The first time I went to the New York State Museum in Albany, NY, I was in third grade. I went in someone’s mom’s van (did minivans even exist back then?), full of excitement because we were on our way to see Dinosaurs Alive!, the blockbuster museum exhibition that featured less-than-lifesize, groggy, animatronic dinosaurs. I remember thinking that it was awesome. Things have improved in dinosaur-related entertainment since then (though they’re still lacking feathers) because this puppetry is so much cooler.

Anyway, the second time I went to the New York State Museum was in October of this year, because for the second year in a row, rain thwarted my hopes of doing something autumnal over my birthday weekend, such as apple picking or visiting a Hubble Space Telescope-themed corn maze (not even joking). The museum was a good and dry alternative, and I was somewhat tickled that I was the only native New Yorker among the four of us that went. Seeing various cool things about New York shows me that I do, after all, have some pride in my home, even if it seems like I’m always scheming to get back to the west coast.

Be thankful I got a new phone for my birthday, because this is the last batch of crappy iphone photos and I’ve upgraded to less crappy iphone photos. Anyway, New York has a great history of cephalopod fossils. There was this impressively huge slab of rock festooned with ammonites.


Those, of course, had to be represented in diorama form as well.


The most interesting fossil to me was one I’d never heard of before.Climactichnites is a trace fossil of what is believed to be the tracks from a large, slug-like animal. It may have even been a land-roaming creature because the other features of the rock bearing its fossils show signs that the sediment was terrestrial. The slab of rock with these fossils was also impressively large, and those were some pretty big critters that laid down those tracks.


I especially love how the mystery animal signage lends to a carnival sideshow feel to the exhibit.

Thing one: I hope you’ve seen this incredible copepod picture that’s been around the internet. I saw it at Deep Sea News and BoingBoing.

OK, cool photo, but what do copepods have to do with NYC nature? A great fact I learned last year through interesting adventures involving using the Yeshiva University’s library as a work space is that NYC drinking water is not kosher. Because of copepods! They are crustaceans, after all. New York’s wonderful drinking water comes from upstate, and the water is of such a high quality that the water doesn’t get filtered in a way that impedes the copepods from getting in our drinking glasses. So for restaurants and homes to be truly kosher in New York City, the water needs to be filtered. You can read more about this at this website that is all about kosher certification, and of course the New York Times. I find this sort of intersection of faith and science fascinating, personally.

Now onto some different New York City nature. Last week, New York experienced some of the strangest and most unpleasant weather in my tenure here: mid to high 70s, with nearly 100% humidity. It was pretty gross. You know who didn’t find it gross? Fungus. On my walk to work, I saw so many different kinds of fungus that I have never seen before!


Seriously, what is that? Is it just some normal stage in puffball life that I’ve never seen before? In any case, I thought it was super cool.


There were some other ones I couldn’t get good photos of, too, like some lovely blue mushrooms. I think fungus is very cool, but I admit to knowing very little about it, which makes me want to dig out my copy of Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds and do some reading.

And because it’s Friday, I’ll throw in a lollusk for good measure.
The new "Lollusk" GMO Cat-Snail

I can’t believe I missed it this year! I have to forgive myself, though, because I did my first triathlon on Sunday and was pretty focused on surviving that challenge. Pity I completely forgot, though, because the race was in a state park and I indeed could have flipped a rock or two.

You should check out Wandering Weeta’s roundup of blog posts about IRFD, as well as the flickr group.

I’m really happy for the folks that found this slug this year! They think it’s a banana slug, which I’m sad to have never seen despite those years of living in Northern California.

(photo by Susan Thomsen)

Now, for a couple of Friday links.

1. It’s easy to find articles about invasive mollusks, or sad endangered species stories, but it’s heartwarming when you find an article about a snail thought to be extinct that isn’t!

2. I love how different fields in science intersect to do cool work, and here’s a story about studying climate– El Nino and La Nina in particular– by looking at fossil bivalves.

3. Lollusk! This one’s a cutie.

A couple of weeks ago my mom and I took one of our annual roadtrips. We decided to go someplace new to both of us: New Brunswick! And as I had to restate many times to New Yorker friends and colleagues: that’s Canada, not Jersey.

The Bay of Fundy is a very interesting place. As anyone who did Geography Bee in middle school might be able to tell you, the Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world (though people who live near Ungava Bay will dispute that).

In St. John there is a place called Reversing Falls, which is obviously a misnomer, but we did visit it twice and see rapids in two different directions, once when the river was rushing into the bay and once when the tide was rushing in stronger than the river rushes out!

The Hopewell Rocks are extremely cool formations in the Bay of Fundy caused by the tidal erosion, so of course we went at low tide. Check them out!




We were there just at the beginning of the window of time during which it’s possible to walk on the ocean floor among the rocks. I was curious what kinds of creatures might be able to live in this most extreme intertidal zone. My answer: snails!



The photos of these snails are a little wonky because they were well above my head! Many of them were also out and about rather than clamped onto the rocks, which I found curious. Apart from these snails and barnacles, there was a lot of kelp. The sea floor being exposed as the tide continued to go out was extremely muddy, so it didn’t look hopeful for seeing any other lifeforms. Still, what a cool place!

I tried to use the word EXTREME a lot in this post, if you hadn’t noticed.

Also, when you drive by a geodesic blueberry in middle-of-nowhere Maine, stopping for pie is recommended.


We’re battening down the hatches on the east coast (feel free to read that as stocking up on beer and poptarts), but I’ve got a few links for you.

1. There have been a few dead giant squid encounters recently, here’s a video of one near the Canaray Islands.

2. I confess to not being a huge fan of Florida, but I’d totally go if it meant I could go to the Shell Museum, which, by the way, is having a very cool amateur photography contest. I’d also go to Florida if it meant I could drink butterbeer at the Harry Potter theme park, or swim with some manatees, for what that’s worth.

3. The lake I grew up swimming in is being attacked by clams.

4. Dolphins use conch shells to catch fish! Super cool.

5. Have you seen the dancing snail video cresting its 15 minutes of internet fame? Clearly someone’s just blowing on the tentacles from off camera, but it’s still kind of cute.

6. Lollusk!

funny pictures - Reducing the drag, one inch at a time.












So I’m back from Maui and fully recovered. I’ve gone through the grieving process that I’m not there any more. So now is the time to report on the mollusks that I saw.

The short version: I didn’t see much in the way of mollusks.

The longer version: I saw no terrestrial mollusks. The first day I was there my husband pointed out a crushed snail shell in a parking lot that was rather huge. I’m guessing that might have been something invasive, like a giant African land snail. It didn’t strike me as particularly photogenic at the time, so I don’t have a photo of that for you.

On the road to Hana, we stopped at Ke’anae Beach Park, a point with waves crashing onto lava rocks dramatically. The tide was out-ish, so there were some tidepools to inspect, much to my delight. A couple of little snail sightings happened then.



Other than that, I spent a lot of time snorkeling, which was great. The only mollusk I saw while snorkeling was this cowrie at the Molokini Crater. Let me tell you, this thing was huge. I’d estimate along the long axis it was maybe 15cm. Definitely my best mollusk sighting of the week.


That was it. I realize lots of the mollusks that live in Hawaii are pretty small, but I also didn’t see any seashells on any of the beaches I visited.

So here’s the weird thing: Why is there such a surfeit of seashell atrocities being sold in Hawaii when there seems to be a paucity of (visible) shells in actual nature? It’s like buying souvenirs from a place somebody else imagined. Sounds like an Italo Calvino short story to me.

My next post will be all of the non-mollusk nature I saw. I had much better luck on that front, as you’ll soon see!

Friday links

It’s that time again:

1. Did you see the incredibly gorgeous squid photography in this boingboing post? If not, please click the link immediatamente.

2. I first saw this video on Deep Sea News. Squideo!

3. io9 has a hilarious post about snails who migrate via avian digestive tract. That’s one way to do it, I guess.

4. I was in my local diving emporium yesterday and they had a very lovely marine life video playing while I was waiting for my stuff to arrive on the magical conveyor belt coming out of the wall. One of the featured animals was the hooded nudibranch. Watching the video, I was all, where are the nudibranchs? Are they under those jellies? Turns out they were those jellies.

Hooded Nudibranchs
(photo: Vlad Karpinsky)

5. Why was I at my local diving emporium? Because this weekend I’m headed out of town, to Maui! I will of course report back with all mollusk findings. I don’t know that I’ll get to see any, but Hawaii has very cool land snails, many of which are endemic. They also have invasive snails. I’ll tell you about what I see regardless. Wish me mollusk (and sea turtle) spotting luck!

6. Have I used this lollusk? I lose track. This one’s a classic anyway.

I finally read The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky, who’s perhaps better known for his books Cod and Salt, neither of which I’ve read, as it turns out. The Big Oyster, however, I can recommend if you’re a lover of oysters and/or a lover of New York. I have a complicated relationship with New York, which I think might have actually enhanced my reading experience, because this book catches New York at its ups and downs.


A couple of things I thought about while reading this book:

1. It BLOWS MY MIND to think of a New York in which people could eat things out of the estuary. It also blows my mind to think that when people thought of New York back then, they might have immediately thought of oysters. Of course I understand that cities evolve, but imagining New York as anything other than the monolith it is today is really tough.

2. I do believe this book tips its hat quite a bit to Consider the Oyster, given the number of old recipes reprinted throughout.

3. I learned why baby oysters are called spats! Oystermen referrred to the mating process of oysters as “spitting.” therefore baby oysters had been “spat.” Delightful!

4. It’s amazing just how fast the overfishing started. In the oyster shell middens left behind by the native folks who lived on Manhattan, a decrease in shell size can be observed from the bottoms of the piles to the top. Oyster gathering had to be regulated practically as soon as it began by settlers. Foresight: we humans don’t often have it.

5. As someone who makes lots of things with my hands, I appreciate when some processes defy mechanization. Just as any goods made of wool start with some human being literally wrestling a sheep in order to shear it, there really isn’t a better way to shuck an oyster than by hand, with a knife.

6. The book is ultimatley quite depressing, naturally, given the state of wild oysters (that state is functionally extinct), but all hope isn’t lost and although we royally screwed up the harbor for a long time, it’s in a much better state now than it has been in an extremely long time, and more oyster reefs will only help with that.

By happenstance, the weekend before I read this book, I went to The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY. Don’t worry; I went to the Hall of Fame too. Naturally, I was there to see this sort of thing:


But mollusks are really never very far away. They’re one of the ways to ride the carousel:


(That’s an action shot taken from the frog I was riding). And oysters were prominently featured in the exhibition about foods of New York. As a native New Yorker, I have to feel pretty proud that my state has contributed such amazing delicacies as jello and potato chips to the culinary lexicon, and it was pretty neat to see some oyster memorabilia, all of which made more sense after reading The Big Oyster.


Another super fun thing about the Farmers’ Museum is that it plays host to one of the greatest of all hoaxes, The Cardiff Giant. What a great piece of humbug history!

Lots of good stuff came across my desk this week.

1. The Encyclopedia of Life has a podcast and their newest episode is about sea slugs. There’s also a recent one about giant squid.

2. Speaking of, giant squid in Florida! Gotta love local news.

3. A snail thought to be extinct isn’t.

4. Punxsutawney Phil he ain’t, but there’s a quahog that predicts how many days of beach weather Cape Cod will be getting this summer.

5. How mucous trails relate to snail mating habits.

6. Here’s a completely terrifying video of a snail eating a worm.

7. As a chaser, here’s a completely adorable video of a snail eating lettuce.

8. Wouldn’t be Friday link time without a lollusk!
funny pictures