Somewhere Over the Rainbow

It is a terrible comparison, rainbows to snakes, but they both are silent in their appearance; and no matter how many times you see one above or below, it startles you when suddenly there they are right in front of you.

And snakes have their own beauty, mind you (some may opine otherwise),  the silent glory of an unexpected rainbow spreads benevolently overhead even as said reptiles portend no good at all there, slithering in the grass suddenly underfoot.

Quite frankly, I’d have only been able to tell you about this one this morning, were it not for my wife-mate photographer’s assistant.

She was walking toward the garden from the barn, just as I looked up from my watering can to see behind her the view you see in this image (and larger, here at Flickr.) It had shimmered behind her as she walked along the pasture trail back toward the house. And she would have missed it entirely.

I pointed high behind and above her. She turned around–and gasped.

“And for once, I don’t have my phone in my pocket” I sighed, resigned to gaze briefly up and out,  to remember the vision and get back to my important task of garden tending.

I shrugged off her encouragement to run get it, thinking that, as usual, the sun would have shifted another degree and the vision would be nothing more than a memory by the time the shutter snapped.

She ran to the house–pretty fast for legs lately unaccustomed to speed–and brought back the iPhone in time for me to take this panorama as the colors faded. A few drops fell on this very dry ground, a promise of rain that did not deliver.

In that regard, we are snake-bit, I suppose.

Nature Notes 10 March 2014

From the road, just a couple of creature features from the recent web archives.

Virus Back From the Grave — yet another plot line for a SF writer.

“Scientists at a laboratory in France have thawed out and revived an ancient virus found in the Siberian permafrost, making it infectious again for the first time in 30,000 years.

The giant virus known as Pithovirus sibericum was discovered about 100 feet deep in coastal tundra. The pathogen infects tiny amoebas — simple, one-celled organisms.

It isn’t dangerous to humans, but it’s reanimation raises questions about what else might be lurking under the ice…

which “suggests that the thawing of permafrost either from global warming or industrial exploitation of circumpolar regions might not be exempt from future threats to human or animal health,” the scientists write.

Earthworm: Destroyer of American Forests

So much for what you have always believed about earthworms being the good guys–or even being native to the state or continent where you live (if you’re in North America at least.)

Almost all our earthworm species are not native but were dumped as ballast from the earliest sailing ships along the eastern shores and then carried inland in rootstock and especially by fishermen.

So what’s to worry about a few earthworms?

They eat their way quickly through the “O horizon” forest duff (extremely rich in organic variety and the “seed bed” for countless varieties of fungus, invertebrate, plants and amphibians).

This significantly alters the ecology of the forests, and represents what is probably one of the earliest invasives to the continent with a very large and now-permanent impact on forest ecosystems. And they are doing quite well, thank you.

Meanwhile, another invasive–the European honeybee–may not persist in meaningful numbers sufficient to sustain the billions of dollars of economic service their pollination has provided to our fruit and vegetable species.

NOTE: The creature featured in the image is NOT an earthworm but a rarely-noticed but not uncommon vertebrate. Its chief food source is earthworms. It is called the “worm snake.”

Doin’ It When it Don’t Fit

Wire-waisted Wasps

Forgive me the incorrect grammar and the suggestive title. The phrase just seems to, well, mate with the mood of the moment.

You see I am cooking in somebody elses kitchen, going on a week. The MacPro is in the shop with multiple system failures (video and memory) and so I’ve resorted to using the laptop on the kitchen table, and nothing fits. But blog goes on.

Earliest autumn is a great time to find insects gathered on the goldenrod. This everywhere plant is an easy-to-locate pickup spot where a single blister beetle, locust borer or “wire-waisted wasp” as I call these lovelies can congregate and be sure to find a mate waiting there, nonchalantly sipping on a glass of nectar.

To mate means to match. If a locust borer male takes a shine to a wire wasp female: sorry, Charlie. The mismatching business parts will stop the kinkiness right there. This, along with behavioral incompatibilities, are some of those “mechanical pre-zygotic isolating mechanisms” that keeps one species bound to only his or her own kind.

Even with a built-in Tab A in Slot B matching of parts, take a look at this couple. What else has to line up so there will be wee wire-waisteds next year?

She is hard-wired to lift her threadlike “petiole”–which in this particular species (somebody give me a scientific name?) is particularly long and wire-like. Note the “stem” of her abdomen is lifted maybe 70 degrees, with the terminal abdomen flexed at more than 90.

Should she remain with her abdomen and female receptive parts in normal resting posture, there will be no baby wasps come April. He, on the other hand, has to know exactly how to hold on from above with his front legs only (maybe also with his mandibles?) splaying his back legs wide to give clearance for her contortions.

All the parts and behaviors and hormonal signals and cellular chemical compatibilities have to be perfectly fit or they are perfectly useless.

My situation is not quite so dire. I can make do, temporarily, when not much is where it should be when the moment of need arises. I hate to tell you how long it took me to get this image into a useful form and place.

I am more than ready for the computer to be home again, and return to the status quo ante: a place where my rear end fits the chair, my hands fit the keyboard, and all the apps and links and bells and whistles of computing and writing fit in Goldilocks fashion, just so, and I can just do it!

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O Sting–Where is Thy Death?

This reversal of a Biblical verse (for the throngs no long familiar with that volume) is the word play by Tim Flannery, author of this NYT long-read about jellyfish called They’re Taking Over. The piece consists largely of a review and summary of Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean  by Lisa-ann Gershwin, with a foreword by Sylvia Earle.

I recommend it to your for your Sunday perusal and consideration. And perhaps a new volume for your delightful bedtime reading?

If we could only feed the starving masses, fertilize our fields with them and power our SUV’s with jellyfish, wouldn’t it be a different world?

I apologize if, after reading this, you hereafter have persistent dreams of being smothered and calf-roped and electrified by stings of these seemingly immortal and unstoppable ancient bags of goo.

Who would have thought the very oceans could succumb to the appetites of one species at the top of the supposed intelligence scale, making way for a global monoculture of one at the very bottom?

What a strange irony, don’t you think?

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Egg-Suckin’ Snake in the Grass

Our hens are giving us NO eggs lately but I discovered one of them nestled in the weeds on a well-concealed nest behind the garden mid-day and was sure I’d find at least one egg there later in the evening. Nope.

So I stopped by the hidden nest the next morning after the hens had been out an hour or two, just to see if maybe I could snag a warm, fresh egg. And now I know what’s happening to our free-range eggs lately: the same well-fed king snake I met in the garden shed a few weeks back is experiencing a cholesterol spike.

He was coiled up in the nest like he owned the place. With my approach, he slowly began to slither off into the thick brush. I grabbed his tail just as it was about to disappear into the tall weeds. His invisible front half, meanwhile, coiled around the vegetation, giving him a good grip to counter my pull in the opposite direction. A GOOD grip.

So there I stood holding with what I’d guess was about 25# of resistance, the snake’s body as straight and taut as a hoe handle, neither one of us budging an inch. I tried to imagine what that stand-off would have looked like to a passing car. Finally, I outlasted him and he began to release his hold on his anchor.

I swung him out into the yard to see exactly who I was dealing with here, holding him briefly on my outstretched arm at shoulder height; he reached the ground easily from that level. His egg diet has made him a record specimen, the result of HENS…Herpetological EggCentric Nutritional State. (You’ll not find this in the ICD9 book). He is somewhat better than 60 inches in length, and one thick muscular fellow, by virtue of his high-protein body-builder’s diet.

During our tug of war, I made a point to hold him behind the vent. Even so, he managed to anoint me with snake stink, with which the dog later on was most impressed. And I’m thinking we have a candidate for the Goose Creek Snake Relocation Program. I don’t want to kill him, but I’d like him to find another way to put food on his table than the eggs that should go on mine.

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