Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Invasion of the Tree Octopus! 

Hey everyone! This is Nora, the intern here at Wahkeena. Robyn will be out of town for the next couple of weeks so I will be the one discussing a new species to the preserve! 

We found a Tree Octopus this spring here at Wahkeena, and later identified it to be Polypoda arborialis. Which is an eastern species of Tree Octopus that is closely related to the Pacific Tree Octopus. Since the first was found, several others have been recorded throughout the Preserve.

Tree Octopi are 'amphibious,' meaning that they only spend the early part of their lives, and the mating season in the water, which is similar to several species of salamanders. These solitary cephalopods prefer humid, dense woodlands that remain moist, so as to not dry out. If their skin does begin to dry, the octopus will search out streams, ponds, other small bodies of water, or they may bury themselves in moist soil. 

In springtime, the Tree Octopus will return to the body of water in which it matured. There, they congregate and find a mate. After a brief courtship display, the male deposits a sperm packet into the female using a specialized arm used only for mating. After fertilization, the female will attach the eggs to herself and defend them for 17-21 days until just before the eggs hatch. She releases the eggs one by one, and they float away in the water. Scientists believe that separation of the eggs results in less competition for the baby octopi and a higher success rate for the species. Even so, the mortality rate is very high. Females lay between 1,000 and 2,500 eggs. Out of that number, only about 2% of those Octopi live to reach adulthood. Tree Octopi are endangered due to water pollution, inbreeding, and over harvesting for sale in markets overseas. 

You should stop out to Wahkeena soon, so you can catch a glimpse of these mysterious creatures before they head to hollow trees in the fall to wait out chilly weather. 

Remember! Tree Octopi are not pets! If kept in dry environments, they will  deteriorate and quickly die. They will not hurt you if handled, but be sure to return them to the proper habitat! 

Friday, August 8, 2014

New Orchid! Yea!


Thanks to our hawk-eyed intern, Nora, we now have a new species of orchid to add to Wahkeena's list! Whorled Pogonia, Isotria verticillata is a native orchid that, when not in bloom looks a whole lot like Indian Cucumber Root. We've known that we should have this species here, but just hadn't seen it before now. The population we found is off-trail, up on the ridge. Ironically, it is in an area that for an off-trail spot, we are in on a fairly regular basis. Admittedly, it is mostly in the fall and winter that we are there. Anyway, here a few pictures of what they look like right now. We will be keeping a close eye on them next spring, and hopefully we'll have some pictures of the flowers to show you! In the meantime if you would like to see what they look like in bloom, check out the images at

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Orchid #7 and The Unexpected

Cranefly orchid is now in bloom. This delicate looking flower is hard to spot and hard to photograph. I was unable to get a nice shot of just one of the flowers, but I was able to get this picture...

I think it shows really well how in the shade of the forest, these slender stalks are hard to see. This cluster of three is off trail, but we do have a very nice single stalk flagged for you on the Casa Burro trail. Ask a naturalist for the location.

The Unexpected is the theme for the rest of the blog post, but it started with the cranefly orchid. While trying to get nice pictures of it, I noticed something was happening.

A closer look showed me a very small spider feasting on a very small insect. It looks to me like some kind of fly. Wouldn't it be neat if it was in fact, a Crane Fly?

A closer look at the plant revealed another interesting creature.

The elongated snout and elbowed antennae make this a weevil! I have no idea what kind, but it sure is neat. I had to use the flash to obtain these photos, but it happened to reveal some striking colors on this insect. Thanks to the ability to crop photos this weevil looks big in the picture, but in reality, he is only a few millimeters.

I really wanted to do a butterfly post, but instead of butterflies, I found The Unexpected.

A deer sporting her rusty-colored summer coat hanging out on the boardwalk!

 A small, green Bull Frog sitting pretty on a big lily pad. She was ready for her close-up!

A beaver tail print in the mud. I found this on the dam the beavers maintain around the spillway.

Finally, a very large colony of bryozoans over by the spillway in the big pond. Bryozoans are also known as moss animals. They are colonial creatures (like corals) and can be found in still areas of clean fresh water. Most species however live in marine environments.

Meanwhile, summer is plugging away here at Wahkeena and of course the dragonflies are still quite abundant. In addition to this amberwing, we should start to see the meadowhawks soon.


There are also a few more summer wildflowers in bloom, including this beautiful red Swamp Rose Mallow. Here are some others:

Monkey Flower
Cup Plant
Royal Catchfly
Indian Tobacco
Mad Dog Skullcap
Thin-leaved Coneflower
Sweet Black-eyed Susan

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Orchid #6

Our sixth orchid to bloom (actually 7th, but I didn't find the Ragged Fringed until too late, plus they were off-trail) is Club-spur Orchid, Platanthera clavellata! This small greenish woodland orchid is so hard to find until it blooms. Well, even then it is a bit of a challenge! This is another of what I call the "stick-your-face-in-them" orchids. It's really a very attractive flower with a slight twist to it, but you really need to look closely at it. 

This year, there are several stalks right next to the trail and they have only just started to bloom. Actually, as of this writing there is only one blooming, but we will be flagging the others as they begin to bloom as well. 

As usual, just ask one of us naturalists to point you in the right direction if you would like to take a look at this neat plant.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer Wildflowers and Some Bugs (of course!)

Now that summer is in full swing, I wanted to post a list of what was in bloom. There are lots of bigger, showier flowers growing in the sunny, open areas of the preserve and smaller, yet just as beautiful flowers thriving in the cool and dark woods. Wildlife watching opportunities abound around these flowering buffets. And not just of the insect kind! Hummingbirds and other avians are frequent visitors. Amphibians and reptiles can be a surprise find too, whether it is a small spring peeper or gray tree frog hiding on a leaf or a quick leopard frog darting through the grass. Enjoy this photo montage of flora and fauna and check out the "in bloom" list at the bottom of the post!

Queen Ann's Lace


 Swamp Milkweed


Obedient Plant

Purple Coneflower

False Sunflower

Sweet-scented Water Lily

Next up is the wildlife!

This isn't an insect, it's an arachnid! A Six-spotted Fishing Spider to be precise. These are really cool animals; they can dive under water to catch a yummy fish to eat.

 Here is a small spring peeper resting on a Monarda leaf.

 Check out this beautiful baby Milk Snake we found! We gave him his "close up", then let him go.

You didn't think I was going to let you get away without a couple of insect photos, did you? 

 A small native bee working hard at collecting pollen and nectar on the Monarda. If you look closely at the picture you may notice the white glob of pollen on the last leg.

 Here is a Slender Spreadwing Damselfly, Lestes rectangularis. Note the incredibly blue eyes.

Flowers currently in bloom... 
Sweet-scented Joy-pye Weed
Lizard's Tail
Orange Milkweed
Sweet-scented Water Lily
White and Blue Vervain
Swamp Milkweed
False Sunflower
Obedient Plant
Horse Balm
Enchanter's Nightshade
Hog Peanut
Naked-flowered Tick Trefoil
Common Milkweed
White Sweet Clover
Trumpet Creeper
Queen Ann's Lace
Purple Coneflower

Sunday, July 6, 2014

175 Square Feet

Today's post is going to focus on our butterfly nectar garden out in front of the Nature Center.

This space was created back in 2003 and planted with native prairie species of wildflowers. Over time, the composition has changed a bit and other species of plants have made their home here as well. Currently, there are at least (but probably more) 30 different species of plants growing within this space. The garden only measures about 8 feet by 22 feet. Not a huge space. Also, it is not isolated. As you can see in the above picture, it connects to historic plantings near the Nature Center.

Here are a couple of pictures during its construction:

One of the plants included in the seed mix was Thin-leaved Coneflower, Rudbeckia triloba. For the first few years, this plant became one of the dominant plants in the garden.

Here is a closer look at the flower. It is a composite just like a daisy or purple coneflower and attracts lots of great bees, flies and other pollinators.

As other plants came into their own, a more balanced composition emerged.  There are wonderful flowers in the garden including Monarda sp., Purple Coneflower, False Sunflower, Orange Butterflyweed, Wild Petunia, Ironweed, and several Silphium sp. such as Whorled Rosinweed. The star of the the garden may be the Royal Cathcfly.

Does all of this bloom in profusion every year? Well, no. It depends on what the deer choose to eat each year. One year, they ate most of the Monarda. The past couple of years they've eaten much of the purple coneflowers and the cup plants. But, there are still plenty of things that boom and attract a wide variety of animal life....besides the deer.

All this diversity equals a diverse animal component. Let's take a look at some of the really cool stuff we can find just in this 175 square feet of space.

A Daddy Long-legs delicately perches on top of the Bee Balm. While related to spiders this creature is not a spider himself. He only has one body part, is incapable of making silk, and does not possess venom.

Beetles can be pollinators too. This beetle is very small, only a few millimeters. I was not able to figure out what family this beetle belongs to. There were several out there. Beetles have chewing mouthparts and some feed on pollen and nectar. Not sure if this is the case with this particular beetle.

Flies can be effective pollinators. Many kinds of flies are bee and wasp mimics. This fly is in the family Sarcophagidae. This family has many different kinds of niches, but adults commonly feed on nectar and other sweet sources of food.

This little habitat created by these garden plantings not only provide food sources but supplies for nest building. The leaves on this grape vine have been heavily foraged by leaf-cutter bees. These solitary native bees cut nearly circular pieces of leaves to use in the construction of nest chambers for their young. 

Here is a classic scene - a native bumble bee foraging for nectar at the Monarda.

Other animals take advantage of the rich food supply for others and lay in wait to catch and eat them! This true bug is hiding well. He may get a good meal today.

This habitat also provides resting places for animals. There were several lightening bugs (actually beetles) just hanging out in the foliage.

Here is another cool fly. This is a flower fly belonging to the family Syrphidea. I believe this one is the common oblique syrphid, Allograpta obliqua. These flies feed on pollen and nectar as adults and are one of the most common kinds of flies that can be found on flowers.

Composite flowers such as this False Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides make for excellent sources of pollen and nectar. Here we see the aforementioned unidentified beetle along with a native solitary bee.

Taking a rest and warming up in the sun, is this Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly.

Here is a small short-winged grasshopper, family Acrididae, blending in oh so well with his surroundings.

This ambush bug, subfamily Phymantinae, will do just as his name says to catch food. This one is sitting on a fleabane flower.

Much more familiar to us are the colorful butterflies that visit flowers to drink nectar. Here is a fresh great spangled fritillary on the Monarda. These butterflies require violets as a host plant for their caterpillars.

Another common visitor to summer wildflowers is this silvery spotted skipper. One of the larger skippers this one is pretty easy to identify due to the large white or silvery spot on the hind wing. Look for caterpillars of this butterfly on locust and other legumes.

I hope you enjoyed this little foray in our nectar garden. I want you all to know that all the pictures of creatures were taken over just two days. I spent about an hour and a half total to find all these amazing creatures. Also, each and every one of the animals showcased here were actually in the confines of the nectar garden. So much diversity! As the garden continues to produce more flowers as the season progresses, there will be even more cool stuff to find in just 175 square feet of nature.