- Ted Williams puts in a good word for—euyurrgh—sea lampreys.
In their native habitat, marine lampreys are “keystone species” supporting vast aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems….
Environmental consultant Stephen Gephard, formerly Connecticut’s anadromous-fish chief, calls lampreys “environmental engineers” as important to native ecosystems as beavers.
- Rhitu Chatterjee reports on a low tech-low cost (less than two bucks) intervention that can dramatically reduce maternal deaths due to postpartum hemorrhage.
- May Truong’s photos, Sarah Lyall’s words: Striker, the Samoyed who never won Westminster’s best in show. But he still pauses to strike a pose.
- This is why I leave little notes: T. Rex reckons with the afterlife.
- One more bit of the hot type era is gone: the New York Times is dispensing with datelines. Hanaa’ Tameez has the writeup.
- Mr. and Mrs. Pickles have three baby tortoises! Cuter than cute.
- They were gone before I knew what to call them: David W. Dunlap of The New York Times remembers reader ads.
- “I can’t define it, but I’m against it.” Also from the Times, Nate Cohn attempts a definition of woke and what it portends.
… much of what woke is grasping toward: a word to describe a new brand of righteous, identity-conscious, new left activists eager to tackle oppression, including in everyday life and even at the expense of some liberal values.
* * *
In the most extreme case for Democrats, the backlash against the new left could end in a repeat of how New Left politics in the 1960s facilitated the marriage of neoconservatives and the religious right in the 1970s. Back then, opposition to the counterculture helped unify Republicans against a new class of highly educated liberals, allowing Southern opponents of civil rights to join old-school liberal intellectuals who opposed Communism and grew skeptical of the Great Society. The parallels are imperfect, but striking.
- Isobel Novick stans webbing clothes moths (Tineola bisselliella).
These moths, unfortunately for those with infestations, have other behaviors that contribute to their indestructibility. They can metabolize their own water as a byproduct of keratin digestion, so access to water is not a dealbreaker for survival. What kind of organism can create its own water? This moth has evolved to be an efficient, dynamic, super-survival machine. They are incredibly temperature tolerant, with the ability to survive as eggs or larvae for several days at broiling temperatures as high as 95 degrees F and as far below freezing as 5 degrees F. They are attracted to the smell of woolens, and once established, send pheromonal signals to nearby moths to invite them to party. To add to their tank-like nature, webbing clothes moths can digest toxic metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead. They have no problem metabolizing synthetic materials or chewing through soft plastics. They have even been found on mummified human remains and have been around long enough to be mentioned in the Bible.
- 17th-18th century tomfoolery: dummy boards.
…from Nature Forward’s introductory class in lichens of Maryland, taught by Natalie Howe, in the NHFS program. (Without the goofy puns.)
1. Most naturalists understand a lichen to be a symbiosis between a fungus and a photosynthetic organism, either an alga or a cyanobacterium. The fungus provides water and protection for the photosymbiont. Typically, in a structure called a thallus, the photosymbiont is sandwiched between layers of the fungus (the mycobiont)—sort of like a lasagna. In turn, the fungus receives sugars produced by the cyanobacterium or alga.
But the association may be much more complex, with other types of organisms participating. These can include secondary algae, non-photosynthetic bacteria, yeasts, protists, and viruses. On the lichen’s surface, the role of microinvertebrates like tardigrades and nematodes is being explored.
So, what is a fungus? Your answer might depend on whether you see the duck or the rabbit. Trevor Goward, in a brief paper in Evansia, writes,
Next time you pause to contemplate a lichen, consider the strong likelihood that whatever it is you see staring back at you – fungus, alga, thallus, parasitism, mutualism, agriculture, gall, growth chamber, or farmstead – in some way reflects the particular mindset you bring to it; that what you’re looking at is really a face in the mirror; and that the face in the mirror is very much your own.
2. In many cases, you’ll have to be content with an identification to genus, especially in the field. The identification keys often depend on
- testing the chemistry of the lichen, either with reagents like KOH and phenylenediamine,
- examining spores with a microscope,
- or performing TLC (thin-layer chromatography) back in the lab.
Just to make things more complicated, the bushy “reindeer lichens” that you may have seen growing on soil, formerly in the genus Cladina, are now in the very diverse genus Cladonia, which includes various organisms named pixie cup, British soldiers, and powderhorn lichens. Cladonia gets its own key in the guides.
All that said, you can usually make an ID limited to a group of a few species, and often use geography and habitat to reduce your choices even more.
Even if you don’t intend to make a field ID, break out your hand lens (you did bring your hand lens, right?) to examine the tiny cilia on a Parmotrema ruffle lichen, the minute lobes of Candleflame Lichen (Candelaria concolor), and the wee horns of Cladonia ochrochlora.
3. Studying lichens in the field is great if you like buying new gear, like a macro lens for your SLR, or a flashlight that throws ultraviolet light. Lichens in the genus Pyxine are drab gray in visible light, but they light up in brilliant yellow under UV. Somewhat like green plants that show red in their basal rosettes, lichens that reflect UV light do so to avoid being scorched by too much light.
4. With your eye this close to the substrate, you’ll meet lichen-adjacent organisms. Mosses growing on soil can provide a moist microhabitat for lichens; myxomycetes are doing their own thing; liverworts like Frullania sp. growing on tree bark might fool you; certain fungi are lichen parasites; and then there are ordinary “non-lichenized” fungi doing what they usually do, decomposing.
5. Natalie describes the lichen community as the “quiet Lorax.” Despite what we know about many lichen species’ sensitivity to air pollution (SO2, NH3, NOx, and O3), only two species are listed under the Endangered Species Act (Cetradonia linearis and Cladonia perforata). Perhaps more surprising, no non-lichenized fungi are listed. The United States does not maintain a nationwide Red List for fungi.
Here’s a roundup, somewhat Northern Virginia-inflected, of some organizations that run field trips in the mid-Atlantic.
Nature Forward is our standard-bearer. Workshops and camps for kiddos and families, walks focused on birds/geology/botany/etc., CEU-credited courses in lichens/spring wildflowers/conservation history/etc., overseas travel—something for everyone at nearly every level of expertise. NF is also an important advocate for protection of natural areas in the DC metro.
Some outfits mostly interested in birds:
- Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and DC Audubon Society* are chapters of the National Audubon Society, and there are several chapters in Maryland.*
- Northern Virginia Bird Club’s name tells you what they’re about. In addition to maintaining a calendar of field trips and directory of Christmas Bird Counts, NVBC holds regularly scheduled meetings.
Are you ready for some botany?
- Virginia Native Plant Society is organized into regional chapters. Our local chapter, the largest in the commonwealth, is the Potowmack chapter. Farther outside the Beltway, check out the Prince William Wildflower Society and the Piedmont chapter.
- Maryland Native Plant Society also has a chapter for DC.
Maybe something a little more niche is your interest.
- The Mycological Association of Washington, D.C.,* for fungi enthusiasts, has been recommended to me. Hey, I just joined up!
Or you’re looking for something more fast-paced than the naturalist’s shuffle.
- Some time back, I did one or two hikes with DC Metropolitan Hikers, a Meetup group. And Capital Hiking Club has made the transition from paper newsletters and phone trees to the electronic age.
- Wanderbirds Hiking Club hikes were too fast for me, even when I was young and in good shape.
The Washington metro is a mosaic of publicly-accessible, natural areas under several different jurisdictions. Check out individual parks and recreational areas for scheduled workshops, camps, and events.
- Parks and trails managed by the National Park Service (in Maryland, the District, and Virginia) are more than just Rock Creek Park and Shenandoah National Park.
- The District’s Department of Parks and Recreation manages hundreds of parks.
- Outside DC, parks managed at the county level include those in Arlington County, Fairfax County (including Huntley Meadows Park, which the Mason & Bailey Club visited), and Montgomery County (including Rachel Carson Conservation Park, also visited by the Club).
- Prince George’s County parks fall under the regional Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC).
- The well-loved hike-bike-commute Washington and Old Dominion Trail is part of the regional Nova Parks.
- Zooming out again, consider state parks in Maryland and Virginia. Virginia has gamified visiting as many state parks as you can. I’m working on my 10-park badge.
- And don’t forget privately-held, but open to the public, sites like The Nature Conservancy’s Fraser Preserve and Stronghold’s Sugarloaf Mountain.
*I know these organizations only by referral/search, not by firsthand field trip experience.
Andy Brunning presents an infographic of the Mohs Hardness Scale, something I learned about when I was a squirt and received a student’s geology kit and have subsequently forgotten about. But behind that tidy 0-to-10 scale is a dirty little secret:
There’s no fixed value of hardness between the different numbers in the scale — in fact, diamond at 10 is several times harder than corundum at 9, but corundum is only around twice as hard as topaz at 8.
Neonics aren’t just bad for pollinators. As Shauna Stephenson reports, aquatic invertebrates are also adversely affected, which is bad news for fish.
Finally, after a dark and cold winter, some color in my Winogradsky column project. The streaks of rusty red are perhaps iron oxidizers, or purple non-sulfur bacteria. And perhaps at the bottom of the column I see some blobs of purple, evidence of sulfate reducing bacteria.
A (more or less) newly-described means of animal reproduction, featuring my friends of genus Ambsytoma, and Mark Liberman is curious about how the term was formed: kleptogenesis.
It looks like every outlet has picked up this story by now, but ICYMI: a small citizen science study suggests that a house cat will sit in a box, even if it’s only lines on the floor, and even if the box is an optical illusion.
A little bit pitch drop experiment, a little bit Michael Apted, a little bit genetic repository: William Beal’s 142-year-old seed viability experiment, reported by Nell Greenfieldboyce.
A microbiologist named Richard Lenski looked on. “The others were digging and trying to figure everything out, and I sort of held the map and held it under my jacket to keep it dry at one point. That was my hard work,” says Lenski. “I was wondering if cops might show up at some point.”
Hannah Kingsley-Ma goes mushrooming in Green-Wood Cemetery with the New York Mycological Society.
[Potter] Palmer and [Sigrid] Jakob think that one of the reasons for this fungal diversity is that some trees in Green-Wood—of which there are thousands, and hundreds of species—date back to the cemetery’s earliest years. (Green-Wood was founded in 1838.)
If you live in the mid-Atlantic, you’ve probably heard that Brood X is about to join us after its 17-year nap. Some links to prepare you:
- My field report from 2004.
- Melissa Block points her mic at “a zillion cicadas,” back when ATC could spend 7 minutes on a story like this.
- Pics and recipe pointers from Alonso Abugattas.
- Ditto from Kevin Ambrose of the Capital Weather Gang.
- Views of the instars from John Cooley and Chris Simon.
- Interactives of the various broods by year and geography by Jonathan Corum.
- David Attenborough messes with an amorous male.
Toni Burnham, the president of the D.C. Bee Keepers Alliance, says that, actually, “everyone should chill the hell out.”
* * *
While the murder hornet concerns may be less irrational than calls over putting toxic chemicals into a human body, Burnham says bee experts and entomologists in Washington are on the case, and that there’s no reason for those in the region to worry.
“Let [Washington state] handle it, and everyone calm down,” Burnham says. “Have a beer.”