A Field Guide To Fairfax County’s

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A Field Guide toFairfax County’sPlants andWildlife

A Field Guide toFairfax County ’SPlants and WildlifeDeveloped by Fairfax County Stormwater Planning Divisionand Urban Forest Managementin coordination with Fairfax County Public SchoolsDesign and layout by Allen Wayne, Ltd.Illustrated by Joe SutliffThis book is copyrighted 2013 all rights reserved.This publication is protected by federal copyright law,and permission to copy material must be obtainedfrom Fairfax County government.If such permission is sought, please contact theDirector of Stormwater Planning12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 449Fairfax, VA 22035

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Table of ContentsIntroduction.2Plants . 13Non-vascular Plants. 14Activity: Where is my air? . 18Vascular Plants . 20Ferns .22Flowering Herbaceous Plants. 23Grasses . 30Vines . 34Activity: How big is it? . 38Activity: Organism observation . 39Trees. 40Activity: What plant can you find? .50Activity: Traits and adaptations (Part 1 and 2) . 51Decomposers . 53Activity: Name game .56Animals . 59Invertebrate Animals . 60Annelids. 61Molluscs.62Activity: Nature all around.65Arthropods . 67Insects .68Arachnids . 78Crustaceans . 84Myriapods . 87Activity: You are what you eat (Part 1) .89Vertebrate Animals . 90Fish . 91Activity: The watershed around you . 101Activity: Where did the insects go? .104Amphibians . 105Activity: Stream ecosystem challenge .113Reptiles .114Activity: What’s in that stream? .124Activity: You are what you eat (Part 2) . 125Birds . 126Activity: Key to success (Part 1 and 2) .135Mammals .138Activity: What animal can you find? .146Activity: Dinosaur dilemma .147Fairfax County’s Ten Most (Un)wanted Invasive Species .148Index .150r1r

IntroductionGeneral IntroductionMost people are naturally curious about the world they live in. Scientistsare also curious about the world, and explore the natural world to makeobservations and new discoveries. Science is a huge and amazing field andthere are many different types of scientists who study and work with differentthings. A biologist is a scientist who studies living organisms and theirrelationships to their environment. Some biologists focus on one kindof organism, while other biologists study entire communities of organisms.How Living Things areClassifiedAn organism is an individual livingthing. All organisms are made of cells,obtain and use energy (eat), growand develop (have a life cycle), haveoffspring (reproduce), respond to theirenvironment, and respire (breathe).Biological classifications are based onhow organisms are related. Organismsare classified into a series of orderedgroupings based on things that they havein common (see sidebar).A species is defined as a group oforganisms that have the ability tointerbreed and produce fertile offspringin nature. Species is the basic unit ofclassification. The name of a species ismade by using two words: the genusname followed by the species name.The genus name is always capitalizedwhile the species name is not. Forexample, Homo sapiens is the scientificname for humans.r 2 rBiological classificationgroups go in order fromlargest to Here’s a handy way toremember the order ofclassification groups: takethe first letter of each group(KPCOFGS) and make upa fun saying to help youremember. For example:“Kids Prefer Chocolate OverFunky Green Spaghetti.”Try it!

A dichotomous key (from dichotomy, meaning divided into two parts) is atool scientists use to identify organisms based on their unique traits. It asksa series of paired questions, each of which narrows down the set of species.For example, the question “Does it have a backbone?” may be used to divideanimals into vertebrates and invertebrates.IconName and DescriptionInvertebrate. Animal lacking a backboneVertebrate. Animal with a backboneA dichotomous key used to identify plants might ask, “Does it have woodytissues to transport water, minerals and nutrients?” to divide plants intovascular and non-vascular species.IconName and DescriptionNon-vascular. Plants that lack woody tissues. Includeshornworts, liverworts, most mosses and some algaeVascular. Plants with woody tissues, such as club mosses,ferns, trees and flowering plants (including grasses)About the IconsThis field guide uses a system of icons to categorize organismsinto groups. The icons provide a quick visual reference to indicatewhether an organism is a non-vascular or vascular plant; aninvertebrate or a vertebrate animal; a native or non-native species;and identify the organism’s habitat types and role in the food web.The key to the icons shown in the Introduction is located on theinside back cover.r 3 r

Ecological RolesThe word ecology comes from the Greek word oikos, which means “life.”Ecology is the study of the relationships that living organisms have witheach other and their environment. Ecology is divided into four increasinglycomprehensive levels: Organism; Population; Community; and Ecosystem(see diagram). Each species’ ecological niche explains its way of life or rolein an ecosystem. Factors used to define an organism’s niche include itsdistribution (where it is found), habitat (where it lives), role in the food web (itsfeeding relationships) and life history (how it lives and grows).r 4 r

DistributionThe distribution of a species is the geographic region where individuals ofthat species are found naturally. Virginia has five geographic regions calledphysiographic provinces: the Coastal Plain; Piedmont; Blue Ridge; Valleyand Ridge; and Appalachian Plateau. Each province has unique structuresand features resulting from its geologic past.Data Source: http://water.usgs.gov/Related SOLs: ES.8aSoutheastern Fairfax County (east of Interstate 95) lies in the Coastal Plain.Northwestern Fairfax County (west of Interstate 95) is in the Piedmont. Thedividing line between the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont physiographicprovinces is called the Fall Line.A watershed is an area of land where all of the water that falls on it drainsto the same body of water, such as a stream, river or even the ocean.Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes and can cross physiographic,county, state and even national boundaries. Fairfax County has 30watersheds that are part of the Potomac River watershed, which in turn is partof the Chesapeake Bay watershed.The distributions of aquatic animals like fish that cannot move around on landor in the air are defined by watersheds rather than geographic regions.Because streams and rivers within a watershed are connected, what happensupstream can affect the quality of downstream water bodies.r 5 r

Fairfax County Watersheds by Number1. RunPond BranchDifficult RunBull Neck RunScotts RunDead RunTurkey RunPimmit RunFour Mile RunCameron Run11. Belle Haven12. Little Hunting Creek13. Dogue Creek14. Accotink Creek15. High Point16. Kane Creek17. Mill Branch18. Occoquan19. Sandy Run20. Ryans Damr 6 r21. Wolf Run22. Old mill Branch23. Pohick Creek24. Popes Head Creek25. Little Rocky Run26. Johnny Moore Creek27. Bull Run28. Cub Run29. Horsepen Creek30. Sugarland Run

Sometimes, either accidentally or deliberately, species are introduced intoplaces outside of their native distributional range. Some introduced speciesmay cause harm to the ecosystem into which they are introduced.IconName and DescriptionNative. An organism living in an area naturally, without anyhuman interventionNon-native. An organism introduced to an area outside itsnormal range, usually through human activityHabitat and Habitat TypesHabitat refers to a physical place where an organism (or a community oforganisms) lives, including all living and non-living factors or conditions of thesurrounding environment. Habitats in Fairfax County fall into six basic types:IconName and DescriptionWoodlands. Forests, thickets, stream buffersMeadows/Fields/Open Areas. Parklands and other openspace with few or no trees and vegetated mostly by grassesLakes/Ponds/Wetlands. Non-flowing bodies of water or landsaturated with water (bogs, marshes, swamps etc.)Rivers/Streams/Creeks. Flowing bodies of water. FairfaxCounty is in the Potomac River watershed, which is part ofthe Chesapeake Bay watershedEstuaries. Where fresh water and ocean (salt) water mix,such as the Chesapeake Bay and tidal (below Great Falls)Potomac RiverSuburban Areas. Developed areas such as subdivisions,apartment complexes, malls/shopping centers, etc.r 7 r

Role in the Food WebA food chain is the path of energy from organism to organism. Plants, whichconvert the sun’s energy into food, are usually at the base of a food chain.Since most organisms eat more than one type of animal or plant, food chainsare interconnected in a food web. Look at the food web diagram below for anexample; the arrows show the directions in which energy and nutrients flow.r 8 r

Within a food web, organisms are grouped based on how they get theirenergy:IconName and DescriptionProducer. Organisms (mainly plants) that generate and storetheir own food/energy from the sun or other energy sourcesConsumer-Herbivore. Consumes only plantsConsumer-Carnivore. Consumes only animalsConsumer-Omnivore. Consumes plants and animalsDecomposer. Breaks down dead/decaying organic matterinto component elementsLife Histories and Life CyclesAn organism’s life history is a series of steps related to the processes oflife that help it to survive, such as eating, respiration and migration. Thelife cycle of an organism is part of its life history, and describes how itreproduces, grows and develops. For some organisms, the life cycle isa gradual process with steps that blend into each other. However, someanimals undergo a more radical physical change called metamorphosis.The immature form (usually called a larva; more than one larvae) often hasa body plan completely different from that of the adult organism.r 9 r

How to Use This BookThis field guide is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all of theorganisms that might be found in Fairfax County. It is a guide to some of thecommon organisms that are likely to be observed in typical neighborhoods,schoolyards, parks and other outdoor areas of the county.The guide is organized into major groups of living organisms: non-vascularplants; vascular plants; decomposers; invertebrate animals and vertebrateanimals. Each group has a different color-coded tab on the outside edge ofthe pages. The colored tabs correspond to the color highlights shown in theTable of Contents and make it easier to find groups quickly. Activities haveblue headers and do not have colored tabs.Each organism page was designed to provide the most information possiblein one page. Take a look at the example page below to understand howinformation is presented throughout the guide.Color tabCommon andscientific namesFirefly(Lampyridae)Illustration ofspeciesIconsAppearance andlife historyFun facts aboutthis organismDescriptionFireflies are actually beetles.They tend to be brown andhave a soft body with leatheryfront wings. The males andfemales attract each otherwith a flashing green light,known as bioluminescence,which occurs when livingorganisms convert chemicalenergy into light. Firefly eggsand larvae also glow.Distribution and HabitatThe flashing light acts as a languagewhere different flashes act as codedsignals. For example, some malefireflies use blinking patterns to helpattract potential mates. If a female isinterested, she flashes back.AdditionaldrawingsFireflies can be seen in meadowsand open woods. They are found inall five physiographic provinces.Role in Food WebFirefly larvae are carnivores and eatsnails, slugs, other fireflies, aphids,mites and soft-bodied insects.Adults only live long enough toreproduce and usually do not eat atall, although they sometimes drinknectar. Predators include SpringPeepers, toads, salamanders, skinks,birds, spiders, moles and bats.r 72 rNow, let’s go outside and start exploring!r 10 rWhere it livesFeedingrelationships

Field Safety Do not approach, disturb or harm wild animals. Never attempt to touch, pet or handle any wildlife.If you find an injured or dead animal, leave it aloneand inform a teacher or other adult. Never attempt to touch, handle or eat wildmushrooms or plants. Never handle preserved organisms. The chemicalsused to preserve animals may cause skin or eyeirritation or breathing problems; and plants that havebeen dried or freeze-dried may retain their naturaltoxins/irritants. Avoid natural hazards such as poison ivy, ticks,mushrooms, insects, spiders and snakes.Wear bug spray. For more information aboutmosquitoes, ticks and tips to help you Fight the Bite,visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/hd/westnile/ Put safety first when engaging in field activities in,near or over bodies of water. For example, bring anadult or responsible person with you. Dress appropriately for forecasted weatherconditions, remember sunscreen and carry enoughwater to stay hydrated. Always wash your hands with soap and water aftercoming in from the field.r 11 r

My Notesr 12 r

PlantsPlants are organisms that usually grow in the ground, cannotmove from place to place under their own power, and are ableto grow throughout their lives without taking on a fixed shapeor size. Most plants make food for themselves by capturingenergy from the sun (a process called photosynthesis), unlikeanimals which must eat other living things. There are twodifferent types of plants: non-vascular and vascular.

Non-Vascular PlantsNon-vascular plants lack a vascular system (think veins) totransport nutrients and water throughout the plant. Theydon’t have true roots, stems or leaves that we associate withmost plants. Because of this, non-vascular plants are usuallymuch smaller (rarely taller than two to three centimeters) thanvascular plants and are found mainly in moist areas that do notget a lot of sun.Non-vascularThese plants are mucholder than vascularplants. The oldest knownnon-vascular plantappeared in the fossilrecord between 440 and450 million years ago.Some scientists believethat non-vascular plantsmay have evolved asearly as 475 million yearsago. Vascular plantsappeared roughly 400million years ago.VascularThere are three groupsof non-vascular plants:algae, mosses and‘worts (hornworts andliverworts).r 14 r

Green AlgaeDescriptionAlgae are the mostwell-known of a groupof organisms calledphytoplankton. Manyspecies live as singlecells, while other speciesform colonies, longfilaments or seaweeds.Green algae are the most diverse group of algae with more than 7,000species. These organisms are photosynthetic, meaning that they function asplants and produce their own food from sunlight, and are primarily aquatic.Distribution and HabitatGreen algae live in mainly fresh water throughout all five physiographicprovinces. They can often be found on rocks, floating wood and covering thesurface of stagnant water. In fact, algal growth is often what makes partiallysubmerged rocks and wood slippery.Role in Food WebAlgae are at the base of most aquatic food chains and webs and are oneof the primary producers of the oxygen we breathe. However, when excessnutrients enter the water system, green algae can rapidly grow to such adegree that it negatively affects the immediate ecosystem. Thick mats ofgreen algae can prevent sunlight from reaching the bottom of ponds andlakes and prevent other aquatic vegetation from growing. Additionally, whengreen algae die, the process of decomposition uses oxygen in the water,called “dissolved oxygen.” This process can cause the water to become“anoxic,” which means there is no more oxygen in the water for fish andother aquatic animals to breathe.r 15 r

MossesDescriptionMosses are small, soft plants thatare typically 1 to 10 centimeterstall. There are approximately10,000 species of moss, makingthem the third most diversegroup of land plants.Since mosses cannot transportwater, they must have a dampenvironment to live. But theystill need enough sunlight forphotosynthesis – after all, they are still plants!Mosses have rhizoids instead of true roots. Rhizoids act like roots andanchor the plants to the ground or other surfaces such as rocks or trees.Mosses do not have flowers and therefore no fruits, cones or seeds. Theyrely on spores to reproduce. Think of spores like a seed – once the sporeis fertilized, it grows until it is released into the environment to make moremoss! Mosses play important rolesin their ecosystem such as reducingstream erosion, cycling water andHumans use mosses as well.nutrients, and providing shelter toSome types of moss are usedmany insects.by florists in decorations.Sphagnum, a specific genus ofDistribution and Habitatmoss, was used in World War IMosses grow in all fiveas first-aid dressings on soldiers’physiographic provinces. Theywounds as these mosses arecommonly grow close together inhighly absorbent and have mildclumps or mats in damp or shadyantibacterial properties.locations.Role in Food WebThough moss may be eaten byvarious animals, it is not a main food source for any particular species. Mossesplay a larger role in replenishing nutrients in the soil which are used by otherproducers.r 16 r

’Worts (Liverwortsand Hornworts)We’ll cover liverworts andhornworts together. The ‘wortsare even simpler than mosses.They are considered to be thesimplest of all plants and oftengrow flat along the ground inlarge leaf-like structures.DescriptionThe name “liverwort” comesfrom the Anglo-Saxon words “lifer,” meaning liver, and “wyrt,” meaning plant.It was thought that the ribbon-shaped margins resembled the lobes of a liver;because of this, ‘worts were believed to be useful for treating liver ailments.There are 6,000 to 8,000 species of liverworts. Liverworts are typically small,usually from 2 to 20 millimeters wide with individual plants less than 10centimeters long.Hornworts are very similar to liverworts. The main distinguishing characteristicis the elongated horn-like structure. This is where the hornwort gets its name.There are only 100 species of hornworts identified at this time.Like the mosses, ‘worts reproduce by spores.Distribution and HabitatHornworts and liverworts are found throughout all five physiographicprovinces. Like mosses, they require a damp environment and enoughsunlight for photosynthesis.Role in Food Web‘Worts can survive in Arctic regions and on high mountaintops whereother plants can’t grow. They provide an important food source for planteaters such as Caribou, Musk Oxen, Arctic Hares and lemmings that live inthese regions.r 17 r

Activity: Where is my air?Nearly all aquatic plants and animals require oxygen to survive and aresensitive to the amount of oxygen in water. The amount of oxygen foundin water is called the dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration. The presenceof oxygen in water is a sign of a healthy stream, while the absence ofoxygen can signal pollution. Aquatic organisms such as fish and insectshave gills to use the dissolved oxygen in the water.Different organisms can tolerate different levels of DO. The BrownBullhead (Page 95) can survive oxygen levels as low as 1.0 milligrams/liter (mg/L) by exchanging oxygen through their skin and gulping surfaceair into their air bladder, which functions as a lung. Mayfly nymphs (Page75) are very sensitive to pollution and cannot tolerate low levels of DO.They generally require a DO level of at least 6.0 mg/L. Largemouth Bass(Page 98) require a minimum DO level of 4.0 mg/L in order to survive.Create a bar graph that compares the three different organisms’ DOrequirements. The X axis (horizontal) should show the three organismsand the Y axis (vertical) should show the required levels of DO in mg/L.Use the graph on the following page to help you get started.Describe what might happen to these three species if the amount of DOin a stream dropped suddenly due to an aquatic algal bloom (a rapidincrease in the population of algae in an aquatic system).Challenge yourself! List some different reasons that may cause an algalbloom to occur.r 18 r

Y: DO (mg/L)Title:X:Organismr 19 r

Vascular PlantsVascular plants have two tubular systems running throughouttheir roots, stems and leaves (see illustration on Page 14).These systems, which you could think of as roadways,transport water and food to all parts of the plant. Vascularplants include ferns, grasses, vines, flowers, shrubs andevergreen (trees that keep their leaves throughout the year)and deciduous trees (trees that drop their leaves in the fall).Vascular plants reproduce using either spores or seeds. Fernsand horsetails do not have flowers or seeds and reproduceusing spores. The majority of plants reproduce using seeds. Aseed is a small embryonic plant and a food source packagedinside a hard protective coating. Think of a seed as an embryopacked in a box with its lunch!Some plants can also clone themselves using rhizomes,horizontal underground stems which can grow into new plants.There are two kinds of seed-bearing plants: gymnospermsand angiosperms. Gymnosperms include the conifers (pines,firs, spruces, hemlocks and other “evergreens” with needlelike leaves) as well as gingkos and cycads. The seeds ofgymnosperms are partially enclosed in cones or fruitlikestructures (gymnosperm means “naked seed” in Greek).The angiosperms, also called flowering plants, are the mostdiverse plant group on Earth and include broad-leafedtrees and shrubs, grasses and sedges, crop plants, aquaticplants, wildflowers and a great many others. The seeds ofr 20 r

angiosperms are fully enclosed in an ovary. A ripe plant ovaryis called a fruit, even if it doesn’t look like what we think of asa fruit! Watermelons, tomatoes, pumpkins, walnuts, acorns,strawberries, corn on the cob, rice all are “fruits.”A plant’s life cycle describes how long it takes to grow, flowerand fruit. A plant can be either an annual, perennial or biennial.An annual is a plant that completes its life cycle in one growingseason. A plant that needs two growing seasons to completeits life cycle is a biennial. These plants produce leaves oneseason, rest over winter, and grow flowers and seeds thefollowing spring and summer. A plant that lives through threeor more growing seasons is called a perennial.When identifying plants, some key characteristics to look atare: height, leaf arrangement, leaf shape, flower color andtiming (if present), and location (Is it in the sun or shade? Wetor dry area?).r 21 r

fernsFerns(Pteridophyta)DescriptionThe leafy branch of a fern isknown as a frond which iscomprised of many leaflets. Onthe underside of the frond youmay notice dark spots; theseare spores. Spores are similar to seeds in other plants. However, unlike seeds,spores cannot produce an adult plant. Spores produce what is known as agametophyte. If the area is moist and conditions are right, the gametophytewill be fertilized and become a complete fern.Distribution and HabitatThis ancient group of plants existedlong before the dinosaurs andpredates flowering plants by millionsof years. Ferns were an importantsource of nutrition for plant-eatingdinosaurs.Ferns require moist conditions andcannot grow in dry, sunny areas.They are often found in shadywoodlands, stream valleys andwetlands. There are many speciesof ferns throughout the world, withapproximately 12 species nativeto Virginia.r 22 r

FloweringHERBACEOUS PlantsCommon Milkweed(Asclepias syriaca)DescriptionThe single thick stem grows 1 to 2 metersin height. From June through August it hasumbrella-like clusters of rose to purpleflowers. Leaves are opposite and oval inshape. When a leaf or stem is broken awhite milky liquid is released. Inlate summer, a seed pod forms andMilkweed’s downy seeds are used asbursts open releasing hundreds ofan alternative to feathers in pillowssilky seeds. Seeds are blown by theand mattresses.wind. It reproduces by seeds andrhizomes.In addition to the Common Milkweedthere are at least seven otherDistribution and Habitatmilkweeds in Fairfax County includingMilkweed is found in all fiveButterfly, Swamp and Purplephysiographic provinces. It thrives inMilkweed. All are butterfly favorites.sunny open areas.Role in Food WebMonarchs and other butterflies, various bees andwasps, carpenter ants, White-tailed Deer andEastern Cottontail Rabbits feed on milkweed.Milkweed is the host plant for MonarchButterflies and the sole food source for thecaterpillars. The caterpillars have adapted toeat Common Milkweed without getting sick from the plant’s toxic chemicals.These chemicals protect the caterpillars by making them taste bad to birdsand other would-be predators.r 23 r

Virginia Bluebell(Mertensia virginica)DescriptionThis perennial plant isa spring ephemeral.Ephemeral means lasting avery short time. Bluebellsappear in March, bloomin April, and disappearby early summer. Theyreappear the next spring.Growing to a height of45 to 60 centimeters, thearching stems produceclusters of pink buds thatmature into blue bellshaped flowers. Leaves are alternate, smooth and oval shaped. When theleaves first start appearing in early spring they are deep purple in color, butsoon turn green. Plants reproduce by seed and rhizomes and often formlarge patches.Distribution and HabitatBluebells thrive in partial to fullshade along streambanks and inmoist woodlands. They are foundthroughout Virginia except in theCoastal Plain province.As the name suggests, VirginiaBluebell blooms are blue. However,the flower buds are pink in color.This color change is due to anincrease in pH of the plant’s sap.As the sap becomes less acidic theflowers turn blue.Role in Food WebIn April, many Virginia Bluebellsgrow along the banks of Cub Runand Bull Run. Many visitors come toBull Run Regional Park in Centrevilleto enjoy their beauty.Honeybees, bumblebees,butterflies, moths and hummingbirdsfeed on Virginia Bluebells.r 24 r

Black-eyed Susan(Rudbeckia hirta)DescriptionBoth the sword-shaped leaves andstem are coarse and covered with stiffhairs. The yellow daisy-like flowers havea dark brown to black center and arepresent from June until frost. Although abiennial plant, it reseeds easily. It growsup to 1 meter tall.Black-eyed Susans are a member ofthe sunflower family and are closelyrelated to coneflowers.Distribution and HabitatThis plant thrives in full sun andtolerates a range of soil conditions.

1. Nichol Run 11. Belle Haven 21. Wolf Run 2. Pond Branch 12. Little Hunting Creek 22. Old mill Branch 3. Diicult Run 13. Dogue Creek 23. Pohick Creek 4. Bull Neck Run 14. Accotink Creek 24. Popes Head Creek 5. Scotts Run 15. High Point 25. Little Rocky Run 6. Dead Run 16. Kane Creek 26. John

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