Friday, October 31, 2008

Urban Wildlife Watch: Bats

Happy Halloween! What better wild animal to introduce to you than the Bat on this day!

However, unless you’re trying very hard or extremely lucky, you probably will never have a personal encounter with a bat. Bats are one of the most elusive mammals there are, and most mammals are pretty elusive.

Bats are important members of our ecosystem – even in urban and suburban areas. Most mainland U.S . bat species are brown and small in size – like the size of your thumb to the size of your hand. And they are insect eaters. They are pretty abundant, especially if your neighborhood or city has lots of trees, because they live in forest habitats. In urban and suburban areas they live parks and cemeteries – okay, that’s a little Halloween humor; but think about it, cemeteries are just like parks – open green spaces and lots of trees. Bats roost - hang and sleep - up-side-down on trees, on the sides of brick buildings, under the overhang of buildings or even on the ground nestled under the leaf litter. Summer evenings they awake from their sleep and gobble up thousands of mosquitoes, gnats, and other flying insects. They are important urban neighbors.

Right now is a transitional time. Autumn is the breeding season and they hibernate over winter. But…haha, females are NOT pregnant during hibernation. That would just be too energetically costly. No, they mate in the fall and store the sperm over winter. When they wake up some interesting physiology happens, allowing the still active and living sperm to travel and fertilize the female’s eggs in the spring. Amazing! Most bats have one, maybe two babies in the spring.
But you can still create a welcoming habitat for bats. Build a bat house: Info 1, Info 2. That way you might increase your chances of observing these animals and reducing the mosquitoes in your yard.

Oh, I almost forgot. I promised to explain my blurry bat story. The photo was taken at Cornell University High Rise Tower #5 Dormitory while I at a scientific conference. My friend and fellow biologist & I were returning to our rooms when we noticed the Dorm RA running around her room fanning at the walls. We looked curiously at her and then I asked, “Got a bird in your room?” She replied, “NO, a bat!” Beth and I looked at each other and asked, “Want us to get it for you?” She looked oddly at us and said, “You’d do that?” Beth and I, smiled at each other and replied, “Yeah, We’re mammalogists. This is nothing.” So we dropped our bags. I grabbed the camera and Beth kicked off her shoes and grabbed a paper towel. After a couple of tries, she nabbed him. The pictures were blurry because the bat was so stressed and moving around. We didn’t have the time to just hold him for a photo shoot, it wouldn’t be proper. The video is dark, too. Can’t see him, but you can hear him. That’s his vocalization used to echolocate insects. And I must say this….Do not attempt this at home. We are professionals and have had our rabies boosters.

Picture of Me, Beth, and Marcella (she’s the official Bat Biologist in our lab, but wasn’t with us that evening)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Perspective

I was sitting in my neighborhood park taking some nature photos and discovered how important perspective is and why one shouldn't draw conclusions too quickly.

At first I noticed a very lush tree. Looks full and healthy.

Then I noticed a bald spot. Sometimes tree have some dead branches. No big deal.

So I walked around and noticed my first impression was not accurate.

This tree looked fine, but most of the branches are dead.
Back to my starting point.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Urban Political Science

Okay, I never go political here - at least not in a bi-partisan way. But I got a link to this video from CNN Anderson Cooper's Blog and I HAD to share.

Students from The Ron Clark Academy are studying politics in an unusual way… holding mock debates, but also rapping about the upcoming Presidential election. Sixth and seventh graders joined Mr. Clark and performed their latest song "You Can Vote However You Like" , putting their own lyrics to T.I.’s "Whatever You Like".

It is Political Science- Urban Science Adventures! (c) style.
Click the link here: Rap for your favorite candidate

I love this and these kids. For those who know me, you know how much I love that urban flavor being expressed in academics and intellectual matters. I'm so geeked.

Do like the kids say...Vote However You Like on November 4th.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Urban Wildlife Watch: Opossums

photo credit: wikipedia

The Virginia Opossum, scientific name Didelphis virginiana, is the only Marsupials of North America. Yes, marsupials like kangaroos and koala bears. Opossums, like their Australian cousins, bear immature young and nurse them in the female's pouch.

Traditionally, opossums live in forested areas near water. Every living thing needs fresh water for survival. But they do quite well in cities, especially in neighborhoods with trash bins and alleys or near dense areas by parks. In fact, they are one of the most common animals in urban and suburban areas. They are often mistaken for rats because of their long noses and naked scaly tails. And many people regard them as vicious and scary, but they are actually quite passive. They hiss and bear their teeth as a threat, but when confronted they usually run or play dead - playin' possum - if you will.

Like rats, opossums will eat most anything. They are omnivores, meaning they eat protein like insects, mice, and moles but also vegetables and fruits, especially persimmon fruits (very common US forest tree). Not being picky eaters, they will dine on free protein of other dead animals - road kill. Hence, they are ecologically important as carrion eaters. As a result, they often become road kill themselves, which is how most people encounter this animal.

In fact, I met this fellow this past weekend on the street in front of my home.

As a mammalogist, road kill is a laboratory specimen and this is a teaching moment. During my training in graduate school, we collected road kill and preserved them for later study. This guy is actually in pretty good shape. Ten years ago I would dressed him (removed all of the fleshy insides), bagged him up and dropped him in a deep freezer until I was ready to prepare a museum flat-mount of him. My mother was not happy with me.

Here's a quick Anatomy lesson.
  • Opossums have thin leathery ears. His ears were actually split. Look closely at the photograph. He probably got snagged earlier in life.
  • They have a thick long prehensile tail which can wrap around limbs and help secure the animal as it climbs trees and fences. When they are babies they can actually hang in trees by their cute.
  • They have padded paws (or hands and feet) with opposable thumbs. Opossums are pretty dexterous or handy and can get into your trash or compost very easily.
  • Those knots in a string are NOT fetuses in the uterus. Opossum babies don't get that big in the mama's belly. I'm pretty sure that is the intestines and those dark lumps are poo. I can't be sure, sorry for that. The scientist in me was tempted to thoroughly examine and dissect this fellow but I didn't have any gloves nearby. Plus, I don't think my photographer was up to the challenge of taking photos of this interesting, yet gross science lab experiment.
  • I'm quite sure this fellow was a male. He was rather large and heavy. he was about the size of a house cat. Females tend to be a little smaller than males. Plus, I didn't notice any dead little ones. Because the young do stay with the mom - in the pouch or on her back - when a female is hit by a car her young often succumb as well.
This picture gives you an idea of big he is. I know it's gross, but stay with me. Something else I noticed a little way from the possum - I tend to drop the O when I say the word.

  • At first I thought the pale white organ was its heart, based on shape, but now I think it is it's cecum. The cecum is the blind pouch in the intestine, the appendix is a cecum and all of the stuff looks like food matter or poo. That dark red organ could be the spleen. Spleen are very dark red and slender organs. Like I said, I wasn't able to poke around and confirm things, but I feel pretty sure about it. But I bent over to take a closer and I noticed parasites.
  • This fellow has a whole mess of round worms coming from what I though was its heart. Do other mammals, beside dogs, get heart worms? I don't know, but it wouldn't be a big surprise. Parasites, internal and external, are apart of life for animals, even urban wildlife. But now that I think it is the cecum, then these could be intestinal worms, which are very common among mammals.
  • And one last interesting fact about opossums - they have an amazingly short life span, usually 1-2.5 years, even in captivity.

I did my civic duty and removed his carcass from the street to prevent any unpleasant meetings by the neighbors or other potential road kill victims who might want to check out the scene.

I put the carcass in my compost bin.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Russian Conservation News Now in Russian and English

Written by leading conservationists, scientists, and researchers, Russian Conservation News provides a voice for those who are working hard to conserve the natural treasures of northern Eurasia and its unique and extensive system of protected lands.

You may know of Yellowstone Park, but have you heard of the Valley of the Geysers in Kronotsky Zapovednik? Or the new national park network to protect Siberian tiger habitats in the Russian Far East? Why should you care?…because nature doesn't respect political boundaries. Climate change, global warming, destruction of natural habitat and loss of biodiversity affect us all, no matter where they occur.

Check it out. Please download a free copy now, in Russian or in English. Enjoy the stunning wildlife photography of Igor Shpilenok and others. Learn about Russia's unique natural habitats, the challenges they face, and the people who are dedicated to preserve them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Out of Focus

I'm participating in Thematic Photographic 20 - Blur. Usually, I delete blurry photos. So, I'm glad I kept these to share.

Bush Honeysuckle (an invasive species)


White Ash (a native species)


Grasshopper - species and status unknown.


Brown bat - exact species unknown (didn't have time to ID), but it is Native. I have a great story to tell about this photo.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Urban Wildlife Watch: Ash Trees

Ash trees, Fraxinus spp. are common hardwood trees in the United States. They are forest trees as well as urban trees planted along streets, in parks and cemeteries.

This tree is one of many of its kind along my street. I also have a very large one in my backyard. The squirrels occupy this tree – as well as my roof. The best I can figure out this is a White Ash Tree. I feel pretty confident about this identification. You’ll notice that the leaves are beginning to turn yellow.
Identifying plants can be challenging, especially in the winter when there are no leaves. The autumn is a great time to identify trees because there are still leaves on trees and you can use the fall colors to help in identifying the species. Check out Dr. Roberts Ash Tree Identification Guide. I learned a lot myself. MAD Horse. Only Maple, Ash, Dogwood, and Horse chestnuts have opposite branches. The branches off of stems shoot out directly across from each other. I also like the Michigan State Ag extension Ash Tree Identification Guide. It is a short and sweet ID Key with several great photos to aid identifying the parts of the tree. It can be printed as duplex, in color, and folder up and put in your back pocket. Go out and see how many Ash trees are a part of your urban forest – along your neighborhood streets, parks, and other green spaces.

The scientific name of the White Ash is Fraxinus americana, but other common names include the American Biltmore or the Cane Ash. This tree is most famous for being the best wood for baseball bats.

Good news – it is a native American tree and very common in American Forests. Seeing them in cities and suburbia are great remnants of our traditional forests. Plus it is a strong and hardy tree species.

The fruit is called samaras. A single seeds is contained within each samara, which you can see as the bump in the picture.
I'll confess that I was quite unfamiliar with this term. I call these types of fruits “helicopter seeds”. Maple tree fruits are another classic example. When the seeds are ready to falls they ‘fly’ into the air spinning like helicopter propellers. Squirrels love these fruits and soon they will drop and fly all over the place. This is how the seeds disperse from their natal area, where they were born or grown, to where they might eventually settle and grow to adulthood.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Great Star Count - Space Science & Urban Ecology

Okay, I still have my head in the Stars…But it’s all for the good - enhanced science education and science exposure for Urban audiences. Beginning tomorrow, October is the Great Worldwide Star Count.

From the National Science Foundation Press Release
Star Count Goes Global
Schoolchildren, families and citizen scientists around the world will gaze skyward after dark from Oct. 20 to Nov.3, 2008, looking for specific constellations and then sharing their observations through the Internet.
The Great World Wide Star Count, now in its second year, helps scientists map light pollution globally while educating participants about the stars.

Light pollution is a modern day problem and mostly an urban problem. Our modern lives have ‘reset’ our natural body and sleep clocks so that we can get more done even when the sun goes down. That’s a good thing. But all of this light, when it should be dark has some serious implications on wildlife…so we’re back to urban ecology. Autumn is a natural signal to wild animals like birds that it is time to prepare for winter. But all of this light can fool them into thinking that it’s not quite autumn and they are unprepared for the winter cold. It is also a BIG problem for migrating waterfowl. The bright lights of big cities downtown areas can throw migrating birds off track. They get confused and can be taken off course. This jeopardizes their lives and the future success of their species if too many of them get disoriented or die.

Julie Zickefoose, a Naturalist and bird rescuer says “Now we need to get urban areas to dim or turn out lights at least during migration, like Toronto has--see for more details. Light pollution is an insidious thing--but so easy to address. Turn 'em off!” FLAP stands for Fatal Light Awareness Program to call attention to the problem of light pollution and migrating bird fatalities.

The Great World Wide Star Count is open to everyone, so join me and get involved. Download Activity Guides and Sign up to Watch the Sky. It’s a perfect science activity for Homeschoolers or as a Service Learning Project for High School Students. I really encourage older students to participate in Citizen Science projects like this and get independent or extra credit for it. Keep a journal of your activities and write up a report. Trust me. It’s hard for your teacher to say no if you have done so much great work.

Head outside with your family and friends and enjoy some quality time together. Visit your local science center or planetarium and participate in the event. As a child I was so excited about the Haley comet visit of 1986. I slept outside for days. I’m surprised I didn’t become an Astronomer. Stars have been the focal point of folk stories – like Slave Escape on the Underground Railroad and camp fire stories. Create some memories with your family. Point out the zodiac and other constellations.
It is so much fun… And it’s free. How can you beat that in this economy?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Urban Science Adventures Shout Out to Barrington Irving of Miami

I'm rounding out the week with another -Space Science piece, Urban Science Adventures! © style.

Do you know Barrington Irving? I didn't until the other day when I heard a story on CNN about him. He is the youngest and 1st Black pilot to fly around the world solo. How young is he? 23 years. Amazing isn't it.
But that's not the most amazing thing about this young man. He built a single engine airplane in 10 weeks with the help of inner-city high school students of Miami, Florida. He started a program called Build & Soar. It is a hands-on after-school science education and incentive program to encourage these students to do well in school and inspire them. And many of the students are now excited about careers in aeronautics and engineering they had never thought of before.
It is one of many Science Education Programs that proves that when you give every student a chance, patience, and especially resources, they can do it all.
Also check out his vodcast interview with NASA NE Experience Aviation.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Projector Makes the Debate, Again

I really can't believe the projector was mentioned again in the 3rd Presidential Debate.

I didn't get into details last time, it was Wordless Wednesday after all, but I think some explanation seems to be in order now.

"One science spending difference managed to creep into the second presidential debate, however. McCain ridiculed an unsuccessful Obama earmark attempt to get "$3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Ill. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?" McCain asked.It turns out that wasn't just an old-fashioned overhead slide viewer, but a replacement for the 38-year-old star-and-planet projector in the Sky Theater at the Adler Planetarium, the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere and located in Obama's home state."

- from the article Scientists View Both Obama, McCain as Supportive, which by the way I recommend reading.

This is the "projector" that needs replacing. It 'projects' images of space onto the domed Sky Theater. Now I went through some trouble to get this shot. The Sky Theater is a show and extra feature in addition to regular admission $10 for adults and they offer no student discounts. I entered the theater, without a ticket as paid patrons were entering. The staff were hawking me as I explained that I just want a photo of the Zeiss, the much debated projector. They watched suspiciously as I flashed photos and seemed relieved when I dashed out of the theater.

That was my Urban Science Adventure, endured to deliver facts to you.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Donors Choose to fund School Supplies to Needy Schools

I know these economic times are hitting most of us hard. But I want to let you know about a great philanthropic effort – DonorsChoose. It is a non-profit education fundraising website. Teachers from poor public schools submit proposals for supplies and equipment to teach bright and deserving students. As a Donor or Philanthropic Citizen you choose the classrooms projects to support.

If for some reason you were not able to take part in the KidSmart School Supply Drive, have no worries. You can make a donation of $5 or more and help bring some amazing and fun learning activities to life. I am asking you to make a donation to one or more class projects. As a science educator, I pushing for science and math education programs, but every single proposal is worthy.

I made a donation as a part of a Challenge Fundraisers for Bloggers – Blogger Challenge ‘08. Some of my favorite, must-read blogs are participating in this year’s challenge, so I’m plugging for them.

Black Bloggers for Education includes
BDPA Foundation – which was one of the first tech blogs to show me love. If you are a member of a local chapter of the Black Data Processors Association, please contribute to the projects listed on this giving page.
Jack & Jill Politics – who pull no punches in delivering political news and commentary
Science, Education, & Society – a fellow science nominee of the Black Weblog Award

Various individual blogs from the Science community are participating, including Bora who is responsible for my participation in the upcoming ScienceOnline09 Conference.

And several members of the BlogHer community are also participating in the challenge.

Please, please participate. Like I said, as little as $5 can help make a difference.

Thanks for your participation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: The Great Projector of Presidential Debates

The Zeiss Mark VI Projector
I visited Adler Planetarium and got a shot of the infamous "overhead projector" Senator McCain mentioned in Presidential Debate #2. Can't wait for tonight's Debate.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Urban Wildlife Watch: Lady Bugs

Lady Beetles or Lady Bugs as I call them are the best of the beetles. That’s my opinion. As a young child I was actually afraid of bugs. I was such a typical girl, all panicky if one landed on my head. I out grew that, thankfully. But I was never freaked out by Lady Bugs. They were pretty and dainty and had no stingers or scary mouth parts. That’s what freaked me out about most other bugs – they caused pain.

It is autumn and you may notice that these a lot of these little beetles everywhere. Or you may notice them near your windows and on your screens. In side of warm, climate controlled buildings are perfect places to overwinter. If they are becoming a nuisance, simply sweep them out, but don’t kill them. Lady Bugs are beneficial bugs. They prey of garden pests that do damage to your vegetables and flowers. The orange colored lady-beetles are actually the Asian Lady Beetle which was purposely introduced by the USDA in 1979. Lately, these are the lady bugs I see trying to get inside of buildings.
image credit: Iowa State University Ag Extension

Lady Beetles overwinter in very large colonies and keep each other warm. They hibernate, together in the leaf litter or under rocks – any place safe. When they emerge in the spring, it is time for love. All of that cozying up over winter makes it a little easier for male and female lady beetles to find each other and start the circle of life all over again. More detailed info about Lady Beetles here.
This lady beetle hitched a ride on my car from Racine, Wisconsin. As I was loading up and saying goodbye to my parents, I noticed this lady bug on the back door of my car. When I got out of the car in Milwaukee (north of Racine) to visit more family, I notice this little guy (or gal) was still hanging on. I had no idea these beetles were so tenacious. I’m not sure if it departed in Milwaukee or somewhere else along my route. But it sure is a fine example of how Sweepstakes Dispersal works.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Manic Monday: Moon - My visit to Adler Planetarium

I’m piggy backing off of Villager’s Manic Monday Meme: Moon. Each Manic Monday introduces a new theme for bloggers to explore in any way they see fit. Villager always takes the time to connect the meme theme to African-American Culture. Today, he introduced his readers to African-American Astronauts of NASA.

How timely, I visited the Adler Planetarium just this past weekend and there was a NASA Education Exhibit there.

NASA is celebrating 50 years of research, innovation, education, and exploration. I had a great time and learned alot. Science Agencies and Science Museums like the Adler work together to share science with everyone. I applaud the efforts and variety of ways scientists and educators work together to help the general public understand what NASA and Scientists do and how everyone benefits from their work. Moreover, these Outreach Programs introduce audiences to career tracks that may often be overlooked by school counselors. NASA is the pioneer of science outreach. They do a hefty amount of outreach and education to students (K-12)and their teachers and to college students. How else do we get new astronauts if they don't study and go to college?

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