30 June 2006

Twisted fireflies at dusk

Went out to the woods late yesterday afternoon as the sun was approaching the horizon. I wanted to check the water level in the creek, which I assumed had flooded the low-lying areas of the forest following the endless rains we had been having. But, surprisingly, the creek didn't have any more water than usual. On the way back, the fireflies had started their activities, transforming the forest into a more enchanted state.

firefly3

It proved difficult to catch them flashing while flying. The best shot above may or may not be showing one flashing; the light of the camera's flash gets reflected off the fly's light organ (they are actually beetles; Coleoptera: Lampyridae) and makes it look like it was flashing even when it wasn't.

firefly2

These were rather small, probably about 6-8 mm long, fireflies. I noticed that when they are on a leaf or a twig, they twist their abdomens out from under their wings right before they flash. These 2 picture show them doing just that.

firefly1

So if one figures out how soon after they twist their abdomens they usually flash and if their flash is long enough and if one is using a DSLR (with no lag time), then one can get a picture while a firefly is flashing. But that was easier said than done and all I got was pictures of twisted abdomens.

Can anybody tell what species they are?

28 June 2006

A tramp in Florida: Bradybaena similaris

Bsimilaris1

This is one of those land snail species that have been widely distributed by human activities. Its original homeland is believed to be southeast Asia. This particular individual was from Florida. About 3 weeks ago while visiting the Tampa area, I found a bunch of them aestivating under rocks in Fred Howard Park in Pinellas County.

Bsimilaris2

What struck me as odd was that they had their apertures sealed with a hard calcareous epiphragm as opposed to a membranous one observed in eastern U.S. snails that normally don't experience long dry periods. I had always assumed that snails that built calcareous epiphragms lived only in areas with a long dry season, for example along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. For example, read this post for an example of a snail (Helminthoglypta dupetithouarsi) that builds calcareous epiphragms in the Mediterranean-like climate of Monterey, California. I wouldn't have expected a snail that is supposed to have originated in southeast Asia to build a similar epiphragm.

More information on B. similaris is available here.

27 June 2006

I am a beer reviewer not a peer reviewer

Cyclodextrins are cyclic oligosaccharides of glucose consisting of 6, 7 or 8 glucose units (α-, β-, and γ-cyclodextrin respectively). What makes them interesting to researchers is that one of a gamut of molecules can enter the cavity in the middle of a cyclodextrin molecule forming what is known as an inclusion complex. In fact, there is so much interest in cyclodextrin inclusion complexes that there are international symposia dealing with all aspects of cyclodextrin research.


Cyclodextrins. Drawing from here.

Back in the 1980s I studied cyclodextrin inclusion complexes and published 3 papers, the last one of which came out in 1988. After that, my interests gradually shifted to other fields and eventually from chemistry to evolutionary biology and natural history. Along the way, cyclodextrins became "hollow" memories of a distant past.

Many of you undoubtedly know that a scientific manuscript submitted for publication is normally reviewed by at least one usually anonymous "peer" of the author(s): an unbiased person who is at least as knowledgeable in the subject matter as the author(s) and someone, hopefully, without any animosity towards the author(s). Although I have done my share of peer review of manuscripts dealing with many different subjects, for whatever reason, during the period when I was actively involved in cyclodextrin research, I was never asked to review a manuscript on cyclodextrins.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I received an e-mail from Analytical Biochemistry asking me to review a cyclodextrin manuscript. My initial reaction was one of puzzlement: "Why would they contact me after all these years?" When I scrolled down to the bottom of the e-mail, I saw that the request was from J. B. Alexander (Sandy) Ross, one of the editors of the journal. Sandy was my post-doctoral mentor in the mid-1980s when we both worked at the Mount Sinai Medical School in New York and co-authored one paper on cyclodextrins1.

However, I regretfully turned down the request to review the subject manuscript. Because I don't follow the cyclodextrin literature anymore, I didn't consider myself qualified enough to review it.

Later it dawned on me that I have been publishing papers on snails since 1999, but I have not yet been asked to review a snail manuscript. I am wondering if the editors of malacological journals are waiting for me to quit the field before they will start sending me manuscripts.

Incidentally, here is the Index to the Snail's Tales' Beer Reviews.


1. Örstan, A. & J.B.A. Ross. 1987. Investigation of the beta-cyclodextrin-indole inclusion complex by absorption and fluorescence spectroscopies. Journal of Physical Chemistry, 91:2739-2745.

26 June 2006

The man in the fez

Baha etal

Several readers (2, actually) have inquired about the identity of the man in the photograph representing me on this blog. He is Ibrahim, my father's father. In the picture above he is holding his daughter with his son, my father, standing on the left. The picture is not dated. My father was born in 1911 and the wearing of the fez was outlawed in 1925. Therefore, I estimate that the picture was taken in about 1921 in Istanbul where they lived.

I never met Ibrahim. He died a year or 2 before I was born. The lady in the picture below was his wife, my grandmother, who had died even earlier, sometime in the late 1930s.

BahaninAnnesi

The Ottomans adopted the fez (fes in Turkish) in 1829. The hat had originated in North Africa. In fact, its name comes from the name of the city of Fez in Morocco. Interestingly, the Turks call Morocco Fas.

Eventually, the fez became a symbol of the Ottoman government from which Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's new republic was trying to dissociate itself in the 1920s. So, after they abolished the sultanate and the caliphate, they got rid of the fez as well.

25 June 2006

Pictures from a bioblitz

potomac
The Potomac river and Virginia photographed from the spot where we had lunch on the Maryland side

Yesterday I participated in the Potomac Gorge Bioblitz as a member of the 7-person strong (3 gals and 4 guys) mollusk team. We hiked in a rather leisurely pace along the C&O Canal, the Potomac and on the famous Billy Goat Trail for about 4 hours collecting snails and slugs, taking pictures and having fun. Luckily, the predicted rain never came.

bioblitzmsdn

We collected at least 20 species of terrestrial snails and slugs and some freshwater species. The terrestrial species included the polygyrid Mesodon thyroidus (above) and the succineid Novosuccinea cf. ovalis (below).

bioblitzsuccineid

The bioblitz took place in the Potomac Gorge, a 15-mile deep, narrow valley starting at about the Great Falls National Park and ending in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. The Potomac Gorge is said to have a rich biodiversity. Fortunately, much of the shoreline along the Gorge is protected public parkland.

malacologist
A team member demonstrating his search technique.

22 June 2006

But they are so cute!

babyslg1b

I had been incubating some slug eggs for about 20 days. They started hatching yesterday. Now I have a dozen or so baby slugs, each about 6 mm long. I believe they are a species of Megapallifera, a genus endemic to the northeast U.S.

babyslg2b

A friend of mine will be adopting them this Saturday. She is doing her Ph.D. research on these slugs and hopefully these babies will contribute to the advancement of science and all that.

And now for something completely different...

Too many distractions
Got to get back home
Get into something solid
Get out of the zone

Neil Young Loose Change

21 June 2006

Gavin de Beer and mosaic evolution

"In a broad sense, all organisms can be said to be mosaics, with some characteristics so ancient in origin that they have changed little and some so recent, geologically speaking, that they have changed more than a little. It rarely occurs to most of us that we share ancestral characters with such different organisms as, for example, a flowering shrub."

George Gaylord Simpson, 1983

focamozaik2
Detail of a mosaic from Foça (ancient Phokaia) in western Turkey. Photographed in 1995.

On this date in 1972 the English evolutionary biologist Sir Gavin R. de Beer died (born 1899). One lasting contribution of de Beer to evolutionary theory was the concept of mosaic evolution that he developed in a 1954 paper1.

Although a mosaic-like pattern of evolution is becoming more and more apparent in many major evolutionary transitions, including the evolution of humans from ape-like ancestors, I have not been able to find a recent general review of what mosaic evolution is all about. Stebbins published a review in 1983, but he seems to have confused mosaic evolution with adaptive radiation2. Recently, Mayr3 and earlier, Simpson4 gave brief explanations of the concept with both authors properly distinguishing mosaic evolution from adaptive radiation. Curiously, Ridley’s textbook on evolution5 doesn’t mention mosaic evolution at all.

To my great satisfaction, however, I have found in de Beer’s succinctly written original paper a full explanation of his idea.

As the title of his paper implies, de Beer derived the concept of mosaic evolution from his study of the fossil Archaeopteryx and by comparing it with the bones of reptiles and birds. He found that Archaeopteryx had both reptilian and avian features:

"All these are characters which would not be in the least out of place if found in any reptile. On the other hand, there are a number of features in Archaeopteryx which are absolutely characteristic of birds"

This comparison led him to conclude that

"…it is clear that Archaeopteryx provides a magnificent example of an animal intermediate between two classes, the reptiles and the birds, with each of which it shares a number of well-marked characters."

And this led to the formulation of mosaic evolution (content in brackets mine):

"…the statement that an animal was intermediate might mean that it was a mixture and that the transition affected some parts of the animal and not others, with the result that some parts were similar to those of one type [ancestor], other parts similar to the other type [descendant], and few or no parts intermediate in structure. In such a case the animal might be regarded as a mosaic in which the pieces could be replaced independently one by one, so that the transitional stages were a jumble of characters some of them similar to those of the class from which the animal evolved, others similar to those of the class into which the animal was evolving."

He then applied these ideas to the fossils exemplifying the transitions from fish to amphibian and from amphibian to reptile and finally, from reptile to mammal. In each case, his observations derived from specific examples can be turned into general statements of mosaic evolution.

"But the fact that an animal can be at one and the same time show so many features which would make it an ideal transitional form, and also spoil this picture by possessing one or two characters which rule it out as a direct ancestor, is itself an argument in support of the principle of mosaic evolution, with the different pieces evolving separately, and some of them too fast. This phenomenon is found again and again in the study of transitions from one type of animal to another, and appears to be of general applicability. It would be more difficult to understand if the transitions took place by a gradual and simultaneous conversion of all the parts of the animal."

This was followed by the notion of the evolution of different organs at different rates:

"Just as in some cases…an animal may show characters which have evolved too fast relatively to the other characters, in other cases certain characters may have been left in a profoundly archaic condition."

De Beer even dealt preemptively with potential objections to his idea:

"Organisms are delicately balanced and adjusted mechanisms, and on the average, changes are more likely to upset than to strengthen them. Selection may therefore be expected to have acted with greater rigour against organisms vaying in more than one direction at a time, unless the directions were correlated…"

All of this terminated in a final conclusion:

"A necessary consequence of mosaic evolution and of the independence of characters evolving at different rates is the production of animals showing mixtures of primitive and specialised characters."


A technical paper discussing de Beer’s significant accomplishments in embryology is available here.

Some recent technical papers on mosaic evolution:

Andrew N. Iwaniuk, Karen M. Dean, John E. Nelson. 2004. A mosaic pattern characterizes the evolution of the avian brain. Proceedings: Biological Sciences 271, S148–151.

Robert A. Barton and Paul H. Harvey. 2000. Mosaic evolution of brain structure in mammals. Nature 405, 1055-1058.

Todd C. Rae. 1999. Mosaic Evolution in the Origin of the Hominoidea. Folia Primatol 70:125–135


1. De Beer, G.R. 1954. Archaeopteryx and evolution. Advancement of Science 11:160-170.
2. Stebbins, G.L. 1983. Mosaic evolution: an integrating principle for the modern synthesis.
Experientia 39:823-834.
3. Mayr, E. 2001. What evolution is. Basic Books.
4. Simpson, G.G. 1983. Fossils and the history of life. Scientific American Books.
5. Ridley, M. 1996. Evolution. 2nd ed. Blackwell.


Cross posted at Transitions.

20 June 2006

Yet another snail at the edge: Cerithidea scalariformis

cerithidea4

An earlier post in this series of snails that live at the edge of the sea (or land, depending on which way evolution is taking them) was about Batillaria minima. Compared to the latter, however, Cerithidea scalariformis is quite a terrestrial snail. Unlike B. minima, but like Littoraria irrorata, C. scalariformis is active out of the water; in fact, if it is placed in water, it crawls out of it (more on that in the future).

cerithidea3

Cerithidea scalariformis has been recorded from South Carolina thru Florida down to Cuba, Mexico and Panama.

cerithidea1The photo on the left shows the roughly circular, soft and horny operculum of C. scalariformis. Thomas Say, who described this species in 1825 as Pirena scalariformis (Say’s paper), usually had very little to say about the anatomies or habits of the species he wrote about. But, in this case, he included an interesting observation: “…the operculum is orbicular, and so small as to admit of the animal retiring one half the length of the shell.” I believe what Say meant is that the snail can withdraw as deep into its shell as one half the length of the shell. When I examined these snails near Tampa, Florida, earlier this month, I noticed that they could indeed withdraw deeply into their shells, but because their shells are opaque, I could not tell just how deep they could go in.

More information on C. scalariformis is available at the web page of the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce.

18 June 2006

Uninvited guest loves the barbequed onions

We had some friends over for a little backyard party yesterday afternoon. In the middle of the festivities, this carpenter bee showed up.

beeonion1

Luckily, the bee ignored the other guests and was interested only in the barbequed onions.

beeonion2

16 June 2006

Boxcar graffiti XI

boxcar11



Index to the Snail's Tales boxcar graffiti pictures

Are the artifacts exhibited in the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology imitations?

An article in today's edition of the Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet reports that an anonymous e-mail claims that the Texas-based Institute of Nautical Archaeology has been smuggling most of the artifacts they have been excavating in Turkey out of the country while exhibiting in the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology their imitations. The e-mail, supposedly by a museum employee, was sent to the local government authorities who are reported to have started an investigation.

According to the newspaper, the e-mail also claims that several people, including a low-ranking Gendarmerie (military police) official, who knew what was going on and attempted to interfere had been "punished" by being appointed to jobs elsewhere in Turkey.

My initial reaction to this news is that it is a fake allegation by a disgruntled employee. I am hoping there will be follow-up stories to clarify the situation. Curiously, however, the subject news item, which was displayed on the main page of Hürriyet earlier today, has since disappeared from the page, although the link to it is still good.

15 June 2006

How Truncatella caribaeensis moves

Tcarib

Truncatella caribaeensis and the other species of terrestrial snails in the family Truncatellidae have a unique mode of locomotion: they move by alternate stepping motions of the snout and foot. The specimen above (shell length = 6.6 mm) was photographed while taking a "step" forward with its pink snout extended and its foot trailing behind.

Henry Pilsbry1 gave a detailed description of the looping of Truncatella, including the stages of one step:

The progression begins by a stretching forward of the proboscis [snout], its tip is then applied to the surface moved over, and this tip flattens out until nearly the size of the foot. If the proboscis secures a firm attachment, the foot may now be released, and either drawn up to the attached proboscis by sliding the edge of the foot along the surface, or the entire animal may be supported upon the proboscis and the foot raised clear of the surface and drawn up to the proboscis , when its edge will rest on the surface moved over.

The series of pictures below show the stages from a to e constituting one step and taking place in about 3 seconds. In stage e the snail is about to or has just lifted its snout off the surface to take another step forward. The operculum is partially visible right behind the foot. Pilsbry also noted that "the entire cycle of movements comprising the 'step' is executed in four seconds or less".

Tcaribcrwln2

According to Gary Rosenberg2, the looping of Truncatella, rather than crawling on a mucus layer like most other terrestrial gastropods, is a mucus-saving adaptation to terrestrial life.


1. Pilsbry, H.A. 1948. Land Mollusca of North America (north of Mexico ). Volume 2, part 2, p. 1066.
2. Rosenberg, G. 1996. Independent evolution of terrestriality in Atlantic truncatellid gastropods. Evolution 50:682-693.

14 June 2006

The oldest book and the scientific paper I own

This is a meme of sorts that I saw at Duane's Abnormal Interests. Compared to Duane's oldest book from 1802, however, mine would be considered "new": Sanborn Tenney's 1872 A Manual of Zoölogy.

tenney2

Tenney was a creationist. All but about 4 pages of the 535 pages of text in his book deal with descriptions of animals. In those remaining 4 pages, Tenney manages to refute evolution in his own way and concludes that "On the contrary, careful observers have been led to believe that animals as well as plants have been created by an Omniscient Being, in the places, and for the places, which they now occupy".

As Duane notes the "wonderful" illustrations in his old books, I value Tenney's book for the more than 500 engravings in it. This is one of them.

tenneybeaver

The oldest original copy of a scientific paper I own is George B. Simpson's 1901 "Anatomy and physiology of Polygyra albolabris and Limax maximus" published in the Bulletin of the New York State Museum. I have photocopies of much older papers, but they don't count.

simpson01b

Unlike Tenney's book, Simpson's paper is still quite useful for the unique and hard-to-find information it provides about the 2 species of terrestrial gastropods that were the subjects. The drawing below from Simpson's paper shows the "position of the pulmonary cavity, in relation to the volutions of the animal [Neohelix albolabris]". I have not seen a similar drawing of another species of snail in any other publication.

simpsonalbolabris

OK, here is a question. Why was zoology spelled as zoölogy until even the early 1960s? I don't know the answer.

13 June 2006

More snails at the edge: Truncatella

truncatella3

This little guy struggling to regain its footing on my fingertips is a Truncatella pulchella. The snails in the genus Truncatella spend their entire lives on land, but never too far from the sea. In fact, they live so close to the sea that during storms thousands of them must wash away, never to return.

TrHabitat5The picture on the left shows a typical Truncatella habitat in Florida: piles of rotting seaweed stranded on a sandy or rocky beach only a few meters from the sea. In the depression in the foreground, next to my notebook, I found quite a number of them.

These small snails are among the handful of gastropods that truncate their shells; a seemingly wasteful practice that must nevertheless have some adaptive value. As a Truncatella nears maturity, the apex of the shell breaks off and the snail seals the resulting hole, ending with a more or less flat topped shell. In the picture below you can see 3 adults of Truncatella caribaeensis with truncated shells and one subadult with an intact apex.


truncatella2

These snails appear to have evolved terrestriality relatively recently on the geologic time scale. According to Gary Rosenberg1, one species endemic to Barbados may have become terrestrial within the last million years and may in fact be "the most recent animal to become fully terrestrial."


Next in this series: How Truncatella caribaeensis moves.
Previous entry in this series was Batillaria minima.


1. Rosenberg, G. 1996. Independent evolution of terrestriality in Atlantic truncatellid gastropods. Evolution 50:682-693.

12 June 2006

Thanksgiving is months away, but take the Turkey test anyway!

News agencies are reporting that the European Union has started membership talks with Turkey. Only time will tell how far they will go. In the meantime, brush up on your knowledge of geography and history with this test from the BBC.

If you don't know what a fez is, look around this page and you will see the picture of a man wearing one.

Life inside a cocoon

Every week on the inside of its backcover, the British popular science magazine New Scientist publishes intriguing questions submitted by readers, followed by answers, also submitted by readers.

Several weeks ago, the following inquiry appeared.

When an insect is changing inside its cocoon, and has turned to slush, is it alive? And if so, in what way is it alive?
The questions of what life is and how it can be defined have long puzzled me. Many years ago, I even published a paper1 discussing some relevant points. So, after I read the above question, I e-mailed an answer, mostly extracted from my paper.

My answer and 2 others have now been published on the New Scientist’s web page (they should also be in the current print edition, which I haven’t received yet). Unfortunately, if you are not a subscriber you can read only the first sentence of my answer. But, here it is in its entirety.

An insect undergoing metamorphosis is alive regardless of what state its body may be in. For one thing, the individual cells are alive and are growing and dividing in a coordinated manner to form the organs of the new adult insect. An insect, or any other organism, could not be dead at one stage of its development and alive at a following stage, because the death of an organism is always irreversible.

However, the death of a multicellular organism such as an insect must be defined separately at different levels of organisation: the intact body; the organs and tissues; and finally, the individual cells. The body cannot survive without organs and cells, but the latter two groups can survive without a body. If you squash a cocoon the larva inside will be killed, but many of its cells will remain alive, at least for a while. Therefore, a multicellular organism can be killed by destroying its highest level of organisation, while leaving most of its organs and cells alive. If that were not the case, there would not be such possibilities as human organ transplantations or cell cultures.
A while ago, I had another post along these lines and I will probably return to the subject in the future.


1. 1. Örstan, A. 1990. How to define life: a hierarchical approach. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 33:391-401.

10 June 2006

Another snail at the edge: Batillaria minima

batillaria3

The previous post in this series was about Littoraria irrorata. Unlike the latter, however, Batillaria minima prefers the ocean side of the line between the sea and the land, if there is such a line, and it is active only when it is fully submerged. I photographed and examined these snails during my recent trip to Tampa, Florida.

These snails live in the intertidal zone. Any slow-moving animal that makes the intertidal zone its permanent home needs to have evolved the ability to withstand desiccation and heat, sometimes lasting for hours. I suspect that such traits were crucial preadaptations for the evolution of true terrestriality in gastropods. Batillaria, however, hasn't evolved far enough to step permanently to the "other side". When the tide is out, these snails withdraw into their shells, closing their apertures with a soft operculum.

batillaria2
Note the tiny barnacles to the right of the snail.

One difference between B. minima and L. irrorata is how they respond to disturbance at low tide. If you pick a L. irrorata from where it has attached itself and place it on the sand, the snail will come out and crawl to another vertical post. B. minima, on the other hand, stays sealed in its shell wherever it is placed. This simple test, which I tried, demonstrates that L. irrorata is almost a terrestrial snail, whereas B. minima has a long way to go, if it is headed in that direction.

batillaria4


Next in this series will be Truncatella.

09 June 2006

Friday afternoon's beer review: Hefeweizen from Portland, Oregon

hefeweizen1
This is an unfiltered wheat beer with a smooth, very nice flavor; a perfect beer for a warm summer afternoon. It is fashioned after the German Hefeweizen beers, one of which (Franziskaner) I have already reviewed here. But this one comes from the Widmer Brothers Brewery in Portland, Oregon.

hefeweizen2
I chanced upon this beer in a supermarket near Tampa, Florida last weekend. Unfortunately, my usual beer store here in Maryland doesn't carry it. But I will be asking them to order it for me.

If you happen to be drinking one, don't forget to look inside the cap for a cheering message!

Cheers!


Index to the Snail's Tales' Beer Reviews

08 June 2006

Platypus: A mediocre book about an extraordinary animal

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), the enigmatic “duck”-billed mammal of Australia, puzzled zoologists for more than a century, especially with its anatomy and reproduction. The first platypus specimen, only a skin, reached England in 1799 and it wasn’t until 1884 when it was definitely established that platypuses were oviparous, that is, they laid eggs like reptiles and birds, but unlike the majority of mammals. Along the way, perhaps thousands of platypuses were killed to provide specimens for British zoologists. It sure could have been done with much less carnage.

This book, by the Australian writer Ann Moyal, is the story of this fascinating creature and those who studied it. Unfortunately, it was a letdown; the author’s style is wordy and repetitive and the book is inflated with paragraphs and even chapters that could and should have been deleted. The entire story could have easily been told more concisely in the form of a magazine article. But then, the author wouldn’t have had a book, would she? I am starting to think that these writers, who otherwise don’t have much to say, stuff their manuscripts with minimally related material so as to have as many pages as they can. Do they get paid by the number of pages they write, or what? Another book that suffered from the same problem was The last giant of Beringia that I reviewed in a previous post.

But now, I am interested in the platypus and will be writing a more technical post about it.

07 June 2006

A snail at the edge: Littoraria irrorata

irrorata1

These snails, commonly known as Marsh Periwinkles, live in salt marshes and mangrove forests at the edge of the land. I suppose the snails, if they could contemplate their own standing in the grand scheme of things, would probably consider themselves at the edge of the sea, for they evolved from completely aquatic marine ancestors. They are almost fully terrestrial, although they still have to return to the sea, their ancestors’ homeland, to reproduce.

This species has already been the subject of a previous post. I had never observed them in the wild until last weekend when I found several of them in a mangrove habitat near Tampa, Florida.

irrorata2Littoraria irrorata carries on top of its foot a thin, horny operculum that seals the aperture of its shell after the snail withdraws inside. Because the operculum is flexible and its diameter is slightly smaller than the diameter of the aperture, the snail can withdraw its body about a half a whorl beyond the aperture. The picture on the left shows the operculum within the bodywhorl.

This demonstrates that, like almost all other land snails, L. irrorata also builds slightly oversized shells. In other words, the snail’s body is smaller than the inner volume of its shell. I have explored this topic before in several posts here, here, here and here.

More information on L. irrorata is available at the Animal Diversity Web.

I will return to this species in future posts.

06 June 2006

Tame birds of Florida

heron1

Around here in Maryland, the Great Blue Herons are normally very difficult to approach to; if I can get within about 25 m of one with a telephoto lens on my camera, I consider myself lucky. Down in Florida, however, they and other large water birds seem to be unusually tame. I noted this in a post last summer about a hiking trip I had taken in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.

heron2

Last weekend in Tampa area, I was amazed again how close I could get to the herons and egrets. This Great Blue Heron was at a beach parking lot. I walked within about 3 m of it without disturbing it. When you are that close to such a large bird, a 50-mm lens, which is what I used, is more than enough.

egret

This Great Egret posing with my son next to our rental car was at another spot. I don't know what makes the birds of Florida tamer and whether that is better or worse for the birds. The residents seem to ignore the birds; only the tourists like me go after them with a camera. Most of the areas where I have encountered such "tame" birds are places that seem to have been developed recently. Perhaps, the birds haven't yet learned to fear humans.

01 June 2006

Blog break

We will be in Florida tomorrow thru Monday to visit an ailing relative. While there I will try to create some free time for snail watching and I hope to return with lots of good photographs.

Regular postings will resume on Tuesday.

Enjoy the hot weather.

How I spotted a really tiny bug while reading about bird's nest soup

When I run into long posts on my favorite blogs, I usually print them out to read them later, preferably, weather permitting, early in the evening on my deck while enjoying a cold beer and a dish of chocolate covered pecans. A few evenings ago during one such session, I was reading a post from bootstrap analysis on how collection of their nests to make bird's nest soup may be driving certain Asian species of swifts to extinction.

Suddenly one of the commas on the page started to move. You see, about 2 weeks ago I got new glasses with a stronger prescription. So now, I can see the tiniest things clearly. But my first reaction to this mobile comma was like "Whoa, dude! It must be the beer". Then, I realized this was no ordinary comma. It was a live creature! Yes, barely as big as a comma, but self-propelled animal matter, nevertheless.

tnybg1

I rushed inside to get the camera and when I returned I could still spot it on the paper thanks to the new glasses. Below is the closest and sharpest shot of it I could get while handholding the camera (it was moving surprisingly fast for its size).

tnybg2I was hoping to take more pictures of the creature, but it either got annoyed by my intrusion into its private life or didn't like what Nuthatch had written (I liked it, though), curved its tail up, which I could see very well (did I mention my new glasses?), and then, disappeared into thin air. It must have used its tail to catapult itself up and away, perhaps into my beard.



I will appreciate any ideas about what species this insect may have been.