31 August 2007

Palm skipper

dun skipper1

I photographed this skipper about 10 days ago near College Park, Maryland. When I first saw it, it was on a sidewalk by a busy road. As I approached it, it got scared and flew onto the road. Right then a car passed by and the skipper disappeared. I walked over feeling guilty that I had pushed it to an untimely death. Then I saw that it had survived and was sitting on the road. I was able to pick it up with my fingers and carry to a nearby plant-I think it was a little dazed after its encounter with a car.

dun skipper2

I am not sure what it is. It comes closest to the dun skipper (Euphyes vestris). All the other common skippers around here have some dots or other marks on the lower surfaces of their wings. However, the Butterflies and Moths of North America site describes the habitat of the dun skipper as "Wet areas near deciduous woods such as meadows, seeps, swamp edges, and streams." I found it near a rather dry grassy strip with sparse trees near a road.

Previous skipper posts on Snail's Tales:
Sachem
Common Checkered Skipper
Peck's Skipper

30 August 2007

When there was SA

Before May 2000, the U.S. government used to degrade the civilian GPS signals, resulting in horizontal errors of about 100 m. At midnight on 1 May 2000, this process, known as selective availability (SA), was permanently turned off (read about it at the National Geodetic Survey site).

One way to deal with SA was to record the GPS coordinates of a location over a period of time and then average them. While going over my old field books, I found the GPS coordinates of some of my collection sites recorded before and after SA was turned off.

At station AX-2, using my Garmin eTrex receiver, I recorded 5 pairs of latitude and longitude over a 25-minute period on 23 April 2000 and an additional 8 pairs over 40 minutes on 30 April 2000. If I had known that SA was going to be turned off in a few days, I wouldn't have wasted my time, of course. Here are those 13 pairs of coordinates, A thru L, marked on a Google Earth picture of the site. The 13th marker, which would be M, overlaps that of the yellow marker with the star.

AX-2

The collection site was between a narrow paved road and a pair of railroad tracks. The vertical white line is 100 m long. The distance between the westernmost and the easternmost spots, C and L, is about 54 m, while the distance between the northernmost and the southernmost spots, K and J, is about 95 m.

On 2 May 2000, I went back to the same site and took 4 more pairs of readings. The signal was so stable that the 4 pairs had the same latitude and differed by only 0.1 seconds in the longitude readings, resulting in only 2 pairs of different coordinates. Those are indicated with the yellow and green markers with stars. The difference between them is about 2.5 m. I was probably standing on the road right there somewhere in the vicinity of those markers while taking the measurements.

The average coordinates from before SA was turned off were close but not identical to those after SA was turned off. Interestingly, the very last set of coordinates from 30 May 2000 (marker M) were identical to one set from 2 May. Also, I noticed while looking at the above picture that if a line is drawn between K and J and another one between C and L, their intersection lies close enough to the actual location of the station. There is probably some probabilistic explanation behind that.

29 August 2007

Gastropods and isopods

My background interest in terrestrial isopods (Oniscoidea) suddenly flared up a few of weeks ago. I did some searches on the Internet, downloaded a bunch of papers and ordered from Amazon a cheap "like new" copy of S.L. Sutton's Woodlice (yep, that's what they call'em over there across the Atlantic). Sutton's 140-page book, first published in 1972 and which I finished reading today is an elementary introduction to isopods. I would consider it a technical book, because it is for readers with a background in biology, but it is not too detailed. Now I can move on to more technical stuff.

sutton

As I was finishing Sutton's book, I started thinking that gastropods and isopods have several things in common, besides being the co-subjects of this post.

1. Both groups have terrestrial and marine representatives unlike, for example, insects, which are almost entirely terrestrial (except for the freshwater larvae of some groups and some coastal species). And because both groups evolved from marine ancestors, there are terrestrial species of snails and isopods that can survive only in habitats near the sea.

2. Both groups use calcium carbonate to build exoskeletons.

3. Both groups are more likely to be found in high-humidity habitats and in places that offer hiding places from the environmental extremes. Nevertheless, specialized species of gastropods and isopods can be found even in certain deserts.

4. The names of both groups end with the suffix pod; a gastropod is a "stomach-foot", while an isopod is an "equal-foot".

5. According to Sutton, isopods like to eat paper: "A liking for paper extends to any data labels put into a culture-they don't last long!" So do land snails. Don't ever put papers with location information on them in the same containers with live snails!

Future posts about isopods are in the works.

28 August 2007

Scientist attacked by bloodthirsty tiger!

tiger mosq1

No sooner had I recovered from the psychological trauma of last week's mantid attack than my pure blood was spilled again in broad daylight. This time the honor went to an Asian tiger mosquito1 (Aedes albopictus).

The only arthropods that I kill intentionally are mosquitos2. I don't even kill the ticks I find on my clothing in the woods; I just flick them off. But it's different with mosquitos. There are so many of them and they just won't go away. You brush them off, they come back, you brush them off, they come back...

Another problem with the Asian tiger mosquitos is that they don't wait for the cover of darkness to initiate their blood-sucking, West Nile virus-transmitting business; instead, they do it during the day. That, of course, increases their chances of getting squashed in a pool of their victim's blood.

tiger mosq2

Natural selection was on my side this time.


1According to the information on Maryland Department of Agriculture's web page, "On average, tiger mosquitoes ingest 2 - 6 milliliters of blood per bite." This is totally, absolutely, ridiculously wrong. Such a tiny animal could not possibly fit that much blood into her body. The correct units are probably microliters. I just checked the size of a 5-µl water drop from a pipet. It could probably fit into the abdomen of a tiger mosquito with some stretching.
2I also collect
pseudoscorpions, but that I do in the name of science, which, of course, justifies almost everything I do. No?

27 August 2007

Photographer's dilemma

From my friend Zo's blog:

The scenario: You are in the Middle East, and there is a huge flood in progress. You're a freelance photographer for a news service, looking for particularly poignant scenes to shoot. You come across Osama Bin Laden who has been swept away by the floodwaters. He is barely hanging on to a tree limb and is about to go under. You have to make a choice. You can either put down your camera and save him, or take a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of him as he loses his grip on the limb.

So, here's the question...and think carefully before you answer it:

Which lens and shutter speed would you use?

Google meme

This is from bootstrap analysis. Here is how you do it: do a Google search using your first name and the following verbs, then copy the best five "answers" Google returns on the first few pages.

Aydin needs
another testimonial because he's so amazing
his mom to be happy
a small lesson in Ugaritic
to go to bed for the night
to improve data

Aydin likes
to cook weird sausages using other people's alcohol
barbarous images on tombs
Maggie Smith
to hide our future behind his coat tails of greed and stupidity
sticking his feet way out as far as he can

Aydin is
here!
one of Turkey's Ministers of State
one of the nicest most genuine people I know
accused of having made a visit to Belgium
a province of southwestern Turkey, located in the Aegean Region

Aydin wants
it as much as you did
to kidnap Chris Cornell
the secular state to remain
to offer better service to his customers
to engage in a polemic with the tradition from a naturalistic angle

Aydin gets
Interesting
a real orange
puzzled as he opens the veil
an $8.8 million Production Contract
back in time to catch the ball

Aydin says
Hello its long time I didn't hear from you sweet sugar
What the hell?
November 1st, 2006 at 6:41 pm.
Fuck you, Calvin
Eee yuh yani

I am adding 1 more:

Aydin has
won top prizes at The Maria Callas Grand Prix in Athens
written a fascinating book of exceptional scholarly quality
additional interests
a population of approx. 150,000
89 rooms

25 August 2007

Sweet revenge - the indifferent way

So, my dear tobacco hornworm, you thought you could destroy my tomato plants and get away with it, eh? Now, what you gonna do about those Cotesia congregata cocoons sticking out of your body? Evil laugh

hornworm+wasp cocoons

Caterpillars are attacked by a braconid wasp (Cotesia congregata) that lays dozens of eggs within each larva [=caterpillar]...The host caterpillar is doomed, consigned to a slow death that may not follow for weeks*.

Evil laugh

But evil laughs aside, let us not forget what Richard Dawkins said: Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent.


*David L. Wagner, Caterpillars of Eastern North America, Princeton Field Guides, 2005.

24 August 2007

Slug yin yang

lusitanicus mating1

These are a couple of Arion vulgaris mating. I photographed them in Antwerp, Belgium last July during the World Malacological Congress. A group of us came upon these slugs and hundreds of others around midnight one night as we were walking back from a pub to our dorms thru a wooded path. It was almost pitch black, so I turned on my flashlight. Suddenly, we realized that there were slugs everywhere. You have to be with people who study these animals to appreciate the excitement such a moment can bring: Look at all these slugs! Here is a mating pair!

The slugs in the genus Arion, although they are hermaphrodites, do not have penises. The mating processes of A. hortensis and A. subfuscus, related species, were described by H. E. Quick2. During mating each slug everts its lower (distal) genitalia, including the atrium1, the epiphallus and the oviduct. The everted organs apparently intertwine and exchange spermatophores. The white organs visible between the 2 slugs in the picture below are probably their everted atria.

lusitanicus mating2

During the week I was in Antwerp the identifications, or rather, the names of these slugs, which were quite common on the Campus Groenenborger of the University of Antwerp where we were staying, changed 3 times. First, I thought they were Arion rufus, then I was told that they were A. lusitanicus, and finally, the name was corrected to A. vulgaris3.


1The common tube into which the epiphallus and the oviduct open and which forms the entrance, or the exit, to the outside.
2Quick, H.E. 1946. The mating process in Arion hortensis and in Arion subfuscus. J. Conchol. 22:178-182.
3Appreciations to Ira Richling for the final name.

23 August 2007

Where is a Cotesia when you need one?

tomatoleaves

I discovered late this afternoon that someone had been munching on the leaves of our tomato plants and leaving behind feces. How rude! The guilty party was soon spotted on a green branch pretending to be a green branch. It was a tobacco hornworm, the caterpillar of the Carolina sphinx (Manduca sexta).

tobacco hornworm1

The interesting thing is that there is also a tomato hornworm, which is the caterpillar of the five-spotted hawk moth (Manduca quinquemaculata). From Wagner*:

...the common names Tobacco Hornworm [are used] to refer to this species [Manduca sexta] and Tomato Hornworm for M. quinquemaculata, I wish it were not so, because it is this sphinx that I invariably find on my tomatoes.

So we have the same situation in our backyard, the tobacco hornworm on the tomatoes. Wagner continues:
Caterpillars are attacked by a braconid wasp (Cotesia congregata) that lays dozens of eggs within each larva [=caterpillar]...The host caterpillar is doomed, consigned to a slow death that may not follow for weeks.

I am keeping my fingers crossed. In the meantime, here is the horn end of the tobacco hornworm.

tobacco hornworm2

The follow-up post is here.


*David L. Wagner, Caterpillars of Eastern North America, Princeton Field Guides, 2005.


22 August 2007

45 rpm record? What is that?

During the dark ages, a long time before such words as iPod, mp3, YouTube were invented, there were 45 rpm records and we used to listen to them using machines that were very unimaginatively called "record players".

This is what a 45 rpm record looked like.

teacher

If you handled a record long enough, it would inevitably get scratched, which would, of course, worsen the sound quality. You can see several scratches on this particular record.

Back in the the dark ages when I was in high school in Turkey, I had a friend named Selim who had a pen pal named Liz, who, if I am remembering it correctly, lived in England. This record of Jethro Tull's Teacher was a gift from Liz to Selim. Their letter-writing friendship has been immortalized, at least for the time being, in the dedication on the record.

I found this record in a cabinet full of a whole bunch of other old stuff in my mom's place in Istanbul last May. I recognized it immediately, but I had no idea how it had ended up in my possession. Just a few days ago, I sent an e-mail to Selim (yes, I am still in touch with him, although I haven't seen him in more than a decade) and told him about it. He thinks he may have given it to me. Now, don't let Liz hear that.

Here's Jethro Tull performing Teacher:

21 August 2007

Arrr! I need me an eye patch

Fossaria parva1

This one-eyed snail is known variously as Fossaria parva or Galba parva or even Lymnaea humilis (family Lymnaeidae). (It all depends on which taxonomist you talk to.)

Fossaria parva is a small (~5-6 mm long) freshwater snail, although in the spring and the summer, the snails seem to spend most of their time outside the water on mud or wet rocks. Obtaining oxygen from the air is not a problem for them, because they are pulmonate snails; the vascularized roof of their mantle cavity functions as a lung. The lymnaeids are distant relatives of the fully terrestrial pulmonate snails and slugs and closer relatives of the also pulmonate semi-terrestrial ellobiids (family Ellobiidae) of seashore habitats.

The lymnaeids, like the ellobiids, appear to have descended from semi-terrestrial snails with lungs and then evolved a lifestyle probably even more aquatic than those of their ancestors.

Of course, the normal individuals have 2 eyes.

Fossaria parva2

Isopod update

I had asked Dr. Helmut Schmalfuss, isopod expert at the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart, for his opinion about the identifications of the tree-climbing isopods in this post. I have now added his e-mail response to the comments after the said post.

20 August 2007

Old citations

Science is a progressive, cumulative affair where what is current and valid today may be old and wrong tomorrow. The starting point for any type of scientific research is usually the work that has already been done by other scientists. As scientists we are expected to use credible data and information. The “References” or “Literature” sections that are at the ends of almost all scientific papers not only help us acknowledge our sources of information, but they also provide us with a venue where we pay respect to those past scientists who are supporting us on their shoulders.

In rapidly changing and mostly competitive fields of research, most of the cited papers in a recently published manuscript may be only a few years old. In such a field, the literature from even 10 years ago could be hopelessly outdated and no publication even remotely relevant may exist from, say, 50 years ago.

In contrast, some other areas of science, such as taxonomy, that are more revisionist in nature are more dependent on what was written in the past, especially if a specific subject area has long been neglected. My recent publications fall in the latter group.

Here are the 5 oldest papers cited in my papers about snails that I have published since 1999.

5. Sturany, R. 1894. Zur Molluskenfauna der europäischen Türkei. Annalen des K.K. Naturhistorischen Hofmuseums Wien 9:369-390.

4. Westerlund, C.A. 1893. Neue Binnenconchylien in der paläarktischen Region. Verhandlungen zoologisch-botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien 42:(Abhandlungen)25-48.

3. Kobelt, W. 1880. Beiträge zur griechischen Fauna. Jb. dtsch. malak. Ges. 7:235-241.

2. Mousson, A. 1863. Coquilles terrestres et fluviatiles recueillis dans l'Orient par M. le Dr. Alex Schäfli. Vierteljahrsschrift Naturforschenden Gesellschaft, Zürich 8:275-320.

1. Anonymous. 1844. Map of Constantinople, Stambool. In: Maps of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, vol. 1. Chapman and Hall, London.

Interestingly, the oldest citation, and the only one in English, was not a scientific paper but a map. It is available at the David Rumsey Map Collection. I cited it in this paper.

18 August 2007

Scientist attacked by vicious mantid!

biting mantid

This Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia) bit my finger in broad daylight this afternoon. Well, OK, I provoked it. I had been taking its pictures in my backyard and a couple of times when I came too close to it, it actually jumped on the camera. Those were probably preemptive strikes to warn me to stay away, but it didn't dawn on me that this was one brave mantid. So finally, when I reached out to re-position it on the branch it was sitting, it jumped on the index finger of my left hand, grabbed it with its spiny front legs and started biting it repeatedly. I continued photographing it until it gave me one painful bite and punctured my skin. That made me shake my hand and the mantid let go.

When I took one last picture of it as it was slipping away, it turned to give me one final look. My face is probably burned in its memory now.

chinese mantid

17 August 2007

From one great malacologist's library to another great malacologist's library

I knew Melbourne "Mel" R. Carriker (1915-2007) from the MAM meetings at the Delaware Museum of Natural History. The 2006 meeting was the last one he attended. After my presentation, which was about the extra space in the shells of land snails, several people had comments and questions. During the break, Dr. Carriker came over to me and we had a brief discussion about my presentation and he suggested that I look for a certain anatomical character in snails to test my ideas (I still haven't done it, though). Later, I thought that his suggestion was the best I had received that day. When I learned at this year's meeting that Dr. Carriker had died a month earlier at age 92, I was truly amazed and impressed that at age 91 he had outdone everyone else, at least in my mind, at the 2006 MAM meeting.

So when one of Mel Carriker's books* went up for bidding at the American Malacological Society's traditional auction during the World Congress of Malacology in Antwerp last month, I managed to outbid everyone to buy it for 20 euros. That may be a little bit too much for an outdated book, but it is for a good cause as the proceeds from the auction support the American Malacological Society's programs for graduate students. Besides, Mel Carriker's name is on 2 pages.

carriker1

I have written my name on the same page. Imagine how much money that book will sell for, say, 50 years from now, after people realize that it once belonged to not one, but two famous malacologists. Either that or they will say "Who was this Örstan guy who defaced this page?"

Anyway. Another interesting thing about this book is that there is a 1959 "season's greetings" card from the Paleontological Research Institution pasted on the first page.

carriker3


The inside of the card has pictures of the monoplacophoran mollusk Neopilina ewingi.

carriker2



*Molluscs by J.E. Morton, 1958.

16 August 2007

What'll it be?

Having a hard time deciding whether to have bat guano or a Big Mac for lunch? Think no more, the results are in: bat guano has more protein, more minerals, but less fat and less calories than a McDonald's Big Mac.

batguano2
From Fenolio et al., 2006. Eurycea spelaea is a cave salamander.


Your choice is clear.


Danté B. Fenolio, G.O. Graening, Bret A. Collier, Jim F. Stout, Coprophagy in a cave-adapted salamander; the importance of bat guano examined through nutritional and stable isotope analyses, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Volume 273, Issue 1585, 22 Feb 2006, Pages 439 - 443.

15 August 2007

Vernalization and terrestrial invertebrate reproduction

Vernalization is the cold-induced triggering of flowering in certain plant species. Some definitions of vernalization on the Internet make it sound as if it is an artificial process that plant growers subject plants to. For example, the "venerable" Encyclopaedia Britannica defines vernalization as "the artificial exposure of plants (or seeds) to low temperatures in order to stimulate flowering ..." (And you have to pay them to read the rest). Vernalization could be done artificially, but more importantly, it is a natural process and an evolutionary requirement for some plant species.

Incidentally, I learned what vernalization means just yesterday afternoon from a short article in the 4 August issue of the New Scientist where it is, of course, spelled vernalisation. (Yes, you have to pay them to access the full article too, but at least they define it correctly.)

All references to vernalization that I have come across seem to imply that it is a process specific to plants. But I suspect at least some terrestrial animal species, especially invertebrates, may also require a cold-induced dormancy before they can start reproducing. So, hereby I declare vernalization to be a process common to both plants and animals.

I am putting together some thoughts on this subject and may eventually write a short note for publication. Watch this blog for future developments.

For more technical information on vernalization, you may want to read, not the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but these free papers by Richard M. Amasino, an authority on the subject:

Michaels, S. D. and R. M. Amasino. 2000. Memories of winter: vernalization and the competence to flower. Plant Cell & Environment 23: 1145 -1154.

Sung, S. and R. M. Amasino. 2005. Remembering Winter: Towards A Molecular Understanding Of Vernalization. Ann. Rev. Plant Biol. 56:491-508.

14 August 2007

Big brown beetle with long antennae and a spiny pronotum

orthosoma brunneum1

I said this before and I am saying it again (and I'll probably say it again in the future): sidewalks are good places to find dead insects. This big brown beetle with long antennae and a spiny pronotum was also a recent sidewalk casualty. Its body is almost exactly 3 cm long.

orthosoma brunneum2

If I am not mistaken, it is an Ortosoma brunneum, commonly known as the brown prionid. According to Lester & Papp's Common Insects of North America (1972), the 3 ridges on the elytra (wing covers), visible in the picture above, are characteristic of the species, as are the 3 teeth along the edges of the pronotum, visible in the picture below.

orthosoma brunneum3

The larvae of O. brunneum feed on dead trees. This is one reason why we need to have more deadwood around. Otherwise, we will start losing the species that depend on dead trees.

13 August 2007

Turtle Haiku

A reader from Iran ripped one of my turtle photos from this old post and wrote a haiku about it. Read the entire haiku here (If you can't finish it all at once, you may read a line a day).

A while back, another reader had written a snail shell repair haiku.

Thank you for reading this blog instead of working

13weektotals

This chart shows the daily total unique visitors to this blog for the last 13 weeks (7 May thru 5 August 2007). For that period, Mondays had the highest daily mean unique visitors of 647 (standard deviation=128), while Saturdays had the lowest mean of 444 visitors (standard deviation=65).

Pairwise comparisons of the means of successive days using the t-test indicated that the means of Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and Thursday and Friday were not significantly different from each other at a confidence level of 95%. On the other hand, the means of Friday and Saturday and Sunday and Monday were significantly different from each other at confidence levels higher than 95%.

The numbers speak for themselves. Most visitors to this blog come during work days when they are supposed to be doing work*. And that's a good thing! Now we know that Snail's Tales is the best antidote for work!


*Well, of course, most weekday visitors may be reading this blog in the evenings rather than during work hours. Reading this blog may also count as doing work for some readers. Hey, most of what I post here is serious stuff, no?

12 August 2007

Do isopods grow on trees?

Isopods are crustaceans, like crabs and lobsters. And like crabs and lobsters, isopods originated in the oceans and then evolved to become terrestrial. In fact, they have become so successful on terra firma that, according to Brusca, there are more terrestrial isopod species than there are marine species. It seems that they are now on their way up the tree trunks. If they face a strong enough selective pressure, who knows, maybe one day they will even evolve wings to conquer the skies.

isopodsontree

During my recent trip to Antwerp, Belgium, I encountered these isopods on wet tree trunks late in the afternoon after a rainy day in a wooded park. I was actually looking for slugs; instead, I found isopods. According to the notes I took, they were on both smooth- and rough-barked trees. The highest ones I saw were more than 2 meters above the ground. As you can see in the pictures, the tree barks were covered with green algae (cyanobacteria) and probably also with fungi. I suspect the isopods were partaking of the algae and the fungi.

So, if they were feeding on the trees, then the answer to the question posed in the title of this post is Yes, isopods grow on trees.

I don't know anything about isopod taxonomy, but based on the patterns and colors visible on their dorsal surfaces (the technical term for that part of their bodies is pereon), there were at least 3 species.

This one:
isopod3


This one:
isopod2


And this one:
isopod1

Of course, they may all be the same species and the observed pattern and color differences may be due to age, male-female dimorphism or polymorphism, etc.

Isopods were featured on this blog before in this post and in this post.

10 August 2007

Why I am sceptical of Brenda's story

Science thrives on scepticism. Scientist do not accept a new claim, regardless of how mundane it may be, unless it is supported by reliable observational records, reproducible experimental results or a mathematical proof. Any claim must also conform with the known laws, such as the laws of thermodynamics, unless there is enough evidence in the form of reliable observational records, reproducible experimental results or a mathematical proof that a certain law can be broken under certain circumstances. That, however, doesn't happen very often.

Because of the sceptical nature of science, scientists always argue and disagree with each other. That is why at scientific meetings there is invariably a question and answer period after each presentation. The arguments, however, never end after the question and answer period, but continue afterwards. We stop each other in the hallways and says things like "I don't quite agree with what you said during your talk, because I have some evidence indicating that..." Then, the other person tells you, usually in a nice way, why your evidence is a piece of trash. Although there are occasional scientists who disagree with each other so much that they turn into intellectual enemies, most scientific arguments are peaceful affairs done over cups of coffee or bottles of beer and nobody gets hurt. And eventually, the disagreeing scientists find a common ground, somebody develops a new theory and science takes a short step forward.

As I emphasized in this post, being able to communicate with other scientists is a crucial element in being a good scientist. A person who gets offended from even the slightest criticism of his/her work or ideas, can't survive very long in science.

That introduction paves the way for the rest of this post. A dear reader who identified herself as Brenda left a comment after this recent post and told an interesting and, as far as snails go, an extraordinary story. But, I am sceptical of her story.

Here is the relevant portion of Brenda's comment:

[Someone in the Smithsonian's Mollusk Division] told me that the department had, in the late 1980s, reorganized their collection, and came across a set of snails that had been collected in the 1920s, which came from Italy. They had been glued to pages of cardboard, then stored for decades.

When the Smithsonian staff came across that collection in the 80s, they were surprised to find that two of the snails were actually still alive, and had apparently survived for the last 60 years on cardboard and glue.

The story has a happy ending. One of the staff members was planning a trip to Italy, and took the snails with her, to release in the region of their origin.

And here is why I am sceptical of that story:

1. I read an account of immobilized snails surviving in a museum before. It is an old story, really old. The oldest version that I know of is on page 102 of Harry Wallis Kew's The Dispersal of Shells* from 1893:

desertorum

I suspect the story told by the person from the Smithsonian may have been a different version of Baird's "often quoted" story.

2. I don't think land snails can survive 60 years without food and water. Even if those snails had fed on the paper and the glue and somehow obtained water from the humidity of the air, they wouldn't have lasted 60 years. Snails don't live that long.

3. Even if the snails had somehow survived that long, the folks at the Smithsonian would not have bothered to return them to where they had come from. Instead, they would have mercilessly saved the snails in alcohol. I know that, because that's exactly what I would have done, because I have done it before.

If the reader (or someone from the Smithsonian) produces more supporting evidence, I will certainly reconsider her claims. But otherwise, I will remain sceptical.

I hope I didn't offend you, Brenda. And I hope you will continue to read this blog.


Acknowledgement: Tim Pearce and Ümit Kebapçi gave me ideas about writing this post. That was a rare occasion when I agreed with their suggestions.

*Available
here from Google Books.

09 August 2007

A luna moth on its last leg wing

lunamoth1

I found this battered luna moth (Actias luna) yesterday around noon. It was clinging to some grass blades out in the blazing sun by the side of a road. Something had torn off most of its right wing. It was alive, but could no longer fly. I picked it up and left it in the shade of a tree. About 45 minutes later on my way back from my walk, it was still there. So I put it under my hat and brought it to my office.

lunamoth2

It just stayed there in my hat the rest of the afternoon. This morning I found it tucked into the corner of a wooden box on the shelf below the hat. It was still alive.

lunamoth3

The moth's wide and branched antennae identify it as a male (here is a comparison of the antennae of male and female moths). The males use their big antennae to detect the pheromones emitted by the females.

If I get a chance to take better close-up pictures of the antennae, I will post them here.

08 August 2007

You can't go to the restroom in Europe

We had dinner at a Spanish restaurant one nite in Antwerp during the World Malacological Congress last month. At one point I needed to get rid of some of the good beer I had been having, I got up and went over to the waitress (she may have been Spanish) and asked for the restroom. Restroom?, she said. Restroom, I said. Restroom?, she said. Then, I thought of saying toilet. Ah, toileta, she said and pointed at the right direction.

A couple of nites later I was having dinner with some colleagues from Great Britain and I was happy I could finally understand them without much trouble. I guess all those nites of watching Monty Python and Mr. Bean were paying off. So anyway, I told them about my difficulty locating the restroom in the restaurant. They said "You can't say restroom or bathroom in Europe. You have to say toilet". Somebody added, "In England you can also say lavatory".

Now I know. If I visit Great Britain one day, I will keep singing to myself the Lumberjack Song so that I won't forget the right word:

I cut down trees, I eat my lunch, I go to the lavatory.
On Wednesdays I go shopping and have buttered scones for tea
.



Note added later: I have received a friendly reminder that at least one dinner colleague was Welsh not English. Since I have no intention to offend anyone's sensibilities, I have now changed England in the original post to Great Britain. I hope that is more accurate.

07 August 2007

Landschnecken und Süsswassermollusken...

molluskposter2

Achtung, folks! If you are planning to do any mollusk collecting or mollusk photography in Europe, you will find this set of 6 plastic-coated identification cards very useful. Each card is about 29.5x21.5 cm and features color photos of the shells of the most common central European mollusks along with their common and up to date scientific names.

The cards are double-sided, so on 6 cards you get a lot of creatures, including Landschnecken und Nacktschnecken (land snails and naked snails, that is, slugs, of course), Süsswassermollusken (freshwater mollusks) and not only the mollusks but also some other shore creatures, including crabs and shrimps of Nordsee und Ostsee (North Sea and East Sea. East Sea? Oh, they mean the Baltic Sea). Yes, the cards are in German, but that shouldn't prevent them from being useful. Besides, you'll have an excuse, if you need one, to learn a few words of German.

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The set was prepared by Vollrath Wiese und Ira Richling of the nature museum Haus der Natur in Cismar, Germany. I bought my set at the World Congress of Malacology in Antwerp. The cards are available from my friend Francisco Welter-Schultes's company Planet Poster Editions.

06 August 2007

The survivor survives

Back in April I wrote about a rather pathetic looking, aphid-infested milkweed plant that I had rescued in the autumn before the freezing temperatures came. Towards the end of April, I transplanted it in the backyard. It has since recovered and is now blooming.

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It is a good thing I saved this particular plant, because there are no other milkweeds growing in our yard this year. So this one is the last of its lineage. Hopefully, it will produce some seed pods before the winter comes.


05 August 2007

A chemistry set for tiny chemists

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These tiny and rather cute pieces of glassware are keepsakes from the days I used to do research as a chemist. Actually, I never used them and although they are real laboratory items, I can't imagine who would need such tiny vials.

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The marks on the beaker indicate that it is Pyrex and has a volume of 1 ml.

All I need to complete the set is some equally small test tubes. Then I will be ready to do some big chemistry.

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Note added later: I found the original box for the tiny vial with stopper in the 2nd and 3rd photos. It is a "weighing bottle" to use to accurately weigh very small amounts of chemicals, usually solids. This is how I learned to do it way back when: First, you dry the empty bottle to a constant weight, then you add the substance to be weighed in it and place the bottle in a desiccator until its weight stops changing. The difference between the weight of the empty bottle and the bottle plus the substance will be the weight of the substance. The bottle is capped with its tight-fitting stopper when it is outside the desiccator so that moisture won't get inside. This particular one was manufactured by Arthur H. Thomas Co. in Philadelphia (catalogue No. 9977-D).

04 August 2007

Busy at the birdbath waspbath

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Yesterday afternoon the outside temperature went up to 35° C (95° F). During that time the birdbath in the backyard was quite popular with the local wasps. There were 2 species. Soon after I posted their photos on BugGuide (here and here), they got identified as Polistes dominula (or dominulus), the European paper wasp (the yellow-banded one) and Polistes fuscatus, the northern paper wasp (the darker one with red marks). The former has been introduced to North America from Europe or Asia.

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I noticed that the European paper wasps (above) could land on and take off directly from the surface of the water. The northern paper wasps, on the other hand, seemed to prefer to land on the wall of the bath right above the meniscus. As you can see in the picture below, they support themselves by pushing against the surface of the water with their front legs.

northernpaperwasp

02 August 2007

A new species of underground scorpion from Israel

The Ayalon (or Ayyalon) Cave in Israel that was discovered about a year ago yielded a new species of scorpion. The description of the new scorpion by Gershom Levy* has been published in the last issue of the Zoology in the Middle East.

The new scorpion, Akrav israchanani, is blind and about 50 mm in body length. The genus Akrav and the family Akravidae it belongs to are also new.

akrav2

In addition to the new scorpion species, the cave is also inhabited by crustaceans, collembolans and pseudoscorpions. No live scorpions have been found; only dry, brittle, hollow carcasses stuck to the rocks have been collected using UV lights that make their cuticles fluoresce in the dark. The other troglobites found in the cave are either aquatic or too small for the scorpions to prey on. The author Levy wonders if the scorpions went extinct after their unknown preys became extinct.

According to the article, the Ayyalon Cave had been completely isolated from the outside before it was first entered. Levy speculates that the aquatic inhabitants of the cave could represent a relict fauna left over from the time of the Tethys Sea or a unique fauna that evolved in isolation.


*Levy, G. 2007. The first troglobite scorpion from Israel and a new chactoid family (Arachnida: Scorpiones). Zoology in the Middle East 40:91-96.

01 August 2007

Woodpigeons in Antwerp

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Woodpigeons (Columba palumbus) were quite common around the Campus Groenenborger of the University of Antwerp in Belgium where the World Congress of Malacology took place 2 weeks ago. I figured they were some sort of pigeon when I first noticed them, but had no idea what exactly they were until my friend Ümit identified them for me. They are noticeably larger than the ordinary pigeons (Columba livia) and distinguished from them also by the white patches on their necks and wings.

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Although they are supposed to be "wood" pigeons, they obviously don't mind living in sparsely wooded urban parks and even in university parking lots.

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