10 December 2017

Marcescence is the secret to squirrels' nests


I've blogged on several occasions about squirrels' nests ("dreys").  At our latitude they are a prominent feature of the suburban landscape, especially when one lives next to a woods.

I've always been intrigued at how squirrels are able to tolerate arctic cold in such a porous structure, but I've been even more fascinated by the apparent sturdiness of what would appear to be a fragile construction (dead leaves and twigs).

I wrote about marcescence about seven years ago.
"Retention of dead plant organs that normally are shed."  Etymology from Latin "marcere" = "to wither." ( I can't think of any related words).
"This phenomenon, when leaves fail to fall, is called marcescence. Most evident on all the oaks around the metro, it's an explainable but puzzling occurrence. At the petioles, the point of attachment to the tree, hormones flow back and forth. As the days shorten and temps fall, the amount of one in particular, auxin, is reduced. The area becomes sealed and a digestive enzyme helps to release the leaf. In fancy science talk, this all happens in the abscission zone."
This year I had the opportunity to test and illustrate the process.  In late summer I needed to prune some branches of a large oak tree that were shading our vegetable garden.  After I clipped off a small branch, instead of tossing it on the brush pile I brought it indoors.  In time the leaves duly shriveled, turning a dark green rather than brown.  But they didn't fall off.  Today I took it out in the back yard and held it up in front of its parent tree (photo), which dropped its leaves after a couple freezes and windy days.

After I took the photo I shook that branch vigorously.  The leaves stayed attached.  When I grabbed the leaves with my hand and squeezed, they were friable and crumbled to fragments.  So I suppose the squirrels must use fur or other padding not only for warmth but also to prevent traumatizing the leafy branches that make up the next (as suggested by the illustration here).

Related: Word for the day: dreyAnd again here.

Tropical butterfly


Gotta go get ready for football games, but I wanted to end the blogging day with a colorful image - in this case a tropical butterfly from Ecuador related to the clearwings, photo via Treehugger.

Library sign


Image cropped for size and tweaked from the original at the Mildly Interesting subreddit.

A man "comes out" regarding his cleft hand



Google Images offers a quick overview of the amazing diversity of the anomaly.

'Stache


Neatorama has a small gallery of horse mustaches.

One has to assume that at one time there was an evolutionary advantage to having a mustache*.  Question for those of you who have horses - do you clip/shave these? or are they best left alone?

* I was trying to work out an etymology from "mus" = mouse + "tache" = pocket.  Didn't work.
1580s, from French moustache (15c.), from Italian mostaccio, from Medieval Greek moustakion, diminutive of Doric mystax (genitive mystakos) "upper lip, mustache," related to mastax "jaws, mouth," literally "that with which one chews," from PIE root *mendh- "to chew" (see mandible).  Borrowed earlier (1550s) as mostacchi, from the Italian word or its Spanish derivative mostacho. The plural form of this, mustachios, lingers in English. Slang shortening stache attested from 1985.

Movie trailers analysed



Via Neatorama.

America's crushing debt


Not the "national debt," but the debts of individual Americans, as depicted on this map (my embed is a screencap - the interactive version here lets you zoom in on your state and your county for data).
2016 data derived from a random sample of deidentified, consumer-level records from a major credit bureau, as well as estimates from summary tables of the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2015 or 2011–15)... Debt in collections includes past-due credit lines that have been closed and charged-off on their books as well as unpaid bills reported to the credit bureaus that the creditor is attempting to collect.
Links to various commentaries at Digg.  My attention was drawn to Minnesota...
A previous analysis by the Urban Institute focused on medical debt, and found one reason it was so concentrated in the South was because the uninsured rates tended to be higher. While that changed to some extent with the Affordable Care Act, many Southern states chose not to expand Medicaid. On the other hand, Minnesota — which has the lowest rates of debt — has one of the most generous Medicaid programs in the country, and a more inclusive and higher-quality health care system.
...only 3% of Minnesotans have medical debt in collections, and only one county (rural Clearwater County) has medical debt rates over 11%.

Compare that picture to the state of medical debt in the rest of the country. Nationwide, 18% of people have medical debt in collections, and, as CityLab noted, much of that debt is concentrated in states that chose not to expand Medicaid under the ACA.
Most Washington politicians are tone-deaf to the financial crises experienced by so many Americans.  They are busy waging their internecine battles, meeting with lobbyists, and pandering to their donors.

"Egypt uncovers ancient tombs at Luxor"


I encountered the story and the photo on the same day - couldn't resist juxtaposing them.

07 December 2017

Envisioning a "jellyfish apocalypse"


Jellyfish have been referred to as the "cockroaches of the sea," with reference to both species' ability to survive under the harshest conditions.  An article in the newest edition of The Atlantic reviews a new book about jellyfish:
Their delicacy notwithstanding, in recent decades jellyfish species have come to be thought of as the durable and opportunistic inheritors of our imperiled seas. Jellyfish blooms—the intermittent, and now widely reported, flourishing of vast swarms—are held by many to augur the depletion of marine biomes; they are seen as a signal that the oceans have been overwarmed, overfished, acidified, and befouled... The vision—hat tipped to science fiction—is of the planet’s oceans transformed into something like an aspic terrine. In waters thickened by the gummy mucus of living and dead jellyfish, other sea life will be smothered. Because jellyfish recall the capsules of single-celled protozoa, this eventuality invites portrayal as a devolution of the marine world—a reversion to the “primordial soup.”..

Perhaps the most complex issue Berwald takes on is jellyfish blackouts. Sweden, Scotland, the Philippines, Tokyo, California, and Israel have all suffered intermittent electrical outages caused by jellyfish sucked into the intake pipes and cooling systems of coal-fired and nuclear power stations... In Spineless, Berwald travels to Spain’s Murcia region and takes us to the Mar Menor lagoon, which had become so jellified in 2002 that “you couldn’t drive a boat through the water.” Here barrel and fried-egg jellyfish are pernicious—so much so that they’re removed from the sea by the bargeload and dumped into ditches near the airport.
More at that link. Then today I found a report of jellyfish menacing Chinese aircraft carriers:
In 2006, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was incapacitated while visiting Brisbane, Australia due to blubber jellyfish swarms. Reportedly, cooling pipes for the ship’s nuclear reactor were clogged with the foot-wide jellies, necessitating an evacuation of the carrier...

Ironically, the jellyfish problem is partially of China’s own doing. As many as one hundred million sharks are killed each year, much of it in the form of bycatch in an attempt to catch other forms of seafood but also for shark’s fin soup, a delicacy in China. Although demand for the soup has declined in recent years, the shark population is still way down. Sharks are a major predator of jellyfish and scientists believe their absence is a major reason why jellyfish populations have exploded.
Related: Your children will eat jellyfish for dinner.

Photo credit: GettyLucia /Terui

This is how complicated modern farming can be - updated

From an excellent longread in the September issue of Harper's:
The combine continued along, following the contours of the planting lines automatically recorded months earlier by G.P.S. As we moved, our progress was charted on the touchscreen in varying colors to show where each row or part of a row was above or below the target for bushels-per-acre for this field. All of that data is recorded and stored to plan for next year, helping farmers decide how to adjust the density of their seed populations, where to apply fertilizer, how much to water, where to add inputs, and where to save money...


So to make your best profit on soybeans, you need a sunny day (but not too sunny) with a dry breeze (but not too dry), and you need that day to fall exactly when the plant has received the precise number of hours — yes, hours — of sunlight from the moment you planted it months earlier. To make hitting such a tight window even remotely possible, seed companies, like Rick’s supplier, DuPont Pioneer, have hybridized soybeans for nearly a century — and genetically modified them in recent decades — according to bands of latitude called maturity groups. They number these photoregions from 0 in the northern growing zones of Canada to 7 in the light-drenched flatlands of Florida. But Nebraska is almost exactly divided between groups 2 and 3, the line bisecting the state into north and south. Most farmers here, especially in central regions like York County, plant both varieties to spread out their risk, but some daring farmers like Rick will formulate a guess as to what the weather holds for the growing season and plant more of one group, hoping for higher yields and higher returns.

In 2014, after several years of drought, Rick bet on another dry year — and planted incredibly short-season beans. While most of his neighbors were planting 3.5s, Rick planted 2.4s. And he was dead-on, right up until the rains started...
In my mother's childhood, her dad planted seeds, harvested a crop and saved some of the seeds for the following year.  (No longer.  Most people know that seed-saving now can be punishable in a court of law.)  But what grandpa planted in Minnesota was probably the same seed that someone in Wisconsin or Illinois would plant.  What I learned from this article is how hyperspecialized the hybrids are now according to latitude of the field.  I found this map at a University of Missouri ag school website:

Although temperature affects soybean growth and development, soybean plants are also quite sensitive to photoperiod. The lengths of the light (photoperiod) and dark periods within a 24 hour day change each day. These changing photoperiods regulate the timing of flowering and other stages of soybean plant development. Soybean is classified as a short day plant because flower initiation is stimulated when photoperiod is shorter than a critical value. Critical values differ among varieties and are determined by a variety’s genes.

Photoperiod lengths differ among latitudes on any specific day. After the first day of spring and until the first day of fall, photoperiods are larger as latitude increases (further north). Because of soybean’s sensitivity to photoperiod, soybean varieties are assigned to one of 13 maturity groups. These maturity groups are adapted to relatively narrow bands of latitude. In North America, MG OOO is adapted to southern Canada; whereas, MG 10 (X) is adapted to Mexico and the Caribbean Islands.
(More at their link).   Now note - those are not microclimate zones like most people are familiar with for household gardens.  Those bands don't vary according to rainfall and max hot/cold - those are just daylight duration bands.  Other adjustments need to be made for local weather and climate.

It didn't surprise me to see an article in The Guardian this week entitled "Why are America's farmers killing themselves in record numbers?"
Last year, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that people working in agriculture – including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters – take their lives at a rate higher than any other occupation. The data suggested that the suicide rate for agricultural workers in 17 states was nearly five times higher compared with that in the general population.

After the study was released, Newsweek reported that the suicide death rate for farmers was more than double that of military veterans. This, however, could be an underestimate, as the data collected skipped several major agricultural states, including Iowa. Rosmann and other experts add that the farmer suicide rate might be higher, because an unknown number of farmers disguise their suicides as farm accidents.

The US farmer suicide crisis echoes a much larger farmer suicide crisis happening globally: an Australian farmer dies by suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer a week takes his or her own life; in France, one farmer dies by suicide every two days; in India, more than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995...

Since 2013, net farm income for US farmers has declined 50%. Median farm income for 2017 is projected to be negative $1,325. And without parity in place (essentially a minimum price floor for farm products), most commodity prices remain below the cost of production.

In an email, Rosmann wrote, “The rate of self-imposed [farmer] death rises and falls in accordance with their economic well-being … Suicide is currently rising because of our current farm recession.”
More at the link.  Neither political party has effectively addressed the farm recession in this country.  National politicians tend to equate American economic prosperity with a rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

I've often wondered what modern GPS-equipped tractors and combines cost to purchase or lease.  Perhaps some reader will know.

Enough for now.  Got to move on.

Addendum:  A report today about how high winds combined with hybrid crops can result in "ear drop" -
But the corn had snapped from its stalks and fallen to the dirt days earlier, the result of what agriculture experts called a perfect storm: A series of weather conditions over the growing season that had been good, and then bad, for certain hybrid seed varieties, producing big-kerneled ears but weakening their grip to the stalks...

In Makovicka's most damaged field, he counted 70 bushels of corn per acre — grain he couldn't salvage, couldn't sell at the elevator. Rees has heard of northeast Nebraska farms that lost 100 bushels per acre, or nearly $50,000 of missed income on each quarter-section...

The problems will extend beyond harvest. Many growers will be forced to pay for more herbicide, when the corn they couldn't harvest this year sprouts among their soybeans next year. Some farmers who graze their cows in harvested fields are realizing, after it's too late, that their animals are gorging on more corn than their bodies can handle.

“I'd never had a problem and I've been doing it for 30 years,” said Steve Wenz, who farms near Firth. “I put them out on a Tuesday morning and, Thursday morning, I had three dead ones.”..

During pollination, high heat weakened the shanks — the tie between the corn and the stalks — and cool August temperatures resulted in bigger ears. “They produced really heavy kernels, really deep kernels. There was quite a bit of weight.”

October rains contributed to stalk rot, followed by the damaging winds... Certain seed varieties proved more vulnerable than others, and the loss varied from farm to farm, even from field to field.
In some cases, attempts were made to harvest the fallen ears by hand:

Photoediting before Photoshop

Intricate squiggles and numbers are scrawled all over the prints, showing Inirio’s complex formulas for printing them. A few seconds of dodging here, some burning-in there. Will six seconds be enough to bring out some definition in the building behind Dean? Perhaps, depending on the temperature of the chemicals.
As a youngster I developed some of my own film and studied (but never implemented) advanced darkroom techniques.  I began to wonder if I would ever see the phrase "dodge and burn" used again.

More information at The Literate Lens.  Image cropped for size from the one at Gizmodo, via Neatorama.

Pantone's "color of the year" is "ultra-violet"

The color wasn't chosen because it's regal, though it resembles a majestic shade. It was chosen to evoke a counterculture flair, a grab for originality, ingenuity and visionary thinking...

The purple choice, a la Prince and the glam rock of David Bowie — both of whom died in 2016 — speaks to rebellion, finding new ways to interpret our lives and surroundings...
That's just fine with me.

06 December 2017

Heirloom apples

Mountain Rose apples are a red-fleshed apple variety and a member of the Rosacea family, species Malus domestica. This apple gets its name from the fact that it is grown near Mount Hood in Oregon, and because it has brilliant rosy red flesh... The Mountain Rose apple is yellow to green, covered extensively with a red to pink blush, and speckled with faint white lenticels. The skin is quite delicate and can bruise easily. Their real claim to fame is the bright pink to red flesh that remains vivid even when cooked. The flesh is crisp and has a balanced acidic yet mildly sweet flavor with nuances of strawberry, citrus, and cotton candy. 
Here's what the applesauce look like.

Photo via the Pics subreddit.

Who thought this was a good idea?


As reported by Arizona Family:
[Walmart] has pulled a t-shirt bearing the message “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED” from its website after the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) sent a message to Walmart alerting them to the shirt’s controversial content.

The shirt was also sold in the online store of a company called Teespring, who was acting as the third-party seller for Walmart’s online listing of the product. Teespring has since removed the shirt from its website...

A shirt with the words “Black women are trash” prompted outrage in May of 2017 when links to buy the shirts on Teespring’s site appeared on social media and went viral...

...a shirt emblazoned with “Eat Sleep Rape Repeat” was not just being sold on Teespring’s site, it was marked as a “best selling tank/shirt.”
Addendum:

A journalist who reported on the "Panama Papers" tax evasion scheme has been assassinated.

Clever Christmas decoration


Via the Funny subredditContext.
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