Bees sip honey from flowers and hum their thanks when they leave.
The gaudy butterfly is sure that the flowers owe thanks to him.

Rabindranath Tagore
Courtesy Unsplash Royalty-free

The Oregon coast is very lucky to have a native butterfly species that is both colorful and spectacular.

The Oregon Swallowtail is part of a larger Papilionidae family that includes some of the largest and most beautifully colored butterflies in North America. North America has 40 species.

Territory

The Oregon swallowtail lives only in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and south-central British Columbia. Swallowtail species can be found in the Arctic Circle south into Mexico. Most sightings in Oregon are along the mainstems and immediate tributaries of the Columbia, Deschutes and Snake Rivers.

There are over 550 butterfly species in this family. Most reside in tropic and subtropic regions. The Oregon Swallowtail may have originated there.

Food

Adults feed on wildflower nectar from thistles, balsamroot, phlox, daisies, asters, rabbitbrush, penstemon, milkweed, and dogbane. The larvae (juveniles) feed on tarragon sagebrush (also called wild tarragon or dragon wormwood, Artemisia dracunculus).

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars feed on a wide range of plant families, and often depend on one of five families: Aristolochiaceae, Annonaceae, Lauraceae, Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) and Rutaceae.  These plant families include toxic plants. Once eaten, the toxin makes both the caterpillar and butterfly also toxic which helps protects them from predators.

Predation

Oregon Swallowtails have wingspans up to 4-inches that sport a bright yellow with black-lined pattern and a ‘tail’ that extends off the back wing. The yellow wing markings of the Oregon swallowtail are brighter than the common swallowtail.

The tail is not required for flight, and may be sacrificed to escape predation. The hope is that the bird may ‘swallow the tail’ rather than a more critical body part and allow the butterfly to survive.

Several Swallowtails can also change their behaviors to help reduce predation. They will imitate the behaviors of other distasteful species, and several studies show females imitating males as a way to reduce predation.

Predators can include birds, wasps, spiders, and preying mantis, skinks, skunks and human collectors.

When to look

Look for Oregon Swallowtail butterflies in flight between April and September. Those seen early in the year are generally lighter in color than those seen later and blend well with the color of early plants.

Swallowtails are wary and strong fliers. This butterfly was selected as Oregon’s official insect on July 16, 1979, not only because it is a native but also because it has ‘Oregon’ in is common and scientific names. Oregon Swallowtail butterflies are a wonderful aesthetic gift.  

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Oregon Swallowtail Factsheet (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/conservationstrategy/docs/Swallowtail_factsheet.pdf)
–Butterfly Identification, Oregon Swallowtail (https://www.butterflyidentification.com/oregon-swallowtai.htm)
–EReference desk (https://www.ereferencedesk.com/resources/state-insect/oregon.html)
Wikipedia, Papilio machaon oregonius (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papilio_machaon_oregonius)

Finally, a critter with a purse…

Yes, you read the subtitle correctly. A purse. A pocket. A bursicle.

The common Black Turban Snail is an interesting little critter with an interesting organ in its pocket.

Black Turban Snails, photo by Steve Lonhart, NOAA MBNMS (Royalty free from SIMoN Sanctuary data base library)

Where Found

They are one of the most abundant snail species along the Pacific Coast and inhabit most of the North American Pacific Coast from Canada to Baja California, Mexico.  

This rocky shore snail is commonly found between high and low tides in protected areas near boulders, tide pools, and close to shore.

Identifying

The snail is pretty easy to identify, and so is the age of the snail. Juvenile snails live in more shallow water compared to adults. As the snail ages, it also migrates to higher waters. A fully grown Black Turban shell may be just over an inch long (30 mm) and 30-years-old.

The name sake for the snail is not the shell but the head and foot which are also black. The shell is smooth, whorled and pyramidal shaped.

Predators

The Black turban snail has many predators including humans, crabs, stars, otters, birds, other snails, and more.

There is evidence that some humans also harvested the snail as part of their diet about 12,000 years ago. If the snail were the only food consumed, the average human would need to eat around 400 of them each day to survive. When they are easy to harvest, this is possible and the snail continues to be collected today.

But wait, what is IN that shell?

Don’t be too surprised to find something other than a snail living inside the Black Turban shell. Hermit crabs will frequently adopt empty Black turban snail shells as their new home.

Photo of Hermit crab living in a Black Turban shell by Steve Lonhart NOAA MBNMS (Royalty free from SIMoN Sanctuary data base library)

The black distinctively smooth shell helps protect the snail. The Black Turban can withdraw its entire body into it for protection.

Shark-like Teeth

Black Turbans shred alga using a rasp-like (like a file) structure full of teeth. These teeth are constantly breaking and wearing. Thus, replacement teeth are produced continually, much like a shark must do.  

What’s ON that shell?

The shell of the Black Turban is covered with red algae. Limpets graze the shell eating the algae. Slipper shells (Crepidula adunca) also live on the Black Turban Snail’s shell. The Slipper shell is a filter feeder and eats phytoplankton, bacteria, and diatoms that are on the shells.

Foods

Tegula funebralis feed on algae such as Macrocystis sp., Nereocystis sp., Gigartina sp., and Mastocarpus sp..

So what’s up with the purse?

Black Turbans have a special organ that they carry in a pouch or purse like structure called more scientifically as a bursicle. This chemoreceptor will sense chemical changes that emanate from predators such as crabs and seastars.

Once detected, the snail can take defensive actions and attempt to escape. However, snails are not known to be speedy. Yes, they may flee, but not quickly.

They may move to higher, potentially safer ground, potentially out of the water, to try and avoid contact. They may also simply float away to esacpe.

And of course, they always take their purse.

REFERENCES:
–Merriam-Webster dictionary, bursicle (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bursicle)
–SIMoN Species database (https://sanctuarysimon.org/dbtools/species-database/id/131/tegula/funebralis/black-turban-snail/ and photos from their gallery)
–iNaturalist, Black tegula (https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/460365-Tegula-funebralis)
–Prezi, Black Turban Snail (https://prezi.com/0ac53jzexytf/black-turban-snail/)
–Biodiversity of the Central Coast (https://www.centralcoastbiodiversity.org/black-turban-snail-bull-tegula-funebralis.html)
–Wikipedia, several (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crepidula_adunca, … Microalgae, and chemoreceptors)

Attack of the Giant Green Anemone!

Anemones living in caves are not as bright green as those living in sunnier areas.

This could be a somewhat believable title for a cheesy horror movie. After all, Giant Green Anemones are carnivorous. Not to worry! The sting is harmless to humans.

These beautiful flower-shaped creatures feed on small fish, newly molted crabs, sea urchins, detached mussels, and bits of marine plants. Some fish have developed protection against the anemone’s sting by covering themselves with mucus.

Little Giants

Even though Giant Green Anemones carry the name ‘Giant’ most only measure between seven and 12-inches.

They live a solitary life, and sometimes congregate in small groups (less than 14). These small groups create what looks to be a beautiful underwater floral arrangement. They will change color depending on the amount of light they receive. Different types of anemones will have other colors.

A Deadly Crown

Giant Green Anemones sport an oval crown of six or more rows of tentacles. These tentacles have stinging cells that help protect the anemone from predators. The tentacles also stun prey and help pull the prey into the anemone’s mouth.

Predators include seastars, snails, sea spiders, and fish. Some predators feed on the tentacles and others feed on the column.

Finding Them

Giant Green Anemones stay in the same location most of their lives. They can slowly walk around and swim to escape predators or when detached. These little giants are found in intertidal zones from Alaska south potentially as far as Panama.

Intertidal zones are areas that are above the water level during low tide. Anemones prefer areas where water is present most of the day such as tidepools and relatively shallow harbors.

Low tide will sometimes expose Anemones clinging to pilings and rocks, or even on the beach. When exposed, the anemone will ‘droop’ or close up into its green and brown stem while waiting for the incoming tide.

The fragile, yet harsh Intertidal zones are a challenging place to live but does provide some predation protection. Water conditions can be challenging. While the tide is regular, the shore may not pool the water. The water may be salty one day and diluted by fresh rain the next, and hard wave action can carry one out to sea. Still, many species, like the Giant Green Anemone, thrive there.

Amazing Factoid: A compound from the Giant Green Anemone is used by the pharmaceutical industry to create a beneficial heart stimulant for humans.

REFERENCES:
–Wikipedia Anthopleura xanthogrammica and Intertidal zones (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthopleura_xanthogrammica)
–About Giant Green Anemone, Monterey Bay Aquarium (https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/animals-a-to-z/giant-green-anemone)