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.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ohio Collecting Day 1: Marietta

My first collecting day in Ohio took place near Marietta, on a trail system I've walked many times. It's where I learned to identify many spring wildflowers and hunted for morel mushrooms, so I already knew where to find areas with good millipede habitat. In particular, I was searching for an unknown millipede that was found there last fall.

I arrived a little after 2 PM on June 18th, and the weather was in the high 70s/low 80s. A nice perk of hunting for millipedes is that I'm in forests most of the time, so I was shaded from the heat and enjoyed quite nice temperatures. The forest composition was mostly maple and beech, with some oak, sweet gum, and other deciduous trees thrown in.

The first area I walked through was a bit dry, so I checked a moist crevice at the bottom of a maple tree and found my first species: Oxidus gracilis, the greenhouse millipede (above photo). Unfortunately, this is an introduced species from Asia, found throughout the United States. The individual in the lower right is an immature specimen, as evidenced by its lighter color.

I continued on, stomping through overgrown grasses and shrubs, searching for the unmaintained path I remembered being there last Spring. Visiting it in Summer was a very different experience.

Though my quarry was millipedes, I took some time to notice what else was around. This is one of my favorite flowers, blooming from Blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium. If you squint, you can even see one of my most hated plants in the background, Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), a terrible invasive.

Also hanging around was Geina periscelidactylus, known as the Grape Plume Moth. The plume moths are an interesting family, and one which I don't know much about.

After some rooting through the leaf litter, I uncovered what I was looking for! The above photo is of Apheloria virginiensis corrugata, also known as the cherry millipede. The scale bar shows inches. If you look closely, you can see some condensation on the millipede, a side effect of living in its moist microhabitat. Most millipedes can't close their spiracles (the holes on the sides of their body they breathe through), so dehydration is a constant danger. It's why you don't find many millipedes in dry areas. You can also see some mites walking on its back, which like to hitch a ride.

Nearby, I found this millipede. It's the same species, but it has recently molted. They don't get their deep black color until they mature a bit.

The above two photos show another Xystodesmid millipede found in the leaf litter, and the unknown species I was looking for! It seems to be in the genus Nannaria, and both photos show a female, which are tan with peach highlights on the paranota and collum.

At this point, all the other millipedes I found were icing on the cake. Luckily, I love icing and found many more millipedes. But first I had to pass this:

I only fell through it twice. It was only my right foot, but still. I then found out the metal parts of the bridge were sturdier to walk on.

Once past the bridge, I found a number of millipedes in the genus Abacion. They're known as the crested millipedes, due to the series of longitudinal crests on their back. Ohio has three species, but they're not separable from photos. Abacion is probably the fastest millipede in Ohio, and is also quick to release its chemical defenses. They tend to make your hands smelly for a number of hours.

I stopped at a dead log and pulled it open, and another millipede greeted me.

The American millipede, Narceus americanus, Ohio's largest millipede. It can grow to about 5 inches long and has a long lifespan, up to 2 years. This one wasn't cooperating for photos and decided it would rather dig deeper into its log, where it munches on the dead wood and fungi within.

All in all, I collected seven species, which wasn't a bad haul. There are certainly more that I missed, but it was a good start to my collecting trip, and I had a nice hike. In my next post, I'll have photos from my second collecting day, which took place near Chillicothe.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The great Ohio collecting trip of '14

I've just returned to Arkansas after 3 weeks of sampling in Ohio for millipedes, in what was a very fruitful collecting trip. The trip was funded with a grant from the Ohio Biological Survey, and I was able to find many of the species I was after.

A series of posts about some of the places I went will follow in the coming weeks, as will an account of my adventures. Currently I'm still recovering from the trip (not to mention the 10 hour drive yesterday), so writing will come into full swing as my energy returns. I'll also be recounting my experience at Mothapalooza, which was a lot of fun.

Traveling, grad school life, and some other personal stuff has kept me from blogging as much as I'd like, so I'll try to use my Ohio trip as a springboard for more posts soon. That will help me remember more of my trip, and act as a nice compendium of my exploits from the past few weeks.

I was able to outrun storms, survive nearly being run off the highway by an inattentive driver, grit my teeth through the stinging nettle, and deal with the tediousness of bad collecting days to end up with a few boxes of millipedes. All in all, it was a good collecting trip, and I was able to visit some of Ohio's most beautiful places. Now to sift through the samples, catalog their records and the photographs I took, and clean up the mess I brought back to my apartment!

As a teaser, here are three species of Xystodesmids from Cantwell Cliffs in the Hocking Hills of Ohio.