For my second rock of the day, I decided to try the small powerline right-of-way a couple hundred yards from my house. The powerline is almost a hundred years old, and the right-of-way has turned into a scrub barrens habitat dominated by lowbush blueberries and huckleberries, scrub oak, mountain laurel, sweetfern, and bracken. Two springs ago my brother collected a rare species of blister beetle there, and the increasingly scarce yellow-breasted chat has nested there in the past, so I was curious to see what a casual look under a rock would turn up.
What I found was nothing rare, but beautiful nonetheless. The Narceus millipedes, as I mentioned here a while back, are superabundant composters of forest litter throughout the northeast, where they apparently serve as a significant reservoir of calcium and phosphorus in otherwise acid, well-drained mountaintop soils. Out here on the powerline, where the leaf litter is thin to nonexistent, it makes sense that they would shelter under rocks.
Whereas with my first rock, the low-light conditions under the early-morning forest canopy made photography difficult, out on the powerline the strong sunlight created too much contrast. You’ll have to take my word for it that the sandy soil under the millipede’s rock was a maze of millipede-sized galleries. You can see the millipede at left of center. It curled up immediately upon the removal of its roof and didn’t budge.
A close-up of the shaded portion of the trough-shaped hollow does show some detail of these halls of the mountain millipede. After I replaced the rock and headed back down to the house, I tried to picture it there, uncurling, traveling the labyrinth of its home, its feet rising and falling in silent waves.
(last updated Sept 5, 8:30 a.m. EDT – newer additions at bottom)
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