Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fuliginous Frogs and Baffling Batrachians

Fuliginous means sooty, and is being used in the sense of obscure, as in seeing through a glass, darkly. In my case it certainly applies to Mink Frogs (Lithobates septentrionalis), since for the last more than half a century of my life I've been unaware that these small amphibians even existed. They also share the same habitat as the Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) and the Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans), all are similarly colored and can be confused with one another.

One thing that's easy to determine in all three species is the frog's sex: the male's tympanum or eardrum is significantly larger than the eye, in the female it's smaller. Useful information if one intends to kiss a frog and wants to know in advance if the result will be a handsome prince or a beautiful princess.

The key distinguishing feature of the Bullfrog is that it lacks dorsolateral ridges, the folds of skin that start behind the frog's eyes and run down its back. Of course, if the Bullfrog in question is fully grown there's no possibility of confusion, at over 15 cm in length it's much larger and more robust than its cousins.

So, looking at the Bullfrog: this is a female ...

... another a female ...

... and this frog with the large tympanum is a male.

Note the dorsolateral ridges along the backs of these of Green Frogs (for anyone interested, a grouping of frogs is called an "army" of frogs). "Green" is a bit of a misnomer, the color in all three species can vary from grungy brown, as in the individuals below, to green, with or without darker spots.

This male Green Frog is about 10 cm long, fully mature and sporting his breeding colors. Note the bright yellow throat – male Bullfrogs and Mink Frogs throats will also turn this color when they are ready to mate. A more important distinguishing characteristic of Green Frogs are the markings on their back legs: they are distinctly barred, with the stripes running transverse to the length of the legs.

A female Green Frog ... note the smaller tympanum.

Although this female was much smaller Mink Frogs can grow to a length of almost 8 cm. Like the Green Frog they have dorsolateral ridges, but Mink Frogs tend to be mottled, and their back legs have spots rather than transverse stripes. Males and often females also tend to show a tinge of yellow on their throats. However, none of these characteristics can reliably separate Green and Mink frogs in the field.

As a rule it's preferable to photograph wild things in a natural setting, but Mink Frogs do have one unique feature that sets them apart from their relatives and that's why this frog was captured. This is one froggie you definitely don't want to kiss because Mink Frogs come by their name honestly, and, as advertised, this little frog smelled exactly like rotting onions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Azure Bluet (Enallagma aspersum)

Just when I thought I was through finding "new" odonates for this season I had my first encounter with this distinctive damselfly on the "Trail", about a kilometer east of town. The key distinguishing features of this species are the large eyespots, relatively narrow shoulder stripes, and above all the abdomen: mostly black, but with an extensive amount of blue on S7. This is unique among our local Enallagma and really stands out in the field.

The female also has an ample amount of blue on S7 but patterned differently than the male. In fact both S7 and S8 have paired blue spots, singular field marks exhibited by no other female bluets in our area.

Azure Bluets prefer to breed in small, tranquil bodies of water such as ponds and bogs. At this time of year most of the woodland pools in this location have dried up. The nearest significant body of still water is the lagoon and likely that's where the Azure Bluets are breeding.

Update ... this damselfly is definitely a late season flier. The photo below was taken on September 16th, and judging by its bright, strong colors this female has only recently emerged.

September 19th ... more than ten females and about half as many males were observed in the same general area. A dorsal view of a male ...

... and a couple of photos of a female.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

More Miscellaneous Mushroom Portraits ...

... from the little known paths and byways through our local woodlands. Generally the trees are the deciduous and evergreen mix typical of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence ecozone. The exception are the woods adjoining the Stoco Fen, which are almost exclusively White Cedar.

I've tried to include enough background in the photos to put the fungi in the context of their environment ... were they growing in the soil or decaying wood? under a pine or a maple?

On the path to the old dynamite factory, east of Tweed ...

Parrot Waxcap (Hygrocybe psittacina)

Chanterelle Waxcap (Hygrocybe cantharellus)

It's a jungle out there and nothing is safe. Fungus vs. fungus: Bleeding Mycena (Mycena haematopus), parasitised by the mold Spinellus fusiger.

Species of Mycena can be impossible to separate in the field, however, Bleeding Mycena is easily identified.

Rhizomarasmius pyrrhocephalus: the narrow stems of these small mushrooms seemed to be little thicker than horsehairs, but they were incredibly tough!

Quinte Conservation Trail, southeast of Actinolite ...

Nested Waxcap (Hygrocybe nitida)

In the forest near the Stoco Fen ...

Conic Waxcap (Hygrocybe conica)

White Elfin Saddle (Helvella crispa), this is a species of sac fungus, related to the Common Morel.

Along the Eastern Ontario Trail, west of Tweed ...

Indigo Lactarius or Blue Milk Mushroom (Lactarius indigo)

Smoky Spindles (Clavaria fumosa), a species of coral fungus.

White Pine Bolete (Suillus americanus) ... the tangled web of white stuff that looks like mold at the bottom of the stem is the mycelium. This is the true body of the fungus, normally hidden underground, within decaying wood or whatever other substrate the given species of fungus prefers.

On a trail near Rapids Road ...

Splashes of color on the forest floor, foreshadowing the colors of autumn lurking just around the corner. I originally misidentified these mushrooms as Woolly Chanterelle (Gomphus floccosus) – but they are not. These are either Lactarius sp. or Russula sp. being attacked by a sac fungus called a Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum). The parasitic fungus forms a hard orange or red surface on the host species, causing it to become malformed and the gills to develop poorly.

Pinwheel Mushrooms (Marasmius rotula), their caps were only a few millimeters wide. Some of these tiny fungi were fruiting on twigs.

Suillus umbonatus, the caps of these boletes feel sticky/slimy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"No Name" Nature

This large caterpillar was found crawling in the vegetation near the forest floor. Given its size, about the length and width of my pinky finger, and knowing that Luna Moths pupate in the forest litter, often incorporating dead leaves in their cocoons, it seemed reasonable to conclude this was the larval stage of Actias luna.

My first attempts at check my supposition drew a blank – there was nothing in either my field guides or the Internet that resembled this caterpillar. It took a bit more digging to find out that my first surmise was correct after all. This is a Luna Moth caterpillar, but larvae that will overwinter often take on an amber coloration.

It's interesting to note that when danger is imminent this caterpillar instinctively hides its head in the same manner as the Promethea Moth larva. Meanwhile the large terminal pair of pseudopods are raised in the air, their colors also strongly hinting that the tail end is the insect's the head.

A bit of thought, research and luck solved the caterpillar conundrum, but sometimes there just isn't enough information in a photograph to even hazard a guess. By far the largest number of files on my hard drive named unidentified are images of fungi. The mushrooms in the next two photos are ubiquitous at this time of year, and many have even left ochre spore prints. But I still haven't figured out what they are.

Gymnopilus sapineus or Gymnopilus penetrans are likely possibilities, although the species accounts are confusing. Could these mushrooms be Cortinarius? There are hundreds of species, difficult even for experts to sort out.

Amanita bisporigera, or Amanita virosa? The difference between the two species is in their spores, something we can't tell from a photo.

Is this a Mink Frog (Rana septentrionalis), or a Green Frog (Rana clamitans)? The two species are easily confused with one another, and there isn't enough evidence in these two views to be a hundred percent sure either way. A photo doesn't tell the whole story, in hindsight it seems that the best move would have been to capture the frog and give it a sniff. Mink Frogs are so called for a reason – they smell like rotting onions.

And assuming this is a Mink Frog it seems that the name Rana septentrionalis isn't correct in any event. Phylogenetic relationships can change in the light of new studies; the Mink Frog and its close relatives are now members of the subgenus Lithobates.

Another dark salamander with blue spots was encountered about one kilometer southeast of Actinolite on a trail managed by Quinte Conservation. This specimen has a darker aspect than the two seen at the Frink Center, and the blue spots are confined mostly to its sides. Could this be a Jefferson Salamander? Or a polyploid hybrid? I think this is probably a Blue-spotted Salamander, but without looking at a sample of its chromosomes under a microscope I'll never really know for certain ...

The pattern of a spider's eyes determines its family relationship, and a photo of this spider's face would go a long way toward making a positive I.D. But as often happens in the world of nature photography the subject didn't want to co-operate. Based on general appearance and color the closest match I can find on the Internet is Pisaurina brevipes. But the pattern isn't quite right and I'm not even sure this a Nursery Web Spider ... maybe it's a Fishing Spider, genus Dolomedes.

Immature jumping spiders can look very different from adults, and even the adults can vary considerably in color and pattern. The jumping spider in the next photo was a hefty specimen, a good 15 mm long, and it's safe to say it's an adult female. My best guess is Phidippus clarus.