Archive for October, 2020

Monsters from Georgia

October 31, 2020

The natural world scares many people.  They freak out when they encounter a snake or a spider.  Not me.  I think they are interesting creatures and not something to fear.  For my annual Halloween blog article I could write about snakes or spiders or some ferocious dinosaur or pre-historic mammal that formerly roamed Georgia, but I don’t consider them monsters.  They killed for food, territory, or mates; and their behavior was largely instinctual.  The most terrifying monsters in the history of Georgia are our fellow human beings.  Below is a short summary of the most heinous monsters in Georgia history.

All Confederate soldiers were monsters.  They were fighting, whether they realized it or not, for the institution of slavery.  The Confederacy used extremist militias to take over an entire region of the country, sparking a 5 year conflict that included family members and relatives killing each other.  After the Civil War was over, southern sympathizers imagined and put into writing a revisionist version of what the conflict was about.  The war was over slavery and nothing else.  All the southern state legislatures and governors admitted they were seceding from the Union to preserve the institution of slavery. (You can find these historical documents online.) I believe their confessions. Later revisionists were simply a bunch of cry babies who wanted to pretend  southerners were victims, even though they brought their destruction down upon themselves.  The Confederate soldiers were not victims–they were all slave-owners, sons of slave-owners, or poor shmucks who aspired to be slave-owners.  

Georgia Confederate Muster Rolls | FamilyTree.com

Confederate soldiers from Georgia. They claim they fought for States Rights.  Yeah, the right of states to keep slavery legal.

The next generation of Georgia monsters included racists who lynched innocent black people.  Now, most of the monsters on my list in this article look like ordinary people, but the monsters in the below photo look like refugees from the movie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Just think.  Their grandchildren post pro-Trump propaganda on Facebook today.  Facebook won’t let them use the N-word on their platform, but they have enough influence with Facebook for the platform to ban the word, White Trash, as if it is an equivalent.  (I am currently blocked from posting for 24 hours for saying conservatives = White Trash.)  It’s a false equivalency.  The word, White Trash, refers to a mindset more than a race.

The lynching of a black man in Royston, Ga., around 1935.

Scary bunch of rednecks.

Eugene Talmadge served as Georgia’s governor from 1933-1937 and from 1941-1943.  He won re-election in 1946 but croaked of liver cirrhosis before he could serve in office a third time.  In the 1946 election he lost the popular vote but won the election anyway because Georgia had a rule that whoever won the most counties won the election.  Sound familiar?  Talmadge was an ardent segregationist who believed in slave labor.  He claimed to be a populist (like Trump) but supported the interests of wealthy landowners (like Trump).  He had striking textile workers arrested and put into POW camps.  He complained to President Roosevelt about New Deal public works programs that paid better than local farmers who were used to cheating poor people into working for obscenely low wages.  Talmadge wasn’t much of a reader, but he did read Hitler’s Mein Kampf 7 times, and he sympathized with both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  In turn Germany’s Nazi Party praised Talmadge.  Talmadge attended KKK meetings and bragged about how he flogged black sharecroppers.  As governor, he fired de-segregationists serving on the University of Georgia’s Board of Regents, setting back integration there for decades.  Talmadge was also behind a lynching that resulted in the deaths of 2 young African-American couples.

Eugene Talmadge, Georgia Governor.jpg

Eugene Talmadge, Georgia’s governor for 2 terms during the 1930s and 1940s, read Mein Kampf 7 times and was praised by Germany’s Nazi Party.  He was an ardent segregationist.

William Calley commanded the platoon that murdered 504 old men, women, and children at the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.  He personally shot 22 of them.  Of the 14 men who took part in this war crime, he was the only 1 convicted.  He received a slap on the wrist–3 years of house arrest.  He should have been given the death penalty.  He went on to work in his father-in-law’s jewelry store in Columbus, Georgia.  Most of his customers hade no idea they were buying rings and wristwatches from a monster.

I sent them a good boy and they made him a murderer' - The Pulitzer Prizes

William Calley was found guilty of killing 22 innocent civilians during the My Lai massacre.

Wayne Williams raped and murdered at least 23 teenaged boys during the late 1970s in Atlanta.  He still claims he is innocent, and some of the victim’s parents believe him, but the evidence against him is overwhelming.  He posed as a talent agent to lure his victims into trusting him.  Police caught him throwing a body off a bridge into the Chattahoochee River in the middle of the night, and the murders suddenly stopped when he was taken into custody.  Moreover, 2 witnesses identified Wayne as the person who attempted to sexually assault them before they escaped.  Some additional murders attributed to Wayne may have been committed by other unknown monsters.

Where Is Wayne Williams, Suspect From Atlanta Child Murders Now?

Wayne Williams raped and murdered dozens of black teenagers.  He still claims his innocence, though the police caught him throwing a body off a bridge and the killings stopped once he became incarcerated.

Pleistocene Foot, Hoof, and Paw Prints in New Mexico

October 24, 2020

I worked alongside many young married men when the Augusta Chronicle employed me in their circulation department a few decades ago.  They all complained how their wives refused to have sex with them after having a baby.  My wife had a stroke during the birth of our daughter, and because of her disability I was forced to perform more mothering than most men.  Toddlers between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old go through a clinging stage.  All day long it seemed as if my child was constantly clinging to me or needing me to carry her.  By the time I got her to bed, I was so tired of human contact that sexual intercourse was the last thing I wanted.  Thus, I gained some insight into why the wives of my colleagues were not in the mood for romance after caring for a baby or toddler all day.  Evidence from over 11,000 years ago found in White Sands National Park suggests taking care of a toddler was a mood-killing chore even then.

Equatorial Minnesota: Tracking sloths and people at White Sands National  Monument

Fossilized footprints from the White Sands National Park.

A park employee found fossilized human footprints during 2017, and scientists have been studying them ever since.  A woman or teenaged boy carried a toddler almost a mile near a muddy lakeshore.  The footprints indicate she (or he) periodically set the toddler down to rest.  Dolomite and calcite salts hardened the prints into molds that were quickly covered by mud when heavy rains caused the lake to rise, preserving them for thousands of years.  The woman or teenaged boy carried the toddler in 1 direction, but this individual made a return trip without the toddler.  I think a young woman was dropping her toddler off at grandma’s camp, so she could have some romantic alone time with her husband.  Or maybe a teenaged babysitter was bringing a toddler back to its mother after taking care of it during the parents’ romantic interlude.  The pathway is crisscrossed with mammoth and ground sloth tracks.  Apparently, the trip was worth the risk of encountering large dangerous animals.  The presence of megafauna that became extinct about 11,000 years ago suggests these prints are at least that old.

Other fossilized tracks in White Sands National Monument show prints of children playing in mud puddles made by mammoth and ground sloth tracks, and they show the paw prints of big cats and wolves.  All of the articles I’ve read about this are written by authors who assume these are saber-tooth and dire wolf tracks, but I am unaware of any study differentiating between saber-tooth and other big cat paw prints, nor are their any studies distinguishing dire wolf and timber wolf tracks.  

Climate patterns were much different in southwestern North America during the late Pleistocene.  Annual precipitation rates were much higher, while average annual temperatures and evapotranspiration rates were much lower.  Abundant lakes and lush vegetation covered the landscape, but today, the region is an arid desert. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/ice-age-western-lakes-and-altered-bird-migrations/ ) Unfortunately, now that these fossilized trackways are exposed they will erode away and disappear forever.

Refererence:

Bennett, M; et al

“Walking in Mud: Remarkable Pleistocene Human Trackways from White Sands National Park (New Mexico)”

Quaternary Science Review 249 December 2020

Pleistocene Amberjack (Seriola dumerili)

October 17, 2020

I watched Food Paradise with my wife the other night, and we heard the chef of a restaurant in Florida say grilled amberjack was the house specialty. My wife asked what an amberjack was, and I told her it was a fish. She knew that, but she wanted to know what kind of fish an amberjack was.  This blog article is for her.

The greater amberjack is a large predatory fish found in warm ocean waters around the world.  They swim in schools located 60-200 feet deep, but they prefer coastal waters studded with manmade and natural structures such as shipwrecks and rocky outcrops.  Amberjack migrate to those structures to spawn, so their small offspring can hide in the crevices from larger fish.  Greater amberjacks reach a length of 6 feet long and can weigh up to 40 pounds, and they prey upon fish, squid and crustaceans.  During summer they expand their range north, and some populations migrate toward shore.

Greater Amberjack | NOAA Fisheries

Greater amberjack.

Amberjack Fish Culinary Profile - Chefs Resources

Greater Amberjack range map. They prefer deep waters near the coast.

As far as I can determine, not a single fossil specimen of amberjack has ever been found.  None are listed on the paleobiology database.  However, amberjack are a deep water fish and potential fossil locations are likely inaccessible.  Amberjacks belong to the Carangidae family which includes jacks and pompano, and they’ve existed for millions of years.  Genetic evidence suggests amberjacks from the Atlantic colonized the Mediterranean Sea during the Late Pleistocene after an existing population there had already split into 2 clades.  The population of amberjacks in the North Atlantic recently diverged from the population in the Gulf of Mexico.  Closure of the ancient Tethys Sea, and the rise of the Isthmus of Panama caused speciation in the Seriola genus.

Amberjack Recipes - Florida Go Fishing

Grilled amberjack. Some specimens of amberjack can be toxic.

Amberjack living in tropical waters can accumulate toxins in their flesh by eating smaller reef fish that have been exposed to dinoflagellates responsible for red tides. 

Fish is my favorite food to charcoal grill.  I think fish flesh absorbs the charcoal grill flavor better than any other protein.

References:

Bobie T. ; et. al.

“Two Seas, Two Lineages: How Genetic Diversity is structured in Atlantic and Mediterranean Greater Amberjack Seriola dumerili: Russ 1810 (Perciformis, Carangidae)”

Fisheries Research

Swart, Belinda

“The Evolutionary History of the Genus Seriola, the Phylogeography and Genetic Diversity of S. Lalandi (Yellowtail) Across its Distribution Range”

PHD Thesis Stellenbosch University 2014

Yellow Autumn Wildflowers in my Neighborhood

October 10, 2020

My neighborhood is on the top of a fall line hill in a sandy soil zone. The sandy substrate originated during the Eocene (55 million – 33 million years ago) when this region was a sea shore. It is a narrow zone found across 6 states, and it borders the oak-hickory-pine forest to the north and the open pine savannah zone to the south. The original dominant trees in this zone were sand laurel oak and longleaf pine, but the latter has been replaced by loblolly pine which is faster growing and less dependent upon frequent fire. Before European settlement the region was subject to periodic grass fires that thermally pruned the open woodland. Today, fire suppression results in thick growths of oak saplings on vacant lots. The original environment likely consisted of widely spaced pine and oak with an abundance of herb and grass species growing in the sunny undergrowth. The name of my road is “Piney Grove,” indicating what this area looked like about 50 years ago when the road was first paved.

This time of year 3 common yellow flowers bloom in my neighborhood, and there were probably acres of them here before it was subdivided into lots and landscaped with non-native turf grasses. Cottony goldenaster (Chrysopsis gossypinus) is a tough plant well adapted for growing in hot sunny conditions with sandy soils. I assume the name is based on the appearance of the bud before the flower blooms–it resembles an unopened cotton ball. I could find just 1 scientific study of this plant, and it focuses on anatomical distinctions between this and similar species. I’ve noticed 1 species of bee, 1 species of butterfly, and a small hornet, pollinating this perennial. This species has probably occurred in this region for millions of years because it has had similar climate and soil for ages.

I have a natural patch of cottony goldenaster in my yard. I don’t have to spend money on flowers.

Common sulphur butterfly (Colias philodice) pollinating a cottony goldenaster flower. The fall brood of this butterfly is greenish-yellow and they look like a leaf. They feed upon clover during their larval stage.

I don’t know what species of bee this is. But it is also pollinating a cottony goldenaster.

Sticktights (Bidens sp.), also known as beggar-ticks, produce a zoochorus fruit. The fruit sticks to fur, feathers, and clothing, and the seeds are spread throughout the environment in this way. It’s impossible for a deer, fox, or human to walk through a field and not inadvertently collect many of these fruits. 150-200 species of sticktights exist.

Fruit of the sticktight. These fruits stay on the plant after it dies and this increases the chances for the seeds to be spread by passing animals.

There are even more species of hawkweeds (Hieraciums sp.). Botanists count over 10,0000 species of hawkweed. I think the species in my neighborhood is field hawkweed (H. aespotosum), but I am no botanical expert and I don’t even know of a source with all 10,000 species illustrated, described, and compared.

Hawkweed.

Spotted Hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) May Have Persisted in Europe until 7,000 BP

October 3, 2020

European climate might be more suitable for spotted hyenas than African climate, according to a 10 year old study published in Quaternary Science Review. Ironically, the spotted hyena is presently extinct in Europe and survives on the continent of Africa and nowhere else, except zoos. Hyenas thrived from Spain to the Ural Mountains for about 3 million years. Genetic evidence suggests hyenas from Africa invaded Europe in 3 waves: 3 million years ago, 1 million years ago, and again 300,000 years ago. The hyenas in Europe were a subspecies of the African hyena, given the scientific name Crocota crocota spelaea and are commonly known as the cave hyena, though most individuals never ventured into a cave. Their primary prey consisted of horse and bison, but their diet also included rhino, deer, ibex, bear, lion, wolf, and other hyenas. Some of these prey items were scavenged, but hyenas actively kill most of their food. European hyenas were on average 40% larger than African hyenas–evidence European climate and habitats were a more optimum environment for them. European female hyenas (for hyenas females are generally larger than males) weighed up to 225 pounds, while African hyenas weigh up to 140 pounds. Hyenas occurred in Europe during all climate phases of the Pleistocene, including interglacials, glacials, interstadials (warms ups during cold stages) and stadials (cool downs during warm stages). This suggests climate change alone can not explain their extinction in Europe. Competition with humans was likely the cause of their extinction there, though scientists believe hyenas succumbed to a combination of environmental change and competition with humans. I disagree with this notion because if humans are eliminated as a variable in the equation, hyenas would still occur in Europe. Thus, humans alone are the cause of their extinction. Hyenas persist in Africa because tropical diseases kept human populations low on large areas of that continent.

Cave hyena (Crocuta crocuta spelaea)

Image of Crocuta crocuta spelaea.

Fossil Presence of spotted hyenas in Europe from 126,000 years BP-21,000 years BP. Note how they still occurred in the middle of Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum (the white circles). Image from the below reference authored by Vareles et. al.

Scientists think hyenas went extinct in Europe about 11,000 years ago, but a new study touts evidence hyenas persisted in Spain until ~7,000 years ago. Some Spanish scientists studied hyena coprolites (fossil feces) found in 2 caves in Spain. The coprolites dated between 37,000 calendar years BP-7,000 calendar years BP. The authors of this study concede younger dated coprolites might have inaccurate dates due to contamination. However, the focus of their study was an analysis of pollen grains found in the hyena coprolites. Palynologists attempt to reconstruct past environments based on the composition of pollen grains, and they use them to estimate past climate. For example during cold dry climate phases pine and grass pollen predominates in samples, while moist warm climate phases show an increase in oak pollen. The pollen profile of the youngest dated coprolites are consistent with the floral composition of the early Holocene, so it seems likely the radio-carbon dates are accurate, and hyenas lived in Spain as recently as 7,000 years ago.

References:

Deidrich, L; and K. Zak

“Prey Deposits and Den Sites of the Upper Pleistocene Hyena Crocuta crocuta spelaea (Goldfuss 1923) in Hoorjostid and Ventral Caves of the Bohemian Karst (Czech Republic)”

Bulletin of Geoscience 84 (4) 2006

Ochard, J. et al

“Palynology and Chronology of Hyena Coprolites from the Pinur Karstic Caves Las Ventanas and Carihoula, Southern Spain”

Paleogeography, Paleoclimatalogy, and Paleoecology 552 August 2020

Vareles, S; J. Lobo, J. Rodriguez, and P. Baten

“Were the Late Pleistocene Climate Changes the Responsible for the Disappearance of the European Spotted Hyena Population? Hindcasting a Species Geographic Distribution over Time”

Quaternary Science Review 29 2010