Archive for September, 2008

As promised, phots from the tree climbing expedition.  These are all taken from the same 100 ft oak tree.  We only climbed to about 75 feet.

View from about half-way up.

View from about half-way up.

Thank God for fixed lines.

Thank God for fixed lines.

Almost there!

Almost there!

Resting on a branch.

Resting on a branch.

My fingers got caught in the ascender and got ripped up a bit.

My fingers got caught in the ascender and got ripped up a bit.

Resting at the "Summit"


Look at the cute little guy we spotted in the leaves.

Look at the cute little guy we spotted in the leaves.

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German biologists have discovered a new species of ant that is possibly the oldest on the planet, the species dating back around 120 million years. Researchers fond the 3- millimeter-long insect in the on the Amazon Rainforest floor.  2007, and hope it will shed light on the early evolution of ants.

Martialis heureka

Martialis heureka

Scientists from also found an unidentified species of ant of a similar type in the Brazilian rainforest in 2003. However, due to an accident in the laboratory, the insect dried up and kind of died, making further research impossible.  Not too long ago, forest researchers investigating fungus stumbled upon the tiny insect, and named it “Martialis heureka”.  They are blind, as they spend most of their time underground, and are very aggressive.

It has a resemblence to a miniature wasp, making it very distinct from other ants.  DNA tests are being run to confirm that this is the species of ant they are looking for.  The last discovery of a new ant species was in 1923, and this one may be an excellent porthole into the early evolution of ants and insects in general.


My Fieldnote Friday will display the tree-climbing pictures!

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The babirusa, or Babyrousa babyrussa (seems rather redundant), is a relative of our pigs which lives in the jungles of Indonesia.  The males grow tusks from their canines which grow up through their skull in a curve until it pierces their skull again in between their eyes (no, this is not made up).  Their second canines also form tusks, much like that of a warthog.  The curve is at an angle that it does not pierce the brain, as that would kill them (some evolutionary trait).  

The strange headgear of the Babirusa

The strange headgear of the Babirusa

They can live up to 24 years of age.  The babirusa has light brown, bristly hair.  Like all pigs, they eat just about anything they can find from fruits, nuts, and berries to carrion. 

The males will usually live alone, while the females and piglets will form a community, much like with elephants.  Those tusks are used during mating season to fight off other potential suitors.  The males will fight, trying to break off eachothers’ tusks.  The babirusa is endangered due to illegal poaching and deforestation.  Even though they are protected by law, enforcement has been lax and their population has dipped to around 1,000.

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Rats that were treated with genetically modified stem cellshelped rats with a paralyzing disease live much longer than they would without the treatment.  This may eventually help humans who have the disease. 
An informational pamphlet about ALS.

An informational pamphlet about ALS.

The disease was Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehreig’s Disease (named after the famous baseball player who died from it).  The rats treated with the genetically engineered cells lived almost a month longer than their untreated counterparts. 

They injected the rats with adult nerve stem cells that were engineered to release a growth factor called glial cell-line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF).  This was the first time that scientists noticed any responce to a treatment.  They also noted that although it gave their furry patients some time, it did not cure them outright. 

 ALS progressively attacks nerve cells called motor neurons, which waste away and die. Rather than trying to replace the motor neurons, the researchers used stem cells as a way of delivering a growth factorto keep them alive.  There is still no cure for ALS, which kills gradually by paralyzing patients.  And still, about 120,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

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Thanks to Quaker Dave who brought this to my attention.  Save the death of a possibly innocent man by taking action.  I always place this kind of post above science, so please, take a stand against this injustice.

What’s the rush?  by Bob Herbert

(New York Times) September 21 – Troy Davis, who was convicted of shooting a police officer to death in the parking lot of a Burger King in Savannah, Ga., is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday.

There is some question as to his guilt (even the Pope has weighed in on this case), but the odds of Mr. Davis escaping the death penalty are very slim. Putting someone to death whose guilt is uncertain is always perverted, but there’s an extra dose of perversion in this case.

The United States Supreme Court is scheduled to make a decision on whether to hear a last-ditch appeal by Mr. Davis on Sept. 29.  That’s six days after the state of Georgia plans to kill him.

Mr. Davis’s lawyers have tried desperately to have the execution postponed for those few days, but so far to no avail. Georgia is among the most cold-blooded of states when it comes to dispatching prisoners into eternity.

So the lawyers are now trying to get the Supreme Court to issue a stay, or decide before Tuesday on whether it will consider the appeal.

No one anywhere would benefit from killing Mr. Davis on Tuesday, as opposed to waiting a week to see how the Supreme Court rules. So why the rush? The murder happened in 1989, and Mr. Davis has been on death row for 17 years. Six or seven more days will hardly matter.

Most of the time, the court declines to hear such cases.

If that’s the decision this time, Georgia can get on with the dirty business of taking a human life. If the court agrees to hear the appeal, it would have an opportunity to get a little closer to the truth of what actually happened on the terrible night of Aug. 19, 1989, when Officer Mark Allen MacPhail was murdered.

He was shot as he went to the aid of a homeless man who was being pistol-whipped in the parking lot.

Nine witnesses testified against Mr. Davis at his trial in 1991, but seven of the nine have since changed their stories. One of the recanting witnesses, Dorothy Ferrell, said she was on parole when she testified and was afraid that she’d be sent back to prison if she didn’t agree to finger Mr. Davis.

She said in an affidavit: “I told the detective that Troy Davis was the shooter, even though the truth was that I didn’t know who shot the officer.”

Another witness, Darrell Collins, a teenager at the time of the murder, said the police had “scared” him into falsely testifying by threatening to charge him as an accessory to the crime. He said they told him that he might never get out of prison.

“I didn’t want to go to jail because I didn’t do nothing wrong,” he said.

At least three witnesses who testified against Mr. Davis (and a number of others who were not part of the trial) have since said that a man named Sylvester “Redd” Coles admitted that he was the one who had killed the officer.

Mr. Coles, who was at the scene, and who, according to authorities, later ditched a gun of the same caliber as the murder weapon, is one of the two witnesses who have not recanted.

The other is a man who initially told investigators that he could not identify the killer. Nearly two years later, at the trial, he testified that the killer was Mr. Davis.

So we have here a mess that is difficult, perhaps impossible, to sort through in a way that will yield reliable answers. (The jury also convicted Mr. Davis of a nonfatal shooting earlier that same evening on testimony that was even more dubious.)

There was no physical evidence against Mr. Davis, and the murder weapon was never found. As for the witnesses, their testimony was obviously shaky in the extreme — not the sort of evidence you want to rely upon when putting someone to death.

In March, the State Supreme Court in Georgia, in a 4-to-3 decision, denied Mr. Davis’s request for a new trial. The chief justice, Leah Ward Sears, writing for the minority, said: “In this case, nearly every witness who identified Davis as the shooter at trial has now disclaimed his or her ability to do so reliably.”

Amnesty International conducted an extensive examination of the case, documenting the many recantations, inconsistencies, contradictions and unanswered questions. Its report on the case drew widespread attention, both in the U.S. and overseas.

William Sessions, a former director of the F.B.I., has said that a closer look at the case is warranted. And Pope Benedict XVI has urged authorities in Georgia to re-sentence Mr. Davis to life in prison.

Rushing to execute Mr. Davis on Tuesday makes no sense at all.

But SENSE rarely enters into these cases very often…


CALL 404-656-5712   or

FAX 404-651-8502   or

Use Amnesty International’s site to send an email  to the Georgia Clemency Board.

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Today, I went tree climbing, you know with the ropes and ascenders and harnesses and all that.  I will post photos as soon as I can.  Until then, I will list the animals for this week:


  1. Pileated Woodpecker
  2. Grey Bunting
  3. Northern Cardinal
  4. Ruby Breasted Hummingbird
  5. Blue Jay
  6. House Sparrow
  7. Chickadee
  8. American Bittern
  9. Osprey
  10. Catbird
  11. Nuthatch
  12. Downy Woodpecker


  1. Squirrel
  2. Chipmunk
  3. White-tailed Deer


  1. Northern Garter Snake


  1. Green Frog
  2. Red Eft

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Hundreds of new marine species have been found on Australia’s coral reefs, surprising biologists worldwide.  The first systematic scientific inventory of spectacular soft corals in the region showed around 300 soft coral species, half of which are believed new to science; nearly one hundred small crustacean species; and an unusual amphipod of the Maxillipiidae family.  This creature has a whip-like back leg that is almost three times the size of its body.

The great biodiversity of reefs are in danger.

The great biodiversity of reefs are in danger.

Also found were a new species of tanaid crustaceans, which are shrimp-like creatures with claws that are larger than their bodies; and a beautiful, rare Cassiopeia jellyfish.”

Between 40 and 60 percent of the tiny amphipod crustaceans listed, in the survey will be formally described for the first time.  This truly earns them the title of the insects of the marine world.  Other major finds included potentially new worm species, known as bristle worms.  They are relatives of leeches and earth worms. As many as two-thirds of species found at Lizard Island alone were believed new to science.

Corals face threats ranging from ocean acidification, pollution, and warming to overfishing and global warming, and this is all the more reason to protect them.  They are an amazing source of biodiversity and beauty that should never be lost, but is on the brink of destruction.

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