Atlantic Cod- Gadus morhua

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The New York Times recently posted an article on G. morhua and its current struggles in the north Atlantic. We talked specifically about this fishery (these fish, this population, this set of ecological conditions along with its human interactions) in probably three of the classes I’ve taken in the past year, mostly because it is such a clear-cut example of the way that humans are contributing to population crashes and possible future extinction of once-huge resources in our oceans.

The Atlantic cod is a big fish- a mature fish can grow to 2 meters long and 210 pounds. That’s a man-sized fish. Like a big man-sized fish. But we don’t see many of those these days- most of the monsters are either clever enough to hide from the humans’ ever-increasing technology and catch effort, or simply removed entirely from the gene pool. And that’s really the rub- cod don’t reproduce quickly, nor do they grow fast. It can take 2-8 years for cod to reach sexual maturity, and they can live longer than 13 years on their own. Since we’ve taken almost all of the big cod, most of the population’s reproductive clout is gone: older fish produce far more (and better-quality) eggs and young than the barely-mature fish that remain today. By taking out all of the tasty big fish, we’re ensuring that there won’t be any tasty big fish in the future.

Here’s the NYTimes link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/opinion/the-shocking-news-about-cod.html?ref=opinion

And here’s a link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s lists of sustainable fish choices: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_alternatives.aspx

Trawl-caught cod are a big economic driver in fishing communities across the Atlantic, and provide jobs and livelihoods for a lot of people… but if the cod crash, so will the communities. Supporting other, more sustainable fisheries and paying attention to what you buy can actually make a huge difference in transitioning to long-term, stable fisheries.

Alternatively, you could eat bugs as protein. Highly efficient, fast-reproducing: what’s not to like?

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Monarch Butterfly- Danaus plexippus

Monarch Butterfly- Danaus plexippus

Okay, this is the second entomology post which makes all of the posts so far about entomology. But probably I will write about other things later! (?)

Anyways, the Monarch Butterfly is pretty much the coolest. This fragile-winged, brightly-colored lepidopteran is, as the name suggests, considered the “King of Butterflies.” Danaus plexippus goes through four generations in one year. The first generation hatches in the south and then fly out on an incredibly long journey north, seeking milkweed plants to lay their eggs on. The second two generations hatch in northern climates across North America, including New Hampshire. These live their lives, reproduce, and die in two to six weeks. The fourth generation is born in the north and then embarks on another epic, thousands-of-miles journey south, to Mexico or Pacific Grove, CA.

Monarchs grow and summer here in the north, where I study, and over-winter incredibly close to my home town- funny how we migrating beasts seem to like similar conditions and similar locations…

Here’s a list of a few of the awesomest things about Monarch butterflies:
1. Their coloring warns away predators- bright colors often signal poison or a bad taste, and the high-contrast black and orange pattern on Monarch wings definitely gets the message across.
2. They actually are poisonous, or at least terrible-tasting if not deadly. The milkweed that their larvae (caterpillars) feed on contains cardiac glycosides, chemical compounds that can actually stop a person’s heart if ingested in high enough quantities. The caterpillars take this stuff up and use it as their own chemical defense.
3. Some individuals fly as far as 2,500 miles to get to or from a wintering site.
4. Monarchs roost for the winter in the same trees every year… even though they’re not the same butterflies each year, but four generations removed!

Japanese Beetle- Popillia japonica

Japanese Beetle- Popillia japonica

This is a beetle. A clumsy beetle. One of millions I’ve seen crashing into people and cars, plants and buildings in New Hampshire this past summer. Their time seems to be over for now, but they were everywhere for a while. Their iridescence and their ubiquity, along with their potential threat to my garden, made me wonder about them.

Turns out, I was right to wonder. These invasive beetles, originally (as the name suggests) from Japan, have spread across the northern US, southern Canada, west to Kentucky, and all the way south down the East Coast to Georgia and Alabama. Introduced over a hundred years ago to this continent, likely on a lily bulb shipment, they infest hundreds of types of plants, including rose bushes, grapes, Norway Maples (also invasive, interestingly enough), and some varieties of crab apples. I found them all over my garden, though they didn’t seem to be doing a lot of damage there… they are known to “skeletonize” leaves, eating tissues between veins and leaving burnt-looking lacy outlines where once was green.

Irrigated lawns and golf courses provide perfect larval development conditions for the beetles, who chew off grass roots and leave brown, dead grass patches… which presumably are then watered more, increasing suitability for the beetle grubs.

Unpleasant. But pretty?

SCIENCE

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Ever since I was very young, I’ve been asking the question “why?” almost non-stop. I’m that girl who will stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk to watch a bumblebee on the pavement, or stare for ten minutes into a puddle to count everything living inside of it. I make things, I read things, I take pictures of things I think are cool, and I explain things to myself and now, dear internet, to you. This is an experiment in explaining. I’m going to find the things that interest me, and that I’m curious about, and I’m going to explain them to you… not to satisfy your curiosity, but to fire it up.