Oak Scale – Sitting There Like a Tiny Bump on a Log

OakScaleSee that tiny bump on the branch? You’re looking at a mom protecting hundreds of babies. Well, actually, the mama Oak Scale insect (Parthenolecanium quercifex) is dead now, but her exoskeleton is still harboring those little eggs underneath. When those baby Scales hatch around the end of May, the tiny darlings will move out to the oak leaves and begin to SUCK THAT POOR TREE DRY. They sniff out the precious sugar-water flowing through veins in leaves, insert their straw-like mouth parts and drink up. As the year progresses, Scales grow and mate. Mama lays her eggs beneath her and dies, making way for next May’s new generation.
scaleEggs(These are the eggs… um, on my kitchen table. Didn’t realize they’d pop out like that when I lifted the mama Scale off. Oops.)

In the insect’s defense, healthy trees can resist Scale infestations. Some leaves and twigs may fall off – that’s all. But trees that are weakened (by physical damage, drought, chemicals, etc.) can be killed by the insects.

Cool Climate Change research recently found that densities of Oak Scale are up to 13x higher in warm urban areas! (1) Since things are getting toastier here on Earth, we may want to get more familiar with the life & times of the Oak Scale.

1. Meineke EK, Dunn RR, Sexton JO, Frank SD (2013) Urban Warming Drives Insect Pest Abundance on Street Trees. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59687. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059687

Invasion of the House Finch

HouseFinch_JML

Once upon a time, House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) only lived west of the Rocky Mountains. Then, in 1940, a group of captive birds flew to freedom from their New York cages. Their numbers slowly grew until… BOOM… population explosion. Today, House Finches reside throughout the U.S. and Mexico.

There’s a downside to dense populations though – disease. In the 1990s, a bacterium (Mycoplasma gallisepticum) started swirling among groups of House Finches. The infection causes conjunctivitis (like “pinkeye”) in the birds. If you’re a bird with swollen eyelids and crusty build up, you’re not going to be very good at flying or avoiding the neighbor’s cat.

Today, roughly half as many House Finches live in the East compared to 20 years ago.


If you’d like to learn more about House Finch diseases (with gross pictures), visit http://www.birds.cornell.edu/hofi/abtdisease.html.

And if you’d like to see the growth and decline of House Finch populations in your state, check out www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBS/RawData/ (1)- fun with data!.

1. Pardieck, K.L., D.J. Ziolkowski Jr., M.-A.R. Hudson. 2014. North American Breeding Bird Survey Dataset 1966 – 2013, version 2013.0. U.S. Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

Gnarly trees

liveOakBranches of the Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) loop and twist their way toward openings in the forest canopy. Many branches sag down to the ground before stretching back up again.

These low branches help the oak survive in the hurricane-prone regions of the Southeastern U.S. Short, wide trees resist strong winds better than tall, thin ones. Those curvy branches helped the USS Constitution stay afloat during the War of 1812 too. Live Oak limbs were frequently used in ship building due to their natural bends, strength and density.

Penis Bones – no joke!

bacula_JMLCarnivores have ‘em. Rodents and bats have ‘em. Even many primates have ‘em. But not humans.

The baculum (penis bone) is one of the most variable bones in the mammalian skeleton – you can even ID an animal by the shape and size of that one bone. Just like with insect penises, the shapes of these reproductive structures can change quickly in evolutionary terms (Carl Zimmer writes a wonderful post looking at these shifts)
What’s its function?
Well, we’re not 100% sure yet. It may allow males to copulate before being fully, ahem, at attention. Or it may stimulate the female to ovulate. Some bacula grow spiny projections which may, like some insect penises, clear out other sperm before injecting one’s own.
Let’s not leave out the girls!

The penis and clitoris develop from the same structure. So, if the penis has a bone… does the clitoris? You bet! It’s called the os clitoridis (or baubellum).