Not exactly a New Year’s resolution, but…

This is about the time when people start to revel or reveal, with regard to how they’re doing with their New Year’s resolutions. I haven’t made any for years but I did take on something for 2011 that is turning out to be rather similar.

Back in November I came across the concept of “365” groups, on flickr. Members commit to taking photos every single day, and posting one of them to the group, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. At the end of the year one has 365 photos, each taken on a different day of the year—it’s not permitted to take and post 2 pictures today to make up for none yesterday. On impulse I signed up for one of the groups; when late December rolled around I questioned, did I really need one more thing to do, but decided to stick with it and see what happened. I was pleased to see that my group, 365: the 2011 edition, had only 805 members, as compared to one 365 group with over 20,000. It’s conceivable I’ll get a look at some of the photos of each member in my group before we reach Day 365.

My impulsive choice has had significant results. I always carried my camera, a Canon PowerShot, with me in my bag or coat pocket wherever I went but most of the time it just went along for the ride. In case of something dramatic I was ready, but nearly all of my subjects were predictable: our dogs, forest, flowers, sky. Now the camera is increasingly in my hand either because I’m on the lookout for a good subject or because I’m using it. I’m more observant, looking up and around, and looking at things with conscious attention to light, composition, color, pattern.

Looking upward in a country store that sells everything, which I’ve gone into regularly for 15 years, I saw a high-up display of taxidermy specimens I had never noticed before. Never noticed before?

BlackBird taxidermy display 1.jpg

How could I have missed it? There’s a black bear behind the leaping bobcat, and on the other side of the display a dozen trophy heads including a moose. Actually I had noticed the moose head, behind a daunting display of rifles, but that’s all I’d been aware of until now. Obviously, I have been in the thrall of fixation on my immediate purpose and suffering tunnel vision as a result.

BlackBird taxidermy display, bobcat leaps for grouse.jpg

I think the bird is a Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar, an Asian species introduced in Oregon). Bobcat and lynx are pretty similar, but the cat making this one-footed leap for its dinner lacks the lynx’s black ear-tufts and furry snowshoe feet so I’ll go for the smaller and more common bobcat, Lynx rufus or Felis rufus.

My strengths as a photographer are patience and an attunement to pattern and composition. The latter is getting good exercise as I apply it more widely, beyond rocks and bark and such.

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Taking photos of new subjects, and doing it every day, means lots more for me to look over and critique. What was I trying to do, how did it work, how could it work better, should my purpose have been different for this subject—these are some questions I’m asking every day now as I look at my day’s work. And then I look through other peoples’ photos with enjoyment and an eye to learning from them. I bookmark some individuals’ photostreams because of their skills, or because I find their places and subjects interesting.

Perhaps I can use the 365 project to help me conquer my shyness about asking people if I may include them in my photos. That would certainly open up a new world photographically, but it will not be easy. I noticed a post on the 365 forum by someone who has had a special business-type card made up for this purpose: it bears his name, email address, and flickr link, and he gives it to people as part of asking permission to photograph them. His 365 photos are all portraits—he’s working on lighting and composition as well as becoming more extroverted. Maybe I should try the card idea myself; props can be good, and this one is considerate and makes sense.

What I’ve learned about building a new skill or habit (of which New Year’s resolutions are a particular case) would not surprise any behaviorist:

Commit to a specific action, every day

Choose an action that’s not too difficult

Keep a record and/or tell others about your commitment

Whether it’s putting stars on a calendar for an exercise program, or posting a photo for each day, there’s a lot of power in getting the new habit out of the realm of intellect and intention and into a visible form. I had only about a dozen photos on flickr, and now I’ve added a 365 set that has all my “photos of the day” in it. It’s satisfying to see the set grow, and to notice how my repertoire is expanding. The group’s explicit purpose is improvement of one’s skills rather than posting masterpieces. Inclusive rather than exclusive.

I’m learning to pay more attention—and a different kind of attention—to what’s around me, and try new things with the camera and my eye; I’m into a daily discipline; and maybe I’ll even use the photo project as a means of building confidence about talking to others. Not bad for what I thought was an impulsive commitment!

Sights of Reno

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A Reno slot machine drawing on the magic of Aladdin, with a complicated pay-out scheme.

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These days there’s a slot machine theme for every taste, from marine mammals to Sex and the City. (I’d have more photos of them, but photography inside the casinos is verboten.) The vast majority are standard, though, since it seems most people simply want to stuff their money in and push the buttons.

Coin-operated slot machines are passé (you put in folding money now, or your credit card) and there’s no need to pull a lever, just push a button. I wondered how much of the “process”, the “theatre”, can be removed before reducing the devotees’ dedication. No more levers, no paper bucket of coins measuring your success by its weight, no shower of coins sounding for every 10-nickel jackpot, shorter and shorter times for each spin of the reels… Can I just phone it in, say “I’ll bet $1000 on the quarter slots, here’s my credit card number and let me know if I won anything”? I used to think that the external signals (such as the sound of jackpot coins hitting the metal tray) were part of the conditioning to make a gambler keep going, but perhaps it is really internal rather than external; perhaps it’s all in the thoughts of the individual.

Walking around downtown Reno, I couldn’t believe that the city has over five million visitors each year. Where are they all? Where are the restaurants, tourist attractions, and services for them? Answer to both questions: in the casinos, which do their best to provide food and entertainment so guests never stray outside. The big hotel-casino where we stayed (the Nugget) didn’t even have free wi-fi in the rooms; they don’t want people relaxing in their rooms, no money to be made that way! In an open alcove adjoining the casino there was an in-house Starbucks that promised free wi-fi. Carrying my laptop down there to use it, then back up to the room, seemed irritatingly inconvenient, but then I’m not the “demographic”, psychologically speaking, for whom the Nugget is designed. My fun came from walking around taking photos of odd stuff one morning until it was time to head home.

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The Truckee River runs through town and has been cleaned up quite a bit in recent years.

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It was running shallow at this time of year. One area had been tarted up with faux gazebos and uncomfortable places to sit. It looked like a bit of alternative universe spliced into Reno’s dusty lower middle-class stay-in-and-gamble environment.

Reno River tarted up.jpg

Kind of like putting London Bridge in the Arizona desert—oh wait, we did that, and it isn’t too bad.

Reno has its share of odd architectural (and other) juxtapositions.

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Reno dome.jpg

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I don’t know who the statue in the alcove is meant to represent, but certainly she’s from a different era.

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Then again, she’s going somewhere holding a sheet around herself in lieu of clothing, so perhaps she has been to modern Reno after all.

No trip to Reno could be complete without featuring a Wedding Chapel, and here’s one that multi-tasks. Or so it seemed from across the street, and in this town, it could be true.

Wedding chapel.jpg

We saw two intriguing old fortune telling machines, relics that will soon be snapped up by collectors no doubt. Place your hands on the crystal ball (which has two electrodes visible, to gauge your temperature and sweat level, I’d guess)

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and the Great Zambini will tell you all about yourself.

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After that, if you’re wondering whether to proceed to the Wedding Chapel, stop first for a personalized answer to the perennial question, “What should you look for in a mate?”. The choices are Personality, Wealth, Looks, Shape, Brains, Height. Does it go on the principle of “opposites attract”, or “birds of a feather”? It was out of order, maybe overworked here in the one-time US capital of divorce, so we’ll never know.

Match Maker.jpg

I’m not really up on the souvenir biz but it is hard to imagine tackier products than we saw here.

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Purses were big, and big sellers, with design motifs using tattoos, religion, faux fur, and celebrity worship (an entire Marilyn Monroe section).

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Why someone would want to proclaim “Love…passion…Hate” on a handbag is a mystery to me. Well, enjoy!

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For the retro crowd there was a t-shirt with this on the front,

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perhaps for the foreign tourists. It’s a Western town, after all, with car shows, air races, and legal brothels outside the city limits.

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I didn’t see that painting in Reno; it is Albert Bierstadt’s Last of the Buffalo, 1888 (cropped). It might sell well on a t-shirt though.

More than one souvenir emporium promised moccasins as part of the bill of wares painted long ago on their front windows, but the only ones I found were these, made of course in China, for $19.99.

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One more odd photo: this building had circles of reflective material in its glass façade and I liked the combination of light standard and reflection.

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Then again this circular object could be one of those wormholes between alternate universes, which would account for much in Reno and elsewhere these days. I did find evidence that at least part of our Congress is active.

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Bipartisan bowling! Congress on tour, rubbing elbows with the common folk over cigarettes and beer! Move over, Tea Party, here comes Your Elected Representatives, Bowling for Dollars!

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The brightest beetle we’ve seen, and help identifying bugs

As long as I was on the topic of beetles, I thought I’d include this one which my husband photographed on Mt. Ashland in August during one of our wildflower walks.

Desmocerus aureipennis, male Elderberry Longhorn Beetle

The best resource I have found for identifying insects, if they are not among those illustrated in our insect field guides, is by using BugGuide.net. If you can narrow your search down, you may be able to identify it yourself by looking through the extensive pages of thumbnail photos for each group, genus, and species. That is how I figured out what this was,

Cyclosa conica CR0780.jpg

a spider named Cyclosa conica, for an earlier post—but I had to scan through dozens of pages of thumbnails to find this particular individual.

There’s another way: submit at least one good photo of the insect or arachnid in question to bugguide.net, with relevant details such as geographic location, time of year you saw it, and where (in your attic? under a log? on a rose bush?). Then a group of people who know lots more about bugs than you or I, will take a look, there will be perhaps some back and forth, and you’ll probably get a consensus. Before posting your photos you need to register an account with username and password, then after that you can log in and look at your photos and see what has been said about them.

BugGuide.net is hosted by Iowa State University Entomology, and a lot of the responders are extremely knowledgeable. Also, it is a collegial effort—they check each other’s work, in effect. But of course if the answer is really important to you: if this spider just bit you and your arm is swelling, or you have an orchard infestation of some bug, you want to talk to a real live person like a doctor or an ag extension agent. Try to get the bug into a little jar and take it with you.

This is a fun and educational site to browse through. There are pages of many-legged creatures awaiting identification (the better your photo, the better your chances, but send the photos you have), and of course a structure of pages organized by taxonomy, order/family/genus. Even better, on the left of each page is a visual key, a clickable guide composed of bugs by shape, to help you get close to the creature you are interested in.

The big red bug was not in our guides so I submitted it and got a precise ID. It is a Desmocerus aureipennis/auripennis, male. The females don’t have the bright red elytra, or wing covers. It’s one of a group called Elderberry Longhorn Beetles, and our photo showed it on that tree. I looked up other photos of this insect and yes, that’s what it is.

[Etymological note: desmocerus from the Greek desmos (banded or fettered) + keros (a horn) and aureipennis from the Latin aureus (golden) + penna (feather, wing).]

Biggest bug I was ever bitten by

One day this summer I was at the school where the food pantry is held, and a school landscape employee was spraying weeds. He called out in surprise, that there was a really big bug right on the nozzle of the herbicide applicator. I ran over to see and apparently was the only person willing to pick up this huge black beetle. I decided to take him home, since my husband is a beetle fancier, and rummaged around for some sort of container for him. Finally I found a kleenex box, emptied it, and with the help of a young girl gathered leaves and sticks to make a cozy temporary home. The little girl was scared of the beetle but her feelings toward him began to turn warm and nurturing when I invited her to help furnish his house. She hadn’t gotten up to touching him by the time we put him in and taped a piece of paper over the top, but given more time I feel sure she would have come around.

Here’s our prize, emerging from his house (all the furnishings got shaken to a corner by the car ride).

Ergates spiculatus Spined woodborer,emerges.jpg

He crawled on my arm and hand for a while and then I must have annoyed him because he bit me with his mandibles—made me jump! The bite made a 1/8 inch cut that did bleed, but alas left no scar for me to show off while admitting how I had completely deserved it. Below he’s on my husband’s arm.

Ergates spiculatus Spined woodborer - 15.jpg

And for better scale,

Ergates spiculatus Spined woodborer,4Scale.jpg

We were able to identify him as one of the longhorned woodboring beetles, the Spined Woodborer or Pine Sawyer Beetle (Ergates spiculatus). One clue to differentiating him from another similar species was the spininess of his thorax, visible in this photo. The spines are on the sides of his thorax, while the yellow arrows point to the palps which unfortunately are blurry in this picture.

Ergates spiculatus Spined woodborer Head.jpg

Here the palps are clearer.

Ergates spiculatus Spined woodborer palps.jpg

The palps are sensory organs for the beetle. Mandibles cut up food and maxilla help manipulate it. The parts of a beetle’s head are shown in this illustration.

Beetle head anatomy.jpg

After irritating this beetle so much, we stopped before getting any good photos of his underside, though we could see intriguing edges of fibrous stuff. Here’s someone else’s great picture of what the description says are “velvety” underparts. The eyes and two pairs of palps are also shown.

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Etymological note: ergates is from the Greek, worker; spiculatus, from the Latin spiculum, a little sharp point (diminutive of spicum, a sharp point). The English word “spike” may derive from this Latin word, or may have a more indirect derivation; there is a Proto-Indo-European root *spei-, sharp point. [Proto-Indo-European is the common ancestor of all modern Indo-European languages. It dates from before writing, so it has been reconstructed from study of related words in various languages, and derivation of rules by which sounds change over time. The same method has been used to construct Proto-Germanic. In historical linguistic studies, the asterisk next to a “word” means that it is a reconstructed root.]

One site says this is the largest beetle in North America, up to 65 mm (2.6 inches) in length, but I could not confirm its status as champion big beetle. At any rate it is plenty large, and I wondered if it was one of those beetles, the larvae of which cause extensive die-off in our Pacific Northwest forests. A publication on wood-borers from Washington State University reassured me: “Keep in mind that almost all of our native species of long horned beetles feed in dying or stressed trees and do not attack healthy trees”. According to them, Ergates spiculatus feeds mostly on dead/dying/stressed Douglas firs or Ponderosa Pines.

That information has a different implication, however, at a time when climate change may be stressing northern forests with increased temperatures and long droughts, causing millions of trees to fall into that “stressed” category. British Columbia has reportedly lost about half of its pine trees to a borer no larger than a grain of rice, which spends most of its life boring beneath the bark, a process continued by its larvae which cut off the nutrient and water supply while feeding. To make matters worse, “The beetles also introduce a distinct blue stained fungus that holds back a tree’s natural defences against the attack, delivering a lethal larvae and fungus combination”.

Our trees look pretty good, though, so without hesitation we turned the big biting bug loose on one of them.

Ergates spiculatus Spined woodborer on tree.jpg

Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, and a very close look at butterfly wing-color

We’ve gotten a few terrific photos of butterflies this year—some posted here and here— but none of the swallowtails has cooperated by alighting within range. When I saw one that had died and fallen to the road I carefully carried it home for the chance to get a close look.

Papilio 02 Dorsal.jpg

There are at least three very similar species of swallowtail around here—the Anise, Western Tiger, and Oregon Swallowtails. Based on the red and blue markings I’m thinking this is the Western Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus.

Finer than “frog hair”—butterfly hair!

Enlarging the macro photos shows details such as hairs on the body and along the inner edges of the wings.

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These hairs, called tactile setae, are attached to nerve cells, which relay information about the hairs’ movement to the butterfly. … Adults have tactile setae on almost all of their body parts. In both adults and larvae [caterpillars], the setae play an important role in helping the butterfly sense the relative position of many body parts (e.g., where is the second segment of the thorax in relation to the third segment). This is especially important for flight, and there are several collections of specialized setae and nerves that help the adult sense wind, gravity, and the position of head, body, wings, legs, antennae, and other body parts. In monarchs, setae on the adult’s antennae sense both touch and smell. (from monarchwatch.com).

In the photo below, a ventral view of the lower wings where they meet at their lowest point, there is also a delicate fringe visible along the edges. This could have aerodynamic as well as sensory functions.

papilio 46 CLOSE.jpg

From pointillism to nanostructures

Parts of the markings that appear as solid areas to our eye are revealed to be pointillist creations. I suspect we would need to know much more than we do about the vision of butterflies (and their predators?), in order to understand how these markings work for them.

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The odd squareness of the smallest dots of color is not some pixellation in the photo, but an accurate representation. It shows the shape of the overlapping scales which form the surface of butterfly wings. Here are some microphotographs of wing scales at various magnifications, from Wikipedia.

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And here are color microphotographs showing the same squared-off dots along with the underlying scale pattern.

MicrophotographButterflyWingScales.jpg

Picture source.


It’s been known for some time that the colors of butterfly wings are partly from pigments but mostly from the microstructure of the scales, scattering light to produce the colors. Blues, greens, reds and iridescence are usually structural, while blacks and browns come from pigments. (Wikipedia).

But now we know more, and the more we know the more intricate and amazing it is. Research (published this past June) has been able to identify the light-scattering shapes from the wings of several butterfly species, and they are described as “ ’mind-bendingly weird’ three-dimensional curving structures… [resembling] a network of three-bladed boomerangs”. The name for these crystalline forms is gyroids, and they were first described

in 1970 by NASA physicist Alan Schoen in his theoretical search for ultra-light, ultra-strong materials for use in space. Gyroids have what’s known as an ‘infinitely connected triply periodic minimal surface’: for a given set of boundaries, they have the smallest possible surface area. The principle can be illustrated in soap film on a wireframe (see image below). Unlike soap film, however, the planes of a gyroid’s surface never intersect. As mathematicians showed in the decades following Schoen’s discovery, gyroids also contain no straight lines, and can never be divided into symmetrical parts. (source, text and soap-bubble photo: wiredscience.com)

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Gyroid-like soap bubble. Photo from wiredscience.com

So gyroids were introduced to humans as an imagined created form, something that is a mind-boggler for non-mathematicians to envision.

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The image above is a mathematician’s representation of one of the simpler types of gyroid.

Materials scientists have learned how to make synthetic gyroids for photonic devices, such as solar cells and communication systems, that manipulate the flow of light.

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A self-assembled solar cell begins with one of two polymers forming a “gyroid” shape while the other fills in the space around it. The inner polymer is dissolved away to create a mold that is filled with a conductor of electrons. The outer polymer is then burned away, the conductor is coated with a photosensitive dye, and finally the surrounding space is filled with a conductor of positive “holes”. A solar reaction takes place at all the interfaces throughout the material, and the interlocking gyroid structure efficiently carries away the current. (Source for image and caption, Cornell Univ.)

And when Yale evolutionary ornithologist Richard Prum got curious about exactly how butterfly wing-scales twisted light, he found gyroids. His team had to use an advanced microscopy technique with nanoscale resolution, called synchrotron small angle X-ray scattering, in order to see them, but there they were. (See note at end for citation of article in PNAS.)

The butterfly’s gyroids are made of chitin, not exactly the flashy material I would associate with iridescent wings. It’s

the tough starchy material that forms the exterior of insects and crustaceans. Chitin is usually deposited on the outer membranes of cells. The Yale team wanted to know how a cell can sculpt itself into this extraordinary form, which resembles a network of three-bladed boomerangs. They found that, essentially, the outer membranes of the butterfly wing scale cells grow and fold into the interior of the cells. The membranes then form a double gyroid—or two, mirror-image networks shaped by the outer and inner cell membranes. Double gyroids are easier to self assemble but they are not as good at scattering light as a single gyroids. Chitin is then deposited in the outer gyroid to create a single solid crystal. The cell then dies, leaving behind the crystal nanostructures on the butterfly wing.

“Like engineers, butterflies grow their optically efficient single gyroids through a series of steps that make this complex shape easier to achieve. Photonic engineers are using gyroid shapes to try to create more efficient solar cells and, by mimicking nature, may be able to produce more efficient optical devices as well,” Prum said. (Source)

In an interview about the work, Richard Prum said “We’re still trying to wrap our brains around gyroids and what they are.” The shapes seem to have evolved separately in several lineages of butterflies.

”It’s a Swiss cheese,” he adds, “with spiraling channels of air traveling through it that intersect one another. But those channels actually travel in three different dimensions through the cheese, and what you end up with is this very complicated form left behind, and that form is a gyroid.”

And while the idea of butterflies with Swiss cheese wings is slightly strange, Prum says it’s a very useful one for scientist and engineers looking for the next leap forward in electronic technology.

For example, Prum says, take the fiber-optic cables that carry phone calls under the ocean. These cables carry signals in the form of colored light, but it’s very difficult to insulate them well enough to prevent light from leaking out. Current transoceanic cables have to have booster stations built along them to keep the signal strong. But a layer of gyroids around the fiber-optic cable “would act like a perfect insulation to that fiber,” Prum says. The same tiny structures that give the Emerald-patched Cattleheart its lovely green patches could also be used to keep green light from escaping a fiber-optic cable.

ButterflyScalesGreen.jpg

The vivid green color of the scales of this Papilionid butterfly are produced by optically efficient single gyroid photonic crystals. Caption and photo from www.physorg.com

Right now, it’s expensive and impractical to manufacture gyroids small enough to do that job. But butterflies hold the secret to growing them naturally. “If you could grow one, at exactly the right scale, as butterflies do,” says Prum, “you could make these things a lot easier.” (NPR interview, Jul 3, 2010)

This is a fine example of how curiosity can lead us to unexpected discoveries. The original question is one that could be used by certain Congressional anti-intellectuals in their periodic efforts to discredit basic research: “Imagine, all this work to find out what makes the color on butterfly wings! How ridiculous!” The research and technological developments that are thought “useful” by these folks had their origins in someone’s basic research, sparked by human curiosity. From butterfly wing-color to, perhaps, more efficient fiber-optic cables or solar energy collectors. It’s called bioengineering: investigating the functions and structures of nature, to derive principles and patterns for technological innovations. But for me it’s satisfying in itself, the revelation of these marvelous structures, underlying the evanescent beauty of a butterfly.

Papilio rutulus.jpg

Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Buddleia bloom. Photo by terwilliger911, flickr.

Note: The article describing gyroids as the structure causing some colors in butterfly wings is:
Structure, function, and self-assembly of single network gyroid (I4132) photonic crystals in butterfly wing scales.
Vinodkumar Saranathan et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online before print June 14, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0909616107. The abstract is available free, but the article requires purchase or subscription to PNAS. There is a supplementary article here that contains some interesting images and very technical text. There’s even a movie you can watch showing a slice-by-slice trip through a certain sort of gyroid, or as the text says, though “the pentacontinuous volume of a level set core-shell double gyroid structure”.

Frog changes color with changed surroundings

I really wish I’d taken a photo of this frog when I found her this noon, sheltering on the porch next to the wall. There were some beer 6-pack carriers there waiting return to the store and when I picked one up there was this big dark frog clinging to the side. She (well, she just seems like a “she”) was a very dark brown tinged with green all over, with some darker mottling on her back, and sparkling gold stripes above her eyes. I caught her up and put her in our 100-gallon pond, on the lotus and water hyacinth leaves.

This afternoon, here she is, transformed in color.

FrogChangesColor.jpg

The dark splotches on her rear are about the color that her entire body was, about six hours ago.

It was only recently that I learned frogs could do this, so now having seen it in action I had to talk about it. Apparently it’s an ability found in many species, and the frogs can change as a result of light, humidity, surroundings, or “mood”. Whatever that means. The frog changed and the researcher cannot see any objective alteration in environment so it’s put down to “mood”.

Fear or excitement makes many frogs and toads turn pale, but others, like the African clawed frog, darken when disturbed. Another African frog is normally green, but turns white in the heat of the day to reflect heat and keep cool. The tiny African arum frog is ivory white and lives in the white blossoms of the arum swamp lily. When the blossoms die, the frogs turn brown to match. from exploratorium.edu.

We think she’s probably a Pacific Tree Frog (Pseudacris regilla).

[Etymological note: Pseudacris from the Greek pseudes (false) + akris (locust) — alluding to the frogs’ song?; regilla from the Latin regilla (regal, splendid) — probably referring to the markings.]

Siskiyou Wildflowers: Mt. Ashland in July, part 2

So many flowers!

We’ve made two trips to Mt. Ashland (Southern Oregon), on July 22 and 31, along a gravel/dirt forest road noted for wildflowers, and it was a new experience: instead of marvelling at a single flower or small patch of flowers, we saw slopes red with Indian Paintbrush or Scarlet Gilia, places with a dozen different flowers blooming in a 50 foot stretch. On gentle slopes where the snow has recently melted, plants grow so thickly it’s hard to see which leaves belong to which flowers. This is Forest Road 20, for those who might want to visit, and it’s the continuation of the main paved road that goes to the Mt. Ashland ski area. Just keep going, and the road soon turns to gravel and there are meadows of wildflowers on each side. A few miles later the road winds into a drier area with few but choice species, such as various penstemons as well as paintbrush, gilia, eriogonum, and many more. For us novices, identifying what we’ve seen and photographed has been a challenge.

Here are some of the plants we’ve seen on these two trips. Others were included in the earlier “Part 1” post. [Our identifications are the best we have been able to do, but shouldn’t be considered authoritative.]

Castilleja species along a seep.jpg

Castilleja (Paintbrush) along a trickle of water. Not sure of the species, but it doesn’t have the wavy leaves of C. applegatei.

Tiny wildflowers like this one are easy to overlook, hard to identify. For scale, that large pink object on the left is part of my finger. The entire plant was only two or three inches tall, and was growing in a wet sandy area.

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Lilium pardalinum, Veratrum californicum (foliage), .jpg

The striking yellow lilies above are Leopard Lilies (Lilium pardalinum), native to Oregon and California. The spires of white flowers are White Schoenolirion or White Rush-lily (Hastingsia alba; also called Schoenolirion album).

[Etymological note: pardalinum is an adjective from the Greek pardalis, female leopard (meaning spotted like a leopard); Hastingsia after Serranus Clinton Hastings (1814-1893), first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California, who helped publish The Botany of the Pacific Coast edited by Asa Gray, Sir Joseph Hooker and J. D. Whitney; album and alba are from the Latin albus (white); Schoenolirion from the Greek schoinos (a rush), + lirion (lily).]

Lilium pardalinum, Leopard Lily CLOSE.jpg

The White Rush-lily is in the lily family; it grows from a bulb, and has the flat strap-like leaves characteristic of many lilies. The mixed species of plants were so dense in some places on Mt. Ashland that it was hard even to find the foliage of a particular species, much less photograph it, but the picture below shows a big area where White Rush-lily alone grew.

Hastingsia alba, foliage.jpg

Aster family purple, and yarrow.jpg

A purple flower in the aster family, but which one? In the background is Achillea millefolium, Common Yarrow.

Out of the ordinary Owl’s Clover

Next is an unusual flower, Toothed Owl’s Clover (Orthocarpus cuspidatus). Owl’s Clovers are in the Snapdragon family along with Paintbrushes (Castilleja genus), Foxgloves, and Penstemons (Beardtongues). Because it is so remarkable, I’m going to include pictures of it from several points of view. From above, looking down on the upright flower.

Owl'sCloverTopView1.jpg

Below, another top view of a rather different-looking individual, missing some of its parts or having developed differently.

Owl'sCloverTopView2.jpg

Two views from the side.

Owl'sClover.jpg

Owl'sClover2.jpg

Owl’s Clovers are not just unusual in appearance, but also in their natural history. They are annuals, and

if the first roots emerging from a germinating Owl Clover seed find themselves near the roots of a neighboring plant of a different species, such as prairie lupine, it will initiate structural connections called haustoria. These are modified roots capable of causing infection in the host plant.

The haustoria invade, literally grow into, the inner tissues of the host lupine’s roots. The Owl Clover haustoria are triggered into formation when the lupine itself exudes chemicals from its roots; that is, the lupine chemically signals its presence to the Owl Clover. The haustoria connections are all completed and in place within a few hours! With functional haustoria in place, Owl Clover’s growth is accelerated. The Owl Clover gains water, minerals and energy from the host plant. Being an annual, Owl Clover has a relatively small root system, so getting extra food really helps its growth rate. This host-parasite relationship is called heterotrophy, the opposite of autotrophy [self-sustaining by photosynthesis]. Being semi-parasitic [capable of both parasitism and if necessary autotrophy], Owl Clover may engage in both at the same time.

Owl Clover, when functioning as a parasite, also takes in toxic chemicals the host plant produces; lupines have alkaloids (remember, plants like lupines are poisonous to livestock). These toxic chemicals are distributed into the Owl Clover’s stem and leaf tissues. The consequences? The presence of the poisonous alkaloids, botanists have learned, reduces the level of feeding (herbivory) by butterfly and moth larvae that favor Owl Clover leaves for their growth and development. Larvae feeding is hindered by the presence of the poisons, and the Owl Clover retains more of its leaf tissue for photosynthesis, an obvious benefit. Butterfly and moth larvae need alternative leaves to eat, but that’s impossible since mature butterflies and moths lay their eggs on developing Owl Clover plants not knowing if the leaves are toxic or not. Larvae, it’s assumed, survive better, and develop to maturity by feeding on Owl Clovers that are not parasitizing a lupine or other toxic host plant.

There’s one remaining piece of this interesting relationship to be told: studies suggest that Owl Clover’s flower nectar is not contaminated by the toxic alkaloids. Perhaps the alkaloids are detoxified by some means before reaching the nectar glands. Why is this important? Visiting pollinators, such as hummingbirds or bumble bees, can harvest the Owl Clover’s nectar reward without suffering ill effects. [Source article by Jim Habeck, professor emeritus of botany at the University of Montana]

Representations of the seeds and seed-pods of wildflowers seem hard to find; after the colorful floral show is over, the photographers lose interest just as the pollinating bees and hawkmoths do. But in my Owl’s Clover wanderings I came across photos here of the seeds and pods of two species. Looking at the flowers, I wouldn’t have expected this:

Orthocarpus purpurascens SEED POD.jpg

Seeds and seedpod of Purple Owl’s Clover (Orthocarpus purpurascens, also called Castilleja exserta). Not the species we saw, but it has a similar flower so probably the seedpods are similar.

[Etymological note: Orthocarpus, from the Greek ortho (straight, upright) + carp- (fruit, seed); cuspidatus, from the Latin cuspis (lance, point); purpurescens, becoming purple, from the Latin purpura (purple); Castilleja, named for Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), Spanish botanist and Professor of Botany in Cadiz, Spain; exserta, from the Latin exsertus, past participle of exserere (to thrust out, from ex- + serere to join).]

Wavy-leaf Paintbrush and hand signals

Castilleja applegatei, Wavy-leaf Paintbrush.jpg

This, I think, is Wavy-leaf Paintbrush (Castilleja applegatei)

Castilleja applegatei, Wavy-leaf PaintbrushLEAVES.jpg

Here are the wavy-edged 3-lobed leaves. Some leaves are single, not lobed.

And this is my hand signal to tell myself that the flower felt “sticky”! I have found I have trouble remembering these things days later when I am looking over 300 photos, sometimes of more than one species of the same genus. Now which one had the sticky flowers? It’s characteristic of some Paintbrushes and not others, so knowing helps to identify these tricky guys.

Another difficulty was that if two similar species were photographed one after the other I couldn’t be sure where the first one ended, in the series of photos. Now when I finish photographing one species I take a “spacer” photo of my foot in its red sandal. Sounds odd but seems to be helping.

[Etymological note: Castilleja, named for Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), Spanish botanist and Professor of Botany in Cadiz, Spain; applegatei, named after Elmer Applegate (1867-1949), a student of the flora of Oregon best known for his monograph of trout lilies (Erythronium).]

Thistle, Buckwheat, Roses and more

Cirsium scariosum, elk thistle CLOSE.jpg

Above is a close-up of the center of a flat-growing thistle, called Elk Thistle (Cirsium scariosum). All our other local thistles send up tall stems defended with spiky leaves and ending in one or more flowers, but this one grows and flowers at a height of just 2 or 3 inches. The plants we saw were up to a foot in diameter.

Cirsium scariosum, elk thistle.jpg

[Etymological note: Cirsium from the Greek kirsion (a kind of thistle) in turn from kirsos (a swollen vein or welt) because thistles were often used as a remedy against such things; scariosum from “New Latin” (=concocted by moderns) scariosus c. 1806, origin uncertain (dry and membranous in texture, chaffy, brown).]

Eriogonum umbellatum, Sulphur-flower Buckwheat.jpg

Sulphur-flower Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum). The genus Eriogonum is in the same family (Polygonaceae) as the field crop buckwheat, and the seeds of some species are important for wildlife. The name ‘buckwheat’ or ‘beech wheat’ comes from its triangular seeds, which resemble the much larger seeds of the beech nut from the beech tree, and the fact that it is used like wheat [Wikipedia].

Eriogonum umbellatum, Sulphur-flower Buckwheat CLOSE.jpg

[Etymological note: Eriogonum, from the Greek erion (wool) and gony (knee or joint), so called because the jointed stems are covered with hair; umbellatum, from the Latin umbella (sunshade), diminutive of umbra (shadow), and refers to the arrangement of the flowers which arise in a head from a central point, i.e. bearing an umbel.] Now that I know this odd bit about the meaning of Eriogonum, I’ll be looking for those “hairy knees” on wild buckwheat plants in future.

Rosa woodsii, Woods' rose.jpg

Small patches of these vivid pink roses were blooming in areas of loose dry soil, and the plants were only a few inches tall. I think it’s Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii).

[Etymological note: Rosa, from the Latin rosa (rose), in turn derived from the Greek rhodon (rose); woodsii, after American botanist Alphonso Wood (1810-1881).]

Penstemon azureus, azure penstemon.jpg

We think this Penstemon is Azure Penstemon (Penstemon azureus). At their peak the flowers must have been glorious.

Penstemon azureus, Azure penstemon, LEAF.jpg

The broadly oval leaves are distinctive, and seem to clasp the stem as described for this species.

[Etymological note: Penstemon from Greek penta- (five) + Greek stēmōn (thread, here meaning stamen); azureus (of a deep blue color) from Arabic via Old French azaward which developed from Arabic lāzaward, from Persian lāzhuward, of obscure origin—in Old French the initial ‘l’ was dropped from the word proper and turned into the definite article “le” as if it were French: l’azaward].]

Here is a beautiful penstemon we are not able to identify.

Penstemon, unknown species 1 FLOWERS.jpg

Penstemon, unknown species 1 CLOSE.jpg

The difference in flower color between these two pictures is due to light conditions; the one taken in full sunlight is actually a bit washed out compared to how the colors appeared to my eye, and the one taken in shade is more accurate.

Penstemon, unknown species 1 LEAF.jpg

The buds and long narrow leaves of this penstemon.

A second unidentified penstemon.

Penstemon unknown species,#2 CLOSE .jpg

The leaves are quite different from the first unidentified one.
Penstemon unknown species,#2 .jpg

We saw many more flowers on these two trips, but I’ll stop with this one, Western Blue Flax or Prairie Flax (Linum lewisii, also called Linum perenne var. lewisii).

Linum lewisii (Linum perenne var. lewisii), Lewis flax, blue flax, prairie flax2.jpg

Western Blue Flax is very similar to the European Flax plant from which linen is made; indeed, some consider the two a single species, Linum perenne. Native American peoples used flax fiber for cordage and string, as well as for mats, snowshoes, fishing nets and baskets.

Linum lewisii (Linum perenne var. lewisii), Lewis flax, blue flax, prairie flax CLOSE.jpg

[Etymological note: Linum from Latin linum (flax, linen); lewisii, for Captain Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806; perenne from Latin perennis (lasting through the year or years) from per- (through) + annus (year), botanical sense of “Remaining alive through a number of years”.]

Mt. Ashland flower scene.jpg

View of Mt. Shasta from Mt. Ashland, July.jpg

View of Mt. Shasta from Mt. Ashland.