Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Holy Moly!
Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) photog...
Image via Wikipedia
I can't believe it. I've seen them in movies, I've seen them stuffed in museums, I've seen them in field guides and documentaries, I've seen them dead on the side of the road, and now, I've seen them alive and kicking (actually, it was probably foraging). I have seen the only representative of the marsupials naturally occurring in North America, the Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Zero garbage

I found this amazing blog about a women's 2009 challenge to produce zero garbage. I thought it was amazing and wanted to share. The blog is stocked full of interesting facts, links, and ideas.

Here's the link, go have a look! 

Take care!

Scrabble Enhansing Word : Dreikanter

I'm reading this fascinating book by Carl Sagan called The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark . Among other brain stunning words, I came across  

Dreikanter is a german word meaning three sides. It is used to call naturally occuring pyramids found in Antartica but also on Mars. These pyramids, as Carl Sagan explains so expertly, are "generated by wind erosion - the splatter of fine particles picked up by strong winds blowing in the same direction and, over the years, sculpting what once were irregular hummocks into nicely symmetrical pyramids."

This picture of Mars' surface led many people to believe in the presence of life on Mars. Scientists now explain these rock formations through wind erosion. [Picture Credits Erol Torun]
Take care!

We've reached 1000!

Wow! I'm very excited. There have been 1000 different people from around the world that have viewed this little blog. Mindboggling if you think about it. Who would of thought that somehow, my words would find a way to reach 46 different countries, some of which, I am sad to say, I had never heard of.

To celebrate this milestone and the many more to come, I offer you Harry the Horned Octopus (Eledone cirrhosa).

 I met Harry during my Fisheries and Wildlife Management field course which took place in New Brunswick (north-eastern Atlantic). I was so excited to meet my first live octopus that all other finds we're abandoned and I stood watch by the bucket making sure the water stayed cold and occasionally letting it grab hold of my fingers with its little tentacles. What an experience. Yes, I felt the guilt of having partaken in ripping it out of its habitat at the bottom of the ocean and hauling it on board only then to be dumped on the deck with rocks, clams, sea stars and other fascinating creatures.  But it was nothing compared to my exhilaration.

Harry was probably around 15-20 cm (~6-8") from the tip of its head to the end of its tentacles. It's mantle (skin) was covered with little lumps. I identified the species thanks to the two little horns, one above each eye. I failed to notice however the number of sucker disk rows on each tentacle or if it's third right arm was shorter and thinner than the rest. If it had been, it would have confirmed Harry as being a male. (So we'll never really know if Harry should of been called Harriette.) Colour wise, it changed between red, beige, and browns either uniform colours or speckled. It was amazing to watch it change so rapidly. (Harry went red when its attempts of escape where thwarted with the palm of my hand. It then sank to the bottom only to attempt again on the other side of the bucket taking the time to change its colour to a light beige, I guess trying to blend in with the white bucket). Unfortunately, like most octopus species, there is not much information available on the Horned Octopus. Harry didn't survive the trip from the boat to the lab, probably due to stress related to handling, temperature, and pressure changes.

RIP Harry.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cyane's Octopus

The common name of this species is misleading,...Image via Wikipedia

If you've been following my blog, you might know that I absolutely adore octopi. While surfing the web, I found these "funny" videos about the Cyane's octopus (Octopus cyanea) also known as the Big Blue octopus or the Day octopus. This octopus is commonly found in Australia's Great Barrier Reef but it's range extends from Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean to East Coast of Africa and the Indian Ocean. 
Contraily to most octopi, O. cyanea is diurnal, it hunts during the day. To facilitate it's hunt, it can ,at will, change it's colouration and texture to match that of it's environment. (You can't say that's not cool, right?) With a mantle reaching an average radius of 16cm (~7") and it's legs extending to 80cm (~32"), O. cyanea is relatively large.

It's size and way of life makes O. cyanea

master of camouflage and visual deception.

Video1 : Mating Ritual where we learn that even octopi are sensitive about their "size"

 Video 2: O. cyanea out hunting where we learn another way they make sure they are left alone

For more information click here and scroll down.

Take care!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Photosynthetic Sea Slug

Presenting Elysia chlorotica, a photosynthetic sea slug. This slimy critter is the first known multicellular animal to harness the power of photosynthesis. A team of scientists from the University of Maine lead by Mary Rumpho were astonished to discover that the algae eating E. chlorotica not only steals its food's chloroplasts (photosynthetic cells) but also the DNA sequence necessary to keep them functioning. A feat in itself but the leaf-shaped sea slug does not stop there, they also found evidence that the stolen DNA could then be passed on to the next generation. Is this the begging of the next generation of organisms? The solution to world hunger? Unfortunately, even if we wanted it with all our hearts, no vegetarian or vegan diet out there will allow humans to gain access to the wealth of the suns power through our stomachs,"[o]ur digestive tract just chews all that stuff up - the chloroplasts and the DNA" Rumpho was quick to clarify to NewScientist's journalist. There is much to discover about our neighbours in the sea.

Interested? Read more about it on msnbc.com and NewScientist.com.

Oh well, I guess there is no need to worry about matching our wardrobe to the green hue of our skin anytime soon

Take care!
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

James Cameron's Avatar: An Activist Survival Guide

I have just discovered the book I was dreaming about. Of course the marketing team behind Avatar would have pushed for the publication of a Survival Guide to the wonderful and exciting world of Pandora. I mean, they know the market. 

You can buy it on Amazon.com for about 11$. They also offer a free peak inside. It's designed to look like a used field guide with crumpled pages and pictures that are stuck in with paper clips and tape. With only 224 pages and I'm guessing lots of big pictures, I wonder how many plants are covered in this book. Oh well, we'll see.

Avatar: A Confidential Report on the Biological and Social History of Pandora (James Cameron's Avatar)

Take care!

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The World of Avatar

Avatar (2009 film)Image via Wikipedia
...and it's resemblances to existing earth creatures.

I confess, I went to see James Cameron's Avatar twice, once in a regular movie theater and the second time in IMAX 3D. This movie is amazing. Story aside, it's a visual masterpiece. The universe created on the scene is complete, the level of details is mind boggling, and the species extraordinary yet maintain a level of familiarity. In some cases, the species used are magnified and glorified and spliced versions of creatures present on our very earth and in our oceans.

I will mention only the few I can think of off the top of my head and which required little to no further research for the moment. Having seen the movie might help understand what I'm refering too as I have no footage of the movie to support my findings.

In the forests of Pandora, plants are gigantic. My darling hubster noticed was he described as tentacle like plants which disappointedly weren't carnivorous. He expected them to unravel and grab an unsuspecting skyperson (to use the Na'vi term for human) and rip it apart or something exciting of the sort. I laughed and shook my head. He was referring to the giant Fiddleheads, baby ferns to be romantinc. To be more scientific, Fiddeleheads are the unfurled fronds of young ferns. Young ferns unroll as it emerges from the ground. Certain species are harvested in early spring for consumption in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and North America. They are not farmed therefore they must be sustainably and manually harvested from the forest. A word of caution for the brave and adventurous eaters, fiddleheads must be cooked before eating as they do contain toxins - a necessary protection against herbivores.

The second plant/organism that stood out was the retractable spirally plant Jake Sully (main character) plays with on his first official outing in Pandora in his avatar. When I saw it on screen, my zoology class instantly came to mind. I introduce to you, dear reader, the Christmas tree worm.

[Picture on the left by  Peter Landecker and on right by Jim Kasson]

These little creatures are sedentary tube-building worms with stunning breathing and filter-feeding apparatus which resemble a christmas tree. And, they are retractable! Each worm has two colourful fir-shaped crowns. They are present all over the world and are a favorite of divers. The feather-like tentacles are called radioles and are designed to move trapped food to the worm's mouth and serve as gills for breathing purposes.

The movie version has been identified as an Helicoradian. Avatar Wiki describes it as follows : 

"Helicoradian (also known as Loreyu, meaning "beautiful spiral") is a zooplantae (part animal, part plant) possessing a single leaf that responds to touch by coiling up and retracting to the ground. Its neuromuscular system makes it difficult for xenobiologists to classify. Helicoradia can grow to 6-8 meters (20-26 feet) in height and 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) across.
The Na'vi use leaves of the Helicoradian to make ornate ceremonial robes and other garments, tents and sacks. Orange pigments in leaves can be extracted and used for paint. 
The helicoradian is a type of "sensitive zooplantae" that responds to touch by coiling up so that the single large leaf is no longer exposed to any herbivores that would eat it. Because it grows in clusters, the touch response, or thigmonasty, by one helicoradian often triggers the same response in others growing nearby so that the entire population recoils, one plant after another. This retraction is both defensive and an effective feeding mechanism to trap insects and small animals.
The Na'vi are able to wander among the helicoradian without triggering this defense response, but are warned of the presence of danger when the helicoradian start to retract."

I wonder who did the research for background botany of this movie, I would love to meet this person, not to mention own the Pandora Botany book. (Such a nerd...sigh...) My brother uses the term "Avatreckie", to describe people like myself and my hubby, that enjoy Avatar a little too much - so be it, Avatreckie we are.

Next Avatar post, I'll tell you why I don't think their sacred tree is a plant.

Happy New Year!

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pandora, the planet behind Avatar

Have you seen Avatar? 

Twelve Days of Christmas - Epiphany Reached

Well, it seems that even though I took on this task at the beginning of the month, the holidays caught up with me. Here is the end of this Holiday Favorite.

Seven Swans a-Swimming
The last of the animal/plant based gift.  Do you recall the story of the Ugly Duckling? The little grey cygnet that didn't fit in with the other ducklings in the pond until he turned into a majestic white bird and out shined all the others. I like it. Anyway, moving on. 
The concerned species is probably the European Mute Swan (Cygnus olor). Here are some random facts on swans.

Swans are beautiful birds that mate for life which is why they are often used are a symbole of longlasting love. 
An adult male is called a cob and a female a pen
They are one of the largest flying birds alive today. 
Northern hemisphere species are pure white while southern hemisphere species have black feathers contrasting with their overall white. 

I hope you had a wonderful holiday and wish you the best for the new year. If you didn't already know, here are the last five days of the Twelve Days of Christmas. 

Eight Maids a-Milking
Nine Ladies Dancing
Ten Lords a Leaping
Eleven Pippers Pipping
Twelve Drummers Drumming

Take care!

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