October 28th, 2008 - The Pumpkins That Wouldn't Die...!


This is weirdness. Last night I gave my "Things that Glow in the Night" program at Springbrook. That's the one where we hike around at night with hand-held ultraviolet lights and look for objects that fluoresce (glow under UV), or bioluminesce (create their own light). Normally we find some rocks that have some UV responsive qualities, sometimes we'll find some insect larvae that glow, or if it's warm enough we'll see some fireflies.
Occasionally we'll come across fungi that glows, usually in tree bark or rotted stumps. Last night we happened to be hiking past one of the piles of trashed Jack-O-Lanterns from last week's "Pumpkin Night in the Park" event, where about 700 carved pumpkins were lining the trails at the park. After it was over we returned the pumpkins to Mother Earth and let the animals and detritus eaters have their fill.
I got the idea to bring the lights over to the pile of smashed pumpkins just to see if anything would glow, and THE THINGS WENT NUTS!!!

In the slime mold or rotted sections of some of the pumpkins could be seen a BRIGHT GLOWING of pink, orange, and blue hues. Some had darker purple tones than the purple of the UV, some parts looked like ghostly little sea creatures suspended in clear gelatin. It was some of the most active luminescence I've seen during any of my hikes. I might have to go back there again and see if it changes as things "age" a little. Interesting thing about slime molds: scientists aren't really sure if they are animals or plants. They have characteristics of both. At times. Hunh. If you are a believer in EVOLUTION (gasp!) or Biological Change Over Time, they might even be in your distant family tree. Hey, no jokes about your relatives being slime molds now.

As to the reason WHY the things glow so much, I can believe the concentrations of molds and fungi showing a lot of UV reaction, but this seems even more than, um, "normal." One factor could be that after our pumpkins are carved, the cut surfaces are coated with Vaseline brand petroleum jelly (R) to retard spoilage until they are ready to be put out. I know that petroleum products themselves will fluoresce, as oil scientists use UV light to judge different qualities of crude oil, as IT glows. Perhaps some of this glowing is from the leftover Vaseline. Maybe the Vaseline completely broke down after our formidable rainstorms during the week and the mold went crazy. Perhaps, we'll never know. Perhaps there will be a giant glowing gelatinous blob waiting for me at the door of Springbrook Nature Center by the time I get to work tonight and I'll have to get Steve McQueen to help me fight it off with what's left of the domestic National Guard...
More as this develops...

October 23rd, 2008 - Mantis in a Basket

I went up to Siah's office last night to see if I could get a look at the "baby" snakes, unfortunately they were all dug in deep in the wood chips and warming themselves. It didn't matter tho, because I couldn't get past this quizzical yet spooky-looking carnivore, a "praying mantis" which was watching me like a hawk from inside a little terrarium. 
I was fascinated by the attentiveness of this bug. He was hanging upside-down on the cover of the terrarium and as I slowly flipped it open he turned his head questioningly at me and measured me up, seemingly with an awful lot of intelligence going on behind those huge aviator goggles.
I've heard that mantids (proper term for the species as a group) can detect movement 60 feet away and I don't doubt that a bit. They are also known for their lightning-quick reflexes when grabbing their prey, which is usually moths, crickets, grasshoppers, and flies but they aren't opposed to taking on much bigger lifeforms such as mice, hummingbirds, snakes, and spiders. Guess they have never heard the adage, "Never eat anything bigger than your own head."

Mantids have such an amazingly minimalistic morphology, except for their front claws which have huge forearms even by Popeye's standards. Add to those some wicked spikes so as not to let your lunch get out of your grip. Then the triangular-shaped head allows the eyes a greater field of view, at least the two compound eyes on the corners - they also have three simple eyes between those. Not that they really need all that hardware tho, as they can turn their heads 180 degrees in either direction.  Pretty much a long-range, omni-directional visual sensory machine. 
Definitely had something to do with inspiration for Sigourney Weaver's nemesis. Or should I say offspring.

And in the "givin' it all up for you" department, the male is sometimes eaten by the female after or DURING the mating process. Being typical males tho, this hasn't yet deterred them from seeking reproduction. It's all about risk-assessment, I guess. See: "Long Brain."

October 20th, 2008 - Reek! I must have the Falcon!

The colors of Fall are really coming through along the river these days. Our mouth of Minnehaha Creek looks like some kind of lagoon port of an island nation.
Water has a "constant" that makes it some kind of mystical attractant. When you're near the ocean you must "go to the shore" and it is no less true here. You must. Fish, wade, throw rocks, ponder. We must take our place as tiny cells in this huge, morphing Mississippi organism.

The Peregrine Falcon knows all, sees all. What she doesn't see, she feels. I saw this bird last week when I was at Lock & Dam #1 photographing the FMR Fall Canoe event, and I figured as long as I still had the big ol rented lens I might as well go back and see if I could find her again.
Finally I saw her perched high on the rock wall and my first few dozen pics were off the tripod in a strong wind, with less than stellar results. Then after I gave up on that, Sharon and Hap & I hiked up to the new Wabun area and looking down the huge wall that is part of the lock structure I spied (with my little eye) her again sitting on an abutment a long way down. I had to do some creative chain-link fence climbing and stick my rented lens with no protective filter thru the barbed wire at the top to get any angle on her. 
If looks could kill, I would now be cauterized with a laser beam shot right between the frontal lobes.
Hey, I wonder if that would help my sinus problems...

Flight check. Prepare for loser-avoidance maneuver.

We goane.

Meanwhile on the other end of the spectrum, this little moth makes ready to do the same. Spooky little fuzzball.

October 16th, 2008 - So go DOWN-town, things'll be GREAT when you're DOWN-town

What happened, Petula??

"Busted flat on Nicollet, waitin' for a train... I's feelin' near as faded as my jeans..." Actually they were brand new acid-washed Nieman Marcus and some bum spilled a latte on me! Can you believe that?! (Kris Kristofferson actually wrote that song. You know, famous actor, Big Top Pee Wee, etc., etc...)

Remember when they used to hire art majors to design window displays and pay them a lot of money?  What the HELL is THAT?!

Hey, it's Market Day on the mall today. I thought about picking up a big nasty stinky peeled turnip to bring up to my doctors's office while I wait for the Allergy & Asthsma specialist but I couldn't find one that didn't look like a weapon and I thought I would get in trouble.

October 15th, 2008 - Pair a (fuzzy) dice by the dashboard lights

Driving home from the Nature Center night after night got me thinking about how I used to take a lot of pictures with my Polaroid Land Camera (a.k.a. "The Roid") by setting it on the dashboard, covering up the "electric eye", cocking the shutter, releasing it, and letting whatever light present expose that awesome 3200 ISO black & white plate while the highway flew by.
Sometimes you completely blanked it out, WAY overexposing. Then after a few misfires you began to get the feel of it, getting to know when to release for even an off-the-charts ISO like 3200.
So to revisit my roots I began setting my Point & Shoot (heretofore known the G2) Canon Powershot G2 on the dash and trying some different exposures. Usually for this kind of thing I set it on Aperture-Priority at the smallest f-stop (in the G2's case, a lackluster f8), and let it expose using the self-timer, for extra randomness.

Then I got to thinking,"Why am I using the self-timer? This car vibrates so much it's not like I'm avoiding any camera shake..." (especially with Minnesota's roads). So I started to purposely try and capture the bumpiest stretches to see if I could see it on the lines of the time-exposure (above). Kind of a seismograph from your dashboard.

The next night I was bored with that and it occurred to me that I have never turned the camera around and maybe that would look cool if I could capture my being relatively still, and smear the lights going by the car window. (Added bonus for smearing the lights off of my glasses.)

So I picked a few likely spots with billboards, the tunnel, etc. and tried to get a good camera position with a wide enough angle to get me and the window. Lots of trial and error here with angle, zoom, close-up, wash, spin, rinse, you name it.

Then of course that left putting the camera on the passenger door storage compartment and using the IR remote to trigger the shutter. Add some brake lights from the car in front, and Viola, it looks like someone running past a cheap movie set with a sparkler. Or maybe Taxi Driver or something. You talkin' ta me? You must be talkin' ta me cause I'm tha only one here..."

Hmmm. If I only had a sun-roof...

October 10th, 2008 - Well, snakes alive!

Hi, I'm a baby corn snake and I popped out of my egg and noticed I was in a cup full of vermiculite and it was real scary so I went back in and when I popped out again I was upside down.
I'm still upside down and kinda tired.
This is my sister or brother who is orange and maybe partly albino cause she has red eyes. 
The thing I can't figure out is how we cut open these eggs because we don't see any kind of eye tooth anywhere. Maybe it's that little scaley thing under her eye but that would be weird.
Hah! I'm out of that yokey egg bag and now I'm even more tired so I'll just curl up here in the corner and be warm and wait for my skin to come off so I can grow up. Bye.

October 9th, 2008 - I'll take mine to go

Ahh, time like a river. Or maybe it's time that is stopped and we are moving past, I can't tell. Beyond all that, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a much pregnant-looking cellar spider (misnomered by the uninitiated as a "Daddy-Long-legs", or further bludgeoned as "Dandy-Long-legs" which is actually the name of two different non-spiders: the Harvestmen (arachnid), and the Crane Fly (insect)). However, this little lady lives in the family Pholcidae and seems to be dining on a snack-sack containing another spider (boyfriend?)
If you look closely you can see the hair on the poor guy's legs. Didn't even get time to clean up before he was dinner.

I understand it isn't all that unusual for this brood to feed on other spiders. Wiki P says, "Certain species of these seemingly benign spiders invade webs of other spiders and eat the host, the eggs or the prey. In some cases the spider vibrates the web of other spiders, mimicking the struggle of trapped prey to lure the host of the web closer."

Playing you like a harp.

Also, "Pholcids are natural predators of the Tegenaria species, and it is this competition that helps keep Tegenaria populations in check, which may be advantageous to humans who live in regions with dense hobo spider populations." That would be our basement.
I've seen this too: "When the spider is threatened by a touch to the web or when too large a prey becomes entangled, the spider vibrates rapidly in a gyrating motion in its web and becomes blurred, almost invisible. For this reason pholcids have sometimes been called "vibrating spiders", although they are not the only species to exhibit this behavior. "
They can really wind it up, but this one was much too interested in supping to risk loosing her lunch.
My thought as I was trying to get closer for a pic was, "Do spiders poop?" Well, of course they do, it's one of the requirements for a living thing, but to "eat" most of them pretty much just inject their venom and let it dissolve the innards of their prey, either sucking them down like a chocolate shake or saving them for later as a glass of warm milk before bedtime.

So my thought was that they don't really eat a lot of solid food, (well, there are bird-killing spiders, but I think it goes pretty much the same) so it must be mostly a liquid poo then or a little gob of what they don't need? Do they drink water with a meal, or are they getting a full liquid lunch?

What I found out was that, "Spider 'poop' ranges from black through pinkish tan to whitish and comes in small drops. It is waste from the digestion of food. (Um, duh.) Spiders do not have separate urine and feces, and their droppings consist largely of guanine, which is a component of DNA and found in all living things." What goes around, comes around I guess.
Makes sense that they would have their poop in a combo package. Just another gold star for efficiency, while we mammals are just so, ah cumbersome. What a bunch of dorks.
Interestingly enough, in the cosmetics industry, crystalline guanine is used as an additive to various products (e.g., shampoo), where it provides a pearly iridescent effect. It is also used in metallic paints and simulated pearls and plastics. It provides shimmering luster to eye shadow and nail polish.
Hence the Spider-woman effect.