City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

October 19, 2016

October 19th

Watercress Foraging

1:00 p.m. During a post-storm cold but sunny day, four insects are on the road: a Praying mantis, immature Eastern Boxelder bugs, a Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly, and an unidentified bee. The bee was possibly a domesticated honey bee with equal spaced black-dirty-yellow bands on its abdomen. While all trees have turned color, about fifteen percent of the trees along the road are now completely leafless.

Below picnic site 6, watercress beds line the north side of the road where a water seep runs year round. Watercress is also found there on the south side of the road in beds in the stream itself. The beds look mangy, but not because it is Fall and cold. Their tops are still uneven and chopped. In June, an extended family from one of the Southeast Asian countries came to the canyon over three weeks and harvested watercress in great leaf bags. It was a great family affair involving several generations – grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and young, playful, smiling grandchildren. Some of the elders were in traditional dress, and the children wore heavy metal tee shirts. It was unclear whether they were gleaning out of economic necessity or as cultural practice as they all piled into a large luxury SUV at the end of their gathering. But they took too much; the watercress beds have never fully recovered; and this is a metaphor for non-sustainable consumption that undercuts our confidence in modern post-industrial lifestyles.

According to local experts, and I am not one, there are many edible wild plants in the canyon in addition to the fruit tree cultivars. Pine needles and wild mint (Mentha arvensis) from the upper canyon can be used to make tea. Wild onion (Allum acuminatum Hook) and wild carrot (Lomatium dissectum) can be found in the spring. Blue elder berry bushes can be found along the upper canyon trail (Sept. 8th). With much labor, the bitterness of Gambel’s oak acorns can be leeched out, and the flour turned into pancakes. Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) and thistles can be boiled and then used as greens. Mountain dandelion (Agoseris glauca Raf.) greens can be added to salads. Some say even oak and maple leaves are edible. Barnes notes that the Ute indians ate these and also the root of arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) that grows profusely on the ridge between City Creek and the Avenues and on the west side of the ridge between City Creek and Ensign Peak (“Four Seasons”, Sept. 1st). The bulb of the state flower, the Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttalli) is edible, and the Sego can commonly be found on the high-slopes and ridges of either side of canyon during spring. But not being skilled in plant identification and since some edibles are easily confused with look-alike poisonous plants, I have not tried any of these.

With next spring’s growth, the watercress beds should become even thick mats again.


October 2, 2016

October 2nd

Filed under: Colors, Insects, Picnic Site 12, Places, Praying Mantis — canopus56 @ 10:06 pm

Camouflaged Mantises

3:00 p.m. At mile 1.6 near picnic site 12, a praying mantis, an ambush predator, is on the road. It may be sunning itself on the warmer road, or it may be in distress, because as it is approached, it does not fly off, and it struggles forward with a slow award gait. This mantis is light tan in color, and that is same color as the dried grass in the surrounding meadow. Two days ago at mile 0.6, there was another praying mantis also sunning itself on the road; that mantis was was slate grey; and the surrounding foliage consisted of green plants over grey-brown soil. Its color was also excellent camouflage for its surrounding.

Elsewhere, I have seen this same color camouflage used by prey insects. In the heat of summer while jogging along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail behind the university hospital, twenty or more small, tan-colored grasshoppers can be flushed out by disturbing the dried, tan meadow grass. Running a third of a mile up nearby shaded Dry Fork Canyon, the foliage is green, and grasshoppers flushed there are green colored.

September 20, 2016

August 20th

Filed under: Cricket, Insects, Praying Mantis, Reptiles, Snake, wasps — canopus56 @ 11:15 pm

Carnivorous Wasps

6 p.m. It is Saturday, the canyon has grown cooler in the evening, and as a consequence there are more car picnickers this evening. The cars take toll on wildlife. Today you too small, there is a crushed praying mantis and two or three crushed snakes. The praying mantis and one of the snakes are covered in wasps. When I jog past these corpses on the way out the canyon, the edges on both are covered half-seashell cutouts. Later I check my insect guides. Wasps are omnivorous. The wings of a praying mantis will be used in the construction of their nests. The adults cannot digest the protein of the snake, but they feed it to their pupae. Last week, a wasp was struggling with a flying beetle on the roadway. They’re so small that was difficult to see what was occurring. The wasp flys off. The beetle has been dead for some time. The wasp was feeding by sucking out the contents of the beetle’s abdomen. There was no fight. The wasp was having difficulty in finding a leg hold on the broad wings of the beetle, and as a result the pair was constantly rolling around. Pollen and mantis into wasps homes. Snakes in to baby wasps. Wasps into birds. Birds in trees. The cycle continues.

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