The Eww Factor, 01-29-21

I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a much-needed walk around 7:30 am. I was hoping to see some fungi and was going to check out any rain puddles for signs of hairworms. So, I was going for the “eew factor”… and Nature gave me a lot of it.

The storm had downed quite a few trees in the preserve, but most of the destruction had been cleaned up already and moved off the trails. Still, there were a lot of windfall twigs that seemed to cling to my feet and worked their way up my pant legs. Creepy feeling!

Downed tree limb in the Maidu village

The first eew was finding the bodies of young squirrels that had been thrown out of their dray (squirrel nest) by the storm. They were older “pinkies”, still furless, their eyes just developing under their skin. Their little feet and tails were developing, and there were a few wispy whiskers poking out on their faces, but otherwise they were “embryonic” looking.

I found three of them, all frozen by rigor mortis, their bodies colder than the air.  I listened for heartbeats and breathing, but there was nothing. They’d just fallen too far out of their tree and been exposed to the cold for too long.  I felt sad at the sight of them -– and wondered how traumatic it must have been for their mom to have lost them all in the same night. She must have been sitting on them, trying to keep them warm, when the dray fell apart…

Then I saw what looked like a sickly wild turkey by the little observation pond. He was standing, but all curled up like his insides hurt. I took some photos of him to pass onto the park rangers, but then when I got closer, he WAS able to step away from me. He walked slowly, but everything seemed to function all right… So I don’t know if he was actually sick or just cold and alone.

What I thought was a sickly Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,huddled near the pond.

Along the trails, I found several different kinds of gooey jelly fungus –- eew — including yellow Witch’s Butter, Black Jelly Roll, Brown Ear Jelly Fungus and the little Jelly Spots.

Witch’s Butter Jelly Fungus, Tremella mesenterica

As I was looking over the Witch’s Butter, part of it still attached to the False Turkey Tail fungus which it was parasitizing, I found some pale, white long-bodied springtails and a tiny spider. Those are details I would have missed without the macro attachment to my cellphone camera.

There weren’t a lot of mushrooms out yet. I guess they need a little more time to push up to the surface. I DID find a patch of purple Blewit mushrooms, though. They’re also called “Purple Cores”. When they’re fresh, they’re lavender all over… and then lose a lot of their color. The ones I found were pretty spent already, but the caps still showed off some of their purple hue.  I also found some Yellow Fieldcaps, much smaller than the Belwits, but their color was much much brighter.

I saw a mother with two very small children with her who were looking into a very large mud puddle. They mentioned “worms”, so I stepped over –- not too close because of COVID – to see what they were looking at. In one part of the puddle was a mass of little white worms wriggling slowly.  I told the mom that they looked like pinworms to me, so she should probably keep her little kids out of that water and she said thank you.

Then she pointed out a second much larger worm in the other end of the puddle, and I was excited to see it was a hairworm (!) I know, I get jazzed by weird stuff.

Horsehair Worms are from the phylum of “nematomorphs”, and are also called hairsnakes or Gordian Worms (because they wrap themselves upon convoluted knots when they mate).

The hairworm/ Horsehair Worm was maybe ten inches long, dark, like a hair from a horse’s tail.  It was moving slowly, snake-like toward the edge of the puddle. I actually picked it up to see what it feltlike and was surprised to find that wasn’t gushy like an earthworm; it was cord-like and felt “muscular”. The skin wasn’t slimy; it felt “dry”, like a snake’s scale. I took some photos of it, and then placed it back into the water. 

Then, the Naturalist in me coming out, I explained to the mother that the hairworm wasn’t generally harmful to humans, but it parasitizes other insects. The worms lay eggs along the edges of ponds and puddles – or even swimming pools — that are ingested by insects like crickets. The larvae grow in the cricket’s body, going through several instars (molts) over the period of several weeks (or months) until it matures. Inside the cricket, the worm wraps around and around itself as it grows, filling the cricket’s body, then when it matures, the worm infects the cricket’s brain and forces the cricket toward the nearest water source – where the cricket drowns itself and dies. After the cricket dies, the adult worm emerges and seeks a mate. That got a verbal “Eeeew!” from the mom and the kids. Sometimes nature is gross-cool. Hah!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As I was going along, finding all the “eews”, I was lamenting to myself that I hadn’t seen a single deer that morning, which was unusual for that preserve. Then, along the Woodland Trail, I finally found a small herd that includes does and some yearlings, a young spike buck, and a large 4-pointer buck. They were lovey.

I walked for about 2½ hours and then headed back home. This walk was #10 in my #52HikeChallenge; a milestone! Woot!

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  3. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  4. Black Jelly Roll Fungus, Black Witches’ Butter, Exidia glandulosa
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  7. Blewit Mushroom, Purple Core, Lepista nuda
  8. Brown Jelly Fungus, Leafy Brain, Phaeotremella foliacea
  9. California Camouflage Lichen, Melanelixia californica [dark green with green or brown apothecia, on trees]
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis [overhead flight]
  13. Candleflame Lichen, Candelaria concolor
  14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  15. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  16. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  17. False Turkey-Tail, Stereum hirsutum [thin, flattish, brown underside]
  18. Frosted Rim-Lichen, Lecanora caesiorubella [white with white apothecia]
  19. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  20. Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia [hoary, brown apothecia]
  21. Hooded Sunburst Lichen, Xanthomendoza fallax [leafy, yellow-orange, on trees]
  22. Horsehair Worm, Hairworm, Phylum: Nematomorpha
  23. Jelly Spot Fungus, Dacrymyces stillatus
  24. Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii
  25. Lords and Ladies, Wild Arum, Arum maculatum
  26. Mealy Rim-Lichen, Lecanora strobilina [greenish apothecia]
  27. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  28. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  29. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  30. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri [like strap but with soredia]
  31. Pinworm, Family: Oxyuridae
  32. Plump Springtails, Superfamily: Onychiuroidea
  33. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  34. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  35. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
  36. Speckled Greenshield Lichen, Flavopunctelia flaventior
  37. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  38. Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha [without soredia]
  39. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  40. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  41. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  42. Wall Spider, Oecobius sp.
  43. Wavy-Leafed Soap Plant, Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
  44. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus         
  45. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  46. Witch’s Butter Jelly Fungus, Tremella mesenterica
  47. Yellow Fieldcap Mushroom, Bolbitius titubans