Gaianism

The Gaia theory was first introduced in 1979 by James Lovelock in his book Gaia a New Look at Life on Earth. The basic idea is that the earth is a self-regulating entity. While the theory was a scientific one, it launched a new pantheism religion known as Gaia worship or Gaianism, whose practitioners are known as Gaians. While Gaia worship is not new and Gaia is the oldest divine being who dates back to prehistoric times, the concepts of this religion are. For example, Gaianism is monotheistic while Gaia worshipers of the past were polytheists. Central to both the Gaia theory and the beliefs of Gaian is the concept that the earth is a self-aware being that is able to self-regulate. The relationship between the earth and Gaia is that of your body and you. The Gaians believe that this is their goddess. Many of the core concepts of this fringe pagan group stem from the Gaia theory or are directly linked to it. The three core concepts of Gaianism are honor the earth, reduce human impact on the earth, and be respectful of life in all forms and of the systems that support them.

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The religion tends to be much unorganized due to the nature of pagan religions. There is a very negative cultural associated with the word pagan, therefore, many pagans prefer not to state their religion. In addition, those who have not heard of the religion obviously will not follow it. Since it is not that popular not many people have heard of Gaianism. However, the most organized group of Gaianism developed from a Wicca coven in New York City. This group called themselves Gaia Group, but was created from Coven of Caerlleuad (Castle of the Moon) in August of 1983. This group saw that other Wicca groups were changing to have more future thinking outlook rather than trying to preserve the traditions of the past. The group saw this as holding them back due to the fact the negative views of Wicca are based mostly on their past practices. The group also saw the belief systems of the past as no longer relevant. In order to make the religion more universally accepted they replaced welsh traditions and gods with an ethic focused on Gaia. The group focuses on the ideals of repairing this world and the fact that we are members of a larger community. They took part in many protests and had a strong emphasis on community service. Unfortunately, the group disbanded in 1998.

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Cave Ecosystems

As a cave lover, I have been on a lot of cave tours and during the tour, the cave ecosystem is always something that is discussed. They are very unique and fragile systems. The most important factor in depending on what the environment is like in the cave is what zone you are in. Caves are divided into 3 zones; the entrance, the twilight zone, and the dark zone. In the entrance, there might be green vegetation and there is a lot of light, the temperature is more variable. In the twilight zone, there is less light and minimal plant life. Finally, in the dark zone, there is no plant life and the temperature generally stays the small all year round. In most caves, it’s around 55 degrees Fahrenheit or so. All of the nutrients in this zone have to come from outside the cave.

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Lighthouse Cave in San Salvador, Bahamas, the 1st cave I ever explored

Trogloxenes and Troglobites are also important terms to know for understanding cave ecosystems. A trogloxene is a species who uses caves but they don’t spend their entire life in one. An example of this is bears or raccoons. Bats also fall into this category as they must leave caves to find insects to consume. The material brought in by trogloxenes and their poop are the only resources that troglobites have to use besides debris that may wash into a cave during a storm. In a lot of caves, bat dropping can actually serve as the major source of nutrients. Troglobites spend their entire lives in caves. A lot of caves have unique species of troglobites because they don’t leave and therefore don’t have any other populations to breed with. These species generally have really interesting cave adaptions like lack of eyes or any pigment. Pigment is lost in the cave environment frequently because it doesn’t benefit the organism and is energetically expensive to produce. Common examples of these species are cave crickets, spiders, psuedoscorpions, salamanders, crawfish and more.

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The San Marcos River

The San Marcos River is a spring-fed river located between Austin, Texas and San Antonio, Texas. The San Marcos River is only 75 miles long and eventually joins with the Guadalupe River. At the headwaters the river is crystal clear, thanks to the headwaters being spring fed. It is the crown jewel of Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas and is a popular site for tubing but few know about the interesting animals that live in the river. In fact, it’s considered one of the most diverse aquatic habitats in the southwestern United States.

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It’s home to an endemic species of river grass, called Texas Wild Rice (Zizania texana). Other inhabitants of the river include freshwater mussels (including the Golden Orb (Quadrula aurea)), turtles, prawns, Guadalupe bass (Micropterus treculii), and suckermouth catfish (Hypostomus plecostomus). The later as nonnatives, that were accidentally released into the river by humans. The river is also home to the endangered foundation darter (Etheostoma fonticola). It formerly was home to the endangered.  San Marcos Gambusia (Gambusia georgei) but the species hasn’t been seen in recent years. There are a few other endangered species you can read about here.

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A gar at the Meadows Center boardwalk, captured by Lauren Schramm

The headwaters of the river come from Spring Lake in San Marcos, which was originally created by a dam. You can watch the lake turn into the river from the patio at Saltgrass Steak house. The lake is fed by the Edwards Aquifer. You can actually dive in the lake, or take a glass-bottom boat  (at the Meadows Center) and see the aquifer producing water. If you park in this area and access the river via the culvert by the Freeman Aquatic Center the island is actually a great source of arrowheads after a large rain event.

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A bed of Texas Wild Rice

The Meadows Center is located where a former amusement park was located called Aquarena Springs. The park was home to “real” mermaids and a diving pig. Today you can still find pony beads from the former clown act and bottle caps from an act the mermaids did in which they drank coke underwater. Technically the beads and caps are artifacts so you are not supposed to take them but that doesn’t stop people.

 

Frog Taxonomy (with a focus on Georgia frogs)

Georgia currently has 30 native frog species and two introduced frog species that fall into six different families.

The most distinct of these families is Bufonidae or the true toads. All toads will be found in this family. All toads are frogs but not all frogs are toads. Toads are a specialized group of frogs who typically have warty dry skin, are short and stubby, and large glands on the sides of their heads that kind of look like shoulder pads and are called parotoid glands.  Toads can actually aim these glands at predators. The glands release a toxin, called bufo. That’s why it’s common to see toads hopping around during the day. The eggs are typically laid in long strands. Toads also have no teeth. Worldwide there are 604 species in this family.  In Georgia we have 4 species; American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus), Fowler’s Toad (Anasyrus fowleri), the Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus), and the Southern Toad (Anaxyrus terrestris). In the Metro Atlanta area, it’s common to hear both American and Fowler’s toads calling. The Ameican toad sounds like a long musically thrill that lasts between 6 and 30 seconds. The Fowler’s Toad sounds like a harsh thrill, kind of like a nasally WAAAHHHH.

 

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Red-spotted toad (Anaxyrus punctatus, formerly Bufo punctatus), captured by Lauren Schramm

 

The largest family of frogs in Georgia is Hylidae or the tree frogs, chorus frogs, and cricket frogs. Worldwide the family has 710 species. They all shared a claw-shaped finger which is found at the end of their toe pad. The toe pads function not like suction cups, but via wet adhesion, similar to 2 pieces of wet glass sticking together. In Georgia we have the Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans), Southern Cricket Frog (Acris gryllus), Bird-voiced Treefrog (Hyla avivoca), Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis), Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea), Pine Woods Treefrog (Hyla femoralis), Barking Treefrog (Hyla gratiosa), Squirrel Treefrog (Hyla squirella), Cuban Treefrog (Osteopilis septentrionalis), Mountian Chorus Frog (Pseudacris brachyphona), BRimley’s Chorus Frog (Pseudacris brimleyi), Spring Pepper (Pseudacris cruicifer), Upland Chorus Frog (Pseudacris feriarum), Southern Chorus Frog (Pseudacris nigrita), Little Grass Frog (Pseudacris ocularis), and finally the Ornate Chorus Frog (Pseudacris ornata). The Cuban Treefrog is actually an invasive species that is twice as large as our native treefrogs and it consumes them! It’s really hard to find because it’s a treefrog and so there is not much we can do about it’s invasion. The upland chorus frog (sounds like running your finger along a comb), spring pepper (sounds like bird-like peeps), Cope’s gray treefrog (harsh, high pitched trill), green treefrog (nasally and duck-like), bird-voiced treefrog (like a bird call whit-whit-whit), squirrel treefrog (harsh repetitive, squirrel-like call), and northern cricket frog (sounds like two marbles being tapped together) can all be found in the Metro Atlanta area.

 

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Cope’s Grey Treefrog, captured by Lauren Schramm

 

The family Ranidae contains true frogs who have smooth and wet skin. Worldwide they have a large range. Generally, they are aquatic or live close to water. This family is probably what comes to mind when most people think of frogs. In Georgia you can find Gopher Frogs (Lithobates capito), Bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeinanus), Green Frogs (Lithobates clamitans), Pig Frogs (Lithobates grylio), River Frogs (Lithobates heckscheri), Pickeral Frogs (Lithobates palustris), SOuthern Leopard Frogs (Lithobates sphenocephalus), Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus), and Carpenter Frogs (Lithobates virgatipes). Bullfrogs, green frogs, pickerel frogs, and Southern leopard frogs all have calls that can be heard in the metro Atlanta area. Respectively the calls sound like a repeated jug-o-ruummmm, like a banjo pluckling, a snoring person, and the sound of squeezing a balloon.

 

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Pickeral Frog, captured by Lauren Schramm

 

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The Georgia coast is key to shorebird conservation

A few months ago I attended the monthly Atlanta Aubdon Society meeting which was on the role of the Georgia coast and shorebird conservation. The talk was given by Brad Winn from Management center for conservation, Tim Keyes from the GeorgiaDepartment of Natural Resources and Abby Sterling from the University of Georgia.

Abby started the talk by giving a general overview of the habitat on the coast and the life history of shorebirds with a particular focus on Oystercatcher and Wilson’s plovers, the birds she did her doctoral studies on. The beaches on the Georgia coast are dynamic habitats as they do not have engineering typically found on beaches that hinder the natural movement of sand. These beaches are found on a chain of barrier islands that are formed from sediments that drain from the whole state. Shorebirds (at least these two species) lay their eggs in scrapes in the sand or sometimes in a horseshoe crab shells or flowers. The two species did not have an overlap of their nesting habitat which is important for conservation. The nests are typically hard to find and Abby said she had to follow the tracks of birds to find the nets. She monitored nests until they were successful or unsuccessful. This took about 28 days for Wilsons plovers. The chicks get fed by the parents. Abby would catch and band the birds and give the chicks a unique color band combination of ease of field identification.

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Wilson’s Plover

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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.

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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