30 April 2007

Waiting for the next tide

Geukensia2

When the tide is out, the bivalve Geukensia granosissima (family Mytilidae) shuts is valves tight and waits for the return of the water1. I photographed these individuals at low tide in a small clump of mangroves near Tampa, Florida. The one on the left with gaping valves was dead. I had to pull hard to remove the one on the right; the byssal threads of its byssus (arrow) had attached it quite securely to the sand.

Geukensia1

These mussels can survive outside the sea in their tightly closed shells presumably for many hours. I think if bivalves had a mechanism of locomotion that would work on land, some of them would have long ago evolved to become terrestrial.

1I am grateful to Trish Hartmann, author of The Bivalve Seashells of Florida, for helping me with the identification.

28 April 2007

Beebe the party animal

At one end of my evolution Roosevelt called me friend—millions of years earlier any passing worm might have hailed me as brother.

William Beebe

beebe book I recently finished reading the enjoyable biography of the naturalist, explorer, writer William Beebe (1877-1962) by Carol Grant Gould (The Remarkable Life of William Beebe, Shearwater Books, 2004). Here are some highlights from Beebe's life.

•Beebe was a college drop-out. In 1899 he left the Columbia University in New York before getting his B.S. degree to become the curator of birds at the then newly founded Bronx Zoo. In 1928 he received an honorary Ph.D. degree from Tufts University.

•Beebe was interested in all animals, particularly birds, insects, crabs, fishes and mammals. He even collected a slug or two when the opportunity arose.

•Beebe had a whole load of friends and many of whom were famous and influential, including Theodore Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling and Prince George of England.

•He was married twice and had affairs with at least 2 of his younger female assistants. When he died in Trinidad in 1962, his long-time companion Jocelyn Crane was at his bedside, while his wife, the author Elswyth Thane, was at her house in Vermont. Beebe didn't have children.

•Beebe was not religious, but attended church services occasionally.

•Regardless of where Beebe and his team of dedicated naturalists happened to be, when the evening came, they would usually have a party, drink rum, sing songs and discuss evolution. Some of these events were quite elaborate yet silly costume parties, while others were formal affairs attended by British dignitaries and the like.

beebe party
Costume party at Nonsuch, Bermuda. Beebe is 3rd from the right. Picture from The Remarkable Life of William Beebe.

•I got the impression from this book that Beebe had a lifelong yearning for an ideal, almost utopic, home and laboratory somewhere in the Tropics. He established and then left several for one reason or another, Kalacoon and Kartabo in British Guiana, Rancho Grande in Venezuela and Nonsuch in Bermuda. His last field station was Simla in Trinidad where he also had a house. Simla is now called The William Beebe Tropical Research Station.

•Beebe died at Simla and was buried in Port-of-Spain in Trinidad.

Beebe&Barton
Will Beebe and Otis Barton in front of the bathysphere in which they descended to 3028 feet (923 m) in 1934. Picture from here.

27 April 2007

My version of who knows what

Here is a confession: I buy my colognes from the local dollar store (yes, they are $1 each). These are imitations, or rather "versions" of better known and undoubtedly more expensive brands. Despite their price, they smell pretty good.

cologne1

When I am getting ready to go on a long trip, I break open the metal seal around the neck of a perfume bottle, remove the cap and transfer some of its contents into a smaller plastic spray bottle, which is lighter and takes less space.

cologne2

In the process, any remaining cologne in the bottle from a previous trip gets mixed with the new one. I don't bother to label the bottles. So I often end up with totally new bouquets. They too smell pretty good.

26 April 2007

Melongena outside the sea

Melongena corona1

I wrote about this snail, Melongena corona, in a recent post. After I took pictures of its foot and siphon, I put the snail down on the wet sand. It immediately started crawling back to the sea. In the picture, you can see its track behind it (the snail was moving to the left). The transverse ripples visible in the snail's track are probably caused by the waves of muscular contraction that travel along the sole.

One interesting thing I have been noticing about these intertidal marine snails is that if they find themselves outside of the water, they don't just "panic" and withdraw into their shells waiting for the water to return. Most seem to start crawling towards the water and eventually reach it (if they are close enough to it, of course).

Their behavior seems to be a preadaptation to living outside of water. Presumably, the marine ancestors of those snails that later evolved to become terrestrial had behaviors similar to those of M. corona and other snails that live near the edge of the sea.

25 April 2007

Turtles' landing

turtles4

Last Saturday morning in nearby Seneca Creek State Park a fallen tree provided a sunning platform for a group of turtles. It looked like they were representing several generations.

turtles3

They appear to be red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans). Note the red patch behind the eye of the large turtle in the front.

Many of the partially submerged logs in Lake Clopper had turtles on them. Some of the turtles were surprisingly tolerant of me, and as you can see in the picture below, even let me get on the same log they were on. Unfortunately, I didn't have a longer lens with me.

turtles5
Yours truly photographing another bunch of turtles (is there a specific name for a group of turtles?). Photo by Hopededik.

24 April 2007

25 meters off on Sedef Island

sedef2
Sedef Island. Photo from Google Earth.

Back in August 2002 my friend Teri Varnalı and I went to Sedef Island in the Sea of Marmara off the south coast of Istanbul. We had a nice lunch in the restaurant (there is only one) and then collected snails along the path that goes from the pier to the beach.

There we found Zonites algirus, a species that had not been seen in the Istanbul area since 1863. That discovery was the subject of a paper I subsequently published1.

Most of the specimens of Z. algirus and the other species we collected on the island were from a location I designated as my station A15. I also measured the coordinates with my handheld GPS receiver.

Earlier today, I got curious and plugged the coordinates of A15 into Google Earth. I was taken to this spot.

A15new
Photo from Google Earth.

According to my notebook, however, A15 was facing "a semi-circular opening" along the road. You can see the semi-circular opening, the actual location of my station, slightly to the northeast of the spot marked A15 in the picture. The straight distance between the actual location and the marked spot is almost exactly 25 m.

I guess for most practical survey purposes the measured coordinates are good enough provided that there is also a clear description of the station. But stations for which only descriptions are available are usually difficult to relocate.


1Örstan A. 2003. The rediscovery of Zonites algirus in İstanbul, Turkey (Gastropoda: Pulmonata: Zonitidae). Zoology in the Middle East, 29:75-78.

23 April 2007

A nice place to visit, but don't get too close

Last summer in Turkey, Tim Pearce and I spent a couple of nites in Foça, the ancient Phokaia, on the Aegean coast. The place still retains a small-town character, despite the slowly encroaching development. In addition, several small nearby islands add a distinct character to the coast and provide lots of places to explore.

One day my cousin took us to a couple of the islands in his boat. We looked for land snails and while Tim snorkeled, I studied and photographed the zonation of the mollusks at the shore.

The islands are uninhabited by humans, more or less wild, but treeless. One island was full of rabbits and their bones. And the view towards the mainland was great.

Foça1

Down at the shore, however, civilization in the form of garbage greeted us.

Foça2

The islands were surrounded by trash of all sorts, most left by the waves, but some giving the impression of having been intentionally dumped on the shore. I cannot comprehend the primitive mentality that justifies the leaving of garbage at a location not designated for that purpose, especially in an area that is supposed to attract tourists.

Foça3

Trash-strewn coasts are, of course and unfortunately, all over the world. They are present in England, Singapore and the Anacostia River near Washington, D.C.

Will we ever overcome this disease?

22 April 2007

Till death parts them

tilldeathpartsthem
Photographed at the National Museum of the American Indian. It was said to be from northern coastal Peru, dating from AD 1-700.

21 April 2007

Saturday nite's beer review: McEwan's Scotch Ale

mcewans

Finally, the spring is here, a month behind schedule. I enjoyed the season's first outdoor beer on the deck late this afternoon. The honor belonged to McEwan's Scotch Ale, a deep dark, quite flavorful and slightly sweet beer. Its alcohol content is 8%.

McEwan's is brewed by the Scottish Courage Limited, although their website refers to the company as the Scottish & Newcastle. They also brew one of my all time favorites, Newcastle Brown Ale.

Cheers!

20 April 2007

An afternoon with American Indians

I spent most of the afternon today with a friend at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The museum's building is quite impressive from the outside.

IndianMuseum1

Less noticeable from the outside, while visually very pleasing on the inside is a great concentric dome underneath which are the stairs.

IndianMuseum2

One of the exhibited items that attracted my interest was this Sioux dress from circa 1910. It is covered with cowry shells and small American flags.

Indian Museum3

Cowries are marine snails. According to the legend that accompanied this dress and a few others likewise decorated with sea shells, the Indians obtained the cowry shells from the Europeans.

IndianMuseum4

The museum's cafetaria serves almost exclusively American Indian dishes. One day we will go back there for lunch.

Happy Anniversary to Snail's Tales!

cheers
Picture from Amazon free e-cards.

I just realized that this month is the 2nd anniversary of Snail's Tales. I have also noticed that one of the visitors today was my 100,000th unique visitor (sorry, no prizes).

Thank you all for reading my blog. I enjoy writing it and hope to continue it for some time. However, I will be doing some international traveling this spring and summer and therefore, some inevitable long breaks are coming up. But such trips always result in exciting stories and new photos for posting here.

Once again, thanks to all of my visitors. This blog exists, because you read it.

19 April 2007

This just in: authors prey on careless copy editor!

A predator preys on other animals. It is sloppy English to call the action of a predator predating. To predate means 1. To mark or designate with a date earlier than the actual one: predated the check. 2. To precede in time; antedate.

Nevertheless, predate is used in place of prey frequently in scientific papers, especially by non-native English writers. The latest example I have noticed comes from the pages of the prestigious Journal of Molluscan Studies of the Malacological Society of London and published by the Oxford Journals of the Oxford University Press. In the journal's February 2007 issue, an article by A.G. Beu and H. Zibrowius1 has this sentence (near the end of the 1st page): "...lived there for an extensive period, predating the pinninds' mantle." What they mean is that the carnivorous Cymatium specimens recovered from inside the mantle cavities of several species of bivalves were preying on the latters' mantle tissue. This is followed by 3 additional sentences in which snails stated to be predating on bivalves.

I would not have expected the editors of the Oxford University Press to be fooled by such a commonplace error, but apparently they are not evolving fast enough.

Note added 23 September 2008: I stand corrected!

1Cymatium (Gastropoda: Ranellidae) living inside the mantle cavity of the pterioidean bivalves Atrina, Pinna and Pecten. J. Mollus. Stud. 2007 73: 113-115.

18 April 2007

17 April 2007

Measure a shell from here to there

A reader in Botswana (yes, folks, Snail's Tales is read all over the world) left a comment at an old post and inquired about measuring snail shells. Here are some pointers.

shell5
Drawing from Kerney & Cameron, 1979. A Field Guide to the Land Snails of Britain and North-west Europe.

The height (or length, H in the drawing) of a snail shell is measured between the tip of the apex and the edge of the bottom lip. If the shell has a reflected lip, the measurements may be taken from right behind and below the reflected lip, excluding the reflected edge, but it is usually difficult to position the jaw of the calipers on the slope behind the lip reproducibly.

The diameter (or breath or width, B in the drawing above) is measured between the points indicated in the drawing above. But when the lip is sticking out too far, it could get difficult to position a shell between the jaws of calipers so that the axis will be parallel to the jaws. In such cases, I take the oblique diameter across the first suture above the aperture (the suture between the ultimate and penultimate whorls). This is marked by the red arrows in the photo below. This is not a standard measurement, however, and must be explained in a publication.

obliqueD

Certain types of shells, for example that of Helix aspersa, have 2 possible diameters. I discussed that in this paper.

Pay your taxes, you thieves!

From the IRS publication 525 (p. 32):

stolenproperty

Does this mean it is okay to steal as long as you pay taxes?

16 April 2007

Yes, Mr. Morris give my £4,600,000 to Janet

This e-mail came today:

HSBC BANK OF LONDON
LONDON-UNITED KINGDOM
TEL #: +44-704 018 5556
FAX #: +44 870 4792 483
E-MAIL: info.hsbcintlbank@yahoo.de

YOUR OVER DUE INHERITANCE FUND £4,600,000.00.

THIS IS TO NOTIFY YOU THAT YOUR OVER DUE INHERITANCE/CONTRACT FUNDS HAS BEEN GAZETTE [sic] TO BE RELEASED, VIA KEY TELEX TRANSFER (KTT) -DIRECT WIRE TRANSFER TO YOU OR THROUGH INTERNATIONAL CERTIFIRED [sic] BANK DRAFT (ICBD) BY THE SENATE COMMITTEE FOR FOREIGN OVER DUE FUND TRANSFER LONDON.

MEANWHILE, A WOMAN CAME TO MY OFFICE FEW DAYS AGO WITH A LETTER, CLAIMING TO BE YOUR TRUE REPRESENTATIVE. HERE ARE HER INFORMATION'S [sic] FOR YOU TO CONFIRM TO THIS OFFICE IF THIS WOMAN IS TRULY FROM YOU OR NOT SO THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WILL NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR PAYING INTO THE WRONG ACCOUNT NAME:

NAME: JANET WHITE
BANKNAME: CITI BANK
BANK ADDRESS: ARIZONA, USA.
ACCOUNT NUMBER: 6503809428.

...

INFORMATION NEEDED FROM YOU FOR VERIFICATION IS AS FOLLOW:

1. YOUR NAME:
2. YOUR FULL ADDRESS:
3. YOUR TELEPHONE:
4. FAX:
5. AGE:
6. SEX:
7. YOUR OCCUPATION:

...HOWEVER, WE SHALL PROCEED TO ISSUE ALL PAYMENTS DETAILS TO THE SAID MRS. WHITE, IF WE DO NOT HEAR FROM YOU WITHIN THE NEXT SEVEN WORKING DAYS FROM TODAY.

BEST REGARDS,

MR. JOHN MORRIS
HSBC BANK DIRECTOR
INTERNATIONAL REMITTANCE/FOREIGN

Are these e-mails meant to be jokes? I mean, could there really be totally clueless folks out there who would take an e-mail like this seriously and contact these people in hopes of getting a ridiculously high sum of money?

Who would announce such a large "inheritance" with such a poorly written e-mail? If I have inherited this money, how come the Bank of London doesn't even know my name? What is the source of this inheritance anyway? Why would the e-mail domain for the Bank of London be "yahoo.de"?

This really insults my intelligence guys. If you are trying to fool me, you have to try harder, much harder than this. But I don't think you are intelligent enough to come up with anything better, Mr. Morris.

On the other hand, if this is a joke, it did make me laugh.

Squeeze me a Meyer lemon

meyerlemon

This interesting fruit, the Meyer lemon, a hybrid of lemon and some sort of orange, has apparently been known in the U.S. since the early 20th century, but I had not heard of it until yesterday. Neither did my wife knew about it. How do you explain that?

The Meyer lemon is named after Frank N. Meyer, a.k.a. Frans Nicholas Meijer (1875-1918), a USDA employee who discovered it in China.

meyer
Frank N. Meyer on the trail of the elusive Meyer lemon. Photo from USDA.

The Meyer lemon is sweeter than an ordinary lemon and has a nice, strong, spicy aroma. I have discovered that its juice mixed with a little bit of Bacardi Gold rum and some tropical fruit juice, such as pineapple, makes a great cocktail.

bacardimeyer

Cheers!

More info about Frank N. Meyer with photographs and documents from his Asian expeditions are at this USDA site.

Aother post on Meyer lemon is here.

15 April 2007

Rainy day #468

Turn the wipers off!

rainyday03


rainyday02


rainyday05


rainyday06

Turn the bloody wipers back on before we have an accident!

rainyday07

14 April 2007

A shitty way to get dispersed

Andy J. Green, Marta I. Sánchez. 2006. Passive internal dispersal of insect larvae by migratory birds. Biology Letters, 2:55-57. pdf

According to the authors, this is the first published evidence for dispersal of aquatic insects by migratory birds. They collected 6 samples of fresh faeces of black-tailed godwits (Limosa limosa) from soil ~5 m from the edge of water in a marsh in Spain. Three of those samples contained live larvae of the midge Chironomus salinarius.

The authors' conclusion is that the birds had consumed the larvae, which survived passing thru the birds' intestines to be deposited with their faeces. These birds are said to defecate usually over water. Therefore, they may help disperse aquatic insect larvae.

Could the eggs from which the larvae hatched have been laid by midges on the faeces on land? Presumably that is not likely, because these midges deposit their eggs in water.

More info on the Chironomidae is available at the Chironomid Home Page.

13 April 2007

Melongena's siphon

The other nite I went to bed with a good book, the 2nd edition of British Prosobranch Molluscs by Fretter & Graham, and read about the siphons of marine snails.

The siphon is a tubular formation arising from the edge of the mantle. The snail extends it out of its shell to suck in water, which flows past the gill (ctenidium) in the left side of the mantle cavity, exchanges its oxygen with carbon dioxide, and then comes out the right side. The drawing below shows the direction of the water current within the mantle cavity of a typical marine snail.

nassarius
Arrows indicate the directions of the water currents in the mantle cavity of the marine snail Nassarius. (From Abbott, American Seashells, 1954.)

A week ago I ran into several individuals of the marine gastropod Melongena corona on a sandy bottom in ankle-deep water near Tampa, Florida. The largest snail became the subject of my photographs.

Melongena corona2

When viewed from above, Melongena's siphon appears to be a tube, but it is actually open along its bottom. The close-up of the underside of the siphon reveals its anatomy.

MelongenaSiphon1


According to Fretter & Graham, the siphon is an elongated extension of the edge of the mantle that is rolled into a tube. The drawing below explains this.

buccinum.pg
Partially unrolled siphon (si) of the marine gastropod Buccanum undatum. ct, ctenidium; me, mantle edge. (From Fretter & Graham, 1994).

12 April 2007

Why the herons are tame in Florida

I have written about the unusually tame wild birds of Florida that I had observed in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island and around Tampa area.

Last week I was back near Tampa where I observed and photographed more Great Blue Herons that would let me come within about 5 meters of them. And this time I think I figured out one reason why these birds are so used to being near humans. On one beach I witnessed a woman throwing what appeared to be large shrimp to one heron, which the bird eagerly accepted.

I returned to the same beach several times during the week, not for the birds but to study and photograph the abundant snails, and on every occasion there was at least one heron trailing me, watching my every move in anticipation of a tasty morsel that I didn't offer.


heron3

In Maryland until a few years ago people often fed the ever abundant Canada Geese (I did it too). The geese were so used to this that they would swim near the shore whenever they spotted people approaching a pond. Then, signs warning visitors not to feed the geese started popping up here and there and the feeding practice seems to have ebbed since then. Not surprisingly, the geese have become wilder and now they tend to move away when approached.

Tame birds are easier to photograph, but wild birds are more natural (and more of a challenge to photograph). I hope Floridans will soon stop feeding their wild birds directly*.


*Backyard feeders are fine, because in that case the birds don't associate food with people.

11 April 2007

Suckers, I will destroy them all!

About 15 years ago, soon after we moved into our present house, we went to a native plant sale and bought a milkweed plant. We planted it in our backyard where it grew, flowered, dispersed its seeds in the wind and then died during the first nite the temperature went below freezing.

Ever since then every spring, the descendants of that first plant sprout at various places in the backyard. They flower throughout the summer, attract monarch butterflies, and die in the fall.

monarch1
Monarch on milkweed in the backyard.

When there are plenty of seed pods maturing towards the end of the summer, some split open with seeds blowing away, I know that there will be more plants the next spring. But once every 3-4 years, the seeds will sprout late in the spring and by the time the weather starts to cool off in the beginning of October, there will be no ripe seed pods. When that happens, to assure the continuation of the backyard milkweed line, I transplant one plant into a pot and bring it indoors usually a day or two before the season's first frost.

And invariably that plant develops a massive aphid infestation.

milkweed

Last summer's sole survivor is this pathetic looking plant with stems covered with aphids. I have sprayed it twice with an insecticide, but the aphids recovered after both times. We even resorted to hand picking the tiny insects but to no avail.

aphids2

What I need is a ladybug or two to devour the little suckers. But I haven't seen any around yet, while the ones in the land down under are apparently still occupied with serious business in the closing weeks of the southern summer.

If my milkweed survives for a couple more weeks, I will plant it outdoors and it will probably recover with a little help from its ladybug friends that should appear by then.

10 April 2007

Miss Suzanne

MissSuzanne
Tarpon Springs, Florida

Horseshoe crab

hscrab
Fort De Soto Park, Pinellas Co., Florida

Amtrak's Moon - May it set soon

amtrak

Out of all the newspapers published in the eastern U.S., the one Amtrak considered fit for the passengers on its Auto Train a week ago was the Washington Times.

The Washington Times, founded (and probably controlled) by the nutcase self-declared Messiah Sun Myung Moon, is one of the most conservative, anti-intellectual and sickeningly pro-religion papers in the entire U.S.

Apparently those are the view points Amtrak intends to shove into its passengers' minds.

09 April 2007

Batillaria's tenant - Part 2

In my last post from Florida, I had the picture of a Batillaria minima with a barnacle attached to its shell. That barnacle didn't give me an opportunity to photograph it. Subsequently, I collected a large number of live B. minima among which there were a few more snails with barnacles on their shells.

batilllariabarnacle3

Whilst I was measuring and examining those snails, I kept them in a large container of sea water. The snails were moving around, climbing on the walls of the container. At one point, I noticed that one of the barnacles on one of the snails had its feeding appendages out. I quickly grabbed the camera and took a series of shots. Even though the pictures were taken thru a few centimeters of sea water, the appendages of the barnacle came out quite clear.

batillariabarnacle4

I have also noticed 2 other organisms besides barnacles that use the shells of B. minima as mobile bases for their homes. I will post about those in the future.

06 April 2007

Batillaria's tenant

BatillariaBarnacle
Scale in the back is in millimeters.

One of yesterday's interesting finds was this live Batillaria minima with a barnacle attached to its shell. After I took this photo, I put the snail in a small dish of sea water, hoping that the barnacle would start feeding. The barnacle did open its valves but not long enough for me to take a photo. Later, I returned the inseparable pair to the sea.

I examined many of these snails yesterday and saw only one or two that had barnacles on them. These snails are not the ideal substrates for barnacles for at least 2 reasons I can think of. First, they are too small for the barnacles which, I think, can grow much larger than the one in the photo. Second, I suspect the snails' average lifespan is probably shorter than that of the barnacles, although I admit I have no idea how long barnacles live. After the snail dies, its shell will get buried in the sand. And that will be the end of the barnacle too.

Part 2 of this series features the photo of a barnacle feeding.