Two ladies from Ontario

What do bugs and snakes/lizards/frogs/turtles have in common? Yes, they’re both ectothermic, but that is the scientist’s answer. Most folks would say they’re just creepy – girls especially! Well, two ladies from Ontario are proving the latter notion wrong by hosting three blog carnivals that cater to these cold-blooded critters: House of Herps, An Inordinate Fondness, and The Moth and Me.

Most people approach their first blog carnival hosting gig with some trepidation, but the Geek in Question at Fall to Climb has embraced the challenge by volunteering to host two blog carnivals simultaneously.  What chutzpah!  Clearly, she was up to the task – for issue #3 of An Inordinate Fondness, she introduces us to technical terms such as OMGSHINY and Coleappetite™ in Discovery Zone, with thirteen stories of beetley discovery. She then shows off her “slammer” talent in House of Herps #5: Slime Poetry – deftly pairing poems with prose.  I would love to see her do this live!

Seabrooke Leckie’s passion for moths is obvious – she is the founder of The Moth and Me and co-author of the soon-to-be-published Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America. Issue #10 of TMaM, Down to the letter, comes home to mama at the Marvelous in Nature – its 24 contributions almost enough to complete the alphabet! Recite your ABCs in lepidopterous fashion with this fine array of contributions.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Carnival of Evolution #22

In my fifth blog carnival hosting gig, I am honored and priviledged to present Carnival of Evolution #22.  I’ve always considered this to be the most cerebral of the blog carnivals that I follow, and this month’s submissions have once again lived up to the high standards that I have come to expect – 26 submissions by 19 of the best evolution bloggers out there.  I suggest we all pour ourselves a glass of brandy, settle into our armchairs, and enjoy an evening of thought-provoking erudition.

Human & Primates

Andrew Bernardin at 360 Degree Skeptic presents an evolutionary psychology piece in his post, Less Visible Forms of Social Power | 360 Degree Skeptic. Are humans an exuberantly affiliative species, like the bonobo, or is our nature essentially hierarchical? Or both? (Not to mention the impressively variety of forms that hierarchies can take.)

There’s a new kid on the blog, and Chadrick Lane jumps right into fray with his inaugural post at The Ancestral Mind.  In Ancestral Mind in the Twitterverse: Discovering the information age through evolution, he recounts the magical feeling of visiting the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, prompting him to ask “How is it that we have gone from a common ancestor with chimpanzees to a blogging, social networking, moon walking, singing and dancing species in just around 6 million years?” An impressive first post!

I was sure I’d receive multiple submissions dealing with the news of a potential new extinct human species, deduced from mitochondrial DNA sequence generated from a 40,000 year old finger bone found in a cave in a region of Siberia from which the remains of modern humans and Neanderthals have also been found.  David Winter, however, enjoys a monopoly on this topic with his post, Does a forty thousand year old finger point to another human species? at The Atavism.  David reminds us that inferring species boundaries is a tricky business, and the mtDNA sequences are not, in and of themselves, proof that the finger belonged to a member of a third human species.  In fact, it might be a Neanderthal after all – how?  David explains why.

At The Primate Diaries, Eric Michael Johnson discusses Cultural Transmission in Chimpanzees.  The origin, maintenance, and transmission of cultural traits in human populations is both a fascinating and difficult subject for anthropologists.  Though lacking obvious cultural traditions such as clothing or cuisine, nonhuman primates also have culture.  An example is the Kibale Forest chimpanzees, which use sticks to get at honey in fallen logs, while Budongo Forest chimpanzees use chewed leaves as sponges to collect the same thing.  Findings of a study to understand why some societies have more unique cultural traits than others, recently published in PLoS ONE, suggest this may have something to do with the number of females (with impressionable youngsters) present within a given society.

From Madeleine Begun Kane at Mad Kane’s Humor Blog comes this gem in her post, South African Pinot’s Too Pricey? Blame The Baboons:

Though South African wine can be fine,
There’s a threat to each grape growing vine.
Cuz baboons enjoy feeding
On grapes. Their fave eating
Is prized pinot noir — that’s the whine.


Jason Goldman at The Thoughtful Animal presents a post on a FIFTY YEAR LONG study of captive silver foxes in Russia in his post, The Russian Fox Study.  It is his favorite study of animals EVER, perhaps because the experimental foxes were more eager to hang out with humans, whimpered to attract attention, and sniffed and licked their caretakers. They wagged their tails when they were happy or excited.  Does that sound like Fido?

At Mauka to Makai, Kelsey Abbott discusses a male beetle (yeah, beetles!) with a penis so long and flexible that he has to sling it over his shoulder to keep it safe in her post Shouldering: Penis Extraction in Rove Beetles.  As titillating as it sounds, the post is really about the behavioral adaptations that this male rove beetle has employed to deal with such extreme genitalia.  The male is highly motivated (in the evolutionary sense) to follow a specific “penis extraction protocol” carefully, otherwise it will end up in a tangled mess (shudders!) and his chances with other ladies will be shot.

Zen Faulkes at NeuroDojo discusses a paper in PloS ONE by Sol et al. (2010) in his post Are big brains better for long trips? He notes that the authors found, as expected, that migratory birds tended to have smaller (and, thus, more energetically efficient) brains than non-migratory birds.  However, what is the direction of causality?  Read it and find out.

At Out walking the dog, Melissa Cooper discusses Mastodons in Manhattan: How the Honey locust Tree Got Its Spikes, noting that the formidible thorns of the honey locust tree are remnants of its co-evolution with giant herbivores – namely the browsing mastodons and woolly mammoths that roamed North America (including Manhattan) until somewhere between 6,000 and 11,000 years ago. The mastodons are gone, but the tree has not yet lost the adaptation, which now seemingly function only to puncture truck tires rather than deter proboscidean tongues.

Evolution of Sex

Genetic tests have revealed the secret sex life of a tiny poison dart frog species that lives in the Peruvian rain forests, GrrlScientist discusses at Living the Scientific Life in the post, Made for Each Other: Evolution of Monogamy in Poison Frogs.  Remarkably, it turns out that these frogs are monogamous, but the reason is surprising: it’s all about the size of the pools that their tadpoles mature in. This is the best evidence yet that just a single cause can affect evolution of a major life history trait, e.g. a species’ mating system.  GrrlScientist also discusses new research that shows evidence for cryptic mate choice in Gulf pipefish in her post, Size Matters — Bigger is Better, Even for Male Pipefish at Maniraptora: Tastes Like Chicken. This is supported by two observations. First, males that mate with larger (“more desirable”) females raise broods that have a higher survivorship. Second, embryo success in consecutive broods is negatively correlated. These observations show that males preferentially invest their limited resources into raising broods produced by “more desirable” females.


At Skeptic Wonder, Psi Wavefunction recounts the excitement of getting to ramble on about protists for a whole twenty minutes in her post, Excavates and Rhizarians: A talk for phylogeny course.  Presentations on each taxon included!  She then admits a certain weakness for ciliates – not just for their insane cell and genomic organisation, or their bizzarely complicated morphology, or even their epi- and endosymbionts.  No, what really tickles her about this group is that many of them WALK!  See how in her post, Sunday Protist — Aspidisca: Walking ciliates with scrambled genomes

Shuna Gould at Lab Rat looks at the evolution of two-component sensor (TCS) systems in her post, How The Animal Lost Its Sensor, and discusses a few reasons why they may no longer be present in animals.  Widely used by bacteria to detect and respond to changes in both their outside and internal environments, but only nominally used by archaea and hardly at all by eukaryotes, it may be that TCSs originated in bacteria and spread by horizontal gene transfer to both archaea and eukaryotes.  Once eukaryotes developed a nuclear membrane, no further transfers took place, while in bacteria TCSs continued to diversify.


“There’s more to eggshells than meets the eye,” says GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life in her post, presents Ancient DNA Isolated from Fossil Eggshells May Provide Clues to Eggstinction of Giant Birds.  An international team of scientists just published a paper demonstrating for the first time that fossil eggshells are a rich source of ancient DNA.  Using a newly developed method, the team isolated ancient DNA from a 19,000-year-old emu eggshell, an extinct species of giant moa, the enigmatic elephant bird from Madagascar, and two other extinct species. However, attempts to isolate DNA from a 50,000-year-old flightless Australian Thunderbird failed because the DNA was too fragmented.  No – cloning these long-extinct birds is not likely.


At Evolving Thoughts, John Wilkins wonders how replicators  can evolve (replicators being genes, or if not then any part or section of a process that meets Dawkin’s criteria of longevity, fecundity and copying-fidelity) in his post, Thermodynamics, and the origin of replicators « Evolving Thoughts.  However, John takes exceptions with Dawkin’s view on the origin of replicators: “to posit that some molecule just acquired the capacity to replicate is to posit a scientific miracle. It’s a bit like suggesting that a molecule might just acquire the ability to act as a transistor. I do not like scientific miracles – they strike me as an admission of failure.”

Lucas at Thoughtomics admits he is an animal.  In his post, On the Origin of Animals, he discusses a Nature paper published last month by a team of researchers that used the conserved expression of mircoRNAs to piece together information about the most recent common ancestor of all Bilateria – the great-great grandmother of almost all animals, expected to have lived somewhere between 600 and 550 million years ago.  Since the evolution of Bilateria coincides with the evolution of many complex tissue types, microRNAs have the potential to be a great source of evidence for their evolution, and the team found microRNAs that were more or less specific for almost any tissue type present across the range of taxa studied.   Move over HOX genes!

Evolutionary Theory

With a book titled, What Darwin Got Wrong, it might surprise you to learn that lead author Jerry Foder is a teacher of philosophy and not evolution.  The premise of the book is that the “theory of natural selection” – as Foder calls it – cannot be true, but Bjørn Østman at Pleiotropy, in his post, The damned field of biology and the cursed theory of evolution, considers it to be nothing but “non peer-reviewed tripe”.  Listen to the hour-long interview with Foder if you don’t have time to read his book and decide for yourself.

In addition to her unicellular musings above, Psi Wavefunction at Skeptic Wonder also argues In defense of constructive neutral evolution – Part I.  This is the first of a 3-part post that addresses neutral evolution and its (mis)understanding compared to the flashier but probably overused explanations of adaptive evolution.  “In short, selection acts probabilistically, not absolutely”.

Population dynamics of cheaters are interesting, since cheaters generally benefit when their numbers are low but don’t when they become too numerous.  Lucas Brouwers at Thoughtomics discusses a paper that studied cheaters among bacteria in his post, Wolves, Bacteria and Cheaters.  Population dynamics between cheaters and cooperators are much easier to study in prokaryotes than in animals, since genes and molecules involved in the cooperative behaviour are more easily identified and manipulated.  Read what the authors of the study found…

At Culturing Science – biology as relevant to us earthly beings, Hannah Waters discusses two organisms that don’t fit into the 5-Kingdom classification that we all (at least the older among us) grew up with in her post, Photosynthetic Evolution: how 2 organisms gained or lost the ability to eat sunshine. The first is about microorganisms that were once photosynthetic — and thus evolved with the cyanobacteria and plants — but no longer go through photosynthesis.  The second is about a sea slug that has developed the ability to photosynthesize, or harvest energy from the sun.  Imagine the stories that all the other uncategorized protists out there have to tell!

At Deep Thoughts and Silliness, Bob O’Hara reviews a paper by Venditti et al. (2009, Nature) in his post, Branch Lengths and Species, that looks at the time between speciation events (i.e. the time a species spends as a single species, before it splits) as a way to infer something about the processes that lead to speciation.  The authors conclude that speciation is a random event: there is nothing intrinsic to the species (such as its age) that makes it more or less likely to speciate.  However, Bob has some methodological concerns about the paper – I’ll let him explain!

Alexander Bisignano at The Chromosome Chronicles discusses the potential that in silico models of evolution have over in vivo models in his post, Modeling Evolution in vitro and in silico.  In the computer, DNA can be substituted for by self replicating computer code that undergoes changes/rearrangement. Resources can be simulated by computer memory or RAM. The actions of competing and reproducing are executed by self-replicating code as they compete to take up more of the computer’s memory.  These in silico models of evolution allow for many generations to occur within a short period of time, thereby bypassing the main impediment to the study of in vivo models; however, whether these digital organisms are real beings will require more thought and ethical debate.

Eric Michael Johnson at The Primate Diaries discusses a paper by Harvard Medical School physician and researcher J. Wes Ulm that investigates the legacy of ideas that formed the basis of laissez-faire social Darwinism in his post, Social Darwinism and the “Cachet of the Cutthroat”. Despite their misuse by conservatives and economists for the past century and a half, Darwin’s ideas may be exactly what are needed to address some of our dire political and economic problems. 

Politics & Science

“Embargoes do not serve the best interests of science or scientists because they deny access to embargoed literature to those people — science blog writers — who are most likely to invest the greatest amount of time and energy into writing the story accurately and in an engaging way for the public,” says GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life in her post Goddam, But I Hate Embargoes.  “Since a fair number of science blog writers are scientists themselves, they have the knowledge to present these stories to the public and they also have a vested interest in making sure the science is being reported clearly and accurately. Even if embargoes are a necessary evil — and I remain unconvinced that they are — how they’re applied and dealt with is certainly not uniform, and pretending otherwise is just plain disingenuous.”


GrrlScientist reminds us about her new twitter feed that announces science, environment, nature and medical blog carnivals to the public by providing links to the twitter feed and email for carnival hosts/managers to send URLs to.  She is seeking community comments for how to make this feed work most effectively for this community.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Carnival of Evolution. The May edition of will be hosted at Evolution: Education and Outreach – posts can be submitted using this handy blog carnival submission form.  You can find past issues at the home site and blog carnival index pageNOTE: hosts are needed for June and beyond – if you’ve never hosted a blog carnival, here’s your chance.  If you have, you know how to do it, so why not share your expertise.  Send an email to Bjørn if you’re interested.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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March moths, herps, and beetles

Nature blog carnival time used to be restricted to the beginning of each month – a mensual fix of inverts, birds, berrys, and trees.  Those stalwarts still greet each new month in rough synchrony, but lately a new crop of upstart nature blog carnivals has appeared, all vying to fill that former mid-month lull.  Covering mothsherps, and beetles, they cater to a more specialized audience (despite their subject matter being as diverse as any of the original carnivals).   New editions of these mid-month carnivals are hot off the press, just in time to stock up on fresh reading material for the weekend.

Jason Hogle is my hero!  Intellect, perspective, and artistic talent combine at xenogere to produce some of the most visually and spiritually compelling nature writing available.  In The Moth and Me #9 – the wingless one, Jason unleashes his considerable talents on 15 contributions, weaving them seamlessly into a beautiful story about a wingless moth and its place in The Creation.  Read it and be spellbound, then (after getting over your jealousy of his writing talents) visit the posts for more lepidopterous prose.

John from Kind Of Curious got the lucky draw by hosting House of Herps #4 – St. Patrick’s Edition on St. Patrick’s Day. John notes the ophiological connection to St. Patrick – famed for driving the snakes out Ireland (today seen as an allegory for his conversion of many of the Irish to Christianity) – and then provides scientific reasons for the lack of snakes in Ireland. Nine other contributions round out a menagerie of posts covering snakes, turtles, salamaders, frogs, and toads.

For An Inordinate Fondness (AIF) #2, Amber and AJ at Birder’s Lounge have cleverly adopted a musical theme to honor the coleopterological origin behind the name of the music group, “The Beatles” – complete with song snippets and the irreverent perspective that we have come to expect and adore in their writings. Buzz on over, listen to the music, and let their prose whet your appetites before visiting this month’s eleven contributions.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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March Carnivalia

It’s a new month, and that means a new crop of blog carnival issues. I have my favorites that I follow, and since I’m not hosting anything this month (for once!) I thought I’d give you my take on these newest editions.

Circus of the Spineless is the undisputed king of invertebrate blog carnivals as it approaches its semi-centennial issue, and Matt Sarver at The Modern Naturalist introduces each contribution in Circus of the Spineless 48: Cabinet of Curiosity with a quote or image dusted off from the cabinet of scientific curiosity. Book lungs, honey pots, crusty love, hairstreaks, hot tigers (beetles, that is!), giant snails, monarchs, caterpillars, and shocked crayfish top the bill this month.

…botanical carnivals are like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get, but it’s bound to be delicious!

I have a fond spot in my heart for Berry Go Round, as it was the first blog carnival that I ever hosted. This month, Sally White at Foothills Fancies offers a delicious assortment of botanical treats with Valentines for Plant Lovers (BGR #25). My favorite are the white orchids (of course), but the stunning Arisaema photographs and two very interesting fossil plant posts also piqued my interest.

I don’t have a contribution of my own in this month’s Festival of the Trees, but I promote it anyway because it always offers such an exquisite blend of botanical learnings and passionate, almost spiritual writing. Trees evoke something deep in the human psyche, and this reverance is on full display in the quotes used by Jeremy at The Voltage Gate to introduce the posts in Festival of the Trees #45: Voice. Don’t believe it? How about this teaser?

If you were living just across and if I were a tree
In that yard,
I’d delight you with fruit,
I’ll be watered with your glimpse,
just look at me in ardor,
I’d bear the sweetest fruit for you.

…or this one?

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be tree-bereft, or tree-oblivious. I’m sure I’ve not been as open-hearted as I could be with trees, but I’m learning, and they are great teachers.

I’ve often considered Carnival of Evolution to be the most erudite of the blog carnivals that I follow, and Carnival of Evolution #21: The Superstar Edition by Kelsey at Mauka to Makai proves it. Eight of the issue’s contributors are finalists for Research Blogging Awards and one is an award-winning journalist. See what some of the best science bloggers have to say about biology’s biggest superstar (Darwin, of course) and all manner of terminal branches on his tree of life – from bacteria to fish to birds to mammals. I’ll be trying my own hand at the cerebral challenge of hosting this carnival’s next edition on or about April 1st – it would appear I have a tough act to follow.

Don’t forget – An Inordinate Fondness (my favorite carnival!) will make its first journey away from the homesite this month, with issue #2 to be hosted by Amber Coakley at Birder’s Lounge.  Submissions are due by March 15.  Issue #4 of House of Herps is also scheduled for mid-March but apparently still needs a host.  If you’ve never hosted a blog carnival before, why not give this one a try (every blog carnival host was once a newbie)?  If you have hosted a carnival before, you already know how to do it – why not help?  Submissions for this one are also due by March 15, and you can send them to the home site.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Beetle Love

An Inordinate FondnessIt seems like it has been a long time coming, but the Inaugural Issue of An Inordinate Fondness, the monthly blog carnival for the world’s most diverse group of animals (um… beetles), has finally made its debut! I can’t tell you how much pondering, pleading, fretting, and tweaking went into bringing this newest of blog carnivals to fruition, but it was all worth it. My sincerest thanks to everyone who helped me along the way (especially Seabrooke, Amber, Jason, and Mike) and to all who contributed for this first issue. I hope you’ll take a moment to stop by and check out the many fine contributions. If you love beetles, you’ll love this issue. If beetles haven’t exactly turned you on before, maybe you’ll find a new appreciation for them after experiencing the collective passion of the contributors. If you’ve written a post about beetles, perhaps you’ll consider participating in AIF #2 to be hosted by Amber at Birder’s Lounge. I recommend this handy submission form, or contact Amber directly if you prefer. The submission deadline for issue #2 is March 15, 2010.

House of HerpsAlso, Jason over at xenogere has just released House of Herps #3- The Time Machine. Jason has shown himself to be a natural talent at blog carnival hosting, and this edition is no exception. In his unique, singular style, Jason guides you on a trip through time to visit reptiles and amphibians of the past, present, and future.

In celebration of the debut of An Inordinate Fondness, I close with this preview of a feature that CBS did on Christopher Marley for the program “Sunday Morning.” Here is a man who not only shows the same passion for these fascinating animals that many of us feel (though I’m not sure I would characterize Titanus giganteus as “dangerous”), but also has the talent to channel his passion into exquisite works of art (sorry about the commercials!).

Vodpod videos no longer available.
More about “Sunday Morning – Preview: Beetle Art“, posted with vodpod

Okay, after hosting three blog carnivals in the past 4 weeks, I think I’ll go hibernate for awhile!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Circus of the Spineless #47

When I started participating in blog carnivals last year, Circus of the Spineless was – for me – the pinnacle of blog carnivals.  I wanted to take my shot at hosting this venerable celebration of creepy crawlies, and even though the waiting list for hosting was almost a year long, I offered my services and settled in for the long wait until February 2010.  Ten months have passed and the time has come.  In the meantime, I did my blog carnival host début with Berry Go Round #21 and snatched the sophomore slot for nature blogging’s newest carnival with House of Herps #2.  Through those efforts, I learned that blog carnival hosting is an incredible amount of work/fun, and while plants and herps are fascinating, inverts are my true love.  It is, thus, with great pride that I join the ranks of previous hosts in presenting this, the 47th edition of CotS.  Featured below are 16 submissions by 14 contributors that cover representatives from 5 classes in 3 invertebrate phyla.  A humorous look at some of the personalities behind invertebrate study is presented as a bonus for those who make it to the end.

If you missed last month’s issue, you can find Circus of the Spineless #46 at Kate’s Adventures of a Free Range Urban Primate, and next month’s edition will be hosted by Matt Sarver at The Modern Naturalist.


Coral Reefs
The Voltage GateJeremy at The Voltage Gate reports on peer-reviewed research on the impact of herbivorous fish on the recovery of coral reefs in his post, Protecting herbivorous fishes significantly increases rate of coral recovery.  Coral reefs have been hard hit by the challenges of bleaching and disease, pressures likely linked to climate change, and macroalgae, when given the opportunity to dominate, provide even further challenges.  This can happen when populations of herbivorous fish, major grazers of macroalgae, are reduced through commercial harvest.  The study authors evaluated ten sites over a two-and-a-half year period in and around the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP), which was established as a no-take marine reserve in 1986, finding an increase of coral cover during the study period from 7 percent to 19 percent.  However, ECLSP reefs were responsible for all of this increase, with no net recovery occurring outside the ECLSP.  These results illustrate the importance of reserves as a refuge for biodiversity and the service they provide in keeping marine systems intact.

—-“Informal Group” OPISTHOBRANCHIA

Sea slug (Glaucus atlanticus)
Deep-Sea NewsThis gorgeous nudibranch species got a foul slandering when they started washing up on Gold Coast beaches in Australia.  Miriam Goldstein debunks this unfair treatment in her post, Sea slugs have self esteem too, at Deep-Sea News, noting its absolutely stunning iridescent blue and silver color with gorgeous feathery tentacles.  Further exception is taken with such descriptors as “slimy”, “venomous”, “blue-bottle eating”, and “cannibals” – with the truth behind each of these terms far more fascinating than the visceral reaction their use was intended to elicit.  Good news as well – you don’t have to travel to Australia to see these things – they live throughout the world’s open oceans (but you will have to get far from shore, where the pelagic jellys upon which they feed can be found).

—-“Informal Group” PULMONATA

Iron-clad snail (Cyrsomallon squamiferum)
Deep-Sea NewsI’ve known about iron-clad beetles, species of Zopheridae whose exoskeleton is so hard and thick it is almost impossible to impale them with an insect pin.  I’d never heard of an iron-clad snail, however, until I read Dr. M’s post, The Evolution of Iron-Clad Samurai Snails With Gold Feet, at Deep-Sea News.  Unlike the seemingly iron-impregnated beetles, these snails actually utilize iron sulfide in a series of armor plates covering the “foot.”  Just described in 2003 from a hydrothermal vent in the Indian Ocean, it is the only known animal known to use iron sulfide as skeletal material.  Only time will tell if these snails achieve the same popularity as living jewelry as the beetles.

¹ The taxonomy of the Gastropoda is under constant revision, as the results of DNA studies increasingly reveal as possibly polyphyletic many of the former orders (including the Opisthobranchia and Pulmonata, now known as “informal groups”).


Samurai crab (Heikea japonica)
ArthropodaMike Bok at Arthopoda shares two stories about this crab – one an ancient Japanese legend, the other a modern piece of scientific folklore – in his post, Samurai Crabs: Transmogrified Japanese warriors, the product of artificial selection, or pareidolia?  In the first, popular legend alleges that these crabs were transformed from drowned samurai warriors, each one identifiable by the face of the fallen samurai that it bears on its backs and for whom the crab searches in the depths of the oceans around Japan.  This ancient legend has led to a modern scientific quibble about whether the stylized face that can be seen on the crab’s carapace is the result of artificial selection by generations of superstitious Japanese fishermen, who have selectively released crabs bearing any resemblance to a human face.  This may make for compelling scientific debate, but Mike counters even the considerable eloquence of Carl Sagan in providing his own thoughts on why this likely is not true.


Amphipod (Phronima spp.)
ArthropodaIn another example of the intermixture of science and culture, Mike Bok (Arthopoda) asks, Did Phronima inspire the design of the Alien Queen?  Mike agrees with the claim that the original “soldier” alien morph seen in “Alien” (1979) was based on a painting by artist H. R. Giger, but he thinks that Phronima more likely influenced the design of the queen alien morph in “Aliens” (1986).  The truth may remain hidden at Stan Winston Studios, but the broad crest atop the head of Phronima, bearing tubular, upward-pointing eyes, its “necro-parasitic” tendencies, and a chillingly suggestive photograph of the beast from a 1981 paper lend an air of plausibility to Mike’s hypothesis.


Harvestmen, daddy-long-legs
Kind of CuriousJohn at Kind of Curious follows up on David Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth Episode 1 with his post, Daddy Long Legs Daddies (aka Harvestman).  Looking like spiders but lacking their venomous and silk-spinning abilities, it seems that nobody can agree on the proper name for these spider relatives.  Brits call them “harvestmen”, but Americans call them “daddy-long-legs”, a term that in the UK refers rather to crane flies (which less informed Americans simply call “giant mosquitoes”).  Let’s not even mention the daddy-long-legs spider (Pholcus phalangioides), which actually is a spider.

—-Order ARANEA

Neoscona crucifera (barn spider)
XenogereAnyone who hikes along woodland trails in the eastern U.S. during autumn knows what a “spider stick” is – i.e., any handy stick that can be waved probingly in front of one as they hike, lest they run smack into the web of any number of orb weavers that are fond of stretching their large webs across such natural insect flyways. Jason, at Xenogere, has some biggun’s in his neck of the woods, which he describes in intriguing detail in his post, Walking with spiders – Part 3. Barn spiders are some of the biggest, allowing one to fully appreciate their polychroism and polymorphism. I challenge even the most arachnophic of readers to look at Jason’s photographs and not be mesmerized by their beauty.


Autumn meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum)
Rambling Woods~The Road Less TraveledMichelle at Rambling Woods~The Road Less Traveled presents a stunning series of photographs of this gorgeous red dragonfly in her post, Circus of The Spineless~Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.~James Stephens.  Perching on her hanging basket of pink-flowered begonias, colors matching perfectly, it was almost as if the dragonfly has staked a claim on the hanging basket as it own personal territory.  Where there is one, there are others, and her neighbor’s deck had both a red male and a blue female doing… well, see Michelle’s diagram.


Horned passalus (Odontotaenius disjunctus)
Anybody Seen My Focus?Joan Knapp at Anybody Seen My Focus?  shows photographs of this beetle in her post, Bess Beetle: Horned Passalus (Odontotaenius disjunctus), as it lumbered slowly and gracefully over a fallen tree branch.  Perhaps the cool temperatures were the reason for its sloth.  Or perhaps the missing antenna indicated a feeble, old individual on its last (six) legs.  A brief interruption for photographs seemed not to deter the beetle from its destination, somewhere in the leaf litter beyond the log…


Skipper butterflies (family Hesperiidae)
Nature of a ManRandomtruth at Nature of a Man loves skippers (are they butterflies, or aren’t they?), and you’ll love his photographs of these delightful little half-butterflies in his post, Day Skippers.  While there is some slight doubt about the identity of individuals he sees in his backyard (skippers are notoriously difficult to identify in the field), there is no doubt that these little guys are loaded with personality.  You won’t believe the “natural history” moment he caught on film (er… pixels?) and presented in the final photo sequence.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
GrrlscientistGrrlscientist summarizes a recent peer-reviewed paper in her post, Migratory Monarch Butterflies ‘See’ Earth’s GeoMagnetic Field.  The paper reports on photoreceptor proteins in monarch butterflies known as “cryptochromes” that not only allow the butterflies to see ultraviolet light, but also allows them to sense the Earth’s geomagnetic field.  These highly conserved proteins evolved from the light-activated bacterial enzyme phytolase, which functions in DNA damage repair.  Most animals have one of two types of cryptochromes, but monarchs have both – providing the first genetic evidence that the vertebrate-version of cryptochrome is responsible for the magnetoreception capabilities in migratory birds.  Further research may provide insight on the workings of the circadian clock, which could lead to better understanding of sleep disorders and mental illnesses such as depression and seasonal affective disorder, as well as development of new treatments for jet lag and shift-work ailments.


Ants (family Formicidae)
Wild About AntsKatydids, grasshoppers, cicadas – what do ants have on these singers of the insect world?  Plenty, as Roberta at Wild About Ants points out in her post, Ants: No Longer the Strong Silent Types.  It turns out that ants have patches of ridge-like structures on their gaster, which they rub against a curved ridge (called a “scraper”) on the petiole to communicate with each other via stridulation.  While lacking the decibel level of a cicada, these sounds are nevertheless in the audible range for human ears and are thought to have alarm, mating, and recruitment functions.  Even more fascinating, stridulation is not the only tool in the ant music chest – drumming and rattling have also been documented.  Curiously, however, ants do not possess ears, rather likely sensing sounds through their legs or by specialized hairs on their antennae.  Check out the provided links to SEM photographs and a sound recording.

Bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata)
Hill-Stead's Nature BlogDiane Tucker, Estate Naturalist at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut, writes at Hill-Stead’s Nature Blog. In her post, Be it ever so humble, she takes a look at some of the different animal nests that become revealed during autumn’s leaf drop – particularly those made by the bald-faced hornet (and also birds such as oriole’s).  From its start as simple cluster of chambers, to its growth over the course of the summer – growing fatter until the summer’s apex of warmth and light, then tapering off with the approach of fall, these insect homes are a marvel of nature – intricately constructed homes made entirely of paper.


Common green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata)
Bug Girl's BlogBug Girl discusses the resurging use of bottle fly larvae in her post, Maggot therapy.  The academic among us will appreciate her discussion of the mechanisms that allow these seemingly disgusting vermin to function as incredibly delicate microsurge0ns in cleaning and disinfecting open wounds.  The morbid among us will appreciate the links to the most entertainingly disgusting medical photos one can imagine.  Check it out – but not over your lunch hour!


Wanderin' Weeta (With Waterfowl and Weeds)Wanderin’ Weeta (With Waterfowl and Weeds) was going to make an owl out of Douglas fir cones, but instead she found globular springtails, a crab spider, and a ladybug in a sprig of fir.  We’re glad she has an interest in little hitchhikers such as these, even if the kids at school when she was growing up didn’t.


Bug Girl shows that entomologists have a sense of humor with her post, Monday Morning bug jokes – a video compilation of jokesters from the recent Entomological Society of America Annual Meeting in Indianapolis.  My favorites were the best dung beetle pickup line (“Is this stool taken?”) and Marvin Harris’ rendition of the minimum number of insects needed to elicit control (1 pubic louse, or 1/2 codling moth larva :)).  J. McPherson was equally, if unwittingly, hilarious due to his Christopher Lloyd-esque mannerisms.  My favorite entomological joke of all, however, was not featured, so I offer the following addendum to Bug Girl’s post:

Copyright Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Triple Quiz

Photo Details: Canon EOS 50D w/ Canon 100mm macro lens, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/20, MT-24EX flash w/ Sto-Fen diffusers.

  1. Entomology Quiz: Name the beetle.
  2. Botany Quiz: Name the plant.
  3. History Quiz: Name the location (yes, attentive readers will be able to deduce this).

While you ponder these questions, please make note of two upcoming blog carnivals:

  • Circus of the Spineless – I’ve waited almost a year to host issue #47 of this venerable blog carnival – look for its appearance early next week.  Send me your submissions by January 31 if you want to be included in this issue – ossified homeotherms need not apply.
  • An Inordinate Fondness – The inaugural issue of this monthly blog carnival devoted to beetles is set to debut in mid-February at the home site.  Post submissions are already starting to come in, so don’t miss this chance to be a founding participant.  Submissions are due by February 15 – either by email or using this handy BlogCarnival submission form.

I’ve discovered a few more interesting blogs since my last blogroll update – the following are definitely worth a visit:

  • Biodiversity in Focus Blog – A new blog by graduate student Morgan Jackson.  Amazing photographs of stilt-legged flies (Diptera: Micropezidae).
  • BunyipCo – David Rentz writes about entomology from Queensland, Australia, with a focus on orthopteroid insects and the rain forest.
  • I Love Insects – Entomology student and insect enthusiast Erika Lenz really loves insects.
  • – A relatively new blog by a dragonfly/butterfly enthusiast in Denmark.
  • Forest Fragments – Just a stone’s throw from my backyard, the staff at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center has begun a blog about their 2,000-acre experiment.
  • Exploring the Remnants – A brand new blog from Aaron Brees, who explores Iowa’s natural history.  Drop by and give him a jump start.

For those really interested in exploring entomology-related blogs, Anna Miller has provided nice descriptions of her Top 25 Entomology Blogs.  Yes, I made the list, as did most of the other usual suspects, but you might find one or two that you didn’t know about.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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House of Herps #2

House of HerpsWelcome to the 2nd issue of House of Herps, the monthly blog carnival devoted exclusively to reptiles and amphibians.  The brainchild of Amber Coakley, (Birder’s Lounge), and Jason Hogle (xenogere), this new blog carnival had an auspicious start with the inaugural issue and its 21 contributions – an impressive level of participation for a new carnival.  This month the carnival moves off-site, and I am honored to serve as the first off-site host.  The enthusiasm continues with issue #2, for which I received 22 submissions from 18 contributors.  Ever the taxonomist, I present them to you below grouped by traditional classification¹.

¹ It should be noted that modern classification has “evolved” substantially from this traditional classification due to the advent of DNA molecular analyses. For example, lizards are a paraphyletic grouping, and even the class Reptilia has been subsumed within a broader class containing dinosaurs and birds. I stick with the traditional classification here for reasons of familiarity and convenience.

Class AMPHIBIA (Amphibians)
-Order CAUDATA (Salamanders)

California Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus).  At the nature of a man, Ken talks about not one, but two close encounters last fall with this otherwordly-looking creature.  The first one he saw was a monster of a salamander, measururing a whopping 12 inches (30 cm) in length as it brazenly lounged on a mountain bike trail.  Remaining docile for photographs, imagine Ken’s surprise when the salamander started barking at him when he picked it up to move it to safer ground!  In his second encounter, he got to watch one chomp down on a banana slug – mmm tasty! 

-Order ANURA (Frogs)

Upland Chorus Frog (Pseudacris feriarum).  At Anybody Seen My Focus?, Joan normally only gets to hear the breeding season calls of the chorus frog and his friends who have taken up residence in the water-filled bathtub that serves as a planter in her greenhouse, usually bobbing under the water upon any approach.  But on this occasion, he agreed to photographs, even allowing a final closeup.

Gulf coast toad (Bufo nebulifer).  At Dolittle’s Domain, Dr. Doolittle marvels at one of the many toads that she has found parked under the outside light all night (along with the bats and armadillos) during the cold darkness of December.  Rather than fleeing the camera flash in the face, he simply hunkered down trying to make himself flatter, apparently thinking that would make him invisible and not realizing that he just looked fatter!

Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans).  HoH‘s own Jason weaves artful writing with stunning photographs to distinguish one of the smallest land vertebrates in North America at xenogere.  Despite their ubiquity, these little frogs often go unnoticed due to the smallness of their size, their impressive leap, and their extreme variability.  Get a good look at one, however, and you might notice a key feature or two.

American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana).  At Willow House Chronicles, barefootheart looks at frogs on the opposite end of the size spectrum, in fact North America’s largest frog living in an increasingly naturalized man-made pond in eastern Ontario.  These behemoths are more frequently heard than seen by their distinctive “yelp” and splash in response to being approached.  If you are lucky enough to get as good a look as barefootheart did, you might be able to distinguish male from female by looking at its eyes, ears, and throat.

Class REPTILIA (Reptiles)
-Order TESTUDINES (Turtles)

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina).  We have three contributions dealing with these grizzled, ancient, grotesquely beautiful reptiles.  The first one comes from Michelle at Rambling Woods, who shows us how it is possible to tame your pet common snapper (but only to a certain degree).  If her story isn’t enough, she also presents a short video clip on the common snapping turtle (Baby snapping turtleREMEMBER – don’t ever try to catch or hold a snapping turtle with your bare hands!).  In another post, HoH‘s own Amber talks about her attempts to rescue a snapping turtle at Birder’s Lounge.  Fortunately for Amber, the little guy was just a tot – not nearly big enough to prune a digit and thwart Amber’s display of compassion.  It’s amazing how a creature so dinosaurian at maturity can still be so cute as a youngster.  In the third contribution about these fascinating creatures, Marge at Space Coast Beach Buzz talks about her snap (get it?) decision to adopt one of these animals, only to change her mind after discovering its true identity (and before losing any fingers).

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas).  David at Living Alongside Wildlife notes that while green iguanas falling from trees were a popular news report from the unusual cold snap experienced in the southeatern U.S. last month, they were not the only reptiles so adversely affected.  Sea turtles, populations of which have already been compromised by loss of nesting sites, fishing practices, and trash pollution, also found the coastal waters too cold for normal function.  While natural hardships may be nature’s way, he argues (quite effectively) that it is our responsibility to help mitigate their effects considering the perilous position in which we’ve placed these majestic animals to begin with.

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina).  Two contributors submitted posts about these lovable oafs.  At A DC Birding Blog, John posted a photo of a box turtle seen at Brigantine Beach.  He wonders if their always disgruntled look is a result of him disturbing from their activities.  These turtles are easily identified by their bright markings – usually dark brown or olive-colored with bright orange or yellow patterns, dome-shaped carapace, and hinged plastron (bottom part).  Individual turtles have unique designs on their shells, making them identifiable in the field.  Turtles can get worms, believe it or not, and Celeste at Celestial Ramblings adds them to the growing list of animals that she has had to de-worm (including herself, ick!).  Step-by-step instructions and explicit photos combine to show that this is not an easy job, requiring no less than three people – “just another day at the office.”  Hmm – cats look easier!

Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin).  The diamondback terrapin is the only species of turtle in North America that spends its life in brackish water (salty but less so than sea water).  At Kind of Curious, John describes efforts by The Wetlands Institute to prevent vehicle mortality caused by terrapins crossing roads in their attempt to reach higher ground for laying eggs.

–Suborder LACERTILIA (Lizards)

Common collared lizardCommon Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris).  From Jill at Count Your Chicken!  We’re Taking Over! comes this delightful encounter with one of North America’s most charismatic lizards.  I’ve had my own experiences with these guys, but I’ve never gotten one to crawl on my hat or – even better – gotten one to pose with me for a photograph!

Prairie Lizard (Sceloporus consobrinus).  Near my backyard, Marvin at Nature in the Ozarks presents a nice compendium of this species complimented with beautiful photographs.  Marvin not only discusses identification, distribution, life cycle, habitat, and food, but also comments on the recent DNA molecular analyses that have resulted in a reclassification of the former polytopic “fence lizard” and split up the many subspecies into full-fledged species – a man after my taxonomic heart!

“Culebrilla ciega” (Iberian Worm Lizard) (Blanus cinereus).  Javier at macroinstantes writes an artful blog focusing on natural history of the Iberian Peninsula (it is written in Spanish, but Google can easily translate to English for those who need it).  In this post, he presents extraordinary photographs of this subterranean reptile that is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula.  Traditionally classified in the family Amphisbaenidae, it is now considered to belong to its own family the Blanidae.

“Lagartija de Valverde” (The Spanish Algyroides) (Algyroides marchi).  Javier (macroinstantes) also writes about this small lizard that was only discovered in 1958.  With a global range limited to a few mountain streams in a mountainous area of southern Spain covering less than 2,000 km², it is clasified as endangered on the IUCN Red List.  Like so many of the world’s reptiles, its severely fragmented population is suffering declines due to continuing habitat degradation.

–Suborder SERPENTES (Snakes)

Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis).  On the Colorado front range, Sally at Foothills Fancies had three encounters with this aggressive species on her property.  Fortunately, Sally has a “nonagression treaty” with rattlesnakes and allows them to go about their business as much as possible.  Those that get too close for comfort are humanely relocated rather than simply dispatched.  Sadly, many of Sally’s neighbors are not quite so understanding.

Texas Indigo Snake (Drymarchon corais erebennus).  These snakes do not have any such nonaggression treaty, and David at Living Alongside Wildlife contributes another piece illustrating the rattlenake-eating capabilities for which Indigo snakes are famous.  The photographs in the post show a large individual consuming a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. David explains how these snakes are often identified as blacksnakes and reveals the characters visible on predator and prey that allow their correct identification.

Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta).  Right here in my home state, Shelly at Natural Missouri characterizes black rat snakes as one of the most commonly encountered snakes in Missouri.  Large snakes reaching up to 6 feet in length, they often end up in basements and cellars in the fall in search of a place to spend the winter – just in time for Halloween!  These snakes are often needlessly killed because of their resemblance to the venomous cottonmouth or water moccasin that they superficially resemble.  However, Shelly has the same nonaggression treaty with these snakes that Sally has with rattlesnakes (although her husband is not quite so sympathetic). 

-Order CROCODILIA (Crocodilians)

American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis).  David at Living Alongside Wildlife also contributed two pieces on North America’s largest reptile.  In his post Gatorzilla, he examines commonly e-mailed pictures and text about so-called “giant” alligators, debunking myths about 25 foot long monsters, clarifying the identity of misidentified Nile crocodiles, and exposing cases of camera trickery.  In his post Mommy Dearest, he recounts his nervewracking experience when he stumbled upon an alligator nest while knee deep in a south Georgia swamp at night.  Worse, the babies had hatched!  Read the post to see if David got out of there with both of his legs.


Sometimes simply the act of looking for herps is as enjoyable as the herps that are found.  However, it has been a tough January for Bernard at Philly Herping.  A particularly cold snap in the first half of what is already the coldest month of the year made herping at his favorite cemetary a lesson in futility.   I hope you notice the irony – cemetary?, no sign of life?, cold-bloodedness (okay, okay – ectothermic)?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this issue of House of Herps.  The February issue moves over to xenogere, where Jason’s considerable carnival hosting talents are sure to be on full display.  Submit your slimy, scaley, cold-blooded contributions by Febrary 15, and look for the issue to appear by February 18.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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