30 June 2011

An unusual Albinaria

When land snails become dormant attached to vertical surfaces, they almost always point the apexes of their shells downward. Every now and then, however, one may come across a nonconformist snail sleeping on a wall with its apex up. I presented an example of such a snail in this post.

Here is another one.

These snails are Albinaria lerosiensis. I photographed them in Turkey earlier this month. Both snails had become dormant on the side of a limestone rock for the dry Mediterranean summer. The snail on the left was in the normal orientation with its apex down, while the one on the right had its apex up.

The snail on the right had another idiosyncracy: its apex was missing. Such decollated individuals are occasionally seen among individuals with intact shells.

28 June 2011

Sea urchins of the Aegean

Sea urchins are fun as long as there isn't one under your bare foot.

These urchin tests were all from the same location in western Turkey. Their differing colors may indicate that they belong to different species. Alternatively, they may be color variations of one species. But there are also size differences: the reddish ones never seem to grow as large as the green or the purple ones.

Leave a comment if you think you can enlighten us.

27 June 2011

Reveal-it-all toilet facilities open to public

Earlier this month while I was in Turkey, I went back to Magnesia on the Maeander, one of the 2 ancient cities in western Turkey named Magnesia. This time I discovered a particular attraction in the ruins that I had missed a year earlier: the communal toilets.

A nearby display in English explained thus:
The Public Lavatory (Latrine) 4.-6. Century A.D.
A vestibule with a pool; in the second room two fountains, benchs [sic] for sitting along the three sides for appr. 20-25 pupil [people], run-off water to cleanse before the bench and running water under the seating to carry refuse from there. Excavated 1993-94; partly restored 1995.
I suspect the top of the bench was modern, because only 2 of the seats had full openings, while the rest were just depressions.

The accompanying picture on the display showed several men using the facility.

But where did women go to relieve themselves?

24 June 2011

White wagtail on the roof

I am not much of a birder and the number of bird species I can identify on sight is probably only about 20. So, I often try to photograph the ones I find interesting and unfamiliar with the hopes of putting a name on them later.

Here is a bird I noticed a couple of weeks ago while vacationing in western Turkey. The longest lens I had with me was 50 mm, but luckily, the bird was not too skittish, so I was able to get a few satisfactory pictures of it. If I'm not mistaken, it is a white wagtail (Motacilla alba). It is stated to be a common species of Europe, Asia and northern Africa.

22 June 2011

Airbus touchdown

The airplane we took from Istanbul to Washington, DC yesterday had 2 external cameras, one facing the front of the plane, while the other the ground underneath. Their continuous output was available for watching in the computer monitors in the back of every seat. For most of the flight, all we could see was an endless stream of clouds, but roads and houses became recognizable once the plane started its descend.

As we were approaching the runway, the bottom camera got turned off, but the front one stayed on, giving us an exciting, if scary, display of our landing.


19 June 2011

A minuscule arthropod

The other day while searching for snail shells in fine gravel I had brought home from a beach, I noticed a white speck moving rapidly among the sand grains. It appeared smaller than the period at the end of a sentence. Despite its high speed, relative to its size, it went only a short distance, relative to my size, before it hid itself under a sand grain. That made it easy to relocate it by getting it to move again by touching a few grains.

Here are the pictures of it I took before I lost it for good.

I suspect it was a mite of some sort. Its body was about 0.25 mm long (the ruler division next to it was 1 mm long).

17 June 2011

Getting seriously interested in marine snails

One of the joys of my childhood was beach combing. Some of the shells from those days still survive, still unidentified. Over the years, I have had occasional opportunities to collect seashells, but never too seriously. This week, however, I have returned to my old passion.

We are staying at a seaside town on the Aegean coast of Turkey where we are likely to return in the future. So, I figured a checklist of the local coastal mollusks wouldn't be a bad idea. No such list has probably been published and therefore, there is potential for a publication.

I have so far collected a large number of shells adding many species to the yet to be constructed list and also adding quite a bit of potential weight to my suitcase on my flight back home. I also took some fine gravel from one of the locations, the sorting of which afterwards provided hours of fun and perhaps 30 species of tiny mollusks.

My knowledge of marine mollusks is meager and so, my main difficulty will be identifying the specimens, especially the very small species. Hopefully, by the use of various internet resources and books and with a little help from friends.

15 June 2011

Experiment in progress: land snails in the sea

Darwin may have been the 1st scientist to test the survival of land snails in sea water. He never published the results of his experiments as a separate paper, but wrote about them in his letters and summarized them briefly in the Origins of species. You may read a synopsis of his experiments in this paper of mine.

Darwin was trying to determine if land snails could disperse between continents and islands by floating in the sea. This was important for him to know, because he had figured that the snail species on islands had either arrived there from somewhere else where they had originally evolved or had been created separately on each island.

Several mechanisms are responsible for the dispersal of land snails across water. Floating freely or while attached to floating wood may be one of them. I don't know if anyone else has tested the survivability of land snails in the sea (water) since Darwin. I am spending my vacation by the Aegean Sea in a town where the snail Eobania vermiculata is extremely abundant. So, earlier this week I decided to follow in Darwin's footsteps and run a few experiments of my own.

Here are Eobania vermiculata floating in sea water.

There were casualties in the name of science. But before accusing me of animal cruelty, remember that this is a species that is killed in boiling water by the thousands in the name of gastronomical satisfaction.

A full report will await further tests and intense contemplation.

12 June 2011

Not exactly a bird at the bird feeder

Why, it's a chipmunk, of course.

Notes on Melarhaphe neritoides

Two days ago I spent about an hour observing and photographing the semi-terrestrial snail Melarhaphe neritoides* in a rock pool by the Aegean Sea. This was in the morning and all of the snails, save one, were dormant on the rocks above the water. The one odd Melarhaphe was in the pool crawling slowly on the rocks.

The sea was rough and every time a wave breached over the raised edge of the pool, the water level in the rock pool went up and submerged the snails on the rocks for a few seconds. But the snails appeared oblivious to the water and remained inside their shells. Perhaps, they were waiting for the night time to start their activities. It may not be a bad idea to visit the spot after sunset to check up on the snails.

*Family Littorinidae.

10 June 2011

A mysterious tube at low tide

Back in April when we were in Florida, I spent several hours one afternoon at a tidal mudflat near the Honeymoon Island outside of Tampa. The tide was out and it was a good time to collect data on the intertidal snail Batillaria minima.

At the edge of the receding water outside the range of Batillaria minima, which lives quite close to the high tide mark, I saw a tube sticking vertically out of the mud.

I suspect it was the case of a polychaete worm. The worm itself was probably deep inside in a water-filled chamber waiting for the water to return. Either that or it was a drinking straw stuck in the mud. In the next picture my finger provides a scale.

08 June 2011

A thirsty Eobania

The land snail Eobania vermiculata is often present abundantly in urban parks and gardens in western Turkey. Of course, this is a good thing if one needs them for research purposes. Ever since I arrived in Istanbul last Saturday, I have measured the shells of about 80 of Eobania and photographed more than 15 crawling snails. And I'm not done yet.

Meanwhile, here is one Eobania vermiculata detecting and apparently drinking from a drop of water.


06 June 2011

Where on earth is Vulgaria?

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is The Man From U.N.C.L.E. from the mid-1960s. As I noted before, the producers of the show occasionally attempted to be politically correct, long before political correctness existed, by using silly fake names for various things. Another example of this was in the episode The Cherry Blossom Affair, in which the U.N.C.L.E.'s archenemy T.H.R.U.S.H. develops a device that induces earthquakes. To test the device the chief of the T.H.R.U.S.H. office in Tokyo selects a mountain named Kilo in a country named Vulgaria.

T.H.R.U.S.H. chief Harada, played by Jerry H. Fujikawa, announcing the target of the earthquake machine.

If Vulgaria was made up to avoid offending any real country, that was a needless precaution, for the U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin interfered at the last moment, as is always the case, and destroyed Harada's machine. The use of the name of any real country, Bulgaria, Australia, you name it, would have been perfectly alright, I think.

03 June 2011

Blogging will be intermittent

...over the next 2.5 weeks as I travel in Asia Minor starting in a few hours. Unlike some trips in the past when the main focus was malacology, the present one is leaning more towards social studies. But gastropods are in 2nd place lagging not too far behind. In fact, some specific snail-collecting activities have been planned.

I will post on the blog provided that I have time and internet access. Otherwise, I have posts scheduled to publish once about every 3 days.

Behave while I'm gone. I promise I too will behave while on the road and will engage in partying, mild drinking and trespassing (in the name of science, of course) only occasionally.

01 June 2011

Melampus and its foot

The foot of Melampus coffeus (family Ellobiidae) is divided by a transverse groove into an anterior propodium and a posterior metapodium. The anatomy of its foot is similar to that of its cousin Pedipes. Also, in front of the propodium is the snout with the mouth going thru it.

What is the mechanism of locomotion of Melampus? Lack of time is preventing me from writing more on this interesting topic. But expect more in the future.

This is the 3rd entry in a series of posts about this species. The 1st one was here and the 2nd one was here.