Monday, April 30, 2007

"Will You Walk Into My Parlor?"

Sorry for such a late post. I don’t have any good excuses; I’ve just been slacking. A few weeks ago, Greg (who also suggested the Siaga Antelope) suggested an EUT for me1. I found out that its story is unavoidably attached to another Endangered Ugly Thing.
Image from Fish and Wildlife Service
Image from Fish and Wildlife Service

This is the suggested animal, the Kauai Cave Amphipod (Spelaeorchestia koloana). It’s a blind, terrestrial, shrimp-like crustacean that inhabits the small caves formed by gas escaping through the Hawaiian lava2. It lives happily on the detritus to be found in those caves. The Kauai Cave Wolf Spider (Adelocosa anops) inhabits the same habitat, except it lives happily on the Cave Amphipods to be found there. They’re only found in about five different locations on the island of Kauai, most of which are on private property.

Everyone seems to find it strange that the government would protect both a predator and its main prey item. Someone even did a cartoon on it, and, quite frankly, I don’t often see people trying to anthropomorphize blind amphipods. Or amphipods of any kind.

Look, it’s not that strange. The Kauai Cave Amphipod is not endangered because the Kauai Cave Wolf Spider eats it. The amphipod has had millions of years to evolve defenses against the spider. They’re both endangered because of Hawaii’s3 rapid development. Y’know, paving over the lava, agriculture, and heavy use of insecticides for invasive species control (and other less noble goals). Protection is just starting, as they only got added to the list in 2003, though they’ve been working on restoring the caves since 1995.

1Please, please, please keep sending in those suggestions. It makes life so much easier for me.
2Yes, I know I just wrote about a Hawaiian EUT. See above footnote.
3I’m trying to decide if “Hawai’i’s” would look weird. Yeah it does.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I'm So Blue

I decided to look through the Ohio list to see if I could find anything of specific interest1. I realized that I hadn’t written about any fish for a while (though it seems I was on a bit of a fish-kick at the beginning). While in the fish section, I came across this blue sucker.

Image from Nature's Images Inc.
Image from Nature's Images Inc.

This is the Blue Sucker (Cycleptus elongatus), who populates fast moving streams in fast-moving Midwestern streams and rivers, mostly in the Mississippi river basin. Their mouth is the really disturbing bit: a pink, wart-covered maw used to suck up benthic aquatic invertebrates and some vegetative material. Their streamlined bodies (the elongatus part) and sickle-shaped dorsal fin help them manage their high-speed habitat. Spawning is fairly straightforward, occurring in spring and summer in deep rapids. The eggs are sticky, so they won’t immediately wash downstream.

It’s a freshwater species, so, like the Wartyback, the Lake Sturgeon, the Ohio Lamprey, the Eastern Hellbender, and the Queensland Lungfish, the Blue Sucker has a problem with dams2. In the sucker’s case, they’re built for fast-paced life, which is taken away by those concrete constructions3. Silt build-up is a by-product of dams that also isn’t too helpful, along with pollution draining into the rivers. Oh, and, they’re tasty, which is not a good thing for a fish trying to survive, as overfishing probably started the decline in the first place.

There’s good news for our azure friends: their numbers are increasing. Not, apparently, up to what they were pre-European, but they’re certainly on the rise. People who have never seen them before are reporting more and more. The reason given for this? The pollution levels are decreasing, and the Blue Suckers are finding alternative places to spawn. The fact that fishing them has been illegal since the ‘70s probably isn’t hurting.

1The Lake Erie Water Snake is on there, and I was considering writing about it, since it recently appeared on an episode of Dirty Jobs, along with someone I have worked with.
2Hydroelectric isn’t looking as good as it used to, is it?
3You’ve heard this one, but:
What did the fish say when it ran into the brick wall?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Maxwell's Silver Sword

My parents just came back from a cruise in Hawai’i1, and I felt compelled to ask if they found any exciting wildlife. They had, in fact, found a plant with this blog in mind. Instead of saddling Florabot with this one, I figured I’d write my first plant post.

Image from Dad
Image by Dan Yaussy

The Hawaiian Silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense) is a spiky, once-flowering relative of asters and sunflowers. There are two subspecies, the Halekala Silversword (ssp. macrocephalum), shown above, and found on Maui, and the Mauna Kea Silversword (ssp. sandwicense), which is found on that mountain on the Big Island. There are some differences between the subspecies. This means, that to tell which one you’re looking at, it helps to have a botanist and a dichotomous key.

The Silversword gets its name from the sharp, sword-like leaves that are covered with silvery hairs. These hairs reflect the hot Hawaiian sun, cooling down the plant, and the bristly leaves protect the center from predation. They grow on the sides of volcanoes with very shallow roots. They spend fifteen to fifty years growing as a short, sharp rosette, and then send a single stalk up to nine feet high with fifty to six hundred flowers2, set seed, and die.

Since the roots are so shallow, goats, sheep, and cattle easily uproot this plant when trying to eat it. Other invasive species, like Argentine ants, are also causing problems. Hikers can accidentally do same, or intentionally. Apparently, hikers used to pick them as proof they climbed the mountains where they grow. There’s no information on when “used to” was.

Lots of people are working on saving this prickle-ball. For example, people at the University of Arizona are currently working on making sure the Mauna Kea Silverswords don’t become terribly inbred after only a few were saved in the late ‘70s. Also, better signage and visitor education has helped remove some threats.

1I suppose I really can’t complain.
2They’re fairly small flowers.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Lazy Boy

Sorry about the lack of post this weekend. Easter at Grandmom's and massive finals next week have conspired against the blog.

On the brighter side, Florabot sent me a link to this article about blind Endagered Ugly cave Things halting production of some iron mines. Read, enjoy, and I'll give you an actual post next weekend. I promise.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Might As Well Jump

Phantom Midge1 has given me a suggestion for this week’s post. The name was way out there—far enough that I knew it had to be written about. Meet the Dromedary Jumping-Slug (Hemphillia dromedarius).

Image by Kristina Ovaska from Parks Canada
Image by Kristina Ovaska from Parks Canada

Yes, you read right. Dromedary. Jumping. Slug2. It gets its name from the fact that a) it has a single hump, like camel, b) to avoid predators, it wriggles and leaps, and c) it’s a slug. It hails from British Columbia, Canada (and a small bit of Washington), and is the first EUT from the Canadian list, on which it is listed as threatened. The Dromedary Jumping-Slug is not the only jumping-slug in existence, in fact, the Warty one (Hemphillia glandulosa) is listed as “of special concern” on the Canadian list.

There is not a lot of information about this slug. It only got added to the list in ’03. In fact, none of the sites I’ve found even mention what it eats, though I’m guessing leaves and the like. The Jumping-Slug’s predators (that which it jumps away from) include: carnivorous beetles, other gastropods, rodents, and birds. The Dromedary Jumping-Slug, like most slugs, is hermaphroditic, which leads to some pretty interesting mating rituals3.

Habitat fragmentation and loss is the major threat to our leaping friends. They can’t move very far, so any fragmentation is a problem. Fragmentation also makes it easier for predators to reach them. Conservation is just starting out, but they’re certainly working on it.

Edit: Yes, it's almost a year after I published this, but I was just given a link to video that shows exactly how these slugs "jump".

1Since she doesn’t have a blog, I’ll link to her sister, which seems only fair, since she linked to me.
2Yes, I know it’s silly, but I couldn’t help but think of a Dromedary-Jumping slug—that is, a slug that specifically leaps over one-humped camels.

3Here’s a video of (leopard) slug sex. I promise, it’s cool. And not nasty.