Sunday, May 4, 2014

Where Did That Ambulance Come From?

My parents loved to go for evening rides into the mountains when I was a child. One night when I was about four years old, we were driving in a canyon just outside Denver. There did not seem to be any traffic on the road and we were enjoying the ride. I was sitting on the front seat between my parents Then, for some reason no one ever really understood, I sat up and said, “Watch out for the ambulance.” Startled, my parents looked down at me. A few minutes later, an ambulance came toward us, red lights and siren breaking through the quiet darkness. How did I know it was out there? Was my sense of hearing strong enough to hear its siren? Did I happen to see its lights reflected on a mountain? No one ever knew. I’ve had a few more strange experiences since that time. They still happen every so often.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sorry I've Been Gone So Long

I apologize for being absent for so long. I developed a systemic infection a couple of months

ago and things got worse after that. But I’m finally beating it and am gradually returning to

writing. I’ve got stories to polish and post on all three of my blogs, so just keep an eye out for


I hope you’ve all had a great year, and that next year works out well for everyone.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Little Miracle Mule

    His name was bigger than he was.  And actually, he never should have been born in the first place.  When Winterhawk's Kule Mule Amos was born in 2007 he immediately gained both popular and scientific attention.  Mules just don't give birth to mules.

    His mother was Kate, a mule who belonged to Laura and Larry Amos, owners of an outfitting operation.  His father was a donkey.  Scientists at the University of California begged tor the baby and his mother, but Amos felt that they should be free to roam their Colorado home rather than be locked up in stalls at the university for the rest of their lives.

     The reason female mules rarely reproduce is because rather than having 65 chromosomes, female mules have 63 chromosomes, which cannot be split evenly to produce a fertile egg.  Somehow, Kate was able to overcome that and produce a viable egg.  Although genetic studies on Kate's genome were begun, money and lack of sample materials from Kate prevented studies which might have shed some light on this rare birth.

    Partly because of his rarity and partly because of his weak legs, Kule Mule was never used as a pack animal.  Nevertheless, people came from around the world to see the little wonder mule. 

    In 2010, Kule Mule slipped on ice in his pasture during a winter storm.  He was unable to get up and died of internal injuries.  His malformed back legs may have contributed to his inability to get back up.  He has not been forgotten, however.  When The Denver Post reprinted an article on social media sites, over 67,000 people clicked on the story in three days.  It looks like Kule Mule's story will live on for a very long time.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Earthquake Creates New Island

A 7.7 magnitude earthquake located in the sea near Gwadar, Pakistan, killed more than 500
people and left another 100,000 homeless on September 24, 2013.  But it also created something

An island emerged a little more than half a mile (1 kilometer) offshore near Gwadar, Pakistan.

As an island, it does not look particularly attractive.  It is actually composed of fine sands, mud,
and a solid rock core.  So far it is only about 250 to 300 feet (75 to 90 meters) wide and about 60
to 70 feet (15 to 20 meters) above water.

Unfortunately, the tiny newcomer may not survive for very long.  These islands are reasonably
common in this part of the world.  Earthquakes often heave up new islands when shallow
pockets of methane or carbon dioxide are released.  The islands tend to sink back beneath the
sea as the underlying gases vent.  The effect is very much like letting the air out of a baloon.

The movement of coastal plates such as the interaction between the Arabian continental place
and the Eurasian crustal plates also cause sediments on the sea floor to rise above sea level.  In
either case these islands rarely survive for long. 

In the case of this new island, methane is being released, which means it will likely disappear
back into the sea. 

If you’re interested in reading more about this and similar islands, check here

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are Cane Toads Killing Australian Crocodiles Just by Being Eaten?

Australian dwarf crocodiles, whose normal food sources are rapidly vanishing, have begun
eating cane toads instead.  But this new diet is killing them.

The cane toads were introduced in Australia from their homes in Central and South America in
1935 to help control beetles threatening the island’s sugar cane industry.  Now it is estimated
that there might be as many as 100 million of these large amphibians scattered throughout
Australia and they are now considered a dangerous pest.

In 2012, many volunteers signed up to cull these toads, which are threatening not only dwarf
crocodiles, but other reptiles as well, including goannas, snakes and quolls. The toads secrete a
toxin from glands located behind their eyes and on their backs.

The deaths of the freshwater crocodiles and other predators may produce a cascade of
unpredictable ecosystem changes.  This is typical when a new species is produced into a more-
or-less stable ecosystem.  Another example of this problem arose from the introduction of giant
snakes into the Florida Everglades. 

Apparently young crocodiles are more vulnerable to the cane toads’ venom than adults, which
will almost certainly affect future populations of the dwarf crocodiles.

The cane toads appear to be expanding south into the dry interior of Australia, where they will
encounter crocodiles and other predators at water holes.  There is a bit of hope, however, in that
surviving crocodiles may develop a higher tolerance for the cane toads’ toxin.  Some
blacksnakes, which had previously been hit hard by the toads, appear to have developed some
immunity to their poison.

Researchers are carefully monitoring the populations of both cane toads and crocodiles, hoping
to be able to predict the long-term effects of this rivalry on the Australian ecosystems. 

You can read more here:

Sunday, September 8, 2013

What Made This Web?

Troy Alexander, a  young graduate student, found an entirely new type of web under a tarp near
the Tambopata Research Center located in the Peruvian Amazon.  Then he found a few more.
But when he tried to identify the creatures that made them, he found no answer so far. Not even
the scientists know. 

The web resembles a circular western horse corral surrounding and protects a tiny spire.  It is
about 0.8 inches (roughly 2 centimeters) across.  Alexander believes the spire either contains
eggs or perhaps tiny pupae.  Seeking answers, he posted photos of his find on Reddit, asking for
help in identifying the maker of the odd web.  So far, he has drawn a blank, even from well-
known arachnologists.  There were plenty of guesses, however.  Some thought it might be a
cocoon, others that it might be a new type of fungus, or a protective defense for spider eggs.

It is entirely possible that whatever made this strange form might be a previously unidentified
species of spider or other insect.  Experts believe that there are literally millions of unknown
species of arthropods (spiders and other insects) alone.  In a survey conducted in Panama’s
jungle, 25,000 species of insects and spiders, along with other arthropods, were identified.
Surveyors discovered that about 70% of these species were previously unknown.   

Based on the results of the Panama survey, insect specialists could have their hands full for years
in trying to identify and study these tiny jungle denizens. 

If you’d like to see a photo of this fascinating web, go here