The Kids are Coming!

7 06 2009

In a couple of hours, I’ll be off to pick the kids up from their late-night flight into town. There’s a lot that I hope we’ll pack into this summer, and they are coming in just the nick of time. They’ve missed the great hot weather we had last week – into the 90’s.

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This moth hiding in the grass would have been fun to show the kids.

He was really calm in the cool of the evening when I took this shot on my finger.

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I finally got out of the house around 7 today to walk around. Many of the flowers have faded, like this rhodey:

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Others, like this lovely one covered in water droplets, have a few blooms left.

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Others are going full throttle

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Just like last year, in spring one of the plum trees was covered in blooms, while the other, knocked back by drought and deer, had only a handful. I picked those and tried a bit of my own pollen match-making – looks like it (or something) may have worked! Some of the plumlets are being shed, but a few are developing into hard green fruit.

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This one, in particular, looks promising. Probably it will make a nice mouthful for a deer…

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Every year, the leaves make a nice meal for various caterpillars. The ones that come later I can easily find – their protection, as far as I can tell, is to excrete all over themselves – they look evil and smell like rotten prunes. I think this early batch saves itself by dropping from the tree when I approach – I found a small caterpillar clinging to my arm last week when I visited the tree. When I tried to pick it off, it flung itself away on a strand of silk and then, after a moment, started climbing the strand again.

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On my walk in the damp and cool, I also came across these mushrooms growing on a dried out dead tree, just behind a strand of gooseberry and a small salmonberry bush. They look good enough to eat, although I’m not going to attempt it!

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Most importantly there are salmonberries.

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Although a few have been snatched by the birds, the salmonberries are just getting started!

The yellow-orange ones are always the first to arrive, later we’ll also have the beautiful red ones. The Indians called them salmonberries because they thought the drupes looked like salmon eggs. Wikipedia says that it’s said “the name came about because of the First Nations’ fondness for eating the berries with half-dried salmon roe,” but that ain’t the way I heared it.

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Drupes, by the way, are the small fruits that collect to make aggregate fruits like raspberries. Salmonberries are in the Rubus family, along with raspberries and blackberries.

This lovely one is not ripe at all! Plenty of time yet for the kids to get some!

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standard “emetic units”

6 02 2008

Finished today:

Moth Catcher, by Michael M. Collins

 

The kind of book that you should read if and only if the subtitle “An Evolutionist’s Journey Through Canyon and Pass” sounds like your kind of book — this book doesn’t rise above the expectations set by that title, nor does it fail in the end to meet them, either.

 

For the most part, it’s just the story of the “ordinary” life of a modern scientist — following and illuminating his passion for caterpillars and moths, describing the work of a lifetime in the span of a 150 pages, the bits and pieces of the real contributions Collins has made to science. Not earth-shattering or sky-splitting, but a valuable gleaning of facts contributing to a better understanding of speciation and hybridization.

 

eupackardia calleta

Pasted from <http://photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=5784219>

This is a Eupackardia calleta larva. “The gaudy color and pattern suggest warning coloration , as does the blood chemistry.”

 

He describes one experiment in the book that bears repeating (in fact, I’ve already repeated it to my son.) Nestling blue jays were raised

…as naïve predators, feeding them palatable viceroy butterflies, a supposed mimic of the poisonous monarch. The birds eagerly accepted the viceroys and learned to recognize them by their color and pattern When they were then offered monarch, the jays at first could not discriminate them from viceroys. Each time they attacked a monarch they quickly spat it out and retched in response to the cardiac glycosides these butterflies sequester from milkweed during the larval stage. (Revealing his wry humor, Brower [one of the scientists] quantified glycoside levels in standard “emetic units.”) Still reeling from the experiement, the wretched brids subsequently refused to feed on viceroy adults, presumably solely on the basis of their visual resemblance to monarchs. More than a century after Henry Walter Bates proposed the idea of micry, the Browers and their students linked together plant biochemistry and predatoation to explain the evolution of warning coloration in the monarch model and of convergent patterns on the wings of the viceroy mimic.

 

Such is the progress of science — proving or disproving, logic isn’t enough; although one feels a bit of sympathy for those poor jays.

 

Near the end of the book, the tone suddenly shifts from memoir to science article with a closely reasoned and intellectually stimulating description of the debate over the meaning of species — essentially, where you draw the line. It’s clear from reading this, by the way, that humans at this point in time are all one species, although he doesn’t address this question.

 

One question I would pose to him, though. He says “The longer two species evolve along separate lineages, the more genetic differences they accumulate and the less successful their hybrids will be.” But my understanding is that after a “short” separation, crosses are more successful leading to hybrid vigor. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_vigor )

 

Post-script — one interesting fact.

He usually collects his butterflies and moths in traps, baiting the traps with females raised from captured  caterpillars that he hopes will lure the males he is interested in. There goes my vision of chasing around fields with butterfly nets — although that does happen at one point, it’s not the norm. 🙂

 

This book was mentioned in an earlier post: Tracks of Tracks in the Snow