Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

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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.

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Glass Mollusks

Last year, I went to Northampton, MA, around Halloween. I’ll be honest, I went there because they have perhaps the #1 best yarn store in the country. Even if you aren’t a yarn enthusiast, it’s also just a fun place to wander around, window shop, stop in a cafe for a cup of coffee, etc. Speaking of coffee, one of my favorite things in Northampton is this sign at the parking garage:
(photo: Quinn Dombrowski)

In one of the stores I wandered into, there were these really cool blown glass pieces that featured various sea creatures including some mollusks:

These are all pieces that are collaborations between local glass artists Joe Peters and Peter Mullers. You can check out the website about their collaboration for more of their work. It’s really cool.

This is contemporary artwork, of course, but you may know that glass mollusks are something of an artistic tradition. Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka were 19th century glass artists who made exquisite models of marine invertebrates for educational institutions, back before well-preserved specimens were available.

Seriously, just check out this dissected cuttlefish. It’s made of glass.

This is something you can see if you happen to be in Galway, Ireland, where the National University of Ireland has a Zoology and Marine Biology Museum. Cornell University, my alma mater (Go Big Red!), also has a collection in the Mann Library.

Of course, if you’re interested in the work of the Blaschkas, you simply must to go to the Harvard Natural History Museum. They don’t have glass mollusks there, but they do have the most incredible collection of glass plants and flowers. You step into that room in the museum, and it’s just cases and cases of specimens.
Glass Flower Case
(photo: Curious Expeditions)

Then you look at them up close, and thinking that these things are made by hand, and out of glass, and your mind is just blown by pure craftsmanship.
Glass Flowers: Pink Cactus Bloom
(photo: Curious Expeditions)

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Welcome to Circus of the Spineless #59! The theme of this month’s carnival is the internet, and how I seem to spend my time on it when not blogging about mollusks. I’ve enumerated the posts in this carnival to help you distinguish them from all my other blather.


It’s no secret to anyone who knows me in real life that I spend a lot of time with yarn. Knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving, and various other yarny esoterica are big fun for me. As it were, the internet and all things yarn have a deep and abiding love for one another (point of fact: the knitting and crocheting social networking site, ravelry, has over a million members!). One of my favorite crochet projects, one that has been exhibited virtually at the Institute for Figuring lies at the fascinating nexus of crochet, mathematics, and ocean science: the hyperbolic crochet coral reef. Check it out.

You can even catch it in real life right now at the Smithsonian.

1. Speaking of coral reefs, this sobering post at Deep Sea News is an important one to read. Coral reef health is a dire situation, and people making environmental policy need to take the data in this post to heart.

Youtube videos

Who doesn’t love a good youtube session? When I’m catching up with friends, laptops or smartphones inevitably emerge to show the latest awesome/hilarious video that somebody hasn’t seen yet. Animal combat is certainly a theme, whether it’s the famed Battle at Kruger, the Predator-scored catfight, or puff adder vs honey badger, but you know, I really love youtube videos about worms.

Of course, the video about the parasitic worm that infects snails in a rather gruesome way is a perennial favorite.

And I think this video of battling worms (it’s a bit like worm bear-baiting?) rivals the aforementioned Battle at Kruger in sheer brutality.

But yes, worms!

2. Over at Real Monstrosities, here’s a great post to help you sort out the world of worms. Some of them are so pretty in a nudibranch-like way! Whoops, is my bias showing?

Captioned Macros

Inevitably, all roads lead to icanhascheezburger and its ilk, the world of lolcats and other lolanimals. They seem to have become a form of communication unto themselves, complete with their own grammar. Turns out that some of my favorite captioned animal photos are arthropods. Just look at these isopods!

But yes, arthropods. A fecund topic for invertebrate bloggers.

3. Kevin at Deep Sea news has a great post about barnacle evolution. If those ancient barnacles could have done us the favor of allowing their soft parts to fossilize, these questions would be so much easier to answer.

4. Following that, if you’re interested in reading about the sex lives of barnacles, you’re in luck! Beasts in a Populous City has just the post for you.

5. Arthropods can be very photogenic. Stephanie Susan Smith captured a shot of one of the few spiders I can honestly say I’m afraid of, the black widow, at her photo blog.

6. Wanderin’ Weeta took the cutest photo of a globular springtail. Fun fact about springtails: they are hexapods that aren’t insects! Her photo is so cute, it’s almost begging for a caption.

Similar to this classic perhaps?

Wait, back to the topic at hand.

7. I love poetry as much as I love science, and they make such a great combination. Jade Blackwater pointed me to this poem about ants at The Pedestal magazine.

8. Ted C. MacRae blogs about a very formidable insect, the red-eyed devil, at Beetles in the Bush. The photography in this post is not to be missed if you like seriously grumpy-looking insects or that scene in Jurassic Park with the fringy-necked dinosaur.

9. NeuroDojo has two posts for us to enjoy: one is about the long-tongued nectar thief, which is a great post about a mistaken case of coevolution.

10. The other from NeuroDojo is a guest post commenting on Blackawton Bees, the paper authored by 25 children at the Blackawton Public School.

11. Dave Hubble blogs about a mystery beetle and the process of identifying it. Now I really want to do insect dissections with the students I work with.

12. The last of our arthropod roundup, but certainly not the least, is this post by Kevin at Deep Sea News directing us to the instructions for making a shrimp out of a bendy straw. Delightfully anatomical!

Shrimp, you say?

Baby animals

Part of me never abandoned the nine-year-old version of myself, that little girl who loved Lisa Frank trapper keepers emblazoned with psychedelic baby seals shooting through outer space on rainbows. In my adult life, this manifests as time spent on the internet looking at cute pictures of baby animals. Zooborns, cute overload, daily squee, they all provide the fix. But the best of all, which is why of course I saved them for last, are the baby mollusks.

Isn’t it just the cutest. Oh mollusks. There’s so much to talk about.

1. Danna at Squid a Day has this post that draws our attention to the new EU law requiring cephalopod research to adhere to the same laws as vertebrate research. Fascinating that all the research on cephalopod awesomeness (“intelligence” is really too loaded a word) is clearly having an effect on policy.

2. At Island Nature, we have a fantastic exploration–and gorgeous photography– of mudflat snail shells.

Snails! You know what are really cute? Baby snails.


So there you have it! Thanks to everyone who submitted, and thank you, dear readers, for indulging me as I share my internetting habits with you. Big thanks to Kevin Zelnio for keeping the circus traveling and to all of my fellow hosts, past and future. The next host of the carnival is Bug Girl, so you can send your submissions to her starting…now! If you want to email Bug_Girl, her email address is membracid, and it’s a gmail.com account.

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Holiday Mollusks

So it’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving has passed and Christmas us upon us, whether we celebrate it or not. I was reflecting whether mollusks play into how my family celebrates the holidays at all.

Perhaps if you’re New Englandy, you might have oyster stuffing with a holiday meal. Alas, no mollusks in our stuffing.

So where are the mollusks in our holidays?

That’s right. When this guy shows up, it’s about to get real.

If you haven’t played Mario Kart, my deepest sympathies, but basically this little squid is called a Blooper, and it’s an attack you can perform on other players to do this to their screens.

It’s actually a very mild attack, but it’s cute nonetheless. We played on Thanksgiving, can’t wait to play again at Christmas. Maybe some of you have mollusk-related holiday traditions?

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So maybe I’m referencing Wayne Newton, and that’s atrocious. In my head, I’m referencing Ferris Bueller, which makes it OK for this child of the 80s. Anyway, here’s a mollusk-free but nature-ful posst.

It’s been a slow sizzle between summer and fall in Central Park. It happens a lot later than in the Adirondacks or the Hudson Valley, but it’s pretty great, I must say.

The swan has moved in (perhaps for the whole winter?) and lets me know on a regular basis that I’m not welcome in its domain, which includes the walking paths around the Meer, it’ll have me know.

It’s OK with the occasional egret, however.

One of my favorite things I started seeing in the early fall this year were puffballs.

Then the warblers migrated through. They are so tiny, adorable, and yellow, and nearly impossible for me to photograph. It’s about like this:

Black-throated Green Warbler
(photo: The Zen Birdfeeder)

Then a gentleman in my neighborhood who, like me, celebrates a fall birthday, enjoyed his 107th! Dang!

The leaves finally started changing color.

Even the bald cypress trees, which are deciduous conifers.

The gingko trees started dropping their little vomit-bombs, but I forgive them this offense because they’re so lovely when they turn yellow.

It’s been lovely to witness. It gets a little ugly around here in the wintertime as whatever snow we get tends to leave straight away, but I’m sure there will be a picturesque moment here and there. As a parting image, my favorite that I took this fall.

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Story Time

My first job out of undergrad was teaching high school math and physics at a New York City public school. It was a crazy and truly unforgettable experience. One of the craziest things I had to do was come up with physics labs in a school that had no equipment to speak of and a laughable budget. “Teacher’s Choice” was the term for the check we got at the beginning of the year to pay for supplies. When I was a teacher it was about $200. This wasn’t that long ago; it’s not like $5000 in 2010 dollars or anything like that. In fact, teachers in NY get even less now than they did when I was in the classroom.

I blew a big chunk of that just on Halloween, because if doing math and science with M&Ms on Halloween is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Beyond that and some paltry other supplies (graph paper, colored chalk), any sort of project I wanted to do with my students was funded out of my pockets. As you can imagine, first year teachers in NYC aren’t exactly living high off the hog. There were a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. There was definitely a “physics of water balloons” lab. I think I did a pretty good job nonetheless. Once I demonstrated Newton’s second law by having students pull me–on rollerblades!–down the hallway keeping constant force on the spring scale between us. It was a pretty visceral way to experience acceleration–for me especially. Still, with a little more money, the kinds of things my students could have done. I could have had my math students build brilliant polyhedral sculptures with Zome Tools. I could have had my physics students making circuits that actually did things. The money just wasn’t there.

The point of this reverie is that microtransactions exist now, and you can make a difference for science teachers and students. Much as I hate to admit it, tossing a water balloon and measuring the distance to the splat isn’t likely to get a kid to pursue a career in physics. There are projects that will, and these projects need funding. Please consider giving a few dollars to Donors Choose. Don’t forget, there are prizes to be won!

Here’s a photo of a bunch of us from my cohort of math teachers in the New York City Teaching Fellows, mere weeks before heading into the classroom for the first time. The youthful idealism, it overwhelms me.

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Here’s a list the prizes being offered for donating some money to Donors Choose. Please consider funding these awesome projects, and help students in need learn about marine science!

Just forward your receipts to me at shellandmantleATgmailDOTcom, and you’ll be entered to win extremely awesome prizes. They include:

1. A book from the personal library of Kevin at Deep Sea News.
2. A song written about your favorite marine organism by Kevin at Deep Sea News.
3. A hand knit or crocheted mollusk of choice (read this post for a few of the possibilities), made by yours truly.
4. A styrofoam shrunken head crushed by the awesome pressure of deep sea, from Rick at Deep Sea News.
5. Dr. Al Dove will offer this class a guided behind-the-scenes tour at Georgia Aquarium (equivalent to about $300 for a school class of 25) if their project is fully funded (which it is!!!). But wait, there’s more! He will also give a BTS tour to the two biggest donors who identify themselves as DTF readers, plus one guest, when next they are in our fair city of Atlanta. Details here.
6. Mexican Squid memorabilia from Dana Staaf at the always awesome Squid A Day!

More to come! You can give as little as five bucks, or fully fund a project or two. Let’s raise some money and help some students!

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While I don’t blog exclusively about marine mollusks, I’m teaming up with the ocean blogosphere to raise money for students in need. Please join us and support ocean and environmental education in the United States. Every year science bloggers unite to raise thousands of dollars and impact thousands of students. You can make a difference and make a donation (tax-deductible!) of as little as $5 and as much as you like through Donors Choose. You can choose from the various projects we’ve highlited in which teachers need supplies to teach their students about marine science.

Sadly I can’t post the widget (WordPress doesn’t do javascript) but here’s the link again!

You may be pleased to know there’s more in it for you than just warm fuzzy feelings. If you donate, email your receipt to me at shellandmantleATgmailDOTcom, and you’ll be entered into a raffle for fabulous prizes! Prizes will be announced over time, but there are already some really great ones: Kevin over at the ever awesome Deep Sea News will be giving away a book from his personal library as well as writing a song about a winner’s favorite organism! Amazing. What rhymes with nudibranch?

My contribution to the raffle? I will knit or crochet the mollusk of choice for a winner. If you ask really nicely, I might consider making a non-molluscan marine organism, provided there’s a pattern. But don’t you want a mollusk? There’s conchs! Nudibranchs! How about this octopus? Not this particular one, made by my friend WonderMike, but one just like it!

Mrs. Octopus Dines On Starfish

I’ll be continuing to promote this cause for the duration of the drive, until November 9. So donate, let me know, and win something!

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