Autumn Butterflies

September 29, 2022

Temperatures finally dropped here in Augusta, Georgia, making my frequent jogging much easier. A rainy August followed by a dry September must have created good conditions for butterflies because I’ve been seeing a multitude of them during my jogs. At least 3 species flutter about the roadsides in my neighborhood. I already wrote about gulf fritillaries (Agraulis vanilae) a few years ago. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2018/08/21/gulf-fritillary-and-passion-flower-vine/ ) Giant sulphurs (Phoebis sennae) are big yellow butterflies easy to identify. In their larval caterpillar stage they feed upon legumes such as partridge pea and vetch, both of which are fairly common in my neighborhood.

Adult and larval stages of the giant sulphur butterfly.
Adult and larval stages of the black swallowtail butterfly.
Adult and larval stages of the tiger swallowtail butterfly. The above photo is of the dark phase of this species. Most specimens are yellow with stripes.

The 3rd species I’ve been seeing is either the dark phase of the tiger swallowtail (Pteraurus glaucus) or the eastern black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes). They won’t stay still long enough, while I’m jogging to identify them, though I’ve positively identified both in my backyard in the past. I suppose I could chase the ones I’ve been seeing during my jogs and catch them with a butterfly net to identify which species is fluttering about, but that is too much trouble. I think they are probably tiger swallowtails which are normally yellow with black stripes and easy to identify, but they do come in a dark phase similar in appearance to black swallowtails. The larval caterpillar stage of the eastern black swallowtail feeds upon plants in the carrot and citrus families. Tiger swallowtail caterpillars feed upon a wide range of plants including foliage of cherry, tulip, and magnolia. Wild black cherry trees are a common component of the local woods. Scientists believe the dark phase of tiger swallowtails mimics the appearance of pipevine swallowtails, a species of butterfly that tastes bad to birds. This mimicry reduces predation. Adult butterflies don’t eat solid food, but get their nutrients from flower nectar, feces, and minerals dissolved in mud puddles.

Goodbye Right Molar #2, Hello Legal Pot Dispensaries in Georgia

September 22, 2022

The dentist and the dental hygienist were shocked my right molar didn’t hurt when I went for my first teeth cleaning in 10 years. It used to hurt. In 1998 my old dentist filled a large cavity and told me he didn’t think the filling would last 6 months, and I would eventually require a root canal. I’d heard nothing but bad things about root canals, and I began flossing regularly. The tooth endured with no change for 20 years, though it occasionally ached. One evening, I was watching The Walking Dead television show, while snacking on corn chips. I started digging what I mistakenly thought were chewed up corn chips stuck in my right molar, and I pulled out most of that dental work. My right molar never hurt again. By odd coincidence, I later learned my old dentist died suddenly in his office that same week. My new dentist took one look at this molar and said extraction was the only option–not even root canal could save it. I scheduled an appointment to have it removed, but 10 days before this date, it became loose and fell out when I flossed. If I didn’t already have an appointment, I’d leave that spot alone, but the dentist will still want to remove the roots to prevent infection. This procedure shouldn’t be a big deal. He’ll numb the area and use forceps to wiggle the roots free.

I want to keep the rest of my teeth and that means regular visits to the dentist. Like a kid, I need an incentive. Kids get candy for being good, so I’m going to give myself adult candy and visit a local cbd smoke shop every time I have a dental appointment. Stores that sell cannabis products are now offering Delta-8 cbd. Illegal marijuana is Delta-9, but chemists use isomerization to change Delta-9 to Delta-8. Delta-8 has the exact same chemical composition as Delta-9, but it has a different structure, so technically it is legal. I wasn’t impressed the first time I tried Delta-8–the high was mild and short-lived. However, smoke shops and convenience stores that sell Delta-8 are not regulated at all, and I believe some of the Delta-8 products they sell have considerable amounts of residual Delta-9. Last time I tried it, I could not tell the difference. The FDA warns there have been hundreds of people who have gone to emergency rooms across the country after consuming Delta-8, but this is out of tens of millions of users. Those people were probably not used to getting high or simply suffered unwarranted paranoia–a side effect of marijuana consumption. I don’t think state authorities are eager to crack down on cbd shops. I think they don’t want people from Georgia traveling to other states to purchase recreational pot because it means lost tax revenue. So pot is basically legal here now.

Honest, I wasn’t high when this thought occurred to me. What if the human race became extinct, and the only evidence left of our existence was my broken tooth pictured above? How would alien paleontologists exploring our planet imagine what we looked like based on 1 broken tooth? The only evidence of the existence of an extinct ape known as Gigantopithecus blacki is about 60 teeth–no other skeletal remains have been found. This species is thought to have lived from 2 million years BP-300,000 years BP. They lived in jungle environments with acid soils where fossil preservation is rare. Their teeth were found in caves with the remains of stegodon, rhino, tapir, goat, deer, ancestral tiger, hyena, dhole, and bear. Scientists believe they ate forest plants, especially fruit. 15 of the 62 teeth found so far have tooth decay. This species could have used a dentist. Scientists think its closest living relative was the orangutan, but it is believed to have been much larger. In my opinion artists’ depictions are quite fanciful, based on wild guessing.

Paleontologists imagine Gigantopithicus looked like this. The only fossil evidence of this species is some 60 odd teeth. I think this reconstruction is a stretch.

Railroad Ecology

September 15, 2022

George Stephenson invented the first workable steam engine locomotive in 1814, and he designed the first working rail system in 1820. The British government approved the construction of this first track used for hauling coal. The first rails were made of wood, but they wouldn’t hold locomotives filled with heavy loads of coal. The type of iron available then was also not strong enough to hold all that weight, so Stephenson invented an improved type of iron that could. Americans bought this technology and constructed our first working railway track in 1828. It was the Baltimore-Ohio Railroad and was 8 miles long. Tavern keepers opposed the construction of railways because they feared losing business when railway tracks were constructed far from their establishments, and religious nuts who thought railroads were sinful also fought against their construction, but the free market eventually won. Today, there are over 800,000 miles of railway tracks around the world.

George Stephenson invented the first workable locomotive steam engine in 1814. He also invented the iron used on railway tracks.

The many miles of railway tracks across the world have a big impact on the environment. They increase mortality of large animals, and they serve as migratory barriers for smaller animals, especially amphibians. Herbicides used to suppress vegetation influence the types of species that can live near railway embankments. Grassland corridors on railway embankments cut through forest facilitate the spread of invasive plant species. The impact is so extensive that railroad ecology has become a subset within the science of ecology. Railroad ecology has been more studied in Europe than the United States, but more and more scientists here are starting to pay attention to it.

A study in southern Poland looked at the influence of railway embankments on bird populations. This study counted 1644 individuals of 67 species. They found railway embankments hosted a greater diversity of species, but total number of birds was about the same as found in agricultural fields. They counted 923 individuals of 58 species found on railway embankments. The 3 most abundant in order were starlings, skylarks, and white-throated sparrows. 17 species were only found on railroad embankments, while 9 species were only found in agricultural fields. Railway transects had higher diversity, but birds were most abundant where railway embankments passed over wetlands, wet meadows, slopes, and bushy areas.

A scientific study found skylarks were the 2nd most common species of bird found on railroad embankments in southern Poland.

A study in Alberta Canada looked at wildlife mortality caused by train collisions with large mammals. This study determined 646 large mammals were killed by trains along 1 major track between 1995-2018. Species killed by trains here included grizzly and black bears, white tail and mule deer, bighorn sheep, moose, wolf, coyote, and Canadian lynx. 50 bears, 27 large carnivores, and 560 ungulates were killed. Areas with increased train speed and near water resulted in greater casualties. Trains coming around bends also caught large mammals by surprise.

This moose was rescued, but many large mammals are killed by trains every year.

References:

Cassady, Colleen, V. Whittingham, A. Forshner, A. Gangadhare, and D. Lietze

“Railway Mortality for several Mammal Species Increases with Train Speed, Proximity to Water, and Truck Curvature”

Scientific Reports 20776 2020

Kajzer-Bonk, J. et. al.

“The Effect of Railways on Bird Diversity in Farmland”

Environmental Science and Pollution Research 26 2019

Natural History in Yiddish

September 8, 2022

My late Grandfather on my father’s side spoke 7 languages, and his second wife spoke 8. They lived in Europe where countries that have different official languages border each other. I know 1 language because I live in the U.S. and never needed to learn a different one, though I long wish I was fluent in more than just English. I took a year of Spanish and a year of French in high school, but I’ve forgotten most of what I learned and never did master either enough to speak or understand them fluently. I suffer from a neurological condition that puts me at high risk for developing dementia. To delay the onset, I decided to keep my mind active by learning a new language. I chose Yiddish. My dad used to pepper his language with Yiddish words, and I think this experience gives me a head start. Moreover, my last name is Yiddish. Gelbart is Yiddish for yellow beard. Centuries ago, one of my ancestors must have been a blonde.

Yiddish is older than modern English and modern German. Modern English originated between 1400 AD-1500 AD, and modern German began between 1500AD-1600 AD, but Yiddish originated about 1000 AD. Yiddish literally means Jewish, and it was the language most often spoken by Jews of Central Europe until World War II. When Judea (now Israel) was a colony of the Roman Empire, Jews periodically rebelled. To suppress rebellion and dissent, Romans took a majority of the Jewish population into slavery and removed them from Judea, spreading them throughout the Roman Empire where they could no longer muster an organized resistance. Eventually, Jews in what today are Italy and France became free merchants and artisans. Germanic kings invited them to live in the Rhine River valley to improve their economies. Jews were likely speaking a combination of archaic Italian and French along with Hebrew and the related language of Aramaic. Soon, they picked up the medieval German languages spoken in the Rhine River valley. Whenever economic times deteriorated, Jews became the scapegoats, and the nobility would put the blame on them, and they would often be expelled. But Slavic kings located in what today are Poland and Russia would invite them to their kingdoms to help improve their economies. The Yiddish language picked up Slavic words as well. Yiddish is a mix of all these languages but is primarily medieval German with about 15% Hebrew. Jews still spoke Hebrew in synagogues and schools, but Yiddish was a street language used in their daily lives. Hebrew was considered a holy language. Before World War II there were 11 million Yiddish speakers in the world, but today there are just 600,000, mostly Hasidic Jews living in New York City and Israel. Israel chose Hebrew over Yiddish as its official language.

When the Romans conquered Judea and later suppressed rebellions, they enslaved much of the population and transported the Jewish slaves throughout the Roman Empire. Many Jews that were settled in Italy and France eventually migrated to kingdoms where Germanic languages were spoken. Yiddish–a complex mix of Hebrew, Romance languages, Slavic languages, and medieval German–originated there.

I’ve encountered difficulties learning Yiddish. Yiddish uses the Hebrew alphabet. I took some Hebrew classes 50 years ago, but to be honest most of the Hebrew alphabet letters look alike to me. I decided learning the Hebrew alphabet was too challenging for me, so I am learning Yiddish transliterated into the English alphabet. I think Yiddish is probably no harder to learn than English for people who didn’t grow up speaking it. However, there are some quirks. For example the article “the” has 4 different versions in Yiddish depending upon the gender of the noun it precedes, and there is no rhyme or reason for whether a noun is masculine, feminine, or neutral. Masculine nouns are preceded by der, feminine nouns by di, and neutral nouns by dos. To know which is which requires rote memorization of every single noun and its preceding “the.” Masculine nouns that are the objects of a sentence or in a prepositional phrase are preceded by a 4th version of “the”–dem. Feminine nouns in prepositional phrases become masculine and are preceded by der instead of di. Neutral nouns in prepositional phrases are preceded by dem. Prepositions and “the” articles commonly become contractions–an additional challenge. Another complexity are plural words. In English plural words are simply followed by an s, though some words require the middle vowels to be changed, as in geese instead of gooses. In Yiddish plural words can end in en, s, er (with a middle vowel change), im, and es. Money and time have no plural versions but remain singular.

Today, I combined my natural history studies with my Yiddish studies and learned about 50 natural history words in Yiddish. Some words are remarkably similar or exactly the same in both languages, but others are quite different. I got these from google translate, so if they are wrong blame that.

natural history-natural geshikhte

tiger-tiger

lion-leyb

cat-kats

wolf-vulf

dog-hunt (Interesting. Dogs were used for hunting, so hunt?)

bear-bir

cow-ku

buffalo-buflox (Ox?)

horse-ferd

sheep-shep

elephant-helfin

camel-kemi

hare-hoz (My father called rabbits, “hazels.”)

rabbit-kinigi (Similar to the archaic word for rabbit in English–coney)

squirrel-veverke

wild boar-vilde khazer (Khazer is a big insult in Yiddish because pigs are not kosher.)

deer-hirgch or dir

animal-khaye or behamye (Similar to beast?)

mouse–moyte

rat-shtshur

bird-foygi

dove-tayb

eagle-odler

hawk-fulk

owl-sove

snake-shlang (Similar to shlong, slang for a penis)

frog-zobe

dinosaur-daynasar

ground sloth-erd slotsch (Earth similar to erd)

catfish-som

carbon dating-tshod dayting

sedimentary rock-sedementari shteyn

spider-shpin (As in spin a web)

ant-muraske

cockroach-taraken

open pine savannah-efenen sosne savannah

oak woodland-demb vudland

beech and birch forest-bitsch aun berne veld

prairie-preri

dry scrubland-trukn skrublem

sea shore-im brig

grassy hill-granike berg

ecology-ekologi

copulation-kapayaleyshen

sperm-zeyre

erection-ireksten

remove your bra and panties-aropnemen dayn biusthalter aun heyzelke (Another word for bra is stanik.)

Reference:

Blech, Benjamin

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish

Alpha Books 2000

2 Uninhabited Forests in Mozambique

September 1, 2022

Scientists used google earth to find 2 uninhabited forests in Mozambique. Outside of isolated mountain forests like these, Mozambique has 0% virgin forest left. The first is Mount Lico, a granite mountain surrounded by agricultural lowlands. Mt. Lico is classified as an inselberg or isolated mountain. It is made of erosion-resistant granite. Formerly, it was about the same elevation as the surrounding land, but over time precipitation caused the surrounding land to erode away, leaving this isolated mountain. The forest growing on top of this mountain has been isolated for millions of years. Scientists first explored Mt. Lico in 2018, and every expedition finds species new to science. Though pottery has been found on Mt. Lico, the locals say no one in recent history has scaled the cliffs to get there. Scientists have already named 9 new species found here including mistletoe, 2 snakes, 2 pygmy chameleons, a bat, and 3 kinds of butterflies. Potentially, there will be more new species named because they found numerous amphibians, a catfish, more butterflies, crabs, and small mammals not known to science. There are hundreds of unknown species of fungi here as well. Mt. Lico is an important refuge for species of birds that prefer closed canopy forests, now rare elsewhere in the region. Of the 126 species of birds found here, 9 are considered endangered. Mt. Lico is now protected.

Mt. Lico in Mozambique. The sheer walls protect it from human settlement.
Scientists had to scale a cliff to explore Mt. Lico.
Mt. Lico is an inselberg–a granite mountain that resists erosion. The land surrounding it was formerly the same height, but rain has eroded it away.
Amphibians abound on Mt. Lico.
Pygmy chameleons and hundreds of other animal and plant species new to science live on Mt. Lico.
Mt. Lico from inside the forest.
Mt. Mabu is uninhabited because the natives think the spirits of the dead reside here.
This is 1 of 7 rare species of birds that live on these isolated tropical mountains in Mozambique.

Mt. Mabu is uninhabited for a different reason. The local natives believe spirits of the dead reside here, and they avoid it for superstitious reasons, though limited hunting and gathering takes place here. Researchers say it is eerily quiet, and animal tracks are everywhere. Caterpillars are so abundant that caterpillar scat falls like rain from the treetops. Mt. Mabu is 5600 feet above sea level and 27 square miles in extent. Uninhabited forests like these are getting harder and harder to find as the human population on earth heads towards 10 billion.

References:

Silva, Bettencourt, G., J. Bayless, and W. Conradson

“First Herpetological Survey of Mount Lico and Mount Socone, Mozambique”

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation 14 (2) 2020

Spotteswood, G., and J. Bayless

“Threatened Bird Species on 2 Little Known Mountains (Cheperone and Mabu) in Northern Mozambique

Ostrich–The Journal of African Ornithology 74 (1) 2008

Catfish Farmer Wars

August 25, 2022

One of the first species of fish I ever caught was the brown bullhead catfish (Amerius nebulosa). I caught it in a canal that marked the border of my grandfather’s backyard when he lived in Inverness, Florida circa 1972. I remembered how good it tasted, so I was surprised when I first began sampling farm-raised catfish being marketed during the 1980s. Farmers in Mississippi and Alabama raise channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus). The farm-raised catfish tasted ok, but the flesh had a flabby texture, and it was filled with streaks of tasteless fat. Frying the fish makes the fat crisp, but it is just not a versatile product. During the 1990s Vietnamese catfish farmers began flooding the American market with their farm-raised catfish, and The American Catfish Farmers of America went to work trying to cheat away the competition. During 2003 this organization convinced Senator Trent Lott to add an amendment to an appropriations bill that made it illegal for Asian catfish to be marketed as catfish. Asian catfish farmers were forced to rename their product as swai (Panganius hypothalmus) and basa (P. bocourti). The catfish Vietnamese farmers raise are known as the shark catfish, though they are true catfish and not related to sharks. However, Vietnamese raised catfish were still cheaper, and consumers seemed to prefer it over American farm-raised catfish. Not surprisingly, during 2008 American catfish farmers unsuccessfully tried to force Vietnamese catfish farmers to change the names of swai and basa back to catfish.

Brown bullhead. This is 1 of the first species of fish I ever caught. Some call it a trash fish, but it tastes just as good as American farm-raised catfish and the flesh has a better texture.
Adult and juvenile channel catfish. American catfish farmers raise this species. The flesh has a flabby texture and there are big blobs of fat in it. Vietnamese farm-raised catfish is better.
Vietnamese catfish farmers raise 2 species of shark catfish known as swai and basa because American catfish farmers bribed politicians to pass a law not allowing them to be called catfish. Vietnamese catfish is superior in texture compared to American farm-raised catfish, and beat it in a small blind taste test involving 58 people.

The American Catfish Farmers of America are a bunch of liars. They’ve convinced celebrity chefs including Alton Brown and Emeril Lagasse that farm-raised catfish tastes better than wild catfish, but from my experience I know this is untrue. Perhaps wild catfish caught in evaporating mud puddles do taste muddy, but wild catfish caught in clear water taste just as clean as farm-raised catfish. They want to discourage competition from sports anglers. This organization is also probably behind propaganda videos that falsely claim Vietnamese farm-raised catfish are raised in sewage and are contaminated with bacteria. An independent study conducted by Alan Marshall and Amit Pal of Mississippi State University found that Vietnamese raised catfish were just as safe to eat as American farm-raised catfish. Moreover, in a taste test involving 58 people, Vietnamese farm-raised catfish beat American farm-raised catfish. Accusing Vietnamese farmers of raising unsanitary food seems a bit racist to me. The Vietnamese eat their own product. They wouldn’t feed hazardous food to customers in their own country. In my opinion the American Catfish Farmers of America is a dishonest and racist organization. They represent unethical rednecks.

I made fried swai, hush puppies, and okra and tomatoes for supper last Sunday.

I recently discovered swai, and the product was so good it inspired me to research what exactly it was. It is an economical and quality product. The flesh is meaty without the flabby texture and streaks of fat found in American farm-raised catfish. It is as good as farm raised tilapia. I will be a regular consumer of this product.

Pleistocene Paw, Hoof, and Footprints in New Mexico (redux)

August 17, 2022

I already wrote an article with this title 2 years ago, but a minor disaster last week inspired me to rewrite it. In the original article I wrote the fossilized human footprints found at White Sands National Park were at least 11,000 years old. A new study published last year determined the footprints were between 23,000 years-21,000 years old. I tried to edit in a note to the old article explaining the results of the new study, and some kind of glitch erased the last 2 paragraphs and the image I used for the original article. I could look for the old handwritten first draft in a stack of old notebooks I keep in a dusty, old, cardboard box, then retype it, but I decided to start all over and rewrite it completely.

During the late Pleistocene climate patterns were much different in the American Southwest than they are today. The region enjoyed higher rainfall and a cooler more temperate climate, resulting in abundant lakes. Lake Otero, now a completely dry lakebed, was filled with water then and surrounded with lush prairie and scattered trees. A drier climate phase struck, and the lake began to recede, leaving a muddy shoreline where many species of mammals left trackways, including humans, mammoths, camels, bison, Harlan’s ground sloths, saber-toothed cats, giant lions, and dire wolves. Some of the human trackways crisscross those of a ground sloth, and it appears as if the sloth paused and stood, so the animal could better detect the human scent. 61 fossilized human footprints have been found here, and they are mostly of teenagers and children. Apparently, the teenagers were going back and forth, as if they were carrying objects. Children appear to be playing. Scientists hypothesize the adults were fishing and/or collecting edible aquatic plants, and the teens were carrying the items to a camp (not yet found by archaeologists). One teenager was babysitting a toddler and carrying it around.

Human trackways at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Some scientists estimate these footprints are about 21,000 years old. Human trackways are interspersed with the prints of Pleistocene megafauna.
Artist’s rendition of White Sands National Park 21,000 years ago. Image is a courtesy of the National Park Service.

Of course, fossilized footprints can’t be radiocarbon dated, so how did scientists date the trackways? They radiocarbon dated the ditch grass (Ruppia cirrhosa) seeds found in sediment above and below where the trackways are located. They determined the trackways are between 23,000 years BP-21,000 years BP. This evidence contradicts mainstream archaeologists who believe humans didn’t arrive in North America until about 14,000 years ago.

Diagram showing how the conclusions by the above discussed study could be wrong. Gary Haynes believes wind erosion redeposited older sediment over younger sediment or simply displaced younger sediment so 21,000-year-old ditch grass seeds were on the surface when men and megafauna walked in the area 13,000 years ago. Image from the below reference (Haynes 2022).

Gary Haynes, a renowned archaeologist, casts doubt on the purported age of the trackways. In an article he published in the journal PaleoAmerica, he points out 3 factors that could cause the scientists to reach misleading conclusions about the age of the trackways. The presence of hardwater in an environment causes radiocarbon dates to be older than they actually are. The scientists who dated the trackways were aware of this but think this isn’t a problem because local water is currently not hard. However, Haynes points out they didn’t analyze modern ditch grass to see if it absorbs a greater concentration of hard water than is found in the environment. Another factor that could cause misleading dates is redeposition of sandy sediment by wind. One study of a stratigraphic column in the area nearby found roughly half of the dates were out of order with older sediment on top of younger sediment and alternating with it. Haynes thinks the stratigraphic column in the region where the trackways are found date to between 15,000 years BP-11,000 years BP, dates consistent with when the Clovis culture was known to occur in North America. Finally, he thinks the trackways were made 13,000 years ago, but the exposed sediment where the humans and animals walked happened to be older due to wind redeposition. In other words wind blew the younger sediment away, and people and animals were walking on old sediment.

M. Bennett is the lead author of the study determining the trackways were 21,000 years old. His response to Haynes’s alternative explanation was short and rather obtuse. He believes it was unlikely redeposition of windblown sand occurred, but he offers no explanation why. He also stated the trackways couldn’t be of Holocene age because the human trackways were interspersed with Pleistocene megafauna trackways, and Pleistocene megafauna were extinct by the Holocene (beginning about 11,000 years ago). However, Haynes merely quoted another study that mentioned the trackways being of Holocene age was just 1 of 3 possibilities. Bennett didn’t even address Haynes’s belief that the trackways date to 13,000 years BP when Pleistocene megafauna still roamed the region.

References:

Bennett, M. , et. al.

“Evidence of Humans in North America during the Last Glacial Maximum”

Science 373 6562 2021

Haynes, G.

“Evidence for Humans at White Sands National Park during the Last Glacial Maximum could be for Clovis People ~13,000 years ago”

PaloeAmerica March 2022

Aborigines may have Occurred in South America and Southwestern North America Before the Last Glacial Maximum

August 10, 2022

There is tantalizing genetic and archaeological evidence suggesting small ephemeral populations of people related to Australian aborigines occupied parts of South America and southwestern North America thousands of years before Amerindians colonized the continents. The archaeological evidence predates or at some sites is simultaneous with the Last Glacial Maximum, the climate phase when the most recent Ice Age glaciers reached their greatest extent about 21,000 years ago. Mainstream archaeologists long believed the first humans arrived in the Americas about 14,000 years ago, but there are just too many compelling archaeological sites, especially in South America and southwestern North America, that contradict this view. The radio-carbon dates can’t be wrong on all of them. Examples of archaeological sites predating or simultaneous with the Last Glacial Maximum include Monte Verde, Chile (33,000 years BP), Toca de Tara Peia, Brazil (20,000 years BP), Arroyo del Vizcaina, Uruguay (30,000 years BP), fossil footprints in Argentina (30,000 years BP), Chiquihuite Cave, Mexico (26,000 years-19,000 years BP), Conxcatlan Cave, Mexico (30,000 years BP) and fossil footprints in New Mexico (21,000 years BP). Now, a recent study of a site in New Mexico determined humans butchered a mammoth and calf here 37,000 years ago.

The recently studied site located in New Mexico is known as the Harley Mammoth Locality named after the hiker who found it. Scientists examined the mammoth bones using CAT scans and determined the mammoths were butchered by humans. The skulls were broken to extract the calorie-rich brains. Ribs were removed from vertebrae–a logical step when breaking down a large mammal. Calorie-rich marrow was extracted from the bones as well. 6 chert flakes, debitage from toolmaking, were found in situ. And it appears as if some of the bones were used for fuel to cook fish over open campfires. Fish scales were found, though the site is 70 yards from the nearest source of water. There is no sign of carnivore scavenging, but the scientists did find termite and cicada burrows in the bones. Insects likely burrowed into the bones after they were slowly buried when rain over time washed sediment downslope over the bones. Later, wind eroded some of this sediment away, allowing Hartley to find some of this material.

Stones modified by tool-making found at the Hartley Mammoth Site dated to an incredible 37,000 years BP. Image from the below reference.
Mammoth bones with evidence of human butchering. From the Hartley Mammoth Site located in New Mexico. Image also from the below reference.

3 Indian tribes found in the Amazon Basin, including the Surui, Karitiana, and Xavanti, have a genetic marker suggesting some of their ancestry is related to the ancestors of Australian aborigines. This genetic marker is known as the Y population and is found in no other known populations of Indian tribes. The oldest known human skeleton in the Americas, the Anzick child from South Dakota, dates to about 12,900 years ago and does not have this genetic marker. This genetic evidence suggests 2 different populations colonized the Americas. Aborigines colonized Australia about 40,000 years ago, and it seems likely they were capable of long-distance sea travel then–a knowledge that was lost over time. Small groups of them may have discovered South America at about the same time their relatives found Australia. Maybe, they were so traumatized by harrowing sea journeys, they decided to stick to land, and over a generation they forgot how to travel by sea. I hypothesize populations of aborigines in America remained low over millennia and likely were always on the verge of extinction in the harsh environments of the Late Pleistocene. The later invasion of more technologically advanced Indians probably displaced the aborigines across most of their range with the exception of the Amazon Basin where they interbred. Perhaps, Indians were more dependent upon aborigine knowledge in the more challenging environment of the Amazon jungle.

3 tribes in the Amazon basin have a genetic signature shared with Australian aborigines. No other Indian tribes in the Americas have this signature. These tribes may be relics from a more widespread population that was displaced by Indians during the Late Pleistocene. Linguistic evidence also suggests the former existence of aborigines alongside Amerindians.

Apparently, aborigines didn’t have as negative an impact on megafauna populations as the Indians. They were fewer in number and never specialized in hunting megafauna, though they did occasionally kill large animals. They probably preferred exploiting small game and fish because it was less risky. Small aborigine tribes couldn’t risk casualties when hunting larger more dangerous animals.

Reference:

Rowe, T. et. al.

“Human Occupation of the North American Colorado Plateau ~37,000 years ago”

Frontiers of Ecology and Evolution July 2022

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fevo.2022.903795/full#S12

6 Selected Plants that Grow in my Yard

August 3, 2022

I live on the beach, or rather it used to be a beach 33 million years ago. Now, this location is about 128 miles inland. Nevertheless, the soil is still sandy, and ecologists classify it as a piedmont sandhill. Plants able to grow in arid sandy conditions thrive here. The co-dominant trees are sand laurel oak and loblolly pine, though I think long leaf pine formerly prevailed. I believe this area was alternately part of the long leaf pine savanna region that before European colonization dominated the coastal plain. The name of the road I live on is “Piney Grove,” indicating its original appearance. It was likely subject to frequent light grass fires. The soil is particularly sandy compared to much of the coastal plain, however, and the local environment may have been quite unique. Cleared lots soon get covered in sand laurel oak saplings, persimmon, sumac, sassafras, prickly pear cactus, and low bush blueberry. Many interesting herbaceous plants grow here as well. I stopped using a lawn mower over 20 years ago and instead use a scythe to keep vegetation in check. I selectively cut my yard and allow interesting plants to form patches. Here are 6 interesting plants that find refuge in my yard.

Florida pusely, a non-native species related to the coffee plant.

Florida pusely (Richardia scabra) is native to South and Central America and Mexico and is also known as Mexican parsley, though it is related to coffee trees, not true clovers which are legumes. Most google results for this plant suggest how to get rid of it. Some people demand perfect lawns. I’d rather have the pusely. It produces pretty white flowers that attract bees and butterflies, and the foliage covers the ground. Reportedly, it is edible, but I wouldn’t try it because it is closely related to a species used to induce vomiting.

Buttonweed, also a non-native species related to the coffee plant.

Next to a patch of Florida pusely is a patch of buttonweed (Hexasepalum teres), also known as poor joe. This species is also a native of South America and belongs in the coffee family. It has tiny blue flowers.

Trumpet vine.

Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) is a member of the Bignoniaceae family. Its flowers attract hummingbirds, but the rest of the plant is toxic to people and most animals. It is native to eastern North America and fairly abundant in my neighborhood.

Golden cottony aster is very abundant in my yard.
Bumble bee on golden cottony aster bloom.

Golden cottony aster (Chrysopsis gossypinus) grows on the edges of wooded areas and blooms from September to November. The flowers attract butterflies and bees, and it is so named because the flower buds resemble the buds on cotton plants before they bloom. It is a member of the aster family.

A big colony of evening primrose grows in my yard next to the road.

A long patch of evening primrose (Oenothern biennis) grows alongside the road on the front part of my yard amidst the Bahia grass. Every part of this plant is reportedly edible including the roots, leaves, and seeds. Evening primrose seed oil is thought to ease the symptoms of PMS, but pharmacological studies are so far inconclusive. Birds eat the seeds, and evening primrose is the host plant for 2 species of moth. Native-Americans used the plant as well. It blooms in June here, especially in the evening, hence the name. It is a member of the Onagraceae family and is found throughout North America.

I destroy sandspurs on sight. Nevertheless, I can’t get rid of them.

I destroy sandspurs (Cenchrus sp.) as much as I can, but I can’t get rid of this tough plant. The hairs on this plant cause annoying itching when they come into contact with human skin, and the seeds are encased in burrs covered with sharp spines that attach themselves to animal fur or human socks and shoes. I’ve spent much time pulling dozens of them off my socks, getting them stuck in my fingers instead. They fall off in the carpet where my bare feet step on them too. The seeds of this plant are spread all over by animal transport. This genus is so successful they are native to 4 continents. Reportedly, the seeds are edible, but may be infected with the ergot fungus–the kind that causes LSD-like reactions.

The End of the Universe: No Light, No Heat, No Mass, No Life

July 27, 2022

I don’t know whether it is comforting or disturbing to realize the universe will die in the future. I’m entering the 4th quarter of my life, and I’ve been thinking about my end recently, but nothing lasts forever, not even the universe. According to the majority opinion of astronomers, the universe will die between 1 to 100 trillion years from now. Ironically, the death of the universe may be related to its birth. The theory of the universe’s origin most favored by astronomers is the Big Bang Theory–a slight misnomer because Big Expansion better describes it. About 13.5 billion years ago, all matter, time, and space were contained within 1 tiny singularity. Suddenly, everything expanded at the speed of light. Scientists don’t know what existed before this expansion, but it may be that time itself didn’t exist, and the beginning of the big expansion was literally the beginning of time. It took 300 million years for primitive stars to start forming from the hydrogen to helium nuclear fusion that releases energy. Stars evolved to become more powerful, and when they used up their energy, they exploded in massive supernovas, producing heavier elements such as iron that eventually formed the core of some planets. New stars and planets created from supernovas continued to spread in the ever-expanding universe. Solar systems are the ashes of old supernovas. 9 billion years after the big expansion, earth formed.

Evolution of the universe. The universe is still relatively young, but it won’t exist forever, according to most astronomers.
The first stars were short-lived, but they spawned longer-lived stars where more heavy elements were created from nuclear fusion, following supernovas.
The universe keeps expanding. Eventually, stars will be so far apart, the night skies will be dark. After a trillion years or more, all the energy in the universe will be expended, and there will be no light, no heat, no mass, and no life.

The expansion that created the universe will cause its death. Stars will move so far away from each other due to expansion that night skies on planets will be dark. Red dwarfs, the longest-lived stars, may survive for hundreds of billions of years, but they too will fade away. When this happens, there will be no light anywhere in the universe. The temperature of the universe will be -273 degrees F, also known as absolute zero. A related theory, known as the Big Rip, suggests even matter will break apart into self-destructing atoms. The universe will be a very cold, very dark, empty space. Of course, nothing could live here.

There is an alternative cosmological theory known as the Big Crunch. This theory posits the expansion of the universe will end and gravity will pull all matter together again into a singularity. A related theory, the Big Bounce, holds that after the Big Crunch, the universe will expand again in another Big Bang and alternating Big Bangs and Big Crunches mean an eternal cycle. Currently known scientific evidence doesn’t support this theory, and it seems to be based on wishful thinking. It is a difficult, disturbing concept to think someday there will be nothing…that the end of the universe is absolute death. Perhaps. the universe will reform again from nothing, but this would be via a process unknown to science.