On a warm sunny winter day, if you venture outside, you may notice what looks like pepper sprinkled on the snow. Look more closely and you will notice that the pepper is moving! Indeed it’s jumping great distances for its size. Its common name is very apt as they can catapult themselves up to 100 times their own body length using an abdominal appendage called a furcular. This structure is what gives the group its name – Springtails. The furcular folds beneath the body and is held under tension until needed, once tension is reached the end slips out of a receptacle and snaps against the snow which throws the Springtail into the air.
Springtails play an important role in natural decomposition, feeding on decaying organic matter in the soil and thereby recycling nutrients for plants. They are able to withstand the bitter temperatures of winter thanks to a “glycine-rich antifreeze protein,” which binds to ice crystals as they start to form, preventing the crystals from growing larger.
Springtails belong to the subphylum called Hexopoda – six-legged arthropods. They are commonly called Snow Fleas but they are not related to fleas in any way! There are many species of Hexapoda in Canada and all are quite small, about one millimeter in length. They live in the soil where they are seldom encountered, however they can be extremely numerous with populations reaching 250,000,000 per acre.
So if you are out walking in the winter look in depressions in the snow where Springtails like to congregate. A foot print or other depression offers a microhabitat that is just a little warmer, is protected from the wind, and the snow is saturated with liquid water. And say thank you to these important little environmentalist for their help in recycling plant nutrients!
A walk through Mandaumin Woods in autumn is a bonanza of brilliant colours! Depending on when you visit the trail many different ferns and fungi can be seen; during the Mandaumin Woods bioblitz 11 different species of fungi were found (Polyporus alveolaris, Stereum ostrea, Hygrocybe punicea, Polyporus squamosus, Scutellinia scutellata, Crepidotus mollis, Pleurotus ostreatus, Hygrocybe nitida, Fuligo septica, Marasmius rotula, Panus conchatus).
During the LWI camping and birding trip to Pelee Island, May 5th to May 8th, 2016, we had the opportunity to walk a lot of Pelee Island and view the force of wind and water as we travelled from point to point.
Walking to Fish Point on the south end of the island, we came across an area where sand and gravel had washed and blown inland 50 – 75 feet from the shore. The coarse material had covered up the trail for some distance and to a depth of about 50 cm, or 20 inches. As you can see from the photo below, nothing has been able to push its way to the surface.
Autumn is an ephemeral time of blasting colour where the asters spark up, leaves are set a blaze,
pumpkins perch as glowing beacons, and avian migrants give birders their seasonal eye check-up and
If not for the sake of easing the neck pain from looking up, trick-or- treat your eyes to a fungal foray in
the forest and you’ll be surprised at all the different colours, shapes, and forms mushrooms come in.
As triumphant green chlorophyll, the star of photosynthesis, exits the solar stage to unveil the
carotenoids and xanthophylls that give off yellow, orange, and brown hues. In some plants and trees,
anthocyanins are produced from sugars and give off brilliant red and purples. On the other branch,
evergreens have a needle with a smaller surface area and a waxy coating to withstand winter and some
manufacture antifreeze proteins to protect their leaves and roots through the winter. The palette
combinations of greens, yellows, oranges, reds, purples, and browns pleasantly teases us towards the
cooler seasons and before we know it the leaves will have dropped with the temperature.
Temperature can affect red intensity. The combination of warm days and cool nights causes sugars to
become trapped in the leaves, intensifying reds. Colour can depend on the species of trees and even
indicate sex in the case of red maples. Males give off deep reds and purples while females turn shades of
yellow and orange. Orchestrated by the seasons, fall colour is the result of autumnal equinox when the
days start to get shorter.
For the tree, undergoing this process is not simply a matter of subtracting greens and adding reds but
rather a tricky response to changing seasons. Anthocyanins responsible for red maple rouge are
suspected to function as a sun-screen, an antioxidant against insect and fungal attack, or a strengthener
for leaves and stems allowing them to swallow a few more precious beams sunlight. Hormones trigger
the leaves to drop so they don’t use up the water they need to keep their roots alive over the winter.
The final sugar harvest, the recycling of resources, and the conservation of water and nutrients is an
important time for deciduous plants and trees if they’re to survive the winter. It is to our joy the shift
from the growing season to dormancy in nature is so beautifully marked across the landscape. Where is
your favourite place to go to experience fall colour?
While the colour palette of plants is played above, fungal networks beam below. Spending most of their
lives beneath the surface, fungi are an often over looked group. However, they come in a mind-blowing
array of colours, shapes, and forms with equally as intriguing natural histories. Matching the artistry
above you can find fungi with shades of blue, purple, green, red, orange, yellow, or brown as well. Many
fungi are important soil builders,breaking down organic matter and mining minerals into useable forms,
some form mutualistic partnerships with tree and plant roots providing a host of benefits to individuals
and to forests, and some are parasites that infect (mostly weakened) living trees. Not to mention, they
have had a cultural impact on human society for thousands of years due to their edible and medicinal
The things we know as mushrooms that peculiarly poke from below the soil or perch from tree limbs are
called fruiting bodies, analogous to the apple fruit, of a larger but hidden fungal network called
mycelium. The fruiting bodies produce spores, analogous to the seed, which have the potential to start
genetically new individuals. Although they’re lumped in with plants at the grocery store and in our
minds, fungi are more closely related to animals. The more we uncover about this little known group,
the more interesting and important they become.
For example, tree-partnering fungi have been shown to receive between 20-80% of the sugars that
leaves produce and, like a bank, they can store the sugars and repay them during difficult times. Fungal
networks also broker nutrients between different tree species and transfer nutrients from dying trees to
healthy young trees. Absorbing water and minerals, the things roots are supposed to be good at, are not
as good at it as we thought. Fungal mycelium is much more absorptive and covers a much greater
surface area under ground. It has been suggested that 1 square cm of soil can contain over 5km of
mycelium. To acquire nutrients fungi mine pockets of minerals in the soils, hunt and snare soil
invertebrates, break down dead animals and plants including hard to digest molecules lignin and
cellulose, or living off hosts as parasites. These nutrients get returned to the forest one way or another
in a more useable form. Mycelium not only acts like nutrient highways, shuttling nutrients through the
forest, but also as a communication system capable of warning others of an attack. In response to an
insect attack an alert sent through the network can warn neighbouring trees to get a head start in
ramping up toxic chemicals in their leaves or needles as a defense against impending attack.
Although all of these happenings cannot easily be seen, fall is evidently an active time of year above and
below the surface and a particularly excellent time to view fungi. You can see a diversity of conspicuous
fungi that decorate our different natural areas like Canatara, Lambton County Heritage Forest,
Mandaumin Woods, Karner Blue Sanctuary, and the Pinery.
Fall weather might have its ups and downs but it can easily be forgiven with sights of glorious fall colours
above or bizarre fungi below that put a show for all the action that goes on behind the scenes.
Have any fall or fungi photos? Why not submit them to the Lambton Wildlife Inc. Photo Contest? It’s
free, gives you the chance to win great prizes, and the potential to have your photo featured in Lambton
For photo contest information check out:
Interested in the progress of colours? Check out:
Want to ID leaves by their fall colour? Check out:
Mandaumin Woods is a beautiful nature preserve and the trail this time of year is dry and very enjoyable. Mandaumin Woods is located just south of the village of Mandaumin on the west side of Mandaumin Road. The bugs are mostly gone and it is the time of year to enjoy the fall colours and watch for wildlife. We saw a deer and several wild turkeys as we walked the trail; although it is hard to sneak up on anything because the leaves are dry and walking on them sounds like walking on Rice Crispies!
When you are looking for something different to do this summer I would like to suggest an evening paddle along the old Ausable River channel in Pinery Provincial Park. It is one of the most enchanting and peaceful places in Southern Ontario. A river which is now only fed by springs, it slowly flows out to the “Cut”, an artificially constructed river channel which travels to Lake Huron.
As the sun begins to set, the calmness of the afternoon slowly changes as the river comes alive with animals and birds which have been resting during the day. Actually this is one of the best times to observe wildlife in the Pinery. Just as most people are preparing to enjoy an evening campfire, many birds and animals are attracted to the river to feed. (more…)
The most frequent visitor to my bird feeder isn’t exactly a bird. Squirrels love birdseed and unless your feeder is suspended from the Goodyear Blimp, you will have a squirrel or two hanging around.
For a long time I was determined to out-smart them and devised a number of “squirrel-proof” feeders. Unfortunately, nothing I’ve invented so far has taken more than 30 minutes for the squirrels to master. (By the way, the term ‘squirrel-proof’ is not listed in any dictionary or science book.) Very soon I noticed the score was squirrels 6, me 0. (more…)
There are 15 species of hummingbirds living north of Mexico but only the Ruby-throated Hummingbird can be seen in Lambton County.
Only three to three-and-half inches long and weighing about as much as a penny, they can flap their wings more than 50 times per second, producing a humming sound. They can fly forwards, backwards or straight up or down and can hover to feed from flowers. They accomplish all this by tilting their wings in much the same way as helicopter rotor blades are tilted to change direction. (more…)
The air is getting colder and we can see and smell fall just around the corner. With the change of season, the plants that grew so well over the spring and summer are now starting to make preparations against winter’s cold breath.
The trees are dropping their leaves: the ‘factories’ that produced new growth, another ring on the tree. The flowers are using their last energy to ripen the seeds for next year’s plants. We see the lush summer, the green landscape, slowly change to the rich fall shades of red, yellow and brown. (more…)