Sunday, September 7, 2008

International Rock Flipping Day

It's International Rock Flipping Day!
And what better way to investigate the natural world and discover some unusual creatures in it, than to look under a rock--lift the lid on subterranean lives--and anyone else who may be hiding there!

Southwestern Ohio has been dry.
So dry, that long, branching cracks cover most of the yard. Our clay soil bakes under the 90 degree late summer sun, until only the hardiest survive.
Or dig deep. Way below this parched, unfriendly surface.

Between 2 flat rocks around the herb garden, I found the empty cocoon of a woolly bear. A flattened mat of short auburn hairs--he's long gone from where he over-wintered in his felted wool sweater.

The low water level at the pond has exposed the old dam.
Rocks emerge from the muddy rim, barely peeking above the duckweed and watermeal in a soupy, green sludge.
But someone has already looked here, probably in the dark, hoping to find crawdads. This morning, his footprints are all I find.

Raccoon tracks around pond

Around the trail, rock after rock.
Stone after stone, I flip--hoping to find something more than an empty web or tunnel.

Finally--buried treasure.

An ant colony--a BIG one!
Full of very active ants, half an inch long, in a chamber the size of my fist.
Immediately they scurry into the adjoining tunnels, frantically grabbing rice-shaped pupae and disappearing behind the intricate excavation I've exposed.

There's something else living here, too, within this colony of ants.
Rove beetles, their amber bodies and tails held high, fuss about. Ants pick them up and run off, taking them, also, to their place of safety.
Rove beetles are myrmecophiles, organisms that live in association with ants, in this case, within their nest, in a symbiotic relationship. One organism benefits from the other, and neither is harmed.

Ant colony with Rove Beetles as inquilines

Yep, there sure is a lot going on out there.
Things we easily see, and those we have to look harder to find.
Great lessons in the natural world lurk just beneath the surface.
Lift the lid.
Flip a rock.

out and about
making tracks

Rock-Flipping Day Reports

Pohanginapete (Pohangina Valley, Aotearoa/New Zealand)
Blaugustine (London, England)
Nature Remains (Ohio, USA)
Pensacola Daily Photo (Florida, USA)
KatDoc's World (Ohio, USA)
Notes from the Cloud Messenger (Ontario, Canada)
Brittle Road (Dallas, Texas)
Sherry Chandler (Kentucky, USA)
osage + orange (Illinois, USA)
Rock Paper Lizard (British Columbia, Canada)
The Crafty H (Virginia, USA)
Chicken Spaghetti (Connecticut, USA)
A Passion for Nature (New York, USA)
The Dog Geek (Virginia, USA)
Blue Ridge blog (North Carolina, USA)
Bug Girl's Blog (Michigan, USA)
chatoyance (Austin, Texas)
Riverside Rambles (Missouri, USA)
Pines Above Snow(Maryland, USA)
Beth's stories (Maine, USA)
A Honey of an Anklet (Virginia, USA)
Wanderin' Weeta (British Columbia, Canada)
Fate, Felicity, or Fluke (Oregon, USA)
The Northwest Nature Nut (Oregon, USA)
Roundrock Journal (Missouri, USA)
The New Dharma Bums (California, USA)
The Marvelous in Nature (Ontario, Canada)
Via Negativa (Pennsylvania, USA)
Mrs. Gray's class, Beatty-Warren Middle School (Pennsylvania, USA)
Cicero Sings (British Columbia, Canada)
Pocahontas County Fair (West Virginia, USA)

* * *


IRFD group on Flickr
IRFD gallery on Via Negativa

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Beth said...

I enjoyed following you on your rock flipping--as always a pleasant time. We had 4 inches of rain last night from Hannah, so I'm waiting a bit to get out and flip my rocks.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Nina! It's been dry here in central PA for the last month, too. If nothing else works out, I guess I'll go down to the creek.

Crayons said...

Hi Nina,
Another wonderful post. I love having you as a guide. I know for certain that I would not have spotted any of the things you saw.

Keep posting.

myonlyphoto said...

Nina your blog is so cool, so many little creatures. anna:)

NCmountainwoman said...

Looks like you hit the jackpot! Thanks for sharing with us.

cestoady said...

TERRIFIC POST !! For years I have read about and seen pictures of Rove Beetles (Staphylinidae) that live symbiotically with ants, but have never actually seen them in the flesh, so to speak. I did not realize that they would be as numerous as your great photos reveal. I guess I had better use your example and join in flipping rocks -- I might just get lucky like you.

Kathi said...

Hi, Nina!

I flipped, too, but I can't ID my critters. If you have a minute, can you stop by and take a look?


Anonymous said...

Very interesting and informative. I didn't know about Rove Beetles before, and I've enjoyed the series of photos. The paw prints at the very last are utterly charming!

Mary said...

Oh, Nina. I've been out of sight for so long that I did not know it was rock flipping day. Darn. I love to flip rocks... and you did a fine job. I didn't realize Ohio was so dry!

"half an inch long" ants? My goodness. You had a field day.

I've missed you. Trying to get back into the swing.


RuthieJ said...

Is that your paw print with the raccoon paw prints in the last photo?

Lisa at Greenbow said...

When I read the title of your post I immediately thought of the Ruddy Turnstones we saw yesterday when out birding. They look under stones every day.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post and never knew that about the Rove beetles. Very interesting!

Dave Coulter said...

Nice rock, and great close up photos....well done!

Jen said...

Very cool flip! Love your pictures. I never yould have know that to be a wooly bear remnant--how very cool! And it always amazes me to see an ant colony uncovered. They are such cool creatures. Thanks for sharing your discoveries with us

bobbie said...

What fun! I found the rock flipping on another blog this morning. Went out and flipped the only one I found in my yard. Nothing at all. I'll have to look farther afield.

Q said...

Dear Nina,
I did not know it was rock flipping day! It has been so wet at my house I bet all sorts of critters are staying dry under the rocks.
Thank you for showing the Rove Beetles. ALways nice to meet a new bug!

Heather said...

I sure am enjoying your blog, Nina. I thought maybe I was the only 'girl who liked bugs'. How exciting! Great pictures - really great. Thanks for sharing your gift. I nominated you for a blogging award. If you like you can check it out at my blog on today's post.

Gail said...

When I read about rock flipping day (Lisa at Greenbow) I knew it would be a good blog to visit. What a lovely post and great photos! Thank you for a delightful visit.

clay and limestone

PJ said...

That was a very nice travelogue. Who knew rock flipping could be so, well, illuminating. I was ill-prepared for this first try but I'll be ready for next year. Thank you for showing me what fun rock flipping can be.

Unknown said...

How in the world did I miss "Rock Flipping Day". My kids and I will just have to make our own "Rock Flipping Day" this weekend. Great post. Here's an old post of mine that I wrote after finding a creature under a log.