Ladybugs Wind Sail into the Hills

Ladybugs are members of the Coccinellidae family. The Latin translation means ‘scarlet.’

In the US, they’re called Ladybugs. In Europe, they’re Ladybirds. Legend (or internet rumor) says in the middle ages in Europe, farmers prayed to Mother Mary to save blighted crops. Prayers must have been made in spring because Ladybugs came along to save the day.  In this case, ‘Lady’ or ‘Lady’s birds’ refers to Mary Mother of Jesus. Their German name – Marienkafer, translates to Mary Beetles.

In North America, there are 450 species of Ladybugs with California hosting at least 175.

The Convergent Ladybug is native to the North and South American continents. It is easy to identify by convergent (or intersecting) white lines on the pronotum, behind the head.

Habitat

Solitary for most of the year, Ladybugs like to be near water and ponds. They congregate around food sources which can occupy forests, grasslands, suburban gardens, and agricultural fields.

Diet

All Ladybug species prey on soft-bodied plant suckers such as;

  • aphids
  • mealybugs
  • whitefly
  • scale insects
  • plant mites

They’ll also eat;

  • stinkbug eggs and larvae
  • asparagus beetle eggs and larvae
  • potato psyllid eggs and larvae
  • their own eggs and larvae

In the fall, when Ladybugs are preparing to go into diapause, adults will eat pollen to gain extra fat.

Adult ladybugs can eat nearly 50 aphids per day and 5,000 over a lifetime.

Convergent Ladybugs have a special ability to modify their development in times of food scarcity.

Hunting Behavior

Ladybugs use a sense of smell (with antennae) to detect pheromones secreted by aphids and other prey. They also have good eyesight.

Macro shot of ladybug eye.

They’ve been clocked at flying up to 37 miles per hour!

 

Bleeding Joints, a Defense Mechanism

Like other animals with flashy coloration, this communicates poison. The Ladybug is no exception. When frightened they produce an (alkaloid) chemical that causes a yellow stain. It’s secreted from their joints and has a bitter taste and foul smell. (Larval forms secrete it from the abdominal area.)

Another type of defense is playing dead. Pulling vulnerable legs under its hard shell, a Ladybug can withstand small scale attacks.

Life Cycle and Life Span

Females generally lay between twenty to thirty eggs at one time.

They have two reproductive cycles a year, in spring and fall.

Females will lay eggs in aphid beds so larva have a ready food supply.

All life stages can be found together at the same time.

Adults live for one year. However, temperature and food sources may alter this. In cooler temperatures, adults have been observed living for up to three years.

Predators

Ladybug predators include birds and other beetles. If a Ladybug gets too close to an ant colony, they will attack. One-on-one ant and Ladybug relationships are dismissive but polite.

Insect Hibernation – Diapause

When temperatures drop, Ladybugs fly up! High above the ground, wind blows them into the hills (see Ladybug Wash-Ups in Resources below).

Aggregate site selection may be a combination of long-chain hydrocarbons left by previous winter gatherings as well as pheromone sensing. They also seem to enjoy places that receive warm sun rays.

Once temperatures drop below 55º, ladybugs stop flying. Aggregation is for warmth and mating.

Estimates of 37 million beetles have been observed in some aggregate locations.

Biological Pest Management – Invited Invasive Species 

In the late 1800s farmers began experimenting with natural predators to control insect infestations. In the 1920s Southern California citrus growers imported  Australian Ladybugs to combat mealybugs.

Between the 1920s and 1980s American farmers released imported Asian ladybugs in pecan, pine and soybean crops. (The native home-range for the Asian Harlequin is eastern Asia – Siberia and Russia through the Himalayas, China, and Japan. ) Now, Asian Ladybugs – Harmonia axydris, though beneficial, are considered one of the worlds most invasive beetles.

The Harlequin beetles are stronger than the native species. They compete for the same food sources. A success factor may be a single-celled parasite that lives inside them. It exists in all life stages from egg and larva to adult. It’s harmless to the Harlequin but deadly for other species especially if they eat their eggs and larvae.

Color and marking varieties of Asian Harlequin Ladybugs

 

Problematic Diapause

Asian Harlequin beetles have a problematic habit of aggregating on or in homes. They prefer light-colored buildings and seem to like window screens.

When frightened or disturbed, Asian Harlequin’s may bite, as well as release their chemical defense.

If trapped in food, grapes, or wine they contaminate it with bitter ‘ladybug taint.’

To remove Asian Ladybugs, it’s best to wait until it’s cold and use a vacuum cleaner to suck them into a nylon stocking.

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy, Pill Bug – Heavy Metal Detector of the Underworld.

click on image to see more Life on the Creek art

click on image to see more Life on the Creek art

 

Resources:

American Journal of Enology and Viticulture – Influence of Harmonia ayridis on the Sensory Properties of White and Red Wine

Animal Diversity – Hippodamia convergens

Ask an Entomologist – Ladybug Declines in the US (comparing museum collection data)

Bay Nature Magazine – When Thousands of Ladybugs Gather in the Park

Cornell University – Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle  – Insect Diagnostic & Pest Management (PDF)

Hearts Pest Management – Asian Lady Beetles vs. Native Ladybugs

Journal of Insect Science – The multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis by R.L. Koch –

Ladybug Planet – Do Ladybugs Eat Ants? When Ants and Ladybugs Clash!

National Geographic – Learn how the ladybug’s big appetite is a boon to many farmers. Find out the real purpose of their familiar polka-dot pattern.

Nature – Invasive ladybird has a biological weapon by Ed Young

Oxford Academic – Environmental Entomology – Olfactory Response of the Lady beetle Hippodamia convergens

Writing for Nature – The Beneficial Lady Beetles: Good Luck Bugs or God’s Little Cows 

Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences – Department of Entomology – Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle 

Research Gate – University of Florida – ConvergentLady Beetle Hippodamia convergens (PDF) 

Science Direct – Elytron

Science Direct – Beneficial Insects (Ladybug introduction to California) – History of Insect Pathology

ThoughtCo – 10 Facts about ladybugs

University of California at Berkeley – History of Biological Control (PDF)

University of Minnesota – Multiclored Asian Lady Beetle

Wikipedia – biological pest control 

Wikipedia – Coccinellidae

Wikipedia – Harmonia axyridis

Book

University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources – Natural Enemies Handbook

 

Ladybug Harvesting

Ladybug Wash-Ups

*Biologists speculate that wash-ups are caused by winds blowing in the wrong directions when Ladybugs are preparing to diapause. (Insect hibernate)

Flying Over & Filming the Creek – Behind-the-Scenes

After weeks of route planning and equipment experimentation, Roger Harris was ready to fly over Deer Creek.

GoPro’s, attached to the plane, filmed the journey.

Roger Harris attaching a GoPro to the Cessna 180.

In the video below, Roger explains many factors that went into trip planning.

Additional Observations:

Houses are built close to creek banks. – Roger Harris, Pilot

The color difference between Scotts Flat Lake and Lake Wildwood. – Bonnie McKeegan, Ground Film Crew

Viewing the Deer Creek Watershed inside the greater Yuba Watershed makes one appreciate the sculpting power of water on the land. – Lisa Redfern, Producer

In an upcoming FDC behind-the-scenes look post, Howard Pincus, Pilot of the Cessna 180, will be featured.

If you liked this post, you might also like, Deer Creek Water Origins, Resouce Management & Recreation

World Water Day – 22 March – Science & Beauty

In honor of world World Water Day, FDC is going global. The water flowing through Deer Creek isn’t just ‘in your back yard,’ it’s part of a shape-shifting planetary system.

Today, we’re celebrating science and the ability to gather mass data. We’re also admiring the stunning beauty of water, an element all life needs to grow.

Resources:

11:21 – Central California Aquafir

Jet Propulsion Laboratory – GRACE Mission: 15 Years of Water on Earth

United Nations – World Water Day 22 March

Woodpeckers – Drumming Hoarders

The Picidae bird family is adapted to tree life. It lives in oak and pine woodland forests. Toe arrangement is ideal for bark gripping, beaks are styled for pecking, long, sticky tongues are good for catching wood-boring insects, and skull size and orientation prevent brain impact injuries. Picidae species include; woodpeckers, the northern flicker, and sapsuckers.

This article focuses on family commonalities, then concentrates on acorn woodpecker behavior patterns.

Woodpeckers are an indicator species for healthy oak woodlands.

Woodpeckers, flickers, and sapsuckers inhabit areas with multiple oak tree varieties because each type produces a different amount of nuts per year. Acorns dropped by woodpeckers aid in tree proliferation.

Picidae feathers are mostly black and white with red highlights. Males and females can be identified by head plumage. (In the Resource section below, you’ll find bird call and feather pattern identification links.)

Spring, Summer, and Fall Diet:

  • ants
  • bees
  • berries
  • fruit
  • lizards
  • oak flowers
  • sap
  • seeds
  • wasps
  • wood-boring insects (*Black-backed woodpecker specializes in eating wood-boring beetles that emerge after a forest has burned.)

Winter Diet:

  • hoarded acorns, nuts, and insects

Predators & Food Thieves:

  • Blue Jays
  • Hawks
  • Mule Deer
  • Squirrel

Communication:

Drumming – proclaims territory and attracts a mate during mating season.

House Damage:

Usually occurs during March through June mating season.

Pest Management:

  • Physical – netting, sheet metal, filling holes
  • Scare Away – bird-of-prey statuettes, twirlers, and brightly colored plastic strips
  • Building prevention – light colored siding made of aluminum or vinyl
  • Other control methods – bird feeding stations, nest box placement, offering poles and other granary sites.

Migratory Bird Treaty Protection:

Woodpeckers are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. ”All woodpeckers are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). This law says: “No person may take (kill), harass, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such bird except as may be permitted under the terms of a valid permit…” Control methods that do not harm the bird or an active nest are allowed for most species.”  -U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (See link below).

Acorn Woodpecker – Melanerpes formicivorus

Granary

The industrious acorn woodpecker may be best known for constructing granaries. A granary, also known as a ‘mother’ or ‘pantry’ tree, is an older tree with thick bark. Borehole depth doesn’t spill sap that would spoil the nut.

A snag or telephone/power pole can also serve as a pantry.

Granaries are built by multiple generations of bird families. They require constant maintenance. As nuts dry, they shrink, causing them to loosen.  A loose nut can be stolen, so acorn woodpeckers move them to smaller holes and continually check for tightness.

Gathering more nuts than is needed is known as hoarding. Hoarding is used to remain in place year-round.

A single bird can gather up to 100 nuts per day in a harvesting territory that ranges between 12-15 square miles.

 

Family Social Structure

Acorn woodpeckers are highly social. Family units can be as large as fifteen. Usually there are several mating pairs with the females sharing a sister relationship. Grown children or siblings remain in the group to care for young and maintain granaries.

Females use a joint nest, laying all their eggs in the same hole. (As egg laying begins, a female entering a nest with eggs already in it will destroy some before laying her own.)

Cooperative behavior (adult birds opting not to reproduce) is an usual phenomenon that has been the subject of a long-range study by UC Berkeley and Cornell University scientists.

If you liked this story, you might also like California Quail – Happy Under Cover.

 

Have you observed Picidae in Nevada County not mentioned in the article? If so, please leave a comment in the comment section below.

click image to see more Life on the Creek art

click image to see more Life on the Creek art

Resources:

Northern Flicker

AllAboutBirds.org

Bird Calls & Plumage Identification

Acorn Woodpecker
Black-backed Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Lewis’s Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
White-headed Woodpecker
Williamson’s Sapsucker

All About Birds Articles

Acorn Woodpeckers Help Each Other in Times of Plenty

Can Woodpecker Deterrents Safeguard My House? 

Shared Dynasties Among Acorn Woodpeckers

Why Global Climate Change May Be Putting More Birds In The Same Basket 

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Woodpeckers – Wildlife Damage Management Fact Sheet (PDF)

Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Walt Koenig’s Lab

Book – Population Ecology of the Cooperatively Breeding Acorn Woodpecker by Walter D. Koenig

Stanford Magazine – Full Life with Woodpeckers

University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources – Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program – Woodpeckers

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – Woodpeckers – Inflicting Damage on Property (PDF)

Special Feature:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology – How Woodpeckers Avoid Brain Injury

Toyon – Rose Apples

Toyon, in the rose family, carries a name given to it by Native Americans and produces fruit related to apples. Because it ripens and turns bright red around the holidays, its common names are Christmas berry and California Holly.

Photo Credit: redit Miguel Vieira

Toyon’s scientific name, Heteromeles arbutifolia, means “different apple.”

There’s debate surrounding the plant’s association with the naming of Hollywood. [See link in resources.]

A California native, Toyon is an evergreen shrub. It grows from sea level to scrub oak zones up to 4,000 ft. elevation; it’s drought tolerant and accepts a variety of soil types— including clay.

FIRE

Specially adapted to flourish after fire, Toyon root crowns store carbohydrates allowing the plant to quickly send up new sprouts.

Established shrubs, reaching 8 to 10 feet in height, have lower water requirements than young plants.

FLOWERS

Photo Credit: John Rusk

Small white flower bunches appear in June and July.

MATURING FRUIT

Photo Credit: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz

While fruit is developing, berries contain a cyanogenic glucoside, a toxic substance, that protects them from being eaten.

Photo Credit: John Rusk

As the fruit ripens, turning red, the cyanogenic glucoside moves from the pulp into the seeds.

Photo Credit: Becky Matsubara

FRUIT CONSUMPTION

Birds and some mammals, such as coyote and bear, eat Toyon berries in the fall.

For humans, the taste of fresh berries is bitter. It’s a good idea to spit out the seeds.

Heating berries before eating removes some of the bitterness.

HISTORIC HUMAN FRUIT CONSUMPTION

  • Bark and leaf tea for stomach problems and wound infections – Kumeyaay people and other Native Tribes
  • Leaf infusions – menstruation regulation – Costanoan people
  • Sun parching – Luiseno people (southern California)
  • Thirst quencher – Mahuna people
  • Wine, custard, jelly, and porridge – Spanish and American settlers

MOLD & INSECT INFESTATION

 

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Willow – Bends without Breaking.

click on image to see more Life on the Creek art

 

*This article is dedicated to Rose Sponder, who identified the plant on Instagram.

Resources:

Harvesting Berries

Fermented Toyon Beverage

Bear Yuba Land Trust – Toyon (recipes)

Biological Sciences – Santa Barbara City College

Briar Patch Coop – Wild Winter Spices and Add Local Flair to Holiday Cooking

California Native Plant Society Blog – Holiday Native Plant Recipes 12/11/17 

California Native Plant Society – Redbud Chapter – Natives for Landscaping

Calscape – Toyon

EthnoHerbalist – Native Americans in southern California enjoyed berries from the toyon plant

KCET – Deck The Hills with Boughs of (California) Holly

Living Wild (recipes) – Toyon

Natural History Museum Los Angeles County – California Holly: How Hollywood Didn’t Get its Name

SFGate – How to Care for A Toyon Tree

 

 

Deer Creek Water Origins

 

Before we ever see water in Deer Creek, most of it has rained, snowed, and been stored in NID’s Mountain Division and PG&E Lakes. It’s moved from lake to lake, going through multiple powerhouses, generating electricity. It enters Scotts Flat Lake where swimmers, motor boaters, and fisherman enjoy it. Flowing into Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir, human or wind-powered boaters recreate on it.

Another portion of water entering Deer Creek comes from the watershed. A watershed is an area of land that channels water to a low point, such as a stream, river, lake, or ocean.

History of Water Management in Nevada County: 1850 Water Business is Born

Placer miners needed water for rockers; hydraulic miners needed it to move mountains.

The first miner’s ditch, to which PG&E traces its tap root, was built in 1850 by The Rock Creek Water Company.  Historians locate this ditch is near Coyote Hill. Constructed by Charles Marsh, William Crawford, John & Thomas Dunn, and C. Carol at a cost of $10K, the ditch was nine miles long.

After only two weeks of operation, The Rock Creek Water Company investment paid off.

Successful, and profitable, water transportation soon spread to neighboring counties— Placer, Eldorado, Amador, Calaveras, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne County.

Before water management, Deer Creek was seasonal.

An 1854 drought caused local economic hardship. Mines stopped working, miners couldn’t pay debts, and real estate values crashed.

Wooden water flume. Photo Credit: Les Nicholson

After assessing the lakes in the Yuba Watershed, water companies understood that gravity and elevation would work in their favor. They built systems to move water to the mines using flumes, tunnels, high-pressure pipes, siphons, and trestle bridges.

The water transportation system was an engineering marvel of its time.

Early engineers and savvy businessmen realized the potential of a year-round water supply for ranching, mills, and establishing towns.

When the Sawyer Decision washed-up hydraulic mining in the mid 1880s, the South Yuba Water Company, and its subsidiary, the Central California Electric Company, was poised to capitalize on a new industry—hydroelectrisity.

 

Photo Credit: LocoSteve

Following Deer Creek’s Water Path

Deer Creek water begins in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, north of I-80, fifty-five miles northwest of Lake Tahoe.

French Lake–elevation 6,676 ft.
Faucherie Lake–elevation 6,135 ft.
Sawmill Lake–elevation 5,869 ft.
Bowman Lake–elevation 5,600 ft.
Fuller Lake–elevation 5,344 ft.
Canyon Creek Drainage
Bowman Spaulding Canal
Spaulding Hydro Power Plant
Spaulding Lake–elevation 5,014 ft.
Hwy 20 & Bear Valley–South Yuba Canal
Big Tunnel
Deer Creek Forebay–elevation 4,477 ft.
Deer Creek Hydro Power Plant
North and South Fork Deer Creek Confluence
Deer Creek
Scotts Flat Lake–elevation 3,069 ft.
Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir–elevation 2,094 ft.

 

“There’s very little natural water in Deer Creek,” says Les Nicholson, retired Nevada Irrigation District Hydroelectric Manager.

Burlington Ridge, the apex of the North and South Fork of Deer Creek isn’t high enough to maintain a snowpack (4,160 ft elevation).

“Most Deer Creek water is imported,” Nicholson says. “Imported water means it comes from another drainage.”

In Deer Creek’s case, that drainage is the Yuba Watershed.

Nicholson generously shared his time to explain the complicated route water takes before we see it in our ditches, creeks, and rivers.

*After leaving Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir, the video tour back-tracks to Burlington Ridge, the physical headwaters of the North and South Forks of Deer Creek.

 

Run-off and gravity always show the direction water is flowing.

Resources:

Bear Yuba Land Trust – Trails Portal

Burlington Ridge | North Fork Deer Creek

GetAwayHorsePlay.com – Skillman Horse Camping video

Gold Country Trails Council – Horse Camps & Trail Maps

Skillman Horse Campground reservations 

USDA Forest Service – Skillman Campground & OHV information 

 Burlington Ridge | South Fork Deer Creek

Burlington Motorcycle Trail System

OHV Trails around Donner Summit 

Hiking Trails & Camping

All Trails – Cascade Canal

Outside In – Snow Mountain Ditch 

Nevada Irrigation District

Since 1921 the Nevada Irrigation District has supplied domestic, irrigation, and domestic water for Nevada and Placer Counties. It is an independent California special district governed by an elected board.

South Yuba Canal NID video

Nevada Irrigation District Campgrounds & Lakes

PG&E

Book: PG&E of California,1851-1952, by Charles Coleman

History of PG&E

Wikipedia – Pacific Gas and Electric Company

 

Four-Eyed Banana Slug Wields Six-Fold Slime

The Ariolimax genus for the Pacific Banana Slug means “air slug.” It is a shell-less terrestrial gastropod mollusk and is the world’s second largest slug species.  Its lifespan is between one to seven years.

Photo Credit: David Connell, Nevada County Camera Club

Like the Pill Bug, much of a slug’s activities focus on water retention. Banana slugs keep to damp places under logs, inside tree bark, around rocks or planters. They are active at night and after rain when slime most effectively soaks-up surrounding water.

Color:

Color changes with age, health, exposure to light, diet, genetics, and the amount of moisture in the surroundings. While some Banana Slugs have black spots, this is not a way to distinguish between the Ariolimax subclasses; Columbianus and Californicus, both varieties found in California. (To make the distinction, see ‘Subclass Penis Particulars’ below.)

Breathing:

A slug’s mantle, the thick part behind its head, is the location of the slug’s single lung and reproductive organs. (It’s also where a shell would go, if it had one.) A large hole on the right side opens and closes according to oxygen needs. In dry weather or heavy rain, the slug completely closes its pneumostome. When it wants lots of air, it keeps it open wide.

Four Eyes:

With the ability to move eyestalks independently, the slug survey’s the environment. The top eye tentacles sense light changes and scans for threats. The bottom set feels and smells.

Diet:

Slugs, like other forest floor dwellers, break down particles and nutrients that contribute to healthy plants. They are non-picky herbivores. They’ll eat; dead plants, fungi, animal droppings, and leaves.

Photo Credit: Richard Sullivan

Mushrooms are a favorite food.

Radula – sharp-toothed tongue

To eat, slugs have sharp-toothed tongues, radula, that grind particles to a pulp.

Slime:

Slime is the Banana Slug’s superpower. It’s used to travel, rappel, communicate, mate, for personal hygiene and for self-defense.

Slugs generate several different types of mucus; thick and thin. (It’s similar to human mucus in nasal, lung, and intestinal linings.)

Slime contains mucins that inflate to one-hundred times their size when exposed to moisture.

When a slug wants to move, it glides where it wants to go, utilizing external moisture to plump-up slime roads.

Slime trails, sensed by the lower tentacles, tell an encountering slug the direction the other slug is moving. It also contains pheromones that trigger mating behavior.

Anesthetic compounds in slime cause numb feelings humans experience when licking slugs (why?!) and are part of the animal’s self-defense mechanism.

The Banana Slug’s tail contains a mucus plug; it makes ‘cords’ used to rappel down steep surfaces.

Finally, a slug’s got to look good. Mucus produced near the head, washes stuck-on body debris to the tail where the slug can eat it.

 

Reproduction:

Although slugs have both male and female genitalia (hermaphrodite), they prefer to mate with a partner. Forming a circle, Banana Slugs swap sperm. A few days later, eggs are laid in moist secluded places such as in a log or a hole in the ground. Banana Slugs mate and reproduce year-round.

Photo Credit: Christopher,

It takes a month or two for eggs to hatch. When young are small and haven’t fully developed slime abilities, they are most vulnerable to predation.

Apophallation:

Apophallation may be as interesting as slime. It’s when slugs become stuck in the mating position.

One or both animals chew off their penises.

Not to worry! Next time a penis-missing slug meets another, she’ll use her female reproductive parts.

Subclass Penis Particulars:

Distinguishing between Banana Slug subclass species takes a limacologist, a zoologist specializing in slug study.

Ariolimax Columbianus has a penis that sticks out / protrudes, top (apex) is rounded and blunt
Ariolimax Californicus has a penis can turn inside-out (like a vagina), top portion (apex) is equal to and can be greater in length to the basal portion. The muscle that pulls it back is shaped like a fan and is located at the penis tip.

Predators:

Reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish and other mammals will prey on Banana Slugs.

When under siege, a Banana Slug contracts its muscles, making it more compact. It produces a sticky, foul-tasting. mouth numbing mucus making it a less appealing meal.

 

 

 

click image to see more Life on the Creek art

If you liked this post you may also like Pill Bug – Heavy Metal Detector of the Underworld

Resources:

The Ark in Space – The Banana Slug – Nature’s Giant Recycler
Bay Nature – Bizarre Banana Slug Facts
iNaturalist – Banana Slugs
Journal of Experimental Biology – The mechanics of the adhesive locomotion of terrestrial gastropods
Michigan Technological University – Invertebrates: Molluscs
Natural History Museum – How slug slime could help heal a broken heart ( tissue adhesives that perform well in wet environments)
PhysicsWorld – On the role of snail slime (fluid dynamics research)
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – Non-toxic slug control in the garden
Science News for Students – Slip sliming away, scientists study how slime helps slugs and snails get around on only one foot
Scientific American – He Slimed Me! (mucins & anesthetic)
Terrestrial Mollusc Tool – Ariolimax Columbianus – Pacific Banana Slug
UCSC – Banana Slug Genomics
University of Michigan – Animal Diversity Web – Ariolimax columbianus
University of Puget Sound – Slater Museum of Natural History – Banana Slug
Wiki – Banana Slug Genomics
Wikipedia – Banana slug
Wikipedia – Slug 

Note: The spelling of Mollusc and Mollusk are both correct. The version with a ‘k’ is oldest. Unless a reference source used ‘c’, the ‘k’ version is used.

 

Incense Cedar, the Pencil Tree

A burned, sometimes smoldering,  Incense Cedar tree is one of the few places the Cedar Wood Wasp, lays its eggs. This insect is the only living species of its family, making it a ‘living fossil.’

Incense Cedar Wood Wasp – a living fossil

Cedar is commonly used for building and fencing materials. Because the wood is pliable for gripping and resists splintering, it may be best known for its use in pencils.

Hearty, drought tolerant, and accepting of shade and sun, the tree grows at a wide variety of elevations.

Calocedrus decurrens seed cones and seeds

Incense Cedar growing range

 

 

 

 

Native Americans used Incense Cedar for hunting bows, fire making, baskets, brooms, shelter building, and for ceremonial and healing purposes.

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like, Mugwort – Dream Plant with a Long History

click image to see more Life on the Creek art

 

 

Resources:

Calflora – Calocedrus decurrens

CalPoly – Incense Cedar Tree Detail

Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database

Living Wild Project

Pacific Northwest, Pest Management – Cedar, Incense Broom Rust

Native American Cedar Mythology

USDA – Calocedrus decurrens

Plant Guide [PDF]

Wikipedia – Cedar Wood Wasp

Raccoon – Puzzler & Mastermind

Origin & Name

Raccoons evolved around water sources. People observing them gave them names describing their ‘washing’ behavior.

Scientific name – Procyon lotor means “before-dog washer” in Latin
Aztecs – Mapachitli – “one who takes everything in its hands”
Chinese – Orsetto lavatore “little-bear washing”
Garman – Waschbär – “wash-bear”
Italian – Araiguma – “washing-bear”
Algonquian / Powhatan Indian – Arocoun – “he scratches with his hands”
English speaking North American colonists changed Arocoun to raccoon

Hands & Masks

Raccoons explore with touch. It’s long been thought that ‘food washing’ was for cleanliness. Dipping ‘hands’ in water is called dousing; it stimulates nerve endings in the forepaws, giving the animal an improved ability to detect changes in pressure.


Raccoons don’t have thumbs but use both forepaws to manipulate objects, like hands. Their forepaws have concentrations of mechanoreceptor cells similar to primates and humans.

Since the animal is nocturnal and thought to be colorblind, it makes sense that it interprets the world through touch.

The mask, a stripe of dark fur surrounding the eyes, maximizes night vision by blocking glare.

Intelligence

Raccoons are omnivores; they’ll eat anything. Scientists believe that this characteristic, as with humans, contributes to their extraordinary intelligence.

A raccoon is a relentless problem solver, passing learning along to their young. As people attempt to keep them out, raccoons adapt, becoming smarter in the process.

In 1907, H.B. Davis published a raccoon intelligence study in The American Journal of Psychology. Twelve raccoons were given a series of locks to crack. He presented the test subjects with 13 puzzles to solve. Their success rate was nearly 85%.

“The learning curves for the raccoons and Kinnaman’s monkeys… seem to show a nearly equal facility in learning to undo fasten-ings.”

“Test of the raccoon’s powers of retention show that skill in undoing simple fastenings once learned remains practically undiminished…”

Breeding & Raising Young

  • Mating Season – January and June
  • Females mature and can reproduce at about one year
  • Two – five kits are common per litter, born in spring
  • Females separate from others to raise young.
  • Mothers teach kits by example
  • Kits remain with mother between 13-14 months
  • Raccoons in tree cavities & burroughs – keeping up to 20 den sites at one time

Factoids

  • Full grown = up to 23 pounds
  • Adult male = boar
  • Adult female = sow
  • Young = kits
  • Lifespan = wild – 2 – 3 years, captivity 20 years

Predators

In the wild bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, great horned owls, and red-tailed hawks pose threats.

In urban environments, infection, disease, and cars are the major causes of death

Differing Interactions with Humans

Raccoons in the wild are shy around humans, avoiding them when possible.

Urban raccoons will approach them looking for handouts.

Highly adaptable, raccoons are able to easily navigate living in urban environments. Food sources (pet and bird feeding stations and garbage day) are plentiful and they’ll den in attics and abandoned buildings. Raccoons understand traffic patterns and travel on roofs and fence tops.

 

Becoming Invasive

Germany
In 1934 a forester released a pair of raccoons to “enrich the fauna” for hunting. In 1945, twenty-five raccoons escaped from a fur farm after an air strike. Since then, the raccoon population in Germany has grown tremendously.

 

German raccoon population increase

Raccoons are now considered an invasive species.  A  zero tolerance policy is in place. Over 10,000 raccoons are trapped and killed in Germany per year.

Japan
Rascal the Raccoon anime show appeared in the 1970s. As a result, children wanted pet raccoons. At one time, over 1,500 raccoons were imported per month. When keeping them became difficult, many were released in the forest.

Today, raccoons cause hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to ancient, irreplaceable buildings and temples. Raccoons have spread to most regions in the country. Japan prohibits raccoon imports.

Problem Prevention

To discourage denning on or near property;

• Securely close trash containers
• Don’t leave pet food outside
• Remove bird feeders
• Eliminate water sources and ornamental fish
• Cover outdoor sandboxes when not in use
• Keep brush cleared
• Eliminate access to attics, basements, and barns

Raccoon Voiding Spots and Latrines

Wilderness raccoons prefer to poo at the base of trees, on horizontal surfaces, on large rocks or in raised tree forks. Undigested seeds are often visible.

In urban areas, they’ll go on rooftops, decks, woodpiles, and in attics, haylofts, and in garages.

A raccoon latrine is a communal defecation area used by multiple raccoons.

1940s advertisement

Feces Spread Disease

  • Fungal Spores
  • Parasitic raccoon roundworm- causes neurologic damage and possible death: eggs are temperature resistant and can become airborne when dry
  • Giardia
  • Leptospirosis – contact with open wounds

Above is a list of some of the infectious diseases carried by raccoon feces. They can also be spread through contact with urine, saliva, bites and scratches.

 

Communal Food

Because food sources attract a variety of animals, disease can spread. Infectious raccoons may appear healthy. When a disease moves from a raccoon to a cat, dog, or human, it can be more challenging to combat.

Feces Clean-Up

Prepare for cleaning by protecting your airways (mucous membranes) and skin.

• Wear disposable gloves and rubber boots (or disposable booties that cover shoes)
• Wear an N95-rated respirator (hardware store)
• Plan to burn or sterilize gear when finished

Outdoor Latrine Cleaning

• Use a shovel (or inverted bag) to collect feces and contaminated material. Bury or burn. If placing in the trash, double bag and secure to protect landfill workers
• Roundworm eggs are chemical resistant. High heat will kill them. Cover feces with boiling water or blast with a propane torch
• Use boiling water to disinfect shovel blades and deck surfaces
• Burn or boil and disinfect protective gear
• Wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Launder clothing with hot water and detergent

Indoor Latrine Cleaning

  • Lightly mist area with soapy water in a spray bottle to avoid stirring up dust
  • Collect and dispose of feces as listed above
  • Use a bucket of hot, soapy water and a damp sponge to wipe down the area
  • Rinse sponge frequently
  • Flush contaminated water down the toilet
  • Disinfect the bucket with boiling water
  • Burn or boil and disinfect protective gear
  • Wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water
  • Launder clothing with hot water and detergent

 

Editor’s Note:

Apart from post titles, I endeavor to present Deer Creek topics objectively from multiple angles, using reliable sources. While the Center for Disease Control says, “human infections are rare,” I think a cautionary note is valuable.

As more people spread into wild areas, animals with the ability to live in urban areas join us. Our structures, pets, feeding stations and trash fulfill their hierarchy of needs. As a result, species whose paths would rarely cross are ‘meeting at the grocery store,’ creating opportunities for infectious organisms.

There are valid reasons behind the statement, “don’t feed wild animals.”

Below are several worst-case scenarios illustrating those reasons.

Danger of Disease

Raccoon Feeding Results

 Attic Horror Story

click on image to view more Life on the Creek art

If you liked this post, you might also like, Bobcat – Susceptible to Rat Poison

 

Resources:

Average Outdoorsman – Raccoon Sounds

Centers for Disease Control – Parasites – Baylisascaris infection

Centers for Disease Control – Racoon Latrines: Identification and Clean-up [PDF]

Centers for Disease Control – Healthy Swimming – Raccoons and Pools

Gold Country Wildlife Control

Harper College – Animal Scat photos

Inside & Outside Latrines

LIVE Science – Facts about Racoons

Mental Floss – Rodent, or NOT a Rodent

Mental Floss – 10 Clever Facts About Raccoons

Northern Woodlands – Raccoons: It’s All In The Hands

Oxford Research Encyclopedia – Animals in Latin American History

PBS – Racoon Fact Sheet

Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management – Infectious Diseases of Racoons [PDF]

Wikipedia – Raccoon

Wildlife Animal Control – How to Get Rid of Raccoons in the Attic, House, Yard

 

North American Beaver – Water Banker

History

In 1805, Lewis and Clark saw beaver dams “extending as far up those streams as [we] could discover them.” Even before the famous explorers, French trappers and traders were drawn to the land teeming with beaver.

The beaver is North America’s largest rodent. Its pelt is waterproof and has a double layer of insulation making it highly desirable for human use. At the height of pelt demand, some estimates claim that between 60-400 million animals were taken.

Fortunately, we have beavers living along Deer Creek!

The beaver method of water retention, stream restoration, and habitat rehabilitation.

Beaver ponds and dams;

  • reduce erosion
  • act as a fire break
  • slow water movement through a watershed, replenishing the water table, reducing the need for irrigation
  • filter nitrogen and other chemicals that cause algae blooms resulting in oxygen-deprived dead zones
  • retain sediments, increasing watershed biodiversity

Ponds volume keeps water temperatures cool, necessary for certain fish species

Discord Between Beavers and People

  • beaver may eat landscape plants and trees within 165 feet of the water’s edge
  • water pooling on the land will expand
  • roads and structures may flood
  • dams plug culverts and drains
  • animals and wildlife are attracted to the habitats beavers create

In 2017, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service killed 81 beavers in California.

Beaver Problem Remediation

  • install a pond flow device, limiting water rise, eliminating flooding
  • choose landscape plants that beaver don’t eat
  • choose plants that resprout after a beaver visit
  • keep landscape plants distant from the water source

Barrier methods;

  • wrap large trees with 3 ft. high galvanized welded wire fencing or multiple layers of chicken wire
  • paint tree trunks with sanded paint ( mix 2/3 cup masonry sand per quart of latex paint)
  • surround groups of trees/ shrubs with 3 ft. high fencing strong enough to withstand a 60 lb animal pushing on it or attempting to  get under it
  • apply and reapply deer and big game repellent

Diet and Behavior

Nocturnal and non-hibernating, beavers eat plants; leaves, bark twigs, trees, willow, cottonwood and other deciduous trees. They’ll also eat garden plants if given the chance.

Pairs may mate for life but are not always monogamous. Kits are born between April and June, remaining with their parents for two years. A beaver colony usually consists of a breeding pair and several generations of their kits.

A full grown beaver can grow up to 60 pounds. (Fossil records show that they once reached 300 lbs!) Their lifespan in the wild is between 5 – 10 years.

Spending most of their time in the water, beavers have few predators. When on land, they are most vulnerable. Predators include; man, wolves, coyote, mountain lion, bears, bobcats, and dogs.

The Beaver Butt Thing – Castoreum

Aside from fur, trappers learned of another beaver special quality; castor glands, located near the anus, smell vanilla sweet. Castoreum is secreted with urine to mark territory. One can’t help imagining the very first gland discovery. A mountain man noticed it while taking the animal apart. To verify, he needed a close-and-personal secondary sensory test. Enthusiastic conversations between trappers spread the news and began a new industry.

Castoreum, a thick, syrup-like ooze was used in the perfume industry, starting in the 1800’s, to enhance other scents and increase their longevity.

“The United States, the Food and Drug Administration lists castoreum extract as a generally recognized safe (GRAS) food additive. … While it is mainly used in foods and beverages as part of a substitute vanilla flavor, it is less commonly used as a part of a raspberry or strawberry flavoring.” Wikipedia

Despite Castoreum’s listing with the FDA, it was never a substance in wide use. Anesthetizing and milking beavers was time-consuming and costly.

[Castoreum should not be confused with Castor, as in Castor Oil, which is a plant.]

Beaver Adaptations

  • continuously growing incisors
  • an insatiable need to build at the sound of water
  • tail functions as extra leg while on land
  • a mouth valve that keeps water out while carrying/floating a tree or branch
  • ear valves with the same function
  • back of throat valve – ditto
  • nostril valves – ditto
  • nictitating membrane covers eyes underwater acting like goggles
  • tail slaps on water warn of danger
  • hind foot has a split toenail used as a comb
  • fur is waterproof, treated with an oily substance
  • intestinal bacteria ferment cellulose to digest plant matter — this is why castoreum smells so good!

California Native & Aquatic Keystone Species

The National Geographic Society describes a keystone species as an organism that helps define an entire ecosystem. Without its keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether.

 

If you liked this post, you may also like, Singing Coyote – the Ultimate Adaptor.

Resources:

Bay Nature – For beaver believers salvation lies in a once-reviled rodent

Beavers: 8 things to know about nature’s most impressive landscape engineers

Dispatch – USDA fights endless battle of wits with ingenious beavers

Bridge Creek (Oregon) Beaver Dam Analog Steelhead Restoration (2004-2020)

Climate Change | Beavers Help Battle Ongoing Drought

Eager Beaver author, Ben Goldfarb Radio Interview.

KCRA Beaver Problem

Martinez Beavers.org

Mental Floss – A Brief History of Castoreum, the Beaver Butt Secretion Used as Flavoring

Nature World News – (Beaver) Dams Help Remove Nitrogen From Estuaries and Restore Streams | 2015

National Geographic – Beaver Butts Emit Goo Used for Vanilla Flavoring

National Geographic – Beavers Have Vanilla-Scented Butts and More Odd Facts

National Geographic – Beavers —Once Nearly Extinct—Could Help Fight Climate Change

National Park Service – Beaver

New York Post – Distillery has new bourbon flavored by beaver secretion

New York Times |2017 – Beavers Emerge as Gents of Arctic Destruction

NOAA Fisheries – Working with Beaver to Restore Salmon Habitat

NOAA – Working with Beaver to Restore Salmon Habitat

Science Magazine | 6/7/18 – Beaver dams without beavers? Artificial logjams are a popular but controversial restoration tool – rebeavering Bear Valley (an hour north of Redding)

Smithsonian’s National Zoo – Beaver

Spokane Lands Council – Beaver Solution

Time Magazine – The True History Behind Idaho’s Parachuting Beavers

USDA – 2017 California Animals Killed Report

USDA – How to Keep Beavers from Plugging Culverts [PDF]

USDA – Mountain Beaver Damage and Management

Washington Dept. Fish and Wildlife  – Beavers

Wikipedia – Beaver in the Sierra Nevada

Wikipedia – California Fur Rush

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warning! Video below shows animal butchering – Beaver Castor Gland Removal