Photo Gallery: Dead Things and Decomposers

dead pecarry

Dead peccary:Jackie found this baby peccary lying near a trail, as if it were sleeping. We often find dead peccaries, young and old.The month of January is difficult for them because there is little food.So death is common in any ecosystem. A dead animal is usually found very quickly by vultures, who have sharp eyes and an excellent sense of smell.Carrion flies and beetles lay eggs even sooner after an animal dies, and the larvae that hatch eat the flesh of the carcass.In a week or less, nothing remains but some hair and the skeleton.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

opossum jaw

This jawbone from an opossum was lying in the middle of a trail, perhaps where an ocelot killed and ate the opossum.The bone and teeth are very clean and will eventually break down to calcium and other minerals, which will leach into the soil.Then plants can use the minerals to enhance their own growth.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

mushroom with a pencil on it for size comparison

This is a giant mushroom, and the biggest I have ever seen!Do you see my new pencil lying on top?How can you estimate the size of the mushroom?
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

log with binoculars on them

This is the top of a very big log (my binoculars are on top of the log on the left side).This tree was alive in 1994, but fell in 1995, I believe.I know the log is starting to decompose because there are mushrooms growing out of the cracks in the wood.These are shown in detail in the next two photos.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

wood mushroom growing out of a crack in a tree


The visible mushroom is only a small part of the fungus.The rest of it is thin threads that are growing inside the wood.These threads, or hyphae, can break down the material of the wood and release nutrients.The nutrients are used by the fungus or wash out to the soil, what we call leaching.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

wood mushroom

The grooves on the undersides of mushrooms are where spores are formed.The spores are released into the air.They float and land elsewhere to grow into a new fungus.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

fungus on a tree

Decomposed wood.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

shelf fungus on a tree trunk

This closeup of the shelf-fungi shows how they stick out from the tree and are thin, with a pretty yellow color. Inside the tree are probably other creatures such as beetle larvae and ants. What can be found living inside dead trees in your own area? How do woodpeckers take advantage of the life in dead trees?
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

close-up of a green leaf

The following is a sequence of photos that shows the decay process in a leaf. A fallen leaf may remain green like this one for several days, but eventually it will die and lose its green color. Notice the bits of material on the leaf surface: this leaf had microscopic plants living on it as well.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

close-up of a dead leaf

 

When the leaf loses its green color, it is because the chlorophyll and other pigments have broken down to simpler matter. Now the leaf is brown, but it is still pretty much complete.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

close-up of an eaten leaf

As parts of the soft leaf material decay or are entirely eaten by decomposers, the tough parts of the leaf remain. The toughest part are reinforced with a material called cellulose.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

close-up of a lacy leaf

Now you can see the lacy architecture of the leaf. The thick, tough veins of a leaf give the leaf its shape and remain after the rest has decomposed.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

translucent leaf

In the final stage of decomposition, this leaf was very delicate and like thin paper. I could see through this decomposing leaf. Soon it will break into tiny bits and disappear into the soil. Then the cycle of materials starts again: the matter of the leaf is now available to be used by other plant.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002