Thursday, June 25, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Soiled

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Myxini

Order: Myxiniformes

Family: Myxinidae

This is a close-up picture of a hagfish's slime. The hagfish can produce vasts amounts of slime, enough to fill a bucket that they happen to be captured in. This slime consists of fibrous protein threads, mucus, and seawater. You can see the threads in this picture, if you look carefully.

Recent research suggests that the bulk of the mucus is actually seawater that is trapped in the mucus-coated threads [1]. This makes a certain amount of sense, given that the mucus expands rapidly when in contact with water (much like a sponge). It may also explain how these hagfish can produce such vast quantities of slime...basically, they are just puffing up a little bit of slime with water.

What hagfish use this slime for is still under debate. Most seem to be leaning towards the idea that the slime can clog the gills of potential predators.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Airy

Kingdom: Plantae

Division: Magnolio

Class: Liliopsida

Order: Arales

Family: Araceae

This is the bud of a corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanum. At the time that the photo was taken, the blossom was 5 ft and 7 in (5.6 m), and expected to reach over 6 ft (3 m). When open the corpse plant smells of rotting meat, to attract their fly and bee pollinators. The flower has a purplish color (like rotting meat) and heats up the air around it, so that the scent diffuses farther.

These plant produce only one flower or one leaf at a time. The flower itself is not a single large flower, but is made up of smaller male and female flowers. The leaf can reach 20 ft (6 m) tall and 16 ft (5 m) across. They are closely related to calla lilies.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bug Fair

A couple of weeks ago was the annual bug fair at our local museum. This was a pretty big deal as vendors from all around came to sell their bugs and bug-related gear. At the fair you could find dead bugs for your collection, live bugs for rearing or pets, bug catching and displaying gear, as well as t-shirts, hats, and other related things.

There was also a bug chef on hand, and live bug handling demonstrations through out the two day period. My favorite talk was give by a gentleman who did origami for a living. He had some amazing pieces, which looked just like bugs!

He was a physicist by training, so tended to approach origami from a mathematical point of view. He created a program which could tell you how to fold the paper to get any shape you wanted. He also pointed out the scientific uses of origami, such as airbag storage, a new stent which unfolds in your vein or artery to keep it open, and how telescopes in space use origami to fold into different configurations... Way cool!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Catalina Above and Below

I went on a fantastic boat trip to Catalina this weekend. It was part of a special program with the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, and it was a great hands on experience. We first went to pick up a series of fish traps which had been set out the day before. The first trap was set 500 feet down, and was filled with hagfish.

This was one of the first times I got to handle one of these amazing fish. They produce copious amounts of slime, as you can see from the picture. The slime had a very fibrous feel to it, which surprised me but made a bit of sense as the slime has many protein fibers. The fish themselves are very smooth and soft.

The second set of traps was set in a shallower, rocky reef area. We caught a ton of lobsters and California moray eels. We were looking for two gravid lobsters for the aquarium's lobster rearing program. These lobsters have never been successfully reared in captivity, especially as the larvae spend one year in the water column before settling out into the ground. The aquarium were able to raise the larvae for six months last year, and are hoping to go longer this year.

We also caught a horn shark. His teeth were purplish, a sure sign that this horn shark was snacking on sea urchins. After returning the fish we got from the traps, we headed over to a kelp forest by the isthmus of Catalina. There the divers went down to capture some fish and invertebrates to bring up for us to see. They also videotaped their dive, so that we could see what they saw when they went down.

They brought up several fish, including Garibaldis, a Rock wrasse, and a Senorita wrasse. They also brought up this cute baby Sheephead. On the invert side, they got some sea star, urchins, and snails. After that, we docked at the isthmus for lunch and a quick hike.

We hiked across the island, and got a peak at one of the Bison the inhabit the island. They were brought to the island in the 1920's for a movie, and were left there. It was really neat to see this guy, which was so close to the foot path.

Our final event of the day was cumming for sharks. We put out some chopped up mackerel an other fishes and were visited by three blue sharks, a large female and male, and a smaller one who's sex I couldn't identify.

The large male was approximately 7-8 feet long, and the female was a similar size. We also had some mackerel on a string, to get the sharks to jump up to get them. It was a pretty cool. The boat trip there and back was pretty eventful too. We spotted a bunch of sea birds and some blue whales.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Travel

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Aves

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

These Canadian geese represent travel in so many different ways. I took a picture of these geese on a recent trip to New Mexico. Of course the geese themselves are highly migratory; flying from northern Canada to the southern US.

There are 11 subspecies of Canadian goose found in the northern hemisphere, and their body size decreases with increasing latitude. This split in sizes may be due to the fact that Canadian geese practice assortative mating. In this case, the birds choose their mates based on size; they prefer to mate with a goose that is the same size as them.

In my childhood, seeing geese flying south was a regular feature of the fall season. It seems very odd to me to see these birds flying about in the winter, now that I live in the southern areas.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Photohunter: advertisement

This photo was taken at Kondalilla National Park, located near Brisbane in Australia. I think it sends a particularly powerful message about protecting the natural beauty of all parks.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Honor an invert

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Urochordata

Class: Thaliacea

Order: Salpida

This is a pretty neat animal, which just barely qualifies as an invertebrate. This is a salp, although I am not exactly sure which one. Salps are some of our closest relatives, as they possess several of the same characteristics, including a notocord. They are in the same phylum as the tunicates, or sea squirts, but unlike the tunicates, salps spend their entire life in the plankton.

The thin white band you see running along the bottom of the salp is the gills, which they used to filter feed with. The pinkish-yellow lump on the bottom right hand side is where most of the organs are (intestines and such). On the left hand side are two small orange ovals. These are another creature (amphipods) that are living inside of this salp. They can capture food from the salp's filter feeding current.

Salps can be found as solitary individuals or found in long chains of individuals, and can reproduce sexually and asexually. Their life cycle is rather complex because of this. As solitary individuals, salps reproduce asexually to form a chain. This chain can reproduce sexually with other salp chains. The sexual and asexual forms of the same salp species can look slightly different.