The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Category Archives: Myriapoda (Millipedes and Centipedes)

Weirdness in the woods

So three days ago, the dogs and I were doing our usual tour of the woodlot across the way from our home. It’s a mix of grown-over old field, and of white pine and cedar plantations.  We got to the cedar section, which used to include part of a skidoo trail; the old winter hut is still there but in shambles. I had it in my head that I would keep an eye out for neat mushrooms (the bit of rain we’ve had lately has brought forth some beauties) so I was focusing on old stumps and fallen trees.  I spotted something interesting – not a mushroom, but a pair of giant millipedes on a stump! Yay!

I approached quickly in hopes of snapping a pic or two but soon realized there was no need for stealth or speed – the critters were dead, frozen in a weird tableau.

I picked both of them up for a closer inspection; yep, dead – not just simply molted exuviae. Huh. Odd.

We carried on down the path another dozen metres or so, still looking for mushrooms, and it quickly became apparent that we were literally surrounded by death. On both sides of the path, nearly every stump was littered with millipede corpses.

I’ve walked through these little woods hundreds of times in the past 6 years and have never seen anything like this before.  I planned to go back the next day for more pictures (finally got a flash!) and to better document the situation, but work, teaching duties and my thesis proposal got in the way. By the time I got back yesterday, my fears that I might have missed my window of opportunity were confirmed: most of the evidence was gone, presumably becoming a snack for foraging birds and mammals. Of the few millipede bodies I was able to find, the two that originally caught my attention were still frozen in time on a deathbed of soft moss:

If anyone has any insight as to what on earth happened here, I would welcome it. The googles have not been very helpful…

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Dark and light

In the dark understory of a deep hardwood forest, this large, langourous millipede lazily wound its way over the very rotten stump that was its home; here it attempts to cross a bridge to nowhere.   Several companions strolled nearby, presumably in search of food. 

A ray of sunshine broke through the dense overhead cover of bare branches and warmed a patch of soft, bright green moss.  A group of diurnal fireflies basked in the glow.

Bird Sanctua…OMGSHINY

South of my home, there is a swath of land that has been designated a migratory bird sanctuary.  It provides a variety of habitats, from cattail marshes to mature hardwood forest, and boasts an impressive bird list.  There are walking trails and an interpretive centre, and it’s open year-round to visitors at no cost.   I have not spent nearly as much time poking around in it as I should since it is only a 20 minute drive from my home.   

I was working in my little home office this morning and couldn’t help but notice that it was sunny and warm and FRACKING GORGEOUS outside.  So I did what any serious, conscientious grad student would do:   I ceremoniously swept the pile of reading off my desk, grabbed my camera and binoculars and hit the road.   The sanctuary was calling me.   

(Don’t look at me like that, you know you would have done the same.) 

The St. Lawrence River demarks the southern limit of the sanctuary.  While the shoreline and small inland bodies of water are still largely frozen over, the widest parts are moving freely and welcoming our waterfowl back home for the summer.  The Canada Geese are back in droves: 

 

Yep, that’s you guys down there (you know who you are).  Heck, we’re practically neighbours! 

I spotted my first Mallard Duck pair of the season.  They were very suspicious and coy and did not appreciate the paparazzi.  The Red-winged Blackbirds have also returned; they filled the air with their cocky KONK-A-REEEEEE, and strutted about the tips of trees and cattails, all “I’m too sexy for my epaulets”.    Ring-billed Gulls screamed and circled overhead.  I could hear Killdeer crying in the distance, and watched American Tree Sparrows dance through the branches on either side of the trail.  A few Robins hopped and pecked at the softening terrain.  

I wonder what else I would have seen and heard had I walked more than 100 yards down the path.  I got distracted.  There were LOGS on the ground!  Basking in sunshine! Unfrozen!  Moveable! 

MUST….FLIP…LOGS…AND…LOOK…FOR…BUGS…. 

!!! 

I’m a slave to my entomophily.  Arthrophily.  Invertephi…whatever, you know what I mean. 

Slugs!  

 

Slug eggs!  And a millipede! 

 

Red Velvet Mite! 

 

Green Bug!  

GREEN!!!1!

Oh, wait: that’s a little plant.   That’s right folks, the first sprig of spring!  I don’t know what the heck it’s going to be (something monocot-ey that grows in groups in a little sunny opening at the edge of a forest – perhaps a day lily?), but it surely is a welcome sight.

And don’t get me started about the beetles, my friends.  Not “just” larvae, but BEETLES.    For serious.

Stay tuned.

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