Friday, April 29, 2011

Snuffbox Mussels, Male and Female (watercolour approx 3 x 4 in.) SOLD

I have finally finished this series of clam paintings, working too steadily to find time for posting here, but now that I'm finished, I can show you what I've done, and what I've learned! The Snuffbox, Epioblasma triqueta, is a smallish clam listed as a Species At Risk, its Canadian range reduced to a few hundred individuals in the Sydenyam River in southwestern Ontario. You would never know, from looking at the male, why this species is named "Snuffbox".  But neither would you think, upon finding the female, that  she was in any way related - and her special shape is why they are named "Snuffbox".

Smaller than the male, she is not flat at all, but deep and box-like, with a distinctly beak-like front-end.  This is the business end! Her way of propagating her tiny gloccidia is to grab a curious log-perch by the nose and pump her babies out in its face, so as many of them as possible may latch on and be nourished, carried, and dispersed by the fish.

We found this video of a female Snuffbox in the very act of catching a host for her young. Just at the end, you can see the little particles puffing out from her shell. These would be 'inhaled' by the fish, and establish themselves on its gills, to be carried about for a few months, and then drop off to be free living for the rest of their lives. Other fresh water mussels have various strategies for luring their host fish, but none of them make such a forceful  introduction as the Snuffbox!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Northern Riffleshell, female, close up (watercolour) SOLD

9 April finds me finishing my female Epioblasma torulosa, delighting in its ripply, knobby shell. The flared and eroded front edge is the end that the foot is thrust out of, for adjusting the animal's position in the gravelly river bottom. The narrowed curve of the rear or posterior end of the shell is where its inflowing and outflowing siphons are visible when the shells are gaped slightly into the water current for breathing, feeding, and reproduction. The illustrator Gina Mikel has done a nice anatomical drawing of a fresh water mussel.

Epioblasma males and females are dimorphic in shell shape, the female being more bulging at the posterior end and with a narrower curve. This allows room for her mantle to swell with little larval clams or gloccidia, ready to be released to attach to fish. Its host fish are recently thought to be Darters.

Now I have three more clam drawings to finish in watercolour.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Northern Riffleshell male, finished (watercolour) SOLD

7 April finds me painting until the last shreds of daylight on the inner shell of the female of Epioblasma torulosa, after having finished and photographed the outer shell of the male this afternoon. I thought I'd post a finished one this time, so here is the male.


The official Species At Risk website of Fisheries and Oceans Canada tells us that this species requires well oxygenated, clean water with a gravelly bottom, and is now extirpated from 95% of its former range in North America over the last century, and it is now known from only the Sydenham and Ausable rivers in southwestern Ontario. The site also says:


The Northern Riffleshell is sensitive to pollution from municipal, industrial and agricultural sources. Siltation, habitat perturbation and impoundment of rivers has also likely destroyed much of the habitat for this species over the last century. More recently, the Zebra Mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) has devastated Great Lakes populations. Access to suitable host species may also threaten this species.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Next Clam (watercolour)

2 April finds my mind briefly recoiling, saying "I don't want to have to do this part", faced with the picayune details necessary to render a likeness of the shell in front of me. But each detail I notice is like a command - "paint this now" - and absolute obedience is required, no getting out of it. Sometimes it requires a few separate steps, or a correction of what I had already laid down, but I'm always forced to the utmost of my skill, with no shirking allowed.

Painting Clams! (watercolour) SOLD

30 March finds me painting rare fresh water mussels for Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 30 years ago I painted 36 species of fresh water mussels for publication in the book by Arthur Clark, "Fresh Water Molluscs of Canada".  Painting them now makes me feel as if I've gone back in time!

I only have 8 illustrations to do this time, and over the years I have learned how to focus and drive myself to finish stages of an illustration within a given time. But even so, having someone read to me is a tremendous help. The gradual work of applying washes to build the iridescence of the pearly nacre and fine details of hinge teeth and growth lines requires only part of my brain, so if I have something interesting to listen to it keeps the rest of my mind still and patient, sort of anaesthetized, so that it doesn't interfere with the work.

Since this contract is brief but intense, Fred is doing all he can to keep me at the painting. He's reading aloud to me, making delicious soups, and keeping the kitchen fire burning under steaming pots of Maple sap on their way to becoming syrup. The book I've selected is Bernd Heinrich's "The Snoring Bird"- a biologist's family history through both world wars and beyond, from Poland to the USA - in many ways more exciting for us than the classic "Doctor Zhivago".

The watercolour I'm working on above is the Kidneyshell, Ptychobranchus fasciolaris, and the one to the left, photographed in progress, is Obovaria subrotunda, the Round Hickorynut.