White-tailed Deer of 2020 – Part Three

A buck with small, deformed antlers. Antler growth like this is usually caused by injury or poor nutrition.

Tonight I’m finishing off the neighborhood deer photos from 2020. This buck pictured in the first two photos was a bit odd. Not just because of the aberrant antlers, but he also did not mind my close approach or my following him as he browsed.

Same oddball buck stretching to reach wild grapevine.
A young buck in velvet.
A forky at dawn.
The curious fawn, never too far from mother, browsing in the background.
A velvet IN fog.
A young doe giving attention to her tarsal glands.
On the first of September this fawn still looks to mother for reassurance.

-OZB

White-tailed Deer of 2020 – Part One

A brave white-tailed deer fawn stands on its own, not concerned by the photographer.

2020 was a decent year for me in finding and photographing white-tailed deer. It started in the summer a I walked the high-voltage line cuts that run through our neighborhood. These turf fields, the wood lots and scrub fields that run along this area and our yards are home to a good size population of these deer. As I get more into landscaping our yard with native plants, I’m sure I’ll develop issues with these guys, but they are a lot of fun to watch and photograph.

Four bucks and a baby.

Typically, summer bucks in velvet are not easy to see in the daytime. They typically stick to a small area, eat the abundant greenery and try not to damage their sensitive new headwear. Suburban bucks are different. In fact, I had much easier times finding bucks this summer in the neighborhood than I did during the rut season when they are typically easier to find and get close to.

I came across this doe early one morning when walking up this gravel trail.
I tell them its not polite to stare but they never listen.
Great light for a portrait.
The back-lighting here causes the velvet of this buck’s developing antlers to glow.
This curious fawn, photographed the same morning as the previous image, actively pursued me and eventually got closer than the minimum focusing distance of my lens!
I found these three in the turf fields later in the day and the season than the rest of their herd. I imagine mom wanted to refuel for as long as she could before heading to the woods.

That’s all for this set. Stay tuned and check back later to see more from the neighborhood this summer as well as images I took during the rut.

-OZB

 

Myrmecochory – Seed dispersing ants!

An Aphaenogaster rudis ant shown in the act of myrmecochory – here dispersing the seed of the forest understory forb, Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot).

Myrmecochory is a term that comes from Greek, created from “myrmeco” – of or pertaining to ants, and “chory” – plant dispersal. It is one of approximately seven plant “dispersal syndromes” classified by ecologists, is found in approximately 5% of the angiosperms and occurs in numerous ecosystems around the world.

Showing the extreme relative strength of the ants, this Aphaenogaster rudis is moving a diaspore that must be several times its own weight.

Mutualism is thought to be the basis for this dispersal syndrome. Although this is not necessarily crystal clear, the ants are attracted to the eliasome – the fleshy structure attached to the seed that is a rich source of lipids, amino acids and other nutrients. The ants typically will move the diaspore (eliasome + seed) back to their nests. Dispersal distances vary, but are generally not great – most often 2 meters or less. However, for small forbs this distance is often adequate for moving these propagules outside the range of competition of the parent plant.

Two Aphaenogaster rudis ants attempting to move this Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) diaspore. This was not seen very often and shortly after this image was taken, one ant gave up its pursuit.

Distance dispersal is not the only selective advantage that plants gain from this mutualistic relationship. When the ants have moved the seeds to their nests, they remove the eliasome to feed their young and typically dispose of the seeds in their midden heaps or eject them from the nest. Seeds that are moved to midden heaps or other such locations benefit in multiple ways. First, they are placed in microenvironments that are conducive for germination and early growth. They are protected from heat of fire that could destroy the seeds and benefit from not being accessible to birds and other seed predators. This is referred to as ‘directed dispersal.’ Some studies have shown that the removal of the eliasome may promote germination, similar to the process of seed being removed from their fleshy fruit as it is passed through the gut of a vertebrate.

I rarely had to wait more than 15 minutes before the first Aphaenogaster rudis foraging scout found the pile of diaspores I placed on the ground. Mere minutes after that it was advertised across the colony and other workers showed up to carry the spoils back to their nest.

Their is typically no specialization of particular ants dispersing a particular plant species, with almost any ant species being ready to take advantage of a free meal. The possible exception being that larger diaspores must be dispersed by larger ant species.

Using one of nature’s great predators to disperse your seeds can be risky business. As seen here, the testa (seed coat) of this Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) as well as most myrmecochorous plants is hard and smooth to avoid the bite that ants can deliver.
When a Camponotus pennsylvanicus ant finds a diaspore, the photographer must act quick. They don’t need much time to haul it away!

My hope was to photograph myrmecochory across a variety of species this year. I was fortunate to find success with Sanguinaria canadensis but had no luck in my attempts with Dicentra cucullaria (dutchman’s breeches). I tried hard for trillium species as well but discovered the plants I was waiting for mature fruits for weeks were being harvested most likely by SNR staff. I will be trying for these again in the future and hope to photograph prairie species as well.

A freshly fallen Stylophorum diphyllum (celandine poppy) fruit with diaspores waiting for the ants to disperse them. Note the different testa pattern and eliasome structure compared to Sanguinaria canadensis.

The fruits of Stylophorum diphyllum (celandine poppy), I discovered, had a much smaller window of ripening. I had to check at least every two days or  I would miss the opportunity of a large fruit full of diaspores.

The ubiquitous Aphaenogaster rudis is a key disperser of Stylophorum diphyllum (celandine poppy).
As with many mutualistic relationships, cheaters are known in myrmecochory. Too small to properly move and disperse a diaspore of this size, this Nylanderia faisonensis is seen eating the eliasome on the spot. This was not a very common observation and it is doubtful that this would ultimately hurt the plant species.

See below for my attempts at filming myrmecochory. This was definitely challenging. I had troubles predicting the ants’ behavior, especially while under the bright, continuous lighting needed for high-magnification photography such as this. Something else to try and improve upon next year.

I’d like to thank James Trager for his assistance with ant species identification.

-OZB

Meeting new shut-ins in the St. Francois Mountains

A sharp drop of approximately 8 feet (to pool’s surface) ends one of the nicest series of shut-ins – located on private land in Madison and Iron Counties (location 1).

This year I was fortunate to be introduced to two new-for-me shut-ins in the southern region of the St. Francois Mountains. Both of these locations are currently on private land and with assistance from a couple of friends, it was quite a thrill to be able to visit and photograph these stunning geologic features.

We would of have liked to have more flowing water on our couple of visits to these shut-ins (loc. 1), however, these creeks are both partially spring-fed so there is always at least some flow.

What surprised me most about both of these locations was that they were not covered in Beveridge’s “Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri”. I am not sure if this was because he did not know of them or because he chose not to feature them for some reason. I sure hope it was the later.

This phot was taken at the same location as the previous image, but in the autumn.
Definitely wild country. We pushed through witch hazel and other streamside brush, taking deliberate steps over slick-as-ice rocks to find the next small section of cascades.
The tile-red rhyolite porphyry that makes up the majority of this streambed matches well against the warm tones of autumn foliage.

My recent delves into geology and astronomy have really been eye-opening, tying together everything else I know of natural history into place. There is so much more for me to learn, with Geology I know almost nothing, but it has been such an aid for me in remembering that most of what everyone worries over is so insignificant compared to the real that is right under our noses.

Lava-gas bubbles (lithophysae), thought to be formed by expanding gases prior to solidification into rock, can be seen on this rhyolite protrusion.
Talk about your tile-red rhyolite porphyry!
Don’t confuse this with lava flows from Kīlauea. This is ancient igneous rock that solidified approximately 1.5 billion years ago.
This creek bed at location 2 is located in Iron County. Here, the rock would be considered more of a purple porphyry and is nicely capped by royal fern (Osmunda regalis).
Found near the creek at location 2 was this splendid Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower) growing against a bed of Conoclinium coelestinum (blue mistflower). A nice October find.

This is all I have to share from these two locations for now. I am looking forward to visiting again with hopefully more water flow and at different season. Thanks for visiting.

-OZB

 

Missouri Orchids – Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata (oval ladies’-tresses)

 

Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata (oval ladies ‘-tresses)

Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata can be very difficult to find. Usually growing in groups of ones and twos, it is a small plant that prefers shadier locations that get dappled sunlight. I want to thank John Oliver for all his assistance getting me on this and a number of other Spiranthes species this year.

This species of ladies’-tresses is known for its graceful and diminutive flowers. Casey and I found only a couple of plants, each with flowers rather less developed than hoped for. I’m not sure if we were a day or two early, or if this might be all to expect from this population. We found these plants alongside trails at Babler State Park in mid-September.

Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata (oval ladies ‘-tresses) The flowering stem can be seen here at the same time as its basal leaf.

-OZB

Missouri Orchids – Corallorhiza odontorhiza (autumn coralroot)

A rare open flower of Corallorhiza odontorhiza (autumn coralroot). Most plants of this species produce cleistogamous flowers that do not open, thus facilitating self-pollination.

Casey and I found three separate populations of Corallorhiza odontorhiza in early to mid September this year, each population consisting of just a few bunches of plants. Most plants of this species found in Missouri are cleistogamous, containing flowers that never open and thus forcing the plant to self-pollinate. This might account for the rather dull colors and patterns on flowers of this species when compared to its vernal-blooming relative, C. wisteriana. Of the three locations, we found only one bunch of plants, located in St. Louis County, that contained open (chasmogamous) flowers and these were slightly more showy than I expected them to be.

Chasmogamous flowers of Corallorhiza odontorhiza with obvious swollen ovaries.

Like C. wisteriana, this species is myco-heterotrophic, parasitizing mycorrhizal fungi to obtain carbon and other necessary nutrients. Consequently, this species never produces leaves. Both Corallorhiza species are found scattered throughout Missouri and can be found in a variety of habitats, but seem to prefer open woodlands on xeric to mesic soils.

Corallorhiza odontorhiza. These are cleistogamous flowering stems that Casey and I monitored from just after emergence. The flowers never opened and ovaries began to swell prior to the flowering stems reaching their full height.

-OZB

 

Missouri Orchids – Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid)

Tipularia discolor, the cranefly orchid so-called due to the appearance of the flowers to a hovering group of crane flies.

Tipularia discolor, or the ‘cranefly orchid,’  was first collected in Missouri in 1988 and new discoveries across the Midwest in recent decades suggest it is actively expanding its range. Similar to the puttyroot orchid (Aplectrum hyemale), this orchid blooms in the summer without the presence of any leaves. Leaves emerge in autumn and are usually completely withered by May. Both the common and genus names come from the apparent resemblance of the open flowers to that of crane flies in the genus Tipula. Moths in the family Noctuidae are the primary pollinators and use their proboscises to collect nectar from the long nectar spurs of the flowers.

This is the only species in the genus to be found in the Americas. Casey and I found these plants in Stoddard County on August 1st of this year.

Tipularia discolor blooms in tight bud. The nectar spurs are easy to discern at this stage of development.

-OZB

 

 

Missouri Orchids – Platanthera clavellata (club spur orchid)

Platanthera clavellata (club-spur orchid), Stoddard County, MO.

The habitat this featured orchid was found was quite interesting – a wet, fen-like area with many pea-gravel rivulets to walk down. All this was set under a thick overstory that allowed little light on the cloudy day Casey and I visited. Often forced to hunch as we searched for other plants, lighting for photography was challenging, but we got what we came for.

As you can see below, this is a dainty and sweet orchid that has a large primary leaf and a secondary, bract-like leaf.

Platanthera clavellata (club-spur orchid), Stoddard County, MO.

-OZB

Sand loving plants!

Monarda punctata (spotted beebalm) found at Sand Ridge State Forest, IL.

Today I’m sharing a couple of plants that Casey introduced me to that have a preference for growing in dry, sandy places. The first is a monarda that I did not know existed and has since become my favorite of the beebalms for certain.

Monarda punctata (spotted beebalm) found at Sand Ridge State Forest, IL.

Next up is Callirhoe triangulata, the clustered poppymallow. This supremely saturated flower strongly prefers, dry sandy soils. A stunner of a plant! We looked for compositions that allowed us to feature not only the flower, but the triangular-shaped leaf as well, which is indicative of this species. This species is very rare to possibly extirpated in Missouri.

Callirhoe triangulata (clustered poppymallow)

We found this equally striking Rufous-banded Crambid moth (Mimoschinia rufofascialis) on an open flower. This moth uses these mallows as a host plant, feeding on the immature seeds. I’m not sure, but I doubt the adults feed; this one was likely just using the flower for shelter.

Callirhoe triangulata (clustered poppymallow) with adult Mimoschinia rufofascialis (Rufous-banded Crambid)

-OZB