Friday, 1 November 2013

Halloween, so... Botflies

HAPPY ALL HALLOWS DAY!!!1!!1!

...Because I did not quite make a post on Halloween, yes.  I was hoping that I would have some relevant memories of discovering something fascinating on Halloween night and subsequently being utterly horrified to death by its grotesque beauty or something, but alas, all I have ever done on Halloween was take candy from random neighbors, and occasionally give it to some other people doing the same thing (though I actually did nothing relevant yesterday except climb Bench-tree and imagine speaking as the 'redwood spirit' to the frightened mortals below).

Hallowever, I think I ought to describe something interesting and Halloween-worthy, so I am going to talk about botflies! They are such exquisitely delightful parasites, you see: Their maggots reside in the flesh of larger living animals! Alas, I have not yet encountered one myself.

There is, specifically, a human botfly, Dermatobia hominis, which lives in South America. A mosquito is often what transmits their eggs, giving the maggots a nice, warm host. They burrow a bit into the host's your skin and get their nourishment from your flesh. You can feel the maggot as it writhes and secretes bodily fluids. Its rump is visible from the outside of the hole.

Though painful, it seems that a botfly living under your skin is not terribly harmful. It would be rather unpleasant for a maggot to find its home diseased or decaying, you see. Normally you just wait for a few weeks/months until it is finished maturing and drops out to pupate somewhere else (unless it is extracted prematurely). You get to be a surrogate mommy! Hurray for the miracle of birth!

I did a Calculus project on the human botfly in my senior year of high school (just last year). We were supposed to calculate the volume of some object of our choice using integrals, and with our method the object needed to be completely rotationally symmetrical, like a bowl or a donut. The best-fitting insect I could think of was some kind of maggot, so I went with the botfly.

So, yes. Are you not inflicted with spine-tingling terror and morbid fascination?

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Deja Vu with Lacewings

So, apparently I am now a student at UC Davis, majoring in Entomology. Yes. It is quite a good place for me, with all its environmental-consciousness and agriculture-based community and biological research. There are lots of things I could potentially say about this, but I just feel like typing about one very strange event in particular at the moment! This was around 1-2months ago, during the STEP program (Special Transition Enrichment Program; basically an advanced orientation for select incoming freshmen at Davis; another thing that I could talk about, but sadly will not here).

In the middle of the Quad (big courtyard with grass and trees lining it), there is a particular peculiar redwood tree. It is rather short for a redwood, with one branch low enough to step on, and the base of its trunk bulges out greatly all around its circumference such that I can sit on it easily, like a bench. I have dubbed it Bench-tree (and I have similarly named a few other trees around Davis, too). If you search "bench tree" on Google Images (without quotes), Bench-tree is like those pictures, except the bench is actually the tree itself. It is quite awesome, yes. I sometimes sit on Bench-tree to read/study/write homework.  It is also easy to climb, which is fun! Near its top is a flat bit I can sit on, with a smaller portion of trunk continuing up that can be used as a backrest. It is fantastic.

One day, as I was sitting on Bench-tree, I noticed a lacewing larva walking up onto the tree. Excited, I picked it up and stared at it for a while (it was the first lacewing larva that I had ever seen! though I have seen plenty of adults). It crawled around my fingers, and eventually it bit me! Its mandibles are like ice tongs, big and curvy pokers that put digestive enzymes into the flesh it bites. At first, it was having difficulty getting under my skin, moving its head side-to-side to push the mandibles in, almost like a canine shaking its head around to kill the prey held in its jaws.  Being an eccentric entomophile, I was further overjoyed by this development and eager to let it continue, but since I did not know whether the bite would be dangerous (via venom or reaction to enzymes or something similar), I soon removed the insect's fangs from my skin (which took a few tries). I then looked up lacewing larva bites on my handy electronic talking device, which apparently can access the Internet.

While I was reading about lacewing larvae on my handy electronic talking device, a girl came up to me and said that she was a Japanese student and wanted me to answer a few questions, a survey to know foreign culture better. Its subject was social media, like Facebook. I complied and answered questions about my usage and opinions of social media and such, and she went away after it was done. I was then able to finish reading about lacewings and determine that they are not very harmful, though they do leave a bump that itches and lasts awhile. So, next time I find a lacewing larva, I want it to bite me again.

Two days later, almost the exact same scenario happened. 

That is, I was sitting at Bench-tree, I found a lacewing larva there, stared at it, and a Japanese student came up to me and  gave me a survey on social media. Twice. What.

Of course, there were some differences. This time, I was sporting a fashionable new bump on my finger (I will go into more detail about that later). While I was hoping for another bite from this lacewing, it never gave me one the second time. Although, it was still crawling around on my hand while the second Japanese student (this one male) gave me the second social media survey; after all the questions were asked, I showed the lacewing to him. He said it was Very Interesting.

So, that was strange.

Now, regarding the bite... After I removed the jaws of the first lacewing from my finger, I noticed a tiny red mark where a crumb of skin was removed, with another barely-perceptible one nearby. For the entire rest of the day, I felt no itching, and no bump arose as evidence. However, the day after there was a bit more there, with the red mark at its center. It never got incredibly big, but the bump remained slightly itchy for a couple of weeks afterwards. At some point, a smaller bump came up, too, where the barely-perceptible bit was. It is expected for there to be some reaction to a foreign creature's digestive enzymes entering one's blood, of course. Surely mosquitoes have taught you all that.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Hiking

I AM BACK. Which feels almost terrible to say, since I hardly even started this blog when I started procrastinating on it. Of course, not very many people read this, anyway, probably. I wonder if I will actually post (ir)regularly! Here is a memory, for that is what this collection of rambleflailings is supposed to be about.

I went hiking a couple of times when I was ~four years old with my father and brother, in some mountain in California whose location and name I do not know, with a big dirt path going up around it. I consider this one of my earliest nature-related memories (or, rather, a group of memories).

Dad would usually have us walking in a line, each of us given a place, including the 'front' and the 'rear.' I did not actually know what 'rear' means, and only knew it as the job of guarding behind us or something, but I thought it was the best position and would say excitedly, "I got the rear!" or things similar to that, with various tones. It probably would have sounded very cute to you adult-folks. My brother liked it, too; there was sometimes a bit of competition about who got what position, and disappointment depending on our assignment (Dad would choose which spot we held).

Dad gave each of us a canteen with water to drink only during specified breaks. It was pretty neat, but the drinking-hole edge was very metallic and almost sharp; I feared that it could cut me (maybe it did? I am unsure). It made the water taste somewhat metallicky as well.

He warned us about deadly snakes. I remember the specific image of, generally, what the place in which he was standing looked like when telling us about the common rhyme: "Red and yellow, kill a fellow; red and black, venom lack." Which obviously refers to the coral snake and the scarlet kingsnake. I was actually trying to remember the 'venom lack' part for a few years afterwards, as I had forgotten what exactly it was while knowing that it must have been clever as 'kill a fellow.' I found the line again somewhere in a  book or something.

He warned us about mountain lions, telling us how to defend ourselves from one, including poking out its eyes and pulling its tail (these guidelines were probably made up by the three of us and are inadvisable to actually follow). While the name 'mountain lion' actually refers to the cougar/puma/panther/whatever, I was just thinking it was a lion (like in Africa, with the big mane and all that), living on a mountain. I planned out my course of action for when a lion would attack based on the lake that was off to the right (not very close, but big and visible, walk-to-able if we went back down): When we are facing each other, I poke its eyes out, it roars in pain and blindness, I get behind it and grab its tail, pick it up and spin and swing it around by the tail, and toss it into the lake. I still have the imagine-video of the lion being thrown and falling almost slow-motion into the lake, back-first. It was totally epic.

We saw a rattlesnake  coiled up on the side of the path once. Dad wanted to show us the rattle hidden beneath the coils, so he got a nearby stick and started pushing the top layer of coiled snake. It did not react. That stick broke, however, so he found a bigger (but not too big), better stick and moved the coils around more effectively. We got a good view of the rattle without the snake reacting at all! It was PINK, which was astonishing since I was a boy and boys are supposed to hate pink because pink is a girl color and whatnot. Dad poked it a bit more, and the snake finally uncoiled and swiftly slithered down the mountain with a bit of hiss. It did not strike.

I still have never seen a wild rattlesnake since then (only in zoos), despite being given annoyingly incessant warnings about how terrible and dangerous and common they are. I should remember to keep a sturdy stick with me whenever I walk in the woods, in case I find one coiled up, hiding its rattle from curious eyes such as mine. Yes, repeating my father's actions would surely be completely not-dangerous. Surely.

As we were walking in a thin strip of path bordered by low grasses/bushes, I was in the front and saw a yellow snake lying across the path in front of me. I put my arms out to prevent the others from continuing and endangering themselves or the snake. Dad congratulated me as the hero! But my foolhardy brother went ahead and stepped (or jumped?) over it anyway, heedless of my warning. The snake soon scooted into the left side of the path of its own accord.

So, yes, that is all that I currently remember remembering about those hiking trips! I bet you all have some fascinating thoughts and questions to make in the comments, whoever you are.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Meteor Shower

I have seen shooting stars.

Not gigantic balls of gas and fire in a gunfight, no, but chunks of rock hurtling through the edges of outer space. I recently overheard that there was supposed to be a meteor shower happening in the late night of November 16, early morning of 17, so I decided that I would try to watch it. I had never seen actual meteors before; I only had an idea of what they are and look like because of media. So, yesterday I ate dinner at around 17:30 or so and promptly went to bed to be wakened at around 1:00 the next morning by an alarm; while I really wanted to see some meteors, I also really needed some sleep. I have noticed that resting is much easier and more comfortable immediately after eating a meal, which is why I did so. 

Before I went to bed, I was somewhat dismayed by my lack of binoculars... I had been wanting some near-sighted ones to use in watching insects from a distance that will not incite them to flee from me, and even a pair intended for relatively close distances would probably be useful for watching the night sky. But, surprise! Christmas came a bit early this year. Soon after I began lying in bed, my grandma came in with a suspicious box and revealed that she had already purchased a pair of binoculars for me to use, which was intended to be given to me in late December! 

Soon before 2:00, after eating breakfast and learning how these new binoculars work, I went to the grass of my backyard with a flashlight, the binoculars, and a sleepingbag, wearing a green bathrobething beneath a pair of sweats pants, a shirt, and a hoodie, and also shoes and socks. Lying on the sleepingbag (and moving to within the sleepingbag after a while when I wanted to be warmer), I stared at the sky for the next couple hours. In my backyard, my eastern view is blocked by my house, so I could not see Leo, the constellation from which the  meteors are supposed to originate; but there was also no moon in my sight, giving me a clear view. 

Before I saw any meteors, and sporadically between sightings, I used my binoculars to look at the stars; many are invisible without them. Many star formations, imagining images composed of them like constellations... In the southern area of my vision, behind Orion, there was a particular light that demanded my attention: it sometimes seemed to flicker between faintly different colors, and it was quite bright. If I focused on it with the binoculars in just the right way... it seemed like a comet!! A dark brown blob on the western end, shifting through orange into a light-blue tail on the eastern end! From my perspective, it was still extremely tiny, with the details only visible through the binoculars: if I were to compare it to a quarter (US currency) held ten centimetres from my left eyeball, it was about as long as George Washington's hair at its widest point, and about as wide as the height of any of the larger letters encircling him. There was also an odd streak of light-grey perpendicular to its length, centred on the 'comet.'

I thought it was a comet at first glance, and I am still excited about having seen it, but... it never moved. It remained in the exact same location relative to the other lights of the sky, moving only with the stars beside it. I could consistently find it again and again throughout the morning. It appears to have been some other heavenly body that happens to look like what I imagine a comet possibly being. Sometime much later, I focused on another object that looked quite similar, but thinner, and without the odd streak of grey. I wonder exactly what it might have been...

As my hands became colder, I hid them under the sleepingbag to just look at the whole sky in general. The first meteor I saw was somewhere on the northern side, going west. As with any meteor, it was a thin streak of white that did not last long, only just less than a second. This is one of very few times that I can say that I was truly excited, throughout the night! Bah, I need not your parties and football games and screaming and whatever it is people usually do for excitement; I get excited by finding and staring at things. Fascinating things. 

I did not count how many I saw in total, but I know that I saw more than ten! A couple were rather bright and relatively long lasting; some were instantaneous and faint. One in particular was really bright and dragged across the sky for at least two seconds! People who have seen meteors often throughout their lives would probably consider this a light shower, but as this was my first, it was very worthwhile!

Another thing worth mentioning is that, starting around the middle of my vision, I noticed a series of stars that almost seemed to form a spiral, like this. It was interesting to see how they might fit together like that. After closely examining a particular one of its lights, which was one of the brightest, if not the brightest, in the sky I could see, I am convinced that there were two sources of light in that same spot; could it have been a binary system? Fascinating observations! (Perhaps if I actually studied astronomy regularly, I would know more about what I was seeing).

After what was probably over a couple hours (I did not have a clock, and I do not know how to interpret the stars for the time), I decided to go back inside, satisfied. But! the doors were locked, and I did not want to wake people in order to get in. So, I tested out my new binoculars on the raspberry plant in my backyard. I tried to hold the binoculars and flashlight at the same time, with the flashlight fitted under and between the two main lenses and held with my thumb. These binoculars are extremely effective! Looking through them at near enough objects - it can focus on things as close as 0.5 metres away - is like looking at them up close with a powerful magnifying glass, which means that it is even *more* effective than staring at something eyeball-to-compoundeye, as long as I can keep it steady. And it seems that the raspberry leaves have much crystalline frost on them! 

At some point, I sat on this electrical box thing in the corner and pointed the binoculars toward the ground near the raspberry bush. After staring at it for a while, I noticed something just beneath the ground through a crack: some sort of scaly-textured skin or something, immediately next to the box. Removing a bit of dirt revealed a small slug! I picked it up and put it on the box and watched with the binoculars as it slowly expanded from its huddled hiding position and slimed off of the box.

After that, I turned around and saw that the lights in the house were on, so I went back inside. After some knocking, my brother opened the door reluctantly and with strange looks (I think that he was not aware that I was stargazing). Apparently, the time was nearing 5:30; I had been out there in the middle of the night (morning) for over three hours. I then ate a muffin, had a shower (heh, my second one of the day!), and started writing this. And now I have seen meteors!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Writing Phases

It has been over a month since my last post!!

There are a few causes of this, I think. The first and most obvious one is, of course, procrastination. It just... happens.

A little over a month ago, my English class (I am still a high school student, you know) assigned me to choose from a list of classical literature, read whatever novel I chose, and write a bunch of papers for a project about it. Not quite knowing what I would be getting into, I chose - because I have been aware of it being interesting and somehow related to the Odyssey, which I have read - Ulysses, by James Joyce. Apparently, this book is extremely hard to read and comprehend, describing the actions and thought process - both with excruciating, bizarrely-written detail - of a couple of Irish men on exactly one day, 16 June 1904, in Dublin. Also, Joyce manipulates the English language in all sorts of crazy ways; there are relatively very few complete sentences. I enjoy this book very much and highly recommend it to eccentric people. Unfortunately, I was not even halfway finished with it when the date on which the project was due was drawing near, so I was required to read online summaries for knowledge on the rest of the book (and on what I had already read, heh). And... Anyway, my posting was mostly delayed by Ulysses. I still have yet to finish it, and I fully intend to!

I also think that I tend to have 'phases' for when I feel able to write things... I really dislike writing things, generally; part of the purpose of this blog is to help with that. The problem is not that I am a poor writer, for the things that I do write tend to be... well-written. Rather, I often find it extremely difficult since I am so much of a perfectionist when it comes to such things, particularly essays, and anything I write often takes hours; although, informal things like this are easier since I can implement things that I would be unallowed to implement in an essay, such as vocal nuances (hmm, well, heh, et cetera), parentheses, italics, ellipses, my verbal-tic-like usage of phrases of uncertainty (apparently, perhaps, I think, tend to, sometimes, et cetera), and other things. Occasional periods occur in which I actually feel good about writing something, after a rather long time without doing so; and for whatever purpose, I end up writing things, and I am okay with that. Obviously, one happened when I started this blog. Another happened mid-summer.

 After that, though, it is as if I had used up all of my writing-energy garnered from a while of no-writing, and require much rest to regain energy; like an extreme introvert who just went to a series of crazy parties and needs to be alone for a couple of weeks. For part of this rest period, trying to write things is excruciating and torturous, usually resulting in far too much procrastination. I had a horrendous experience in May this year when I happened to be in that avoidance phase, when I had a large and important writing project to do. The other main part, though, is more neutral: I have no desire to attempt writing things, but I would be willing to do so if I was required to (by assignment or by myself), although it would still be rather difficult. This neutral phase is what I am currently undergoing. The avoidance one probably happened earlier last month, and during a (thankfully) small part of the Ulysses project-writing.

Hmm... Perhaps I shall call these phases Active, Avoidant, and Inactive (still subject to change, though). After an Active phase, the following one is not necessarily Avoidant or Inactive; it can be either, for both tend to switch sometimes between Active phases. It is necessary, though, that a very long period of Avoidant and/or Inactive phases has passed before another Active phase happens, and those are comparatively rare.

Things are a bit more complicated than that, but those are the main three phases I have considered. This blog is what caused me to think of 'writing phases' like this, as I have been wanting for another post to be written for quite a while but felt unable to make one, while worrying that there might be people who look forward to these.

None of that was primarily nature-related! Not all of my posts will be; I intend to sometimes describe other thoughts of mine, regardless of their relevance to wildlife. I was really eager to continue rambling about mantids and what happens when two of them are in the same cage in late September, but now I might not as easily recall exactly what I wanted to say. And also, numerous other potential post ideas have come up in my mind. I probably ought to continue about the mantids, though. I should do that... later. One post is enough to fill one day.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Irony

(Tsk, I was intending to write another post about mantids, but then this happened. Oh, well.)

Yesterday, on National Public Lands Day, I went to Dabbs Creek in southern Missouri to be a part of a GLADE-related work project involving picking up trash in the area and making a brush pile to prevent people from going into a sometimes-restricted area. The details of this work project, though they are important, are not the subject of this post whatsoever. Instead, I shall be talking about lunch.

For lunch at ~11:30, we had some great vegan chili (the GLADE director who caused this project is vegan, and I am vegetarian) with blueberry cornbread and chips. During this lunch, a yellow jacket wasp was flying around and eventually landed inside someone's bowl of chili. As the official Insect Whisperer™, I was tasked with peacefully removing the wasp from this person's chili. Thus, I poked  my naked fingers into the bowl and waited for the wasp to climb upon them. (Insect Whispering is really simple). It did. In doing so, my fingers picked up some traces of chili that kept the wasp occupied for a while. I stared (as usual) as the insect chewed on chili juices on my finger, no stinging necessary. I picked up a larger chunk of pseudo-meat and put it also on my finger, and the wasp was soon attracted to that. Soon, a fly came by and ate from the pseudo-meat on the opposite side from the wasp! It felt like one of those pictures with a black hand and a white hand shaking hands to symbolize peace and friendship between the human skin colors, except it was a pair of different insect species sharing a piece of food. So, yet again, I had a meal with insects. A very interesting lunch, this was. The wasp and fly flew away before the pseudo-meat was finished, though. When I intentionally put some chili juice on there later, the wasp returned and, while sometimes consuming, regurgitated some juices and rolled them into a couple of balls, one of which it left behind on my thumb, while the other was taken away.

When we were finished with the work project a couple hours later and had returned to the 'home base' where all the vehicles and equipment and stuff were, another yellow jacket came by and was flying around our heads while people were talking about things. Mostly, it was hovering around just my head (hoping for some more chili?) and occasionally landing on me. At some point, I felt something crawling and tickling on the right side of my neck; reflexively, I nodded my head to the right. Soon after I did so, I felt a sudden, sharp sense of irony, and the wasp flew off. Apparently, by nodding my head, the folds on my neck skin against my shoulder started to squish the wasp that had landed there, which drove the wasp to sting me in self-defense.

It has been a long time since I was last (and first) stung. Sometime when I was 3-4 years old, I was at some sort of family picnic or party or something at a park, with park tables/benches. As I was walking between two of these tables, a large black bee was flying towards me from the other side. We collided, and the bee stung me on my right cheek. IT HURT. WAAAAH. Afterwards, I was treated and, after a few days, became a healthy little boy again who would soon go on to be fascinated by invertebrates like the one that stabbed and envenomed him.

Anyway, back to yesterday's sting: For the first few seconds, we were not certain of whether it was a sting or just a bite, but it was soon apparent as the sharp feeling persisted. According to the other people with a better vantage point than mine, there was a tiny red mark surrounded by white swelling in a general area of redness, if I recall correctly. In that spot, and within a very small radius from it, there was a sharp, but tolerably intense pain left by the venom. To treat it, I was given a small plastic tube filled with a viscous green liquid and with some sort of cotton swab stuck in the hole in one end of it, which I would hold on the stung spot so the liquid would lessen the pain quicker. Since I never got any throat or tongue swelling, it seems that I am not allergic at all. Within an hour, I had almost completely recovered from the pain, although there is still a slight mark and occasional itchiness like a mosquito bite.

I learned a few important things from this:
-What a yellow jacket sting feels like. (One is not that bad, apparently, but it certainly does hurt).
-I am not currently allergic to yellow jacket wasp stings.
-If ever I feel something crawling on my neck like that, I must fight the urge to use my neck and shoulder like a vise and instead use my hands, gently, or wait until it leaves.

In other news, I brought home a souvenir: a stick to which a rather large silken cocoon is attached! It is approximately 9 cm long (parallel to stick) and extends to 4 cm wide (perpendicular to stick). A small hole pointing downwards grants me a glimpse into its empty innards, so bringing it home should not be harmful.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Carolina Mantids: The Male

If you have not done so already, please read about the Female before reading this one.

Between 1-2 weeks ago, another mantis visited my porch. I first saw this one sitting on the screen on the far right side of the porch, but outside of it. For a couple days it was still on the outside, but eventually it wandered into the porch and became my second mantis! I have a pair of  mantids now! Apparently, this happens to be a male of the same species as the first one, Stagmomantis carolina.

He is definitely not accustomed to being handled like the female now is. In this species, the male's wings are longer and more effective for flying than the female, so he puts them to use rather often when I pick him up. Of course, it takes much longer to get him on my hand than the female.Since I do not have any sole pictures of him at this time, I shall be describing what he looks like... for now.

Now that we have both sexes, I will be talking about the sexual dimorphism! Keep in mind that none of this is technically the definitive method of identifying their sexes; that would involve counting abdominal segments. Compared to the female, whose picture is available in her post, the male is notably smaller in all dimensions. While this particular female seems to be mostly black, with white spots, most of the male is grey (with some black spots), his legs are bright green, and the topside of his abdomen (usually hidden by wings) is blood-red! They both seem to have splotches of white (female) or black (male) on the tops of their wings. As I mentioned before, the male's wings are longer; the female's wings are stunted and hardly allow any flight at all!

Of course, the most notable differences must be in the abdomens, where reproduction happens. I already linked to a picture of a Carolina mantis' ovipositor in the Female post, but I have not seen a similar photo of the exterior bit of a male's aedeagus, which I have not had a good enough look at yet to give an apt description. It seems to me that the female's abdomen is much fatter or flatter than the males; flatter when hungry and/or free of sperm and eggs, or fatter when full of food and/or preparing to lay an ootheca. That is, the female's is able to expand like a balloon to hold oothecae. A male's abdomen, however, seems to be more straight and thin, as wide as his thorax.

So, we now have an adult male and an adult female of the same species in an enclosed space. What happens next is rather exciting...