So I guess I got lucky with the burdock. No one has been able to name any other unknowns for me. But it's always worth a try. Let's up the prize: a million science points for the genus.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
This post was going to be titled “Not For the Faint of Heart” but I didn’t actually capture the image that was going to headline it. I was out for a walk yesterday looking for things to shoot (Bang! Bang!) when I cam across a dead bird full of green flies. I watched them seethe for a bit, brought my camera up, lowered it, watched a bit longer, walked away and then walked back. I had decided I wanted to shoot it but as I came back I disturbed the flies and they alighted.
Why didn’t I just shoot them? They were animals. And as I first came upon them they were undisturbed. I really could have had a fantastic image of them. But I kept thinking about reactions to an image I have of a dead bird. It’s not particularly beautiful and was unfortunately killed by my pet cat and not from something (more) natural. But most people hate it. So I decided not to capture another dead bird.
But as I was walking away the first time I thought about how similar this scene was to every other scene of organisms gathering resources, organisms getting energy from their environment. I resolved to capture that just as I would a honey bee landing on a flower. As I walked away the second time, having failed to get my image, I thought more about how we impose our own morality on nature, how we anthropomorphize even a pile of flies. There was no right or wrong in that dead bird. It was just a pack of organic compounds waiting to be reacquired by the ecosystem. The flies were merely obliging.
Niche theory, in biology, states that when there are resources, when energy is bound up somewhere in the ecosystem, eventually an organism should come along in evolutionary history to take advantage of that source of energy. We see this in the small changes of cichlid fishes’ pharyngeal jaws (jaws within jaws, see this x-ray of a moray eel), we see it in the rise of pollinating insects (once flowers appeared so did creatures that took advantage of them) and we see it in flies and other animals like burying beetles that use the cadavers of vertebrates as energy sources.
Probably something in us roots for the vertebrate and is sickened to see it crawling with arthropods (I've mentioned our innate nauseated response to creepy crawlies probably being an adaptive response to finding them in spoiled food). But there’s certainly nothing “moral” about the process. It’s just another niche to be exploited by another intrepid organism.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Friday, June 4, 2010
Quite a while back when I was dealing with the natural history of arthropods you can find in your house I was asked to treat the housipede or house centipede. Finally, here it is. I don’t have a shot of this creature because I don’t see them to0 much and when I do it’s only for a second. They, like silverfish, move creepily quickly. But for those who aren’t familiar or haven’t heard the term housipede before you can check out the shots on the encyclopedia of life: http://www.eol.org/pages/1033083
House centipede is a term used to describe levels of taxonomic specificity all the way down to the species Scutigera coleoptrata and all the way up to the family Scutigeromorpha. To imagine that there’s an entire tribe of these creepy beasts running (yeah, running) around in our basements is slightly unsettling. This all started with my encounter with a spider and me singing the praises of finding wildlife indoors but the housipede is another flat, many-legged crawling critter I’d prefer stay outside.
The housidpede is indeed a member of the arthropod group of centipedes. Its first pair of legs has been modified into fangs for dealing with its prey. This is typical of centipedes. All (all) centipedes bite. It’s just a matter of how painful a bite they can deliver that classifies them as harmful to humans or not. (A quick tangent: I really like to make this clarification with jellies. All jellies sting but certain kinds, like the moon jellies that are common in
Housipedes (or the specific species S. coleoptrata) are thought to be native to the
I know you’re all probably sick of hearing about the oil spill in the
Directly related to that, each time I have a conversation with a visitor at work it goes directly back to the animals. I try to link it to personal consumption, reducing ones own use of petroleum products but it has seemed (this is my personal experience) that the words don’t hit home. I’m glad they care about the kemp’s ridley sea turtles and other charismatic creatures of the Gulf. But if they aren’t able to see that their own actions are directly linked with the spill…well I’m just not sure we’re making progress.
And lastly, I was going to write about children and conservation this morning and how, for the most part, it is easy to recruit younger folks into the movement. Children have a seemingly innate love of animals and that can easily be translated into passion (though possibly blind passion) for environmentalism. With this issue (the spill) I’m not sure it works that way at all. Children are only consumers of fossil fuels indirectly through their parents. Sure we could encourage (and often do) that they talk with their parents about these issues but ultimately the grown ups are the ones making the big decisions about what car to buy and what house to buy and how to heat the home and, much more importantly, what stuff and what food to buy. I don’t have the heart to advocate that a child not buy a plastic action figure. I know. I hate plastic. I hate useless stuff. But children love action figures. Heck, I still have a hard time resisting them. For whatever bizarre reason the Star Wars, Comic Book, LOTR nerd has a hard time being confronted with plastic reproductions of his/her favorite characters. Honestly a child’s happiness is worth a little more plastic in the world. It’s a though scale to weigh.
OK, that’s my oil spill rant. You won’t be hearing any more about it from me. I get the inclination through the Marine Educator’s listserv and coworkers that some have had slightly more positive educational experiences using this ugliness as a teachable moment. Stories, please!
And I’ll try to bring you something a little more cheery by the end of the day. Even if it’s just a photo.