Here’s a Walking Stick Not Used for Hiking

Stick With Me!

 

One of the most interesting of all insects is the Walking Stick. It so closely resembles a stick that it can hide in plain sight. It is good that  God has given these insects this talent for hiding since they are considered fine food  for birds and small mammals. Could you find it when hiding in the sticks?

Hint: Look for antennae.

With the Sticks Gone:

 

When alone, it looks like this:

Family Ties:

The walking stick insects belong to the family of insects known as the Phasmidae. These insects are mostly found in the southern regions of the United States and many forms exist in the tropical regions of the world. Some grow to immense sizes. Some are as small as 1/2 inch, but others reach sizes over a ft. in length. One of the newest species, found in Borneo, out-did the others in length. It was actually 22 inches when its legs where extended. Wow!

I’d Give An Arm or a Leg for That!

One of the most interesting things about these insects is that they often drop a leg when some other creature is attacking. They have an amazing God given ability to regrow these parts through regeneration. Since these insects must shed their skins several times during their development, whenever a new skin is in place it is complete with the missing legs that were broken off in the earlier stages. This process is known as molting and is used by most insects in their development.

Why Are You Eating Your Old Clothes?

Immediately after molting is the most dangerous time for walking stick insects. At that time their skins are very soft an need to harden in the air for a time before they become more durable. Many of the tiny nymphs actually eat their cast off skins since they are a sure sign to predators that their owners are nearby. In this way the protein that makes up their old skin gets recycled as well.

That’s Nothing! Wait Until You Learn About This Trick!

One other amazing feature of these insects is their ability to reproduce parthenogenetically, without the need for males. Since this is possible, the majority of stick insects you will find are female. However, they still can mate with the few males that are out there. When they do only about half of the babies will be male. A captive walking stick insect can give birth to around a hundred female babies. “Why so many?” You might ask. Even though these insects are good at camouflage, they still are eaten by a wide variety of other creatures. Only a small portion of the offspring will make it to maturity.

Here is a baby one I found on a Coleus plant on my front porch. It is only 1/2 ” long.

Another Cool Trick:

It has been observed that these insects further their deception as twigs by moving back and forth with the wind like the surrounding vegetation. By rocking back and forth they look just like part of the plants they are on.

What About Offensive Weapons?

Though the walking sticks are exceptionally good at hiding they still are not defenseless! Some species, mostly tropical, even have the ability to shoot out a foul-smelling fluid that is also very bitter and in some instances even irritating to the skin of the predators seeking to eat them. This fluid is often aimed at the eyes and can cause discomfort though usually not lasting effects on the creatures sprayed with it. The species in the U.S., however, are not usually known for this behavior. 

As you can see in the above and below picture, this walking stick is not harmful.

We Don’t Bite….Just Tickle!

Is It Raining?

In some areas of the forests the dropping “seed-like” eggs of the walking sticks are so numerous that it sounds like rain drops falling. The tiny eggs fall into the leaf litter below and hatch out in the Spring time. (It has been discovered that a few species of walking sticks actually produce a glue-like substance which they use to attach their eggs to stems and leaves.)  When they emerge, those on the ground,  crawl up trees in the surrounding forest and feed on leaves. Walking sticks are vegetarians, herbivores.

Calling All Ants!

Some walking sticks have a neat way to get ants to protect their young. So how do they do it? The eggs of some species of walking sticks are covered with a fatty tissue called a capitulum at one end. This substance is highly desired as food for ants. When an ant finds the egg she takes it back to the nest where just the capitulum is eaten. The rest of the egg stays inside the ants’ nest where not many predators will wander due to the stings of the insects in the nest. In this manner the walking sticks remain protected until they hatch and climb out of the nest and into the trees around.

If All Else Fails….Just Play Dead!

Some walking sticks actually have another trick up their sleeves. They have discovered that by playing dead birds and other creatures find them uninteresting as food.  This behavior has a special name. It is called “thanatosis”. Now there’s a word you don’t hear every day!

What Else Can You Find Out About These Strange Insects?:

Some of this information was found by reading an article written by Debbie Hadley entiltled: 10 Interesting Facts About Stick Insects. You can find this and other articles on line with a simple search. Why not do some research on your own to learn more. See if you can find some in your neighborhood. Hint: I often find them in the fall on the outside of my house. It seems they are near the end of their growing seasons then and climb high to drop their eggs. They are much more visible against the siding of the house. 

 

Origami Octo-Wreath and Candle Holder

It Has Come Full Circle:

In a recent post I showed you how to make Eco-Balls from an eight-sided base unit. While experimenting with this base I discovered an even more delightful way to combine them to create a full circle wreath.

Divide and Conquer:

In order to create this form, however, I had to alter half of the  the eight-sided units I used to create the ring. It takes 18 units to complete the wheel. To form the linking unit I only glued it part-way leaving those units divided into two swiveling halves. Then I took the solid units and glued them in-between.

 

 

It Takes Patience and Time:

Though this project is time consuming and requires a little patience the end form is worth the effort. It can be made any size you desire according to the size of the original squares of paper used to fold the units. It could easily function as a wreath to use on a doorway or as a base to surround a candle. In what other ways could you find to use it?

Let It Shine:

Two Is Better Than One:

In the candle holder above I used two rings: one large and the other smaller. You can also use just a single wreath as below.

The wreaths can be stacked to create a pleasing form that could also be placed around a potted plant or flower vase.

If you haven’t already viewed my earlier blog post on the Eco-balls, you can look there to see how to fold the base units. Let me know if you find other ways to use this form.

Eco-Balls: Neat Way to Recycle Paper

 

A Fun Way to Recycle Paper:

If you have left over paper with interesting colors or designs, this is a great way to turn it into a cool project. This project makes a nice finished decorative form. It has 24 different surfaces that can be decorated or to which a message can be added. They are sturdy enough to use as a throw- and- catch ball as well.

Begin With the Traditional Pinwheel Base:

It Takes Four!

You will need four Pinwheel Base Units to construct this project. All should be the same size.

Once you have folded these you need to pull up a corner point like a dorsal fin on a shark.

 

Assemble the Pieces:

Once you have collapsed all four corners you are ready to slide one side into the other like this:

 

 

It’s Time for the Glue!

Now that you know how to make the pieces, you need to glue them. To do this you need to allow the form to open back up a bit and add glue just on the edges underneath where the form will come together. You have a lot of surfaces to glue so apply only a small amount just on the edges, then close the form back up and hold it while the glue sets up. You need four of these units.

 

The Final Steps:

Now that you have four of these smaller units you will need to combine them to make the ball. Find the side of a unit that has a line down the middle. This is the side you will need to glue. Be sure each time to glue these sides together.

Once two are glued together you have a hemisphere. Create another one to complete the ball.

The Finished Form:

When gluing the two halves together be sure that the two pieces are going in the opposite direction when they come together. You can see that they fit together better this way than the other way which leaves a gap. Add glue and hold the two sides together to finish the form. If you have gaps on the seams you can take a three by five card and put a little glue on both sides of a corner and insert it into the gaps to apply glue to each side then pull the card out and press the edges together to close the gap.

 

This is especially fun if you can find paper with pictures of animals and plants on them. By combining the patterns you make little Ecological Realms that look like little planets. These can be hung from strings and dangled from the ceiling to make nice mobile units. They also make great objects to set into a room to bring out the colors of the seasons. How will you use them?  Have fun!

The Insect Methusalah: The Cicada

Do You Know?

What insect can make a noise louder than a rock concert, equal to a chain saw, and  be heard up to half a mile away?

What insect lives up to 17 yrs. underground before emerging as an adult?

What insect buries itself up to 8 feet underground where it sucks on tree roots?

What insect emerges every 17 yrs. in plague-like numbers in the Eastern United States?

What insect is often fried up and eaten and called the “ground shrimp”?

Cicadas are one of the most interesting of all insects. They come in many varieties. There are more than 2,500 species world-wide. The only continent where they are not found in Antarctica. These insects are often called the insect Methuselah’s because of their longevity.

Now That’s Odd!

Some species can live up to 17 years underground before emerging as adults. These Cicadas are known as the Periodic Cicadas. Other Cicadas have one year annual cycles,  3 yrs. , or 13 yrs. cycles. Did you notice these numbers are all odd numbers? Scientists are not sure why but this seems to be consistent with all the species.

Life Cycle

Where does the cycle begin? The female Cicada makes slits in the outermost twigs of tree branches. She then inserts her eggs. One female can lay up to 600 eggs. About 6 weeks later when the nymphs come out of their egg cases they fall to the ground and begin digging. They can dig up to 8 feet underground to find the juicy roots of trees from which they feed. Their long needle-like mouth-parts stab into the roots from which they extract a constant flow of sap. Depending on their species, they can stay underground for a year or up to 17 years (the Periodic Cicadas). Once they burrow their way back up to the bases of tree trunks, they climb up and split their nymphal skins down their backs and crawl out as adults. This old skin remains attached to the tree. When they first emerge their wings are all crumpled up, but after a few hours they pump up their wings and dry them out and become strong fliers. They then go to the tops of the trees where they spend the adult portion of their lives. This is a short period of time compared to that underground. Usually they are adults for only 5-6 weeks if they survive the many predators that feed on them.

Who Eats Cicadas?

Cicadas have many enemies that feed on them. These include: birds, many kinds of rodents: like squirrels, moles, mice, and rats. Other mammals, like bats, also feed on them. Lizards, and even fish will eat them. Believe it or not, even people eat them! Ever heard of stirred fried Cicadas? About every 17 years when the Periodic Cicadas of the Eastern United States emerge, many restaurants will offer special meals of Cicadas prepared by some of the finest chefs of the world. I have never tried them, but some people call them “ground shrimp”. They usually fry up the nymphal stage when they emerge in large numbers.

Noisy Males

If you hear the noise of the Cicadas you are hearing the males. They have special noise boxes, that are similar to drums, on the sides of their abdomens. These structures are known as “tymbals”. They make noises to attract females as well as other sounds to warn other males to stay out of their territory. Each species has its own unique sound. They can collectively create the noise up to 110-120 decibels. That is equivalent to that of a chain saw, or a rock concert! That’s a lot of noise! Interestingly, if you hold a live male in your hand it will often make this sound to try to scare you away. It is amazing how God designed these insects so they could emit such a loud sound.

Hard to Locate

You would think that anything that made that much noise would be easy to locate. Believe it or not, it is not easy to locate a singing Cicada. This is partly due to the fact that more than one of them are singing at the same time.They are a lot like ventriloquists that seem to send their voices elsewhere. I once heard a Cicada and was only about three feet away and didn’t see it until it moved. The sound seems to come from everywhere at the same time. It’s interesting that the females can distinguish where the males are and find them quickly even when their are several different species in the same location. They can find their mates and reproduce their young. This is the primary purpose of adult Cicadas.

The Better to See You

As you can see in the above photo, Cicadas have two large compound eyes on the sides of their heads. In addition, they have three small simple eyes right in the middle of their heads. If you look closely, you will also notice that they have a tiny pair of antenna. Their legs are jointed and they have claws on the ends of their feet with which to grasps branches and the bark of trees.  Look closely, you may also see the long, needle-like mouth tucked up under their belly. It looks a lot like a bird’s beak. These sometimes are up to a half inch long.

Not Harmful to Man

Though they might look menacing, they actually cause no harm to man. They are very interesting to examine up close.

Interesting Experience

I recall one summer while serving as a camp counselor in Northern California. I heard a cry coming from the mountain top where summer campers were sleeping in a large Teepee. One of the girls woke up and saw a monster crawling up the side of her tent. Because the light from the outside came through the cloth the image of an emerging nymph was magnified and appeared to be many times its actual size. It really did look scary from the inside of the tent. Once I removed it and showed it to the girl and her tent- mates and explained that it was harmless,  all again was calm on the hill. 

Half Wing

Cicadas belong to the insect order Homoptera. This term means “same wings”. The Cicadas have one large pair of wings and one smaller pair. The smaller pair are one half as large as the front pair. Their wings are transparent and veined.  Other members of this order include the aphids, tree hoppers, and leaf hoppers.

 

Waxy Coat

Cicadas are covered with a waxy coat that helps shed water. Their wings also are hydrophobic, and repel water. This is a good thing for the Cicadas because they often live in very moist places. It also keeps their wings ready for flying when necessary to avoid predators or find a new location. God gave these insects everything they would need to survive.

Plague-like Numbers

One of the most amazing things about Cicadas is the vast numbers that can emerge in a matter of weeks! The Periodic Cicadas of the Eastern United States, which emerge every 17 yrs., can come out in numbers that equal up to tens of thousands to 1.5 million insects per acre. That is like the Biblical plagues of the Old Testament times. In these numbers they can be a nuisance, getting squished on the pavement, covering branches of trees and sidewalks. These vast numbers provide a feast for many animals that take advantage of their appearance. In just a short while all of the remnants of these creatures will be gone, eaten and recycled. Their bodies provide nutrients for the soil and food for many fungi and bacteria in the soil.

Now It’s Your Turn to Take Time to Look at and Study Them!

So….the next time you encounter a Cicada, take time to take a closer look. They are marvels of design and very interesting to observe. The closer you look the more amazing they are. They definitely demonstrate the marvelous design of their Creator.

 

 

 

Let’s Learn About Zipper Spiders

What’s This In My Yard?

Have you ever gone outside your house and come across one of these amazing spiders? Have you ever wondered why God made spiders? After all, many people are scared of these creatures!

These spiders are our friends. They help control the insects in our gardens and around our houses. They specialize in flying insects. They also are fun to watch and feed. They have many interesting habits that make them a favorite of many people.

Many Common Names

These spiders are known by many common names. Some people call them black and yellow garden spiders while others call them banana spiders,  corn spiders, and writing spiders. Why so many names, you might ask? Well, people have a tendency to name things for what they observe the spiders doing. These spiders seem to “write” in their webs. Though not words, like in the movie Charlotte’s Web, The designs do suggest writing. Sometimes you will find the letter X , other times just a long zigzag line down the middle of the web. Those that make the X shape are often called St. Andrew’s Spiders. One way to name these spiders with a name used all over the world is their scientific name: Argiope aurantia. This Latin name means “orange spider“, as they often have an orange tint with the yellow and black. Sometimes they even appear silvery when the sun reflects off their hairy bodies.

Zip It Up

If you look closely you can see a zipper shaped pattern down through the middle of their web. There are many ideas about its purpose but it seems that it helps prevent larger creatures from running into the net-like web. It also reflects ultra-violet light that is visible to insects. Some scientists believe it attracts insects into the web.

Good Vibrations

One interesting behavior you might experience with these spiders is when you approach their webs. They have a tendency to vibrate their webs by swinging up and down in the middle. This apparently startles some predators and makes the spiders appear even bigger than they are….And they  are big for spiders!  If the vibrations don’t scare off their enemies they have a habit of dropping off the web and running into a leaf nearby. They sometimes hide in these places until a hapless insect gets caught in the net, but usually they sit right in the middle of the web, head down, ready to run and wrap up any insect that get caught in the web. When an insect hits the web it send signals through the web to the waiting spider. It runs out and shoots out webbing on the victim. It then rolls it up into a package to secure it and immobilize it from fighting back. Sometimes the spider is ready for a meal immediately and it sinks its fangs through the package and starts sucking out the juice from the insect that has been liquified by the poison injected into it. The poison also affects the nervous system of the insect putting it to sleep. Other times the spider keeps its meal for later to consume at its leisure. Once the insect is drained of its nutrients the spider cuts the insect loose to fall to the ground to be recycled in the soil or eaten further by other creatures.

 

Not Harmful to Man

 

Though these spiders are poisonous to insects, they pose little danger to man. I have often held them in my hand without being bitten.  Some people do have allergic reactions to insects and spider bites, but these spiders have rarely caused any concern. I recommend that you watch them without trying to hold them in your hand. It’s good for the spider and allows you to see their unusual behaviors.

Circular Reasoning:  Orb Webs

One of the most amazing things about spiders is their web making abilities. They have several tiny spinnerets on their abdomens that shoot out various types of webbing. Some of it is sticky and some is not. This type of spider is called an Orb Weaver. It makes a circular or oval shaped web. Orb weavers actually have an extra third toe on their feet for handling the webbing. They create beautiful designs with the protein based substance ejected from their spinnerets.  They have special webbing to make their egg cases as well.

Egg Sac

This picture was taken by my friend, Heather Davis. Thank you.

 

The Night Shift

One thing that amazes me is how they redo their webs every night. Did you know they recycle the webbing by eating it and then reusing the protein in future webs. Webbing is very important to spiders. The patterns they make are a testimony of their God given talent for making designs that are not only beautiful but very functional. Most of their web building takes place at night after a day of sitting and waiting for prey. They are born with this ability and need not learn how to make a web. God equipped them so they would be ready right from the get-go! If you think this is a simple task, just try making a web from string. It is a difficult task and it won’t function as well as the spider’s web.

Watch for Tiny Males

One thing that is harder to see is the tiny male spiders. They often build smaller webs near the female’s large web. After mating with the females they quickly die off. Their primary purpose is providing sperm for the females to fertilize their eggs.

 

How Many Babies in One Egg Case?

Talk about having all your eggs in one basket! The female creates a brown papery egg case that is full of eggs. 400 to up to 1400 eggs are found in one egg case! These egg cases are about 1 inch in diameter. The females can create two or three of these egg cases which hold their young. The babies hatch out in the fall and remain inside the egg case until the springtime. “Why so many?” You might ask. Only a few of the spiderlings will make it to maturity. They are eaten by other spiders and other creatures when young. By having so many young, the spiders can insure that some will survive to carry on the species.

Do You Want to See Them in Action?

One of the funnest things to do is to feed the spiders and watch what they do. Catch small insects and toss them into the web. Sometimes they will pass right through without hitting a strand of webbing, but when they do, you will see a lot of action. The spider will quickly feel the vibration of the struggling insect and run out to subdue it. I like to catch grasshoppers and crickets to feed them but they also love flies, moths, butterflies and other insects. If you find a large spider you can feed it several times a day.

 

Don’t Be Afraid of Me!

Though I might look scary to some, I really am your friend. I help keep the bugs in your yard under control and love to provide entertainment for a meal.

 

 

The Doodlebug: Avoid the Pit!

What are all these little pits in the sand?

 

Have you ever seen a Doodlebug? They are also known as Ant Lions. They have an amazing way to catch their food. You can learn a lot from these creatures. Have fun learning about the Doodlebugs.

Strange Creatures:

Ant lion adults look a lot like tiny dragonflies, however, if you look closely, you will notice several differences. If you look at their antennae you will notice they have little clubbed-shaped nodules on their ends. If you see an ant lion adult flying you will also notice that they are weak fliers compared to the mighty dragonflies.

Scary Looking Larvae:

If you use a spoon to dig under the larvae in the pits you will notice they are hard to see since they are the same color as the sand around them. Watch for movement and you will find a creature with long sickle-shaped mandibles  and a very hairy body. In one of the Star Trek movies a similar looking creature was created as a parasite that entered the ears of their victims. Well, the ant lions don’t harm humans, so don’t be afraid to handle them. They are, however, a real threat to ants and other small insects and spiders.

How They Capture Their Prey:

Rather than hunting their prey, they trap them by digging little funnel-shaped pits in the sand by going backwards in little circles while flipping out sand as they dig. This is why they are called Doodlebugs because they seem to doodle in the sand. Once the pit is dug the larvae stay just under the surface with the tips of their mandibles slightly sticking out. When an unsuspecting ant crawls by it creates a small vibration. When the ant lion feels this it shoots out tiny grains of sand that knock the victim off the edge and into the pit. Once in the pit the ant lion further disturbs the sand so the pit collapses around the ant trapping it. Next, the long mandibles are inserted into the ant and a digestive juice is injected into the victim’s body. This chemical also paralyzes the prey. The ant lion then sucks out the fluid inside the ant like sucking soda through a straw. Once the ant is drained of fluids it it flung out of the pit and the Doodlebug reconstructs a new pit for another victim.

If you find these tiny pits in the sand you can catch an ant and drop it in to watch the action. If you want to see the larvae you have to dig them out.

Do You Want To See Them?:

 

If you Click below  you can open the Power-Point presentation which shows some I caught in Idaho while visiting. You can also open it in Keynote, if you have that app.

 

 

The Doodlebug

Paper Pyramid Possibilities

Make Your Own Paper Sculptures

When I was in college my roommate and I liked to fold origami. One day, while working with the traditional German Bell fold, we tried to combine several units (50 or so!) to form a bigger sculpture. Even though we achieved the feat of making a large sculpture, we thought, “If only we could figure out a way to make the sides straight, we could construct even more shapes with sturdy sides.” Well, after fooling around a bit we discovered that if we only folded the point of each corner to the bottom of the side, we could make straight sided pyramids. Wow! What a difference it made!

Interesting History:  While traveling with a quartet singing group in college we traveled to many states. While traveling in a Dodge van I folded many sculptures and gave them away at the stops along the way. Two years after I gave away one project I found it in a glass hutch still on display when I returned to the area on another trip. I also often used the rocket and satellite folds in a devotional at campfires and chapels. They were used to illustrate the need for taking the message of the Gospel to all the world just like the satellites are constantly communicating messages below.

 

After many years of perfecting the folds and finding new ways to combine them I thought it would be fun to share some of these with you. What kinds of things can you make using these pyramid units?

It All Starts With A Square:

To begin the fold you need a square of paper. Fold an X on one side, then turn it over and fold a cross. This gives you the lines to mark the folding pattern.

Next, you turn the paper in the diamond pattern. then fold an airplane point on the end like this:

 

Next, you fold the pointed end back down to the intersection of the cross shape below:

 

Fold Backs Are Important!

Repeat this on all four corners of the diamond. Don’t forget to fold the pointed ends back down on each corner. It may even look like it is already folded on one side, but it is not on the other. To check to see if you did it correctly, just look in the center of the diamond and you should see a square in the center. If one side of the square is missing, that is the point that needs to be folded back to the middle.

This Will Do In A Pinch!

Pinch in the middle of each side and you should see the star shape above. Next, you will lift the four points up to form the pyramid.

 

Part of the trick is when you glue it together. Before you glue the sides up, put a little glue inside two opposite sides and press down. This will keep the form from bulging out in the middle and makes it much easier to glue up the side pieces. (Hint: Do not do this when making the Gluck Interlock!)

 

Gluing Secret To Making A Sharp Looking Form:

Next, you will apply glue to outside edges of the pointed sides so they make contact with the upright middle points to form the pyramid. Be sure to put the glue only on the edges since the middle part does not make contact when the sides are raised. Just a thin line of glue will work. Too much will only take longer to set and will ooze out and ruin your forms appearance.

Many Ways To Combine The Base Units:

Now that you have learned how to fold and glue them into pyramids, lets see some other ways to combine them to make interesting shapes.

You can just start gluing them together on the sides. Here is what that looks like:

Discovering New Ways To Combine The Pyramids:

Through the years my students and I have found many ways to combine the units. Here are a few of the notable ones:

The Gluck Interlock: Take one unglued form and place it upside down on top of another unit. Glue in place. This base form gives you many places to glue additional units.

If you start with one Gluck Interlock and place a pyramid on every surface you will construct a neat satellite like the one on the right below:

 

If you stack five Gluck Interlocks on top of one another then add a nose cone and fins, you get the rocket on the left above. Using hole punches you can decorate the sides to make a more interesting sculpture.

Experiment and you may discover other ways to combine them to make many interesting projects. One of the most amazing is the Globe Base seen at the middle of this sculpture:

In the above sculpture I added pyramids to the six end pieces to make this form.

One of my students was trying to make a Gluck Interlock and stumbled upon a new interlock. This is the Voiles Interlock: It looks like a crystal and allows you to make long straight columns:

Another student glued seven of the pyramids into a circle to make the Keifer Interlock: You can see the wheel base in the center of this star form to which I added seven outer pyramids:

        Star Attraction:

What If You Start With A Triangle?:

If you start with a triangle, instead of a square, you can make long, slender triangular pyramids. They can also be combined to make many interesting form. Here you can see some insect legs combining several units:

By combining these forms together the possibilities are endless. I have had students construct many different animals, buildings, aircraft, vehicles, and more. One student even made a robot from Star Wars.

This was one I made to hang in my classroom. We called it the Revolving Rooster.

The project below uses thirty eight pyramid units.

 

 

 

 

 

 

See what can be made from triangle units below. These were made with recycled computer paper from the days when the paper had holes along the sides to be pulled through the printer on sprockets.

Spike Forms from Triangle Pyramids

  Pyramid Crab Sculpture

 

 Free Form Pyramid Designs

 

Now It’s Your Turn!:

So…..The Question Is……What can you make?

Sensational Sharks

One animal that is feared by many is the shark. Though they do need to be respected for the potential harm they can cause, they often are greatly misunderstood. These animals can actually show us a lot of specialized design features that God built into their bodies to increase their ability to survive in the oceans of the world.

Bodies Covered With Teeth!

Let’s take a  closer look at some of these features. Have you ever held a shark in your hand or felt their skin? It feels like sandpaper. If you run your finger up one direction and then the other you will feel quite a difference. Shark skin is actually very different than other fish. It looks like thousands of tiny shark teeth overlapping one another. These are called placoid scales. In a sense, the shark’s entire body is covered with teeth. When I caught these fish several children and adults wanted to touch them before I returned them to the sea. It is quite and experience. 

This design has a function. It actually reduces the resistance of the water’s drag on the fish as it swims. Mankind has even taken lessons from the shark and used this surface feature in wet-suits and the surfaces of submarines and other water vessels. It also provides a protective surface on the shark’s exterior. Shark skin is actually used as sandpaper in many seaside communities around the world. This type of sandpaper is called Shagreen.

Crystal Eyes:

Next, let’s look at the shark’s eyes. These can vary a lot between the different species of sharks according to where they live and how the feed. The two I caught have eyes like this:

Did you know shark’s eyes actually have crystal inside them? These are Quanine crystals that are highly reflective. This enables the sharks to see in darkness.  In addition, some sharks actually have special eye coverings that cover the eyes like goggles.

No Bones About It!: Sharks Are Very Flexible!

Did you know, sharks do not have bones in their skeletons?  Instead, they have a skeleton that is very flexible composed entirely of cartilage. Cartilage is like the material in your nose and ear that holds the shape of these body parts. Imagine if your skeleton was composed of cartilage instead of bone. You would not be able to stand up. Sharks, of course, live in the water and cartilage is a great material for animals that do not need to bear the weight of their bodies like land animals. God knew just what would make the best skeleton for these creatures.

Designed for Speed:

Notice also their streamlined bodies. They have a pointed head and an extremely long tail.

Five Kinds of Fins:

Most people actually identify sharks by their pronounced dorsal fins, the ones on their backs that stick up out of the water at times. Some sharks actually have two different dorsal fins. The various fins act along with the tail to provide direction and propulsion. The tail is asymmetrical.  The top part of the tail is much longer than the bottom. Besides the dorsal fin, they also have pectoral fins. These are the two on the front just behind the head. These are the primary ones used in steering. Most sharks also have anal, caudal and pelvic fins which provide stability. Sharks are very fast in the water and can change directions in an instant in order to chase down their prey.

The various fins of the shark allow them to be very graceful swimmers that can turn on a dime to pursue their prey.

Sharks Are Very Sensitive!

If you look closely on the bottom of the head you will find some very sensitive nasal passageways that allow the shark to smell blood and other body fluids in the surrounding water. Having two of these sensors, one on each side of their head,  allows them to sense the direction of the source of these fluids so they can track down their food. In addition to their nostrils, sharks also have special sensors in their heads that are collectively called Ampullae Lorenzi. With these sensors they can even detect animals buried in the sand. It’s kind of like a metal detector only it works to find living things.

 

Two Toned With a Purpose:

As you can see in the pictures in this post, sharks are white on the bottom and darker on the top. This protects them from would be predators that might see them from above, and from larger sharks that might see them looking up from the bottom of the ocean. This color arrangement also conceals them so they are not seen by the animals they prey upon until it is too late to escape.

 

I caught these sharks while fishing of the end of a pier in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They seemed to like the shrimp and squid I was using for bait. After removing the hooks I returned them to the sea. While we were fishing we saw a large shark cruising by the front of the pier.  Apparently the sharks have learned they can find some good feeding out where fishermen dump their fish carcasses after cleaning their fish. Some fishermen actually chop up bait fish and dump it into the ocean as chum to attract fish. Since the beaches next to the pier are used by swimmers, this practice is regulated in many areas to protect those swimming nearby. Sharks can be very aggressive when there is blood in the water. Sharks, however, have been feeding in these waters for thousands of years. Some varieties swim in schools that patrol the shallow waters near the shoreline. Others are found far off shore feeding on smaller fish, crabs, lobsters, squid and octopus. The large Great White Sharks can even capture and eat sea lions and seals! Some have been known to even attack whales.

Important Creatures in the Sea.

Sharks are important creatures in the food chains of the sea. They help regulate populations of other creatures, that if unchecked, would over populate the region. Sharks also help remove some of the dead organisms in the water as well. Because of the bad press they get and their portrayal in films like Jaws, they are often feared and hunted and killed. Sharks used to be hunted for their fins which are used to make shark fin soup which is a delicacy in many places. Some shark species have been hunted almost to extinction. Many rules have been established by the fishing industry to help remedy this problem.  Recently, however, the sharks have been making a come back. Much education about sharks has changed man’s perception of these interesting animals. Most fishing services encourage those fishing on their boats to release the sharks if caught while trying to catch other fish species. Some scientists actually go out and catch sharks and place special tracking devices on them and then release them. In this manner they can find out a lot about the shark’s life style and movement around the ocean. With so much attention on the sharks, public sentiment has changed greatly over the last 20 years. Interestingly, you are much more likely to die from being stung by bees, hit by lightning, be in an auto accident or some other means than ever being attacked by a shark. It is important, however, to heed the warnings of the beach patrol if several large sharks are seen cruising near swimming areas. Let them eat the fish and move on to other waters.

 

The Eastern Box Turtle: An Open and Shut Case!

What Happened here?!!

To the Rescue!

 

On a hike up the hill today, in the wooded area of Middle Tennessee, I came across an interesting situation. Apparently a battle had just occurred and the loser was upside down near a mating pair of Eastern Box Turtles. The smaller male as well as the larger one had come looking for the female following the pheromones she released into the air signaling that it was time for mating. The unfortunate loser was trapped on his back and couldn’t right himself. With legs kicking in the air, he quickly withdrew into his shell and snapped the door shut when I came near. After taking several photos and watching the process for awhile, I righted him and left him in the forest to fend for himself. Hopefully the next time he seeks a mate he will be a little bigger and wiser.

Here you see the mating couple.

 

Nearby was the loser of the battle trapped upside down in his shell.

 

Here is the loser in my hand showing the bottom side of his shell. As you can see, God gave these turtles an excellent way to protect themselves by not only having a shell, but a trap door to shut to keep their enemies out. This is an amazing example of God’s “bio-engineering”. We can learn a lot from creation about how to design our own projects. This is quite a suit of armor for these little turtles!

How Big Do They Get?

As you can see, he is just a little guy. Interestingly, these turtles are usually between 4.5 and 6 inches long. Sometime, since they grow to extreme ages, some over a hundred years, they have a long time to develop, some have grown to over 7 inches.

 

Here is the same turtle from the top side. As you can see, he fits comfortably in my hand.

So how do you tell the males from the females?

 

Generally the males have red irises (eyes) and the females have brown irises. The males also have a concave plastron (bottom of shell), this allows the males to stay on top of the females during the mating process.

So What Were They Doing on the Mountain Top?

 

You might think it funny that I found these three turtles on top of a hill far from the water. They are actually terrestrial turtles. They live on land. These turtles have been found at altitudes as great as 6,000 ft. They prefer forests made up of both evergreens like conifers and cedars, and deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves annually) where the soil is moist and full of insects, worms, snails, slugs, and vegetation.

 

Omnivores: We Eat Our meat and Veggies!

 

Box turtles have a varied diet and will consume both plant and animal material. They will even eat mushrooms. One of their favorite foods seem to include a lot of beetles and their larvae. They like berries, flowers, grasses, and many other types of vegetation as well that grows in this habitat.

  

Do They Make Good Pets?

 

Though many people keep box turtles as pets its important to check with the local laws to see if this is allowed in your state. Some states even require documentation of where you bought your pet turtle, if purchased in a pet store. In Tennessee it is unlawful to have any turtle in captivity, so leave them where you find them. (This law was passed due to the danger of illness caused by the bacteria that is often found on turtles that can be passed to handlers causing food poisoning and other illnesses. It also prevents people from getting them as pets and then releasing them into the wild that destroys the natural food chains and balance there.  If you can keep them as pets in your state, remember that having a pet requires you to maintain their habitat and provide food. You need to make sure that your pet gets lots of sunlight, or artificial UVA and UVB light. A full spectrum of light is required to keep them healthy. They acquire their vitamin D3 from exposure to these light rays. You also need to regulate the temperature in their dwelling place at between 85-87 degrees F. Remember also, that they will probably outlive you, if cared for properly, so you have to plan ahead for their upkeep when you are gone from this earth. And yes, even though they are terrestrial, they need water!

If you keep these turtles you will also have to provide lots of insects, like beetles, and their larvae (like mealworms),  jumping insects, like crickets and grasshoppers, as well as worms. The ratio of their diet should be about 10% dark leafy greens, 40% vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, and 50%, the high animal protein foods listed above. Most people also augment their diet by sprinkling calcium powder on the food so the turtles can ingest it and have stronger bones, claws, and shells.

One common problem of those that keep box turtles is when the turtles get a respiratory disease. If your pet starts wheezing, has labored breath or clogged nostrils, you may have to take him to the vet to get a treatment to make him healthy again. If your turtle gets these symptoms you will also have to change the substrate in the bottom of the cage with new and realize that the turtle environment must remain moist. To keep it moist and not soggy, use a mister spray frequently.

If you find them in the wild, as I did, it’s probably best to leave them there then  go and visit them to study and enjoy these amazing creatures for years to come. In some regions their populations have declined due to over-harvesting and road kill as they frequently cross the road to get to the other side.

Fabricating Fabulous Forms For Fun

 

Combining Units 

One of my favorite varieties of origami is Unit Origami. In this art form you combine several modular pieces to create a larger form. Using the same base you can make several different models. Here are a few of the forms I made with the same base unit. You can also make larger and smaller objects by varying the size of the squares of paper you begin folding. By adding dots made with a hold punch you can add color and texture to your piece. There are several ways to modify the designs by changing the colors of the dots as well as the placement. One of the reasons I like this unit is that it requires no glue to hold the original form together. I did use glue to attach the dots.

 

I See Spots!

 

Let’s Make Some Dice!

If you add spots, you can make your own set of dice.

What Can You Make With 12 Units?

Here is a geometric form composed of 12 units. It is about the size of a baseball if you make it with squares that are created by quartering a sheet of copy paper. Of course, you will have a small strip of paper left over after folding the paper in quarters and folding it diagonally to make squares. Did you notice that the dice above were made with smaller units than the globes? These were made with squares cut from the strips leftover from the globe construction.

 

One of My Favorite Origami Books

There are actually more than one way to create the units used in these forms. The units I used in all the previous projects are a variation of one I found in Steve and Magumi Biddle’s book, Essential Origami.   You can find the directions for folding the units on pages 173-176 of their book. To make an easier unit, but with less color, just roll the paper to the center twice instead of going beyond the center and reverse rolling. Below you can see a cube made with the Biddle units and an example of the units used to compose the cube next to a modified unit of the same size.

Below is a picture of one of my favorite origami books.

How Would You Use Them?

By experimenting with this unit you can find others ways to combine them. They can be used in a wide variety of ways including: making your own indoor baseballs to play catch, using several combined forms to create mobiles, using forms as knick-knacks and conversation pieces, making your own playing dice for game play, and more. Fill one of the small cubes with beans or rice and you have a Hackensack, You can also use the small globes as Christmas tree decorations. How could you use them?