Friday, March 23, 2012

Thorn Bugs in South Florida

Thorn bugs (Umbonia)

Photos taken at Estero Bay Preserve State Park two weeks

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ideology trumps science

Quotes from a state environmental protection agency: "Why would we include things we don't agree with? That's ridiculous," Saenz said. "We were looking at not including very controversial things that are unsettled science."


"It isn't censorship to accurately report in our document what we believe. That's being responsible. That's being accurate"

I'm thinking the citizens may want to have an independent contractor run some water quality tests - there's obviously something in the water in Texas...

Article from Reuters:
The leaders of the agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, are appointed by Republican Governor Rick Perry, who said in a recent presidential debate that the science of climate change was "unsettled."

At issue is "The State of the Bay 2010" report commissioned by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has come under scrutiny after Rice University Professor John Anderson said that an article regarding sea-level changes he contributed was censored for political reasons.

Democratic state Senators Rodney Ellis of Houston and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio wrote to Perry appointee Bryan Shaw, chairman of the commission.

In his letter, Ellis said he concluded from the deletions that "the facts simply proved inconvenient to the agency and other state leadership, and thus they were excised."

The commission said on Monday it would remove Anderson's article on sea-level rise in Galveston Bay from the report, ending a standoff with Anderson over the deleted information.
Commission spokesman Andy Saenz said Anderson prematurely revealed the draft report to the media without prior approval, and that the commission did not want to include controversial implications about global warming in the report.

"Why would we include things we don't agree with? That's ridiculous," Saenz said. "We were looking at not including very controversial things that are unsettled science."

Two co-editors of the project, Jim Lester and Lisa Gonzalez, scientists with the Houston Advanced Research Center, a nonprofit research facility contracted for the report, asked the agency to remove their names, fearing their own credibility.

Lester, the center's vice president, called the deletions "scientific censorship." He said Anderson's statements in the article were not political and were reviewed by lower-level staff at the agency before upper management made its own edits.

"As a scientist, my main concern is about the availability of objective science for decision-making in agencies," Lester said.

Saenz denied the claims of scientific censorship.
"Using a word like censorship is very powerful," he said. "It isn't censorship to accurately report in our document what we believe. That's being responsible. That's being accurate."

Saenz said the agency was preparing a response to the senators. The agency, which is embroiled in a lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency over greenhouse gas emissions, has been working on the report for more than two years, the agency said.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fuzzy pictures of fuzzy spiders

The southern house spider (Kukulcania hibernalis) is a sexually dimorphic species of crevice spider (Filistatidae). Both the female and male have fine, light-colored hairs on their abdomen and both have been documented as employing autotomy as a defensive tactic.

These were photographed on my car port earlier this week (same male in both pics, two different females):

The brown recluse looking specimen is the male; the female is larger and darker.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What kind of crap is this?

What kind of crap is this anyway?

I’ll give ya a couple hints:

The critter that left it behind lives in Florida, can weigh over 240 lbs, and it is a member of the order Carnivora…

It’s from a Florida Black Bear - Ursus americanus floridanus!

Usually their crap looks a little more like this:

But I guess you never know what you might find when you start digging through another’s crap…

King snake – It’s what’s for dinner!!!

Both of the above pictures were taken near Ft. Walton Beach, Florida a couple of months back.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Scary Videos Proving Science Literacy is an Uphill Battle

Despite President Obama’s emphasis on innovation and education during the State of the Union Address, science literacy in the United States is facing an uphill battle.

A recent survey of 926 high school biology teachers reported that 60% of them avoided teaching the topic of biological evolution in the classroom. Even more worrying, 13% of those surveyed indicated that they "explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light." The teachers participating in the survey weren’t employed at private religious institutions – they all worked at public schools!

President Obama may have spoken to the importance of education but, in the last two months alone republicans from several state governments have proposed new legislation in hopes of maiming their state’s current education standards. New Mexico’s House Bill 302, Oklahoma’s House Bill 1551 (document), Missouri’s House Bill 195, and Kentucky’s House Bill 169 all aim to grant teachers the ‘right’ to instruct students on ‘alternatives’ to evolution, and to teach the ‘scientific controversy’ behind climate change science.

Still not convinced of the seriousness of the science literacy situation? Consider the below video evidence:

Georgia Representative Jack Kingston proudly boasted on a recent episode of Bill Maher’s Real Time that he did not believe in evolution. In presenting his uninformed thesis, Kingston supported his position by claiming that there are “missing links” in the fossil record and that “[he] came from God, not from a monkey.

Hear Kingston's flawed reasoning:

In fairness, republicans aren’t the only politicians waging war on science. Kentucky’s democratic Governor Steven L. Beshear has publicly stated that he supports the idea of providing government subsidies to a company planning to build a religious theme park in his state. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the goal of the park is to “present accurate, factual biblical information to people about a subject that they’re really interested in.” Accurate and factual, really? The park is the brain child of Answers in Genesis Ministries - folks that teach children that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that humans use to ride saddled dinosaurs. How is government sponsorship of such nonsense not in complete opposition to the goals of education?

Have a look at Anderson Cooper's interviews of the parties involved:

Of course, science literacy isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for a fruitful life and successful career. For example, political commentator Bill O’Reilly is fairly well off - and he couldn’t pass a high school science class if his life depended on it! He has no understanding of biology, geology, or astronomy.

Check-out his defense of a previous statment about humans not knowing why ocean tides flow:

Monday, January 3, 2011

Two is a company...

Anyone who has ever shared a residence can attest to the fact that cohabitating with others can be an extremely stressful state of affairs. Disputes resulting from a lack of privacy, the unequal sharing of common resources, and poor communication become routine occurrences. Even worse is a cohabiting situation in which those sharing the living space develop a mutual love interest – how does that get resolved? Luckily, a recent study published in an animal behavior journal may offer a glimpse of hope for those truly desperate for resolution.

Weighing as much as fifteen pounds and often sporting wingspans greater than nine-feet, bearded vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) are truly massive birds. First described by the father of modern taxonomy ( Carl Linnaeus) in his Systema Naturae, bearded vultures can be found competing for habitat throughout the mountainous regions of Europe, Asia and Africa. Even though a pining for expansive views has lead these bulky buzzards to prefer out-of-the-way nesting sites in hight rocky crags, pressure from human encroachment has caused their numbers to decline in recent years. The huge birds are experiencing population growth in a few isolated locales in the Pyrenees Mountains, but, unfortunately, the increase in the Pyrenees groups has contributed to overcrowding and a lack of housing options for many of the birds.

Under normal circumstances, in un-congested habitats, a bachelor bearded vulture will stake claim to a territory and take-up with a female member of the species; however, with the current surge in population in the Pyrenees, there simply isn’t enough available precipitous homesteads for all of the free-roaming males to settle down and raise families of their own. Lacking options, the roving males have developed a new strategy: they have begun to invade the established territories of their rivals – their already attached rivals. The itinerant bachelor invades the home of another male and claims residence with him and his already courted female companion. As might be predicted, the addition of an interloping male into the love nest of an established male-female pair has proven to adversely affect the reproductive success of the mate-pair.

Typically, a bearded vulture male-female pair will breed between the months of December and February and produce one or two eggs annually; but, the addition of the second male in the territory decreases the frequency and duration of the pair’s copulations. This occurs for a couple of reasons; firstly, the two males constantly fight each other for access to the female. The time and energy the males expend in combating and deterring one another leaves both far too exhausted to apply any romantic effort towards the female. Exasperating this situation even further, when one male does find the rare opportunity to copulate with the female, the rival male will often physically interrupt the act – he’ll stop them mid-coitus!

In addition to the mood-ruining intrusion of a combative third party during attempted sexual congress, the female can even be put-off by the mere presence of a second male — she’ll terminate copulation if she even spots a voyeur.

Fortunately, there is hope for the Pyrenees populations. As with the cliché, “time heals all wounds,” it turns-out that over long periods of time, the polyandrous model can work for the bearded vulture. Apparently the key to success in the multi-male regime is a willingness of the beta bird to demonstrate submission to the alpha – male on male copulations appear to curtail the aggression of the frustrated vultures.

Journal Reference:
Bertran, J., Margalida, A., & Arroyo, B. (2009). Agonistic Behaviour and Sexual Conflict in Atypical Reproductive Groups: The Case of Bearded Vulture Polyandrous Trios
Ethology, 115 (5), 429-438 DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2009.01628.x

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Threatened Orchid

Stenorrhynchos lanceolatum, the leafless beaked orchid, is listed as a Threatened species in Florida. This hummingbird pollinated orchid is found throughout Florida, Puerto Rico, and Central America.

Snapshots taken this past summer near Bradenton, Florida.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Transgenic Veggies Go Wild

A newly published study from Penn State details what can happen when a genetically modified organism escapes from captivity and interbreeds with the wild members of its species.

Transgenic organisms are critters that have been genetically engineered to express characteristics unique to their species. By snipping, swapping and splicing DNA between different species, organisms can be designed to provide specific benefits to people. For example, bacteria can be engineered to synthesis human insulin for treating diabetes, tomatoes can be manipulated to have an improved shelf-life, and pigs can be designed to more efficiently digest phosphorus, thus easing both their own cost of feeding and the amount of phosphorus pollution discharged into the surrounding environment. But, despite the potential benefits to people, what trouble could ensue if a transgenic organism were to evade human controls and escape its confinement? Would the transgenic organism out-compete the wild type and push it to extinction?

Cucurbita pepo is a species of squash cultivated around the world as a popular food; common varieties of the species include the zucchini, yellow squash and gourd. In addition to being commonplace at dinner tables, Cucurbita also maintains fame as a widely utilized transgenic plant – a transgenic plant that has managed to pass its transplanted genes to wild populations.

Prior to their escape, the genes of the Cucurbita plant had been engineered to have resistance to a leaf-wilting virus transmitted by aphids. The reasoning behind the genetic transplant was simple, by reducing susceptibility to the aphid borne disease, the agricultural yield of squash could be increased and more humans could be fed; but, having escaped, would the disease-resistant plants replace their naturally more disease-susceptible counterparts?

Not necessarily.

According to a case study just published in the November issue of the International Journal of Plant Sciences, when mixed populations of transgenic and wild type squash were naturally exposed to the aphid borne disease, the transgenic members did indeed exhibit better health – at least at first. After initially showing better health, the condition and reproductive success of the transgenic squash later equalized and balanced to that of the non-transgenic type. The reason for the equalization was that the robust appearance of the transgenic plants attracted the attention of leaf-munching, and bacteria-transporting, beetles. The beetles’ preference for the healthy looking plants affectively buffered any benefit the plants received from their introduced viral resistance.

Sasu, M., Ferrari, M., & Stephenson, A. (2010). Interrelationships among a Virus-Resistance Transgene. International Journal of Plant Sciences, 171 (9), 1048-1058 DOI: 10.1086/656531

Monday, October 11, 2010

Field Photos: Eastern Coachwhip Snake

Masticophis flagellum flagellum - the eastern coachwhip
Photographed near Inglis, Florida two weeks back.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Human Sexual Selection and Beer!

I can almost here David Attenborough’s voiceover:

…The female, being responsible for a greater investment in the rearing of offspring, acts as chooser during courtship displays…

…The male of the species entices the female by inflating his chest and lifting his shoulders. The illusion of a larger size is even further accentuated by posturing and strutting…

…Having failed to impress the female the male abandons his territory; but, his departure leaves open an opportunity for rivals who are also competing for access…

…Intrasexual competition is also evident with the females… The subordinate attempts to manipulate the behavior of the dominant female through use of ethanol…

Check it out:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Field Photos: Fishing Spider in Nyssa Swamp

The fishing spider Dolomedes tenebrosus as found in a Nyssa swamp near Tallahassee, Florida.

Snapshots taken about a month ago.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Charles Darwin writes a letter to Stephen Hawking

World renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has just published a new book titled The Grand Design. According to Hawking, the aim of the book is to answer questions like, why are the laws of nature what they are, why do we exist and did the universe need a designer and creator? The Grand Design, which is scheduled to be released on September 7th, is drawing harsh criticism from the religious community because its conclusions specifically state that there is no need to invoke God as an explanation for existence.

Charles Darwin writes a letter to Stephen Hawking

Dr. Stephen Hawking,

I am sending this correspondence out of admiration of your recently published book, The Grand Design. Although I am not a physicist by trade, in my assessment I found the text of your explanations to be written with a clarity, thoroughness and prose rarely encountered in popular works of the sciences; undeniably the book was both informative and inspiring. However, dear sir, at the risk of confusing my professional appraisal of your theories with my own personal motivations, I must be completely honest as to the true reason for holding your publication in such regards, and indeed the real purpose behind this current letter.

Since publication of my abominable theory of natural selection in the Origin of Species, I have been bombarded with continuous assault, and insult, from the pious in our shared world community. My publications have been banned, burned, intentionally misconstrued and even cited as the works of the devil. Despite having paid little time or mind to harebrained allegations of being a pointy-tailed marauder, I must confess that I have found religion’s interference with science, and the pursuit of knowledge in general, to be the most disheartening of experiences. In short, dear sir, thank you for deflecting the gaze of the religious eye from me and my field of interest - the biological sciences.

Not since publication of the Origin of Species in 1859 have I been so at ease; and remember dear sir, I have been dead since April of 1882! Now finally, after all of this time, religious zealots of every ilk, sect and creed can take a break from their incessant efforts to ban the teaching of evolution. Now, thanks to you sir, these fools can focus on other issues they deem to be of importance - unfortunately the issues they deem important will likely include banning instruction in chemistry, physics and astronomy…

With the most sincere of gratitude,

Charles Darwin

PS: If I may be so bold as to offer a parting word of advice, you may wish to inquire into the availability of fire retardant book covers for your publication.