Everybody say scuppernog!

Scuppernog scuppernog SCUPPERNOG!  It’s kind of a hilarious word, right?

A couple weeks back my husband and I went to visit his family in the South.  While visiting my fabulous sister-in-law’s family in Raleigh NC, we wandered at length along the bike/run/walk path near her home, which was heavily overhung with greenery.  A generous helping of the plants along the way were total unknowns to me, including the scuppernog, a close cousin to our usual grapes, and  variant of muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia), which are native to the American southeast.

Small clusters of unripe scuppernogs, Vitis rotundifolia.

The scuppernogs were under-ripe (when they’re ripe they’re larger and bronze-colored), but we found clusters of them growing on vines that were a dead ringer for normal grape vines here and there.  My husband and sister-in-law recognized them right away, and their identity was further confirmed by the large single seeds we found inside.

Scuppernogs are, I gather, favored for their jelly, rather than as a raw snack, and muscadine wine is a local treat.

 

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Amateur arachnology (and why I fear I may no longer be fit to have a normal job)

You know you’re a biologist when:

(in increasing order of severity–some of these pertain to myself and others to my labmate, whose desk recently became the next-door neighbor to a sparrow’s nest, and who has just left to take a shower)

-you are happy to have a bird’s nest outside your window

-you think the half-plucked-looking naked baby birds inside are adorable

Baby sparrows outside my labmate’s window

-you are not unduly distressed when the bird’s nest becomes fairly obviously infested with some sort of tiny bug

-you are only mildly distressed when it becomes clear that the bugs have made it inside the window.  You carry on writing your dissertation.

Ookaay. Once the bugs make it inside the window things are less cool. 12 point “G” included for scale.

-you relent and decide to head home only when the bugs start actually crawling on your person.  You notify the lab manager, who calls pest control (see–we’re totally normal and responsible), and your lab mate down the hall (me) who…

-does not avoid your bench like a normal person.

-captures some of the bugs to look at under a microscope

-shares the view with her labmate, who would rather look at them than go home and wash up right away, and her baymate, a former arthropod specialist who declares they’re “kinda pretty.”

-then browses the internet with her baymate and labmate to identify that they’re some kind of bird mites (duh).  Labmate, still totally calm but succumbing to common sense, goes home to shower and continue writing, while I…

-use the break offered by an hour-long incubation period to take better-quality microscope photographs and browse the internet for another half an hour or so to try to find out their species name.

I think they must be some kind of Ornithonyssus, possibly Ornithonyssus bursa, but if there are any arachnologists who know more I’d really love a stronger ID.

Bird mite, Ornithonyssus bursa (possibly). 20x, inside a 12-point font G.

As I write this, I’m wondering to myself if “arachnologist” is a real thing.  Certainly bird mites are arachnids (subclass Acari, order Mesostigmata), so entomologist seems inappropriate.

Lest you think we’re unusually bonkers, I think Haeckel made a decent case that arachnids were kinda pretty, in one of my favorite books, “Forms of Art in Nature.”  You can get id’s to the various creatures here on Wikipedia.

“Arachnida” from Forms of Art in Nature, Ernst Haeckel, 1904

Book review: What a Plant Knows

Hello again!

Travel had gotten the better of me, I fear, and I’ve fallen quite behind over here.  But in the meantime, I got a great opportunity from American Scientist to review my new favorite book: “What a Plant Knows, A field guide to the senses” by Daniel Chamovitz at Tel Aviv university.  The review is here:

(and here: http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/fortean-flora)

And if you don’t want to click over and see it formatted prettily with pictures, here’s the whole story… Continue reading