Archive for September, 2022

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.

Advertisement

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