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Looking up to mushrooms

I don’t do it all the time, but if I can get under a mushroom I will. Well, not me exactly, I’m not Alice, but my camera. For these first two images I used the wider end of my 12-35mm lens. The first one was on a tripod, the second literally on the ground with sticks and the lens cap acting as shims to get the camera level. The perspective is terrific and it shows off those beautiful gills.

Surfacing

Sometimes the structures that hold and release spores are a bit different like with boletes that have an underside that looks like a sponge. I recently found out that a single mushroom can release millions of spores in a single day. They do this every day it fruits pretty much. Amazing.

Song of the woods (tylopilus pseudoscaber)

In addition to gills and pores there are also teeth. The idea of toothed fungus makes me a little giggly, but that’s how they’re categorized. This one happily turned itself inside out so I could get a peek at those teeth. I shot this with a medium telephoto because it was way inside a bunch of bushes that I had to hold out of the way to get this shot. I couldn’t tell it was a toothed mushroom until I looked at it on the computer. And the ID took a while because this is a remarkably pristine specimen. The ones in my books were ragged, dirty and stained. Just lucky I guess.

So taken (mycorrhaphium adustum)

Here’s another example of a toothed mushroom –

It’s sometimes called a hedgehog mushroom (aka Hydnum repandum) and is not only edible, but reportedly delicious. Now I know where they grow (some chanterelles conveniently nearby) I can gather them next year and have a taste. I could use my tripod to shoot that image (and many others from the down low) because I do not have the center post attached. My particular model came with one, but it is removable and so the legs splay to 90 degrees and the head touches the ground. Very handy. If you want to do a lot of this type of work either take out your center post or get a tripod that doesn’t have one to begin with.

It is occasionally a bit of work to get under a small mushroom that isn’t on a nice stump or log. Usually there are only little slopes and depressions in the forest floor, but sometimes the tripod in its lowest position is too high. In those cases I reach for my homemade beanbag camera prop. Then I can usually get low enough since it’s only a couple inches thick. I use a 1 quart ziplock bag with 2 bags of barley inside it. I’ve stuck some friction tape to one side of it to keep the camera from sliding. And, as I mentioned above, sometimes I still use sticks and/or my lens cap to shim. It’s magical when I can get so low that the foreground changes dramatically and helps me highlight only the cap, which adds a dash of mystery.

Phantom gourmet (hygrocybe punicea)

I also like the foreshortened perspective that helps to emphasize the mushroom, not where it fruits. And there’s the lovely bokeh that often comes with shooting in dappled sunlight.

Lambent (hygrocybe punicea)

In the end, there are only so many ways to shoot mushrooms, but up from under is usually a winner!

 

So what do you know about tree frogs?

Gray tree frogs (Latin name hyla versicolor) love my decks. I’ve found and photographed them for years on two different decks in states 1000 miles apart. Since they hardly ever leave the trees, it’s a privilege to have them so near. They’re wonderful and never fail to make me smile when I find one. Even when I don’t see them, but only hear that little trill, I stop to listen. As you might expect, only the males sing and they’re singing to the ladies who, like many frogs, are slightly bigger than the males. The throat sac they use to sing makes the males’ throats slightly darker than the females’.

When I first encountered them, I didn’t know they could change colors. Usually they do this to better blend in their environment.

Mostly you find them like this –

Living up to their name by being mostly gray with some bits of green, black and tan. But  I have also found them almost totally green. This one was near some leaves that had fallen on the deck that were almost the same color. The other day I found one on a dark green table with even more green washed through its skin, trying very hard not to be seen.

I love how both frogs are in similar poses. Little front feet tucked under chins.

When no green can be seen, frogs are mainly brown, black and tan. My husband found one up on the roof in NH when he was cleaning out the gutters. It was very dark brown, similar to, but even darker than the one in this next shot.

When he moved it out of the leaf litter and pine needles to the deck boards, it changed color rapidly. Within a minute or two it was lighter and showed slight traces of green –

Specialized cells in the frogs’ skins allow them to do this. Collectively they are called chromatophores. Basically they blend three types of cells in three layers of skin. First are the melanophores that contain melanin to make shades of brown. Next, in the middle, are iridophores which don’t make color, but reflect light, primarily the blue end of the spectrum. Finally, on the surface are the xanthophores responsible for producing yellow. Combining the top two layers makes green, which the frogs use to adapt their colors to their surroundings. They also change color depending on temperature tending to become lighter when it’s warm.

And speaking of temperature, these little guys literally freeze during the winter months. Like all animals that hibernate, tree frogs store fat to use during that time and immediately upon waking when they really need the fuel. Unlike most mammals though, frogs stop their hearts and breathing and literally freeze about 80% solid through the winter. Ice crystals actually form in some of their cells, but their internal organs are protected. They do this by producing high levels of glucose in their cells when it starts getting colder. This sugar concentration keeps the cells from freezing and becoming damaged as a result. Then they seek out some nice crevice in a tree or log, or deep leaf litter, and wait it out. Aquatic frogs don’t burrow in mud like turtles, but instead lie on top of it where there is more oxygen. Toads do burrow below the frost line though on land. But let’s get back to gray tree frogs.

Unless they pose weirdly or you pick them up, you might never see the orangey-yellow patches on their thighs. It’s thought they use it to confuse predators. I guess a flash of thigh will do that to a snake, not having legs at all makes them flip. You can see a peek of it here –

Ok, so let’s talk toes for a minute. Check them out! Aren’t they great? Like geckos, tree frog toes have highly specialized adaptations for climbing, but unlike geckos, tree frogs are just a little bit moist and many people think that frogs stick to things because they’re “slimy”; that it’s glue alone. Untrue. What’s really going on is this; surface tension. Under a microscope you would be able to see that each toe has hundreds of tiny wedge-shaped ridges that multiply the actual surface of the toe by many factors. This expands the amount of contact patch with whatever they touch. The friction ridges on your fingertips work in a similar way to let you grip slick, wet or slimy objects without crushing them. But the frogs’ skin goes one better, as the wedge-like ridges get into tiny irregularities on a surface, the frog secretes a substance that helps those formations work better. It is a glue in a sense, but after I’ve handled a frog, my skin isn’t sticky at all. Neither is anything else the frog has sat on. This isn’t a snail trail.

So other than that they are cute and sing so nicely, why should we keep these guys around? Well I don’t know about you, but anything that eats bugs is welcome at my house!

So the next time you see a gray tree frog, stop to marvel at what an amazing little creature it is, and let it go back to sleep. These little amphibians are mostly nocturnal and just chill during the day. What a life.

 

A medley of mushrooms

Whenever I see mushrooms the urge to photograph them is almost irresistible. I am getting better though. I don’t shoot EVERY mushroom I see. The light has to be good, the setting and the angle, too. If the shot doesn’t come together in my head, I admire and pass it by. So here are some that made the grade.

Boletellus chrysenteroides

Identifying mushrooms is tough. Mostly because they change so rapidly and any photographs are dependent on when they were taken during the fruiting body’s lifecycle. It’s crazy. I have 4 books now and sometimes I still can’t figure things out, so don’t take any of my IDs as concrete. They’re just my best conclusions based on what it was growing and the characteristics of the mushroom itself; color, shape, gill structure etc.

Fluster

These first two are boletes, a type of mushroom that has sponge-like cells instead of traditional gills and are easy to spot because of that, but it can still be tricky. I think this second one might be Austroboletus gracilis, but I’m not certain. I have my eye on a few more books that look to have fantastic photos so maybe I can get better in future.

Some mushrooms can only be positively identified under a microscope and a few kinds of russula fall into that category. This next one is probably russula emetica aka The Sickener and yeah, it’s poisonous. But it could also be russula cessans, paludosa or pseudolepida or several others that fruit on the ground, grow in similar woods and are native to North America. Crazy, but check out how similar these two mushrooms are, but different.

Little yellow waxcaps, hygrocybes, are tough to distinguish, too. These first ones I think are hygrocybe ceracea, but might not be. Whatever they are, I can’t resist shooting them. Especially in moss with bonus sporophytes!

Dance hall crashers

Dance hall crashers

This one proved irresistible to a passing slug. It was in full sun, but quickly moved to a nicer pose. I should have cranked the ISO a bit. Hard to believe a slug can move fast enough to be blurry!

And then there are the LBMs. That’s Little Brown Mushrooms. There are dozens and dozens of these and so similar that I have no idea what this little beauty is.

I found it growing inside of a dead log and did some clean up to get that shot, which I personally love because of the placement and the tilt of the cap. It seems to have a personality, which is saying a lot for a fungus.

All of my shots are cleaned up in the field to some extent. One of the most important things to remember when doing close up or macro photography at this magnification is to watch your backgrounds. Things out of your line of focus can sneak in and steal attention from your main subject. I find sticks to be really a pain. They sometimes show up as bright, light-colored lines in the background and so I remove them. Grass can do the same thing sometimes. Often I’m not even aware of them being in the shot because I’m concentrating on my main subject and they’re not critical to focus. So I use my live view screen to look at the image in 2D so I can catch these little gremlins. I also sometimes use a diffuser/reflector to either reflect light onto an image to even out shadows, or to put an object into shade that’s either in direct sun or dappled light. It’s a useful tool to have and one that isn’t heavy and doesn’t take up too much space so I bring it every time I go out.

I probably don’t even need to say it anymore, but all these images were taken with the OM 90mm f2 macro lens mounted on my Panasonic Lumix GH3. I still love this combination and that lens barely comes off the body these days!

Image

Wordless Wednesday – 9/7/16

Even tinier dudes in my yard

Last year we didn’t have furniture up on the deck except for a couple of plastic Adirondack chairs. With so many other things to do after the move, furniture was not a priority. But this year I bought a comfy couch and chairs so I end up spending more time up there. As a result I notice more and despite being really tiny, this little guy stood out –

It’s a burrower mayfly; easily identified by those big green eyeballs. The body, legs and wings are about 1/2 an inch long; the whole thing barely an inch. Here in Wisconsin we have many species of mayfly and some emerge in the hundreds of thousands; clouds so big they are captured on radar and mistaken for thunderstorms. It’s said that the massive presence of mayflies are an indication of clean water, so it’s good, but it has a downside. When they emerge en masse like that they leave behind their larvae carapaces which collect by the thousands along shorelines and docks. My shoreline. My dock. The smell was so bad that I couldn’t be outside until my husband pushed them all into the current and they were washed downstream (I tried to do it, but gagged and had to stop). I’ve come across a ripe moose carcass in the woods that smelled better. Unbelievable.

One at a time they’re pretty cool though. Mayflies are one of those species that exists for the larva stage. The adults have no mouths or other digestive organs and are basically just gonads with wings. And eyeballs. They live just days, mate and die. Their corpses are wispy, weightless things that float on the slightest breeze. I noticed several other kinds on the deck, but none were situated so nicely as this one – on my grill cover.

These next little bugs were on the deck railing just at the top of the stairs and because they herd together in a little group, they’re easy to see even though they are only about 3mm long (not including the feelers). The little stripes are so cute and so I had to grab the macro lens. I also used a 25mm extension tube so I could get even closer. They seemed to be eating the gunk that collects in the texture of the decking material. Because it’s not natural wood, I wasn’t concerned although if a bug that ate plastic did evolve, that would be a big help for us! Those two little balls in the lower right are what they look like – poop. Tiny, tiny poop.

After a bit of puzzling, an answer to what these guys are finally came from an insect ID group on Flickr.

The are Cerastipsocus venosus; commonly known as barklice or sometimes tree cattle which is hilarious because in one of my photo captions I mentioned how they herd together like cows and graze. The little group on my deck was only 10 individuals to start out with and I’m glad it wasn’t more because they do mass in the hundreds and that would have been kinda icky. A few at a time are cool though and here’s how they looked after a few days –

What I thought might be vestigial wings turned out to be just undeveloped and as they moved through the larval stage they got bigger and so did the antennae. The fully grown wings added another 2mm to the overall length, but the bodies didn’t grow. In the background of the shot up there, check out the orange spot. It’s visible to the naked eye, but I didn’t know what it was. When the critter sporting it got into a good position, I grabbed the camera again –

It’s a tiny mite; a parasite. Not sure if it’s harmful or not, but the bug itself didn’t seem to be the worse off for it. I love that you can still see the stripes through the wings.

Luckily when disturbed this little herd just froze up, allowing me to use natural light instead of having to resort to flash or very high ISO in order to keep things sharp. The last one has great light; the first rays of the rising sun. Even the tiniest creature throws a shadow.

So now I know what they are, will I be evicting them? Nope. They’re beneficial and non-destructive to wood or trees. Instead they eat fungi or algae or other organic stuff (gunk, yeah, that will do) that collects on tree bark and other things like my deck. I found some good info on this website.

 

Two tiny dudes in my yard

A while ago I posted about photographing birds in my yard and it taught me that I have a lot to learn about that kind of work. I’m MUCH more comfortable with small critters, so here’s a couple I found recently in the yard.

The first is a snapping turtle which I think had to be only a day or two old because

  1. it didn’t smell
  2. it didn’t have algae on it
  3. it wasn’t a crabby, bitey menace

Instead it was pretty mellow. Maybe the ‘tude takes a while to develop. Comes with size I would guess. Or the smell. I’ve seldom met big snappers who wouldn’t take your arm off given the chance. Sometimes I see really big ones in the river while I’m in the kayak. In my head I know they’re more afraid of me than I am of them, but they still give me the willies. Like one of them is going to come up out of the murk and bash my boat. This little guy though was pretty calm and easy to photograph. I put him in front of a log to use as a backdrop and got right down there with him. Everything about it has such terrific detail. It was only a couple of inches long. The only snapping turtle safe to handle; the ones that fit in the palm of your hand.

If you live anywhere but in the nitty-gritty urban city-scape, you’ve heard spring peepers filling the night with their mad song. It’s one of the things I look forward to most in spring; the first time I hear the peepers as the sun goes down. Weirdly though I’ve never actually seen one until the other day when one showed up on the deck.

I had to grab my field guide to figure out what it was. There is a bit of color variation in the species, but they have a distinctive X marking on their backs that nails the ID. I’m always amazed when I look at tiny creatures close up. If you enlarge the shot above you can see blood vessels in the arm on your right. The skin and bones are so delicate. Look at those wee toes! I thought it was pretty scared and backed off only to have it leap to the floor and give me enough time to change lenses for a more artsy shot –

It’s not even an inch long. How does something so small make such a big racket?