Archive for June, 2021

Megalake Paratethys

June 25, 2021

The largest lake in earth’s history existed 11 million years ago and stretched across southern Europe and Asia. Its origins go back over 100 million years ago when the supercontinent of Gondwanaland split apart. The ocean that formed between the drifting continents is known as the Tethys Ocean. During the middle of the Miocene the Alps Mountain chain uplifted, cutting the Tethys Ocean into 2 halves. The southern half became the Mediterranean Sea, and the upper half turned into a massive freshwater lake known as Megalake Paratethys. This body of water existed for 5 million years, but further mountain uplift and climate change caused it to gradually recede. The freshwater lake shrank into an isolated salt lake and many individual lakes that fluctuated between salt and fresh. Today, the Black, Caspian, and Aral Seas are all that remains of Megalake Paratethys.

Map of Megalake Paratethys. Image from the below referenced article.
Unique endemic whales lived in Megalake Paratethys. Image also from the below article.

Megalake Paratethys hosted many endemic species found nowhere else. Whales and dolphins isolated from other ocean populations evolved into dwarf species, including the 9 foot long Cetatherium riabini. The grasslands that replaced the receding lake spawned the evolution of ancestors of modern day antelope, sheep, and goats.


Paleoj, D. ; et al

“Late Marine Megalake Regression in Eurasia”

Scientific Reports 11 #11471 2021

Perkins, S.

“The Rise and Fall of the Earth’s Largest Lake” June 4, 2021


Pleistocene Coots (Fulica americana)

June 17, 2021

Coots are 1 of the most common aquatic birds across North America and probably have been for millions of years. They are so abundant I didn’t have to rip off any pictures of them from google for this week’s blog entry. Instead, I searched through my own photos and found 1 I took of coots in Gainesville, Florida 2 years ago. Fossil remains of coots dating to the Pleistocene and/or Pliocene have been excavated from sites in Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, Utah, California, Oregon, New Mexico, Mexico, and the Bahamas. Coots prefer to congregate in flocks in the middle of a pond or lake that is surrounded by marshy vegetation. This type of habitat keeps them safe from land predators. Coots are usually found in freshwater. Female coots lay 1 egg a day for 10 days during nesting season for a clutch of 10. Their rate of reproduction along with their habitat preference allows them to thrive wherever wetlands are available. They mate for life and males spend a long time courting, but copulation lasts just 2 seconds.

Flock of coots at a bird sanctuary in Gainesville, Florida. I took this photo 2 years ago.

Coots are in the Gruiformes order which includes cranes, limpkins, and rails. Though they often hang out with ducks, they are not closely related to them. Their closest relatives are rails and gallinules–all members of the Raillidae family. They feed upon algae, pondweeds, grass, bulbs, roots, insects, snails, and fish. They are slow clumsy flyers and often fall prey to eagles, great horned owls, alligators, and bobcats. 80% of some bald eagle diets are made up of coots. To start flying from water, they have to run across the surface for some time.

Duck hunters frequently bag lots of coots because they are easier to shoot than ducks. According to the late George Leonard Herter, author of The Bull Cook and Authentic Recipes and Practices, coot meat tastes like a mouthful of mud. He noted the only way he could make the flesh palatable was to grind it up and put it in chili. Cajuns reportedly know how to make coot taste good, and they use it in a dish called gumbo de pouldeau. They remove every bit of fat from the meat, then soak it in water or milk overnight. The birds can then be used as an ingredient in gumbo. I’ve also seen videos on youtube of hunters removing the fat and soaking the meat in water. After this preparation they fry the meat and say it tastes like beef steak.

Oil Trough, Arkansas

June 10, 2021

Bear lard was the most common kind of cooking fat sold and used in New Orleans from its founding until the middle of the 19th century when bears became scarce. A village in northeastern Arkansas bares the name Oil Trough because this is where pioneer French hunters used to render bear lard into cooking oil before sending it down the river in wooden troughs to New Orleans. Oil Trough was located in an area where there was a dense population of black bears. The habitats were ideal for maintaining an unusually large population of bears. Oil Trough sits along the rich bottomlands of the White River. Before lumber companies discovered it, the bottomlands supported huge oaks and hickories that grew to 9 feet in diameter. Most notable were sassafras trees. Normally, this species is a small shrub, but here it grew to 5 feet in diameter. Pawpaw trees produced so much fruit that even the wild hogs got tired of eating them. These bottomlands were not like the dense 2nd growth forests of today. Instead, the grand centuries-old trees were widely spaced with grass, grape vines, and berry bushes growing between the giant trees. Indians often set fire to the woods, and the thermal pruning resulted in an open parkland type of environment where all kinds of animals and plants flourished. Bears fattened up on the acorns, fruits, and grass. The bears also found refuge in the dense bamboo canebrakes that covered many square miles up and down the White River bottomlands. Bears could hide from hunters in these thickets. Bears also found ideal denning sites in the rock shelters and caves of the cliffs alongside the White River.

Location of Oil Trough, Arkansas.

The white cliffs along the White River provide rock shelters and caves for bears to den in. The water was more clear than in the Mississippi River, one of its outlets.

The many square miles of canebrakes alongside the White River also provided cover for bears.

Bears were so abundant near Oil Trough, Arkansas that bear lard from this area was the main source of cooking fat for New Orleans until well into the 19th century.

Pioneers preferred the cooking qualities of bear fat. John Lawson, author of a New Voyage to the Carolinas, the first American natural history book, wrote bear fat was preferred over all other oils when frying fish. One can find videos on youtube of bear hunters frying catfish in bear grease.


Gerstacker, Fredrich

Wild Sports: Rambling and Hunting Trips Through the U.S. of North America

Stackpole Books 2004

Also see the Encyclopedia of Arkansas available online

Causes of Death Among African-Americans: A Rational Review

June 3, 2021

I’m in favor of everything in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, except for naming the bill after George Floyd. This act, if it becomes law, will strengthen the Justice Department’s tools for investigating police departments, establish a federal registry for bad cops, restrict transfer of military equipment to police, prohibit no knock warrants, and allow police to be sued when they are negligent in an innocent person’s death. African-Americans are still treated unequally by law enforcement, and I am all in favor of ending this discrimination. However, I am against naming the bill after a convicted armed robber. Floyd spent time in prison for sticking a gun in the belly of a pregnant woman. Yet, this piece of shit was given a state hero funeral, and he is about to be posthumously honored by having a bill named after him. I think this is obscene. Sure, Chauvin deserves the long sentence he received for murdering Floyd, but being the victim of a sadistic cop does not make someone a hero. I will never run for office, so I can say something honest that politicians (especially Democrats) can not say–the world is a better place without George Floyd in it (and with Chauvin locked up).

Whenever there is a publicized incident of a cop killing an African-American, everybody breaks into 2 camps–African-American activists who are certain the killing was unjustified, and the police who think they should be allowed to commit police brutality with impunity. The truth is more complicated. Sometimes the police are justified because the suspect endangered their lives or the lives of innocent civilians, and sometimes the police are not justified and become criminals themselves when they kill innocent people. I look at these incidents on a case-by-case basis and don’t always side with 1 camp or the other.

Because these cases get so much publicity, many African-Americans express great fear when they get pulled over by the police. In fact, I’ve heard some state they become “paralyzed with fear” when they encounter a police officer. I’ve heard some claim deaths by police in the U.S. amount to genocide. Chelsea Handler, a white celebrity talk show host, even suggested black people shouldn’t ever cooperate with police, thereby (inadvertently, I’m sure) urging them to commit suicide by cop. I am writing this blog article today to counter this hysteria by showing that the chances of being killed by police are tiny compared to other causes of death.

There are approximately 42 million African-Americans living in the U.S. today. Between the years 2017-2020 an average of 227 black people were killed by the police annually. During this same time period an average of 420 white people were killed by police. But because black people make up a smaller percentage of the population, they suffer a greater chance of being killed. According to a University of Michigan study, black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men. However, this is a small enough number that I would consider it rare. Most were likely resisting arrest in some way. This same study found 1 in every 1000 black men and about 1 in every 2500 white men will die at the hands of the police in their lifetimes but this percentage is surely much smaller for detained people who were not resisting arrest.

For black men between the ages of 20-35 death through the use of police force ranks lower than death from heart attacks. Think about how rare it is for a young man to die of an heart attack, yet there is a greater chance of death from that than from being killed by the police.

A University of Michigan study determined African-American men between the ages of 20-35 are over 2 times more likely to be killed by police than white men that age. Nevertheless, deaths from police brutality rank 6th…behind heart attacks. Chart from the University of Michigan study.

Chart showing deaths at the hands of police by race from 2017-2021. From the Statista Research Department.

Top 10 causes of death for African-American men. Deaths at the hands of the police does not rank in the top 10. Raising public awareness of the importance of an healthy lifestyle would save far more lives than police reform. Chart from the CDC.

Now, let’s compare the risk of death from other causes compared to deaths through the use of police force. On average 73,000 African-Americans die from cancer every year, so black people are 321 times more likely to die of this than from police brutality. On average 86,520 black people die from hypertension yearly, making them 381 times more likely to die from this than police brutality. I’m all for reforming the police, but putting more emphasis on living an healthy lifestyle would save far more lives than police reform.

An average of 4656 black people are killed in car accidents yearly (26 times the risk of death from cops), and 2100 black people on average commit suicide yearly (7.9 times the risk of death from cops). More than 1 study estimates 200,000 people per year die from medical malpractice. This is likely a vast underestimate. Based on this figure, about 30,000 black people die each year in this country due to medical mistakes. So black people should be 132 times more afraid of doctors than the police.

When I first conceived of this blog topic, I wanted to show that the chances of being killed by police were comparable to being struck by lightning. However, based on National Weather Service statistics, only an average of 5 black people are killed by lightning each year. (This was an extrapolation as was the malpractice estimate–neither statistic is broken down by race). So risk of death from use of police force is higher than risk of death from a lightning strike.


Crosby, A.; S. Molock

“Suicidal Behaviors in the African-American Community”

Journal of Black Psychology 12 (3) 2006

Anderson, J.; K. Abrahamson

“Your Health Care May Kill You”

Study Health Technology Information 234 2017