International Rock-flipping Day

International Rock-flipping Day

As mentioned in this morning’s post, today was International Rock-Flipping Day. This year’s event was being coordinated by Susannah over at Wanderin’ Weeta. I participated last year, as well, at our lake house. I think I always go in with high expectations of what I might find. I actually got a couple of interesting beetles last year. I was hopeful for something similarly interesting this year.

I started out by picking my location. There’s a small stand of trees, not quite large enough to be called a woodlot, but larger than just a group of trees, that has either grown up around the pile of rocks that was built when the fields were first cleared of rocks, or where the rocks were dumped. Either way, it’s a rocky patch of trees, while the surrounding fields are largely devoid of rocks. So this was the spot I targeted. Raven came with me to help me look. She did lots of sniffing, but not a lot of rock-flipping, however.

International Rock-flipping Day

The very first rock I flipped had nothing under it. In fact, more than half the rocks I flipped had nothing under them. But the second rock I looked under had these three critters: a centipede, a millipede, and a sowbug. I’m completely re-writing this paragraph after realizing that the upper-right bug is actually a millipede and not a centipede as originally thought. How can you tell? The number of legs per segment: centipedes just have one, while millipedes have two (you can see these paired legs toward the lower portion of the critter). I had been thrown off by the fact that the millipede was flattened – ordinarily they’re cylindrical. It probably belongs to the order Polydesmida, which are all mostly flattened, possibly family Polydesmidae. I might even be so bold as to identify it to genus Pseudopolydesmus, which is the native genus of flattened millipedes (there are also two introduced flattened millipede genera).

The centipede is probably a stone centipede of the order Lithobiomorpha (as Hugh of Rock Paper Lizard translates for us, LithoBioMorpha = StoneLifeForm). The sowbug can be told from the closely-related pillbugs because it can’t roll up into a ball the way pillbugs can, and it has two “tails” on its rear end.

International Rock-flipping Day

Other than those first three, and an earthworm that sucked itself back into its burrow at the sight of daylight, all of the rest of my living creatures were ants. First, there were these citronella ants. I wrote about citronella ants last year when I discovered a number of colonies “releasing their queens”. These ones scurried back into darkness quickly, and left no detectable scent.

International Rock-flipping Day

This colony looked like it was maybe either just getting ready for, or just finishing, a reproductive flight. When I flipped over the rock a whole bunch of ants went scurrying, including half a dozen winged individuals, something I think you only see in ant colonies when they’re sending out flights. The ant two ants left from the winged one is carrying an egg. This is a more common sight when you disturb a colony. I tend to think of colonial insects as having their eggs all collected in special chambers, but these ants seem to be more casual about their location. You can see a few more eggs just inside the hole on the left.

International Rock-flipping Day

This colony wasn’t doing anything interesting, but there sure were a lot of them. I don’t know what species any of these ants are. Species identification with ants is tricky and best left to the experts – I say this about a lot of insect groups. With ants, I can usually identify them to colour groups: yellow, red, black, red-and-black, and maybe, if I look closely, black-with-black-stripes. Size and ferocity of their bite is also sometimes helpful. Big black ant, little yellow ant, painful red ant.

International Rock-flipping Day

Finally, I discovered this under a stone that was partially propped up on another rock. It’s not alive, but once was, probably last year. It’s half of the empty pupa of a Gypsy Moth. It’s identifiable as belonging to this species by its dark chestnut colour with golden-brown rings and golden tufts of hair. Just below it (which didn’t come through in the photo well) is the shed skin of the last instar of the caterpillar (I assume). Although Gypsy Moths can occasionally reach outbreak levels and become serious defoliators, I’ve never seen such destruction by the species here. I’m always delighted to find old cocoons, partially because I think the adults are neat to look at with interesting life-histories, but mostly because it’s fun to find evidence of something, know what it is, and know what had once been there.

Visit the official IRFD page at Wanderin’ Weeta for other rock-flippers and their discoveries.


National Moth Night – part 2

6797 - Ennomos magnaria - Maple Spanworm

As suspected, the cool weather last night kept the moths in hiding. When I turned the light on at dusk it was already well below my 10 C (50 F) threshold, but I put it on anyway. Five moths tallied at the sheet in a couple of hours: four Maple Spanworms and a pinion (I think) whose identity remains a mystery.

pinion sp

The pinion was much too fast for me to manage to catch with a jar, and eventually disappeared under the nearby spruce and didn’t reemerge. I just got one wide-angle shot of it fluttering at the sheet, which, when cropped in tight, doesn’t provide me with enough field marks to be able to identify it, unfortunately.

6797 - Ennomos magnaria - Maple Spanworm

It’s a shame about the weather, really. Cool nights can really have a negative effect on the productivity of your moth lights. If this had been a beautiful Indian Summer weekend, with nightime lows of 15 C (60 F) or so, I would expect to have had a really interesting assortment of moths for the two nights. Ah well. Perhaps next year.

I hope others had better luck with their sheets! Don’t forget to submit your posts to the next The Moth and Me by October 13 – email your link to next month’s host Lori of Reflections on the Catawba, loriowenby [at] gmail [dot] com, or to myself.

Also, don’t forget that today, Sunday, is International Rock-Flipping Day! Go out and flip a rock – or two, or three – and see what you find underneath. Write about it on your blog and submit your post to Susannah at Wanderin’ Weeta (wanderinweeta AT gmail D0T com) for inclusion in the event’s compilation of participants.

International Rock-flipping Day

Rocks for International Rock-flipping Day

Today was the second annual official International Rock-flipping Day, which I first mentioned back in this post. Dave at Via Negativa has begun collecting the posts by people who have participated and compiling them at this post on his blog.

Earthworm for International Rock-flipping Day

Millipede for International Rock-flipping Day

I headed out just after noon, after temperatures had warmed up a bit. Rocks are in no shortage at our house. I started with a few up by the house, not finding a whole lot. A few millipedes (which are everywhere, a couple earthworms, including one giant fat one, and a cricket. The most interesting thing under these rocks was what appeared to me to be a beetle larva of some sort. After flipping through the beetle section of the Kaufman guide to insects, I’ve changed my mind, and now think it’s a rove beetle, possibly Platydracus maculosus, a widely-distributed, decay-feeding, short-wing-covered (but deceptively long-winged) beetle. I love the woodgrain patterns in it.

Rove beetle for International Rock-flipping Day

I headed down the hill, flipping a couple rocks in the forest. I expected a bit more from the forest rocks, since the forest always seems like such a rich habitat. You’d think there’d be lots of stuff munching on the deliciously rich detritus layer of the forest floor. But the rocks in the forest area were decidedly empty. The only really interesting thing was the below… white thing. It looked like it was probably a type of millipede, but it was very pale, paler than any millipede I’d ever seen.

Millipede for International Rock-flipping Day

Rock for International Rock-flipping Day

I carried on and found this promising looking rock, above, sitting beside the base of a tree, near the forest edge and not far from the water. Indeed, when I flipped it over it had much more under it than any of the rocks I’d checked to that point. First thing I saw as a largeish spider, mouse brown with interesting darker markings. Again, no idea what it was. You know, the primary thing I learned about this whole exercise was how little I knew about most invertebrates. Particularly the rock-dwelling sort.

Spider for International Rock-flipping Day

Slug for International Rock-flipping Day

In there with the spider was the above slug. Apparently there are several types of slugs, and many of the most common ones are introduced. Who knew? This could be an introduced slug. It could also be a perfectly natural native slug. I have no idea. My guidebooks don’t do slugs. The most interesting thing under that rock wasn’t the spider or slug, but rather what looked a bit like a fungal garden of an ant colony. Aside from the fact that I didn’t see any ants, except one that ducked into the large hole in the ground. But all the tunnels that weaved in and out of the surface were suggestive of an ant colony, and the fungus looked like it was associated with it. It could have been complete coincidence, of course. Either way, it was an interesting rusty colour.

Fungus for International Rock-flipping Day

Shoreline for International Rock-flipping Day

The best was saved for last. I ended up at the edge of the lake, where a portion of our shoreline is built up with large rocks. I flipped a couple of small ones, with no notable findings, before landing on a nice large, flat slab, resting on a sandy base. The treasure trove, such as it was, laid under here.

Isopod for International Rock-flipping Day

Although I’d seen a couple others under earlier rocks, there was a nice big, grey isopod under this rock. Which sat there quite obligingly, not something most will do for me. These aren’t insects, but rather are crustaceans. They like damp places, so are often found in basements or bathrooms as well. I bet you didn’t know that the extremely common pillbugs (without tails), and sowbugs (with two “tails”) such as the above, are all introduced from the Old World.

Beetle for International Rock-flipping Day

This beetle went scurrying before I could get a good picture. Darkling beetle of some sort, maybe? Or possibly a ground beetle such as Pterostichus sp.? It’s too bad I didn’t get a better photo, but then – I’m not sure it would’ve done me a whole lot of good anyway. There are so many beetles (Kaufman dedicates 90 pages to the group) and I don’t know enough about them to be able to differentiate between species that have similar shape and colouration.

Beetle for International Rock-flipping Day

Likewise, I didn’t get the best photo of this one, either. They move so fast! And you’re hoisting the rock up with one hand while scrambling to get the camera positioned with the other. I thought at first the shape of this one suggested tiger beetle, but I don’t think the head is big enough, and it doesn’t have spots. Now I’m thinking a type of ground beetle (it helps that it was fittingly found on the ground), perhaps an Agonum sp. such as Agonum cupripenne? This one has the look of iridescent-purple wing covers and an iridescent-green thorax, which the A. cupripenne images on show. However, there are over 50 species in this genus in the northeast.

Bombardier beetle for International Rock-flipping Day

And lastly, my favourite bug of the whole outing. Also scurrying for cover, its wing covers spattered with droplets of water. Rain, perhaps, since it was raining lightly, briefly, before I stepped out. I’m fairly confident in calling this one a Bombardier Beetle, of the genus Brachinus. The members of this genus have the fascinating ability to spurt boiling hot liquid chemical from its abdomen, scalding the potential predator so the beetle can make its escape. It accomplishes this by combining two liquids (hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone), contained in separate compartments in its abdomen, as it shoots them out at the threat. The liquids undergo a chemical reaction with the aid of a catalytic enzyme (an enzyme that acts to initiate or speed up the reaction), and rapidly reach a temperature of 100oC (212oF). In addition to scalding the skin, the chemicals can also stain it yellow. The species in this genus all look very similar – black wing covers, orange thorax and head – such that I have no idea which particular species this is. There’s 40 to 50 species in North America, usually found under things, like rocks, in damp areas at the edges of floodplains or water bodies.

And that wraps up IRFD 2008. Don’t forget to check out the official page for other posts!

Get out and look!

Small Mocis

Back in the fall I spent many nights at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto with a sheet and blacklight, looking for moths. I caught many, all, of course, new for me, since I was just getting into moths and wasn’t familiar with anything yet. But I also caught a few less common species, and some notable things. The above moth is a Small Mocis, Mocis latipes, a very rare vagrant up from the States into Ontario. I gather there’s just a handful of records for the species in the province. And I got two that season!

So why do I mention this now, in August?

Shy Cosmet by Wanderin' Weeta
Shy Cosmet, photo taken by Susannah at Wanderin’ Weeta

A couple days ago I got a note from Susannah over at Wanderin’ Weeta (With Waterfowl And Weeds) that she’s finally got some results from an experiment she’d begun back in the winter. She had read my post back in the winter about the cattail caterpillar, the lavae of a moth that makes cattail heads go all fluffy during the winter. She had also noticed fluffy cattail heads where she lives in the Lower Fraser Valley of BC, and decided to investigate. All online resources indicated that the Shy Cosmet, the moth whose larvae I found in my cattail heads, did not occur as far west as BC, so when she found caterpillars in her cattail heads, she contained them so she could see what they turned into. The answer? Shy Cosmets. The species was not listed on the recently-revised 2008 version of the checklist of lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) of BC, and folks at E-Fauna BC are checking in with the experts to see if there are any other known records for the species there. It’s quite possible that Susannah has the first documented record for the province!

Wasp sp. by Bootstrap Analysis
Undescribed wasp sp., photo taken by Julie at Bootstrap Analysis

Then today, Julie at Bootstrap Analysis made a post about some wasps she found in her yard. Back in the fall she started a personal project to document all the wasps, bees and flies that she found in her yard – not all that different from someone who keeps a list of the birds or the butterflies that visit their garden (and I’m sure Julie does that, too). Aside from discovering some wild-looking species using her yard, she also found a new state record that fall in the grass-carrying wasp Isodontia elegans. Also last fall she found the above wasp which, when she couldn’t identify it, she posted to for help. It turned out it was a relatively new species to science – it hadn’t even been described yet (all species have a formal “description” that is published wherein they’re given a scientific name and the details of the species that differentiate it from others are laid out, as well as other known characteristics and behaviour). The species was identified on by a professor at the University of Guelph (my alma mater!) as a new one he was collecting data on, and will be formally described by him in the near future.

International Rock-flipping Day

September 7 has been designated as International Rock-flipping Day. The event was inaugurated last year by Dave at Via Negativa, and went so well they’re doing it again. Dave and co-coordinator Bev of Burning Silo encourage everyone to go out on Sept 7 and flip a rock or two (or three or four if you’re having fun. Record and/or photograph what you find and send the results to Dave and Bev, whereupon they’ll gather everyone’s responses into a single spot and send it out to participants. You can post the results to your blog, put them up on your Flickr or other photo account, or, if you don’t have an online presence, simply send them off to Bev who’ll put them up on her site. Beyond just being a lot of fun, the project also has the potential to contribute to science by documenting species in places they haven’t been seen before, or behaviours that haven’t been observed, or other valuable information. More details at the official IRFD page.

So what’s the point of this whole post? That no matter what your expertise, no matter where you are, where you live, whether you have acres of land, a little backyard, or a balcony, you can still make valuable observations. It’s likely that all the big vertebrates have been recorded for your area, but there are thousands of invertebrates that are often overlooked because of their size and habits, plants that blend in to the rest of the foliage, and behaviours of animals large and small that are always interesting to observe and important to document. The one key ingredient to having success and finding things, though? You have to get out there and look! Isaac Newton was probably the only person to have science come to him…