Sunday, July 31, 2016

SHY CANNIBALS ... THE PONDHAWK ... and then a bit of DNA awestruckiness

Cannibalism. while not popular in our species, is easier when you are a dragonfly who perceives anything that moves as either a meal or a threat.

 For a powerfully built pondhawk ... (Eastern Pondhawk...I think), even other dragonflies provide a large and useful meal.
This pondhawk decapitated another dragonfly and was quietly consuming it on a sabal palm frond when my son in law Rob spotted it. 
It's best not to be too obvious with your prize if you're a dragonfly with prey and this pondhawk was holding everything still except his mandibles.
They were working.
Hey!  I'm eatin' here!

 Another pondhawk was flitting about and diving in towards the dining pondhawk, so he changed location and assumed a better position for protecting the prize while keeping an eye on the skies. 

 Anyone who admires, rather than fears insects has to be blown away by their architecture.


All of it coded for by DNA, the shape, the location, and the function of every bitty bit (that science talk for really small parts) due to a sequential arrangement of 4 different bases.

I love teaching the DNA portion of my high school Biology course. We delve into molecular biology far deeper than we used to do.
The rate of new DNA discovery keeps a teacher on their toes too ... there's something new almost daily.
Ya gotta keep up Teach.

I always hope that some of my sense of wonder at this amazing chemical comes through during these lessons.

Sometimes you just need to get up close to some multifaceted organism like a blue crab (careful on the closeness), a passionflower blossom, or ... a dragonfly... and observe and ponder ... heck count if you want to ... all the different structures and how they interact to make that organism function.
And I'm only brushing the surface here ... obviously the inside of this dragonfly is loaded with special jiggly bits that allow it to dragonfly around my yard like it does.
ALL of it coded for by DNA.

AND ... we haven't even mentioned the DNA switches that turn on and off to change the aquatic nymph form of this creature to the flashy, flying, death dealing P-51 fighter of the insect world.
Also, since this is an instinctive animal ... not a thinker like you, ALL of it's basic behavior is pre-programmed by ... wait, what was that chemical ?

Oh yeah, Deoxyribonucleic Acid.
If these guys didn't exist, you could never make one up.
It's like something from IKEA ... so many different parts !   Lucky for us, DNA (and the proteins it codes for) does all the assembly.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Beetles Boring? Darwin didn't think so... he was right on that too.

Disclaimer: These phone shots do not do justice to this awesome uparmored HumVee of an insect.

One day after I destroyed the softer parts of a 3 foot tall, Laurel Oak stump as part of the fence project, this huge beetle showed up on the porch table.
The big stump was all that remained of an oak I cut down about 3 or 4 years ago, because it was too close to the house.

This guy was huge and solid. When I first encountered him, he was so still, I thought he might be dead, but when I tapped him on the Thorax, he spun around to face the threat.
I may have jumped at that point ... actually, the short video clip proves that I jumped ... or at least my finger did.
(video not included, but soon come)

Think for a moment about that beetle's reaction to my tap.
Turning to face the threat ... the gigantic threat of ME.
This would be like Godzilla tapping you on the shoulder and you spinning around to face off with him.

He seems to be a "Stump Borer"(Stenodontes dasystomus)  beetle based on a quick internet search. I think I disturbed him when I peeled away the rotting outer layers of that old oak stump the day before.
I'm still kicking myself for not grabbing the Olympus Tough camera with its killer macro, but apparently I was in lazy photographer mode.

Still, you get the picture ... this is one cool beetle ... not as cool as my red and black Pure Florida carrion beetles, but still worthy of Pure Florida post time.

I couldn't leave him on the red table cloth, so I picked him up ... which took about 2 minutes since every leg ended in a fish hook shaped claw. 
All 6 claws were stuck in the weave of the table cloth. 
Every time I got one free, another foot hook reconnected. Once I solved that puzzle, I dropped him off the porch into the flower bed where he immediately scuttled off under the swamp sunflower plants.

I do love these unexpected encounters... my friend Julie calls them "gifts".
I think she's on to something.