Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Meet the Neighbors - Saw-Combed Dark Fishfly

I was walking the dog a few days ago by Dickinson Creek, a stream that runs next to our property. I noticed a large smoky colored fishfly fluttering along the edge of the water. It was conspicious in that it had large white patches on its wings. This suggested a visual component in their mating system.
After a few minutes it was apparent that there were several dozen of these large insects flying around. It looks A particularly interesting behaviour I have never seen before was that some insects fluttered up higher in the air, some into the overhanging treetops 40 or 50 feet up. Some of the high fliers flattened their wings into a fixed position and glided downward, until they reached the ground. Perhaps this was a display flight. Apparently an alternate French Name is Corydale papillon or Butterfly Fishfly.

I think the species is Nigronia serricornis.

According to a paper on post-glacial range expansion by He the Connecticut population of this species moved up the coast from North Carolina in a contiguous range expansion. Genetic diversity, as in many species of plants and animals thought to have expanded their range from the south after the Wisconsonian Glaciation, decreases from South to North. This second paper by Soltis et al. from 1996 titled Comparative phylogeography of unglaciated Eastern North America is a fascinating synthesis of many studies investigating how genetic differences in populations of the same species yield clues to population disperals after the last major glaciation.

BugGuide.net - a great reference, especially if you know the order or family your looking for.
Troutnut.com - Specializing in aquatic insects with fantastic photos.
Dr. Jeffrey Heilveil - Assistant Professor at SUNY Oneonta, has studied population dynamics of Nigronia serricornis.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Re-Animation - Resurrection of Tasmanian Tiger gene function in a mouse model

For the first time, a gene from an extinct animal has been inserted into a living animal to assess gene function. Not quite Jurassic Park, but very interesting.

The Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger became extinct in 1936 when the last one died in captivity. The species had been among the living dead for decades before. Neaderthal DNA has been partially sequenced. I wonder how long before investigators begin gene function research.

Link to Science Daily Article
Link to PLoS article

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Names of new species to the highest bidder

Here's an interesting article about funding taxonomic research by giving naming rights to the highest bidder. Amazingly there is even a clearinghouse for such a thing. The most absurd seems to be the GoldenPalace.com Monkey, named for an online casino. They only paid $650,000. In the end the money went to preserve the monkey's habitat in Bolivia.

An event in Monaco raised over 2 million dollars auctioning the names of 10 newly discovered fish from Indonesia. A new species of shark went for $500,000.

Of course patronage of science is nothing new and names of exotic beasts large and small are littered with the names of European Royalty and upper crust who either were patrons or were hoped for patrons. The Birds of Paradise seem to be especially rife with such naming in both common and latin names. Stephanie's Astrapia, Carola's Parotia, and The King of Saxony Bird of Paradise are a few. The national bird of Papua New Guinea, the Raggiana Bird of Paradise was named for The Marquis Francis Raggi of Genoa.

Walter Rothschild, of the European banking family was a particularly involved patron amassing a gigantic collection and sponsoring collectors around the world. Several critters were named after him including a subspecies of Giraffe. He sponsored his first expedition when he was twenty years old. He was also a bit of a nut keeping all manner of exotic animals around the estate. He sometimes drove a carriage drawn by a team of Zebra's around and annoyed his father when one of his dingos bit several of the family horses.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Geothermal Heat in CT - I want it now

The price offered to lock in heating oil in CT seems to be somewhere around 4.40 a gallon. My last fillup was pushing 1000 dollars (which lasts me one month in the winter). I locked in 2 years ago and the price dropped enough that it was cheaper to use diesel from the gas station (vehicle tax included)! A lock in may save the most money this year and I'm sure I could achieve fractionally lower costs using a co-op or shopping around each month. Really, I can't be bothered. I do know I can't be spending 1500+ for oil. This is a killer in New England where so many homes are heated by oil. If it were just me, I would turn down to just above freezing and sleep under 10 blankets. That is not an option with a wife and 5 young kids. Also, the African clawed frog would be pissed being frozen in a block of ice 4 months a year.

I could do a number of things like investing in better insulation/windows (which I want to do also), but I want a quantum change. A wood stove or a multifuel burner would save me money, but I need to simplify, not introduce more complexity.

I want a geothermal heat pump unit in my house. It leverages the constant underground temperature to both heat and cool. The traditional units needed you to dig up your whole yard to put in the pipes or to dig some very deep wells. I read somewhere that there is a 3000 sq/ft house in a neighboring town that has a combined heat/cooling bill of less than 1000 dollars a year using a traditional deep well geothermal heat pump. I think it cost around 12,000 dollars to install with the clean energy rebates.

A company called GeoEnergy Enterprises has an interesting looking system the call the GeoColumn that uses a water filled shallow well dug with a telephone pole auger to do the same. This allows lower cost and installation in high density residential areas. Apparently you sink one of these under a driveway or even under the foundation. I'm not sure of availability, though they have done some demonstation projects in my general area.