Clearly evolution was angry at men the day blanket octopuses were created

Blanket Octopus 3We all know octopuses/octopi/octopodes are pretty fricking awesome.  But the blanket octopi of the genus Tremoctopus (right) take their awesomeness to a whole new level-at least, the females do.



Have you ever heard of the Portuguese Man o’ War (Physalia) (left)?  For those of you who haven’t, they’re these pretty blue siphonophores (colonies of little jelly-like invertebrates) that travel the ocean with a balloon that they inflate and use to “sail” around.  However, don’t let its harmless, rather beautiful looks deceive you.  The Man o’ War delivers the most excruciating jellyfish sting known to man, and can even kill a human.  The jellyfish uses this sting to paralyze or kill its prey.


But does this deter the blanket octopus?  No.  The female blanket octopus laughs in the face of danger.  Besides being rakishly outfitted with fancy cape-like flaps of skin that the octopus waves to distract its enemies, the female blanket octopus is also immune to the sting of the Portuguese Man o’ War.

So what does the female blanket octopus do with this unique talent?  It rips off the Man o’ War’s tentacles, and flails them around like a whip!



What about the male blanket octopus, you ask?  He’s the size of a walnut (right) and has no interesting qualities whatsoever.  Unfortunately for him, his emasculation doesn’t stop there-when it’s time to mate, the male blanket octopus fills its arm with sperm, tears his own appendage off, and gives it to the female.  Then, he dies.  Talk about getting the short end of the stick.


Artist Peter Cook grows trees into fantastic shapes- even a chair!

This guy is so cool!  He calls the art “Pooktre,” twisting and shaping trees into interesting forms as they grow.  He grows the trees into cool shapes as well as furniture (table, chair-see below)

garden_table_06 l

graden_chair_03 pook_in_chair_02 2

When plants are attacked by mites, they can release chemicals that attract the natural predators of the mites

Lima beans are one example of plants that do this!  These types of defenses are called induced because they are triggered after the mites have started nibbling on the plant.


the eerie. l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e

the eerie in mystified pooled

a mist hangs over shadowed eyes

of a course

    silent horse. thumping


    on cherries and wine caskets

     spurting red

cherry red. hurry

the beat is up

is beat

chastise the laken fellow ships heartening

décor mimes patterns of skipped beats on a yellowing wall

among sea lilies and dragon flies

hatching rusted snails with slimy roots muttering along carefully placed leaf circles

wistful, ashore, if butter could fly it would join them

NO-ah, they missed the boat

purple-veined twigs in buckets, holes fill the empty spaces out

unfurling, time is on the wind sail on

on time


on wind

Now you see me, now you don’t: insect mimicry and crypticity

All living things possess a fundamental drive to avoid being eaten, but there are a plethora of methods by which an organism can achieve this goal.  Insects have evolved various anti-predator mechanisms and behaviors, some of which are more successful than others.  Many insects utilize anti-predator defenses that involve trickery, such as crypticity and mimicry, to avoid notice by predators.  So many insects have evolved these defense mechanisms that one can assume they are highly profitable to the continuation of insect clades or these forms would have been culled out by natural selection.  However, why choose mimicry over crypticity, or vice versa?  There are inherent benefits and downfalls to utilizing one mechanism versus the other, but which is more profitable?  There may not be one right answer, but I argue that crypticity is a more favorable option than mimicry because of the riskiness inherent in the mimic’s utter dependence on the model and because crypticity could be considered more evolutionarily advantageous because of its higher frequency of occurrence in nature.

leaf bug

Both crypticity and mimicry deceive the beholder into believing that the insect is something that it is not.  Crypticity typically involves an insect avoiding detection through colors and patterns and can be visual, olfactory, or auditory (Stevens & Merilaita 2009).  Visual crypticity can include camouflage, disruptive coloration, and background-matching, and can be quite striking.  Crypticity is distinguished from a similar phenomenon, masquerading, in that masquerading involves the matching of specific inanimate object like twigs or rocks rather than matching the general background (Gullan & Cranston 2010).  Olfactory crypticity involves an insect camouflaging its odor in order to blend in to the myriad of odors present in its surroundings.  For example, the death’s head hawk moth mimics the pheromones of bees to enter its hive and steal nectar (Dettner & Liepert).  This is not mimicry because the moth’s aim is to blend in with its surroundings in an anti-predatory defense mechanism to avoid detection.

Mimicry is the similarity of one species to another to the benefit of one or both species. Two types of mimicry include Batesian and Mullerian, although these forms of mimicry should be considered two ends of a spectrum with various forms of mimicry in between.  In Batesian mimicry, the insect is essentially a sheep in a wolf’s clothing in that the mimic (a palatable species) parasitically resembles a model (an unpalatable species) (Balogh et al. 2008).  Mullerian mimics, on the other hand, involve two or more poisonous species that have evolved to mimic each other’s aposematic coloration or warning signals (Balogh et al. 2008).

While both mimicry and crypticity have served insects well, there are advantages and disadvantages for each anti-predation strategy. Mimicry is advantageous in that it is a reliable way to prevent predation in that an animal will normally not try to eat an unpalatable meal.  On the other hand, animals that are not fooled might still eat the mimic and learn the difference between the mimic and the model.  Another advantage of mimicry is that it allows the mimic to move about and avoid predation without having to stay still, as is often the case in camouflage.  Mimicry can also be used as an aggressive rather than defensive strategy; parasitic Phengaris arion (Large Blue butterfly) caterpillars mimic ant predators so as not to be detected by them when they invade the ant nests and eat their larvae and eggs (Witek et al. 2008).  However, mimicry that involves pheromones and aposematic coloration or other warning signals can be costly to the organism (Blount et al. 2008).  Furthermore, if the model species goes extinct, migrates, becomes less toxic, or evolves to look different than the mimic, then the mimic could find itself in a highly unfavorable situation.

flower bug mimics

Crypticity is a more commonly occurring phenomenon among insects than mimicry (according to my general observation and knowledge).  This could indicate that crypticity is a more highly evolutionarily advantageous adaptation than mimicry, simply by comparing the abundances of forms that employ each strategy.  Animals blending into their surroundings will be seen by fewer predators than those that use mimicry, and therefore bypass the problem of having to use costly warning signals or avoiding predators that are not fooled by mimicry.  Although camouflage can only be used in one type of environment, insects are generally found in an environment with a specific background and can adapt to their surrounding if they change, sometimes at fast rates (e.g. the famous industrial melanism of peppered moths described by Cook et al. 2004).  However, cryptic organisms may be cryptic to others of their own species, which could hinder such activities as mating.  This particular disadvantage is bypassed by various other means of communication such as olfaction and audition.

Crypticity and mimicry are both useful mechanisms to avoid predator detection.  However, I argue that crypticity is a more profitable anti-predatory mechanism because it is more abundant and comes with fewer inherent risks.  If I were an insect and I had to perform a cost-benefit analysis, I would exclude mimicry as an option because although it is highly effective for some clades, I would consider crypticity to be more favorable because of its higher frequency of occurrence in nature, and because I would expend too much energy using warning coloration and using a risky mechanism that depends entirely on the model species’ stability, spatial distribution, morphology, and toxicity.

Works Cited 

Balogh, A.C.V., G. Gamberale-Stille & O. Leimar. 2008. Learning and the mimicry spectrum: from quasi-Bates to super-Muller. Animal Behaviour 76:1591-1599.

Blount, J.D., M.P. Speed & G.D. Ruxton. 2008. Warning displays may function as honest signals of toxicity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 276:871-877.

Cook, L. M., R. L. H. Dennis, and M. Dockery.  2004.  Fitness of insularia morphs of the peppered moth Biston betularia.  Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 82:359-366.

Dettner, K. & C. Liepert.  1994. Chemical Mimicry and Camouflage.  Annual Review of Entomology.  39: 129-154.

Gullan, P.J. & P.S. Cranston.  The Insects.  Ed. 4.  Wiley-Blackwell: UK, 2010.

Stevens, M. & S. Merilaita. 2009. Animal camouflage: current issues and new perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 364:423-427.

Witek, M., E. Gliwieska, P. Skorka, P. Nowicki, M. Wantuchi, V. Vrabeck, J. Settele, & M. Woyciechowski.  2008.  Host ant specificity of large blue butterflies Phengaris (Maculinea) (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) inhabiting humid grasslands in East-central Europe.  European Journal of Entomology.  105: 871-877.


An interesting commentary on the interaction between scientists and journalists

“Journalists need scientists who are citizens as well as researchers”

“Journalists can help narrow [the gap between science and public life], but only if scientists raise their voices in the nation’s public debates.”

Well said, Cornelia Dean.

I’ll do my best.

blue blood

my blood is blue                                                                                                                     because that is the color of their eyes                                                                                         staring fixedly ahead from behind a glass frame                                                                         without a care in all the world                                                                                                           the dancing light on the pane as it wobbles in my unsteady hand                                                     masks the fact that they are only two-dimensional

like the paper that yells words at me                                                                                   yammering about their blood types and genetic tendencies                                                           as if I could care any less                                                                                                                   but I drink in the small black print as if it were a transfusion

giving me life                                                                                                                               giving me a chance at a different life                                                                                                   I will never have

but behind a glass pane in a window in a small white house                                                      walk four very three-dimensional people,                                                                                        one of which has the gray-blue eyes from behind that glass frame                                                     I have seen that house, and I want to live in it                                                                                     but I am not in Florida, where the orange trees blossom and the sun shines brighter than                on my own brown house with large windows

even though my /mom\ in the brown house with brown eyes once told me to go back to Florida and see what kind of a life I would’ve had there. unpleasant, I suppose, but at least everyone would have the same color blood, here I pop out like an orange on an olive tree, I’m obviously not an Italian, psht suglia indeed with the silent g and all

I take comfort in the fact                                                                                                                 that the blood in the two little girls’ veins runs blue, too                                                                   like their eyes

my eyes are blue, too

Letters About Literature, 2007

This is my submission for the 2007 Letters About Literature competition.  This was actually an english assignment, but I ended up winning the level 2 (for middle schoolers) national competition! My parents and I went to Washington, D.C. where I read my submission at the National Book Festival and got to tour the museums, memorials, and even the White House (I met Nancy Pelosi, which was pretty cool)!  Now, I’m planning on writing a book about my experiences as an adopted child.

Dear Author Unknown,

When young children first begin to understand the concepts of life, they start asking questions.  One of the typical questions of a child whose mother is pregnant would be: “Did I come from your stomach mom?”  Usually, the answer would be “yes”, but for my mom, it was always simply “no.”  Being such a young girl, however, I never understood that this didn’t make sense until it dawned on me: all children have to be born.  So this time I asked my mom why I wasn’t born from her.  What my mom did in response to that was to read me your poem, Legacy of an Adopted Child.  At that time in my life, your poem didn’t have too much meaning to me, and I went on asking my mom to elaborate on adoption and its meaning.  But as I grew older, I began to connect more and more to the person your poem addresses.

At about the time the harsh realities of life were becoming clear to me, I started to mourn for what I was missing out on: not truly being a blood relative of my adoptive family.  Unfortunately, my parents weren’t able to conceive children of their own, and decided not to adopt any more kids.  Therefore, I was alone in this situation, not really having any strong friendships with other adopted children in my community.  I began to feel gaps between my friends when they talked about their nationalities and family traditions.  Being blonde and light-skinned, I felt a little sad that I didn’t look like my mostly Italian family. When a teen’s raging hormones kicked in, my emotions doubled in size.  Because my birth mother became pregnant with me when she was still in high school and not married, I had feelings of anger for her mistakes, and I was worried that I could make the same mistake as she did.  It was hard to be myself when that person was labeled ‘adopted’, so I tried to be ‘normal’ instead.

It was just another average day of my life when I walked through the hallway in my house, and my eye caught the word “adopted” on a piece of paper, framed and hanging on the wall. I had always remembered it being there, but never looked at it in detail.  As I stepped closer, I saw that the title was Legacy of an Adopted Child.  The faint memory of my mother showing me and reading it to me as a young girl flooded back to me.  To refresh my memory, I read through the verses.  Reading your poem that day made something inside me feel different.  It was like turning on a light after a long time-everything was brighter and easier to see.  My eyes were opened to a very different point of view that I had never seen before.  What I saw was that maybe the way you conveyed an image of the birth mother was really how she felt, too.  Possibly, instead of throwing me away like an empty cardboard box, it was actually difficult for my own birth mother to choose a family for me and let me go.  Upon finishing the poem, I was crying tears reflecting strong feelings of connection, sadness, and even joy.

Before reading Legacy of an Adopted Child, I was insecure and uncomfortable with my position of being adopted. I felt like I was being labeled and wasn’t able to really be myself.  I used to believe my birth mother was someone who didn’t care about me and cast me away.  Now, I know that I was wrong. In reality, she displayed a great deal of love and courage when she made that decision.  She knew that it was best for me to grow up with a couple who had the capability to provide me more opportunities than she could have under the circumstances.  Also, it may be true that I am labeled as ‘adopted’, but that doesn’t mean anything. Everyone is different, and being ‘normal’ means being you.

In the last stanza of your poem, you write: “And now you ask me through your tears, the age-old question through the years… Heredity or environment, which am I the product of? Neither, my darling-neither…Just two different kinds of love.”  This question is the same one I had asked myself so many times.  Answering it for me has inspired me to accept and be proud of being adopted.  Now, I look at the world through the eyes of someone much wiser, stronger, and more self-confident than ever before, and I thank you for allowing me these virtues.


Elena Suglia, Grade 8

Legacy of an Adopted Child

As an adopted child, this poem has had an impact on me.  I wanted to share it with you, because it is lovely but also because it will give you some context for some of my writing:

“Once there were two women, neither knew the other

One you do not remember, the other you call mother.


One gave you a nationality, the other gave you a name

One gave you the seed of talent, the other gave you an aim.


Two very different lives shaped yours into one

One became your guiding star, the other was your sun.


One gave you emotions, and one calmed your fears

One saw your first sweet smile, the other dried your tears.


The first gave you life, the second taught you to live it.

The first gave you a need for love, the second was there to give it.


One gave you up—it was all that she could do,

The other prayed for a child—God led her straight to you.


And now you ask me through your tears,

The age-old question of all the years,


Heredity or Environment, which are you a product of?

Neither darling, neither … just two different kinds of Love.”



The human microbiome

New research shows that humans share more bacteria with their pets that with their children.

An excerpt from the Science Daily report:

The number of microbes living on and inside a typical human is about 100 trillion, outnumbering human cells by about 10 to one. And the microorganisms humans carry around — or don’t — have been linked to a broad spectrum of diseases ranging from malnutrition and obesity to diabetes, asthma and depression, he said.

“There is mounting evidence that exposure to a variety of environmental sources of microbes can affect long-term health, findings known as the ‘hygiene hypothesis,’ ” said Song, a graduate student in CU-Boulder’s ecology and evolutionary biology department and first author on the paper. Proposed by British epidemiologist Richard Strachen in 1989, the hypothesis is that children who have had a lack of exposure to bacteria and microorganisms might be more prone to getting sick because many microbes have co-evolved with people to be beneficial.