Published August 16, 2014
I just pulled these acorn barnacle shells out of a side pocket of my backpack. I picked them up in Maine a couple of months ago and promptly forgot about them.
Crustaceans, acorn barnacles begin life as free-floating larvae. The tiny head and telson affair is called a nauplius. These grow into a second larval stage, the cyprid, whose job is to find a nice surface — rock, wooden piling, ship hull — to glue its head to. Once stuck, it stays that way. It’ll grow the six hard, overlapping calcareous plates that form these thoothy-looking thimbles. These are the now-sessile animal’s castle walls. But how then do they reproduce if they’re not going anywhere? Well, for starters most species are hermaphroditic, so it doesn’t matter who their neighbors are, and the penis is extraordinarily long — the longest in terms of body size ratio of any animal is a goose barnacle species’s — so it can go cruising, as it were, from home base. Some species also release sperm into the water, like trees release pollen into the air.
Our man Darwin was obsessed by them; before him, it wasn’t realized they were related to shrimp.
Published June 29, 2014
Tags: Geology, Maine
Lobster Cove: sharply-edged fragments of igneous gabbro. Pebble Beach: sea-smoothed granite “pebbles”.
Published June 19, 2014
Tags: birding, birds, Maine
Bird sex is usually a very brief affair, a quick connection between cloaca. They may make this contact many times over the course of a day, or three, but the actual hookup itself is a matter of seconds. Sperm is transferred without benefit of a penis (except in the case of ducks and a few other species). Someone somewhere has called this the “cloacal kiss,” which is less than poetic if you know your Latin (a cloaca is a sewer). But these Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus smithsonianus) on White Head on Monehegan went at it for a good long while, as bird sex goes, a minute or two. And afterwards, there was some post-cloacal bonding. Meanwhile, this was another situation nearby. The Double-Crested Cormorant flew in to see if, maybe, there were any, you know, eggs! lying around to snack on? The gull made a lot of noise, the Cormorant did a little bobbing and weaving; when the gull refused to budge, the Cormorant flew off.
A few more from Maine. Here’s Low-bush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) in flower. I’m mad for those little Maine blueberries, which I get frozen and eat all winter.Starflower (Trientalis borealis).Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), a wildflower relation of Dogwood.Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) needs to be revealed. Hiding its light under a bushel. This is a plant I’ve never run across locally, and more is the pity.A lichen? Red-belted or banded polyphore (Fomitopsis pinicola).A fine example of witch’s broom, whereby something (fungi, insects, mites, nematodes, viruses, etc. are all possibilities) causes the plant to grow wildly thusly. They are variations on the principal of the gall: another life form hijacking the plant’s own growth systems. In this case, the intruding element interferes with the hormone that limits bud growth, and the tree goes wild.
Published June 11, 2014
Tags: birding, birds, Maine
Published June 6, 2014
The tides increase as you approach the Bay of Fundy. While the average difference between high and low is five feet here in NYC, it’s 10 feet in Maine. This means the state’s rocky shore is full of tidal pools, pockets of water temporarily abandoned as the tide pulls away. Such places are ripe with life. I must give all credit here to guide Gabriel Willow, who rolled over rocks, poked around, and fished up specimens as I snapped photographs. Here’s a Nudibranch. These marine gastropods have a shell in their larval stage, but as adults look more like slugs, albeit remarkable colorful and patterned ones. This looks like the a Red-gilled nudibranch, Flabellina pellucida, to me. Size is about 15mm. I’d never seen one in the wild before. Two sea urchins, a thumbnail-sized sea star/starfish, and the eggs (?) of something or other.Another sea star. The Northern Sea Star, Asterias vulgaris, is the most common in these waters, but I don’t know what this particular one, or the one in the group shot, is.
Maine’s coast is absolutely inundated with the Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea). Here’s a small cluster waiting for the tide to return. These are an invasive species of European origin that, like earthworms in our northern forests, have radically transformed habitat. They are edible — although each one is tiny and requires a winkle-pick — so we should be devouring them to beat back their, uh, tide.Underwater, Periwinkles are the dark, snail-like shells. The conical ones, like tiny volcanoes, are limpets. There’s a single barnacle here as well, looking like a spent volcano.Assuming that this is the Atlantic Plate/Common Tortoiseshell Limpet (N. testudinalis in one source, T. testudinalis in another). Couldn’t find a single abandoned shell of one of these.As you can see in the first picture above, the rocks are carpeted in seaweeds, including Knotted and Bladder Wracks and Irish Moss. These streamer-like ribbons of kelp were filling a pool.
Published June 5, 2014
Tags: birding, birds, Maine
Monhegan Island is ten miles off the coast of Maine. It’s blessed with ample fresh water and lots of plant life, which inspires the insects that hungry migratory birds are looking for as they sweep up from the south this time of year. For many of these migrants, the tiny island is their first sight of land. This is what has made the place such a renown “migrant trap” and oasis for birds and birders. The strangest birds have shown up here over the years.
I was there for three days last week with a group from NYC Audubon, led by Gabriel Willow. Word of a Brewer’s Sparrow (Spizella breweri) on-island had reached us before we arrived. This small, plain sparrow is common in its range, but that range is well west of the Mississippi. “Nests in sagebrush habitats,” notes Sibley, referencing a plant not found in the damp chill of the Gulf of Maine. This was, in fact, the first recorded sighting of this bird in Maine. The species was named for Thomas M. Brewer (1814-1880), whose North American Oology of 1857 is his lasting work, if you don’t count the irony of his being one of the damned fools who campaigned for the introduction of the House Sparrow into North America.
I was present for another rare bird discovery. Gabriel spotted a rather drab, grayish warbler with a strong eye-ring and yellow on the chest and at the base of the tail. The view was brief. A Nashville Warbler, presumably, although an awfully plain one for a breeding season bird. We saw it again several minutes later — this time I spotted that distinctive eye-ring through layers of twisty apple branches. Turned out to be, as Gabriel surmised, a Virginia’s Warbler (Vermivora virginiae), another Western species. Only four have ever been recorded in Maine, all of them on Monhegan. These two photos of the bird were taken by Gabriel with my camera.You can just see a touch of red in the head of this bird, marking it as a male. Monhegan is crowded with birders this time of year; this was the picture we showed to Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology’s Ornithology Department’s Collections Manager, who said, oh yeah, that’s a Virginia’s, as he hurried to see it in the feather.
And who was Virginia, you might well ask. She was the wife of William Wallace Anderson (1824-1910; my reference doesn’t give her dates), the U.S. Army surgeon who “discovered” the warbler in New Mexico in 1860, just before he joined the CSA in defense of slavery.