Saturday, 30 January 2010

Macro Monday - What is it?

Is it Monday already? So much for that post I was supposed to write last week. Oh well........

For the past few weeks, Jay, over at The Depp Effect, has been posting macro shots and asking her readers to try to identify the object. Now, I am not trying to copy her or steal her thing, I am only asking because I really don't know what it is. Oh yes, I know that it is the seed head of some sort of flower, but as to the identity of the flower, well, I am clueless. So, if anyone can enlighten me, that would be great. I took the photo whilst in Peru, on the way down into the depths of the Colca Canyon. You can read about this little adventure here.

For more Macro Monday, go here.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Macro Monday

Oooooh, look at me, actually posting a Macro Monday photo on Monday - just. Will wonders never cease?

So, anyone care to guess what plant is growing this tendril?

This was going be my shortest post ever, but, well, I can't quite help myself. So here are a few tantalising tidbits about tendrils:

  • Tendrils are formed from modified shoots, leaves or auxillary branches.
  • They form following physical touch, turning towards the object touched. This change in growth direction is known as thigmotropism.
  • The touch is sensed by tiny hairs on the surface of the plant.
  • The change in direct of growth is caused by a change in turgor of the plant cells (those on the touch side lose water and become flaccid, while those on the opposite side fill with water and become much firmer).
  • Differential growth also occurs in response to hormones such as auxins. Cells on the side furthest from the touch elongate more than those on the side closest to the touch, causing the tendril to turn towards the touch.
  • And finally, guess who first studied such movements. Oh yes, it is him again, that most prolific and famous of biologists, Charles Darwin himself. He published his monograph On the movements and Habits of Climbing Plants in 1865. I suppose he had to keep himself busy once he had finished On the Origin of Species.
Here endeth the lesson.

And here is a link to Macro Monday.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Bloggers for Haiti

This past weekend has been a very stressful one. We have put our house up for sale and we are in the middle of negotiations for buying a new one. Everyone knows that buying and selling a house is one of the most stressful things that you can do in life, along with getting married and a death in the family. Offers have been going back and forth, offers have come and gone. One minute it looks as though we will be the proud owners of two houses (and two mortgages) and then the next minute it looks as though we will be on the street with no house to call our own. We have spent the weekend by the phone, spent the nights tossing and turning wondering what the agent will say next time she calls. I will the phone to ring so that I can know what is happening, but at the same time I dread hearing its shrill tones echoing through the house. I wander around the house, picking up pieces of cat, tutting when Mr. DBM spills his coffee on the carpet, tweaking the towels so that they are “just right”. Things are still very much in the air, the offer on our home has just been withdrawn and we are still waiting to hear back on the offer that we have presented on the house that we want to buy.

Today has not started well either. Last night high winds tore through the Lower Mainland. Now Mr. DBM has to deal with a commute where roads are closed due to fallen trees and major intersections are clogged with traffic due to non-functioning traffic lights. I am walking around the house with a lantern as the power keeps cutting out. Every time it comes back on, phones beep, the fax machine whirrs and trills and the smoke detectors wail. One cat is hiding under the bed and the other is demanding that I fix the weather so that she can go out to terrorize the local rodent and avian populations. I have given up resetting all the clocks and the house is now filled with strobeing lights of red and green, all telling me that it is 12 o’flashing clock. I am writing this on my laptop, since at least it is independent of the main power supply and does not keep shutting down. I suspect that this might be the fastest that I have ever written a blog post, since I have to get it done before the battery runs down.

But let’s start getting realistic here, let’s start putting things into perspective. At least I have:

  • a home to sell, to keep clean and tidy, with a warm, comfy bed in which to try to sleep.
  • the option of buying a new house.
  • electricity to lose.
  • a husband to share my miniscule trials and tribulations.
  • food to eat and water to drink.
  • my life.

At least when I hear wailing, it is the sound of my fire alarm and not the wailing of a woman who has lost her child, lost her husband, lost everything. The shrill tones of my phone and the trills of my fax machine are not the cries, sobs, moans or last wheezing gasps of a poor soul trapped beneath the rubble of a collapsed building. The blackness of my house is but a momentary lapse in my electricity supply, it is not due to tons of rubble that now entomb me leaving me with little hope of ever seeing light again.

We sit here in our safe, secure houses, with all our material possessions around us, spoiling our pets with treats and worrying about getting a few tangles out of their fur. Now, I am not saying that we should feel guilty about this, I don’t think that we should, but we can put our trials and tribulations into perspective. Nothing that I have experienced has ever been as stressful as a tsunami or a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. I have never lost everything, I have never lost everyone that I love, I have never lost hope.

What can we do to help the people of Haiti? Sitting in front of the TV and weeping along with them is not going to help. Sympathising with their plight is not going to help. Travelling to Haiti with a couple of blankets and a box of Cheerios is not going to help. The best thing that we can do for them is give money. Give money to charities that do know how to help, that can provide these people with some of the essentials that they need so desperately in a timely manner. So, I am joining in with the Bloggers for Haiti, as seen on blogs such as EnglishMum and Baino’s Banter. EnglishMum is asking for donations for ShelterBox, a charity that sends aid in the form of survival boxes for victims of such terrible natural disasters. You can go to their website to see what you are contributing to if you chose to donate to this charity. There are, of course, many other worthy charities that are making a difference in Haiti, such as The Red Cross or Unicef. I don’t care who you give your money to, I don’t care how much you give, just give what you can. I just heard on the news of a five year old boy giving his $10 pocket money to a Haitian relief fund (as to why any five year old needs $10 in pocket money is an entirely different post), surely you can’t be outdone by a five year old, can you?

Oh, and one more thing – Zellers, you should be ashamed of yourself. While I understand that returning Canadians have been through a traumatic experience, they are out of Haiti, they have homes to return to that are full of clothes, food and all manner of creature comforts and luxuries. Their “struggle to deal with the ordeal has just begun” is nothing like the struggle being endured by Haitians right now. If you want to donate $200 to one person, donate to a person that is still alive in Haiti, that desperately needs all the help that they can get, that won’t be back home in a few more hours.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Macro Monday........urm........Wednesday.

So, it is (ahem, was) Macro Monday. Now, we all know that I am the Queen of procrastinators, so this may well not get posted until Thursday, or perhaps I will have it done for next Monday, and then you won’t know just how long I procrastinated for, will you? Oh yes, I just told you. Anyhoo, I have long been avoiding Macro Mondays because I know how useless I am at getting something done on time if there really isn’t a deadline. You see, with Macro Monday, I should have this done by Monday, but let’s be honest, does anyone really care if it doesn’t get done until Tuesday, or Wednesday or a week next Thursday? Is the world going to end? Is my head going to explode? Am I going to lose my job?

Nope. So, here is the post, on Wednesday.

This little beauty is a European paper wasp, Polistes dominula. I chose it as my first Macro Whateverday mainly because I am astounded every time I look at this photo at just how good a photo it is. Now, just to clarify, I am not tooting my own photographic skills here. What astounds me is the fact that this shot was taken the very first time I tried out my new Nikon 105mm macro lens. This lens is just fantastic – it is the bee’s, (or should I say wasp’s) knees and I love it!

Now, I can’t post a photo such as this one, without giving you a little bit of edumacational knowledge, can I? So, if you just like pretty pictures, now is the time to quit reading this. 

Still here? Excellent!

When I took this photo, I was unaware of a couple of facts. The first was the identity of this magnificent beast. I had assumed that it was a wasp of the yellow jacket (Vespula) variety that is very common around these parts. However, since I am a most astute (and anal) entomologist, I decided that I should check its identity before announcing it to the world and, when I checked, I found out that what I have here is very definitely a European paper wasp – the orange antennae are a dead giveaway. These wasps were first introduced into North America in 1978 near Boston, Massachusetts and only made it to British Columbia in 2003.

The other thing that I noticed, which I didn’t at the time, was the fact that this particular wasp is happily munching on some poor, never-to-be-beautiful, caterpillar. The adult wasps do not actually eat caterpillars or other soft bodied insects. Their proboscis is designed to suck up nectar, fruit juice and other sugary liquids. The insects that they catch are for their developing larvae. They chew the protein rich food up and then feed it to their offspring. The larvae then do something very surprising – at least I think that it will surprise most parents – they actually give the parents something back in return for their food. They secrete droplets of a sugar-rich fluid that the adults will then consume. 

So, I have learnt a few other interesting things about this little hymenopteran. The name itself, Polistes dominula, tells us something about this particular wasp. It means female ruler, or lady mistress and, as with most social hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants), the female is definitely in charge. Unlike the most well known social insects, the honey bees, and many other social ants and wasps, however, there is no one clear cut Queen. Rather, there is a hierarchical system of dominance, with an alpha female that controls the other females of the colony, directs the activity of the colony, lays most of the eggs and does little of the work. The alpha queen is not a permanent fixture and other, beta females, may usurp her position. So the queen wasp in this nest differs in her behaviour rather than her physical appearance. Males are only produced when the queen wants to get a little bit of action and once she has acquired some sperm, the males’ job is done and they will die along with the rest of the colony as summer draws to an end. Only the mated queens will survive the winter, ready to start a new colony the following spring.

Here is another very interesting little tidbit (hmmmm, my spell checker wanted to change that to titbit, but I don’t think I really want a bit of tit, so I shall leave it as tidbit) while googling around the internet. These wasps can be used to sniff out drugs or anything else that you might want to find, such as dead bodies, bomb making chemicals, the partner to that sock that you know you saw last Tuesday, but hasn't been seen since. Wasps don’t have noses, obviously, but they can smell using their incredibly sensitive antennae, which can pick out individual scents at very low concentrations. What is even more amazing is the fact that you can train a wasp to recognise a scent in just five to ten minutes. Wow, it would take your average dog, well, an average dog might never learn, but even specially selected dogs can take over ten months to train to become a proficient sniffer dog. The Wasp Hounds have many advantages over dogs – they can be carried around in a can, they don’t eat you out of house and home or poo all over your lovely lawn, they won’t try to hump your leg or eat your bacon sandwich. But, let’s face it, what would you rather have? A can of wasps that buzzes around a lot when they smell your unwashed smalls or a cute and cuddly dog that hangs on your every word and will be your best friend forever?

So there you have it, the European paper wasp. I know that most people are not overly fond of these diminutive little marvels of nature, but a least think twice before you hit out with the last week's copy of the Telegraph or Times. These particular wasps are not overly aggressive and they are very good natural predators of many of the pests of your beloved vegetable patch. And if you don’t look twice, you may end up squashing an industrious bee or a totally harmless hoverfly.


Just look at this cute and fuzzy little guy, a beeutiful little bee.

A hoverfly - notice it only has one pair of wings and while it likes to pretend that it is horribly dangerous, it wouldn't hurt a fly (well, the larvae might, since they are voracious predators of any small, soft bodied insect, but the adult is a vegetarian).

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Nerd Alert!

My brother, Moon, seems to think that I might be a bit of a nerd. Now, the question is, is he right? Should I be depressed and insulted by this, or should I just take it as a bit of a backhanded compliment?

I decided that I needed a good definition of the term before I could make my decision. So, here we have two:

Nerd: (slang, derogatory) A person who, although having good technical or scientific skills, is introspective and generally introverted.

Nerd is a term often bearing a derogatory connotation or stereotype, that refers to a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests that are age-inappropriate rather than engaging in more social or popular activities. Therefore, a nerd is often excluded from physical activity and considered a loner by peers, or will tend to associate with like-minded people.

Straightaway, one sees that the term is a derogatory (insulting, disparaging, offensive, belittling ..... you get the point ....) one. So, I should be offended. But, wait, what about the rest of the definition? Now we get to the point where I could start to take it as a compliment. It would mean that I have good technical or scientific skills, which, I suppose we can all agree on. I must have some skill in that area given the amount of time that I have spent with my nose in a book, in dusty libraries photocopying endless scientific journal articles and sitting around in a lab, looking like I was doing something technical and looking vaguely scientific since I was wearing a white lab coat. (OK, so much of my time might have been spent chatting with friends, playing Doom and surfing real estate sites looking for million dollar houses that I could never, ever possibly afford).

  • Sandhill crane

So, what actually bought on this nerdy accusation by brother Moon? Well, I made the mistake of taking him bird watching and it seems that he thinks bird watching is a typically nerdy thing to do. To be fair, we were not just bird watching, we were actually catching birds in mist nets, identifying them, taking measurements and banding them before releasing them. This allows bird populations and migrations to be monitored and studied. Now bird watching is not something that I have done much of, and I certainly do not fit the nerd description given above for this. But, I figured it makes a change from insects, and once in a while, I actually stand a chance of identifying a bird down to species level. So far, this had not happened very often. Here we can see the typical conversation between me and Derek, the Masterbander (oh read it more carefully, I said masterBANDER!), as we disentangle a bird from one of the nets:

Derek, MB: “So, what do you think it is?”

Me: “A bird?”

Derek, MB: “Well, obviously, but do you know what kind of bird?”

Me: “A little brown bird?”

Derek, MB, sighing: “I guess we need a little more work on our ID skills then?”

Me: “Hmmmm, yes - can I come back next week then?”

Derek, MB: “Can you bring coffee and muffins?”

Me: “What about doughnuts?”

Derek, MB: “OK then.”

  • Brown creeper

So, I am thinking, not terribly nerdy at this point. Perhaps after a bit more time!?! Derek, the masterbander, started birding when he was 6, so I have a lot of catching up to do. There were several other people there, all rather better with their bird ID than me and I did catch my brother muttering away “Nerd Alert.....Nerd Alert....” on several occasions. He might have a point where they are concerned, but they were all very nice people, so who really cares?

Anyhoo, I am off to do a bit of bird watching now. Later, I shall continue my species summary on Swainson’s thrush (it is a bird, not a disease!) and we shall see, perhaps one day I shall attain nerd status. And when I do, I shall be proud of it!

  • Rufous hummingbird

  • Black-capped chickadee

  • Spotted towhee

  • Cedar waxwing