26 August 2016

"Wing pollination" of azaleas by swallowtails

The most interesting thing I've read about butterflies this year was a study by Mary Jane Epps, an assistant professor of biology at Mary Baldwin College who examined the reproduction of flame azaleas, publishing her results last August in The American Naturalist.  Here's the abstract:
Although many angiosperms are serviced by flying pollinators, reports of wings as pollen vectors are rare. Flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) is visited by diverse insects, yet previous observations suggested that only butterfly wings may transfer pollen to stigmas. We used an experimental approach to determine whether butterfly wings are the primary vehicle of pollination in flame azalea. Over two seasons of observations, only butterflies (Papilio glaucus and Speyeria cybele) contacted both anthers and stigmas, yet because of differences in wing-flapping behavior, P. glaucus transferred pollen most efficiently. In contrast, bee species specialized either on pollen or nectar but did not contact both anthers and stigmas. A field experiment revealed that flowers excluding butterflies experienced almost complete fruit failure, whereas fruit set in open flowers did not differ from those that were hand pollinated. Additionally, butterflies had 56-fold more azalea pollen on their wings than bodies, while azalea stigmas bore both pollen and wing scales. These results suggest that plants with many visitors contacting reproductive organs may still specialize on a single guild of visitors for pollination and that wing-borne pollen transfer is a key mode of flame azalea pollination.
Every reader of this blog will be familiar with mechanisms of pollination by bees and similar small insects, which transfer pollen on their bodies and feet.  This becomes a problem when the blossoms are large:
“In order for a plant to reproduce, a pollinator – usually an insect – has to spread the pollen from the anther to the stigma,” Epps says. “In the case of the flame azalea, the distance between these two structures meant that it was unlikely for a bee or other small pollinator to come into contact with both anther and stigma during a visit.”

The researchers discovered something else interesting – the pollen was most likely being transferred by the butterflies’ wings, instead of their bodies. “We observed two species of butterfly that frequented these flowers: the eastern tiger swallowtail and the great spangled fritillary. However, the majority of the butterflies were the swallowtails, who differ from the fritillaries because they tend to keep moving their wings even when gathering nectar from a flower,” Epps says. “The constant fanning motion gives the wings a number of contacts with both anther and stigma, making the swallowtails more efficient at pollination.”
I've noticed this behavior in our back yard, when Tiger Swallowtails and Giant Swallowtails constantly flutter their wings while visiting large blossoms (not azaleas at our latitude).  In the past I considered this wing motion a nuisance because it frustrated my attempts to get good photographic images, but I assumed it was done to achieve aerodynamic stability (though it doesn't occur with almost-as-big fritillaries, who hold their wings quite still).

Here's one additional relevant photo, of Spicebush swallowtails on azalea, by Jim McCormac:

Top photo: Great Spangled Fritillary on a flame azalea, by Suzanne Allison, via NC State University College of Sciences News.

Offered without comment

Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

NPR is eliminating the "comment" feature from its websites

Good riddance to NPR’s comment section, which is shutting down Tuesday after eight years. There has to be a better way for news organizations to engage with the public.

NPR is joining a growing list of media organizations that have said “finito” to comments including, ‘This American Life,’ Reuters, Recode, Mic, The Chicago Sun-Times, Popular Science, CNN, The Toronto Star and The Week...

The trolls who rule the comment seas may actually have won because they often scare away people with their vicious attacks. An infinitesimal number of NPR’s 25 to 35 million unique monthly users bothered to join story-page conversations...

There are some sites that handle comments well, noted Alex Howard, a senior analyst at the Sunlight Foundation. “Building a healthy online community is hard, but outlets like TechDirt and forums like MetaFilter show that it’s not only possible but sustainable,” said Howard. “At their best, good comments are improvements upon the journalism they’re focused upon, but they require convening a community and investing in editorial moderation and tools.”
TYWKIWDBI will continue to allow comments.   The need to delete spam every morning is a nuisance, but the readership here is reasonably sane and immensely well-informed on a huge range of topics, and I have had readers tell me that they routinely read most of the comments on the posts.  I will continue to "curate" comments, however, by weeding out the egregiously offensive ones.

More details at Moyers&Co (and 300+ comments).

Roombas can't detect dog poop

Details, if you want them, at Today.  I understand the Roomba also doesn't detect cat vomit.

The Trump campaign in Colorado

You can't make this up:
Weston Imer, a 12-year-old living in Colorado, is running operations for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in one of the state’s most populous counties.

Technically, Imer’s mother, Laurel Imer, is the official field coordinator for the Trump office in Jefferson County, Colorado. But her son, the co-chair for the Jefferson County Trump campaign, has taken a large share of the responsibility in persuading people to vote, according to KDVR, a local news station...

Imer’s mother said working for the campaign was a good introduction to the U.S. political process for her son before he goes back to school this fall.

“You have a responsibility to your children to teach them,” she said.
Colorado is not a lock for either candidate; it's "leaning towards Clinton" in the most recent polls.

Here are two bar bets you can almost always win

You're out having drinks with friends after work.  They are intelligent, sophisticated people, and nobody wants to talk about Trump/Clinton.  So you offer this:
"I'll bet you a (beer/bourbon/whatever) you can't guess how many time zones there are in Antarctica.  And I'll give you three guesses."
With three guesses they'll probably go for it (or someone in the group will).  One guess will be "24" because the continent spans all of the lines of longitude.  That's wrong.

A second guess will probably be "1" because Antarctica isn't a country.  But it does have time zones, established by the occupying countries.

Then they will have to make a wild guess.  It probably won't be the correct answer:  10 or 11.

"Which country - with its dependent territories - covers the most time zones?"
Russia, of course, with its immense east-west span, covers almost half the planet.  But it doesn't have territories in the other half.  So which country and its territories are in the most time zones?  Take a guess before looking at the link.

Wrong.  You owe me a drink.

23 August 2016

"Jet lightning"

While watching and photographing this year's Perseid Meteor Shower, something unexpected happened: a gigantic jet erupted from a nearby cloud. The whole thing was over in a flash -- it lasted less than a second -- but was fortunately captured by an already-recording digital camera. Gigantic jets are a rare form of lightning recognized formally only a few years ago. The featured high resolution color image, taken near the peak of Shikengkong mountain in China, may be the best image yet of this unusual phenomenon. The same event appears to have been captured simultaneously by another photographer, further away. The gigantic jet appears to start somewhere in a nearby thundercloud and extend upwards towards Earth's ionosphere. The nature of gigantic jets and their possible association with other types of Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) such as blue jets and red sprites remains an active topic of research. 
I have never heard of this before.  You learn something every day.  With a hat tip to the Crazy Cat Lady.

World's oldest gold artifact

Archaeologists dug up the gold artifact, which is just an eight of an inch in diameter and dates from 4,500–4,600 B.C., at what was believed to be the first urban settlement in Europe. It’s just outside of the modern town of Pazardzhik [Bulgaria].

What’s particularly interesting about the item is that researchers believe it to be 200 years older than gold jewelry discovered back in 1976 in the coastal town of Varna, thought to be the oldest in existence. That would make this speck-like bead the oldest piece of gold in the world.


Stuart Dunbar removed the 1.5kg black truffle, which he described as a "beast", from the earth on his property in Yarra Valley, in the state of Victoria.

It is thought to be the largest black truffle ever grown in [Australia], a delicacy which could also be a world-beater and estimated to be worth $3,700AUD (£2,100)...

Mr Dunbar’s truffle find beats a ‘world’s biggest’ 1.3kg black PĂ©rigord truffle unearthed in the south of France in 2012, if officially confirmed.

Highly improbable events are commonplace

In June 2001, on a small farm in Staffordshire, England, a 10-year-old girl named Laura Buxton was celebrating her grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. At one point, urged by her grandfather, Buxton wrote a note -- “Please return to Laura Buxton,” along with her address -- on a small card, attached it to a gold mylar balloon, and released it into cloudless sky...

Two days later, 140 miles away in a Milton Lilbourne, a farmer was checking on his cattle in a field and came across the deflated balloon in his neighbors’ hedge. He was about to discard it as trash, when he noticed the note; his neighbors had a daughter named Laura, so he passed it along to them...

The girl the farmer gave the balloon to was also named Laura Buxton, and was also just shy of ten years old... A three hour drive apart, the two Laura Buxtons not only shared the same name, but were nearly the exact same age, were the same height (which was unusual, considering they were both well above average for their age at 4 feet, 7 inches), had brown pigtails and blue eyes, and were in Year 5 in primary school. In a Radiolab interview, the girls recalled the astonishing similarities that arose as they spoke for the first time: they both had three-year-old female black labrador dogs, grey rabbits, and guinea pigs with identical markings (orange spots on hind legs). Upon meeting, they unintentionally chose to wear identical outfits -- a pink sweater, and jeans...
You can read the rest of the story at Priceonomics (or listed to that Radiolab story).

Res ipsa loquitur

The waitress who was stiffed on this tab was born in the United States to a bicultural family.  Details at the Washington Post.

"Bagpipe lung"

A newly-recognized occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis has been reported in Thorax:
This is the first case report identifying fungal exposure, from a bagpipe player, as a potential trigger for the development of HP. The clinical history of daily bagpipe-playing coupled with marked symptomatic improvement when this exposure was removed and the identification of multiple potential precipitating antigens isolated from the bagpipes make this the likely cause.

Many of the isolated fungi in this case have previously been implicated in the development of HP.  The moist environment of bagpipes promotes yeast and mould contamination, thereby making the chronic inhalation of offending antigens a likely trigger. This report highlights the importance of careful clinical history when assessing patients with respiratory symptoms. We often associate exposures to birds and pigeons, or living in environments contaminated with mould, as potential triggers for HP. In a significant proportion of patients, a trigger is not identified. In this case, playing the bagpipes, an important hobby in the history, was not initially realised as a potential trigger in the development of the disease, and subsequently, no serum-precipitating antibodies to moulds or fungi were performed. The temporal relationship with an improvement in symptoms while abroad and the subsequent identification that the patient was not playing the bagpipes highlighted this source as a potential trigger. 
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis has been reported in musicians playing other wind instruments:
There have been previous case reports of HP in saxophone and trombone players attributable to isolated fungi and Candida. In one case described by Metzger et al, Ulocladium botrytis and Phoma sp were isolated from the saxophone, and subsequent serum-specific antibodies to these fungi were tested and found to be positive. The patient began regular drying of the saxophone after use, and cleaning it with disinfectant. They were treated with 32 mg/day of methylprednisolone for 1 month. These measures led to marked improvement of symptoms and radiology after 2 months. Repeat samples from the saxophone were negative for moulds or fungi. In a further case described by Metersky et al, a trombone player developed suspected HP based on clinical and radiological findings. Symptoms showed the same temporal relationship as described in this case, as they significantly improved on cessation of playing the trombone for 2 weeks.
You learn something every day.

"Super fancy dorm rooms at Ole Miss are a thing"

As reported by the StarTribune:
Two first-year students [at the University of Mississippi] turned their drab dorm rooms into a lavish luxury suite complete with tufted upholstered head boards, gold-plated lamps and monogrammed satin pillows -- all coordinated better than a Pottery Barn Teen catalog...
Suddenly, other students started tweeting photos of their own luxuriously-decorated dorm rooms. The apparent trend of these interior design magazine-worthy dorm rooms has been reported on by BuzzFeed, USA Today, CBS News and TeenVogue.com.

I'll defer any commentary.  This is an alternate reality from my collegiate experience.

Flotsam, jetsam, lagan, and derelict

When I watched this video, I tried to think whether it was "flotsam" or "jetsam" that was being created.  Neither, actually:
  • Flotsam is floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo.
  • Jetsam is part of a ship, its equipment, or its cargo that is purposely cast overboard or jettisoned to lighten the load in time of distress and is washed ashore.
  • Lagan (also called ligan) is goods or wreckage that is lying on the bottom of the ocean, sometimes marked by a buoy, which can be reclaimed.
  • Derelict is cargo that is also on the bottom of the ocean, but which no one has any hope of reclaiming (in other maritime contexts, derelict may also refer to a drifting abandoned ship).
Much as one hates to see the ocean get trashed, if there are no toxic components in those pipes, this accident may have created some interesting microenvironments for marine creatures.

The Democrats will NOT retake the House of Representatives

As explained at Moyers&company:
The reason why is simple, structural and too often absent from the conversation: It’s the radical GOP gerrymander imposed after the 2010 census on purplish states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina – all of which are likely to go for Clinton, while also electing a bright-red Republican delegation to Congress. Even if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in a landslide, there are simply not enough competitive districts remaining to give the Democrats any chance at winning the House...

Democrats, however, prefer to raise false hopes — and raise money — by pretending the House is in play. The media, desperate for any suspenseful narrative, pretends that gerrymandering is politics as usual and that both sides do it — stubbornly refusing to understand how the brazen and technologically savvy 2011 remapping was different from any other in modern political history...

It takes no imagination at all to conjure suburban Republican voters in northern Virginia, Denver, Pennsylvania and elsewhere who believe Trump is a line too far — but who also cringe at the idea of giving Clinton a blank check in the House. Republican leaders and financiers are already planning on siphoning money away from Trump and using exactly this line to defend Congress.
TMI about gerrymandering.
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