Boisea trivittata vs. Acer negundo

If I had to choose between cockroaches and these cute little guys to be my home’s pest infester, it’d be the Box Elder bug every time. Yes, very profuse and rather annoying, but I’m all about bugs that are particular about their host plant. (See also: butterflies and moths). My brother’s house in the SLC is shaded by a pair of Acer negundo maples and, since the southern tree is female, it comes complete with gobs of these (true) bugs of varying instars. See, for example, the black-backed adults with wings, and the tick-sized babies, wandering blood-red specks which assemble in piles atop their parents.

Still no official word on why they are sometimes called “Democrat bugs,” but it might have something to do with their invasiveness. Thank goodness for that.

Photo from here.


Indian Vultures & Drugged Cattle

This is a really great article about what is probably the fastest species extinction event in recorded history (assuming bats and bees don’t outdo them). The repercussions are vast, from religious sects who relied on the vultures to eat their dead, to massive packs of rabid dogs moving in to fill the niche, to a cultural shift toward burning or burying carcasses, a practice which requires scarce firewood and real estate. Typically ten vultures would be able to strip a cow in about 30 minutes, and by doing so they would also contain the spread of livestock diseases. The story has been in and out of the news for at least 5 years now, but I just heard about it. Totally amazing

… and here’s a more newsclippy version for the time-impaired.

An auspicious symbol

Horoscope for the second week of May:
Aries (March 21-April 19)

Your power symbol for the week is an ant carrying a potato chip. It means you’ll possess so much strength that you’ll be able to hold aloft burdens that are much bigger than you. More than that, Aries, you’ll look graceful doing it. And here’s the kicker: That giant load you carry may ultimately provide nourishment not only for you but also for everyone back at the nest.

It sure is a good thing I don’t believe in any of this astrology crap. But I do retain the option to perceive it as a randomly generated message of goodness that just happened to find its way into my hands.

The Secret Poetry of Science Tests

“First we have the sun’s energy it is a nice day without any clouds”

“Rocks are rocks. The layers were formed during a global flood.”

“Some deer die and some deer mate. It’s called life.”

“The hummingbird can peck at things and taste the nectar. And the whale can swim around and see how far he can go and what he finds to eat.”

“Each organism can and does use the ribs in daily life.”

“I remember clouds. They were fun, I guess.”

“The Skull Because it Both looks weird and I Never Seen Some Thing like This.”

“Chemistry is only fun for chemists.”

“When it rains the water hides under the ground and it stays there until the sun picks it up again. The sun evaporates the underground evaporation.”

“Well, there are many reasons why deer decrease over time. One is because their forest is being destroyed and has to move to a new habitat which is not easy of city population and humanity growing. Second, because vehicles that run over poor deers, when they’ll never see it coming.”


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Going to where half the land is mine (and yours)

More than half, actually. According to National Geographic, 52% of the land in Oregon is managed by the federal government. Of course we all know that just means they want first crack at logging the shit out of it, but since I don’t own a 3000-acre cattle ranch in Texas, it’ll have to do. Besides, who wants to go camping in a field full of cow dung anyway?

Photo from a postcard via here.

The Year of Bugs and Mosses


Thanks to all who helped me ring in the thirty-second, whether by presence, words, presents, or thoughts. I couldn’t have made it this far without you.

I’m dedicating this year to all the little live things that go so often overlooked. The canaries in coal mines, the ancient unchanged organisms, the green things and crawly things and fluttery things we walk past without noticing … until they are gone, covered over by pavement or pesticides. The good bugs and the bad bugs, the bed bugs and true bugs and pretty bugs and ugly bugs. The ferns, the mosses, the lichens and fungi, the algae and the trillion trillion cyanobacteria. Frog homes and lizard homes, pond scums and epiphytes. The creatures just big enough to swat with a newspaper and those too small to see without a loupe or a macro lens or a microscope. I’m no biologist, but I’m certainly not gonna let them have all the fun. I’ll keep a journal, I’ll write a blog, I’ll take notes and make pictures and put them in all in a book just to make sure nobody forgets.

This year’s for you, Jean-Henri.

Well-Respected Beards, No. 008: Jim Henson


Come on, you know you love him. How many smiles has this dude been responsible for over the last 40 years? How many people can recite that “Number 12” song without even blinking? How hard is it to be green, really? Why does some silly rainbow video have half a million hits? I mean, seriously, it’s a sack made of green felt with some guy’s fist up in it not playing a miniature banjo.

Mr. Henson, if you’re out there, I just want to say thanks for that whole Dark Crystal thing, because the swamp scene totally blew my mind. Sorry I missed you in Leland.

Photo via this here frog fanatic.

Genesis 1:11, Now With Neodarwinian Stylings!


“You see, kids, the Calla lily, or Zantedeschia aethopica, isn’t really a lily at all! In fact, Brianna, the white part you are touching — which you so innocently call the “flower” — is actually just a leaf, or bract, that has been modified by natural selection to attract insect pollinators to the inflorescence inside of it. Thousands of tiny orange male flowers sit atop hundreds of tiny female flowers on a long column called a spadix, in an arrangement similar to that utilized by the genus Arum. The genus Zantedeschia is native to Africa, which is where we humans probably started evolving away from the common ancestor we share with apes and chimpanzees. Modern humans have only been around for a few hundred thousand years, and ever since then we have looked to the heavens and our favorite bedtime stories to explain the things we don’t understand or refuse to learn about.”

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Konrad Lorenz on Anthropomorphism


The creative writer, in depicting an animal’s behaviour, is under no great obligation to keep within the bounds of exact truth than is the painter or the sculptor in shaping an animal’s likeness. But all three artists must regard it as their most sacred duty to be properly instructed regarding those particulars in which they deviate from the actual facts. They must indeed be even better informed on these details than on others which they render in a manner true to nature. There is no greater sin against the spirit of true art, no more contemptible dilettantism than to use artistic license as a specious cover for ignorance of fact.

I am a scientist and not a poet and I shall not aspire, in this little book, to improve on nature by taking any artistic liberties. Any such attempt would certainly have the opposite effect, and my only chance of writing something not entirely devoid of charm lies in strict adherence to scientific fact. Thus, by modestly keeping to the methods of my own craft, I may hope to convey, to my kindly reader, at least a slight inkling of the infinite beauty of our fellow creatures and their life.

Excerpted from the preface to King Solomon’s Ring.

E.O. Wilson on Memory


What happened, what we think happened in distant memory, is built around a small collection of dominating images.

Consider how long-term memory works. With each changing moment, the mind scans a vast landscape of jumbled schemata, searching for the one or two decisive details upon which rational action will be based. The mind with a search image is like a barracuda. The large predatory fish pays scant attention to the rocks, pilings, and vast array of organisms living among them. It waits instead for a glint of silver that betrays the twisting body of a smaller fish. It locks on this signal, rushes forward, and seizes the prey in its powerful jaws. Its singlemindedness is why swimmers are advised not to wear shiny bracelets or wrist watches in barracuda waters.

The human mind moving in a sea of detail is compelled like a questing animal to orient by a relatively few decisive configurations. There is an optimum number of such signals. Too few, and the person becomes compulsive-obsessive; too many, and he turns schizophrenic. Configurations with the greatest emotional impact are stored first and persist longer. Those that give the greatest pleasure are sought on later occasions. The process is strongest in children, and to some extent it programs the trajectory of their lives. Eventually they will weave the decisive images into a narrative by which they explain to themselves and others the meaning of what has happened to them. As the Talmud says, we see things not as they are, but as we are.

Excerpted from the autobiography of Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist.
Image from here.