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Biocap 11/5

This is the Biocap for 11/5/2022. This week: green frogs, jelly fungi, and beautiful photographs of a Carolina wren and a crow!

On Tuesday, while studying the Microvelia for my field project, I stumbled upon a frog sitting on a moss-covered log. Frogs, specifically members of the genus Lithobates (“one that treads on rock” in Greek), are a widespread sight throughout the woodlands of North America, especially in those with creeks running through them, like Oak Marr Park. Often, when I approach one of my study pools, I hear a bunch of kerplunks as all the frogs in the vicinity hop into the pool in fear of my footsteps. While I hear them, I rarely ever get to see them, so it was a real treat that I saw one sitting so calmly in front of my eyes.

Bending down, I snapped a few photos of it on the log and then on the stone where it swam over to. Upon uploading it to iNat, I found out it was a green frog (Lithobates clamitans), one of the most common frog species in eastern North America. Despite being called a green frog, the frog I found wasn’t that green at all. It was more of a brown color, with hints of green on the face. They come in a wide variety of color despite their name— from a vivid green to olive-colored, and some even have blue skin axanthism, a gene that prevents yellow pigments from being produced (green without yellow is just blue). It appeared to be a female frog— I could tell by looking at the size of its tympanum, a round patch of skin near their eyes. That’s the frog’s eardrum! In males, the size of their tympanum is much larger than their eye, while a female’s tympanum is about the size of their eye.

Green frogs are a versatile species— they inhabit anywhere that has a pool of water, whether it be a lake, swamp, a vernal pool (pools of water that only exist during certain times of the year), and even roadside ditches. These pools act like the frog’s home base, spending a third of their time foraging in the leaf litter, then returning to the water for refuge. You may be wondering, as I am, about their activities during the winter. After all, frogs are ectothermic creatures, meaning that they depend on external sources for heat. What happens to them during the cold months? The answer: they overwinter in the water, sitting very stilly in the liquid environments of the pools they are so often found around. It‘s a sort of hibernation. Though, the water must be highly oxygenated for them to survive.

Like all amphibians, green frogs are highly susceptible to the effects of human activity on the environment. As said above, they often live in pools created by man made means, which means the water in those pools also contains imprints of people, like runoff. Chloride in particular greatly affects these frogs: exposure to this chemical causes developmental issues and bodily disfigurations (info pulled from iNat’s page on the green frog). 43% of amphibians are threatened with extinction— more than any other class of animal.

On the same day, I also stumbled upon a peculiar form of fungus. It was a vibrant orange in color, and gelatinous in texture. The first name that popped into my mind was witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica), a common jelly fungus in Virginia. The legend is that if witch’s butter fungi starts appearing around your home, you’ve been cursed by a witch. To undo the curse, one must use a sharp object to stab the fungus until it dies. Looks like the Halloween magic is still sticking around!

Anyways, I snapped a photo of it to upload to iNat. Upon reading the suggestions, I realized this jelly fungus could also be another species that I wasn’t aware of— orange jelly spot. Orange jelly spot (Dacrymyces chrysospermus) also a kind of jelly fungus and a close mimic to witch’s butter. It’s virtually impossible to tell them apart solely by their appearance. To identify them in the field, we would have to look at our surroundings. Witch’s butter grows on hardwood, deciduous trees, while orange jelly spot grows on conifer trees that often have the bark peeling off. Additionally, witch’s butter is a parasite to the genus Stereum (shelf fungi), and is usually seen growing alongside it. Orange jelly spot is not a parasite, and it is not associated with any other fungus.

Since the fungus I found was growing on a branch with its bark peeling off, and it was growing alone, I concluded that it was most likely orange jelly spot. Unfortunately, I lost the Halloween-y name, but I gained a valuable lesson in using context clues to aid in identification!

By the way, both witch’s butter and orange jelly spot are edible. They are tasteless and regarded as “survival food”, which means you can technically pluck them right off the tree and eat them raw. Though, it‘s always a good idea to cook them. I have never eaten wild fungi before, so when I find these jelly fungi again, I might just try it!

Also, I got some really sharp photos of a Carolina Wren and an American Crow yesterday. The evening light was beautiful, and the porch railing was the perfect setup.

This is the Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), one of my favorite backyard birds. You can identify these tiny fellas by their cocked tail, decurved bill, rusty brown color, and bold white supercilium, or brow. They often hang around porches eating spiders and other critters that live in the cracks between the wood planks. The wrens in my backyard like to use the nearby growth of hydrangea bushes as shelter.

One of the most extraordinary things about wrens is their voice. They are very small birds, but they actually have one of the loudest birdsongs! It’s almost disproportionate, how loud their songs are compared to their bodies. The reason for this lies in their anatomy. Birds have a very different vocal anatomy than us— while we produce our sound from our larynx, located at the top of our windpipe, they have a syrinx, located at the bottom of the windpipe. The more complex a bird’s syrinx is, the more complex its songs can be (such as a thrush or a mockingbird). The wren has one addition to its syrinx— an air sac that surrounds it, amplifying any sound that comes out of it. That’s why they are so loud.

I was actually alerted to the wren above from his calls because they were so unmistakably loud and close! Carolina wren calls sound like a little trill, and their songs are undulating slurs that are transcribed as tea kettle, tea kettle! You can learn more at their page on All About Birds.

And here’s the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)! You all know how much I love crows. I loved how the sunlight illuminated this crow’s face and shoulder, hinting at the iridescence of the feathers while still keeping the blackness that defines it! And those claws— just wow.

Trivia question: how do you differentiate between an American and a Fish crow? It’s quite impossible to do it from looks unless you measure the wing lengths and wing chords, but what you can rely on is the calls. American and Fish crows have distinctly different calls— Fish crows are more of a nyah, nyah, nasal kind of call, while American crows have the generic caw, caw of a crow call. That is how I know the crow above is an American crow: I listened to the calls! Learn more about the calls on All About Birds.

Lastly, some bird talk:

-The Dark-eyed juncos are back in town! My backyard has been swarming with flocks of them, ever since the first ones arrived last week. It’s nice to have them back.

-Though, I have not seen many White-throated sparrows yet, which usually come in the winter alongside the juncos.

-Bluebirds have returned to my feeder as well! Usually, these birds are active through the spring and summer at my feeder, then disappear for a while during the fall, then make their reappearance in late fall/early winter. I wonder why.

That is it for 11/5’s Biocap! Signing off, Amber.


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