Sunday, February 7, 2016

Shifting Focus

One of the events taking place right now in Los Angeles is something called a "snailblitz", a concentrated effort to record snails and slugs. The fun thing about it is that who actually spends time looking at snails!? I certainly didn't, until recently. I mean sure I photographed snails, but I didn't actually put time aside to specifically look for them. For me, the majority of my experiences with snails were walks in the middle of the night or during a rainy morning, when I heard a sudden "crunch" under my feet.

You can't just happen upon a rare native snail, or, let's face it, even a common native snail. During the day, most snails hide out, in cracks of trees, or under bark. Many species are only 1-2mm in size too, and when a pinpoint-sized micro snail is only found in a shady crack of select trees in a great forest, it becomes troubling indeed. The biggest issue is that fallen logs are not easy to come by here for some reason. But I mean, snails eat your prized geraniums and cabbages too, so that's another reason why this event is a new frontier for many people. Certainly I had only puzzled looks when trying to convince multiple people, all independently mind you, that no, I did not in fact lose something in the leaf litter, but I was actually documenting snails.

One early hike that went out, one that I was invited to but could not attend, found a great colony of Southern California shoulderband, a stunning native species that is considered to be endangered.. Naturally, in such an urban superzone that is Los Angeles, most of our expected snails are introduced from Europe or Asia. To find a native snail, one had to be quite lucky and also search in the perfect spots. There are about 15-20 native snails in Los Angeles county, and guess how many I have seen. A grand total of 0.

Though I could not attend the event itself, I was able to turn up yesterday and look around. I found the fallen log, the only log of its kind in the area, and rolled it back. There was a discouraging 10 seconds of scouring the litter-ridden forest floor, but finally, hiding under a sycamore leaf, was that shoulder-striped shell I had been looking for. I found a few of them after a bit more searching, before returning the log to its original position and covering the sides with leaf litter to try and revive the sealed-off microhabitat that was originally there.

Southern California shoulderband, Helminthoglypta tudiculata!
What I could not find was the invasive rounded snail, Discus rotundatus. Why would anyone care about seeing an introduced snail? Well, it's another species to see, isn't it? More importantly, its one I haven't seen yet! With the target species achieved, I spent some time checking out other areas of Eaton Canyon. I knocked off some sycamore bark nearby which revealed an unusual miniature Zopherid beetle Bitoma sulcata. In the same park area I was also treated to a harvestman Protolophus singularis, sand pygmyweed Crassula connata, the somewhat uncommon jointed charlock Raphanus raphanistrum.

Bitoma sulcata
Sand Pygmyweed, Crassula connata. Blink and you'll miss it! Then again, it's easy to miss it even if it wasn't
1mm in size.

Jointed charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum

Also somewhat notable was the invasion of annual stinging nettle, Urtica urens. This one was in full bloom, which is not common, at least not for me:

Annual nettle, Urtica urens, in full bloom. Maybe not the most exciting flowers
in the world, but a show nonetheless.
A widespread plant here was common phacelia, Phacelia distans. Common they may be, but they are nice to look at. I was not entirely sure if these plants were part of the ornamental garden, or if they were actual wild plants, but several of them had occupied "weedy" spaces, so at least some of them seem good.

Common phacelia, Phacelia distans.

I found a second log halfway through the trail, shaded under a coast live oak. I did not see any more shoulderbands, but I did find Paralaoma servilis. These tiny little shells were easy to miss, but once you find 1, you suddenly see 10, and then 20...They were not the rounded snails I was interested in, but arguably they are an even better find though still not a native species. They are apparently common in Los Angeles, but they are not covered in any literature and few experts know about them.

Paralaoma servilis.
Satisfied, I headed off to explore a different trail. On the way down I found 2 small liverworts growing besides each other, both new species for moi, hairy crystalwort Riccia trichocarpa, and Campbell crystalwort Riccia campbelliana!

Hairy crystalwort, Riccia trichocarpa.
Campbell crystalwort, Riccia campbelliana.
For what was no more than an hour in Eaton Canyon, I was very impressed! On the walk back to the car park I found what may have been my first "tickable" population of sweet alyssum, Lobularia maritima. I've seen the species before, but I've never been crazily confident that those plants I've seen have not just been planted by human hand. It's a common garden plant, but they occasionally spread as a weed, and this group, alongside invasive carnation spurge and petty spurge Euphorbia terracina and peplus, london rocket Sisymbrium irio and western tansy mustard seemed "at home" outside of a garden.

Sweet alyssum, Lobularia maritima.
As usual, you can view my entire trip list on iNaturalist. Today's trip is found here: