Category Archives: Uncategorized

Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!

For many species there is almost nothing published about their habits. This is one reason why people publish scientific notes, just to share information about observations that may help someone else to understand a species. Publication of short notes is not a given. Sometimes every obstacle is in a manuscript’s path to publication, it would be easier to drop it, but you push on because the observation provides a light that may help another research understand the species.PUBLISHED!

Problem solving ability in canines

Regis is a great dog and an important part of our household. The human-canine mutual relationship is alive and well.

Regis is a great dog and an important part of our household. The human-canine mutual relationship is alive and well.

Kelly, Regis (the wonder pup), and I were at a friend’s house. These friends have built a house that is nothing short of amazing. Kelly and I were on the second story back porch and Regis was down at ground level. Stairs exist to get up to the porch, but the stairs are located away from where Kelly and I were. Regis has used these very stairs multiple times. Regis wanted to get closer to Kelly and I, so he hopped up on a picnic table. While the picnic table did put Regis about three feet closer to Kelly and I, it did not exactly put Regis where we were. So Regis then did what any proud hound dog would do: whine.

Kelly and I then moved to a portion of this second story porch with a direct connection with the stairs. Regis ran right over and proceeded to try to use a swing set slide to get to us. This was a disaster. Once Regis had all four feet on the slide, he would slide back down to the ground. Regis really wanted to be with Kelly and I so he just kept throwing himself at the slide. While this was entertaining, this activity would not achieve the goal. So we walked over to the top of the stairs and called him.

REUNITED! Tag wagging ensues!

To me this was interesting because Regis was able to come up with solutions to his problem all on his own. Granted these solutions, did not solve the problem, but these were his own solutions. It is also of interest that when the picnic table was found to offer only a partial solution, Regis then called out to his humans. Regis, a descendant of wolves, is the product of thousands of years of a human-canine mutual relationship in which: dogs have provided shed hair to make cave-human’s stone couches furry and humans have provided the dogs with problem solving skills. He depends on us when the problem seems insurmountable, like when his tennis ball is under the couch and out of reach. It seems a fair trade, he is a good boy.

House Centipede

Last month, while walking in to work,  I saw this specimen of Scutigera coleoptrata (the house 2014-03-18 HouseCentipedecentipede). Centipedes are fast, but the morning was cold, so I was able to get a photo (hooray for a homeothermic metabolism!). This is a household predator, and can be thought of as beneficial (if you actually need to sort species as such – and if so, where do you place yourself?). I am always amazed that large household predators (e.g. spiders) always seem to exist at densities higher than one would expect given the household prey base (which seems non-existent). Perhaps this is because I am much larger, or perhaps I should study my household ecology a little more closely.

This is an introduced species and has done very well in North America because of our habitat manipulations. Being able to coexist with humans does have some advantages, but do not make the mistake of cuddling the house centipedes you may find – they can (and will) bite.



Scientific thought is a huge collaborative effort. The data, thoughts, hypotheses, etc. of others are fair game for any researcher to utilize in their work. The caveat is that all such work must be properly attributed. Students will often make ‘petit plagiarisms’ where it is clear that they are referring to a certain work, and then quote it verbatim without quotation marks. I have also seen where students will list references, but not cite within the paper. Occasionally, a reference may be omitted, but the student is not claiming to have developed the concept of niche partioning – all this is within what I would call an honest mistake. When a student hands in a paper that is the wikipedia entry verbatim, they are blatantly claiming another’s work as their own and this is bad.

In the huge collaborative effort called scientific thought there is peer review, where we read each other’s paper prior to review. This process is extremely flawed and helpful. There are the before submission reviews where the manuscript goes to friends who make comments and the post submission reviews where unknown reviewers make comments. The anonymity of these reviewers is essential, but also means that there is no credit given for extremely hard work – it is done for the common good of the collaborative effort.

By the time somebody has published a couple of scientific papers, and maybe gotten a Doctorate, it is assumed they should know how to avoid plagiarism. I still make mistakes citing items and very much appreciate when a reviewer helps me out. This is a very not funny cartoon about a very not funny subject. I am still trying to make sense of this paper I was asked to review that blatantly claimed another person’s concept as their own.



Everything poops!

Often, biologists identify animals by their sign. This can be the characteristic scratches some species leave on trees, a unique nest, or some other artifact. Often this artifact is poop. It is no big secret, that when it comes to animals, everything poops. Today, as I was processing dung beetles from some samples from 2011, I came across something I have never had the opportunity to see before – dung beetle poop – specifically Onthophagus taurus poop. This is a poop made by animal that eats poop, or poop squared.

2014-01-01 10.00.40The specimen in question must have defecated when it hit the antifreeze that I use in the pitfall trap and then the poop remained excreted, but attached, through the alcohol storage and subsequent pinning before microscope examination for specific determination. Needless to say, this is a most auspicious start to a new year that I hope will be filled with exciting discoveries!

I hope that 2014 is filled with interesting and wonderful discoveries for all of you also – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Encounter with a scorpion!

I have been lucky enough to find scorpions in my waders, in my boots, in Berlese funnels, and once had them come visit my blacklight rig in Arizona to feed on the insects, but I have not been able to find scorpions just being scorpions. Earlier this week in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, I was lucky enough to encounter a scorpion, Centruroides vittatus, while looking for beetles under logs in a dry, pine woodland on sandy soil.

23 Dec 2013 - Bienville Parish, LA

23 Dec 2013 – Bienville Parish, LA

The weather was kind of cool, and the scorpion did not move at all. I took a couple of really bad photos with my cell phone and replaced the log.

Non-insect arthropods are worthwhile and and groovy. All of the Thomas Eisner millipede work comes to mind. In this case, there were no great scientific discoveries or flashes of insight, just a simple ‘GEE WHIZ!’ and the joy of seeing a bit of wildlife doing what it does (in this case trying to overwinter undisturbed). This is in area with a large feral hog population and I wondered if the hogs are a problem for the scorpions and if that influences choice of overwintering site, but a sample size of one and limited time meant I needed to move on. I have seen scorpions kept as pets and know that they are eaten, but as mentioned above: I just replaced the log. Maybe next time.

Frost Flowers

On Thanksgiving Day I was out with Colin and James Tindal playing disc golf in the woods at Barfield Crescent Park in Murfreesboro, TN. My drive on hole #4 happened to land near two frost flowers. We stopped to appreciate these ephemeral beauties, then continued on with our round. I haven’t seen this phenomenon very often, so I thought I would share.

Frost flowers aren’t flowers, they are ice – but still a biological artifact. They require unfrozen ground, plant stems that have not frozen, and air temperatures below freezing. These perfect conditions allow ground moisture to move up the plant stem through capillary action and extrude under pressure through splits the freezing causes in the stem. This is the result:

2013-11-28 08.56.00