Pepper wishes you a happy National Mutt Day

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Pepper the beloved mutt photographed July 2015 near Palmyra, Michigan.

July 31 is National Mutt Day, celebrated “to raise awareness of the plight of mixed breed dogs in shelters around the nation and to educate the public about the sea of mixed breed dogs that desperately await new homes. Mixed breed dogs tend to be healthier, better behaved, they live longer and are just as able to perform the duties of pure bred dogs – such as bomb and drug sniffing, search and rescue and guiding the blind. There are millions of loving and healthy mixed breed dogs sitting in shelters, who are desperately searching for a new home.”

Our last dog Moose was a German Shepherd Dog/yellow labrador mix, and he was awesome.  Our current dog Pepper is a dalmation/Australian cattle dog mix, and she is just as awesome. We never felt the need to tout some made-up “designer dog” names like “shepherdador” or “dalmaAustracatadog” nonsense, just love them for the loyal, friendly, healthy, and smart mutts they have been.

Posted in Culture, General, Vertebrate Zoology | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Happy Fifth Anniversary

I’ve been so busy I almost missed it, but here goes…

5 years
9.8 GB of photos
686 posts
0.38 posts per day
140,986 views

85 mammals
73 birds
18 reptiles
10 amphibians
11 fish

275 insects
18 arachnids
3 gastropods
1 cephalopod

347 plants
99 trees

45 national parks
218 travel topics

555 comments

*Fanfare*

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American White Pelican

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American White Pelican (Pelecanidae: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) photographed 07/26/2015 at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, California.

Found throughout much of North America, American White Pelicans (Pelecanidae: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) are never far from water. They overwinter along oceans, lakes, and marshes from southern California through the Gulf of Mexico. Summers are spent breeding on inland lakes and marshes in central and western portions of the United States and Canada.

As one of the largest birds in North America these pelicans require a great deal of food. They feed predominantly on small fish, but they’re opportunistic hunters and will eat almost any aquatic species that is available. Other prey items include salamanders, tadpoles, and crayfish. They use their large bills to scoop up prey from the surface, tip their head back to drain the water, and swallow their food whole.

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American White Pelican (Pelecanidae: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) photographed 07/26/2015 at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, California.

Mating pairs scrape together nests of mud, sand, and gravel about two feet (60 cm) across. Females typically lay two eggs, but it’s usually only the stronger and more aggressive chick that survives. The weaker chick is often killed or chased from the nest by the stronger chick.

Historically American White Pelican populations were threatened because they were often shot for fun or because it was thought they competed for commercially-valuable fish. Although their populations have increased somewhat over the last few decades, these magnificent birds still face some challenges. They’re particularly sensitive to human disturbances and are quick to abandon nests when they feel threatened. They’re also often still shot by people who believe they compete for commercial fish. Over the last few years in particular they’ve experienced an increase in mortality from catfish farmers in the Mississippi River delta.

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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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Welcome sign photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

Located in southwestern Arizona, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves one of the most impressive, remote, and dangerous areas of the Sonoran Desert. Covering 517 square miles (1338 square km) along the Mexican border, the park and its people protect a variety of unique and interesting landscapes and species including the namesake organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi, Cactaceae).

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Saguaro and organ pipe cactuses photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

Each organ pipe cactus generates multiple stems from a short trunk and can reach 26 feet (8 m) in height. They’re slow-growing and don’t reach maturity until around 150 years in age. Flowers appear from April until June and are creamy white and about 3″ (8 cm) across. They close during the day and open at night and are pollinated predominantly by bats. The resulting fruit fall and disperse the seeds, and in the harsh desert environment they face an uphill battle to germinate and grow. New plants require a great deal of shade from a “nurse tree” for the first several years until their roots reach sufficient depth for water uptake.

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Organ pipe cactus photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

Organ pipe cacti are extremely sensitive to frost and can only be found within the United States in this narrow sliver of extreme southern Arizona. They are however much more abundant in the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California Sur.

Another similar large cactus can also be found in greater numbers across a wider range in southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. The saguaro (pronounced “suh-HWAR-oh”) (Carnegiea gigantea, Cactaceae) shares a similar life history to the organ pipe, with a number of physical differences. These cacti begin life as a single stem (or “spear”) and only begin to generate side arms at around 100 years of age.

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Saguaro cactuses and chollas of the Sonoran Desert. Photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

As with organ pipes, saguaro flowers are large and creamy white and open at night. Saguaro flowers remain open longer into the day, however, and as a result honey bees play a larger role in their pollination. Saguaro fruit is said to be sweet like watermelon, and they sometimes split open in the heat to reveal their red flesh. If you’re tempted to taste one, however, it should be noted that harming a saguaro in any way is prohibited in the state of Arizona.

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Saguaro fruit photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

This park is more than just large cacti, however. Many plant species conspire to create a surprisingly lush array of foliage in this hot, dry desert. Other cacti like chollas, hedgehogs, prickly pears, and Arizona barrels dot the parched landscape along with trees and shrubs like the cottonwood, ironwood, ocotillo, mesquite and creosote. Animals include mountain lions, desert bighorn sheep, Sonoran pronghorn, coyotes, javelinas, jackrabbits, and numerous birds and reptiles including Gila monsters and several species of rattlesnakes. Although some may think of deserts as barren, lifeless wastelands, places like this demonstrate otherwise. Every view is filled with plants, insects, and even larger animals lurking just out of sight.

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Unknown bird hiding in the shade of the abundant foliage. Photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

In this expansive wilderness other things can move just out of sight, including drug smugglers, human traffickers and worse moving north out of Mexico. Controlling the flow of contraband and crime is the responsibility, in part, of the National Park Service rangers that patrol this park. In August of 2002 ranger Kris Eggle was pursuing cartel members fleeing from Mexico after they committed a string of murders. During their encounter he was slain in the line of duty.

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Memorial to NPS ranger Kris Eggle who was killed in the line of duty in 2002. Photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

In the wake of the cartel violence most of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was closed to the public for the next eleven years, and it became known as “America’s most dangerous national park.” An increased presence of law enforcement officers, more frequent patrols, and more arrests and prosecutions eventually stemmed the tide of illegal activity and violence and lead to the park being fully reopened in September of 2014. In the intervening years a monument was erected to remember Kris Eggle’s sacrifice for the people, places, and principles of the United States, and the visitor center was renamed in his honor.

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Kris Eggle Visitor Center photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

Dark days like these should serve as a reminder that these remote outposts on the American frontier are not only full of wonder and beauty, but potential peril as well. From our cozy homes with climate control and WiFi it’s easy to forget that within our borders are harsh environments filled with the threats of environmental exposure, dehydration, dangerous wildlife, and even more dangerous people. Every day people like Kris Eggle work to make these places safe for visitation and bring us all closer to the most remote and fascinating places our country has to offer.

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Flora of the Sonoran Desert. Photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

In spite of such rare and tragic events parks like these remain mostly harmless thanks to the dedicated work of the NPS and other law enforcement officers. Today visitors to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument are more threatened by dehydration than cross-border violence. If you decide to venture to this edge of America bring extra water and enjoy the scenery, the plants, and the wildlife, and thank your local NPS ranger, border patrol agent, or other law enforcement officer for making it all possible.

Posted in Botany, Culture, Ecology, General, National Parks | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Tidepooling in the Gulf of California

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Looking out over the Gulf of California from the Sonoran Spa Resort. Photographed 06/11/2015 in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

The Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez) is one of the most biologically diverse marine environments on earth and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known to some as “the world’s aquarium,” this sea is home to a wide variety of plants, invertebrates, fish, sea turtles, and large mammals like dolphins, whales, and the critically endangered vaquita porpoise.

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Tidepool along the Gulf of California at low tide. Photographed 06/11/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

My wife and I were fortunate enough to spend some time tidepooling along the Gulf of California this past weekend. We were staying near Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico for Circus Mexicus but had a lot of free time throughout the day to get a taste of what “the world’s aquarium” had to offer. The tides here can vary by as much as 15 to 25 feet (4.6 – 7.6 meters), creating a wide tidal zone that is ripe for exploration.

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Hermit crab and snail shells along the beach. Photographed 06/11/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Although I lack much experience in marine zoology, I thought some of the organisms we encountered were really cool and I wanted to share photos of them here. The first animal we encountered was a young hermit crab making a home out of a small gastropod shell.

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Hermit crab in a snail shell. Photographed 06/11/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Next was the test (shell) of a particular sea urchin commonly known as a sand dollar

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Sand dollar shell photographed 06/11/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Then there was this tiny white crab among a number of vacant snail shells…

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Tiny crab and snail shells in a tide pool. Photographed 06/11/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Even this humble green beach worm seemed to leave its mark among the abundant worm tracks…

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Beach worm photographed 06/12/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Some bivalve mollusc shells were more photogenic than others…

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Bivalve mollusc shell photographed 06/12/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

This one seemed even prettier…

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Bivalve mollusc shell photographed 06/12/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

And we also came across many larvae of this particular species of shrimp or lobster…

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Larva of a shrimp or lobster. Photographed 06/12/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

The beaches here were really amazing, not only for their appearance and comfort but for the amazing organisms they harbored. While we didn’t get to see some of the large animals that call these waters home, the humble invertebrates and gorgeous views alone made this location a worthwhile destination.

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Sunset view of the beach along the Gulf of California. Photographed 06/12/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

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I lichen this to a human skull

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Lichens that happen to look like a skull. Photographed 05/23/2015 at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark near Swanton, Ohio.

Lichens are common composite organisms that can be found in many diverse areas, including the most inhospitable environments on earth. The approximately 15,000 described species inhabit everything from lush forests to deserts to arctic tundra, exploiting resources wherever possible. Lichens are not a single organism, but rather an association between a particular species of fungi and a particular species of algae or cyanobacteria. They usually form symbiotic relationships, with the fungi providing a safe, moist substrate of hyphae while the algae/cyanobacteria provide a source of food via photosynthesis.

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Lichens that happen to look like a skull. Photographed 05/23/2015 at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark near Swanton, Ohio.

Many different fungi, algae, and cyanobacteria can be combined in numerous ways, resulting in many different associations and growth forms. Once in a while you may look at a lichen and experience pareidolia, the psychological phenomenon where a random object appears to resemble something significant. The lichens in these photos seemed to resemble a human skull. A find made up of pure chance, to be sure, but amusing nonetheless.

Posted in Culture, Ecology, Fungi, General, Organism Interactions | Tagged | 1 Comment

Random Insect: Fishfly

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Fishfly (Megaloptera: Corydalidae: Chauliodes sp.) photographed 05/25/2015 near Palmyra, MI.

Fishflies (Megaloptera: Corydalidae: Chauliodes sp.) can be found throughout eastern North America wherever there are slow-moving rivers and floodplains. Their juvenile aquatic nymphs are omnivores, feeding on the decaying plant matter and small arthropods that litter these waters. After fattening up the nymphs pupate in rotting bark or logs, emerging only about ten days later as adults.

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Fishfly (Megaloptera: Corydalidae: Chauliodes sp.) photographed 05/25/2015 near Palmyra, MI.

Mature fishflies can reach nearly two inches (5 cm) in length, and although they look a bit frightening most never eat or even bite. They live for only a week or less, spending their limited lives as adults trying to mate rather than feed. Once females have been impregnated, they lay their eggs near the waters from which they emerged and then die, leaving the calm waters to their offspring.

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Fishfly (Megaloptera: Corydalidae: Chauliodes sp.) photographed 05/25/2015 near Palmyra, MI.

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