We’re talking well-aged water: like for a billion years or more: found trapped in ancient bedrock north of Lake Superior. And that ancient water may contain living organisms that came along long before multicellular life on the surface. Or so they speculate.
So I’m looking at the map in the NPR piece–the age of bedrock coded in colors. Hmmm. I’d sort of like to know what the colors mean in terms of age.
So I find the USGS National Geologic Map Database and I’m in map-geek heaven. Except that nowhere on the elaborate customizable maps do I find a legend that gives me any information about what the map shows. Maybe the colors are something a geologist just knows. But for us armchair explorers, I need more information, please.
Then again, it looks like this overall map database is a long way from being standardized for anything (note the four maps that converge in the center of this screen shot), and the ages of the individual quadrangle maps are probably, well, all over the map yet.
So. Another science fiction storyline bubbles up in my mind, as if I ever wrote fiction: ancient trapped water is discovered, and…it contains lifeforms that are not carbon based and considered to be extraterrestrial. Or once released to the oxidizing atmosphere, the lifeforms proliferate, spread rapidly and threaten the worlds fresh water; or….
If they do find organisms, chances are they will be not too distant from the geothermal chemosynthetic autotrophs found at the boiling vents deep in the oceans. Still, that would be cool to discover that at about the same time as we resurrect extinct species like the Wooly Mammoth by currently available genetic engineering. (The jury is still out on whether that is such a great idea. DeExtinction is a whole nuther topic. See this National Geographic coverage on DeExtinction if you are interested.)
Strange world we live in. And it ain’t over. Yet.
The white-nosed bats and the honey bees.
That both these earth-economy essential creatures should be threatened in a serious way should be improbable details you’d come across only in dystopian fiction.
The storyline of such a novel is predicated on the large consequences that derive from the disappearances (only a highly creative imagination could come up with a plausible cause) of the smallest and most peripheral of creatures. It would be a morality tale of arrogant, world-ravaging civilizations being brought to their knees by what would turn out to be their weakest, and in the end, most essential links.
But I digress. I only wanted to give a few details from the 39th Annual Mt Rogers Naturalist Rally Friday evening program by Dr. Karen Frankl, who is a bat biologist from Radford U.
There are some 1000 bat species world-wide. Of those, 17 are found in Virginia, 14 are resident species here. Of those about half are cave and half are tree species. It is the cave species that suffer from White Nose Syndrome.
WNS first came to the headlines in 2006. I think I just saw it was now confirmed in 22 states and spreading. It probably originated in Europe, where cave bat populations are much less dense than in American caves–this possibly indicating that these are resistant survivors of a WNS epidemic there some centuries or longer ago.
Geomyces destructans is the pathological agent afflicting cave dwelling bats. It causes the bats to use up more of their fat stores during hibernation, and to venture out during winter. Both these facts may stem from the irritation the organism causes. It itches–not to mention it causes the wing membrane to lose elasticity and develop actual holes.
Bats are impacted by large-turbine windmills. But surprisingly they are not killed by direct trauma but by barotrauma. They basically “explode” due to pressure changes caused when the blades create a low pressure suction on the bats especially fragile lungs.
So, while honeybees continue to be decimated by Colony Collapse Disorder (hit harder this year than ever in many places), up to half of all North American bats could be wiped out by WNS.
And the so-what? Read Blood and Spore: How a Bat-Killing Fungus Is Threatening U.S. Agriculture (The Atlantic)
So I’m heading off to Mt Rogers for the umpteenth Naturalist Rally today, drizzles notwithstanding, and at the end of a two hour drive, hope to have a bit of dry skies to do the traditional loop around the Grindstone Nature Trail. That was the first place I ever discovered ramps, though I did not know what it was in my hand until I scratched-and-sniffed the odd looking oniony thing. Always scratch and sniff, or you’ll miss a lot of worthwhile detail in nature. (Don’t do this with salamanders or poison ivy. Caveat emptor and such.)
This is also the place where I became a stand-in hike leader in 1975 when the scheduled tour leader had an accident on the way to the rally. My biology students vociferously offered me as a volunteer when the call was made to the gathered crowd that Saturday morning (with light snow, as I recall) at the old CCC hemlock-bark-sided edifice that was the center of activities back then.
I went on to lead the same hike for ten years–until we left Virginia for Alabama (PT degree) and North Carolina. I’ve lead it once since we’ve returned, and try to walk it for old time’s sake ever year I’ve made it back to the rally.
So what field trip will I sign onto in the morning? Maybe the wild foods trip to learn some new medicinal and food uses of familiar plants.
But the more I think about it, with all the rain we’ve had lately, it’s the mushrooms amongus that ought to be happy and growing vigorously. And Becky Rader, a very knowledgeable and capable teacher, will be leading that one. I think I’ll go with the Fun Gal and get down and FUNGAL.
CAPTION: This plate-sized flap-jack-looking firm feathery pore mushroom from the banks of Nameless Creek yesterday is one of my favorites. It is said to be edible when young, but I think that only means you can chew and swallow and it won’t make you wish you hadn’t–nothing like as delectable as the half pound of morels we had with eggs one night and with pepper steak the next. Those, my friends, were shrooms worth swallowing. [Click the image to Enlarge]
Answer: where ever they come up out of the soil.
We’ve had this notion since we first discovered our “morel patch” early after moving here in 1999, that this was THE place to go to find these delicious if elusive fungi.
We usually find them a day or two either side of April 25. So we thought we’d missed them entirely–maybe during our week in Missouri–and so were astonished to find a couple of large ones, not only later but NOT in the designated and accustomed patch.
And so this is a good thing, because our eyes are much busier now, even along the “new road” and even the old logging trail up behind the wood pile where I found a large one yesterday a literal stone’s throw from the back door.
So despite all the back-country lore about finding morels in old apple orchards, burned over forest, under elms and poplars etc etc, we’ll just expect them wherever we are surprised by them.
And I always keep in mind that the very largest morel I ever collected was under the downspout at our house on Withers Road in the middle of Wytheville (VA). So I think downspouts needs to be added to the field guides as a place to look. And that’s the morel of that story.
Maybe I have just not had my ears on all these years here on Goose Creek.
The Towhee is one of the most common birds we share our space with, and a bird that doesn’t mind getting close to human habitations. There’s been one just below my window since first light doing the chicken-scratch/jump back thing under our foundation plantings.
But until this morning, I never heard one alternate between TWO different Drink YOUR Tea calls, one the characteristic whistled YOUR and the second, a buzzy trill.
Any other bird brains out there run across this variation of call? Is it my one virtuosic bird that does this or a common melodic phenomenon?
Click this link to listen; I cut out silent space between calls, and left the creek noise in the background of this 6 second clip.
Your assignment for today is to ID this creature from forest, seashore or stream bottom. At least you should classify it to a general group of living things.
More detail is possible, and it is quite interesting the ways this creature works in nature as well as in human economy and health.
Leave your guesses in comments, and mine is that somebody will know it right off. Prove me right.
So the pup and I will wander up the valley again today and see what’s new. We’re still expecting to be surprised by morels, but so far, they have eluded us.
We also have a bumper crop of turkeys this year, and they have a better eye for the “merkels” than we do. I’ve wondered about training Gandy to snort them out like a truffle pig.
OTOH, I did not want her to be quite as enthusiastic about the trilliums–especially while I was trying to catch a still moment on a breezy afternoon back up in the Fortress of Solitude where the richest soil grows the largest flowers in God’s garden. This Trillium grandiflorum was a good four inches across.
I glanced out of the window just now at quarter til seven and there is a softly morphing pale blue fog, air-brushed at the end of the valley, creeping on cat paws towards Nameless Creek. I’ll take that as a good omen for the day ahead, too much of it spent indoors to suit me, but duty and deadlines call.
Of note, getting back briefly to more pleasant dalliances, this plant is widespread in the east, then Iowa, then Vancouver island–what are called “disjunct populations.”
One has to wonder how this might have happened, especially given the fact that this plants’ seeds are not blown far and wide by the wind or by hitching a ride on animal fur or bird feet.
The seeds are particularly attractive to ants, and they seem to be a major agent of dispersal. It’s a really long walk in ant miles to Vancouver Island.
I confess I don’t always follow my own advice. “Scratch and sniff” is a standing rule when exploring new plant discoveries (not recommended so much for animal discoveries.)
And particularly when the known name of the plant suggests an olfactory feature, to have lived this many years knowing Skunk Cabbage and only this year to have scratched and sniffed–why, I don’t know what has become of me. Please don’t tell my children. I am so ashamed.
Yes, they stink. The species name “foetidus” is well-deserved. But early in the season of green, even this off-smell is a welcome change from the monochrome aromasphere of winter.
Here is a stinky plant whose “flowers” are at mud level and not at all showy (though there are some western skunk cabbages called “swamp lanterns” for their flashing yellow “peace lily” looking flower parts) . For pollinators, think: flies hunting carrion. More, here.
Look at some of the forms of this plants early leaves and flowers–the latter very like a close relative: Jack in the Pulpit, also in the Arum family (Araceae).
This plant grows abundantly, adjacent to the EcoVillage where we took a short (and largely flower-free) hike on Saturday. It is in an area identified on their campus map as “wetlands” and this plant is a wetlands indicator. But with the road building and other changes there, I predict the skunk cabbage will disappear in a few years as drainage has taken most of the previous moisture and channeled it elsewhere .
Probably the most unique feature of this plant is its ability to create heat–a process called thermogenesis. And here’s another thing I’ve never done: to stick a finger into the hooded flower in February. Expect temperatures that may be more than 30 degrees F warmer than the air–such that this plant can melt its way through frozen ground to flower before anything else.
The extra heat also helps get the smelly message out to early pollinators.
CLICK the image or this link for a Skunk Cabbage glamour shot. They make a great photographic study in light.