Thursday, April 30, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Blooming

Kingdom: Plantae

Division: Magnoliophyta

Class: Magnoliopsida

Order: Sapindales

Family: Anacardiaceae

This pretty little bunch of flowers is from the lemonade sumac, Rhus integrifolia. This plant gets its name from the sweet but tart fruits that it produces in the summer. Word is that you can make a lemonade tasting drink by boiling the berries, but I like liking the sap from the berries straight up. Just be sure you have the lemonade sumac and not some other kind. Other types of sumac are said to be toxic.

They are found in the coastal scrub areas and chaparral areas of southern California. They are able to grow in very nutrient poor soil as well as sand. Their thick small leaves and flowers helps make them resistant to droughts.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

White Abalone

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Mollusca

Class: Gastropoda

Order: Archaeogastropoda

Family: Haliotididae

This is a very rare animal, the white abalone (Haliotis sorenseni). They used to be found in great abundance in the subtidal waters off California (80 to 200 ft), there are now less than 3,000 individuals remaining in the wild. This is an issue as these animals are broadcast spawners, that is they release eggs or sperm into the water column to be fertilized. If there are no other individuals nearby, then the eggs will not be fertilized. Because of the low population numbers and their reproductive strategy, these animals are considered reproductively extinct.

However, they are on the list of endangered species, giving them great protection in their natural habitat. There are also some efforts underway to breed these snails in captivity to restock the wild populations. Work is slow, as it takes time for them to grow, and as growing them in farms leads to the increased risk of transporting diseases from the farm to the wild.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Hidden

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Mollusca

Class: Gastropoda

Order: Patellogastropoda

Family: Lottiidae

Whenever I am in the intertidal, I love looking for the small hidden things. This is a close up of a limpet, most likely Lottia digitalis, hidden in a gooseneck barnacle cluster. Amazingly, these limpets can change their shell shape and color based on what they are resting on.

Limpets which hang out on gooseneck barnacles get lines on their shells that look like the lines on the barnacle. They also have a higher domed shell. Rock morphs are less patterned with a lower shell. This one does not seem to have too much cryptic coloration, but the shell is really worn. Supposedly, the change between these two morphologies is partly because of the change in algal diets in the two areas [1].

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Silly

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Monotremata

Family: Tachyglossidae

This silly-looking animal is the short-beaked echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus. There are only two types of echidnas in the world, the long and short-beaked. The short beaked echidna is found in Australia and the long beaked in New Guinea. Like the platypus, their beak has electrical sensors, which they use to find ants and other creepy-crawlies in the dirt. Like the other monotremes the adults lack teeth, so after catching their ants with their long sticky tongue, they crush them with hard plates on the roof of their mouth.

They also lay eggs. The female lays an egg during breeding season, but will then carry that egg around in a pouch until it hatches. She can deposit it down a burrow, if she needs to leave to go forging. The newly hatched echidna is only the size of a jellybean and will hitch a ride on top of the mother’s pouch.

Their paws are quite interesting. The front paws have long claws for digging, but the back ones are very strange. They curve backwards, so the animal is walking on the top of their foot. This backwards curve helps the animal push dirt out and away from the hole it is digging. They also posses an unusually long claw that curves farther out on each foot. This set of claws is used for grooming; it’s so long, so it can get in between the stiff guard hair spines. Despite the grooming, echidnas are home to the world’s largest species of fleas, which is 4mm long (0.15 in).

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Anza Borrego State Park adventure

Right now the deserts are blooming. I wanted to see this phenomenon for myself, so I packed up and headed for Anza Borrego. We had two goals; to see some flowers (I wanted to see cactus blooms) and to see some fossils.

We first headed to the mud hills area where there are Pliocene oyster fossil beds. This area is rather crazy looking as there are very large hills of dried mud all over the place. These hills are studded with gypsum, making them sparkle in the sunlight as if they were studded with palm-sized mirrors.

We followed a wash, a narrow path that had been carved out by sudden rushes of water, in order to reach our destination; the elephant knees and the oyster beds.
Along the sides of the wash was the only signs of green plant-life in the mud hills area. There were sage-like bushes, but most of the plants were as small as the size of your hand. Flowers were small and low to the ground, most likely pollinated by wind or ants. There was a beautiful plant with brilliant purple flowers, which was my favorite for the whole trip, as the flowers were so delicate looking, yet it was growing in such a harsh environment.

When we got closer to the elephant knees, we noticed that the top of the mesa and on three nearby formations there were a dark layer on top about 2 feet thick. When we hiked up the side, we saw that it was completely made of small shells and parts of shells. We could not find the oysters the size of dinner plates, but we did see a rather large piece of a fossil oyster. So goal 1 was accomplished.

Afterwards we headed back towards the center of the park where there was more green life.

Here we went on cactus loop trail, where there were several kinds of cactus and other plants in bloom. On the cactus side, there were beaver tail and hedgehog cactus which had magenta flowers, and barrel cactus which had yellow-green flowers.

There were also jumping chollas, which had green flowers. These cactus have a habit of breaking off their arms and hitching a ride on a passer-by, thus 'jumping' to a new area.

There were also some fantastic ocotillo plants in bloom, which I've been strangely attracted to since I fist saw them on a trip to Arizona. They have thorny stems, and only produce small leaves and large flowers after the rains. The flowers were these bright red spikes on the top of the plant (the first picture is of these beautiful plants).

After our cactus hike, we headed to the visitor center and palm canyon to see if we could spot the big horn sheep which are said to roam the park. Although this unplanned goal was thwarted, we did get to see a variety of wild life that did not leave us disappointed. In just the canyon, we saw tons of lizards, quail, ravens, and endangered desert pup fish in a man-made habitat. In mud hills, we saw tons of butterflies, lizards, and a cute beetle. On our way into the park, we even spotted a coyote crossing the road. All and all, an amazing experience!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Photohunter: Stripes

I really love hanging out in the tidepools. You can always find such interesting things if you are willing to poke around and not afraid of getting pinched.

This is a striped shore crab, and I found him under a rock in the mid-intertidal zone. They like to eat algae and are generally eaten by gulls. They are pretty common, but I really like the colors on them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Honor an invert

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Malacostraca

Order: Stomatopoda

This is a mantis shrimp. A fantastic animal which is known for its hunting abilities and extraordinary eyes.

This mantis shrimp uses its front appendages like a club, bashing its prey. They can strike at their prey with a speed of 50 mile per hour (23 meters per second). Because they move so fast, they create an area of very low pressure behind their club. The pressure is so low, the water actually vaporizes forming a cavitation bubble. This bubble can deliver an extra punch to the prey when it pops [1]. The popping bubble may deliver the same amount of force to stun the prey at the actual strike does [2].

Their eyes can pick up florescent signals, and three different types of polarized light through different regions of their eyes [3]. They have 11 pigments in their eyes, eight of which are used for visible light and three for ultra violet light [4]. Pretty amazing, especially when you consider that our eyes only have 3 pigments.