January 1st, 2016


280 days of Urbpandemonium #223

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The edges of the thallus of this fungus suggest hammered metal, or at least they did back when such things were common, and lichen common names were up for grabs. Anyway, this is called "hammered shield lichen," Parmelia sulcata*

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Most of the visible part of it, and the part that we call Parmelia sulcata, is a fungus. The color comes from a green alga called Trebouxia, which is safely cared for within the flesh of the fungus, protected from drying out and blowing away. Or perhaps it is a prisoner, prohibited from living a free life apart from it's symbiont (there are free-living Trebouxia out there, apart from the lichen symbiosis).

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The fungus depends entirely on the algae living inside it, to photosynthesize and make food for both organisms.

* Little shield with grooves

Unidentified boxing day amphibian

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When I first encountered salamanders in the swampy seep at the edge of Ward's Pond, I misidentified them as northern dusky salamanders; a fried suggested it might be the leadback phase of the red-backed salamander; then, more recently, it was suggested that this is the two-lined salamander. This picture was taken on an uncommonly warm December 26. I think I'll return to the pond in spring, with my more knowledgable friends, to settle this amphibian mystery.

Eerie Boston Landscape

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This remote snowy plain is actually the golf course in Franklin Park in Boston.

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I went across the street from the zoo after work last Tuesday, when there was still some snow (actually sleet piled up white) on the ground, to look at the freaky landscape.

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Of course, I was not alone.

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As far as these Canada geese are concerned, a golf course in Boston is as good as a tundra in northern Canada.

280 days of Urbpandemonium #224

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The presence of the jeweler's loupe here is a hint that this is a very small organism. We generally think of ants as small animals, but this species is the smallest I've ever seen. Each worker is just about 1 mm in length.

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Their size and distinctive coloration--dark in the front with light legs and abdomen--identifies them as ghost ants Tapinoma melanocephalum*. Like many inhabitants of the great indoors, their origin is not precisely known. They are from the Old World Tropics for sure, narrowing it down to roughly a third of the surface of the planet.

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A colony could form in a pile of dead leaves, or in between a plant pot and it's protective liner. As long as the place is warm and humid, the ghost ants can live happily, feeding on miniscule amounts of sweet things and dead insects. When a colony is successful, some amount of it departs to become a new colony--"budding" instead of the complex new colony creation that some other eusocial insects endure. Besides all the tropics and heated greenhouses in the world, ghost ants live in Florida and Texas, and appear to be spreading.

* Humble and dark-headed