Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Native Species Profile - Coral Tooth Fungus

 A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the Bear's Head Tooth Fungus (Hericium americanum).  Today I want to share a few photographs about a closely related species, the Coral Tooth Fungus (Hericium coralloides).  This species is saprophytic, meaning that it breaks down dead and decaying organic matter for its food source.  Like the Bear's Head Tooth, the Coral Tooth is most commonly found on deciduous logs.

Fruiting bodies of the Coral Tooth Fungus

For most of the year this fungus is invisible to us, residing inside a decaying log as root-like mycelium.  The fruiting body is only seen in late summer or fall when the fungus is ready to reproduce by sending microscopic spores into the wind.  The spores from the Coral Tooth are white colored. 

A close-up of the fruiting body showing the branching coral-like structures

The fruiting body of this fungus grows as a thick white stalk that branches into structures that greatly resemble coral - as its species name coralloides suggests.  This fruiting body can grow as large as 12 inches across by 12 inches tall.  A log that contains the mycelium may have several of these fruiting bodies growing from it.  As the fruiting body ages it fades from white to a yellowish or brownish color.

This log had more than a dozen separate fruiting bodies - ranging in size from a couple of inches to a foot across

This species is also known as the Comb Tooth and was previously classified as H. ramosum.

Basic Information

Coral Tooth Fungus
Hericium coralloides

Size:  up to 12" by 12"
Habitat:  found on deciduous logs in woodlands; rarely on living trees or conifer logs
Color:  white; fades to yellowish or brown
Bloom Time:  summer to fall

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Monarch Migration

We spent this past weekend near Manistee, MI.  Manistee is located about thirds of the way up the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan.  Like all of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan is a major obstacle for migrating Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus).  When they hit a large obstacle such as this, they tend to fly along it rather than attempting to cross over its width.

Monarch circling back into the trees at Lake Bluff Audubon Sanctuary, Manistee, MI (26 SEP 2015)

Over the course of the weekend, we frequently saw Monarchs flying southward along the shoreline of the lake.  On Saturday night while watching the sunset we counted approximately 20 Monarchs fly past us over a 30 minute period. 

Monarch heading south along Lake Michigan at Lake Bluff Audubon Sanctuary, Manistee, MI (26 SEP 2015)

The peak migration period for Monarchs in Michigan is probably over, but there is still a steady stream of them heading south out of the state.  I managed to get three photos of Monarchs as they passed by our position.

Monarch migrating south at sunset - Lake Bluff Audubon Sanctuary, Manistee, MI (26 SEP 2015)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Upcoming Event - Mid-Michigan Rock Club Annual Show (31 October - 01 November 2015)

On Saturday October 31st and Sunday November 1st, the Mid-Michigan Rock Club will be hosting its annual rock show at the Great Hall Banquet & Convention Center in Midland.  This is a new location from previous years.  Adult admission is only one dollar, youth admission (ages 12-17) is fifty cents,  and children under twelve are admitted free.  This is a great place for any rock hound or aspiring rock hound to add to their collection.  Visit the Mid-Michigan Rock Club website for more information at

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Project R.E.D. in Isabella County (22 September 2015)

I spent all day yesterday at a local Project R.E.D. event.

What is Project R.E.D.?

The R.E.D. in the name stands for Rural Education Day.  This is an event hosted by the local chapter of the Michigan Farm Bureau in locations around the state of Michigan.  This project is designed to expose 3rd and 4th grade students to various aspects of rural and farm life to which they may not have been exposed.

For these events, the Farm Bureau brigs in local experts to talk about various aspects of farming and natural resources.  Experts may be farmers, government employees, veterinarians, etc..  As an employee of the Isabella Conservation District, I was asked to come in and talk about soil.

Talking to students about soil types - photo by Leigha Shoaf

With the exception of a group of home-schooled students, the students that participated in the Isabella County Rural Education Day were 4th graders from schools in the Shepherd, Mt. Pleasant, and Beal City area.  I had worked with almost all of these students when they were in 3rd grade (and will visit most of their classrooms again later this year).

Students examining soil profiles - photo by Leigha Shoaf

Each group of students rotated through a series of stations, with only eleven minutes at each station.  At the conclusion of the eleven minutes, the horn on a semi-truck was sounded to indicate that it was time too rotate.

I missed this.  This student appears to be biting a lump of rock-hard clay - photo by Leigha Shoaf

Eleven minutes is not a long time.  It is barely enough time to give an introduction to soil, but because most of the students had already studied soils with me when they were in 3rd grade we were able to treat it as a review.  We talked about the various components that make up soil (minerals, organic matter, water, air, and microorganisms), the different different sizes of soil (sand, silt, and clay), and how the various combinations of those components and soil sizes either help or harm plant growth.  We also looked at soil profiles and handled samples of soil dug on site.

Explaining the properties of loamy soil - photo by Leigha Shoaf

I had a great time at this event and look forward to participating again in 2016.  Thanks to Leigha Shoaf for taking the photographs.  Leigha is an Outdoor Recreation major at Central Michigan University and is volunteering her time this semester to help me with classroom programs and gain some experience at the same time.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Surpise monarch predation

Yesterday (Sunday) Shara and I stopped into her classroom to drop off her new classroom pet and to tag and release a couple of Monarch butterflies that had emerged from their chrysalises late on Friday.  When we got into her classroom we could see that something was not right.

There were no Monarchs fluttering in the pop-up habitat.

When we looked inside this is the scene that greeted us.

The destruction at the bottom off the habitat

Discarded wings from a dead Monarch

Every single chrysalis had been pulled from the top of the container and and its contents devoured.  All that remained of the two adult Monarchs was a pile of wings.

What caused this destruction?

Sometime between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning a mouse discovered the enclosure, climbed to the top of the habitat, chewed an entry hole and slipped inside.  After eating every living thing inside, it climbed back out the same entry hole and disappeared.

The total loss was two adult monarchs and about a dozen chrysalises.

It could have been worse.  We still have 10 chrysalises at home in a different container.

Almost every year we lose a few caterpillars/chrysalises to parasites.  Sometimes we have a few that are deformed by a protozoa infection.  Losing almost half of our year's crop of Monarchs to a mouse was something that we never expected.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The garden is "abuzz"...

Yesterday was a typical late summer day in our flower gardens at home.

The New England Asters, Showy Goldenrod, and Zigzag Goldenrod were practically covered with various species of bees.

This is not the best photograph, but it shows the number of small carpenter bees that we covering the Zigzag goldenrod.

The bee nesting box is almost entirely full.  The larvae inside will not emerge as adults until next spring and summer.

A few of the "bees" visiting the flowers were not bees at all, such as this bee-mimicking fly on the Showy Goldenrod.

This kind of activity will continue until a hard frost kills of the blooms or the bees.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Logging Photographs - Getting Logs out of the Woods

A month from now I will be presenting at the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education annual conference in Sault Sainte Marie, MI.  This will be the second time that I have presented at the MAEOE conference.  In 2014, I gave a presentation titled "Teaching With and About Michigan's Wildflowers".  This year my program is on Michigan's Logging History from the 1850s to the 1920s.  Teaching about history may seem out of place at an environmental and outdoor education conference, but Michigan's history and environment are inseparably intertwined.  The Michigan that we see today is completely different than it was when the first Europeans explored the state.  The vast forests that once covered the state were almost entirely logged off during the latter half of the nineteenth century.  I have written several previous posts about the logging industry.

Days Gone By - Logging Photos

Michigan Logging Photos

More Logging Photos

Logging Tools Part 1 - Axe and Saw

Anatomy of an Axe 

One thing that always amazes me about the early logging industry is the way that they not only embraced technological change but also were innovators in their own right.  Logging was hard physical labor and the men in the lumber camps constantly sought ways to make their work both easier and more efficient.

During the earliest years of Michigan's lumber industry, the majority of logging was done during the winter.  Winter was the easiest time of year to move logs in the woods.  Sleighs pulled by draft horses could move heavy loads containing many board-feet over iced roads through the woods.  The logs were then deposited in banking grounds along the state's many rivers where they would be floated to the sawmills during the spring floods.

Part of a logging crew standing around a small load of logs in northern Michigan

River hogs prying logs loose from the shore during a river drive

Logging in this manner had some advantages.  It was relatively inexpensive and did not require much infrastructure.  However, logging in hilly terrain was difficult and many areas were too far from rivers to log efficiently.

Towing a load uphill often required the additional pulling power of a second team of horses

Even with these disadvantages, the use of horse-drawn sleighs and river drives remained popular throughout Michigan's logging era.  Even though the use of sleighs continues, the methods evolved over time.  For much of the period, logs were loaded onto sleighs by a method called cross-hauling.  Cross-hauling involved propping a pair of hardwood logs against the side of the sleigh and using a chain pulled by a team of horses to slide the log up this improvised ramp and onto the sleigh.  A pair of loaders equipped with cant hooks helped guide the log into place.

Cross-hauling was a long-used method of loading logging sleighs

Over time, many lumber camps introduced the use of jammers.  A jammer is a tripod or derrick used for lifting rather than dragging the log onto the sleigh.  Hooks were driven into both ends of a log and attached to a wire cable running through a system of pulleys.  Horses pulling on the end of the cable lifted the log atop the sleigh.  A pair of hardwood logs would still be propped against the sleigh creating a ramp to guide the logs, but the majority of the effort was directed upward rather than across the sleigh.  Although this method required more equipment, it was much more efficient than cross-hauling and could be used to stack loads higher than the old method.

A jammer loading logs near Mackinaw City, MI

Efforts were made to log during the summer, but the use of horse-drawn wagons was considered very inefficient.  Only a few logs (sometimes only one large log) could be loaded on a wagon at a time.  The rough conditions of logging roads also damaged the wagons on a regular basis.

Summer logging with wagons was not very efficient as only a few logs could be hauled at a time.

The invention of "high wheels" near Manistee, MI allowed summertime logging to become more efficient.  These pairs of large (up to 11 ft diameter) spoked wheels could be used to suspend logs off the ground and roll them across the rough terrain more easily.

High wheel, also known as big wheels or katydids in use near Stanton, MI

Michigan lumbermen were the earliest in the country to adopt the use of railroads for logging.  Although there is some debate as to which purpose-built logging railroad was constructed first, one of several in mid-Michigan can probably lay claim to the title.

The Lake County Railroad operated between the Pere Marquette and Manistee Rivers in northwest Michigan

The adoption of railroads allowed the lumber companies to log areas that had previously been too far from rivers to be economically viable.  Over time, logging railroads allowed removals of most of the previously inaccessible timber across the state.  These railroads often operated for only a few years before being abandoned when timber resources were used up.

A narrow logging railroad cut through the woods near Cadillac, MI

Sawmills in some communities were supplied by both river and railroad
Methods used to load trains were the same as those used to load sleighs, cross-hauling and jamming.  The photo below shows a swing jammer with a pivoting arm that lift logs off to the side of the train and then swing around to lower them straight down atop the train cars.

A swing jammer in use in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

In addition to the railroads, lumbermen were quick to adopt steam power in many forms.  Steam engines powered sawmills throughout the Great Lakes.  Stationary "donkey" engines were used to drag and lift logs on logging sites.  Around 1900 the steam crawler was developed.  Running on a continuous steel track, the stem crawler could take the place of many teams of horses pulling sleighs through the woods.  The first crawlers were steered by a team of horses that when before the steam engine.  Later models were directed by a driver who steered a pair of track placed in front of the treads.

A steam crawler used to haul lumber in the western Upper Peninsula

Steam was also eventually used as a replacement for horsepower for loading logs onto the railroads.  Some steam jammers were built stationary next to the railroad sidings.  Other jammers were placed on railcars and could load trains anywhere along the track.

A steam jammer grasps a load of logs in this photo from northeast Wisconsin

Eventually, toward the end of Michigan's logging era, steam powered equipment was replaced by gasoline engines. 

A gasoline powered Holt Tractor hauling logs in northern Michigan

Even with the introduction of new technologies, the use of water to float logs remained a popular option throughout the Lake States (Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota).  Floating logs was a cheap option and the logs were often stored behind booms in the rivers until the sawmills cut them up

Logs in the Thunder Bay River at Alpena, MI

Some locations were too far removed from sawmills for transport by rail.  In locations along the shores of the Great Lakes these logs were often dumped into the lakes, connected into large rafts and floated to the closest sawmills.

Logging waiting to be rafted near Grand Marais in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Rafting logs from distant locations allowed some sawmills to remain in operation even when nearby forests were cut down.  Mills in Saginaw and Bay City, MI received logs from as far away as the Canadian shore of Lake Huron and remained in operation for nearly twenty years after local supplies of logs dwindled.

Log rafts in the Saginaw River

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Upcoming Event - Bats of Michigan Presentation (14 October 2015)

Join me and other members of the Chippewa Valley Audubon Club (CVAC) at the Veterans Memorial Library in Mt. Pleasant on Wednesday 14 October 2015 for a presentation on the "Bats of Michigan".  The presentation is part of the CVAC's monthly meeting for October.  Our meeting begins at 7:00PM.  The Veterans Memorial Library is located at 301 S. University Ave in Mt. Pleasant.

The program for October is being presented by the Organization for Bat Conservation.  Founded in Michigan in 1992, the Organization for Bat Conservation has presented hundreds of bat education programs across Michigan and surrounding states.  Since 2002 they have partnered with the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, MI to operate the Bat Zone, a permanent exhibit showcasing bats and other nocturnal animals from around the world.

This description of the "Bats of Michigan" program is from the Organization for Bat Conservation's website.

Learn About Local Bats in Your Own Backyard!

Discover the fascinating world of Michigan bats! Often misunderstood or overlooked, these bats play a key role in Michigan’s environment and economy. During this live animal program, you will learn why bats are important to the state, where Michigan bat species are located, and how to identify them.

The Bats of Michigan live animal program also explores the greatest threats facing Michigan bat populations including White-nose Syndrome–a deadly fungus that has already killed 6 million bats throughout the U.S. Learn more about the threats and what we all need to do in order to protect these important creatures.

Live bats include insect-eating bats from North America and a flying fox bat from Africa.

Please join us for this exciting opportunity to view live bats up close.  The meeting is free to attend, but donations are accepted.  The Chippewa Valley Audubon Club is able to provide public programs such as this through membership fees and donations.  An annual membership in the CVAC is only $5.00 for an individual or $10.00 for a household.  Student memberships are available for $2.50.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Field Trip - Nature Discovery, Williamston, MI

Yesterday (13 September 2015), Shara and I visited Williamston, MI for the sixth annual Michigan Snakes Day at Nature Discovery.  Nature Discovery is a nature-based business owned and operated by biologists Jim and Carol McGrath.  In their own words: NATURE DISCOVERY is dedicated to enhancing awareness and sensitivity toward Michigan's diverse living resources through natural science education.

Jim and Carol have operated Nature Discovery  for the past 28 years - most of that time out of their home!  They have the most complete collection of Michigan reptiles and amphibians anywhere in the state - currently 46 of 52 species.  Maintaining their "zoo" is a full-time job.

Some of the tanks at Nature Discovery

They regularly take their collection to locations around the state and present to thousands of people every year.  Until recently they have been helped by their four children, but the kids have all grown up so Jim and Carol are now largely on their own.

One Sunday each month, Jim and Carol host a themed open house at their home-based nature center. During open houses, visitors have the opportunity to observe and interact with the many species that call Nature Discovery home.  To learn about upcoming presentations and open house date please check out their monthly newsletter.  The cost to attend one of their open houses is only five dollars per person.

Here are a few of the species that we observed during the open house yesterday.

A young Spotted Turtle - photo by Shara LeValley

A Green Snake at Nature Discovery - photo by Shara LeValley

An American Toad peeks out from under a log in its habitat - photo by Shara LeValley

Two Fox Snakes peer out from an old blue bird house in their tank

A Box Turtle dozes in the sun at Nature Discovery
A collection of aquatic turtle species enjoys the warm sun

To maintain the diversity of species in their collection, Jim and Carol frequently capture wild specimens to replace animals that have died of natural causes.  Some species live longer than other - some snakes live more than a decade and turtles commonly live much longer.  Other species (especially some frogs) may only live for a couple of years.

Because they maintain such a large number of animals on site, there is always the potential that some of the animals will successfully breed and produce offspring.  When this happens Nature Discovery occasionally has an excess of certain species of animals.  When this happens, the extra animals are frequently donated to schools and other educational facilities that have booked presentations through Nature Discovery.  Part of the reason for out visit was for Shara to pick up a four year old rat snake to add to her classroom.

Shara with her new classroom pet

This new addition to the "zoo" measures nearly four feet long.  It is very gentle due to repeated handling.  Shara and I handled it for two straight hours while we visited Nature Discovery.  At one point, in addition to the snake we were bringing home, Shara had five additional snakes climbing on here.  Almost 26 feet of snakes in total!

Shara is not an ophidiophobe

Anyone with an interest in nature in general and Michigan reptiles and amphibians in particular should see a display or presentation by Jim and Carol.  I learn something new every time I see them.  I book them every year for the Isabella County Environmental Education Day and they are one of the highlights for students and teachers alike.

Nature Discovery is located only an hour and fifteen minutes from Mt. Pleasant.  It is well worth the drive to visit during one of their open houses.  If Sundays are not an option, special appointments can also be arranged.  To arrange a special visit or to receive their newsletter in your email contact them at 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Native Species Profile - Bear's Head Tooth Fungus

I am not a mycologist (fungus expert).  There are very few species of fungi that I can reliably identify.  Even though I am not an expert, I find fungi incredibly interesting because of the role that they play in the environment. 

Because fungi appear inactive biologists once lumped with plants, but many species actually behave more like animals.  Fungi cannot make their own food like plants can, instead they rely on other organisms for their food.  Some species form symbiotic relationships with plants - a relationship that benefits both species - collecting water and nutrients that is shares with the plant and receiving plant starches (food) in exchange.  Other species are parasitic - invading living organisms and stealing food from them.  Many species of fungi are saprophytic.  This means that they break down dead and decaying organism for their food.

One of the more distinctive fungi that can be found in Mid-Michigan is the Bear's Head Tooth Fungus (Hericium americanum).   Because it is so distinctive, this is one fungus that I feel confident in my identification. 

Bear's Head Tooth Fungus (Hericium americanum)

This species is saprophytic and is usually found on decaying deciduous logs, but it may occasionally be found on conifer logs or on living deciduous trees.  Like almost all fungi, the part that we see is only a small part of a much larger organism.  Most of a fungus is hidden in the ground, in dead logs, or even in living trees as a system of root-like fibers called mycelium.  The mushroom that we see on the surface only occurs when the larger fungus is ready to reproduce by sending microscopic spores into the wind.  Essentially a mushroom is a fruiting body produced by the large hidden mass of mycelium for the purpose of reproduction.

The fruiting body of this fungus grows from the decaying log as a thick white stalk topped by several thick white branches.  Each branch is covered by white clusters of drooping spines or teeth.  The overall effect is of a bonsai tree covered with icicles.  This visible fruiting body may be as large as 12 inches by 12 inches.  It is not uncommon to find several growing from the same log.  Over time the color fades from white to cream or brown.

Bear's Head Tooth Fungi (Hericium americanum) growing from a decaying log

Although I rarely eat wild mushrooms because I don't particularly like them, this is one wild fungus that I would confidently eat.  Bear's Head Tooth is considered delicious and has no poisonous lookalikes.  There are several other Hericium species that look similar, but all are edible.  A good rule for any wild food, never eat anything in the wild that you cannot identify with 100% certainty

Humans are not the only creatures that eat the Bear's Head Tooth Fungus.  Rodents such as mice, chipmunks, and squirrels often chew on them.  They are eaten by several species of insects.  They are also avidly consumed by snails and slugs.

A large (2 inch long) slug on a Boar's Head Tooth Fungus

Basic Information

Bear's Head Tooth Fungus
Hericium americanum

Size:  up to 12" by 12"
Habitat:  found on deciduous logs in woodlands; rarely on living trees or conifer logs
Color:  white; fades to cream or brown
Bloom Time:  summer to fall