Sunday, April 15, 2018

Wildflower Walk 2018

Hannah Parker and her new pet - April 14!
The Wildflower Walk II got off to a roaring start 3 hours early with a visit from Greater Ozarks Audubon birders.  As usual they heard lots of species that don't fall in my hearing range, pointed out broadwing hawks circling that I would have thought were red-shouldered and some other cool finds, but the best one didn't have feathers.

Hannah Parker spotted the rather tattered female Monarch butterfly on our Mail Trace Road.  It patiently rode her finger for a while until we transferred it to a container.  It will be living on a potted milkweed in her house.  In spite of its arduous journey, we hope it will lay some eggs.

We reported it to Journey North which tracks the Monarch migration and it was the second one reported this year in Missouri.  The first was reported flying overhead in St. Louis.  You can see the report here.

From there on the day was a continued success.  We saw a lot more finds with the trained eyes of Michelle Bowe and her students (MSU) and Ioana Popescu (Drury). They provided lots of Greek, Latin and botanical pearls while some of us just carried the cameras and listened in awe.

Pussytoes - female
Dainty little pussytoes have just blossomed with their tiny fuzzy heads.  The botanical name Antennaria plantaginifolia is less catchy than its other common names such as plantain-leaved everlasting and ladies' tobacco.  It typically grows in acid soils on prairies, or dry or rocky slopes, and glades which are abundant along Bull Creek.

Male flowers of pussytoes
It propagates vegetatively by runners under the soil (stolons) and can occur in large clusters.  Stolons are stems that run parallel to the ground or just below the ground and form new roots and essentially new plants which are genetically identical.

I had only seen the pure white blossoms but Michelle pointed out to us that they are dioecious, i.e. male or female flowers are on separate plants.  This area had the pure white heads which are the female flowers with an adjacent patch of male flowers that have tiny brown anthers. The seeds produced by the female plants have fluffy tufts on them to aid their dispersal by wind.

For those like myself who have forgotten their flower anatomy many times, here is a refresher.

A list of wildflower species found at Bull Mills with Saturday's finds highlighted is here.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Bank Stabilization

After a moderate flood - Click to enlarge
Like many other streams, Bull Creek is challenged in recent years by larger rain events and increased flooding.  Continued development in the upper reaches of the watershed includes more impervious surfaces such as roofs and paving.  Lawns replace native grasses, shrubs and trees with deep roots that previously captured some of the rain with each storm.  This leads to larger peak flow creating increased bank erosion and gravel deposition as well as silting in of Lake Taneycomo with serious implications for the economy of Rockaway Beach.  Below you can see the changes from 2008 to 2018.

Undercut bank
When the creek gives us more water it takes away more soil.  The Christmas flood of 2 years ago and the following April flood caused a loss of 50 feet of bank in a 300 foot stretch including 6 rows of recent riparian plantings.  More important it threatened the remaining mature trees along the east bank downstream.  This is located in the middle of an 8 mile stretch of Bull Creek which is designated as one of Missouri Outstanding Resource Waters.

Dave Woods, of the Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries division designed an initial plan for stream bank remediation with the construction of a bank stabilization structure which was just completed.  The project was funded by the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation through the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund which is described here.

The objectives of the project were to mitigate the unnatural rate of stream bank erosion, improve the channel stability by reinforcing three light equipment stream crossings, augment and protect more than 30 acres of bottom land forest to maintain a healthy riparian corridor.  It included establishing a perpetual easement to protect over 1.5 miles of the high quality Ozark stream, its tributaries and the associated corridor.  The easement permanently protects the high quality riparian areas along the creek from unnatural disturbance and development now and by any future land owner.

This remediation involved bringing in 1,400 tons of rock to stabilize 320 linear feet followed by replanting 2.7 acres of seedlings along the restored bank.  Detailed engineering plans were created by Chris Cash and the construction work was by Kelpe Contracting, a firm that specializes in riparian remediation.

Dave and Andy harvested 8' willow and sycamore poles (logs really) and these were held upright in trenches with the bottom end below water level in the hyporheic zone, the stream water that flows under a gravel bar.  Here they will sprout roots and grow to begin the riparian tree restoration even before the seedlings are planted next spring.

The project was completed in 5 days with a pause for a flood that tested the bank which passed with flying colors.  A video of the project is at this Youtube link.  Special thanks to Dave Woods who shepherded the project through a two year gestation to delivery and to Andy Humble for his logging skills and strong back.  Many thanks to the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation for all they do for conservation in our beautiful state.

Downstream portion of bank stabilization - Click to enlarge

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Hydra Microblog

Microblog from Linda Bower MN

Green Hydra - Wikimedia
Linda Bower sent me this fascinating video she filmed of a green hydra in pond water.  Like the crinoids of old, it ingests nutrients into a dead end stomach, expelling undigested particles back out the way they came.  What is not to love about a simple system like that?

New to hydra?  Here's an excerpt from an article by Northern State University of South Dakota, USA: "Hydra are named after the nine-headed sea snake of Greek mythology and are freshwater relatives of corals, sea anemones and jellyfish. All are members of a primitive phylum, the Cnidaria. The gut of cnidarians has only one opening. Unlike more complex animals, cnidarians are designed around 2 sheets of tissue: the ectoderm, lining the exterior; and the endoderm, lining the gastrovascular cavity. The two are separated by a gelatinous partition...greatly expanded in jellyfish, but is much reduced in hydra."

Chlorohydra viridissima is a bright green species, owing to the presence of numerous algae called zoochlorellae, which live as symbionts within the endodermal cells. Their relationship is mutualistic as the zoochlorellae carry out photosynthesis and produce sugars that are used by the hydra. In return, the carnivorous diet of the hydra provides a source of nitrogen for the algae.

Hydra viridissima - Wikimedia
At the base of the tentacles is the mouth. Smaller animals which blunder into the tentacles are stung and paralyzed by structures called cnidocytes, the little bumps seen along the tentacles in Larry Wegmann's photograph below.  The tentacles draw the prey into the mouth, and body fluids leaking from puncture wounds stimulate a simple feeding response as the shortening of the tentacles shorten, the opening of the mouth expands, and the victim is engulfed.  Digestion of the prey item in the gastrovascular cavity proceeds over several hours. Cuticles and other undigested remains are subsequently expelled through the mouth. Almost any small invertebrates, up to the size of the hydra, may be consumed, including annelid worms, rotifers, insect larvae, and (especially) small crustaceans, such as Daphnia, Chydorus and Cyclops spp."

Hydra budding - Larry Wegmann
Most hydra reproduction is asexual by budding as seen above.  A new but genetically identical hydra is extending from the body and will break free from the parent.  Hydras can occasionally reproduce sexually.  Most species being hermaphrodites, they form both an ovary and testicles on the same individual.  A single fertilized egg can be held until the conditions are right for its release.

You can read more in the Northern State University article.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Blueberry Stem Gall

Mark Bower sent me this picture of a "weird thing" he found while out photographing mushrooms.  He described it as being hard and growing off of a plant.  Now when a man whose passion is photographing fungi thinks something he found is "weird" I have to take it seriously.  To me it appeared to be a deformed part of a plant stem, likely a gall.

Gall in winter - 
Using my years of Master Naturalist training and botanical skills, I Googled "kidney shaped gall" and came up with several pictures of blueberry stem galls.  That opened up a lot of references to the gall and the wasp that forms it, Hemadas nubilipennis.  I was intrigued by the name and searched for the origin of this name and only came up with "pennis" which is Latin for "feather" or an aluminum coin of Finland  eliminated with the introduction of the Euro.   But I digress.....

H. nubilipennis - John van der Linden
The wasps are tiny, measuring less than a tenth of an inch.  They emerge during the blooming season and most are females.  Following mating, a female wasp lands on a tender shoot, frequently under the leaf litter. Facing the tip, she plunges her ovipositor into the stem to deposit an egg, then moves slightly forward to repeat the action multiple times. There are typically 12 eggs in a gall.

Wasp larvae in the gall - Molly Jacobson
The eggs will hatch in 12-14 days and the damage of the larvae feeding causes the stem to swell,  producing the gall.  This provides nutrition and protection for the developing larvae.  The gall turns hard in the fall and the larvae will pupate in it in the spring.

Galls are a major problem among blueberry growers and the primary treatment is pruning of parasitized stems.  Elimination of the wasps takes persistence over years.  Although blueberries are self-pollinating, cross pollination by insects produces larger fruit.  Spraying insecticide as a secondary treatment against the wasp is tricky as the wasps emerge in blooming season at the same time as honeybee pollination.  Michigan State

Wasp emerging from a Blueberry Stem Gall - Nature Posts
There is a fantastic set of photographs of the tiny gall wasps emerging on the Nature Posts blog but they aren't all of the gall with H. nubilipennis.  It turns out that at least 6 other parasitic wasps call these galls home.  One is a chalcid wasp called Ormyrus vacciniicola.  I went straight to Charley Eiseman's Bugtracks where he describes two more eurytomid wasp species that are known to parasitize Hemadas nubilipennis exclusively,  Eurytoma solenozopheriae and Sycophila vacciniicola.  This is where it gets really weird.  He goes on to say:
"Eupelmus vesicularis (Eupelmidae) has also been reared from these galls, and by contrast is one of the least host-specific chalcidoids–its known hosts include six different orders of insects.  It is thought to have been introduced from Europe in straw, and the list of host species in North America is said to be “tiresomely long.”
So of my gall emergences so far this year, one in four has been the actual gall inducer, and the rest have been parasitoid wasps.  I think this is pretty representative of what’s going on out there–there seem to be more parasitoids than anything else.  Hemadas nubilipennis galls are multi-celled, so it will be interesting to see what else comes out of the ones I collected." - Charley Eiseman
We haven't identified many blueberry plants in our valley and I wonder how the wasp found a victim.  We will start looking more carefully for other plants.  Details on the lowbush blueberry are at  For an interesting history of the blueberry stem gall read pages 14-17 of this 1981 Ospry newsletter.
Some of the findings from MN Wildflower Walk I are at this link.  WW II (not the war) is on April 14th at 1PM.

Friday, March 30, 2018


Critter trails through scouring rush on Bull Creek
One of the banks along Bull Creek is thick with an evergreen that doesn't get much press.  It doesn't flower, has no seeds or leaves, and stands less than three feet tall.  It is an ancient species and definitely a "horse of a different color."  Equisetum (horsetail) is as primitive as it looks, a genus of living fossils, the only surviving members of its class named Equisetopsida which were quite common 100 million years ago.  There were many diverse species filling the understory of the forests, some growing 90 feet tall. Layered in the earth for millions of years, its relatives produced our coal beds.

Our species is Equisetum hyemale, a.k.a. scouring rush, so named because of the silica concentrations in its stem.  Native Americans used it for polishing and settlers scoured pans with it.  Modern day craftsmen still use it for fine polishing and clarinetists use it to polish their reeds.  Like almost any living plant, some have touted Equisetum as a medicinal or a wild food although the descriptions of preparation could also probably be applied to serving sandpaper for supper.  ASPCA sources describe its toxicity in horses.  Fortunately, it is a survivor and is likely to outlast these few uses.  It grows aggressively along the water and is considered an invasive species in South Africa and Australia.

Jointed stems of Equisetum  - John Hilty at
It has another virtue appreciated by children.  You can pull them apart and slip them back together like joints on a fly rod.  Each stem is hollow with joints every few inches.  The joints have fine longitudinal ridges and with magnification you can see tiny black teeth on the upper rim that may break off with age.

 Multiple lateral cones - John Hilty
Spore-bearing cone - John Hilty
Equisetum reproduces primarily by rhizomes which are more numerous than their stems.  They can work their way down 6 feet into the soil and are therefore resistant to pulling.  They also reproduce sexually like ferns by producing spores from a cone at the tip or sometimes several lateral cones.  Once they release their spores in late spring or early summer the cones drop off, much like vascular plants shed their flowers. 

Rhithrogena germanica subimago on Equisetum hyemale.jpg
Mayfly hanging on Equisetum  -  Richard Bartz CC
I find the best website for detailed information on Missouri plants is Illinoiswildflowers.  It also is rich in faunal associations and has great photographs, many of which are available to non-profit organizations like ours through their photo use policy.  A big thanks to webmaster John Hilty and his team.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ephemeral Mayfly

We were standing near the creek when my wife, Barb, started giving me a strange look.  I get a lot of those looks from her but in this case she said, "There is an interesting bug on your hat."  We then did what any Master Naturalists would do, she held my hat while I photographed it.

This was our first mayfly of the season.  There are 6,000 species of them worldwide which make up the order Ephemeroptera.  Surprisingly their closest relatives are dragonflies.  The "ephemer" comes from the Greek "living a day" and that pretty much sums up the life span of the adult, a trait noted as far back as Aristotle.

They come out suddenly in large numbers and tend to occur in swarms just above the water after emerging.  With such a short lifespan they don't waste time eating or drinking but get right to business in the mating game.  It is described like this in Wikipedia.
"Each insect has a characteristic up-and-down pattern of movement; strong wingbeats propel it upwards and forwards with the tail sloping down; when it stops moving its wings, it falls passively with the abdomen tilted upwards. Females fly into these swarms, and mating takes place in the air. A rising male clasps the thorax of a female from below using his front legs bent upwards, and inseminates her. Copulation may last just a few seconds, but occasionally a pair remains in tandem and flutters to the ground."
Mayfly nymph - Tom Murray
The female will then lay 400 to 3,000 eggs on the surface of the water.  After anywhere from a few days to a year, the larvae, called nymphs, will emerge and begin a series of 10-50 moults, more than almost any other order of insects.  It is these critters that we count in our stream team surveys.  The next step toward adulthood gets very interesting.  I will yield to UC Berkeley to describe it.
When it comes time for the last nymph stage to molt into a subimago (the first flying stage), the guts empty out and the mid-gut section fills with air. Often, many nymphs will then simultaneously let go of their hold on their anchor in the water and float up to the top. Once they reach the air, the cuticle splits open on the thorax and the wings come out. This is the time of greatest vulnerability in their lives as they float on the water before they are strong enough to fly. The subimago has short hairs on the wings and on the body; the wings are dull and pigmented.
Once it gains some strength, it flies from the water to some form of shelter such as a tree, long grass, or the underside of a bridge and molts again within 24 to 48 hours. This additional molt to an adult called an imago allows the legs and tails of the insect to grow more. Longer tails give more stability in flight, and longer legs make it easier for the male to grasp the female in mating."
The adult on my hat took off, either headed back to the creek to look for love or else ready to give it up.  The species depends on high volume reproduction for survival as the eggs and larvae are an important link in the food chain.  The eggs are eaten by aquatic snails and caddisfly larvae and the nymphs feed flies, water beetles, fish, frogs, and birds, as well as fly fishing fanatics who will spend more time tying the perfect imitation mayfly than the original does mating.

Prong-gilled mayfly - Linda Bower
Rhithrogena germanica subimago on Equisetum hyemale.jpg
 Equisetum - Richard Bartz CC
Linda Bower MN has this video of a Prong-gilled Mayfly (Leptophlebia intermedia) larva feeding and, of course, her trademark  "pooping."

I am including this March brown mayfly resting on a rough horsetail, Equisetum hyemale, stem, because it is resting on a scouring rush, a plant species coming soon to a blog near you.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Microblog Volvox

Our micro-videographer Linda Bower is producing fantastic videos with her microscope at a rate I will never be able to keep up with.  We will start posting her videos with her comments and a listing of their length under the title Microblog.  I plan to write on topics such as cladocera and water bears when I "get around to it."  And don't bother sending me one, I will have to find the time on my own.

 Volvox birthing 3:50

This Volvox mother colony was found in farm pond water located in the Missouri Ozarks, USA. Guest appearances by Cladocera and a variety of plankton.

New to Volvox? No Linda, Barb and I talk about them every day at breakfast!

Volvox is a genus of some 20 species of freshwater green algae (division Chlorophyta) found worldwide. Volvox form spherical or oval hollow colonies that contain some 500 to 60,000 cells embedded in a gelatinous wall and are often just visible with the naked eye.  Read more here: at's Volvox entry.