Kings of Pain


Resistance is futile. Trust me, I tried to avoid Kings of Pain airing on History Channel. Ignored promotional clips, balked at tuning in, ran for the hills when it appeared on the TV guide. Ultimately I caved, momentary weakness spawned inexplicable obsession. Kings of Pain is satisfying on SO MANY levels!

Overview – hosts Adam Thom  ( “wildlife biologist” ) and Rob “Caveman” Aleva ( “animal handler” ) travel the globe in search of venomous, deadly or cranky insects and animals. Their mission, to rank bites and stings on a 30 point scale in 3 categories – 10 points each for initial physical pain, duration of pain and after effects. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kings_of_Pain

Kings of Pain must be seen to be believed. Not for the premise, but for dialogue (seriously now, how many times can two men call each other “dude” in an hour), absurd ineptitude of on camera medics and hysterical observation of fore mentioned medics posing awkwardly when on camera. It’s so great!

 

 

 

 

Winning Dark Sky Images


In May of this year the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) held its first annual Capture the Dark photography competition. Tasked with capturing  “meaning of the night”, participants were invited to submit images in one of five categories – Connecting to the Dark, International Dark Sky Places, Impact of Light Pollution, Bright Side of Lighting and Youth.

Connecting to the Dark winner –

Child with butterfly net containing several stars, star in deep blue sky just above net.

View larger | Mihail Minkov captured this photo, which is titled Star Catcher. The photo is from the Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria. It’s the 1st-place winner in 2020’s IDA photo contest, in the Connecting to the Dark category.

International Dark Sky Places winner –

Milky Way above steep wooded valley with rocky stream in foreground.

iew larger. | Jean-Francois Graffand captured this image at the Pic du Midi International Dark Sky Reserve in France. It’s the winner in the International Dark Sky Places category. The photo is titled Dark Night in Pyrénées Mountains.

Impact of Light Pollution winner –

A few stars visible in brightly lit night sky above hills with square tower in distance.

View larger. | Petr Horálek captured this image at the Great Wall of China. It’s the winner in the Impact of Light Pollution category. The photo is titled Remembering the Old Times.

Bright Side of Lighting winner –

Milky Way arching over streaming waterfall in hills with nearby evergreen trees.

View larger. | Jean-Francois Graffand captured this photo at the Pyrénées National Parc in France. It’s the winner in the Bright Side of Lighting category. It’s titled The Celestial River.

Youth winner –

Milky Way over distant farm building past wide field of red paintbrush flowers and bluebonnet flowers.

View larger.| Nayana Rajesh, age 16, captured the winning entry in the Youth category. The photo is set in Ennis, Texas. It’s titled “The Barn.”

View all winning and finalist submissions – https://darksky.app.box.com/s/yzvnppjej02asjtwvjsxmyr4twxr3e8g

Read more at – https://earthsky.org/earth/ida-2020-photo-contest-winners-night-sky-images?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=868f0bb18e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_02_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-868f0bb18e-393970565

Try To Live With Polite Spiders


Several months ago a tiny spider appeared on the bathroom windowsill. I said hello. Odd as this sounds, Spring doesn’t officially arrive until a polite spider homesteads on my bathroom sill. It’s been that way every year of twenty one lived in this house. Suffice to say welcoming spring spider, keeping her polite existence to myself is problematic. Mine is not a family of arachnid sympathizers. I clean around her, know that when startled she retreats through a vent in the aluminum window frame and hope for the best. In two months she’s doubled in size. Twice as large, neither a threat or concern – polite spiders know their place.

Arachnophobia is real, I get it. Expecting others to embrace polite house spiders is a big ask. That said it’s important to understand how vital spiders are to the balance of nature. Their prime directive is to control insect populations be it aphid, fly, moth or mosquito. Everyone needs to relax, understand house spiders are polite and predictable without a lick of animosity toward the human race.

Why is it I embrace the annual appearance of polite bathroom spiders while my family feels obliged to eradicate them with insecticide, wads of tissue or unceremonious suction of a vacuum hose? All because house spiders are demonized as vile marauders!  Oh my goodness, they’re not malicious, it’s so disheartening. I’m not asking you to hug spiders, I’m asking for restraint. Share your home with spiders, they mean no harm and conduct themselves with polite propriety if left alone. Sigh.

 

Cannibal Spiders


I doubt spiders come to mind when pondering impacts of global warming at northern latitudes. Climate change has had a profound effect on Arctic Wolf Spiders, nobody cares because spiders are easily dismissed. Fun fact – in terms of biomass, wolf spiders in the Arctic outweigh that of regional wolf populations by 80 – 1. That’s a lot of spiders – thanks to longer, warmer summers they’re getting bigger and producing more offspring.

Nature has a uncanny ability to adapt when challenged with brief periods of climatic change. In 2009 researchers predicted warmer Arctic seasons would boost wolf spider size and numbers. Springtails, their prey of choice are wingless fungi eating hexapods. “Science’s Michael Price explains that springtails subsist on a diet of fungi, which consume decomposing plants and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But when wolf spiders keep the springtail population in check, the insects consume less fungus, which triggers faster decomposition of the tundra’s dead plant matter—and more greenhouse gases.” – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-wolf-spiders-evolving-diet-keeping-arctic-cool-180969735/

Science expected dense populations of wolf spiders to initially cannibalize their own, consume anything smaller than themselves while sorting out territory. They thought more wolf spiders meant fewer fungus nibbling springtails, but that hasn’t happened. Seems climate enhanced hoards of wolf spiders developed a taste for their own, ignoring springtails, favouring opportunistic ambushes of smaller spiders.

Science can’t explain why cannibal wolf spiders no longer fancy springtails. It can state as fact – higher springtail populations mean less fungus, slower decomposition of organic material, thus significantly less greenhouse gas released by the process of decomposition. Are cannibal wolf spiders Mother Nature’s way of mitigating the mess we’ve made?

Wolf spiders may turn to cannibalism in a warming Arctic

https://phys.org/news/2020-05-wolf-spiders-cannibalism-arctic.html

Phenomenon Needn’t Be Mysterious


Natural phenomenon needn’t be mysterious. Ponder Aurora Borealis, arguably one of nature’s greatest phenomenon, least mysterious spectacles. Aurora are offspring of space weather, nothing mysterious about that. On May 11, 2020 Earth is expected to cross a fold in the heliospheric current sheet. In less mysterious language – disruption of interplanetary space separating opposing magnetic polarities of Earth and Sun, briefly over riding Earth’s magnetic field, inviting solar energy to temporarily dazzle sky watchers with aurora majesty – consider yourself schooled in solar sector boundary crossing, a space weather basic.

Solar wind is the source of space weather. Just like Earth, the Sun has a magnetic field known as interplanetary magnetic field (IMF).  Whipped into spiral rotation, wind driven IMF rotates in one direction dividing into spiral sections pointing to and away from the sun along an ecliptic plane (  direct line between Earth and the Sun). The edge of this swirling mass has a surface separating polarities of planetary and solar magnetism called the heliosphere current sheet.

http://spaceweather.com/glossary/imf.html

Earth’s magnetic field points north at the magnetopause (the point of contact between our magnetosphere and the IMF). If the IMF happens to point south at contact the field link causes partial cancellation of Earth’s magnetic field – in other words, opening a temporary door for solar energy to enter our atmosphere. Welcome solar sector boundary crossing – a phenomenon born of high solar wind and coronal mass ejections (CME’s – aka solar flares).

Enough talk, time for dazzling aurora timelapse courtesy Adrian Mauduit at Night Lights Films –

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCC0CLzCpM6nuLSAi1JNBjkA

Zoonotic Ponder


Zoonotic ( zoonoses ) refers to infectious disease transmitted from animals to humans. Hard fact – over 60% of infectious disease contracted by humans are zoonotic, 75 % of new emerging diseases have zoonotic origins. From mosquito, rodent, bat, flea, beaver,  to water contaminated courtesy cow dung, nature doesn’t blink at inflicting humanity with respiratory or gastrointestinal disease. Zoonotic encompasses viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic human infection.

https://www.healthline.com/health/zoonosis#list-of-diseases

Chances are COVID-19 is zoonotic, so why all the conspiracy jibber-jabber? The SARS outbreak of 2002-2004 is widely accepted as zoonotic transmission from cave dwelling horseshoe bats in Yunnan Province, China to humans via intermediary civet cat hosts. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak (and if you believe China is actually cracking down on farmed wildlife destined for sale as meat ) exotic wildlife for human consumption never raised a brow in China. Have conspiracy theorists forgotten viral videos of Chinese foodies chomping the head off bats in high end restaurants, or annihilating live baby mice in a bowl of broth? By what stretch of imagination did conspiracy ignore zoonotic covid-19 infection in favour of some nefarious bio-weapon laboratory goof?

I’m tired of conspiracy theorists pointing hysterical fingers at everything from Bill Gates to secretive new world orders, biological warfare or targeted population purge. I get it, people are upset, they’re in denial, searching for something to blame. Anything is possible, but until evidence proves otherwise – COVID-19 is zoonotic.  Everyone needs to chill.

 

 

Murder Hornets


Dubbed murder hornets, Asian Giant Hornets are poised to impact struggling North American bee populations. Entomologists suspect winter hibernating Asian behemoths arrived as undetected cargo ship stowaways. These alarmingly large (queens grow over 5 cm, minions 3.5 cm ) behemoths invade bee hives, decapitating prey and flying off with thoraxes to feed their young – beehives wiped out in a matter of hours.  Not quite Starship Troopers, but close enough if you’re a honeybee.

A dead Asian giant

Dead Asian Giant Hornet courtesy Washington State Dept. of Agriculture

First discovered in British Columbia, August 2019, the following month Vancouver Island beekeepers eradicated a large giant hornet nest. They’ve been spotted in Washington State and White Rock, B.C. In March 2020 officials in British Columbia issued a public alert – do not approach, but report sightings immediately.

“This is our window to keep it from establishing,” Chris Looney, a Washington State entomologist, said of the two-inch Asian giant hornet. He displayed a dead hornet on his jacket.

Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

While not generally interested in people, pets or livestock, you wouldn’t want to piss them off.  Stings from their particularly long stinger capable of penetrating a beekeepers suit is described as excruciating.

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/murder-hornets-canada_ca_5eaf2190c5b69a7955198bbc??ncid=newsltcahpmgnews

Swamp Rabbit


I’m rather fond of rabbits. Not in a daily cabinet dusting of rabbit knick-knack way. Truth being, the only rabbit representation in my home is a watercolour painted by my mother decades ago. That said, rabbits are my animal, rabbit appears in my email address and a close friend calls me Ms. Rabbit. The eve of Easter weekend strikes me as an appropriate time to ponder Swamp Rabbits, in particular, the Jimmy Carter rabbit incident of 1979.

Swamp Rabbits, largest member of the cottontail genus weigh 3-6 pounds with overall length of 16-22 inches. Found along the Gulf Coast and south-central region of the United States, true to their moniker they favour swampy lowlands, floodplains and riverbanks. Peculiar to this cottontail is a waterproof fur coat and remarkable ability to swim. When threatened they take to water, eluding predators by diving under roots or hunkering down beneath overhangs.

On April 20, 1979 President Jimmy Carter was fishing alone near his home in Plains, Georgia. Carter said a rabbit being chased by hounds “jumped in the water and swam toward my boat. When he got almost there, I splashed some water with a paddle”. Despite this photograph taken by Carter’s onshore detail, White House staffers didn’t believe him, “rabbits can’t swim”. Ten days later AP correspondent Brooks Jackson’s account appeared in numerous publications, including front page of the Washington Post titled “Bunny Goes Bugs: Rabbit Attacks President”. A cartoon parody of Jaws, titled Paws appeared in the Post. All without the photo above which wasn’t made public until mid 80’s by the Reagan administration.

See the source image

Image from the Carter Library

A 1986 book by Jody Powell titled The Other Side of the Story included this account –

“Upon closer inspection, the animal turned out to be a rabbit. Not one of your cutesy, Easter-bunny-type rabbits, but one of those big splay-footed things that we called swamp rabbits when I was growing up.

The animal was clearly in distress, or perhaps berserk. The President confessed to having had limited experience with enraged rabbits. He was unable to reach a definite conclusion about its state of mind. What was obvious, however, was that this large, wet animal, making strange hissing noises and gnashing its teeth, was intent upon climbing into the Presidential boat”. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Carter_rabbit_incident

Happy Easter.

Worm Of Life


Meet ikaria wariootia, ancient wormish creature roughly the size of a grain of rice. New research dubs it 1st ancestor on the tree of life for most animals including humans. Geologists unearthed fossilized remains of ikaria wariootia in Nilpena, South Australia. A 555 million year old common ancestor from the Ediacaran Period now considered the worm of life by California/Riverside scientists Scott Evans and Mary Droser.

Their research was published on March 23, 2020 in the peer reviewed journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. What makes this worm special? Two words – bilateral symmetry. Earliest evidence of an organism with distinct front and back, two symmetrical sides, an opening at either end connected by a gut – mandatory blueprint specifications for all lifeforms to come. An organized bilateral body plan by which all dinosaurs, insects, animals and humans rely on. Take a moment to read the link below.

Meanwhile, ponder a tiny worm lending substance to the story of evolution. Primordial ooze set evolution in motion, today the worm of life defines a solid marker in evolution. Delight in knowing the first ancestor in the tree of life was a worm. Outstanding in my books.

Short worm-like creature crawling through sea-floor mud leaving a track.

Was this the ancestor of all animals?