Category Archives: Science

Can You Find The Crab?

Can you find the tiny crab, whose coloring matches the large grains of sand of this beach on the north shores of Kauai?

Can you find the tiny crab, whose coloring matches the large grains of sand of this beach on the north shores of Kauai?

I saw this tiny crab, about the size of a grape, skittering across the loose sand of a beach on the north shore of the island of Kauai in Hawaii. When the crab stopped, the crab was hard to spot.  I don’t know what kind of crab it is.  Possibly a ghost or a sand crab.  Does anyone know?

Here's a closer look at the tiny crab that I saw skittering across the loose sand of a beach on the north side of Kauai. When the crab stopped moving, I could barely see it.

Here’s a closer look at the tiny crab that I saw skittering across the loose sand of a beach on the north side of Kauai. When the crab stopped moving, I could barely see it.

About Ghost Crabs in Hawaii.

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Filed under Animals, Photography, Science

Glacial Speed

Margerie Glacier, Alaska Postcard postcard

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

We experienced a very hot summer in the Kansas City area with temperatures in the upper 90s and even into the 100s. Now, that it’s September, we’re finally getting some nice weather.  I was lucky enough to escape the heat for a week in July when I visited Alaska, where the locals jokingly complained about a heat wave in the 70s.

To cool myself upon my return to sweltering temperatures, I enjoyed some of my photographs of Alaskan glaciers.  Margerie Glacier (in photo above) is one of several glaciers remaining in what was once a single vast ice sheet covering the Glacier Bay area of Alaska. We often hear of the rapid retreat of glaciers, particularly in the past few decades. I haven’t thought of the rapid advance of glaciers being part of relatively recent history, but Glacier Bay, which is at the top of the Alaskan panhandle, is only about 250 years old. It was carved in the early to mid 1700s when a relatively dormant glacier began to move rapidly. Its movement was described as being “as fast as a dog could run,” according to the National Park Service rangers stationed in Glacier Bay National Park. Glacier Bay is the result of the climate in the Little Ice Age, which reached its maximum extent in 1750.

Click on this map of Glacier Bay National Park to see a larger view.

I’d always thought that glaciers moved slowly and steadily slow. The glacier scours the earth as the massive ice field moves forward inch by inch and then slowly retreats, leaving debris in its wake and in mountainous coastal areas a glacier carves a deep bay or a fjord, such as Glacier Bay.   I won’t be using the cliche “glacial speed” any more now that I know how quickly glaciers can Advance.

Margerie Glacier is stable. Johns Hopkins Glacier is actually advancing. Both are remnants of a much larger glacier.

The Tlingit people who lived in Glacier Bay before it was a bay had to leave the valley as that glacier quickly advanced. According to the National Park Service, the Tlingit’s landscape “is very different from today’s marine bay — it was a grassy valley coursing with salmon-rich streams and scattered forests. Looming in the distance, a great glacier sits dormant, pausing before the cataclysmic advance that will force these people from their homes around 1750.”

This section of a U.S. National Park Service brochure, shows the advance and retreat of the glacier that carved Glacier Bay in Alaska. Click on the photograph to get a larger view.

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Filed under Environment, Life, Science, Travel

Rizzie and Polly Paddlefoot — the Polydactyl Cats

 

Rizzie is a polydactyl cat, available for adoption at Wayside Waifs, a Kansas City no-kill animal shelter. She has an extra toe on each of her front paws, giving them a mitten appearance. Her extra toes are not very noticeable unless you look closely. Sailors favored cats with extra toes because they were thought to be more nimble, better able to climb and excellent hunters of rats on the ship.

The first time I ever saw six-toed cats was on a visit to the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida. More than fifty cats roam the Hemingway estate, about half of them with six toes on each front paw, all descendants from Hemingway’s first six-toed cat. Cats normally have five toes on each front paw and four on each back paw. There are many variations of polydactylism in cats, which you can read about in the link below. The record is 28 total toes! Normal is eighteen.

Rizzie's front paw shows the mitten shape of a polydactyl cat -- a cat with an extra toe.

A ship’s captain gave a six-toed cat to Hemingway, who became one of the more famous lovers of polydactyl cats. After Hemingway died in 1961, his former home in Key West became a museum and a home for his cats. Because of his love for these animals, “Hemingway cat”, or simply “Hemingway”, is a slang term used to describe polydactyls. There are also official breeds of polydactyl cats, including the American Polydactyl Cat and the Maine Coon Polydactyl.  Polydactyl cats are very common in the Cardigan area of Wales, where they are known as “Cardi-Cats.”

According to Wikipedia, polydactylism  seems to be most commonly found in cats along the East Coast of the United States and in South West England.  The most common variety of the trait spread widely as a result of cats carried on ships originating in Boston.  (The polydactyl cats must have gotten a weekend pass and fraternized with the local cats…)  Sailors valued polydactyl cats for their superior climbing skills and for their extraordinary abilities to hunt shipboard rats.  Some sailors also considered them to be extremely good luck when at sea.

Anne Boleyn was reputed to have a sixth finger, but detractors may have created that rumor, because polydactylism was supposed to be a trait of witches. But the only thing witch-like about polydactyl cats is that they will bewitch you!

About Polydactyl Cats.

Hemingway House cats.

Wayside Waifs.

Click here to go to Live Cam of Hemingway cats.

Polly Paddlefoot has an extra toe on each of her front paws, which are not very noticeable unless she stands. A lucky family took Polly Paddlefoot to a new home. Polydactyl cats bring good luck!

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Filed under Cats, History, Kansas City, Life, Nature, Pets, Photography, Science

The Prairie Center

 

Botantist and Environmentalist Frank Norman displays a sumac shrub on a recent nature walk at The Prairie Center in Olathe, Kansas. Smooth Sumac is a native shrub that is widespread across the country.

 

October is a favorite time of year in the Midwest.  It’s not too hot, there’s a crisp feel to the air, and a tangy fragrance wafts in the wind.   This smoke-tinged perfume could be just the dying breath of trees as they shed their leaves and hunker down for winter, but it brings back sweet memories of apple harvests, and trick-or-treating and shuffling in the leaves on the walk home from elementary school.  (On the way to school, I trudged rather than shuffled through the leaves.)

I’ve lived in the Kansas City area for most of my life, but I’m still discovering its treasures.  One is the Prairie Center in Olathe, Kansas. On Oct. 10, some friends, family members and I joined two dozen others on a stroll through part of the center’s 300 acres.  Frank Norman of Norman Ecological Consulting led the walk, which focused on native medicinal prairie plants.  Sue Holcomb of Grasslands Heritage Foundation also pointed out many of the native plants in the prairie preserve, which includes 45 acres of virgin prairie. Virgin prairie means that the land was never plowed, which is very rare to find.  Only five percent of the original tallgrass prairie remains today in the United States.

 

 

The Downy Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta) is a beautiful, rare find. It's small, but because of its brilliant blue color, it's easy to spot if you're lucky enough to find some.

 

 

The partridge pea (Cassia chamecrista) is a bright spot among the browning fall grasses at the Olathe Prairie Center.

 

 

In Autumn, sunflowers tower above the asters and other plants at the Prairie Center in Olathe.

 

 

Milkweed pods and willow-leaf purple aster at the Prairie Center in Olathe.

 

Here’s a post I wrote in the summer of 2008 about the Kansas City Symphony’s performance in the Flint Hills: Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills.

To learn more, click on these links.

Olathe Prairie Center

Grassland Heritage Foundation.

Dennis Toll has stopped blogging here, but the blog still contains a lot of information about the prairie, as well as useful links.

Flint Hills, Tall Grass

Sumac.

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Filed under Biology, Conservation, Education, Environment, History, Kansas, Kansas City, Life, Nature, Photography, Science

Take a Ride With Me on a San Francisco Streetcar — 1906!

This amazing movie of a San Francisco streetcar traveling down Market Street was filmed four days before the massive April 18, 1906 earthquake, then shipped by train to New York for processing. It’s a trip back in time to the chaotic streets of early-day San Francisco, where horse-drawn wagons shared the road with streetcars, men on horseback and pedestrians. A sightseeing streetcar passes through the scene. Newsboys cruise the streets, some seeming to pose briefly for the camera. Other boys grab onto the back of a car and run along. The crowd is mostly male, everyone wears a hat and most are well-dressed.

The area shown in the film was destroyed by the big earthquake and fire that followed. In the film, the clock tower at the end of the street at the Embarcadero Wharf still stands. The film originally was thought to have been made in 1905.  David Kiehn with the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum figured out exactly when the film was shot. Clues he used were the New York trade papers, wet streets from recent heavy rainfall, shadows indicating time of year, the weather and conditions on historical record. He even determined when the cars were registered and who owned them.

San Francisco is the favorite city of my mother-in-law and daughter. My husband went to kindergarten on the Presidio within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, but he doesn’t have the same romantic attachment to the city as other family members do.  He did alert me to this video, though! He prefers the wilds of Yellowstone National Park, which is also earthquake-prone.

Watch the video in full screen, if you can. 
U.S. Geological Survey’s discussion of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Movie of San Francisco not long after 1906 earthquake.
Wikipedia — 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
The original version of “Trip Down Market Street” from Archive.org.

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Filed under Automobiles, Communication, Entertainment, History, Life, Movies, Nature, Photography, Science, Technology, Travel

Oneness Day

My friend Sandy’s daughter Hannah is the spokeperson here in both videos.  I’m a day late and a dollar short, as my dad would say, since all but one of the deadlines have passed, but oneness is a beautiful concept! And Hannah is a beautiful spokesperson.

Here’s what Albert Einstein had to say about the universe:  “The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. ”   This quote probably doesn’t have much to do with Oneness Day, but I like the quote.

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Filed under Friendship, Psychology, Relationships

Geek, Nerd, Dork or Dweeb? Take the Poll

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Filed under Entertainment, Humor, Life, Psychology

One Woman’s Garbage…

Eating a banana peel

I toss banana peels in my flower beds because the peels are good for the soil. I rake mulch over them when the weather is better. Here an opossum quickly gobbles up a peel within minutes after I tossed it. The flowers won't get the potassium. I'm fine with that. It will be recycled through the opossum.

 

“Waste not, want not” is my motto. It’s almost a sickness, so I have to make an effort not to be one of those hoarders who pile up junk.  I try to find a good home for everything, rather than hang onto it, but you might not think so if you saw my closet. 

I even hate to throw away garbage.  We have a compost pile in a natural area of our yard.  Sometimes I toss banana peels into the shrub beds when it’s too cold to walk to the compost pile, which I admit is most of the time in the winter. The peels shrivel and then I eventually rake them into the mulch.  I tossed four banana peels and a few pear cores into a shrub bed Thursday afternoon.  Soon a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) ambled across the lawn.  I ran for my camera and fumbled to change lenses.  I wanted to send photos of North America’s only marsupial to our friends in Australia, whose interest in our local wildlife when they visited us made me appreciate squirrels more than I had.  (Cockatoos are the Aussie equivalent of a ubiquitous neighborhood mildly pest-like animal.) 

Opossum eating banana peels in my yard.

 

There are about 334 species of marsupials.  More than 200 of these species are native to Australia and nearby islands to the north. There are also species in South America.  The Virginia Opossum, pictured here,  is the only marsupial native to North America. 

The best known marsupials are the kangaroos, koalas and wombats of Australia. 

 

I was sure the opossum would be gone by the time I could screw in my telephoto lens, but I found him in the shrub bed gulping the peels.   

We live near woods, so there are always wild animals visiting. I probably shouldn’t attract them, but I am living in their territory.  I never dreamed any animal would find a banana peel appealing… It’s been a colder than normal winter with more snow covering food sources, so any plant-based food I toss into the compost heap will be gobbled up. (Don’t put animal products into the compost heap.) 

Links about the opossum below. 

From National Geographic:  There are more than 60 different species of opossum, which are often called possums. The most notable is the Virginia opossum or common opossum—the only marsupial (pouched mammal) found in the United States and Canada. 

A female opossum gives birth to helpless young as tiny as honeybees. Babies immediately crawl into the mother’s pouch, where they continue to develop. As they get larger, they will go in and out of the pouch and sometimes ride on the mother’s back as she hunts for food. Opossums may give birth to as many as 20 babies in a litter, but fewer than half of them survive. Some never even make it as far as the pouch. 

Opossums are scavengers, and they often visit human homes or settlements to raid garbage cans, dumpsters, and other containers. They are attracted to carrion and can often be spotted near roadkill. Opossums also eat grass, nuts, and fruit. They will hunt mice, birds, insects, worms, snakes, and even chickens. 

Opossum eating banana peel.

These animals are most famous for “playing possum.” When threatened by dogs, foxes, or bobcats, opossums sometimes flop onto their sides and lie on the ground with their eyes closed or staring fixedly into space. They extend their tongues and generally appear to be dead. This ploy may put a predator off its guard and allow the opossum an opportunity to make its escape.

 

Opossums are excellent tree climbers and spend much of their time aloft. They are aided in this by sharp claws, which dig into bark, and by a long prehensile (gripping) tail that can be used as an extra limb. Opossums nest in tree holes or in dens made by other animals. 

Learn about the Virginia Opossum on Wikipedia. 

The National Opossum Society. 

Learn about the Virginia Opossum on National Geographic. 

Banana peels make a fine meal.

 

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Filed under Animals, Australia, Biology, Environment, Humor, Life, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Science

I Forecast a Dismal Year for Forecasters

Wouldn’t it be great if journalists in the United States would grill our politicians and bureacrats like this!   This interview reminded me of a Monty Python skit on steroids.  Despite the pathetic John Hirst in this video, Great Britain has contributed mightily to the world of meterology and travel. 

English clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776) invented the marine chronometer, a long-sought and critically-needed key piece in solving the problem of accurately establishing the East-West position, or longitude, of a ship at sea, thus revolutionizing and making long distance sea travel more safe, according to Wikipedia.  Read the fascinating book about this by Dava Sobel, link below. 

Vice-Admiral Robert Fitzroy of the Royal Navy(1805 – 1865) the captain of  the HMS Beagle during Charles Darwin’s famous voyage, was a pioneering meteorologist who made accurate weather forecasting a reality, according to Wikipedia.  Wikipedia isn’t always reliable, but I think we’re safe here.

Dava Sobel’s website.

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time (Paperback)

I found the viedo above, thanks to a commenter on the meteorology blog “Watts Up With That?” which you can find in my blogroll.

Also, a site I recently discovered about journalism is “Big Journalism.”  I’ve added it to my blogroll. Check it out.

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Filed under History, Humor, Politics, Science, Travel

Scientists Discover Origin of a Cancer in Tasmanian Devils

This Tasmanian Devil looks menacing, but he's just yawning. Devils can get peevish, though, particularly at meal time when they have to share. Devils have the strongest jaws per size of any mammal and can completely devour their meals, bones, fur and all. They are stellar members of the clean plate club!

Above is a photograph I took of a Tasmanian Devil in January 2009 at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park in Tasmania.  Links to my previous posts on the Tassie Devil are at the bottom.  (I’m just wild about the devils!)

The Tasmanian devil, a fox-sized marsupial, was listed in Australia as an endangered species in May 2009 because of a contagious cancer that has wiped out more than half of the wild population.  New research shows  that the cancers are caused by infectious tumors, rather than viruses as previously thought.  One scientist described the tumors, which are passed from devil to devil through bites, as a parasite.  The new finding will help scientists to devise vaccines that could save the Tasmanian devils and also shed light on the nature of infectious cancers in humans.

Two young Tasmanian devils.

Devils do not exist in the wild outside Tasmania, although zoos and wildlife parks on mainland Australia as well as on Tasmania are breeding captive populations as a strategy against total extinction.  The Tasmanian Devil is the largest carnivorous marsupial now that the Tasmanian Tiger is extinct.

For details on this study, here is a New York Times Article: Scientists Discover Origin of a Cancer in Tasmanian Devils

My previous posts about and photographs of the Tasmanian Devil:

I’m a Friend of the Tasmanian Devil.

More Deviltry.

 

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Filed under Animals, Australia, Health, Life, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Science, Travel