Super Crop Challenge #12

It’s time for a new BitB Challenge Session, and to begin the 6th edition we start off with a Super Crop Challenge. This is a combination challenge, with points on tap for naming the organism (order, family, genus) and visible structures. As always, standard challenge rules apply, including moderated comments, tie-breaker points for first correct answers, and possible bonus pts for additional relevant information at my discretion. Mr. Phidippus ran away with BitB Challenge Session #5, but Tim Eisele and Dennis Haines fought to the end for podium honors. Will one of them de-throne Mr. Phidippus, or will somebody else make a surprise run? Or, perhaps, 3-time champ Ben Coulter will return to stake his claim as the true BitB Challenge Session champion. Let’s get started!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Two more winners

When I announced the winner of BitB Challenge Session #5, I had forgotten about a comment I made in a previous challenge that I was considering awarding prizes to the session’s 2nd and 3rd place finalists as well as the winner. After thinking about it some more I have decided it would be a good idea—2nd and 3rd places in the final standings may lack the prestige of a BitB Challenge Session Championship (snort!), but they are certainly no small accomplishment. With that, I offer my congratulations to Dennis Haines and Tim Eisele, 2nd and 3rd place finalists (respectively) in BitB Challenge Session #5.

Gentlemen, contact me for your loot.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

A Riot of Colors

Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) on lichen-encrusted trunk of fallen post oak (Quercus stellata)—ventral view.

For my friend Rich and I, Thanksgiving week marks the official beginning of the winter hiking season.  Fifteen years ago we began our quest to hike the entirety of the Ozark Trail, and with only ~50 of the 350 miles constructed to this point in Missouri to go we find ourselves tantalizingly close to reaching that goal. This year we started the season with 10+ miles of the northernmost Courtois Section. The rains of the previous few days had stopped, but the moisture-laden air still hung heavy under gray, overcast skies.  Such a day may not be considered optimal for photography, but nothing could be further from the truth. Lichens and fungi, normally muted and inconspicuous, spring to life when awash with moisture and splash the woodlands with a riot of colors rarely seen on dry, sunny days. The dark, almost black, color of the wet bark adds to the contrast and further emphasizes the ubiquity of these “lower forms of life” amongst the now leafless trees.

Among the most distinctive of these is turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), an extraordinarily common polypore fungus that grows on the trunks of declining and dead deciduous trees—especially oaks. Like all polypore fungi, turkey tail feeds saprophytically within dead and dying wood but is more familiar to us by way of its externally produced reproductive structures, or “tails,” for the release of spores. As the specific epithet suggests, turkey tail comes in a variety of colors ranging from gray through browns to black, and the association of older tails with algal growth even adds greens to the mix. The diversity of colors is found not only within a single locality, but even on a single tree! The especially colorful example shown in these photos, made even more so by its intermixture with green crustose lichens, was found on the trunk of a post oak (Quercus stellata) tree that had fallen across the trail, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the range of colors present and the contrast between the dorsal and ventral surfaces.

Update 30 Dec 2011: Kathie Hodge has provided the following correction to my identification:

Hate to tell you, but the turkey tails in your post aren’t turkey tails, alas, they’re Trichaptum biforme. It’s one of a bunch of shelf fungi that resemble true turkey tails.  You can tell them apart by the small, regular pores of Trametes, whereas Trichaptum has a rugged toothy thing going on.  Also, T. biforme is paler on top, not as strongly zonate, and has a distinctly purple growing edge (and sometimes the hymenium is delightfully purple too).

Thank you, Kathie, for keeping me on the straight and narrow (and maybe I should stick with beetles in these quizzes!).

Natural light (ISO1600, f/5.6, 1/60 sec)

Full flash (ISO160, f/16, 1/200 sec)

Of course, color is a matter of perception, and I wondered what effect lighting would have on this. When it comes to macrophotography I’m an unapologetic flash-man, preferring the flexibility and sharpness of detail that flash lighting offers over the dreamier “natural” images produced with strictly ambient light. The above comparison, looking at the dorsal surface of the tails with their characteristic concentric zones of colors, did nothing to change that opinion. While some might insist that the natural light photo is a truer representation of the actual colors witnessed, to me it looks gray and faded—no doubt a result of illumination by a large gray light source (the cloudy sky). While my eyes might have seen muted shades of gray and brown, my mind saw vivid shades of rust, orange, and green—colors captured more faithfully by the full-flash illuminated photo.

The strikingly zonate upper surfaces present contrasts in texture as well as color

Congratulations to those of you who guessed some kind of polypore fungus in Super Crop Challenge #10, although nobody correctly deduced an ID below the family level. I fear my challenges have gotten too difficult, as this is the  in which nobody arrived at the correct answer. Nevertheless, on points Mr. Phidippus takes top honors with 11, while Roy, Tim and John earned enough points to receive podium mentions. Session 5 overall leader, Marlin, didn’t play this time, so Mr. Phidippus now takes over the top spot—can he hold onto it as the session plays out?

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Super Crop Challenge #10

It’s gotten a little quiet around here lately, and since we haven’t done a Super Crop Challenge for awhile let’s see if this latest version will liven things back up. This challenge strays a bit from my normal scope, so I’m not sure how difficult or easy it will prove to be. I’ll award 2 pts for all correctly stated primary rank taxa (what a mouthful!)—standard challenge rules apply, including moderated comments to give everyone a chance to submit their answers.  Bonus points will be awarded to early birds if multiple participants arrive at the same correct answer, and possibly also for other relevant comments (at my discretion). Good luck!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

ID Challenge #13 results and Session #4 final standings

Points have been tallied for ID Challenge #13 and its addendum.  Congratulations to Mr. Phidippus, who’s 16 pts edged out Roy (14 pts) and Ben Coulter (13 pts) for the win in IDC13.  Ben Coulter, however, stayed comfortably atop the overall standings in the final challenge of this 4th BitB Challenge Session, earning 78 pts along the way and thus reclaiming his overall championship.  Congratulations to him and also to Mr. Phidippus and Roy, who finish on the 2nd and 3rd steps of the overall podium.  An honorable mention goes to Tim Eisele, who was the only other participant besides our three podium finishers to score points in all six Session #4 challenges.

Complete standings are shown below, and Mr. Coulter, I owe you some loot!

Place Commentor IDC#10 SSC#8 SSC#9 IDC#11 IDC#12 IDC#13 Total
1 Ben Coulter 14 8 13 14 16 13 78
2 Mr. Phidippus 10 8 8 13 15 16 70
3 Roy 8 9 6 5 11 14 53
4 Tim Eisele 5 1 5 5 7 10 33
5 George Sims 2       12 7 21
6 Tracy Morman 3       15   18
  Morgan Jackson   11 7       18
8 Doug Taron         17   17
  Jon Q 4       7 6 17
10 Mike Baker     4 3 6 3 16
11 HBG Dave   9   2   4 15
12 Dave Hubble 12         2 14
13 Troy Bartlett   6   7     13
14 FlaPack 10           10
  Charley Eiseman 4         6 10
16 Matt Brust 9           9
  Bill Meyers         9   9
18 James Trager        6   2 8
19 Crystal Ernst 1     6     7
  itsybitsybeetle         7   7
21 Alex Wild       6     6
  Lee Jaszlics       6     6
23 Traci 5           5
  Laurie Knight   1     4   5
25 Adrian Thysse         4   4
26           2 2
27 Johnson Sau       1     1

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Super Crop Challenge #9

Can you name the structures in this photo (easy) and the critter they belong to (maybe not so easy)?  Because there are so many potential answers to those two questions, I’ll give 1 point for each correctly named structure (5 maximum) and taxon (primary categories from class to species).  As always, standard challenge rules apply, including moderated comments to allow time for everyone to submit their answers.  Bonus points will be awarded to early birds if multiple participants arrive at the same correct answer and possibly also for other relevant comments at my discretion.

The competition is really heating up in the current Session #4—current leader and 2-time champ Ben Coulter has 22 points, but there are at least half a dozen folks who could easily earn enough points in this one challenge to either take the lead or grab a podium spot.  If you’re stumped, remember that the pity points you earn now could be a tie-breaker at the end of the session.  Good luck!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Creepy Crawly Crustaceans

During my early August trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida, I spent several nights exploring the small mangrove marsh behind my sister-in-law’s condominium in Seminole. There were other reasons for me wanting to do this that will be revealed in a future post, but suffice it to say that, to this land-locked Midwesterner, the intertidal zone between land and sea is a strange and weird place. The plants are strange—long aerial roots, salt exudate-covered leaves, succulent jointed stems; and the animals are strange—molluscs and crustaceans featuring just as prominently as the insects with which I am more familiar. Even the smells are strange. Add to that the cover of darkness and it seems downright alien. For me, stumbling through the marsh with only the bright tunnel of light from my headlamp to reveal whatever lurks in the surrounding blackness seemed like a walk on another planet—new, exciting, and a tad unnerving!

As I took those first tentative steps through the marsh, one of the first things I noticed scuttling across the moist ground were what looked to me like giant wood lice.  Terrestrial isopods (class Malacostraca, order Isopoda) are nothing new to me—”roly-polys” and wood lice are common where I live, but I have never seen any as large as these, measuring as much as 25-30 mm in length (that’s an inch or more, folks!), not even counting their quite long antennae and uropoda.  They were also quite numerous, abundant actually.  I must confess to feeling a little creeped out at first upon seeing them—I could just imagine these strange, alien creatures suddenly swarming all over me and devouring the flesh from my body under the cover of darkness.  Okay, it was more of a fleeting thought than a palpable fear, but it has been awhile since I’ve encountered an arthropod with which I am so completely unfamiliar.  During the course of the night I photographed a number of individuals, not knowing what characters might be most important for identification and hoping that maximizing the number of photographs would increase my odds of getting the right shot.  Once I sat down to figure out what they were, the answer came quickly, as there is really nothing quite like sea slaters (genus Ligia).  Several species of these apparently common residents of intertidal zones are found on both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts (Schmalfuss 2003), where they hide during the day and come out at night to scavenge on algae and whatever other organic matter they can find.

Despite my initial thought that a species ID might not be possible, I was eventually able to determine with a fair degree of confidence that the individuals in these photos represent L. baudiniana.  This species is distinguished from two other species in the genus in Florida (Schultz and Johnson 1984) by the combination of its long uropoda (L. oceanica—introduced from Europe—has the uropoda much less than 2/3 the length of the body) and brush-like structures on the first pair of legs of the male, visible in the middle photograph above (L. exotica males lack these structures and possess instead a process at the distal end of the leg). These characters are illustrated nicely in Richardson (1905), which despite its great age seems to still to be a relevant resource for the family in North America.

Congratulations to Morgan Jackson, who wins Super Crop Challenge #8 with 11 points and distinguishes himself as the only participant to correctly identify the species.  Dave and Roy complete the podium with 9 points each.  In the overalls, two-time Session Champ Ben Coulter earned 8 pts to retain his lead with 22 pts, while Mr. Phiddipus and Roy move into a tie for 2nd place just 4 pts off the lead.  It’s still early, but this is shaping up to be a competitive session!

In the next post, I’ll reveal the real reason I was so interested in searching this marsh at night…


Richardson, H.  1905.  A monograph on the isopods of North America.  Bulletin of the United States National Museum 54:i–liii, 1–727.

Schmalfuss, H. 2003. World catalog of terrestrial isopods (Isopoda: Oniscidea). Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde (Serie A) 654:1–341 [revised and updated online version].

Schultz, G. A. and C. Johnson. 1984. Terrestrial isopod crustaceans from Florida (Oniscoidea). Tylidae, Ligiidae, Halophilosciidae, Philosciidae, and Rhyscotidae. Journal of Crustacean Biology 4(1):154-171. 

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Super Crop Challenge #8

Here’s a face you don’t see that often (or at least I don’t).  There’s little doubt about what body parts are shown here, so rather than awarding points for naming structures we’ll treat this as a standard ID Challenge.  However, the categories are a little different from the usual—2 pts each for class, order, family, and genus (I suspect a species ID may not be possible, at least from this photo).  Standard challenge rules apply, including moderated comments (to give everyone a chance to take part) and bonus points awarded on a discretionary basis for a variety of reasons, e.g. as tie-breakers if multiple participants arrive at the same correct answer, providing additional relevant information, humor, etc.  

Reminder: I am quite the pedant—points can be awarded or taken away depending on one’s attention to detail.  Also, when all else fails pity points will be awarded.

Good luck!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011