[Tweeters] Life in the Gutter

jeff gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Wed Feb 6 16:59:38 PST 2013

Yesterday was a calm mild day, and I was home, so I decided to clean my house gutters. They were pretty full of leaves and stuff. Yet another exciting episode of 'Procrastination is Good For Wildlife'. I found some interesting things.

Birds enjoy clogged gutters. After days of rain they can use the gutter as a source of fresh water. Often when a flock of Robins moves through the yard, they line up along the gutter for a drink and I can see all their Turdus tails hanging out as I look up thru the office window. And Steller's Jays also like digging around in leaf-and-moss filled gutters, looking for whatever. Sitting in the office I watch as they toss big wads of leaves and stuff to the ground as they search. If they were a bit more systematic I might avoid doing any gutter cleaning myself!

As I cleaned up some especially anaerobic sludge out of the North gutter, I found several creatures which are burdened with the unfortunate name of 'Rat-tailed Maggot'. These pale grubs, about 3/4" long are the larvae of the Drone Fly, which is a somewhat attractive fly that resembles a honey bee. It's a type of syrphid ,or 'hover fly'. The maggots have a long narrow tube, about twice their body length, at one end of their body, which is basically an air hose, so they can get some oxygen from the surface of the oxygen depleted water they live in, while they eat sludge down below. After such a fabulous childhood, they get to fly around in the sunshine as adults , nectaring on bright flowers. Many of us start with sort of humble beginnings; a funky looking embryo could turn out to be a frog, an armadillo, or maybe a fashion model, depending on DNA details.

As I tossed crud out of the North side gutters, I had a nice eye-level view of the attractive moss gardens on my roof. I love my roof moss. It doesn't hurt the roof a bit. Alas ,we live in a society which considers moss just one more thing that needs killing. I mean the stuff could lower your property value! OMG!

So doing a little bit of my duty as a tidy (not really) homeowner, I pulled off a few big chunks of moss and tossed them. Underneath many of these moss blobs, I found a number of what looked like tiny tan spiders. I stepped down the ladder and fetched my 10x hand lens from my truck, to check these little guys out. They turned out, after some internet investigation, to be a type of predatory mite that hangs out in moss.
The little things are only about 1mm across, moving quite actively thru the moss jungle. If we were mite size, the spore stalks of the roof moss would be like 150 ' tall trees. A pretty interesting forest I'd say.

Mites - a whole world of the little buggers out there. Lot's of acarology (mite - ology) sites online. My little moss guys were pretty big at 1mm - they get way smaller than that!

Jeff Gibson
in the gutter
Everett Wa

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