Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Slow learner naturalist

Well, yesterday I was out birdwatching (see bad photo of painted bunting, below), I ran across what I first thought was a snail disaster. A twistleaf yucca was barnacled with terrestrial snails, a rabdotus species. The snails looked dry and dead from the heat. Odd, I thought, that they would come to a yucca to die, or even odder, that a yucca would kill them. Then I looked around me and discovered that I was in the middle of a field with thousands of snails, all clasped tightly to weeds and stalks and dry grass. Wow, I thought, a snail graveyard. Mass death. Kind of creepy. (Maybe that's the wrong word for dead snails. Anyway.)

I plucked a small stick with a couple stuck to it and put it in my pocket, and went on.

Got a picture of a female of a common whitetail dragonfly later in my walk (below). I put up a photo of a male a few days ago.

When I got home, in trying to identify the snail species, it slowly dawned on me that these guys might not be dead after all. I was reading about estivation among land snails, and many dry country snail species seal themselves up during the heat of the summer, and glue themselves to plants and rocks and whatnot. My snails had a dry membrane across the opening. And they were stuck to a stick.

Sooo, experimental science time. I moistened a piece of toilet paper, put them on it, and closed them up in a box.

When I opened it an hour later, they were crawling around. So I put them out under the big fig tree, which is shady and well watered.

These snails, by the way, are the same species as ate all the seedlings in my spring garden this year. I had made the mistake of mulching with flakes from a hay bale, a perfect home for snails.

The snail yucca
twistleaf yucca with rabdotus snails estivating on leaves

A partial view of the field of snails
Field of estivating snails

A slightly blurred view of the painted bunting.
painted bunting

And a female common whitetail dragonfly. I thought it was a different species from the male, till I looked it up
female common whitetail dragonfly

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