IRFD 2: Halls of the mountain millipede

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

International Rock-Flipping Day, September 2, 2007For 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.

Narceus millipede

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.

powerline rock

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.

millipede tunnels

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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The above post is Part 2 of a four-part series on IRFD festivities in Plummer’s Hollow, Pennsylvania (USA). See Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.

If you don’t see your own blog post listed, please email me: bontasaurus (at) yahoo (dot) com. And feel free to reproduce this list on your own blog, or anywhere else.

International Rock-Flipping Day: First rock

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

International Rock-Flipping Day, September 2, 2007A few years ago, a neighboring farmer sold the wooded portion of his property to a guy from Altoona who had been hunting on it for years, and assiduously courting the farmer by dropping in whenever he could to lend a hand. Before the ink had dried on the deed, he called up his old hunting buddies to tell them he now owned the land — and he didn’t want them hunting on it any longer. Then he decided to hire a surveyor to see if he could enlarge his holdings.

That’s where these rocks come in. Thanks to our new neighbor’s territorial ambitions, about seven years ago we were forced to shell out over $10,000 to survey our entire property, in part to prove that the line was not, in fact, two hundred feet farther in our direction than the customary understanding had held.

property line corner rocks

I thought it would be fun to take a look under one of the stones on a corner of our newly surveyed property line. See the one in the middle, without the orange paint? At some point a few years ago, it had been flipped over by a passing black bear (bears are rather obsessive-compulsive about flipping rocks) and nudged back into place by the next human to happen along. What, besides the buried corner stake, lurked underneath?


A very small woodland cockroach…

cagaditas de raton

and a pile of moldy rodent droppings. It seemed strangely appropriate.

Send your IRFD links to me, bontasaurus (at) yahoo(dot) com, for recirculation to all participants tonight and tomorrow. (If you missed the orignal post explaining the event, it’s here. See also Bev’s thoughts here.) In the meantime, you can upload your photos to the Flickr photo pool and check out the other early entries from Windywillow, Heraclitean Fire, Sheep Days, Earth, Wind & Water, Pocahontas County Fare, and chatoyance.

Rock-Flipping Day update

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

International Rock-Flipping Day, September 2, 2007

Badge designed by Jason Robertshaw of Cephalopodcast and free for use in association with IRFD events. Alternate design here. Thanks, Jason!

Word about International Rock-Flipping Day has been spreading steadily across the internets, and it looks as if a fair number of people will be taking to the woods and fields and shores to flip rocks tomorrow.

One thing I forgot to do in the initial post is to caution people about flipping rocks in poisonous snake or scorpion habitat. In that case, I’d suggest wearing gloves and/or using a pry bar — or simply finding somewhere else to do your flipping. Please do not disturb any known rattlesnake shelters if you don’t plan on replacing the rocks exactly as you found them. Timber rattlesnakes, like many other adult herps, are very site-loyal, and can die if their homes are destroyed. Also, don’t play with spiders. If you disturb an adjacent hornet nest (hey, it’s possible), run like hell. But be sure to have someone standing by to get it all on film!


I learned about a slightly more respectable rock-related activity on the radio this week: stone-skipping (that’s “ducks and drakes” for you Brits). The Penn State-supported NPR station WPSU has an occasional feature called “Sports That Are Not Football,” and this week, producer Cynthia Berger travelled to Franklin, Pennsylvania for the Rock in the River Festival.

Listen to the podcast.