The Greeneway Trail in North Augusta, South Carolina

October 22, 2021

My fantasy of living in a primeval wilderness is not realistic, but many suburban communities are taking action to preserve green space that would otherwise be transmogrified into cement and asphalt. The Greeneway Trail is an example of protected green space that improves the quality of life for local residents. The trail follows an abandoned railroad right of way and leads to a series of ponds created from pits dug for clay used in the nearby manufacture of brick. The trail is shaded by tall trees, and in some places it bisects steep hills. During construction of the rail line, probably shortly before or after the Civil War, railroad workers dug through the hills to make the rail line flat. This makes for a nice flat trail enjoyed by hikers and bikers. The trail is paved, and I was able to push my wife’s wheelchair on it with little effort. The brick factories closed during the Great Depression, and the area became abandoned until the 1990’s when Mayor Tom Greene led the repurposing of the railroad right of way and abandoned brick factories into a green space everybody could enjoy. State funds were used to pay for construction and maintenance of the trail.

The Greeneway Trail in North Augusta, South Carolina is named after the mayor behind the development of this really nice park.
The paved tree-shaded lanes follow what used to be railroad right of ways.
The trail is completely flat because the construction crews building the railways dug through hills to make the track flat for trains. Some parts of the road have steep hills on both sides, making it even shadier. Here are the exposed roots of an old water oak.
Species of trees found along the Greeneway Trail are typical of river bottomland forests. Another common environment on the original river bottomlands were pure stands of bamboo cane known as canebrakes. They formerly were found in pure stands that covered hundreds of square miles. I found a small stand of bamboo cane along the trail.
Brick pond. Until the Great Depression there were brick factories in North Augusta. Workers dug pits for the clay which they used to make bricks. The pits filled with water and became ponds.
A yellow bellied cooter on Brick Pond.

The common species of trees along the Greeneway Trail are those typically found in river bottom land forests including sweetgum, sycamore, water oak, red maple, basswood, river birch, shortleaf pine, and non-native evergreen Carolina cherry (a species native to the coast). Cypress and weeping willow were planted as ornamentals. There are small stands of bamboo cane, and grape vines are abundant on the trees. Pickerel weed grows in the ponds. This area was abandoned during the 1930’s, and most of the mature trees are probably about 90 years old.

The Trail runs parallel to the Savannah River, and during certain times of they year birdwatching must be productive. I saw 6 species in an hour–crows, blue jays, bluebirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, and an unidentified species of warbler. I thought I’d gotten a photo of the warbler, but it was not in the picture when I examined the image on my computer. Small birds don’t cooperate with photographers. On a log in the pond I saw a yellow bellied slider. Reportedly, alligators occur in the ponds. Photos of deer on the Greeneway Trail have been posted on the Friends of the Greeneway Trail Facebook Page.

While we were at Brick Pond, a worker was using a leaf blower to clear the leaves from a picnic area, ruining the quiet natural atmosphere. Leafblowers are 1 of the dumbest contraptions ever invented by mankind. They perform the same function as a rake or broom, but leaf blowers are more expensive, horribly noisy, and belch noxious fumes. Shmucks who use them are polluting the air with noise and poisonous exhaust. Moreover, small engines often break down, so the jerks who use them waste money on the dumb machine itself, fuel, and repairs…all because they are too lazy to use a rake. Rakes never break down. I’m sure my rant against leaf blowers will fall on deaf ears because the assholes that use them must be deaf from the noise they endured from the stupid machines.

Riverview Park is part of the Greeneway, and it is a really nice facility. The park offers a gym, beach volleyball, frisbee golf, real golf, tennis, and a dog park in addition to the trail for hikers and bikers. A boat ramp accesses the Savannah River. The Greeneway is also within walking distance of Antonio’s (a classic Italian restaurant on a corner), a traditional British style pub, Gary’s Hamburgers, and a Waffle House. I’d enjoy living in a neighborhood near the Greeneway.

Beach volleyball anyone?

How Long did it Take Humans to Wipe Out American Megafauna?

October 15, 2021

20 years ago, a computer simulation determined low levels of human hunting could cause the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna within a 1,640 year time frame. This simulation has held up well since the results were first published. A recent study of sedimentary data from Lake Llaviucu, Ecuador determined most of the megafauna in this region became extirpated 1,800 years after humans first entered the area. 1,800 years is remarkably close to 1,640 years. Another study, this one of a site in Patagonia, determined megafauna were extirpated in that region between 1000-2000 years after first human contact–also remarkably close to the computer simulation.

Locations of the data obtained for the below referenced study. Scientists dredged cores of sediment from beneath Lakes Llaviucu and Palicacocha in Ecuador. They used pollen composition, charcoal abundance, and dung fungus spore concentrations to determine the presence of humans, not environmental change, caused the extirpation of megafauna in this region. Image from the below referenced study by Raczka et. al.
Graph showing pollen composition, charcoal abundance, and dung fungus (sporomiella) concentrations. Dung fungus abundance is a proxy for the presence of megafauna; charcoal concentrations are a proxy for human presence because people set fires. People were present, but the environment did not change. It was a paramo grassland before people entered the region, and it still was a paramo grassland when megafauna became extinct in this region. Image also from the below referenced study by Raczka et. al.
Lake Llaviucu in Ecuador along with a llama. A glacial moraine dams a stream, thus creating this lake. Photo from Travel Ecuador.
A paramo grassland. Photo from the Missouri Botanical Garden. This region has been a paramo grassland for 16,000 years. Megafauna became extinct here about 12,800 years ago…1800 years after humans colonized the region. There was no change in the environment.

Scientists analyzed the pollen composition, charcoal concentration, and dung fungus spore concentration from a sedimentary core taken at Lake Llaviucu. The pollen composition provides information about the local environment. The area was under a glacier until ~18,000 years ago. After the glacier receded it was replaced by paramo grassland, an environment dominated by tussock grasses, rosette plants, and evergreen shrubs. Tropical cloud forests occur at lower elevations and plants from this environment contribute to the pollen rain. Charcoal concentrations are used as a proxy for human presence. Lightning strikes, a natural cause of fires, are extremely rare at this locality, so charcoal most likely came from human-set fires. Charcoal became common at this site about 14,600 years ago. Dung fungus spore abundance is a proxy for megafauna populations. Dung fungus declined in abundance 12,800 years ago. This is when populations of stegomastodons, horses, and ground sloths likely disappeared from the region. The core taken from this lake was 36 feet long and radiocarbon dates ranged from 16,200 years BP at the lowest part of the core to 9,000 years BP at the highest. The finding is consistent with similar studies at other sites in the Americas.

Lake Llaviucu is located in El Cajas National Park. Though most of the megafauna is gone, there are still some species of large mammals left here including llamas, mountain tapir, deer, spectacled bear, and cougar. The park is also home to 157 species of birds, and it is the Andean condor’s last stand. I’d love to visit the paramo grasslands and tropical cloud forests, but alas it is too far away.

Reference:

Alroy, John

“A Multi-Species Overkill Simulation of the End Pleistocene Megafaunal Extinction”

Science 292 (5523) 2001

Raczka, M. et. al.

“A Human Role in Andean Megafaunal Extinction?”

Quaternary Science Review 205 2019

Grayson’s and Meltzer’s Case Against Overkill would get Thrown out of a Court of Law for Perjury

I was listening to National Public Radio the other day, and they were interviewing a paleontologist who was excavating the bones of extinct Pleistocene megafauna. I didn’t catch his name or the name of the fossil site, but he was certain overhunting by humans caused the extinctions. For balance they also interviewed Meltzer, an archaeologists from SMU, who believes environmental change, not humans, caused the extinctions. About 20 years ago, he co-authored a series of illogical papers with Donald Grayson, an anthropologist, in an attempt to debunk the theory that man caused the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna. They are both a couple of dishonest shmucks. They are not paleo-ecologists. They are an archaeologist and an anthropologist. They know nothing about paleo-ecology. On the radio Meltzer simply repeated the same illogical arguments he made 20 years ago, and he ignored the overwhelming number studies that have since been published in support of an human role for the extinctions. A few years ago, Grayson published a book with a chapter about extinctions. He deliberately misrepresented the findings of a paper that ruled out environmental change as a cause of megafaunal extinctions. He suggested the results were the opposite of what the authors of the study concluded. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/donald-graysons-disingenous-case-against-overkill/ ) In a court of law a judge will throw out a case, if a witness perjures himself. Grayson’s and Meltzer’s case against overkill would get thrown out for perjury. Incidentally, I informed Grayson of the above linked article. He refused to respond.

Wet Climate Phases during the Pleistocene Probably Supported Higher Megafauna Populations in Southeastern North America

October 8, 2021

I love the fungus that grows on manure. I know that sounds weird, but the dung fungus spore concentration in sediment samples is the best evidence paleo-ecologists have of determining past megafauna populations. It is the perfect proxy because if dung fungus spores are high in a sample, megafauna populations must have been high during that time period. There is no hiding all the defecation that was occurring then. Low dung fungus spore concentrations are evidence of low megafauna populations. The latest dung fungus spore study was from a core of sediment taken beneath Lake Peten-Itza in Guatemala. The core was over 120 feet long and included radio-carbon dated time periods from 42,000 years BP-4,000 years BP. The dung fungus concentrations were compared with the pollen composition within each time period to determine what types of environments existed when megafauna populations were high or low. The types of environments fluctuated with known climate phases, alternating between oak and myrtle-dominated woodlands, pine-dominated woodlands, dry acacia-grassland scrub, and seasonal rain forest (the predominating present day environment). Oak-dominated woodlands prevailed during wet interstadials; acacia scrub grasslands prevailed during dry stadials. Megafauna populations were highest in this region during phases of climate that favored oak-dominated woodlands. I also noticed on the chart below that grass pollen was higher during this phase as well, suggesting wildlife had abundant grass and acorns to eat. Nearby fossil sites show horse, llama, mammoth, gompothere, and glyptodont occurred in this region during these time periods. Megafauna populations were lowest during dry stadials.

Location of the study site. Image from the below referenced study. Scientists took the core from 1 of the deepest parts of the lake that never dried out during dry climate phases.
Chart showing abundance of dung fungus (sporomiella) with pollen composition from a >120 foot core taken from sediment beneath Lake Peten-Itza. Megafauna populations were most abundant during wetter climate phases. Chart from the below reference.
Lake Peten-Itza today. It is surrounded by a seasonal rain forest, but during different climatic phases of the Pleistocene the surrounding environment varied between oak-dominated woodlands, pine-dominated woodlands, poor quality scrub grasslands, and seasonal rain forests. This lake is old and over 500 feet deep in some places.
Lucky Oak Woodland in Indiana. Much of central Georgia probably looked like this during wet interstadials of the Pleistocene.
Oak woodland in Ellijay, Georgia. Over 10,000 years ago this was prime habitat for Jefferson’s ground sloths, long-nosed peccaries, and tapirs. At least deer still occur here.

Other regions of the world weren’t the same. The mammoth steppe, a grassland and forb-dominated environment, located from northern Europe across Asia to Beringia, supported higher megafauna populations during cold stadials than other climate phases that favored forests and woodlands. The arid acacia scrub grasslands that occurred in Central America during stadials may have been nutrient poor and just did not support high populations of megafauna. Much of the region may have been bare soil.

I hypothesize populations of megafauna in the piedmont region of southeastern North America were also higher during interstadials. Pollen evidence indicates oak trees increased in abundance during these climate phases. Wetlands expanded and more grass, herbaceous plant growth, and acorns were available with increased precipitation; thus providing more potential food for wildlife. I think megafauna were likely limited to oasis-like habitats in this region during cold dry stadials. These habitats probably occurred in river valleys where stream flow was much reduced, and instead of meandering continuous rivers like those of today, the waterway was more like a chain of pools clogged with sand bars.

Many folks imagine Pleistocene-environments to resemble the modern day Serengeti, but this was not always the case. During cold dry climatic phases large areas may have hosted scarce wildlife populations restricted to shrinking water holes. Wildlife populations rebounded whenever climate phases shifted to more moist conditions. I’m sure wildlife populations fluctuated in parts of North America just like they did in Guatemala.

Reference:

Rozas-Davila, A.; A. Correa-Metreo, N. McMichael, M. Bush

“When the Grass wasn’t Green: Megafaunal Ecology and Paleodroughts”

Quaternary Science Review 266 August 2021

Hog-Nose Snakes–The Toad-eaters

October 1, 2021

My research on toads led me to the fascinating Heterodon genus of snakes. They specialize in preying upon toads, creatures most other predators avoid eating because the poison glands on their skin make them distasteful and even toxic. The Heterodon genus includes 3 species of hog nose snake–eastern southern, and western. They are easy to distinguish from other snakes because their nose resembles a pig’s snout. The eastern hog nose snake (Heterodon platyrhinus) occupies the largest range which partially overlaps with that of the western hog nose snake (H. nasicus) and fully overlaps the more limited range of the southern hog nose snake (H. simus).

Eastern Hog-nose snake. I’ve seen this species with this color variation in my neighborhood.
Southern hog-nose snake. They are smaller and less widespread than Eastern hog-nose snakes.
Hog-nose snake playing dead.

The eastern hog nose snake varies greatly in color. I looked for photos of this species on google images and found at least 18 different color variations. The variation of this snake in my neighborhood most closely resembles the top photo above. This species grows to almost 4 feet long and inhabits sandy soils in open woodlands. In some regions frogs and toads make up 100% of their diet, but in other regions they also prey on mice, birds, lizards, and other snakes. When threatened they feign aggression. If this doesn’t deter a predator, they play dead. Fossil evidence of this species dating to the Pleistocene and/or Pliocene have been found at Ladds in Georgia, as well as sites in Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, and West Virginia. The Heterodon genus is at least 5 million years old.

The southern hog nose snake grows smaller than the eastern, reaching lengths of less than 2 feet. Biologists believe the population of this species is in decline, while those of the eastern are stable. Southern hog nose snakes also prefer sandy soils in open woodlands. They too feign aggression and play dead, but these actions are less pronounced than those of the eastern. Fossil specimens of this species have been found at 2 sites in Florida.

Hog nose snakes rarely bite people. An exception occurred when a man who had just handled toads picked up an hog nose snake. The snake likely scented the toad and got confused. They do have venom injected by rear fangs, but it is dangerous for amphibians, not people. Frogs and toads swell up to prevent snakes from swallowing them, however, the rear fangs of a hog nose snake puncture the frog, deflating it, and the venom stops the frog from struggling–another example of evolutionary measure and countermeasure between predator and prey.

Pleistocene Toads

September 24, 2021

During the first months of 1976 I was the new kid at Patty Hilsman Middle School in Athens, Georgia where a group of cruel, little jerks decided to give me the nickname–toad. The nickname stuck immediately. Jocks, nerds, “cool” kids, and pretty girls all referred to me as toad instead of my given name of Mark. I was 13 years old, and the experience didn’t enhance my self-esteem. It also gave me a dim view of southern hospitality (our family had moved from Ohio), and after living in the South for over 45 years, I can confirm it is a myth. I saw a southern toad (Bufo terrestris) hopping in my yard the other day, and it brought back the unpleasant memory of being likened to an ugly amphibian. Nevertheless, it also reminded me that I’ve never written about this amazing Pleistocene survivor. Toads may seem insignificant, but they have outlasted many of the beautiful more dynamic animals that lived during the Pleistocene.

Southern toad. This species is common in my yard. Photo from Alamy.

Georgia is home to 2 species of true toads, 1 species of spadefoot toad, and 1 species of narrow-headed frog that is given the common name of toad. Southern toads are the most common species. They live in areas with sandy soils where they can burrow during the heat of the day. They hunt insects at night. After heavy rains, they breed and lay eggs in temporary pools where, if the pool doesn’t dry out, their tadpoles can metamorphize into adults. Fossil evidence of southern toads dating to the Pleistocene has been found at 6 sites in Florida and 1 site in Alabama. They were likely just as widespread then as now.

Oak toad. My neighborhood is close to the northern range limit for this species. I’ve seen small toads in my yard but they may be juvenile southern toads. Photo from pininterest.

Oak toads (Bufo quercicus) also prefer sandy soils and are common on coastal plain pine savannahs. This species is small, growing to just an inch in length. Fossil evidence of this species dating to the Pleistocene has been found at just 1 site in Florida (Reddick).

Eastern spade foot toad. They live in spiral burrows underground but emerge above ground to breed.

Eastern spade foot toads (Scaphiophus holbrooki) belong to the Pelobotidae family and are not closely related to true toads. They are named for a protuberance found on both feet that helps them dig deep spiral burrows where they spend most of their life, and for this reason they are rarely seen. Their burrows are much deeper than those of the true toads. After heavy rains, they emerge to breed and lay their eggs in temporary pools. This species is so well evolved to live in pine savannahs they can survive the light ground fires that occur in their environment. Fossil evidence of this species dating to the Pleistocene has been found at 10 sites in Florida.

The narrow-mouthed toad is not a true toad but belongs to the narrow-headed frog family. Photo from wild herps.

Narrow-mouthed toads (Gastrophyne carolinensis) are not true toads but instead belong to the narrow-headed frog family (Microhylidae). This species burrows near wetlands and spends much of its time in emergent wetland vegetation. They mostly eat ants. Fossil evidence of this species has been found at Ladds in northwest Georgia.

Woodhouse toads (Anaxyros woodhouseii) no longer occur on the southeastern coastal plain of North America, but their fossil remains have been found at sites in Florida and Alabama. The reason for their regional disappearance is a mystery. Perhaps, unlike other species of toads here, they are not well adapted to human set fires.

Toads secrete poisons that make them unpalatable to mammalian predators. However, toads do make up the majority of the hog-nosed snake’s diet. Toads do have a defense mechanism against the snakes too. They swell their bodies, making them hard for the snake to swallow. Sometimes this defense mechanism works and sometimes it does not.

Golden Silk Orb Weavers (Trichonophila clavipes) in My Yard

September 17, 2021

Golden silk orb weavers made my backyard their home this summer since about the middle of June. Last week, I counted 5 different webs in my yard. Their webs are huge, measuring 10 feet across and 6 feet from top to bottom. These deadly traps catch all kinds of insects from mosquitoes to wasps. This species is not reported to prey upon vertebrates, but I would not be surprised, if they do catch tree frogs, hummingbirds, and bats on occasion. They are a large spider over 1 inch long from abdomen to head, and their leg span is even wider. Golden silk orb weavers are also known as banana spiders because most are yellow. (They are also some times found in boxes of bananas.) The specimens in my yard seem to be brown with yellow spots, likely a local variation. This species ranges from North Carolina to Argentina, and they are expanding their range due to global warming.

There are currently at least 5 golden silk orb weaver webs in my backyard. The webs measure about 10 feet across and about 6 feet from top to bottom. They angle their bodies according to the time of day to reduce direct exposure to the sun. The webs survived a recent rain storm from the latest hurricane. I took this photo.

Golden silk orb weavers belong to the Nephilidae family and were formerly given the scientific name Nephila clavipes. However a recent genetic study determined they should be classified in the Trichonophela genus within the Nephilidae family. Females are 6 times larger than males, so if a smaller spider is seen in their web, it is probably a male. Females eat males when they are done mating with them. A genetic study suggests the characteristic of female gigantism in the Nephilidae family originated over 100 million years ago. There is another species of spider–the silver-colored, fat-bodied Argyrodes nephilae–that some times lives on the outside of golden silk orb weaver webs. This species steals captured prey from the golden silk orb weaver by cutting the webbing attached to the web-wrapped insect and lowering it to the outside of the golden orb weaver’s web where it is safe for the Argyrode spider to consume. A golden silk orb weaver web is an ecological community in itself with female and male golden orb weavers, web-wrapped insects, and a smaller species of spider that lives life as a thief.

Reference:

Kuntner, M. et. al.

“Golden Orb Weavers Ignore Biological Rules: Phylogenomic and Comparative Analysis Unravel a Complex Evolution of Sexual Size Dimorphism”

Systematic Biology 68 (4) July 2019

Monster Centipedes

September 10, 2021

The top predator on Philip Island is a 12 inch long centipede with armored plating and a venomous bite. This monstrous creature preys upon sea bird nestlings, lizards (skinks and geckos), and crickets. It also eats the vomited fish and squid parent birds regurgitated to feed their chicks. About half of its diet consists of vertebrates, an unusual ratio for a terrestrial invertebrate. Scientists estimate 11%-19% of black-winged petrel chicks are lost to centipede predation every year. However, centipedes don’t prey upon white winged petrel nestlings because they are larger and can defend themselves against the centipedes.

Phillip Island Centipede with a black-winged petrel. This species of centipede regularly feeds upon black-winged petrel chicks. 13 species of sea birds nest on Philip Island. Photo from the below referenced study.
Photo and location of Philip Island. Note how denuded the island is of vegetation. This is from feral pigs, goats, and rabbits all of which have been eradicated. Image also from the below referenced study.

Scientists think centipedes may be able to help restore the ecology of Philip Island. Originally, the island was covered with white oaks, Norfolk pines, and red legged grass; but sailors introduced goats, pigs, and rabbits as a food source, and the feral animals denuded much of the island of vegetation. People eradicated the animals about 40 years ago to save the island ecosystem. Centipedes eat the sea birds and transfer marine nutrients to the rest of the island in their feces. This added nutrition may help the trees and grass grow back faster.

This is the largest species of centipede that lives in Georgia. Scolocryptis sexspinosus. It grows to 3 inches long. I’ve seen this species in my yard. Photo from insectidentification.org.

The largest species of centipede in Georgia grows to about 3 inches long–1/4th the size of the Philip Island centipede. This species is known as the red bark centipede (Scolocryptis sexspinosus), and I have seen this species in my yard. They have a venomous bite that is painful to humans but not fatal. It can live up to 5 years and will molt its exoskeleton as it grows. They are predatory but not often seen because they are usually nocturnal and fossorial. Worldwide, there are 8000 species of centipedes. Though their name means 100-legged, their number of legs can vary from 54-354, depending upon the species. Centipedes don’t mate. Instead, the male drops off its sperm, and the female later comes along and engulfs it. Females defend their eggs, and some species even defend their young.

Reference:

Halpin, L; et. al.

“Arthropod Predation of Vertebrate Structures Trophic Dynamics in an Island Ecosystem”

The American Naturalist 198 (3) September 2021

Cougars (Puma concolor) Control Feral Horse (Equus caballus) Populations in Some Environments

September 3, 2021
Photo of Cougar feeding on a horse from The Wildlife Society

President Teddy Roosevelt called the cougar that “horse-killing cowardly cat.” Though Teddy Roosevelt was a progressive President for his time, I think some of his opinions and attitudes were highly distasteful. He was a war monger and a sadist. He went on a safari to Africa and slaughtered thousands of animals, using the excuse that he was sending specimens back to an American museum. Cougars kill for food, but Roosevelt was slaughtering thousands of animals from a distance with an high-powered rifle under the false guise of obtaining scientific information. I think he did it because he enjoyed being a bloodthirsty killer. I respect the bravery of a cougar far more than anything Roosevelt ever did as an outdoorsman. Cougars are 1 of the few solitary carnivores that regularly attack prey larger than themselves.

There is no doubt cougars kill horses, but Steve Rinella, a Trumpanzee with an hunting and fishing show on the Outdoor Network, disputed a New York Times column written by Dave Phillipps, suggesting cougars could control feral horse populations. Phillips refused to appear on Rinella’s podcast, and Rinella seemed to relish how another expert had proven the author of the column wrong. He’s not wrong. A recent study determined cougars could control feral horse populations in sagebrush environments. Scientists studied 21 radio-collared cougars–13 in the Great Basin region of Nevada and 8 on the Sierra Nevada range. They counted 820 predation events and learned that in the Great Basin region horses made up 60% of the cougars’ diet while mule deer just made up 29% of their diet. On the Sierra Nevada range, mule deer made up 91% of their diet. Cougars hunted horses in sagebrush environments quite often, but rarely in mountain environments. In the Great Basin individual cougars killed an horse about once every 2.5 weeks. Another study looked at cougar prey on the Pryor Mountains. Here, cougars killed no horses and their primary prey was mule deer, though bighorn sheep made up 9% of their prey. 1 individual female cougar specialized in preying upon bighorn sheep, but most cougars preferred deer. I think horses are not an important part of the cougar diet in the Pryor Mountains because there are less than 200 of them there, and they are located in an area with no cougars.

Of course, cougars hunt horses. During the Pleistocene cougars co-existed with horses over the span of 2 continents for hundreds of thousands of years. I’m sure there were certain ancient environments where horses were the most available prey species. Horses are well adapted to arid grasslands, and during the Pleistocene were more common than deer in this type of environment. Cougars would have been competing with dire wolves, giant lions, and saber-tooths in open areas, and they likely were more common in woodlands or forest edges. But they may have held their own in some locations where horses and competing carnivores were abundant, depending upon ecological conditions. Incidentally, the Pleistocene cougars that lived in North America were not directly ancestral to cougars that live on this continent now. They were an extinct ecomorph that grew slightly larger than modern cougars and may have had spotted fur. According to genetic evidence, all modern North American cougars descend from a population originating in eastern South America about 10,000 years ago. Strange as it may seem, this population completely replaced the Pleistocene ecomorph.

Horses originated in North America and lived here for millions of years, until man wiped them out. People who claim feral horses harm the environment are full of shit. Horses make trails, defecate all over the place, and graze down vegetation…just like they did for millions of years. Horses recolonized North America, and this recolonization is no different from when wildlife managers re-introduce endangered species to lands where they had previously disappeared. There are only about 83,000 feral horses in North America today compared to tens of millions of cattle, yet cattle ranchers and do-gooder environmentalists would dishonestly lead people to believe horses are the problem, not the cattle. I call bullshit.

References:

Blake, L.

“Foraging Ecology of Cougars on the Pryor Mountains of Wyoming and Montana”

Utah State Graduate Thesis 2014

Andreason, A.; K. Stewart, W. Longled, J. Berkman

“Prey Specialization in Cougars on Feral Horses in a Desert Environment”

Journal of Wildlife Management July 2021

Of Morbid TV Shows and Wrinkly Foreheads

August 27, 2021

When I was about 4 years old I used to tell people my physician father “cures his patients.” Unfortunately, I had difficulty pronouncing the word, cure, and it sounded more like I was saying my dad “kills his patients.” My parents told me to stop saying that. At the time my dad was trying to build up his practice, and mispronouncing cure into kill didn’t help. I always think of this memory on Tuesday mornings when I start my hangover jog. I binge drink wine every Monday night, then jog in 90 degree heat the next morning, and I figure the exercise will “kill” or “cure” me. Most experts recommend not even going outside in this kind of heat, let alone running over 3 miles in it. I am 59 years old and probably suffer from high blood pressure, so this activity is by far the most hazardous part of my weekly routine. Nevertheless, it’s worth the risk for my psyche. I’d feel old, if I couldn’t do it, and I’d rather be dead than feel old.

I like to watch a television show on the Reelz network known as Autopsy: The Last Hours of… In each episode Michael Hunter examines the lifetime medical records of celebrities and determines exactly how they died. Some of his analysis is laughably unnecessary. For example Jerry Lewis had health problems throughout the later years of his life but lived to the age of 95. Just being the age of 95 should be reason enough for why he died. Frank Sinatra was another non-mystery. He drank a bottle of whiskey and smoked 2 packs of cigarettes every day for 50 years. It’s astonishing he lived to be 80. Other episodes do delve into more mysterious deaths. Luke Perry, star of Beverly Hills 90210, died of a stroke at the reasonably young age of 52. He was seemingly in good health–he exercised regularly and ate an healthy diet. Dr. Hunter did find 1 unexpected factor that may have contributed to his early demise. Perry had deep lines in his forehead, and an unpublished French study found people with deep lines on their forehead have an higher risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease.

Michael Hunter, host of the Reelz series Autopsy: the Last Hours Of. (Channel 238 on DirecTV) He examines the medical details of celebrity deaths.

Luke Perry died at the age of 52 from a stroke. Note the wrinkly forehead. An unpublished French study found people with deep wrinkles on their forehead had an higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The Luke Perry episode set off alarm bells for me because I have noticed I have a wrinkly forehead. Soon after I watched this episode, I researched the study on the internet. The unpublished results of the study were discussed at a European Medical Symposium during 2018, and a press release was issued detailing the study. It was a 20 year study that looked at 3200 people who were 32, 42, 52, or 62 years old when the study began. Over this 20 year time span 233 of the subjects died. Of the subjects who died, 15% had deep forehead wrinkles, 6% had moderately wrinkled foreheads, and 2% had no wrinkles on their forehead. I immediately noticed the bad math. 15% + 6% +2% = 23%. What about the other 77%? I sent an email to the author of this study asking about this discrepancy but so far have gotten no response. None of the other news outlets that reported the press release mention this disparity. Sciencenewsdaily.com simply plagiarized the press release and repeated the bad math. Other news outlets skipped over it (they must have noticed but said nothing). It may be true that atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) shares a genetic pathway with wrinkly foreheads but until someone explains the goofy math, I’m not going to worry about it. Most of the subjects in the study who died were probably in their 70’s, close to the average life expectancy anyway. I can think of worse ways to die than from a sudden cardiac event. If I die jogging in 90 degree heat while hungover, so be it.

Reference:

Esquirol, Yolande

“Deep Forehead Wrinkles May Signal a Higher Risk for Cardiovascular Mortality”

European Society of Cardiology Press Release 2018

Adolf Hitler Never Won a Legitimate Election

August 20, 2021

I always yell at the television when some ill-informed political pundit falsely claims Adolf Hitler was democratically elected. Bernie Sanders made this claim a few years ago, and a Washington Post fact-checker gave him 4 Pinocchios–their highest falsehood rating. Last week, Bill Maher again repeated this myth on his show, Real Time, and a guest agreed with him. Maher has regurgitated this lie numerous times in the past, but there is no way for an average shmuck like me to contact him and set him straight. Maybe someone can bring this article to his attention, but I doubt it.

Adolf Hitler ran for President of Germany during 1932 and lost to Von Hindenburg twice. He lost the first election by over 19% points and the second by almost 17% points. The results were not close. However, Hitler did take advantage of the democratic process to gain power, so perhaps the Washington Post’s 4 Pinocchio rating given to Bernie Sanders was too harsh. I’d give him 1 Pinocchio or the mostly false rating used by Politifact fact-checkers.

Results of the 1932 German Presidential Election and the Run-off. Von Hindenburg beat Hitler twice. From wikipedia.
Von Hindenburg was the only person in Germany who could have stopped Adolf Hitler. Instead, he appointed him chancellor to form a coalition government. He could have formed a coalition government with the Christian Democrats, but he hated the more liberal party. In contradiction to the tone of this photo, Hitler thought Hindenburg was a doddering old fool and Hindenburg called Hitler a damned corporal, and he made fun of his Austrian accent.
The Nazis burned down the Reichstag (the German Congress building) and blamed it on the communists. Von Hindenburg approved of the Enabling Act which gave Hitler dictatorial powers based on this crisis manufactured by the Nazis. Photo from the Smithsonian magazine.

During the 1928 German parliamentary elections the Nazis garnered just 2.6% of the vote. Then the Great Depression began, the economy collapsed, and the Nazi Party won 37% of the seats for the Reichstag during the July 1932 parliamentary election. This was more than any other party but not enough for a majority. Von Hindenburg was forced to broker negotiations for a coalition government. Von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor–the most important cabinet position. He also appointed 2 other Nazis (Goring and Frick) to other positions, while the 8 other cabinet positions went to members of other political parties. Von Hindenburg did not have to do this. He could have formed a ruling coalition between the the moderate Christian Democrats, his own Centre Party, and a number of minor parties that could have pushed them over the top in the Reichstag. But Von Hindenburg hated the Christian Democrats. His own Centre Party was right wing and supported by the Conservative Catholic Church, and they despised the more liberal Christian Democrats. The former Chancellor, Von Pappen, still had influence with Von Hindenburg, and he persuaded him to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. Hitler had promised to make Von Pappen Vice-Chancellor in exchange for convincing Von Hindenburg to appoint him. Moreover, 22 leaders of German industry lobbied Von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler because they feared the communists, and they felt Hitler was the best leader who could prevent the spread of Bolshevist revolution. Von Hindenburg, himself an extreme right winger, actually agreed with all of Hitler’s positions, except for his persecution of the Jews. One can understand why Von Hindenburg appointed Hitler, but he wasn’t forced into it.

Another parliamentary election was called in November of 1932 and the Nazis lost 35 seats but still held more than any other party. Here again, Von Hindenburg could have sacked Hitler and replaced the coalition government, but he did not. During February 1933 the Nazis set fire to the Reichstag building and blamed it on the communists. They did such a good job of hiding the real arsonists that historians couldn’t prove the Nazis were behind the Reichstag fire until as recently as 2013. Hitler used this crisis to influence the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act, a law that suspended civil liberties and gave him more power than anyone other than Von Hindenburg who Hitler knew was dying of cancer. The law was not passed democratically. Members of the Reichstag who were Christian Democrats or Communists were arrested and prevented from voting against it. During his time as Chancellor Hitler gained control of the police and the military. After Von Hindenburg died during August of 1934 Hitler combined the office of the President with that of the Chancellor and called it the Fuhrer meaning supreme leader. He appointed himself Fuhrer. That does not sound like a democratic election to me.

After Hitler made himself dictator, there were elections but they were all rigged to make it look like the Nazis won in a landslide every time. Hitler ruled Germany for 11 years before killing himself in a bunker when he couldn’t deny that he had led Germany to its destruction.

Reference:

Shirer, William

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

MJF Books 1961