Land Snails! Everywhere!

Back to the Master Naturalist Conference postings, which I know you’ve been looking forward to (maybe?). Finally I get to share all the land snail information I learned on Sunday of the conference. This was a topic I knew very little about, so it was all new to me.

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Here Ben shows us all the parts of a snail. I really like the umbilicus.

Ben Hutchins gave the presentation, and wow, that dude knows a lot about snails. He told us so much about the snails that live all around us. His enthusiasm was very contagious, and by the time he was finished with his in-class presentation, we were all dying to get outside and look for some land snails. So, we stepped out of the hotel and went to the conveniently located riverside park just a short distance away.

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The small but mighty globular drop snail, and my hand.

We immediately started finding snails! First we found the tiny globular drop snails, which are the small white ones we’ve all seen, but had no idea what to call them.

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See how the end of the decollate snail looks like it’s broken off? That’s normal!

Then we found the decollate snails I’d always thought were broken. Nope, they all lose their tips as they mature. Huh. We found lots of living examples of those.

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Rabdotus, front and back. Whichever is which.

We ended up finding at least five kinds of snails in our short walk. Others included white-lip globe snails, the very common Rabdotus, and the Asian Tramp snail.

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A white lip globe snail. So shiny. I think these are the ones with an operculum. I could be wrong.

We didn’t find any milk snails. Those are the ones I find a lot around Cameron. It turns out they aren’t native, but ARE the same escargot that the French eat with butter and garlic. My friend Pamela was extremely thrilled to learn this. She apparently has many meals’ worth at her house.

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Ben shows us a snail he sorted out of the leaf litter along a path.

Salient Snail Stuff

Did you know that most of the land snails crawling in our leaf litter are so small that they are hard to spot with the naked eye? The best way to find them is to sift leaf litter, which he demonstrated using a really nice hand-made sifter.

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Ben has on a light, and is looking through a loup at a tiny jewel snail.

Did you know they have “teeth?” The teeth are really sharp protruberances on the shells.

Also, snails need moisture to be able to get out and about and do their snail activities. If it gets dry, many types of land snails just go into hibernation until it rains. And some of them have been known to hibernate months or years!

What do they eat? Well, your pet snail will love carrots and lettuce. I’m sure they are hours of entertainment…

The Key to Land Snails?

It turns out that it’s not easy to get more information on land snails, because the last comprehensive book on the subject came out in the 1950s. Good news, though! Ben is working on new material that will grow up to be a book. He’s also developing a key to help identify snails that you find (a key uses a series of questions do narrow down genus and species in a type of organism).

We all got a sample snail, and a microscope to look through, and we practiced identifying our snails using the key. It was really fun, and Ben figured out a place where he needed to add a question or two to make it easier to ID a particular type of snail. We did science!

I’m really glad Ben shared copies of his work in progress. I’m putting my copy of his text, photos, and key in a binder for future use. He was right. Land snails are fascinating!

 

 

 

Experiencing the Balcones Canyonland Preserve

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This lush, moist, fern-covered scene is typical in the preserve.

My next Master Naturalist conference field trip was to see the part of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve that abuts Concordia University, in the beautiful western hills of Austin. This area is full of endangered and rare plants and animals, including the beloved golden-cheeked warbler (who is not here right now). In addition, this series of preserved areas is interesting because it’s administered by multiple agencies, which is unusual. It’s also very big, as you can see from this interesting map.

So, an intrepid group of naturalists took a van over to the beautiful Concordia University campus (it’s beautiful, because they made a ton of money when they sold their very valuable but confining old location and bought this large property with plenty of room to grow).

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This is Jared. He learned about nature from his grandfather, who shared his Cameron property with him.

We were met by the people in charge of the piece of the preserve that we were going to tour, and some really nice student workers who all really seem to love this property and know a lot about it. One student even had roots in good old Cameron, Texas (shout out to the Davenport family). I really enjoyed talking to the young people about their observations of the area. If they keep it up, they will sure have a fun life ahead of them.

Continue reading “Experiencing the Balcones Canyonland Preserve”

Karst Preserve Bonus Field Trip

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My exploring companions!

While we were exploring the Avery Ranch cave, I remembered where I’d seen other caves in the neighborhood over from the one we were in, Oak Brook. I suggested that, if anyone wanted to go look at other local caves, I’d take them there. Unfortunately, my memory issues made giving directions stink, and since I didn’t remember the name of the place we could not look it up. So, only one carload made it.

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Typical karst pools that form in wet periods. I need to go back in spring to figure out what kind of little plants bloom here. They have yellow flowers and may be lichen.

However, we had a great time at the Oak Brook Karst Preserve once we found it. I have some bittersweet memories of this spot, because I used to go over there long ago, when I was sad about marital issues, to be sad where my kids couldn’t see me. I gave my troubles to Mother Earth, I guess. On a happier note, my traveling companions liked it for more Master Naturalist reasons—flora and fauna!

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Caving in the Old ‘Hood

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I had always known the mysterious fenced off areas in the middle of the neighborhoods, and some of the seemingly random “parks” were really where developers were hesitant to put houses because of caves.

My bucket list is one item smaller. Ever since I saw sealed over cave openings in my old neighborhood (the Brushy Creek/Cat Hollow/Avery Ranch area in Williamson County), I wanted to see what was under the neighborhood. The area is in a limestone karst formation (quite near many limestone quarriees). After a cave collapsed pretty near my old house last year, I REALLY wanted to go in, so when I saw a session at the Texas Master Naturalist Conference on “Caving in Avery Ranch” I signed up.

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The mysterious entry, and all the caving equipment. Note helmets!

We carpooled over to the Avery Ranch Cave Preserve,* which is always fun (we learn so much from each other). Sure enough, there, right across from a park and another fenced in patch of land (hmm, wonder why?) is this little preserve. In it, was a locked metal door. Mysterious!

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Get Ready for a Lot of Posts!

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Here are twelve of our group, looking happy (many of us are hiding our wine glasses behind us, so we were happy).

While you haven’t heard from me in a while, you will now. I wasn’t posting about nature, because I was out in nature having experiences, as well as learning new things, at the Texas Master Naturalist Conference over the weekend. I haven’t had so much fun in a long time.

Before sharing all my activities, I wanted to acknowledge our group, the El Camino Real Chapter, who sent 14 or 16 (I forget) people to the conference. That is impressive for a small place like Milam County.

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It’s the 20th anniversary of the whole program, so it’s impressive to see how many are that old!

Our group was acknowledged for ten years of being active. And I learned a lot about those ten years talking with people over the weekend. Sigh. All volunteer organizations have similar issues, but still manage to hang together!

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Only 4 folks got this far this year. Way to go, Donna. In comparison, I have just over 100.

We were all very proud of Donna Lewis, our Vice President, who was one of only three people honored for achieving 5,000 volunteer hours. That is one active volunteer in a place with fewer options than most (we don’t have any state parks, etc., to volunteer at).

Next I’ll share some of my adventures with you. Stay tuned.

Sour Grapes, Not All Bad

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I’m holding up the big bucket so Burt can concentrate on picking grapes.

After learning all about foraging from Sean Wall in our Master Naturalist training, I’ve been pretty excited to see what we can find around the Hermits’ Rest that we can eat or turn into something useful.

I know I could have done a lot more with all those dewberries besides make cobbler. I just need to be brave enough to try canning. Maybe next year!

The midsummer bounty that magically appears every year are mustang grapes, which are native to the area and a great food source for animals. We have two trees that are completely covered in grape vines, plus a lot across the road from the gate.

In fact, I thought the grape vines were dying, they looked so black last week. Nope, it was all grapes.

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The blackness is all grapes.

Now, I knew my Master Naturalist friend Burt likes to make wine, mead, applejack, and other tasty beverages. And I’d been looking for a reason to invite him and his wife, Jenecia (and their daughter to be), over to see the ranch. So, I announced that I have all the free mustang grapes a vintner could want, for free. (A couple of other folks had lots, too; it’s a great year for the mustang grape.)

They said they’d come by over the weekend, and so they did.

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A One-Hour Urban Experiment

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Salvia gregii is a really popular landscape plant. It’s supposed to be native, but I’ve never seen any that wasn’t put there by someone.

During the four days of the week when I’m in Austin, I do yoga three days at lunch. But on Wednesdays, I’m on my own. Sometimes I just work, but often I take a walk around the area, which has some interesting plantings and natural areas as well. The office is on land that used to be full of deer when my kids were little. Now there is a lot more office space and less deer land.

Anyway, I decided to give myself a challenge last Wednesday, which was to see how many new iNaturalist observations I could make during the lunch hour. I wanted to focus mainly on things that were blooming or bearing fruit, but if something else interesting showed up, I’d take advantage of that.

So, off I went with my trusty iPhone X, which takes reasonable pictures, sometimes. I took pictures of the native/nativized plants that had been planted around the buildings first. There were some really beautiful agaves that I just had to record, even though I know they are landscape plants. Look at this Queen Victoria Agave!

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It’s pretty, even if it’s not native.

Continue reading “A One-Hour Urban Experiment”