Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Weird Bryophyte

I just realized it has been a very long time since I've posted anything. I was going to try to figure out more about this weird possible club moss but I was having trouble and I've been really busy so here's the picture at least. This is another photo from the white mountains.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Nature Blog Network

I have officially become a member of the Nature Blog Network. So says the widget to the right. Nothing big is changing other than the fact that you can now click on said widget to visit the NBN homepage and check out some other really fantastic nature blogs and keep track of my ranking...which will probably be towards the bottom for the most part.

Monday, August 9, 2010

White Mountains Part Four: Pseudorchis sp.

So I'm slowly getting through the different wildlife I found in the White Mountains. It seems like about two million years ago that I was actually there. But here is a flowering plant we found in our campsite. We guessed, correctly, that it was an orchid. I managed to figure out that it was a pseudorchis genus but haven't been able to get any further. Nor have I found much information on the psuedhorchis genus other than that it has a few members common to the northeast US.

Orchids are especially common in the tropics but will grow just about anywhere and are extremely varied. Most orchid fruits produce a huge amount of seeds, sometimes in the millions. These seeds are generally only a few cells and require a special relationship with a mycorrhizal fungus to germinate (thanks again fungi!).

I also just learned today that vanilla is an orchid. Beautiful and delicious!


Stern, Kingsley R. (2006) Introductory Plant Biology, Edition Ten. New York, NY: McGraw Higher Education.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Shark Post

I spend a lot of time demystifying myths about sharks. I'm still surprised at how many people really believe sharks want to eat people. They don't. And with shark week wrapping up on the Discovery Channel I thought what better time to write about sharks on the Network.

If you live in the Northeast, and I suspect most of you do, you have probably heard of the very publicized sightings of white sharks near Chatham, MA and Westport, RI. People are, to put it mildly, freaking out about it.

This is completely normal. This part of the Atlantic has always been within their distribution and there are a couple of reasons we're seeing so many white sharks this summer. The first is that populations of Grey Seals are rebounding. This is a good thing. But more seals means more sharks. The second reason is simply that we're looking for the sharks more than ever. You won't spot an animal you're not looking for.

Should we be afraid of sharks? I don't think so. We should certainly respect them. I could ask the same question about dogs which bite a vastly larger number of people every year. Yet to my knowledge there has never been a public outcry to go around killing all dogs. Heck, people bite more people every year. All that said, of course, we should not go swimming in water near seals. You shouldn't hold a large metal pole above your head during an electrical storm. If we use common sense and respect the animals for what they are we will not be put into dangerous situations with them.

Check out the state of Massachusetts's shark project here: http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dmf/spotlight/white_shark_2009.htm

There are some gorgeous photos of these amazing animals.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Backyard Nature Photography

I haven't talked much about the photography on the Network yet. A few days ago I was reading another natural history blog and bumped into a new technique which resulted in the shot above. It's not nearly as awesome as the shot that inspired it and it got me thinking about the frustrations of having a camera that's very very good but not quite at the pro level. I don't quite have the right macro lens for a lot of my shots. I don't have as high an ISO as I'd like a lot of the time. And even though it has a high resolution my images can still come out grainy or blurry. I've seen plenty of images that look out of focus but still somehow amazingly good. That really doesn't tend to happen with my camera.

In any event the idea for the image above is to have a very small aperture and fast shutter speed with an intense flash (so a new thing I've learned is that I also don't have an adequate flash). The image was taken in full daylight but almost no ambient light makes it to the sensor. Instead it picks up the focused light from the flash, only illuminating the intended subject. Now check out the inspiration here.

What are your techniques for taking interesting images of wildlife? What's your favorite place/time of day/year/etc. to shoot nature photos?

White Mountains Part Three: Monotropa uniflora

I am very excited to bring you the next post covering my brief trip to the White Mountains. This somewhat bizarre flower is colloquially known as the Ghost Flower, Ghost Plant, Corpse Plant, Indian Pipe and probably a few other names. Besides having a pretty awesome set of common names the plant itself is fascinatingly weird. It’s a flowering plant with no chlorophyll. As you probably know (or maybe you don’t) most plants contain a chlorophyll, molecules that both give plants their color as well as serve to absorb light and start the process of converting it into usable energy for the organism. In a quick search of definitions for the molecules you may hear that they are found in all plants. Not true.

So if the Ghost Flower (I think that’s the best name) doesn’t gather energy from sunlight like most plants how does it gather usable energy? Well this is the other reason I’m so excited to write about this plant. Instead of employing photosynthesis it taps directly into (any guesses?) the mycelial network!

These plants (there are actually many species of these flowers) are considered to be parasitic on the mycorrhizal fungus of the network but the energy (mostly in the form of carbon) that the plants use to power themselves is coming primarily from the photosynthesis of trees that are tapped into the network. Apparently the drain is so small that the trees, and thus the fungus, are “physiologically unaware” of the energy loss. Perhaps they’re pirates but the amount of energy is at such low levels that it’s almost negligible.

These flowers are found growing in unusually dark places in New England forests. Because they no longer rely on photosynthesis they fill a niche unavailable to most ground plants. You often find them where even the trees only have leaves or needles at the very tops. The next time you’re out in the woods look for these weird plants. I often mistook them for fungi when I first learned about them because they have such weird white bodies and flowers.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure they’re haunted.


University of Wisconsin: http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/toms_fungi/oct2002.html

EOL: http://www.eol.org/pages/583541