Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I've been out in the field quite a bit this week, working on my primary project. To recap: I'm doing a study that requires me to collect a variety of mushroom-feeding insects, so I had to put out little plastic flowerpots each filled with wet sphagnum and topped with a soaked mushroom. Then I had to revisit each site for several days and sweep over the baits with an insect net, to catch the critters flying overhead. Today I had to pull in my baits, take them back to the lab, and set the soggy mushrooms (and several pooled samples of the underlying sphagnum) up in separate rearing jars. Three sites, 20 baits per site, lots of soggy decomposing fungi. And I'm still rearing insects from the previous round of baiting.

I picked my sites for convenience to my home and lab, so two out of three were habitats that I'd describe as "urban woods", which means they're a mixed system of trees, shrubs, leafy plants, broken beer bottles, condom boxes, and assorted dismantled plastic housewares. I'm not especially fond of doing fieldwork among discarded pop cans and mini-pads, plus at one site I showed up yesterday to sweep baits and was greeted by a locked parking lot gate marked GATE CLOSED FROM NOVEMBER 15 THROUGH MARCH 31. I'm still trying to figure that one out, but they reopened the gate today, so whatever was being smoked by the caretakers must have been confiscated.

The third site, however, was much more pleasant, despite being right off a bridle path that is frequently fertilized by horses. Suburbanites go jogging or walk their dogs there, and people ask in a friendly manner what I'm doing and why all these pink plastic tape banners are waving from the trees. Some of the creative guesses as to my purpose: Fishing (I was carrying a bucket of supplies near a creek), playing hide-and-seek (?), and setting up an orienteering course. Everyone seemed at least politely interested when I explained that I was letting mushrooms rot in plastic pots and then collecting them to bring back to my lab. (One signed off, "I hope you get an A!")

And, at this site, for the first time ever, I caught an amphibian in my net while sweeping for insects. I'm not good at IDing vertebrates, so I don't know whether it was a frog, a toad, or a cursed royal personage, but it was about 4 inches long and bright green. It just hopped in there and stared at me. Most likely, it had figured out that a slimy piece of fungus was a good place to stake out a fly-hunting ground. I booted it out of my net and went on with my business, but today it was still there, staring at me, while I picked up my baits. At least it's been wet enough lately so that there are other mushrooms around. Seems like a pretty resourceful frog to me.

(And, no, it's not the first vertebrate I've caught in my net. I nabbed a mouse in my Kalamazoo living room that way. But if I haven't blogged about that already, it still qualifies as another story.)