31 July 2006

Yet another book meme

Duane at Abnormal Interests tagged me with this one. Didn't we do a meme like this a while back?

1. One book that changed your life?
I don't think there has ever been a book that had a great influence on me. Every book I have read has probably influenced me a little bit. But one recent book that has influenced me a lot is Peter Atkin's Creation Revisited.

2. One book you have read more than once?
During my teenage years I was very much into snorkelling and spear fishing. And probably every summer I read and reread Jacques-Yves Cousteau's The Silent World (actually the Turkish translation of it). I have also read H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man twice. A great tale.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. What else?

4. One book that made you laugh?
Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk.

5. One book that made you cry?
Can't think of any in recent history. I stay away from the sad stuff. Life is too short for crying.

6. One book you wish had been written?
Natural History and Diversity of Terrestrial Mollusks. I may have to write it myself.

7. One book you wish had never been written?
Any and all of the texts of the Western religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Look how much trouble they are giving us.

8. One book you are currently reading?
This week: The Rarest of the Rare - Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History by Nancy Pick (text) & Mark Sloan (photographs). Next week I will probably read one of the several books I brought back from my recent trip to Turkey, perhaps Ercan Eren's Geçmişten Günümüze Anadolu'da Bira ("History of Beer in Anatolia" - not the literal translation).

9. One book you have been meaning to read?
Ernst Mayr's The Growth of Biological Thought. I inherited a copy from a late friend's library in 2000. It's been sitting on the shelf ever since.

10. Five people I am tagging.
Hmmm...Budak at Annotated Budak, Clare at Keeper of the Snails, John at A DC Birding Blog, Pamela at Thomasburg Walks and last, but not least, my niece Deniz who doesn't have a blog, but I am sure she will post her answers in the comments.

30 July 2006

Mantis makes its move

While weeding the flower garden around noon today, I saw a Cabbage White nectaring on salvia flowers. Then, I noticed something jumping from a nearby plant to the salvia. It turned out to be a praying mantis. The Cabbage White left, but the mantis positioned itself on one of the stalks below the blooming flowers. It was a perfect spot to grab a butterfly that would land on the flowers above.

If this wasn't intelligent, preplanned action, what is? And insects aren't supposed to be able to think.


The mantis waited. I waited. About 10 minutes later, the butterfly returned and landed on the flower stalk next to the mantis's. And the mantis struck.


A shutter speed of 1/400 s wasn't fast enough to freeze the action. The butterfly struggled briefly.


But it was too late. A few minutes later, a couple of white wings fell to ground below.


29 July 2006

Gallandia annularis: a snail above the clouds


The first mountain we surveyed during our recent expedition in Turkey was the 2500-m high Honaz. When we first reached the peak in our van, it was cool and rainy. Soon the clouds started to disperse; we could begin to see thru mist the vast scenery below us.

Our first station was right below the peak at 2510 m. At that altitude we could find only one tiny species of snail: Gallandia annularis. Their shells barely reach 4 mm in diameter.


The range of this species extends from the Iberian Peninsula thru the Alps, the Crimea, Turkey to Afghanistan (Hausdorf. 1995. Zool. Anz. 234:63). It is always found in mountainous areas. Widespread species like G. annularis with restricted habitats always raise the same question: how do they get from one suitable habitat to another?

27 July 2006

Music for flute, violin, guitars, drums and occasional accordion

Ian Anderson photo from the Official Jethro Tull Website

Last nite for 2 hours at Wolf Trap outside of Washington, DC, Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson played his flute, cracked jokes, and stood on one leg (well, not the whole time). It was, what I might call, good "musical entertainment". In addition to the usual guitars and drums, his backup players also included a young female violinist (the subject of most of Ian's jokes) and the small Wolf Trap Orchestra.

Among the classics we heard were Aqualung, Living in the Past, Thick as a Brick, Locomotive Breath and even an instrumental version of Led Zeppelin's Kashmire; the "real" classics included a jazzy medley of familiar Mozart tunes, Fauré's Pavane and, of course, Ian's well-known rendition of Bach's Bourée. In addition, there was the very recent Şefika's Tango, a piece Ian composed for the Turkish flute player Şefika Kutluer.

I'd prefer the recorded versions of most of the pieces to the somewhat muddled concert performances, but if you are a fan of Jethro Tull don't miss one of these ongoing Ian Anderson Orchestral Performances series.

24 July 2006

Sleeping Albinaria


I have written about the aestivation of land snails during the hot and dry Mediterranean summers. My recent trip in western Turkey gave me new opportunities to observe and photograph dormant snails. These are Albinaria caerulea, one of the 3 species of Albinaria present around the town of Kuşadasi (Read this paper of mine for more info).


One characteristic of A. caerulea is their tendency to aestivate in groups, usually stuck to each others’ shells. Why do they do that? Its been suggested that such aggregates may increase the micro humidity, thus helping the snails better cope with the lack of water (Giokas et al., 2005. J. Moll. Stud. 71:15–23). Not all species of Albinaria form such groups, however. I suspect there may be other reasons for group aestivation. I will return to this subject in the future.

22 July 2006

Ahmet the motorcycle bard


On our way down from the peak of Bozdağ, a 2400-m mountain in southwestern Turkey that we "conquered" on 8 July (that story later), we came upon this guy sitting by himself next to his small motorcycle by the unpaved mountain road. He was clutching a saz, the traditional stringed instrument of the Anatolian bards.

Salih Ceylan, our trusted driver (who is actually a professional geographer), slammed on the brakes and we poured out of our van. After the exchange of greetings, we asked the man for a song. The roadside bard, blind in one eye and who introduced himself as Ahmet, happily complied with our wish.


He also let me take his pictures. But while I was doing so, I missed my chance to note down the words of his song. Such traditional songs are commonly about broken hearts, unfaithful lovers, or lovers who have left and gone to distant places. From what I remember, Ahmet's song wasn't any different.

Ahmet did not expect any payment and we did not offer him any; he played as much for his own entertainment as for ours. After his brief performance, Ahmet gave us an open invitation to visit him in his tent, which he said was down the road. Maybe one day, we will hear him again.

21 July 2006

One from the soil (into the alcohol)


At one of our stations in western Turkey a couple of weeks ago, we collected a large number of large, empty Helix shells. There were no live snails around until I came upon one partially buried in cool, moist soil in the shade of a rock crevice. Unlike some of their relatives (for example, Helix aspersa) that tend to attach themselves to vertical surfaces when resting, these snails instead bury themselves in soil.


Freshly pulled out of its hole, it had soil clinging to its large, fleshy, pink foot. After we put it on a rock, it hesitatingly started to crawl. It certainly would have been a mouth-watering addition to any snail-eaters menu.


Throughout our expedition, we tried to minimize the collection of live snails. This is a rule we have been enforcing among ourselves for several years. Dissections are, however, sometimes necessary. The species identity of this particular Helix eluded us. Sadly, we had to sacrifice it for further study.

20 July 2006

So long Istanbul


This photo I took while flying out of Istanbul yesterday morning shows the vast expanse of the city. The Sea of Marmara and a sliver of the Bosphorus are visible in the background. The land below is Europe, while the hills in the background, likewise smothered with concrete and asphalt, are Asia.

A pet peeve of mine is the seemingly endless growth, sprawl, of cities that are already way too big. In many developing countries like Turkey land development is not as well planned and controlled as it may be in more developed countries. As a result, such development robs the countries of their naturalness and irreversibly destroys wildlife habitats. I have touched upon this subject before.

One idea that I have been running into lately is that densely populated, but compact high-rise cities are actually good for the environment, because they free up land elsewhere that could be restored. (For example, see this interview with Jesse Ausubel; full text requires subscription to the New Scientist.)

One problem with this approach is that the city dwellers can't be expected to spend their entire lives in vertical habitats; they also need to go on vacation in more horizontal places. And this means highways, airports, hotels and houses will continue to be built elsewhere. At the end, there is no net gain in land.

The population of Istanbul was about 800,000 in 1927; by 2000 it had reached a staggering 10 million. There will be no solution to the problem of land destruction until this maddening population growth of humanity, and the religious fundamentalism that fuels it, are curbed and controlled.

01 July 2006

Looong blog break

With sincere apologies to the regular readers, I will be shutting down the operations for about 3 weeks. Tomorrow I am leaving for Turkey for 18 days. I will have intermittent access to e-mail and the Internet, but blogging would be an extra burden on top of all the other planned activities. I won’t be posting again probably until a day or 2 after I return on 19 July.

Briefly, here is our shedyool. Tomorrow evening Tim Pearce and I will leave on the Delta flight from New York to Istanbul to arrive there the next day. Sunday nite we will take an evening bus from Istanbul to Kuşadası on the western coast. On Tuesday Zeki Yıldırım et al. will join us and we (5 guys and 1 gal) will head south to do some serious surveying for land snails. Our expedition will concentrate on high mountains.

After about 10 days of mountain climbing, snail collecting and other fun stuff, Tim and I will return to Istanbul. We will spend 3-4 days in Istanbul, get together with some friends and do more snail surveys. We will be back in the U.S. on 19 July.

I have 3+ GB of memory in my camera, which means I will bring back lots and lots of pictures and, in addition, there will be many stories to tell.

Be good, keep bloggin' and don't forget to feed the cats while I'm gone.