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Archive for June, 2011

When I was in Seattle over Memorial Day weekend, I went to Tacoma for an afternoon of beer, wildlife viewing (seals and bald eagles! In an urban park!), and glass. I love Tacoma’s Museum of Glass. The first time I was there, quite a few years ago, there was a glass octopus!

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This time, there was an exhibition called Kids Design Glass. The idea is that perfectly simple kind of genius: kids make a drawing on paper and glass artists render that into a sculpture. Between the drawings, titles, and artist statements by the kids, it was absolutely laugh-out-loud funny. Apart from just being funny, it was also incredibly imaginative, exuberant, occasionally touching and sad, and beautiful. If you have a chance to get to the museum before the exhibition closes, I really really recommend it.

There were several repeating motifs in the sculptures: dinosaurs figured in several sculptures, as did pickles (?), and mollusks! One of them is a pickle/mollusk combo. Here’s the sculpture:

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Sorry it’s blurry, but this is the Pickle Buck, who lives on an island called Lava Squid and has “squids strapped so it can go.” Here’s the sculpture:

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I love the multicolor glass on those squid.

The other one was the Octopussy. Keep your giggles to yourself; this is a family exhbition. Here’s the drawing:
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Evil octopus! And the sculpture:

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Hm, five tentacles? We’ll chalk that up to imagination!

There’s a flickr set of the making of one of the (non-mollusk related) pieces. Check it out!

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It’s not too glamorous, but hey. When you live in New York City, wildlife that isn’t pigeons, cockroaches, and rats is a welcome sight.

I chaperoned a high school field trip to the wilds of New Jersey in the spring, during which there was lots of rock flipping and rooting around in the wilderness for different kinds of animals. We did pretty well, especially on the arthropod front: crayfish, isopods, centipedes, all sorts of bugs and spiders. On the mollusk front, there was only one find: I turned up a slug!

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I love how you can just see its little tentacles there. So cute.
I was thinking of this slug because I am currently reading (for the first time, if you can believe it) Watership Down, and I like that the hedgehogs sing to the moon to make the slugs come out:

O Slug-a-Moon, O Slug-a-Moon,
O grant thy faithful hedgehog’s boon!

I think I’ll sing this to the moon on the eve of International Rock Flipping Day this year, in hopes that I find mollusks and not earwigs.

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Considering the Oyster

Here’s an odd thing about me: I like watching cooking shows even though they’re so rarely vegetarian friendly. Top Chef, America’s Test Kitchen, Good Eats, good times! I don’t tend to read a lot of food writing (though I do enjoy me some Julia Child), but I did recently read Consider the Oyster by MFK Fisher, and I heartily recommend it. It was published in 1941, and while I confess to knowing little about the history of food writing, it seems ahead of its time. Her writing is remarkably fresh and contemporary to me, or maybe I’m stuck in a time warp. Both are plausible.

Consider the Oyster is a book of essays about oysters, with a little bit of natural history and a bunch of recipes. Everything is injected with MFK Fisher’s wit and strong opinions. It’s quirky and delightful and you should read it if you haven’t yet (It’ll take you all of an hour.). I think the parts where it feels not so fresh are in the recipes, because I don’t imagine anything that’s not bread but called a “loaf” is a part of the current culinary lexicon. Again, I could be totally wrong about that and Thomas Keller could have meatloaf on his menu as I’m writing this. He does, interestingly, always have the same oyster dish on his menu: Oysters and Pearls.

"OYSTERS AND PEARLS"
(photo: devlyn)

Now regarding the eating of oysters, last year we were told that vegans should consider eating them in this Slate article. To decide whether this a well thought-out argument or a justification from a guilt-ridden former vegan is an exercise left to the reader. The article is quite compelling to me, but I think I simply like mollusks too much to eat them.

Now Forbes is telling us that oysters are the new sushi. Faux trend articles are an actual trend, but color me intrigued. If people want to swap out tuna for oysters, OK by me!

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Happy Friday, everyone! I’ve got some links for you:

1. This is a totally fascinating article about how a species of all-male clams hijacks genes from other species when they parasitize their eggs. Super freaky stuff.

2. Also, invasive nudibranchs! I love nudibranchs, but these ones are bad news, as they prey on the native nudibranchs in the Bay Area. Nudibranch adundance is correlated with warming. These “killer” nudibranchs have been moving northward over the years, acting as an indicator for climate change.

Phidiana hiltoni Pugnacious Aeolid
(photo: marlin harms)

3. In octopus news, some researchers at Hebrew University have shown that an octopus can use a single arm to complete a complex task. I’m wondering how they got the octopus to refrain from using its other arms… I’m also bemused by the fact the article claims octopuses are “flexible as ballet dancers.” Come on, give the octopus some credit! It doesn’t have bones; surely it’s more flexible than a ballet dancer.

4. And, of course, a lollusk:

funny pictures - RELEASE DA KRACKON!
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

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So last time I just focused on the chitons, but there were many other very cool creatures to be seen at Golden Gardens during the minus tide on Memorial Day.

One of the very first things we saw as we walked toward where the shore birds were swooping (including one bald eagle!) was a sunflower sea star. I’ve never seen one of these before in the wild, so it was clearly already a good day.

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Another thing we saw a lot of were sand collars from moon snails. I’d never seen one of these either, believe it or not. Moon snails are vicious predators, and in fact In one of my chiton photos there’s a moon snail victim in the frame. You can tell from the circular hole drilled into the shell by the moon snail’s radula.

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Another extremely common sight were clam siphons sticking up out of the sand. I don’t know what kind of clams they were–maybe butter clams?– but it was funny to see them shoot jets of water into the air every once in a while. There were enough of them on the beach that you didn’t have to wait more than a few seconds to see one in your periferal vision. Kind of like watching a meteor shower.

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The undersides of boulders are good places to find things. A bunch of ocher stars are clinging to this one here.

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Under this boulder were a bunch of sea cucumbers. I’ve seen sea cucumbers while snorkeling in Alaksa, but the guides dove down to retrieve them from the sea floor. These are the first ever sea cucumbers spotted by mine own eyes. Also a lovely anemone in the photo.

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This rock is just covered in anemones. In my mind, one anemone got some delusions of grandeur and just cloned the crap out of itself.

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There were also lots of barnacle-encrusted boulders. Here’s one with a passing train in the background.

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And to bring things back to mollusks, here’s a little snail clinging onto a boulder. It’s a funny sensation to touch a shell to see if it still has something alive inside and feel it grip onto the rock. This dude wasn’t going to budge.

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All in all, a very good outing. I have to keep an eye on the tides here in New York and check out what’s to be seen in my own neck of the woods. A goal of mine is to see a horseshoe crab, another of my favorite invertebrates, along the water under the Brooklyn Bridge.

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I was in Seattle over Memorial Day weekend for a wedding, and there was a minus tide Monday morning. I couldn’t resist a chance to see some of the creatures that live in this most beloved habitat of mine. Seattle has a few spots to go tidepooling, but the one closest to where I was staying is Golden Gardens Park. The tide wasn’t that low, so conditions weren’t ideal, but my husband and I saw a bunch of cool stuff nonetheless, including some of my favorite mollusks, chitons! Here’s one of the ones we saw.

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I’m going to focus on chitons in this post because there’s some cool chiton news as of late: Chiton eyes! The extra cool thing: they are made of rock, aragonite in particular. They also seem to do more than just sense light and dark: in laboratory conditions, it seemed the chitons can perhaps tell the difference between threatening darkness from a predator’s approach as opposed to darkness caused by a cloud momentarily blotting out the sun. Also cool is that the eyes work either underwater or in air. That seems pretty handy if you happen to be living in the intertidal zone.

Chitons are not the only creatures with rock eyes. Trilobites had rock eyes too. Trilobite eyes were also made of calcium carbonate crystals, but a different crystal formation, namely calcite. Chitons are the first organisms discovered to have aragonite for their rock eyes.

The chitons we saw were mossy chitons, which I believe don’t have eyes, but they fascinating anyway. Here’s another that we saw.

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I keep comparing NMNH to AMNH, because I just can’t help it. I’m at AMNH probably about once a month, so I just know it well. Their fossils of vertebrate origins, dinosaurs, marine reptiles, extinct mammals, and animal relatives are truly amazing. I bet they also have a dandy invertebrate fossil collection, but they don’t display it. What a dream it would be to plumb the depths of that museum, open some drawers. Anyway, NMNH doesn’t actually have that many dinosaurs, so guess what that means? Inverts ahoy! Ammonites make the prettiest fossils, I must say.

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I’m so glad there’s a hand in here for scale, even if it does belong to Bruce Springsteen circa 1984.

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I love this action painting of ammonites getting chomped by a mosasaur.

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In addition to going to the Natural History Museum, I also went to the National Zoo! Obligatory panda photo:

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The amazing thing is that the National Zoo has a wonderful building devoted to invertebrates. The building is near the komodo dragon, which is also awesome, by the way. All sorts of cool invertebrates are on display in the building including insects, corals, echinoderms, etc, and mollusks, naturally. There were a bunch of nautiluses and one lone cuttlefish together in one tank.

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And a Pacific Giant Octopus in another tank, who made a run for it as soon as the camera came out. How cool! I was not expecting mollusks at the zoo; what a bonus. DC loves mollusks!

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