Friday, April 23, 2010

chicken blog!

So, the other day, I read this great post about a rescued chicken. Who knew 100 chickens a year were abandoned in San Francisco each year? Well this one, named Elvira, was one of the lucky ones to find a home with a woman in the Mission neighborhood.

What's even better? The new owner maintains a CHICKEN BLOG! Awesome. On her first post, in March 2010, she writes, "Not to be hip is embarrassing. Especially in the Mission, which is a nursery for many Silicon Valley success stories, and thus, home for hip people. To be somebody in this neighborhood, I need the chickens."


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

2 day old mandarin ducks leaping from their nest

Words do not do justice...

Read more about Mandarin Ducks on the Honolulu Zoo site.


Monday, January 18, 2010

will you help?

The Boston Globe did a photojournal of the 2009 Sumatra earthquake. I've been holding on to this image for a while, and debating whether or not to post it. The picture below usually would make me laugh (since ducks are hilarious), if it wasn't so sad (salvaging what he can from the destruction).

Events like these in Sumatra, and most recently in Haiti, remind us of the power of nature, as well as the good fortune so many of us enjoy.

If you haven't already, please consider making a donation to the Red Cross. You can text "HAITI" to 90999 and make a $10 donation to support the American Red Cross Haiti relief efforts. The donation will be debited from your cell phone bill.

A 48-hour-old fundraising campaign to help Haiti earthquake victims, done solely through text messages, was already stunning Red Cross officials on Thursday when it hit $3 million. By Friday morning, the tally had more than doubled.

The campaign, made viral on networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, had raised $8 million by Friday, according to a Twitter message from the White House that was reposted on the Red Cross account. - CNN 1.14.10

UPDATED: Harman said the campaign, which raised more than $3 million in its first 24 hours last week, had topped the $21 million mark by 11 p.m. on Sunday. - CNN 1.18.10

Update 5:20pm: I have been alerted to the fact that these mobile donations can take up to 90 days to reach the Red Cross (CNN, Gigaom). Jonathan Aiken, spokesman for the Red Cross, says "The Red Cross already has cash on hand, so it's putting that money to work now and will replenish its coffers once the mobile donations are officially processed... That's how it's always worked," Aiken said. "So in a way it doesn't matter which exact date the money officially comes in. And in any case, we're still going to be in Haiti 90 days from now -- this is not going away anytime soon."

The Better Business Bureau recommends that consumers give to charity online, by phone or mail if they want the funds deposited immediately.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

profitable reindeer poop

So, don't ever let someone tell you your ideas are silly. This holiday season, Bloomington's Miller Park Zoo has raised $20,884 by selling necklaces and ornaments made from reindeer droppings.

Last year, the zoo made about $5,000 selling reindeer-dropping ornaments. This year, they moved into necklaces after some people asked if jewelery would become available.

To make them, dime-sized pieces of reindeer poop are dehydrated, sterilized and spray-painted with glitter. They're called "Magical Reindeer Gems." (The image above is courtesy of a November post in this cool blog called L.A. Unleashed.)

The ornaments cost $7.50 at the zoo's gift shop or $10 by mail. The necklaces sold for $15 at the gift shop, or $20 by mail. The Miller Park Zoological Society says this year they made about 300 necklaces and more than 2,000 ornaments.

The zoological society says the ornaments and necklaces were sold nationwide. And I LOVE this news bit: "Requests also came in from other countries, but federal regulations don't allow reindeer droppings to be exported." (!)

Unfortunately, these items are limited-edition... so maybe next year?

This story reminds me of another poop fundraiser. I taught high school back in 1999 in central Illinois. It was a learning experience... from kids bringing in their prize-wining goats for their science project to a kid who invited me to ride in his new air-conditioned combine. But, I thought the kids were pulling my leg when they told me about the "Cow Patty Derby."

For this fundraiser, the football field was divided into numbered 1 ft x 1 ft squares. Then people bought corresponding numbered raffle tickets. The night of the event, townsfolk gathered in the bleachers and they let a cow loose on the field. Now, this sounds more dramatic than it is, since the cow mostly just stood there and occasionally walked around. But, eventually, as all cows do, it needed to.. ahem ... relieve itself. So, it drops a cow patty in some random square, and the owner of that numbered ticket is the big winner!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

turkey pardon

So, I've been meaning to blog this for over a year, ever since I read about George Bush pardoning a turkey. Apparently, Obama will continue the tradition today as he pardons a 45 pound turkey and sends it off to be the Grand Marshall of the Thanksgiving Day parade in Disneyland. According to Snopes, this tradition started with George Bush Sr. in 1989. (President Harry Truman is often cited, incorrectly, as the first president to pardon a Thanksgiving turkey.)

One of my favorite quotes of the event is: "You know there are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office. And then there are moments like this - when I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland."

Watch turkeys Courage and Carolina get their pardons:

Funny... this year, The president of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk has written in a blog for Huffingon Post:

On behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and our more than 2 million members and supporters, I am writing to ask three things: 1) that you please send this year's pardoned turkeys to a credible sanctuary; 2) that in your speech at the pardoning ceremony, you acknowledge the millions of compassionate Americans who personally pardon turkeys every year by choosing a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal; and 3) that you invite PETA's chef to present a delicious cruelty-free Thanksgiving meal for you and your family, including Tofurky with all the trimmings, from corn bread to cranberries, and an all-American vegan apple pie with vanilla soy ice cream on top. The vegan meal would provide some balance to all the free publicity given to the turkey industry on this occasion.


Friday, September 18, 2009

fish doctor feet

So, for hundreds of years, people could relax in the hotsprings of Turkey while fish gently nibbled on their skin. Apparently, it is so hot in these springs that not much can grow, so the fish are quite hungry. In comes a human with dry, flaky skin, and the fish see a feast before them. In the 1980's, Turkey began using these "doctor fish" to officially treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and ezcema. In 2008, a salon in Virginia became the first U.S. location to offer the fishy service.

Conveniently, these fish prefer affected skin, and will leave healthy skin alone. The fish can be of two different species: Garra rufa and Cyprinion macrostomus. Many scientists think that as the fish remove your dead, scaly skin, light and water can get to the healthy skin underneath, helping your body heal itself.

It sounds like a joke, but according to one study published by Oxford University Press, "Ichthyotherapy (therapy with the so-called ‘Doctorfish of Kangal’, Garra rufa) has been shown to be effective in patients with psoriasis in the Kangal hot springs in Turkey."

In Kangal, the water's high temperature makes it difficult for any nutrients to survive; the doctor fish are therefore ravenous. Handily, they also have a penchant for dead, diseased or scabby skin. With their gummy mouths they strike and lick the psoriatic plaques, eating away the scaly skin that has been softened by the warm spa pool. Their nibbles can cause minor bleeding, which the selenium-rich water and high-altitude Turkish sunlight then heals. (source)

Click here to watch a BBC news report on a fish doctor spa.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

snuggies for dogs?!

I tried to resist blogging about this, but it is just too funny. I read a Chicago Tribune article informing us that Snuggies are FINALLY available for dogs. (Did I miss something here? Does any dog need a blanket with sleeves?!)

The Snuggie for Dogs is $14.95 plus $7.95 shipping and handling. A second one is free if you pay for shipping.

Then I watched the promotional VIDEO on the website.

I am still laughing....

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Friday, June 5, 2009

fragrant whale vomit?

So, I was cruising HowStuffWorks, and a headline caught my eye:

How can whale vomit help me retire?

Whoa. Encyclopedia Britannica backs it up: Ambergris is "a solid waxy substance originating in the intestine of the sperm whale. Fresh ambergris is black and soft and has a disagreeable odour. When exposed to sun, air, and seawater, however, it hardens and fades to a light gray or yellow, developing a subtle and pleasant fragrance in the process." An Italian site tells of the powers of ambergris, from its use for pheromones, tea flavorings, and use as an infertility cure.

Experts say you can get about $10 to $20 per gram of ambergris, depending on its quality.

HowStuffWorks offers a few at-home identification tests if you think you may have found aged whale puke:

But there are a couple of tests that you can perform at home to find out if you should even bring that waxy substance to an expert in the first place.
  • Needle test
    Heat a needle over a flame for 15 seconds, and then insert it about an eighth of an inch (.3 cm) into the substance. Does it melt around the needle into a pool of thick, black, bubbling liquid? When you touch that liquid, do you end up with a stringy, tar-like residue on your finger? When you reheat the needle, covered in the melted substance, does it let off a white smoke?
  • Methyl-alcohol test
    Does a sample of the substance dissolve in hot methyl alcohol and crystallize when the alcohol cools?
If the substance passes those tests, the next ones take place in a lab. Chemists will test for benzoic acid and cholesterol in the sample. If the amounts are indicative of ambergris, it will usually be tentatively confirmed as ambergris at this time, although perfume companies will typically order more chemical tests before purchasing the would-be whale vomit.
Why am I just learning about this? Check out more images of this crazy whale barf.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

a trucker and his duck

A truck driver from Minnesota brings his duck out on the job. The best quote?

"As stupid as it sounds, maybe if more people had a duck in their life... maybe we wouldn't be so mad at each other all the time."


Friday, January 2, 2009

the elephant diet = no more jelly beans

According to A San Diego newspaper, Elephants at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park have lost a combined total of 11,314 pounds ever since zookeepers began a nutrition and exercise program for them in 2000. The article points out "that's nearly 5.7 tons among seven animals. "

Apparently, zoo keepers started to feed the elephants a number of smaller meals throughout the day, instead of three big meals. They also hid the food so that the animals would "work for it" and trained the animals to walk laps. And they cut out the elephants snacks, including jellybeans.

Mary, one of the Wild Animal Park's Asian elephants, lost weight but couldn't keep it off. Zookeepers didn't understand – until they discovered Mary was stealing food from her pachyderm pals.

Nature is cruel, it seems, even to elephants. The other pachyderms at the Wild Animal Park probably hate the aptly named Cha Cha. Like a supermodel, her trouble is keeping the weight on.

Zookeepers also changed the main ingredient of their elephant pellets to soy.

At the Wild Animal Park, the elephants do the equivalent of line drills in basketball. They've been trained to walk from Point A to Point B across the 3-acre enclosure, then back again.

For an added element of difficulty, zoo workers rake the packed soil so it requires more effort to walk. It's like running in the soft sand at the beach instead of at the waterline.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

squirrel obstacle course

Who says you can't teach an old squirrel new tricks?


Sunday, April 20, 2008

hippopotamus art car

I read a funny article in the SF Chronicle the other day. Apparently, this clown in Houston is obsessed with hippopotami and wanted to turn her Toyota Rav4 into something more hippopotam-ish. Eight years after she first got his name, Tom Kennedy finished her SECOND hippo-mobile!

You can check out Tom Kennedy's website for more pictures, plus the story of the upside-down school bus built for Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's ice cream!

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Friday, March 28, 2008

gummy banana slugs and real slug weirdness

"The banana slug is a bright yellow to olive green-ish, slimy mollusk found in the northwest redwood forests and can grow up to 12". It the official school mascot for UC Santa Cruz."

I love banana slugs. And now, out in California, I actually see them. So imagine my glee when I discovered these gems of randomness.

You can buy a gummy banana slug from Candy Warehouse for $5.90. These sugary wonders are 5.5 inches long and weigh 45 grams. Or get a similarly sized candy mollusk for only $4.75.

But if we are talking random fabulous, buy your gummy slug from McPhee. While you're there, you may want to pick up some meat trinkets including a bacon placemat and assorted meat pencil toppers?! Or pick up an avenging narwhal play set or other bizarre types of candy!

Lake Quinault Lodge even has a stuffed slug?!

As strange as these fake banana slugs may seem, the reality of these mollusks is much, much stranger. Banana slugs,
Ariolimax columbianus, are hermaphroditic, which means they have both male and female parts. This is not all that strange in the animal kingdom, especially among invertebrates. However, it's what they do after they mate that is unusual. Slugs generally fertilize each other at the same time, but because they can have rather large reproductive organs, one of the slugs can get stuck. The other slug then does an activity scientifically referred to as apophallation, where they... ahem... gnaw off the other slug's penis to get the slug loose from its mate. While this may sound crazy to us, scientists believe this may serve an important purpose. They slug who loses their male organ is forced to become female and offer up eggs.

Still need more banana slug science? Here's a coloring page.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

boston dynamic's military robot dog!

Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that specializes in robotics and human simulation, has created one of the most fascinatingly creepy things I have ever seen - BigDog.

This robot has a strikingly animal-like walk, due to its many sensors that help it judge its position, force and load. In fact, this robot can't be knocked down, although engineers gave it a good kick during the demo video.

BigDog trots at about 4 mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rough terrain, snow and ice, and carries a 340 lb load. And it is noisy... it sounds like a hive of buzzing bees. BUT - it can carry packs where humans can't or shouldn't go, and won't get spooked by gunfire. And it's come a long way since the 2006 model.

BigDog is being developed with the goal of creating robots that can go anywhere on Earth that people and animals can go. The program is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). (DARPA is also funding a project to develop a robot that climbs trees?!)

The thing sort of creeps me out, so I won't embed the video in my post, but I strongly suggest you watch the video on the Boston Dynamics site, or catch it on YouTube.

And, of course, as with anything new, somebody's got to make a parody.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

giant gulping whales

Scientists at the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Berkeley have discovered some amazing things while studying fin whales. First, the gulps of some of these baleen whales can take in a volume of water equal to the size of a school bus. These are no small gulps, especially with jaws that can be up to one-fifth their 88 feet body length!

Baleen whale generally have 200-400 overlapping plates hanging from each side of the upper jaw, where you might expect to find teeth. These plates, called baleen, are made of a fingernail-like material called keratin. "During feeding, large volumes of water and food can be taken into the mouth because the pleated grooves in the throat expand. As the mouth closes water is expelled through the baleen plates, which trap the food on the inside near the tongue to be swallowed." (Info from the American Cetacean Society)

This picture (from the UC Berkeley article) illustrates the "feeding lunge of a fin whale, which can carry the whale some 35 feet and collect as much as 25 pounds of shrimp-like krill." (And these krill, averaging just 1-2 cm in length, are what feeds this 88-foot cetacean.) These whales eat using a series of 6 - 10 second lunges. Perhaps most incredibly, these lunges result the whale taking in enough water that, for those few seconds before the water is filtered out, the whale can be more than twice its normal body weight.

This process take a lot of energy for an animal swimming in the sea. Although each lunge takes them up to 35 feet through the water, there is a tremendous amount of drag on the animal.

Luckily, some whales can get their daily requirement of kill in just four hours of hunting. Pretty amazing when you consider that many whales can consume 2 tons (4000) pounds of krill each day!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

don't feed the parrots in san francisco

Ferry Park, San Francisco, CA

Well, this was not a sign I expected to see in the middle of the city. But it is true - there is a flock of wild parrots that make their home in San Francisco. Actually, there are TWO flocks of birds in the city, but this park is often home to the famous "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill." (The scientific name is Aratinga erythrogenys, also known as a cherry-headed conure, among other names.) This species comes from the west side of the Andes in southern Ecuador and the extreme north of Peru.

Resident Mark Bittner maintains a website promoting his book, his film, and general information on these birds. He also was integral in creating this law in 2007, banning the feeding of the birds.

From Bittner's site, I also learned that there is a wild parrot flock in Chicago, Illinois! (First spotted in 1973 in the Hyde Park neighborhood.)

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

a lizard in a lizard

(Imagine my surprise when I realized I already have a previous post about reptiles swallowing unusual things.) Anyway, this story is a new one for me....

Things got pretty weird in Jacksonville, Florida, when a 7 year old brought her pet 12-inch bearded dragon to the animal hospital. She thought it was having a baby. (This would be a problem, since bearded dragons lay eggs.)

At the animal hospital, veterinarian John Rossi sedated the lizard and began to pull on the obstructions.
"The next thing I knew, I was seeing legs and a body and a head. It was very strange to be tugging on this thing," he said. By the time the rubbery lizard's legs began to appear, Rossi realized what it was.

"We were all laughing," he said. "It passed completely through the entire (gastrointestinal) tract," Rossi said.
Her pet had swallowed a 7 inch rubber lizard. Whoa. The rubber lizard was a little over 58% the length of the lizard. Imagine if you swallowed a 3 foot rubber human....


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

moving giant marine animals

When I read that two new whale sharks arrived at the Georgia Aquarium on Friday, June 1st, while the recently-born beluga whale is making plans to leave the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago some time this summer, I couldn't help but wonder - how do you transport these giant animals?

Well, the two whale sharks were flown 8,000 miles from Taipei, Taiwan on a specially-designed cargo plane with 20-foot-long fiberglass tanks with oxygen machines and other equipment to keep them healthy on their trip. When they arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, their tanks were transferred to two flatbed trucks and driven to the aquarium surrounded by an escort of Atlanta police cars with their blue lights flashing. (video) They will join three other whale sharks in their new home in a 6 million gallon tank.

Qannik, the male Beluga whale born back in August, 2000, is leaving Chicago and heading for Tacoma, Washington's Point Defiance Zoo. Qannik's mother, Mauyak, is pregnant again and expecting the new calf this fall. The mother/son bond between Qannik and Mauyak has all but disappeared as he grows into a sexual mature adult, and he must leave the facility to avoid interbreeding between him and his mother. Qannik is now 11 feet long and weighs about 1,000 pounds. In his new home, he will live in a whale pool with Beethoven, a 14-year-old 1,600-pound male beluga.

Qannik will travel in a specially-designed freight plane, riding in a "custom-made, fleece-lined sling suspended in a shallow tank of ice water." Trainers at the Shedd have been putting Qannik in and out of the sling repeatedly this year, using it for check-ups and exams, which will help Qannik be more comfortable with the device during his trip.

UPDATE (6.11.07) Qannik has arrived at the Tacoma zoo!
The aquarium kept the timing of Qannik's move under wraps to stave off protests, officials told The News Tribune of Tacoma for a story posted on the paper's Web site Sunday.

The whale
traveled inside an "enormous, foam-padded plastic tank in the DC-8 plane for a flight that cost $84,000." The zoo website has posted photos of Qannik's adventures!

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

so many deformed cicadas

A student asked me why there are so many deformed cicadas. You know, the ones with the shriveled wings, or even the ones who harden halfway out of their old exoskeletons. I read more in the Chicago Gardener blog. (You might want to check out the rest of the cicada posts too!)

John Cooley, a biologist at the University of Connecticut says it is not the lawn chemicals doing the damage, although humans are the ultimate culprit.

When cicada nymphs emerge, they must find something vertical to climb and stake out perching places to molt. At its perch, each cicada slips out of its nymph shell and then must hang undisturbed on that perch until its new exoskeleton unfolds and begins to harden properly. If it is disturbed during that time, its exoskeleton will be deformed ("faulty ecdysis," to the scientists).

In regular woody settings, there are plenty of trees, shrubs and tall grasses to support the cicada population. But here in the suburbs, yards are carefully landscaped, with neatly trimmed lawns and a few strategically placed trees and bushes, which limits the number of perches for the nymphs to hang on.

Since many cicadas must crawl onto the same places, they often bump into or climb over each other. This is a problem for those light-colored, recently molted cicadas who are waiting for their exoskeletons to harden. At the delicate stage when they must hang undisturbed, they are finding themselves trampled by other cicadas. This causes the many deformed cicadas.

The University of Connecticut Dept. of Ecology agrees,
"Cicadas sometimes fail to properly inflate their wings after molting; such individuals can be found in low vegetation in any emergence.... The cicadas in the picture below came from a 1990 emergence in a suburban front yard near Chicago. Many of the cicadas in this area had deformed wings. Possible explanations include crowding (during molting) and use of lawn chemicals."

A University of Illinois entomologist believes it is normal to have so many deformed cicadas, although normally predators would eat them before we would see them. However, with these cicadas, there are so many insects, the predators can't keep up! (
Chicago Cicada Central)


Saturday, May 12, 2007

bad day at the fish farm

If I ever think I'm having a bad day at work, I will think of this story. Four workers in Turners Falls, Massachusetts fell into a 18-foot filtration tank filled with a mixture of sandy fish feces. The workers were standing on a pad, attached to the tank by a bracket, when the bracket broke, plunging them into the vat of fish waste. The men were rescued, treated and expected to be fine.

Turners Falls Fire Capt. David Dion comments, "It was very slimy and it was heavy," he said. "Never seen anything like it in my life."

The Australis Aquaculture fish farm in Turners Falls farms barramundi, a replacement for grouper. While we're on the topic, did you ever think of where your fish comes from? There are two types, wild and farm-raised. While fishing fish in the wild can quickly destroy ecosystems (think Happy Feet), farm-raised fish can cause similar havoc.

According to a 2002 article in Time Magazine, aquaculture (as opposed to agriculture) is already the world's fastest-growing food industry, with production increasing more than 10% a year. This is good because "about half the world's wild fisheries have been exhausted by overfishing. In the North Atlantic, one of the most depleted oceans, populations of popular fish are just one-sixth of what they were a century ago." Theoretically, when you eat farm-raised fish, you are saving a wild fish from being removed from the wild.

In fact, ecologists and economists warn that, at the current rate without any changes, the world will run out of seafood by 2048. According to the Washington Post, "the journal Science, concludes that overfishing, pollution and other environmental factors are wiping out important species around the globe, hampering the ocean's ability to produce seafood, filter nutrients and resist the spread of disease."

However, there are many critics of fish farming. According to that same Time article, Otto Langer, a biologist who worked 30 years for Canada's Department of Fisheries, says "a large salmon farm may pour as much liquid waste into the sea as a small city." Not only can fish farms contribute to polluting the waters, but they deplete the supply of wild fish in order to feed their farm-raised counterparts. This leads to some pretty unnatural stuff.

Because salmon are voracious eaters of smaller species, it takes several pounds of wild fish, ground up into meal, to yield 1 lb. of farmed salmon — an exchange that depletes the world supply of protein. The diet of farmed salmon lacks the small, pink-colored krill that their wild cousins eat, so the flesh of farmed fish is gray; a synthetic version of astaxanthin, a naturally occurring pigment, is added to the feed.
Also consider the effects of disease, parasites, severe overcrowding of fish, and the antibiotics (farmers give to protect their fish) leaking into the waters.. Also there are potential problems when farm-raised fish escape into the wild, interfering with the natural ecological balance of the area.

Shrimp are particularly damaging to the environment. Shrimp farms can actually raise the salinity of surrounding waters, and the waste run off can kill trees in area. Interestingly enough, Time has some praise for particular invertebrate farms.

On an eco-friendly scale, bivalves generally rate highest among the more than 220 species of fish and shellfish that are cultivated commercially. Mussels and oysters are filter-feeders that make the surrounding water cleaner, so small-scale farming of them is not usually harmful to the ecosystem.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

the cicadas are coming

Brace yourselves, Chicagoland, because the cicadas are back! The Chicago Tribune recently published an article about the upcoming infestation of cicadas (which happen to be in the Arthropod phylum).

Cicadas are often mistaken for locusts, but they're actually they are related to leafhoppers or aphids. (Watch a video of actual locusts here.) Locusts are grasshoppers that often travel in vast swarms. Because periodical cicadas appear in such large numbers, early European settlers in North America connected cicadas to the plague of locusts mentioned in the Bible. Cicadas are not locusts.

There are some great articles to help you learn how cicadas work. Basically, they work on a 17 or 13 year life cycle. They won't hurt you. Cicadas do not sting or bite, and their diet consists of the sap from plants. The very loud sound you will hear (mostly during the heat of the day) is actually the mating call of the male cicadas. The sound is not produced by vocal chords, but rather by the buckling of the ribs, the vibration of a membrane and amplification in the cavities of the cicada's abdomen. (You can visit the University of Michigan zoology site to find audio files from various types of cicadas.)

(click image to enlarge)
After they sing, the cicadas mate. Afterwards, adult female cicada lay eggs by piercing plant stems and inserting the eggs into the slit created in the stem. The eggs eventually hatch into small, wingless cicadas known as nymphs. The nymphs eventually fall to the ground and dig below the surface. Here they stay for 17 years, slowly growing into adults. The nymphs live on the sap from plant roots while they grow. When the nymphs reach full size, they dig their way to the surface with specially adapted front legs that act as tiny shovels. The nymphs then climb to higher ground and shed their skin for the last time. (see YouTube video) Now they are fully-winged adult cicadas. - How Stuff Works
Watch an amazing movie on the life cycle of cicadas.
(click image to enlarge)

There are two main types of cicadas: "annual" cicadas, which are around in small numbers each year, and "periodical" cicadas, which come out in a giant, synchronized mass every 13 or 17 years. I learned that there are believed to be 13 broods of 17-year cicadas in North America. (I also learned you won't find periodical cicadas on any other continent!) The respective 17 and 13 year broods of any one species only overlap once every 221 years, i.e. broods V and XXII emerged synchronously in 1897 and will not do so again until 2118." (source: Gordon's Cicada Page) Check out this great interactive map to learn more about broods and when they might be in your area!

The last brood to emerge was Brood X (brood #10), which came up in the spring of 2004 in the eastern US. The group of cicadas that will be seen in Chicago this May are named Brood XIII (or brood #13). The last time they surfaced (if you do a little mental math) was in 1990, when I was a freshman in high school! Hey, to celebrate this historic moment in your middle school lives, you may want to order your Brood XIII T-shirts now!

They will surface when the ground temperature reaches about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. With any luck, they will be here just in time for all those Memorial Day picnics....

More information on Brood XII (and local cicada events) can be found on the following sites:

Great presentation from Indiana University

The Lake County Forest Preserve
The University of Illinois Cicada Page
ABC News (with video)
Cicada Mania

And, it's not very nice, but you can play Swat the Cicada on your computer.

The University of Maryland even provides cicada recipes for your dining pleasure. It is said they taste like asparagus or clam-flavoured potato.NPR posts just one of their many recipes: (whoa - read the "before you begin")

Disclaimer: the University of Maryland does not advocate eating cicadas without first consulting with your doctor. While many people do eat cicadas, there is no guarantee that they are safe for every person to eat. As with all foods, it is possible that certain individuals will have allergic reactions to substances within the cicada.

Soft-Shelled Cicadas


1 cup Worcestershire sauce

60 freshly emerged 17-year cicadas

4 eggs, beaten

3 cups flour

Salt and pepper to season the flour

1 cup corn oil or slightly salted butter


Marinate cicadas alive in a sealed container in Worcestershire sauce for several hours. (Note: You can skip this step and go directly to the egg step instead.)

Dip them in the beaten egg, roll them in the seasoned flour and then gently sauté until they are golden brown.

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Sunday, February 4, 2007

tattooed fish

Alright, I have come to terms with a lot of crazy pet trends, but does the world really need tattooed fish? A tropical fish supplier in Hong Kong is offering a new service in which it will decoratively tattoo fish using a laser. Apparently, dyed fish are not new, since people have being using acrylic paints or dyes on fish since the 1980s.

According to an article in Practical Fishkeeping, Chairman of the HK Aquaria Mall, Alen Lee, told the Chinese newspaper Mingpao,
Firstly, we need to select the appropriate fish and use only low intensity laser beams. We only engrave on the fishes’ scales, not through them. We also had concerns over the possibility of animal abuse, but to date the mortality rate has been zero. The fishes don't even bleed.

Some experts claim that the technique is no different that the dyes used to track fish for ecological studies, while others condemn the practice as being cruel and totally unnecessary. The UK's Practical Fishkeeping Magazine has even been sponsoring a Dyed Fish Campaign since 1996.
It devalues living creatures and treats them as if they were some inanimate object that can be decorated purely for whim or commercial gain.
Hmmm...I wonder what that says for human tattoos? (Although I understand that the fish do not have a choice in the matter.) If you are interested in more information, a Los Angeles TV station offers a slide show and video of some of the fish that have found their way to the States.


Wednesday, January 3, 2007

green glowing pigs

Scientists in Taiwan just announced that they have successfully bred pigs that glow in the dark.
Taiwan is not claiming a world first. Others have bred partially fluorescent pigs before; but the researchers insist the three pigs they have produced are better.
Scientists used a gene from a jellyfish and impanted it into 256 pig embryos. Of those, three developed into pigs which were born three months ago. Scientists stress that these pigs are no different from any other, except for the fact that they grow green when lit up in the dark. During the day, they look like any other pig, albeit slightly tinted green.

Pigs are certainly not the first animals scientists have injected with an organism's glowing gene. There are glow worms, GloFish, and even potatoes!

Scentists hope to use what they've learned to help study human disease in the future, by using these pig proteins or stem cells that can be easily tracked in another animal's system.

Ironically, China is celebrating the Year of the Pig starting in January.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

cricket under parasitic mind control

Thanks to Adam A. for showing me this crazy video of a "cricket's mind taken over by a parasite." Of course, being a responsible scientist, I had to check the source of the information. This parasite really does exist and does cause these behaviors!

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komodo dragon virgin birth

Imagine how surprised zookeepers were to find out this Komodo Dragon was pregnant - without having any contact with male dragons!
Flora has never mated, or even mixed, with a male dragon, and fertilized all the eggs herself, a process culminating in parthenogenesis, or virgin birth. Other lizards do this, but scientists only recently found that Komodo dragons do too.


those crazy llamas

Enjoy the llama song, while you learn about how llama antibodies might prevent dandruff AND fight bioterrorism ...... (also featured in HowStuffWorks)


snakes swallowing things they shouldn't

WARNING: Gross pictures. Viewer discretion is advised.

Check out the python that swallowed a pregnant sheep. Sometimes prey is too much for a snake to handle, as is the case with this alligator.

Although, even watching a snake swallow a regular egg is pretty cool.