Order Lepidoptera

The order Lepidoptera contains butterflies and moths. There are over 180,000 species in the order which is divided into 126 families and 46 superfamilies. They account for 10 percent of known species worldwide. The order is defined by the scales that cover them, wings, and a proboscis. They also undergo a complete metamorphosis between the larvae and adult stage. Some scientists have even theorized that caterpillars and adults are different species and metamorphosis changes the genes that are active. This is known as the death and resurrection theory. Butterflies and moths are important pollinators and members of the food chain. Because there are so many families in this group I have chosen to just focus on 5 families for now.

  • Saturniidae
    • this is a moth family with over 2,300 described species in it
    • adults have large bodies and wings
      • the bodies have hair like scales on them
      • wings often contain eyespots
      • front and back wings overlap
      • wingspans are typically 1-6 inches but the atlas moth (Attacus atlas) has a wingspan of 12 inches!
    • notable members include the giant silk moths, emperor moths, and royal moths
    • this family contains some agricultural pests as well as the moths that spin silk
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An atlas moth (Attacus atlas)
  • Papilionidae, or the swallowtail butterflies
    • this family has over 550 species
    • while most species are tropical these butterflies can be found on every continent but Antartica
    • the family included the largest butterflies in the world with the largest being Queen Alexandra’s birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae) which can have a wingspan of 9.8 inches
    • the larvae in this family have a defend organ called an osmeterium

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Geology of Paraguay

Paraguay is a landlocked country in South America in which three ecoregions met; cerrado (a savannah), Atlantic forest, and chaco (a mix of the two). Areas in which ecoregions meet tend to have very high biodiversity. As an undergraduate I had plans, which sadly fell through, to travel to a research center in Paraguay. As part of the planning process, I did a lot of research on the country, including research related to the geology of the country.

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An example of the Chaco

The bedrock in Paraguay is mostly from the Quaternary age and Carboniferous age, though some may be Permian. In more northern parts of the globe, like western New York, you don’t find Quaternary age rocks because the last glaciation period stripped them away. Older rocks are found in the western part of the country. The country is very flat, particularly in the area in which the research center is located. Over about 1.5 miles I walked to class every day as an undergraduate there was a 112-foot change in elevation. Compared to a 48-foot change in elevation over the 0.8 miles it would have taken me to get to my study area.

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For reference, Paraguay is in red

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Mist-netting and passerine bird banding

A key component to bird studies is bird banding, in which each bird has a band with a unique number placed on the bird. Sometimes, larger birds will also have colored bands placed on them which allows the individual to be recognized without recapturing them.  This allows changes in populations, dispersal, survival and migratory movements to be studied. Banding birds also gives insight into natural history, particularly, on body conditions during taxing periods of their life cycle like breeding and migration. As part of my undergraduate studies, my class did an activity on bird banding at my professor’s house. Since he is a master bander we were able to sample birds in mist nets.

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The study was conducted on November 21st, 2013 at Dr. Beaudry’s house in Alfred, New York from 9:15 am to 11:00 am. Mist nets (which are large thin nets that birds can’t see in flight and therefore fly into and get caught) were set up near feeders and the collected birds had data recorded about their body and they were banded and released. Data collected included age, sex, wing length, weight, and furcular fat score.

In total there were 16 birds captured from 4 species; Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), and Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus). The details of each individual are recorded below (table 1).

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Parrot nutrition

*disclaimer*This post is based on a paper I wrote for an animal nutrition class, so it’s a bit long.

Parrots are primarily found in the tropics and often are associated with tropical paradise imagery. There are over 350 species in the order Psittaciformes, which are commonly referred to as parrots. This order is divided into 2 families (Koutsos 2001), Cacatuidae and Psittacidae. Cacatuidae contains cockatoos, cockatiels and corellas. Psittacidae contains lores, lorikeets, parrots, macaws, parakeets, rosellas, and love birds. Psittaciformes are some of the most common birds kept in captivity due to their high level of intelligence and distinctive physical form. A large number of zoos have parrot collections, and at large pet store retailers they are available as companion animals. Unlike other birds, they are not used for commercial use of their eggs, meat, or feathers. Therefore only the maintenance values are important in the feed formulation of these birds.

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Photo by creativebin on Pexels.com

All of these parrots have specialized nutritional needs. As a result, most common cause of vet visits is improper diet (Torregrossa 2005). Therefore this paper will focus on the basic nutritional needs of parrots. Similar to horses, these diets have become adapted to human needs, and thus is not reflective of parrots in the wild. In the wild parrots eat roughly 70 percent seeds (Gilardi 2012) but their diets range from nectarivores to granivores (Matson 2006). Renton (2001) also observed a high flexibility in the diet of wild parrots. Pullianen (1972) found that birds do not select the foods based on their nutritional needs. Because these diets are so varied it is hard to produce a feed that meets the nutritional needs of all parrots.

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One of the largest unicellular organims: the Sea Pearl

When beachcombing in the Bahamas I discovered a number of mostly round, about quarter size, water filled, and plastic-like outside objects. I brought one of the odd objects to my professor and he informed me that they were a kind of algae (Ventricaria ventricosa) known commonly as sea pearls (also called bubble algae and sailor’s eyeballs). After recovering from the guilt of poping a whole bunch of sea pearls, thinking they were some kind of trash, I researched more about them. And in case you were wondering, they poped kind of like a water balloon. They were filled with water and not much else. Their cell wall was very plastic like and rubbery. Sadly, they did not resemble a large version of the classic plant cell you learn about in biology class.

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Speckled kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki)

On a recent trip to Mississippi, I stopped to look at a freshly killed roadkill snake (I didn’t hit it). It turns out it was a speckled kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki). The snake is black with flecks of yellow through and a yellow belly. They can reach up to 132 cm long (51 inches).  The one I found looked almost green. They are also called the salt-and-pepper snake for their unique coloration and commonly kept as pets due to their beauty. Apparently, you can buy one online for 60 dollars. However, they often bite and it’s unclear if their populations in the wild are steady. They will also rattle their tail when threatened to mimic a rattlesnake, and spray musk from their scent gland. This musk is actually used to let other snakes in the area know that there is danger.

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It’s one of the eight subspecies of the eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula). Kingsnakes are a type of racer snake, and kill their prey via constriction which you would be able to guess if you looked at their heads and how small their jaws are. They are found throughout the united states and even in Baja Mexico. They prefer to live in grassland, swamps, and near streams. They have really varied diets and will even eat other snakes. They have evolved to clamp down on the jaws of other snakes to avoid being bitten by a venomous one but even if they are bitten they are immune to the venom as well. Because they eat and kill venomous snakes people tend to really like kingsnakes and even state they are protecting the neighborhood. Snakes also help to reduce the populations of rodents and other “nuisance” animals.

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Interestingly, the Alabama Department of conservation and natural resources says there is a high conservation concern for the snake as the past 30 years have led to rapid declines in populations for unknown reasons. It is suspected that red ant prey on the young and eggs of the snakes and contributed to their decline. Declines are also thought to be related to the logging of hardwood trees in the area. The Mississippi deparmtent of wildlife, fisheries, and parks did not have any information on the snake. Kingsnakes are also eaten by alligators, striped skunks, and possums.

My recent absence

While I try to keep my post strictly scientific I thought it might be a good idea to explain my recent break from blogging. I started this blog as a way to promote myself professionally and show that I was serious about a career in the sciences. I started a new job about two months ago and then immediately moved. At the end of my search, I ended up with two competing job offers and had spent four days in the field with a mitigation company doing geomorphic surveys. I accepted a job in environmental consulting and now travel the southeast of the United States (mostly Alabama, South Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi) doing site surveys, bird surveys, and writing reports. I have found in doing so that I really miss the freedom of blogging so I am going to start up again. I’m not sure how often it will be because my main focus is on my work and growing as a young professional but I should be backing to posting soon!

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Here’s a friend I helped across the road in South Georgia, I think it’s a Box Turtle?

Water privatization

Water privatization, in principle, is great. The idea is that corporations have the financial resources that governments do not to provide the people with clean water. In addition, they can afford the big upfront costs of creating a water system. However, when put into practice privatization fails. A water system requires huge and ongoing infrastructure investments. Corporations have cut corners on these which leads to a shortage of access. Privatization, in fact, has a 34 percent failure rate. Because the system costs so many people often are forced to overpay for their water.

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Source: food and water watch

The film Flow documented people in African who could not afford the privatized water. Instead, they drank from the river which resulted in people dying from waterborne illnesses. The companies, when questioned, insisted that the people could afford the water. In addition, the companies also cemented old wells and prevented the local people from using their old, and free methods of accessing clean fresh water. The only upside to privatization is that it is easy to solve; don’t allow privatization to happen. Poor nations will need aid though, to help ensure their people have clean fresh water, but this is part of a continuing effort, as there are many charities focused solely on this issue.

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