TODAY’S WORD: The term for an insect penis is aedeagus.
Colour comic Dung Beetle And Robot
Colour comic strip in four panels. A box between title and panels, with black text on yellow background, reads “WARNING: Insect copulation. Viewer discretion is advised.”
Panels one to three: two dung beetles, Egwunn (male) and Fecundity (female) are in a tunnel they dug to house their eggs; the tunnel is lit by a yellow light.
1. Egwunn is stroking Fecundity’s back and asks her, “Shall I put the firefly out?”
2. Fecundity turns to face him and replies, “Let’s leave the light on.”
3. Black silhouette of the two beetles having sex [“doggy style”].
Last panel: further up the tunnel is the firefly providing the illumination:
4. Facing the reader, Firefly exclaims, “Ew beetle sex! Why me?”

Howdy, Nandi!

Let me introduce you to a new friend of mine, Nandi the garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Unlike most of the snakes whom I have encountered in my gardens, this one was much more amenable to being held, and didn’t thrash about, pee, or exude stink from its postanal gland. We decided to adopt him. (I think it’s a him; the tail after the vent is slender and shortish. Also, males emerge from hibernation first.)

Isn’t he just the cutest thing?

3/4 profile portrait shot of a Garter snake

Despite what pet stores may tell you (or told me), garter snakes are not insectivorous. So In his roomy terrarium/herpetarium, I ended up with a bunch of crickets (and some cricket feed cubes). The crickets will end up as chow for Rosie, my tarantula. Meanwhile though, the male crickets serenade the females, as well as Nandi and Rosie and me. Chirp, chirp, chirp! It’s the cricket equivalent of, “Hey, ba-by! Ooh, sexy!”
A pile of randy crickets hanging out atop the rock under the heat lamp

And as you can tell from this picture, Nandi is not a threat to them. In fact, he seems a trifle annoyed at times, and a few days ago after I fed him a hyuge earthworm, he burrowed into the soft plant substrate to digest, unmolested by the jumping jiminies.
At about 22 in. / 56 cm., Long Snake Is Long. Well, not really; that’s about an average size for an adult, although he could grow longer. Continue reading Howdy, Nandi!

Reasoning for a good cause

“Same thing,” she said, waving off the comment and walking off toward the time-clock to punch out.
“But– no, it’s not …” I protested, and then stopped talking as I saw her leaving not only the the doorway where I stood, but our conversation as well.
If you could call it a conversation; I’ve had longer dialogs with fellow elevator riders.
It was hard to stop my rebuttal. I so wanted to explain, and having to force myself to stop in mid-sentence (hell, mid-mini-monologue) is hardly my style. But I diligently keep practicing social skills, including noticing when others have quit a topic.
Having already clocked out, I gave up, left the building, and even waited to get into my car before expressing my complaints aloud to no one — except a fruit fly uselessly orbiting the fragrant-but-empty lunch bag I had just tossed onto the floor.
And a fruit fly doesn’t give a gnat’s ass about the seemingly subtle difference between reason and cause. No, it is not mere semantics, and they are not exact synonyms.
“So how was your trip?” she had asked as we met in the hallway. We had not yet crossed paths that day, delaying the obligatory Monday morning chit-chat.
“Oh it was lovely, except for missing a connecting flight, so I was only there two days,” I began. And I was proud that I had even mindfully planned ahead to next ask her if she’d ever been to Boston, thus fulfilling my offering volley in the chit-chat process — when she gave me that totally unexpected, inexplicable response:
“Well you know, ‘Everything happens for a Reason’ !” She chirped, nodding sagely.
“You mean a cause,” I began.
“Same thing,” she said, waving off the comment and walking off toward the time-clock to punch out.
“But– no, it’s not …” I protested.* Continue reading Reasoning for a good cause

The Silver (Smoke-) Screen

O.M.G. Last night at the grocery I was stocking non-prescription meds, and a couple came in asking for … colloidal silver! (Meaning, microfine silver dust suspended in water or another carrier.)
I was baffled; she explained that “Dr Oz” suggested it for sore throats.
“I don’t think we carry that,” I answered, somewhat stunned. “I’ve only used it in a research lab.” (In the teensiest of microdabs, to glue ultra-fine gold wire electrodes to insects.)
“Oh, it’s all-natural!” she asserted cheerfully.
Giant mental sigh and cringe on my end; lots of “all-natural” stuff can be all-naturally poisonous.
The guy with her added something to the effect of, “I bet you all don’t like Dr Oz.”
Er, I’m wary and alarmed by media personalities who promote misleading, useless and/or dangerous medical information. (Last year this celebrity was the recipient of the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Media Pigasus Award.)
But I’m guessing the customer was assuming that if people use bizarre “all-natural” remedies, then stores would not sell as many manufactured remedies. Hey, if I want salicylic acid (the stuff in willow bark and spirea that acts as a pain-reliever, fever-reducer and anti-inflammatory), then I will buy it as acetylsalicylic acid, AKA aspirin, because that formulation is less harsh on the digestive system, and you know how much active ingredient you’re getting.
When one of the pharmacists was no longer directly busy with [other] customers, I went up and told him about the customer enquiry. His eyebrows danced a bit at this latest oddity.
“The only thing I’ve heard about taking colloidal silver,” I began, and then the pharmacy intern nearby then chorused with me, “Was about the guy who turned blue!”
“It bio-accumulates, doesn’t it?” I asked, and the pharmacist nodded. That of course, was why I was careful to not let any dots of the lab stuff stick to me. Plus, any clean crumbs re-deposited could be re-used, especially if I held the bottle to the vibrating vortex mixer.
Note: there are antibacterial uses for various ionic silver (Ag+) compounds, such as silver nitrate (AgNO3), but the colloidal stuff is non-ionized metallic form, which has a different biological effect. Of course, poison is always in the dosage — too much silver nitrate can be equally bad. You can read about the hazards of argyria here at the Quackwatch site.
Oh by the way — if you want an “all-natural” remedy for the ordinary sore throat, may I recommend some strong mint tea with honey?

One Or More

Do you like odd words? If so, today’s post is for YOU!
I enjoy words. I love learning new words, and now and then feel the need to make nifty neologisms. I take pleasure in playing word games and punning around. I use a vigorous vocabulary for producing prose and programming. I revel in vicious verbiage when needing venomous invective.
Weird words are wonderful. Exceptions excite intrigue. Luckily for us, the English language (in its multitudinous international forms) is known for being an absolute mish-mosh of exceptions to dang near every orthographic rule that has been imposed upon it over the centuries. This is not surprising considering how many other languages have been sources for our vocabulary!
Being familiar with many of those weirdnesses is great when one is an editor, writer or proofreader. (Alas, not everyone shares such passions, so we logophiles must sometimes refrain from exercising too much pedantry.*) It also gives me a number of opportunities for musing …
Today I ran some errands on the way home, which caused me to take a different pathway. En route, I espied a cellular antennae tower array (mobile phone mast), one of those tall poles with transceivers and other prickly bits plated upon them. Several of those tower arrays or television UHF/VHF (Yagi-Uda) sets atop houses are called antennas. But — insects sniff their environments with antennae.
Some words are the same whether you have one or more; not just the same spelling in singular and plural, but also the same pronunciation:
Fish (As children, many of us learned this from Dr Seuss, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”). Ditto salmon and trout. (I bet readers can inform me of other species of fish.)
Thrips (A small insect that often infests flowers and spreads diseases; especially problematic in greenhouses.)
Sheep, deer, moose.
Bison – pedantic technical note: the North American animal is a bison, not a buffalo, but buffalo is so entrenched in history (i.e. Buffalo Soldiers, buffalo nickel) that the term “bison” seems reserved for ecological/zoological discussions.
The American buffalo has just one species: Bison bison. A single category of interbreeding organism is a species, several are different kinds are also species. “Specie” refers to coins, such as our buffalo nickel. If I recall correctly, one of the new coins the U.S. mint has released in their recent series is a nickel with a bison on one side. Series is another word that is the same in both singular and plural.
Swine (unlike pig -> pigs or hog -> hogs)
Complaint:  people calling plural bovine animals “cows”; the cow is a female that has calved. Call them a herd of cattle. Of course, then one has the problem of knowing if the single animal is a calf, cow, [castrated] steer, or bull. Then again, depending upon where you are, most of the cattle one passes might be breeding or milking cows, or maybe young steers shortly destined to be burgers and roast-beast. But like “buffalo”, “cows” seems to be a common-usage term.
(Except, of course, amongst small children, who invariably call them “moo-cows”, which is odd because I’ve never heard any preschoolers saying “quack-ducks”, “neigh-horses”, “baa-sheep” or “meow-cats”; go figure.)
Interestingly, draft bovine (used for ploughing) are ox -> oxen. There are few words that retain this archaic plural: child -> children, one brother -> several brethren, and hose -> hosen (from when one tied their individual hose onto the hem of a garment). Clothes is one of those words that just comes in single form, except it is by default plural.
When I teach gardening classes, I add a couple seconds pause after explaining, “If you’re making a new garden bed, you can either kill what’s there with glyphosate, or slice off the pieces of turf and re-use them, or compost the turves.” Turves is the correct plural for pieces of turf, but we don’t use the term much, so there’s a bit of a mental speed-bump.
Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien invented dwarves as the plural for his Middle-Earth race? All other sorts (cutesy fantasy beings, or small-growing forms of plants or animals) are dwarfs.
In Zoology class we learned that the plural of penis is penes. Common usage (when not using one of the many silly slang terms) is penises. But if you are needing to talk discretely over the heads of younger folk, penes will likely be off their radar.
Right now I’m listening to Etta James singing the blues; no one ever sings “a blue” (tho’ you can blow a blue note).
Then there are the pluralisation questions about which only geeks worry: one Mus musculus is a mouse, and several are mice. But what about the computer accessory (um, Mus digitus ?) – computer mouses or computer mice?
One datum, a bunch of data. But when or how the hell does a person have just ONE datum? A single point?  I suppose that’s possible, unlike news. Good or bad, there’s never just one news. A “new”? I tend to get out of the news loop when on holiday; but invariably when I catch up, I find that the news seems more like recycled “olds”!
One spectrum, a wide spectra, as in “spectral analysis” – unless of course, one is doing a bunch of analyses on your spectra data.
How about one index -> two indices. Indexes is a verb: “My program indexes everything for me!” Then of course, it turns around and creates indexes to hold that data. Hmn. Meanwhile, we still have one index -> two indices in science, and on the radio news I hear indices used as indicators of how the world is going.
In geometry, our geometric shapes have sides (planes). Each pair of planes intersect at edge, and several will meet at the corner, called a vertex. A triangular pyramid has four vertices and a cube has eight.

And lastly, Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message,” meaning that what is used to spread the message is important. Newspapers, YouTube videos, and blogs are all kinds of media. So too are my choice of growing medium for my seedlings.
If some yahoo grabs a can of spray paint as their medium of choice, and scrawls a graffito on the side of a building, you can be sure that someone else will want to join in and next thing you know, there will be graffiti everywhere.
My thanks (always plural) to all my readers!

*Unlike those grammar mavens dedicated to eradicating excessive and misused apostrophes, whom I heartily encourage to be ever-ready with their jumbo-size bottles of correction fluid!
Also, thank you everyone for your tireless efforts trying to rid the world of misspellings; Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I know that I shall be wanting to face-palm with each sale banner for  Valentines Bokay’s.

V1brat0rs for Ensuring All Your Cucumber Needs

Bug G. Membracid recently had a radio show appearance!  (Is it called an “appearance” when you’re on a wireless programme and no one can see you?  Nevermind.)
But it featured her line about honeybees being ‎”little flying phalluses” – which is really funny when you remember that worker honeybees are girls!
That in turn reminded me of a story during a horticultural study tour to a Dutch production greenhouse …
Tomatoes and peppers do not need insects to transfer pollen between flowers, as the flowers are “perfect” (have both male & female parts). But for the pollen to get moved/bumped from the pistils to the stigma there still needs to be some kind of wind or other vibration.
There’s not enough wind for this to naturally happen (or rather, efficiently happen) in a greenhouse, especially when the panes are shut to the weather. So it used to be that the operators would equip their greenhouse workers with *little vibrating wands* (oh yes), which they used to buzz-pollinate Every. Single. Fresh. Flower. (Insert inevitable sniggers from the undergrads.) Of course, that’s a lot of paid worker hours.
Nowadays the thrifty Dutch use bumblebees, who work for much cheaper wages of cardboard nesting boxes and some supplemental nectar. The big, gentle bees still visit all the flowers for the pollen, and resultant heavy buzzing results in flower fertilization for good crops.
[N.B.  Derf; “cucumbers in the title is incorrect – they DO need to be insect pollinated! Except of course for the parthenogenetic cukes, which basically set fruit by a sort of “virgin birth” process…]

Gribbles are better than tribbles

Who would have thought that a small isopod could be so chibi-cute, have a fun name, and be potentially useful?

Pair of teeny 2mm pale-peach isopods with 7 pairs of legs (Simon Cragg/Graham Malyon/Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Portsmouth)

The gribble (Limnoria quadripunctata) is an aquatic relative of the woodlouse (pillbug), that eats tunnels along the surfaces of wooden objects, such as driftwood, boats, or piers.  This latter habit makes the gribble generally unwanted. However, recent news describes how scientists at the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Portsmouth and the University of York have been examining the guts of these wee creatures to identify digestive enzymes.
When termites eat wood, they don’t really digest the wood theselves; they have bacteria in their guts that break down the cellulose into smaller molecules. But gribbles are able to digest wood directly. If the enzymes can be easily produced, then the gribbles would be an inspiration for the biofuel industry, because any kind of material could be used, even insoluble stuff such as straw or willow.
Bugs to the rescue, again. Once more, they did it first!

Web buzzing

Just wanted to share some cool things I found recently!


Amazonian ants apparently adore Tetris – ’tis a tee from Threadless Tees.

Cartoon with a green background, the upper half with five army ants on a branch, carrying pieces of leaves cut into various Tetris shapes. Below, the crowned queen ant awaits by a Tetris-shaped stack of pieces. (Unfortunately, she's about to get a square and won't have a place to set it!)


NPR has a short episode with guest comments by the inimitable entolomogist and highly entertaining author, May Berenbaum,

There has been a worldwide proliferation of urinal flies, observed May Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois in her new book The Earwig’s Tail.

You can listen to the episode and/or read the transcript, “There’s A Fly In My Urinal”.

realistic black and white fly decal


Jessica (the painter) and James (the author) of Project InSECT have a couple of books out, How Mildred Became Famous (book I and book II).  Mildred is a mantis, and one of the many gorgeous, large paintings that Jessica has done.

Detailed painting of Mildred, the praying mantis, plain chiaroscuro background


A brief video:  One year in 40 seconds. Eirik Solheim’s gorgeous time-lapse of Norweigian woods.  Suitably short for the ADHD brain or a coffee break.  (Alas, I’ve tried several ways to get this URL embedded so it will display from this post, but WordPress is being funky.  So you’ll just have to copy-paste it to get to the YouTube page directly.)

and of course, a bit of geeky


A dismotivational poster with the image of a Dalek (robot from Dr Who show) stuck in a concrete room with only stairs as a means of exit; its word balloon says, "FUCK". The poster caption is, "LIMITATIONS everyone has them"