Category Archives: Science

The Chrysalis Plot Thickens

And along came larva #2. Having concern that #1 (now a pupa) is dying on the vine, I quickly jarred this one, using more visible glass (not plastique) so that we hopefully get to view at least one emerging Monarch butterfly.

And so a predator or parasite doesn’t get him outdoors!

I build a gorgeous condo. Does he hang upside down from the perfect stick? No, he hangs from the cheese cloth. So I can’t open the “lid” to show you photos.

He looked a little sickly — note drooping antennae — and did not build his cocoon that night, though I checked many, many times and barely slept.

He goes into the classic J pose. I wait for the big moment. I’m dying to see this with my own eyes.

Nothing.

Annnd the moment you blink, he does it. In broad daylight. I totally missed it again! Though I checked on him every single time I checked the US Open, on TV in another room.

The early hours of the chrysalis (pupa) stage are dicey; the exoskeleton is soft and delicate. So don’t move yours!

Meanwhile, #1 is either rotting or changing color for the big reveal.

He is supposed to turn black or clear. He is turning golden brown. Against all odds, I remain hopeful.

The Chrysalis’ Story

Here you can see he’s getting angular. Clearly something is going on inside. I’ll paraphrase from this gory article. Enzymes are digesting the caterpillar! Inside him are embryonic-type cells growing called “imaginal disks.” One imaginal disk will become, for example, a wing; a butterfly has 4 wings. There are imaginal disks that form the legs, antennae, and other parts.

Inside this thing, until a few days ago, was a — yuck — “bag of rich fluid media” that the cells started growing on. He has been getting shorter.

“The entire internal contents of the caterpillar — the muscles, the entire digestive system, even the heart…the nervous system — is totally rebuilt. It’s like you took your…Ford into the shop and left it there for a week and it came out as a Cadillac.

What’s nerve racking is the black line at top. I can’t tell if it’s a discoloration or an open slit. There are parasites that bore a hole, but I’ve read nothing about a slit.

I add this shot because it shows a little better that the dots along the slit are an exquisite gold that goes beautifully with the chrysalis’ green.

The nail biter continues, folks. I do hope he’s still alive in there, parasite-free. This is why we don’t watch nature shows. Who can take the anxiety?

It won’t be long now, either way. We’ll know by Friday, you and I.

Monarch Metamorphosis

A friend told me how her young sons pick a caterpillar from a milkweed plant every year. They put it into a container with some milkweed leaves for sustenance, and mesh over the top.

Crazily, the next day, this guy crawled towards me as I sat on our steps. I texted my friend a photo; she confirmed this was indeed a monarch caterpillar.

No idea what he was thinking, there was no greenery whatsoever in the direction he was headed. I grabbed the only container I could find. Clearly, the Forces had sent him my way.

It wasn’t a great container, but I was in a rush, afraid a bird would grab him.

He didn’t like it in there too much. He curled into a sad lump despite my careful selection of soil with clover growing in it. My friend said I needed some milkweed leaves and a stick for him to hang off of to do his thing.

Sure enough, he sprung to action.

You can see this is basically the container you get sesame noodles in. Not roomy. How was I to move him to something larger without causing permanent mental damage to us both?

Turned out I didn’t have to move him. Because I saw him that evening hanging upside down from the twig, shaped like the letter “J.”

I wondered, what’s he doing in there, man? I should have stuck around…taken some video…because look what I awoke to the next morning. I know I can watch it on YouTube, but I could have seen it live for God’s sake. It’s astonishing.

As my friend put, “They are like babies being born — always seem to do it at midnight!”

I don’t know what the heck is going on inside that chrysalis, but will research and report in for you. Honestly, how does it HAPPEN? How does he coat his entire self with silk? For that one, watch the short, time-lapsed link above from Fish and Wildlife.

This is how we know there’s something greater than ourselves in the cosmos. Stay tuned.

Your Water Break at the Halfway Mark

I’m not going to candycoat it. We’ve had it with this virus. It’s maddening, with no end in sight — a marathon with an invisible finish line. If you randomly approached strangers and asked, “What are you talking about?”, 85% of the time they’d reply, “COVID.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m a planner. These days we can’t plan a thing more than two weeks out…never know what’s around the corner! Reports come in, rules change, doors open and close. I’m kicking myself for not taking a river cruise, going to Scotland, Nova Scotia or Scandinavia, or trying Cuba before it was shut off (again) or surf camp, tennis camp, renting a lake house with friends. Yeah, it’s hard to schedule trips with people, everyone’s so busy, but I could have gone alone! It’s fun to travel alone. All that observing.

When will church start? The Olympics! Choir? Chorus? Contradancing? Canoodling? When will live concerts and sports and Broadway return? Hotels, movie theaters and the next Westworld? Will I lose my job? Will I get a job? Will I get a job requiring hazmat gear or cooties-soaked mass transit? It’s just painful.

On one hand the virus is not a face-melting pox…but then we’d know who has it, which is the problem. To bright-side it isn’t impossible, but it’s a stretch. “At least…” we’re not in a nuclear war; it’s not the Holocaust; it’s not 9/11; it’s not a global Katrina. Yet any way you slice it, COVID-19 sucks. Because we can control little beyond following protocols around masks, distancing, OCD-caliber handwashing, and donating money or time, we just have to suck it up.

We’re increasingly vigilant towards our mental well-being. Resilient human nature has us generally bouncing back, but striving to be upbeat is now more of a repeating calendar task (“no end date”). We have to work at it. A New Hampshire friend quit watching the news. Unapologetic, she says, “I find that going inside is the answer.” Meditating, sending love, enjoying your sheets, picturing a freer future, and resting—knowing that there are many people worldwide without such luxuries. I’ve never slept so much in my life. Dreams are like a free vacation. Occasionally a peculiar or disturbing dream, true, but well it didn’t actually happen, now did it? Didn’t cost a dime or expose you to microvarmints.

For meditation, I highly recommend the (free!) Insight Timer app. Thousands of guided meditations. Choose a topic, or just nature sounds/music and set the timer with various gongs and bells. Great good fun. It displays how many people are currently meditating; numbers have gone way up. Some gems are Canadian Jennifer Piercy (try Yoga Nidra for Sleep), or the young Jonny John Liu, whose name enchants and whose accent lulls in Self-Transformation Through Self-Acceptance. Just download Insight Timer and click on the Search magnifier at bottom. Off you go! I fall asleep before they’re over. Shh.

When spiraling downwards, I try self-talk, summoning pleasant thoughts. Like: this mess involves the entire planet. So the top medical smarties worldwide are working on solutions ‘round the clock. Vaccines! Treatments! Virus-killing UVC light-spraying robots on subways! Maybe this horror will end sooner than we think. Just maybe we are in fact, as one scientific predictor put it, halfway there. Envision what you’ll do when it’s over!

To make handwashing less of a bore: the virus’s fatty membrane holding it together is destroyed by soap. You’re not just rinsing virus down the drain; it literally falls apart. Don’t fret, I missed one! Just lather up, remember your nails and rings. You’re making it impossible for it to replicate. For the (required!) 20 seconds, you know to sing Happy Birthday twice. I sing it
to different people, dead or alive, real or fictional, as I launder my paws. To amuse self. Mental well-being.

I feel your pain, Dear Reader. Keep steady on your mount on this long and crazy journey. If you fall off, just get back on your pony and keep slashing through. I’ll water you both when you pass my station, so you can keep going. The way you act and process thoughts will determine our collective outcome. Think of solutions and wish hard. I miss you. Good day.

 

 

If You Listen to One (calming!) How-to on COVID Precautions….

…this is the one. Dr. David Price of Weill Cornell. If you’ve been putting it off, watch now.

I dare you to stop watching before it’s over. The Q&A very good at end.

https://vimeo.com/399733860

 

Night Blooming Cereus 1

Here we go, people. This little beauty was concealed behind my desk. Let the show begin!

An astonishing feat of nature, the NBC blooms for one night a year. The bloom grows right out of the leaf. The fragrance is astonishing, and lingers long after the bloom has faded. People throw parties for her splendour. As it should be.  Stay tuned!

There’s Just Something About a Spool

From slender filaments to giant cables, spools get the job done right. The big daddy on the left appeared down the road a piece. It made my day.

My sister-in-law, an extremely talented fiber artist, has dozens of spools. I An Artist's Spools are best.have a lowly 30. If you’ve never wound a bobbin on a sewing machine before, you’re missing out. If mankind wound more bobbins, there’d be less misery and lower crime rates.

This place, El Taller (“The Studio”), in Lawrence, MA is a cool coffee shop with books and…spools. They write in your coffee. What’s better than that?

Bienvenudo, baby.

Spools stools

Go here!

Open wide and say Ahhhhhhhhhhh

Photo by Thomas O'Brien

Photo by Thomas O’Brien

Got yer meteor shower info right here.  Park your lawn chair (paper toweling?) after 11 pm (pref. after midnight) or right before dawn.

Maybe you’ll see a fireball.  As luck would have it, the Perseid meteor shower is the “Fireball Champion.” Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon will show up together just as the meteor shower reaches its peak. A dim Mars and bright Jupiter will be visible right before the sun rises, above the eastern horizon.

Best viewing spot? Rural America, of course!

Black Flies, Lemonade, Hope, Mayo, and More Mayo

mayo

Wicker and mayo. Bon ete!

It’s time. Fishing. Golf. Swimming holes. Mayonnaise.

Black flies comin’. But mercifully along with rain.  It’s been so dry the liquid manure spread over the Land baked, stank, and dried up into individual molecules blowing into our cars, homes, and nostrils. While the recent re-wetting served to reconstitute (read: re-aromatize) this fertilizer, at least it is no longer visible as a wind-borne dust. Not good for tourism (You can’t be 20…on Manure Dust Mountain. Ride our Dust Chute!)

Another month, another holiday.  As complements to Mother’s and Father’s Days, I have repeatedly proposed both Maiden Aunts Day and Perpetual Bachelor’s Day (Crack open a PBR…on PBD!) So far no takers, including those behind the Hallmark and Mayan calendars but, as always, I remain hopeful. The month of May also means American Idol is over so we can stop Talking like Aussie Keith Urban—every bit as addictive as talking like a pirate on Talk Like A pirate Day (Arrrrrrrr, avast, me hearties: a Thursday this year!) The difference is Idol spans many months and causes more permanent damage in friendships.

I can’t decide if the live voting that goes with TV shows these days is fun or saddening (How are the judges doing? Are they moronic? What about their hair? Yes or no?) Between that and young computer hackers sending viruses with creepy names and Trojan horses that “drop” malicious “payloads,” we oldsters are at a total loss. Maybe psychiatrists can tell us why these kids are so bloody angry. We know why we’re so bloody baffled. The world has become odd in our lifetime. Things are just…boggling. Tech confusion! Voter fraud! Bio-terrorism! Climate havoc! Calf implants! Oceans full of garbage! Economic pandemonium! Geez, it makes you long for a kilt and a good old-fashioned plague.  With some Crusades thrown in. Wait—maybe things weren’t so great in the past. But at least we know all about them; our new horrors we don’t understand yet. If youth is wasted on the young, history is wasted on the living. We don’t learn Jack from history, seems like. We just keep piling new horrors on the old.

In a world teetering on the brink of disaster, it is more pressing than ever to think on happy things. In this unimportant column, after some head shaking at the neo-Biblical mayhem of modern tymes, we strive for laffs, lemonade from lemons, and lerv.  People want good news, like how the re-opening of the Barnard General Store has proven the existence of a benevolent God, or when NPR news informs us that the honey bees’ Spontaneous Hive Collapse (a.k.a. “Colony Collapse Disorder” or “May Disease”) suddenly dropped by 50% this year. That means more bees generating warmth in the hive, giving them the energy they require to fly (they need to be warm to fly—don’t you?), so that they can pollinate the crops that feed this crazy planet.

Let’s hope all the flora—including trees flowering madly this year due to a legit winter without last year’s weirdly hot spring—will provide our busy fuzzy friends with the pollen and nectar they so richly deserve. Worth considering from the NPR report:  a woman suggested that humans (1) plant flowers and (2) be less fussy and let some weeds grow, as bees like ‘em. Thanks, NPR lady! Givin’ us advice we dig, makin’ our lives better. Less weeding = one item crossed off the To Do list = another perfect day in paradise. And thanks, European Union, for passing legislation (for two years, anyway) banning pesticides that might be behind the bees’ demise. Good work, EU.

Scientists are talking of bringing the dinosaurs back from extinction.  While they’re an old horror we know something about, we also know they’ll just walk all over the hives and everything else, breaking stuff, setting off nukes, and who knows what with their giant feet and pea-brains.  But maybe we’ll domesticate them (humanely!) as forms of mass transit (pterodactyl plane; brontosaurus bus; sea monster water taxi) or (lovingly!) make them walk (lumber?) on giant treadmills connected to power generators. I remain hopeful. As, I am certain, do you.  Good holiday, extra mayo, and good day.

Kick Off Black History Month with This

mcnairThis FABULOUS StoryCorps tale by the brother of Challenger astronaut Ronald E. McNair, the second African American to enter space, is uplifting on too many levels to name.  It’s great, and short (like BHM iteself).

Black History Month’s 85th theme is “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington.”

Here’s what’s scheduled at the Smithsonian and here’s (ironically) the best list of DC events I found. A brief slideshow includes a shot of Harriet Tubman at [a lot] years old.

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