Thursday, January 31, 2008

Armadillo on the Half-Shell

Nine-Banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)

Something enjoyed a good meal the other night. I cannot be certain of the predator, of course, but assumed it was a coyote that got lucky and managed to flip the diller over and administer a disabling bite to its unprotected underside. Predatory pressure on armadillos in the Ozarks is relatively light due to our lack of large predators – unless you consider cars and trucks predators. It's said that a large predator with strong jaws can crush the armadillos shell, but I don't think a coyote is large enough to do this. (A friend says that his Rottweiler can.)

Armadillos are mammals. Their closest living relatives are sloths and anteaters. There are twenty species of armadillos, but only the nine-banded is found in the United States. Many South American species are threatened due to habitat destruction. The nine-banded is doing just fine and rapidly expanding its range.

Expansion: There were few armadillos in the U. S. prior to the late 1800s. In 1995 dillers were firmly established in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. A decade later armadillos were also a common sight in Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina, and had been seen as far north as southern Nebraska, southern Illinois and western Kentucky. Researchers estimate that the armadillo can establish populations as far north as Nebraska and New York.

Humans played a major role in the rate of armadillo territorial expansion. By and large, we have stopped eating them. We've eliminated most of the large predators that ate them. We altered habitat, resulting in more of the brushy areas they prefer. And, in numerous cases both intentional and accidental, humans introduced armadillos into new territory. Additionally, the armadillo reproduction success rate is high and they are fairly flexible when it comes to diet.

Food: Armadillos primarily eat insects, especially those buried in soil or rotting wood. The dillers root along in the soil making grunting noises like small pigs. Long and strong claws make armadillos extremely proficient at digging. Like anteaters, they slurp up the insects with their tongues which are coated with a sticky saliva. The will also eat amphibians, tiny mammal young, bird eggs and carrion. In areas where animal matter is in short supply, armadillos will switch to a more vegetarian diet.

Reproduction: Mating in North America usually takes place in July and August, but implantation of the zygote is delayed until November. In times of extreme stress, implantation can be delayed even longer. Females captured and held in isolation have given birth as much as two years after their capture date. Gestation is 120 days after implantation.

Before development begins, the fertilized egg divides. The resulting two cells also divide once. Therefore, a normal armadillo litter is four identical quadruplets.

Swimming: When faced with a body of water it wants to cross, an armadillo has two choices. If the body of water is small, the armadillo can simply hold it's breath (for up to six minutes) and walk underwater to the opposite side. The weight of its shell keeps the diller anchored to the bottom of the stream. Armadillos can also swim. They are able to gulp air into their stomachs and intestines to provide buoyancy.

Behavior (Primarily based upon personal observations.): Armadillos seem to be fairly oblivious creatures with only marginal fear of humans. I suppose this is because they have few natural predators. You cannot quite walk up to a diller and poke it with a stick, but almost. Sometimes when I've tried to approach a diller in the open, it has seen me coming and scampered off. Other times, I've been able to walk up within a few feet of a feeding diller. The armadillo has continued to feed for several minutes before “suddenly” noticing me and moving on.

When severely startled, an armadillo is said to be able to jump three or four feet straight up. This is a survival mechanism in the wild, but works to the diller's disadvantaged when being passed over by a vehicle on the highway. I have never seen an armadillo jump anything like that high. The usually just give a slight little jump before scamping away. Perhaps I'm just not as startling as an 18-wheeler.

Most gardeners consider armadillos pests. Dillers are primarily nocturnal. You can end the day with a nicely mulched and maintained raised bed out in the garden and wake up to a bed that looks as if it has been tilled and partially spread over the adjoining aisles. Any seedlings or recent transplants in the bed are history.

(A note on the bottom two photos: This litter showed up at the edge of our yard back in May, 2005. This is the one and only time I've ever seen a litter that was still together. Armadillos are solitary and usually go their separate ways as soon as they leave the nest. We had just gotten our current camera, our first digital. We'd never used it and weren't even sure how to turn it on. Jo decided that these armadillos were an event that could not be missed without at least trying to take photos. The camera was supposed to be able to point and shoot and she was determined to test that hypothesis. I'm glad she did. The photo of the single armadillo is cropped from the very first photo taken with the camera we are still using.)

Sources, additional information and/or photos:

Habitat, ecology and biology


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Toe Sucking

Photo from 8/3/05

Katydid nymph self-pedicuring.

(Try it if you dare.)


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lichen Mandella

Nature's creations never cease to amaze me.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Bear Creek Valley

A view of Bear Creek Valley taken through the trees on the north slope of our upper pasture. There is a small, year-round creek and the two-lane blacktop highway into town that run down the center of the valley.


Woodpecker Feeding Station

I think this tree just might have bugs.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Waterfall Icicles

Even though Saturday's temperature climbed into the mid-sixties, there was still a little bit of ice left on the water fall below the house.

Standing directly beneath the waterfall would have meant risking being impaled by a falling icicle -- not a good way to go.

From the inside (beneath the overhang) looking out.

Yes, I did try to get a photo of a falling water drop. No, I did not succeed. This is as close as I got.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Katydid Nymph

Photo from 7/23/06

A katydid nymph exploring the dried dill weed out in the garden.

A gray winter day here. 28º at 3:00 PM and a gusty, damp south wind is blowing.

It's a good day for sorting through old photos. I'm deleting many that aren't as good as I once thought they were. (Hey, I've gotten better.) I'll be posting a few of the "keepers" from time to time.


Bucket and the Pond Ice


"This water is different."

The times we make it up to the pond when it's frozen over are few and far between. Bucket doesn't know what to make of the frozen pond surface.


"What did you do to the water?"

Whenever anything isn't meeting a dog's expectations, she tends to blame the closest human and expect the human to "fix it".


"There's nothing to this walking on water."

Bucket soon lost interest in the ice and became more concerned about what our other dog was doing that she was missing out on.


Thursday, January 24, 2008


Witch Hazel

The First Flowers of the New Year

Witch-Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)

One of the reasons Jo and I wanted to walk along the creek on Sunday was to see if the witch-hazel was blooming. It was.

The more common species of witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) grows throughout eastern North America. It blooms in the late fall. Hamamelis vernalis is native to the Ozarks region. It blooms during the late winter and continues until early spring and is usually found in gravel or rocky stream beds or at the base of rocky slopes along streams. The flowers tend to be more reddish and have a spicy aroma.

Witch-hazel has many traditional uses. It was the wood of choice for "dowsing" -- finding underground water (or sometimes other valuable objects) using a Y-shaped branch. Extracts from the leaves, twigs, and bark were used to reduce inflammation, stop bleeding, and check secretions of the mucous membranes. Astringent skin care products made from American witch-hazel are still available from Dickinson's.

Although I will probably never be at the right place at the right time, I'd really like to witness witch-hazel seed dispersal. Over the next year after blooming, two shiny black seeds develop in a woody capsule. The capsules mature at about the time the following year's flowers open. Then, the capsules split so explosively that they eject the seeds up to twenty-five feet away from the mother plant.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Little Ice

When freezing rain began falling around nine o'clock Monday evening, I had visions of broken limbs and downed power lines. However, the same south wind that brought us the rain was also bringing warmer temperatures. By midnight, our temperature rose above freezing and the ice that had accumulated began melting. The gradual melting continued until mid-morning on Tuesday when a new cold front plunged the temperature below freezing again.

We took our normal afternoon walk without too many problems. The was one steep slope that still had enough ice on the rocks to be tricky. I knelt down on all fours a couple of times so I could ease down the slope, figuring that was better than making a abrupt one-point landing when I least expected it. We made it back to the house with no other problems.

A little ice remained on the red berries.

And there were a few small ice flows along the bluff.

I have absolutely no idea why there were two salamanders out on the ice covered pond.

A leaf trapped in the pond ice by its stem.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Along The Winter Creek

Sunday afternoon Jo and I and the dogs decided not to walk our normal route and walk along the winter creek that runs through our place instead. (The dogs certainly didn't object. Rusty and Bucket are always ready to go and don't really care where.) Walking the creek is more like exploring. You cannot manage anything close to a walking pace because of the steep sides and all the rocks and boulders strewn about.

The creek should be flowing this time of year, but we haven't received enough rain this year. There were just a few pools of water scattered along the way. There were also "pools" of loose, dry leaves where the water should have been. These leaf pools made walking even more treacherous. A few of the larger ones were waist deep. A pool of water you can see, but when you step off into a pool of leaves, you think you're stepping onto firm ground, but step off into nothingness instead. Both Jo and I fell several time. Fortunately, there were no hidden rocks where we fell and the leaves provided a soft landing. We completely lost sight of Rusty when he unknowingly jumped off into one of the deeper leaf pools. He quickly dog paddled to the surface and swam onto firm ground.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Turkey Tail Mushrooms

Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor)

According to the Mushroom Expert:

The Turkey Tail is one of the most common mushrooms in North American woods, found virtually anywhere there are dead hardwood logs and stumps to decompose--and, occasionally, on conifer wood too. Its cap colors are extremely variable, but tend to stay in the buff, brown, cinnamon, and reddish brown range. The mushrooms are strikingly "zonate" with sharply contrasting concentric zones of color, and the surface of the cap is finely fuzzy or velvety. Often the zones represent contrasts in texture as well as color, so that fuzzy zones alternate with smoother ones.
Because the colors of Turkey Tails varies widely and because there are similar looking mushrooms, Michael Kuo, the mushroom expert, offers a six-point Totally True Turkey Tail Test on his site. Check it out if you want to learn more.


Tree Bites Rock

It looks as if the tree is biting off the corner of the rock, but I won't get too concerned unless the oak starts chewing.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

All Is Right

All is right in the world.

Overnight we received a new cold front

It's cold, but sunny.

Birds are in the trees.

Lichens are on the rocks.

Deer are in the garden.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Lichens On Parade


Here's a little of what the lichen page on Backyard Nature has to say:

Structurally, lichens are among the most bizarre of all forms of life. That's because every lichen species is actually composed of two, possibly even three, distinct species of organisms. One species is a kind of fungus. Usually the other species is an alga, but sometimes it can be a photosynthesizing bacterium known as a cyanobacterium. Sometimes all three organisms are found in one lichen.

In this amazing association the fungus benefits from the algae because fungi, having no chlorophyll, can't photosynthesize their own food. A lichen's fungal part is thus "fed" by its photosynthesizing algal part. The algae benefit from the association because the fungus is better able to find, soak up, and retain water and nutrients than the algae. Also, the fungus gives the resulting lichen shape, and provides the reproductive structures. This kind of relationship between two or more organisms, where both organisms benefit, is known as mutualism.


After doing a little research, I concluded that identifying lichens is a lot like identifying mosses: I'd have a lot more success at learning to flap my arms and fly than at pinning down a lichen ID. Therefore, I shall be content just displaying photos of the lichens I've found recently. If you want to learn more, visit Backyard Nature or Earthlife. By studying those pages (and all the additional links they provide) you can become a lichen expert, while I just wander around taking photos and enjoying nature.

Have fun!



Thursday, January 17, 2008

Low Mileage

Low mileage.

One owner.

Needs work.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

First Bloom of 2008

Okay, so it's a moss.

It's still blooming, isn't it?

And here's a different species of moss blooming. At least, I think it's a different species.

I thought I was going to get into identifying some of the mosses I've photographed, so Mr. Google and I started prowling around the Net. One of the first things I found was on the Mosses page of Backyard Nature. It advised:

When identifying mosses you almost always need mature capsules, for details of stalk and capsule structure vary endlessly and are important in moss identification. A capsule's minute peristome, annulus, operculum, and calyptra vary as markedly from species to species as do flower parts from one flowering species to another. The shape and arrangement of individual cells in moss leaves are also important in moss identification.

Since all these features are minuscule, here is one inescapable fact about the process of learning your neighborhood mosses:

To identify mosses, you nearly always need a hand lens, and very often a microscope.

Methinks I will enjoy the colors and textures of mosses and leave the identification to others.


Daliesque Lichen

Is surrealism on the rocks?

This lichen reminds me of one of Salvador Dali's clocks melting over the edge of a table.


Sunday, January 13, 2008


Shadow Forest.



Pond scum continues bubbling. The plot (pond?) thickens.


Friday, January 11, 2008


Just wandering around taking photos without any particular theme or purpose.

A colorful mushroom growing on a fallen log. There were several of these growing in a cluster.

A relic from a pre-aluminum culture.

Unfortunately, previous owners of our place thought that proper trash disposal meant throwing it over the nearest bluff. This philosophy not only included daily trash but extended to old refrigerators and even automobiles.

Lots of tiny bubbles.

This little winter wetland pond would often be ice-covered in January, but this year's warm temperatures have led to abundant algae growth. If I'm not mistaken, the algae produces all the bubbles. The bubbles cling to the algae so it will float near the surface and, thereby, receive maximum sunshine for photosynthesis.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Back Online

Pines on our upper pasture near the pond.

Hey, it's great to be back online again. Our ISP decided to take the day off. I don't know what the problem was. Monday evening, our dial up would connect, but no data was transferring between our computer and their server. During most of the day Tuesday, we couldn't connect at all. I called, just to make absolutely certain the problem was theirs and not mine, but I kept getting a busy signal. This has happened before. I suspect they take their phone off the hook during major outages.

Our balmy weather is gone and it's back to being winter again, although our temperatures are forecast to just barely dip below freezing early Wednesday morning. Some areas of the Ozarks paid a price for those unseasonable warm temperatures. When the approaching cold front hit all the warm, moist air hanging over our region, a line of severe thunderstorm developed. Several tornadoes were reported in southern Missouri.

How we missed getting any of the severe weather, I'll never know. Before we lost Internet service, the NOAA map showed a line of severe thunderstorm stretching from western Arkansas up into Missouri, and it was heading our way. Later, I heard that eastern Arkansas got some bad storms too. However, we got virtually nothing -- less than a tenth of an inch of rain. I reckon that line of storms slipped to our north and then reformed to hit eastern Arkansas.

Our high temperature on Tuesday was almost seventy degrees, but it occurred early in the morning. Our temperature fell all day.

North side of upper pasture.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Asparagus Bed

Our poor, neglected garden......

Getting things flanged up in the garden in the fall is always a problem for Jo and I.
  • We've put in a lot of time out there over the spring, summer and early fall. When garden activities that must be done come to an end, we're ready for a break from the garden.
  • The weather starts turning funky and there are more days that we cannot work outside.
  • Cutting firewood (and all the associated splitting, hauling, stacking, etc.) is a more pressing priority on the days when we can do outside work.
  • The days are getting shorter and there's less daylight for working outdoors.
  • Late fall is one of our busiest times of the year for doing shows, maintaining inventory, etc.
Anyway, those are our excuses, excuses, excuses for not putting our garden to bed for the winter the way we really should, but on Sunday Jo finally made a start on our garden "To Do" list by cleaning up the asparagus bed. She removed all the freeze-killed fern tops and spread a layer of composted manure on the bed. The bed still needs to be mulched heavily. We should also go ahead and add a border to this bed while the asparagus is dormant.

My outdoor activity for the day was splitting a little firewood and loading the log hoop on the porch. I can't believe I was out splitting firewood in January wearing a t-shirt. Our temperature made it all the way up to 71º. Very strange. The skies fluctuated between partly and mostly cloudy with s strong and gusty south wind blowing.

We didn't even have a fire in the wood stove on Sunday, though we probably could have used just a little bit of heat during the evening. The problem is: It's difficult to get a wood stove to put out just a little bit of heat. I tried taking the chill off the damp air inside the house Saturday evening and ended up with the inside temperature up around 75º.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Recycling Clay

Jo saves all her scraps of clay -- like those created when she trims the bottom of a pot she's thrown. The scraps all go into a bucket along with some water to keep them from drying out.

When Jo accumulates a bucket full of clay slurry, she pours it into an old pillow case and hangs it from a tree. The majority of the water drains away during this step in the process. This takes several days. Exactly how long depends upon the weather, and when Jo feels like getting back to her clay recycling. Adding water again solves the problem should the clay dry out too much.

When dry enough to work with -- though still too wet to run through the pug mill -- Jo forms the clay into rough cylinders and sets them on a shelf inside the studio to dry more.

The de-airing pug mill. Basically, clay goes in one end (where the feed handle is laid back) and comes out the other. In the middle is a revolving screw that helps feed the clay through and mix it more throughly. More importantly, a vacuum pump attaches to the center chamber of the mill so the mixing occurs under a slight vacuum which removed any trapped air. Air bubbles create voids in finished work.

Traditionally, potters "wedged" clay to remove trapped air. This process is very similar to kneading bread dough. After a decade of time and many tons of clay, wedging began to take it's toll on Jo's wrists. Deviating from tradition by investing in a de-airing pug mill was a reasonable alternative to constant pain that was only going to get worse. Besides, using the pug mill is a lot quicker and easier than wedging.