Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda

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Turquoise water, pink sand, and dark limestone photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

The islands of Bermuda make up a remote and beautiful outpost situated far into the Atlantic Ocean. Located about 850 miles east of the Carolinas, this British territory harbors a wealth of cultural, historical and natural features that make it a unique and rewarding destination to visit. My wife and I spent a few days here this May and our favorite location was Horseshoe Bay.

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Turquoise water, pink sand, and dark limestone photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

Bermuda’s subtropical shores host many amazing beaches but Horseshoe Bay is the best known. The gorgeous turquoise water, pink sand, dark limestone, and relatively sparse crowds have earned it high marks by TripAdvisor. That site has ranked it as the eighth most beautiful beach in the world and awarded it as a 2014 Traveler’s Choice Winner.

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Turquoise water, pink sand, and dark limestone photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

The pink sand here is made up of the remains of countless microscopic marine organisms known as foraminifera. These amoeba-like protists build shells of calcium carbonate and some form symbiotic relationships with algae. Certain abundant algae give certain abundant forams a reddish tint, and when the forams die their shelly remains accumulate in the sediment. When mixed with the white sand these reddish particles impart a pink tinge to the beaches.

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Turquoise water, pink sand, and dark limestone photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

Interspersed with the fine sand are dark and rocky outcrops of limestone. Throughout the millennia countless corals and other shell-constructing invertebrates have inhabited this area. As these organisms have died they have left their calcium carbonate shells behind. Over time this hard mineral has accumulated, building reefs and thick deposits of limestone rock.

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Limestone photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

These rugged outcrops make Horseshoe Bay an interesting place to explore. All along the beach these barriers provide numerous private coves and tiny personal spaces that welcome the adventurous.

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Turquoise water, pink sand, and dark limestone photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

Although most people gather on the main beach these more remote locations are far more satisfying. A little bit of walking up or down the beach rewards the curious with relaxing isolation and amazing views that most people miss.

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Turquoise water, pink sand, and dark limestone photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

Just inland of these beautiful shores one can find equally beautiful foliage. The lush green plants are speckled with flowers of all colors including the pink of this oleander…

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Oleander (Nerium oleander, Apocynaceae) photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

…this yellow flower…

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Unknown plant photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

…and this purple morning glory:

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Morning glory photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

The greenery itself is vibrant and diverse as well. Yuccas, palms, pines, cedars, and many other types of plants fringe these sandy shores.

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Foliage photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

Although many parts of Bermuda are worth a visit for a variety of reasons, Horseshoe Bay was a particularly alluring location for us. My wife and I only got to spend a couple of hours here but we could have stayed for days. This serene, peaceful, and exquisite sliver of natural beauty was a relaxing and rewarding destination.

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Turquoise water, pink sand, and dark limestone photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

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Random Insect: Stilt bug nymph

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Stilt bug nymph (Hemiptera: Berytidae) photographed 06/22/2014 near Blissfield, Michigan.

Stilt bugs (Hemiptera: Berytidae) are small, delicate insects that can be recognized in part by their long, thin legs and long, thin antennae that are slightly enlarged at the tips. As hemimetabolous insects these true bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis. Unlike holometabolous insects like butterflies, bees, and flies they don’t have caterpillar- or grub-like larvae that pupate into wildly different adults. Instead young nymphs like the one shown here vaguely resemble adults and gradually become more adult-like with each molt. Their final molt into adulthood welcomes the addition of wings and functional sex organs. Nymphs like this have mere stubs of developing wings and are incapable of mating.

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Stilt bug nymph (Hemiptera: Berytidae) photographed 06/22/2014 near Blissfield, Michigan.

Most stilt bugs feed on plants, and most have a particularly close relationship with plants that have glandular trichomes. I plucked this individual from a common mullein (Verbascum thapsus, Scrophulariaceae), an invasive species from Eurasia that features fuzzy, trichome-covered leaves.

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Stilt bug nymph (Hemiptera: Berytidae) photographed 06/22/2014 near Blissfield, Michigan.

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Plant-Insect Interaction: Tortoise beetle on a hedge false bindweed

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Tortoise beetle (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Deloyala sp.) feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Convolvulaceae). Photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Tortoise beetles (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Cassidini) have a rather unique and interesting appearance and they always catch my attention. Some resemble lady beetles and some look more metallic, but what’s really interesting about them is that most species have translucent margins on the major sclerites of their bodies.

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Tortoise beetle (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Deloyala sp.) feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Convolvulaceae). Photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Like other leaf beetles these insects feed on plants. Both larvae and adults of the genus shown here (Deloyala) feed exclusively on plants in the morning glory family. This individual was gorging itself on the tissues of a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Convolvulaceae) that was growing up a fence in my backyard.

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Tortoise beetle (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Deloyala sp.) feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Convolvulaceae). Photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

A couple of months ago when string trimming along my fence, I made the decision to skip over this twining morning glory vine and see what would happen if I let it grow. If I had killed this plant then, it wouldn’t be around today to attract this awesome beetle. I was so excited when I found this insect that I ran into my house for my camera, stepped on a thorn, and continued limping on my way in spite of the pain.

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Tortoise beetle (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Deloyala sp.) feeding on a hedge false bindweed (Calystegia sepium, Convolvulaceae). Photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Whenever I encounter an interesting new plant in my yard my instinct isn’t to immediately regard it as a weed and kill it, it’s to learn more about it. I’ve made a fair number of personal discoveries in this manner, not only about the plants in question but also about the insects they attract. This thrill of discovery has proven much more rewarding than maintaining a perfectly-manicured lawn.

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Random Insect: Root maggot fly

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Root maggot fly (Diptera: Anthomyiidae) photographed 06/22/2014 near Blissfield, Michigan.

With over 600 species in about 40 genera in North America alone, root maggot flies (Diptera: Anthomyiidae) are an abundant and diverse group of insects. The adults of most genera feed on nectar, but some feed on pollen and others prey on other insects. The larvae of most genera feed on plant roots, but many instead feed on leaves, seeds, dung, and fungi, and some are parasites of other insects. Some of those that feed on plant roots are economically important crop pests. These flies are typically found in woodlands and fields where their host plants grow.

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Toledo’s Water Supply is Currently Toxic

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Late in the evening of Friday August 1, 2014, routine testing of the municipal water supply in nearby Toledo, Ohio, revealed unsafe levels of a toxin produced by a type of algae. This immediately prompted a warning to residents not to drink, cook with, or even touch the water. The toxin in question can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abnormal liver function, as well as skin irritation and rashes in people as well as their pets. Boiling it not only fails to neutralize the toxin, it actually increases its concentration. So now half a million people can’t use their regular water, countless businesses have been forced to temporarily close, and everyone has been forced to rely upon emergency water supplied by the National Guard and other sources. The economic damage is likely to be significant.

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Lake Erie photographed 06/28/2014 from Magee Marsh east of Toledo, Ohio.

Toledo and surrounding communities draw their water from Lake Erie where it is treated and distributed for human consumption. Algal blooms occur every summer here when a number of factors contribute to extreme rates of growth. Calm water and excess sunshine help these aquatic plant-like organisms thrive, but what really kicks them into overdrive is the overabundance of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous from agricultural and residential runoff. Livestock waste from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) as well as excess fertilizer from farms and lawns drains into local streams and rivers, and eventually ends up in Lake Erie. Here the nutrient-rich water fuels the growth of algae and in most years it just turns the water a sick shade of pea-green:

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Lake Erie water in a viewer submission to Toledo TV channel 13ABC, photographed 08/02/2014.

Sometimes the algal bloom is so serious it can be seen from satellites in space. For the most part the algae species that make up this disgusting phenomenon are relatively harmless. This year, however, the usual mix of algae have been joined by this toxin-producing species that can’t easily be removed with standard water treatment.

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Satellite photo of the algal bloom in western Lake Erie courtesy of Toledo TV channel 13ABC. Photographed 08/02/2014.

Farmers, CAFO owners and managers, and people who overfertilize their lawns have long been warned that irresponsible practices would have detrimental effects not only on the environment, but also on the economy and human quality of life. The water crisis in the Toledo area is a great example of these effects. Will the people responsible for the pollution finally wake up to the consequences of their behavior and take corrective action? Will the populace be sufficiently alarmed by the problem to demand regulation and enforcement? Only time will tell.

Posted in Botany, Culture, Ecology, Environment, General | Tagged | 5 Comments

Plant-Insect Interaction: Japanese beetle on a hairy vetch

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Japanese beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Popillia japonica) feeding on a hairy vetch (Vicia villosa, Fabaceae). Photographed 06/22/2014 near Blissfield, Michigan.

Although Japanese beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Popillia japonica) are native to Japan, over the last century they have been accidentally introduced to many other parts of the world. They were first discovered in the United States in 1916 and since then have spread across much of the country.

Part of what has made them so successful in the US is that these insects are generalists and aren’t picky about what they eat. They have over 300 known host plants, leaving no shortage of food for them wherever they go. Various trees, crops, cultivated fruits, and wildflowers are all on the menu for these insects. They will happily eat leaves, flowers, and fruit, depending on what’s available. The individual shown here appeared to be eating pollen from a hairy vetch (Vicia villosa, Fabaceae).

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Japanese beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Popillia japonica) feeding on a hairy vetch (Vicia villosa, Fabaceae). Photographed 06/22/2014 near Blissfield, Michigan.

Another factor that has helped Japanese beetles thrive here is that their subterranean larval grubs feed predominantly on the roots of grasses. Between our abundant lawns, parks, and golf courses we have no shortage of grasses here. As of 2002 Japanese beetle larvae were the single most destructive pest of turf grass in the US, with pest management costing about $450 million.

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Japanese beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Popillia japonica) feeding on a hairy vetch (Vicia villosa, Fabaceae). Photographed 06/22/2014 near Blissfield, Michigan.

A final factor in the success of Japanese beetles within the US has been the lack of predators. Since Japanese beetles were historically absent from North America, there aren’t really any other insects here that recognize them as food. Because of this, three natural predators were introduced from Japan in the 1920s as biocontrol agents. Two tiphid wasps (Hymenoptera: Tiphiidae: Tiphia vernalis and Tiphia popilliavora) and the winsome fly (Diptera: TachinidaeIstocheta aldrichi) are parasitoids of these beetles and have had some success in controlling them here.

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Random Plant: Yellow cryptantha

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Brenda’s yellow cryptantha (Cryptantha flava, Boraginaceae) photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Yellow cryptantha (Cryptantha flava, Boraginaceae) can be found in many arid locations in the American west. This perennial inhabits open sandy areas from southern Wyoming down into northern Arizona and New Mexico. It features long, narrow, and densely hairy leaves that are largest near the base and become progressively smaller up the stems. At the end of each shoot is a cluster of tiny, yellow, five-parted flowers that appear from April through August. Although there are over 100 species of Cryptantha in western North America, only two have yellow flowers. The similar basin yellow cryptantha (C. confertiflora) has a more western distribution. Other Cryptantha bear white flowers.

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Brenda’s yellow cryptantha (Cryptantha flava, Boraginaceae) photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

This plant goes by a couple of other common names including yellow miner’s candle and Brenda’s yellow cryptantha. That lead me to wonder “who is Brenda?” Based on this USDA Forest Service information, Brenda is apparently Brenda Casper, a professor of ecology, evolution, and plant biology at the University of Pennsylvania who has performed considerable research on this plant.

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