Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Awesome Bug Chicks!

Our homeschool group had a wonderful morning with the Bug Chicks recently.  They are two rad entomologists spreading the word that creepy crawlies are fascinating and amazing, and that women make great scientists.  As if both weren't already obvious!  They started their presentation by setting the kids free to see what arthropods they could find.  I love this because it really demonstrates that there are interesting critters all around us.  Then they told the kids all about what they'd found, and did a hands on show and tell of some of their cool pets.   Hurrah to these two incredibly inspirational women!  They still have some free library programs coming up this summer so check them out!
Oooh!  Madagascar hissing cockroach!
Checking out a tarantula.
Some of the bugs found by kids.   First up- this unusual rhino beetle! 
Rhino beetle.
A ladybug larva.
A snakefly.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tamanawas Falls

Tamanawas falls. 
Tamanawas Falls is a beautiful, easy, family friendly hike at Mt. Hood.  It's also very easy to get to because the trailhead is right next to Route 35.  We picked this hike for all of the above, but especially because we wanted to do a pika survey for the Cascades Pika Watch.  What on earth are pika? We had never heard of them until we attended a lecture sponsored by Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation. They are little critters that are related to rabbits, about 6-8" long, with Micky Mouse ears and no tails.  They are considered a sensitive species, because they require the cooler temperatures associated mainly with high altitudes in order to survive. This makes them quite vulnerable to climate change.  One of the few places that American pika can live at lower elevations is in the Columbia River Gorge. Cascades Pika Watch trains volunteers to visit the talus (rockfall) slopes in the gorge to see if their presence can be detected.  If you've hiked much in the gorge, you've surely passed talus slopes, perhaps without a second thought.  They do take a siesta in the middle of hot days, so you're much more likely to hear and see them in the morning or evening when it's cooler. When we actually did our survey, we discovered that these critters are far from shy.  They were running all around giving their alarm call (which sounds exactly like someone stepping on a dog's squeaky toy) and staring at us in curiosity.  We'd just never bothered to pause to look for them before.  Now that we know what they are and how to find them, we'll always make a point of saying hello when we pass by.  If you like to hike in the gorge and want to discover these fascinating critters, Cascades Pika Watch could use your help.  Drop them a line and ask them about their easy training!

Prince's pine.
Pink wintergreen.
White-veined wintergreen.
Twinflower.  Photo by Jasper.
White-veined wintergreen.
Washington lily.
Spotted coralroot.
Washington lily,
Sulphur buckwheat.
Tamanawas falls. 
Pika (center).
Pika (center).
Red columbine. 
Moth in hiding.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tualatin Hills Nature Park & Their Frogs

The Tualatin Hills Nature Park is an emerald oasis in the middle of suburban sprawl.  We ventured there on a hot day to stroll under its green canopy.  We saw lots of beautiful things.  The ground near the tadpole pond was alive with thousands of tiny Pacific chorus froglets.  Sadly, Jasper quickly noticed that many of them had gruesome deformities of their legs.  We'd never seen this phenomena before. A hotspot of deformities was first noticed by kids in Minnesota in 1995 and has since been reported all over the country and internationally.  While the deformities themselves seem to be caused by a flatworm parasite, the question is why infection rates sometimes swell dramatically.  Many causes have been suggested for hotspots to form,  but the mystery has never been conclusively solved. When the hotspots were first found, people wondered if whatever was causing widespread deformities in frogs couldn't cause deformities in other animals or even humans. In fact, a Minnesota native who works as a creature effects man for movies has decided to make a feature thriller film in which exactly that happens. His hope is that it will put this issue back in the spotlight.  I reported Jasper's finding to Dr. Pieter Johnson at the University of Colorado, who is researching this problem, and he made arrangements to get live frogs sent to him for his study. If you spot any frogs in this unfortunate condition, Dr. Johnson is the guys who wants to know.  I'm hoping his important work will help the frogs in Beaverton and around the world. 
Multicolored Asian lady beetle.  Photo by Jasper.
Slime mold.  Photo by Jasper.
Jasper found a stunning garter snake.
Pacific chorus frog.
Pacific chorus frog.
Pacific chorus frog.
Pacific chorus frog.
One of the deformed frogs.  Photo by Jasper.
Photo by Jasper.
Another deformed frog.
Here's a short video in which Professor Johnson explains how the frog deformities happen and what his research is about.

I believe these are red-legged frog tadpoles.
Birdsfoot trefoil.

It's mating season for bullfrogs. They can afford to wait until long after other amphibians are done because their offspring generally remain tadpoles for two years.  So they aren't  in a hurry to morph into their adult form. We only glimpsed them briefly but the low-pitched thrum of their singing came through loud and clear through the birdsong.

Douglas's spiraea.
Hairy vetch.
Mexican hedge nettle.
Robin's egg shell.
A flower crab spider, Mecaphesa californica, with prey.