Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rocket Fuel Powered Snails?

Zonitoides nitidus on Gyromitra korfii
Long time, no post ;)

In the year or so since I last posted my attention has fluttered from snails, to caterpillars, and, now, to mushrooms. I still look at snails when I come across them and find snails really fascinating, but, boy, they are just pretty damn inaccessible to a non-scientist. Not a lot of info on top of being plain hard to identify equals too frustrating to lose sleep over.

I literally just decided over the winter to learn about mushrooms. I've been on a self-sustainability kick and have decided to see how much of my families food I can provide without supermarkets by growing, foraging, and hunting/fishing. So I spent a lot of the winter pouring through mushroom identification books to get my bearings on that front, hoping to slowly add species of mushrooms to my foraging list.

But, now that mushrooms are starting to bloom, the two interests (snails and mushrooms) have aligned.

As the foraging year begins, the genus of mushrooms to seek is Morchella: the Morels. They are the number one spring target for edible mushrooms. Of course, they have their poisonous counterparts known as the false Morels (and, in actuality, Morels are poisonous unless cooked). While out looking for Morels I came across a Gyromitra species, one of these false Morels.

I picked it to identify and, lo and behold, a Euconulus cf. fulvus was on it. I removed the snail gently (Euconulus seem to be especially crushable) and put the mushroom in a paper bag to bring home and identify. Upon arriving home, I found a hitchhiker, a Zonitoides nitidus. Now, I can't confirm the snails were feeding on the mushroom since I didn't look for feeding tracks, but I can pretty much assume these snails are there for supper. My little hithchiker happily stayed crawling all of the mushroom while I made a spore print.

Macroscopically I had a pretty good idea of what species it was based on a couple keys to the Gyromitra. But I decided I wanted to confirm identity microscopically by checking out the spores. You'll see below the spores which have prominent knobs (apiculi?) and a central oil spot with some smaller oil spots.

The circled spore shows most of the characteristics: apiculi, central oil spot, and smaller oil spots.

By way of microscopy, I confirmed this mushroom as Gyromitra korfii, which may or may not be synonymous with Gyromitra fastigiata. It also may be synonymous with Gyromitra gigas, but I'm not exactly sure. Gyromitra gigas apparently is an edible mushroom. It seems only to be west of the Rockies and favors conifers. However, it still has to be cooked, and some accounts seem to want you to prepare it by parboiling to remove the toxins. G. korfii is grouped with G. gigas and may be conspecific, although all the newer books I own (and Michael Kuo's excellent site: have it separated. Further, G. gigas may be a lump of G. korfii and G. montana, distinguished mostly by minute differences of spores and region (G. korfii in east and G. montana in west).

But here's the cool part: the toxins of Gyromitra. Gyromitra produce monomethylhydrazine, an ingredient in rocket fuel. According to good ole Wikipedia, this toxin is produced in Gyromitra by the hydrolysis of gyromitrin. You can read about gyromitrin and its occurrence in Gyromitra here. Long story short, monomethylhydrazine is a known carcinogen and can be fatally toxic to you and me. Some species contain more than others. Gyromitra escuelenta is known to be deadly. Of course, that doesn't stop some people and apparently it's prepared and sold in Finland regularly (the toxins being removed by parboiling).

This species, G. korfii, was a little harder to nail down as to it's full toxicity. It may be, but then again, maybe it's not. I seems to be of an unknown provenance in the poisonous department. But, it seems like all the Gyromitra are rocking some rocket fuel. Needless to say, this mushroom won't find itself on my plate any time soon.

So back to our little snails. They are ostensibly feeding on this early species of poisonous (by way of rocket fuel) mushroom. Even if this species of Gyromitra only has a little, the snails mass is so much less than a human, they're ostensibly getting more relative exposure. So, does that mean they have immunity to what we know to be carcinogenic and/or deadly toxin? The mushroom's only coming up in the spring, right when the snails are becoming active again, is there any ill effect from this first meal of poison? They'd only be able to feed for a few months at most, until the mushroom rots away. Can snails get cancer? Obviously, I don't know. But it's kind of neat to think that these snails might just be rocket fuel powered.

This movie, Turbo, is coming out in July 2013 about a turbo charged snail. We saw a preview of it when the family went to see The Croods. Looks fun and is relatable to this blog post ;)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Few Interesting Things

I've got a few things I wanted to post about but just never did. These are those things.

Frog-faced Snail
Going up thru Tunkhannock (Wyoming County) on my way to Ithaca I stopped and grabbed some leaf litter around a seasonal water source near a seep and along the side of the road. My collection device was a gallon bag and it was filled with wet litter, pretty much all water to the top couple inches of the leaf litter. Soon all the snails in the litter climbed up to the top and were easy to collect.

Eight of the snails (all same species) I couldn't even get to genus-- and it might be some form of freshwater/semiterrestrial.  Here's there lowdown:

  1. No operculum
  2. No long antennae, their eyes were just on the head
  3. I saw them open their pneumostomes in air
  4. No proboscis so Pomatiopsis is out.
  5. About 4mm each
Here are some pics I grabbed:

The snail is seemingly in water up top because I sprinkled with water to get him to walk around. I have others without it soaked in water, but after it hid itself back up I sprayed it to coax it out. This just happens to be what I think is the best picture that shows what it looks like.

Tree Slugs

I can't find the photos for this one, but during the summer while I was beating branches for caterpillars I had some Philomycids come falling down. This was up at Bear Creek Natural Area near Wilkes-Barre, PA. I believe they were Megapallifera mutabilis. I just thought it was interesting because they were up at least 6 feet, likely more. Obviously there are tree slugs and snails elsewhere, but it seems like there's no mention of them higher up in trees up here in the northeast. 

Black-footed Succineid

From wikipedia, 
A dark marking on the posterior surface of the foot is distinctive.
That's talking about Novisuccinea chittenangoensis, the Chittenango Ovate Ambersnail. I guess that's open for interpretation without an accompanying photo or figure. But I did find this:

That's a succineid on my hand that I found at Nescopeck State Park and that line played thru my mind when I found it, in Pennsylvania, in a dry field of debris. I obviously don't think it's the same species, in fact, I've pretty much given up on identifying succineids. But it's interesting, hence the title of the post. It's the only one I've ever found with a mark like that in all the succineids I've found (and I swear I find more of them than any other family so it kind of chafes me I can't identify them). There were multiple individuals easily found alongside some Ventridens species.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Microsnail Microphotography #1 - Reversing a Lens

The technique I've landed on for photographing microsnails is reversing a prime focal length lens. After testing close-up filters I feel the quality and magnification are better by reversing a lens.

Note that this math seems to only hold true for reversing a prime lens (non-zoom). Also, the reversed lens should be set to it's widest aperture and both lenses focused at infinity.

The math for how much magnification you get reversing a lens is a simple forward lens focal length/reversed lens focal length. So, if you have a 200mm lens and you reverse a 50mm you are enlarging 4 times. It's handy-to-do, uncomplicated math.

Now I've got two choices as to where to reverse a lens. I own a Nikon D90 dslr camera and just purchased a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 digital camera. They are both 12 megapixels. This means the bigger sensor is less crowded for better images. Thus, the D90, being a dslr, has an edge on image quailty.  Still, both produce usable images. The FZ150 I'd likely keep to ISO 100, maybe 200. The D90 I can shoot to 400, maybe 800.

The key, however, to enlarging these 1 to 4mm snails is sensor size. The D90 has a sensor size of 23.6mm x 15.8mm and the FZ150 has a 6.16mm x 4.62mm. So you can imagine which camera it's easier to fill with an enlarged portion of light projection.

The lens I own for the D90 is a 90mm macro. Forward it's a 1:1 lens. Useful for full frame if I'm photographing one of the larger polygyrids. With a 50mm lens reversed it's 1.8x enlargement. So let's say I want to photograph a 1.1mm Punctum minumissimum. Saying the snail is evenly round it projects a 1.98mm image onto a 23.6mm sensor. It's not very big, only 8% of the sensor height.

The FZ150 has a built-in lens ranging from 4.5mm to 108mm. This is equivalent to 24mm to 600mm in 35mm terms, but you can't use that measurement, only the real focal length. Reversing that same 50mm lens you get a 2.16x enlargement. It's not that much more than the dslr with a 90mm lens but the key is where it's being projected. Now the snail is 2.376mm on a 6.16mm sensor or 38.5% of the image height.

If I wanted to fill as much of the frame as I could with that same snail I'd just need to use the short measure to reverse engineer it. It needs to just about fill 4.62mm, so for easy math let's say I want to enlarge it to 4.4mm on the sensor (remember, it's 1.1mm), that's 95%. Good enough. Desired enlargement size/actual size is 4x magnification. Forward lens/ magnification is 27mm. I don't know of any 27mm lenses but 28mm lens are pretty common. If I were to get one my P. min. would now take up about 92% of the short measure of the image. The long side only gets about 70% but I would suppose an apical view with an even measure. That's still a lot of image on a 12 megapixel camera.

But what if I really wanted to use that D90 ? I could always use extension tubes. I've got about 58mm of extension tubes, add the 90mm lens for 148mm, reverse a 28mm lens is 5.28x enlargement. The snail is now 5.8mm out of the short measure (15.8mm) so a little over a third. I've never tried this but that seems like it would be the math. I could be wrong because of where the back of the forward lens is in. If I'm assuming I'm doing the math right, what if I added in a 2x teleconverter. It would go directly behind the forward lens but not between camera and tubes. It's now a 180mm lens and 58mm of tubes--238mm. Supposing this is all right, we're now at 8.5x magnification. Our snail is 9.35mm of projected image. I'll leave you to the math of what lenses/tubes/teleconverters/alchemy to use to try to fill the frame. Needless to say there are a ton of possibilities. But these possibilities generally add up to more of a cost that just the digicam and a prime lens or two.

As you see, it's easier to work with the small sensor for these small snails. Plus ultimately cheaper if you're starting from scratch. Another bonus is that the digital camera, although big as far as digicams go, is still lighter and compact thus more likely to go on a hike with me.

The biggest gotcha I've found with reversing a lens is that some lenses/combinations/focal lengths will be seen on the periphery of your image. I only have the 50mm lens and on the FZ150 I can use it from 76.5mm to 108mm without seeing any of the reversed lens. I'm not sure if a shorter lens would allow me to zoom out more or exacerbate the situation or keep it about the same. I'll have to give it a try if I can get my hands on a shorter lens.

One last thing. If you want to get really fancy you an just reverse the lens without a lens in front of it for various magnifications. I didn't do the math and I'm super tired but as a for instance I made a makeshift extension tube out of a Pringles can and then reversed a 50mm lens at the end of it. It would up giving me about 8x magnification (I shot this with the D90 since you can't remove the lens of the FZ150). Not bad for a 99¢ can of chips (although I find the inedible) and a lens I got on ebay for about $20. I already had a macro reverse ring to attach to a camera but you could also modify a body cap from the camera to connect it if one was so inclined.

Next headaches: Depth of Field, Lighting, Camera Shake.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pupoides albilabris : White-lip Dagger

Found: Under debris along the railroad tracks, Salt Point, Lansing, NY, Nov. 2001
Sympatric: Gastrocopta armifera, Pupilla muscorum, Vallonia costata, Vallonia excentrica/pulchella, Hygromia striolata

Working on macrophotography for the microsnails. Right now just trying to handle magnification, that's why the lighting is less than wonderful in these photos. This little fella measures 4.45mm (shell height), still on the large size of the snails I want to photograph. These are crops taken with a reversed lens on an dslr where the snail's height took up about 50% of frame height.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Updated Pupillid Info

Big score tonight when I happened upon this:

Pupillid land snails of eastern North America

by Jeffrey C. Nekola and Brian F. Coles

It's basically an updated key to the the Pupillid (Pupilidae, Gastrocoptidae, Vertiginidae) Snails. That's about as hot as it gets. Relatively speaking.

This seems to be a busy team as they also wrote a few more papers available online:

A discovery of a new Vertiginidae snail in 2007- Vertigo malleata

A paper on acidic preferences of land snails

And one with Ulfar Bergthorsson on the Evolution of the Vertigo gouldi group using DNA testing

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Introducing Ithaca

Of a pretty big disappointment to me is how much the terrestrial mollusk fauna in the Ithaca area is non-native. I guess, however, this is to be expected in a developed area-- even one that seems like it's known for it's natural areas (Ithaca is Gorges). Still, I'm spoiled by some good snailing back home in PA.

Here are some of the non-native species I've encounted:

Discus rotundatus

Photo by Aiwok:
Probably the snail I was most pleased to see out of the non-natives only because there are so many Discus Catskillensis where I live in PA. I found some of these near the Equestrian Center in Ithaca (can't remember what it's called, some sort of orchards).

Limax Maximus : Leopard Slug

Photo by Jonathan Feinberg
As far as the non-native slugs go, this is pretty cool the first time you see it. It's absolutely huge. Another species I've never encountered back in PA. I've found this slug in Sapsucker Woods and Monkey Run.

Trochulus hispidus : Hairy Snail

Photo by James K. Lindsey
This could be a wrong identity on my part as Trochulus striolatus (Strawberry Snail) as juveniles of this species have periostracal structures as well. I've only found 2 alive and a ton of empties. I'll have to check inside the umbilicus of the many shells I found this week for hairs with a microscope when I go home to PA to see if I can confirm these as T. hispidus. Either way, I've seen Trochulus species at Sapsucker Woods and Salt Point.

Carychium minimum : Herald Thorn

Photo by snailmail

I only found empties of this snail in stream drift from Buttermilk Falls. However, I read a paper about the snail being naturalized in wet areas around Beebe Lake on the Cornell campus. This is a tiny snail-- somewhere between 1.6mm and 2.2mm.

Other species about:

Cepaea nemoralis- around the Lab of Ornithology. Rose and yellow variants, as well as spiral lined. There may also be C. hortensis mixed in. That or it's some C. nemoralis juveniles reaching to about C. hortensis size and not yet developing the brown lip. I'll have to check harder next year. I tend to gloss over non-native species, not giving them the attention I do natives.
Oxychilus allarius- possibly. Cayuga Heights and near Lab of Ornithology
Arion species- Definitely subfuscus and possibly distinctus. Never pay much attention to ugly Arion slugs.
Deroceras reticulum- another ugly alien slug, everywhere.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Vitrina angelicae : Eastern Glass-Snail

I've said it once, and I'll say it again, the northeast region of Pennsylvania is fairly understudied (or at least under-reported) when it comes to nature, which is funny to think about, as it's located a short 2 hours from either Philadelphia or New York City. Multiply an understudied class of organisms by an understudied area and you've got a void of knowledge. This reason is why it's exciting (alright, let's talk in relativities) to be interested in snails and live, at least part-time, in Northeast PA. My sightings get to actually add to the knowledge base with new records.

Which brings me to Vitrina angelicae, the Eastern Glass-Snail. Also I've seen a common name of Transparent Vitrine Snail, but that name is pretty lame. According to Pilsbry, the genus name stems from the the latin word vitrum, which translates to glass and the species name is traced to the plant, Angelica archangelica, near which it was originally found.

According to the records, this snail is only known to reside in Western, mostly Northwestern, Pennsylvania. Also, according to what is known, the snail is an annual species--becoming active in October and dead by the spring. You can read about it at

I also found information at which is an account of the related species Vitrina pellucida (the Western Glass-Snail). According to the website, Vitrina pellucida is carnivorous, and it's only difference with V. angelicae is anatomical. To test a little theory that then V. angelicae is also carnivorous I have it in a jar with what is likely prey, Cochlicopa lubrica-- which was found in proximity to the snail-- and Zonitoides arboreus.

I should also mention that I have found empty shells in two locations in Luzerne County. The first the island of trees and rocks in the turnaround at Nescopeck State Park where also present were plenty of Stenotrema hirsutum, and during the summer while taking my younger daughter through the Butterfly Garden at Frances Slocum State Park. I have also found the shells in the woods adjacent to the Butterfly Garden, though not very far into them.

From now on, instead of attaching an image to the snails known Pennsylvania counties I'll be just linking to my interactive known distribution map. To autoload Vitrinia angelicae go to