Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Just a Peek

There’s an entire world beneath our feet, almost always unseen and out of mind. It’s there nonetheless and impacts us in ways we barely understand. On a late-winter day when rain had been falling and there was every reason to stay in the house I decided to take a peek into that world.

So I went outside, basin in hand, and grabbed two handfuls of fallen leaves from the wooded area above the house. The basin became the repository of a totally unscientific sample of the leaf litter from the virtually intact leaves that had been on top, down through the skeletonized and fragmented leaves, to the top of the soil’s organic layer.

Back inside I began picking through the leaves, looking for whatever little critters might be dwelling there. My quarry were the small animals that could be seen with the naked eye or a hand lens, not the vastly larger variety of microscopic beings that would surely be there.

Here’s what I found (number found is in parenthesis) –

Spiders (2) – first was a little black ground spider yes, that’s its name not just a description. Ground spiders are fast predators that subdue their prey by running and jumping over it while laying down a mesh of sticky silk. This one was less than 3/8” long and lived up to ground spiders’ speedy reputation.

The second spider  was a very well camouflaged small brown crab spider (species undetermined) about 1/4 inch across. Crab spiders grab their prey with their front legs, pulling it inward and injecting venom.

Beetles (5) – while there were different sizes, they all appeared to be the same species, but what species they were remains a mystery. The smallest were 1/16” long, the largest less than 1/8”. They're apparently a species that feeds on vegetable matter.

Earthworm (5+) – These were very young earthworms, no more than 3/8 inch long and virtually colorless. Earthworms feed on dead and decaying leaves. All earthworms had been eliminated in formally glaciated areas, including here, and our earthworms are invasive species originating in Europe.

Soil Centipedes (3) – with up to 137 pairs of legs they're burrowing predators that twist and writhe like snakes when picked up and burrow by expanding and contracting in the manner of earthworms. These were about an inch and a half in length although they were seldom still so it was difficult to estimate their size with any accuracy. As are all centipedes, they’re predators on smaller creatures.

Leafhopper (1) – at first I thought it had been killed when the leaves were gathered, but the flattened abdomen leads me to believe that it had died earlier and dehydrated or been sucked dry by a predator. What it was doing buried beneath layers of leaves that fell months ago I know not. Length less than 1/16 inch.

Larva (5+) – these were maggot-type larvae a bit less than 1/8 inch long and probably larvae of a species of fly although some beetle larvae are also legless. They were essentially transparent and all their internal organs could be seen.

Sowbugs (8) – the sowbugs varied greatly in length, the largest being about 3/8 inch long, but seemingly all the same species. Sowbugs are crustaceans, distantly related to lobsters, which feed on decaying organic matter. Unlike their relatives the pillbugs, sowbugs cannot roll into a ball for defense.

Springtails (10+) – springtails of various species are extremely abundant in the forest floor. These appeared to be the species frequently called “snow fleas” because they’re often found in astounding numbers atop the snow on warm days in late-winter and early-spring. Springtails jump by suddenly releasing a latched mechanism beneath their abdomens. About 1/8 inch long.

These woods aren’t wilderness; they had once been a horse pasture, abandoned for 40-50 years and reverted to woodland before we built our house 51 years ago.

This was winter, admittedly far from the coldest day of the season, but there were still insects and other invertebrates to be found something interesting every day

In warmer weather I may have found a red-backed salamander, a large millipede, many more insects, or … ? This was an interesting exercise and a good way to spend part of a rainy day.


Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Interesting jumble of creatures. The ground will never look the same to me. My parents had a road going through their woods where in the spring, (I think), it was impossible to walk because of the massive numbers of salamanders.

2 Tramps said...

Thanks for sharing all this - so fascinating to see things we rarely think about. You reminded me of time long ago when I got a microscope from a neighbor that was moving. I was in the third grade and I loved that thing so much. Collecting pond water with some shoreside plants/weeds was a favorite thing for me. I would let it age and see what kinds of microorganisms would grow. I did have to learn not to reflect too strong of light into the mirror that lit the slides I wanted to see. Otherwise I had to watch my little creatures get cooked from the heat!

The Furry Gnome said...

Not surprising but fascinating!

eileeninmd said...

It is interesting that all these insects could be found on a cold winter day.
You found such a nice variety of insects to photograph. Well done!
Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Take care, enjoy your weekend.

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

I would never think to do that but now I might try it. I know I've brought home a big roach in a pinecone before! hahaha! Very interesting...I love this post! Enjoy your weekend.

Breathtaking said...

Hello, :=) What you found in a basin of scooped leaves is incredible. This fascinating number of different species of insects I will never walk on leaves again without wondering what lies underneath. Great images of some very tiny insects.

Shiju Sugunan said...

I find them very interesting and beautiful!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

All that life in a handful of leaves! What a fun thing to do! I'm going to try it.