Friday, May 28, 2010

Hip Hop as Intellectual Stimulation and More CSI:Bugs

Today on CSI:Bugs we have two cases. The first involves an apparent accidental overdose - of pollen. I first spotted this beetle in a tulip trying to escape up the sides of the flower. When I went back a few minutes later with the camera, it was gone. But a third inspection a day later revealed the creature(or one like it) had returned to the tulip and died there. The flower was now a crime scene.

I removed the body for closer inspection (of course) and found a very pretty substance covering most of the insect:



At 60 X magnification, the substance appears to be pollen:

As there was no evidence of use of force (no broken legs or antennae), it was concluded that the beetle died after covering itself in pollen (perhaps interfering with the animal's ability to fly) and then was trapped in the closing petals of the flower at night. Unable to find a warmer spot it froze to death (it has the same appearance of bugs I have deliberately frozen - for scientific seasons). Not really an overdose of pollen, but if it hadn't returned it might have lived.

The second case is still an ongoing investigation. In the front of the building we have a plastic container that holds a garden hose and nozzles for the hose. I open it up on a regular basis and have on more than one occasion removed some wasp, bee, or other bug from inside. Today, a mother paper wasp was in there tending to her nest. She had already made 12-14 hexagonal cells and placed a number of eggs in them and was preparing to make more. Not wanting to be stung this summer while retrieving gardening tools, I gently nudged the mother out (luckily she was woozy from the cold) and removed the under-construction nest:



At 60 X magnification:


I toyed with the idea of raising these babies on my own, but soon realized in a few weeks I will have about 10 hungry larvae demanding bits of caterpillar and other insects for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What I will do instead is watch the eggs until they hatch into larvae, take some pics and then release them next to an ant hill. This will be a bit of an experiment to see if the ants will take them. The paper wasp secretes a substance on the stalk of the nest (the stalk is the bit that attaches the nest to a structure from which it hangs) and sometimes on the cells. It is apparently an ant deterrent and protects the larvae from being carried away when the mom's not around. If the ants aren't interested in them, then we'll know that the stuff works. If the ants carry them away, then it means that the substance must be regularly applied.

Since I have kidnapped the larvae, and none are dead yet, then the case is ongoing.

Cool, eh?

On a completely different topic, I received an e-mail from my high school friend, Welli. She's a married mom of two teenage boys and she recently started taking hip hop dance classes. She told me it's one of the most intellectually stimulating things she's done in a few years. On the surface that might seem a bit bizarre to hear. After all, Welli is one of the most intelligent people I've ever known and she has a career that required a great deal of education. As well, a lot of hip hop music is lost on our generation (actually, every generation has its own types of music lost on others). So why is this type of dancing so intellectually stimulating?
Welli says learning the steps and routines has been a workout for her mind. And that's the key. I have been extolling the virtues of stimulating your mind while you exercise. Simply going through the motions is not enough to maintain or improve brain fitness. Your brain thrives on novel experiences; that's why I tell you to change up your exercise routine, take different routes on your runs or rides or walks, listen to different music or books or radio stations while you do it (not while riding a bike though, that's not safe), even mixing up the exercises you do. Lately, I have been stepping up onto and over the boulders that line one of the paths I regularly walk. This takes concentration and making judgments about where to put my feet at the same time that it is using different muscle sets than just walking. I am also climbing and walking along benches and hanging from monkey bars on my walks. It is the new, different or novel things that our brain pays attention to and those are the things that increase the number of neurons. That is brain fitness. And that is why a hip hop class can be an intellectual stimulator.

Thanks, Welli.

S.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CSI:Bugs

I have been negligent of late, not keeping everyone up to speed on what's going on. Thing is, I'm spending a lot of time just waiting for people. Waiting for the gov't to decide if they'll support me while I go to school. Waiting for people to show up for appointments to view an apartment. Waiting for service people to show up to service a broken appliance. Etc.

I could write about my experiences as the female Schneider (a reference to One Day at a Time), but I know that might get me into trouble. Let's just say that when this part of my life is done, I'll be able to write a couple of books about human behaviour. It's interesting and aggravating at the same time and I'll leave it at that.

A couple of weeks ago, I began riding my bike in earnest in preparation for the MS Bike Tour in July. As you know, I've been doing a lot of walking and hiking (and now, biking), yet when the Wookie came out with me on the weekend for a bike ride (after not truly exercising for months) he whizzed past me like there was no tomorrow, leaving me in his dust. On Sunday, I was in tears at the end of our short (7k) ride, frustrated because I was so tired and the Wookie was just fine. My legs were weak, had been the day before as well. Anyway, I pulled it together and we did a nice 10k ride the next day. Lucky for me, my meltdowns are few and far between.

I have been outside a lot, scouting for bugs of course, and being rewarded. Some of them I rush inside to go under the microscope, while others (like the ants) I leave outside and mess with their tiny minds. I find a line of ants, and try to rub out the scent trail, then watch them try to figure out how to get home again. They always do, after a moment's hesitation. Or I push a little sand into one of their entrances and watch them clean it out.

Then there are the dead bugs I find. That got me thinking about CSI:Bugs. This june bug met an interesting end:


It's missing it's head! Wait, there it is, 15 feet away and 3 feet off the ground. Seriously, it's on the top of the lamp pillar in front of the building.


Not having the capacity to do DNA analysis, I will never solve this particular murder. I do suspect it was at the hand of a human, though, as the bug was not eaten. Here's how I think it went down: the bug was flying around the entrance to the building, attracted by the light. A tenant comes along and walks into its flight path causing a reflexive swat by the tenant. The swat is so fast it results in the decapitation of the june bug. Now picture all that in slow motion with the appropriate "Ewwww" and "Gross" as the tenant hits the bug and the accompanying clicking sound as the hard shelled body hits the front walkway and the head hits the cement light pillar.

Oh! And I have begun my fundraising for the bike tour. The link to contribute is on the right.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bug P*rn

Sadly, the mystery has not been solved about those vein like things on the underside of my june bug. They may be fungal in origin according to the curator of zoology at the local museum, but he would need a look see at the animal itself. That isn't possible as I set the critter free the next morning.

I did take some pictures today, though of some lady bugs (ahem) doing it.



Nothing like having the word p*rn in your blog post title to drive up readership....

S.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What Is This?

video

Click on the video to see the underside of a june bug as its muscles contract. I don't know what the vein-like structure is, but I do have an enquery in to the local museum.

Here it is the middle of May and we're seeing these bugs already. We've had an extraordinary spring for this part of the world and gardens are in full swing. Most folks I've talked to feel we're 2-3 weeks ahead of normal as far as plants and wildlife go.

It's been a rather hectic two weeks. Last weekend of course, in Canada, we have the MS Carnation Campaign plus it was Mother's Day (hi Mom!). I've been out biking to get ready for the bike tour in July and the MS Walk is at the end of this month. And I'm trying to get things straightened away with he government so I can return to school in the fall...whew.

Anyway, I hope to be back to regularly scheduled posts about bugs, bikes, and brains in the next few weeks. The Wookie and I did attend a lecture last night about Genetics and MS (just more reason for my mother to feel guilty). On Sunday, my Mom and I are guest speakers at a monthly meeting of the local CWL(Catholic Women's League). We'll be talking about MS and how it's affected us, our relationship, and how we've coped (or not).

See ya' soon!

S.

PS: Hey Steve - thanks for buying two bunches of carnations for your love goddess.