January 31, 2007
Install This Update or the Baby Seal Gets It!
My husband Shane sent me this link to a linux software update and said I should post about it on my blog. I admit, I was curious as to why a Linux operating system patch would merit such attention on a nature blog but I decided to check it out anyway.
So it's actually a bit of a joke and a little bit serious - my favorite. It also illustrates one of the differences, from my perspective, of Windows vs. Linux. Windows has gone mainstream, whereas the Linux community still has something of a sense of humor.
The actual software update is real. It fixes some features of the Fedora operating system that, in short, make it consume more computing power than it needs to. But with the typically dry-wit of the linux community, the justification of the update takes its benefits to the next level.
Or perhaps several levels further...
With the introduction of a tickless kernel, any extraneous wakeups cause more power to be used, drain batteries, produce more heat, and use more natural resources, threatening the environment of this baby seal.
<< Picture of Cute Baby Seal Here >>
Do you really want to kill the baby seal?
After all, we've always known that linux was a penguin-friendly operating system. Seals aren't really that much of a stretch!
January 27, 2007
The New Elephant Seal Business Card
Needed something to give out to people when I'm out checking out the seals, so I made a cute little business card. Whatcha think?
January 19, 2007
Ele-Facts: When To Go See The Seals
When is the best time to see the elephant seals?
There are elephant seals at Año Nuevo year-round, but different ages and genders visit at different times. Most people go in the middle of summer, when very fractious seals molt their entire fur coat over a few weeks time. Let's just say, its not the elephant seal at its most photogenic.
Northern Elephant Seal Bulls Fight For Dominance
The best time of year, in my opinion, is right about now - late January to late February. Now the rookery is most active, with a variety of seals on land, all at the same time. You've got big males battling to keep their harems of females. The females are giving birth to dark little pups, and then weaning them 28 days later, leaving lots of plump, whining weaners flopping about.
Northern Elephant Seal Mother With Pup
So the next question is, what time of day should I go? Elephant seals have a think layer of blubber in order to protect themselves in the deep cold waters off of Alaska and thousands of feet underwater. On land, the seals will overheat if they exert themselves too much. You'll want to visit when it's coolest, so the earlier in the morning you get there, the better. Days with a breeze, that are cool and even drizzly, are when the seals will be most active.
Very Young Northern Elephant Seal Pup
I tend to go on weekdays - there are fewer people on the guided docent tours, but you have to beat teh school-kid fieldtrip rush, as these louder groups will often scare away much of the other wildlife on the trails like birds of prey and other little critters. Also, the smaller your group, the more likely the guides will take you close to the seals.
Millipedes As Meerkat Meals
I was watching the National Geographic Wild Chronicles video podcast the other day about meerkats hunting and teaching their young. In one scene, a couple of meerkats drag a large, black Kalahari millipede across the dusty ground.
Many species of millipede secrete a mildly poisonous substance as a defense mechanism to discourage predators from making the slow-walking creepy crawly from becoming an easy meal. While it's poison wouldn't kill a merrkat (they hunt many poisonous animals and have developed tolerances to stuff like scorpion venom), this secretion certainly doesn't make them taste very good.
Although the meerkats appear to be toying with their meal, researchers believe that they are actually cleaning off the bug. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of any other animals that clean their food before eating it, except us.
You can watch this video podcast and others at: NGS Wild Chronicles
January 17, 2007
Green Machines: Dell PC Trees
Dell Computer, long known for their computer recycling program, has launched several new environmental programs recently. By joining with partners like carbonfund.org, Dell has launched a new program to make it simple to offset their purchased computers' carbon emissions by planting trees.
You just add the tree to your cart when you purchase your new computer!
Plant a Tree for Me empowers you to neutralize the carbon footprint of your product use.
Donation amounts are based on expected average carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the production of electricity needed to power the systems over three years — for a notebook .42 tons and for a desktop 1.26 tons. The cost of the carbon offset is $4.75 per ton. It costs approximately $6.31 per tree planted. On average a tree will sequester 1.33 tons of CO2 over 70 years through the program. Thus, the offset donation required to neutralize the carbon impact for notebooks is $2 and $6 for desktops.
More At: Dell.com: Plant a Tree For Me
Of late, it's nice to see realistic ideas from conservation organizations. Instead of the cold turkey approach, we seem to have come to the realization that weaning outselves off our heavy dependence on fossil fuels and pollutant-producing practices is the way to approach our environmental issues. Often, one can only "reduce" so far. The idea behind carbon offsets is that what carbon emissions you cannot eradicate entirely, you offset by doing something that negates carbon dioxide emissions elsewhere.
For now, most carbon offsets seem to be alternative energy initiatives and reforestation (thus the tree planting), but what's exciting about this is that there seem to be infinite creative ways one could help others reduce their carbon footprints. And we're not just talking about funding community transportation programs. Since carbon dioxide emissions are a global problem, it can be approached from a variety of angles such as focusing on helping major producers of emissions to minimize their footprint while targetting some of the simpler solutions to carbon emissions elsewhere. For example, by providing the native people living on the borders of the Amazon rainforest with more efficient and renewable fuels for heating and cooking, as well as occupations that protect the forests instead of destroy them, we can combat the deforestation occuring and reduce the carbon emissions produced.
Ele-Facts: Elephant Seal Mating Season
For the past three years, I have been visiting an elephant seal colony during mating season. Once a week, I hike out to Año Nuevo reserve, one of the largest and most successful mainland elephant seal rookeries. Despite my many trips, I still learn something new each and everytime I go.
Right now the big males have hauled out on the beaches, and begun to establish their dominance heirarchy. Very plump and pregnant females are hauling out and choosing a harem to join, granting the alpha male who lords over it prime mating rights with her when her pup is weaned in a month or so.
Over the next few weeks, I will share some of my findings here. in this Ele-Facts column. These are tidbits of information I have learned during my visits and my own research. While I've called this column Ele-Facts, please keep in mind that I cannot back up everything, as information changes and is updated frequently in the docent-lead walks. When I can, I will point out sources online, but keep in mind that some of this information comes directly from the latest information available from researchers, through the docents, and from there to me. From there, it's often memory until I get home to blog about it. Just keep that in mind when you're considering quoting me for your science reports, little ones...
January 11, 2007
Island Isolation And Dad-Less Dragons
Growing to almost 10 feet long, Komodo Dragons are the largest lizards on earth, nowadays, anyway. Found exclusively in Indonesia, these carnivorous reptiles are endangered. According to Wikipedia, there are approximately 6000 living dragons, but the main concern is that there may be as few as 350 breeding females.
With a population of 6000, why so few breeding females? Some recent behavior in captive dragons at Chester Zoo may shed some light. It's like a story out of Jurassic Park - Nature finds a way...
Flora the Komodo dragon ... has laid fertile eggs despite never having had a mate.
DNA tests confirmed Flora was the sole parent
Flora, along with another female Komodo dragon from the London Zoo, represent the first known cases of virgin birth in the world's largest lizard, according to researchers.
The two reptiles are examples of a process called parthenogenesis, in which offspring are produced without fertilization by a male, according to a report in the current issue of the journal Nature.
Single-parent reproduction is hardly ever seen in such complex animals, having been documented in just 0.1 percent of vertebrates, the study team says.
The reptiles are native to islands in Indonesia, where female castaways could have need to start new colonies on their own, the researchers say.
"If a female gets swept off her desert island to a new desert island where there are no other dragons, then she can reproduce parthenogenetically," Gibson said.
Parthenogenesis has been found in a number of other unexpected animals in recent years, he added.
"It was recorded in a python a couple of years ago," he said. "Turkeys can do it, and it's also happened in fish."
In the process of parthenogenesis, unfertilized eggs develop into embryos using two sets of the female chromosomes instead of one set of the mother's and one of the father's. The resulting baby dragons are always male and once they reach sexual maturity, the mothers can mate normally again. Still, this two-stage inbreeding means that genes from different dragon populations are not mixing and diversifying for at least two generations.
So why so few breeding females in the wild? The Komodo Dragons' numbers have been dwindling for some time. What if they have been reproducing in the wild using parthenogenesis for a generation or so - then one would expect there would be significantly more young males running around. Komodos can live for several decades, and it is somewhat unclear when they reach sexual maturity - one source claims that females mature after 9 years and males after 10 years.
The bad news is that the true breeding population may be much smaller and more fragile than the population numbers reflect. The good news here is that the dwindling dragon population may have a way of recovering itself.