Monday, June 8, 2009

Old Trees, Dead Bugs

Maybe it turned out for the best my grandkids couldn't come with me to Mianus River Gorge, the old-growth hemlock preserve near Bedford, NY.  They probably would have been bored stiff, and I would have had to cut short the hike (the full trail runs about five miles, round trip).  Even I felt a little bored at times.  The really old trees were way down in a steep gorge where I couldn't reach them -- which is probably how they survived all these centuries.  No logging teams could reach them either.  It was obvious by the presence of old stone walls throughout the woods that the uplands had been cleared and inhabited long ago, then left to revert to forest.  And garlic mustard.  And barberry.  (Is there any place those weeds won't grow?)

An ancient hemlock reaches for the sky.

An old growth-hemlock doesn't have quite the majesty of, say, an old-growth white pine, but they do have a gnarly old look and trunks that have reached an impressive size.  Unfortunately,  I couldn't get really good photos of them in the darkness of the woods.  Other trees of impressive size included tulip trees, which I might not have noticed if it weren't for the snippings of leaves and flowers that littered the path.  Some machete-mouthed tree squirrel must have been clearing its personal highways way, way up in the canopy.

Tulip-tree leaves and flower

One curious thing I found was a patch of damp rocks just swarming with millipedes.  I counted over a dozen on just one mossy stone.  But what was really odd is that there were many dead ones on the rocks, too.  Some were long dead and dried up, but others were seemingly still in the throes, curled and barely moving, exuding fluid on the rocks they lay on.  The oddest thing of all was that the live ones seemed to be tending to the corpses in some way, nudging at them, walking over them,  paying some attention.  It almost seemed like some kind of millipede graveyard.  Very strange.   Or maybe they were eating them!?  EEEW!!!

Live millipedes seeming to tend to the dead

Maybe my grandkids wouldn't have been so bored, after all. 


Ellen Rathbone said...

What BEAUTIFUL millipedes! They almost look like sea slugs!

Are you sure the "dead" ones you found were really dead? Could they have been shed exoskeletons, discarded as the owners out-grew them?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Yes, Ellen, I suppose SOME of what I thought were dead millipedes could have been shed exoskeletons that had collected in a low place in the rock. I never thought of that. But I did see some that seemed to be actively moribund, coiled and twitching a bit, exuding fluid. Or maybe they were just in the process of shedding. I won't be returning to this remarkable site, so it will have to remain a mystery. And yes, I thought they were beautiful.

Kenton and Rebecca said...

Those millipedes are indeed amazing. We probably would have gone into some sort of embarrassing frenzy if we saw something that cool. And the mystery of what they were doing with the corpses/exoskeletons is fascinating!

Bird said...

Those millepedes are beautiful. And the world of invertebrates is so bizarre, any time you pay attention to critters like these you will see something mind blowingly weird when you have the patience to just keep watching. I've only just discovered your blog by the way and I LOVE that you have such an eye for the small things.

catharus said...

Old growth white pines AND hemlocks are awesome, beautiful! Nice shot.