Spice of Life: Slugs and Snails

Raise your eye-stalks if you’re a snail.

If you’re a mollusc, you’re a part of a very large phylum of creatures, including squids, clams and octopuses. And if you’re a slug or a snail, and you cruise around on your belly and leave a trail, then you’re a gastropod too–gastropod is Greek for “stomach foot”. And since you’re cruising around on your belly, you’ll benefit from some slime. Slugs and snails produce mucin (slime) from glands to help them get around, recognize each other, stick to stuff, reproduce and other necessary gastropody tasks.

Snails, which can be recognized by the shell on their backs, can be found up mountains, under rocks, in the desert, and under water (aquatic snails) says Snail-World. If you go outside and look under a log, you’ll probably find one there (hangin’ out with roly-polies). Slugs, don’t usually have shells. If they do, they are very small ones, or have only small internal shells.

Slugs and snails do eat our plants and that’s not so nice, but they are doing some important work otherwise. They breakdown organic matter in our yards and gardens, which, in the end, becomes organic matter, which makes good fertilizer. See below for our gastropods (and their poop).

Slugs and snails placing their organic matter on this cardboard.

They feed a whole host of critters from birds to reptiles to rodents. Scientists have replicated the slug’s sticky yet flexible slime into a surgical glue to help repair soft tissues without damaging them, says NPR. Cosmetics companies “milk” garden snails for their mucin. The methods by which they do this are unclear, says Racked. In Japan, they just stick the slimy critters on your face and they glide around, transferring that rejuvenating sliminess right onto your skin. Wikipedia has more examples of their usefulness going back to Ancient Greece. Need a good cough syrup, go no further than your local snail.

A snail’s eye view.

A parting video: mating leopard slugs. I would say this is X-rated.

Spice of Life: Nuts About Squirrels

Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger

In Louisiana, the mention of a squirrel would elicit conversations about how this rodent should be cooked. I personally prefer to adore ’em–not eat ’em. Today, we can learn about the fox squirrel. Recipes can be found elsewhere. 😉

“I see you!”

This creature’s bushy, red tail tells us why it might be called a fox squirrel. These plump critters are slower-moving than their kin, the cat squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), so it’s easier to get a good look at them (and see how cute they are). Some “foxes” are melanistic, that means their fur is black. That helps support it’s name S. niger (meaning “black”). Other colorful fox facts: they have pink bones! I found this out from Kelby Ouchley’s book Bayou-Diversity: Nature and People in the Louisiana Bayou Country–an excellent source of info about our area and its creatures–and entertaining too.

They pretend to hide their nuts to trick other squirrels, says Squirrel Gazer‘s blog. And they’ll stuff leaves and sticks and stuff in the hole, acting like it’s a nut. Those cunning fiends!

Lurkin’ and posin’

They warn other squirrels and forest creatures that an enemy is near with alarm calls. Enemies like owls, snakes, hawks or people. We’ve often heard them “hollerin'” up there in the trees…at us. We think it sounds like “Fraaaannnkkk!”.

If you should, by chance, meet a bunch of squirrels hanging out together, you would refer to them as a “scurry of squirrels”. You would note that they probably have “love” on their minds. Animal Diversity explains that other than gathering to plan future squirrels, to put it politely, they are otherwise not social animals.

As we learned in our Mammals workshop with LMN-NE (our blog has more info), foxes are called “stump-eared squirrels” and “chuckleheads”. I wonder what it did to get such a name?! We also learned that foxes have one less tooth and are typically found in areas where “cats” aren’t, and vice versa.

They’re helpful in the forest by planting nuts then forgetting about them. Later, young trees emerge. And maybe they will then be reminded where that nut was.

Fox squirrels: helpful, adorable, cunning and [apparently] delicious!

January 21st is Squirrel Appreciation Day. Mark your calendar.

A young’un peering at me from its den.

Spice of Life: The Rough with the Smooth

You, I and this snake know that most folks don’t take too kindly to the “no shoulders”. Ever since that incident in the garden of Eden way back when … Anyway, I’ve grown much fonder of snakes since I have proven by practice that they are not out to get us. I don’t want to blab on about that and try to convince anyone about anything. What I do want to do is to learn more about this guy and share what I’ve learned.

The rough green snake’s Latin name is Opheodrys aestivus. Thanks to the Illinois Natural History Survey, I’ve learned that Opheodrys comes from two Greek words: ophis meaning “serpent” or “reptile” and drymos, meaning “forest” or “woods”. Aestivus is Latin for “pertaining to summer”. So, we have a forest-dwelling reptile that you can see in the summer, according to its name. We did see one in a bush in 40 degree weather, so that’s a pretty generalized name.

O. aestivus has keeled scales (scales with ridges), similar to rattlesnakes. Could that be why it’s called rough? Certainly its behavior is very well-mannered and genteel, unless you happen to be a caterpillar, tree cricket or a small spider. Today’s rough green snake is nonvenomous, unlike the rattler. Also, unlike the rattler, this snake is primarily diurnal, which means it’s out mostly in the day time. It has big eyes compared to other snakes, and has round pupils. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is a characteristic of diurnal snakes.

Amphibians and Reptiles of Louisiana says these “non-biting snakes” primarily eat insects and spiders and tend to do so while they are off the ground in trees or bushes. When we have seen rough green snakes, they have been in bushes and near water, as the book mentions.

They’re quite difficult to spot sometimes when the whole world seems green in the height of summer. They do prefer to remain still and camouflaged. If you’ve read this far, maybe you’ll agree that they sound like they’re pretty harmless. I think they look sweet. I do hear (in my mind) all the lady-folk in my family disagreeing: passionately. So, if you’re of a similar mind or not, thanks for reading about the rough green snake and remember you have absolutely nothing to fear from it unless you’re a small arthropod!

Spice of Life: “Reed-Jumper of Louisiana”

Not a new species to report, but rather an old friend by another name.

Wikipedia explains that the Carolina wren’s Latin name is Thryothorus ludovicianus. Thryothorus, not a word said with a lisp, but a combination of two Greek words: thryon meaning “reed” or “rush” and thourus, ultimately meaning “to jump at” or “leap up”. Ludovicianus basically means “of Louisiana”. They do seem to be the busiest birds in the forest–always flittin’ and hoppin’ and tellin’ you like it is.

This Carolina wren is gathering nesting materials at Tensas River NWR.

Their favorite habitats are generally wooded areas near water–thus the need for “reed” in its name. But if you’ve got a little brown, plucky bird with a pert tail living on your porch, you will find another one of the wren’s preferred habitats.

Its call, which sounds like, “liberty, liberty, liberty” is distinctive. The trills and chirps coming from the hedges also tell us that we are in a wren’s territory. I’ve found that wrens will come quite close to us to check us out, and to remind us whose turf we’re on.

Well, wouldn’t you know it! I’m finally getting to learn one bird, and now I’m seeing that there are a slew of other wrens! All About Birds will indeed tell you all you want to know about birds. Here’s the link if you want to learn more about the members of the wren family.

This wren was singing its early morning song.

This wee blog is dedicated to my brave and devoted Daddy, Stephen Chason, who finished his race a year ago this Friday. The wren was his favorite bird, and their song will always make me smile.

Spice of Life: A Tail of Two Turkeys

Nature puts on a beautiful show.

Have you ever seen mushrooms like this growing on a log? They are pretty to look at and they provide a residence for a variety of tiny insects, mollusks and arachnids. If you wanted to find out what kind of fungi they are, you’d have to “flip” it, like a puppy or a kitten, and find out what it was.

Today I found some good samples to compare. Could they be Turkey Tails? Here’s the pics:

Trametes and Stereum topside

These are also colorful, fan-shaped fungi growing on logs, like our mystery shrooms above. Let’s flip it and see what we can see:

Rolies and shrooms love the same habitat

Oh look! Some roly-polies! Now I can’t stop seeing them! But seriously…

Trametes and Stereum underside

The top one has pores; see the little dots? The bottom one is smooth. That means that the top one could be a Turkey Tail and the bottom a False Turkey Tail. There are a bushel of fungi that look like the true Turkey Tail. If you’re keen to learn more about Turkey Tails or just mushrooms in general, check out the Mushroom Expert‘s site and take the Totally True Turkey Tail Test.

Spice of Life: Fun with Ferns

Everybody reacts to stress differently. And there are different kinds of stressors. If you’re a plant, stress might come in the form of drought. This plant’s reaction to drought stress, is to dry up. It’s not a simple process. It’s cellular and molecular. It is so complex and cool that it got to go up into space in ’97 on the Space Shuttle Discovery so that it could be observed in zero gravity. So, what kind of feel is it?

Resurrection Fern

It’s a resurrection fern. See the picture of the dried-out crispy-looking fern? It’s ok, don’t be sad! It just hasn’t rained in a while and the fern has gone dormant and is “dealing with life” in that way. Once it rains again, it will look like the picture of the happy-looking fern. It only takes a few hours and it’s all back up and ready to spread its spores in the wind and make new baby ferns, or just hang out and enjoy the scenery. Why does it live in the trees, though?

Normally, as an epiphyte, it hangs out on tree branches, oaks, pecans, cypresses and other types of trees. It doesn’t want anything from the tree, it just needs somewhere to live. It gets all of its nutrients and moisture from the air and rain. Epiphytes are “air plants”, from the Greek words epi and phyton and you get “on top of plant”. Spanish moss is an epiphyte too. But it’s a bromeliad and that’s a “plant” for another day.

Spice of Life: The Bug Club

These planthoppers are true bugs

Before, when the roly-polies rolled along and said, “hey, you know, we’re not actually bugs”, that got me thinking. What else isn’t a true bug?

I thought that if it was flying around me, crawling on me, or extracting my blood, it must be a bug. They’ve always been ‘bugs’ for as long as I’ve known. Where do you draw the line though? What about ants and caterpillars and spiders? Good grief! Not them too?! Well, it seems that if you want to be a member of the Bug Club (or the order Hemiptera to be precise), you’ll have to follow the rules:

Appearance Guidelines

  • have three pairs of segmented legs
  • have an exoskeleton
  • have a non-retractable probing mouth-part (called a proboscis)

Etiquette and Behavior

  • have an “incomplete metamorphosis”; skip the larva and pupa business and just be a nymph
  • participate in ecdysis (where they molt their exoskeleton) five times a year
  • put your wings over your body when you’re resting
  • use your scent gland when necessary

All bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. (The world gets weirder and more wonderful every day.) So whenever you meet a true bug, make sure that it’s following the rules. 😉

Spice of Life: The Lowly Roly-Poly

Today’s Eye is looking at the roly-poly. Maw Maw and I decided that we know the following things about them: they roll up when you touch them, you just have to look in the dirt to find them and they never have “got on” anybody before.

Here’s what I learned from going outside and meeting them personally:

some are colorful

some are small

they have bad days too

And some fascinating facts from folks (online):

  • They’ve got seven pairs of legs.
  • They carry their babies in a pouch called a marsupium.
  • It takes them about a year to mature.
  • They are primarily nocturnal.
  • They are very useful decomposers.
  • And probably the most shocking fact…they are not “bugs” (insects) but are crustaceans, like crawfish.
The segmented plates of the crawfish closely resemble the ‘poly’s plates.

And if you’re in need of a chuckle, and in case roly-poly isn’t a funny enough name for this non-bug crustacean, Wikipedia has a great list of names of the woodlouse family, including “carpet shrimp”, “cheeselog” and “parson’s pig”.

Spice of Life: Rascal-Distraction

This Procyon lotor is clearly showing its disgust at having blown its 15 minutes of fame.

This Procyon lotor clearly shows its disgust at having blown its 15 minutes of fame.

The Raccoon (Procyon lotor) is today’s furry visitor to Wild Open Eye’s blog. Raccoons are a commonly seen creature in Louisiana, near the water, in the woods, in subdivisions. One time we were lucky enough to see one swimming and then it crawled straight up a tall tree. Today, the raccoon doesn’t impart any secrets about its personal life, but just wanders through quickly, perhaps in search of crawfish.

The raccoon’s dark patches around its eyes are there to help it stand out, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
I never noticed the black and white patches on the back of their ears before.
Their black and white patches and striped tails help them stand out in the tall grass…
…or when they’re crawling up into your roof!
In case you weren’t expecting guests, Havahart humane traps and peanut butter work a charm in relocating them to the nearest bayou.

The German name for the raccoon, an invasive species in Europe, is called Waschbär. That means wash-bear. Originally, raccoons were classified by Linnaeus as bears, so I guess they’re not too far off with their extraordinarily cute name (sorry, I can’t help it; it’s adorable).

And why “wash”? When raccoons eat, they like to get a good feel of what they’re eating, says Paws.org. Maybe it’s apart of really enjoying their supper. And they do have salivary glands. Thanks for clearing that rumor up, HowStuffWorks.com.

But I know this for certain, my Mama doesn’t like raccoons and their creepy hands and all that “food washing” business so I’ll hush up in case she’s reading this. 😉

Agkistrodon piscivorus: 20 Cottonmouths in 2020

Many things about 2020 have been difficult. As you know. One thing that was not difficult was finding Cottonmouths on our walks in the woods. Each picture above is of a different individual. All but the bottom right one posed without moving. It’s tucking its head away in the log. Not in the mood for such.

Before I met my husband and before I became a naturalist, the sight of one of these guys would have me running, not walking, out of the woods. It wasn’t until we saw one curled up like a honey bun on a little wooden bridge, when Charles said “Oh, boy!” and I said “Oh, no!” I took a couple of reluctant pictures as I slowly backed up the path, while exclaiming “we are going to die!” As Charles kept a safe distance and took pictures from different angles (and I peered down from my branch), the snake slowly unwound itself and retreated away from us to find shelter under a dwarf palmetto. Something in me changed that day. The snake didn’t want to be bothered. It didn’t want to eat me. It didn’t want to strike. Its aim was self-preservation. This ties in closely with what I was thinking myself (from my safe position up in the tree).

If these guys are threatened or feel they can’t escape, they will try to defend themselves. I would.

In case it seems that I have been paid by the International Snake-huggers Committee, I haven’t.

Personal experience (and education) is priceless.

%d bloggers like this: