Monday, January 17, 2022

Synthetic Photosynthesis

Every so often, an obscure technical innovation really lights me up. In mid-October of this year, a team of German scientists published a report on their work injecting tadpole noggins with algae. This enabled the tiny brains (of amphibians, not researchers) to photosynthesize when exposed to light, flooding neurons with oxygen and rendering the frog-babies more intelligent. Or at least not brain-dead, which those tadpoles were before being converted to plant-imals. 

In an October 13, 2021 entry in the journal iScience, lead author Hans Straka of Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich explained that he’d been happily noodling along, measuring how much oxygen that an African clawed frog tadpole brain uses. He doesn’t elaborate on why he was doing this, but I’m guessing it was simply because he found someone nerdy enough to underwrite his efforts. 

The fun part began when Dr. Straka had lunch – and maybe a few drinks, from the sound of it – with a botanist, and a crazy-cool science experiment was born. In Straka’s own words, “For many people, it sounds like science fiction, but after all, it’s just the right combination of biological schemes and biological principles.” Pretty sure this idea was decidedly scheme-heavy, at least to start out. 

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Monday, January 10, 2022

Helping Birds Survive the Winter 

Carolina wrens on snowmanAs winter sets in across the North Country, devoted bird-enthusiasts resume feeding overwintering birds. They take both pleasure and pride in helping their feathered friends survive the harsh winter months, by dutifully providing them with food, water, and shelter.

Feeding birds during the winter can be a never-ending source of entertainment and enjoyment. And an easy, rewarding, and sometimes surprising way to connect with nature. No matter where you live, you can invite birds into your yard and help to ensure their survival by simply putting food out for them to find.

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Monday, January 3, 2022

Fungal Homes: Much Room, No Mushrooms

shiitake mushroom

For some reason, mushrooms have spawned more than their fair share of puns. As a kid I learned that they’re all fun-guys, and that the only rooms you can’t enter in a house are mushrooms. The last one might not work these days, as entire buildings are now being made of fungus.

Given that mold inside our homes can make us ill, you wouldn’t think that being surrounded by the stuff would be a great idea. But just like so many other things in life, “it depends.” As a building material, fungus is cheap, ubiquitous, and a renewable resource. But that’s not the best part. By dry weight, walls made of fungus are stronger than concrete and have better insulation value than polyurethane foam. They are weather-proof, practically non-combustible, and oddly enough, resist getting moldy. 

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Saturday, December 11, 2021

Boughs of Holly 

holly

Deck the Halls 

    Deck the halls (with boughs of holly). It’s a fun-to-sing Christmas song (with its fa-la-la refrain) and perhaps one of the most widely recognized and most-often caroled.

    First published in 1881, the song is generally believed to be American in origin, although the author remains unknown. The music, however, (or should I say the tune) dates back to 16th Century Wales and a song titled Nos Galan, which means New Year’s Eve. Some people associate the music for Nos Galan with a duet for violin and piano by Mozart, and / or a piece written for voice and piano with violin and cello composed by Haydn.

    Interestingly, an early calendar in the Church of Rome described Christmas Eve as templa exornantur; churches are decked.

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Friday, December 10, 2021

Woolly Bear’s Mountain Winter Forecast

woolly bear Its that time of year again!!  The temperature has dropped and snow blankets the Adirondacks.  For most of us here, Winter can seem to last forever and any foresight we can get of what to expect, can be welcomed.  Like many other creatures, the woolly bear is now nestled into their Winter hideaway and will hibernate until Spring.

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Monday, November 29, 2021

Honeybees: Posing threats for native bees?

western honeybee

With their marvelous interpretive-dance routines, complex social life, and delicious honey, honeybees are widely respected, but they’re anything but sweet to wild pollinators. In fact, a surfeit of honeybees is a big threat to our native bees and butterflies. 

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Saturday, November 27, 2021

The Mutant (crayfish) Have Landed

marbled crayfish

Sometime in the 1990s, a mutant crayfish able to conquer and degrade aquatic systems emerged as a result of secret German experiments gone awry.  The marmorkreb, a.k.a. marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis), is a destructive new species that first appeared aquariums in Germany. However, it’s more likely the result of too much inbreeding in captivity, rather than some mad-scientist scheme, that led to their mutation. They are now here, and your help scouting for them is invaluable.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

New York Coyote Parasite Survey

coyoteGraduate students at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) are asking for public assistance in the collection of samples as part of a study for an emerging zoonotic parasite. Samples for this study consist of gastrointestinal tracts from coyotes harvested within DEC Regions 3-7, which can be shipped to SUNY ESF where they will be screened for the parasite Echinococcus spp.

The parasite is a tapeworm that typically infects wild canids (foxes, coyotes) but can infect domestic animals as well as humans. The goal of this study is to identify the distribution of the parasite throughout the sampling range, so that areas of high parasite levels and infection risk can be found.

More information on the project can be found at the NY Echinococcus Project webpage or by emailing Corinne Conlon.

Photo by Gregory VanSplunder.


Friday, November 12, 2021

Adirondack Dinosaurs

pitcher plant

“Adirondack Dinosaurs are far from extinct. In fact, certain species are quietly expanding their territory, migrating. Ancient carnivores slowly reclaiming what was once their domain. Patiently biding their time while they plot their next move. Watching us. Waiting to reclaim their Adirondack apex predator throne.”

Ever since I was a young boy, there have always been three things I’ve dreamed of being when I grow up: major league baseball player, writer, archeologist.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Species Spotlight: the River Otter

otterThe North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) is a member of the weasel family. They are 3-4 feet long including their tails. They have a streamlined body, short legs with fully webbed feet, a muscular tail, and dense, short, glossy fur—all of which aid them in being excellent swimmers. They also have closeable nostrils and ears for swimming and foraging underwater.

Historically, river otter could be found throughout New York, but they declined due to unregulated harvest, habitat destruction, and water pollution. In the early 1990s, the river otter was only found in the eastern half of New York State. The New York River Otter Project helped bring river otter back to western New York, with the help of volunteers and DEC staff. From 1995 through 2000, 279 river otter were captured in eastern New York and released at 16 different sites across the western part of the state.

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Saturday, November 6, 2021

Monarchs: How High Can They Fly?

monarchsMigrating Monarchs Soaring at Unbelievable Heights

Monarch Migration has been known to be one of nature’s most spectacular events.  Every Fall up to 500,000 monarchs leave the colder regions to seek solace in warmer areas throughout the United States as well as Mexico.  Many people here in the Adirondacks are aware of when they first see these beauties in early Summer and when they stop seeing them as fall sets in but have never witnessed the gathering of thousands of monarchs in preparation of their migrating group flight.

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Friday, November 5, 2021

Fuzzy-Wuzzy Woolly Bears

Banded wooly bear caterpillar; Pyrrharctia Isabella larva Whitney Cranshaw; Colorado State University; Bugwood orgIt’s been a remarkably mild fall. In fact, at the time of this writing (Oct. 27), I still haven’t had a frost at my home, near the Canadian border. But winter is coming. And while winter can be a very picturesque time of the year and getting outdoors in winter can be a lot of fun, harsh winter weather can stop most of us… well… cold.

Someone recently asked me, “What do you think the winter will be like this year?” I simply replied, “I don’t know.”

Even meteorologists, using state-of-the-art models can’t predict weather with 100-percent accuracy. In fact, it seems to me that meteorology is a notoriously inexact science, with accuracy dropping especially quickly as you look more than a week or so into the future.

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Saturday, October 30, 2021

Evergreen: Not just a term for Trees

fernsIt’s not uncommon to immediately think of coniferous trees when hearing the word Evergreen.  For us Mountain folks, these tall beauties with multiple hues of green are a welcomed scene of color as the last parcels of leaves fall to the ground and the landscape takes on a dreary, stark appearance.  If you care to venture out on a hike, you will find trees aren’t the only plants that keep their lively green shades throughout the coming winter months.

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Saturday, October 30, 2021

Drivers Urged to Be Alert for Moose in the Adirondacks

mooseIf you’re traveling to an outdoor destination this weekend be on the lookout for moose on the move. This time of year, moose are wandering looking for mates, leading them to areas where they are not typically seen. While this improves the opportunities for people to enjoy sightings of a moose, it also increases the danger of colliding with one on the roadway.

Moose are most active at dawn and dusk, which are times of poor visibility. They are also especially difficult to see at night because of their dark brown to black coloring and their height – which puts their head and much of their body above vehicle headlights.

Take the following precautions to prevent moose-vehicle collisions:

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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Orange Is the New Nuisance

asian lady beetleWhat are round-ish, mostly orange and commonly found in October on front porches or near entryways? Obviously the answer is Harmonia axyridis, a.k.a. the multicolored Asian lady beetle or lady bug. This insect, although beneficial to gardens, is no treat when it gathers by the hundreds on your doors or exterior walls in autumn. And more than a few will find their way indoors.

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