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 Comet Fire Report   Image Pages:  Page 1   Page 2   Page 3   Page 4   Page 5   Page 6   Page 7   Page 8   Page 9 
 Highlights From Comet Fire Image Pages 1 - 9:      Most Noteworthy Plant & Animal Images 
Ashes To Wildflowers: Image Page 2 (2021)
Post-Burn Plant Succession Following Comet Fire East Of Palomar College,
Including Remarkable Leaf-Litter Ant, Other Insects, Spiders & Rattlesnakes
Compiled by W.P. Armstrong During Winter & Spring Months Of 2021
Plant names follow Checklist Of The Vascular Plants Of San Diego County by
Jon Rebman & Michael Simpson, San Diego Natural History Museum, 2006.

Friday 5 March 2021

I am reasonably certain these seedlings are the fire-follower Phacelia parryi. This lovely wildflower truly illustrates the theme "ashes to wildflowers." They often bloom in spectacular profusion during the spring following a brush fire. If my ID is incorrect when they bloom later this spring, I will replace the image.

Another common fire-follower throughout the burned area. I can't confirm species until it flowers. It may be another Phacelia (cf. P. distans).

A resprouting coastal four o'clock (Mirabilis laevis var. crassifolia). This native perennial is also called "wishbone bush" because of its forked stems that supposedly resemble poultry wishbones. The latter trait is especially evident during the drought season when leaves have fallen and the plant is dormant. The flowers typically open in mid-afternoon and close the following day. They are night-pollinated.

A resprouting yerba santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium var. crassifolium). Kew Plants of the World Online lists this species without infraspecific rank. The Jepson Manual of California Plants (2nd Edition) lists 2 varieties of of E. crassifolium for California: var. crassifolium and var. nigrescens. Yerba santa species were an important medicinal herb used by native Americans and early settlers in California.

Following the Comet Fire, burned Eriodictyon crassifolium on upper slope spread by extensive underground stems (rhizomes) producing numerous sprouting shrubs. Without a doubt, the most prolific fire-follower throughout the burned area that spread by rhizomes was Malacothamnus fasiculatus. See following image:

Eriodictyon crassifolium emerging from concrete near Palomar College Natural Science building. The spreading rhizomes are coming from a nearby shrub in the native plant garden!

Bush mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus)

  Bush Mallow On Comet Fire Image Page 4  

Laurel sumac (Malosma laurina) sprouting from woody, subterranean basal burl or lignotuber. Unlike other dominant shrubs of the coastal sage scrub and chaparral, laurel sumac is sensitive to frost. This shrub was used as an indicator of frost free slopes for citrus and avocado growers.

Interesting Spider In Burned Area

Note: The Following Spider Was Finally Identified On iNaturalist (March 2021) As A Male Trapdoor Spider Of The Genus Aptostichus. It Was Probably Wandering In The Burned Area In Search Of A Female!

After many days of pondering over its ID, the hairy brown spider turned out to be a tarantula relative in the infraorder Mygalomorphae. To identify the correct infraorder you need to know how the fangs close on prey. The jumping spider in following image is from nearby Twin Oaks Valley. It belongs to the infraorder Araneomorphae in the enormous family Salticidae with over 600 genera and over 6,000 described species (as of 2019). The large eyes in front of head are for 3-D vision and depth perception, which comes in handy when jumping to catch prey. I also found a jumping spider in the burned area but it was too badly damaged for a decent portrait. The 2 fangs of jumping spiders come together when they stab prey, unlike tarantula relatives in the infraorder Mygalomorphae in which the fangs stab downward into prey, a primitive characteristic in spider evolution.
The Following Tarantula Relative Was Roaming In Burned Area

The infraorder Mygalomorphae is one of the three main lineages of spiders comprising over 3000 species. This ancient group has a worldwide distribution that includes large and charismatic taxa such as tarantulas, trapdoor spiders, and highly venomous funnel-web spiders of Australia. They all share a primitive fang characteristic: fangs that stab downward rather than toward each other like spiders in the infraorder Araneomorphae. The group is ancient, known to occur in the fossil record since the Middle Triassic, but with origins estimated further back into the Carboniferous over 300 million years ago.

"Phylogenetic Systematics and Evolution of the Spider Infraorder Mygalomorphae Using Genomic Scale Data." by Vera Opatova, et al. Systematic Biology Volume 69, Issue 4, July 2020, Pages 671707. Evolution of Infraorder Mygalomorphae Using Genomic Scale Data

Monday 8 March 2021

A burned-out campsite on the hill east of Palomar College. When ignited, resinous coastal sage scrub can literally burst (explode) into flames. I can't imagine anyone using a cook stove surrounded by dense, desiccated shrubs during the dry season. This site was on the slope facing San Marcos.

My 2nd Stenamma Discovery In Burned Area

This is definitely a cryptic ant that is not commonly observed. According to Phil Ward at UC Davis (personal communication, 2021), it has been given the name of Stenamma mgb101. Its compound eyes are small, with less than a dozen ommatidia (facets). By contrast, Argentine ants have 82 to 110 ommatidia, flies have 4,000 to 5,000, and dragonflies have 30,000. Compared with other species, like Argentine ants with millions of workers, Stenamma nests are small with only a few hundred workers or less. In addition, they live in leaf litter and presumedly feed on soil microinvertebrates, so unless you are sifting through leaf litter, you probably won't see one in your lifetime! Since they are essentially subterranean ants, spending their lives in soil, leaf litter and rotting wood, they probably don't need larger multifaceted eyes. They are more common in colder forested regions of northern continents and Middle America. This was indeed a surprising ant discovery in coastal sage scrub, one of the most interesting in my ant career since retiring from Palomar College.

Based on the DNA phylogenetic tree (cladogram) for Stenamma species, the 2 most closely related ant genera are Novomessor (Aphaenogaster) and Veromessor (Messor). Veromessor populations were on Owens Peak, but unfortunately have declined in recent years. This was the main diet for coast horned lizards, which have sadly vanished from this area. I have photographed 2 species of Novomessor in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, one of which is very friendly and curious, while the other bites aggressively.

During the March 2021 rainy season there were numerous Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) in my traps and under blackened boulders with their masses of eggs. These aggressive little ants can eliminate other species by their sheer numbers. I don't expect to find many different ant species in my traps unless the Argentine ants leave the area as the soil dries out by late spring.

Friday 12 March 2021

The soaking rains of March should bring out a spectacular display of wildflowers. Many of these fire seeds have been lying dormant on the ground for decades waiting for their chance to germinate in full sun and rich ashy soil.

A giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) pushing out of the black, ash-covered soil after the recent March rains. Although this one is about the size of a softball they can get much larger if they are allowed to develop. See more images at following link.
Depending on the species, puffballs range in size from a baseball to a basketball. When they are mature, the puffball releases billions of spores into the air in a cloud of brown dust. This can easily be demonstrated if you accidentally kick one. According to David Arora (Mushrooms Demystified, 1986), a large puffball may contain 7 trillion spores. Lined up single file, this number of spores would extend around the earth's equator. If each spore produced a puffball the size of a basketball, the resulting puffballs would extend from the earth to the sun and back! Another gee-whiz statement: It has been estimated that a single basketball-sized puffball (Calvatia gigantea) could produce enough spores in just two generations to theoretically produce a total volume of puffballs seven times the size of the planet earth. Of course, these are just hypothetical, unprovable projections.
  See More Puffballs On Wayne's Word  

Hairy or stinging lupine (Lupinus hirsutissimus). This lupine is covered with stiff, nettle-like hairs. The hairs don't inject you like nettles, but they can be quite prickly especially if you have sensitive skin. It is a common fire-follower. There are more than 200 species of Lupinus on our planet and half of these occur in California. But of all these species, the hairy lupine is truly unique and easy to identify.

Another lupine (Lupinus truncatus) sprouting from ashes. It has 6 narrow leaflets. The leaflet tips are truncate, like they were snipped off with scissors (white arrow). They weren't nipped off by rabbits!

Grasslike leaves of blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum) before the flower stalks (scapes) have appeared. This is a common wildflower in coastal foothills and valleys that grows each year from a perennial corm. It was once placed in the genus Brodiaea in the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) and also in the onion family (Alliaceae). Based on DNA cladistical studies it now resides in the family Themidaceae along with Brodiaea, Bloomeria and Muilla. By the way, the genus Muilla is good example of an anagram: It is Allium spelled backwards!

White forget-me-not (Cryptantha intermedia), a common bristly wildflower on the hills near Palomar College. The common name "popcorn flower" typically refers to the related genus Plagiobothrys. The small white flowers are produced in coiled (scorpioid) clusters (inflorescences). There are about 200 species, mostly in western North America. About 66 species and 20 varieties occur in California, with 22 species in San Diego County. To identify them you must carefully examine their minute nutlets with at least 10x magnification. The variation in nutlet shapes, surface textures, and numbers per flower is truly amazing. For example, the nutlets of this species are covered with minute tubercles.
The Following Are Just A Few Terms Used To Identify Cryptantha
Species In Technical Dichotomous Keys; There Are Many More
Nutlets roughened or at least one of them so, or nutlets smooth & shining; Margins of nutlets decidedly winged or knifelike, or margins of nutlets rounded or obtuse; Nutlets homomorphic or heteromorphic; Nutlets 1 or 2, or nutlets 4; Nutlets with excentric groove, or nutlets with centrally placed groove; Nutlets lanceolate, or nutlets ovate to triangular-ovate, etc.

The Borage Family (Boraginaceae)
  Images Of Some Cryptantha Species

There are 2 species of redberry in the local hills, holly-leaf redberry (Rhamnus ilicifolia) in the chaparral on north side of Owens Peak, and spiny redberry (R. crocea) in the coastal sage scrub east of Palomar College. The latter species has sharp-pointed branchlets and smaller leaves. Both species have bright red berries and resprout after fire. They belong to the buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae) along with the huge California genus Ceanothus and the cultivated shrub or small tree in the Arboretum called jujube (Ziziphus jubuda). The latter Asian tree is cultivated for its brownish or rust-colored fruits (technically called drupes) which superficially resemble olives in general shape and structure. Delicious dried, datelike fruits of jujube called "annab" are commonly sold in Middle Eastern markets.

  Fruits Of Buckthorn Family: Jujube   

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