Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yep, We Got Snow

It started snowing about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon yesterday and kept snowing until about midnight last night.  It was really beautiful and the trees were all covered with wet heavy snow.  But then the wind came up.  When I woke up this morning a lot of the snow was off the trees, but there were a few places where the snow had hung on leaving little blobs on some of the branches.  Here are a few pictures.

My neighbor's back porch.

Junco waiting for breakfast.

Cat tracks in the snow.

Snow piled up on my propane tank!

The sun is out and it's already starting to melt.

The wind is really blowing the snow around now.  It almost looks like it's snowing and it's not.  Had such a wonderful morning shoveling!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays!

I woke up to a dusting of snow this morning.  Just enough to put some white on the trees, but not enough to cause any problems.  Here's some real snow though!

Two animals that are brown in the summer and turn white in the winter are the snowshoe hare and the arctic fox.

Source:  Wikipedia

Source:  Wikipedia

You may not have snow where you are, but hope you have very Happy Holidays!  Happy Winter Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Hogmanay (New Year), Happy Wren Day, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Makara Sankranti, Happy Mummer's Day, Happy Shab-e Chelleh, Happy Boxing Day, Happy Soyal.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sheltering Sparrows

The sun is actually peeking through the clouds right now, but just 30 minutes ago it was pouring rain and very windy.  The sparrows have found that there are very small ledges on the awning over my patio and when the weather is nasty, they perch on those little ledges and are protected from the elements.  The first picture was taken through the window in my front door.  And the other picture was taken through the window over my kitchen sink.

They are just as glad to see the sun and the wind diminish as I am!  Whenever I see the sparrows huddled under the awning I know it's pretty bad outside.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gaudy Gastropods II

And now about the Opisthobranch family.  This group, also marine mollusks, includes sea slugs known as headshield slugs which have a broader head than the nudibranchs, using it to burrow under the sand where they often live just beneath the surface. The 'shield' prevents the sand from entering the mantle. Some species have well developed cilia around the mouth which are used to track their prey. Some are also brightly colored like the nudibranchs (see previous post).  This group includes the sacoglossa, or 'sap-sucking' sea slugs that digest the 'sap' from the algae.  Some species use the chloroplasts, the organelles that conduct photosynthesis, within their own tissues so the sea slug can conduct photosynthesis for their own use, which explains their nickname as the 'solar-powered sea slug'.  The opisthobranch family also includes some shelled species.  Besides sea slugs, sea snails, sea hares, sea angels and sea butterflies are included in the family.  Even though they are called sea hares, they are a type of sea slug with an internal soft shell, are herbivores, and their color indicates the color of seaweed that they eat.  They are the largest gastropod species reaching up to 30 inches long.  Sea angels are also a type of small sea slug, but the foot has developed into flapping appendages they use to 'fly' through the water and they are mostly transparent.  Sea butterflies are actually sea snails, that may or may not have a shell.  Their foot has also taken on wing-like properties and they swim freely or float on the currents.

Chelidonura varians   Source:  Wikipedia

Chelinodura hirundinina   Source: Wikipedia

Chelidonura livida   Source:  Wikipedia

Chelidonura pallida   Source: Wikipedia
Eastern emerald elysia   Source:  Wikipedia
Hermaea variopicta   Source: Wikipedia
Lettuce sea slug  Source:  Wikipedia
 California sea hare  Source:  Wikipedia
Wedge sea hare   Source: Wikipedia
Sea angel  Clione limacine   Source:  Wikipedia
Sea butterfly  Limacina helicina   Source: Wikipedia
Hope you enjoyed your sea voyage!  Click here to see a short video about sea butterflies and sea angels.  Click here to see a video about sacoglossas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gaudy Gastropods

My garden slugs are slimy, of course, plain and rather dull...

but their marine relatives are a different story (to read more about land slugs click here).  Nudibranchs are marine mollusks - invertebrates that comprise almost 25% of all known marine species - and one of the most colorful and strange-looking species on the planet.  They are also known as sea slugs.  There are more than 3,000 members of this group and are found in all oceans, but most frequently in the Indian and Pacific oceans.  They are found at all depths, but the most striking ones are generally found in warmer, shallower waters.  They are bilaterally symmetrical and vary in size from less than an inch to around 2 feet long.   They are hermaphrodites - able to act as either males or females in the reproductive process - and carnivorous feeding on sponges, hydrozoans (small creatures related to jellyfish and corals), sea squirts, other sea slugs, and even their own species.  They shed their shell after the larval stage (hence the name 'nude'ibranchs) and have head tentacles that are sensitive to touch, taste, and smell.  Like many colorful species, their vivid hues and color patterns warn predators that they are poisonous or just plain taste icky!  They use toxins of the prey they eat to defend themselves against their own predators.  (As a result, some can deliver a paintful sting to humans.)  Nudibranchs come in many forms; some have ruffles, fans and feathers like they're all dressed up for a ball.  But those fans and feathers are not just decorative; some of their 'decorations' are actually gills.  And the 'ruffles' help propel them through the water and are used as a 'floatation device'.  Like land slugs, sea slugs use their muscular foot to propel themselves on underwater surfaces, although in a few cases like the Glaucus atlanticus, also known as the blue glaucus, it simply floats on the surface of the water.  Obviously I can't show all 3,000 species in one post, so here are just a few pictures of ones that I liked best.  (And no, I haven't actually seen pics of all 3,000!)

Pteraeolidia ianthina, sometimes called the blue dragon
Source:  Wikipedia

Orange Peel Doris   Source:  Wikipedia

Frilled nudibranch (only found off South Africa)   Source:  Wikipedia

Berghia coerulescens   Source:  Wikipedia

Hermissenda crassicornis   Source:  Wikipedia

 Nembrotha milleri   Source:  Wikipedia

 Dendronotus iris   Source:  Wikipedia

Loch's Chromodoris   Source:  Wikipedia

 Marionia blainvillea    Source:  Wikipedia

Nembrotha cristata   Source:  Wikipedia

Tritoniopsis elegans  Source:  Wikipedia

Chromodoris annae   Source:  Wikipedia

Spanish shawl  Source:  Wikipedia

Sea clown triopha    Source:  Wikipedia
Spanish dancer  Source:  Wikipedia  (Click here for a short video)
And my absolute favorite, the variable neon slug or Nembrotha kubaryana.  It's so fabulous I thought it deserved TWO photos!  In the last photo, doesn't it look like it's wearing ruffled velvet?
 Source:  Wikipedia

Source:  Wikipedia
Hope you enjoyed seeing some of these wonderful creatures.  There are other sea slugs that not nudibranchs, but part of the opisthobranch family and I'll talk about them in my next post.

Click here and here to see videos and learn more about nudibranchs.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

New Zealand Natives

With The Hobbit opening soon, thought I would do a post on species known to the inhabitants of Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand which is where The Hobbit and the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed.

There are many birds that are special to New Zealand and the surrounding islands.  Of course the iconic kiwi is maybe the most well known.  New Zealanders are known as kiwis and the bird is the national symbol of the country.  Kiwis don't fly and lay the largest egg in relation to their body size of any bird in the world.  Ouch!

North Island Brown Kiwi   Source:  Wikipedia

Known as the Korimako or Makomako to the Maori people, the New Zealand bellbird is a common sight and feeds on fruit, nectar, and insects.  This bird supposedly got its name because it has a song that sounds like bells ringing.  You can click here to see a video and see what you think about that.

Female bellbird   Source:  Wikipedia

Male bellbird   Source:  Wikipedia

The black stilt is one of the rarest wading birds in the world and is recognized by its red legs.  Youngsters have a white breast, neck and head with a black patch around the eyes and might be mistaken for a totally different species.

Black stilt   Source:  Wikipedia

Another endemic water bird is the blue duck which prefers fast flowing mountain rivers and nests in hollow logs and small caves.  It is a reluctant flyer and is endangered due to dammed rivers, predators, and competition for food.  Even though its called a blue duck, it is more dark gray than blue.  It is featured on the back of the New Zealand $10 bill.

Blue duck   Source:  Wikipedia

The kakapo or night parrot is also endemic to New Zealand.  To read more about it in a separate post click here.  To learn more about the Fiordland crested penguin, click here

The Fiordland crested is not the only penguin that lives in New Zealand.  Fitting for Middle Earth, the little penguin or fairy penguin also inhabits the southern coast of Australia as well as coastal areas of New Zealand.  At just a foot tall, it is the smallest species of penguin; the female matures at two years old and the male at three years.  It is also called the blue penguin because of its plumage.

Fairy penguin   Source:  Wikipedia

The smallest tern in this area is the New Zealand fairy tern, also very endangered as there are only a few breeding pairs left in the country.

New Zealand Fairy Tern   Source:  New Zealand Dept. of Conservation

The tuatara definitely looks like something from Middle Earth (just add wings and it could pass for a dragon, albeit a very small one); it is a reptile that even though it resembles a lizard is its own distinct species.   It has the slowest reproductive rate and growth rate of any other reptile - taking 10 to 20 years to become sexually active.  It also has a lower body temperature than other reptiles and hibernates in the winter.  A tuatara named Henry is over 110 and still reproductively active.  Click here for a video with more information on Henry.

Tuatara ("Henry")  Source:  Wikipedia

New Zealand also has an endemic species of sea lion - the most threatened in the world.  The New Zealand sea lion, is also known as Hooker's sea lion.  Squid is a favorite menu item and they have a blunter nose and shorter whiskers than other sea lions.

New Zealand sea lion   Source:  Wikipedia

There are 21 species (and 51 subspecies) of amber snails only found in New Zealand's forests and grasslands and are some of the largest land snails in the world.  Their shells can be as large as a man's fist and come in many patterns and colors.

Powelliphanta or amber snail  Source: NZ Dept. of Conservation
There are many other species that can only be found in Middle Earth, a great reason to go visit New Zealand!  You can click here to read about more of them.