Archive for the ‘Off The Wall’ Category

An Update

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

An update of sorts anyway.  I am alive, if not particularly well.  I hope to be back blogging here very soon.  Hey, after all, its only been about a year since my last post.  😛




I could list all the reasons why I have not been posting here, but that really makes no difference.  Probably the major reason is that I have been posting in my blog at the Reef2Rainforest/CORAL Magazine site  .  There is one major reason for this.  I get paid to do it.   The other reason is that I need to revise this site, and the fellow who was my webmaster has vanished into the aether, and I really don’t know what I am going to do.  Well, I will figure out something.  Soon I hope.

In the meantime, I am closing the registration option.  All that has done is attracted spambots, to the tune of about 1000 bogus registrations per month.  We will see in the future if I reopen it.  If you need to get in touch with me, the other blog will work for that.

I hope more later.

Cheers, Ron

Back Among The Living. – – The Living Bloggers, Anyway

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

To Date…

Mark Twain said that the reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.  And if anyone has actually read this blog in the recent past, and wondered if my lack of new posts meant anything cosmic, it hasn’t.  The lack of new posts has meant nothing more than I have been 1) swamped with work, 2) swamped with medical appointments and, on occasion, 3) swamped with pain.  All of these swampings, bring to mind the old aphorism, that “When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp.”

Well, the swamping with work is a positive thing as it eventually gets money in my pocket.  Nonetheless,  I normally agree with the sentiments of the late Douglas Adams about due dates and such.  Adams said, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”  However, this time I gave my word to my editor that I would get some work to him by a deadline, and given that I had gotten into the sloppy habit of letting such deadlines whoosh by on a pretty regular basis, I decided that I would startle the bejabbers out of him by finishing a couple of manuscripts on time.   Well, that was a nice thought, and I did meet the deadlines, but by God’s 3rd left testicle, this was a lot harder than I anticipated it would be.  I think my muse did not appreciate being under the gun, so for a few days, she enjoyed being petulant and not providing her usual help.

The frequency of the medical appointments is dropping back to a more normal level, and soon – next Thursday – I will go for an epidural injection of cortisone in the spaces between some of my neck vertebrae with the hope and anticipation that this will result in a cessation of at least some of the most serious pain.  I went for a new MRI about three weeks ago, and – Surprise, Surprise – NOT– it showed that there has been more degradation of parts of my cervical and upper thoracic spine.  However, also actually surprisingly, it indicated that overall, the neck region wasn’t as bad as it seemed to me.  My previous MRI, done several years ago, was done in an “open” MRI machine.  These open MRI machines are MRI machines where the big doughnut magnets don’t go all the way around you.  As a result you are not in a tube, and claustrophobes can have their MRI without going all wiggly for being in a tiny tube.  I am not claustrophobic, and I used the open machine in my previous MRI because it was available sooner, and I wanted treatment sooner than later.  However, I found out that such open machines really suck at providing good images of some injuries, including my spinal injuries.  In my case, it made a couple of problems appear worse than they were.  So, getting the newer MRI was a really good thing.  Some degradation was worse than it had been, and some was better.  The net result was a push, I guess.  Hopefully, these upcoming epidural injections will work, ‘cause if they don’t, surgery is the only remaining option.

So, anyway, all my medical problems are getting cleared up, and so are my wife’s, so we are getting back on an even keel for the first time in several years, or so it seems.  But, this also means that I/we have a lot of catch up stuff to do.  In my case, my office/lab is truly a mess, and I will have to dedicate a portion of next week to cleaning it up.  And today and tomorrow I am working on power washing our deck so that it will be clean before I can add the weatherproofing oil that I have put off doing for a couple of years.  NOT a good idea, that one.

All-in-all I have a lot of work to do, and included in that will be some more informative bloggings, I hope.

Until then…



16 June, 2013 – Quick Update

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Hi Folks,

My absence for the last more-or-less three months has primarily been caused by things medical.  Ultimately, it appears that everything is being resolved.  However, the bottom line is that a lot of my time has been spent tending to my ill wife, or having my wife tend to me, at our physician’s office, or back and forth from said offices.  So, my time for blog writing/posting as opposed to chores and other necessities has fizzled to almost nothing.

I hope to be back in action with posts here within a week or so, and also posting more frequently in my blog on the Reef2Rainforest site.

I just went through and deleted a bunch of spambot registrations, if I deleted your subscription by mistake, I apologise.

Until later,  for some eye candy,  here is a bit of our local dinosaurian fauna.  It appears that we may have as many as 6 pairs of these little beauties nesting around here now.

Western Tanager Male

Western Tanager Male
Wilsall, Montana

Western Tanager Male

Western Tanager Male Perched On A Bird Feeder Post. Taken At Wilsall, Montana.



4 March, 2013 – “Pop”, Went The Asteroid!

Monday, March 4th, 2013

It probably says something pretty deep about my warped mind, but I find myself fascinated by the phenomena known as mass-extinctions.  Mass extinctions are killing events that have removed significant numbers of species from the tally of the Earth’s life.  Probably one of the major reasons I am interested in these awful processes, is that we are in the midst of one, and unlike almost all others, humanity is the cause of this one.  And the truly horrible thing about that is, that we know it is occurring, and that our species in aggregate shows its immaturity by actively refusing to do anything about it.  Ah, well, at my age, my own personal extinction is not all that far off, and there is little I can do about most larger issues anyway, so…

 Mass extinctions are a fact of life on Earth, but strangely enough they have only intensively been studied within the last 25 to 30 years. Back in the bad old days when I was in grad school, the greatest extinction event ever, the end-Permian extinction event, was not even recognized by many paleontologists, let alone neontologists, and although some mass extinctions were known because the faunal changes that resulted from them were used to determine geological time periods, nobody studied those mass extinctions themselves.  This all changed in the amazing kerfluffle of research following the Alvarez et al., 1980, paper proposing that the Cretaceous-Tertiary, or End-Cretaceous,  mass extinction exposition, wherein the (larger) dinosaurs perished, was caused by an asteroid impact. 

 The explosion of fuss and feathers this paper caused, I think, had to be lived through to be believed. Helen of Troy, the legendary face that launched a thousand ships, and the Alvarez et al. 1980 article launched at least a thousand research projects, and maybe ten times that many follow-up articles.  The upshot, of course, is we now know Alvarez, et al. were right; an impact with a large asteroid certainly hastened the large dinosaurs out the door, if it didn’t kill them all by itself.  And the discovery of the smoking gun, er… watery crater, the Chicxulub crater off the northern Yucatan Peninsula, lead to an awareness that the Earth was in a perpetual celestial game of dodge ball, and even though most of the really big rocks appear to have hit the planet long ago, every now and then… 


 And, of course, that means the Earth WILL get hit again, and actually it is getting hit all the time, except the bombards are small much smaller.

 All of this has resonated with me, because I have been a fan of meteors – as small asteroids that burn up in the atmosphere are called – ever since I used to lay out our backyard at night as a kid and see the occasional “shooting star.”  I entertained the hope that one day I would be in the right (?) point at the right time, and see a really big meteor.  I have remained hopeful of that eventuality, but am more mindful now that I might not want to be too close.

 About two weeks ago, what has been estimated to be the largest object to hit the earth since the Tunguska object of 1908, arced over Russia, exploding more-or-less over Chelyabinsk, Russia, spraying small fragments that impacted on the ground west of the city.  From the sequence of things that happened during the event, the object has been since estimated to have been a small asteroid weighing about 10,000 tons and about 15m to 20m in diameter, travelling at about 18 km/sec (40,000 mph). 

 Apparently research that also ultimately resulted from Alvarez et al., 1980, showed that most stony asteroids of that size tend break up and explode rather than hit the earth.  And explode this one did, at an altitude of 15 to 20 km (9 to 16 miles) with an explosion that was considerably brighter than the sun.  Equipment in place to detect atmospheric nuclear tests nicely detected this explosion, and its size was estimated to be in the range of a blast by a thermonuclear device with a yield of about 500 kilotons, the size of a decent ICBM warhead.  Even though the explosion was at a high altitude, over 1000 people were injured and there was extensive damage due to shock waves.

Some closing thoughts, I don’t know if the rock could have held together to explode with that force nearer the ground, but if it did, the damage could have been much greater. Several people have discussed what might have happened if the position of the earth or the rock were varied by a minute or less in the relative orbits – it could have entered the atmosphere at a much steeper angle and perhaps over a larger city or populated area.  Or perhaps the best/worst thought:  Chelyabinsk was a city where a lot of weapons research was done during the cold war.  What would have been the outcome of this rock hitting near there in, say, 1978?

 I grew up in Great Falls, Montana, home of Malmstrom Air Force Base, around which in 1962 the first 150 Minuteman Ballistic Missiles were emplaced in “silos”.  Judging from the palpable tension at times in that community during “Duck and Cover” days, if an asteroid had appeared out of nowhere on a low ballistic trajectory (as this one was described by the Russian military) and exploded 10 miles above that city, I suspect there would have been trails of launching missiles visible from those missile silos for a 100 miles around the town.  I dare say, the same outcome would have occurred on the Soviet side.  The ultimate result could have been rather severely unpleasant. 

Some closing thoughts; rocks of this size are now estimated to hit the Earth every century or so, an estimate that dovetails nicely if one considers the last known impact was the Tunguska in 1908.  However, at least though most of the 20th century, large areas of the Earth, such as much of the Indo-Pacific and Antarctica, could have experienced such a meteor impact and nobody would have been the wiser. Additionally, for example there was the Grand Teton fireball of 1972, which was essentially the same size as this latest impact, but which simply grazed the atmosphere.  So.,.  Such impacts could be more frequently enjoyed events.  In any event, the regularity of such events is a statistical phenomenon, and the next one could happen tomorrow or 531 years from now.

Another Blog

I now have another blog, on the Reef2Rainforest site.  There may be some overlap between that site and this one from time to time, but if so, the material will appear on that site first.


Alvarez, L. W., W. Alvarez, F. Asaro, H. V. Michel. 1980. Extraterrestrial Cause for the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction. Science. 208. 1095-1108.

Until Later…




12 February, 2013

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

On February 12, 1809, among many others, two human births occurred and stand out,  C. R. Darwin, and A. Lincoln.   I cannot think of another single day in recent history that was the birthday of two such influential individuals.  Of course, influence, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, but I am sure any reader would realize the immense, and positive, contributions of these two men.  Another malacologist, a casual acquaintance, sends out a Darwin quote on his birthday.  I think the one she sent out this year is worth repeating it here.

Happy Darwin’s Birthday!
“The lagoon-islands have received much the most attention; and it is not surprising, for every one must be struck with astonishment, when he first beholds one of these vast rings of coral-rock, often many leagues in diameter, here and there surmounted by a low verdant island with dazzling white shores, bathed on the outside by the foaming breakers of the ocean, and on the inside surrounding a calm expanse of water, which, from reflection, is of a bright but pale green colour.  The naturalist will feel this astonishment more deeply after having examined the soft and almost gelatinous bodies of these apparently insignificant creatures, and when he knows that the solid reef increases only on the outer edge, which day and night is lashed by the breakers of an ocean never at rest.”
From: Darwin, C. R. 1842. The Structure And Distribution Of Coral Reefs. Being The First Part Of The Geology Of The Voyage Of The Beagle, Under The Command Of Capt. Fitzroy, R.N., During The Years 1832 To 1836. London: Smith, Elder and Co. 214 pp.
Until later…
Cheers, Ron

7 February, 2013

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Hi Folks,

To anybody that happens to actually be following my blog, let me apologise for the relative lack of posts over the last week or so.  I had lots of various chores to work up around here, and there were, as is becoming usual, some health issues.   My basic plan is to add one good sized post and a couple of short chatty posts per week.  If anybody comments, I will reply, of course, if it seems I should. 

After a bit of cold weather in early January, it appears that around here we are having an extended early spring.  We seem to be in a weather pattern having bright days with a high of about 40F (5 C) and a low of about 20 F (-6 C).  This pattern is far different than what it used to be at this time of year.  The highs are typically 40 deg F warmer than in the bad old days.  And our snow cover mostly isn’t.   We have scattered skiffs of crusty snow, but there is a lot of barren ground. 

Such a weather pattern is not good for our local vegetation – trees transpire away their moisture, but the ground remains frozen so they can’t replenish what is lost, and as a result, there is a lot of winter kill.   Also our snow cover is damnably low, which will give us a drought come summer.   But… I’ve got to say, even with all the negatives, I can do without the blistering cold.  Now, we certainly can – and probably will  – get some very cold periods before the definitive spring sets in, but the longer it stays the present version of nice, the better I will like it.

With the nice weather, we have been having a herd of furry birds hanging around eating the seed I put out for birds.   There is little forage for these animals, and I am quite worried about their survival.  About 15 years ago, we had a yearling fawn die of starvation in one of our flower beds, and that was a really sad thing to watch.  By the time she showed up in our yard she was too far gone for me to do anything except provide a quiet environment for her.   And then I had to dispose of the body.   She was less than half the normal weight for that time of year.

So far this year, though… so good.

Mom and her two kids last year's fawns,, resting by evergreens in our back yard.

Mom naps with her two kids, last year’s fawns, all resting by evergreens in our back yard.   This doe has distinctive markings, and I have photographs of her in our yard since 2002, when she was a half grown fawn.


Have a good one, if you can.

More later,

Cheers, Ron

25 January, 2013

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Today is a day to appreciate the effects the positive aspects of global warming.  Back in the wasted time of my youth I remember many a January day that was blistering cold, and I am not kidding about the blistering.  Windy days with actual temperatures well below zero Fahrenheit can raise blisters on unexposed skin, and the fun part is one doesn’t feel it happening as one’s skin is frostbitten (= frozen) and numb.  Numb like one’s mind is numb if one has dressed so stupidly that such things can happen. It happened to me on a couple of days I thought I could get by without proper gloves.  DUMB!!  What REALLY hurt was that I knew better, too.    

After it heals and some time passes, this type of injury only hurts when it gets cold again, so that it hurts like the dickens for the next 30 to 50 or more years, every time it gets cold, just to remind one how stupid one can be.  Back when I was in high school, for two years our school had double shifts each with about 1600 students while a second high school was being built in town.  So, I opted for the early shift.  Our classes started at 0600 hours and lasted until about noon, when the second shift started in.  To get to the school on time, I had to leave home at about 0500 to walk the 2 miles (3.2 km) or so to school.  Of course, I could have ridden in a school bus by leaving home at about the same time and walking about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the bus stop.  Why bother?  To sit in a cold bus with 30 other kids, most of whom I thought were idiots.  Nope.   

Anyway, in the depths of winter, I was walking to school during the coldest part of the day.  There were a group of us, a few each of boys and girls who showed up at school early.  After arrival we warmed up and socialized before class started; my first class was in a biology class and our instructor was always there early, too, and he would heat up some hot chocolate or coffee on a hot plate.  It was really a pleasant social time.  When the real cold weather started, it was the macho thing for the guys to dress somewhat lightly for the season.  Hey… after all we WERE in high school, and we WERE males.  Well, on day one of the nastiest cold snap, I killed parts of my hands.  But, it could be worse, this was the time of mini-skirts and where some of the young wimmen in my high school got frostbitten… well…  Let’s just say I really couldn’t post the images here.  This nonsense with dressing improperly in such weather lasted about a couple of days into the really cold periods (which were often a couple of weeks in duration) and then all we earlybirds bundled up well, but some other kids didn’t.  Finally, the school administration required the youg women to dress properly for the weather and change after they arrived in school, and they provided time off from the first classes to do this.  As for the guys… the administration seemed to figure if the guys got frostbitten, well, it served them right.  DUH…  

 To give you an idea of the temperature 59 years ago yesterday, as I mentioned in a previous post, the coldest temperature ever officially recorded in the 48 continental United States occurred about 70 miles to the west of my home town.  And the way the wind blew in from the Rocky Mountains to the West… well, it surely didn’t either slow down or warm up much on the way into town.

 Well, those days are long gone.  Today it is close to +50° F (10° C) outside right now, and the wind is almost not noticeable.  In other words, it really is quite pleasant outside.  And, there is nothing one could offer me to trade this warmth for the old cold.  It is possible to enjoy oneself in very cold weather.  It is also possible to easily die in such weather, and back in the bad old days several people per winter would perish in our area due to accidents or stupidity.  One learned rules, like having a box full of winter survival gear in your car at all times.  Or, probably the best one was that if the weather was nasty and one’s car got stuck, one must stay with the car, one should never even try to walk to the farm house one can see right over there.  There was always the occasional death caused when somebody’s car would slide off the road, and they decided to walk about 400 m (a quarter mile) to the nearest farm house.  Most of the time they’d make it, but…   Every now and then the local newspaper would print a picture somebody took of a cow (this is cattle country) that had frozen to death standing up.  Most ranchers would try to get their herds into some sort of shelter during the worst weather but it wasn’t always possible.  Our local air National Guard unit always spent part of each winter bombing isolated cattle with bales of hay.  And it worked.  

More later,


19 January, 2013 — Spermcasting

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

Hi Folks,

The news of some days, of course, is better than on others. And the news of the January 16, 2013, was grand! It contained a term I had never seen, but one I will be sure to use whenever possible, “spermcasting”.  I have to admit, when I first read it, it conjured up visions of fly casting, but with some essential differences; such as the type of rod one uses…  Aaah…  But, let’s not go any further down that road. 🙂

As the authors of the term meant it, in its basic form spermcasting would be seen in broadcast spawning animals such as many sessile marine invertebrates, and it would presumably have a feminine complement of ovacasting. In other words, “spermcasting” is the release of male gametes into the surrounding water as a means of reproduction. This type of reproduction is also seen in mobile animals such as echinodermsBroadcast spawning animals typically have simple reproductive systems, without any externally visible modifications.  The gametes are made and simply released through a “gonopore” into “the great outside world”.

A male sunflower star Pycnopodia helianthoides photographed  "spermcasting" otherwise known as "broadcast spawning" in Northern Puget Sound.

A male sunflower star Pycnopodia helianthoides photographed “spermcasting” otherwise known as “broadcast spawning” in Northern Puget Sound.


A close up of the animal in the previous image showing the sperm suspension being released from the gonopores.

A close up of the animal in the previous image showing the sperm suspension being released from the gonopores.

However, spermcasting is something that is not generally considered to be part of the reproductive behavior of animals with a penis. In fact, over the array of invertebrate animals, the variety of penises, receptacles, openings, and the behaviors to get them all together is truly amazing, but spermcasting has not been considered a part of that behavior.  And why should it?   Because a penis is used to place sperm in some sort of receptacle or opening in a female, spermcasting has been thought to be unnecessary.   

While obviously commonly occurring, the actual physical act of the male’s transferring sperm to the inside of a female’s genital tract, “copulation”, is actually seldom observed in marine animals.  The reason for this is obvious.  For many species where reproduction involves internal fertilization or union of their gametes, reproduction may be an intrinsically hazardous process; and its duration and frequency is often minimized.  Often, copulation involves the intimate meeting of two animals that may be predatory and dangerous to one another. The terrestrial examples of the preying mantis or spiders such as the Black Widow come to mind, but the marine environment also has its share of dangerous liaisons. In such animals copulation often requires all sorts of behavior to ensure that the predatory behavior of both parties is “defused”. Some of the best known examples of such behavior occur in octopuses.

A large individual of the Giant Pacific Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini.   Highly predatory and cannibalistic, and reaching weights well in excess of 50 kg (110 pounds), precopulatory behavior that may last several hours is necessary  before the animals can safely remain in each other's proximity for reproduction.

A large individual of the Giant Pacific Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini. Highly predatory and cannibalistic, and reaching weights well in excess of 50 kg (110 pounds), precopulatory behavior that may last several hours is necessary before the animals can safely remain in each other’s proximity for reproduction.

 Copulation may place the animals at risk of predation by animals other than a potential mate. When animals are copulating, their attention cannot be on predator avoidance.  Consequently, natural selection has forced the development of behavior that reduces the risk of being seen – and eaten – such as nocturnal or reclusive mating. In some other animals, the act is over so fast, that the odds of an observer even noticing it range between slim and none. Pairs of one nudibranch species, Hermissenda crassicornis, can “do the deed” in a few seconds. And in those animals the act is reciprocal, the partners are hermaphrodites so each one gives and receives.  However, the process is seldom seen, or if it is, it is seldom recognized for what it is.

Hermissenda crassicornis, the so-called "opalescent nudibranch".  Individuals of this hermaphroditic species reciprocally exchange sperm in some of the fastest copulations known.

Hermissenda crassicornis, the so-called “opalescent nudibranch”. Individuals of this hermaphroditic species reciprocally exchange sperm in some of the fastest copulations known.

As a result, generally, people have inferred internal fertilization or copulation by the presence of a penis and the associated female plumbing. And some animals are legendary in their endowment. Some of the best known in this regard are barnacles whose penises are often able to extend several times the length of the animal. Barnacles don’t actually copulate, relatively few crustaceans do, but they use the penis to deposit sperm in the females’ mantle cavities, and sperm behavior or the female partner ensures the gametes find their ultimate destination. However as the saying goes, this “pseudo-copulation” is “good enough for government work”.  Barnacles are sessile, glued to the substrate by glands in their head, consequently, their reproductive success, and their “evolutionary fitness”, depends on how far they can reach out to touch someone with their legendary penises. Fortunately, as they are hermaphroditic, any neighbor will do.

Balanus nubilus, the giant "cloud" barnacle of the N. E. Pacific.  Large individuals reach up to about 15 cm (6 inches) wide at the base, and are often solitary or a relatively great distance from their neighbors.  Spermcasting would definitely benefit their reproduction.

Balanus nubilus, the giant “cloud” barnacle of the N. E. Pacific. Large individuals reach up to about 15 cm (6 inches) wide at the base, and are often solitary or a relatively great distance from their neighbors. Spermcasting would definitely benefit their reproduction.

The need for (pseudo-) copulation, inferred by the presence of a penis, in barnacles could present a significant limitation in their reproductive capability relative to broadcast spawning animals, and hence it could severely limit their evolutionary fitness. Nonetheless, as far as anybody knew, barnacles put their amazingly large “equipment” to good use, copulated, and “THAT” was “THAT”.

Except, as it turns out “THAT,” is not “THAT”.  In a paper published online on January 16, some scientists have shown, rather elegantly that at least one species of barnacles; the common gooseneck barnacle of the NE Pacific, Pollicipes polymerus, does things quite a bit differently. They spermcast…

They are apparently able to both throw caution to the winds – or their spermies to the seas – and, amazingly enough, have this result in successful fertilization. Using genetic markers and some elegant and careful work, the researchers, from Dr. A. Richard Palmer’s lab at the University of Alberta, have shown that spermcasting occurs commonly in the goose neck barnacle, and even occurs in animals that can reach a partner to mate in the “traditional” manner.

Such extraordinary findings really upset the traditional view of spawning and copulation. After all, if barnacles can spermcast… it certainly seems that other animals possessing normal copulatory organs may also be able to do this.  No longer is it possible to look at the anatomy of species wherein the males possess a penis, and blithely assume that they only reproduce by copulation. 

Of such uncertainty, good research is made, as people have to ascertain the mode of reproduction.

As the authors of this paper state in the abstract, “These observations (i) overturn over a century of beliefs about what barnacles can (or cannot) do in terms of sperm transfer, (ii) raise doubts about prior claims of self-fertilization in barnacles, (iii) raise interesting questions about the capacity for sperm capture in other species (particularly those with short penises), and (iv) show, we believe for the first time, that spermcast mating can occur in an aquatic arthropod.”

More later,

Cheers, Ron

15 January, 2013

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Hi Folks,

The middle of January it is, and it is COLD outside!  We have been having a stint of weather where the low temperatures have been bouncing around -5° F (-21° C).  That we have cold weather this time of year is not unusual  that it is this WARM is. In the bad (good?) old days, before global climate change, the period from about 15 January to 15 February gave us our coldest weather, and it often bottomed out below -40° F, C (both the F and C scales are the same at that lovely temperature).  The lowest temperature ever recorded in the lower 48 United States was –69.7°F (rounded off to –70°F)  or -56.5 °C at Rogers Pass, Montana  (web cam) which is about 120 miles, (193 km) from here on January 20, 1954. 

While it has gotten cold enough here in the last 10 to 15 years, it hasn’t been that cold, nor has it been cold for as long as it used to be. As much as I don’t like the concept – or the reality – of global warming, I have to say that warmer winters have become a blessing, particularly as I have gotten older.

Continuing a discussion of a few days ago when I mentioned being a member of a dying breed, those folks who could be called “Invertebrate Zoologists”, it is obvious that I am (we all are, but I suspect I am closer to the finish line of the race than are most of the reader of this esay) getting older and since immortality is not in the cards, the obvious end point is death.  So, I am dying – as we all are, it is part of living. 

However so, I think, is the “discipline” of “Invertebrate Zoology”. It is being killed by its own success. That is illustrated in an examination of the texts written in English.  In my first Invertebrate Zoology class, the text was the 2nd edition of Invertebrate Zoology, by Robert Barnes, published in 1968, with 743 pages.  Barnes updated and revised that text and after his  death, two other authors took over the task.  The most recent edition, the 7th, by Ruppert, Fox, and Barnes, was published in 2003, and had 1003 pages, and was very highly revised from the previous edition, and compared to the 2nd… wow!!!.

Kinorhynchs, such as this individual, live in sediments eating small organisms they find there.

Kinorhynchs, such as the individual imaged here, are invertebrates living in marine sediments eating small organisms they find there.

The 7th edition was the first concentrated less on the animals’ structures, and more on the evolutionary processes leading to the those animals and their structures.  The science of “Invertebrate Zoology” is really the comparative discussion of all animals, while the vertebrate chordates per se, are not discussed, there are many invertebrate chordates that are dealt with.  So, this is an holistic way of examining the entire animal kingdom. 

When you think about this process, however, it really is an impossible task – there are just too many types of animals and more to the point, it is exceptionally difficult to put them into a cohesive comparative framework.  The underlying principle of Invertebrate Zoology was that someone could learn enough of the basics about the major – and maybe some, or many of, the minor – animal groups, and could cogently discuss them in some manner.  This is a valid viewpoint, but it is probably only a valid viewpoint if there isn’t very much known about each group.  If there is a lot known, then the forest rapidly gets lost for the trees and generalities begin to become far too general.

During the middle part of the last century, the theorizing about invertebrates, indeed, all animals, and their relationships was dominated, in the English-speaking world, by the concepts of the coelom (the secondarily derived body cavity), segmentation, and embryonic development.  The bases for all of the theorization were put down in concise form in the six volume treatise, The Invertebrates, by L. H. Hyman.  Probably the greatest American zoologist of all time, Libbie Hyman defended some viewpoints and theories that, at the time, seemed very reasonable.  And even, if they didn’t seem right, her force of personality pretty much quashed all dissenting views.  During this period, Invertebrate Zoology seemed to be flourishing, but in actuality, it was stuck in a series of ruts.  Without any way to test the types of theories supported by Hyman – and, more or less – everybody else,  concerning evolution or functional anatomy, the science was basically descriptive.   There is nothing wrong with doing descriptive science, but it is only by hypothesis testing that science advances, and hypothesis testing was essentially impossible in Invertebrate Zoology at that time.

In the latter part of the 20th century things changed and changed fast. The techniques of cladistic analysis, comparative genomic analysis, biomechanics, functional morphology, and paleobiology allowed several whole new realms of biological interpretation. As a result, it suddenly (within a period of 20 years or so) became possible to erect an evolutionary “tree” for virtually any species, and phfft….. Most of the dogma of classical “Invertebrate Zoology” was found to be …. Wrong.  Not dead, as it had never really been alive, just simply wrong.

The Ruppert, Fox and Barnes Invertebrate Zoology text illustrates this very well as the concepts of phylum, coelom, and so and so forth are relegated to being useful – maybe – ways of grouping animals, but they are not anything that can be used as theoretical constructions. 

“Invertebrate Zoology” as thought of in the 1970s, has been replaced various disciplines concentrating on testing questions of ecology, evolution, embryonic development, and animal function using invertebrates as the test organisms. However, invertebrate zoology is still relevent, and has now become more of a blanket term that describes, the general type of animals a person might be working on rather than a cohesive discipline of scientific thought.  In this regard, invertebrate zoology has become a term more like physics or oceanography, sciences where the research is specialized much more on the “subdisciplines” such as astrophysics or chemical oceanography rather than on the overall category. So, as a “classically-trained” invertebrate zoologist, the scientific approach I initially learned has really died and been replaced by a much better, more dynamic and much more interesting approach.

More Later,


11 January, 2013

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Hi  Folks,

The last couple of days were chore days, so I didn’t post.  Also – Hooray!!!!  I got my old desktop back and it is functional.  I have been spending my spare, and unsparing time, trying to restore – from backups – all some of the files that got trashed.  There are some of the most ridiculous seeming problems.  For example, my email program – Outlook Express – now does its  “Spell Check”  in French.  And I can’t seem to find a way to make it remember to think in English.  That is a true PITA!!!

The computer tech/guru who worked on the machine really did a pretty good job, and charged a very reasonable fee.  I do have backups for what was on the machine, but I am hesitant to restore a lot of files at one time, for fear that I screw up what is now, at least, a partially functional machine.

I had to go to Bozeman (about a 100 mile round trip by the time all the shopping was done) yesterday.   Mostly getting bird and “furry bird” food.  I came back with some 400 pounds (181.2 kg) of food.  And I got home, just before the blizzard struck.  It is still Blizzarding…  Our low this morning was -4 F (-20 C); and right now it is really nasty out 30 mph winds, with a temperature of 5 F (-14 C).   The weather channel says we have “light snow”; as opposed to “dark snow”, I presume.

Our most abundant birds at our feeders right now are “Rosy Finches”, which are present here in a huge flock, probably close to 500 birds are around our feeders at times.  The grey-crowned rosy finch, Leucosticte tephrocotis,  is the most abundant one here, but the other Rosy species, or types, are also represented in small numbers.

Grey Crowned Rosy Finch.

Grey Crowned Rosy Finch.


Leucosticte tephrocotis is a bird of high mountain habitats being found above the tree-line in summer.  The really nasty weather found at those elevations forces the birds down to lower elevations in the late autumn.  The first ones typically arrive here around the middle of November, and they leave around the middle of March.

Taken in 2012, A Mule Deer Doe We Call Notch-Ear, Eating Sunflower Seeds From A Bird Feeder.

Taken in 2012, A Mule Deer Doe We Call Notch-Ear, Eating Sunflower Seeds From A Bird Feeder.

My first picture of “Notch-Ear” was taken in 2002, and she is here this year, but I don’t have any images of her available yet (computer problems, remember, 🙂 ).  She is here this year with a pair of fawns.  Unfortunately, they, and all the other deer around here this year, are really looking awful.  We had a nasty drought in the last half of summer, and that tremendously impacted deer forage.  They really don’t have much to eat.  So… I don’t begrudge Notch and her kiddies a few bits – or a lot –  of sunflower seeds.  However, it is the other 12 or so deer that have shown up at about the same time she comes by, that reallydrain the bird feeders.

This was one of Notch-Ear's fawns last February.

This was one of Notch-Ear’s fawns last February.

The length and shape of this species’ (Odocoileus hemionus) ears, clearly visible here, is the reason they are called “mule deer“.

I haven’t had time to continue the discussion of why invertebrate zoologists are members of a “dying breed”.   However, that discussion will continue in a day or two.  It is more imporant to me to get my computer up and running and useful before I do much other work, such as writing.

However, before I leave —


See the first videos of living giant squid in its normal habitat.  OMIGAWD !!!!

This short entry by Dr. Craig M.  in Deep Sea News discusses this video.


More later,

Cheers,  Ron