Posts Tagged ‘symbionts’

Flipping Out

4 September 2007

Let’s be honest. For me, every day is “Rockflipping Day.” But, despite being the last, blistering day of my vacation, I found a few moments on September 2nd to turn a few stones in honor of International Rock Flipping Day.

My discoveries were rather pedestrian, no salamanders, no snakes, no scorpions, not even a pseudoscorpion. But, I got a few nice shots nevertheless.

First, a bit about the rocks themselves. At left is rock #1, which observant readers will note has a bit of an anthropogenic look to it. The “anthro” in question is my mother, who has taken up stepping stone manufacture lately. This one consists of four scallop shells, one chunk of chert and sixteen amber glass beads (well, fifteen as one has apparently popped out) set in a round slab of concrete.

At right, rock #2, as extraordinarily observant readers may have noticed is a continuation of the seashell theme, though in this case one with a considerably
more established pedigree. It is a roughly grapefruit-sized fossil oyster, probably Ostrea titan one of the ubiquitous (and consequently very dull) fossils of my childhood.

We’ll do #2 first.

Okay, so this one’s a blatant cheat. Not only is this Pacific Treefrog (Pseudacris regilla) atop the fossil oyster, but I took this photo on Aug. 28th, several days before rock flipping day. But that is the rock I flipped on the 2nd, and there were frogs on and around it then too, so I couldn’t resist.

Many other IRF day participants turned up amphibians (check out the flickr pool). Most amphibians began their life as aquatic larva and, because most need to keep their skins moist in order to survive, the damp undersides of rocks are appealing refugia especially in the heat of a summer day.

Here are some other folks with aquatic roots. At center is a slug, perhaps the Gray Garden Slug (Deroceras reticulatum). He/she (I’m not hedging here slugs are hermaphrodites) belongs to that predominately marine group of delectable gooey animals the molluscs, same as the giant oyster he/she’s hiding under.

Slugs and oysters have followed roughly diametric paths. Oysters bulked up on armor and hunkered down in the ocean perhaps none more so than the massive Ostrea titan. Slugs on the other hand, in a previous incarnation as land snails, set out for shore, grew a lung (the opening to which, known as a pneumostome, is clearly visible in this shot), and reduced the size of their shell until it disappeared altogether. This left them vulnerable to predation and dessication, hence the hiding under the rock in the middle of the day bit.

The isopods off to the right (or if you’d rather, rollie-pollies, sowbugs, pillbugs, woodlice etc.) belong to a predominately marine group, the crustaceans. In fact, they still have gills! This makes them one of the most reliable denizens of moist microclimates, logs, underneath rocks, leaf-litter etc. Hence their place of honor on the IRF logo at top. I’ve written more about terrestrial isopods and the bizarre color-changing infection they get in A Passing Glance.

Myriapods, millipedes and centipedes, are today restricted to land although they had some marine relatives in Paleozoic. They are among the oldest groups of land animals and perhaps the first to work out how to extract oxygen from air directly.

Nevertheless, perhaps in an effort to avoid predators, they still tend to favor secluded environments especially under rocks and leaf litter. This millipede seemed none-to happy to see me and scuttled off before I could snap a decent picture. Others, like the house centipede, actually venture into buildings and cause great distress. Perhaps just to ge back at the rock-flippers.

Distant, uniramian cousins of the myriapods, insects are another decidedly terrestrial group. They’ve been even more bold and successful in their conquest of the land. Even many of the aquatic insects still breathe air, either rising to the surface, trapping bubbles, or growing a snorkel off their back side. This black weevil, probably Otiorhynchus something, might be hiding from predators or it could be recently pupated, laying eggs, or just after my mom’s gardenias.

So Rock #2: three phyla and five classes, six if you count the oyster itself, though at 20 million years dead I’m not sure that you could. Next…

Pretty much the same story over at #1. Lots of isopods…


and an earwig pretending to be an isopod.

Best of all, was this Grass Spider (Agelenopsis sp.) who scores us one more class of soil invertebrate, an arachind. And everyone knows arachnids are the best. Next year I’m going to the foothills or lava beds or Arizona or somewhere with some guaranteed scorpions!

Lace Crab

22 August 2007

I may be loathed by AP science reporters but I’m a favorite with the Times. Or, rather, this photo of my Marrella splendens tattoo has been marked as a flickr favorite by Times science reporter Carl Zimmer. I’m honored!

I sent him the photo as an entry for his collection of science tattoos, you can read his post about the project at his blog, the Loom. Or, check out his Flickr gallery of science tats.

Funny things, fossil inkjobs. Tattoos have an aura of permanence, but compared to its subject mine is positively ephemeral. But now, it has achieved cyber-immortality. Well at least until the next mass extinction.

Here’s a creative commons photo of the real deal from wikipedia for comparison, a google image search will turn up many more as well as the Marianne Collins drawing that inspired my badge o’ stem arthropod honor.

Ugh, what did you have for lunch? Cow blood?

18 August 2007

Oh sure, we’ve ragged on Science Daily like all the cool kids do, but it remains an indispensable resource for staying on top of news-breaking science. And every once in while they deliver a priceless gem. To wit: “Bat Breath Reveals The Identity of a Vampires Last Victim.” Oh those stable istopists what will they drop into the mass spec next??

Turns out that vampire bats, like us statesers, have developed a taste for Bos taurus, aka “Bossie”, abundant, delectable wild game notwithstanding. The researchers sampled the carbon signature of vampire bat breath and found a signal that proved that the bats were getting their carbon from C4 grass, via cows, rather than native forage, via their natural prey of javelina and tapir who tend to feed more on C3 plants. I’m not sure if the researchers tested the alternate hypothesis that the bats were washing down their blood meal with a refreshing, C4 adulterated Sparks.

You hop on a plane to Central America and fall asleep waiting for a bus: turn to page 63.

You hop on a plane to New Jersey and can’t fall asleep waiting for a bus: turn to page 103.

Parasitoid Rex

14 August 2007


Piss-poor photo of a parasitoid wasp ovipositing in an aphid.

Continuing with the ‘unsavory’ insect behavior theme, Carl Zimmer has a fascinating new article in the Times about parasitoid wasps. The article discusses the strange life cycle of Copidosoma floridanum (not the species pictured above) a wasp that targets cabbage looper caterpillars. Parasitoids, for those unacquainted with the term, are essentially parasites that kill their host, the most familiar pop-culture example being the chest-busting xenomorphs of Alien fame.

As Zimmer notes in the companion blog post over at the Loom, parasitoid wasps eating their hosts alive famously inspired Charles Darwin to question the notion of an all-loving God as the architect of creation. Of course enlightened types, like Ann Coulter, know that God gave us the mission of raping the planet so of course He would have thrown in a little animal-on-animal violence for fun.

A great many wasps adopt a parasitoid lifestyle, from the tiny aphid hunter pictured at top to the giant Tarantula Hawks (Pepsis) who paralyze their victims and drag them back to their lair to serve as a living larder for their larva. While all of this might strike us, and Chuck D., as very distasteful it’s important to remember that this is how these creatures make their living.  They’re no more or less dignified than tigers in the jungle or gulls at the dump. Or science writers, for that matter, but lo that all were as gifted as Carl Zimmer.

tarantula hawk

%$!& Shadows… A Pepsis wasp hunts for spiders among the leaf litter.

Auspix Redux or, another new way of looking at a chicken.

3 August 2007

here, the first ever post from the archives, substantially retooled–

People sound stupid when they’re talking to animals, myself included:

Read the rest of this entry »


2 August 2007








N.B. – Bombus sp. + Eschscholzia californica
CA, summer of love, 2007.

‘Attack’ what?

2 August 2007

Tithonia BeeOh, never mind. This is Mellisodes something. What is it about bees anyway? perhaps it’s just the heat.