Funny you should mention pictures:

So earlier this week, I came into the College building at my usual time (around 7 AM) and found this fellow just inside the north entrance:

I started herding him, using my book bag and purse, back towards the door, and then I thought, "What am I doing? I have to get pictures!" So I dug out my phone, snapped a few shots, and then proceeded to continue herding him out the door. Presumably, this little fellow has stayed outside since then and hopefully has found a good place to settle down for the winter, as we had our first frost advisory last night and there's already another one set up for tonight. I think he's a Dekay's brown snake, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

I've been so bad about reporting butterfly emergences that it isn't even funny. I did release a few this week here and there: 3-4 monarchs and just as many buckeyes. The only caterpillars left to care for are the Juvenal skippers, eating their oak. This weekend, I have to clean a bunch more tanks, prep them for storage, and put all chrysalises and cocoons into winter storage (aka the basement). I'll be using the tank that has the spicebush swallowtails in it because of practicality--they've made chrysalises on the top and sides, so it'll be faster, easier, and less risky to just use that tank to store them all. Fortunately, this tank had started out as the black swallowtail tank and their chrysalises are along the sides and top, too!

Most monarch chrysalises left show signs of disease or parasites, which is to be expected, since they should be heading down to Mexico in order to make it there around Nov. 1--Dia de los Muertos--that is the height of their return to their winter hibernarium.

Oct 12, 7:46pm Top

How big was that snake?

Oct 14, 8:44pm Top

Not all that big, really, but he was trying to look bigger than he was. His body was probably between nickel and quarter size in diameter at its widest point. But length wise it was impressive; definitely over a foot. The problem with herding him wasn't his size but his speed; he was darn fast. Plus, his smaller size made it easier for him to try squeezing between the purse and bag.

Oct 15, 7:58am Top

Spent most of yesterday morning cleaning out unoccupied caterpillar tanks for the season, and letting them dry for several hours in the sun. I used vinegar--the strongest cleanser/disinfectant that I trust for this job--and sunlight. Many bacteria and viruses don't do well in prolonged exposure to sun, so I'm hoping that between the two of them, I've killed all the nasties that might infect next season's caterpillars. This seems to have worked well so far. Also, I took the chrysalis/cocoon tank to the basement, just in time to avoid tonight's 31 degree temperature. We've had a couple of frost advisories already but have yet to have the frost--but this is almost a given. I still have some buckeyes and one monarch chrysalis that might still be viable, but if we have a hard enough freeze, that will probably kill them, even in the protection of the barn. But I'll give them the chance. That tom turkey has been hanging around the back bird feeders in the evenings still, while the hens and their broods have probably started parting ways. I'd say he was one of the chicks from this last year, but I think he's a bit big for that. He might have been from last year's brood, though.

This week's Critter, in keeping with our "spooky" theme, is the ghost shrimp.

Glass shrimp close, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25158152

One thing I've discovered while searching for creatures that fit the whole Halloween theme is that a lot of them are aquatic. These guys, also called glass shrimp for obvious reasons, or the eastern grass shrimp, is a freshwater shrimp found in ponds, lakes, and streams along the eastern U. S., as well as certain areas in the U. S. where it has been introduced. The grass shrimp name probably comes from its preference to reside in aquatic vegetation, enjoying emergent grasses and water hyacinths in particular. They mostly eat algae but will eat other plants and even small aquatic insects, as well as detritus. In turn, they are eaten by fish (primarily bass and sunfish species), water fowl, and wading birds such as the heron. It's thought that their liking for thick grass stands is tied not only to food but to cover and protection from predators as well, and they are seldom found in areas with little or no such vegetation. Because they also feed on detritus, they also play an important role in keeping their ecosystems clean--like aquatic vultures. Some scientists think they may be a keystone species, indicating the health of their ecosystem by their abundance or their absence.

Because they are an important food source, you would think that the females would lay hundreds of eggs, but in fact, they lay only up to 85 eggs per brood--though they may have more than one brood during their one year lifespan. Because these shrimp are transparent, any change in any organ can be observed, and interestingly, ghost shrimp ovaries turn green when the female shrimp is ready to mate. Since these shrimp are sold commercially as aquarium pets, owners may notice the change (and hopefully won't think it's a disease or problem). But owners will have to try to catch this change when the lights are off--ghost shrimp tend to be nocturnal (which considering their name seems fitting), probably to avoid predators.

Oct 15, 6:11pm Top

I have tried freshwater shrimp in my tanks with no good results so far. I think they need a species-only environment even though none of my community tank denizens are known to be aggressive.

Note to anyone thinking of adding freshwater shrimp in their aquarium: do not mix types, especially ghost shrimp with other varieties, as ghost shrimp attack and eat other shrimp! It happened to me when I bought some Red Cherry shrimp (RCS) and got a ghost shrimp in the bag by mistake. Within a day two of my RCS were ripped to shreds and partly eaten! I returned the ghost shrimp and got an apology and a couple replacement RCS from the pet store.

Oct 16, 8:37am Top

>15 fuzzi: Wonder if the pet store had issues, too, if they were keeping ghost shrimp in with Red Cherries. Thanks for the PSA on shrimp in aquariums. I don't mess with aquatics, outside of helping to care for the naturalized pond outside, so I had no idea about ghost shrimp aggression. But it doesn't surprise me in some ways, as crustaceans in general tend to not be picky regarding their food, and they have a tendency to prey on each other, as well as anything else they can grip in their claws.

Hey, so those of you who have followed me since January of 2017 may remember I've had a health issue that has perplexed my doctors a bit. So for those who have wondered about this, here's a cautiously optimistic update. Guys, female health issues to follow; read (or not) as you see fit.

After the surgery for the cyst and endometriosis, you may remember I had 5 wonderful months of freedom from periods, during which I had nothing worse than some hot flashes. The gynecologist was certain I'd go into menopause and that would keep any possibility of the endo coming back at bay, since it feeds on estrogen. And then in July of that year, I started having regular periods again and my hot flashes waned to the point where I'm not even sure I was having them anymore. My gynecologist and his NP tried putting me on progesterone (without the estrogen, so I wasn't potentially feeding the endo) in hopes of stopping the flow but that only worked for a couple of months, and then it was worse than ever, with an almost non-stop period that dragged out as light flow and spotting between the heavier flows. In May, they took me off that and we have since decided, upon advice from hormone specialists, most of whom said we should take the wait-and-see approach, to simply let things be. The specialists said that somewhere, my body must have had a supply of estrogen stored up and that it needed to burn through the supply. So while it took a little over a year's worth of periods (and about a year and a half since the surgery), I have gone for three entire cycles without so much as a spot of blood, plus my hot flashes are coming back. There's still no sign of cancer (they did the usual test last time I was there) and unless I have something unusual and worrisome happen before next August, I'm good until then. If I can make it without a period until my appointment, I will officially be in menopause (one year since the last cycle)--here's hoping! Do I trust my body not to spring another period on me? Not yet. But it's a start and hopefully, even if I have another cycle, this is a sign of the beginning of the end, if it's not the end already. Other good news--I'm slowly losing weight (I admit to being a little overweight--not obese, but carrying more fat than what's good for me) and am down to 137.5 as of last night. Since fat cells also harbor estrogen, I've got a good motivation to slim down right there. And, of course, I'm still watching my diet for flax, soy, chocolate, alcohol, and caffeine--the 5 top estrogen mimics/phytoestrogen sources.

Edited: Oct 17, 2:58pm Top

>16 CassieBash: glad to hear cautiously optimistic good news!

Sometimes "let it be" is the best option, let things settle on their own without outside interference. :)

On the waterfront (ha!) I have a 10 gallon aquarium that I've been using as a nursery for the plecos, but I'm down to just five fry that have grown to over 1" long, and which I hope to re-home in the next month or so. Then what?

I am not big on keeping a tank running "just in case" I need a sick/quarantine aquarium, so I'm thinking of going for RCS again, or some small schooling fish.

Some of my possibilities:

Ember tetra

Chilli (aka Mosquito) Rasbora

Phoenix Rasbora

These are all less than 1" in length, and I could have a school of 8 or more happily and healthily (?) living in a 10 gallon.


Oct 17, 3:44pm Top

>17 fuzzi: Thanks for the pictures; I personally like the rasboras in appearance, but perhaps that's just because we never had any! I remember we had tetras back when we had an aquarium, though not ember ones. My favorites were the loaches, especially the weather loaches (we also had coolies). I'd name each weather loach after a local weatherman, and they got tame enough that when you fed flakes, they'd "nibble" your fingers if you stuck them in the water, or they'd follow your finger if you drew it across the glass.

Oct 18, 1:13pm Top

>18 CassieBash: I do have Kuhli/coolie loaches, though I don't see them often. The last time I had to break down the aquarium I counted four (4). They love to snuggle inside the Java fern and anubias.

Oct 22, 1:54pm Top

This week's Critter has been made famous by Edgar Allan Poe:

Corvus corax jouveniles by Sigurður Atlason.

The crow family is so common that it is highly recognizable by most people worldwide; most everyone knows what a crow or a raven looks like. Scientists group these birds, along with jackdaws and rooks, into Corvus, and they don't make much distinction between crows and ravens aside from size (crows being a bit smaller than ravens as a general rule). This genus is like the goths of the bird class, wearing mostly black and looking grim. Except for when ravens brought Elijah food, most literary, folkore, mythical, and religious portrayals of crows and ravens are negative, and people who harbor any superstitious feelings about crows and ravens seem to fixate on these. They are associated with war, death, murder (a flock of them is even called a "murder"), and famine. This is probably because they eat carrion, and any body, animal or human, lying around would be fair game for them to eat. So sites such as battlefields, gallows, desolate murder sites and shallow burials...these would all have attracted ravens, crows, vultures, buzzards, and any other scavenger on two wings. Add to this their genus's trademark color of black--a color of ill omen to many superstitious Westerners--and you have quite the sinister creature. And while they do eat carrion, they also eat fresh meat, fruits, nuts, seeds...in fact, they're actually quite omnivorous, and if it's edible and fits in their mouths, it's fair game.

But this genus is also smart; crows can remember human faces, can be trained to find and pick up things, they use tools, and, of course, one of the key signs of intelligence, they play. We don't have ravens in Indiana, but we do have crows--and some pretty big ones at that--and I've always been fond of them, "talking" to them with mimicking caws. And yes, they often answer back.

They're also long-lived, if given the chance; the oldest in captivity was 59 years old when he died. But they aren't always allowed to live unmolested to a ripe old age; they're seen as pests and in many areas are hunted, even eaten (do you suppose they taste like chicken?). American crows are, despite a drop in their population due to West Nile, not considered endangered, but there are two species that fall under the U.S. Endangered Species Act--the Hawaiian crow and the Mariana crow--

Edited: Oct 22, 2:29pm Top

>20 CassieBash: The crow, and the crow family, are my very favorite. From Blue Jays to Ravens, from Magpies to Crows, they're smart, and filled with joy.

In the long ago times, before the Northridge Quake (in 1994), Ravens nested in the nooks and crannies at the Northridge Mall, and would stalk early arrivals there just in case they had leftover food. After the quake, they vanished, and I never knew what happened to them. It made me sad, to see them disappear.

Magpies are one of the most interesting, and their flight patterns are startling. They fly in geometric arcs, turning on a dime, and are very fond of chasing cats (which seems only fair, considering how many birds are chased by cats).


Oct 23, 7:08am Top

>21 Lyndatrue: My younger sister likes magpies so much, her art business is called Magpie Dreams. I have a fondness for the crow family, myself, and if I thought I could keep one, I'd so love one as a pet--I'm not a pet bird person as a rule but I might make an exception for a crow!

Oct 25, 10:13am Top

Anyone within the natural range of the Isabella tiger moth knows the old saying that you can predict how long and cold the winter will be by the bandings on the caterpillars (known as banded woolly bears). I can tell you from personal experience raising an entire brood, with the same genetic background, that this is crap. That entire family I raised from eggs that came from one female moth, living together (no difference in diet), produced coats that ranged from almost all brown to almost all black. Even just personal observations will tell you this, like these three I found earlier this year:

Now what possible useful prediction can you make from these three? :D

Those who have seen my last thread know that I was both greatly excited and a bit disappointed to get pictures of sandhill cranes--excited because it was my first change to photograph them, disappointed because they stayed so far away from me. Well, yesterday when I left the building, crossed the road to the parking lot with a huge cow pasture along the north border, I saw three sandhill cranes, pretty close to the fence. So here are a few pics that I got, that I think are a bit better than my first opportunity:


Oct 25, 7:04pm Top

Oct 29, 7:44am Top

So for Halloween week, our Critter is (somewhat) fittingly the Halloween crab!

Gecarcinus quadratus (Halloween crab) at Nosara, Costa Rica, By (Bhny) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:HalloweenCrab.JPG, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5708951

Yes, a crab. In fact, there's also a Halloween hermit crab, but we'll save him for another year. Aside from being nocturnal, coloration is really the only thing that makes this crab "Halloween", with his black body, orange legs, and purple claws. He's hardly scary: 2 inches tops, mostly herbivorous, living in mangrove forests and rainforests, as well as along sand dunes by the ocean, which all crabs will return to in order to breed, since it will lay its eggs in water. Though it can be found in various suitable areas from Mexico to Panama, it's particularly common in Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.

They are considered land crabs (well, obviously, if they live part of their lives in forests), and like all land crabs, they have special adaptations that allow them to breathe air. While all land crabs also have gills--necessary for when they return to the water to mate and lay eggs--all land crabs also have a special part of their shell--the carapace--that is filled with blood vessels and can inflate like a lung, drawing oxygen from the air and circulating it throughout their bodies.

Edited: Oct 30, 1:24pm Top

I'd like to offer another Halloween critter for your consideration:

Halloween Pennant

Oct 30, 4:32pm Top

And there's a Halloween snake, too. Orange and black critters seem to get named for that particular holiday a lot. :)

Oct 31, 2:48pm Top

Happy Halloween from the Book Wyrm of Ancilla College!

Oct 31, 2:52pm Top

>28 CassieBash: Whoa! Nice wings, you got there. :-}

Nov 1, 8:00am Top

>29 Lyndatrue: Thanks! Next time, maybe I'll have a tail to go with them.

Nov 1, 8:13am Top

Very nice! Where'd you get the mechanism for opening the wings? I've been looking for something along those lines.

Nov 1, 10:16am Top

Did you make those wings yourself? If so, how, and what did you use?

Nov 1, 5:36pm Top

>31 2wonderY: & >32 fuzzi: No, I didn't make them. I'm not that good a craftsman. I got them through Spirit Halloween last year to use on a skeletal horse covered in panty hose to make a thestral. I have had some mechanical issues with the right wing in particular but can't say whether that's because the wings were outside for about 12 hours--I waited last minute to add them and took them off immediately after the party to limit their exposure to the weather--or if it's just cheap manufacturing as some reviewers suggested. However, so far I've managed to fix everything and I think with a bit of glue and/or duct tape (the wonder tool!), they'll be fine. I think they come in two other colors--all black and red and black. The mechanism for opening the wings comes with it; just pull the strings and the wings extend. My biggest problem with operating the wings--aside from the minor repairs--is remembering that the left cord controls the right wing and the right cord controls the left. You can move them independently and you don't have to fully extend them, so you can have all sorts of fun "flexing" your wings and showing off to people. Students, faculty, and staff loved it! By the next time I use them, I want to have a tail, too!

Edited: Nov 5, 3:00pm Top

Ah, fall is truly here! Despite the rain, I'm going to enjoy the 50 degree day, since by the end of the week, we're supposed to be in the 30s for our highs with a rain/snow mix. Winter is just around the corner, and most are predicting that in my part of the world, we'll be a little below average regarding temperature and, depending on who you ask and where lake effect kicks in, either a little below or a bit above average with snowfall. (For us, lake effect may or may not hit us, depending on prevailing wind directions. Anything from the northwest--a common winter wind direction for us--is likely to push snow our way from Lake Michigan.) Until then, I'll just enjoy the view outside my window:

This week's critter is a two-for-one, since I thought, what with the midterm elections and all the mudslinging going on, I'd throw my hat in the ring and remain independent (as always--no single party always has the best candidates in my mind) by looking at two animals who are unfairly dragged into human politics--the elephant (presumably African) and the donkey.

A female African Bush Elephant in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. By The making of this document was supported by Wikimedia CH. (Submit your project!)For all the files concerned, please see the category Supported by Wikimedia CH. - Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15925090

A donkey at Clovelly, North Devon, England. Photo taken by: en:User:Adrian Pingstone in July 2004 and released to the public domain. First upload: July 26, 2004 - en:Wikipedia

The donkey was probably the first of the two to be associated with politics, as it was used by Andrew Jackson's detractors as an insult and a slur--basically saying he was a stubborn jackass. But Jackson actually liked the comparison and started using the donkey for his campaign symbol. Thomas Nast, however, is the one credited for solidifying the elephant/donkey thing in his political cartoon that showed a donkey wearing a lion's skin, frightening animals with its "Cesarism" ways--including a large elephant labeled "The Republican Vote". Here is the 1874 Harper's Magazine cartoon by Nast:

The premise of the cartoon is based on an old Aesop's fable, about a donkey who comes upon a lion's skin and wears it to frighten the other animals and to, in his mind, gain the respect that he never had as a mere ass. Only the fox isn't frightened, as he hears the donkey bray in the joy of the fear he caused; the fox remarks that he, too, would have been frightened--but the donkey's voice betrayed his real self. (The moral, of course, is that however well-dressed a fool may be, once he opens his mouth, he reveals himself, which somehow seems a fitting story for midterm elections. I'm jaded and cynical about politics--can you tell?)

As a side note about Nast, he's also given credit as being the creator of the modern image of Santa Claus.

Sadly, neither creature really deserves the scorn or indignity that comes with being a political symbol. They, of course, couldn't care less about our political grumblings. So let's take a short look at each of them as they would want us to see them: as creatures who, for good or bad, share the planet with us and should have our respect as living beings.

There are actually two divisions of African elephant: forest and bush. The bush variety is the larger of the two and it holds the title of the largest terrestrial animal. (The forest variety is the third largest.) Elephants are social animals that form either family herds (as do, of course, equines such as the donkey) led by an older female known as the matriarch, or bachelor herds made up of mature male elephants. Small family herds can join with each other to become one large herd known as a kinship or bond herd. All adult females in the group help care for the calves, which are born after an almost 2 year gestation period. Elephants are highly intelligent, with very developed neocortexes (as do many primates, including our own species) and massive, 11 pound brains that also take the top prize for terrestrial animals. Some of the traits we associate with intelligence have been observed in elephants: grieving, art, learning, altruism, use of tools, cooperation, memory, compassion, and yes, even self-awareness. The African bush elephant's population, despite continued poaching, is on the rise and the elephant, once considered endangered, is now considered vulnerable. Often, the forest elephant is not given any separate status, so it, too, is considered vulnerable, but while there are plenty of bush elephants in zoos and conservation parks and reserves, there are hardly any forest elephants in captivity. Add to this a slower birht rate and their limited range, mostly in Gabon's forests, and the forest elephant is potentially more vulnerable than even bush elephants.

Donkeys, on the other hand, are hardly in danger of going extinct. A member of the horse family, they've been used by humans for at least 5,000 years, mostly as pack or draft animals. Nowadays, of course, it's mostly in under-developed countries where these animals are still used widely as such; most people in the U.S. keep donkeys merely for pleasure, show, or hobbies if they keep them at all. Donkeys were domesticated from the African wild ass in the area of Egypt and Mesopotamia around 3,000 B.C. Sadly, the wild ass from which they are descended are endangered.

While the stubborness trait that people associate with donkeys (and which led to their association with Andrew Jackson) is widely known, many scientists are re-assessing (no pun intended) this trait in light of new studies which suggest that donkeys might actually have a more heightened sense of self-preservation than horses, and that this may be the reason why trying to force a donkey to do something--especially something that could be seen as dangerous--doesn't work. However, if a donkey learns to completely trust a human to the same extent many horses do, they will be more willing to follow that human's commands. Many who work with donkeys and many who have studied their behaviors say that they are cautious but playful and intelligent.

So whichever party you prefer (or if, like me, you pick and choose your candidates), at least don't slander the good names of these two animals who deserve better than to be seen as the butt of our political cartoons or ire.

Nov 5, 11:58am Top

>34 CassieBash: As the briefest of notes, your first image requires you to provide access to Google (it actually presented me with a Google Account login when I tried to view it). I don't use this browser with google (yeah, I'm pretty crazy), but the easiest thing to do would be to just upload the image to your account and then display it.

Even Chrome wants me to login in before I can see the image (not going to happen).

Up to you.

Edited: Nov 5, 3:04pm Top

>35 Lyndatrue: Crap! I'm trying to find alternatives to Flickr, and I thought Google would work at least temporarily. (It works for me but then I'm always signed in to one Google account or another.) I'm almost at my LT limit and I either need to delete some photos from Flickr to be under their upcoming new 1,000 photo limit or pay for the storage. What can I say, if I can go the cheap, free route, I'm going to do that. Besides, I'm not all that happy with having to edit every single Flickr link, deleting all their extra crap code from the image link, so maybe it's time to see what else is out there anyway. But it looks like Google isn't going to play nice (what a surprise!--that's sarcasm, by the way), so I guess I'll be looking into more options. Any ideas?

Until then, it's back to Flickr, which at least works even if I have to deal with extra coding, so I've fixed the image above for everyone.

And thanks for letting me know it wasn't working, Lyndatrue. I'd rather find out with my first post than my fifteenth.

Nov 5, 7:22pm Top

>36 CassieBash: I'm selfishly grateful that you fixed the image, because it's just lovely.

I've been paying for storage at Flickr for years. I'll just be glad when I don't have to use loathsome old Yahoo to log in.

I don't think there's anyone out there that gives you unlimited storage. If there is, they don't last. Photobucket is gone, or at least changed, and that was one of the last.

Nov 5, 7:50pm Top

>37 Lyndatrue:. Yeah, and I do see their point; it does cost money to run their business. I think Shutterfly does unlimited free storage but the sharing feature is either nonexistent or doesn't play nice-- I forget which. But they have all those goodies they tempt you to buy that feature your photos because that's primarily what they do--they aren't into the sharing business. I'll probably go ahead and upgrade Flickr because I don't know what else I can do, and it at least seems to be a reasonable price compared with other places.

And it really is lovely most of the year, it just changes with the seasons in how it's lovely.

Nov 9, 9:16am Top

LOST....one fall season, chased away by winter. Last seen 11/8/2018. If found, please return to the Michiana* area.

FOUND....one lake effect. Free to anyone that wants it.

*Michiana is the region of southwest Michigan and northwest Indiana--Michigan + Indiana = Michiana.

Nov 10, 1:52pm Top

>39 CassieBash: we're expecting our first freeze tonight, low will be about 28F.

Nov 12, 1:51pm Top

>40 fuzzi: We've been having frosts overnight on and off since late October, but Friday was our first real wintry day, with a high just above freezing, a bit of lake effect snow, and wind chills that dropped the "feels like" temperatures to the 20s during the day. Yesterday, at 40 degrees, was a veritable heat wave! More cold and more lake effect is predicted....

Yesterday, I spent a little time outside picking up some sticks to set aside for fireplace kindling for the winter, when I came across this poor, dead fellow, lying on an oak leaf under a huge pine.

For those who might be thinking this is a caterpillar of some sort, I can't blame you. If you've followed my threads with any sort of regularity (shouting out to you, fuzzi!), then you know my obsession with caterpillars. But this isn't the larva of a Lepidoptera, so it's not a caterpillar. It is a larva, though--a sawfly larva. Specifically, this one is a pine sawfly.

Most sawfly larvae eat tree leaves (or, in his case, pine needles)--though there is a sawfly family that is parasitic--and they can be very destructive. People in forestry and logging industries find them quite the bane if they have a good year in terms of their population. Like some butterflies and moths, sawfly females lay their eggs in clusters (called rafts or pods) and therefore, one tree can play host to dozens, even hundreds, of the eating machines. Sawflies are related to bees, ants, and wasps, but if you look below, you'll see that while their face and wings are wasp-like, their waist doesn't narrow as with their bee, wasp, and ant relatives. And, as is the case with so many insects with destructive larvae, the adults are actually beneficial, as they're pollinators, eating nectar and pollen. But they have to pollinate what they can and find mates quickly, because adult sawflies have a life expectancy of 7-9 days.

Name: Tenthredo mesomela. Family: Tenthredinidae. Location: Münster, NRW, Germany
By Guido Gerding - Personal photograph taken by Author, URL: Ex :: Natura - Freies Portal für Umweltbildung (Environmental Education), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1002020

Larvae, on the other hand, can take anywhere from a few months in a season to years, depending on the species, so they can do a lot of damage while growing up. They do have predators--birds, other insects, spiders, and even small mammals such as mice, shrews, and similar. But when the females lay their eggs in clusters of 30-90 within the bark of a tree exposed to a lot of sun (cooling shade slows and can even hinder development), these groups will emerge and start eating, sometimes defoliating smaller, weaker trees. Even worse (from a forester's perspective) is that the females are numerous, because they tend towards being parthenogenetic, where fertilization of eggs isn't necessary and therefore females can lay eggs that will develop without a male to help. So of those 30-90 eggs, a small--very small--number of them might be males--or they might be all females! While predators may eat a few, many people poison them to control them; in our case, it seems Mother Nature took matters into her own hands with our cold, freezing temperatures. While sawfly larvae look like caterpillars, they do have a few clues that a sharp-eyed entomologist, even an amateur one, can look for. While they have the prolegs--the false feet along their bodies--that caterpillars have, the number and location of these feet are different--caterpillars don't have as many prolegs, nor do they start as far up along the body. In addition to this, sawfly prolegs lack the hooks, known as crochets, that caterpillars have. Perhaps the lack of crochets is why sawfly larvae often do odd things with their back ends, that no caterpillar I've ever seen does:

Sawfly (Nematus miliaris) larvae, Greece
Photo by Charles J Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography

They can also curl their rears the other way, tucking them close to their bodies.

Why call them sawflies? It's not like their chopping down the trees, right?--they're just stripping off the leaves. Remember how the female lays her eggs inside bark? Well, the ovipositor--the egg-laying tube--is shaped somewhat like a small saw.

Mystery solved. :)

Nov 12, 3:22pm Top

I love reading your critter posts, I usually learn something new.

Nov 12, 5:48pm Top

>42 fuzzi: So do I; I usually have to do a bit of research myself! :)

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