False Potato Beetle
Leptinotarsa juncta

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Arthropoda
Class Insecta
Order Coleoptera
Family Chrysomelidae
Genus Leptinotarsa
Species L. juncta

Today I’d like to present an interesting find from last year. While cleaning up around the yard, I saw this colorful fellow perched on the concrete trim of the house. He was fairly big, perhaps the size of a dime. Michigan’s insects are fiarly elusive and generally not terribly interesting, so this was a fun find.

It took a while with the Audobon Guides to figure out that this was a Colorado Potato Beetle. Except, it isn’t. I initially mis-labeled this insect since their appearances are so close. While doing some research for this article, I actually found several mentions to the fact that they are easily confused for one another. However, while the adult false potato beetle has alternating black and white stripes on its back one of the white stripes in the center of each wing cover is missing and replaced by a light brown stripe. That is indeed what we see here, and so that’s what we have!

Thankfully, the false potato beetle is not considered a pest. The Colorado potato beetle is a massive pest, however. They eat, as the name suggests, potatos, and they can do some serious damage to the crop each year. Ours was just a harmless imitator, so we spared him from an unseemly fate.

Apple Tree
Malus domestica

Kingdom Plantae
Phylum Magnoliophyta
Class Magnoliopsida
Order Rosales
Family Rosacaea
Genus Malus
Species M. domestica

If the deer is an iconic Michigan creature, the apple tree is definitely one of Michigan’s most iconic trees. The apple blossom is even Michigan’s state flower! We had four of these beautiful trees in our side yard. I say “had,” because one of the trees died this year and needs to be chopped down. The previous owners neglected the pruning that these domesticated trees need, and it split apart under its own weight. There were no blossoms or fruit on our trees this year due to an incredibly cold summer, but usually they are covered in white and pink flowers each spring and more apples than we can eat each summer.

The apple tree was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated, and its fruits have been improved through selection over thousands of years. There are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples; We have no idea what type ours are exactly, but we seem to have two varieties. In the wild, apples grow readily from seeds. However, like most perennial fruits produced for consumption, apples are ordinarily propagated asexually by grafting.

Apples appear in many religious traditions, often as a mystical or forbidden fruit. One of the problems identifying apples in religion, mythology, and folktales is that the word “apple” was used as a generic term for all fruit, other than berries but including nuts, as late as the 17th century. Many beneficial health effects are thought to result from eating apples, which lead to today’s version of the proverb “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

White-tailed Deer
Odocoileus virginianus

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Artiodactyla
Family Cervidae
Sub-Family Capreolinae
Genus Odocoileus
Species O. virginianus

Today’s post is one of Michigan’s most iconic creatures. The majestic white-tailed deer is the first critter that many people think of when they think of Michigan. They are easily the most hunted animal in the state, providing meat to a large portion of the population. They are also notorious around these parts for darting in front of cars, causing $130,000,000 in damage per year! Deer are an indelible part of Michigan culture, and a huge part of the food chain.

Deer are most notable for two features. First, their eponymous fluffy white tail. The other is the male’s large rack of antlers. The antlers are replaced every year, and start off covered in a soft, fuzzy material called velvet. The velvet will fall off once the antlers grow to a sufficient size. The high vascularity of them makes them bleed badly when the velvet falls off. The antlers are used for fighting, defense, and attracting mates.

We don’t see too many deer directly around Headquarters. Since there is a large amount of swamp in a horse-shoe shape around the house, the deer tend to steer clear of us. However, we occasionally see them around, including one that ran in front of me while I was pulling into the driveway! They are usually ephemeral, but Sara managed to get a picture of this doe from inside.

Common Housecat
Felis catus

Not everything on the Botanica is going to be part of nature’s perfect web of harmony. Sometimes us meddling humans will come along and bring our tiny extinction machines with us. Today we’re featuring F. catus, the common housecat. I refuse to believe there’s a single person reading this who hasn’t met a cat, so this species is definitely one of the most pervasive and introduced in the entire world.

Our two fuzzy adorable friends are actually part of a mutant phenotype called Manx cats. Manx have a genetic mutation that causes them to havea deformed vertebrate in their tails. Therefore, they either have short stubby tails or even no tails at all! We have two cats that exhibit both. The young man has no tail, and his mother has a stubby tail about three inches long.

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Carnivora
Family Felidae
Genus Felis
Species F. catus

We have two cats that we adopted from the Humane Society of Huron Valley. We were unsure if they were related, and were unsure if they were Manx or victims of violence. Once we got them home, it became very apparent, as the older cat nursed the younger! So, we have a mother and son pair. We have named them Nemo, after the fellow who traveled to Dream Land, and Navi, after the fairy who guided the hero Link in The Ocarina of Time. They are both indoor cats, as the road nearest Headquarters is a 55 miles-per-hour speed limit, and we’ve seen too many dead cats on it.

There’s not a lot I can say about cats that hasn’t been said to death elsewhere. As one of two main domesticated pet companions to mankind over the last 6,000 years, most people are familiar with cats and their quirks. I will use this time to remind everyone that cats are extremely good at destroying native flora and fauna. They also breed rapidly and can cause huge environmental devestation. Please make sure to spay or neuter your pets!

Dog Stinkhorn
Mutinus caninus

Continuing with last entry’s theme of “Mushrooms”, we’re going to go ahead and introduce another native mushroom species from here in Southeast Michigan. While strolling to the mailbox at Headquarters, I was quite startled to come across the four or five specimens of Dog Stinkhorn in the front yard. These were growing in the middle of part of the groomed part of the yard, a good distance from any woodland or swamp area.

I was mainly so startled because just look at the things. They look like some sort of bizarre outer-space alien worm. I foolishly have nothing for scale in the photo, but the largest ones are about the size of my finger. The startling orange/white/red coloring was quite the contrast to the green lawn!

Kingdom Fungi
Division Basidiomycota
Phylum Agaricomycotina
Class Agaricomycetes
Order Phalleles
Family Phallaceae
Genus Mutinus
Subspecies Caninus

The stinkhorns are a strange little mushrooms. They grow from small whitish eggs into the fruiting body you see here. The horn is covered in a nasty-smelling slime that attracts flies, which in turn spread the spores of the stinkhorn. My ‘horns did not smell at all, and to be frank I don’t know if that means anything.

Identifying this was quite a chore, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve done an accurate job. It is definitely in the Mutinus genus, but I’m not so sure on the caninus part. It could also be elegans or ravenelli. I don’t think it’s elegans based on the color, but it could cetainly be ravenelli with the pinkish/creamy color scheme. Since ravenelli is much rarer, I went with the more common caninus If any reads know the truth, feel free to chime in!

A neat point of etymology on these mushrooms is the fact that they are named, quite literally “Dog’s Cocks”. Mutinus was the Roman god of phallic marriage. Therefore, the mushroom is truly named “The Dog’s Dick mushroom”. No one said scientists are very mature. With the extremely vaginal look of the “eggs” linked above, this is not a mushroom for immature audiences!

Stinkhorns are edible, but not reccomended. They may cause a severe diruetic effect, and can only be eaten when young in the “egg” stage.

Make sure to click to embiggen the images below. They’re much more impressive once properly sized!

Lion’s Mane Fungus
Hericium erinaceus

Today we’ve got a special treat, both scientifically and culinarily. Just South of our home, where we usually do our taxonomy, is a county park named Mary McCann park. This park is almost contiguous with our land, and is separated by only a few other plots. It is not separated by any roads. Thus, we like to take hikes to stretch our legs every now and then.

Kingdom Fungi
Division Basidiomycota
Phylum Agaricomycotina
Class Agaricomycetes
Order Russulales
Family Hericiaceae
Genus Hericium
Subspecies Erinaceus

While on one of these hikes, we spotted a beautiful Lion’s Mane fungus. It was shockingly easy to spot against the drab browns and greys of Michigan in the fall. We found it on the south branch of the path into and out of the park, maybe 10 meters from the path. It was attached to a fallen tree which I foolishly did not photograph to identify.

Lion’s Manes are pretty neat mushrooms. They can be eaten, and are said to have a seafood-like texture and flavor; they substitute Lion’s Mane in traditional Chinese vegetarian food. We did not remove this one to eat, since it was in a public park. I am keeping an eye out for some around our home to cook up though, and I’ll make another entry if I do. Since Lion’s Mane is the only fungus in North America that produces the characteristic spines, it’s easy to know you’re not eating a poisonous mushroom.

Lion’s Manes may also be a key to further medical advancement. They’ve been used since antiquity in Chinese traditional medicine, and some research into them is starting to come to fruition. There have been positive results showing that Lion’s Mane may be useful in treating blood lipid and glucose levels, and may have a therapeutic effect on some throat cancers. Additionally, it seems to effect the nervous pathways, causing heavy mylineation of nerves and possibly contributing to an anti-dementia effect. Further research may propel Lion’s Manes into the kit of geriatric doctors everywhere.

Unfortunately, I have but one photo of the Lion’s Mane I took, and it’s the header image. In the stead of further images, I’ll provide some pictures from Wikimedia Commons.

Western Honey Bee
Apis mellifera

This week on Salis Botanica we have our first introduced, but still native, species on the list. A. Mellifera is a very common creature in the United States, known to most as the common honeybee. The honeybee has a tremendous range; In the US, it has homes in every corner of the nation, bar none. While the honeybee is a native species, Sara and I keep them agricuturally, harvesting their honey and wax. Specifically, our honeybees are A. m. carnica from the eastern portion of Europe. These bees are known for their gentle demeanor towards humans and aggressive pest control, making them ideal for beekeeping.

Honeybees have so much history and so many interesting facets, that it is beyond the scope of this taxonomy blog to dive deeply into their history. Bees and humans have a long relationship with one another, with beekeeping being one of the oldest professions recorded by mankind. Images of skeps have been found in ancient cave art.

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Arthropoda
Class Insecta
Order Hymenoptera
Family Apidae
Genus Apis
Species Mellifera
Subspecies Carnica

Honeybees are also incredibly unique in that they are considered a “super-organism”. To be considered alive, an organism must be capable of reproduction, movement, and homeostasis (Regulation of internal processes). This is very odd for honeybees, because the worker bee, which forms a majority of the hive, is haploidy. This means they have half a set of chromosones. Most every other creature has a full set of chromosomes, one from each parents. These workers are completely sterile and unable to reproduce. On the other side of the coin, the queen can reproduce by emitting hundreds of eggs, but she is unable to defend or feed herself. As such, many scientists consider the whole hive to be a single creature, as oppossed to the individual bees. The only other creature I can think of off the top of my head that is as strange is the Portuguese Man-o-War, which is a truly fascinating creature in it’s own right.

Bees are an incredibly interesting, social, heirarchical creature. I recommend some time checking out the wikipedia article on them to learn more. We’re proud to keep and support these wonderful creatures, and also enjoying the sticky sweet fruits of their labor.

Midland Painted Turtle
Chrysemys picta marginata

Maxwell With A Midland Painted Turtle

Midland Painted Turtle threatened by the terrible and violent Homo Sapiens
© Sara C. Lazaroff

We decided to start off Salis Botanica with the same creature we first discovered on the property; Chrysemys picta marginata, the common midland painted turtle. The first day we owned the property we couldn’t get through the driveway since this staunch defender was guarding the path. We got a quick picture and sent him on his way back to the swamp to mingle with his other turtle friends.

So, what’s interesting about the painted turtle? Unlike a lot of creatures in the wild, the painted turtle has a reasonably long lifespan, taking up to 10 years to reach full size, and living up to 60. There’s a good chance that many painted turtles you encounter are older than you! Despite encroachment by humans, myself included, painted turtles still thrive, owing to their mostly water-bound nature and hardy demeanor.

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Reptilia
Order Testudines
Family Emydidae
Subfamily Deirochelyinae
Genus Chrysemys
Species C. picta
Subspecies C. picta marginata

It is fairly common to see turtles in Michigan, thanks to our many wonderful lakes and ponds. Midland turtles tend to prefer calmer waters with dense vegetation, so the swamp is a veritable breeding ground for the turtles. Our population seems hardy and long-lived. The main predators of the turtle, which include foxes, snapping turtles, and racoons are almost entirely absent around us. Foxes prefer to live further from the city, and snapping turtles do not appear present in the swamp. With low predation, the only main harbinger of turtle death is the local roads. Living in the countryside means most roads are 55 miles per hour, and turtles lack the necessary agility to avoid the traffic.

The painted turtle can also commonly be confused with the red-eared slider, Trachemys scripta elegans. The main thing to look for for differentiating them is the red “ear” on the slider, and a spotted plastron. The plastron is the bottom part of the turtle’s shell. Did you know that the shell is actually an evolved specialization of the turtle’s ribs?

Thanks for reading the first edition of Salis Botanica. We’ll be back shortly with more flora and fauna from Southeast Michigan!

Welcome To Salis Botanica

Saline City Limits SignWelcome to Salis Botanica. We’re a husband and wife team who has embarked on a mission to taxonomize all of the flora and fauna surrounding our home in Saline, Michigan.

We’re still getting set up. We hope to categorize all the plants and animals, no matter how large or small, to demonstrate the huge diversity in even a small, four-acre plot in rural Michigan. Stay tuned for our first post!