Category Archives: Biology

Iguana Take You Home

A land iguana reaches for some leaves to eat on North Seymour Island in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.  Land iguanas were introduced to North Seymour Island in the early 1930s from the nearby island of Baltra, where they were dying out. In 1954, land iguanas went extinct on Baltra due to habitat loss and predation from introduced species, but they have been successfully re-introduced.

A land iguana reaches for some leaves to eat on North Seymour Island in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. Land iguanas were introduced to North Seymour Island in the early 1930s from the nearby island of Baltra, where they were dying out. In 1954, land iguanas went extinct on Baltra due to habitat loss and predation from introduced species, but they have been successfully re-introduced.

The land iguana is a relatively new inhabitant on North Seymour Island in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. Until the early 1930s, no land iguanas lived on North Seymour, even though it’s the perfect habitat. Land iguanas had thrived on nearby Baltra Island, but they were dying out due to a number of factors, including predation by introduced species and loss of habitat from voracious goats, and in the early 20th century the construction of an air base hastened their demise.

The Hancock Expedition (see link below) moved land iguanas to North Seymour, which had a similar environment to Baltra. Nearly 2,500 land iguanas now live on North Seymour, according to a 2014 census by the Galapagos National Park (GNP). North Seymour Island hosts the largest nesting site in the Galapagos of the magnificent frigate bird.  Blue-footed boobies also nest there.  Sea Lions and marine iguanas make their home on this island.

Land Iguana, North Seymour Island, Galapagos

A land iguana seeks shade from the fierce midday sun on North Seymour Island in the Galapagos

In 1980, several iguanas from North Seymour were brought to the Iguana Center on Santa Cruz for breeding and in 1991, the first 35 young land iguanas were reintroduced to Baltra, where they now thrive as the habitat has been greatly improved.  We saw one of these Balta iguanas when our airport shuttle bus stopped to allow one to cross the road.

According to our guide, iguana eggs and young iguanas are removed from North Seymour and taken to Baltra, but the older iguanas will live out their lives on the island. Eventually all iguanas will be gone from North Seymour Island, he said. I haven’t found any information to confirm this, although it seems reasonable that conservationists would want the island returned to its original state as much as possible.

On islands in the Galapagos where tortoises and iguanas live, prickly pear cacti have evolved tall, tough trunks, making it harder for these animals to eat the pads and fruits.

On islands in the Galapagos where tortoises and iguanas live, prickly pear cacti have evolved tall, tough trunks, making it harder for these animals to eat the pads and fruits.

One of the foods that iguanas eat is the prickly pear cactus. On North Seymour, where there are no tortoises and only recently iguanas, the prickly pear cacti are low to the ground.   On other islands where tortoises and iguanas are native, the cactus trunks are tall and tough, an evolutionary change that makes it harder for iguanas and tortoises to eat the tasty pads and fruits.

The iguana population is being restored to Baltra Island in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Baltra is a small, flat island, which was used as an air base and is now the home of the main airport for the Galapagos.

The iguana population is being restored to Baltra Island in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Baltra is a small, flat island, which was used as an air base and is now the home of the main airport for the Galapagos.

Iguanas live in Simon Bolivar Park, Guayaquil, Ecuador, where they are fed every day by the park staff. Here, they enjoy some lettuce.

Iguanas live in Simon Bolivar Park, Guayaquil, Ecuador, where they are fed every day by the park staff. Here, they enjoy some lettuce.

http://www.galapagos.org/newsroom/land-iguanas-north-seymour/

http://www.galapagos.org/about_galapagos/baltra/

http://www.galapagos.org/about_galapagos/north-seymour/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Allan_Hancock

”The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”
– Charles Darwin

http://www.galapagos.org/blog/darwin-animal-doctors/

Trio in Iguana Park, Guayaquil, Ecuador Postcard

A trio of iguanas have taken a prime spot in Simon Bolivar Park in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Hundreds of iguanas live in the park, where they are fed and taken care of by park staff.

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Great Blue Heron at Watts Mill Waterfall

   A Great Blue Heron watches for fish at the base of a waterfall at the Watts Mill Historic Site in Kansas City, Missouri.

A Great Blue Heron watches for fish at the base of a waterfall at the Watts Mill Historic Site in Kansas City, Missouri.

I’ve driven by the Watts Mill Historic Site a thousand times. Although it’s somewhat hidden,  it’s across from where I bought groceries for many years and down the street from my stylist’s former salon. I’d picked up my husband many times at the nearby car dealer when he was getting his car serviced. Favorite restaurants were nearby. How could I have missed this idyllic spot? I even knew about it. I just didn’t realize how peaceful and lovely it would be, nestled as it is among shopping centers and car dealerships.

My friend Lynn and I were on a photography expedition, and she pulled into the parking lot to check out the falls for a photography opportunity. We’ve had a lot of rain, so the water was really flowing.

The park, at 103rd and State Line, was a campsite for people heading out on the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails. The area that is now a park was the site of gristmill, built in 1832, known as Watts Mill (first known as Fitzhugh’s Mill), and then Watts Mill. The park is situated on the banks of Indian Creek where the creek flows across flat rocks and tumbles over a waterfall. This location was dedicated June 10, 1974, as a historic site.

Also enjoying the creek were plenty of Canada geese and mallard ducks, as well as songbirds.

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is a large wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae, common near the shores of open water and in wetlands over most of North America and Central America as well as the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Birds, Environment, History, Kansas City

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Galapagos Islands Tourists

Tourists at a Tortoise Sanctuary in the Galapagos Islands.

A Galapagos Giant Tortoise retreats into his shell as tourists in another group gather in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands to learn more about this magnificent creature.

I visited the islands with my family in April 2015, and we toured the highlands was our first day.  It was truly thrilling to see these giant tortoises in their natural environment. I remember seeing one in a zoo when I was a child. Children even rode them (I think I even did), which is a bad idea, and of course no longer allowed. They aren’t afraid of humans, but do make a chuffing noise if you startle them.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands.  Here's a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos.   The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately.  There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands. Here’s a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos. The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately. There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The tourists in the pictured group are wisely wearing rubber boots. Our guide offered us boots, too, but I was happy wearing my comfortable “sporty” flip flops, relieved to let my feet breathe after a long trip.  Bad idea.  I successfully evaded puddles and tortoise poop, but I stepped right onto an ant hill teeming with fire ants, an invasive species in the Galapagos. This was within two hours of my arrival on the island of Santa Cruz. I got about six painful, itchy stings on my toes. I’m no stranger to fire ants, so I know enough to wear closed shoes in grassy areas in Texas, but I wasn’t prepared for the little devils in the Galapagos.

Galapagos is an old Spanish word for tortoise. The signs at this ranch warn visitors not to feed or touch the “galapagos.” The tortoises are now more commonly known as “tortuga” in Spanish. (At the bottom of this post is a link explaining how the islands were named.)  The Galapagos Island archipelago has been described as one of most scientifically important and biologically outstanding areas on earth, according to UNESCO in 2001.  My week there was amazing, wonderful and incredible, despite fire ants (and various other mishaps.)

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Poster

This Giant Galapagos Tortoise paused to give us a questioning look as he crossed the road in front of our car in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. He is king in this place! (Or perhaps she is queen!)

Baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise Postcard

A yearling baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise, being raised at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. Introduced predators threaten the eggs and young of the Giant Tortoise, so tortoise eggs are gathered, hatched and reared at the station.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Wise old Galapagos Giant Tortoise.

About the Galapagos Islands.

How the Galapagos Islands Were Named.

The Difference Between Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins.

About Lonesome George.

GIANT TORTOISE FACTS: The Galapagos tortoise or Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the largest living species of tortoise and the 14th-heaviest living reptile. Modern giant tortoises can weigh up to 5oo pounds (250 kg); even larger versions, now extinct, roamed every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Today, they exist only the Galapagos Islands, and Aldabra in the Indian Ocean. The tortoise is native to seven of the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago about 620 miles (more than 1,000 kilometers) west of the Ecuadorian mainland. With life spans in the wild of over 100 years, it is one of the longest-lived vertebrates. One of the most famous was “Lonesome George,” who died in 2012, the last Pinta Island Tortoise.

Shell size and shape vary between populations. On islands with humid highlands, the tortoises are larger, with domed shells and short necks – on islands with dry lowlands, the tortoises are smaller, with “saddleback” shells and long necks. Charles Darwin’s observations of these differences on the second voyage of the Beagle in 1835, contributed to the development of his theory of evolution. Tortoise numbers declined from over 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s. This decline was caused by exploitation of the species for meat and oil, habitat clearance for agriculture, and introduction of non-native animals to the islands, such as rats, goats, and pigs. Conservation efforts, beginning in the 20th century, have resulted in thousands of captive-bred juveniles being released onto their ancestral home islands, and it is estimated that the total number of the species exceeded 19,000 at the start of the 21st century. Despite this rebound, the species as a whole is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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Don’t Be a Silly Goose! Fly South for the Winter!

Whose idea was it to spend winter here?

Recently, I was walking Loki, the family dog, when I saw a flock of Canada Geese (a gaggle ?) on a frozen pond in my Kansas City area neighborhood. It was a beautiful sight. The low afternoon sun cast a golden glow onto the melting water, reflecting the geese and the yellow foliage of grass and cat tails. If you didn’t look too closely, you wouldn’t see the goose poop scattered artistically across the frozen surface. I took the dog home and returned with my camera. The geese don’t like paparazzi, so they headed to the opposite side of the pond.

These geese like the neighborhood.  After a heavy snow, I saw the geese gathered on a golf course, taking advantage of a lack of golfers.

About Canada Geese.

This golf gallery is a gaggle of geese gawking on a golf green (now white with snow.)

This golf gallery is a gaggle of geese gawking on a golf green (now white with snow.)

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Camouflage #Fail

Katydids are usually heard, but not seen. With their leaf-shaped green wings they blend in perfectly with greenery. This katydid didn’t get the memo.

I rarely see katydids, unlike their grasshopper distant relatives, which boldly munch on my flowers and vegetables. Katydids are more reclusive, heard but not often seen.  They are related to crickets, another noisy insect.  Katydids’ green leaf-shaped wings help them to blend in with the greenery. This “katydidn’t” get the memo. He (or she) was resting on the sidewalk, where he definitely didn’t blend in. How long before a hungry bird finds him?

True Katydid.
About the katydid family.

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Pure Water

People are always attracted to water. We hiked up the mountain to this cascade in Le Tigre National Park, Honduras.

(This post has been sitting in my drafts for a couple of years.  Now, that we’re on a “boil” order in my county in northeast Kansas in July 2011, I thought again of how we take our clean water for granted.  I wrote this about a visit to Honduras, where you can’t drink the water from the tap.)

It’s early on a February morning in 2007, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and already hot.  I don’t mind.  Back home in Kansas City it’s freezing.

Behind the courtyard wall, I wait at the gate, listening.  I’m an early riser so I volunteered to make the water bottle exchange.

“You’ll know when they’re coming,” my friend Michael told me the night before.  “They call out “Agua Azul, Agua Azul.”  He likes the sound of it.  “It’s like a call to prayer.”

Most societies and religions find spiritual and cleansing properties in water, so Michael is right about that.

Three large empty bottles sit on the driveway near the gate.  I hear the faint call, and I lean out to look.

I see a truck slowly rumbling down the steep incline of street in this affluent neighborhood in the capital city of Honduras.  The back of the truck is stacked with large water bottles.

“Agua Azul.  Agua Azul.

I wave my hand at the truck. A man darts to the gate, grabs the empty bottles and replaces them with full ones.  He hops back on the truck and continues his call.  “Agua Azul.  Agua Azul.”

Now we’ll have purified water for the next couple of days.  We go through it quickly, using it for everything that passes our lips. The water truck comes three mornings a week.  It saves the trouble of taking the bottles to the store. The house has running water, but it’s not purified.  We have to be careful not to drink it or even use it for brushing our teeth.  I keep a small bottle of purified water in the bathroom during my visit.

You can’t be careful everywhere, and on a trip to see the Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, some of us come down with horrible gastrointestinal distress.  I’ll spare you the details (worst diarrhea of my life!), but it was touch and go on the drive home.  Michael and Anita knew the roads and the rest stops, and thankfully, my husband is an Eagle Scout, prepared with supplies at all times, including a roll of toilet paper.

At home, we take pure water for granted.  But civilization has long been plagued, literally, with contaminated water.  Cholera is one disease spread by water fouled by bacteria.  People would often drink alcoholic beverages, rather than water, because they were less likely to get sick. Steven Johnson writes about a cholera epidemic in “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.”

Hacienda San Lucas overlooks the Copan River Valley, where the early Mayans settled more than a thousand years ago. Maintaining pure water is always a problem wherever people gather in cities.

In Copan, we visited Flavia Cueva, who owns the Hacienda San Lucas.  Anita, who is with the U.S. State Department, had met with Flavia before on an official visit.  Local people and members of the International Rotary were working to improve the water quality. International Rotary is providing water distribution and health education to six remote villages in the area.

My water district at home, WaterOne, sends out an annual water quality report, summarizing what’s in the water and provides lots of facts, which are also available on the website.  WaterOne was one of seven utilities worldwide selected as a finalist for a global water award for its Wolcott Treatment Plant. We’re very lucky we don’t need to buy bottled water, regularly, although there is a run on bottled water now because of the boil order.

Here’s a copy of the story in the Kansas City Star about our boil order:


Raccoon Believed Culprit in John County Boil Order

By MATT CAMPBELL

The Kansas City Star

Posted on Fri, Jul. 01, 2011 03:57 PM

A raccoon appears be to the culprit in a water pipe rupture that led to a boil advisory for more than 400,000 water customers in Johnson County.
Officials of Water District No. 1 found the animal dead inside an electrical unit at the Hansen treatment plant on Holiday Drive in Kansas City, Kan.
Eric Arner, a spokesman for WaterOne, said the animal may have chewed into wires or just brushed by the equipment, triggering an event that will affect customers at least until 5 p.m. Saturday during one of the hottest spells of the year so far.
People in the WaterOne service area — which includes most of Johnson County but excludes most of Olathe — are advised to use bottled water or to boil their tap water at least two minutes before consuming it. Unboiled water is safe for washing and bathing.
Retail stores in Johnson County are reporting brisk sales of bottled water. People are buying shopping baskets full of it at the Lenexa Sam’s Club, 12200 W. 95th St.
“We’ve got plenty for today and two more semis were dispatched when we heard about this,” said club manager Eric Rector. “We should have more in stock tonight.”
The Price Chopper at 8686 Antioch Road in Overland Park was sold out by mid-afternoon. A new shipment was expected over the weekend but store management did not know when it would arrive.
The boil precaution is necessary because the pipe rupture led to a drop in water pressure, which may have drawn contaminants into the system. Officials are testing tap samples from across the 275-square-mile water district for safety. That process, and flushing any contaminants out of the system, takes at least 18 hours.
Arner said water officials noticed a sudden drop in system pressure at 7:20 a.m., which they later attributed to a raccoon that got inside the housing of one of the huge electrical switches that run the pumps. The animal apparently shorted out the switch.
“The pumps themselves are designed to trip off when there is any fluctuation in power so they don’t fry their circuits,” Arner said. “So when the power was restored in a matter of seconds or even milliseconds the pumps turned back on and created a water surge.”
Officials believe that surge caused a 54-inch pipe near the Hansen plant to rupture at a joint. Arner said the pipe should not have failed even with a surge and WaterOne is investigating whether there were any other factors involved.
Water officials were able to restore pressure throughout the system shortly after the pipe break but some areas may have less pressure than normal.
While most of Olathe is outside WaterOne, between 6,000 and 7,000 people in northwestern and southwestern areas of the city are affected, said city spokesman Tim Danneberg.

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Why Did The Mongoose Cross The Road?

When it stands, this mongoose looks like its relative the Meerkat.

Years ago in a biology class, I learned about the Indian Mongoose’s introduction to Hawaii (in 1883) as a predator to kill the rats that were thriving in sugar cane fields.  Well, like so many ideas like this, it was a disaster (rabbits to Australia, for example…) The mongooses ate the native birds and their eggs instead.

I’d forgotten about the mongoose  until I recently saw one dashing across the road on the Big Island of Hawaii, where they are pests. As it dashed, it looked like a small ferret.  Every so often, my husband and I would see another one running like mad across the road.  I was never fast enough with my camera.  Finally, I did get a few blurry photographs of a mongoose that seemed to live in the bushes of someone’s yard outside of a botanical garden.  When it stands, it looks like a meerkat, which is one of its relatives.

Standing here, he looks like his relative the Meerkat. He may have a burrow in the yard of this house.

From wikipedia: The 1800s were a huge century for sugar cane, and plantations shot up on many tropical islands including Hawai’i and Jamaica. With sugar cane came rats, attracted to the sweet plant, which ended up causing crop destruction and loss. Attempts were made to introduce the species in Trinidad in 1870 but this failed. A subsequent trial with four males and five females from Calcutta however established in Jamaica in 1872. A paper published by W. B. Espeut that praised the results intrigued Hawaiian plantation owners who, in 1883, brought 72 mongooses from Jamaica to the Hamakua Coast on the Big Island. These were raised and their offspring were shipped to plantations on other islands. Populations that have been introduced to these islands show larger sizes than in their native ranges. They also show genetic diversification due to drift and population isolation.

Only the islands of Lana’i and Kaua’i are (thought to be) free of mongooses. There are two conflicting stories of why Kaua’i was spared. The first is that the residents of Kaua’i were opposed to having the animals on the island and when the ship carrying the offspring reached Kaua’i, the animals were thrown overboard and drowned. A second story tells that on arriving on Kaua’i one of the mongooses bit a dockworker who, in a fit of anger, threw the caged animals into the harbor to drown.

The mongoose introduction did not have the desired effect of rat control. The mongoose hunted birds and bird eggs, threatening many local island species. The mongooses bred prolifically with males becoming sexually mature at 4 months and females producing litters of 2-5 pups a year.

If that isn’t bad enough, Mongooses can carry the infectious bacterial disease Leptospirosis.

About the mongoose.

More about the mongoose.

News report about trapping Mongooses.

 

This mongoose ran back and forth on this road on the Big Island of Hawaii near Hilo several times. He kept checking to see whether I'd left.

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