Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Tuesday: 29 July 2008

Busy Week  -  @ 06:14:08
Summer semester finals are toward the end of this week, and it's a fairly busy time. That, among a couple of other things, is my excuse for an idle camera and a less frequent posting schedule. I see the end of the tunnel though.

University of Georgia made a changeover from the quarter system to the semester system five or seven years ago, amid much angst and fanfare. All courses had to change their structures and syllabuses - three-quarter course series had to be rewritten as two-semester series, for instance. There was much tearing of the already thinning hair.

Under the quarter system, which I grew up with as an undergrad at Florida State University and then as a grad at UGA, there are three major academic quarters in a year, generally running ten or eleven weeks, and then summer quarter, generally running eight or nine weeks. We generally started in early September and fall quarter last through the first week in December. The remaining two academic winter and spring quarters ran through the first week in June.

Under the now much more frequently used semester system there are two major academic year semesters, fall and spring. Fall lasts from mid-August until early to mid December; spring from the first week of January to the first week of May. Note the lack of "winter" in the naming system: we have effectively done away with winter. Well, I could have told you that without all this other.

The first and the last are two of the three shockers of the semester system - first, beginning so early, and second, ending so early. The first was one of the pushes for going to semester - to get everyone in line for football season. The second also legitimized going to semester - by ending the academic year in early May grads had a month advantage in finding jobs upon graduating.

And that's the third shocker I mentioned for students who have only seen the semester system. Those of us familiar with quarter system were used to a highly compressed course presentation, and so an eight or nine week summer was no big deal. But students who know only semester, with its spread out eighteen weeks of a single course are shell-shocked by the compression of one of those courses into the still-eight or -nine weeks of a summer semester.

Enough of this. Let's get to something that I've found to be valuable grist.

The compressed summer schedule is especially noteworthy when it comes to one of the hardest courses the university has to offer: the dreaded organic chemistry series, and I work with students in both courses in the series. It's one of my favorite courses to work with students in - there's always something of value to learn in organic chemistry, believe it or not, and you can take it as far as you want and not exhaust its possible entertainments.

Organic chemistry is absolutely like nothing students have encountered before, a mixture of science and art in a lot of ways, and it stretches unused portions of the mind in ways it's never been stretched. And mine, too - every time I go through the organic courses the reviews turn up things I've forgotten, or let go unappreciated for too long. I do believe it's as if the right brain and left brain have to work together as equals, and for most that's the first such demand on such a cooperation.

Here's a very simple, elementary mechanism for one type of reaction that's encountered frequently. The arrows show the movement of electrons in breaking and making bonds, and it's this puzzle that the right brain likes so much. Understanding and extending it beyond simple memorization is how the left brain gets its jollies.

In a nutshell, stolen from this wikipedia article on SN1 reactions of alkyl halides, being able to do this sort of thing is one of the objectives of a large part of organic chemistry:

Heh - didn't know I could do that, did you? Neither did I, until I kind of got to like it.

There's nothing quite like being there at the end after working with a student who has finally made it through that last organic chemistry course, for they've gone way, way beyond the elementary mechanism above. And I love being there at that point. The student has discovered that they've invested vast amounts of time in something very few are interested in, and I can pat him or her on the back and offer my appreciation:

They will have discovered, as I did thirty years ago - this is not a topic for polite conversation. It's kind of a tragedy, in a way. You spend grueling hours, days, weeks, learning it thoroughly and then the moment you say "chemistry", hungry for some validation, eyes glaze over and people wander away. Even your best friends. Definitely one of those Abraham Maslow self-actualizing things, 'cause honey, if you can't get joy out of it yourself, there's not a whole lot of folks who's gonna help you with it.

And so that ends the rambling lesson, except for one thing: I have met folks three decades younger who *do* get satisfaction out of this sort of thing. I'd like to think that the tiny bit of encouragement I provide helps, but I expect that they're just self-actualizing themselves, probably without ever having heard of Abraham Maslow.

Now that's something that helps.

Saturday: 26 July 2008

Hose Laying Saturday  -  @ 06:43:24
This morning bright and early Glenn and I are going to spend the morning laying hose back on the pumper, and it will then be back in service.

Here's what 1500 feet of hose looks like. About 1200 feet is 3" hose and another 300 feet is 1-3/4".

Here's the top deck of the pumper, where the hose is neatly laid. Not many of us have seen the top deck empty of hose!

The reason this happened was to be able to get access to the water tank, and to do that all the hose had to come off. The reason we had to do that was that the empty tank would leak, or so we thought, as soon as we started filling it. We were able to determine that the leak was actually the overflow pipe under the truck allowing water out even though the tank was empty. It's not supposed to do that! So we figured that the overflow pipe in the pumper tank had become disconnected from the bottom of the tank somehow and would have to be reaffixed.

To make a long story short, Glenn recalled, unfortunately after the hose had been removed, that this had happened before, several months ago, while attempting a refill from the local hydrant. He'd spotted a tiny little pullout valve on the passenger side panel, faintly marked "tank drain", the had gotten pulled out just the teensiest bit. We checked that, and lo and behold, that was the problem. Pushed it in and the tank refilled, no leaks.

So off we go to try to get the hose back on and the pumper back online. Hopefully we'll get some help, but I have a feeling we won't.

UPDATE: Done! And no one helped, as predicted, not even to bring croissants. But Glenn and I did a good job of hose lays and did it all in 2 hours. It was only 80 degF at the end, but with the humidity at 75% we were soaked. The fun was in calling 911 and declaring Engine #1 back in service, and then hearing the pageout.

Friday: 25 July 2008

Stuff at Home  -  @ 09:41:53
And now, for something a little different.

This isn't news around here anymore - that's just one item among many that have appeared on the front pages of the local county weekly and the Athens Banner-Herald. It's front page news, and it should be. Firefighters are expected to be pristine and without failing qualities, and so it's appropriate to make this a front page story. I'm not trying to be ironic here.

I'm not speaking for our own fire department, sister to the above, and at this point all charges are allegations. I'm speaking personally, since I pushed for training sessions with that fire department as they are quite important to the western part of our county and for us. I'd still pursue that, since that kind of combined training is independent of this issue that's bobbed up like a bloated corpse.

The strangest thing is that the fire chief in question was no bumbling ignorant redneck from around here. He put huge amounts of time and effort into far more than any normal human being could have been capable of handling. Fire chief, EMS, Rescue, writing a blog, clearly proud of his department and bright enough to land two grants. And so this is what it's come to. It's pretty sad, not just for him, and not just for the other twelve fire departments in the county that are going to have to deal with the fallout, but also for everyone who supports their fire departments and rightfully expects that nothing like this should ever happen.

Of course, the most puzzling thing of all to those of us who have dealt with granting agencies and public contributions is - what could he have been thinking? That he could allegedly steal $50,000 from three sources to a small department that normally sees funding of $4500 per year, and wouldn't get caught? I just don't get it.

Thursday: 24 July 2008

Thursday Plant Puzzle  -  @ 05:10:57

Glenn took these photos of an extensive colony of this native vine a couple of years ago, along Old Edwards Road up the way a piece.

At the time, in September, the vine was producing these very handsome flowers, which should certainly give away the family.

I'll bet some smart cookie knows what this is.

He and his intensive botany lab discovered another population of this plant while sampling the "annex" yesterday, a wetland area across the Oconee River from the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia here in Athens. Actually the annex is across the county line in Oconee County.

Here are the impressive tubers.

The tubers are edible, and said to be delicious when fried, boiled, or roasted. Unlike potatoes (which are not related), the tubers contain 17% protein, more than 3x the content of potato. The tubers can be harvested in the fall and stored over winter.

Apparently the seedpods can also be eaten as you would beans or peas, but are generally produced rather sparsely.

We suspect that this plant could become a bit rampant but that it is not uncontrollable, particularly if occasionally harvested. I see no reason why not to establish some colonies in some of the less diverse bottomland toward the creek.

Tuesday: 22 July 2008

Caprice  -  @ 10:52:56
Last night I was winding things up in east Athens around 8:30pm when lightning and thunder began. By the time I'd gotten to the outer limits of Athens it was raining heavily. So heavily, in fact, that there was pooling on the roads in places that I've never seen pooling before. Lightning was nearly constant and the remaining 10-mile drive took me about 30 minutes to complete. A glance at damage reports shows two grain silos tipped over into the road a few miles south of where I was driving, there were several places where tree branches had fallen into the road where I was driving, 1 inch hail somewhere around Watkinsville to our southwest.

Of course the first thing I did upon arriving home (besides noting the 30 degree drop in temperature from 100+ degF to 69 degF) was to check the extent of the storm. It was quite spectacular, sweeping from the northeast of us south-southwestward over us and into Greene and Oconee Counties south of us. There was actually *violet* on the radar maps amid the yellow and red.

In the end my fabulous rain gauge for the first time overflowed the inner 1" core into the larger reservoir that can accumulate up to ten further inches. It measured 1.91 inches of rain by midnight, the majority falling within the hour between 8:30pm and 9:30pm, at 2.1 inches per hour.

So I thought - this will be interesting. Wonder what others got? Well, here's a partial story, gleaned from local personal weather stations in the area combined with the CoCoRHaS reports. The area in question is probably 50 miles by 40 miles. What's surprising is how close some areas are that got 2 inches to those that got very little or nothing:

Now a lot of those rainfalls in the Athens area are from automated weather stations (rainfall numbers attached to orange temperature readings), while most of the others are from CoCoRHaS manual rain gauges. Not to disparage anyone using automated weather stations, but to give you an idea, the Dark Corners number, 0.08/68 degF you see at the center left also tends to report 109 degF temperatures on hot days when everyone else says 98 degF. Clearly someone isn't paying attention, since it's all automated, and I can now see why CoCoRHaS demanded the use of a uniform and manual rain gauge, rather than accepting automated station data. You have to pay attention. So I don't necessarily trust those two or three 0.00 readings of precipitation in the middle, just below Athens. They're automated.

Barring that, though, there are enough data to show a jagged line from upper right to lower left that divides the have nots from the lucky ones. The explanation? Diurnal convection combined with complete and total caprice. While all this may seem boringly local, the general situation can be encountered just about anywhere. Apparently diurnal convection, one of two legs required for the kind of weather we get here in the southeast, just happened to favor us east of Athens, and points southward.

Influence of the two tropical storms present at the moment? Unless it was the butterfly effect I can't see the position of the two North Atlantic tropical storms Cristobal and Dolly having any influence over this. Still the direction of the storm, northeast to south-southwest is suspicious - our prevailing winds this time of year tend to come from the northwest.

The other leg that results in diurnally convected thunderstorms, moisture in the air, does not seem to have derived from the Gulf of Mexico - the NWS discussion for the day makes that fairly clear. My guess is that we benefitted from any of three possible local contributors to moisture - two very large impoundments, Lake Lanier 40 miles to our northwest, and Lake Hartwell about the same to our east. And of course our area is heavily forested and much evapotranspiration results during extremely hot days. Any of that, plus yesterday's extremely hot day, may have conspired to produce this intense thunderstorm. Our benefit comes from the loss to others, true, but wind patterns ensure that unfairness gets evenly dispensed in the long run.

So how often does it happen that we get at least 1.91 inches of rain in a single storm? Well, using Athens data, there were five instances in the last 2.0 years, and none since 1 March 2007 (not in Athens, anyway). This event won't add to the Athens data, and that's always a conundrum for me since while I keep my own data, I tend to report only Athens official data, but that's the way it goes.

Monday: 21 July 2008

On the Croton  -  @ 05:56:35
(ADDED: I've been reminded that yesterday was the 39th anniversary of the first humans on the moon. It would have been today but Neil Armstrong was too excited to wait. I see that I had a little post on Armstrong in October 2005. Let those of us who were so enthusiastic and excited (not to mention alive at the time!) not calculate the anniversary of the last humans on the moon. It would be too sad. )

The heat and dry has returned to us over the last week, highs persisting after noon in the mid to upper 90s (99 degF predicted for today). Cristobal, which developed off the Georgia-South Carolina coast last week has had no discernible effect on us, except perhaps to draw a bit of air from the northwest and west. It hasn't really been uncomfortable at all, though there have been a couple of days of brush fire activity in the north and northeast portions of Oglethorpe County but we haven't been called out for that.

I found this rather interesting seasonal long range prediction page, giving maps of temperature and precipitation prediction Aug 2008 through Aug 2009. Since it's seasonable it's given in units of three months running intervals. Looks like temperature-wise we here can now expect normal to above normal temperatures for the rest of the summer and into the fall, and then much warmer winter temperatures through Jan-Feb-Mar 2009 for all of the US except the westernmost portion. Precipitation is average through the fall and then, for us in the southeast, drier than normal through most of spring next year. Basically a repeat of 2007-2008, looks like, and therefore also a repeat of 2006-2007.

I mentioned the woolly croton yesterday and it's been worth watching, as it attracts a lot of arthropods. Each leaf usually has half a dozen ants cruising around, and more interestingly several leaves have a resident spider inhabiting the curled up leaf tip. I undid one of these yesterday, imagining that I'd find yet another crab, and instead found this evanescent thing:

At first I still thought it was one of the crab, or running crab spiders, but I don't think so now. This one, a little over a centimeter in body length, was determined to go down with the ship, if that's what it took, and stubbornly refused to leave. She immediately set about repairing the bivouac, and that's what it's called, too. I just checked, at 5AM, and she's not in it. Apparently she's a night prowler.

My guess is that she's one of the longlegged sac spiders (aka, prowling spiders) of the Miturgidae, and probably a yellow sac spider, Cheiracanthium spp. The eyes look right (second thumbnail below) and the very large fangs giving the impression of a black face are also right. The general body shape and long front legs also fit.

If so, then this is one of the few spiders that can inflict a painful and potentially serious bite on a human, or so it is said. It may be responsible for those spider bites in bed that people keep talking about.

There's a distant possibility that this is a "true sac spider", of the Clubionidae. However those don't have the long front legs, as far as I can tell. As it turns out, the Miturgidae and several other families were split out of the Clubionidae, and we're supposed to try not to call them sac spiders now. Another distant third possibility is that this is a ghost spider ( Anyphaenidae ). However you have to have a certain unique arrangement of the spinnerets and spiracles to be in that family, which (by the way) was also split out of the Clubionidae.

The first thumbnail is the only photo that showed the underside of the spider. I include it just in case anything can be made of the spinneret-spiracle arrangement, but I can't see anything much. The second is a closeup of the eye arrangement and face, and the third is another frontal view of the entire spider.

We did Green Lynx a few days ago but let's do it again. This one has a nice plump little hymenopteran.

Sunday: 20 July 2008

Three Plant Eaters  -  @ 05:07:15

This delicate bug is not a walking stick. It's a Stilt Bug, family Berytidae. I'm guessing that of the four genera Bugguide presents it's probably Neoneides, and not Jalysus, which has a spine just aft of each of the middle legs.

The fourth endmost segments of the antennae are described as clubbed. I guess you can see why. The part of the legs that are attached to the body are also said to be clubbed - they look like they've been joined to the body by a dab of play-doh.

It's a fairly tiny thing, perhaps a centimeter long, and while it wasn't particularly shy would fly if touched. Some species are predacious on smaller insects but what little I could find suggests that this one is phytophagous, plant eating. You might find them on tomato plants.

If you look closely at the head in the photo to the left, you can see the proboscis drawn up close to the lower part of the neck. Very similar to the assassin bugs, which are predators, and other families that suck plant fluids.

The stilt bug was on our American Germander, Teucrium canadense, which has after three years grown into a nice dense spread of the mints, on which quite a few insects have been found in the last month or so. There is usually a running crab spider at the tip of each plant nestled in the developing leaves. It's not in flower yet but when it is that will bring in a whole new set of insects.

I have August 13 2007 as the date on which the marvelous thick-headed fly, Stylogaster, was found. I'll be interested to see if it returns.

Next up is the solution to a minor mystery of a week ago. Not great photographs but I had tentatively concluded it was a plant hopper larva ( Bev agreed it was a nymph), perhaps of the Issidae family. That one was on the germander.

It turns out to be a plant hopper nymph, yes, but an Acanaloniid plant hopper, probably Acanalonia bivittata, two-striped plant hopper. Some do place these in the Issidae family. This one was on Woolly Croton, Croton capitatus, and the photograph is much better. As an adult it will have morphed into the more familiar bright green wedge-shaped plant hopper, this one with red eyes.

I finally figured out what it looks like - a chameleon of the tropical variety! The tuft coming out of its butt are secretions of waxy fibers, and the presence of a number of these things on a plant will leave waxy residues cluttering the stems and leaves.

Finally, and I need to investigate this one a little better, a caterpillar, also on the Germander. There were a number of these pink things, a little over a centimeter long, and they were feeding on the leaves so it looks like they were deliberately planted there. Unfortunately my usual haunts for caterpillar host plants don't include Teucrium canadense and I haven't found a hint of what it might be yet. I'll throw it out in case anyone recognizes it, and maybe this is a good time to attempt some caterpillar raising.

Saturday: 19 July 2008

Four More Eyes!  -  @ 06:37:07
Today is Niches' fourth birthday. The first entry appeared here July 19 2004.

Who better to come along to celebrate and occupy the attention of this 1,263rd post than this cunning little salticid, perky as anything even while missing a couple of legs? Bless his feisty heart and tiny booklungs, three legs short of an eight-pack, but still going. Could we have a better metaphor here?

Do I spy green fangs? I think I do, behind those fuzzy little boxing gloves.

Everyone is jumping for joy! At least as best they can ; - )  .

Friday: 18 July 2008

Goatsucker  -  @ 05:46:32
Glenn woke me up about 4AM (why was I sleeping so late?), with a bird in the hand. It had flown in the open door while he was working and he'd managed to rescue it.

I don't know if you've ever seen one. I certainly haven't, though we hear them frequently at night. It would appear to be a Whip-poor-will, female, judging from the buff tail feathers. Seems too small and dark to be a Chuck-will's-widow, although that's another possibility that can't be completely excluded, and lacks the white throat of a Nighthawk.

Nice chunky body, and it was a chatterbox. What a tiny bill! What huge eyes! Nice whiskers. She was glad to be released outside and did not return.

Thursday: 17 July 2008

Confusing Little Bugs  -  @ 06:46:56
These little bugs have me in a tizzy - they've been appearing for the last couple of months and they're all very similar but also significantly different. They're all definitely bugs - the antennae with just a few segments, the lack of wing cases, elytra, and probably a few other things that I don't know about proclaim them Hemipterans rather than Coleopterans, beetles.

To review: the first turned out to be a burrowing bug, Sehirus cinctus, on May 3 this year. This has the interesting story of a bug that takes care of its kids. That's the bug on the left, below, and note its black legs and prismatic back.

But on June 27 another little black bug turned up, devoid of other coloration. It had yellow legs and yellow segments on the antennae, unlike the Sehirus which has all-black legs and antennae, its back was clearly rounded, and Bugguide has nothing in the Sehirus entries that resembles it. It's the one on the right in the small images above.

And now here's the most recent manifestation. It made its appearance a couple of weeks ago and I've been finding them everywhere. It's not that there are huge numbers, but more that I see them on tree trunks, leaves on both the ground and in the air - they simply seem to be prowling about. The most obvious character is the yellow spot on the back, something the other two lack, but as with the second one in the thumbnails above it has a rounded back and as with all three, a white margin:

My best guess is that the two latest are both in the genus Largus. So they are one of the species of bordered plant bugs in the family Largidae. As you can tell from the linked page, that particular one has a much redder spot, and so do all the others that the experts at bugguide identify to this family and genus. Nonetheless that's what it looks like. These are completely different from the Burrowing Bug family, Cydnidae, that started all this off.

We've seen Largus before here, as Largus succintus, or Red Bug. That one was shaped quite differently and bordered by orange piping, and the Bugguide Largus genus page has lots of photos of these.

Mystery solved? Maybe not, but I'm fairly comfortable with this.

Wednesday: 16 July 2008

Creation of a Snag  -  @ 07:06:20
Not the best composite photo, but it's not meant to be beautiful.

I've thought several times about writing about this Post Oak just outside our front door. It's been ailing for many years and every year has come back, a little more tired than the year before. Last year's drought was just a little too much for it, I suppose, and so the dead leaves you see became that way along about midsummer last year. Amazingly they still haven't fallen.

I suspect that the initial insult came with construction of the house 1990-1991. There was at least some movement of heavy vehicles and digging in the area, though I wouldn't have thought it would have impinged on this particular tree. Nonetheless it can't be a coincidence that a few years later the occasional very large branch would die and fall, and the bark of the tree became increasingly loose and friable. Oaks are especially sensitive to having their roots messed with, and the pressure of heavy equipment, if that's what it was, may have caused this.

Tuesday: 15 July 2008

Yet Another Longhorn  -  @ 06:03:34
Sunday brought a slow-moving, very intense front of thunderstorms into north Georgia, and it reached us just about the time I was to join our fire chief to work on the Margaritaville pumper. We postponed that, since we'd have to do the work outside, but it almost didn't matter. The front sort of split ahead of us and then moved past, dropping only 0.39 inches of rain - better than nothing of course!

Unfortunately this very odd fellow, about an inch long, wasn't in his or her natural habitat - I found it dozing on the upper deck railing in the very early morning. Well, *hopefully* it wasn't in its natural habitat. Cricket? Wasp? I'm guessing beetle - it's hard to fake those elytra that encase the wings atop the abdomen.

Lots of fur, big femurs, long antennae with lots of segments - not a bug then. I was really hoping it might be in the Checkered Beetle family as I haven't run across any of those. It did resemble superficially a couple of genera but there were no matches that I could find and in the end it turned out not to be that.

It took quite a while to run it down, but it's pretty clearly a Rustic Borer, Xylotrechus colonus, another longhorned beetle. This is number three of that family this season - the root borer of a couple of days ago, and a flower longhorn six weeks ago. Of course, as a borer it is damaging to trees, particularly hickories, but apparently not all that picky. It's usually nocturnal, and the flash really bothered this one. It woke up quickly and scurried about trying to hide from the light.

Longhorn beetles constitute a pretty big family, and I'd say it has more than its share of mimics of all sorts. This one seems to combine several efforts into one - ant, wasp, cricket. Take a look at those eyes! They have the shape and size more of a hymenopteran's eyes.

Take another look! The eyes themselves continue the striking pigmentation patterns and color.

Lastly, a fuzzy image of a tiny spider that just happened to be present, unnoticed, until I took a look at the photos later on. I'm guessing it to be a jumper, but hadn't seen any with glowing headlamps before!

Sunday: 13 July 2008

Cleanup Day  -  @ 07:00:03
A few photos, resurrected from the last week, constitute this disparate post. The pics are not too good for the most part, overexposed, and therein is a good reason for not using flash if you don't have to.

Up first, Gulf Fritillary ( Agraulis vanillae ) larvae on passionflower, Passiflora incarnata.

The last time we talked about this I incorrectly referred to the denuding of the Passiflora by pearl crescent larvae. Dale in comments pointed out that pearl crescent goes after plants of the Asteraceae and it's Gulf Fritillary that likes passionflower.

I was interested in that bit of green on the left cat, imagining it might be a parasite, but it turned out to be a bit of vegetation that got stuck in the bristles.

Again overexposed, but I haven't yet relocated this insect for better photographs, so here's what we get:

That it's an insect is pretty undeniable, six legs and all. It was quite active and scurried about onto the other side of the stem whenever it caught me spying on it. It was small, perhaps 2-3mm in size. In the first photograph it's rightside up and turning away from us so the eyes cannot be seen. The second photograph shows it upside-down, with the eye fairly clear at the bottom. It does look like the antennae emerge below the eye, and that might make it a plant hopper of some kind, perhaps a member of the Issidae family, though I don't see anything that matches very well. And it could be a larva of something else in which case we're into a realm that extends way beyond my competence at the moment.

Last up is something familiar to everyone, and we've had quite a lot of these bustling about in the last few weeks. This one was perched on a leaf four feet off the ground, and that struck me as pretty unusual.

It is, of course, a roly-poly, or pillbug. And while it's an Arthropod, it isn't an insect - you can tell that by the 7 pairs of appendages that are not really legs. It is actually a terrestrial crustacean, and not too distantly related to decapods: shrimp, crab, and lobster.

It's probably in the family Armadillidiidae, as this is the family, one of many in the isopods, that can roll up into a ball when disturbed. And more than likely it's Armadillidium vulgare (aka Armadillium vulgare - I've seen it both ways). I took pity on this one.

The wikipedia discussion page is interesting, as sometimes they are. I was hoping it would have a discussion of the common name. The above zipcodezoo link refers to the name "roly-poly" as dating back to at least 1968, the wikipedia page even mentions Georgia. Well, for what it's worth, *we* lived in Atlanta, Georgia in 1968, and I distinctly remember being fascinated by "roly-polys". So maybe it was *me* that got the name started!

One more thing - the roly-poly family and genus name are clearly similar to the common name "armadillo" (little armored one, Spanish), for the mammal we are increasingly getting to know here.

The actual scientific name for the mammal is Dasypus, named by Linnaeus ( 1758 ). It appears that the isopod was classified by Latreille, 1804. Maybe Linnaeus wasn't interested in roly-polys. Now that might not represent the first use of the genus name, though the specific epithet "vulgare" meaning "common" suggests it comes pretty early. The mammal armadillos are of New World origin, and roly-polys seem to be scattered worldwide, so it seems at least that the mammal's common name did not derive from the roly-poly's scientific name. The reverse is possible, but the similarity may also be completely coincidental.

Saturday: 12 July 2008

Monster Beetle  -  @ 06:23:54
For the last couple of weeks these monsters have been visiting us. Apparently Glenn has been battling them as they've entered the house through his open-door policy at night. I just happened to find one lumbering about in the kitchen and took it out to photograph. As Glenn noted, these adults are incredibly incompetent on the ground. I confirmed this - once on its back this one couldn't right itself without help. Once righted, it merely had to trip once and it would be on its back once again.

They're a couple of inches long, and very striking with their long antennae. And that informs their placement as Longhorned Beetles, and longer horned they are than most. The "horn" refers to the antennae, and I wonder who came up with that common name? They aren't horns by my subjective reactions: horns are, well, horny - they don't move and they're, well, horns! These are antennae.

And what antennae they are. They must be massive sensing devices, and if the adults don't eat, and I'm not sure about that, then what are they for? My guess: sensing mates, for if you don't eat you'd better get all that stuff done ASAP.

At any rate I'm going to guess that with 16 (estimated) antennal segments (click for the larger image), more than the only 11 for Derobrachus spp., or Orthosoma spp.; this is a Prionus spp, and possibly P. imbricornus or Tile-horned Prionus, aka, a Root Borer. Well, they're all root borers.

These are the adults, obviously. Like cicadas, but a little less so, the kids lead a long childhood underground, 3-5 years, and a more destructive one. The nocturnal adults emerge using their formidable mandibles to chew their way out of a tree's roots or bark (last thumbnail below), mate, fly into people's houses or bash into their lit windows, and if they're lucky lay a few hundred eggs on the top of the ground under a suitable tree. The eggs hatch and the babies burrow into the ground.

My guess is that the adults don't eat anything, though I haven't found confirmation beyond Bugguide's info page on the family of longhorned beetles, Cerambycidae. One interest little thing - whereas other wood-eating insects, such as termites, use mutualisms with protozoans to digest the wood, these beetles may generate their own enzymes to digest cellulose. This is kind of neat - it's yet another counterexample to the conventional wisdom that is usually promulgated to general biology students that cellulose is indigestible by animals, whereas its close sibling starch is. Cellulose and starch are both made of energy rich glucose, simply strung together slightly differently. Since there's a helluva lot more cellulose in the world than starch, animals (and fungi) that can digest cellulose to the identical, energy rich glucose monomers are a step up in gathering energy and carbon resources.

This Forest Service entry shows a photo of the larva, and mentions that one of the results of infestation is that trees are cut off at the ground level. I certainly wouldn't be surprised to learn that there was some association of this insect with the demise of the shagbark hickory of a week ago.

Friday: 11 July 2008

Fine New Spider  -  @ 06:49:33
I've been making daily visits to check, and this elegant Green Lynx Spider, Peucetia viridans, has occupied the same leaf of the same American Germander plant for the last week. That Bugguide info page certainly has some interesting things to say about this species. It has been noted to spit venom up to a distance of 200mm (about 8 inches), in defense. There is a nice instar series as well. The browsing page has a neat division of photographs into eastern and western color variations.

I was confused until I looked it up on the blog and found that the lookalike wasn't this species at all, but rather Magnolia Jumping Spider, observed 9 May 2007. I can be forgiven, for even the info page on green lynx tells us that this species at least once thought to be intermediate between the Salticids, true jumping spiders; and Oxyopids, true lynx spiders. As it turns out I did observe another lynx spider, the brown Oxyopes scalaris, on 11 June 2007, identified by Bev in comments.

Besides the hexagonal arrangement of eyes, it's the long bristles on the legs that really scream "lynx."

In other news, we've been getting small to significant amounts of rain each day this week. We're now up a little over 2 inches for July. I'd forgotten how it is that even temperatures in the mid 80s can seem excessively hotter when the humidity is up around 60%.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center has its Atlantic Hurricane seasonal outlook up now. Indications are for a normal to above normal season - they indicate the current estimate of total storms, named storms and major hurricanes. The two largest factors are the high Atlantic sea surface temperatures, and a diminishing but still effective La Niña, which enhances hurricane formation and development.

Thursday: 10 July 2008

Bee Assassin  -  @ 06:20:50
This bright bug, and a true bug of the order/suborder Hemiptera/Heteroptera it is, is certainly an assassin bug, (family Reduviidae). I know this to be the case since I saw it initially with a victim. By the time I had my reading glasses and camera it had finished with its prey and contemptuously kicked the carcass off, so I'm not sure who the victim was.

I'm pretty sure this is a Bee Assassin, Apiomerus crassipes. The photo in that link is much redder than mine but there are other examples that tend toward the orange.

Like its cousin the Wheel Bug, Arilus cristatus, which it clearly resembles in form, the Bee Assassin has a fairly good coating of fur. I thought at first it might be furrier than wheel bug, but no, I guess not.

Just look at that proboscis. That can do considerable damage to you if the bug gets annoyed, and they act like they don't just have short fuses - they have no fuses at all. Now look at that first link above and notice that the Bee Assassin is perched on the photographer's finger. That's one brave photographer, and I was amused to see comments on that page that reflected my initial evaluation!

Always nice to see a new predator around! That has great meaning to me - the higher trophic levels are healthy and not being poisoned by biological amplification of pesticides or pollutants that might be around, and there are sufficient victims around to sustain the predators. All good news.

Wednesday: 9 July 2008

One of the Silent Majority  -  @ 05:48:53
A modest thunderstorm developed after midnight and dropped 0.98 inches of rain during several subsequent hours. It's sort of like getting a Bush tax rebate: it's an inadequate bribe that is too little, it's too late, it's less than a drop in a maliciously overturned bucket, and it makes you resentful after you've thought about it for awhile, grateful as you are shamefully forced to be for this little crumb tossed from table of the rich folks for whom you've prepared a sumptuous repast.

Here's something considerably more generous to the little things than a Bush tax cut:

We have several trees downed over Goulding Creek, straddling the creek from bank to bank, and that's the only reason I could observe these flowers up close. Not very noticeable to begin with, they're rendered even more invisible in that Parthenocissus cinquefolia, Virginia Creeper, like other vines, seldom seems to flower until it's in a significant climbing mode.

These flowers are consigned to the very back of my fieldguide to wildflowers, the section that contains all the drab green and brown flowers. They're certainly not unnattractive, with their thick, precisly made petals and cymose arrangement of flowers in the inflorescence. Generally five stamens, but I see here a few with six stamens!

We've done Virginia Creeper before, but it's always worth mentioning again. One of our most common vines around here, it's a member of the grape family, Vitaceae, and like its cousin muscadine, will go on to produce berries that are important soft mast for birds and small mammals. The blue-black fruits really do look like dense bunches of small grapes and I've seen these produced in huge abundance.

It doesn't make quite the ground cover that muscadine does, but it does look nice running along the ground, with the lush leaves held erect six to twelve inches above the ground. And it's a strong and graceful climber, as well, producing the most cunning, strongly gripping adventitious root pads.

It does have a tendency to get out of control so it wouldn't make a great plant for a more formal garden, although those who deliberately plant its noxious alien cousin P. tricuspidata, Boston Ivy, would be hypocritical to complain. In the early autumn it will turn a brilliant red color, earlier than most other plants (at least around here), so that it can be startling against the still-green background.

Tuesday: 8 July 2008

Not My Fault!  -  @ 08:14:09
Our internet DSL service went down Saturday morning, sometime between 5AM and 10pm the previous night, and didn't return until yesterday. That would be why I haven't seemed to be around. More about this at the bottom.

Our weather: humidity, moisture, moderately warm during the day and cool at night. What a nice change!

Friday July 4 in the early afternoon a sizeable storm formed to the northwest of Athens and us and moved slowly toward the southeast. By 1:30 Athens was reporting over a half-inch of rain and we were hearing thunder. And then for the half-hour straddling 2pm we got 0.29 inches of rain, surely enough to put out errant fireworks. For about 15 minutes rain fell at a rate of around 1.0 inches per hour. (Athens reported a great deal more rain, 1.5 inches, but according to NOAA weather radio (my only connection to outside information!), this may not pan out (it didn't).)

Saturday afternoon from 3pm to 3:30pm we got another nice thunderstorm, one of the few in many years that I haven't seen developing on web weather maps, so it was a near-complete surprise. It delivered 0.26 inches of rain, accompanied by nearly a dozen lightning strikes within 1000 feet of the house (judging by the one-second thunder delays). Except for those in the direction of our north-northeast octant, all others must have struck on the property. For about five minutes rainfall rate was 2.4 inches per hour. NOAA radio reports there was no rain in Athens.

Early Sunday morning, between 3am and 4am, yet another storm! This one was extensive, with lightning-thunder times varying from one second (half a dozen of these) to up to 30 seconds at similar times. So it must have been 6-12 miles across depending on where we were located within it. It delivered 0.14 inches of rain, with a maximum rate of 0.7 inches per hour for about 10 minutes. Later in the afternoon we had an extra 0.04 inches, not much, but accompanied by quite a barrage of lightning and thunder.

All in all, over the 4th of July weekend we had 0.73 inches of rain and some excellent climatological fireworks!

I've reported a couple of times on our Bearsfoot aka Hairy Leafcup, Smallanthus uvedalius, but this is the first time in years that the flowering has been impressive enough to photograph. In the late 80's the floodplain was liberally covered with these, and then gradually the Microstegium vimineum took over. You'd think that a plant this big, 3-5 feet tall, would have competed well with the Microstegium, but no, apparently not, and the bear's claw was gradually disappearing.

Now, after five years of controlling the Microstegium, there are two large patches making a comeback. For the last few years, walking down the roadcut toward Goulding Creek, the two dominant Asteraceae species, Smallanthus and Verbesina occidentalis, Crownbeard, have been well separated, one on one side of the roadcut, the other on the other.

Now the Smallanthus is invading the roadcut and has been making inroads into Verbesina territory. Here's a nice colony in flower, and it compares with the photo I took of the same area in early May:

For such a large plant, Smallanthus makes few flowers, and only at the top of the plant. In the past, deer have come through and cropped the tops before the flowers have been formed. This year the plants seem to have escaped the predation.

Apparently only the ray flowers, the ones on the outside which sport a single large yellow petal, will make seeds, and the seeds are quite large. The disk flowers, the ones in the middle, are sterile.

On the matter of our internet outage: interruption of DSL has seldom happened, and never for more than an hour or two. Along with landline phone and electricity, our DSL service has been extraordinarily good, considering where we live. But in the last few months I've detected some grumbling about recent DSL outages in other parts of Oglethorpe County on a local forum, so there may be a systemic problem in maintenance developing. Certainly this is the first time in two years that we have been 48 hours, and counting, 60 hours without service, or indication of when service will be reestablished (that is of course the beauty of outsourcing).

After a few hours on Saturday morning, I called Windstream, our ISP. I got the usual "press 1 if you're having a problem with...", and went through the protocol. Eventually, after two such excursions, for you cannot ever ever talk with a human person until you've gone through the robot ritual, I spoke for a half-hour with a very nice Pakistani claiming to be named Mark. I had already done all the usual diagnostics, depowering the modem, rebooting the computer, hooking up via browser to the modem's configuration page and running the self-checks. It was obvious that the problem lay with the ISP's, Windstream's, side, but Mark insisted that we go through the written routine and his method of dealing with my attempts to short circuit things was to start back at the beginning, a very effective disciplinary tool. Eventually he decided that the problem lay with the ISP's side, expressed his profound distress at our problem, and assured me that things would be in working order by Monday 6pm. Huh? Three days to fix the problem? Not good! Apparently Windstream doesn't work on the weekends.

These may sound like the complaints of a spoiled child, but I think not. I realize this is the 4th of July weekend and so a slow response may be justified. It's practically a cliche now that my low level irritation has more to do with what this particular service provider must think of as a highly effective insulation from its customer - the outsourcing of response, and the subsequent submission of "tickets" that pass into a limbo unexplorable by such as myself. This provides endless points for humorists like Garrison Keillor to exploit, and who am I to deny them that privilege? A truly spoiled child would not see this.

And the irritation really is low level. I have other things to occupy my attention, but I do find that every few minutes something occurs to me that I would like information on, and I have to rediscover repeatedly (oh yeah, that's right, can't do that) that that avenue of satisfaction, doing a web search, is not available. I'm used to scratching my curiosity itches, dammit, and if impulsive inquiry were a skin disorder I'd have terminal eczema! I guess the question is, is this a luxury or a necessity?

I conduct a lot of my business, both personal and professional, using my internet connection. It actually isn't something that's a choice anymore. My employers expect me to read email, my students expect me to respond to their emails, I have to log in to a website each day after a series of student sessions to write up and enter evaluations - all this has to be done within an unreasonably short timeframe, if you insist that internet access is a luxury. That most consider a lagtime longer than a few hours to be excessive is simply proof that the internet is not a luxury but a requirement. We have a small business that relies on our getting orders in a prompt fashion, through email. So no, it's not a luxury anymore, a frivolity that we can easily do without. It is as much a mainstay as is electric power, the lack of which you'll unfailingly hear addressed on national news, that 60,000 or a million people are doing without after some catastrophe. In those cases the "power companies are working overtime to reestablish power to 60,000 or a million people."

Internet is still considered a luxury, QED, and it is, quite simply, not. And still, you won't hear that "internet providers are working overtime to restore broadband to 60,000 or a million customers."

Maybe the ISP will get around to it by Monday. (They did. If you consider Monday 8AM the starting point then a fine fellow not only had it fixed by noon but he also called and left a message that it was fixed.) In our case Windstream really is our only choice and so they'll do as they wish.

Here's something I did during my exclusion from the internets. I've been noting Athens and Wolfskin temperatures a dozen or so times during the day since Jan 1. I pulled and pooled each month's entries into one big spreadsheet and then plotted the first half of the year for Wolfskin, joined by green lines (the Athens temperatures are simply unjoined black dots). A larger version is linked to this one.

Mostly you can't discern individual days, you can see the blocks of patterns of cold and warm periods. I added a couple of trendlines - a 25-point moving average (red) and a 100-pointer (blue). The 25 point averages over a couple of days and the 100 point about a week, so the blue line damps out variations that last less than a week or so. The only two major surviving significant periods are the very warm 2-week periods at the beginning of January, and June. However the blue (and red) lines also show that the spring months (end of February to end of May) generally tended toward being cooler rather than warmer.

Friday: 4 July 2008

A Sad Event  -  @ 06:56:40
A good Independence Day to everyone celebrating it. May you be aware of the state of your surroundings and limit your use of fireworks accordingly, especially if you're around here!

Yesterday I came upon this dramatic event along the lower third of SBS Creek (honest, this is not intended to be metaphorical, though it may seem to work that way).

This was the mystery tree for a couple of decades - one identified as our only Shagbark Hickory, then for a time rethought to be one of the shaggy white oaks until a closer examination restored its earlier status as Carya ovata. Always a favorite stop on a walk, the tree grew out of the bank along the creek (note dry creek), flanked by several enormous outcropping rocks. It defined and controlled the little creek at this point.

It was such a massive tree that I never could really encompass it photographically but the first link shows at least a portion of it. Both links mention my observation that it was a sick tree. The first one shows the outcrop of puffballs at its base, taking advantage of the opportunity. A gallery of tree cavities earlier this year featured a nice one on the shagbark.

In the above three photos, moving in an orbit about the treefall, you can see by the lighting that the shagbark constituted a substantial portion of the extensive canopy. The sunlight now penetrates significantly to the ground. Surrounding, smaller trees will benefit, and interesting things may appear that wouldn't have, otherwise.

Most of our treefalls pull out a large rootball. This one, though, just collapsed at the rotten base, splitting the bifurcated lower trunk apart.

One oddity is that there really haven't been any high winds in the last week. We can't explain it that way. It wasn't that that felled this old fellow. It was rot from within.

Tuesday: 1 July 2008

The Month of June  -  @ 09:00:29
Here is the summary of the month of June, for the United States and Athens, Georgia. I think most of us will have experienced the extremes of temperature and rainfall from one end of the spectra to the other. Drought in California and the southeast, and the more than 1500 wildfires in the former, to heavy rains in a broad belt from the midwest to New England and north are reflected here.

From the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, this is a plot of mean temperature anomalies for the US. That's the difference in the average temperature for this June above or below the average for June over many years, plotted in colors. The anomalies are in Fahrenheit.

The much colder than normal temperatures throughout the north central and northwest US continues from May. The rest of the country is starkly warmer than normal, with the southeast continuing to experience much warmer than normal temperatures as it did in May. The exception is Florida, which hovers between slightly warmer and slightly cooler. Really warm temperatures center above inland central California, Texas, and much of North Carolina.

From the (click through to the monitoring maps from the left sidebar) National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, this is a plot of mean precipitation anomalies for the US over the month of June:

The US midsection had a surplus of rain in June, much as they did in March, April, and May, and this has been much in the news. California has experienced a severe drop in rainfall, as has much of the southeast, excepting Florida and most of the Gulf Coast.

I haven't mentioned it here but one of our regular core of WVFD firefighters, Brian, has transferred for the summer to Roseburg, Oregon, to fight wildfires in the surrounding states. I haven't heard from him lately - he doesn't have cell phone or internet access unless he goes into town and it sounds like (with 1500 wildfires in the area) that he's not getting into town very often! This site, from the Remote Sensing Applications Center, will be of interest to those in that part of the country. It gives a lot of information about the alarmingly numerous fires in California right now. And give Brian a pat on the back if you see him.

For Athens:

The above figures show that we had considerably warmer temperatures and greatly below average rainfall during June. We had one fire call, mutual aid with Oconee County, in June, and we were probably extremely lucky to have had only that one.

Here is my plot of high temperatures for the month of June in Athens. As usual, the black dots are for the 17 years 1990-2006 (black dots), 2008 (green line), and 2007 (red line).

While the May temperatures were fairly mild and even, that doesn't apply to June. The first half of the month peaked June 8 and 9 with two record highs of 101 and 102 deg, breaking the 1933 and 1926 records, and when you break high records of the mid 1920s and early 1930s, you're really breaking records.

The average June high this year was 93.5 degF, compared to an average over 89 years since 1920 of 88.1 degF. That's the fifth hottest June in 89 years: 1925 (95.8 ), 1931 (95.3), 1933 (94.5), and 1952 (93.7) were hotter. When we're in competition with 1920-1935, that's pretty scary.

We were more than one standard deviation above the mean high temperature for 16 days in June, compared to an average 4.6 days per June.

I went into the rainfall situation here for the first half of the year yesterday so I won't dissect it too much here. Suffice it to say that June was the eighth lowest rainfall in 89 years. Athens saw only 1.22 inches of rain in June, with 3.94 inches expected. This added onto the year to date to give us the eighth lowest half-annual rainfall in 89 years, with four of those years occuring since 2000.

Again, the green line shows our actual rainfall, the red shows the average accumulation expected. The black dots are rainfall over the last 19 years, the river of peach shows the standard deviation, and the mustard color appears when we're below that critical level. We never rose above it this June.

I've said it before and I'll mention it again: there is an extraordinary dearth of concern in the mainstream media around here about the depth of this drought. Fortunately, if by that you mean that at least someone is keeping track, internet sources such as UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, as well as the Georgia Forestry Commission, are doing their best to warn Georgians. We here in northeast Georgia are in "extreme drought."

Fires around here? Not so bad, remarkably, and it's almost embarrassing to bring this one up. The worst that I'm aware of is the Cumberland Island wildfire. Cumberland Island, off the Atlantic coast of Georgia is a National Seashore, one of the few remaining largely undeveloped barrier islands remaining and very seriously conserved, although it is populated in certain areas. Ironically, one of the problems with controlling this wildland fire is that because of Cumberland Island's status the Georgia Forestry Commission's mechanical strategy of using bulldozers to carve firebreaks cannot be employed. Fire breaks must be made manually.

I'll continue to link to this neat prognosticator in which you can get variously timed precipitation and temperature outlooks. It promises us that we will have above average precipitation and below average temperatures for the next two weeks, but honestly, the forecast just doesn't reflect that, and the promises last month made May 15 didn't pan out so far. No rain expected until the weekend, and the temperatures increasing all during that time.

NOAA's weekly ENSO update tells us that sea surface temperatures in the central and east equatorial Pacific are now grading up to ENSO-neutral regions, suggesting that we are leaving La Niña. That's good news, if true, but the 1998-2000 event also promised the same thing halfway through and then the SSTs plummeted once again. So we'll see.

Finally, and to reiterate the link way above, NOAA has a neat State of the Climate product. By clicking on the year, such as 2007, you can get to monthly and even weekly reports and zero in on regional descriptions that are much nicer than my own.

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