Thursday, August 18, 2005

HEATING UP THE ZOO

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By Elaine Meinel Supkis

The marine and land and air worlds seem embroiled in changes due to global warming. So many odd things in just a few days!

Just the other day, I wrote about the dead sea on the coast of Florida. Nothing, absolutely nothing above the single cell creatures, is alive there. Now there is more news from that area. From the Sun Herald:
A bizarre freeway of fish swimming by the thousands along the shore of Englewood Beach Thursday morning left crowds of beach-goers agog and marine biologists bewildered.

"I've lived her for 10 years, and I've never seen anything like this. It's incredible," said Bob Ricci of Englewood.

Beach-goers reported that a wide variety of sea creatures came swimming south in a narrow band close to the beach at mid-morning.

Included in the swarm were clouds of shrimp, crab, grouper, snapper, red fish and flounder. They were joined by more usual species, including sea robins, needlefish and eels.

Ten-year Manasota Key resident Nick Neidlinger spotted the commotion from his condominium shortly before 9 a.m.

The fish were moving in a narrow band in about 18 inches of water, he said. They were headed south, and, so far as he could tell, the moving mass of sea life stretched a good mile long.
On so many levels, this is a troubling image. It reminds me of watching Bambi on the big screen when I was a child. All the animals fleeing the forest fire. This forest fire is hidden and silent. Once the algae bloom is obvious, humans even will have to flee. But the scurrying sea creatures of every sort and color, intent of fleeing, ignoring or climbing over each other, seeking shelter from a world that quite suddenly went very wrong, is a frightful image indeed.

For this will be our fates if we continue to unbalance Nature's scales.

While looking for pictures for the blog, I came across this interesting scientific article about lizards: From the Univeristy of Texas, Austin:
Most people consider biology, particularly ecology, to be a luxury that they can do without. Even many medical schools in the USA no longer require that their pre-medical students obtain a biological major. Basic biology is not a luxury at all, but rather an absolute necessity. Despite our human-centered attitudes, other life forms are not irrelevant to our own existence. As proven products of natural selection that have adapted to natural environments over millennia, they have a right to exist, too. With human populations burgeoning and pressures on space and other limited resources intensifying, we need all the biological knowledge that we can possibly get.

Ecological understanding is particularly vital. There has to be a great urgency to basic ecological research simply because the worldwide press of humanity is rapidly driving other species extinct and destroying the very systems that ecologists seek to understand. No natural community remains pristine. Pathetically, many will disappear without even being adequately described, let alone remotely understood. As existing species go extinct and even entire ecosystems disappear, we lose forever the very opportunity to study them. Knowledge of their evolutionary history and adaptations vanishes with them: we are thus losing access to valuable biological information itself. Indeed, as H. Rolston remarks in "Duties to Endangered Species" (BioScience 35, 1985), "destroying species is like tearing pages out of an unread book, written in a language humans hardly know how to read". Just as ecologists in many parts of the world are finally beginning to learn to read the "unread" (and rapidly disappearing) "book", they are encountering governmental and public hostility and having a difficult time finding support.
In the middle of a nice study about lizard habitat comes these two paragraphs. They sum up pretty well, the need to understand and protect our biosphere. Today, I began haying my fields. Hop toads and wild turkey young sprang out of the high grasses as the tractor approached. The swallows and kestrels dove in for the insects that flew into the air as the mowing deck passed over them.

Where I mow was cleared 350 years ago and no forest has grown here since, just several huge oak trees old as the Manga Carta. The ecosystem has been altered so long that generations of animals have adapted to it. Once, nearly all the forest here that existed since the glaciers melted, were chopped down and this changed the animals and climate tremendously. The forest is returning, and except for a few fields like mine, most have reverted to a more natural state. But oddly enough, my field is a haven to the previous ecosystem which is why all the wild turkeys hang out here, why a host of song birds live here, eating bugs, why the ground hogs and the hedge hogs and the field mice live here, amusing my cats.

Deep forests are low population areas but meadows bordered by forests are prime habitat for many creatures which is why I trouble to maintain this system. And this year, for the third time in ten years, we had a hot drought that stressed the entire system, weakening the very base of the flora.

From E News:
It happens every year: large numbers of copperheads gather and move in unison to dens for hibernation. But it happens in October, not July or August. Now the common event has become an uncommon and inexplicable one.

"I know for a fact that all these snakes didn't just wake up one day and do this," said Chuck Miller, whose Marion County yard has been overrun with the pitvipers. "Something's making them do it. They know something we don't know. There's got to be something more to this."

Nearly 100 of the snakes are using a cedar tree as a sort of meeting place, and neither Miller, an outdoorsman and former snake owner, nor scientists who have traveled to the rural north central Arkansas site to study the phenomenon, know why.
Instead of "Soar Like an Eagle" maybe Ashcroft could sing, "Slither Like a Snake". This is quite an image. Eve wouldn't have taken a pinecone from these vipers! She would have screamed and ran! In ancient Sumer, the gods used pine cones dipped in water for annointing the world to bring rain. They also worshipped snakes. Then there are those ladies in ancient Crete. They would have been very charmed by a Cedar of Lebanon covered with male snakes! Medusa, home sweet home!
Trauth and one of his graduate students traveled to Miller's property and embedded a radio transmitter in one of the snakes for tracking purposes. Other snakes also had tags clipped to their scales.

Miller said seven of nine tagged snakes were taken a quarter-mile away from the tree and released, but have since returned to the tree and been recaptured.

Trauth said the copperheads gather at the tree to leave their scent. By rubbing the tree, other copperheads know that it is a marker on the way to a den site, he said.
The snakes sense something and are disturbed and yet compelled to act. We can only stand around and marvel until the real reason becomes clear. Like the tsunami, many animals and "primitive" people cut and ran for the hills before it came rushing in.

Finally, this news ticks me off: From IOL South Africa:
Oslo - Worms squirming on a fish hook feel no pain - nor do crayfish and crabs cooked in boiling water, a scientific study funded by the Norwegian government has found.

"The common earthworm has a very simple nervous system - it can be cut in two and continue with its business," Professor Wenche Farstad, who chaired the panel that drew up the report, said on Monday.

Norway might have considered banning the use of live worms as fish bait if the study had found they felt pain, but Farstad said: "It seems to be only reflex curling when put on the hook ... They might sense something, but it is not painful and does not compromise their wellbeing."

The government called for the study on pain, discomfort and stress in invertebrates to help in the planned revision of Norway's animal protection law. Invertebrates cover a range of creatures from insects and spiders to molluscs and crustaceans.

Farstad said most invertebrates, including lobsters and crabs boiled alive, do not feel pain because, unlike mammals, they do not have a big brain to read the signals.

Some more advanced kinds of insects, such as honeybees which display social behaviour and a capacity to learn and co-operate, deserve special care, she said. - Reuters
I have a bee colony here. They moved into an empty hive and now live by the grey water tank. The don't sting me unless I do something stupid like steal their honey which I plan to do in six months. I don't know if bees feel pain but they certainly can produce it in others! They do "think". One bee hive Chris and I were raiding, Chris had the bee suit and I didn't but I drove off with the honey in the pick up truck. As I got out and started to carry in the loot, one bee spotted me and buzzed over, checked out my face, was horrified it was a friend who betrayed the hive, took off and came back with an army of pissed female bees who attacked the door to the kitchen. I couldn't believe how many bees showed up! Took them weeks to forgive me.

I gave them sugar water and they decided I would be allowed to stay.

Worms: true, you can cut them and they writhe and then go off. You can tug at a lizard's tail and it will drop off and writhe, too. The lizard doesn't yell. Nor does the worm. Do they like this?

Take a wild guess. I would bet, they hate it and if they could, they would sting you but they can't so they endure their fates! Putting any animal in warm water and then heating it up slowly, say the oceans getting warmer and warmer, if they make no noise, does this mean they aren't suffering? Good grief, here we sit, the temperature is slowwwwwllly rising, a tiny bit at a time, and so far, we aren't reacting! What if some gods are turning up the dial and saying, "Well, I see no reaction, raise it one degree more."

May the gods have mercy on our souls.

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