Archive | March, 2015

What To Bring On a Hike

Signs of DroughtWhat you take on a hike largely depends on the kind of terrain you’re hiking, the length of the hike, the weather conditions and time of year. Whether it’s a summer hike in Joshua Tree or a fall hike in Sequoia, there are some essentials you’ll need every time.

Water – The importance of water cannot be overstated, even on short hikes. Since you sweat anywhere from ½ to 1 quart of fluid every hour in the heat, you’ll need enough water to replenish what you lose. Two liters is enough for a day hike.

Maps – Having a trail book or topographical map will help ensure you know where you are at all times. A compass is also helpful and can make it easier to follow the map.

Sun Protection – If you’re going to be out in the open, exposed to the sun, be sure not to forget sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and even lip balm.

Food – Take snacks that provide high energy such as dried fruit, granola, peanut butter, power bars, fruit bars, trail mix and beef jerky. You’ll need at least 300 calories an hour, and more if navigating uphill terrain.

Hiking Boots – You’ll need comfortable, supportive hiking boots for navigating rough terrain. For even terrain, trail shoes should be sufficient. In wet conditions, consider boots with waterproof material.

Socks – In warm weather, socks should be lightweight with sufficient cushioning. You’ll need heavy hiking socks when wearing boots. Extra socks are helpful just in case you step in water. Not having proper socks can result in painful blisters.

Shirt – Although a cotton T-shirt should suffice for short hikes, shirts made of polyester or nylon help keep you drier on longer hikes. Long-sleeved shirts are advisable to protect against sun.

Rain Gear – Even if the possibility of rain is slim, you’ll still need rain gear such as a foldable poncho, although you’re better off with a waterproof jacket even if it’s a lightweight windbreaker. A wet hiker can easily become hypothermic.

First Aid – a small first aid kit will come in handy for any accidents along the way. It should include bandages, sterile pads and tape, gauze, allergy cream antiseptic and aspirin. (ems)

Other helpful items include a small flashlight, a Swiss Army Knife, waterproof matches, water treatment tablets and insect repellant. For longer hikes, you’ll need extra food and water, a powerful flashlight, a change of clothes, a sleeping bag, tent and even a camping stove.

Don’t forget a comfortable backpack for everything you carry, although a fanny pack should be sufficient for day hikes. When prepared, the easier it will be to enjoy the wilderness in all its beauty.

Farmers Menace to Colorful Hoverer: The Five Spotted Hawk Moth

5 spotted hawk mothThroughout our day to day business most  people will probably see at least one butterfly or moth fluttering through the sky or simply sitting under the porch light at night. Some people may choose to ignore them, some may take note of the insects beauty, but pretty much no one will think about what it was before it became that butterfly or moth. Most of the time the moth’s or butterfly’s predecessor was a simple caterpillar with no special traits or abilities, simply eating leaves until enough energy has amassed for metamorphosis. Some caterpillars though are unique in their defensive capabilities, in their movement and in their diet. The larval form of the Five Spotted Hawk Moth is called a tomato hornworm and as you can guess by the name their favorite food is tomato leaves.

The Tomato Hornworm is local to northern Mexico and throughout the United States. They also happen to be a farmer’s nightmare. This is because tomato hornworms will eat the leaves of tomato, eggplant, potato, pepper, and tobacco plants. This may not seem like a problem since they are only eating the leaves, but unfortunately the plant needs those leaves to survive. Plants survive through photosynthesis which uses the surface area of the plants leaves to collect energy from the sun in order to form sugars. Without the plants leaves, their is nothing to collect energy with and therefore they cannot create their food. Luckily there are a number of ways farmers can combat these pests besides using pesticides such as handpicking them off or using other insect predators such as praying mantises or parasitoid wasps. In addition to these, the tomato plant itself enlists it own defensive mechanism. When the tomato plant begins to get eaten by hornworms, it releases a chemical signal into the wind. If other tomato plants receive this chemical signal they will bolster their own natural pesticide production as to prepare for the incoming pest attack. If the hornworm manages to avoid predation and farmers, then it will cocoon and become a moth in about 2 weeks.

5 spotted hawk mothThis process of metamorphosis is an intense and amazing process where some organs stay intact but others melt down into their proteins and other constituent pieces. They then slowly rebuild into the form of the butterfly or moth. The tomato hornworm rebuilds itself into the Five Spotted Hawk Moth, a relatively large moth with a very unique flying ability. Besides being enjoyable to look at and actually being quite fuzzy the Five Spotted Hawk Moth also has the ability to hover like a hummingbird and even drink from flowers while hovering. Although this uses more energy than simply landing and drinking from the flower, it is extremely advantageous for avoiding would be predators. This is because the act of hovering gives the moth a much faster reaction time and allows for quick sideways movement that would otherwise be impossible. Lastly, these moths do not live for a very long time, roughly around a year. As a result a majority of the caterpillars emerge in spring and are already laying eggs for the next generation by late fall. The eggs then lay dormant during winter and the process repeats itself.

Throughout our lives we tend to take many things for granted, many of which are not given a second thought. For a vast majority, the Tomato Hornworm and the Five Spotted Hawk Moth are two unremarkable unrelated organisms but, with a little bit of context simple organisms, become remarkable ones. This may not really be something to take for granted, but with every piece of contextual knowledge gained, a sliver of the world’s beauty is unlocked.


California Finches: House Finch and Lesser Goldfinch

House Finch

Male House Finch

A native of the western states, the House Finch, can be found all over the United States, thanks to its recent introduction to the east coast. Its twittering song can be heard on the ground or up in trees, frequenting city parks, urban centers and backyards.

This small-bodied finch has a large beak used to crack open seeds. While males are distinctive for their red faces, upper breast and rump, the females are grayish-brown. Females prefer to mate with the reddest male available.

House Finches are very sociable birds that can be seen collecting near feeders. Their native habitats include grasslands, chaparral, oak savannah and open woodland. They primarily feed their nestlings plant food, which is a rare practice when it comes to birds. Then again, House Finches almost exclusively eat plant materials such as seeds and fruits.

Lesser Gold Finch

Lesser Gold Finch

Like the House Finch, the Lesser Goldfinch is a gregarious bird that tends to collect at weedy fields, bird feeders and other feedings sites. They often gather in groups of several hundred at a time, feeding on seeds and grains. They can be seen eating with other seed-eating songbirds.

Lesser Goldfinches are small songbirds, much like the House Finch. Males are bright yellow with a black cap and white patches on the wings. In the West Coast, the males have olive green backs. Females also have olive green backs as well as black wings marked by whitish wing bars. They are at home in open habitats, forest clearings, farmlands, scrublands and weedy fields, but can also be seen in suburban yards looking for seeds. Although they eat seeds mostly from the sunflower family, Lesser Goldfinches also eat fruit. The Lesser Goldfinch uses its bill to pry open seeds.

Interestingly, human expansion has actually benefitted the species, forcing them to expand their range near Los Angeles. One should have little trouble spotting either the House Finch or the Lesser Goldfinch.

The Western Gray Squirrel

Western Grey Squirrel

Western Grey Squirrel

The western gray squirrel is a large tree squirrel native to California, with a preference for oak and pine forests. Although once fairly abundant throughout the west coast, loss of habitat and competition from other species has steadily reduced their populations since the 1920s.

Western gray squirrels can be identified by their bushy tails, silvery gray backs and white fronts. White tips on the gray hairs provide the silvery appearance. Gray squirrels are most active in the early morning, retreating to their nests during warmer times of the day. Their nests, called dreys, are typically located in the top third of larger trees and built using twigs, moss and bark shavings.

Wary of humans, western grey squirrels tend to move from tree to tree. Nonetheless, they still prefer to forage on the ground. Favorite foods include pine nuts, acorns, nuts, berries, green vegetation and even insects. Although non-territorial, gray squirrels do show dominance hierarchy at food locations.In preparation for winter, the western gray squirrel will spend more time gathering and storing food. Although they do not hibernate, western gray squirrels do put on weight and thicken their fur in anticipation of the cold.

Ground Squirrel

Ground Squirrel

Breeding occurs between December and July, with females potentially having two litters per year. Litter sizes range from two to five young, with babies remaining in the nest for six months or more.

Although the introduction of fox squirrels in the 20th century has largely driven the western gray squirrels into the mountains and foothills, a little persistence should make this true California native easy to find.