Archive | October, 2014

The Blood Moon

Blood Moon

Blood Moon

You may have heard of the lunar tetrad of 2014-2015, four successive total eclipses, with no partial lunar eclipse in between. The second lunar eclipse of the tetrad occurred on October 7th and 8th of this year, and the third is scheduled to occur on April 4th of 2015. You may have also heard that it was a “blood” moon, because of the red tint the moon displayed during the lunar eclipse.

For the most part, the moon appears yellow because it reflects light from the sun and on occasion, the moon can appear red. One reason for the red tint is because of the billions of high density light particles in the air. When the atmosphere scatters sunlight, it is red light that gets scattered the least.  A second reason for a red moon occurs when the moon is low in the sky, which means light from the moon has to pass through a larger amount of atmosphere. Blue and green light scatter to give off a reddish tint. Incidentally, it is this filtering of the green to violet portion of the light spectrum that gives us our blue sky during the day.

A third reason for the Moon to appear red occurs during a lunar eclipse.  During an eclipse, the moon passes behind the Earth’s shadow and is no longer illuminated  by the Sun. It is at this time that red light, filtered and refracted by Earth’s atmosphere, reaches the moon, turning the eclipsed moon its distinctive color. Depending on the amount of dust in the atmosphere at the time, that distinctive color can range from copper to deep red. If you were to take a look at the Earth from inside its shadow, you would see the entire planet glow red.

Before the Eclipse

Before the Eclipse

It’s not clear that a lunar eclipse has any effect on wildlife, although studies have shown that a full moon may have some effect on animal behavior. Increased moonlight can elevate nocturnal activity for some species and decrease it for others. In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, moonlight triggers a collective mass-spawning event as corals release sperm and eggs in synchrony. During a full moon, the prolonged visibility of throat feathers permits owls to communicate more extensively, although some owls avoid activity during full moons. Wild dogs and cheetahs also increase their nocturnal activity during full moons, although lions may be less likely to hunt for lack of prey. Doodlebugs dig larger holes to trap prey during full moons, since the increase in light also increases the activity of their prey. Conversely, scorpions tend to be more active during the new moon, to catch prey that prefers darker nights.

Animals tend to adjust their behavior in response to changing light levels, although some behaviors follow more mysterious circadian rhythms controlled by the monthly lunar cycle.  A deer’s reproductive cycle, for example, responds to the phases of the moon, peaking close to the second full moon after the autumnal equinox, also called the “rutting moon.”  Increased light pollution, however, could be disrupting to these animal patterns by overshadowing the moon’s illumination.

For the bulk of the animal kingdom, the cycles of the moon are fairly mundane events.  We, on the other hand, may always find something magical about a moon that, on rare occasions, appears to turn blood red.

Unique Attributes of Various Ant Species

Bullet Ant

Bullet Ant

This ant has the most painful sting of any animal ranking a 4.0+ on the Schmidt pain index. It’s sting has been described as walking across a bed of white hot coals with a 3-inch nail stuck in your heel.

These ant form huge colonies that can contain up to 20 million ants. When food is low, Army Ants will form huge marching columns that are composed of about  50,000 ants. These columns will eat anything in their path including small farm animals such as chickens.

Malaysian Exploding Ant

Malaysian Exploding Ant

The Malaysian Exploding Ant has two very large poison filled glands that run the entire length of their body. When under attack as a last resort, the ant will violently contract its abdominal muscles to rupture its gaster (the butt of the ant) and release its corrosive poison in all directions.

Amazon Ant

Amazon Ant

The Amazon Ant is a very special ant as there are no amazonian worker ants. Sadly workers are necessary for a colony to survive so the amazonian ant simply takes the workers from other colonies and enslaves them. They do this by going to war with another colony. Through a series of deceptive actions, they manage to get the amazonian ant queen to replace the other colony’s queen and order them to give away their larval workers.

Fire Ants

Fire Ants

One of the more common ants on my list, Fire Ants are known for their painful bite that has a distinct burning sensation,hence their name. What is unique about the Fire Ant is pictured above. During a flood, the ants will huddle together and create a living raft made out of their own bodies. Some ants will drown, but it is all for the good of the colony.

Leafcutter Ants

Leafcutter Ants

My personal favorite ant, is the leafcutter ant. Leafcutter ants do not actually eat the leaves they cut, instead they feed them to a fungus that lives inside their colony. The ants then feed off of the fungus as their food source. Even more interesting is the fungus has a parasite that commonly infects it, but the ants have co-evolved with this fungus for so long that some of the ants have antibiotic patches on their chests that they press against infected portions of the fungus to kill the parasite.

The Trapjaw Ant has the fastest jaws in the animal kingdom moving at approximately 78-140 mph and can expand its jaws to a 180-degree angle as seen above. The ant’s jaws are triggered by its prey touching fine hairs on its mandibles twice. So basically these ant’s jaws have the exact same closing mechanism as a venus fly trap. In addition to using their jaws to catch prey, they can also use them to retreat from predators. In order to do this, the ant simply cocks its jaws and fires them at the ground in front of it. This propels the ant backwards and upwards hopefully away from danger.

Honeypot Ant

Honeypot Ant

Last but not least is the Honeypot Ant which is explained pretty well just by looking at it. Many members of the honeypot colony are essentially storage facilities that are filled with necessities by the workers. The other ants will then come by and extract nourishment from them as if they were living pantries. Some honeypot ants will be filled with food, but others are filled with liquids and even fat.

 

 

Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCD)

Havasi Wilderness FoundationThe RCD is one of the educational organizations that receives annual grants from the Havasi Wilderness Foundation. This is our 5th year of participation. For schools that cannot afford the outdoor program fee, our funds are given to those elementary schools and high schools (K-12) so students can be taken on outdoor field trips throughout the school year to learn about wildlife, plants, and marine biology. These trips take place at the Malibu Creek State Park, Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve, Topanga State Park, California Wildlife Center, and other wildlife areas.

On Tuesday, September 23, the RCD held its kickoff event for training personnel for taking elementary and high school students for various educational activities. Alex Havasi, director of this foundation and the assistant director, Marilyn Fordney were invited to attend. It was held at the Peter Strauss Ranch house.

The event had over 22 attendees and began with a lunch and then an introduction to the program by Stephen Vodantis, Education Program Supervisor. The Training Program for Environmental Educators is a program where one learns about water quality and wastewater treatment as well as identification and interpretation of plants, restored native flora, and upland habitat. Marine life and the health of the oceans is also emphasized and studied. In addition, a session about the birds of the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve is held.

Havasi Wilderness FoundationFor participants that enroll in the educational training, there is a small one time administrative fee to take part in these sessions. After successful completion, then a trainee must be observed and approved to lead school groups without assistance. Additional information is available at the RCD website: www.rcdsmm.org

We send our best wishes to each enrollee to successfully complete their training so they can take students on these outdoor excursions to learn and experience more about protecting our environment.