Sunday, 31 October 2010

Macro Monday: Creepy Crawlies

For most of you, it is now Monday November 1st. But I am on the wet west coast of Canada, and here it is still the 31st - Hallowe'en. So, I should be at my door, handing out candies to all those grubby, grabby, diminutive kids, but I am leaving that task to Mr. DBM - he actually likes children (well, most of the time). Perhaps I shouldn't, since he also actually likes the cheapy chocolate that we have bought for all of those annoying little brats delightful children. Me? I have more refined tastes in chocolate and who I will answer the door for.

Anyhoo, in the spirit of the evening, (which I realise I am severely lacking), but in the spirit that I have, here are some creepy crawly critters for the viewing pleasure of all the ghouls, ghosts and monsters out there.

The obligatory spider shot

A guest appearance by the previous winner of the Most Bizarre Animal category for animals seen in Ecuador on my recent trip. If you want to learn more about this creature, go here.
A stick insect - obviously this chap is aware of the fact that tonight is Hallowe'en and he has put on his spikey outfit for the occasion.

A grasshopper, yellow lipstick and all.
Right, that is me done - I am now off to scare some small children into giving me their candy. Why should I do all the giving?

For more Macro Monday, go here.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Spoilt or Not?

Picture this:

Big open house, no doors (due to renovation issues, obviously), no heating except the gas fireplace. I walk in, ensconced in five layers of clothing (thermal underwear, thermal long-sleeved t-shirt, light fleece, heavy fleece and poofy down jacket - stick with me, this clothing inventory is important for the storyline). I sit down on the couch and wrap a duvet around me. I just can't get warm...........

Mr. DBM walks in:

Mr. DBM: "Are you cold?"
Me (in my most sarcastic voice, which I should point out is very sarcastic): "Just a tad."
Mr: DBM: "I suppose we could turn the fire on, but it seems a bit wasteful, since we have no doors and the heat will just dissipate into the hall and the rest of the house."
Me: "I suppose ........... but I am really cold, you know."


Fluffy cat flounces in.

Mr. DBM: "Willow (or Tessie, either one gets the same treatment), sweetheart.....are you cold? Come on over here.....that's it........up on the cushy stool, come on, up you come little girl......."

Seconds later...... WHOOOOOSSSHHH! The fire is turned on and the cat settles down and takes a lovely, cosy, warm nap.

Is it just me, or is there something wrong with this picture?
Oh come on, they have thick fur coats and everything! I would have to slaughter several dangerous and almost extinct animals to get a fur coat like that. How come they get the fire and I don't!?!

So, spoilt or not? What do you think?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Macro Monday: It is all Rather Seedy.....

Apparently, I have my lazy-arse hat back firmly on my head. I was going to go outside and take some photos this week, but then it rained, then it was cold, then, well, it was sunny for a while, but I decided that I really ought to try my hand at drywalling instead. Turns out that I am crap at drywalling - where on earth has all my patience gone? I thought the young were supposed to be the impetuous and impatient ones, the ones with the attention spans of goldfish. Well, it turns out that my attention span is more like that of a midge (is a very small midge a midget!?! See, there you go, veering off topic after just a couple of sentences. How on earth did I ever get a PhD!?!). Anyhoo, back to the plot ........ well, there isn't one really. This is just a longwinded way of saying that I have no new photos for this week, so I have delved into my photo library and picked this:

Then, just to show that I did put a little bit of effort into the photo, I did this:

Then, I got sidetracked playing with the hue and saturation sliders and ended up with this:

Whooooaaaa, psychedelic, man!

For photos where people have actually applied themselves and invested much more effort than me, go here.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Geese Come From Barnacles - Who Knew!?!

This week, my Macro Monday posting was a Mystery - a close up of an organism with a challenge to guess said organism. In this case, there were two organisms and, as it turns out, two people who were spot on with their guesses - well done Dave and Susannah, who both correctly guessed the identities as gooseneck barnacles and a purple sea star (Pisaster ochraceus). And, yes, before anyone points it out, I do realise that the starfish that I have pictured is orange, but that is the way of the world. Not all purple starfish are purple.

So, both of these photos were taken at Chesterman Beach, Tofino, just north of the famous Long Beach of the Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We were there quite early one August morning to ensure that we had the lowest tide possible. This was necessary so that we would actually see some of the more rugged critters that live on this wild and exposed coast without getting completely soaked by a huge wave or, even more annoying, washed away by one, never to be seen again. And I am not joking - this is an alarmingly regular occurence along this little stretch of apparent heaven.

So, the gooseneck barnacle:

This really is one strange creature. First of all, it is not, in any way, related to mussels, clams, scallops or any other tasty shellfish of molluscan descent, except for the fact that it is an invertebrate. It is, in fact, a crustacean and therefore related to crabs, shrimps, lobsters and woodlice etc. Looks can certainly be deceiving, can't they? Probably the most well known fact about barnacles, of any variety, is the size of their manhood. Pfft, it seems that this is a very important thing to be knowledgeable about - whose is the longest? Well, the winner is these chaps. Your average barnacle has a penis that, relative to the size of the animal's body, is longer than any other animals. No, really, I don't care what Jimmy told you the other day whilst imbibing too much at the pub, the barnacle is the winner, with a whopper that is eight times the length of its body. That would be like a 6ft man having a 48ft long one-eyed trouser snake! Just imagine trying to pack that away into your pants! Well, I can't, obviously, since I am a woman......... I did find one reference to a barnacle with a penis 40 times its own body length, but I think that barnacle must have been down the pub the same night as Jimmy!

Of course, we all know that size is not everything, and in the barnacle world, this does indeed turn out to be the case. Barnacles have such long penises because they are sessile, stuck down to whatever surface that they have chosen to live on. Most such sessile organisms chose to reproduce by squirting their sperm and eggs into the water and letting fate take its course. Barnacles, however, prefer to keep things personal. Since they can't snuggle up close to their intended, they need to be well endowed in order to reach another barnacle. It turns out that the length, and therefore the thickness of the penis can be varied depending on how rough the water is. If it is quite rough, a long, slender penis becomes too floppy to be useful, and so the barnacle will opt for a shorter, stouter penis that can withstand the currents. In calmer waters, longer prevails. Of course, you might want to know who on earth would want to research barnacle sex life in so much detail and how they actually do it. Well, the research involved a custom-made penis pump built out of tubes and hypodermic syringes and if you want to read anymore, then go here. I think I have said enough.

Here is another interesting fact about gooseneck barnacles. It was once thought that barnacle geese developed from this crustacean.!?! Huh!?! I don't care whether you knew about bird migrations, the birds and the bees, where babies come from and all the other facts of life, how could anyone possibly imagine that geese came from barnacles? Apparently, the confusion was prompted by the similarities in colour and shape. Again, huh!?! A goose looks absolutely nothing like a barnacle. Come on people, what were you thinking back in the 12th century?

That was going to be it for this post, but then Englishmum alerted me to another interesting fact about these barnacles that I had to go and research. Apparently, people actually eat them! Not only that, but it turns out that they are a highly desirable, highly prized food that some claim are the earth's best tasting seafood. So, next time you are in Spain, order some percebes. Not only can you indulge in its succulent lusciousness, but you can also look forward to its aphrodisiatic properties - obviously, any animal with a penis that length must do wonders in the bed department for anyone who eats it. But, be warned, you also need to be prepared for a rather large bill at the end, since these things do not come cheap.

The second Macro Mystery photo was an orange purple sea star - here we can see a whole bunch of them all snuggling up together to try to conserve water until the tide rushes back in. If you want to read anything more about these little stars, go and have a read of this post. Oh yes, I should mention that this starfish is also called the ochre sea star, just to keep everyone just a little bit confused.

PS. I do realise that I could have boosted my readership substantially by mentioning penises in my title, but even I won't sink that low.......

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Macro Monday Mystery #7

So, the time has come for another little Macro Mystery. Now, I suspect that these might be a little easy for you, so I am not going to give you any clues. Nope, you don`t need them, I know you can do this without any help. The one thing that I will tell you is that both were found and photographed in the same habitat, so if you can get one, that will be a good clue for the other. I would also like to add that I think that my Macro Mystery is much easier than Jay's, over at the Depp Effect.

So, thinking caps on, answers in the comments section please.

For more Macro Monday, go here.

If you haven't voted for me yet - why not!?! I am that bad? Am I not worthy? Or are you just fed up with me bugging you about it? Fair enough.

If you still want to vote, just go here. I am to be found in the Best Blog Overall category, which is a shame really, since I think I might have fared better in the one that includes photography. Oh well, what can you do?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Seeing Red - or Should That be Vermillion?

A couple of years ago, Mr. DBM and I spent four months galavanting around South America with the trip culminating in a visit to the Galapagos Islands. Now, I have waxed lyrical ad nauseam about these magical and mystical islands here, here, here, here and here. I think there were a couple more posts, but I am sure that you have got the picture by now. I loved this place, I adored this place. It really is the one place to see before you die. At the time, I thought that this was a once in a lifetime trip. Turns out, I was wrong and, back in August, I found myself once again touching down on San Cristobal Island for another visit to this most wondrous of places, my favourite place in the whole world.

So, how come there have been no blogs about this second visit? Dare I say that I have been there, seen that and done the blog (actually seven blogs) before? Would it sound a little preposterous to say that I have little left to say about the place that I haven't already said before? Could I even risk saying, well, once you have seen one giant tortoise, you have seen them all? Now, don't get me wrong, I had a marvellous time on my second visit and I would go back again in a second, but I am finding it hard to come up with something new and improved to write.

Do I still love the boobies? Well, of course I do - who doesn't love a good booby or two?

Do I still think that the marine iguanas are one of the most interesting and delightful creatures in the world, despite their rather nasty snorty behaviour? Absolutely.

Do I still love to lecture people about how it was the mockingbirds and not the finches that really got Darwin excited about the whole evolution thing? How could I not enjoy my feeling of superior intellect and expansive knowledge as I explain the whole situation to some poor schmuck who happened to innocently comment about the finches?

And as for those finches, do I still marvel at all the different species and spend hours poring over the ID books trying to work out whether I have just seen the large or medium tree finch, or perhaps it was a medium ground finch? Absolutely. What kind of biologist would I be if I just went on my merry way saying, "Oh, just another finch then"?

Really looks like a warbler, doesn't it? But no, this is in fact a warbler finch.

What about those adorable, lovable and oh so cuddly-looking sealions with their foul breath and other disgusting body odours? Still love 'em, still took endless photos of furry snouts and stupidly long whiskers.

Then there are the tortoises. You gotta love the tortoises, don't you?

Well, to be honest, by the time I arrived at my third tortoise breeding facility, the whole tortoise thing was becoming rather tedious. Really, how many baby tortoises can one oooh and aaaahh over in one day? And yes, the adults are big, really big, but it is hardly like watching the lions of Etosha National Park trying to get into the vehicle in front of yours or seeing two males fighting tooth and claw over a sexy lioness, is it? It is not exactly on the same scale as being surrounded by shaggy bears, all teeth and claws, trying to decide whether it is better to run or just sacrifice your mother for your own safety, is it? Let's face it, a 400lb tortoise barrelling towards you at top speed doesn't exactly curdle your blood, cause you to break out in a cold sweat or stop your heart dead, does it? There is no split second, life or death decision to make about fight or flight, is there? The reality is that you have time to stop and have a cup of tea while pondering your options, in the end deciding that your best bet is just to step over three feet to the left to let the tortoise by.

Look out everyone, it is a tortoise on the move!

So, does that leave me anything new and exciting to write about?

Actually, yes - the most gorgeous and eye-catching of birds, the vermillion flycatcher.

So, there we are, half way up one of the volcanoes on Isabela Island. The trees are dripping with mosses and moisture as the damp air from the ocean rises and condenses on the side of the volcano. A flash of red flicks past the window of the car. STOP THE CAR!!!!! we cry in unison. Dr. G., my bird nerd of a companion, is literally pushing me out of the vehicle, demanding that I get a photo of the flash of colour. I am muttering away about how typical it is - the one day I don't lug my big lens along with me is the one day that I finally get to see a vermillion flycatcher. Meanwhile, the flycatcher has buggered off and I am now muttering away about my lack of a photo. I clamber back into the vehicle. The bird reappears 20 yards down the road.

The whole process is repeated. Just as I fall out of the vehicle, the bird tweets at me, winks (no, really, I swear I saw him wink at me, in a very mocking sort of a way) and flitters down the road another 20 yards. This time, I eschew the vehicle and decide proceeding on foot would be easier and quicker. So, I leg it in pursuit of the bird, with Dr. G. shouting encouragement from the vehicle. The bird now decides that the other side of the road looks much nicer and disappears, only to reappear another 20 yards down the road. More muttering and swearing........but then I discover the answer - make little squeaky, kissie noises. Apparently flycatchers can't resist and instead of retreating from me, he is now hopping, skipping and flitting back to me. He gets nearer and nearer. I get more and more excited. The next thing I know, the little vermillion devil is flying straight at my head! Whoa, too close buddy, back off!

Anyhoo, my photogenic little friend and I had quite the session and here are the results:

What a beauty!

On a side note, did you know that vermillion is an orange red pigment that was originally obtained from the dried bodies of the Kermes scale insect in a similar manner to the red dye cochineal being obtained from cochineal scale insect? No, neither did I - thanks Wikipedia!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Macro Monday - Ericaceae

** STOP PRESS ** The voting has begun!!!!!!

Please go here if you would like to vote for me. I can't afford to bribe you or anything, but I will appreciate all the votes I get. Thank you.

Normal blogging service will now resume.

Ericaceae - the family of plants including the heathers, azaleas, rhododendrons and all of those beautiful berry bearing plants such as cranberries, blueberries and huckleberries. They thrive in acidic soils and temperate climates. Here we can see a very typical ericaceous flower of a heather plant - little vase-shaped, downward pointing flowers with fused petals.

These flowers belong to the salal, aka shallon or Gaultheria. It is native to western North America, where the berries are often usd to make jams and preserves, and the leaves to make a tea to treat heartburn, indigestion and menstrual cramps.

Now,we all know about how all those Europeans bought all sorts of foreign fauna and flora to the shores of North America and how many of these exotics now run riot across the continent. Well, here is a case of North America getting its own back, since salal was introduced into Britain in 1828. It is now forming dense stands of vegetation in many dry heathland and acidic woodland habitats, smothering out the natural vegetation.

For more Macro Monday, go here.

PS Thanks for my nominations - I am now officially a nominated blog for the Canadian Blog Awards. It did take a bit of bullying and the threat of an invasion from the Netherlands, but my name is now on the list. Go me!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Jewels of the Forest

Enough with the cute and furry, it is time for some fabulous feathered friends. So today, say hello to some hummers. Not those humungous ugly brutes of the vehicular world, but the darling, sweet and oh so gorgeous hummingbirds of the Ecuadorian cloud forest.

What can I tell you about these flying jewels of the forest? These diminutive birds are usually first heard rather than seen. They whiz by your head, so fast that all that is left in their wake is the hum that is their namesake. Your head spins from one branch to another, one tree to the next as you desperately attempt to pinpoint the hum and discover the tiny bird. Once you do, they will take your breath away. Emerald greens and ruby reds, flashes of amethyst purples and golden browns.

These amazing little creatures live on a diet of sugary nectar and any small arthropods that they can glean from the foliage around them. This high energy diet feeds their high energy life styles. Their wings can beat up to 100 times per second, and their teeny little hearts can beat over 1200 times per minute.

They appear so fragile and delicate, but in reality, these are tough and feisty birds, willing to take on any rival. Their mating flights are breathtaking, as they fly high into the air and then dive vertically down at breakneck speeds. If another male comes along, all hell breaks loose. Kamikazi gems zooming through the forest, up, down, in between trees, through impossibly small gaps in the canopy, one following another, chasing, fighting like little spitfires. It is all quite breathtaking and just incredible to watch.

Hummingbirds have one of the highest metabolisms of any animal and to fuel all this activity, your average hummingbird has to consume their own weight in nectar everyday. The energy is burnt off so quickly that a hummingbird has to feed everyday or risk starving to death. To conserve their energy reserves, they cay can enter a kind of torpor, where their heart and breathing rates drop dramatically, so reducing their energy needs.

Photographing these tiny torpedoes was not easy. They are just so fast and by the time that you have focussed your ridiculously long lens on one of them, it has buggered off. It really doesn't help when you have a colleague with you who is not taking photos. He will just sit there and keep shouting out:

"Over, over there.....ooooh, get that one.....did you get it, did you?........There's, it is over there now......."

etc etc, you get the idea.

My only advice in this situation is to slap them around the head and suggest that they go and investigate the jungle. If that does not work, take their rather large volume of the Birds of Ecuador and wallop them with it. That should work. If that doesn't work, take said ID book and huck it into the jungle - they will do anything to get their beloved book back, and it should give you at least a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Macro Monday: The Spider and the Fly

I didn't want to have to do this, but it seems that my loyal readership has let me down. And so there will be no more cute and cuddly critters. There will be no more floral fancies or beautiful birds. Nope, we are back to the grotesque and ugly, the macabre and morbid, the ghoulish and ghastly. Hmmmmm, maybe I should have saved this one for Halloween? Oh well, I feel the need to display my displeasure now by posting these Macro Monday photos:

To be honest, I actually quite like the little jumping spider. I know, I know, there are far too many legs and eyes, but as far as spiders go, these little guys have quite a bit of character. Did you know that there are more species of jumping spiders than any other kind of spider and that they catch their prey, not by using silk but by, well, jumping on it? Their eyesight is suberb and they even have 4 types of pigment cells in their retinas and so can see all of the colours that we can as well as ultraviolet light. The males perform complex dances and even sing to the females. If she likes what she sees and hears, she may vibrate her abdomen in return before the loving begins.

Oh, and if you haven't worked out why I am displeased yet, well it seems that no one nominated me for a Canadian Blog Award. I guess my Auntie was right all along - "Ask and you don't get."

Of course, if you did actually nominate me, you may have to visit the site and complain loudly and vigorously about the loss of your nomination. If that doesn't work, you may have to get together with Carolina and invade Canada. Don't worry, the limited army that we do have is all in Afghanistan, so it shouldn't be too hard.

For more Macro Monday, go here.

PS If you did nominate me, or if the nomination is now there, please forgive the content of this post and rest assured that I shall find something more appealing for next Monday.