Tree Shapes

Why Do Trees Do What They Do?

A few examples of odd tree shapes. Some trees bend out over a hiking trail while others prefer to stay straight. An extreme example of bending is found on the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park. No idea what caused this. Then we have this example of branch “explosion.” Was it a result of the top of the tree being trimmed? If so, what provoked huge right angle limbs to jut out of this tree in the park near Cannon Beach Oregon? And talk about long term relationships – check out this Douglas-fir/Cedar couple. And here’s a unique example of triplets. A huge Douglas-fir split into a pair of enormous trees joined together at the trunk with an oak tree. Why?

Ever since I read the book about the secret life of trees I’ve become more and more aware of these very large and very obvious organisms. Living in the Northwest the first and most difficult thing to ignore about our trees is their size. Douglas-firs, Cedars, Hemlocks, and even our maples are huge. Growing to over 300 feet high with trunks of 10 feet in diameter or more, and life spans lasting hundreds of years, the Douglas-fir (hyphenated in scientific literature because it not actually a fir tree) is our size giant. The tallest Douglas-fir on record in the Olympic forest is 326 feet high. Not far behind is a Sitka Spruce at 305 feet and a Western Hemlock at 241 feet. That’s a lot of lumber! Astonishing to look at indeed, and knowing that the tree built itself to this gigantism by pulling molecules out of dirt adds to the astonishment. But their shape can be just as intriguing. Most of the coniferous species seem to grow with the vertical determination of a fired missile. Looking at them you’d swear you could place a carpenter’s level alongside the trunk and the bubble would be perfectly centered. Then there are some that twist and bend in bizarre angles. While most seem to prefer a solo life keeping some distance between themselves and their neighbors, some bloom like twins and triplets, and even keep company with other trees species. This is not confined only to the coniferous species, of course. I’m sure that within every tree species on earth there are examples of odd, even weird, morphological individuality. The question is why?

References:

Oregon Forest Resources Institute

Article by Arthur Lee Jacobson

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Young Orca Dies of Malnutrition

But I thought we had just released several hundred thousand salmon into Puget Sound

Resident Orca Dies from Apparent Malnutrition

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Domesticated Animals and Livestock of the World

I attended the Washington State Fair on Labor Day and did something I have not done in quite a while – I visited the livestock exhibits. Anyone who reads my entries here understands my fascination for wildlife; farm and domestic animals are not generally topics that especially grasp my enthusiasm. But the fair was in town and I had the urge to check out the livestock. They are animals, after all, and I love all of them. What I saw was eye opening and extraordinarily interesting. From chinchillas to draft horses the number and variety of animals on display was amazing.

 The immense size of the Belgian draft horse was a surprise to say the least. Weighing in at over one ton and 17 “hands” high (68 inches from ground to around the base of the animal’s neck) these are magnificent animals. If you can’t afford an elephant get yourself a draft horse. It’s the next best thing! At the other end of the size scale were the pigeons. No, they certainly can’t match the equines for sheer bulk but the variety and exotic appearance of these birds was a surprise. I did a bit of research on the different breeds of domestic animals and livestock in the world and produced the table below. Opinions vary, however, so your own investigation may well produce different numbers. The primary point, though, is indisputable – mankind has manipulated a LOT of variation from the original wild stock. So far sheep old the record.

Animal Type

Number of Breeds

Source

Dogs

190

American Kennel Association

Cats

58

International Cat Association (opinions from other sources range from 44 to 73)

Goats

210

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Sheep

1000

Sheep101.info (website)

Horse

350

Weber Training Stables

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Cows

281 Oklahoma State University
Rabbits 48

American Rabbit Breeders Association

Donkeys

17 The Donkey Sanctuary

Pigs

73

The Pig Site

Pigeons 78

The American Pigeon Museum

Chickens

73 American Poultry Association
Ducks 23

American Poultry Association

Turkeys

7 varieties American Poultry Association
Geese 12 breeds/16 varieties

American Poultry Association

Large Fowl

57/150 varieties

American Poultry Association

Bantam Breeds 67/200 varieties

American Poultry Association

Mule Deer Showing its Stuff

Just in case you ever wondered why its called a Mule Deer. Get a load of them ears!

Limpets and Chitons and Crabs – And More (a lot more)!

I never fail to be overwhelmed at the incredible explosion of life energy generated by our planet earth. Astrophysicists, NASA scientists, and journalists get ecstatic at the slightest hint of the merest resemblance of life on other planets while here at their very feet is a daily and astounding eruption of life. To get a feeling for the incredible abundance of life supported by our planet look no further than the seashore. Right there at your feet is an explosion of life almost difficult to grasp if you stop to give it some thought. Twice each day when the tide rolls in and out, especially in the spectacular Northwest fashion, an enormous number of animals quietly and secretly live out their lives in perfect harmony with this aquatic rhythm.

Two of these unique creatures are chitons and limpets. Both chitons and limpets are members of the gigantic mollusk family, a phylum of animals that includes species from octopuses to land snails. With over 50,000 species described so far, molluscs are the 2nd largest group of invertebrate animals on the planet, exceeded in number only by the arthropods. Although they appear somewhat similar chitons and limpets are two different classes of the mollusc phylum. Chitons are members of the class Polyplacophora. Highly adapted for life on rocky surfaces in the intertidal zone chitons are distinguished by their low profile ellipsoid shape. They cling to hard surfaces with structures called a foot and girdle and feed on algae and other tiny organisms they acquire by scraping the surface just as a snail does using radula.

Limpets on the other hand, on the other rock actually, belong to a class of molluscs called Gastropods. This is the largest group of molluscs comprising of over 30,000 species to date. There are surely others to be discovered. Limpets are identifiable by their conical, symmetrical shell and pronounced pinnacle unlike the flat shells of the chitons. If you were turn a limpet over you would see a very snail like body underneath. And like their snail relatives they cling to the surface via a large “foot.” Our Northwest species breathe through a single gill that protrudes from the left side of the limpet’s body and extends to the right side of the animal. The round shell of the limpet overhangs the animal’s hidden body thus allowing a constant flow of water over the gill.

From left to right: Mask Limpet, Dogwinkle Snail, Mossy or Hairy Chiton

Closely associated in habitat with limpets and chitons are snails. Snails seem to have decided that the best shell design is a hybrid of chiton and limpet – spherical and conical and extended. Unlike their molluscan cousins, however, snails are a bit more extroverted in habit and prefer to get out of the confines of their calcified home for extended periods, although you probably won’t see this extroverted side of their nature in marine species when exposed to low tide.

Crustaceans, however, best the chitons and limpets in number and activity on many of our beaches. Flip over a rock or piece of driftwood on our shores and you are liable to see dozens of cute little shore crabs scattering about. In my experience the purple shore crab and the little, green hairy shore crab are the most numerous of the 25 species we host. But look a little closer and that tiny snail like shell you see might be housing one of our three hermit crabs.

From left to right: Lined Crab (the most beautiful of the shore crabs), Kelp Crab, Purple Shore Crab, Red Rock Crab

For sheer numbers, however, barnacles take the prize. Coating seashore rocks like living wall paper these abundant crustaceans are exclusively marine animals. They are also the only sessile (non-moving) crustacean so don’t expect to observe a lot of activity with these animals unless you view them underwater while feather like cirri whip food into their mouth. And yes they do have a mouth. Making their home on rocks, driftwood, coral, and even living whales, barnacles easily number into the billions upon billions and are extremely successful animals.

In this article I have only mentioned the sea shore wildlife you are most likely to encounter. I have not gone into eels, worms, nudibranchs, anemones, jellyfish, isopods, amphipods, sand dollars, sponges, fish, or the variety of vegetative and microscopic life near the sea shore. My intent in this piece was not to detail every creature of the shore imaginable but simply to impart the sense of wonder at astounding life this earth supports – and just on the shore! It is miraculous indeed. For more photos of these beautiful animals go here: Northwest Seashore.

And when you’re done marveling at the abundant life of the shore line turn around and gaze at the forests behind you. Those beautiful trees are an explosion of earth life, too.

In a Toad’s Eye  /  Reptiles and Amphibians of Afghanistan

Angry Heron

In a Toad’s Eye  /  Reptiles and Amphibians of Afghanistan

Pic of the day. This heron got a little upset with the sea gulls crowding the beach.

 

Wildlife News

Bat bat news. This is happening in Washington, too:  Bat Plague

Scary Orca news: But not in Puget Sound: Killer Whale Attacks Fishing Boat

Quick Guide to Common Western Wasps

In a Toad’s Eye  Reptiles / Amphibians of Afghanistan

Paper Wasps, Polistes aruifer, construct open to the air cellular type nests. The Bald Faced Hornet, Dolichovespula maculate, makes a round, classic looking hive that can become quite large if left undisturbed. The Western Yellow Jacket, Vespula penslyvanica, finds a home underground, normally in an old rodent burrow or something similar. Another distinguishable characteristic of the Yellow Jacket wasp is a head completely outlined in yellow.

As the weather heats up here in the Northwest you are sure to notice a sudden abundance in bees and wasps. In general bees are not nearly as aggressive as wasps and are easily recognized by their distinctly different body shapes. Bees are round bodied, hairy insects specifically designed for maximum collection of pollen. Wasps have longer, streamlined, naked bodies and tend to feed on other insects, and even carcasses of dead animals. They also display a notably more cantankerous disposition than bees. It’s this difference in attitude that makes wasps fairly unwelcome visitors while you’re out and about enjoying the summer sun.

Topping the list in aggressive behavior is the Yellow Jacket. These easily irritated insects nest in underground lairs, often in old rodent holes. So if you notice some buzzing insects that seem to pop out of the ground – watch your step. It could very well be a nest of Yellow Jackets. Under the eaves of your homestead you are likely to see two other common members of the wasp family, Bald Faced Hornets and Paper Wasps. Neither of these species have a particularly aggressive disposition but they will vigorously defend their real estate if sufficiently provoked. As noted by Arthur Evans in the National Wildlife Federation “Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America,” the names of these wasps are a bit confusing considering the nests they build. Bald Faced Hornets build large globular nests that much more resemble paper than the open faced cellular nests of Paper Wasps.

So there is your quick guide to wasp identification. Now the next time you hear somebody lump all of these insects together as Yellow Jackets you’ll be able to make an on the spot correcting (if necessary, of course).

Animal Books You Will Enjoy

In a Toad’s Eye

This one is fiction but fiction based in truth. A series of short stories each based on an actual event with an animal or animals as the inspiring muse. I like to call it the confluence of Wild Kingdom and the Twilight Zone with a generous dose of humor. Available in e-book format and hard cover.

Reptiles and Amphibians of Afghanistan

Non-fiction and loaded with high quality photographs of herp species of Afghanistan taken in country by the author. Includes species description, location, and behavioral account of the encounter when discovered. Includes some rare photos of the Afghan Skittering Frog. Available in e-book format and hard cover.

Oregon Invaded Again

This time with Sea Pickles of all things:

SEA PICKLES INVADE NORTHWEST WATERS