April 10th, 2010


Random and such

I'm up unnecessarily early this morning. I'm feeling some anxiety about today's Urban Nature Walk, mostly of the "what if too many people show up?" variety. Not that I'm all that, it's just that it gets hard to lead a walk when there are too many participants, and people can't hear everything, and I end up saying the same stuff over and over again. I imagined ImprovEverywhere doing a prank called "best nature walk ever" and arranging to have 200 people show up for my walk. Dream on! It'll be fine--probably 8 or ten people as usual.

Hey I've got links to share!

My friends Mike and Andrea have kicked off their herp-walk season and posted about it here. On facebook you can't use the word "herp" without eliciting tons of hilarious jokes about how that sounds like "herpes" which is something we reptile and amphibian enthusiasts have never heard before.

All of us nature walkers would love to discover new animal species. It's wonderful that there still ARE new species to discover, and that sometimes they are tiny things that don't need oxygen and sometimes they are giant lizards. The lizard article begins thus: "It has a double penis, is as long as a tall human, and lives in a heavily populated area of the Philippines." Once you are writing for NatGeo you can stop trying to get people to read your article by putting the word penis in bold print in the first sentence. Many lizard species have paired hemipenes, are you jealous or something?

In Japan, farmers welcome thunderstorms because there is a belief that lightning encourages the growth of (edible) mushrooms. Those wacky Japanese farmers! It turns out they're right.

Meanwhile, I found an interesting beetle indoors at work, took a decent picture of it, and am planning to use it in my 50 more urban species project. Unfortunately, I am fairly confident to genus level, but not species. I posted it to bugguide, and an entomologist replied with a curt identification. I happen to disagree with him, so I'll wait a minute to see if there are any dissenters before I go out on a limb with my guess.

My Irish

My dad writes long letters and sends them to multiple people. For all intents and purposes he's blogging via the US mail. So I'm reposting. In his most recent letter he wrote on St. Patrick's day, the story of learning of our Irish ancestor:

Decades ago [my Irish friend] challenged me to find my Irish Roots and I discovered one that improved my teaching of the Colonial era. Back in the mid-1650's, when Oliver Cromwell had overthrown the monarchy and put the puritans in charge of England, many New Englanders returned home. The loss of these families prompted some Cromwellians to send a kidnap ship along the coastline of Ireland to break in to homes and gather sturdy youths to be involuntarily indentured in the Colonies. My genealogical research in Ipswich stops at Philip Welch who sued at age 18 to be released from his indentured servitude. It was denied because he had been sold to age 21. That is a tragic story and a classic genealogical "dead end" because he'd have known no English when kidnapped and would have lost his Gaelic here. His name would have been altered and he lives a life that is un-illuminated by any spectacular success. Still on most St. Patrick's Days I ponder the inequities of life and marvel at the Irish who soldier on smiling and drinking despite a history of more burdens than most cultures.

50 more urban species #8: Black Vine Weevil.

Black vine weevil, Otiorhynchus sulcatus

The above insect is pictured indoors, not its typical habitat. It was found in a laundry room near a pile of dirty clothes which had been worn for several hours of outdoor work. Like many insects, this one came inside by accident.

I know because the group of beetles this one belongs to is exclusively plant-eating. Weevils are beetles with several distinct features, including a head with a narrow snout-like end, and outer wings which are completely fused. This last feature is probably fortunate, as weevils can be serious agricultural pests, and if they could fly they could spread their damage much more quickly. It's bad enough that this particular genus of weevil is parthenogenetic--their eggs do not need to be fertilized by a male to hatch. In fact, when these Eurasian beetles occur in North America, only females are found.

There are a number of similar looking species, but upon discussion with entomologist friends (thanks badnoodles and nutmeg !) I have decided this is most likely the black vine weevil. As befits a successful urban species, it feeds on a wide variety of plants, as both a larva and an adult, including many familiar ornamentals and weeds. A shortened list of host species includes asters, raspberries, yew, hemlockeuonymus, lilac, bindweeds and morning glories (the only vines I could find on the list), ragweed lilies, and cocklebur.
Get Your War On

Musical interlude

I forgot to mention the other day, when I posted that great version of that terrible song, that I got it from my friend David Rees, who does a thing called "Friday Face-Offs." (You may remember Mr. Rees from such comics as "Get your War On" and "Adventures of Confessions of St. Augustine Bear.") He picks a song and then does a countdown of different versions of it from youtube. Number one is usually very very hard to listen to, but the runners up are often sublime or at least amusing.

Did someone say "great version of a terrible song?"