31 August 2010

Where are the readers of this blog?

I just noticed that Blogger is now providing reader statistics. You can access them from the dashboard page. This is apparently a new feature, for the data covers only the period from May 2010 thru August 2010.

Here is a chart showing the geopolitical distributions of the readers of this blog between May and the end of August.

Not surprisingly, the majority of the readers, almost 68%, come from the U.S., followed by a distant U.K. providing only about 10% of the readers. A surprising entry, however, is India in the 5th place. 3.8% of our readers are located there. What makes this blog so popular in the landmass that rudely jammed into Asia 35 million years ago?

30 August 2010

Hey birds, the feeder is open for business!

We used to have an old, decommissioned bird feeder in the garage. Last week we refurbished it, filled it with cheap bird food and then hanged it from a metal pole in the front yard. Ever since then I have been waiting for the birds to start coming.

The feeder is only a few meters away from the kitchen window and is, therefore, easy to observe while cooking or sitting at the kitchen table. I saw the first bird on it, which may have been a cardinal, 2 days later, but it flew away before I got my camera. Then we watched a squirrel cross the street headed straight for the feeder. It climbed on top of it, checked it out, but left without attempting to pilfer anything. I am sure it will be be back.

A day later, a finch showed up, which I was able to photograph. Is it a female purple finch or house finch?

Today there were more of them partaking of the seeds. Finally, the word has gotten around that free food is available at a new place. Expect more photos in the future.

29 August 2010

Another semi-terrestrial snail: Melarhaphe neritoides

Earlier in the summer while visiting Turkey, I found these snails at 2 widely separated locations. The 1st location was a rocky beach at the coast of the Aegean Sea west of Izmir; the 2nd location was a rocky spot at the coast of the Black Sea north of Istanbul. Because I wasn't familiar with them, I sent their photos to Henk Mienis who identified them as Melarhaphe neritoides.

This is a widespread species in the family Littorinidae. They always live at the edge of the sea sometimes at spots that get wet only occasionally. The snails from the Aegean were on the underside of a rock that was in contact with water, but the ones from the Black Sea were in the cracks of the rocks several meters away from the edge of the sea.

The shell shape of Melarhaphe neritoides appears to be quite variable. Compare the shells of the specimens from the Aegean and the Black Sea.

27 August 2010

Buckeye by the Choptank

While driving to the Assateague Island on Wednesday, we stopped for lunch at a lone picnic table by the Choptank River. The place was called the Choptank River Fishing Pier State Park. Afterwards, we took a short walk along the river accompanied by numerous butterflies.

They were common buckeyes (Junonia coenia). Common and pretty.

26 August 2010

More colorful mushrooms

Fungi continue to be conspicuously abundant, while the gastropods remain scarce and hidden. The previous set of recent mushrooms pictures were here. Here is another colorful crop I photographed in Cunningham Falls State Park near Frederick, Maryland last Monday.

We start off with a cluster of orange ones that were on a snag.

This relatively small yellow mushroom was coming out of a clump of moss.

Here is a red one.

This big mama was one of the largest ones I saw. Let my hand be the scale.

Finally, a deviation from the familiar morphology. This one looked more like a sponge or a coral formation one would expect to see under the sea than a fungus in the woods.

If this trend continues, there may be more mushroom pictures in the near future.

24 August 2010

A bird's nest incorporating pieces of plastic bags

I found this nest on the ground near a neighborhood lake about a month ago. Pieces of plastic bags were used, along with the usual branches and other plant fragments, in its construction. It demonstrates, undoubtedly not the 1st time, that the birds that live in areas littered with trash occasionally use suitable man-made objects in their nests.

If you can identify the bird that built this nest from the nest, please leave a comment.

23 August 2010

Another misused apostrophe

Preparation at its best.

22 August 2010

A colorful mushroom weekend

We went on 2 long hikes in nearby parks this weekend. I would think that the recent rains would have brought all the snails and slugs out, but not one was in sight. Instead, there were mushrooms all over the woods. So I resorted to photographing fungi. It was fun.

The problem with mushrooms is that the majority seems to be notoriously difficult to identify to species. I spent only about 5 minutes thumbing thru my mostly useless Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms before giving up. But here are their pictures.

The 1st one that attracted my attention was this yellow mushroom.

The next one is probably an immature fruiting cap of an agaric.

Red mushrooms were quite common. Here is one of them.

White ones were also abundant.

This was probably another immature cap that had just pushed itself up thru the leaf litter.

Finally, a bunch of small yellow mushrooms. There was a large cluster of them.

If you can put a name on any of these, please do so in the comments.

20 August 2010

A nonconformist Cochlicopa

Whether the snail Cochlicopa lubrica keeps its apex up or down when its dormant on a vertical surface was the subject of this post. All 27 snails that were dormant on my garage door on that date had their apexes pointing down.

This afternoon when I took a look at the Cochlicopa currently on the garage door, I had a surprise: one of the 13 snails had its apex up.

However, this particular snail (yes, #11) wasn't exactly on a vertical surface; it was at the corner of a section raising up to a narrow panel. Nevertheless, the snail could have turned around and pointed its apex down before becoming dormant.

There were also 2 other snails that were more or less horizontal. So, now I know that when Cochlicopa lubrica becomes dormant, it usually points its apex down, but occasionally some snails may position themselves with their apexes horizontal or up.

19 August 2010

Muddy cicada blues

At one point during my after-lunch walk yesterday, I heard a loud cicada buzz. I looked around and noticed something moving in the mud that was created by the passing rain. It was a cicada encased in mud.

I picked it up and despite its wretched state, it could still create a loud buzz.

A cicada on the ground is a cicada on its way out; a cicada on the ground covered with mud is beyond hopeless. Nevertheless, I put it under a stream of rain water dripping from the bridge overhead. Here it is after its shower.

I tried to put it on the branch of a nearby push, but it fell off.

Goodbye cicada.

17 August 2010

Basteria gets a face lift

My favorite malacological journal is Basteria published by the Netherlands Malacological Society. The latest issue, which arrived a few days ago, was a total surprise: Basteria now has a wider format and is definitely more colorful.

Although illustrations in color have been appearing in the journal for some time now, the color of the covers had boringly been nothing but blue for several decades. The present issue with its multicolored cover and papers featuring color pictures is certainly an improvement over its former self.

Basteria has been in print since 1936. I wish the journal a long life. Membership information for the NMS, which includes subsriptions to Basteria and 2 other journals the society publishes, depending on how much one is willing to pay, is available here.

Incidentally, I have a manuscript in press in Basteria. Hopefully, it will come out in the next issue.

16 August 2010

The latest plane crash proves God is not omnipotent

The news sources have reported that a passenger plane crashed while landing on a Caribbean island today and that the survival of all but one of the 131 people on board was "a miracle of God".

The accident also demonstrated that the so-called "omnipotent" God is phony, because (1) he failed to prevent the plane crash in the first place and (2) he failed to save everybody on the plane.

Either that or God had a personal vendetta against the luckless passenger who was killed in the accident.

14 August 2010

That ain't no turbinado sugar

While cleaning out the freezer the other day, we discovered a bag of turbinado sugar, the contents of which, however, didn't quite look like turbinado sugar.

Luckily, the bag was properly labeled, as every good specimen bag should be, and the contents turned out to be the frozen remains of a dead spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) I had found back in November 2008.

The turbinado bag is now back in the freezer among the frozen sausages and other edibles. Maybe one day next winter when I am looking for something different to do I will dissect the sweet salamander.

12 August 2010

11 August 2010

Pictures from high above 15: Georgetown University and Hospital

On our return from Atlanta last Sunday, our plane approached the National Airport from the west before turning south along the Potomac River. We first passed by the Georgetown University and Hospital and then the Washington Monument. I was able to take several pictures of the scenery below with my iPhone camera.

Here is the same area from Google Earth.

The previous picture from high above was the Washington Monument.

10 August 2010

What is a skull?

A skull is a vital, functional, evolutionarily important trait, and its development, as that of all complex traits, involves the interaction of many pleiotropic genes and modifying factors, most with small effects, interacting with environmental influences.

Buchanan et al. 2009. What are genes "for" or where are traits "from"? What is the question? BioEssays 31:198–208.
The idea is that an organ so complicated as a skull is the product of many genes each influencing multiple phenotypic traits and at the same time being influenced by external factors. In other words, there is no such thing as one "skull gene".

When multiple genes and multiple environmental factors each have a small contribution to the formation of a skull or any other organ, continuous quantitative traits such as dimensions associated with that organ usually display a normal distribution.

09 August 2010

The snail of Kennesaw Mountain

Last Saturday we visited Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park near Atlanta. That was a good opportunity to learn a bit about the history of the Civil War while enjoying the scenery.

During our almost 3-hour hike among the wooded hills, I also took the opportunity to carry out occasional cursory searches for snails and slugs. These attempts at finding mollusks were little more than simply looking at the forest floor for anything of interest. My half-hearted efforts yielded only one weathered Triodopsis shell.

I did discover 2 benchmarks of the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey. One was a triangulation station and the other was a reference mark. The USC&GS became the National Geodetic Survey in 1970. These benchmarks may date from before that date.

08 August 2010

Pictures from high above 14: Washington Monument

The Washington Monument came into view as our plane from Atlanta was approaching the National Airport late this afternoon. I was able to take this picture with my iPhone camera.

The body of water in the front is the Tidal Basin.

The previous picture from high above was Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.

07 August 2010

Sea dragon at Georgia Aquarium

I remember being confused about the taxonomic placement of sea horses. For a while, I wasn't sure if they were even vertabrates before I finally learned that sea horses, along with pipefishes and sea dragons, were in fact fishes in the family Syngnathidae.

This weekend we are in Atlanta, Georgia and yesterday spent several hours at Georgia Aquarium. The tank of sea dragons provided a brief glimpse into the intriguing behavior of these intriguing creatures.

While watching this particular species, whose name I neglected to note, I noticed that its sole method of propulsion seemed to have been by the use of the feathery fin around its neck (arrow in the photo).

Despite the rather feeble appearance of the fin, however, the sea dragon was able to maneuver itself gracefully. To escape from their predators, I don't think the sea dragons use speed, which they probably don't have, but must instead rely on camouflage supplied by their peculiar body shapes and the numerous appendages. During the sea dragons' evolution presumably from ancestors that were more fish-like in appearance, only the pectoral fins seem to have survived in a modified form to supply the necessary maneuvering ability among the protective cover of sea weeds and the like.

These are all speculations, of course, that I jotted out during a moment of creativity. Correct me if I am wrong.

05 August 2010

An improbable mushroom

This hanging pot of flowers, probably some sort of impatiens, has adored the front of our house for many years*. This morning during a routine inspection, we noticed a small mushroom growing out of the drain hole on the underside of the pot.

The fungus itself, the spore-bearing fruiting body of which is this mushroom, must be within the soil far below the top of the soil. If it weren't for the drain hole, what would the fungus have done?

*The plant survives the winters indoors.

04 August 2010

Snoring snails?

This is from the October 1906 issue of the Nautilus.

Karl Soffel, of Paris, the well-known naturalist, has discovered that snails snore. He was experimenting with several specimens, which he had placed in a glass jar in his library, and one evening while writing he noticed a peculiar noise issuing therefrom. It sounded like a person snoring in the next room. M. Soffel approached and found that the snails were sleeping soundly and snoring peacefully, the loudest snorer of them all being the one that had lived among grape vines.
The Nautilus apparently took the story verbatim from a magazine called New York American. I haven't been able to locate the original source of the news.

No, snails don't snore.

02 August 2010

Stuffed pumpkin flowers

The sole offspring of the pumpkin that refused to go away has been putting out flower after flower. However, none of the flowers has so far turned into a pumpkin.

Rather then wait for a pumpkin that may never ripen by the time the cold weather comes in the fall, my girlfriend decided to turn the flowers into a little known southwestern Turkish dish made by stuffing them with a rice mixture.

We picked about a dozen flowers.

First, they got stuffed with a pre-cooked mixture of rice, onion, dill, parsley, pine nuts, currants, salt, sugar and olive oil. Then the stuffed flowers were cooked again. Here is the final product.

What did stuffed pumpkin flowers taste like? They tasted like the rice mixture inside, for the pumpkin flowers don't have any noticeable flavor of their own. Nevertheless, it was a fun gastronomical experiment.

01 August 2010

Chocolate with bacon is an abomination

Yes, I did have a piece. No, I will not try it again. Chewing on bits of bacon fat after all the chocolate has melted away is not what I consider a desirable gastronomic experience.

There is no need to ruin the flavor of chocolate with bacon.