Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Interesting Animals: Lancelet

One of many species of lancelet. Lancelets are also known as amphioxis.
The lancelets are some of the most simplistic chordates and are one of the few, unusual non-vertebrate chordates. These creatures are of special interest to scientists due to this classification. Study of simple non-vertebrate chordates has brought a great understanding of chordates in general, including vertebrates such as ourselves. As with all chordates, these small animals exhibit four classifying characteristics: pharyngeal gill slits, a notochord, a dorsal nerve cord, and a post-anal tail. The reason that lancelets are chordates but not vertebrates is due to their lack of true vertebrae.

As I already mentioned, these animals are rather simple, especially when compared to most other chordates. They have only a small brain, but some other parts of their anatomy are fairly sophisticated. They are filter feeders and have a special ciliated "wheel organ" used to bring water into their mouths for this exact purpose. The digestive system is fairly straightforward. They do have a well developed circulatory system and a simply excretory system made up of nephridia (simply, rudimentary kidneys).

The fossil history of lancelets is very sparse due to their soft-bodied nature. As a rule, fossils are only formed of hard parts of the body. It is quite rare for a fossil to form in the right sort of way and preserve a soft-bodied creature. However, just such an event occurred to produce the famous Burgess Shale. This fossil deposit shows example of what are likely lanelets, which means that these creatures have been around since at least the Cambrian period. Today, lancelets are quite common, with concentrations in some areas being as high as five thousand in a square meter of sand. They are eaten in some areas of the world.

Source is the University of California Museum of Paleontology. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Guess the Genotype #48

Can you guess this dog's genotype? Her breed?

Image is from Flickr.com under a Creative Commons license.

Name That Disease #19

Something else I haven't done in a while. Can you name this disease?

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license

Invasive Species: Warty Comb Jelly

A warty comb jelly (Mnemiopsis leidyi). The species has numerous other common names.
Comb jellies are often confused with the other soft-bodied transparent inhabitants of the world's ocean. However, unlike true jellyfish, box jellyfish, and other cnidarians, comb jellies cannot sting! They are also far more complex morphologically, including the presence of a complete digestive tract rather than the blind sack gut that Cnidarians use. Comb jellies are also classified on their own in the Phylum Ctenophora, with groups quite neatly and separately from Phylum Cnidaria. The origin of the common name "comb jelly" comes from the eight rows of cilia ("ctenes") that are arranged along the body of the organism. These cilia beat in unison and create the rainbow-like sheen that is so often seen when observing ctenophores. Compared to cnidarians, ctenophores are rather harmless. Some comb jellies are even bioluminescent.

M. leidyi in the Black Sea
When looking at the warty comb jelly, however, things are not all sunshine and roses. Ctenophores are all predators, but this particular species is a voracious predator of fish larvae and eggs. In fact, it can be directly linked to crashes of fisheries. Even worse was what happened when in the 1980's these creatures were accidentally introduced to the Black Sea via ballast water. Since the introduction, biodiversity has plummeted, as overall abundance of organisms and the biomass that is produced. The same has occurred in the Sea of Azov, Sea of Marmara, and Caspian sea, though the latter has been hit the hardest. Every part of the food web (or trophic level) has been affected, up to and including the endangered Caspian seal.

Management of the warty comb jelly is difficult, and may in fact prove to be impossible. However, there has been some success following the introduction of a biological control in the form of a natural predator: another ctenophore (Beroe ovata). Though the introduction was accidental (ironically, through ballast water as well), this new species is though to be the only viable way to control the warty comb jelly.

This is another organism from the 100 World's Worst Invasives list, where it sits at #57.


Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are either under a Creative Commons license or copyright free: one, two.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Unusual Breed: Russkiy Toy

A long haired Russkiy toy. The breed is also known as the Russian toy and Russian toy terrier, among other things.
Smooth coated Russkiy toy
At first glance, this breed looks a bit like a cross between a Chihuahua and a papillon. However, the breed comes from Russia and in fact the ancestry is quite different. The history is a bit convoluted, but is is believe that the breed, at least in part, came from the English toy terrier. Mixing between the English toy terriers and local dogs were the origins of what would some day become the Russkiy toy. As you can imagine, with the English toy terrier being the breed's most notable ancestor, Russkiy toys were originally only smooth coated. The long haired variety is fairly recent, with the first long-coated dogs being born in the late 1950's.

Russkiy toys have nearly become extinct on two different occasions. This breed was once popular among the Russian aristocracy, being used for various reasons, including warmth and companionship. When communism began to rise, the breed's popularity plummeted along with the popularity of aristocrats. There was a resurgence of interest in the breed around the end of the world war, partly due to the isolation of Russia from the rest of the world. Then the Iron Curtain fell, popularity dropped off again partly due to the new importation of small foreign breeds. In more recent years, the breed's popularity has been growing again. It is now provisionally recognized by the FCI and the AKC has the breed in its Foundation Stock Service.

These small dogs are prone to virtually all of the issues common in toy breeds, with the most common being patellar luxation, cataracts, and progressive retinal atrophy. Also, since these dogs are so small, they are at an increased risk of breaking bones. This is especially true of legs when jumping and roughhousing.

Sources are the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, American Kennel Club, Russian Toy Club of America and Russkiy Toy Dog Club of America. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses: one, two.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cool Animal Sounds: Orca

I haven't done one of these in a while.


Some whales are far more vocal than others. The toothed whales, such as orcas, dolphins, and belugas are really quite vocal, including using echolocation to locate their prey. Baleen whales do not echolocate, but are still very capable of producing sounds, however they vocalize purely as a form of communication. Their calls are also very high frequency and will only travel rather short distances in the water. Baleen whale song, such as humpback or blue whales, is commonly sold in the form of CDs that are meant to be relaxing. These songs are love songs and are incredible low in frequency, carrying for hundreds of miles. In fact, the frequency is so low that many of the recordings have to be altered so that we can even hear them! Whale song usually changes from year to year, depending on what is "trendy."

There is a fairly famous whale of an unknown species that was first identified by the US Navy due to its unusual song frequency of 52 Hz. Not only does its song match no other whale, but its migration patterns are also strange. NOAA has a page that seems to suggest that the whale may be an unusual blue whale. It's also thought by some that the lonely whale may be a hybrid of some sort, or be the last remaining member of an otherwise extinct species.

Mismark Case Study: Pembroke Welsh Corgi

A Pembroke Welsh corgi with a tail in the most commonly seen color: red and white. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
The Pembroke Welsh corgi is a herding breed that is a favorite of the Queen of England. It comes in far fewer colors than its cousin, the Cardigan. It also comes in several mismarks. The breed standard only allows for red, sable, and black and tan, all of which may or may not come with white markings. Here are the mismarks seen in the breed:
  • Too much white
    • Dogs with white that crosses into the main body or onto the ears
  • Whitelies
    • Dogs that are mostly white
  • Bluies 
    • Dilute dogs: instead of black, the coat is gray/blue
  • Black without tan points
    • Though mentioned in the standard, it may not be present in the breed
  • Blue eyes
    • Possible thanks to white on the head or independent genes
This corgi has too much white
As is so often the case all of the mismarks listed (except black) are caused by recessive genes. Since the breed is most often seen with fairly heavy Irish white markings, there is a fair possibility that dogs expressing this phenotype may have very different genotypes. For example, a copy of the solid gene plus a copy of the extreme white gene will produce a dog with Irish white markings. This is well known in boxers, and may be quite possible in the corgis. If two of these dogs were bred together, a "whitelie" would be inevitable.The same is true of mismark dogs that have too much white, but too little white to be considered a whitelie.

This corgi is a bluie
The blue dilution is a purely recessive gene. You have to have two dogs who carry the gene to produce a dog with blue coloration. However, since it is recessive it is basically impossible to breed the color out, since half of the puppies from any litter that produces a "bluie" will likely carry the blue gene. If line-breeding or other forms of inbreeding are done in the future, then more bluies are very likely to show up. In addition, trying to breed out a recessive gene is truly a pointless endeavor since doing so would cause a great reduction in the number of dogs available for breeding in a closed population.

This corgi has too much white
As I have been saying with all of these case studies, breeding for color is honestly the last thing that a breeder should be doing. A dog with a white ear will not be any less healthy than a dog with a red ear or a black ear, and the dog with the white ear is being penalized for a mere silly cosmetic difference. In addition, purebreds are bred in closed registries and as such genetic diversity is a serious concern. By eliminating dogs from a gene pool simply because their color is not what is considered "ideal," genetic diversity is being dropped for a pointless cosmetic reason. In addition, If corgi breeders want to continue with insisting that their breed is a capable herder, why bother with color? Color will make no difference whatsoever when it comes to the dog's ability to herd. A blue dog will be able to herd just a well as a black one. However, the mismarks continue to be penalized and kicked out of shows.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Crazy Plants: Resurrection Plant

 This post would have been up on time if my computer hadn't decided to freeze on me.

A resurrection plant (Selaginella lepidophylla). There are many other resurrection plants in the same genus.
A time-lapse of the rehydration process
This plant is a rather remarkable species that can look completely dead, but when water is added can spring back to life as if by magic. The plant is approximately one foot high and is a primitive species that shares characteristics of both ferns and mosses. It is a seedless plant, with its closest relatives being the lycopods such as club mosses and group pines. Though it does appear to have leaves, they are not leaves at all and are instead mere segments of the stem of the plant. It is a desert plant, which is why the ability to dry itself out is so helpful. This is despite the fact that most of the other simple plants in the lycopod grouping require a great deal of moisture to survive. Though the lycopods that exist today are all quite small, the group once included some incredibly tall trees and are what much of the coal seen today came from.

When dry, the plant isn't actually as dead as it appears, but in fact retains what moisture it can and shuts down all but the basic functions it needs to stay alive. This unique characteristic is such a novelty that it is commonly sold to tourists who marvel at its rehydration abilities. It is native to the Southern United States from Arizona to Texas to the area South all the way to El Salvador. However, there are many more resurrection plants than just this one species, with over seven hundred species being in the same genus.

Source is Union County College. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses: one, two.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chiggers

I know I just did an interesting animal post, but I decided to blog about these small creatures after receiving several bites on my feet and ankles during my recent romp with Ebon.

The numerous species of chigger are in the Family Trombiculidae.
Chigger bites will look a bit like pimples
If you have never run into chiggers before, then you are quite fortunate. These tiny arthropods are more closely related to spiders than insects, and are also called red bugs, harvest mites, berry bugs, and several other common names. Though I know them best as chiggers, most of the locals here in Georgia call them red bugs. Interestingly enough, though the adults of these bright red mites have the expected eight legs, the larvae have only six. Most species prefer areas covered in lots of vegetation that have a rather high amount of moisture. However, other species like it dry. The are usually only active during the spring and fall, but more temperate areas like where I live have them active all year round.

It's the larvae that do the biting, and boy do those bites itch like crazy! When the initial bite occurs, you won't even know it happens, but after some time you will feel a burning sensation, followed by severe itching. The bites of chiggers found in the United States aren't dangerous unless you scratch them too much and cause an infection, so something to calm the itch is a very good suggestion. Though many think they feed on blood, in fact they do not, instead ingesting tissue that is liquified using specialized saliva. Despite what many people assume, the larvae do not burrow into the skin. Instead, only the mouth-parts are inserted and thus the chigger is usually easily knocked off with the scratching that follows their bite. So, all of the home remedies that are supposedly meant to suffocate the burrowed creatures are pointless.

Luckily, applying bug spray that contains DEET will help keep the chiggers away. Certain types of clothing also helps, namely the general suggested dress for romps through the woods: tight-woven clothing covering as much skin as possible, with pants tucked into boots and sleeves and collars fitting close to the body. Products can also be applied to fabrics to help ward off chiggers. Also, it's helpful to know about whatever areas where you live are infested. When I was doing my undergraduate studies, we spent a lot of time trekking through heavy brush and my professors often warned us about where they knew chiggers would be found. Areas can be treated using certain pesticides or cutting down brush to control or eliminate these small creatures, but this isn't always practical.

Sources are Ohio State University, University of Florida, Missouri Department of Conservation, and PubMed Health. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses: one, two.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Retrieve, Retrieve, and Retrieve Some More (lots of pictures)


Ebon always gets this expectant face when I have a ball in my hand. Here his eyes look downright yellow! The darkness you see in the water is most algae with just a touch of silt.
As I may or may not have mentioned before on this blog, my retriever retrieves all of the time. However, he hasn't actually been water retrieving since he was a puppy. Today, that changed! I took him back to the ditch and pond out by my campus and we had a little off leash fun. The best part: I brought a tennis ball, so we spent quite some time running up and down the ditch, with me throwing the ball and having Ebon bring it back. The way it would rebound of the sides of the ditch made it much more of a challenge. Then, we went down to the pond and I sent him out to go retrieve the ball from the water. I only took the first two pictures you'll see here, with the rest having been taken by my significant other, who stayed on the rim of the ditch while I ran around with the dog. I wanted to make sure I didn't ruin my camera from all of the drool and water!

More expectant face.
There it is!
See the ball? He actually walked right past it this time. It was one of the few times I found it first. I have my favorite leash slung over my shoulder here, which is where it stayed during most of the trip.
Bringing it back. I'm still amazed at how easily he climbs the banks.
Now, on to the pond! After the first thirty minutes or so we moved on to the pond, at which point I removed his vest so it wouldn't get soaked.

More expectant face. This was taken after he had already been in the water.
Even more expectant face. It's funny how a wet face makes him look younger.
Just a short distance to begin, close enough his feet still hit bottom.
Further out to make him really swim for it.
Happy dog, bringing back his tennis ball prize.
By the end, we were both completely soaked. It seemed Ebon deposited as much water on me as was on him after he shook off. One convenient command I taught him some time ago which came in handy here is actually "Shake Off." That's right, my dog dries himself on command.
The ball I used is actually one of the Kong Squeakair balls, which no longer squeaks. Those balls are Ebon's most favorite toy ever, combining his two loves: tennis balls and squeaky toys. Unfortunately, his teeth are so big that, with time, he eventually grabs it just right and one of his canines punches the squeaker in. After that, it only produces a feeble hisss...pop! sound when he bites at it and rattles if you shake it (thanks to the squeaker mechanism inside). At that point, I just treat the thing as a regular old tennis ball. One advantage, though: it's easier to get water out of it when it gets water logged.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Interesting Animals: Binturong

A binturong (Arctictis binturong).
This species is also commonly known as the bearcat. It's rather easy to see where that name came from: a bear-like face, tufted ears, long tail. The binturong, however it is not very closely related to either species. It is classified in with the civets and genets, which are cat-like carnivores that are still distinctly different from the cats. It is native to forested areas of South Asia, and is currently a Vulnerable species. One fun fact about this species is their smell, which is very like the smell of buttered popcorn.

Though the binturong is arboreal (tree dwelling),  it does not swing and leap between trees as so many arboreal species do, but instead will descend to the ground and move between trees that way. They are also known as heavy scent-markers, frequently being observed rubbing their various scent glands onto whatever surface they may be in contact with. Males in particular will also use their own urine to scent mark, sometimes by soaking their own tails in it. The species does not seem to have any potential negative effects for humans. They are occasionally kept as pets and in some areas, they are eaten. Where they are native, they are very important to the local plant life due to their nature as a seed disperser.

Since the species is Vulnerable, there is concern over what may have caused the reduction in numbers. As is so often the case, loss of habitat and modifications of the habitat that does remain has been detrimental. They are also collected for their fur, meat, and also for the pet trade. There is likely some connect between these problems, namely that it is not unusual for trees to be cut down to capture animals seen as desirable for whatever reason. When they are hunted, their behavior does not do them any favors. The species is generally not fearful of people, and since they are active fairly often during daylight it can make them very easy to find.

Sources are Animal Diversity Web, the IUCN Red List, and the San Diego Zoo. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

An Uphill Battle: Tarter in a Kibble-fed Dog

Ebon's current diet
One of the biggest claims that the major dry dog food manufacturers make is that their foods are beneficial to the dog's teeth. The crunch helps clean the teeth..we've all heard it before. However, that isn't really the case. Dogs in the United States tend to have rather bad teeth, and most dogs in the country are fed...you guessed it: kibble. On top of that, countless products are manufactured, and purchased, to fight tartar. If those claims that kibble promoted good teeth were true, why is the pet dental industry booming? Why do dogs continue to end up with terrible tartar buildup if an owner does not invest a great deal of money in chews, bones, tooth paste, and teeth cleanings? If those claims were true just feeding a dog a regular diet of kibble would produce nice, shiny white teeth. However, that isn't the case at all. Despite this, one of the first suggestions made when a dog has bad teeth is to feed them a certain kind of dry food.

As those of you who are regular readers already know, Ebon is a kibble-fed dog. He's seven now, and for his age his teeth are in fairly good shape for being on kibble. He has been on fairly high quality kibble for several years now, before which he was being fed Iams or Purina. He is currently eating Simply Nourish Lamb & Oatmeal, and is doing even better than he did on Blue Buffalo. Simply Nourish is rated four out of five on my favorite dog food analysis website, where foods below a three out of five are considered to be of poor quality (Iams Proactive Health and Purina One are both two out of five). Despite the fact that Ebon gets daily chews to help keep his teeth clean, they still show fairly significant amounts of tartar. For one thing, he tends to only like to chew on one side of his mouth, so one side (his left) is always cleaner than the other (his right). I do brush his teeth, but I have increased my brushing schedule to try and get his teeth pearly white. He'll also be getting a teeth cleaning quite soon. Fighting tartar when your dog is on a kibble diet is definitely an uphill battle.

Right canine
Right carnassials








Left canine
Left carnassials









As many of you probably already know, tartar is caused by plaque, that film of bacteria that naturally occurs in your mouth. Sugars feed that bacteria, and the more sugar you eat, the happier the bacteria is and the more likely that it will damage your teeth or gums. If plaque stays on the teeth for too long, it turns into hard tartar buildup. This is true for you, and for every other creature out there who has teeth. Kibble had sugar. For the most part it is complex sugar, however it is still is a food source for that bacteria. As such, dogs and other animals fed kibble are as much at risk for dental problems as we are. Like us, some animals will have better teeth than other naturally. However, it will take more than just chewing your food to prevent tartar, which is exactly what kibble manufacturers claim their product will do. You have to take steps to keep your dog's teeth healthy.

As those out there who feed raw already know: raw diets lead to far cleaner teeth than kibble. The foods are extremely low in sugars, especially when compared to dry foods. In addition, bone is definitely known to clean teeth. Unlike kibble, bone really is incredibly hard and will flake much of the tartar that may be on the teeth. It is true that bone may potentially cause other problems, but the risk is fairly minimal. Countless dogs are fed a proper raw diet today and have no issues. Countless dogs are also fed kibble with no issues, but those kibble-fed dogs have worse teeth than the raw fed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Guess the Genotype #45

Can you guess this dog's genotype? Its breed should be easy.

Image is from Flickr.com under a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Invasive Species: Eurasian water-milfoil

This invasive was suggested to me recently by the author of The Spotting Ghost, who has made numerous suggestions and contributions before.

Water-milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) in Ontario coating the bottom of a body of water.
A detailed illustration
This plant is native to much of the Easter hemisphere and has become invasive in North America. The first plants were believed to be in 1942 to Washington D.C. It reproduces rapidly, using an asexual "vegetative" method, namely it just keeps growing and growing, but bits may break off and settle down to grow, allowing it to spread to more areas more quickly. It is generally only found in still water, but when it takes over it competes with other plants for light, shading them out. It is also not as effective a food source for the various animals in the water, including when it comes to the amount of invertebrates that live on the aquatic plants. Crowding also isn't good for fish, making it more difficult for them to find food. In addition, when the plant grows out of control and then decays, it causes the water's oxygen supply to drop.

Managing this plant has proven to be difficult, as it always is when dealing with an invasive species. Herbicides have been tried with little success, but more success has been seen using physical methods. Blocking light from the plants and also removing them or chopping them to bits have had at least some success. There has also been a biological control that has been proposed in the form of a species of weevil.

I don't honestly know what else to talk about. There is a lot more reading to be done on this species, especially if your are interested in the structure, distribution, reproductive methods, and so on. Aquatic plants are quite intriguing due to their only distant relationships with algae. Some of the sources I found most informative are the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, United States Geological Survey, and University of Florida.

Source is the Global Invasive Species Database. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are copyright free or under a Creative Commons license: one, two.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mismark Case Study: Pomeranian

This Pom is red, but the breed comes in many other colors. The AKC breed standard states "All colors, patterns, and variations there-of are allowed and must be judged on an equal basis." However, this is not the whole story. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
The Pomeranian is one of the most popular breeds in the country, including its ranking in the top fifteen breeds registered by the AKC for many years. It is also supposedly one of the breeds where color does not matter. However, this is definitely not true. Mismarks are as follows:
  • Blue eyes, either in part or in whole
    • Common in merle and piebald dogs
  • Improper pigmentation
    • A liver or blue nose in a red, orange, or cream dog. A pink nose in piebalds
  • Improper sable
    • Overlay on a sable cannot be liver or blue
  • White feet
    • On otherwise solidly colored dogs
This Pomeranian has a white paw
As with all of these case studies, the breed standard lends itself to breeding based on color classes to avoid mismarks. Breeding of piebalds to solidly colored dogs is clearly not encouraged, as carriers of the piebald gene are far more likely to have completely white feet than dogs who are genetically homozygous for the solid gene. Though white feet are, in fact, not a disqualification, their "major fault" status basically eliminates all dogs with white paws from showing. It seems like a silly thing to happen when a standard states that color doesn't matter.
This Pomeranian has a liver nose

In addition to the above dilemma, red-based Pomeranians cannot have liver or blue pigment in any form, be it in the coat as sabling or when it is only confined to the skin. As such, reds, oranges, creams and the sable variations of the same colors are generally never bred to diluted dogs so as to prevent the production of an undesirably pigmented puppy. Again, the standard's statement of allowance for all colors is a flat out lie when such a simple thing as the wrong color of nose can kick a dog out of a dog show.

This Pomeranian has a blue eye
Another minor variation that is a mismark in the breed is the only one actually listed as a disqualification: blue eyes. The breed standard allows merle, piebald, and extreme white piebald. These genes are known to commonly produce blue-eyed dogs. Merles are especially prone to blue eyes. This is a fact, and it's why so many standards that allow the merle coloration also permit blue eyes, including partial blue eyes. Yet, the Pomeranian standard does not allow it.

Again, the Pomeranian standard states, verbatim, "All colors, patterns, and variations there-of are allowed and must be judged on an equal basis." Despite this statement, not all variations of all colors are considered acceptable. For one thing, this is a poor way to state a standard if it does not represent the truth of the matter. Also, there is nothing wrong with the dogs who are the unacceptable colors. If they happen to be superior to their fellows in every other way, especially health and temperament, color is a pointless barrier to have be in the way. In addition, as with all dog breeds, Pomeranians are part of a closed registry system and as such genetic diversity is a concern. By splitting a breed into color classes, the already limited genetic diversity from the closed population is narrowed even more. If the Pomeranian is to continue to exist as a breed, genetic diversity is of great importance. As such, ignoring color altogether when the standard already says that color shouldn't matter only makes sense.

Returning to the Park (lots of pictures)

Since it was a holiday, I decided it would be fun to go back to the state park and traverse more of the trails there. So, Ebon, my significant other, and I hoped into the car and made our way there. The first time at the park we completely ignored a two mile loop and another mile long stretch. This time, we covered practically all of the trails that are marked out on the park grounds, skipping a couple of sections of the smaller trail loops near the beginning. I thought about having us double back and do them as well, but our light was failing so we opted to head back home after spending three hours there. It was overcast with only a few breaks in the clouds, unlike the completely clear sky we had last time. We only saw two other dogs this time: a liver, white, and tan Australian shepherd and a rather ruddy white German shepherd. I'm trying to be more active, and part of that is taking Ebon out on more long outings. He's definitely not complaining.

There are a lot of wide open views of the marsh.
Ebon happily forging ahead. This is about when I noticed his pack was slipping and we stopped so that I could even it out.

Ebon hopped onto a picnic table for this one.
The observation tower can be seen in the distance. These little wooden walkways litter the park, raising sections of trail above the boggy marsh below.
Another view from the observation tower. This time, with clouds.
There are a lot of beautifully twisted old trees at this park. Though this one looks dead, there is still a lot of green on it.
A section of the embankment I mentioned before. There are numerous historical sights at the park, and this is only one of them. As I mentioned before, the earthen embankment to the left was built during the civil war as a defense. It's still there, and countless trees have grown from it, including the leaning one you see here.
Also, yesterday I went and checked out the wooded area behind my parents' house that I haven't investigated in detail in years. The last time I ventured through it it was still relatively clear and only a little fighting was involved to get through the tighter areas.  Ebon came along off lead, and he was actually very timid about venturing into the overgrown brush. He spooked as the sound of me stepping on a branch more than once.

This area was completely clear eleven years ago, but now it's so thick with saplings that it's a bit of an effort to get through. Ebon had a much easier time since he's much lower to the ground.
Here it's clearer, but the trees have still closed in. There used to be a clear twenty foot wide swath that provided an unobstructed view of the fence in the distance.
Ebon reappearing from the brush. This snarl of plants was once a five foot wide trail that lead into the woods for several hundred feet. Now, it's barely distinguishable from the surrounding forest.