Lesson #346: Tree Lobsters

We got here by way of an infographic I was reading that talked about islands around the world where specific animals live en masse. Among the animals listed was the tree lobster. I legitimately said, out loud, “what the hell is a tree lobster?” Because seriously? Tree lobster?

It turns out that tree lobsters are not the awesome thing I had created in my imagination; they’re a species of stick insect that live on Lord Howe Island in Australia.

The tree lobster had once been used as fishing bait, but were thought to have been eaten into extinction by the early 1920s by black rats introduced to the island when the S. S. Makambo ran aground in 1918. But it turns out they didn’t actually go extinct; they just went into hiding for a couple generations before being rediscovered in 2001.*

An adult can grow to 15cm (roughly 6″) in length — which is terrifyingly large for a stick insect, thank you — and looks like it’s got a lobster’s exoskeleton.

For more, you can read this, this, or this.

*This is called the Lazarus Effect.

Lesson #110: Crocodiles

Urban Planner Housemate and I were watching a nature program today.* We were learning about the four most perfected strikes in nature, so we learned about the great white, the cheetah, nile crocodiles and the peregrine falcon. It was interesting.

Anyway, I learned the crocodiles can go for a year without eating. During the dry season, they dig themselves into the dirt along the river banks and essentially suspend animation, a state that Marine Biologist housemate would invariably have called “torpid” because she tends to use the proper terms for these things. Crocs can hide themselves in just 30 centimetres of water, can stay submerged for up to three hours by shutting off one of the chambers of their hearts and if they’re hanging out above the water with their mouths open, they’re just cooling off. The crocodiles sweat glands are in its mouth. Mostly Urban Planner Housemate just spend an hour marveling at the fact that crocodiles somehow managed to survive the dinosaur extinction and that they finished their evolutionary process 200 million years ago.**

*For some reason in my house, we watch a lot of cooking competitions — we’re all addicted to Masterchef Australia — and nature television.  Urban Planner Housemate and I once spent three hours watching a program about a lion sanctuary in New Zealand or Australia (I can’t remember which.

**Lots and lots about crocodiles here.

Lesson #103: Niagara Falls Goes Dry

In the summer/fall of 1969, the Army Corps of Engineers “dried up” the American side (not the Horseshoe Falls) of Niagara Falls in order to conduct a geological survey of the rock bed underneath. Water was diverted by way of a 600-foot cofferdam and once the water was stopped, surveyors found the remains of a man, a woman and a deer. Once the cliff face and base were dry, engineers began scaling (as in what you’d do to a fish) loose rock, cleaning the rocks of algae, drilling for rock samples and installing a system of hydration pipes under the rock face to keep it from crumbling.*

I imagine the sound must have been very strange. Niagara Falls makes a LOT of noise. Diverting a third of the water must have made it seem oddly quiet.

Some good pictures and more information here.

Lesson #85: Fireflies on the British Isles

Urban Planner Housemate and I decided to watch a movie tonight. I didn’t care what we watched, so he perused the house’s small, but odd, movie collection and came across an anime film (belonging to Club Manager Housemate) called Grave of the Fireflies. Apparently it’s a classic. Until tonight, I had never seen any anime, so I don’t know the difference one way or the other. Anyway, early in the movie it comes out that he’s never seen a firefly.

My soul cries. I *love* fireflies.

This led us to a half hour discussion after the movie (which is incredibly depressing) about whether or not there are fireflies on the British Isles. It turns out that there are a few counties in England that have fireflies, but they do not live on the Isle of Man or Ireland. Which explains why he’s never seen one.

Lesson #71: Spanish Moss

Evergreen Plantation, Edgard, Louisiana

Spanish moss is not actually a moss; it’s an herb. Specifically, it is an epiphytic plant, which means it grows its own food rather than relying parasitically on a host. Epiphytes are often referred to as air plants because their roots are aerial, but Spanish moss doesn’t actually have roots. It just coils itself around a host tree and can reach 20 feet in length. Though it prefers wet environments, (like the bayou, which if you’ve ever seen it, is likely where you’ve seen it) its ability to store food and water drawn from the air around it makes it able to withstand long droughts, during which the plant becomes dormant. Spanish moss reproduces by way of small seeds that are carried by the wind and birds and by birds that break off small sections and relocate them. For a long time it was dried and cured to be used as a mattress stuffing, furniture and car seats and as insulation in some styles of Cajun architecture, especially in the pre-airconditioning days, as it is a natural insulator. The plant can be found in Central and South America as well as in the southern United States from Texas to Florida.**

*Copyright on that picture belongs to me. It’s from my road trip to Louisiana and Mississippi (and briefly, Alabama and Florida) in the summer of 2006 to see my mother while she was dispatched to Biloxi post-Katrina.

**More information here.

Lesson #64: The Northern Lights

According to Inuit legends, the aurora borealis are created by the torches of the spirits of deceased friends and ancestors who are out to hunt and fish or seeking out the souls of the recently departed to lead them into the afterlife. Another tribe of Inuit thought the northern lights to be a game played between spirits (involving a walrus skull), and yet another Inuit tribe (specifically the Point Barrow Inuit) considered the auroras evil and armed themselves with knives.

More information on the native legends of the northern lights can be found here.

Lesson #58: Horses and Vomit

Lawyer Housemate’s girlfriend is an equine vet, which is pretty cool all by itself. When she’s over and I hear about her day (today, she was shaving bits of flesh off an infected area of a horses’ leg that, according to her, resembled shaving kebab meat), I always end up learning something. Today?

I learned that horses cannot vomit.

This is because there’s a band of muscles around the esophagus that act as a one-way valve for things entering the stomach. A brief, but more in depth description of the physiology of this can be found here.