Nature Notes

Volume XXI - 1955

Water Bears In Crater Lake
By C. Warren Fairbanks, Assistant Park Naturalist

One day in early August, 1954, Ranger Naturalist John Rowley and I were prowling about the base of Wizard Island, situated near the west end of Crater Lake. This was an important hunting expedition. Extensive and careful preparations had been made before starting the trip. First, adequate provisions had been secured by making arrangements, well in advance, with the dining hall for a supply of sandwiches and various suitable accessory food items -- it was to be an all day trip.

After checking the supplies, we stowed them carefully, along with other gear, into pack sacks. These in turn were loaded into a conveyance that carried us to the Rim Village, which was as far as we could travel by motor vehicle. The remainder of the way to Crater Lake had to be negotiated on foot. Upon unloading at the Rim, therefore, we shouldered our packs and headed down the Lake Trail -- a trek of 1.6 miles.

On this particular day we took our time. In addition to being rather heavily loaded with essentials, we had brought along various pieces of photographic equipment in order to make a complete pictorial record of our operations. Consequently, we stopped now and then to capture with lens and film interesting features and events along the way.

At the bottom (of the trail, not the lake), we obtained a boat with outboard motor -- previously arranged for, to be sure. As quickly as possible, yet without undue haste, we loaded our gear into the boat for the one and one-half mile voyage to Wizard Island -- the water being a little too cool for comfortable swimming, especially with full field pack -- and took off, after the motor finally started, of course.

Upon reaching the island, we picked up other equipment which had been cached there during a preliminary exploratory mission and, now completely outfitted, set course for the shore of Fumarole Bay, chief base of operations.

Fully half a day had been consumed in this phase of our venture, so, reaching our destination, we sat down to devour our repast. All the while, excitement of anticipation for the hunt kept mounting within us. It was even difficult to make ourselves take the time to properly dispose of paper sacks and milk cartons for return to a suitable trash repository before heading out. In fact, John Rowley, younger and more impetuous, and having seen some sign which suggested the presence of game, set off along shore while still munching a sandwich. This he held firmly in his left hand while using his right to aid his progress along the rough and steep terrain.

I was not long in following, however. Presently, initial excitement having been replaced by the steadier verve of actual search for the prey we were working the area methodically as a well-accustomed team, leaving no stone unturned in the effort to exhaust all possibilities for finding their lairs. Then, having examined the original site thoroughly, we returned to the boat to seek other likely spore.

Finally, and much later, each of us sighted and drew fine bead -- first I, then Mr. Rowley -- on fair game. There, caught squarely in the centers of the fields of our respective hundred-power scopes, were two water bears -- the first ever reported to be seen in Crater Lake. Mine was so nearly hidden by lush green vegetation that I could just barely (no pun intended) make out his -- or, more probably, her -- outline. Ranger Naturalist Rowley's, on the other hand, was lumbering along nearly always in the open. No triggers were pulled, however -- park regulations do not permit action.

We had, of course, returned to the laboratory, and our " scopes" were microscopes. Water bears are very small animals. Although the largest of them are a little over one twenty-fifth of an inch in length, most tardigrades, as they are known to students of zoology, are only about half that size or less (Pennak, 1953). Actually, they are not very well known, even to the zoologist. The name of this animal means "slow walker," and the clumsy lumbering way in which he gets around is very suggestive of his common name -- water bear.

Since he has four pairs of short stumpy legs, some people consider him to be a rather distant cousin of the spider, while others place him in a completely separate division of the animal kingdom. Be his relationships as they may, these two specimens proved to be a very interesting find. To our inexperienced eyes, they appeared to belong to the genus Macrobiotus, although this has not been definitely determined. The one which came under my microscope was taken from the bottom of Fumarole Bay. It was collected with a mass of filamentous green algae (simple green plants) that was lifted with a plant grapple (Fairbanks and Rowley, 1954) from a depth of twelve feet. The other specimen, oddly enough, came from rotting wood lying in water along the nearby shore of the island.

Even though water bears are little known, they are reportedly very abundant in various aquatic and semiaquatic habitats (Pennak, 1953). Frequently they are found on masses which are intermittently wetted by rain or splashings from streams. The animals have the ability to shrink up and become inactive when conditions such as insufficient moisture make active existence impossible. In this way they are able to remain alive in a state of minimum activity, which can persist as long as there are food reserves available within their bodies.

Tardigrades feed mostly upon plant cells, from which they extract the fluid contents by a sucking action. They also may be cannibalistic to a certain extent. In the main, however, they should be classed as converters which make the food substances manufactured by plants available to other animals. They, in turn, are preyed upon chiefly by certain protozoans and by roundworms (Pennak, 1953). Therefore, they form one link in the food chain which always begins with the green plant and which leads ultimately to some large animal.

It might be correctly inferred that the "hunting expedition" mentioned above was not organized to track down the water bear. To be exact, we, were searching for other forms of life. The find, however, was one of considerable interest because it brought to light a little-known animal which had not previously been reported as part of the fauna of Crater Lake National Park.

Literature Cited

Fairbanks, C. Warren, and John R. Rowley. 1954. Tribute to the clarity of Crater Lake. Nature Notes from Crater Lake 20:34-36.

Pennak, Robert W. 1953. Fresh-water Invertebrates of the United States. New York, The Ronald Press. ix, 769

The Harvest Of A Quiet Eye
By Clarence J. Nordstrom, Ranger Naturalist

One afternoon in mid-July, when sunbathing in an open space not far from Park Headquarters, I heard the sudden whir of a miniature airplane motor within inches of me. It passed as quickly as it came. In a matter of seconds the sound was repeated. Watching for the cause, I shortly saw a blurr as something shot toward me and then quickly disappeared, accompanied by the same hum. It suddenly dawned on me that this was the season of the hummingbirds and that they, like humans, are curious creatures and may have been shooting low merely to view better an object obviously out of place in their habitat.

* * * * * * * * * *

It was afternoon in late July, after a body-shaking ride over one of the fire roads. I had gone to the Crater Spring bogs for the purpose of getting photographs of three insect-eating plants, including two sundews, Drosera rotundifolia L. and Drosera angIica Huds., and the rather rare bladderwort, Utricularia intermedia Hayne.

While examining a sundew, my eyes happened to fall upon a most fascinating sight. On a nearby flower, a lady's thumb, a bee had settled in its search for nectar. Upon this insect, with legs wrapped around it, was a large and beautiful, white, spotted spider having a head tiny in comparison with its extremely large, round body. Close examination showed that the bee was shrunken and motionless. It was evident that the spider had either paralyzed the bee or stung it to death. Then it had proceeded to suck out the body juices, filling its own body seemingly to the bursting point -- a habit characteristic of the crab spiders (thomisids), to which group this individual apparently belongs. The bee was in perfect condition except for this aspect which suggested a deflated balloon.

Cony beside a red elderberry bush.
From Kodachrome by Welles and Welles.

* * * * * * * * * *

When I was casually winding my way down the Lake Trail one morning, with eye ever alert for a new flower just emerging, a strange bird, or some other thing of interest, my attention was caught by a green branch, approximately sixteen inches long, moving crosswise over the trail. It appeared to be propelling itself, until -- after a few seconds, at the head end -- a cony suddenly appeared from nowhere. The long green leaves parted, exposing the little brown creature which evidently had decided that early August was not too soon to begin preparing its hay pile for the long winter ahead.

Apparently the animal's attention was so intent upon its instinct-inspired task that it either failed to notice or deliberately ignored movement that ordinarily would have driven it to cover. Since the moving branch was within three or four feet of me before it disappeared under the rocks, I could clearly distinguish the red elderberry leaves that the cony had chosen to include in his winter food supply.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sitting on a ledge within a few feet of the Lake Trail during a prolonged pause on my upward climb, I noticed nine stationary white dots on the blue water. They formed a perfect arrow, four making up the head, five the shaft.

Suddenly the arrow broke as the dots changed position and as some of them left the surface and winged their way aloft. Probably never again will I see nine California gulls, Larus californicus Lawrence, line themselves up, by pure chance, in this perfect formation.

<<< Previous
> Cover <
Next >>>