31 July 2005

Today's good word: pulchritudinous

Pulchritudinous: Characterized by or having great physical beauty and appeal.

The one disadvantage of the garden pea is that it is not particularly photogenic in landscapes, and Mendel’s experimental garden has been replanted, to please visitors, with more pulchritudinous begonias.

Peter Atkins, Galileo’s Finger

[More on Galileo’s Finger tomorrow.]

29 July 2005

In this god we trust

Penises, oops, sorry, phalluses1 have been lately in the news (BBC) and blogs (for example, at Alun), thanks to a news report of the discovery of a "20cm-long, 3cm-wide stone object" that has been identified as a "symbolic representation of male genitalia".

The figurine pictured above, from the archaeology museum in Selçuk, Turkey, was unearthed at nearby Ephesus. In the ubiquitous postcards of him offered for sale in and around Selçuk he is identified as god Bes. I can’t recall what the display caption in the museum said (I took the picture 1987), but I am assuming that is indeed the official identification.

According to Black & Green2:
Bes or Bisu was the Egyptian god of play and recreation, represented as a full-faced bow-legged dwarf, with oversized head, goggle eyes, protruding tongue, bushy tail and usually a large feathered crown as head-dress. He was a magically protective deity who averted the power of evil, and was especially associated with the protection of children and of women in childbirth.... Representations of a very similar figure are found widely in Syria, Palestine, Assyria and Babylonia in the first millenium [sic] BC.
Some ithyphallic3 statues have also been identified as Bes, although from our 21st century perspective, it would be quite unthinkable to represent a deity protective of children and women as such.

It is not quite clear to me why this character from Ephesus was thought to represent Bes. His appearance doesn't quite match the description of Bes given by Black & Green. Could it be that a sculpture resembling Bes and that also happened to have an erect phallus was once, perhaps mistakenly, identified as Bes and so now every little man with an erect phallus is Bes?

Alun discussed some possible uses of the stone age phallus. Along those lines, it is possible that the Ephesian artifact, rather than being a representation of a god, was instead a "marital aid". However, if I am remembering it correctly, the penis, oops, sorry, the phallus of this guy was smaller than average. But then again, maybe the Ephesians had small phalluses, who knows?

1. Is penis a bad word? A man talking to his urologist doesn't refer to his penis as his phallus. But why are we compelled to switch to phallus when the context is art, history or archaeology? My 2478-page massive Random House Dictionary (1987) gives a frustratingly incomplete definition of the word phallus: "1. an image of the male reproductive organ, esp. that [was] carried in procession in ancient festivals of Dionysus, or Bacchus, symbolizing the generative power in nature. 2. Anat. the penis, the clitoris, or the sexually undifferentiated embryonic organ out of which either of these develops." The definition from the online American Heritage Dictionary is more thorough: "1. Anatomy a. The penis. b. The sexually undifferentiated tissue in an embryo that becomes the penis or clitoris. 2. A representation of the penis and testes as an embodiment of generative power. 3. The immature penis considered in psychoanalysis as the libidinal object of infantile sexuality in the male."

It appears that penis and phallus are synonyms. But, I suppose we are less likely to upset the Republicans if we say phallus instead of penis. Penis, penis, penis, ha, ha.

2. Black, J. & Green, A. 1992. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. University of Texas Press.

3. During the writing of this post I learned a new word, ithyphallic, which means, according to the
American Heritage Dictionary, "having the penis erect. Used of graphic and sculptural representations".

So if you don't want to upset the Republicans, you don't say "This sculpture has an erect penis", you say "This is an ithyphallic sculpture". Erect penis, erect penis, erect penis, ha, ha.

28 July 2005

Bagworm in the wind

I came upon this creature today during my usual after lunch walk and luckily I had my camera with me. It was suspended from a young sycamore tree, blowing back and forth in the wind attached to an almost invisible silk thread.

It is the caterpillar of a bagworm moth (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis). After one of these caterpillars hatches in the spring, it builds itself a case from bits and pieces of leaves and twigs attached together with the silk it produces. It then carries its case with it as it moves around feeding on tree leaves. It eventually pupates inside the case. While the males are small winged moths, the females are wingless, legless and wormlike.

They are quite fascinating creatures. Disappointingly, however, almost all the information I could locate about them on the Internet was more or less about how destructive the caterpillars are to trees. Is that all the entomologists care about?

Even assuming that a given species is a major consumer of an important crop, can we be sure it is worth controlling, both in terms of dollars and in terms of insecticidal pollution of the environment? What price for an apple perfect in every detail, a back yard wholly free of mosquitos? ... I am as much in favor of alleviating hunger and sickness as anyone else. But I do think we are much too ready to tack the label "pest" on almost any insect that comes along.

Howard Ensign Evans, Life on a Little-Known Planet, 1968.

There are more pictures of bagworms at BugGuide.Net.

Pictures from high above 2: the Potomac River

Click on picture to enlarge.

I took these pictures on July 19th from my airplane window on the way to Florida. The picture on the right was taken a few seconds after the first one. It took me a while to identify the river in the photographs. I had forgotten how long after we took off from the National Airport I had taken these pictures. First, I looked for the river around Newport News where the Chesapeake opens into the ocean. Then I realized that the second photo was showing the Potomac where it makes a sudden turn to the east.

Compare the numbered landmarks on the photos with the corresponding ones on the map. Number 3 is, I believe, the small island south of Quantico.

Click on picture to enlarge.

The previous post in this series of Pictures from high above was the Pentagon.

27 July 2005

Sadly, life is but a dream

An e-mail from the Niece announced that in a recent dream of her, my wife had appeared as a 9-foot (~3-meter) character of some sort. When I relayed this pertinent piece of information to my wife, she responded that she had always wanted to be taller.

Then I realized that her lifelong dream of being taller had come true in someone else’s dream.

Now, what would be a good adverb to lead such a sentence?

Ironically, her dream came true in someone else's dream.

Unfortunately, her dream came true in someone else's dream.

Fill in the blank with your choice.

__________, her dream came true in someone else's dream.

26 July 2005

Sleeping the summer away 2: converging in on an epiphragm

The land snail on the left is a subadult specimen of Helminthoglypta dupetithouarsi. I found it half buried in soil under a log near Monterey, California last month. The snail had sealed its aperture with a hard calcareous epiphragm before it became dormant (there was also soil stuck to it). Epiphragms reduce water loss by evaporation through the aperture1.

Contrast the epiphragm of H. dupetithouarsi with that of Neohelix albolabris from Maryland in the right-hand picture. There is no dry season in Maryland; some form of precipitation is expected throughout the year. Thus, there is no serious danger of water loss and the snails seal their apertures, even during the winter, with slime that dries to form a thin, membrane-like epiphragm.

As I discussed in the first post in this series, along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea the summers are very dry and the land snails, like their Californian counterparts, build calcareous epiphragms. The picture on the right shows a subadult Helix lucorum that I found under the rubble of an old building in August 2000 on Burgazada, an island off Istanbul, Turkey.

Some years ago I had in captivity some live specimens of the land snail Rumina decollata, originally from the Mediterranean coasts of Turkey. Even when the inside of their container was wet, they would occasionally close the apertures of their shells with hard calcareous epiphragms. This example suggests that the type of epiphragm a snail makes is genetically determined.

The emergence of the same type of calcareous epiphragm in distantly related families of snails (Helminthoglyptidae and Helicidae) under the influence of the Mediterranean climate in different parts of the world is an example of convergent evolution (as opposed to parallel evolution). In other words, similar environmental conditions induce the evolution of similar adaptations in species with different ancestors. There is a detailed discussion of convergent, divergent and parallel evolution in chapter 7 of Niklas2. The diagram below, modified from Fig. 7.1 in Niklas, may help explain the difference between convergent (red yellow purple and blue purple) and parallel (red yellow green) evolution.

Colors denote different states of a phenotypic trait.

1. Machin, J. 1967. Journal of Zoology 152:55-65.
2. Niklas, K. J. 1997. The Evolutionary Biology of Plants. University of Chicago Press.

25 July 2005

Pictures from high above 1: the Pentagon

I took this picture last Tuesday a few seconds after my airplane to Florida took off from the National Airport. Compare it with the map below.

Map is from TopoZone. I turned it around to align it with the photograph; the red arrow points to North.

The map identifies the flat light-colored building behind the Pentagon as the Navy Annex. The park to the right is the Arlington National Cemetery. The docked boats below the wing are in what is labeled in the map as the Lagoon, which is connected to the Potomac River just beyond the range of the map. If I had been sitting on the right side of the plane, I would have photographed the river instead.

23 July 2005

Saturday afternoon's beer (and meal) review: Tavern Ale

This is actually from last Saturday's lunch at the local Jasper's, but I just had a chance to put it up.

The draft beer I ordered, which was unimaginatively called, Tavern Ale, was actually pretty good. It was cloudy, dark golden brown with a nice strong lingering flavor. According to the waitress, it comes from Fordham Brewing Company (their address, www.fordhambrewing.com, is inoperational). The only information I could find about it was here.

My lunch choice, which you can also see in the picture, was "capellini cakes with fresh mozzarella" described in the menu as capellini "sautéed to a crispy light brown, served over spinach with fresh mozzarella and marinara sauce". This was apparently a new item in the summer menu and I was asked to comment on it afterwards. I gave it a "fair" rating and suggested that they add more spinach and use another cheese; mozzarella was too chewy and tasteless for a dish like that.


The previous beeer review was J.W. Dundee's Honey Brown.

22 July 2005

Cladistics at 30,000 feet: from cladograms to cloudograms

While flying back from Florida this afternoon I studied cladistics from Cladistics by Kitching et al. So there I was in a window seat immersed in the book while the plane rose above the clouds. At one point, I glanced out the window and saw these peculiar vertical patches of clouds. They immediately reminded me of the terminal taxa in the cladograms that I had been struggling to understand.

In a cladogram (below) the terminal taxa are distinguished from each other by the characters that are unique to them, such as the characters 5-9 in the lizard, 10 in the salmon, 11 in the shark and 12 in the lamprey. In the cladistic jargon, such characters are known as autapomorphies. In a cloudogram (above) there are, of course, no autapomorphies, all the branches have the same "characters". Nevertheless, they are pretty.

Figure from Kitching et al., Cladistics.

18 July 2005

Blog break until July 22nd

Tomorrow morning I am leaving for hot and humid Florida. Tomorrow afternoon thru Friday morning I will be at the Conchologists of America convention at Fort Myers. Come to think of it, it’s been pretty hot and humid here in Maryland too, so I think the weather will feel the same and luckily no hurricanes are being predicted for this week.

My presentation, Say’s snails: from 1817 to 2005, is scheduled for Thursday afternoon. I am hoping there will be opportunities to do some snail collecting and snail watching between the daily thunderstorms.

Bye for now and don't forget to take the garbage out while I am away.

The life and times of Thomas Say 3

Thomas Say was an accomplished and prolific naturalist not only for the standards of his time, but even for ours. He published a considerable number of scientific papers (102 to be exact, according to Summers1 and including several posthumous ones). Among the animal groups he worked with are aquatic and terrestrial molluscs, insects and other arthropods, including crustaceans, sea stars (echinoderms) and vertebrates (tortoises, mammals).

Almost all of his papers concerned zoological taxonomy and they were mostly devoid of theoretical ideas, except for a sentence here and there that gives us but a glimpse of what he might have been thinking when he was trying to classify a particular specimen. For example, in his 1821 description of Helix elevata (now Mesodon elevatus), he said that the species seemed to be “distantly related to [Mesodon] thyroidus”. There is no way of knowing what he had in mind when he was talking about the “relations” of different species with each other. He was familiar with the French naturalist Lamarck’s taxonomical works, because he cited them several times, but we don’t know if he had also read his ideas on evolution.

Say left behind many letters that offer additional insight on his outlook on nature and life2, 3.

Regarding his primary natural history interest, this is what he said: you will see in the “Journal” that I have been describing the Crustacea of our waters; but my dear sir, I assure you that Shells and Crustacea are but secondary things with me, INSECTS are the great objects, of my attention, I hope to be able to renounce everything else & attend to them only.
[Letter to J.F. Melsheimer, 6 November 1817]

According to Stroud’s biography3, Say was not a very religious person. For example, this is what he wrote in a discussion of Native American myths that personify animals: That the inferior animals did, in ancient times, march to battle with simultaneous regularity, that they conversed intelligibly, and performed all the different actions of men, many of them appear to admit, with as much faith as many equally absurd doctrines are believed in Christendom.
[In Edwin, J., ed. Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, 1823; cited in Stroud3.]

Say was 47 when he died in New Harmony. But he had certainly lived a full and interesting life. So, it is perhaps fitting to end these series of posts about him with the following words from one of his letters.

…it does not seem to be the length of time we exist, but the number of interesting or agreeable incidents that crowd it, that make the lease of life worth holding.
[Letter to C. L. Bonaparte Columbus, Ohio, 13 July 1826]

1. Summers, G. 1982. A bibliography of the scientific writings of Thomas Say (1787-1834). Arch. Nat. Hist. 11:69-81.
2. Weiss, H.B. & Ziegler, G.M. 1931. Thomas Say - Early American Naturalist. Charles C. Thomas.
3. Stroud, P.T. 1992. Thomas Say - New World Naturalist. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Previous posts on the life and times of Thomas Say
No. 1
No. 2

17 July 2005

We are going Roman!

Our new summer outhouse, intimate and airy.

Romans had public toilets, for example at Ephesus, where you could take care of your business–without any privacy whatsoever–while chatting with the person next to you. Pictures of Roman toilets are available at Alun and PBS.

So, when we recently decided to return to our roots, we had the plumbers move our toilets to the front porch. You will notice that we left the tanks open, hoping that the thunderstorms we've been having will fill them up while helping us lower our water bills.

Now we are trying to get the neighbors used to the idea.

Bootstrap analysis has more toilet humor.

16 July 2005

Prayer is useless for heart surgery patients: doctors report

A new study published in today's issue of the medical journal Lancet1 determined that prayer had little or no effect in reducing major adverse cardiovascular events, preventing hospital readmission, or death on patients undergoing coronary procedures.

The study was performed by Mitchell W. Krucoff, a cardiologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

Isn't it about time that these doctors stopped wasting everybody's time on prayer and similar nonsense and moved on to doing scientific medicine?

1. Krucoff, M.W. et al. 2005. Lancet, 366:211-217. Full text is available after registration.

Revision added 24 July
Some other blogs that have since posted about this study:
Anne's Anti-Quackery & Science Blog

15 July 2005

Thank cats it's Friday

14 July 2005

Garbage can zoo: Raccoon

One evening last winter I stepped out on the porch to put something in the garbage can and there was this guy, a Procyon lotor, rummaging thru the leftovers. I quickly went back in to grab my camera and when I returned it had taken refuge under the car with its booty, a chicken carcass.

We live near a wooded park where I frequently come across raccoon tracks along the creeks. Here is a set of them left in the mud.

The previous garbage can zoo post was about the Virginia opossum.

Recently, Henry at Webiocosm had a post about a raccoon in his backyard.

13 July 2005

Say's smallest snail

In his description of the land snail Carychium exiguum in 18221, Thomas Say indicated that it was the smallest species he had seen. He gave the shell length of his specimens as "more than one-twentieth of an inch". That, of course, is not a very meaningful piece of information, for one can't really tell just how long his specimens were. According to Burch & Jung2, C. exiguum shells are 1.5 - 2.5 mm long.

The left-hand picture above shows the largest land snail species Say described, Neohelix albolabris along with a Carychium exile3 shell. If you look carefully, you will see the Carychium shell sitting on the lip of the Neohelix shell. The right-hand picture is a magnification of the Carychium shell.

1. Say, T. 1822. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 2:370-381.
2. Burch, J.B. & Jung, Y., 1988. Land snails of the University of Michigan Biological Station area. Walkerana, vol. 3(#9):1-177
3. I used a Carychium exile shell, because I don't have any C. exiguum. The two species are dimensionally similar enough for the present purpose.

12 July 2005

Zoogenetes harpa: the snail that rode the continents

Zoogenetes harpa is a small land snail; many of them easily fit into a bottle cap. Thomas Say described this species in 1824 based on the shells he had collected a year earlier during his 2nd western expedition under the command of Major Long. That expedition visited Ohio, Indiana, the “Northwest Territory” (Wisconsin and Minnesota), Michigan and New York.

Zoogenetes harpa, found only in the northern hemisphere, has an intriguing distribution pattern. The orange colored patches in the map below show the ranges of this species across 3 continents forming a roughly circular pattern around the North Pole1. How can we explain this pattern in the distribution of an animal that cannot swim or fly? Could a floating bottle cap have carried a few lucky snails across the treacherous Arctic Ocean from one continent to another?

Background map was created at OMC.

Fantasy aside, the only meaningful answer comes from the consideration of the positions of the continents about 190 million years ago during the early Jurassic period. That was when the continents that were later to become North America, Europe and Asia were still connected. Clearly, Zoogenetes harpa first appeared sometime before then, dispersed across the then connected land masses and was subsequently carried on the drifting continents to the places where it lives today.

Map is from Scotese.

What is also intriguing is that the shell morphologies of the populations on North America and Europe don’t appear to have changed since the Jurassic. It would be instructive to compare their genes.

1. The limits of the ranges indicated on the map are approximate, since I don't know the exact boundaries, especially in Asia. I have compiled the distribution data from Pilsbry, 1948; Likharev & Rammel'meier, 1952; Kerney & Cameron, 1979.

11 July 2005

Polygyra cereolus

I have already written about the Polygyra species that Thomas Say described in 1818, which he had collected a year earlier during an expedition to Florida. Another Polygyra species from Florida, P. cereolus, was described by Muhlfeld (as Helix cereolus) in 1816 or 18181. This species is difficult to distinguish from Say's P. septemvolva. What I have identified here as P. cereolus may very well be P. septemvolva. In any case, the exact identification doesn't really matter for my purposes, because what I am going to say here applies to both species.

In my previous post I mentioned that Say gave separate dimensions for the shells of what he claimed were female and male Polygyra. Being pulmonate snails, they are, of course, hermaphrodites. The dissection below shows the lower genitalia of a specimen of P. cereolus.

The dimensions and shapes of the shells of P. cereolus and P. septemvolva are quite variable. The flatter shells of either species approach to being planispiral. The picture below shows the cross section of a P. cereolus shell.

1. See the footnote 2 on p. 582 of Pilsbry's Land Mollusca of North America, 1:2, 1940.

09 July 2005

These seats are taken

08 July 2005

Friday nite's beer review: J.W. Dundee's Honey Brown

This beer is one of my all time favorites. It is very slightly sweet, not bitter and has a light aroma.

It is brewed by the High Falls Brewing Company in Rochester, New York. According to the company's Web site, this is a "pilsner-style beer", although it is certainly darker and more flavorful than most pilsners I have tasted. I tried to figure out who J. W. Dundee is/was, but couldn't find any relevant information on their site.


Previous beer reviews:
Black Chocolate Stout from New York
Coopers Extra Stout from down under

07 July 2005

Neohelix albolabris

This is one of the first land snails Thomas Say described in 1817. Say called it Helix albolabris. In chronological order, it has since been placed in the genera Mesodon, Polygyra, Triodopsis and finally, Neohelix.

This is the largest native northeastern U.S. land snail; its shell diameter may reach 30 mm or more. It is a woodland species, but I have found it most abundantly in relatively young 2nd growth forests.

The drawings below are from Amos Binney's 1851-1857 classic The Terrestrial Air-breathing Mollusks of the United States.

In large lots one usually finds so-called "dentate" shells, shells with a tooth on the parietal wall of the aperture. All of the shells in the picture below (and many others) were collected from one station. Each of the 4 shells in the bottom row has a parietal tooth (arrows), decreasing in prominence from left to right.

06 July 2005

The life and times of Thomas Say 2

In 1819, Thomas Say was appointed as zoologist on Major Stephen H. Long’s expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Besides Say, the party also included a botanist, a geologist, military topographers, an assistant zoologist (Titian Peale) and an artist (Samuel Seymour) whose job was to paint pictures of landscapes and Indians.

They left Pittsburgh in May 1819 on the steamboat Western Engineer, travelling up the Ohio river. On September 19 they reached a place on the west bank of the Missouri near the border of the present day Nebraska and Iowa. They called this place Engineer Cantonment*, built cabins for themselves and stayed there until June 1820.

They reached the Rocky Mountains at the end of June. During their return trip, a party including Say was robbed by 3 deserters who took not only their wardrobe and horses but also Say’s journals. The expedition ended when they arrived at Fort Smith, Arkansas, in September.

Members of Long's expedition meeting with Indians. The officer with shoulder knots sitting in the front is Major Long, while the man with prominent sideburns to his left is Say. Painting by Samuel Seymour, 1819. The original is in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

To be continued.

*Recent archaeological work that has been carried out at the remains of Engineer Cantonment is detailed in this publication from Nebraska State Historical Society. Note that although Say is referred to as “Dr. Thomas Say”, he didn’t actually have a formal degree.

Expedition map is from Evans, H.E. 1997. The Natural History of the Long Expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Oxford University Press.

05 July 2005

The life and times of Thomas Say 1

1787: Thomas Say was born in Philadelphia.
1799: Enrolled at Westtown, a Quaker boarding school. Classes included writing, grammar, French, Latin and “arithmetick”.
1812: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia was founded with Say as one of its founders.
1812?-?: Operated a drug store in Philadelphia for some years in parthership with John Speakman before the venture failed.

1814: Served in the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry against the British.
1817: Published his first scientific papers.
Fall 1817-Spring 1818: Joined William Maclure, George Ord and Titian Peale for an expedition to Florida, then under the control of Spain. Say and his companions explored the Sea Islands along the coast of Georgia. After they reached Florida, they explored along St. Johns River and collected specimens. However, the trip was cut short for fear of an Indian attack.

"…here we are thus far upon our journey to that promised land [Florida], not flowing with milk & honey it is true, but abounding in insects &c which are unknown, & if they remain unknown I am determined it shall not be my fault…"
Letter from T. Say to J. F. Melsheimer, Washington [D.C.], Dec 12th 1817.

To be continued.

Say’s portrait (circa 1812) by Joseph Wood is from the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
Philadelphia scene is from Weiss & Ziegler, 1931.

03 July 2005

Say's creatures

The pioneering naturalist Thomas Say (1787-1834) has had many animals named after him. Among these is Sayornis saya (Say's phoebe), an insectivorous bird of central and western U.S. and Mexico.

Photo from here.

There is also the predatory freshwater fish Aphredoderus sayanus (pirate perch) named in honor of Say.

Photo from here.

Say considered himself primarily an entomologist and described hundreds of insects. In turn, other entomologists named insects after him, including Chlorochroa sayi, a stink bug.

Photo from here.

A previous post of mine was about Say as the first American naturalist to publish about American mollusks. And, of course, mollusks have been named after him, including this land snail, Mesodon sayanus. It was actually Say who first described this snail in 1824 as Helix diodonta, but that name had already been given to another species. Henry Pilsbry redescribed the species and named it after Say in 1906.

Photo from Pilsbry, 1940.

02 July 2005

What kind of humanist are you? They say I am a haymaker

I took the quiz at the New Humanist and was declared to be a "haymaker", whatever that means.


You are one of life’s enjoyers, determined to get the most you can out of your brief spell on Earth. Probably what first attracted you to atheism was the prospect of liberation from the Ten Commandments, few of which are compatible with a life of pleasure. You play hard and work quite hard, have a strong sense of loyalty and a relaxed but consistent approach to your philosophy.

You can’t see the point of abstract principles and probably wouldn’t lay down your life for a concept though you might for a friend. Something of a champagne humanist, you admire George Bernard Shaw for his cheerful agnosticism and pursuit of sensual rewards and your Hollywood hero is Marlon Brando, who was beautiful, irascible and aimed for goodness in his own tortured way.

Sometimes you might be tempted to allow your own pleasures to take precedence over your ethics. But everyone is striving for that elusive balance between the good and the happy life. You’d probably open another bottle and say there’s no contest.

To set the record straight, I don't admire George Bernard Shaw; as a matter of fact, I haven't read anything he wrote. Nor do I have any Hollywood heros. Also, the Ten Commandments had nothing to do with the development of my present beliefs.

What kind of humanist are you? Click here to find out.

Notes from the AMS meeting

American Malacological Society had its 71st annual meeting last week at Asilomar on the Monterey Peninsula in California.

The organization suffered from 2 problems. First, unlike previous years' meetings when talks were usually organized by systematic groups (land snails, freshwater mollusks, etc.), this year they were according to general subject matter (taxonomy, reproduction, etc.). Consequently, the times of several land snail talks overlapped, forcing me to choose one talk over another. Second, even though the organizers had indicated that there would be field trips on Thursday, there were none and this wasn't announced until Wednesday. Hopefully, next year's meeting will be better organized.

Overall, however, it was a good meeting; everyone was friendly and there were plenty of good talks and opportunities to meet new people. Among the talks I listened to I especially enjoyed the following presentations.

Angus Davison (University of Nottingham) talked about the phylogeny of the 2 mating positions in land snails: face-to-face and shell mounting. Dart-bearing species are restricted to those groups who mate face-to-face. Esther Lachman (Hebrew University) discussed the recolonization by land snails of an area in Israel that was burnt by a wildfire in 1997. Levantina hierosolyma and Buliminus labrosus (rock crevice-dwellers) survived the fire, while Euchondrus septemdentatus (soil dweller) was exterminated by the fire and has not since recolonized the area. Ira Richling (University of Kiel) showed photographs of what she said was a copulatory organ developed from the mantle fold in male helicinids (Neritopsina: Helicinidae) that otherwise lack penises. Ira's studies of these operculated land snails have been very interesting and after I read the 245-page "reprint" she gave me, I will post more about her findings. Luke P. Miller (Stanford University) presented the results of his work with intertidal Littorina species that survive at low tide out of water on very hot rocks. Interestingly, to move their bodies as far from the hot rock surface as possible, the snails perch their shells at the edge of the apertural lip. His findings should also apply to land snails that aestivate on hot rocks or soil. Marta J. deMaintenon (University of Hawaii) discussed the anatomical consequences of miniaturization in columbellid marine snails (Neogastropoda: Columbellidae). Although I don't normally work with marine snails, Marta's generalizations might apply to the evolution of very small land snails, such as Punctum.

There were also opportunities for other activities. Several times at low tide I visited the rock pools below the conference grounds to watch and photograph the creatures in them. They will be the subjects of future posts. We were at the Monterey Aquarium Monday night, where we ate desserts and drank wine while watching the jellyfishes and the sharks. Thursday morning John Slapcinsky took me, Ira Richling and Liath Appleton on our own field trip during the few hours we could spare before our flights home. And I found one.........Helix aspersa - hurrah!

01 July 2005

Cannery Row cat

Cat from a fading mural on wood panels at Cannery Row in Monterey, California. The artist's name, if that's what is on the bottom, is not legible anymore.