Hello Everyone!

I am working on an upgrade to this website.  I will be adding some new content sections including profiles of unsung nature heroes, interviews, and more reviews of resources to add to our nature-based knowledge.  

If you want to nominate someone as an unsung hero that needs to be recognized for their work, drop me an email.  Similarly, if you have a topic that you want to learn more about, let me know.  You can connect via the comments section of this post or email me from the Contact page on the website.  

Image by Sơn Nguyễn Đình from Pixabay

Have you ever noticed how many things in our lives are named after something from nature?  Often the named object has minimal connection to the inspiring species or natural feature except to evoke an emotional response.  This response may be a feeling of power, or a suggestion of the exotic, or perhaps reminiscent of the unspoiled, to name a few.  

Your nature challenge for this week is to find at least 20 nature-inspired names as you go about your day.  I’ll bet you’ll find even more.  

Mammoth Cave Sign © Jiawangkun | Dreamstime.com

To give you a head start, consider names of:

    • State parks like Turkey Run State Park in Indiana
    • Cities such as Buffalo, NY
    • Sports teams such as Toronto Blue Jays
    • Clothing brands such as American Eagle Outfitters

You may be surprised by how frequently natural inspiration is used.  

Ironically, some of our most beloved brands and locations call to mind symbols of nature that have been eliminated so that those products can be available.   Just think of a new housing development called Deer Meadows which no longer has grazing fields, and the deer have dispersed to other locations, or worse. 

This challenge is rated as easy. 

Two new groundbreaking studies reveal unexpected insights into the evolution of plants and snakes.  Let’s start with the plants’ study first.

Crocus Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

The results of research conducted by a Stanford-led team suggest that plants did not evolve gradually over millions of years. (Many people, including me, assume that plants, animals, and even human beings change genetically in tiny increments over time.) Rather, major changes occurred millions of years apart in two condensed bursts of diversification.  The first burst resulted in the creation of seeds for reproduction.  The second burst occurred 250 million years later with the variation of flowers, including their parts, shapes, fragrances, and other features.  Note that the drivers of change are again the plant reproduction processes. 

One might think that the flowering parts evolved alongside pollinator insects.  However, the insects existed almost 200 million years before the flowers’ complexity emerged.  So, insects weren’t the catalysts.  The actual stimulus is still to be determined.

To learn more about the findings, check out this link:  https://earth.stanford.edu/news/plants-evolved-complexity-two-bursts-250-million-year-hiatus#gs.bzhs5f

 

Now, let’s consider the asteroid strike that doomed the dinosaurs. Evidence suggests that many creatures such as snakes were also negatively affected, at least initially. 

The research team involved in this study views this impact as a form of “creative destruction.”  In other words, the destruction eliminated many types of competitive snakes and dinosaurs.  Subsequently, the surviving snake population diversified into the niches formerly filled by the now-deceased species.  

Snake Image by sipa from Pixabay

The team suggests that these remaining snakes specialized and spread by experimenting with “new lifestyles and habitats.”  Many were successful. This one event triggered the evolutionary variety we find in snake species. Now, there are more than 400 types of snakes and they can be found in habitats ranging from deserts to saltwater marshes.

The team also suggests that the snake’s evolutionary diversification may be a model for what can happen in other environmental catastrophes.  Some species definitely emerge stronger.  

You can read more about this here at:  https://www.bath.ac.uk/announcements/modern-snakes-evolved-from-a-few-survivors-of-dino-killing-asteroid/

Script for my Nature Challenge Video —  (I continue to struggle to be able to post it on the blog.  I haven’t given up yet!)

There are many beautiful trees on the property surrounding our home, but one of my favorites is a Black Tupelo Tree.

When I think of Tupelos, also known as Black Gum or Sour Gum trees, I think of the south and Tupelo honey.  This tree, however, is right here in the southwestern part of Maine. 

As far as I can tell, only two of these trees grow on our almost 30 acres.  

According to a document prepared by the State of Maine, they are a rather uncommon species here.  Moreover, they are usually found in wetland areas in this part of the country.  

Interestingly, two other local tupelos are found on an island in the second largest lake in the state. That’s Sebago Lake, which is adjacent to where I live!

Sebago Lake was carved by a glacier.  As a result, some of the local soils have interesting properties.  Perhaps our soil qualifies as hydric soil wetland which would not look like what I typically think of as a wetland.

So, I checked the US Soil Survey for the area right where my two trees grow.  Surprisingly, that’s not the answer either.  As you can see, the soil is well-drained and the water table is deep.  No hidden wetland here.

The mystery continues.   Perhaps this is just a case of a couple of adventuresome seeds trying their luck at the edge of their familiar territory.

Title Page for the iMovie

This is the second part of the Nature Challenge that we started last week.  In that activity, you were asked to find a nature story to tell.  This story doesn’t need to be lengthy but its detail and flow should build to keep an audience member interested throughout.   If you missed that part of the challenge you can connect to it here:  https://comfortmewithnature.com/nature-challenge-prepare-to-tell-your-nature-story/

Photo 177351528 © Anna Kazantseva | Dreamstime.com

Now that you’ve developed your story’s theme, it’s time to illustrate it.  Most everyone has a mobile phone with a camera function.  Get out there and snap some photos or short video clips that align with the bullet points you outlined earlier.  

Once you have those, consider the best sequence for these shots to convey your message.   Sometimes you will need a frame with narration in-between to facilitate a transition.   This can be done in Powerpoint (on a Microsoft-based computer) or Keynote (on a Mac or iPad/iPhone).  Next, save these in the jpeg format.  

Then, depending on the type of computer, tablet, or mobile phone you are using, there is a free application that will stitch your photo files together to make a short movie. Most also allow you to do a voice-over for additional narrative elements.  Other more sophisticated applications can be used to create your masterpiece, but this isn’t necessary.   For our challenge, the free ones are sufficient. 

Once you add a title frame and end with a credits frame, you are good to go.  You can share the video with others via email, on YouTube, on Twitter, or any platform that works for you. 

All of this is relatively easy.  I say that tongue in cheek. While I had no trouble creating my movie, I’ve yet to figure out how to add it here on the blog!   I will try to figure that out over the weekend, then post my modest accomplishment here. 

This challenge is rated as easy or difficult, depending on your level of technical savvy!

Researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK have again made an intriguing discovery.  This time, the team studied silkworm moths to uncover their ability to throw hungry predator bats off their trail.

Silkmoth
Photo 140237557 / Silkmoth © Tom Meaker | Dreamstime.com

An acoustic decoy mechanism involving elongated hindwings on some silkmoths is well known among the folks who know about such things.  (I am not part of that esteemed group, by the way.)  The twisted shape of these wings creates strong echoes, consequently misdirecting the bats.  However, not all silkmoths have these structural features. 

The team wanted to understand if there were other acoustic mechanisms at work.  Using specialized tools, they recorded and analyzed thousands of echoes that were created by bouncing sound waves off of the moths at different angles.  The analysis revealed that some moths have a forewing reflector that also acts as an acoustic decoy.   This is a newly described mechanism.  The team also believes that no species have both types of decoys. 

The team’s next step will be to study the relative advantages that each type of decoy offers the moths.

To learn more about this research, reference the press release here:  https://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2021/september/moth-wingtips.html

@drtomneil  @BristolBioSci

 

D 204656644 © Gerald D. Tang | Dreamstime.com

If you live along the West Coast of North America, you may have seen a common wildflower called the Western False Asphodel (Triantha occidentalis).  This plant was originally described in the late 1870s.  Given its considerable distribution and how long people have known about the plant, it’s surprising that until recently, it still harbored a secret. 

Botanists from the University of British Columbia discovered that this plant is carnivorous.  One feature that makes this plant unique is that it traps insects near its insect-pollinated flowers.  

This is the first carnivorous plant to be identified in 20 years. 

You can read more about the science behind this discovery here:  https://news.ubc.ca/2021/08/09/insects-beware-this-west-coast-plant-wants-to-eat-you/

@ubcnews

New England’s Roadside Ecology:  Explore 30 of the Region’s Unique Natural Areas

by Thomas Wessels

Published by Timber Press on September 14, 2021

Attention hikers of all skill levels!  Have you ever wondered about the landscape and plant life you see around you?  What stories would they share if you could read their messages?

If you live in New England or plan to visit, Thomas Wessels offers an indispensable guide that deciphers those messages.  Wessels has identified 30 short hikes (no longer than 4 hours) each with distinctive flora and features.  You will learn, for example: 

      • how to recognize a pillow and cradle;
      • where to find one of the largest bearberry patches in New England;
      • where the Fibonacci sequence is hidden in nature;
      • where to find a krummholz;
      • what a border tree is;
      • where to find the cave that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Several of these hikes are not typically highlighted in other guidebooks.  Furthermore, they represent fragile or unique landscapes within the region.  As such, Wessels gently reminds the reader to stay on the prescribed paths.  Bravo!

New England’s Roadside Ecology is likely to become a perennial reference for years to come, as long as we don’t destroy the very attractions we seek.

Why you should not miss this one:

  • Who knew there was so much ecological diversity in New England?
  • The many captioned photos enrich the stories even if not hiking.
  • If you already have Reading the Forested Landscape and Forest Forensics, both by Tom Wessels, this book seems to complete a trilogy. 

 

Thanks to NetGalley, Timber Press, and the author, Thomas Wessels, for the opportunity to read a digital copy in exchange for this review.   

#NetGalley  #NewEnglandsRoadsideEcology

First, let me apologize for the delay in posting this week’s Nature Challenge.  Technical difficulties prevented me from posting as regularly scheduled. So with no further ado…

This is the first part of a two-part challenge.   

Photo 33192479 / Ancient Tree © David Morrison | Dreamstime.com

This week, as you explore outside, look around with the eye of a storyteller.   Find something that you would like to share with others.  This may be the tale of a unique geologic formation that has shaped your area and the flora and fauna that live there.  Perhaps it is the history of an unusual tree that has particular meaning to you or your community.  Maybe it is the story of a polluted area that deserves attention and ultimately, restoration. 

Once you have your story, it’s time to write it down.  This doesn’t have to be a lengthy piece.  It only needs to be long enough to provide the context for why this is important to you and others.  Include the details that make this story engaging and relevant.  Ensure that each piece of information builds on the previous.  

To make this exercise easier, you don’t have to write the narrative in paragraphs. Consider using bullet points or phrases to capture the ideas you wish to convey.

Now think about your ending.  Is there a call to action?  What would you like people to do with this information?   Would you like for them to recognize similar geologic formations in their area should they come across them?  Would you like for the audience to help preserve the historical tree?  Are you trying to motivate your audience to call upon local politicians to put forth funding to clean the polluted site?

Refine your outline until you are satisfied with its flow.   What we will do with this work product will be the subject of the second part of the Nature Challenge.  

This challenge is rated as medium difficulty. 

Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) evoke fearsome images in the minds of most people.  As apex predators, they have spread to most marine environments.  Further, separate killer whale populations have developed preferred local diets.  While these different populations may have some overlapping territory, they don’t mingle and they don’t inter-breed. 

Here is a brief summary of the primary killer whale populations.  They fall into three categories based on their social structure.  

      • Whales in the Resident group include males and females that tend to stay within their birth group.   They have a tight social structure.  They prefer to eat fish and squid.
      • Whales in the Transient or Bigg’s group roam along the coast.  They do not maintain a strong tie to their birth group.  They hunt marine mammals. 
      • Offshore whales are found out in deep water.  They feast on schooling fish.

Recently, studies in killer whales revealed that the females of this dominant species experience menopause.  Did you know that only humans and a few whale species go through this (difficult and uncomfortable, IMHO) phase of life?  

When menopause was discovered in the Resident group, the research team hypothesized that the social closeness of the Resident group triggered the end of reproduction in older females.  Perhaps it would not occur in the Bigg’s group.  However, despite the loose social structure, menopause happened.  So, it’s back to the drawing board.  No one knows for sure why menopause is a physical reality.  

To read more about this, check out this link:  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ece3.7756

Orcas Image by djmboxsterman from Pixabay

Also reported in the news is the discovery of a new species of lizard found in central Peru.  Announced on the Pensoft blog, this is a new species of wood lizard and the male’s appearance is striking.   

Pictures can be seen here:  http://blog.pensoft.net/2021/09/01/new-beautiful-dragon-like-species-of-lizard-discovered-in-the-tropical-andes/

The researchers involved in this discovery needed to conduct their field study at night over seven years to formally describe their prized species.   That’s dedication!  Congratulations to all.