Photo by Alfredo Colon
Brilliant jumping spider (Phidippus clarus) occurs across North America from coast to coast. It is very common in Minnesota. A study in 1997 surveyed jumping spiders in 30 locations around Minnesota. The author collected 572 jumping spiders representing 15 species. Brilliant jumping spider was by far the most common, with 299 specimens (52%) collected.
Brilliant jumping spider is found from July to September in moderately moist fields on grasses and perennial plants. It is a small to medium-sized spider (order Araneae) but a relatively large jumping spider (family Salticidae). Adults are mostly black with four pairs of white spots and two red stripes on the abdomen.
The female is a paragon of parental perseverance. In the fall she creates a large white egg sac at the top of a tall grass or herbaceous plant and drops eggs into the sac. She prevents the eggs from drying out by repeatedly adding silk to cover the egg mass. She stays with the egg sac until the young disperse in about a month. During this time she does not feed and usually dies from starvation a few days later.
Photo by Luciearl
King Alfred’s Cakes (Daldinia concentrica) is a common fungus that occurs on all continents except Greenland and Antarctica. It grows on dead or dying deciduous wood, especially ash. The fruiting body is ball-shaped, stalkless, and hard. It is brown when young, black and shiny when mature. The surface is densely covered with minute, pimply bumps. These bumps are tiny, spore-bearing chambers just under the surface. When the spores are mature they burst open during the night and eject up to an inch or more large numbers of black spores. These spores are often visible on the bark near the fungus long after they have worn off the fruiting body.
The common name King Alfred’s Cakes refers to a story told about a British monarch. King Alfred fled from a battle and took refuge in a peasant woman’s house. The woman asked him to watch her cakes in the oven. Preoccupied with his own troubles, he let the cakes burn. This earned him a scolding from the woman who did not know her visitor was the king.
King Alfred’s Cakes is also called Coal Fungus, but not just for its appearance. An older, black specimen, when broken to expose the interior, will readily take a spark from a fire steel. Blow on the glowing spark and it will grow in size. Left alone, it will smolder for a long time. Placed against dry tinder and blown upon, it will ignite a fire. Another common name, “Cramp Balls”, refers to the belief that when carried in a pocket it can prevent or cure leg cramps.
Photo by Ginger Halverson
Common Bird’s Nest (Crucibulum laeve) is called that because it looks like a bird’s nest with several eggs. It occurs on all continents except Greenland and Antarctica. It may be the most common bird’s nest fungus in Canada and the northern two-thirds of the United States. It grows on sticks, wood chips, humus, vegetable debris, and manure. Although common, its small size makes it difficult to see.
The fruiting body is a very small bowl-shaped “nest” containing several tiny, egg-like capsules. When young, it is yellowish, densely hairy, and topped with a yellowish lid. Eventually, the outer surface sloughs off and the lid ruptures and disappears. The mature mushroom has a hairless, brown, shiny, outer surface, and a smooth, white inner surface. Inside the hollow nest are several tiny, white, circular, flattened capsules (eggs). The eggs are attached to the side of the nest by a long, thin, elastic, white cord that can be seen only with a hand lens, a needle, and a lot of patience. The eggs are disbursed by raindrops and wind. Common Bird’s Nest may be edible but is too small and tough to be worth the effort.
Photo by Luciearl
Wasp nest slime mold (Metatrichia vesparium) is common and widespread. It is found in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America. In the United States it is common east of the Great Plains, including Minnesota, less common in the west. It grows in open forests on dead and rotting wood, especially hardwood.
The fruiting body may be attached directly to the substrate or rise in a densely crowded group of up to twelve on a common stalk. The individual spore-producing structures are dark red or reddish-purple to nearly black, less than ⅛″ in height, and about 1 ⁄32″ in diameter. They are mostly cone-shaped and have a convex, shiny, iridescent, lid on top. When mature, the lid swings open like a jack-in-the-box, and the red or rust-red interior expands outward. When this dries out, the spores are disbursed by wind. Eventually, the expanded portion disintegrates. What is left looks like the nest of a paper wasp, giving this slime mold its common name.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a slow-growing, perennial, evergreen, 2″ to 8″ tall, dwarf shrub. It is common in most of its range from Maine to Minnesota and south along the Appalachian Mountains to Georgia. It is fairly common in northeast and northcentral Minnesota. It grows in dry or moist woodlands, in partial sun or light shade, in nutrient poor, acidic soil.
The upright stems of wintergreen are actually branches rising from a horizontal stem lying flat on the ground or buried just under the surface. Two to five shiny green leaves are crowded at the top of the stem, and one to three white flowers droop from the upper leaf axils. The flowers are replaced in September by bright red berry-like capsules. The leaves and berries are edible and have a minty, wintergreen fragrance and flavor.
Wintergreen contains the aromatic compound methyl salicylate. In the past, oil of wintergreen has been used as a natural flavor in chewing gum, candy, soft drinks, toothpaste, and snuff. Dried leaves have been used to make tea, giving it another common name “teaberry”. In large amounts oil of wintergreen is toxic. Today, methyl salicylate is produced artificially for commercial uses.
Photo by Alfredo Colon
Band-winged crane fly (Epiphragma fasciapenne) is a common, easily identified, moderate-sized crane fly. It occurs in the eastern United States and adjacent Canadian provinces east of the Great Plains. Eastern Minnesota is at the western edge of its range. It is found in floodplain woodlands and wooded areas adjacent to swamps.
Like all crane flies, the body is long and slim, the wings are long and narrow, and the legs are very long, very thin, and very fragile. The thorax has a distinct, V-shaped groove on top. The lower jaws each have a very long, antenna-like extension.
Band-winged crane fly is distinguished by the distinctive wing pattern with four bands of bordered brown spots, and by a dark brown band at the very tip of the third leg segment.
Photo by Luciearl
Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) is a very common, very widespread, easily recognized mushroom. It has a worldwide distribution, found on every continent including Antarctica. It may be the most abundant woodland puffball in North America, though in Minnesota Pear-shaped Puffball is more common.
Common Puffball grows on the ground in woodlands under trees, on roadsides, in open areas, and even in urban areas. It is found from July through November usually in clusters. It is shaped like an upside-down pear, with a broad, round or flattened top and a narrowed stem-like base. Its white surface is densely covered with small, white, cone-shaped spines and more numerous tiny, white spines and granules between them. The spines are easily rubbed off and as the puffball matures they turn brown and fall off, the large ones leaving conspicuous pockmarks. A raised pore forms on the top of the maturing puffball. When ripe the pore ruptures, exposing the spore mass. Pores are disbursed through the opening by wind, rain drops, falling twigs, and curious hikers.
Common Puffball is edible when firm and white but is bland and may be bitter.
Photo by Luciearl
American Starburst Lichen (Imshaugia placorodia) is found in the United States from Maine to Minnesota and south along the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, in the northern Great Plains, the central and southern Rocky Mountains, and the southern Intermountain Region in the southwest. It grows on the bark of pine trees. It is almost restricted to pitch pine, jack pine, and Virginia pine in the east, and to ponderosa pine and Douglas fir in the west. It is rarely found on oak. In Minnesota it is found only on jack pine.
American Starburst Lichen is identified by its leaf-like growth; grayish-green upper surface that usually has black, pinprick-like dots across the surface and on the margins; brown, spore-producing cups that are sometimes abundant enough to conceal the leaf-like base; and its occurrence restricted to jack pine bark.
Photo by Alfredo Colon
Eumerus is a genus of small hoverflies in the family Syrphidae. With 281 known species, it is one of the largest genera of flies. It is found throughout the Palearctic realm, which includes Europe, Asia north of the Himalayas, North Africa, and the northern and central parts of the Arabian Peninsula. Several Eumerus species have been introduced into North and South America. Three of these are known to occur in the United States: lesser bulb fly (Eumerus funeralis), narcissus bulb fly (Eumerus narcissi), and onion bulb fly (Eumerus strigatus). Collectively, they are known as lesser bulb flies.
Adult lesser bulb flies are black tinged with bronze. They have pale longitudinal stripes on the thorax and silvery-white stripes on the abdomen. The larvae are considered pests. They tunnel into plant bulbs, causing the bulbs to rot. The bulb either dies or produces stunted growth in the following growing season. In some areas, up to 25% of narcissus bulbs are infected.
Photo by Jaxon Lane
Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) is unfamiliar to most hikers because it grows in swamps, marshes, and wet meadows, places that most hikers avoid. In Minnesota, it is found only in nine east-central counties.
Poison sumac looks similar to distant relatives smooth sumac and staghorn sumac, neither of which are poisonous. Poison sumac is distinguished by the untoothed margins of its leaflets. Poison sumac looks nothing like its two closest relatives, eastern and western poison ivy. Eastern poison ivy is a vine with three leaves. Western poison ivy is a small shrub with three leaves. Poison sumac is a tall shrub or very small tree and has compound leaves with 7 to 13 leaflets.
The saps of poison sumac, western poison ivy, and eastern poison ivy all contain the allergenic urushiol. Not all people are allergic to urushiol, but most can become allergic if they are exposed to it. It usually takes 12 to 48 hours for a rash to develop on a previously sensitized person. In some individuals, a single exposure will cause a reaction. In these individuals, the rash will develop in seven to ten days. The lesions last 14 to 20 days. Rashes do not spread and are not contagious. Treatment can dry the blisters, reduce the swelling, and relieve the itching, but it will not speed the healing.