Wednesday, August 16, 2017

No lights, please!

Last February, among the barnacles I brought home for my intertidal snails, a small chiton was hiding. He joined the other beasties in the aquarium, and trundled about happily for some time, cleaning algae off the glass walls and the stones. Then he disappeared.

Much later, cleaning the aquarium, I found him, inside an old moon snail shell. He'd grown some, was obviously thriving.

Since then, I've seen him often, on the outside of the moon snail shell, sometimes deep inside, sometimes on the bottom. But always on the snail shell; he never explores the glass walls any more, nor the sandy floor, nor even other shells. The moon snail shell is home.

Woody chiton, Mopalia lignosa , on algae-encrusted moon snail shell, fleeing the camera.

Chitons are slow animals, as slow, almost, as limpets. (Although a limpet on a mission can trot right along.) And on the beach, the chitons don't seem to mind being partially out of the water at low tide. I thought that maybe I could get some clear photos of "Woody", and maybe get a close look at his spines with the microscope, if I took his shell out of the tank. I put him in a tray with a half-inch of water, and set up the lights and camera.

But Woody didn't approve. As I rolled the shell around to get him within reach, he kept turning, heading down, towards the bottom of the shell, under the water. There are light-sensitive spots on his plates; he saw those bright LED lights, and hated them. Every photo I took was of him hurrying away. I didn't even try to aim the microscope at him.

He never left the moon snail shell. It's his safe place.

Side view.

The small, soft spines on his girdle arise from light freckles. The girdle is quite flexible; at one point, he galloped up and over the limpet, lifting the edge of the girdle to fit.

I gave up and replaced his home in the tank. He stopped racing around; he must have been pretty tired. He's still on the moon snail shell.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Moth, brown and tan, with greenish eyes.

The teeniest moth ever:

Less than 1/4 inch long, resting on my  wall under a lamp.

So small, and yet so smart! As soon as I approached with the camera, he started to run; two shots, and he scooted down a crack and disappeared. I waited, but he never showed his face again.

I'll send his photo in to BugGuide.

And he's already identified; that was quick! A Diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella. Thanks, Steve!

Leftover Claytonias

Over two months ago, at the end of May, I went down to Comox, looking for Claytonia plants for seed, and posted a few photos here and here. There were more, but I learned that I had misidentified some of the plants, and left the rest aside until I could sort them out.

A mistake. I'm still confused, and the photos of these beautiful plants have been languishing on my hard drive. So here they are; Claytonias all, but different species.

At the base of a log. The stem leaves are in pairs, joined like a collar around the seed clusters.

On Twitter, a botanist and Claytonia lover, Tommy Stoughton, was very helpful. There are two different shapes of the stem leaves, he said: linear or spatulate (spoon-like). The basal leaves may be linear or egg-shaped (this is from E-Flora).

In different species of Claytonia, the stem leaves may be paired and fused along both margins (e.g. C. perfiolata), paired and half-fused (C. exigua), or completely separate (C. sibirica, aka Siberian miner's lettuce).

These basal leaves are egg-shaped. The stem leaves underneath the seed clusters seem to be paired, but separate.

A tiny plant, definitely identified as C. exigua. The leaves are more elongated, and separate.

The common C. perfiolata? I don't see basal leaves, but the stem leaves are round, and joined to form a cup around the seeds.

So very pink! Round stem leaves, separate. Egg-shaped basal leaves.

Now, I just have to wait until next spring to find some more, earlier so that I find flowers. And then, look more closely.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

This and that

Clearing the decks; photos I intended to post, but misfiled. Most of these are from July. In no particular order.

Alyssum in my garden. With purple innards.

Or yellow.

Sweet William. This plant has been with me for years; it keeps coming back.

Path through the salal. McIvor Lake.

Teeny-tiny spider on a ceramic chicken.

Evergreen blackberry, Rubus laciniatus. "They're red when they're green," we used to remind ourselves. Hard and acid at this stage, still edible.

Seeds of Indian consumption plant, Lomatium nudicale, in the shade, with a sunny field behind. Aka Bare-stem desert parsely. This patch is at the edge of the dry dunes at Oyster Bay.

Seeds of the same plant, when the clouds parted to allow the sun in.

Green apple on an old apple tree. Oyster Bay

Two green apples.

And last; kitten at midnight, watching a crane fly. Flash in a dark room. The kittens have gone on to their new homes now; this was Tig's last night.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Salt lovers

At Oyster Bay, water currents, over the last 5 years or so, have built up a long spit at right angles to the breakwater, gravelly on the higher portions, pure sand at the inner edge.

The new spit almost encloses the bay (to the left). At the lowest tide, it is almost possible to walk to the mainland from here.

The spit, so far, is almost barren of plant life, but at the upper end, a healthy population of pickleweed is settling in happily.

Pickleweed, aka glasswort, sea aparagus, samphire, Salicornia pacifica.

Pickleweed is a halophyte, a salt plant.

The word derives from Ancient Greek ἅλας (halas) 'salt' and φυτόν (phyton) 'plant'. (Wikipedia)

Whereas salt kills most plants, some Salicornias can't survive in fresh water. It is a land plant; it needs to be out of the water at some point during the day; but where there is no salt, whether from tidal waters or salt spray, it will not grow.

At the very end of the breakwater, the tide comes in, bathing the growing pickleweed. This whole area, rocks included, will be completely underwater at high tide.

Salt, however, is a problem in plant tissues. The concentration has to be contained within certain limits: if there is too little, if the cell juices are too watered down, in these plants that live in salt water, osmosis draws the water out into the more highly concentrated sea water. It's as if the plant were living in a desert.

But if the salt concentration in the plant tissue is too high, the normal functions of the cell are disrupted. Pickleweed deals with this by concentrating salts in the terminal segments of the stems; eventually these tips turn red and fall off, taking the salt with them.

Flowering tips of pickleweed

The plant is a succulent; it has fat, leafless stems, each with a knobby tip, sometimes pink or red, sometimes green. The flowers are found on these knobs, but are extremely small, clustered in groups of 3 in the joints. They are wind-pollinated, and will produce one seed per flower.

Zooming in, to show the pale yellow flowers.

A curious discovery: I had walked out to the end of the new spit, and was returning, hurrying to beat the incoming tide. At the spot where the spit meets the breakwater, (the third photo above) the water was already ankle deep. But the current was moving from the inner bay to the outer ocean.

In the photo above, the water comes from the open strait, but once it breaks over the spit, the direction changes; water goes down to the end, into the bay, and out into the strait again, washing the bay as it goes. With time, this may change the muddy, stinking character of the inner bay. Something to watch.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Looking at rockweed

During a walk with the Comox Vallley Naturalists along the shores of Oyster Bay, we noticed the various shapes of rockweed. One, with long fingers, our guide called "staghorn rockweed".

Rockweed, aka bladderwrack, Fucus distichus?

The rockweed I am used to has short, stubby fingers. I searched through my old photos, to see if I had any of these long ones.

"Normal" rockweed. July, 2009. Probably on the White Rock beach.

June, 2008. Boundary Bay. The little bladders are round and fat. Sometimes they're heart shaped.

July, 2011, from the White Rock beach. Fat bladder faces with two ears.

August, 2015. Probably at Boundary Bay. These ones are longer.

Oyster Bay, July, 2009. Unusual shapes.

According to the websites I visited, these are all probably the same species, or a variant, Fucus distichus subsp. evanescens. Aka. F. gardneri. The name, "staghorn" seems to be an attempt at distinguishing shapes, not an official name.

This is another plant I have been taking for granted, because it is so familiar. I'll have to pay more attention.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


Growing up, I learned to call them fish: starfish, jellyfish, even sunfish. Why, I wonder? They're not fish; it makes no more sense than if I were to call the crabs, "crabfish" or "hermitfish". And I had also learned never to call a whale a fish; that would be silly.

Common names are sometimes really odd.

This is a purple sea star, Pisaster ochraceus, or, translating the Latin, ochre starfish. Yes, the "fish" part is there in the Latin, too; Pisaster is a combination of Piscis, fish, and Aster, star.

Scientific names are sometimes really odd, too.

I had automatically named the file, "Starfish". The habit is deeply ingrained.

And these are moon jellies, Aurelia labiata, not jellyfish. "Labiata" derives from the Latin, "Labiatus", lip. There is probably a good reason for that name, but I can't find it.

At the border between gentle waves and wet sand.

A second moon jelly, exposed on the sand at low tide.

The four lilac semi-circles are the animal's gonads. The female's are usually a paler pink, or even whitish.

Just a reminder:

... plastic bags that end up in the ocean often look like jellies to animals that depend on these drifting creatures for food. Thousands of turtles and birds die each year after swallowing indigestible wads of plastic mistaken for jellies. (From Monterey Bay Aquarium)

If you see a plastic bag on the beach, pick it up and trash it, please!

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Rust, sea lettuce, and a baby chiton

The tide was as low as I've seen it at Oyster Bay, and I was wading around the remains of old ships left decades ago as a breakwater.

Clammers, and remains of an old ship, draped heavily in sea lettuce.

A long ship, reduced to spikes and sea lettuce holders.

In a few inches of water between rusty girders, I noticed a little chiton, upside-down. Unusual; they're normally stuck tightly to the substrate, but maybe his perch had gotten too hot and dry for his taste.

I picked him up, and he immediately rolled himself into a tight ball. I didn't know they did that.

I think this the woody chiton, Mopalia lignosa; his hairy girdle is lighter, softer, and has shorter hairs than the common hairy chiton.

After a brief wait, since I wasn't moving, he started to unroll himself again.

Orange underside. Like a limpet's, his foot includes a mouth (not visible on the right) and is separated from the girdle by a space which includes the gills.

When I moved, he rolled up again, so I gently replaced him back in the water, foot down.

These chitons grow to about 3 inches long; this was a youngster. They live in the middle to low intertidal zone, mostly on the sides and bottoms of rocks. There are no rocks in the area where I found him, so he had to make do with rusty metal.

They eat mainly sea lettuce; he'd picked a good place for that; these old ships are loaded with the stuff.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Where's my dinner?

I collect fresh sea water for my aquarium from a local boat launch, where I can dip my buckets into deep water without wading out. It's a favourite gathering place for gulls; when they see me coming, they hurry over. Because what's the use of buckets if not to carry fish guts for them?

Advance scout, and the reflection of a line-up on the far side of the pool.

Sorry, y'all; no fish guts today, either.

Occasionally, they get annoyed and scream at me. This time, they just looked disapproving.

One of my guides, Birds of Coastal British Columbia, divides the gulls into "pink-legged gulls," "yellowish-legged gulls", "Heerman's gulls", and "small gulls." They list seven different local pink-legs, which, of course, being gulls, have many different colour patterns according to their age, their sex, the time of year, and their interbred status. So confusing!

So I appreciate this new division. The gull above is a pink-leg. No doubts!

Anemones doing what anemones do.

(This one's for Lucy.)

Living with sea creatures especially invertebrates, there's a routine: chill, feed, clean, chill, change water, clean, feed, chill, change filters, chill ... After a few years, it becomes almost mindless, a chore like washing the dishes or sweeping the floor. It could lead to boredom.

Except: day after day, as I watch, there's always something new to learn. Even apparently passive beasties, like anemones, have their likes and dislikes; they get grumpy if things are not just right; they wave enthusiastic approval when life is good.

Pink-tipped green anemones, two days ago. Today, the one on the left is twice as long; she's splitting into two.

The small colony of these pink anemones has been multiplying since I started hand feeding them, rather than letting the water bring them goodies. Out in the ocean, they congregate in the cracks at the base of rocks, where detritus brought in by the tide gets trapped. In my tank, since it gets cleaned out regularly, there are no wonderful treasure troves, and the current sweeps good food right past their open mouths, too fast to be grabbed; they survived here, but they didn't grow or multiply. Now they do. And their colours are brighter. They're happy!

They like the hermit crabs' shrimp pellets, so I have to feed them twice or three times each day; once or twice, and the hermits steal the pellets out of their mouths, even though they (the hermits) have already been fed. (They're greedy little things, and someone else's food is always preferable to what they already have in hand.) By the third mouthful, the anemones are usually allowed to swallow.

If you look closely at the space in between them, on the old oyster shell, there's a spot with a back-and-forth pattern; snail or maybe limpet scrapings.

The oyster shell is ridged or layered, as in the area at the top; this bottom pattern is new.

The big burrowing anemone has her own quirks.

My burrowing anemone, fishing for plankton. She also likes shrimp pellets, and waves her tentacles enthusiastically for two days after a good feed. Then she hunkers down and sulks until I change and chill the water again.

Bits of shell, grains of sand, and random "stuff" stick to the anemone's column. Small hermit crabs, assorted snails, and courting amphipods like to hide around the base, but never seem to get stuck. Or stung. (Crabs do get stung. She's not a friend to crabs.) I've never seen a limpet touch her.

The greenish yellow spots are algae growing on the glass, not on the anemone itself. No matter how often I scrape them off, they're always there.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Smoky light

The sun, these days, when it's visible through the smoke, is red. Or sometimes orange.

Early in the morning, I tried to take its photo through my dusty window; another layer of filtering to help the camera out. Mostly, it still saw the world as a dull purple, the sun as a circle with a burnt-out centre. Hiding behind windowsill stuff helped a bit.

Lightening up the sky smoke to reflect what my eyes saw.

I gave up and wandered around the room, taking photos of the sunlight at second hand. I liked these two.

Red light bouncing off a Homalomena leaf.

My pot-sitting turtle likes the warm light. The stems are an orchid; I don't remember what the variegated leaves are.

The fires continue. BC Wildfire Service reports 112 active fires as of midnight, an hour ago. There are two new ones just south of here, one right on the highway. Happily, it's very small and should be under control soon.

One of the fires, in Hanceville, where I have always stopped for a meal on the way to and from Bella Coola, covers 148,389 hectares. That's 573 square miles. No buildings are endangered; they've already burned down. The road is just that much lonelier.

Rain! Please, rain!

Friday, August 04, 2017

Just remembering

... when the skies were blue.

And I needed a jacket.

I needed that.

Four new fires have started today, just south of me, here on the Island. The sun was red, glaring angrily through the smoke; it's hard to breathe, outside.

Up north, at Kleena Kleene, people who had returned to their homes have been evacuated again. The highway is closed. There's a fire out of control just out of the Bella Coola valley. My daughter is somewhere in that mess.

The fire near Bella Coola was started by lightning, but our local fires, says the BC Wildfire Service, were started by people. Carelessly lighting bonfires, or tossing cigarettes, probably. Why? Why? Why?

We're all hoping for rain.

Buggy day

Life goes on here, quietly. It's too hot to move*; even the bugs are in hiding. The sowbugs that frequent my collection of plants on the kitchen windowsill have moved elsewhere. Spiders lurk only in the darkest, coolest corners. The slugs have even abandoned the damp, broken flowerpot I set out for them, with murderous intent.

And then, in one 24 hour period, I had a stream of visitors. Maybe it's cooler inside.

The first. 2 AM, just over my bed. Tiny, but pretty.

Orange underwing moth on a dusty window. Most of the dust is outside. 10AM

From another angle, with her double reflections. The sun was bright this morning; the pink and green are refracted sunlight.

A small male crane fly with the greenest eyes ever. 5PM 

Midnight, resting under a lamp. An extremely small green fly. To my eyes, it was just an elongated speck.

Besides these, that day there was an interesting pale orange moth in an awkward place, that I could not reach to get in focus. A couple of mosquitoes; not interesting. A racing house spider, trying to escape the kittens. And a humongous crane fly that the cats beat me to. The smallest kitten ate it. And the June bug.

And today, we're back to lying low. The whole area is under an alert for hot weather, and there's a smoke haze wafted over from the burning mainland. Will these fires never cease?

Special air quality statement in effect for:
Campbell River
Comox Valley
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, in collaboration with Island Health, has issued a Smoky Skies Bulletin for communities in the East Vancouver Island, the Southern Gulf Islands, and Greater Victoria regions due to wildfire smoke in the area. The current weather pattern over the BC coast is causing outflow winds to carry smoke from wildfires burning in the BC Interior towards the coast. Smoke concentrations will vary widely as winds, fire behaviour and temperatures change....
This Bulletin will remain in effect until further notice. (from gov. alert)

Higher pollution levels are expected to persist into Friday.

* I know, a temperature of 34 Celsius is not hot at all, if you're living where 40 is normal. But around here, we wilt at 30. To make up for it, we go out for long walks in pouring rain or deep snow.