Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Babies! Of the cockroach kind, that is

I mentioned back in June that I though one of my females was pregnant. Well, guess what...

Baby hisser #1 next to daddy Frankie
The two still-pregnant females: Lola and Brigite
I was re-wetting my cockcroaches' watering sponge this morning and found little baby roaches! I don't know how many there are yet, but my other two females are also clearly preggers so there are going to be a lot. I'm expecting that all-told there will end up being around sixty. It amazes me how fat they get when they're gravid. Their exoskeleton expands and pale bands start to appear along the abdomen.

Yes, unlike most insects Madagascar hissing cockroaches give live birth so I'm not kidding when I'm calling them "pregnant." Interestingly enough, if there is no male around they will create an entire set of eggs and then expel them if they are not fertilized. The first time I saw it I thought there was something wrong, but it's completely normal.

Unfortunately, I think momma Louise is going to die soon. She's been lethargic for about three days, which in the past has been the first sign that they were going to die. I'm really not surprised as the females were at least a year or two old when I got them and I have had them for some time. Louise was also one of the first two adults I obtained. She's still responsive, though, so I'm hoping she will recover. Her original partner in crime Thelma died some time ago. I also lost my younger male, Walter, recently after he had been getting progressively thinner for several weeks. I think Frankie, who I believe to be the father of the babies, had been keeping him away from the food.

I was going to clean the terrarium today, but instead I'll clean it tomorrow. I'm a bit concerned about the nymphs being delicate right now because their bodies may still be soft. They are born white and will darken to a dark brown color over time. This happens again each time they shed, and when they are still pale they are vulnerable and shouldn't be handled. When I do clean their terrarium I'll replace the bedding and separate out the babies and count them. 

Baby roaches #2 and 3 on the water sponge
Baby roach #4 on the wheat bread that the roaches love so much
I also found a millipede outside. It's a North American millipede (Narceus americanus), which is incredibly common around here. I used to keep these guys as pets but the three I had died earlier this year. They are mostly black or nearly so and have bands of yellow, orange, red, or even purple. This one is obviously red. I find them quite cute, and they're completely harmless. The do excrete a chemical irritant (though it's only irritating to some people) when startled that will stain your skin. I know this from experience, having caught many of these creatures in the wild and coming away with purple fingers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


A lovebug, also called a March fly or love bug
I don't know how many of you have heard of lovebugs, but I saw a pair today and it got me thinking about the little beasties. Once a year, they invade. In fact, the hoards usually appear twice a year in the fall and spring, but for some reason where I am we only get them in mass numbers in the fall. Its a bit nice, actually, because when they do appear the clouds are so thick that if you drive through one your car will become plastered with dead lovebugs. I know it doesn't sound nice, but I'm getting to that. So, in the fall our cars turn disgusting with dead bugs and in the spring our cars turn disgustingly yellow with excessive amounts of pine pollen. It's nice because we don't get pollen and bugs at the same time. Either way, we have to wash our cars very often during both lovebug season and pollen season because both can cause serious damage to paint if left on the car for long periods of time. I foresee that the hoards I mentioned will appear any day now.

Lovebugs in love
So, you're probably wondering why they are called love bugs. It's because the invasions are actually mating flights, and when they occur the bugs are always in pairs attached at the abdomen. As you can imagine, the reason for this is because they are making little baby lovebugs. A lot of people freak out when they are around, especially if the lovebugs land on them, but these little guys are completely harmless except for the damage their dead bodies can do to your car. They lay their eggs under decaying plant matter, which is what the larvae feed on. The adults feed on the nectar of various plants and can actually interfere with beekeepers because bees won't go to flowers that are covered in lovebugs.

If you're curious, here is a semi truck that has been plastered with dead lovebugs. I don't think plastered is an over-exaggeration. I'll probably post images of my car if it becomes covered this year, though I'm moving to the city soon so I have no idea if it will or not because there is little dead plant matter for the bugs to lay eggs in.

Source is the University of Florida. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two

Monday, August 29, 2011

Interesting Animals: Axolotl

These salamanders are so interesting to people that they have their own website:, which is where I got all of the information for this post.

The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)
An albino axolotl
The image above is what normal wild axolotls look like, but many people will better recognize the albino one at right. Why is that? Well, these animals are kept as pets by fanciers of amphibians and other odd animals and many of the ones in captivity are albino. Also, this species is an often-used laboratory animal that has been used to test such things as regeneration. Like many laboratory animals, the individuals used in studies are often albino. The numbers of captive individuals is quite high and as such they are not captured from the wild for the pet trade or for use as research animals.

This animals exhibits what is called neoteny, which is when a creature remains in a body form that is usually considered juvenile in nature. Most amphibians have external gills and a "keeled" fin-like tail when the are born, both of which will be lost when they undergo metamorphosis and become adults. Axolotls, along with several other species of amphibian, actually keep the gills and keeled tail into adulthood. This usually happens in animals that remain aquatic in nature. The external gills are most noticeable in the albino individuals of this species because of the bright red color against the pale skin. Compare the two images I provided and you'll get what I mean. Oddly enough, on rare cases they will undergo metamorphosis anyway, in which case they end up looking remarkably like the better-known tiger salamander.

A native of Mexico, the axolotl is, unfortunately, an endangered species. However, because there are so many in captivity it is unlikely the species will ever die out completely, even though it is quite possible that it could be lost from the wild.

Below is a video on regeneration in this species:

Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Crazy Plants: Sensitive Plant

So, I've decided to start another repeating theme on the blog. This one is about all of those odd plants out there. To begin, I will be speaking about one of my favorites, and the subject of an experiment I did for my Ecology class: the sensitive plant.

The plant itself looks rather bland, but the flowers are quite attractive.

Mimosa pudica, also known by such names as "tickle me plant," is one of the few plants that reacts very quickly to its environment. That's right, if you poke it, it will move and you can easily see it do so. It was once thought the plant had nerves and muscles, but in fact the movement is made by a simple change in turgor pressure, which helps plants stand upright and keep their shape. However, much is yet to be discovered as to the specifics of the reaction and what exactly leads to that loss of pressure and its ability to travel to other portions of the plant.  

It is native to Brazil, but grows as a weed throughout the states along the Gulf of Mexico. The scientific name basically translates to "bashful mimic" and it is thought that the movement might have evolved because drooping leaves are less attractive to herbivores. 

Below is a video of this plant doing its thing:

Source is here. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license.

Guess the Gentoype #18

Didn't have time to post yesterday, so it's another double post day.

Can you guess this dog's genotype?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricanes and Caterpillars

Irene didn't really hit where I live, but we were treated to a fascinating cloud pattern in the sky and vicious winds. The Weather Channel website has a good satellite view of the outer bands passing over Georgia. Below is what it looked like from the ground. It's not the best view, but the clouds were in clear, dark lines like nothing I've ever seen. The enormity of hurricanes always amazes me. No rain except for a light misting this time. The beaches did get over ten foot swells and winds that blew with even more fury. I have seen pictures, and it's hard to believe that it's just the weakest part of the storm.

Georgia is unique on the east coast for how rarely it is hit by these storms. In the eleven years I have been here, there has never been anything major hit the area. In fact, it's been many decades since a serious storm has hit this state. It has to do with the nature of the coast and the winds can currents. The wide continental shelf combined with the fact that the coastline is basically the most westerly point on the eastern seaboard. Every year, there is talk of the threat of a hurricane, but it always swings off to Florida or the Carolinas.

I want to wish good luck to anyone who has or will be hit by the full fury of Irene. Stay safe.

On a completely different note, I found a tree on the campus where I'm doing my graduate studies that was completely infested with Eastern tent caterpillars. They are a pest species, and I have a little too much experience with them. During my time researching the Cyphomyrmex rimosus ants I handled a lot of frass: the nice way of saying herbivorous incest poop. So much so that the characteristics of the poop will probably be forever imprinted in my brain.

Eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) in their "tent"
If you're curious, Eastern ten caterpillars have poop that is small and nearly black in color and, when fed cherry leaves (as in my experiment), smells so fragrant that it attacks your nostrils every time you open the container it is kept in. Oddly enough, it is not an unpleasant odor when the frass has been left to dry completely. It does stink when fresh.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Invasive Species: Coypu

A coypu or nutria (Myocastor coypus)
This species goes by many names, the most well-known being the nutria. They are a semi-aquatic rodent native to South America and they have been introduced to all sorts of places, including areas of North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

They are considered a serious problem species, with their major impacts involving erosion and destruction of dykes through burrowing and feeding on rhizomes, which are horizontal stems used to propagate species of grass. I large numbers, they can also reduce a marsh to nothing but an open stretch of water, putting a great number of marsh species at risk. They will also destroy crops.

The coypu is used as a source of meat and fur, and you can find the meat online, complete with recipes and meal suggestions. Management methods remain trapping and shooting, and a bounty system is set up in certain areas. Several states have managed to eradicate them from their area. Interestingly enough, the World Wildlife Fund opposed eradication attempts in Sicily. I wonder what their reasoning was?

The nutria is on the list of 100 World's Worst Invasives at #60.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Name That Disease #8

Can you name this disease? Because some may find this disgusting (I find it a bit distressing myself), you will have to click the small version below to see the full size.

Image is from the CDC and is copyright free

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guess the Genotype #17

Can you guess the genotype of this dog? Nope, I'm not playing a trick on you. It's actually fairly simple to figure out.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cool Animal Sounds: Spotted Hyena

Spotted hyenas are very unique animals, including the noises they make. They are famous for their laugh, which they usually use when excited about food. They also make mooing noises and can scream, among other things. This is a somewhat odd video of a captive hyena, but it shows the laughter the best out of all of the ones I found:

Spotted hyenas are also unique because they have a matriarchal society, and in fact the females are highly masculinized, being larger and more aggressive than males. They mark their territory with a horrid-smelling excretion from their rears called "hyena butter" and groups can be exceptionally large. They are the largest and best-known of the hyena family, which also includes the brown hyena, striped hyena, and aardwolf.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Name That Disease #7

Can you name this disease?

Unusual Breed: Alapaha Blue-Blood Bulldog

Forgot to post yesterday, so today will be a double post day. I said I'd come back to these guys.

An Alapaha (A-lap´a-ha) blue-blood bulldog

This is an interesting breed, being what I believe to be the only purebred bulldog that comes in merle, as in the dog above. It has been described as "American as apple pie." The author of the Retrieverman blog once mentioned to me that it would make much more sense if the mascot for the University of Georgia was an Alapaha rather than an English bulldog. I have to agree. The Alapaha name is a name heavily associated with the state.

A non-merle
The breed's origins are muddled, but are believed to begin with pockets of dogs in the south such as what were called the old southern white, mountain bulldog, and old country bulldog. Crosses with local curs resulted in the beginnings of what eventually became the modern Alapaha. The dogs were used by various people for a variety of purposes, including hunting and catching wayward cattle. The breed was at risk of extinction until a group of people set out to revive this "Ol' Tymey PlantationBulldog." In the past, the breed has gone through numerous names, including Otto and Catahoula bull (a name now given to crosses between Catahoula leopard dogs and Alapaha blue-blood bulldogs).

The Alapaha blue-blood bulldog is easy to train and a good family dog. It is described as "functional and unexaggerated," which is quite true when compared to numerous other bulldog breeds. They should be fearless without aggression and powerful but not bulky. It is smaller than the American bulldog, but nowhere near as small as the English bulldog. It is not prone to the breeding problems than are so common in the English bulldog. Overall, the breed is meant to be very functional, and many of them are still used for such purposes as protection and as catch-dogs for hunting hogs. However, type can vary greatly depending on what the dogs are being bred for.

The Alapaha Blue-Blood Bulldog Association is very wary of who breeds these dogs and who the dogs are registered with.

Sources are the Alapaha Blue-Blood Bulldog Association pages on the history and standard of the breed, unless otherwise noted. 
Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Local Wildlife

I've been luck enough to encounter a lot of local animals that I have either never seen or have not seen by where I live before. The assassin bug I mentioned before is one of the, but here are some others:

A daddy longlegs. Also known as the harvestman, these spider relatives are common locally but this was my first time seeing one at my house. They are known for their incredibly long legs and are not to be confused with the daddy longlegs spider. One of the easiest ways to tell them apart is the fact that the spider has a waist and the daddy longlegs does not.
A praying mantis. This is my first time seeing one found locally. I though it was a walking stick at first until I noticed the posturing of the forelegs, and then the large eyes. The only ever live specimen I saw before this was a Chinese mantis that was caught near Chicago.
I also saw a five-lined skink near my house, which was the first time I saw one outside of a nature preserve. I was a fast little thing, though, and darted under a pile of pine needles before I could get a picture. Here are some finds, though more common than those above:

I found this grasshopper on one of my tires when I was checking the pressure. It was depressingly easy to catch because it had lost both of its large rear legs. It may have also been lethargic because it had just rained and it may have been cold.
Yet another green anole. They are quite numerous here.
I found a lot of these flowers.
A spider in the door frame.

Mushrooms on the lawn after nearly a week of heavy rain.
Vultures after a heavy rain, drying their wings on a dead tree. These birds have been nesting in hollows of that same tree for several years. They are really obnoxious, actually.
One thing I never grow tired of is the sky after a rain.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Guess the Genotype #16

This dog has a lot of spots! Can you guess its genotype? Can you also guess its breed?

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Interesting Animals: Star-Nosed Mole

Condylura cristata: the star-nosed mole. That is quite a face

These burrowing mammals are obviously named for their elaborately-shaped nose consisting of twenty-two separate appendages. The finger-like projections are highly sensitive and help the mole locate its prey, which includes things like earthworms, while burrowing through the soil. It is believe that these creatures have the best sense of touch among mammals. There is evidence that the star also gives these moles the ability to detect electricity given off by prey in water; the only other mammal able to do this is the platypus. Their senses of hearing and smell are good to great, but their vision is reduced, probably only able to distinguish light from dark.

Unlike most moles, this species prefers wet soil. If they do have access to water, they will often swim to find aquatic prey, which they seem to prefer. A large portion of their diet is usually made up of aquatic segmented worms such as leeches. These moles do a lot of good for wet areas, including aerating soil with their burrowing and keeping populations of many invertebrates in check. They are also prey to several species.

The species is not endangered, and is in fact rather common in its native range. They are found in eastern North America as far south as Georgia and as far north as Newfoundland and Québec. 

Source is Animal Diversity Web. Image is copyright free from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ebon and his Fear of Random Inanimate Objects

So, I took Ebon outside to go to the bathroom earlier today and he ended up catching sight of a pipecleaner and doing a ridiculous sideways leap of fear. Afterwards, I encouraged him to check it out and showed him it wasn't dangerous. Here he is, being scared of a pipecleaner. Please ignore my high-pitched talking-to-the-dog voice.

I believe it is actually an aquarium hose and fitting cleaner than was placed on the back porch when the aquarium broke (it's a long story). Ebon has seen it before, but it was blown to its new location by all of the storms we've had recently. Interestingly, it's the only thing that has been blown around that he's reacted to.

Ebon and Albus in mirror poses
I don't know if I have mentioned this before on the blog, but Ebon has a tendency to be a bit timid and fearful. He's had similar moments with such things as a flight of stairs, a dead bird, a live snake, and an empty bag that the wind blew at him among other things. Whenever he has these moments (except for things like the snake) I try my best to work with him to show him that it's not dangerous. His courage is much better than it used to be since when he was two he would have hid behind me and not even tried to investigate things further. It's all because I have never babied him about his fears. I don't force him to try and face them either. I will approach the object, call him, ask him "What is it?" Then I'll encourage him to approach and let him sniff it and nose if he so chooses. If he doesn't approach it at first, I'll pick it up if it's not disgusting, show it to him, then put it down again. He trusts me, and it seems that if I'm willing to touch it he sees it as being much less scary than before. It doesn't always work, but I have cured him of his fear of stairs and several other things.

Of the three non-human mammals in the house, Ebon's fearfulness is in the middle. Albus is scared of almost nothing and Ginny is scared of practically everything. Here's some common doggy fears that Ebon has never been afraid of: gunfire, fireworks, thunderstorms, vacuums, other dogs, and strange people.

Why did I have to have the odd one? ...Just kidding!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Guess the Genotype #15

Pai from The Chinese Crested Shrine provided me with this image. Can you guess this dog's genotype? It's more simple than you may think. Can you also guess its breed?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cool Animal Sounds: Peregrine Falcon

These are amazing little birds. In a dive, they are the fastest animal on the planet, able to reach speeds exceeding 175 miles per hour! They kill prey more by impacting them than anything else, using the speed to their advantage. Their cry is very distinctive, a sort of "kraaaaaa, kraaaaaa, kraaaaaa" sound. They are often used as hunting birds, and falconry is almost an art in my opinion. It is highly regulated, and if you ever have a chance to see one of these birds up close as I have, they are amazing. The aerodynamics on their wings is near perfect, with very sleek, tight feathers. Their eyes are very large and bright, catching onto any movement. For such small birds, they are brilliant hunters.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Wildlife and More Storms

There was a yet another brilliant storm tonight. After some furious rainfall, including lighting, there was a beautiful show of cloud-to-cloud lightning:

Via WeatherBug for Android
We have been having some amazing storms lately, which has, I believe, pulled us out of the drought we were having earlier this summer. However, it also lead to the image on the right showing up on my phone the other day. Those are all warnings, and after a day that hit 97 degrees, we had a brutal storm that produced two tornadoes that touched down in the area. Tornadoes are quite unusual here. The rain was so heavy it sounded like hail and it caused some carnage in areas where there were no twisters. In my town, numerous trees fell, blocking roads and knocking out power for much of the area. The good thing is, the wildlife is very lively now that there is lost of water. Insects have been especially happy, breeding like crazy and forming clouds so thick at night that you're constantly waving at your face. What follows are some of the photos I have managed to capture over the past week. My favorite is the assassin bug! I believe it is a Zelus longipes.

An assassin bug. I saw two species on the same bush
A flower in my backyard. I don't know the type.
Ebon with some storm debris.

A green anole (brown phase) I found in the ash bucket hiding from the heat. Here is another picture of it going green.
Another green anole (brown phase) hiding from the heat
Ebon enjoying a break in the weather
The beginnings of a paper wasp nest

I also was able to go to a restaurant nearby that has a beautiful view of a salt marsh. Good food, too. Everything is locally caught and fresh when in season. Of course, I was more interested in the life growing on and around the dock:

Ocean is over that-a way. The dock is for customers. The cones are to keep away birds and keep the dock poop-free.
Oyster beds and Spartina marsh grass showing the high tide line.
Fiddler crabs in the oyster beds

Dock pilings with barnacles and bivalves. Luckily, no sign of the invasive titan acorn barnacle, which is taking over.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lost Ladybugs

Dave over at Little Heelers recently directed me to an interesting article on ladybugs from the CBC, or ladybirds as they say in many other countries. They are also called lady beetles.

Nine-spotted ladybug (Coccinella novemnotata). They have a "milk mustache" above their head not in other species.

The article is concerned with the fate of the nine-spotted ladybug, a species that was once incredibly common across much of North America. It has since become exceedingly rare after several other species of beetle were introduced (including the seven-spotted ladybug, Coccinella septempunctata), even though nearly all of the different species have different habitats and diets. In fact, there were no sightings in the Eastern United States in fourteen years. Since the species are not competing, what could possibly be causing the decline? Well, we don't know yet. There are multiple possible causes, including introduction of parasites, parasitoids, or competition from the seven-spotted ladybug. However, little data was recorded after the introduction of the new species, so it is not known what, if any direct affect the seven-spotted ladybugs have had on the nine-spotted ladybugs. There is now a Lost Ladybug Project which is concentrated on collecting more data on the density of the now rare species, including the nine-spotted ladybug. If you see a ladybug, take a picture and join in. It might be a rare lady beetle.

Seven-spotted ladybug for contrast
It's always unfortunate when a species goes extinct, and I'm sure many people following this blog remember catching ladybugs in their childhood, me included. Most people would say, "So? It's just an insect. There's so many of them, what will the loss of one species do?" Well, the problem is we don't know. This is true in all cases where a species is going extinct. The introduced species may eat so voraciously that they negatively affects numerous other species. The native species may have been keeping a prey species in check that could potentially cause major damage when its predator is removed. I can't answer that, and since it's unlikely the species will recover to its previous numbers, we may find out soon enough.

Going against my usual methods, the main image is directly from the article. It is originally from Cornell University.
The seven-spotted ladybug is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Guess the Genotype #14

Can you guess this dog's genotype and breed?

Image is from Wikimedia Commons and there is no information available on license, so it is © TomWolf

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Invasive Species: Cat

Felis catus, a popular pet. This one is feral.

Yep, the common house cat is an invasive species. You may ask, "how so?" Well, cats are actually incredibly destructive creatures because they hunt and kill wildlife. So, every feral cat and every domestic cat that is either kept outside or allowed outside puts many local species in great danger. These cats have helped lead to the decline or possibly even the extinction of many species. Cats are now on the list of 100 World's Worst Invasives at #38. The similarly sized wildcat species of Africa, Europe, and Asia are not included in this, even though the domestic cat is believed to have been domesticated from the African wildcats. 

A sparrow that died by this pet cat's jaws
Introduction was either caused by shipping traffic, as ships often kept cats to keep the rat populations down, or through pets. Many people would bring their pet cat to a new location and then either leave it behind or let the offspring go free. Feral cats are a serious issue in areas such as Australia, where they have a major impact on such species as the red-tailed cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus magnificus) and burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur). Their impact is greatest on islands, where species have often adapted to life where there are no natural predators. Many areas will have feral cat colonies, including my neighborhood and the campus where I earned my Bachelors degree.

If you have a cat, there are several common suggestions to help protect wildlife, which include having the cat wear a bell and keeping it in at night. However, studies have mixed results as to whether these are effective methods. When it comes to feral cats, management methods are quite different, and are most aggressive where they pose the greatest danger to native species.

The danger to wildlife is part of the reason why the cats I currently live with are not allowed outside at all. Ginny was a feral-born cat and she would do anything to avoid being outside ever again. Here's another reason to never let your cat outside: indoor cats generally live between fifteen and eighteen years. Outdoor cats, on the other hand, only live an average of less than three years. When we adopted Ginny, she was skinny, very sick, and her growth was stunted. In my opinion, just as you should never feed wildlife you should never feed feral animals either. It makes their population explode, they lose their fear of people, and they become dependent on the food. This can lead to a lot of suffering as well as potential danger to people if the food supply stops.

Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cool Animal Sounds: Alligator

Alligators are actually quite vocal creatures that can make a wide variety of noises, including chirps, growls, bellows and hisses. Below is a video of hatching baby alligators in which they're making a sort of chirping sound to call to their mother. They do this so that big momma can come and help them out, uncovering the nest and possibly even carrying the babies to the water. Mother gator will protect them for quite some time, up to a year. If you don't want to watch the whole video, skip to 1:30.

The sound may be cute, but just remember: never pick up or mess with a wild animal! Even though baby alligators really can't hurt you very much, momma can, and if you hear that chirping noise it's likely she won't be far behind.

For contrast, here's a big male alligator bellowing for a mate. Watch how he makes the water dance!