Sunday, June 17, 2007

Blue Scorpion

Here's another photo from the herpetology field trip. There is something in scorpion exoskeletons that shines brightly under a black light. We went out at night to look for them armed with black light flashlights. When you come upon a scorpion (evidently any species) they really do glow in the dark. Switch to a regular flashlight, and you can barely see them at all since they're the same color as the sand underneath. I believe this one is a desert hairy scorpion Hadrurus sp. We heard several theories that night on how this kind of ultraviolet decoration might have evolved. The best theory in my opinion is that the insects which are the scorpion's prey are attracted to ultraviolet light, thus making UV-reflecting scorpions better hunters. Plants sometimes use ultraviolet coloration on flowers to attract insects as well. I'm not sure how much research has been done on the adaptive function, if any. In a 1968 paper noted scorpion researcher SC Williams (perhaps less famous for being my biometry professor) describes how to use ultraviolet light to detect scorpions. So perhaps we've only known about this special feature of scorpions since then.
As with bats, who operate outside our hearing range, our imagination and thus our understanding is often constrained by the limits of our senses. Until someone thought to shine a black light on a scorpion, we would have had no idea to even consider this aspect of their evolution and its potential effect on the evolution of scorpion predators and prey.

Geckos in the desert?

Not a bat, OK, but at least it's very cute. When I think of geckos, I think of moist tropical places, not the desert.
I saw this cute little desert banded gecko Coleonyx variegatus variegatus at the CSU desert field campus at Zyzzx in the Mojave National Preserve. This was on a May field trip for my herpetology class. While it wasn't a fabulous trip for wildflowers and there were few herps, we did see a nice selection. I learned how to actually look for creepy crawlies instead of avoiding them. The class seemed to mostly fall in love with the placid horny toads, though alas none of my photos did them justice. I set up my bat detector at night and recorded a bunch of calls though I haven't had a chance to analyze them yet. There was a lot of activity in the early evenings which I expect was likely to be pipistrelles. The night I recorded there was a tremendous amount of wind, so I expect that most of the hundreds of calls were not really bats.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Coming Out

OK so it's been another long time since I posted. I realized that one reason I have been reluctant to post is that I have felt I must censor my writing in order to keep my identity concealed. My earlier career in the software business makes me aware of how public the internet can be, and gives me a general distrust of technology. Plus, there have been reasons recently to stay in the closet while blogging in academia. Well, I'm tired of doing that, so now you can see my real name right there in my blog profile. Google me and you'll find what you probably have already figured out: I'm a graduate student in Ecology at San Francisco State University. I'm also currently on the board for a very sweet non-profit, the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory. In my previous life, I worked for HP, Oracle, and a small software start-up that never quite managed to make the big time. And in the theme of coming out and since June is traditional gay pride month, you'll also find that I'm a dyke. So far this hasn't mattered in either my old or my new careers, but if I ever need to leave the sanctuary of San Francisco that could someday change. I took this photo of part of an art piece at the Albany Bulb and thought it was a delightful theme. I am thrilled with this life and glad to share it with you. And hopefully I'll be posting more often. Now, back to the bats.