30 November 2007

A travayle thorghe Turkye

A useful source book for those interested in Anatolian toponymy is Demetrius J. Georgacas's The Names for the Asia Minor Peninsula published in 1971. Despite some minor errors here and there (see below for an example), it has lots of data and lists of references to be used as starting points for further research.

One interesting question is when the toponym Turkey, or any of its variants, was first used for the general geographical area where the country of Turkey is now located. According to Georgacas, the first recorded uses of the name Turquie in French works date to the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th centuries. He states that the first known uses in English come a little later: "English Turkye occurs in Chaucer (ca. 1369) and secondly in the form Turkey in Sir John Maundeville (1371)."

I was able to find 2 late 19th century editions of The Voiage and Travayle [Travaile] of Sir John Maundeville Knight in Google Books. The older one, first published in 1839 and reprinted in 1883, was actually a reprint of a 1725-7 edition based on an early 15th century manuscript. The 1839 reprint, luckily for us, retained the original language and was annotated by J. Q. Halliwell. Here is the page where Maundeville first mentions Turkye, a spelling surprisingly similar to the modern Turkish Türkiye.


Maundeville's statements "the gate of Civetot (=Chienetout)...the hill of Civetot...is a mile and a half from Nyke" explains what part of Turkey he was talking about. According to Foss*, Civetot was the Latin name of Kibotos or Helenopolis (the present day Hersek) on the southern coast of the Izmit Bay near the eastern end of the Sea of Marmara. Nyke must have been Nicaea (present day Iznik) ~22 miles southeast of Civetot and the gate on a hill, referred to by Maundeville must have been the castle known as Xerigordos. Foss describes its location as follows: "It stands above the valley of the [river] Drakon and the road from Helenopolis to Nicaea...about five miles south of the promontory of Helenopolis."

In the later, 1887 edition, the editor John Ashton "translated" the text into contemporary English and Turkye became Turkey.


Note that Ashton's tentative identification of Nyke as Salonika is groundless.

Georgacas cites Ashton's 1887 version of Maundeville as his source for the use of the spelling Turkey. He obviously didn't realize that Ashton had changed the spellings of many of the words in the text and that the original spelling at least in the 15th century version of Maundeville was Turkye, not Turkey.

Turkye appears to have meant "the land of Turks" and was not a distortion of some other older word. This is clear from Maundeville's description (in the original English) of what he saw at Ephesim (Ephesus), which clearly associates Turkes with Turkye.


His last 2 sentences translate as: "And Turks hold now all that place and the city and the church. And all Asia the less [Asia Minor] is y cleped Turkye". Ashton translates the last sentence as "& therefore is Asia the less called Turkey".

Incidentally, I don't know the meaning of Maundeville's statement "that is clept Aungeles Mete" in reference to the "manna" from St. John's tomb. Interestingly, Ashton took out that sentence. Foss, in Pilgrimage in Medieval Asia Minor, discusses St. John's tomb in Ephesus, but there is nothing there that would explain Maundeville's words.

As Ahton discusses in the introduction to his edition of Maundeville, there were apparently some doubts as to whether Maundeville was a real person or if he was, whether he really went on the travels he claimed he had gone. This is, however, a moot point as fas as the use of the 14th or 15th texts ascribed to Maundeville as toponymical sources.

*Clive Foss (1996) Survey of Medieval Castles of Anatolia II Nicomedia.

29 November 2007

Posting pictures

Katie at the Katzmeow writes about an incident involving a Turkish newspaper that downloaded a photo from a Turkish photographer's web page and used it without permission or compensation.

The downside of posting on the Web the pictures you took is that there is always a possibility that some unscrupulous publisher will use them without permission or licensing. If something like that happens, you can always take legal action against the publisher if you have time to pursue it and money to pay the lawyers. If the publisher is in a foreign country and has no business in the U.S., it would even be more difficult to deal with them legally (or illegally).

I use the JPG format for the pictures I post on this blog and compress them quite a bit to lower their printing quality without making them look too ugly. The idea is to make them unattractive to publishers.

Respectable publishers take the honest way and look for licensing rights before using a photo that is not theirs. I have so far sold 2 of my photos that were first published on this blog (here and here). That is the upside of using your blog to publicize your work.

On occasion, other bloggers have downloaded pictures from here to use on their blogs. In all instances that I am aware of my name was associated with the picture posted on another site. Some bloggers even notified me that they were using a photo of mine on their blogs.

Just like everything else we do in life, posting pictures has its risks and benefits.

Wall Street Journal links to Snail's Tales

On today's edition of the Wall Street Journal there is an article on wind power and wind turbines. I don't normally read the WSJ, but became aware of this article because someone came to Snail's Tales from the newspaper's web page. It turned out that on the bottom of the page they had put up a link to this recent post of mine about the wind turbines in New York I photographed from the plane on the way to Montreal.

So there I have it. (But, no, I can't read the rest of the WSJ article either.)

28 November 2007

L or D or L+D?

The majority of the peptide-building amino acids and most of the monosaccharides (glucose, ribose, etc.) in all earthly life forms consist of the "left-handed", or "L" and "right-handed", or "D" isomers, respectively. Of course, this doesn't mean that the amino acids and monosaccharides of every known organism have been checked and found to conform this rule. What it means that no exceptions have been found in those instances when such tests were made. So it is assumed that all life forms contain mostly L-amino acids and mostly D-monosaccharides. This is probably a safe assumption, because once the isomeric configuration of a group of molecules, for example, amino acids, has been fixed during evolution, everything else would then be complementary, for example, the configurations of substrates that bind to active sites of proteins and therefore, switching from one stereo isomer to another would require a whole set of simultaneously occurring changes, and ultimately, mutations. That is not a very likely thing to happen for obvious reasons.

But that doesn't mean that 2 separate lineages of organisms, one lineage using one stereo isomer of say, amino acids and the other the other stereo isomer can't evolve right from the beginning.

In a recent post, Pascal at Research at a snail's pace, mentioned that if amino acids of only one chiral form (L or D) are found on another planet or comet or some other extraterrestrial body, this will be a strong evidence that they were produced by alien life forms. I should add here that ordinary chemical reactions normally produce a racemic mixture of amino acids or monosaccharides consisting of about equal amounts of each stereo isomer.

Although Pascal is not claiming to be the originator of this idea, I should nevertheless mention, to prevent any misunderstandings that I may be thought to be criticizing him, that the hypothesis that the presence of only one stereo isomer of amino acids on an another planet may be an indication of extraterrestrial life has been around for a long time.

But how strong a hypothesis is it?

1. There could be some inorganic chemical or physical mechanism that we, earth-bound misfits, haven't discovered yet and which concentrates one stereo isomer preferentially over the other.

This means that the detection of only one stereo isomer of amino acids on, say, a meteorite, doesn't necessarily mean that they were produced by extraterrestrial life forms.

2. As suggested above, 2 independent lineages of life forms using different stereo isomers of essential building blocks of their bodies could evolve and be present simultaneously on the same planet. Just because this didn't happen on earth doesn't mean that it couldn't have happened elsewhere.

This means that the detection of a racemic mixture of amino acids on a comet or a planet doesn't necessarily rule out the presence of life there.

27 November 2007

Busy day at work

At the office they are putting together some sort of "winter wonderland" decor for an upcoming holiday party. These things are always a big deal, people get all excited, but I try to stay out of the commotion. Today, however, my division director approached me with a new "assignment": They need some tree branches for the setup they are putting together. I want you to go out and get some material for them. You go out on walks everyday, so you probably know where to find that sort of stuff.

Finally, an official sanction to prowl in the woods during work hours!

I asked a coworker to join me and the 2 of us went into a nearby wooded lot to gather tree branches. On our way back with our loot, we ran into the office director who offered her approval: I am not going to ask which private or government property you got those from, but they look nice.

Here is what we collected today.


Later they told me that they didn't have enough. If you need me tomorrow, I'll be in the woods.

26 November 2007

Things inside a skate egg case


These characteristic egg cases of skates were common on the Atlantic side of the beach at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge last month. I don't know which species they belong to. According to Lippson & Lippson (Life in the Chesapeake Bay, 2nd. ed., 1997), the clearnose skate (Raja eglanteria) is found near the south end of the Chesapeake Bay. Chincoteague is on the Atlantic coast and these egg cases may belong to the same species of skate and they indeed resemble the drawing of the egg case of the clearnose skate given at the link above.

The baby skates develop inside these cases (apparently one skate per case) and come out when they are ready to face the challenges of the outside world. I took one specimen that appeared intact.


This one didn't look like it was ever opened. So I was hoping to find tiny bones inside.

When I removed one side of it, there were these tiny rings, a few spine-like objects and some sand grains.


I don't know what those rings are. They are about 0.8 mm in diameter. Could they be skate vertebrae?


25 November 2007

Scenes from DC

A friend from Atlanta was in Washington, DC today. We got together and had a long walk, visiting the usual tourist spots.

The Jefferson Memorial.


The Washington Monument in the late afternoon sun.


The Reflecting Pool.


Mallard in the Reflecting Pool.


23 November 2007

Pictures from high above 7: Wind turbines

North is to the right

We flew over this field of wind turbines during my flight to Montreal back in October. There are more of them in the uncropped image. This place was south of the town of Lowville. My picture of Lowville from the airplane is in this post. Otherwise, I can't pinpoint the location; the pictures of this area in Google Earth are of low resolution or they may have been taken before the wind turbines were built. But I suspect this is the Maple Ridge Wind Farm near Lowville.

Here is a detail from the fully blown image.


22 November 2007

A Thanksgiving survivor


This is a tiny eastern red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) that lost its tail and survived. I found it in the woods this morning. Unlike the previous one featured in this post, this one is a "lead-backed" morph. It probably lost its tail to a predator and will eventually grow a new one.


This salamander and another lead-backed morph with a full tail that I found later (they are very common around here) did their best to discredit my claim in the previous post that these creatures are slow and sluggish and never run away. They were energetic, agile and determined to get away from me as quickly as possible.

21 November 2007

Vallonia costata: a new backyard snail

This snail didn't have the reflected adult lip yet. (Shell diameter=1.5 mm)

I found this Vallonia costata crawling on a rock in my backyard last weekend. The air temperature was 8 °C. Once on an even colder day when it was 3.5 °C, I observed a V. excentrica crawling on a rock. I suspect these species never fully become dormant in the winter unless it gets really cold.


I don't think I had recorded V. costata in my backyard before. It probably came with the soil or rocks that we frequently bring to our yard from elsewhere.

This species has a widespread distribution. According to Jochen Gerber*, it has been recorded from most of Europe, Russia, Armenia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and the U.S. There are also records from Algeria and South Africa. It may have been introduced to some of those countries, but I believe it is thought to be native to the U.S.

Note added 10 January 2008: Earlier this week Jochen Gerber of the Field Museum in Chicago contacted me by e-mail to let me know that he didn't think that this snail was Vallonia costata. He explained that both the color of the shell ("too brown") and the snail's body ("quite heavily pigmented") did not agree with the usual colors of Vallonia shells and soft parts. I hadn't paid attention, especially, to the body pigmentation. After I did a quick literature check, I realized that Jochen was, of course, right. Pilsbry (Land Mollusca of North America, 1948) says "soft parts are transparent white" and the photo of V. costata in Fechter & Falkner (Weichtiere, 1990) shows a snail with an entirely whitish body. Jochen also suggested that this snail could instead be a Paralaoma sp. A more accurate identification will have to wait for me to find the snail again, because I didn't keep it the first time, but returned it to my yard.

*Gerber, J. 1996. Revision der Gattung Vallonia Risso 1826. Schriften zur Malakozoologie 8:1-227.

20 November 2007

A surprise ending for everyone

I am reading Orhan Pamuk's Kara Kitap (Black Book). At one point, Pamuk's protagonist wonders if it is possible to write a murder mystery in which even the author doesn't know the identity of the murderer.

Ever since then I have been wondering too how a book like that can be written. An ordinary murder mystery is like a blind scientific study in which either a new drug or a placebo is given to patients (readers), but only the scientist (author) who is doing the study knows who gets what (who the murderer is). But the writing of a novel in which even the author didn't know the ending until the very end would be like a double-blind study where the scientist conducting the study doesn't know who gets the drug, who gets the placebo.

A 2nd author would have to be involved in the writing of a double-blind murder mystery. The function of the 2nd author would be to select the murderer from among the characters and then feed clues to the actual writer of the novel as the writing of the novel progressed. That author would try to figure out the identity of the murderer as the plot thickened, so to speak, and bring everything to a closure at the end when the final clues revealed the killer.

Can it be done?

19 November 2007

143 shells of Mesodon zaletus


Recently I got my hands on this lot of 143 shells of Mesodon zaletus from Tennessee. According to the collector, the shells were representative of a single population. This was a good opportunity to look at the variabilities of various shell characteristics in this species.

Here are some of the things I noticed.

Shell height was quite variable. There were relatively flat shells and then there were shells with higher spires. The next photo shows 2 examples from the extreme ends of the spectrum.


The characteristic parietal tooth of the species was also variable in dimensions.


Two shells in the entire lot did not have parietal teeth. Here is one of them.


I don't know if the parietal tooth continues to grow throughout the life span of a snail. The toothless shell pictured above had a fully developed lip and so it was not a young adult. I suppose a rare mutation or some developmental abnormality may block the formation of the parietal tooth. Whatever the underlying cause is, it does not otherwise have lethal consequences, at least not always, for this particular snail became an adult. In one other species that I am familiar with, Neohelix albolabris, which is normally toothless, the opposite occurs: there are occasional specimens with a parietal tooth.

18 November 2007

Me and the tick at the Neil Young concert

Soon after the Neil Young concert started on Friday night at the DAR Constitution Hall in DC, a spot on my back got itchy. While scratching it, I felt a lump under my shirt. When I discretely slid my hand under my shirt and touched the lump, I realized I had a tick attached to my skin.

The tick had probably been on me since the previous weekend when I was at the woods. I had no intention of dealing with a tick in the dark or missing any of the concert. I figured letting it suck some more blood a few more hours wasn’t going to make a significant difference in anything; if it was carrying any bacteria or viruses, I had probably already received a “healthy” dose of them anyway. So, I just left the tick there and enjoyed the concert.

The concert started off with Neil Young's wife Pegi's almost 45-min long opening act. She was pretty good. I am not sure how to label her music. Country-folk, maybe? After a short intermission, Neil came on stage and sat inside a circle of guitars and played solo acoustic versions of his classics for about an hour, changing guitars between songs. We heard, among others, Cowgirl in the Sand, one of my favorites, and Harvest, A Man Needs a Maid and From Henk to Hendrix. After another intermission, Neil returned with his long-time buddies Ben Keith (guitar), Ralph Molina (drums) and Rick Rosas (base) for an electric session that lasted another hour or maybe longer. I truly enjoyed it. It was a great concert!

When I got back home it was past midnite. My wife, who, thanks to the opportunities I present to her frequently, is an experienced tick-puller. Once again, she removed the tick swiftly and deposited it in a vial of alcohol. It appears to be the usual suspect Ixodes scapularis, the deer tick. I have since had a small red spot on my back where the tick was attached. Lyme disease? Hopefully, not, but we are keeping an eye on it. I'll be okay, though.

Here is the sucker in alcohol awaiting further studies.

It originally had a grayish-white color, but turned red in alcohol.

16 November 2007

Gonna be having chrome dreams tonite


I'm going to the Neil Young concert tonite at the DAR Constitution Hall in DC.

15 November 2007

How to be a better wildlife photographer

First, you have to learn how to climb a tree with a camera on a tripod strapped to your back.


Next, you need to learn how to use that camera while standing on a ladder on the branches of the tree. A few years of experience as an acrobat or a tight rope walker at a local circus may help here.


These pictures are from a book called Wild Life At Home by R. Kearton published in 1901. I found it on Google Books.


Kearton explains their technique for those folks who are dying to try it out in their backyard:

...my brother puts on a pair of climbing-irons, and ascends with his camera slung upon his back...In many cases the legs of the tripod may be lashed to convenient branches close to the nest to be photographed, but in some this is impossible on account of their extreme slenderness. In cases of this kind we hoist a ladder up and lash it in a position as nearly perpendicular as possible, in order to reduce the leverage produced by the photographer's weight to a minimum, and, ascending above it, fix the camera...

The Kearton Brothers' problem was that their camera was too bulky and heavy to be hand-held; they always needed a tripod.


They seem to have been talented naturalists and photographers. Unfortunately, the print quality of their book doesn't do justice to their pictures.

What would you pick?

A genie appears to a philosophy professor and offers to grant him a wish: wisdom, beauty or 10 million dollars. The professor picks wisdom. There is a flash of light and he is transformed into the wisest man on earth. But he just sits there staring at his desk. A colleague of him who witnesses the event approaches and says: “You are a wise man now, say something.” The professor says: “I should have picked the money.”

14 November 2007

Deer at the beach

I have written about the fox prints in sand that I photographed at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge last month. In the same morning there were also deer tracks crisscrossing the sandy beach exposed at low tide.

The ruler is 15 cm long.

Two species of deer live at the refuge, the usual and native white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and the introduced sika deer (Cervus nippon). I don't know if the 2 species have tracks that are different enough for an experienced person to tell them apart. Sika deer are smaller than the white-tailed deer, so large prints would probably belong to the latter, but small prints could belong to either species.

Sika deer are easy to distinguish from the white-tailed deer by their white rump bordered with black fur, as opposed to the uniformly brown rump and the white tail of the latter. We did see a sika deer at the refuge, although not at the beach, but my pictures of it didn't come out good.

sika deer

Nevertheless you can see notice another characteristic that distinguishes them from the white-tailed deer: when they are running away they don't stick their tails up like the way the white-tailed deer always do.

sika deer 2

13 November 2007

Mystery implement in the woods

Black Hill Regional Park, my usual prowling ground near where I live, covers the land that was once somebody's farm. There are plenty of clues to the area's history scattered throughout the park: pieces of barbed wire nailed to the trees, piles of rocks that were removed from fields that are now covered with trees, metal pipes stuck into the springs on hillsides, ruins of a watermill and so on.

So it's not unusual to find occasional pieces of farm equipment here and there. I ran into this thing partially sticking out of the soil while searching for snails last Saturday.


I managed to pull it out of the soil. But I have no idea what it is, although I suspect it may have something to do with some farm animals.


In the next picture my foot provides a scale. Any ideas?


12 November 2007

Yesterday morning in the woods

In the morning the air was cool but comfortable, the sun was shining and at that hour the park was mostly devoid of people. A cluster of rotting trunks on a hilltop turned out to be a good spot for all sorts of animals hiding under the wet leaf litter. First there was the snail Haplotrema concavum, a carnivorous denizen of these parts. Apparently disturbed from the unexpected removal of its roof of leaves, it refused to come out of its shell.


While waiting for Haplotrema to show more of its body, I did more poking around the trunks. The next molluscoid find was a cluster of eggs hidden likewise under the fallen leaves. They most likely belonged to a slug.


Then I saw this bright red centipede of some sort. It was quite small actually, probably about 2 cm or so. Once it realized that it was being photographed, it quickly slid under a leaf fragment and disappeared.


This small eastern red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) was also hiding under the leaves. These salamanders never run away when exposed or picked up in one's hand; they walk ever so slowly, taking every step deliberately and yet disappear the same. They were on this blog before.


The parade ended with another gastropod, a tiny slug. Here it is on the tip of my finger. What species could it be? Kerney & Cameron* describe the European Arion intermedius as follows: [It has] a characteristically prickly appearance when contracted due to soft spikes on tubercles. This is indeed A. intermedius, a naturalized alien in North America. Kinda cute, isn't it?


Haplotrema concavum, on the other hand, never fully came out of its shell. I covered with leaves and left.

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

11 November 2007

Teh populaiton fo mispellings

In last week's New Scientist, the Feedback page (open access) listed some of the most often misspelled words on the Internet. One reader claimed that definately tops the list with 17,400,000 hits from Google, but when I just searched for it I got "only" 1,970,000 hits. Another champion is teh, misspelling of the; it is so common a mistake that it has apparently entered the Internet lingo according to this Wikipedia article.

I often misspell the word population (but only when typing). But ever since I entered populaiton in the auto correct list of Word, I don't notice anymore when I've made the mistake. According to Google, populaiton exists on the Internet 10,900 times.

Another word that makes me stop and think for a second is apparently. My confusion comes from the etymologically related appear making me type (or write) apperantly (170,000 times on the Internet) or apperently (271,000 times).

Speaking of misspellings, here is Dr. Jerrold H. Zar's poem about the failings of spell checkers.

09 November 2007

Mystery objects on the office window - Part 2


The unidentified things on my office window that I first noticed 3 days ago and wrote about in this post were still there today. In anticipation, I had brought my Olympus E-500 with me and was able to take better pictures.

Here is a close-up.


And another one.


I still can't tell what on earth they are. Could they, as the reader xoggoth commented after the previous post, instead be from outer space? Seeds of extraterrestrials developing on my office window? That's a good enough excuse to stay at home for a few days.

08 November 2007

Necessity of chance

The complex interplay of random mutations and non-random natural selection is what makes biological evolution possible.

In Chance and Necessity (1971), Jacques Monod explained this elegantly:

Drawn out of the realm of pure chance, the accident enters into that of necessity, of the most implacable certainties. For natural selection operates at the macroscopic level, the level of organisms.

Even today a good many distinguished minds seem unable to accept or even to understand that from a source of noise natural selection alone and unaided could have drawn all the music of the biosphere. In effect natural selection operates upon the products of chance and can feed nowhere else; but it operates in a domain of very demanding conditions, and from this domain chance is barred. It is not to chance but to these conditions that evolution owes its generally progressive course, its successive conquests, and the impression it gives of a smooth and steady unfolding.

This basic notion is something the creationists and all the other similar-minded evolution-deniers can't seem to grasp.

07 November 2007

Where you may find isopods

I wrote about Porcellio spinicornis, an isopod I photographed and collected in my sister's backyard in Montreal last month. S.P. Hatchett (Biology of the Isopoda of Michigan. Ecologocal Monographs, 17: 48-79, 1947.) gave some rather unusual habitats where he had collected this species in Michigan:

P. spinicornis has been collected in places usually not considered desirable situations for isopods. It has been taken in the attics of two abandoned farm houses...[it] was once taken from a concrete window sill on the third story of the Natural Science Building on the campus of the University of Michigan. It has also been collected along the walls of basements and in a store in Ann Arbor.

He ties the occurrence of P. spinicornis on building walls to the preference of the animal for habitats high in calcium carbonate.

Great egret


Photographed last month at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

06 November 2007

Mystery objects on the office window


One of the first things I did when I got to my office this morning was pull the blinds up. And then when I looked out at the sky I noticed this small cluster of objects stuck on the outside of the glass. I took out the small digital camera I keep in my office, closed the door to avoid attracting the attention of coworkers, climbed on top of a set of drawers and while balancing myself in an awkward position, took these pictures.


What are these things? Pollen? Arthropod eggs? The blurry ruler visible at the righthand corner of the top picture is in millimeters. These objects were ~0.5 mm in diameter. It had rained during the nite, so pollen would have been washed away. Plus, wind-blown pollen wouldn't travel in a tight cluster like that, would it? I am assuming they are some eggs stuck on the glass.

05 November 2007

Location, location, location

A brief from the Biological Survey of Canada gives recommendations on how to prepare data labels for collections of terrestrial arthropods.

Some pointers from the document:

The absolute minimum label data required on any specimen are locality and collecting date.

Label data must be unambiguous...Accordingly, the use of abbreviations and codes should be minimized.

Private buildings, research stations, businesses, etc. are questionable landmarks because they tend to change name or even disappear...Local names for physical features often do not correspond to official names.

Therefore, buildings and their names and local names should not be the primary means of fixing a location.

The most practical solution to all of the above problems is to include geographic coordinates on each label in addition to the politically defined locality...It is recommended that latitude and longitude readings be given to the second (95°40'12"W) or decimal degree to three decimal places (95.563°W or 95°40.2'W). This information is easily obtained in the field with handheld Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

Although they recommend against using UTM coordinates, I prefer them because they, being in meters, are easier to relate to in the field, especially if one is trying to return to a previous collection spot. However, coordinates in latitude and longitude can easily be converted into UTM or vice versa at this page of the Geodetic Survey of Canada.

...every insect label should have accurate latitude and longitude data, and this is the only locality information really necessary to incorporate the associated specimen into specimen databases or Geographic Information Systems for geographic analysis and distribution mapping.

The collection date is important in establishing phenology, activity periods (e.g., flight times), ecological interactions, etc. The preferred sequence is day.month.year, separated by periods, with the year written in full (13.iv.2001)... The day and year should be in arabic numerals, the month in roman numerals...Time should be expressed using a 24-hour clock.

The name of the collector should appear on the label, partly for credit, but also because it can often help to link the specimen to additional data, especially if field notes are published or archived.

Habitat information should be brief, but as informative as possible.

Where possible, all collecting data should be on the same label.

You may include multiple copies of the same label with your specimen(s), but avoid spreading the vital information on different labels.

These recommendations are, of course, good to follow to prepare a label not just for arthropods, but also for almost any other kind of terrestrial specimen. Tim Pearce and I stressed the importance of recording similar data for land snail collections in our book chapter, Terrestrial gastropoda (Chapter 22 in C. Sturm, T. A. Pearce & A. Valdés, editors, The Mollusks: A Guide to Their Study, Collection, and Preservation. 2006).

04 November 2007

Fox at the beach

While we were visiting the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge last month, we spent most of our time beach combing. On our last day, we got to the beach in the morning when the tide was out and the tracks left behind by the night time visitors to the mud flats were still undisturbed.


What are these tracks of? Pets are not allowed in the refuge, which rules out dogs. According to a little brochure I picked up at the Visitor's Center, red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are common in the refuge, coyotes (Canis latrans) are rare and there are no wildcats.

The drawing* below compares fox and coyote tracks. According to Stokes & Stokes, the crucial difference is the straddle length (the sideways displacement between two steps; the distance between the horizontal lines in the drawing), which is shorter in the fox.


In the track photographed on the beach the foot prints have a very short straddle; they are almost on one line. Therefore, I believe they belonged to a red fox. Similar tracks were all over the mud flats that morning. Either one or several foxes had been active the previous night. Here is a closer view of a pair of prints (the ruler is 15 cm long).


*Stokes & Stokes. 1986. A Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior. Little, Brown & Co.

Mystery can in the garage


The label disappeared a long time ago. Nobody knows what color paint is in the can.

02 November 2007

What is this bird?


Here is another bird from last month's trip to the Chincoteague area. The funny thing is, I don't remember photographing this particular bird. But it was in the folder of pictures from Chincoteague and the dates match. So, it must be from there.

I spent a half an hour going back and forth between the list of species recorded from Chincoteague and the pictures in my bird books, but for the life of me, I can't identify it. It is probably called yellow-legged black-breasted lesser piper/plover or something along those lines*. Once again, so much for my birding talents.

You people were so good at identifying the distant cormorants in the previous unidentified bird post. This one should be a piece o' cake for the experienced birders out there. Thanks.

*About 10 years ago I was at a meeting in Minnesota. One day I went on a jog with another guy. While we were running this bird flew across the road. I said "Look at that blackbird with red wings. What's it called?" My companion said "That's a red-winged blackbird." So there you have it.