Saturday, August 30, 2008

Turneffe Tales Left Untold: Part 3

Other Curious Critters:


"Just don't trip!"Alton and I would joke about walking behind the kitchen at the field station. Why? The Wish Willies. At times they were a dozen strong and they looked hungry. Like a pack of dogs, they were waiting for scraps tossed their way. I don't think that there are many reports of indiscriminate spiny-tailed iguanas attacks, but scraps that fell their way didn't last long and not everyone was getting fed. At night, you were safe. The Wish Willies would escape to the trees to wait for day. When they were warmed up and hungry, that's when you need to watch your step. Maybe.

Blue, Green Vine Snakes

That's not blue-green vine snakes. Green vine snakes are fairly common on the islands of Turneffe. They are an amazing hue of green, but some folks in the area have been finding blue, green vine snakes. This picture doesn't do it justice (if anybody out there has a better one, let me know), but you can see that the snake is blue. This variation seems to overlap the green, green vine snake populations but is not found on all of the islands. The folks at the University of Belize field station would see them on Calabash and we found them when we went looking for crocodile and sea turtle nests on Cockroach Caye (see "what washes ashore parts one and two to see what else we found there). There's probably a neat story there that has yet to be told.

Make up your own story about this last critter.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Turneffe Tales Left Untold: Part 2

Fish Tails, continued....

In addition to enjoying the "ugly" fish in the sea, I really love the little fishes, especially blennies and gobies! These are the incredibly cute fish that often sit on the bottom (here's a picture of one of each -- the neon goby is the bright blue fish toward the bottom of this pic). Neon gobies are especially fun. Their occupation is to clean parasites off of other fish (including the inside of mouths). Like a neon "CAR WASH" sign, cleaner fish are usually brightly colored. That way, other fish know where to pull in. Neon gobies often rush out to clean an approaching diver, but, in my experience, usually turn away as they get close. I think that they may be near sighted.

Blennies and gobies are extremely diverse. They are also often difficult to spot because they may be only a fraction of an inch long and camouflaged. In many cases, I've found blennies in pictures that I've taken and I didn't even know that they were there until I looked at the pic. Take a close look at the super cute blenny! Simply adorable.
One of my favorite caribbean fish is the Sharp-nosed Puffer. Only an inch or two long, these two are absolutely gorgeous. Don't pass them up on your next snorkel or dive. They're commonly hovering near the bottom, often near soft coral or a gap in the reef. Look for a characteristic bend in their tail while they hover by the reef. I think that I'll end this post with a bunch of good points.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Turneffe Tales Left Untold: Part 1

I'm back in the USA, but I have left many tales from Turneffe left untold. I didn't finish the research or polish the photos, but here are some ideas that you may pursue on your next trip to Belize.

Fish Tails:

I planned on doing a detailed expose on Barry (from Barry and the Turtle) the barracuda that lives under the Oceanic Society field station's dock. Barry was usually the first fish that new snorkelers at the site were introduced to. Barry always sat under the dock with a collection of hundreds of grunts and snapper around him. The first thing that I wanted to ask Barry, if I'd had the chance, was if he was a boy or a girl. We all call "him" Barry, but I have a sneaky feeling that he is a girl. I had hundreds of opportunities to see Barry, but somehow my camera would always ignore "his" presence. I would fill my entire frame with Barry and my camera would decide to focus on the sliver of coral twenty feet behind Barry on the side. Without a reasonable pic, my report was hampered and here it ends.

An algae-covered, gulping sting:
You know that I love ugly fish and scorpionfish are right up my alley. I happened upon this handsome fella while on a dive near the southern tip of the atoll; the algae on its back was streaming back-and-forth in the wave action. Just remember, no matter how cute they look, don't pet the little fellas. They have a number of protein toxins in their spines. Brushing these spines may dramatically slow your heart and respiration and cause a severe drop in blood pressure. The toxins also have hemolytic (break red blood cells), hemorrhagic (cause bleeding), and proteolytic (break down protein) effects. Fortunately, they usually just sit and stare at you, so you can get up pretty close to admire them. Ummm, avoid stepping on them too.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Part 3 of a Case Study in Interconnectedness: Acidosis, Global Climate Change and a Stong Urge to Pee

Before I get too far along here, I did forget to mention another cool physiological response that takes place during a free dive, especially in trained individuals. Their spleen will often contract during the dive, shoving more red blood cells (erythrocytes) into circulation. Having more RBCs increases oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. That's super cool. Trust me.


Now......the link to global climate change. Recall that hyperventilation prior to a breath-hold will decrease CO2 levels in the blood, which yields fewer reactions between CO2 and H2O and, thus, less carbonic acid production, meaning fewer free H+. And, remember, during the breath-hold CO2 levels in the blood rise (you're not exhaling them), yielding more reactions with water and more acid formation (more H+).


This simple chemical reaction is extremely important in animal physiology, but it is also potentially important in global climate change. Increased atmospheric CO2 levels from the burning of fossil fuels is leading to more CO2 dissolved in the ocean. CO2 will act the same way in ocean water as it does in your blood. It will form an acid. Below I diagram some likely effects of increased atmospheric CO2 on ocean critters and the subsequent effects that may be felt by human populations. As is often the case, poor people in developing countries are likely to feel many effects of ocean acidification first.


Here are some science new releases related to information above:

Life is interconnected on this Earth. What we do each day affects ecosystems around the world (e.g., coral reefs). Thereby, what we do affects the livelihood and nutrition of people on the other side of the earth. Hopefully, what we do will ultimately be beneficial.
When our acids get high in our blood, we feel the need to breathe. We can delay it slightly by hyperventilating. In the end, with the breath we are likely to live, without it we will not. The earth can't hyperventilate....even if it could, it may only buy it a little more time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back in the USA

I'm back in the US, but I seem to have less connectivity than I had on a small island off of the coast of Belize! I only have internet access and a phone when I am at work. One of the strangest things about being back is how quiet it is. While sitting in my house or on my porch, I hardly hear a sound. I guess that the wind in the palms and the waves crashing on the reef were always present on Blackbird Caye and I didn't realize how different it would be when those were gone. I plan on posting part 3 of the case study today.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Part Two of A Case Study in Interconnectedness: Acidosis, global climate change, and a strong urge to pee

II. The Answers to Hyperventilation, hypertension and a strong urge to pee

First, why am I experiencing these physiological effects? I'm doing it to myself. Why am I doing it to myself? That would be a reasonable question. I like to look at pretty things under water. To see the petty things while snorkeling, I have to hold my breath and dive (freedive). Sometimes the pretty things are pretty deep. Sometimes I want to look at them for a while. Holding one's breath while in cool water at depth creates a series of interesting responses due to a) the mammalian dive reflex, b) hydrostatic pressure on the body, c) breath holding and d) our response to cold. Let's look at each of these.

a) The Mammalian Dive Reflex
Mammals share a common reflex when they hold their breath and dive underwater, especially cold water. In fact, simply placing someone's face in cool water while they hold their breath will initiate the reflex. During spring quarter one of my biology majors, Kacie, did her project on this reflex with a few volunteers. She found, as have others, that cold water is especially effective at initiating this reflex. The physiological variable that she was most able to measure was heart rate. What she found was that heart rate dropped (bradycardia) when her subjects held their breath (apneic episode) while placing their face in water. She also found that cold water created the most dramatic response. Many researchers have studied this and recorded similar results. However, other effects in this reflex include widespread peripheral vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels in the skin and appendages) and a concomitant increase in blood pressure. It is thought that this reflex saves oxygen for the brain and vital organs.

b) Hydrostatic Pressure
When diving the pressure placed on the body increases one atmosphere (the total pressure that we feel at sea level from the atmosphere of the earth pressing down on us) for every 10 meters of depth. As you dive the water pressure around you increases. This increase in pressure will compress surface blood vessels in the skin and will cause pressure on tissues around the body to be fairly equal. When we are standing on the ground the pressures are not equal, gravity pushes down on the fluids in your body and you have to compensate for these effects. Without movement fluid will accumulate in your feet and ankles.

c) Breath Holding
During breath holding, our ability to take in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from our blood is limited. We can continue to send blood to our lungs while we are holding our breath, but gas exchange rates decline. This brings up a very important chemical reaction. The formation of carbonic acid. As we hold our breath, CO2 levels in the blood increase and CO2 combines with water and forms carbonic acid. This carbonic acid disassociates leaving hydrogen ions, H+, and bicarbonate ions, HCO3-. The hydrogen ions determine pH. Thus, as we hold our breath H+ increases, causing pH to decrease (more acidic). It is this pH decrease that is most responsible for our desire to end the breath-hold and take a new breath.

d) Response to Cold
When exposed to cold air or water (especially water), a typical response is to constrict blood vessels to our periphery (skin, appendages, nose, and ears). This peripheral vasoconstriction will shunt blood to our core, decrease the temperature gradient between our surfaces and the air or water, and slow heat loss. Note: the opposite occurs when we are hot.

Now, let's use the above information to answer the questions from the case study.

1. How could peripheral vasoconstriction lead to a) the hypertension reported and b) the bradycardia reported?
a) The answer to this question has multiple parts. First, constricting blood vessels decreases their diameter which increases the friction (resistance) to blood flow. In fact, a small decrease in diameter leads to a HUGE increase in resistance to flow (the fourth power is involved here). Blood pressure is proportional to resistance, so as resistance goes up, so does blood pressure. Thus, the hypertension (in part).

b) First, bradycardia (slow heart rate) will occur during the freedive due to the mammalian dive reflex. This would occur even if you simply placed your face in cool water while holding your breath. However, there are additional reasons for the bradycardia. Constricting blood vessels in the skin and appendages will shove more blood toward the core and force more blood through the heart. The heart will stretch and contract harder in response to the stretch which will shove more blood into the arteries (it will also release a hormone -- see below) . The combination of more blood in the arteries, more resistance to blood flow and hard contractions will increase blood pressure. The increase will be sensed by stretch receptors known as baroreceptors. These receptors in the aorta and carotid arteries will create a reflex through both divisions of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. Parasympathetic signals will increase through the Vagus nerve to the heart, which will slow heart rate. At the same time, sympathetic signals to the heart will decrease, slowing heart rate (sympathetic stimulation would increase heart rate).
2. Explain how my alkalosis develops.

Hyperventilation has a profound effect on blood CO2 levels. A brief period of hyperventilation prior to freediving is a common strategy for increasing breath-holding duration. This technique does come with risks, namely shallow-water blackout, blacking-out while returning to the surface due to low oxygen tension in the blood and a rapid decrease in blood pressure as blood returns to the p. Since CO2 and H+ levels due to the CO2 in the blood are most responsible for the urge to breathe, decreasing CO2 in the blood will delay the urge to breathe. Hyperventilation causes a decrease in blood CO2, which causes a decrease in blood H+. The decrease in H+ leads to an increase in blood pH, or alkalosis.

3. Explain what may be the cause of my slight acidosis.
The answer to this question is basically the opposite of the previous answer. Apneic episodes, breath-holding, is an example of HYPOventilation which causes blood CO2 levels to rise and blood H+ levels to rise (you can't get rid of the CO2 because you're not refreshing the air in your lungs). The increase in H+ concentration decreases pH causing acidosis. This really makes you want to breathe.
4. Using your answers from #1 and other information provided, explain why I'm making so much urine. Why might the urine be so dilute? (note: there are several mechanisms that you should come up with in answering this question)

This is a fun one. There are several reasons that I may be making more urine. I've actually pondered this just about as long as I can remember. As a child, I didn't understand why I had to pee so bad when swimming and why my urine was so dilute. I assumed that the water was being forced up my urethra and water from the pool or lake was moving into my bladder through this path. I also recall wondering if it was worse if I peed while swimming because it seemed like I quickly had to pee again. I assumed that water from the pool was displacing the water that I had peed out. I recall regularly peeing clear urine at the urinals of Fairmont Hot Springs after swimming and being amazed that I had to pee so much and so often (one possibility for the often thing, similar to why you have to pee so bad after your first urination "break the seal" when drinking alcohol, is that the internal urinary sphincter is slow to close and when you're making a lot of urine it is overwhelmed).

Back to the question. Recall that blood pressure increases during a dive (#1) due to peripheral vasoconstriction from hydrostatic pressure, the mammalian dive reflex, and cold. The increase in blood pressure and volume of blood in the chest (blood forced to the core) will stretch the heart and cause the heart to release Natriuretic Peptides. These hormones increase Na+ and H2O loss at the kidney, which will increase urine volume. In addition, an increase in BP will cause increase stretch in kindey arteries which will lead to a decrease in Renin production. That leads to a decrease in angiotensin II production (ultimately), which causes less Anti-diuretic Hormone and Aldosterone to be secreted. When these hormones decrease, the kidney reabsorbs less water and less sodium, leading to increased urine production and production of dilute urine. It is also possible that the increase in pressure at the kidney is causing an increase in glomerular filtration rate which could lead to higher urine output. Voila! Polyuria! More urine! That's why when I'm diving (or swimming to an extent) I have a lot of pee to pee.
The above answer does not explain the intense, immediate urinary urgency that I feel when I do a freedive. In fact, I haven't found a good explanation for this, but I believe that it is most associated with the apneic episodes (breath holding). When I was in high school I used to train myself in breath-holding. I don't know why, but I did. I would run in place while holding my breath. I would nearly pee myself in the process -- OK. Maybe a little pee was peed, I'm not sure. For some reason breath holding leads to an urge to urinate. In fact, it can be used to treat "shy bladder." If you have a shy bladder, you can hold your breath as you head toward the bathroom (empty your lungs about 75% first) and you should be ready to go. You can also wait until you are at the potty. After 30-40 seconds you're probably going to need to pee. Watch out for one thing, however. Your anal sphincters may relax too!

What does any of this have to do with global climate change? Study the answers to questions 2 and 3 and read part 3 when I get a chance to post it. If you made it this far, then I'm really impressed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Freaken' Crazy

Yesterday I was waiting for a group to catch up to me while we were snorkeling. I wanted to show them the imprints that were left all over the sandy bottom by southern stingrays. They didn't seem to hear me calling, so I dove down to look at one myself. I realized that I had some time to blow before the group got to me, so I decided to dolphin kick out across the sandy bottom away from the coral heads that we were exploring. I was probably about 15 feet under and after about 20 yards I decided to veer left slightly. As I slowly made a turn and looked to my left I found myself merging straight into a spotted eagle ray. Our three heads nearly collided (it had a shark sucker right next to its head). For some reason it didn't spook, so I slipped right above it. Then we swam together across the sand. The eagle ray flew about a foot below me with a 5 foot wingspan. I was running out of breath, so I slowly drifted up toward the surface and continued to swim with it several feet below me. I couldn't keep up with the ray and it pulled slightly ahead of me. As it pulled forward, my head was even with the base of its tail. I then realized that its tail was at least as long as me, if not several feet longer. I knew that I coudn't keep up with it, so I slowly watched it swim away into the blue, mesmerized by the white puzzle-pattern of circles connected by white lines across its black wings.
This private encounter was perhaps the most amazing animal encounter that I have ever had. There were no sounds. Just the two of us, plus the hitchhiker, making our way across the sand. Neither of us seemed to be paying close attention to where we were going. And, for some reason, it wasn't bothered by my presence. I'm glad that I didn't take my camera that day. If I had, I would have not chosen to randomly kick across the bottom for fun. And there's no way that I could have captured that moment with a camera. I would have spent my time looking at my camera and missed the whole experience. The whole thing was simply crazy.
(Note: this experience does relate to the case study that you are working on)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Part One in A Case Study on Interconnectedness: Acidosis, global climate change, and a strong urge to pee

In part one of this three-part post, I present a physiological case study that pertains to my current condition (this is geared toward people with a background in human physiology). Part two will cover answers to questions that I pose in the case study and introduced the interconnectedness portion. Part three will focus on a global climate case study that relates to my own case study (parts one and two).

I. THE CASE STUDY: Hyperventilation, hypertension and a strong urge to pee -- A true case study in the making!

I've had a strong urge to pee lately. More specifically, I've had intense, acute bouts of urinary urgency that last from between 2 and 30 seconds and then fade with or without voiding. I'm also experiencing polyuria (excess urine formation). This urinary urge is strongly associated with daytime apneic episodes (breath holding). Often these episodes come about after short bouts of self-induced hyperventilation (several to a dozen breaths). I have several cardiovascular responses that occur concurrent with these other effects. I experience bradycardia (slow heart rate), yet my blood pressure is very high. I have intense peripheral vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels in my skin and limbs). It likely that my blood pressure during the apneic episodes is above 200/150 mmHg, and possibly much, much higher with systolic pressures over 300mmHg and diastolic pressures over 200 mmHg. (note: hypertension is often defined as systolic pressure generally over 140mmHg and diastolic over 90 mmHg). I'm also experiencing fluctuations in my blood pH, with a brief period of slight alkalosis (high pH) followed by a slow progression into slight acidosis (low pH).

Using the information above, answer the following questions:
  1. How could peripheral vasoconstriction lead to a) the hypertension reported and b) the bradycardia reported?
  2. Explain how my alkalosis develops.
  3. Explain what may be the cause of my slight acidosis.
  4. Using your answers from #1 and other information provided, explain why I'm making so much urine. Why might the urine be so dilute? (note: there are several mechanisms that you should come up with in answering this question)
You have two days to complete this assignment. No partial credit will be given and no late papers will be accepted. (I've got to keep my reputation for being "difficult" and "a" "hard teacher" and such.) You may submit your answers to my work email, which I will check in the spring. I will note the date on which you submitted.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Killer Coconuts!!!

More people die from Coconuts each year than Shark Attacks!? (play along -- or go ahead and Google it**)
Exact revenge on the coconuts! When someone is attacked by a shark, people often try to fish-out the sharks, hoping that maybe they'll get the "man-eater". What about these killer coconuts? More deadly than a shark, yet we seem to trust them? Kids don't have nightmares about them. Movies aren't made about them. There's no scary, coconut theme-music. Yet they may be deadly, just the same. In this post, I will instruct you on how to get even with the coconut, while making some nice coconut milk and coconut oil for your next Thai dish.
I mentioned in earlier posts that coconuts are seabeans that have been distributed around the world as a crop. They have been highly successful, often overtaking native habitat (another reason to seek retribution from the plant).
I often buy coconut products to cook with (plus they are in suntan oils and other products) but being from Montana and living in Washington state, I don't often prepare fresh coconut. In fact, until living on this island, I did not realize how coconut milk and oil were made. Thus, I've created this post for those of you that could be on an island with little to eat while surrounded by plenty of deadly coconuts as well as those of you hell-bent on evening the score.

Let's get started!

First, climb a coconut tree (see video below) to get sweetest coconut water.
  • Coconut Palm climbing tip #1: Approach the tree nonchalantly, so it doesn't suspect anything.
  • Coconut Palm climbing tip #2:Use your hands to pull your feet into the tree.
  • Coconut Palm climbing tip #3: Use bare feet, or sandals, or shoes. (I've tried all three and I suck equally in each, but the way that I suck differs.)
  • Coconut Palm climbing tip #4: Pick a tree that has a good lean to it.
  • Coconut Palm climbing tip #5: Pick a short tree.

  • Coconut Palm climbing tip #6: Screw tree climbing! Realize that it's not worth climbing a bloody tree and it's better to grab a coconut from the ground before you fall and get hurt (not to mention the embarrassment of getting mocked by a damn tree).
  • Coconut Palm climbing tip #7: Feel further justified in wimping out on the tree climb because you don't want such green coconuts to make the coconut milk and coconut oil anyway. (You will miss out on the sweet water, but you still have intact femurs, tibias, and fibulas).
-The next several steps are demonstrated in a short, instructional film below.

Compromise the Facade

Now that you stopped being so foolish and you have a captured coconut in your hands, you'll need to get past the tough, outer husk to teach the coconut a lesson. The coolest way to open a coconut husk is with a machete. Unfortunately, I've never been skilled at cool. There are two issues that you should be aware of if you're going to use a machete: 1) have one that is sharp (unlike mine) and 2) don't be afraid of cutting your hand off. The second tip is the most important. After making this video I opened another coconut quickly by hitting very hard while holding the coconut on the ground. Lose your fears and the husk will be no match for your awesome, brute-strength.
  • Super Coconut-opening Tip#1: It's better to have someone that knows what they're doing open it for you.
Make it Crack
Tearing it's husk off, has left the coconut vulnerable. ATTACK!! (Since coconuts are not protected by the treaties of the Geneva Convention --what's that??-- , you're in the clear.) This part is easy. Slam the back of your machete into the side of the nut until it cracks and spills out in your hands. This is the funnest part!

Grind It Down
You've done it. You made it spill its "guts." Now it is weak. Strike the heart of the beast! Grind it down! Exact sweet revenge by grinding the coconut tree's offspring into little bits using the coconut grinder that you installed on your back porch last summer.
  • Super Coconut Grinding Tip #1: Strike fear into high-level individuals by making the trees watch.
Milk It for All It's Worth
Having reduced the coconut to mere shavings, squeeze everything you can out of it. You don't know how much milk you're going to need from this coconut. Every drop could be useful. To do this, pour water on the shavings (it will probably feel like it's drowning at this point) and then squeeze them over a strainer into a bowl. Now you have coconut milk! Wasn't that easy? Add this milk directly to sauces (see recipe at the end of this post) for a rich flavor. You can immediately cook the milk down to make coconut oil (details below), or you can follow the optional step below.


Scrape Away the Final Layers (optional)
You'd think that's all you could do to a coconut, but NO there is more. Here's where you have to make a decision. Are you tired? Do you need a rest? If so, then let the milk sit overnight and let it separate on its own. Think of it as a sensory deprivation tank, if you need to continue running with this revenge thing. The fat will float on top and the water will be underneath. Next, scrape the fat off of the top and get ready for the final steps.

Final Execution -- Make it Fry
This is the final insult to the coconut -- making coconut oil. Take the scraped-off fat, or the coconut milk that you made, and begin cooking it over high heat. Stir regularly once the milk or fat forms small white masses that begin to stick to the pan. You should see a clear layer of oil forming in the pan at this point. Continue cooking the fat until it turns slightly brown. DO NOT MAKE THE OIL BROWN! Finally, strain the oil from the browned pieces and you have great-smelling, yummy, fatty coconut oil. (I didn't eat the remaining brown pieces, but apparently they are REALLY good too!).
Here's a recipe for coconut milk that I use often. I learned it from watching Hugh Powell cook some rockin' chicken. I've modified it some.
Note: all measurements are make-believe, but may work.
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2/3 jar of red curry paste (small jar)
  • 2/3 cup of peanut butter
  • 1 TBS fish sauce
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 TBS coconut oil
Cook the chicken breast and cut into small pieces. At the same time, cook down the garlic and onions in oil until they are brown. Start the sauce by warming the coconut milk, yogurt, cayenne, peanut butter, curry paste and peanut butter over low heat in a mid-sized pot. Add the onions, garlic, and chicken to the sauce and let it simmer until you're ready to eat. The longer the better, but the sauce will get really thick! Serve with brown rice and stir fried vegetables for fiber (coconut milk is loaded with fat. We want to look out for your blood lipid levels.) . Hugh uses this sauce to cover chicken legs and then he BBQs them. That's also a good option.

**Back to the shaky premise of this post.....I don't think that there are any real data available on coconut deaths per year, but if you do a search on "coconut deaths" one made-up number dominates the web -- 150/year. In fact it was one of the first "facts" that I was told when I arrived on the island was that more people die from falling coconuts than shark attacks. There really aren't any data to support that. It's not real. It seems to stem from a paper published in 1984 that doesn't even discuss coconut fatalities. The paper was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize stemming from the Annals of Improbable Research which recognizes research "that cannot, or should not, be reproduced."
Through diplomacy and mutual respect, we can peacefully make coconut milk and coconut oil. And we can stop fearing the coconut. Then, when you are full on coconut sauces. Take a nap. Just don't be stupid. Just as you wouldn't wear a raw seal-meat vest while swimming clumsily off the Farallon Islands (type Farallon Islands into Google to see why) for goodness-sake don't nap, loiter or yodel for long periods under a coconut tree, especially during a wind storm.

And if you're honestly worried about people dying of tragic things, then consider these numbers:
  • There are approximately 15 reported deaths due to shark attack each YEAR.
  • Every 3.5 MINUTES 15 children (mostly under 2 years old) die from diarrhea.
  • Every 4 MINUTES 15 people die from malaria (mostly children).
  • Every 4 MINUTES 15 people die from HIV/AIDS.
Sharks don't kill many people per year and neither do coconuts, so LEAVE THE SHARKS ALONE! Of course I don't need to tell you that a shark attack will get hours of media attention--death from diarrhea doesn't.

Monday, August 4, 2008


No. I'm not referring to a Turtle Excluder Device or a Thrombo-Embolic Device (although both represent simple, useful inventions). Instead, I'm referring to It stands for technology, entertainment, design. The site hosts talks by prominent speakers in those areas. I was unaware of this site until Tallie McClary forwarded me a link to a cool video from TED. If you haven't had time to search youtube for all of the best cephalopod videos or you just don't have time to get through all of those that are out there, then check out this video for a bit of great cephalopod ("head foot" -- octopus, squid, cuttlefish, etc.) behavior. It comes from a series of talks called "Evolution's Genius." I haven't checked out the other clips yet, but this one is worth a watch.

Geeze, I'm sure getting lazy with this blog thing! I'm just referring to other people's sites now! Ha! I'm not even finding the sites!
Truthfully, I'm working hard on a post. Ask anyone on Blackbird Caye. I've been putting in serious research time for my next post. I'll have it up soon. In the meantime, let the cephalopods on the video entertain you. In a funny coincidence, I watched this video shortly after taking a nice retired, 77 year old, freelance photographer named Peg and her grandson, Peter, out snorkeling today (I'm teaching them how to do Coral Reef Monitoring) at a place called "Coral Canyons" (see pics) and we observed some similar squid behavior to what's in this video. I not sure what the squid we saw (pic of one below) were doing, but there were two of them and they would not leave a small area that they were "guarding." It must be sex. That's all I can figure. Somehow it's related to sex.

We did see some other characters while we were snorkeling today. This picture of a juvenile yellow-tail damselfish does not do it justice by any means. In real life, the blue dots look like light radiating from the side of the fish. They are amazing. As a shout-out to the fans of the Chondrichthyes, here are eye close-ups are from two different types of stingray that we saw.

Not to be Chordate-biased, I've included a lobster below (he kept touching me with "his" antennae) and a bold yellow-lined arrow crab. The crab was sitting out in the open in the sand. That's not usually where I find them. Usually, I see them in sponges, near anemones, or in crevasses in the reef.

The Big Time!

It looks like Cnido-site Discharge has made the big time. It has made it onto the blog of one of the best science writers that I know. You know you've made it when Hugh Powell, an honest-to-goodness, kick-butt science writer working for Cornell Labs decides to put you on his blog. On on upcoming post, I plan on including a recipe that I learned from Hugh that uses coconut milk (Ive been working on my coconut post way too long--I really hope that I have time to finish it soon. I'm actually off to the kitchen right now to do research.).

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tikal: Good Place for Rock, Bad Place for Rain

I took a trip into western Belize and Guatemala recently and visited the Mayan ruins of Tikal. The extensive ruins sit within dense forest. This particular Mayan city was unusual in that one of the kings (an especially long-lived one--they only built new temples every 20 years) decided that a two-temple design was better than the traditional one-temple set up. Thus, there are many plazas where two temples face one another. The temples are tall in order to be close to the heavens, but they have a cave-like entrance at the top that served as a connection to the underworld. OK. So I'm a little fuzzy on the details. I was looking at toucans, coati and monkeys. We decided to go into the park late one afternoon, so that we could use our pass the next morning. We planned to get up at 4:30AM to see the sunrise from Temple IV (an especially tall one). Our guide for the afternoon trip was great. He was a cowboy that went to a school to become a tourist guide for all of the parks in Guatemala. It sounded pretty intense (most of his class flunked out). In the slow cowboy season, he is a guide in Tikal. Our first walk through was especially pleasant because everybody was leaving the park as we were going in.(View from temple IV looking at the Gran Plaza Temples facing one another, three pictures from the Gran Plaza) We went up on the highest temple and had it to ourselves.

The next morning we woke up at 4am for a special, peaceful observation of sunrise from the top of a Mayan temple. Apparently, about 500 other people had the same idea. It was also overcast. Oh, and it was raining. But we did it anyway. Then I ditched the group and sat on top of a temple (number V -- named because it was the fifth one discovered) in peace an quiet (picture of the view, Gran Plaza in the distance again),

except for the spider monkeys that were making a racket below me in the tree tops. Three things to know about temple V: 1) the "stairs" for tourists to climb up the side of the temple are really a collection of wet, wooden ladders. 2) There's NO WAY they would let people climb these ladders in the US. 3) The rock stairs of the temple itself are nearly as steep. What were those Mayans thinking? The stairs are insane. Stumble and you are D-E-A-D. (this picture picture is of a smaller, less steep temple, but it was still crazy steep)
One of the most interesting things that I learned about Tikal, was that the place used to be extremely dry. It doesn't appear to be that way now. However, the site is a great place for rock! Apparently the plan was to relocate to an area with a lot of rock so they could build temples that would be great for praying for rain (they did not use slave labor, by they way, the common folks were part of the building because they wanted rain!). It didn't work. So, this was a better idea than moving to a place with a lot of rain and praying for rock? They moved to a dry place to have a rock to build temples to ask for water. I may have heard that wrong, but that seems to be the prevailing thought on the matter. Perhaps it allowed some people to stay in power? They could take credit when it did finally rain. I'm not sure. But, I do recommend the trip. Just plan on ditching the groups to enjoy the ruins on your own for a while.
(Since we're talking ancient civilizations, this story about an ancient greek computer has some pretty cool potential)