Frog changes color with changed surroundings

I really wish I’d taken a photo of this frog when I found her this noon, sheltering on the porch next to the wall. There were some beer 6-pack carriers there waiting return to the store and when I picked one up there was this big dark frog clinging to the side. She (well, she just seems like a “she”) was a very dark brown tinged with green all over, with some darker mottling on her back, and sparkling gold stripes above her eyes. I caught her up and put her in our 100-gallon pond, on the lotus and water hyacinth leaves.

This afternoon, here she is, transformed in color.

FrogChangesColor.jpg

The dark splotches on her rear are about the color that her entire body was, about six hours ago.

It was only recently that I learned frogs could do this, so now having seen it in action I had to talk about it. Apparently it’s an ability found in many species, and the frogs can change as a result of light, humidity, surroundings, or “mood”. Whatever that means. The frog changed and the researcher cannot see any objective alteration in environment so it’s put down to “mood”.

Fear or excitement makes many frogs and toads turn pale, but others, like the African clawed frog, darken when disturbed. Another African frog is normally green, but turns white in the heat of the day to reflect heat and keep cool. The tiny African arum frog is ivory white and lives in the white blossoms of the arum swamp lily. When the blossoms die, the frogs turn brown to match. from exploratorium.edu.

We think she’s probably a Pacific Tree Frog (Pseudacris regilla).

[Etymological note: Pseudacris from the Greek pseudes (false) + akris (locust) — alluding to the frogs’ song?; regilla from the Latin regilla (regal, splendid) — probably referring to the markings.]

No glaciers on the news

Last night I wanted to see footage on television of the huge island of ice that has broken off of the Petermann glacier in Greenland. It’s the biggest such event in the Arctic for 50 years, launching a massive iceberg that has four times the area of Manhattan and is 600 feet thick. “The so-called “ice island” covers a hundred square miles (260 square kilometers) and holds enough water to keep U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days.”

I thought that some enterprising Greenlander, perhaps from the Greenland Ice Patrol which monitors ice movement for shipping safety, would surely have gotten aloft and sent us all some live footage showing the area, but apparently not. Merging two clichés, one about cable tv and the other about big-box stores, I thought: “500 channels, but never what you want”.

Online, of course, there are photos like these from NASA.

NASArealcolor2.jpg

Real color photo from NASA. I added the orange line around the breakaway ice island. Source.

NASAfalsecolor.jpg

False color photo from NASA. Source.

And I did find about two seconds of overhead video on YouTube. It’s about 20 seconds into the video, and most of the rest is talking heads taking sides on whether the event is connected to global warming/climate change. Maybe yes, maybe no, does it really matter if each individual event can be connected? Good for politicians and talk-shows.

In the Antarctic, however, there seems to be quite a clear pattern. Nearly all of the world’s glacier ice, 91%, is located there. An international scientific partnership including the US Geological Survey (and the British Antarctic Survey, with the assistance of the Scott Polar Research Institute and Germany’s Bundesamt fűr Kartographie und Geodäsie) has found that

every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula has been retreating overall from 1947 to 2009, with the most dramatic changes occurring since 1990. The USGS previously documented that the majority of ice fronts on the entire Peninsula have also retreated during the late 20th century and into the early 21st century.

The ice shelves are attached to the continent and already floating, holding in place the Antarctic ice sheet that covers about 98 percent of the Antarctic continent. As the ice shelves break off, it is easier for outlet glaciers and ice streams from the ice sheet to flow into the sea. The transition of that ice from land to the ocean is what raises sea level. [report dated 2/22/10]

Since 1950, total Antarctic ice loss exceeds 9,652 square miles. Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have risen faster than in any other area in the southern hemisphere – a rise that translates to more than five degrees Fahrenheit since the middle of the last century.

AntarcticPeninsulaIceLossMap.jpg

This image shows ice-front retreat in part of the southern Antarctic Peninsula from 1947 to 2009. Distance bar may be hard to read: it’s 50 miles in 10 miles increments. USGS scientists are studying coastal and glacier change along the entire Antarctic coastline. The southern portion of the Antarctic Peninsula is one area studied as part of this project, and is summarized in the USGS report, “Coastal-Change and Glaciological Map of the Palmer Land Area, Antarctica: 1947–2009” (map I–2600–C). (Credit: Image courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey). Source.

It is expected that loss of the floating ice shelves will allow the land-based ice to flow faster toward and into the ocean. If the Greenland Ice Sheet were to melt completely, it is estimated that it would add about 23 feet (7 meters) to current sea level. The West Antarctic Ice sheet is believed to be less stable than that covering East Antarctica, because the ice of East Antarctica lies on rock that is above sea level and is thought unlikely to collapse. But the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is on rock below sea level:

“Not just a bit below sea level, it’s 2,000 meters below sea level,” said David Vaughan, a principal investigator with the British Antarctic Survey. “If there was no ice sheet there, this would be deep ocean, deep like the middle of the Atlantic.”

Some scientists have theorized that this makes the WAIS inherently unstable. If the ice sheet retreats beyond a certain point, a positive feedback mechanism should, they say, lead to runaway retreat that would not stop until most of the ice sheet disappears. [Source.]

The Western Antarctic Ice Sheet contains 13% of all the ice on the Antarctic continent, enough to raise current sea levels around 11 feet (3.3 meters). And when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made its climate change predictions, including the “mid-range projection” (mid-range meaning, not the best-case nor the worst-case scenario) that seas will rise 17 inches (44 centimeters), they did not include what the effects would be, if polar ice sheets began to melt faster than in the decade of 1993-2003. This was done because there wasn’t enough known about ice sheet melting and its change over time. The Antarctic Ice Sheet is 6 miles thick in places, so it’s not easy to know what is going on under it and finding out has only recently seemed important to those who fund such expensive research.

Finally, the aspect that has seemed to many the most frightening about climate change predictions: the unknown potential for interactions between complex systems such as wind currents and ocean currents, which could conceivably multiply foreseen effects. (Or, if we were amazingly lucky, cause them to cancel one another out; but we won’t know until it’s too late to do anything about it.) For example, it’s believed that the melting of Antarctic ice shelves is caused by warmer water flowing up underneath the ice. But this water is not from melting ice; rather it comes from deep within the ocean, and climate change may be making it warmer by one of those unforeseen linkages:

Antarctica is encircled by atmospheric currents that largely insulate it from the rest of Earth’s climate and keep it colder than it otherwise would be. Jenkins’ model showed that these circumpolar currents, sometimes called “Westerlies,” “the Screaming 50s,” or “the Roaring 40s,” actually push surface waters out away from the continent. This results from the Coriolis Force, the byproduct of Earth’s rotation that causes cyclonic systems to turn counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. As surface water is pushed away, warm deep water rises to replace it.

If the atmospheric currents speed up, more water is pulled up. Indeed, observations indicate these atmospheric currents have sped up in recent decades in response to global warming. So increased upwelling seems likely.

[Read more in this article which goes into deeper detail than many accounts of climate research for lay persons. It reports on the 2007 the West Antarctic Links to Sea-Level Estimation (WALSE) international workshop.]

It’s this sort of unforeseen multiplier-effect between two systems (each one of which,by itself, strains our capacity to make accurate mental and statistical models), that makes me think efforts to mitigate, and prepare for, climate change should be at the top of every developed nation’s agenda. Of course it’s not at the top of any nation’s agenda, and won’t be, until the effects are severe—not just “extreme weather” like last week’s flooding and unusual heat waves, but unmistakeable (and irreversible) such as significant rise in sea levels. By then secondary results, such as mass migration of tens of millions trying to flee drought and famine, will be well under way and our primate brains will be where they are most comfortable, dealing with what’s right in front of them. Near-term possibilities are construed concretely, long-term ones abstractly, and the consequences of that upon human action are pretty much as you’d expect. Psychologists even have a name for this, “temporal construal”.

We are told that Homo sapiens mostly evolves culturally now, rather than physically. Yet human cultures in industrial nations are mostly under the control of corporate interests which manufacture and sell us “culture” in a form that serves their ends. Government, also, serves them. If corporations were subject to natural selection we wouldn’t have seen no-strings bailouts for banks and financial institutions, instead there would have been widespread failures. If American culture is poorly adapted for survival in coming conditions, and if the few run it for their short-term gain, then chances for “our” success seem slim. Humans are slippery devils, though, enduring and resourceful. And there are still a few groups of hunter-gatherers and nomads left who may well prove far more resilient than any of our proud nations.

Siskiyou Wildflowers: Mt. Ashland in July, part 2

So many flowers!

We’ve made two trips to Mt. Ashland (Southern Oregon), on July 22 and 31, along a gravel/dirt forest road noted for wildflowers, and it was a new experience: instead of marvelling at a single flower or small patch of flowers, we saw slopes red with Indian Paintbrush or Scarlet Gilia, places with a dozen different flowers blooming in a 50 foot stretch. On gentle slopes where the snow has recently melted, plants grow so thickly it’s hard to see which leaves belong to which flowers. This is Forest Road 20, for those who might want to visit, and it’s the continuation of the main paved road that goes to the Mt. Ashland ski area. Just keep going, and the road soon turns to gravel and there are meadows of wildflowers on each side. A few miles later the road winds into a drier area with few but choice species, such as various penstemons as well as paintbrush, gilia, eriogonum, and many more. For us novices, identifying what we’ve seen and photographed has been a challenge.

Here are some of the plants we’ve seen on these two trips. Others were included in the earlier “Part 1” post. [Our identifications are the best we have been able to do, but shouldn’t be considered authoritative.]

Castilleja species along a seep.jpg

Castilleja (Paintbrush) along a trickle of water. Not sure of the species, but it doesn’t have the wavy leaves of C. applegatei.

Tiny wildflowers like this one are easy to overlook, hard to identify. For scale, that large pink object on the left is part of my finger. The entire plant was only two or three inches tall, and was growing in a wet sandy area.

Mystery tiny pink flower.jpg

Lilium pardalinum, Veratrum californicum (foliage), .jpg

The striking yellow lilies above are Leopard Lilies (Lilium pardalinum), native to Oregon and California. The spires of white flowers are White Schoenolirion or White Rush-lily (Hastingsia alba; also called Schoenolirion album).

[Etymological note: pardalinum is an adjective from the Greek pardalis, female leopard (meaning spotted like a leopard); Hastingsia after Serranus Clinton Hastings (1814-1893), first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California, who helped publish The Botany of the Pacific Coast edited by Asa Gray, Sir Joseph Hooker and J. D. Whitney; album and alba are from the Latin albus (white); Schoenolirion from the Greek schoinos (a rush), + lirion (lily).]

Lilium pardalinum, Leopard Lily CLOSE.jpg

The White Rush-lily is in the lily family; it grows from a bulb, and has the flat strap-like leaves characteristic of many lilies. The mixed species of plants were so dense in some places on Mt. Ashland that it was hard even to find the foliage of a particular species, much less photograph it, but the picture below shows a big area where White Rush-lily alone grew.

Hastingsia alba, foliage.jpg

Aster family purple, and yarrow.jpg

A purple flower in the aster family, but which one? In the background is Achillea millefolium, Common Yarrow.

Out of the ordinary Owl’s Clover

Next is an unusual flower, Toothed Owl’s Clover (Orthocarpus cuspidatus). Owl’s Clovers are in the Snapdragon family along with Paintbrushes (Castilleja genus), Foxgloves, and Penstemons (Beardtongues). Because it is so remarkable, I’m going to include pictures of it from several points of view. From above, looking down on the upright flower.

Owl'sCloverTopView1.jpg

Below, another top view of a rather different-looking individual, missing some of its parts or having developed differently.

Owl'sCloverTopView2.jpg

Two views from the side.

Owl'sClover.jpg

Owl'sClover2.jpg

Owl’s Clovers are not just unusual in appearance, but also in their natural history. They are annuals, and

if the first roots emerging from a germinating Owl Clover seed find themselves near the roots of a neighboring plant of a different species, such as prairie lupine, it will initiate structural connections called haustoria. These are modified roots capable of causing infection in the host plant.

The haustoria invade, literally grow into, the inner tissues of the host lupine’s roots. The Owl Clover haustoria are triggered into formation when the lupine itself exudes chemicals from its roots; that is, the lupine chemically signals its presence to the Owl Clover. The haustoria connections are all completed and in place within a few hours! With functional haustoria in place, Owl Clover’s growth is accelerated. The Owl Clover gains water, minerals and energy from the host plant. Being an annual, Owl Clover has a relatively small root system, so getting extra food really helps its growth rate. This host-parasite relationship is called heterotrophy, the opposite of autotrophy [self-sustaining by photosynthesis]. Being semi-parasitic [capable of both parasitism and if necessary autotrophy], Owl Clover may engage in both at the same time.

Owl Clover, when functioning as a parasite, also takes in toxic chemicals the host plant produces; lupines have alkaloids (remember, plants like lupines are poisonous to livestock). These toxic chemicals are distributed into the Owl Clover’s stem and leaf tissues. The consequences? The presence of the poisonous alkaloids, botanists have learned, reduces the level of feeding (herbivory) by butterfly and moth larvae that favor Owl Clover leaves for their growth and development. Larvae feeding is hindered by the presence of the poisons, and the Owl Clover retains more of its leaf tissue for photosynthesis, an obvious benefit. Butterfly and moth larvae need alternative leaves to eat, but that’s impossible since mature butterflies and moths lay their eggs on developing Owl Clover plants not knowing if the leaves are toxic or not. Larvae, it’s assumed, survive better, and develop to maturity by feeding on Owl Clovers that are not parasitizing a lupine or other toxic host plant.

There’s one remaining piece of this interesting relationship to be told: studies suggest that Owl Clover’s flower nectar is not contaminated by the toxic alkaloids. Perhaps the alkaloids are detoxified by some means before reaching the nectar glands. Why is this important? Visiting pollinators, such as hummingbirds or bumble bees, can harvest the Owl Clover’s nectar reward without suffering ill effects. [Source article by Jim Habeck, professor emeritus of botany at the University of Montana]

Representations of the seeds and seed-pods of wildflowers seem hard to find; after the colorful floral show is over, the photographers lose interest just as the pollinating bees and hawkmoths do. But in my Owl’s Clover wanderings I came across photos here of the seeds and pods of two species. Looking at the flowers, I wouldn’t have expected this:

Orthocarpus purpurascens SEED POD.jpg

Seeds and seedpod of Purple Owl’s Clover (Orthocarpus purpurascens, also called Castilleja exserta). Not the species we saw, but it has a similar flower so probably the seedpods are similar.

[Etymological note: Orthocarpus, from the Greek ortho (straight, upright) + carp- (fruit, seed); cuspidatus, from the Latin cuspis (lance, point); purpurescens, becoming purple, from the Latin purpura (purple); Castilleja, named for Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), Spanish botanist and Professor of Botany in Cadiz, Spain; exserta, from the Latin exsertus, past participle of exserere (to thrust out, from ex- + serere to join).]

Wavy-leaf Paintbrush and hand signals

Castilleja applegatei, Wavy-leaf Paintbrush.jpg

This, I think, is Wavy-leaf Paintbrush (Castilleja applegatei)

Castilleja applegatei, Wavy-leaf PaintbrushLEAVES.jpg

Here are the wavy-edged 3-lobed leaves. Some leaves are single, not lobed.

And this is my hand signal to tell myself that the flower felt “sticky”! I have found I have trouble remembering these things days later when I am looking over 300 photos, sometimes of more than one species of the same genus. Now which one had the sticky flowers? It’s characteristic of some Paintbrushes and not others, so knowing helps to identify these tricky guys.

Another difficulty was that if two similar species were photographed one after the other I couldn’t be sure where the first one ended, in the series of photos. Now when I finish photographing one species I take a “spacer” photo of my foot in its red sandal. Sounds odd but seems to be helping.

[Etymological note: Castilleja, named for Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), Spanish botanist and Professor of Botany in Cadiz, Spain; applegatei, named after Elmer Applegate (1867-1949), a student of the flora of Oregon best known for his monograph of trout lilies (Erythronium).]

Thistle, Buckwheat, Roses and more

Cirsium scariosum, elk thistle CLOSE.jpg

Above is a close-up of the center of a flat-growing thistle, called Elk Thistle (Cirsium scariosum). All our other local thistles send up tall stems defended with spiky leaves and ending in one or more flowers, but this one grows and flowers at a height of just 2 or 3 inches. The plants we saw were up to a foot in diameter.

Cirsium scariosum, elk thistle.jpg

[Etymological note: Cirsium from the Greek kirsion (a kind of thistle) in turn from kirsos (a swollen vein or welt) because thistles were often used as a remedy against such things; scariosum from “New Latin” (=concocted by moderns) scariosus c. 1806, origin uncertain (dry and membranous in texture, chaffy, brown).]

Eriogonum umbellatum, Sulphur-flower Buckwheat.jpg

Sulphur-flower Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum). The genus Eriogonum is in the same family (Polygonaceae) as the field crop buckwheat, and the seeds of some species are important for wildlife. The name ‘buckwheat’ or ‘beech wheat’ comes from its triangular seeds, which resemble the much larger seeds of the beech nut from the beech tree, and the fact that it is used like wheat [Wikipedia].

Eriogonum umbellatum, Sulphur-flower Buckwheat CLOSE.jpg

[Etymological note: Eriogonum, from the Greek erion (wool) and gony (knee or joint), so called because the jointed stems are covered with hair; umbellatum, from the Latin umbella (sunshade), diminutive of umbra (shadow), and refers to the arrangement of the flowers which arise in a head from a central point, i.e. bearing an umbel.] Now that I know this odd bit about the meaning of Eriogonum, I’ll be looking for those “hairy knees” on wild buckwheat plants in future.

Rosa woodsii, Woods' rose.jpg

Small patches of these vivid pink roses were blooming in areas of loose dry soil, and the plants were only a few inches tall. I think it’s Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii).

[Etymological note: Rosa, from the Latin rosa (rose), in turn derived from the Greek rhodon (rose); woodsii, after American botanist Alphonso Wood (1810-1881).]

Penstemon azureus, azure penstemon.jpg

We think this Penstemon is Azure Penstemon (Penstemon azureus). At their peak the flowers must have been glorious.

Penstemon azureus, Azure penstemon, LEAF.jpg

The broadly oval leaves are distinctive, and seem to clasp the stem as described for this species.

[Etymological note: Penstemon from Greek penta- (five) + Greek stēmōn (thread, here meaning stamen); azureus (of a deep blue color) from Arabic via Old French azaward which developed from Arabic lāzaward, from Persian lāzhuward, of obscure origin—in Old French the initial ‘l’ was dropped from the word proper and turned into the definite article “le” as if it were French: l’azaward].]

Here is a beautiful penstemon we are not able to identify.

Penstemon, unknown species 1 FLOWERS.jpg

Penstemon, unknown species 1 CLOSE.jpg

The difference in flower color between these two pictures is due to light conditions; the one taken in full sunlight is actually a bit washed out compared to how the colors appeared to my eye, and the one taken in shade is more accurate.

Penstemon, unknown species 1 LEAF.jpg

The buds and long narrow leaves of this penstemon.

A second unidentified penstemon.

Penstemon unknown species,#2 CLOSE .jpg

The leaves are quite different from the first unidentified one.
Penstemon unknown species,#2 .jpg

We saw many more flowers on these two trips, but I’ll stop with this one, Western Blue Flax or Prairie Flax (Linum lewisii, also called Linum perenne var. lewisii).

Linum lewisii (Linum perenne var. lewisii), Lewis flax, blue flax, prairie flax2.jpg

Western Blue Flax is very similar to the European Flax plant from which linen is made; indeed, some consider the two a single species, Linum perenne. Native American peoples used flax fiber for cordage and string, as well as for mats, snowshoes, fishing nets and baskets.

Linum lewisii (Linum perenne var. lewisii), Lewis flax, blue flax, prairie flax CLOSE.jpg

[Etymological note: Linum from Latin linum (flax, linen); lewisii, for Captain Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806; perenne from Latin perennis (lasting through the year or years) from per- (through) + annus (year), botanical sense of “Remaining alive through a number of years”.]

Mt. Ashland flower scene.jpg

View of Mt. Shasta from Mt. Ashland, July.jpg

View of Mt. Shasta from Mt. Ashland.

Algae poses threat to humans as well as animals

Health departments have been trying to inform swimmers and pet owners that they should avoid water with visible algae, since ingesting it can cause severe and sudden illness including convulsions or even death. In our state, three dogs died last year after swimming at a reservoir. One died before his owner could even get him to the car, another died on the way to the vet.

Now, a recent report in the ProMED health tracking network calls our attention to human risks that don’t involved either entering or drinking the algae-contaminated water.

One man, whose dog died after a swim in the lake, was hospitalized last week [week of 19 Jul 2010] after he gave the dog a bath. Within days, the 43-year-old man began having trouble walking and lost
feeling in his arms and feet.

“We weren’t swimming in the lake because it’s disgusting,” said the
victim’s wife, whose husband, is still having trouble with memory loss and fatigue. “Our dog was just covered in that sludge, and my husband washed him.” Washington Examiner, July 30, 2010.

According to one doctor treating the Ohio man, his neurological problems may be permanent. But he’s better off than his dog, who died despite having the algae washed off.

The algae are in the “blue-green algae” family, and are actually not algae but photosynthesizing bacteria, called cyanobacteria. Blooms, or overgrowths, in bodies of water (fresh or saltwater) are encouraged by temperature change and increases in nutrients, often from agricultural runoff into the water. The cyanobacteria, like some algae, make toxins harmful to fish and mammals. Humans have been aware of this mostly through being poisoned by eating shellfish, which concentrate the toxins. The familiar warnings about “red tides” and issuance of “shellfish advisories” result from these conditions.

While it has been known that skin contact with toxic algae could produce illness in humans, the severe results from relatively small exposure—simply washing an algae-slimed dog—seem to be worse than expected.

The lake in Ohio is Grand Lake St. Marys; it’s the largest inland lake in the state by area, but is extremely shallow, with an average depth of only 5 to 7 feet. This shallow lake warms up more, and doesn’t dilute the runoff of agricultural fertilizer and livestock waste as much as if it held more water. Recent algae blooms have killed so many catfish that crews were shovelling up the dead fish. With the lake surrounded by warning signs, the area’s $160 million tourism industry has declined, and a boat race that draws about 30,000 people in late August each year has been cancelled.

Some algae are harmless, but there are many different algae or bacteria that can produce dangerous levels of toxins when they bloom. Some are more harmful than others but it’s foolish to take chances: keep yourself, and children and pets, well away from any water that has a visible algae presence. This can be greenish, reddish, or other colors. Or it can appear as just cloudiness or discoloration in the water, as foam or scum floating on top, as mats on the bottom, or actual filaments or pellets. And don’t let kids or pets wander to areas of a river, stream, or lake that you have not closely checked.

Algae by rocks.jpg

Source.

An Ohio factsheet sums up the methods of exposure, and known symptoms:

Skin contact: Contact with the skin may cause rashes, hives, or skin blisters (especially on the lips and under swimsuits).

Breathing of water droplets: Breathing aerosolizing (suspended water droplets-mist) from the lake water-related recreational activities and/or lawn irrigation can cause runny eyes and noses, a sore throat, asthma-like symptoms, or allergic reactions.

Swallowing water: Swallowing HAB-contaminated water can cause:
◦ Acute (immediate), severe diarrhea and vomiting
◦ Liver toxicity (abnormal liver function, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting)
◦ Kidney toxicity
◦ Neurotoxicity (weakness, salivation, tingly fingers, numbness, dizziness, difficulties breathing, death)   Source.

Splashing of water in eyes, or inhaling droplets of contaminated water, can get the toxin into your system. One of the toxins from cyanobacteria, Saxitoxin is “reportedly one of the most toxic, non-protein substances known. It is known that the LD50 (median lethal dose) in mice is 8 micrograms/kilogram. Based on
a human weighing approx. 70 kg (154 lb), a lethal dose would be a
single dose of 0.2 mg.” [Source, ProMED report.]

How much is two-tenths of a milligram? There are a thousand milligrams in a gram, and a dime or a paper clip each weigh about 1 gram. So an amount of toxin weighing the same as two ten-thousandths of a paper clip may be lethal.

Algae,feet in water.jpg

Source.

These “Harmful Algal Blooms” can occur in large or small bodies of water; often, but not always, they are in areas where the waterflow is slow (near shore) or nonexistent (stagnant). Small pools or puddles separate from the main body of water can contain algal growth. Even in tiny amounts the toxins can have devastating and sudden effects of humans or animals.

Eating fish or shellfish from contaminated waters is dangerous too. Cooking does NOT render toxins safe.

Algal blooms can be very transient, appearing and disappearing in a matter of days to weeks. If you spot a possible instance and there are no warning signs, it may not have been found yet. Stay away from the water and call your local or state health department so they can track outbreaks, and put up signs.

For the state of Oregon, current advisories can be found online here. The HAB team can be reached by email at Hab.health@state.or.us, by phone: 971-673-0440; Toll Free: 877-290-6767; or by fax: 971-673-0457. Other states should have similar programs; your city or county health department ought to be able to tell you more.

Why are these toxic algae blooms becoming more common?

The short answer is, better growing conditions for algae. They thrive in warm water, and temperatures are going up. Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) from human activities pour into streams, lakes, rivers, and the ocean, and act like Miracle-Gro for the algae. Sources include runoff from fields treated with fertilizer or manure, spraying partially treated sewage sludge, sewage overflows, and runoff from pastures.

What can be done?

Rising temperatures, that’s a big one. Let’s just look at eutrophication or over-nutrification of water, since that’s something where local efforts can have relatively immediate local effects. Obviously, better treatment of sewage (including livestock waste) and reduced use of fertilizers (in agriculture, on golf courses, in parks, and in our own personal yards) are important steps to work on. On July 1st, 16 states will begin enforcing laws that require dishwasher detergents to be almost phosphate-free. That’s a small but significant improvement; the legislator who introduced the bill into the Pennsylvania legislature estimated that 7% to 12% of the phosphorus entering sewage plants came from automatic dishwashing detergents. New guidelines from the federal Clean Water Act to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus have provided more impetus to these particular efforts.

Not so obvious steps:

At least one study found that use of organic fertilizers led to less nitrogen runoff than use of chemical fertilizers.

Remediation of areas where nitrogen is stored in soil, from decades of deposition by one means or another, is possible but expensive and slow.

And years of research is showing us, surprise surprise, that intact aquatic communities slow the trickle-down of nutrient pollution (from, say, creeks to streams to rivers to a lake) and seem to enable a body of water to better resist eutrophication. Dr. David Schindler (Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta) has studied the problem for decades including 37 years of work on Lake 227, a small pristine lake in the Experimental Lakes region of northern Ontario. He says, for example, that overexploitation of piscivorous (fish-eating) fish seems to increase the effects of eutrophication. (His earlier work energized the campaign to reduce phosphorus pollution.)

A study along the Georgia coast suggests that tidal marsh soils protect aquatic ecosystems from eutrophication, caused by the accumulation of nutrients. And they sequester large amounts of carbon, helping us slow down climate change. I would expect similar results with regard to freshwater wetlands and marshes. When I was a zookeeper I worked with mechanical incubators for bird eggs, none of which was as reliable as one of those “bird-brained” hens of whatever species. We are told that the appropriate native herbivores—bison, wildebeest, and so on—produce more meat per acre and do less damage than introduced species like cattle. And now we’re coming around to seeing that oldmothernature is better at water purification than we are, if we leave existing systems intact (but we never do).

Salt Marsh.jpg

Salt Marsh near Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; more good photos of this marsh here.

Siskiyou Wildflowers: Mt. Ashland in July, part 1

On July 22nd we left our usual nearby wildflower haunts and headed to Mt. Ashland, drawn by a brochure given us by the local ranger station. It’s called Wildflowers of Mount Ashland and the Siskiyou Crest from Mount Ashland to Cow Creek Glade, and shows small photos of 82 different flowers that may be found along Forest Road 20. There’s also concise information about each one as to wet/dry/shade habitat, location on the road, and height. The Siskiyou Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon produced this, and did a great job. We’ll be joining, to support such efforts.

The day on the mountain was perfect: we left behind the valley where the temperature was headed for 100°, for an airy sunny breezy place from which Mt. Shasta was visible.

Mt. Shasta.jpg

There were still a few areas of snow, and meadows moist from springs and snowmelt.

A small seep of water flows down this crease in the land, with plants most dense where the ground levels out a bit.

Water seep line.jpg

Habitats vary from dry and rocky to wet at this time of year. Peak flowering time is July and August. We saw many wildflowers—not all 82, but we’ll go back in a couple of weeks and see what else has appeared. Here’s a first installment of what we saw.

Ipomopsis aggregata, Scarlet Gilia #  - 06.jpg

The most numerous species we saw was Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata). There were isolated plants, there were swathes of red. It was hard to believe something so bright and beautiful could be so abundant. [Etymological note: Ipomopsis is said to be from a Greek root meaning “striking in appearance,” but no one seems to be able to substantiate it; the species name means “flocking together,” or growing in groups, clustered, from Latin gregis (a flock) and the suffix -gate from agere (to set in motion, to drive, to lead).

Ipomopsis aggregata, Scarlet Gilia en masse.jpg

Ipomopsis aggregata, Scarlet Gilia CLOSE.jpg

Below is a yellow paintbrush, called Cobwebby Paintbrush, (Castilleja arachnoidea). Its leaves are narrow—the wide tapering hairy leaves belong to another plant that grew close in among the Castilleja. [Etymological note: named for Professor Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), a Spanish botanist and instructor of botany at Cadiz, Spain; from Greek arachnes (spider), arachnion (spider web), like a spider’s web.]

Castilleja arachnoidea.jpg

Another Castilleja sp., but which one? Wavy-leaf Paintbrush (C. applegatei) was pictured in our guide to Mt. Ashland, but this plant did not have the distinctive wavy leaves.

Castilleja Sp. A.jpg

The next two photos show a small plant called Pussy Paws, for the soft fuzzy flowerheads(Calyptridium umbellatum). The second one pictured is the pink variety. [Etymological note: from the Greek kaluptra (a cap or covering) because of the way the petals close over the fruit; umbellatum meaning “having an umbel”, botanical term for a cluster of flowers with stalks of nearly equal length which spring from about the same point, like the ribs of an umbrella, and derived from Latin diminutive of umbra (shadow).]

Calyptridium umbellatum, Pussy Paws .jpg

Calyptridium umbellatum, Pussy PawsPINK.jpg

Two orchids were prize finds, in shady spots. Both are Uncommon, according to Turner. First the oddly named Short-spurred Rein Orchid (Piperia unalascensis). Living in the Pacific Northwest, even in a dry part of it, one wants to call this a “Rain” orchid, but all sources agree it is “Rein”. One writer alleges that it’s so named for the strap-like lower lip on each tiny flower, but I don’t really see it. [Etymological note: named after Charles Vancouver Piper (1867-1926), an agronomist with the US Department of Agriculture and an expert on Pacific Northwest flora; species name refers to Aleutian Islands (Unalaska) where species was first found. The Unangan people, who were the first to inhabit the island of Unalaska, named it “Ounalashka” meaning ‘Near the Peninsula’, according to Wikipedia. ]

Piperia unalascensis, Short-spurred Rein Orchid CLOSE.jpg

Below, not in very good focus, is the entire plant next to an Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja), species unknown.

Piperia unalascensis, Short-spurred Rein Orchid .jpg

The White Bog Orchid (Platanthera leucostachys) below It’s also called the Sierra Bog Orchid. The palmate leaf and thick stalk on the right belong to a lupine. [Etymological note: from the Greek “platanos” (broad or flat), and Greek anther (from Greek anthera, feminine of antheros (flowery) from anthos (flower), here anther is the botanical term, referring to the upper part of the stamen, containing pollen; species name from the Greek leukos (white) and Greek stachus (ear of grain or a spike) in reference to the spike-like form of the flowers.]

White bog orchid, Platanthera leucostachys   - 1.jpg

White bog orchid, Platanthera leucostachys CLOSE.jpg

Orange Agoseris (Agoseris aurantiaca), bright as the sun. [Etymological note: Agoseris was the Greek name for a related plant “goat chicory” and the word is usually seen as deriving from derived from Greek aix (goat) and seris (chicory). Some members of the Agoseris genus have woolly stems or leaves, possibly relating to the “goat” connexion. Species name aurantiaca from the Latin (orange, orange-yellow or orange-red), ultimately from aurum (gold, the metal).]

Agoseris aurantiaca, Orange AgoserisCLOSE.jpg

Several delphiniums were spotted, but not yet identified. Here’s one.

Delphinium A- 2.jpg

Its leaf is small and three-lobed.

Delphinium A- 2LEAF.jpg

There are lots of yellow daisy-like flowers in the world, but not all have the tenacity of this one which seems to spring from the dry rock. It is Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum). [Etymological note: from the Greek erion (wool), phyllum (leaves); species name from the Latin lanatus, (woolly). Very very woolly!]

Eriophyllum lanatum, Oregon Sunshine  - 1.jpg

Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) is another bright-flowered plant that does well in dry and disturbed soils. That trait may account for the common English name, supposedly derived from growing at the foot of walls in Europe. I suppose they’re rather like the hollyhocks you see springing up in the hard dry soil in front of abandoned sheds or at the edges of alleys. [Etymological note: from the Greek eryomai (to help or save) because some of the species supposedly had a medicinal value ; species name from Latin capitātus (having a head) from capit-, (head), refers to the way the flowers form in a head-like cluster.]

Erysimum capitatum, Western Wallflower # 2.jpg

It’s in the Mustard Family, a group called Cruciferae meaning “cross-shaped”, referring to the arrangement of the flower petals.

Erysimum capitatum, Western Wallflower.jpg

More soon!

Siskiyou wildflowers we found today

We walked along a dirt road above the Applegate River. Warm and dusty, with the cool green river below. On the far side of the river there are houses, and tied up below one was a gas-powered dredge for sucking up sand and silt from the bottom or edges of the river, in search of gold. Any gold around here is powder or very small pieces; nothing you would think of as a nugget is likely to be found. Since the moratorium on dredging in the rivers of California more dredgers are mucking up our rivers.

dredge on the river.jpg

The first wildflower we saw was the rather spectacular Blazing Star (Mentzelia laevicaulis).

Mentzelia laevicaulis, Blazing star1.jpg

This plant likes dry gravelly roadcuts such as this one, and is found from British Columbia south through much of the West. Accounts say the flower is fragrant but we didn’t notice that.

The buds are a pale dawn yellow. Or the color dawns should be.

Mentzelia laevicaulis, Blazing star, flower buds.jpg

The leaves are distinctive: hairy and scalloped.

Mentzelia laevicaulis, Blazing star leaf close-up.jpg

Mentzelia was named by Linnaeus in honour of Christian Mentzel (1622-1701), a German physician, botanist and lexicographer. The epithet laevicaulis (laevi = smooth + caulis = stalk) refers to the comparatively smooth stems of this species in comparison to other Mentzelia species.” For this information on etymology, often impossible to find, I am indebted to the University of British Columbia’s Botany Photo of the Day site.

The flower is somewhat similar to one we saw back in mid-June, Yellow or Western Salsify (Tragopogon dubius), below. But Yellow Salsify is introduced, not native, and regarded as invasive in many areas. The root is “edible raw (slightly bitter, celery-like taste with a hint of cucumber) and cooked (smells like parsnips). The plant exudes a milky latex when cut.” Another species, T. porrifolius, has been known since Roman times for its edible roots and young shoots, and even cultivated. Europeans who introduced T. porrifolius to North America too, where it’s considered an “agricultural weed”, not quite as bad as “invasive”.

Tragopogon dubius  -Yellow Salsify,Western Salsify -flower.jpg

The Yellow Salsify leaf is narrow, not scalloped, and smooth rather than hairy.

Tragopogon dubius  -Yellow Salsify,Western Salsify - leaves.jpg

Large patches of Rabbit-Foot Clover (Trifolium arvense) lined the road. This is another European introduction.
Rabbit-Foot Clover.jpg

We were too late to see any with fresh blooms, so here they are from A Photo Flora of the Devon and Cornwall Peninsula.

Rabbit-foot clover, Trifolium arvense.jpg

Among the patches of Rabbit-foot Clover there were many spiderweb constructions like this one, a foot wide or more,

Spiderweb, flat with tunnel 1.jpg

consisting of layers of horizontal web and a funnel at the back where the spider awaits. While we did not see the spiders, the webs are said to be characteristic of species in the genus Agelenopsis, which are called Grass Spiders or Funnel Weavers. They’ve recently been found to be venomous, with a toxin that affects substances involved in muscle movement in insects and in mammals, though humans would seem to have little to worry about unless walking barelegged through the webs and stirring up the spiders. However, the toxins might have medicinal potential (anti-seizure medication). There are good photos of the spiders here along with information at bugguide.net.

Here are the yellow blooms of what we are sure is some species of Eriogonum, which includes plants often known by some variation of the common name “Wild Buckwheat” (although they have nothing to do with the crop plant that provides buckwheat flour).

Eriogonum spp..jpg

The flowers were borne on leafless thick reddish stems.

Eriogonum spp. base of leafless bush.jpg

We tried to figure out which Eriogonum this was, but were having no success. Finally we came across this remark about another unidentified Buckwheat,

This plant has frustrated me for years — it is so very common here but I’ve yet to find a picture or a description in any of my layman’s field manuals. However, my favorite A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona by Anne Orth Epple, did have this to say: almost all species of eriogonum are difficult to identify, even for the expert botanist. For the amateur, simply recognizing wild buckwheat as such is an accomplishment. So there! Epple says that there are 53 species of eriogonum in Arizona.

Okay, we’ll rest on our laurels of having tagged it as a Buckwheat! The author above goes on to say of her plant, “As the season wears on, the flowers gradually turn a brilliant rust color”, and that seems to be true of ours as well, perhaps another Eriogonum characteristic.

Eriogonum spp. bush.jpg

One final plant turned out to be another clover.

White sweet clover, Melilotus albus .jpg

This is White Sweet Clover (Melilotus albus).

White sweet clover, Melilotus albus -closeup.jpg

Pretty and delicate looking, but another European introduction, for cattle forage, which has turned out to be invasive.

And by then Jack the mastiff thought it was time to call it quits, even though he’d been down to the river for a drink.

Jack thirsty, tongue lolling.jpg

He drank from his water dish back at the car, and then supervised while we drove home.

We brake for butterflies

Butterflies everywhere in the air! so many you have to drive about 5 miles an hour, letting the current of your progress gently push them out of the way. That’s how it was one morning last week, on the paved forest road where we often walk. By 3 pm it would be 100°. Though there were still wildflowers in bloom, these butterflies seemed not to be feeding, but mostly just flying and chasing one another. Breeding season? One did land for a moment on Dan’s finger and another swooped at it aggressively, over and over.

California Sister butterfly,one flying at another.jpg

California Sister butterflies (Adelpha bredowii), ventral view.

As before, in a different location on this road, we saw scores of the California Sister butterfly (Adelpha bredowii) but this time none of the Lorquin’s admiral (Limenitis lorquinii) seen then. Swallowtails were present too, like sunlight in flight, but in small numbers. Unlike the others, the swallowtails never lighted for long either on vegetation or on the road, where the California Sisters clustered to get minerals from visible animal scat or from remains too small for us to see.

California sister.jpg

California Sister butterfly, dorsal view, on the road.

California sisters butterflies landing on road.jpg

Ant pulling butterfly.jpg

This ant was pulling along the body of a California Sister butterfly. It would move the butterfly an inch or two, then stop and scurry around looking (I thought) for a more effective place to grab on.

Swallowtail butterflies

The swallowtails never let us get close enough for a really good look or photo, and we may even have seen more than one species. Dan, whose eyes are better, says that most were a pale yellow. the others brighter. Of the three found in our area, one is a species called the Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) that uses Ceanothus spp. for its larval host plant, and Blueblossom ceanothus (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus) is a common flowering shrub here. Very pretty too, growing to 6 feet or more in height and flowering in varying shades of blue and lilac. Most are past their peak of bloom now, beginning to fade or entirely withered; these photos are from June.

canothus.jpg

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus & mating beetles.jpg

The British biologist J. S. B. Haldane was engaged in discussion with an eminent theologian. ‘What inference,’ asked the latter, ‘might one draw about the nature of God from a study of his works?’ Haldane replied: ‘An inordinate fondness for beetles.’ Indeed, of the 1.5 million described species on the planet, 350,000 are beetles, more species than in the entire plant kingdom. So I didn’t even try to identify the mating beetles in the photo above, but Dan picked up Insects of the Pacific Northwest (by Haggard and Haggard) and found them easily: Anastrangalia laetifica, the Dimorphic Long-horned Beetle! The female’s red wingcovers are visible on the right side, beneath the male’s all-black back.

This is the Pale Swallowtail, below. [Photo by Franco Folini, from flickr]

papilio eurymedon2.jpg

Different life stages of the Pale Swallowtail caterpillar are shown here, and for the Anise Swallowtail here. Caterpillars can have quite different appearances, as they pass through successive moults (stages called instars), and so the one illustrated in your field guide for a given species may not look at all like the one you find.

The other Swallowtails likely to be seen here in Southwestern Oregon are the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) and the Western Tiger Swallowtail (P. rutulus). Oregon’s state insect is the Oregon Swallowtail (P. oregonius, sometimes called P. bairdii) but it’s found in the dry sagebrush canyons of Eastern Oregon and Washington along with its caterpillar host plant Tarragon or Dragon’s-wort (Artemisia dracunculus). Our culinary tarragons are varieties of this same species.