Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Good News For Devils!

Not so good for creationists.  For years now Tasmanian devils have been afflicted with a highly lethal and contagious form of cancer (devil facial tumor disease or DFTD) that is almost 100% fatal.

Tasmanian devils are the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world. They display significant aggression toward one another, which often involves biting on the face. This sometimes transmits DFTD, one of only three known forms of contagious cancer.

Twenty years since its discovery, DFTD has wiped out an estimated 80 percent of devils in Tasmania, the only place in the world where the animals live.

Now a Washington State University researcher, Andrew Storfer, and an international team of scientists have  discovered that two regions in the genomes of Australia's iconic marsupials are changing in response to the disease.
It was expected that by now there would be no more devils in the wild, but they have survived.
The reasons is simple evolution.  "If a disease comes in and knocks out 90 percent of the individuals, you might predict the 10 percent who survive are somehow genetically different," said study co-author Paul Hohenlohe, assistant professor of biology at the University of Idaho.
The theory (REMEMBER! A scientific theory is the best explanation for what has been observed and tested successfully.) of evolution states that those who can survive changes in the environment because of genetic variation will have offspring that can also survive. 
In other words, here is an example of evolution at work in the modern world.  Sorry, reality-deniers.

For more information, see

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vegetables That Eat You

Well.... if you are only a few millimeters long.

The bladderworts (Utricularia radiata) are starting to bloom in Chase Pond.  These plants have small yellow flowers that float just above the water.

 They are pretty, but they aren't the most interesting thing about these plants.  The fun part is below the water.  Each bladderwort leaf is covered with little ... yep, bladders.  These small balloons have the water sucked out of them by the plant leaving a partial vacuum.

 When small aquatic crustaceans bump up against small hairs on a bladder it pops open and sucks in water and the crustacean.

Then the bladder closes up and digests the prey.


Friday, August 19, 2016

And What Do We Do With It?

All to produce a huge crop of grass - which is raked up and thrown away

Plant gardens, not lawns.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


I remember as a kid seeing pictures of the Portuguese Man-O-War, that tropical terror that resembles an old sailing ship.

Photo by Ray Ewing from the Vineyard Gazette
I read about the dangers it presents to swimmers on tropical shores with its long tentacles full of stinging cells.  I was curious about how all of these different types of animals lived together as a single organism (not knowing then that the human body is a colonial being also).

But I never expected to see one, as I don't hang around tropical shores.

Now, thanks to the climate change that certain politicians are paid to deny exists, beaches on Martha's Vineyard, in the cold North Atlantic, have been closed to swimmers because of this once-tropical animal.  

These are not the first, and definitely not the only, tropical dangers moving north with increasing atmospheric temperatures.

More news here:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Snowball's Chance

Not that long ago, the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Environment, James Inhofe, threw a snowball to prove that climate change does not exist.  Researchers around the world have overwhelming evidence that human combustion of fossil fuels is increasing the average temperature of the atmosphere.  They have the numbers.  My students have seen those numbers and have calculated the results.  Inhofe had a snowball.

While politicians (whatever their financial motive) in this country have been sticking their heads in the sand and denying reality, other governments have taken steps to reduce their contributions to climate change.  Germany, for example, produces about 38% of their electricity through renewable sources and on sunny days gets 50% of their energy from solar panels (

New York City after Sandy
Cities are now planning how to deal with rising sea levels.  

New York Subway after Sandy
Many parts of New York and Washington are only a few feet above current sea level.  Hurricane Sandy flooded large areas of NYC.

Miami is already flooding at highest tides, without the assistance of storms.

As part of our study of topographic maps, I created a map of the future USA after the Greenland ice cap finishes melting.  Say 'goodbye', Disneyland.

The New York Times has produced an article showing just how much of major cities in the US will partly or completely disappear in the not-to-distant future. (

An interactive map from Time ( will show you how many people will be affected in your community.

Oh, and what does the US military say is the greatest threat to our security?

“The impacts of climate change may cause instability in other countries by impairing access to food and water, damaging infrastructure, spreading disease, uprooting and displacing large numbers of people, compelling mass migration, interrupting commercial activity, or restricting electricity availability,” the Pentagon writes. “These developments could undermine already-fragile governments that are unable to respond effectively or challenge currently-stable governments, as well as increasing competition and tension between countries vying for limited resources. These gaps in governance can create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism.” (
 And our chance of surviving if the politicians have their way?  Not a snowball's chance in Hell.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Yeahh, What I Said

I forget how many times I told my students that even if Connecticut shut down all factories and all traffic, our air would still be poisonous from all of the industry upwind of us.

Now today it is official.  An article in the Hartford Courant today reports:

Bad Air Kills 168 A Year In State
Connecticut Air Pollution
Deadliest In New England


Air pollution is causing an estimated 168 deaths a year in Connecticut and sending 472 more people to doctors and hospitals for health issues like heart attacks and bronchitis, according to a study released Wednesday.
The research by experts at New York University found that approximately 9,320 deaths related to air pollution occur annually in the United States. The study, which is being published by the American Thoracic Society, focused on urban regions with concentrations of ozone and particulate pollution higher than the society's recommended health standards.
This state's air quality has improved since the 1980s, but Connecticut is routinely cited by federal monitors as having among the worst air pollution on the East Coast. The most critical pollutant is ozone.
“Connecticut has the highest ozone levels in the Northeast, which adversely impacts the health of our citizens and the quality of life in our state,” Robert Klee, Connecticut's commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said recently.
“Over 90 percent of [air pollution] emissions comes from out of state, from upwind states,” Pirolli said.
According to the study, more people in Connecticut die each year as a result of air pollution than in any other New England state.
A major problem for Connecticut is that the state is downwind of coal- and oil-burning power plants in the Midwest and in states to the south that are sending tons of air pollutants toward it.
Connecticut joined with other states in the Northeast in 2013 asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce tougher air pollution standards in nine states to the west and south that have power plants that are sending massive amounts of air pollution in Connecticut's direction.
In April, after efforts to negotiate a compromise solution failed, Connecticut and several other Northeastern states notified the EPA of their intent to sue unless the federal agency acts soon.
The out-of-state pollution problem means that Connecticut, despite efforts to cut in-state pollution, is often exceeding even the higher federal ozone standard.
The hotter the days become, the more likely it is that ozone levels will rise – an ominous scenario in this era of global warming.
“I think it could get worse,” Pirolli said.

Monday, August 8, 2016

On the Science of Appearances

People tend to get very hung up on what others look like, especially size.  There is one thing I always notice first.  The one thing that would cause me to really sit up and notice someone:

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Coincidence

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is blooming now.   This member of the blueberry family contains methyl salicylate in the leaves, giving it that wintergreen smell and flavor.

Methyl salicylate is what is called a "counter-irritant", that is it can soothe muscle and headache pain by drawing blood to your skin.  It is why so many ointments for muscle pain smell like wintergreen.

If you happen upon the plant (and you are sure what you are looking at), try nibbling on the leaves or the berries.

For many generations plant-savvy people would make a mash of the leaves and hot water and apply it to their skin to ease the pain of sore muscles.

The smooth black bark with horizontal lines of black birch
By a not-uncommon coincidence in nature, another plant here in the northeast also contains methyl salicylate:  the black birch tree.

  In fact, until synthetic production of the chemical became cheaper, most of our supply came from birch sap.  There is also wintergreen flavored birch syrup, and birch "beer" soda.  Wintergreen.
Black birch has saw-toothed leaves

Friday, August 5, 2016

This morning on Chase Pond

I took a nice paddle around Chase Pond before breakfast this morning.  

I found a patch of cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).


And I found 2 frogs.  

One is an adult, and the other is just losing his tadpole tail now.

Thursday, August 4, 2016


Otherwise known as relaxing.

This is what I have been doing instead of maintaining this blog:

I now own a small cabin on the shore of a small pond.

And I drift, and watch the birds and the flowers.

As the Water Rat said in "Wind in the Willows", "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."