Thursday, July 24, 2008


I don't just limit myself to taking pictures of my family, our pets, birds and insects. I actually have taken pictures of other things. :-) Here is a strange, to me, mushroom I saw on a recent walk at lunch. I've never seen such a pure, white mushroom before. And the shape, with the protrusions, is new to me, too.

Here is another picture from another day of some strange mushrooms that look more like pancakes that someone dropped by the trail. These were all together in this one spot and I could see no more of this type anywhere around. That is the surprising thing about mushrooms. So often you see just one in an area. Mushrooms aren't plants so it's not really correct to compare them with trees and bushes but usually, you see large clusters of things that grow out of the ground. And, of course, there are types of mushrooms that do grow in groups like the Fairy Ring Mushroom. But most often, you just see one, lone mushroom. I wonder why this is.

Here is another one my daughter found in our backyard. I love the shape of mushrooms. There is just something about the smooth, streamlined shape that appeals to me. They look modern and ancient at the same time. They seem alien when compared with the plants, trees and bushes with which they usually growing.

Here's a final picture taken near our office but not out in the woods. These grew up, overnight, right next to our parking lot. That's another interesting feature of mushrooms; they grow up so fast and look "grown up" from the beginning. They don't seem to start out as "seedlings" (or would you call them "spore-lings"?) and then mature. The colors are so varied. For such simple organisms, you'd think there wouldn't be so many different colors. I wonder how much it depends on the soil in which they grow and how much sun they get. I'm sure genetics has something to do with it but how important are the growing conditions? Cultivated mushrooms are pretty uniform but that's what the growers want, I suppose. They keep them in a known type of "soil" and in the dark so they don't get any surprises. Well, I like the taste of mushrooms but I only eat cultivated ones. I don't like too many surprises when I eat. Just when I take pictures.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Last Cicada

The cicada "invasion" I wrote about in June finally came to an end a week or so ago (around the Independence Day weekend). It didn't end abruptly but over the last few days, you noticed the level of sound drop each day until there was no "alien spacecraft" sound coming out of the woods.

On July 10, last week, I went for my walk in the woods at lunch and heard a really sad sound - one lone male cicada making his call for a mate. The poor guy! If he'd just emerged a week earlier, there would have been thousands of female cicadas flying around listening for his call. After waiting seventeen years, he'd have been able to fulfill his existence, mated and helped to create the next generation of Periodic Cicadas. What a sad situation.

But was it? Maybe there a was a lone female cicada who had also missed the party. She emerged from the ground, climbed to a tree branch and shed her skin, carefully letting her wings dry and preparing to fly to the sound of a male. She waited and waited. No sound could be heard. She flew from tree to tree - expanding the area she could hear. Waiting and waiting for the sound that she feared would never come. Then, on Thursday, July 10, she thought she heard something in the distance. She flew one direction and sound grew fainter so she turned around and the sound grew stronger. As she flew, she prepared to fulfill the thing she'd been waiting seventeen years for. As she neared the sound of the male, a big, ugly thing with a camera around its neck frightened her and she hid in a tree until it passed by.

Finally, after the ugly camera-wielding thing passed, she left the leaves and flew to meet her mate. They joined and fertilized her eggs. Then she carefully selected an oak branch in which to make a small slit to deposit the eggs. The branch would soon die, fall off the tree and land on the ground where the eggs would hatch and the young cicadas would dig into the ground and wait for seventeen more years. Meanwhile, the male and female cicada would finally tire, stop flying and die having kept the cycle going.

Here's a short video I made of a male cicada making its call from a tree branch. You can see the abdomen lift a bit as it makes the sound. This isn't the lone male I heard last week - you can hear the sound of the thousands of other males in the background. This was made during the height of the cicadas' emergence last month.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

More Dragonflies

I last posted a picture of a dragonfly back in August last year. Since then, I've seen and photographed more but yesterday, I got a great picture and just needed to share it. I also got another dragonfly later on my walk. Since I'm back in dragonfly mode, I'll include some dragonfly pictures I've taken over the last year but just didn't post. First, the magnificent, dark, blue dragonfly that caught my attention yesterday.

I remember seeing these around swamps in central Pennsylvania (near where I went to college) when we'd go out on "expeditions into the wild". My group of friends and I had had a really terrific professor for our invertebrate zoology class and we'd all had to do the mandatory insect collection. We had to collect and identify 50 families of insects (remember, spiders, ticks, centipedes etc aren't insects) . So, you couldn't just catch fifty flies that were all in the same family (also remember that you normally start with species and work up through genus and then to family, see this article on biological classification, so family includes a lot of different species that may look quite different). It was a struggle but our professor just got so excited about the subject that he got us all excited.

The second picture is another one I got yesterday. This dragonfly wouldn't stay still for long but it kept coming back to the same place after each its excursions so I was finally able to get a picture. I remember one of the books we used to classify our insects as saying that often dragonflies, which are very good fliers and quite fast, are often caught because they are so curious. That when the net first comes down and misses them, they will turn around and come back to see what was happening - giving the collector another chance at his prey. For insects, the dragonfly is quite intelligent though you could say, "If they're so smart, why would they come back and get caught?"

These next two pictures are from last summer. The first was a lucky shot with the wings of the dragonfly angled so you can see through them from the front. This picture doesn't show it but it was turning its head from side to side. I'm not sure if it was studying me and evaluating the threat I posed or if it was looking for prey. Whatever the reason, it added to the feeling of intelligence about these insects. The only other insect that comes close is the praying mantis but I don't have any pictures of those.

My final picture isn't all that good but I've seen and photographed many of these but, for some reason, the view of the abdomen always seems distorted. It's almost as if it glows because it always seems to be overexposed. This is the best I've been able to do with this type of dragonfly.

I'm not going to lock myself in by stating a specific date when I'm going to do this, like I did before, but some day soon, I hope to write up a funny (I think so anyway) article about the time I was doing my insect collection in college and was having trouble getting enough variety.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Short term memory loss and kids

Now I understand why we are driven to have children. It's for our long term survival.

My five-year old daughter likes following me around and "helping" me when I do odd jobs around the house (just like my, now, eleven-year old son used to do when he was five). While this can be very distracting (there are questions every ten seconds and observations about what I'm doing every fifteen seconds), it makes her really happy to be helping dad. This week-end, one of my jobs was to reattach a large mirror to the bureau in our bedroom. My daughter helped by handing me various tools as I needed them and by making up a story about how the mirror was talking to her just like in the fairy tales we read.

This morning, I needed to go to the basement for something and noticed that my tool box was open. I soon realized that it was open because I hadn't put back the screw driver I'd been using for the mirror. I panicked! Where had I left it? My first guess was in our bedroom where I'd been working but that was wrong. I hated to admit I left it out because I'm always the one running around accusing everyone else about leaving their toys, socks, cameras, whatever out and not putting them away.

Finally, I had to admit defeat and asked my wife if she'd seen it. She said no but then my daughter piped up with, "I know where it is!" She ran to the drawer on our kitchen where we keep a variety of tools that we might need quickly without running down to the basement where the "good" tools are. She pulled out the screw driver and handed it to me. I was amazed and thanked her profusely. I must have been distracted (or I just wasn't thinking) and mistakenly put my "good" screw driver in the "in case we need them" tool drawer. I think I will buy her a little gift on the way home from work today.