Archive | September, 2014

The Ripple Effect

wolfI have always found the idea of cause and effect to be very interesting. How one small change can cause a ripple affect on things around it. This ripple affect occurs everyday in small and large amounts. One of the areas this happens very often in is nature. I recently enjoyed a short documentary called “How Wolves Change Rivers,” and it further emphasized this idea.

In this documentary it discussed Yellowstone national park, and how there were no wolves for over 70 years. Because of this, there was an over population of elk, which ate all the vegetation, and because of this lack of vegetation there weren’t many other animals that could inhabit the land. In 1995, wolves were introduced to the area and something amazing occurred. A big ripple effect changed the whole landscape. As more wolves populated the area, they not only lowered the elk population but they forced the elk to graze in other areas to avoid attack. Because of this, vegetation increased, which then brought in more animals to the area. As trees grew in the area, the beaver population increased. The beavers built dams which lead to an increase in otters, ducks, fish and reptiles. Now that these animals started living there, larger animals that preyed on these smaller animals moved in as well. The video was a great example of how the absence or presence of a species can affect an entire eco system.

vultureAfter watching the documentary I started thinking about the recent blogs I have written and how there was a similar effect with the vultures and how without them, there would be a lot more disease with other animals getting sick and dying. I also thought of the blog on big cats, and how the cheetahs were being affected by habitat destruction. With a lack of species to prey upon, their numbers have diminished in many areas.

honeybeeA very important insect that has a big ripple affect on the environment are honey bees. Honey bees pollinate one third of the food we eat. A lot of animals depend on the plants they pollinate as well. According to the USDA, since the 1950’s the number of honey producing bee colonies has decreased by fifty percent. This unexplained phenomenon is called colony collapse disorder. Scientists have a few ideas of how it occurs, such as environmental factors, viruses, or even parasites, but nothing is clear.

As you can see, here are just a few examples of how the presence or absence of an animal or insect can have a huge impact on the surrounding area. Next time you are outside, focus on something in the environment and think of what life would be like without it and the ripple affect it might have with its absence. If you’d like to watch the video “How Wolves Change Rivers,” check it out below.

11 Animals That Shimmer Like A Rainbow

Within nature there are a variety of colors expressed by all sorts of organisms and objects. Among these organisms are ones that gleam with all the colors of the rainbow which they express through iridescence. Normally when looking at a colored object, the object will absorb and reflect rays of light. Depending on which rays of light are reflected, the color of the object will change. For example, an object reflecting blue light will appear blue because that is what is being sent to our eyes. Things with iridescence reflect light in a different manner. Iridescent things shimmer like the rainbow because there are very very small structures that alter the way light gets reflected. As a result, the light gets reflected differently depending on the angle and distance one is from the object that results in a rainbow of color. Iridescence is not exclusive to any animal group and shows itself in a variety of organisms.

Blue Morpho

Blue Morpho

The Blue Morpho is part of a large group of butterflies that are native to South America, Central America, and Mexico. Their iridescence is caused by tiny structures arranged in multiple layers on the tops of their wings. The full structural design of the coloration is very complex, so much so that humans have yet to be able to replicate the morpho’s colors. It is believed that the Blue Morpho uses its iridescence as a way to communicate with each other over long distances. It does this by reflecting a large amount of ultraviolet light (can’t be seen by humans). This allows the butterflies to recognize fellow morpho butterflies and in some species to discern between male and female.

Golden Mole

Golden Mole

The only iridescent mammal to ever be discovered, the Golden Mole is a small insectivore native to Southern Africa. Surprisingly they are unrelated to true moles and instead have achieved the “look” of the mole through convergent evolution. As an underground dwelling mammal, they have very strong front digging claws as well as fur that repels dirt and water. The Golden Mole usually will dig itself a permanent home about one meter beneath the earth. Its home consists of a variety of different rooms used for things such as storage, bathrooms, and a nursery. Since they rarely come to the surface the Golden Mole has adapted hyper efficient kidneys and almost never needs to drink water. In addition, the mole has adapted to listen for the vibrations of termite alarm calls allowing them to find food. Currently, eleven of the twenty-one species of Golden Mole are under the endangered status and conservation attempts are underway.

 Cuckoo Wasp

Cuckoo Wasp

The Cuckoo Wasp is a very colorful, usually metallic looking, solitary insect that is widespread across the globe. It is known as a parasitoid, This means it uses another organism as a feed source for its growing young–so very similar to a parasite, but it kills its host. What makes these wasps unique besides their dazzling colors is the way it raises its young. In fact the Cuckoo Wasp does not raise its young at all, other wasps do. The way it manages this is by laying eggs into the hives of other solitary wasps. The young Cuckoo Wasp then consumes the other larvae within the hive as food. The host wasp will continue to bring food to the Cuckoo Wasp larvae completely unaware that it is a different type of wasp. Another odd behavior Cuckoo Wasps possess is the ability to curl up into a ball in a process known as conglobation. This ball shape looks extremely similar to a pill bugs (roly poly) defensive curl and offers the same protection.

Allens Hummingbird

Allens Hummingbird

This very tiny bird is only about 3 to 3 ½ inches long and is local to the coastal areas of California going down to Mexico. All Allens Hummingbirds are a colorful green on their back chests with rust colors on their sides. The males have a special patch of feathers under their head that is iridescent and usually colored orange or red. They use this patch to attract a female during their mating dance. The male unfurls its iridescent neck feathers and begins a series of quick back and forth flights in front of the female. He then begins flying in bigger arcs until he enters the final stage of the dance where he flies high into the sky and performs an audible high speed dive. Like all hummingbirds because of their high energy lifestyle they must feed every hour or so. These meals consist of plant nectar and any small insects that happen to be around the flower. Although they are very tiny birds they are incredibly protective of their territory. In fact they have been known to try and fight off even larger predatory birds such as kestrels or hawks.

Sunbeam Snake

Sunbeam Snake

This snake shimmers like a rainbow when exposed to light due to its highly iridescent scales. Much like the Blue Morpho, this rainbow glow is caused by tiny structures within the scales and the layering of the scales themselves. They are native to a variety of places in Southeast Asia such as China, Thailand and the Philippines. They are not venomous and kill their prey  through constriction, mainly feeding on frogs, lizards and small rodents.

Peacock

Peacock

The Peacock is a commonly known iridescent bird that looks like it was designed by an artist, well at least the males do. Female peacocks are simple looking having only brown and grey feathers with no extravagant tail. The females have small tails that they use to intimidate other females and warn their young of danger. The reason the male is so overdressed is that he has to look as good as he can to attract a female. It is believed that the more eyespots the peacock has in his large tail feathers the more attractive he will be to a female. From a survival standpoint, more eyespots means looking like more animals in a dimly lit area and therefore greater survival aiding to the reproductive success of the species.

Green Bottle Fly

Green Bottle Fly

This shiny metallic green fly that gleams in the sunlight is located around the world, mainly in the western hemisphere. Bottle Flies are part of the blowfly family which means they lay their eggs on high protein sources such as rotting meat. Surprisingly humans have found a use for blowflies or more specifically their larvae. In medicine, their larvae, or maggots, are used to clean wounds of dead tissue and skin to prevent further infection and allow the wound to heal at a faster rate. In addition to medicine, criminal studies also use blowflies as a time marker for homicide cases. They do this by estimating the time of death based upon the development of the blowfly maggots.

Iridescent Shark

Iridescent Shark

This shiny metallic fish isn’t truly a shark, but a shark catfish. This sadly is simply a family of catfish and not a special shark catfish hybrid. The iridescent shark is native to Southeast Asia with most of them living in the Mekong Basin. They are generally omnivorous, usually feeding on plants, small fish, and crustaceans. Sizes range greatly, with the largest ones being capable of reaching a length of around four feet and a weight of about 97 pounds. Due to their shiny metallic look and the diversity of sizes, they are often kept as pets in an aquarium. They are also sold commercially as food which is called Swai. So I suppose having an iridescent shark as a pet can also serve as an emergency food ration.

Violet Sabrewing

Violet Sabrewing

The Violet Sabrewing is a very large hummingbird native to Central America all the way south to Costa Rica. On average, they are roughly 5.9 inches long making them the largest hummingbird found outside of South America. The adult males are mainly violet-blue with green on their backs while adult females have a violet throat with green above and gray below it. They feed exclusively on nectar and surprisingly they are not that aggressive which is unexpected due to being almost twice as big as the very aggressive Allens Hummingbird.

Jewel Beetle

Jewel Beetle

This highly iridescent and glossy beetle can be found around the world with around 15,000 different species discovered. Their sizes range from around 0.10 to 3 inches long and their exoskeletons are often used to make jewelry in areas such as India and Japan. The larvae of jewel beetles are all plant or wood boring insects of some fashion. Most will choose dead wood to bore into to feed and develop into adult beetles. Some species will only bore and develop in wood that has been burned recently and have some adaptations. These adaptations include infrared vision and the ability to sense pine wood smoke from  up to 50 miles away.

Paua Snail

Paua Snail

The Paua Snail is more commonly known as an Abalone in the United States and is found around the world in shallow coastal waters. The Abalone itself is a large gastropod or snail that clings to a hard surface on the ocean floor with a muscular foot. This foot is also how it moves if it were to do so. The shell of the Abalone is truly what makes the organism special. Depending on the species, the shell can be highly iridescent and valuable, often containing mother of pearl material. The shell itself is made from microscopic layers of calcium carbonate held together by a special protein. When an impact hits the shell instead of shattering, the protein allows for the expansion of the calcium carbonate layers absorbing force. In fact, the shell is currently being researched to create stronger ceramic materials.

How Droughts Affect the Environment

Signs of Drought

Signs of Drought

California is currently experiencing one of the biggest water droughts in the states history. This water shortage not only has an economical impact, but a large environmental affect as well. Without sufficient rainfall, Californians along with the rest of the nation will be affected.

A drought impacts us in many ways. One way is the vegetation, wild and farmland. When the vegetation dies in habitats affected by the drought, this affects the animals and insects in the surrounding area. Because of this, these animals are forced to migrate, and adapt or they end up dying. In some cases, when the animals within that habitat die, and the circumstances continue, they can end up extinct.

The affected vegetation is a big economical impact as well. When products are scarce, they become more expensive. According to the Department of Food and Agriculture, California accounts for 15% of national sales. This is a huge amount of income that if lost, could be devastating to our economy.

Signs of Drought

Signs of Drought

With more dead plants, dry areas, and hot weather, as you read in last week’s blog, these are perfect conditions for wildfires. With an already large amount of destruction to the vegetation each year from wildfires, being in the middle of a drought can only make things worse.

Although the biggest remedy for the drought would be rain, there are ways we all can work together to conserve water to prevent bigger repercussions. Below are some tips you should put to use at home and outside.

Indoors:

  • Take shorter showers. In most cases, five minutes should be enough.
  • Don’t leave the faucet running while brushing your teeth or shaving.
  • Only flush the toilet after bowel movements.
  • Fix any leaks as fast as possible
  • Only wash full loads of laundry

Outdoors:

  • Only water your lawn or plants 1-2 times per week. Do this in the morning to avoid quick evaporation from the sun.
  • Fix any sprinklers that are broken, have leaks or overspray onto the sidewalk.
  • Instead of washing dirt off your driveway, sweep it.

Droughts are a serious matter that can have a huge impact on the local environment, which affects everything connected to it. Harsh weather conditions can be somewhat inevitable, but there are ways to lower the affects if we work together.