What do you call them? Pill bug? Sow bug? Doodlebug? Roly-poly? Something else entirely?
No matter what name you use to describe them, they are nothing more extravagant than terrestrial crustaceans called woodlice (or a woodlouse in the singular). Many consider them insects, yet they’re more closely related to shrimp and crab than to any true bug.
The most common isopod of this sort is the kind that rolls into a ball. That is Armadillidium vulgare, or the common pill bug. Depending on where you’re located, you undoubtedly have another name for them.
I see these little critters scurrying about all the time. In fact, I watch every step carefully when I’m on the patio, for it’s not been entirely uncommon for me to accidentally crush one of them because I didn’t see it making its way across the concrete floor. The worst case is when I’m not wearing shoes…
Anyway, here are a few photos of my neighborhood isopods during recent visits, and I’ve included a brief yet fun video at the end showing one scampering away as I chase it with the camera (not that it knew I was chasing it, but it seems that way).
Last Friday’s severe weather outbreak involved more than just a few near misses. It provided a rather disconcerting experience each time the civil defense sirens began bellowing their terrible sound into an atmosphere already churning with nature’s fury.
So here’s a brief taste of the first sounding of the alarm. It came with no notice. In fact, hearing the wailing cry carried on the air was the first indication I had that something was amiss.
From there, it went downhill. And they sounded again and again with each new indication of atmospheric treachery.
To give you a bit of an idea what it’s like driving to the family farm, I grabbed a couple of videos during the final leg of the journey. These show the small, one-lane road that carries visitors from the small, two-lane “highway” that represents the last visage of civilization before entering the heart of East Texas’ second growth. The road is a wonderful journey to nowhere, a claustrophobic’s nightmare often blocked by fallen trees after severe weather. I find the little path of roughly paved roadway a pleasant and otherworldly experience given that I’ve spent most of my life in the city. At the height of spring and all through summer, it’s a doorway to another world surrounded by lush greenery, verdant forest, and the occasional ranch or farm tucked neatly behind a wall of elm, oak, and pine, not to mention thick brush and a litany of other flora.
Although there are none to be seen in these two captured moments, it’s quite common to run across a wide selection of wildlife, from white-tailed deer to rabbits to bobcats to coyotes to a laundry list of other beasts. Certainly in the warmest months, you’re almost guaranteed to see one or more animals traveling along or across the road. In fact, I saw several deer that evening on my way back to the concrete jungle. They leaped across my path and into a neighboring field, their bodies bouncing like coiled springs as they made their way leisurely into the dense undergrowth and trees.
While the videos make it seem I’m speeding dangerously down a country road, that’s not quite true. The closeness of the surrounding trees and thicket only make it appear that way from the video’s perspective. In real life, it’s not wise to drive fast on this particular road since it’s full of blind curves and hills that easily can hide oncoming traffic. It might be in the middle of BFE Texas, but that doesn’t mean no one travels this path. So it’s always wise to drive at a safe speed and to slow for turns and the fun ups and downs that define the trip.
The second video picks up shortly after the first one ends and leads us from one tiny road to yet another, the private drive that leads from one backwater alley to another, the one that travels to the family farm and some other private residences on the bayou.
I can’t tell you how difficult it was to drive this road while holding the camera. The road is and always has been in terrible shape, so I was getting bounced around with one hand on the wheel and one on the camera. Holding the vehicle steady was much easier than keeping the camera from rebounding all over the open cabin. For that reason, these aren’t award winners. They are, however, representative of the very different place to which I go when I visit there. Compared to Dallas, these might as well be captured moments from Tasmania. I also find them more than a bit fun. I love road trips and this is one I especially enjoy.
[the song playing on the car stereo is “Solsbury Hill” originally by Peter Gabriel; this particular version is by Erasure and is include on Other People’s Songs; I hadn’t thought about it at the time, but it certainly fits the spirit of these videos and the trip they document; I began filming the moment I turned off the highway, and that also happened to be when the song started; I couldn’t have planned that better if I had tried]
I’ve often wondered about the “swan geese” moniker given to Chinese geese (Anser cygnoides). Sure, they’re as large as swans and have long necks they sometimes hold in positions reminiscent of swans, but I didn’t particularly feel either of those traits warranted a nickname linking these raucous birds to their distant cousins who quite dissimilarly are full of grace and quite a bit less noise. I realize they are domesticated swan geese, but that still leaves me wondering about the name.
And then I captured these photos of both the brown and white varieties. The question was answered.
Watching these large waterfowl as they glided across the surface of the water, their heads held with courtly elegance, their necks long and slender, and their wings pushed up by an upwardly held tail, suddenly reminded me of the same postures and visuals often seen with swans. Although no one would ever mistake one of these geese for a swan (unless seen from quite a distance), I realized while watching them approach the shore that they indeed deserved that very cognomen.
Even the American coots (Fulica americana) seemed to offer genteel deference as the geese made their way toward land quite near where I stood. Then again, maybe they were just trying to get out of the way of this much larger and quite forbidding gaggle that seemed intent on mowing over anything that got in their way. That definitely is another similarity to swans (who, if you didn’t know, can be quite mean and aggressive, a trait contrary to their beauty).
Nevertheless, the geese came ashore only a few yards (a few meters) from where I stood taking photographs. Until they were out of the water, one easily could see how swanlike they were.
Let’s not forget they are geese, however. Before they reached my position, I captured this video showing just how rowdy, boisterous, and shrill they are. The honking echoed across the entire lake and sometimes threatened to reach earsplitting levels. Just listen to them in this brief film.
There’s something else in that video I want you to take note of as well. Underlying the sounds of the geese and other birds is an almost mournful noise, one in close proximity to the camera. It runs throughout the video and repeats constantly and at almost clock-like intervals.
That sound is a coot standing in the shallows. I had never heard a coot make that noise before. I’ve heard the other sound they make, the one that reminds me of a throaty groan (you can hear it a few times in the first five seconds, and then there’s one right at five seconds that’s much louder and clearer).
I watched the coot making that sorrowful sound to see if perhaps it was hurt or sick. After several minutes, I concluded it was acting like the rest of them who were loitering about the area where land and water joined together. Despite its kith and kin making what I thought to be normal coot noises, this one continued its crying for quite a while. Eventually, though, it reverted to the expected calling as it and the other coots made their way to land for a free meal provided by some very nice folks bearing the gift of breakfast.
This morning presented a splendid opportunity for a walk at the lake. Temperatures were cool but comfortable and there was plenty of sunshine.
Along the way, I stumbled upon several rock doves (Columba livia) lounging on the pier and nestled in amongst autumn’s leftovers now washed against the shore. I won’t post any photos right now because I’d rather post this video.
I walked out on the pier to get as close to the wildlife as possible. While I stood snapping photos and enjoying the pleasant morning, I noticed a particular male dove doing his little dove dance as he tried to woo himself a woman friend. I actually found it entertaining to watch. He busied himself with dancing and cooing and puffing up, and all the while she barely moved, although now and then she offered a slight nod as if to let him know he needed to keep going. And he did.
You can see a boatload of other birds milling about in the background and you can certainly hear some of them, but the dove’s sweet whispers can also be heard.
This whole scene went on for several minutes. I never saw the female give in to his charms, but neither did I see her chase him off as a peasant suitor unfit to meet her needs. For all I know, he’s still dancing at this moment…