Nature Blog Network

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Circus of the Spineless #26: Like Being Home Again For the First Time

It is my pristine pleasure to host the Circus of the Spineless this month. Its like the Circus is coming home for the first time here at The Other 95%. For those visiting here for the first time, I blog about invertebrates. I love 'em. They have enthralled me for years. They make up the majority animal life on this planet, 95% by conservative estimates. Though their diversity of form and function, as well as scientific and economic importance, is unabashedly high they often take a back seat to the mere 5% that make the backboned (especially the furry lactating kind).

Being stomped on, burnt with magnifying glasses, flushed down toilets, flicked away, swatted at, sliced by boat propellers, trapped in nets and other violent acts, invertebrates have not had it easy in this discriminatory atmosphere. I've made it my mission in life to fight for the rights and increased exposure of the most amazing critters on this planet. My background is in ecology, systematics and invertebrate zoology, from Porifera to Urochordata. I have mostly closely worked with Cnidaria (Hydractinia symbiolongicarpus, various jellies, sea anemones and zoanthids), Cirripedia (aka barnacles: Neolepas zevinae, Eochionelasmus ohtai, Costatoverruca floridana), Crustacea (too many to list, but I do have a description of a new deep-sea shrimp in review right now), Mollusca (mostly Gastropods, especially limpets, and Bathymodiolin mussels), and Annelida (Siboglinidae, Alvinellidae, and MANY other deep-sea groups). I am studying the community ecology of hydrothermal vents and systematics of some invertebrates for my PhD research (4th year!). Without any delay I hope you enjoy my survey of October's collection of the Invertebrata!

Tenia solium scolex (wikipedia commons).

Platyhelminthes: Cestoda
Can parasites be good for anything? Diane at Science Made Cool found some new research showing they make great bioindicators for metal pollution!

Mollusca: Gastropoda
Fresh out of OVUM (I couldn't resist), Aydin from Snail's Tales shares with us a superb dissection of the hermaphroditic genitalia of a snail from Turkey.

Go check out one of my favorite deep sea snails, the "Gold-footed snail" at Deep Sea News!

Don't click here unless you enjoy seeing poor little innocent snails being ripped to shreds in malicious acts of interphyla aggression! The Bird Ecology Study Group of Singapore presents a well illustrated article on birds and their molluscan prey.

The Pet Monologues has a fascinating tale of a pet apple snail and its life. It has a sad end but it is a story is of compassion and a life lived to its fullest. "This story of Barney’s life could be the story of millions of other pet apple snail lives all rolled into one..."
Mollusca: Bivalvia
Sisu wins the funniest title award with "Frankly, Scallop, I Don't Give a Clam" and discusses the nutritional significance of scallops complete with a recipe! I will certainly be giving this a try and will give it a good blog review once I can find me some quality scallops in central PA.
Tardigrades on moss - a plate from the book "Tardigrada" by Ernst Marcus, 1929.

Tardigrades in space from Deep Sea News. More astro-tardigrades here from Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Plate 66 from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (1904) (wikipedia commons, click for species IDs).

Arthoropoda: Chelicerata: Arachnida
You didn't know? It was Arachtober this past month! jciv has been posting fascinating photos on his Flickr site of an amazing arachnid every day in October. This one from Oct. 29 is uh-maze-ing! Use the sidebar to flip through dozens more spider photos.

The Annotated Budak presents some seaside jumping spiders.

Plate 86 from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (1904) (wikipedia commons, click for species IDs).

Arthropoda: Crustacea
Snapping shrimp and a thunder crab from the Anotated Budak: "four thunder crabs were revealed, frothing with crabby rage."

What the Shell is That?? (#2)
Jason over at Cephalopodcast says its a stone crab, looking at the specimen it must be more like a pebble crab.

Image credit here.

Arthropoda: Insecta: Hymenoptera
Chris Taylor over at the Catalogue of Organisms presents us with a diverse array of Proctotrupomorphs, or parasitoid micro-wasps.

There was a fascinating paper in Science published very recently on the molecular mechanisms of eusociality. Two fantastic bloggers wrote well thought out summaries and comments on this study. At Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong writes Paper wasps – caring mothers evolved into selfless workers while at Living the Scientific Life, GrrlScientist writes Why Do Wasps Do That? The Molecular Mechanism of Eusociality (sporting the new BPR3 icon!).

Setting the bar for some of the best macro photos for bees and wasps this edition of the CotS, Bootstrap analysis shares with us the diversity of Hymenoptera from her yard. It just goes to show what amazing things you can find if only you look (and have a good lens).
Arthropoda: Insecta: Coleoptera
One of my own contributions to this edition is on the evolution and costs of light production in fireflies.
Arthropoda: Insecta: Orthoptera
Wrenaissance Reflections shares a wonderful shot of a grasshopper from her yard.
Arthropoda: Insecta: Diptera
Ben Cruachan presents his favorite insect - the hover fly! Oh you think its a little worthless fly? His beautiful macro photos will certainly change your mind.
Arthropoda: Insecta: Lepidoptera
Oh what a pretty monarch butterfly! Oh wait, that's not a monarch, or is it? Head over to Andrea's Buzzing About to find out for yourself with Movers and Fakers.

To Spray or not to spray?
That is the question and Jennifer from the Invasive Species webblog wants to know your answer! So head over there to learn about California's invasive apple moth and voice your opinion.

At 10,000 Birds (and counting too!) Corey writes about Buck Moths complete with awesome photos. Mike also writes about the Wooly Bear Caterpillar and how its appearance tracks the harshness of winter.

Annelida: Oligochaeta
The giant spitting earthworm needs your help! From the prairies of the northwestern US, this rare meter long earthworm is in serious danger. I'm contributing this piece highlighting a most unusual creature that you might have never known even existed!
Spineless Science
Neurobiotaxis presents research findings on how vertebrate brain patterning genes are similar to those of perhaps-not-so-lowly flatworm and fruit fly.

Ouroboros discusses senescence and physiological changes with aging in bees and ants.
Natural History Miscellania
The Annotated Budak shares some wonderful photo essays with us from his journeys. Fancy a moth and more from the Cameron Highlands? Is four phyla enough for you, check out the sandy shores of the South China Sea?

Last month saw the Great Insect Fair here at Penn State and Via Negativa (another central PA blogger!) presents all those tasty insects that made up some of the southwestern-themed meals there. This is an amazing fair held every year. This was the second year we were able to make it. My son had a ball at the Insect Zoo, which my friend and neighbor was in charge of.

Arthropods on a birding blog!? Fantastic I say! Especially the photo of all the tiny little milkweed bugs. A DC Birding Blog presents us with Arthropods from a Grassland.

That's all for this edition of the Circus of the Spineless. Thanks to all the submitters for their superb submissions! Keep up to date with the best traveling Circus in the blogosphere by bookmarking the CotS aggregation site and volunteer to be a host for March and beyond. Next month, The Hawk Owl's Nest will give us edition #27. You can submit posts to "pbelardo(-at-)yahoo".

Get Your Circus of the Spineless Submissions In!!

I am hosting the Circus of Spineless tomorrow. If you have any last minute submissions, leave them in the comment form of this post! I will close submissions around 11pm tonight. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Work With an Invert!

A few cool job opportunities have passed my way that I would like to share with my readers! Especially since I won't be in direct competition with any applicants...

PHD opportunity #1

Here's a great opening for a prospective PhD student who would like
to combine field work with lab molecular work to study a threatened
butterfly in the Canadian drylands:

A Ph.D. opportunity is available for research on the threatened
Mormon metalmark (Apodemia mormo) butterfly population in and around
Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, Canada. The successful
candidate would study at the University of Alberta, Edmonton,
Alberta. Fieldwork would take place in southern Saskatchewan and
possibly Alberta. The ideal candidate would have experience working
in an arid prairie or desert environment as well as a background in
conservation genetics and insect biodiversity/systematics. A
significant portion of this research is funded by Parks Canada and
teaching assistantships are available depending on the applicant’s
GPA. The successful candidate will start in either January or May
2008. The applicant must meet or exceed the entrance requirements for
The University of Alberta, Department of Biological Sciences, which
can be viewed at:

Interested individuals should send a CV and a copy of any
publications to:

Shelley Pruss, Ph.D., Species at Risk Recovery Specialist
Resource Conservation, Western and Northern Service Centre, Parks Canada Agency
13th Floor, 635 - 8th Ave., S.W., Calgary, Alberta, T2P 3M3
Ph: (403) 292-5451, Fax: (403) 292-4404, Email:


Dr. Felix Sperling, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
CW405a Biological Sciences Centre, University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2E9, Canada
Ph: (780) 492-3991, Email:

PHD Opportunity #2
Genomic Enablement of Aquaculture, An Interdisciplinary PhD Program to Improve Aquaculture Through Genomic Sciences: Molecular Mechanisms of Immunity to Disease

The Department of Zoology at North Carolina State University announces the availability of a Fellowship beginning in 2008 for PhD studies of Genomic Sciences in Aquaculture. This fellowship will involve interdisciplinary study and result in a scientist who is broadly trained in applying genomic science to research and development of technologies for advancing aquaculture. It will provide a stipend of $24,000, tuition, health insurance and research support. The fellow will join two other fellows in this program who work in the laboratories of internationally recognized faculty members who have been pioneers in applying the methodologies of genomic sciences to the reproduction, growth and rearing of fish. Research for this particular fellowship will be focused on Molecular Mechanisms of Immunity to Fish Pathogens. For details about the research focus, see:
Review of applications for this fellowship will begin on 15 December 2007 and will remain open until a suitable candidate is identified. The chosen applicant will be expected to begin the fellowship no later than 15 May 2008. Applicants must be U.S. citizens. Applicants should submit a brief résumé, a statement of research interests and goals, copies of previous transcripts and GRE scores, and 3 letters of recommendation. Please send applications to the Department of Zoology graduate program ( Address all enquiries to Edward J. Noga, Professor of Aquatic Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, 4700 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, NC 27606 ( North Carolina State University is an Equal Opportunity Employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or national origin.

Funded by the National Needs Fellowship Program of the US Department of Agriculture.

Postdoctoral Opportunity
Position Announcement

POSITION –Post Doctoral Molecular Phylogeneticist--Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky, Post-Doctorate Position

LOCATION –University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky.

EFFECTIVE DATE – Screening of applicant’s materials is effective immediately (Oct, 16, 2007), and will continue until the position is filled.

SALARY –Commensurate with experience.

POST-DOCTORATE – MOLECULAR PHYLOGENETICIST. Dr. Michael J. Sharkey at the University of Kentucky is seeking a candidate to fill a 2-year position, with possibility of renewal. The position is funded in part by the Hymenoptera Assembling the Tree of Life project (National Science Foundation, EF-0337220).

The successful candidate will focus on the goals of the Tree of Life Project for the Hymenoptera, which aims to elucidate the phylogeny of this incredibility diverse order. Primary responsibilities include DNA extraction, PCR amplification, primer design, sequencing and sequence analysis in Hymenoptera, primarily of the family Braconidae. Other responsibilities include managing undergraduate employees in the molecular lab, collaborating with other members of the Hymenoptera Assembling the Tree of Life Project, interacting with graduate students, and general lab maintenance.
Our project goal is to construct a large-scale phylogenetic analysis of the Hymenoptera. Solving taxonomic problems within the Hymenoptera will aide researchers in many biological fields, because members of the Hymenoptera have a large impact on ecosystem function and our everyday lives. Further project information, list of collaborators and project proposal may be found at Interested candidates should send an email of interest along with a curriculum vita, and a list of three references containing telephone numbers, addresses, and e-mail to: Dr. Michael J. Sharkey, Department of Entomology, S-227 Ag. Sci. N., University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40546-0091, Tel (859) 257-9364, Fax (859) 323-1120, (email

Faculty Position

We invite applications for a tenure-track ASSISTANT PROFESSOR position in Systematic Invertebrate Zoology to begin August 2008. Candidates must have a Ph.D., postdoctoral research experience and a research plan that integrates modern molecular approaches to study the systematics, biogeography, and evolution of freshwater invertebrates. Candidates working on systematics of any group of freshwater invertebrates will be considered. Candidates will be expected to curate one of the freshwater invertebrate collections of Biological Sciences (e.g., Malacology, Decapods, etc.). Candidates must provide evidence of curatorial experience and/or other relevant abilities. Applicants are advised to view a more detailed job description at prior to submitting their application package. Successful candidates will have demonstrated excellence in research and will be expected to attract extramural funding. Candidates must be committed to excellence in teaching and training of undergraduate and graduate students. Opportunities for interactions exist through the Center for Freshwater Studies, Coalition for BioMolecular Products, and Alabama Museum of Natural History.

To apply, mail hardcopies of curriculum vitae, statements regarding research goals, teaching philosophy and interests, evidence of curatorial experience, and copies of significant publications, and have three reference letters sent to: Invertebrate Systematist Search Committee, Department of Biological Sciences, Box 870344, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487. Review of applications will begin January 2, 2008, and will continue until the position is filled.

The University of Alabama is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. Women and/or Minorities are encouraged to apply.

John Stuart Gray 1941-2007

It is with great sadness I report the death of a Friend of the Invertebrates. John S. Gray died at 66. on October 21, from Pancreatic Cancer. He received all his degrees from the University of Wales in Bangor and ended Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Oslo, Norway after working at the University of Leeds, England. He was an eminent meiobenthologist and superb ecologist, making contributions to methodology and theory and well as practical aspects, such as the effects of pollution on sediment communities. I never had to chance to meet him, but his work was instrumental in laying the foundation for my own marine ecological studies. He is an ISI Highly Cited Scientist and you can view his publication list here (courtesy of Geoff Read, Annelida list-serve). His legacy will be carried on by several from his research group and his contributions to ecology will continue to be utilized for years to come. Below is an obituary from the University of Leeds:

Members will be sorry to learn of the death on Sunday 21st October of John Stuart Gray. Born in 1941, John did his BSc at the University of Wales (Bangor), following this with a PhD at the Marine Science Laboratories, again Wales (Bangor). His thesis was on the ecology of marine meiofauna – the tiny animals living in between sediment grains of sandy marine environments. This won him the Zoological Society’s T.H. Huxley prize for 1965, and was the springboard for his subsequent career in which he developed the study of the marine benthos, in terms both of its appeal as a system for the study of biodiversity and its utility for the understanding of man-made impacts, especially pollution.

From Wales John came to the University of Leeds, joining the staff of the Wellcome Marine Laboratory in Robin Hood’s Bay. Here he formed a dynamic group working on sediment ecology, building a strong international research reputation, and actively contributing to the teaching programme in the Department of Zoology. At Leeds he began vigorously to develop what later became one of his major contributions, moving benthic ecology and studies of pollution from observation to hypothesis testing. In 1976 he was appointed Professor of Marine Biology in Oslo.

John is survived by his wife Anita and their sons, Martin and Anders.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Spineless Song of the Week - Video Blog: Thats Why the Spineless Are Atheist

This is my first attempt at a videoblog (vlog)! I wrote this song to explain to the public that even a creature with but a few coiled up ganglia knows there is no God, then why do we, with our large brains, insist on believing in superstition? Mark Twain, one of my literary heroes growing up, once wrote "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

The video was shot at night in my backyard with a camping light and a candle using the iSight camera and microphone built into my Macbook. Yeah it was a bit chilly, which is why I am wearing a touk and jacket. Unfortunately, the combination of my children bedtimes, the thin walls and small space of our flat I am forced to take drastic measures to provide you with invertatainment. Thank "God" for Stoudt's American Pale Ale!

Thats Why the Spineless Are Atheist

Now listen here my good ole friends
And let me tell me you how this all ends
There ain’t no afterlife out there
Just a dead carcass with worms out the ears

For you it may come as a surprise
A great big scam, years of lies
But even more surprising to me
All we had to do was listen you see

It may have started fore the Precambrian
A little spark in earth’s great ocean
With a little time you’ll plainly see
Differential reproduction is the key

The critters have known since the end of time
Death and decay is all you’ll find
An endless cycle land, air and sea
But that don’t make some folk happy

Our spineless buddies have been trying to scream
There ain’t no God, its all dream
But we shunned them good and spit on their face
Now the jokes on us to our disgrace

If you ever sit and listen at the beach
You might just hear the crabs start preach
We’ve been changing for millions of years
Our diversity is high so listen here

If I were such an intelligent design
Why can’t I walk forward in a straight line
And perhaps if you take a close look you’ll see
Some crustaceans have asymmetry

If you ever walk through a tall forest
You might here spiders sing out in chorus
We’ve had millions of years to adapt
To cover this here entire map!

If I were but a special creation
Why should I die when I’m matin’
And if in our form there was no match
Why do some of us look like ants

Invertebrates as you can plainly see
Have tried to tell us for centuries
There can’t be no god you creationist
That’s why the spineless are atheist

Saturday, October 27, 2007

LOLspider: Creationist WTF for the Week

I'm getting tired of overly-anthropomorphic creationists severely abusing the science of Invertebrate Zoology. I take extreme offense to this, especially some of the bogus claims I've recently discovered from the Yahya Cult. I don't think the work is new, the bottom of the page says copyright 2004. I'm not sure if it is the copyright of the online article or the last time the webpage was updated (in line with my stance on creationism, I prefer not to be "linked" to their sites, but a simple search for "evidences of creation" will get you there). I found about the abuses of the backboneless when I did a search on a keyword statcounter told me someone used to find my blog ("spider ant chacteristics"). To my utter shock, this blog came in below the EoC website! Uhn-buh-leev-uh-bull.

Its not that I think I am an authoritative subject on everything invertebrate, but I do have a background in the field and try to break down studies I personally think are interesting. I am assuming that the person was looking for quality information on jumping spiders that mimic ants. I will also assume that the unwary user clicked the first link, being rated the closest match by Google. What is absolutely mind-blowing is the amount of misinformation, outright lies and misconstrued creationist lead-ins spread in an article titled "The Miracle in the Spider". There's another fab article titled "The Miracle in the Ant" that I won't discuss here but all these points are relevant to that article as well.

I don't even know where to start. Right from the get-go they have no idea what they are talking about.

"The spider can use this amazing technique thanks to the power of hydraulic pressure in its eight legs."
Um... really? They are compressing fluid in their 8 legs to build up momemtum to make their jump? Well, all arthropods have fluid filled legs since they have an open or semi-open circulatory system, but they also have a little tissue type called muscle. Without muscle they would not move. period. But they do have a hydraulic component that is driven by muscles, probably from contraction of the prosoma (Schultz 1991).
"The ability of the jumping spider's eyes to see independently of the others enables bodies to be perceived more quickly. This capacity, proof of God's great knowledge, makes the jumping spider a master hunter."
Granted jumping spiders do have awesome eyes, but why wasn't God's great knowledge wasn't bestowed such ability on his most special of creations! I would love to see different things out all 8 of my eyes. Hmm... maybe its because of evolutionary constraints? My ancestor has 2 forward-facing stereovision eyes, sigh, we can't all be the lucky ones I suppose.

With regards to jumping spiders that mimic ants:
"These are a few of the characteristics which the spider needs to survive. Should one of them be lacking, the jumping spider would soon die. In this case it is impossible to say that the spider came by its characteristics by coincidence. The spider came into possession of all of them at the same time. God has created every living thing in a perfect form, together with every characteristic it will need."
Sure, every organism has a set of characteristics they need to survive, not a news flash there. For completeness sake, the necessary characteristics they highlight were having false eyespots to mimic ants eyes, carrying its front 2 legs high to mimic antennae, and copying the ant's walk and body position. They forget to mention a whole slew of other characteristics that are probably more important (if your thought process was evolutionary), but I'll work within these constraints. In fact, we see that because all ant-mimic spiders (the Myrmarachne genus) don't exactly look like one another or even share the exact same characteristics to survive, it did not come into all the necessary characteristics to survive simultaneously. If God created every living thing in perfect form, then why didn't God just make the spider an ant? In fact this spider evolved to mimic an ant through several millions of years by differential reproductive success of individuals most able to pass off as ants.
"In the case of Myrmarachne, an intermediate phenotype occurs during their development. Being transformational mimics, Myrmarachne can resemble a different ant species at each instar, but in some cases certain instars do not particularly resemble any ant species" - Ceccarelli & Crozier 2007
So even instars of the same species, hell same individuals, are polymorphic (more than one form) for the type of ant they mimic (or not). Ceccarelli & Crozier 2007 also studied whether the spider and ant co-evolved. An interesting result they found was there were was multiple host switching, even model switching evident in their phylogenies.

Figure 3 from Ceccarelli & Crozier 2007, ant species are on the left while the spider ant-mimic Myrmarachne is on the right.

There is some fluffy, bunny-hugging crap about spider's maternal instincts at the end. The article equates this with love and bitches in blind obedience to stupidity that equates the garbled mesh of ganglia which make up the arachnid brain to mammalian
Of course it is not possible to explain the concepts of love, compassion and the desire to protect in terms of any "blind" system. Because it is God who inspires all behaviour in animals, which lack consciousness and intelligence. It is not possible for any animal, of its own accord, to demonstrate sacrifice, to prepare plans, or indeed to do anything else. It is God who controls everything.
Blah blah blah yakkity yakkity yak.So does God control me to not believe in him and [some of] his followers to be dumbasses and violent, manipulative egoistic jerkoffs??
Ceccarelli, F. S., Crozier, R. H. (2007) Dynamics of the evolution of Batesian mimicry: molecular phylogenetic analysis of ant-mimicking Myrmarachne (Araneae: Salticidae) species and their ant models. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 20, 286-295.

Shultz, J. W. (1991) Evolution of locomotion in arachnida: The hydraulic pressure pump of the giant whipscorpion, Mastigoproctus Giganteus (Uropygi). Journal of Morphology, 210, 13-31.

Grand Opening of the Beagle Project Shop!

The Beagle Project Shop is having its grand opening! Come one come all and gear up. I plan on putting my order in soon. I think I'm going for the white golf tee. For every t-shirt and mug purchase, $10 goes towards the Beagle Project ($2 for the buttons). This goes to support the amazing work of building a replica Beagle ship to sail in Darwin's footsteps between 2009-2011. Not content with that they plan to do real science along the way, including metagenomics and DNA barcoding as well as other smaller individual project TBD. This is all in addition to providing opportunities for teachers and students to carry out classroom projects using the ship and its resources.

Science, education, and Darwin. Do I need to say anymore?? I will provide a link in my sidebar to support this worthy cause.

Happy Hallowmeme From The Other 95%!

Rick Macpherson has tagged me with his Hallowmeme! He asks us to find the trailer of your favorite really bad horror flick. It is going to be really hard to top his pick of Humanoids from the Deep, but one of the first bad horror flicks I saw as a kid was Slugs. And its appropriate given the theme of my blog! So here you go, beware the mutant flesh eating overly gregarious slugs!

Since its the season for trick or treat, I'm dropping my candy corn in the plastic pumpkin grab bags of the following bloggers.

Tangled Up In Blue Guy
Bug Girl
Paddy K
Catalogue of Organisms

I think these guys should be able to provide some interesting results!

Book Review: Reef by Scubazoo

Reef by Scubazoo (Amazon) (5 sea stars)

Scubazoo describes themselves as "a team of professional underwater cameramen and photographers who have an intense love and appreciation of the marine world." Each page of Reef is a testament to this love and appreciation they profess to. For no other way could one have the eye for detail and patience to capture nature in its hidden glory as well as they have. They have the credentials to back it up too having filmed and shot photography for National Geographic, Discovery, the BBC as well as several T.V. stations. This team of professional SCUBA divers, photographers and videographers has compiled an edge of the couch tour of reef environments, mainly in the Southwest Pacific. Not content to provide just a coffee table conversation piece, included is a 30 minute DVD with even more pictures and video. At the current Amazon price of $26.40, all 360 pages of this marine behemoth is practically a steal!

Wonderpus photogenicus (pages 90-91)

Reef is separated into seven sections and includes a Forward by eminent marine biologist and explorer Sylvia Earle. The first section, "Scubazoo Passion" is brief and explains the explains their mission, how important the marine environment is to the team and how diving has been a life-changing experience. The following five sections highlight the animals, their adaptations and their ecology. "Seascapes" takes you on a tour of all the different types of environments from reef to rocky bottoms and sand plains to and mangroves. "Diversity" entertains us with the myriad forms of animal life found in the reef. "Survival" is split into 6 themes surrounding creatures adaptations to their environment. This is where the real meat of the book is in my opinion and could nearly stand alone as a supplement to any marine biology/ecology textbook. "Conserving Reefs" is both a photographic and narrative essay that exposes many of the devastating practices of the fishery, aquarium and poaching trades. "Reef of the World" uses detailed maps and aerial photos to describe the distribution of different types of shallow marine habitats including temperate and tropical reefs, but also mangroves, seagrass beds and kelp forests. The last section is the behind-the-scenes look at "Making Reef" where they talk about their experiences in underwater photography and the equipment they use.

Symbiosis, one of the themes of the "Survival" section (pages 268-269)

The invertebrates are very well represented here and rightly so since they make up the backbone (corals, sponges, tube-building polychaetes) of the reef ecosystem and, well, 95%+ of animal life on this planet! They make well use of macro lenses and provide exhilarating close-ups of shrimp, cephalopods, anemones and coral polyps and many others. Each picture tells a story about the natural history of the organism captured on film. From tiny fish nestled among anemone tentacles or coral polyps to sea urchins riding shotgun on the back of a crab. Accompanying each photo is description of you are seeing including the common AND scientific names or each organism.

This book will inspire people of all ages. My 2 year-old son seems enthralled by the colorful and beautiful photos chosen for this timeless collection. Even as a deep-sea biologist who has seen his share of strange and unusual sea creatures, I was continuously surprised at the behaviors and diversity captured by the Scubazoo team. The images in this post are sample pages from the Scubazoo webpage for Reef, where there are several more for your viewing pleasure. The Amazon page for Reef has a phenomenal 3 minute video clip from the accompanying DVD of marine life that worth the click alone, but I guarantee you will walk away with the book in your shopping cart!

If it is not enough, part of the proceeds of buying the book go to support the Coral Reef Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving coral reefs around the world. The same organization with our dear blogging buddy, Rick MacPherson, as the program director!

Eye'm watching you! (pages 144-145)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tangled Bank #91

The Radula: Tangled Bank #91
Oh, and its a good one!

Congratulations to Dorid, the first non-scientist to host the carnival. She did a wonderful job too. So go check it out and learn about some cool science in blogosphere!

Penn State in Top 10 Schools 'That Get It'

Coming in at #8, Penn State is in Sierra Magazine's top 10 schools "that get it".

This Big Ten school gets big props for committing to a system-wide goal of LEED certification of all new buildings, a $10 million annual investment in retrofitting and efficiency, and a 17.5 percent decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2012.
Visit Penn States Center for Sustainability for more information about their activities. If you are in town drop by and see the Yurt!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Firefly Double Whammy: Evolution and Costs of Light

Um... no, not that firefly, although suspenders should totally make a comeback... NOT! How about this one:

Photo from Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Author's note: Fireflies will always hold a special place in my heart. Every summer when I was kid I would sit outside in Iowa and watch them, collecting them in my hands so I could peek inside with one eye to see if the lightning bug (as we called them in Midwest) was flashing. I look forward even more now to the day when my children can stay up late enough to watch and collect fireflies themselves. This post is dedicated to my beautiful swedish wife, who discovered fireflies for the first time when we moved east out of California 3 years ago. It is so great to see how excited she gets when they come out each summer!

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research
Fireflies are considered all part of the family of beetles called Lampyridae. Appropriately, this means light. The luminescence is the result of a chemical reaction with the substrate Luciferin and the enzyme Luciferase. The happens in two steps and is energetically expensive (i.e. requires ATP and oxygen). This is a slow reaction, which is why we can see it decay after the initial flash, that is controlled in specialized organ in its abdomen, called the lantern naturally. It sometimes is mistakingly thought of as a bacterial symbiosis like in many marine organisms, but for fireflies (along with many other bioluminescent critters) this is purely a chemical phenomenon.

There are about 2000 species of Lampyrids globally, with about 120 of those in North America. Stanger-Hall et al. recently reported the first phylogeny of North American fireflies in the journal Molecular Evolution and Phylogenetics. Their study also has interesting results for the evolution of light signals in this family. First the basics though, which also have importnat implications. They used nuclear (18S) and mitochondrial genes (16S and COI) to form consensus trees of 27 species of North American fireflies from 17 genera, including one species and genus that was recently placed outside of the family Lampyridae (Pterotus). They found that, in fact, North American fireflies do not form a monophyletic group. This lends support to the hypothesis that firefly diversity has been helped by multiple invasions. Furthermore, they determined that the present taxonomic classification into subfamilies and tribes is not supported by the molecular data, while Pterotus and another genus placed outside of the family are actually nested within the Lampyridae.

Figure 1 from Stanger-Hall et al. 2007. Carbon dust drawings done by Laura Line.

The real interesting result of this study has to do with evolution of the signaling. Branham & Wenzel (2003) report that lampyrid larvae possess of constant, but faint glow in larval light organs on the abdomen. These authors suggest, based morphological character analysis, that light production evolved early, predating the Lampyridae, and was retained from the larval form. This is supported by observational evidence that adults vary widely in light production and light organ placement and use. Typically, lampyrids use their light displays as sexual signals to attract a mate. But more basal family members use pheromones. Citing a chapter by Lloyd (1997), Stanger-Hall et al. describe 3 mating signal systems in the 120 North American species of firefly:
(1) Chemical signals (pheromones): ‘‘dark fireflies’’ (e.g. Ellychnia, Pyropyga, Lucidota) produce no light as adults and are active during the day; they release chemical signals to attract mates. (2) Glows (continuous light signals): ‘‘glowworm fireflies’’ (e.g. Microphotus, Phausis, Pleotomodes) tend to have larvae-like females who spend the day in underground burrows and emerge at night, emitting a continuous glow. This glow (short distance) in combination with pheromones (long distance) attracts males who will fly towards the glow, but usually do not signal themselves. (3) Flashes (short intermittent light signals): ‘‘lightningbug fireflies’’ (e.g. Photinus, Photuris, Pyractomena) are the most commonly observed. They are active at dusk or in the dark and both males and females use species-specific light signals to communicate with each other in an interactive visual morse-code that identifies the species and the sex of the signaler. Some genera (e.g. Pleotomus) and individual species within genera (e.g. Phausis reticulata) may represent intermediate stages in signal evolution (e.g. Pleotomus males glow when disturbed).
In terms of the evolution of signaling, they found no clear patterns. Whether they used flashes, glows or pheromones all the species in the phylogenetic tree were intermingled.
If you click on the above figures from Stanger-Hall et al., you can view them larger but at this size the take-home message is clear. The tree on the top is color-coded by sexual signal modes. Green signifies flashes, orange is glow, grey means using pheromones and weak glows, while black is only pheromones. It is obvious that glows and flashes have multiple origins in the North American firefly fauna.

The tree on the bottom is the same tree, but this time orange branches are for both flashes and glows and black branches are for pheromones only. The asterisks denoted light signal origins (orange) or losses (black) while the letters A & B represent two possible evolutionary scenarios.
"Scenario A, light signals originated once in ancestral adult lampyrids, and were subsequently lost nine times. Scenario B, ancestral lampyrids used pheromones as sexual signal, and the transition to sexual light signals evolved four times independently, followed by four losses. There are at least two other possible 10-step scenarios (multiple gains and losses), but neither is favored by any weighting where losses are considered as likely or more likely than gains. The color-coding of the branches reflects scenario B."
Video firefly larva from Thailand. Note the constant glowing in the posterior segment.

This all provides evidence that supports the hypothesis that the lampyid fauna of North America has invaded the continent multiple times with multiple origins (i.e. Europe or Asia). While scenario A allows for only a single origin of light production followed by 9 losses, scenario B is more parsimonious - requiring fewer steps. It seems to me, and I think there are papers out there that might back it up, that new gains or more rarer than losses. It would be interesting to see a meta-analysis of studies that combined morphology and molecular character data to study if indeed parsimony won out over intuition. If anyone knows of such studies, drop me a line.

Another study published in American Naturalist last month by Woods et al. 2007 studied the energetic costs and the risk of predation associated light production. This video that I couldn't figure out how to embed (might need subscriber access) describes their research (contributed by the authors as additional material with their paper). They measured energetic costs using open flow respirometry, which measures carbon dioxide production, during flashes and when at rest. They found that individual fireflies did have a significant increase in metabolic rate during light production compared to being at rest, but it was less than the rate when they were walking and not flashing. To test the hypothesis that maintaining just the bioluminescent capability has energetic costs, they also tested two other lampyrid species that are diurnal and do not produce light. Standardizing for body, they found no significant differences in the metabolic rate of lampyrids that are capable of producing light and those that have no such capability.

The next step was to see if light production incurred any costs in terms of increased predation. Woods et al. 2007 set up a experiment with arrays of sticky-trap cups with flashing LEDs that simulated the mating signals of Photinus greeni and sticky-trap cups without any light (Figure 1b from Woods et al. 2007, left). P. greeni is chemically defended against would-be predators by synthesizing steroidal pyrones. But there is one predator that is unbothered by this defense and in fact sequesters the compound for use in its own defense. This is another species of firefly called Photuris versicolor that hunts Photinus species by tracking their mating signals and captuing grounded males in the midst of getting it in on. In fact out 218 individuals of Photuris trapped, only 4 were caught on non-flashing traps! Interestingly, 96% of all trapped Photuris were females.

The take home message? Its not energetically expensive to make flash your stuff but you'll attract the wrong company at times!
"Every single night, male fireflies are out there flying a fine line between sex and death. For us, it definitely rivals the most exciting television thriller! So, next time you're outside on a summer night take a moment to admire the firefly romance and risk that’s playing out all around you."-Sara Lewis, Professor of Biology at Tufts University (quoted from press release on

Branham, M.A., J.W. Wenzel (2003). The origin of photic behavior and the evolution of sexual communication in fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). Cladistics 19(1), 1–22. doi:10.1111/j.1096-0031.2003.tb00404.x

Lloyd, J.E. (1997). Firefly mating ecology, selection and evolution. In: Choe, J.C., Crespi, B.J. (Eds.), Evolution of Mating Systems in Insects and Arachnids. Cambridge University Press, London, pp. 184–192.

Stanger-Hall, K.F., J.E. Lloyd, D.M. Hillis. (2007) Phylogeny of North American fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae): Implications for the evolution of light signals. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 45, 33-49. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2007.05.013

Woods Jr., W. A., H. Hendrickson, J. Mason, S.M. Lewis. (2007) Energy and predation costs of firefly courtship signals. American Naturalist, 170, 702-708.

Four Stone Hearth #26

Four Stone Hearth is up at The Primate Diaries. This is a blog carnival highlighting the best in Anthropology and Archaeology blogging.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Ok ok ok... I joined Technorati too. Now I'm cool, like all the other cool science bloggers. I even have a nifty Technorati Profile too

Don't You Love It When You Get More Than 100% On An Exam?

Got my first Molecular Evolution exam back today, 26.4 points out of 25. Not bad I suppose, but I only 1.5 out of 2 points on te extra credit question:

"What is a gene? Explain how the concept of a gene has evolved through time and how recent discoveries in whole-genome expression data changed the definition of what a gene is."
I also missed 0.1 point for what I think are rounding errors (the correct answer for calculating nucleotide substitutions under the Kimura model was 18.9. My answer? 19.2... doh!). Otherwise, I could have had 27 out of 25 point dammit.

Seriously though, I'm really stoked. I've never done this well on an exam since I took a class on Darwin in Spring 2004 (one of my two A+'s as an undergrad, the other was in Physics I). I do not consider myself a smart person by any means, but I work hard and have a good memory for science stuff. Maybe its a sign that I need to do less ecology and get more into evolution?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Marine Flatworms of the World

Pseudobiceros sp. from Belize, copyright Anne DuPont.

This on has been sitting in my bookmarks for a long time. Head over to Marine Flatworms of the World for some great photos of your friendly neighbourhood Platyhelminth. They also have other invertebrates, even a section dedicated to Nudi's! This site is hosted by professor Wolfgang Seifarth at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.

All Hail the Cra-Octo-Jelly

I don't know why it says "jellyfish", clearly they are not fish...

Jason at Cephalopodcast tagged me with making my own wild self. Get your own freaky wildside on at Build Your Wild Self from the Wildlife Conservation Society. Put a beard on it and its totally how I look, tentacles and all. It is heavily biased on that other 5% though, so be prepared for grotesque mammalian body parts. blah.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Back From the Brink...

... of massive grading!

I've been inundated with grading 49 lab reports from my intro bio students on Sordaria genetics. But its all over now, the pain is subsiding. I won't talk about them, since we all know students have a knack at finding things out about their instructors (like semi-anonymous, but not really, blogs). They were actually fairly good, except try as you might (twice in class, plus an entire quiz question) they just cannot seem to cite articles correctly in-text. S.A.L.-P. says its because they are taught in high school to cite (Author(s), Page #) even though in the real world you cite (Author(s), Year). And we wonder why we continuously in the back of the world of school bus. Sigh....

But I've got big things in store for my readers!

First, I've finalized the session co-moderators for the 2008 NC Science Blogging Conference next January. I organized a session on Real-Time Blogging in the Marine Sciences that is coming together fantastically! I'm really proud of our line-up. In addition to myself, Peter Etnoyer from Deep Sea News, Rick MacPherson from Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice and Sunsets and Jason Robertshaw from Cephalopodcast will all be there! Pirate outfits optional. I'll devote an entire post to its content later, but our mix of backgrounds will make for an interesting session from Science & Research, Conservation & Policy and Education. Bora has already introduced us to the world too.

Second, there was no spineless song of the week last week. I promise to make it up to you this week!

Third, Circus of the Spineless will be at The Other 95% on November 1!!! Its like it was meant to be... I've gotten many fantastic posts so far, but keep it coming, earlier is better. Also, I will be hosting a special edition of the geology carnival, The Accretionary Wedge on November 15. The theme is "Geology and Life" or "Between a Rock and a Squishy Face". This is a themed carnival asking bloggers to dig deep into their souls and write about how geology affects biology or biology affects geology. I want to hear about personal experiences, current research, field work, anything that crosses these seemingly disparate but all too entwined disciplines that I hold dear to my own heart. I am planning a special post for its occasion as well.

Send either carnival entry to kaz146{{at}}psu{{dot}}edu with the appropriate subject line.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Faryngula Mutating Meme

I've been tagged by Jim at From Archaea to Zeaxanthol and Eric at The Primate Diaries to reproduce, albeit with replication error, this mutating blog meme started by Pharyngula. The rules are simple:

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...". Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

* You can leave them exactly as is.

* You can delete any one question.

* You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".

* You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".

* You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.
Since I've been tag-teamed, I will recombine the questions from both to form a novel unit. Jim's nucleotides are in green and Eric's are in red, any novel mutations are in yellow.

The best romantic movie in SF/Fantasy is: Dune (the original one of course!)

The best hip hop song from 80s hard rock is: "The King of Rock" by Run DMC

The most disturbing movie in French Film is: Man Bites Dog (english title, I don't know the French one)

The best ocean song in Working-Class Folk Music is: "Sorrows of the Sailor/Blue Water" by David Francey

My geneology:
My great-great-great-grandparent is Pharyngula.
My great-great grandparents are The Flying Trilobite and Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My great-grandparents are Flying Trilobite and Leslie’s Blog.
My grampas are A Blog Around the Clock and The Meming of Life.
My 2 dads are From Archaea to Zeaxanthol and The Primate Diaries.

I am infecting the following with this meme, go forth and replicate! Apologies to anyone already infected.
Beagle Project Blog
Catalogue of Organisms
Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice and Sunsets
Snail's Tails
Tangled Up In Blue Guy

Accretionary Wedge #2: How the Earth Could Kill You

All of My Faults Are Stress Related: Accretionary Wedge #2: How the Earth Could Kill You

This Geology carnival has a collection of some fascinating posts on natural disasters. Being partial to volcanology, I enjoyed the post on the Deccan volcanoes that killed off the ammonites. This would have made a good post for the Accrectionary Wedge's next carnival, coincidentally hosted here November 15th! The theme for this one is the Intersection between life and a Hard Place. I want to see posts by geolgists on how they affect or are affected by biology and I want to see posts by biologists on how important geology is to their study. Lets bridge divide!

Go On a Dig at Boneyard #7!

Neil and Microecos has the 7th edition of the Boneyard up. Inverts are increasing in number, with help from my post on a new fossil crustacean. Cephalopods are all the rage too in honor of International Cephalopod Awareness Day on 10/08. You can even find out where to shop for trilobite clothing! Lots of great stuff in this edition, plus awesome paleo-art!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My Dream Job Slips Away From Me Yet Again... (Sigh)

You know you need to finish your PhD fast when you keep seeing your dream jobs slip away from you. The latest one to slip away from me is from the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, Canada. The position is for Curator of Invertebrates with a possible appointment at the University of Victoria. As it stands now, I believe that I am the perfect candidate for the position.The Natural History Section of the Curatorial Services Branch has an excellent opportunity for a person with a desire to share the Invertebrate Zoology collection with the world!

The Curator, Invertebrate Zoology, will plan and participate in public programming and interpretation through exhibit planning, copy writing, scholarly and popular writing and public speaking. The incumbent will have an opportunity to perform scholarly research on at least one taxonomic group of invertebrates relevant to British Columbia while having a good knowledge of other invertebrate groups for specimen identification and collection development purposes. As a key member of a team, the incumbent will serve on a variety of committees and attend meetings as required. As a strong communicator, the Curator will be responsible for recruiting, training and directing the day-to-day activities of volunteers, co-op students and contractors.
I have plenty of experience working with the public showing off the diversity of deep-sea life at various university events, judging junior science competitions, explaining vent and seep ecology and the biology of the organisms there for grade school and college students, as well as for teacher workshops. I engage in scholarly writing (2 papers in review) as well as frequent popular writing (this blog for instance!) and have given public lectures on the history of science and on my research. I do research on and consider myself adept at deep sea anemones, zoanthids and crustaceans. I have one shrimp description in review, 7 anemones and a zoanthid almost completed (I hope to do the DNA extraction and sequencing next wek for the zoanthid). I would love to be a part of the NEPTUNE's VENUS project which is run out of the University of Victoria and am familiar the fauna from vents and seep world-wide and would be thrilled to start projects utilizing British Columbia's local fauna. I also have a wide knowledge-base of all marine invertebrate groups. My PhD work in studying community structure at vents has made me competent at identifying all the major phyla of marine invertebrates. And nothing makes me more pleased in my life than peering down a microscope and putting together the clues to solve the mystery of an organism's identity!
The ideal candidate will have a Doctorate degree in science relating to Invertebrate Zoology with an emphasis on taxonomy or systematics. In addition to being capable or qualified for cross appointments in universities, you will have proven knowledge of and practical experience in specimen identification. You will have experience planning, implementing and completing scientific research and while experience working in a museum setting is not mandatory, it is considered an asset. As a member of an organization responsible for sharing the wonders of the museum, the successful candidate will be comfortable with preparing and delivering presentations and providing information in both verbal and written form, about Invertebrate Zoology and the museum to the academic and general user community.
So I don't have a doctorate degree yet, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel! Does that account for anything? If I were to be offered such a job, you bet I would wok my ass off to finish my degree within a year. I am scheduled to finish by December 2008. I do have experience planning and implementing research. I even have obtained my own grant for taxonomic research on vent anemones from the Census of Marine Life. As for finishing, well it all has to be done within the next year right?! As for delivering lectures about invertebrate zoology to the public... that is what I live for!

I am the best candidate for this job, but unfortunately don't stand a chance due to a small qualification issue. Quite frustrating and it only seems like one of these jobs comes by each year. Think about the plethora of applicants! Its got to be so cutthroat. I've often thought of starting my own consulting business for taxonomic services and ecological studies. Still toying with the idea, but I really love being in an academic/museum/research setting. Its very enriching. Sigh, what is a passionate science graduate student to do?

Think you are qualified too? Check out the job ad here.

Tuesday Toon (Belated)

Update March 7, 2008: Farside cartoon removed at the request of FarWorks, Inc. on behalf of Gary Larson.

Mussel Mysteries

For those who just can't get enough of me, there is a photo story of some of mine and my colleagues work at the newly redesigned and oh so chic Venture Deep Ocean site. Clicking each photo gives you a description with it. There is also a page about our expeditions to the hydrothermal vents at the East-Lau Spreading Center. I am, of course, listed under the heading "Hot People" on the sidebar to the right...

About Venture Deep Ocean:

Venture Deep Ocean highlights some of the latest discoveries about seafloor volcanoes and vents, and how they create environments for extraordinary lifeforms.

Understanding what forces shape the ocean floor helps us understand the history of our planet, and predict its future. Researching how volcanic activity affects the chemical make-up of our oceans can help predict how the oceans will respond to climate change. Studying how creatures survive in the extreme conditions of the deep ocean may help to make medical and technological advances, or to locate life on other planets.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Spineless Song of the Week - Jim's Got a Green Northern Sea Urchin

Jim, as we know him, and his green northern sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis (picture from this unidentifiable Russian site).

They came in hordes, devastating the seafloor, destroying and digesting all in its path. Nothing could stop them. Their spiny defense deterred the toughest of opponents. Pedicilliariae clamped down on even the slightest hint of opposition. The urchins calcareous armour and lance-like spines was a formidable defense, while their 5-plated beak mounted an insurmountable offensive to any would prey - kelp would fall first then barnacles, mussels, whelks, bryozoans, sponges, fish carcasses and even other urchins. Leaving only barren rock in its wake.

Fascinating creatures such as these deserve a tribute and Jim, a friend of the invertebrates, deserves a song. So click on #14 in the sidebar. You can read about the Ecology of the Not-So-Lowly Green Sea Urchin or perhaps learn about sea urchin skeletal flexibility during growth (where jim had n=143 green northern sea urchins!) while listening!

Jim’s got a green Northern sea urchin

Jim’s got a green Northern sea urchin
It’s spiny and round and lives on the ocean bottom
Jim’s got a green Northern sea urchin
It doesn’t do much but crawl around

Its an echinoderm, it don’t run or squirm
Just crawl around and tons of little tube feet
Munch and crunch with Aristotle lantern
Made of five plates that form a beak

Jim’s got a green Northern sea urchin
It tastes mighty good to the wolf eel
Jim’s got a green Northern sea urchin
It also tastes good to the crab

Jim’s got a green Northern sea urchin
Covered in pedicellariae
Jim’s got a green Northern sea urchin
Its exchange gas across tube feet

Its an echinoderm, a chordate, no worm
Covered in a calcareous test
If no predator, they grow in number
Eat all the kelp away unless

Jim’s got a green Northern sea urchin
Model organism for development
Jim’s got a green Northern sea urchin
Echinopluteus larva with arms bent

Jim’s got a green Northern sea urchin
Lives everywhere, in great big hordes
Jim’s got a green Northern sea urchin
Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Giant Spitting Earthworm Needs Your Help!

The northwestern prairies are home to an unusual creature who was once very abundant in these fertile soils. Frank Smith was the taxonomist who described this species in 1897 stating:

"This species is very abundant in that region of the country and their burrows are sometimes seen extending to a depth of over 15 feet."
The impact of this creature on the prairie ecosystem is immense, to the extent that its disappearance might threaten the prairie's viability. What is this creature whose importance cannot be understated? The giant Palouse spitting earthworm (Driloleirus americanus, the "american lily-like worm"), whose saliva is said the smell like lilies, has not been sighted in Palouse Prairie region since 1988 despite several organized expeditions to the area.

The Palouse Prairie spans western Idaho and Eastern Washington. Prairies in the United States have been shrinking dramatically under the weight of industrialized agriculture, pesticide runoff, invasive species and suburban development. Protection of this species would mean protection of the Palouse Prairie, considered by some scientists as the most endangered ecosystem in Washington. As Steve Paulson, founder of the Friends of the Clearwater, put it,
“This worm is the stuff that legends and fairytales are made of. What kid wouldn’t want to play with a three-foot-long, lily-smelling, soft pink worm that spits? A pity we’re losing it.” (cited here)
That's right, the giant Palouse spitting worm can grow up to 3 feet, is pinkish due to a lack of pigment in the skin, smells like lilies when disturbed and can dig burrows of up to 15 feet. All this living right under the noses of Washington and Idaho residents.

Landscape of the Palouse Prairie. Painting part of Oregon State University's Art About Agriculture.

The rarity of this earthworm has fueled conservationists wanting to protect the Palouse from future development. It listed as "vulnerable" under the 2007 IUCN Red List. IUCN defines a species as vulnerable when it faces a "high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future." For a species to be "endangered" its estimated population must be less than 250 mature individuals and to be listed as "critically endangered" the estimated population must consist of less than 50 mature individuals. Since the original discovery in 1897 by Frank Smith, only a mere handful of sightings have taken place in that 110 year span. In fact, a 2002 survey of earthworms of 46 sites in the Palouse region failed to document its presence. To me, this should qualify as critically endangered. Though I recognize that a more thorough and quantitative study needs to be done, the fact of the matter is that this earthworm is very rare. For instance, if there have been 10 sightings in the last 110 years over an area about 8000 square miles (~20,000 square km), we can likely conclude that the population size is certainly less than 250 mature individuals and possibly under 50.

That must also be what several conservation organizations and individuals thought when they petitioned for the protection of D. americanus and its prairie habitat under the Endangered Species Act. Friends of the Clearwater, Palouse Audobon Society, Palouse Prairie Foundation and 3 individuals wrote to the Department of the Interior (pdf of petition here) in August, 2006. Two months later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responded:
"[...]. We reviewed your petition to issue an emergency rule to list the giant Palouse earthworm. Our assessment is that circumstances pertaining to the status of the species do not warrant emergency listing. If conditions change, and we determine emergency listing is warranted, an emergency rule will be developed.

We are currently required to complete a significant number of listing and critical habitat actions in Fiscal Year 2006, pursuant to court orders and judicially approved settlement agreements. Complying with these court orders, settlement agreements, and other priorities obligates all of our listing and critical habitat funding for Fiscal Year 2006. Therefore, while we are not able to further address your petition to list the giant Palouse earthworm as endangered or, alternatively, as threatened, we will address your petition as soon as funding becomes available."-Letter posted on Palouse Prairie Foundation website.
A year later, the USFWS has not conducted the required 90-day review and 12-month review. Last month, the petitioners teamed up with the Center for Biological Diversity and issued a 60-day notice of intent to sue USFWS to speed up the process. To date, the Bush administration has protected 58 species, only 25% of his father protected in his 4-year presidency (Clinton protected 522 species in his 8 years in office).
"...this ecosystem is one of the rarest on earth. Listing the giant Palouse earthworm may be the only salvation for the Palouse prairie."-O. Lynne Nelson, Friends of the Clearwater quoted from this CBD press release.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tangled Bank #90

Welcome to The Other 95%, a blog devoted to our spineless animal brethren. An appreciation of the underappreciated majority of animal life. The title of my blog refers to the fact that while Invertebrate animals make up 95% of the animal kingdom, they barely receive 5% of the coverage and consideration by the public, media, certain scientists, etc. While vertebrates (particularly furry ones and crocodilians) receive 95% of the attention while making up just 5% of all animals. Please have a look around my blog! I have two weekly features. The first being an Invert-a-toon every Tuesday. The second being a Spineless Song put out every Friday or Saturday, highlighting a particular invertebrate of interest. Check out the Spineless Songs sidebar on the right and keep checking back for all the news and views concerning the Invertebrates!


Bora at A Blog Around the Clock discusses an open access (of course!) article from PLoS ONE on the effects of Oxytocin on the circadian timing of birth.

Get to know a cell structure with Dan at Migrations! I'll give you a hint: I ain't 'actin' when I say I love this post.

The Aspen Health Conference was just last week, so get the details on the conference at the Sharp Brains blog. Don't forget that to be happier, cells that fire together, wire together!

Ecology and Environmental Science

The rise of miljöbil, or environmentally friendly car, in Sweden has generated a bit of controversy and irony at Paddy K's blog.
"You could just as well call a Nuclear submarine “environmentally friendly” by including a hundred sets of oars and suggesting that the crew could, if they wanted to, row the thing home."
The Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog notes new strategies for improving rice yield why working in a rice paddy requires having "feet of clay".

Coral reefs are under threat in OZ, Planet Doom gives us the low-down.

Ever wondered how much plumage a wood duck could chuck if a wood duck could chuck plumage? Head over to 10000 Birds and learn about Eclipse plumage in my favorite mallard, Aix sponsa.

Life is tough in the city, other birds don't have to worry about traffic and noise, but GrrlScientist reports on new research confirming that city birds are more tougher than their country counterparts.

Medicine and Disease Biology

At a Mad Tea-Party, the Mad Hatter describes the Dengue Fever virus as a trojan horse and discusses possible vaccination strategies.

Ouroboros give us an example of mutations during mismatch repair and telomere maintenance can actually improve survival in research mice.

It came from outer space! Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science reports on new research on the creation of super virulent strains of Salmonella from zero gravity in space. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor Disease is a serious affliction facing these already endangered animals, threatening them with extinction. Joe Dunckley of has the story.

Evolutionary Biology

Has artificial life been created by the Venter gang? Greg Laden analyzes the evidence and writes poetically on the analogy between building a 1977 Mustang and building life. Perhaps he has read Rowland 1968 "Evolution of the MG" (Nature 217: 240-242)?

GrrlScientist examines the behavioral genetics of sociality in wasps.

Over at the Pharyngula, PZ Myers shares with us his vast knowledge of Evo-Devo in explaining the evolution of mammalian molars.


GrrlScientist describes some fascinating new research hinting that Velociraptor may have had feathers and discusses whether social behavior or ornamentation evolved first in Ceratotopsian dinosaurs (i.e. Triceratops) from some newly described fossils in that paleo wonderland, China.

My own contribution this issue discusses another new fossil find out China, a crustacean from the lower Cambrian pushes back Arthropod origins a little further.

Archaeology and Anthropology

So you want to be a bison dentist? Get a head start by learning about the paleopathology of bison enamel at Archaeozoology.

Martin Rundkvist of Aardvarchaeology enlightens us about a medieval soapstone quarry in Norway.

The Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog links archaeology and human and livestock genetics.

On Science, Politics and Being a Scientist

Sunil at Balancing Life has what I feel is required reading for all scientists on the value of failure.

At VXWYNot? there is an intriguing report of a study on the increase of left-handedness over the last 150+ years using some rather unconventional methods (remember how we teach our Freshman students not to cite Wikipedia as a source...)

Mike Haubrich educates us on why adult stem cells are not interchangable with embryonic stem cells. Hopefully politicians on 'The Hill' are reading the Tangled Up In Blue blog.

Joe Dunckley at writes thoroughly on how technology will change peer-review as we know it.

That's it for the 90th edition of the Tangled Bank. Keep tuned in 2 weeks for #91 at The Radula!