Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ohio Collecting 2: Buzzard's Roost Preserve

After collecting in Marietta, I headed towards Chillicothe, Ohio, where Buzzard's Roost Nature Preserve is located. I had never been to Buzzard's Roost before, but was invited by Joe Letsche, a ranger with the Ross County Park District, to give a public program about millipedes. It was an offer I couldn't refuse--collecting millipedes AND teaching other people about them? Yes please.

So, I drove through a few storms and met Joe for a pre-millipede hunting dinner. On the way, I stopped to take some photos after the rain. Ross County has the rolling foothills of the Appalachians, which makes for a great backdrop. The following photos were taken in Londonderry, Ohio.

While the rain was great weather for millipedes, it wasn't so great for humans, and dropped our turnout a little. But we still had a half dozen people show up, and they were ready to learn. After a quick introduction to the basics of millipedes and how to look for them, we set off on the trail. The preserve was full of leaf litter and dead logs--prime millipede habitat.

Before we found any millipedes though, I spied a weird silken tube next to a log. I had a hunch about what it was, but the only way to be sure was to dig it up to see what was inside. After a minute of digging, I had unearthed a 5 inch tube of leaves and dirt held together by a lot of silk. I cut the tube open and found...

A trapdoor spider! It's in the genus Ummidia, in the family Ctenizidae, the cork-lid trapdoor spiders. The body was about an inch long, making it a formidable predator to anything that might walk by its trap. After snapping some photos, I released the spider, apologizing for messing up its home.

Hunting for millipedes in a group is almost always better than looking for them on my own, and this trip was no exception. More eyes and hands searching around means that you'll find more millipedes, and the group ended up being better at finding them than I was!

The above millipede species was an exciting find. We saw at least a dozen of them, including a few males that allowed me to identify the species with certainty. It's Pleuroloma flavipes, a widely distributed millipede throughout the eastern United States. This millipede alone made the trip worth it, and we had only been searching for ten minutes! I had never seen a living individual of this species before, and they were everywhere along the trail. 

Night started to fall as we walked along, but it didn't deter the millipedes, which are more active at night anyway. As we walked along, shining our flashlights on nearby trees, we noticed some millipedes climbing up the bark:

Another ubiquitous eastern millipede, Narceus americanus. These millipede can grow up to 4 or 5 inches long, and is among the largest in the United States. The individual in the above photo is still a juvenile though, measuring in at a little over 2 inches long. It's still got some growing to do, perhaps that's why it's chowing down on that moss.

We saw more than just millipedes on the trip: we found lots of harvestmen, ground beetles, a few frogs, and even a black widow spider in a tree hollow. Coolest of all, we came across a fairy ring of coral fungus! It was quite large, and grew alongside a moist stream bed.

Apparently the moss was delicious that night, as we came across a cherry millipede (Apheloria virginiensis corrugata) eating some on a tree trunk. This species can release hydrogen cyanide to defend itself, hence its common name--it smells quite similar to cherries. It doesn't produce enough to harm humans, though it's recommended to wash your hands after handling these millipedes. Also, don't eat it.

Another unexpected find was this millipede in the genus Cambala that Joe found. It's a thin millipede, but it sure has a lot of segments! It also has knobby crests on each segment and appears quite pink under the correct lighting. This is a millipede I don't come across very often, so I was ecstatic to finally see a living one!

Other millipedes we found included a few Julida, Scytonotus granulatus, Pseudopolydesmus, Euryurus leachii, and the introduced Oxidus gracilis, a species from Asia that can be found almost everywhere.

I'd like to thank Joe for inviting me out, and all those who joined us on the hike! Buzzard's Roost is a fantastic place, and I hope to go back and visit soon.

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