Today in weird things that normal people don’t notice but I totally do: Linz has a lot of slugs hanging around. Well, not really hanging around as much as oozing their way around in the parks, hunting for delectable patches of veg to nosh on. It’s slow living to the max here for Linz’s slug population, so today I bring you a slug, savoring her lunch in slow-motion:
And here are gifs, BECAUSE I CAN!
This is just a little reminder to all of us that like a slug, we should all slow down and savor life a little bit more.
We don’t have a car in Tallinn, but we managed to use the local bus system to get to Lahemaa National Park for a five-hour hike through boreal forest and bog. It was gorgeous (see below), filled with fantastic wildlife and tons of edible blueberries that yes, you’re allowed to collect. It seems like Estonians view the land through a practical lens, and the mantra of “don’t take more than you need and it’s fine” is the rule here. That being said, DON’T eat anything unless you can positively identify it.
If you’re looking to do the same hike, use Google Maps to find public transit directions to the stop “Loksa Tee” pictured below. The hike will start just east of the bus stop:
Now, motivation for you to go:
And just for you, here’s a panoramic shot – click through to enlarge:
It’s winter here in present-day Boston, and working my way through these Russian summer photos is a unique form of torture for someone who’s never fully adjusted to winter being a season. It looks so warm and sunny and bright in the photos, and it’s so gray and cold outside. Augh. While I was busy longing for the eternal summers in our photos, I thought I’d put together a post of all the various Russian bugs we saw. I did one for Stolby Nature Preserve already, so this will be everything else. Now you can long for summer right along with me, or if you don’t like bugs, be grateful that summer is still a ways away.
I’ve got more bugs for you! These ones come from all over Da Lat, whose temperate climate is surprisingly kind to insect and arachnid populations. There are butterflies, mosquito hawks, and of course your favorite, jumping spiders. I’ve tried to ID them where possible:
I found the most curious spider at Waipu Caves. It had the definite shape and movements of a jumping spider, from two large luminous eyes to bounding around while I tried to photograph it. But it also definitely had six legs.
I managed to lure the spider out into the sun, hoping to figure out where the two extra legs were. But even in the light, there were still only six legs – the two fuzzy things at the front are the pedipalps, part of the spider’s mouthparts.
Baffled by this mystery and enchanted by the brilliant peridot-green of the spider’s abdomen, I took a few more shots. We don’t have much in the way of internet access out here, so figuring out whether there is indeed a six-legged spider species in New Zealand will have to wait.
Update: I did some research and this isn’t a spiffy spider species that sports only six legs. It’s an unfortunate individual of the Tritegenus (insert joke about the name lacking originality here), probably Trite planiceps(although it looks closer to this unidentified Trite species). These spiders normally come with eight legs, but this individual had his/her front two leg torn off, likely from an encounter with a predator or in a territorial battle with another spider. You can even see the stump of one leg to the left of the chelicerae and pedipalps in photos 2 and 4 above. Ouch.
Thankfully, these spiders frequently lose their front limbs and carry on with their normal lives in terms of hunting and survival. But they do have some worse luck in fighting battles against other spiders and in mating – there’s a whole thesis on it here.
As creatures in the “not animals” category, fungi and lichens are another ubiquitous inhabitant along trails that don’t get enough love. But they come in some of the brightest colors and weirdest shapes, attesting to the creativity of nature’s palette. Here are some of the funkiest little fungi and lichens we encountered during our hike.
Note: I’ve made some broad attempts to identify these, but fungi can be notoriously hard to pin down (even into Families) without extensive analysis of microscopic details. We didn’t have a microscope on the trail, so that’s the best I can do. That being said, if there’s a field guide floating around out there that covers the fungi of the Peruvian Andes, TELL ME!!
Second note: We hiked in January (the rainy season), the abundance we saw may be due to the increased rain.
One of the best things about the Salkantay Trail is that it takes you through at least five* different Andean habitats, each with its own unique flora and fauna. And while everyone wants to spot the animals, you’re much more likely to see plants along the trail because 1) there are more plants than animals and 2) they don’t move so they don’t flee when you come down the trail. So it can be far more rewarding on a hike to take some time and admire the plants.
Below are some of the plants we encountered on our hike along the Salkantay Trail in January 2017. There’s an abundance of plant life everywhere on the trek, from the familiar to the strange, and the rainy season meant a plethora of flowers in bloom and in some places, fresh fruit. I’ve tried to identify species where I can, but if you have any info please feel free to comment below.
This ecosystem stretches from Salkantaypampa to a few kilometers after the village of Wayramachay and includes the Salkantay Pass. Plants here grow low or spindly, battered by cold and high winds on the mountainside.
Tropical Highland Wet
The alpine region gave way to a hot, humid, and much more tropical-feeling region that included an abundance of plant species. Plant size ranged from tiny mossess and small annuals to huge brambles, shoots, and trees. Some species even eschewed dirt and grew on other plants.
Tropical Highland Semi-arid/Disturbed Habitat
As we walked along the vehicle road to Playa, there air seemed to be hotter and drier and the dirt appeared to be harder packed. This may be an actual change in climate, or just be the case on the day we were hiking. Either way, this ecosystem is different than the one along the trail; the plants are different, probably because the area is disturbed by frequent human activity.
Again, if you have info on any of these unidentified plants, let me know in the comments! Cheers,
*There are probably more than five habitats, but this is what I could identify on the hike: conifer forest (may be manmade), grassland/pampas, alpine, tropical highland wet, tropical highland semi-arid
I really like spiders. They’re interesting animals, from their web-building to their role in eating what we humans generally consider pests (like mosquitoes). They exist nearly everywhere in the world, and there are tons of species, so there’s always something new to learn. But a lot of people don’t like spiders, and I understand that. But hear me out below.
Jumping spiders (salticids) are the adorable stars of the spider world. And while the words “jumping” and “spider” together might horrify you, it’s not as scary as you might think. Jumping spiders are small, nonaggressive, and none of them (as far as I know) are venomous enough to seriously hurt you. You can play with them, as they’re highly sensitive to motion and will react to you putting a finger (or stick, or leaf) near them by jumping on it or jumping away. And their huge eyes make them really cute. Seriously, they’re so cute that I’ve already helped one person conquer their fear of spiders through observing them. So if you’re currently not keen on spiders, jumping spiders might be your chance to see spiders in a new light.
And if you’re already an enthusiast of Salticidae, welcome! Hope you like the pictures, and if you’ve got any identification information please pass it along here or on Project Noah (a website dedicated to cataloging images of all life on Earth).
We didn’t encounter many jumping spiders on this side of the pass, although that might be the result of us hiking as quickly as possible and not taking many breaks. We did see this little guy at Parador Hornada Pata. He was stubborn and retreated before we could take any good photos:
After the Salkantay Pass
Our first jumping spider on the north side of the Salkantay Pass showed up on the trail after Wayramachay, probably at around 2,800 feet. This little lady was shy and trying to avoid the sun, so getting a good picture is hard:
We saw nearly half a dozen jumping spiders in the span of an hour at Winaypocco, in the valley of river Santa Teresa/Salkantay. All of these seem to be in the genus Frigga, which live throughout South America (and a bit of Central America). We managed to get good pictures of three of them:
Frigga spp. #1
Frigga spp. #2
Frigga spp. #3
These are the references I used to ID the above species:
They’re everywhere in the Galapagos, on every island, hanging out on the beach, clinging to rocks on the shore, and scrabbling up steep cliffsides. They collect in the hundreds, sunning their gray-black bodies between trips to the water’s edge to munch on the algae that sustains them. Darwin famously called them “imps of darkness”. People think they look ugly and stupid. And few come to the Galapagos specifically to see them. They’re the Galapagos marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), and their unpopularity is totally unwarranted.
The Galapagos marine iguana’s appearance doesn’t do it any favors, but it looks this way because of the harsh Galapagos environment. The marine iguana’s snout is short and stout compared to other lizards, a change that helps them eat their primary food, marine algae. The iguana’s skin has also darkened to deep green, grays, and blacks, enabling it to absorb more heat from the sun’s rays after swimming in the frigid Galapagos ocean. And the iguana has developed long, sharp claws; these help it cling to rocks on the shore, against in the face of pounding waves and merciless surf. So despite the consequence of appearance, the marine iguana is a highly capable creature adapted to life in the Galapagos.
Besides winning in the ‘surviving the Galapagos’ contest (which by the way, humans have frequently lost), these iguanas also have some adorable quirks. As you walk by them on the shore, you’ll hear brief hissing noises, like someone incredibly tiny blowing their nose. This is the marine iguana sneeze. Like saltwater crocodiles, these iguanas have to get rid of the excess salt they pick up in the ocean and the algae they eat. But unlike crocodiles, who cry ‘crocodile tears’, iguanas have opted to sneeze it out. So don’t worry, they’re not suffering from the flu.
You’ll also often see iguanas wobble their heads up and down, as if they were some sort of living bobble-head. This is the marine iguana signal that it’s time to mate, a sort of “Hey bby :)” for the females and a “GTFO” for other males. Smaller males will take the hint and leave, but if the males are the same size, the other male will challenge the first with his own head bobble. Then the two iguanas will sit there for a few minutes, bobbling heads at each other, until one of them finally gives in and leaves or (very rarely) a serious fight goes down.
Then there’s the basking, which takes up more of the iguana’s day than eating, sneezing, mating, and fighting combined. Because the water of the Galapagos is seriously cold, the iguanas spend most of their days either preparing to go into the ocean or recovering from swimming in it by basking in the sun. They’ll do this for hours, while sitting alone or socializing together, sitting up awake or collapsed napping on the sand. Most reptiles do some variation of this, but have you ever seen one look so happy to feel the sun’s warmth?
Haters gonna hate, but the Galapagos marine iguanas are happy nonetheless.
Plants are underappreciated. I learned this in undergrad, when one of my professors (a botanist) showed a photograph in class and asked students to name all of the living things in it. The students named the animals easily – bear, rabbit, wolf, bird – but failed to point out a single plant in the photograph (for the record, I think there were four). If you want to see this same disregard in action for yourself, type “endangered species” into Google Search or Google Images and scroll through the results. Despite plants comprising nearly half the endangered species in the world (46% as of 2012), there are no plant results on the first page of either search. None. Zero.
In light of this and the fact that plants support nearly all life on Earth, here’s a plant appreciation post. Below is the Galápagos Opuntia (Opuntia echios), a type of prickly pair native only to the Galápagos and listed as vulnerable to extinction:
The Opuntia is amazing for two reasons: it thrives in the harsh Galápagos environment and serves as a source of food for the charismatic fauna people know and love. The Opuntia start out as normal looking cacti, but as they grow their old pads harden and fuse to become a “trunk” for the cactus. They essentially takes the form of a tree, and at over 3 meters tall they are some of the largest plants on the Galápagos. These cacti don’t just survive here, they dominate.
Their flowers attract birds and flies that pollinate, and the fruit and cactus pads feed land iguanas and giant tortoises in all seasons. Without these sources of food, I’d wager there’d be fewer animals and fewer species here.
And these cacti have a beauty all their own, embeded in the fractal patterns of their skeletons: