Friday, July 27, 2007

Invasive Species: Rats and Pythons

The Asian python has infiltrated the glades of Florida, courtesy of negligent pet-owners who have become overwhelmed by their exotic friends.

Rats must have been an early invader, traveling everywhere by ship, land bridge, etc. They are smart animals who enjoy sex, have similar immunology and addiction behaviors as humans, are compassionate to other rats, and also know what they know and know what they don't know. In one experiment, rats were rewarded with a large treat for correctly discerning the length of a beep. The rat had a choice of pressing a long bar for an 8s beep, and a short bar for a 2s beep. The rat also had the option to stick its nose through a hole and receive a small treat if the rat couldn't decide how long the beep was. Discerning between 2s and 8s beeps was easy for the rats, but as the beep length approached 5s, the rats more frequently opted to stick their nose in the "I don't know" box and get a small reward. The recent NY times article on rats is wonderful. The NYT is free online, but you do have to register to access their articles.

Obviously, we need to breed larger rats to recapture or possibly eat the pythons. As an alternative, don't buy snakes for pets. Rescue a cat or bird instead. I would like a pet bird, but I don't think I have time, since they are very social creatures.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Flowers on Pajarito

On June 30th, I climbed the ski hill and noticed some lovely purple flowers growing on the rocky part of the trail. It was dusk and very beautiful, after a particularly charged day. On the way down the hill, a white dog saw me and started barking like mad. He came closer. I saw an older man far behind him, who after a delay called the dog off. But Mr. Man didn't leash or hold his dog, although I had not passed them, and after a head pat (the man on the dog), the dog turned and ran back toward me barking. I was terrified and almost pepper-sprayed the dog. The man eventually caught up with the dog and leashed him, assuring me that the barking monster that traveled 100 yards off trail to harass me was "okay".

Timid but missing the hill, I went up the next week. Luckily, I ran into a very fit woman with hiking poles at the top of the hill. We hiked down together, and in addition to making me feel safe, she knew the name of the lovely flowers: Columbine.
We also saw some deer, a female and a buck.

Columbines differ from other flowers because they have five "spurs", which are tubes that typically serve as nectar reservoirs. The high number of spurs have contributed to the diverse speciation of Columbines: there are 70 species, which have spurs adapted for specific animal pollinators: short spurs for hummingbirds, longer spurs for hawkmoths with long tongues. I don't know if these Columbines are specific for a pollinator.

They grow on a rather stark ascent on the trail.

This is the view from the summit on the west side. The land goes back with no manmade structures in sight, but also conveys a secrecy. What inhabitants are hidden? Spanish explorers would not have known. Some may have disappeared there. Far from home, looking at the view, the only feeling is liberation. You could walk down and disappear into the wilderness and become part of the mystery.