Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tadpole rescue

This week I finally found time to open our swimming pool. It's not really used for swimming; rather, the pool serves as a testing ground for waterproof camera gear and aquatic sampling contraptions. I have also been known to take an underwater snooze in it (wearing scuba gear, of course).

Above the water, a 100-ft. pine tree is inconveniently situated on the East side of the pool. It's a real nuisance, shedding countless numbers of needles in the fall, depositing nostrils full of pollen in the spring, and dripping buckets of sap in the summer. More than one pine cone has conked me, usually precipitated by a frisky red squirrel giggling overhead.

Normally, the pool is tightly covered when not in use. A thick tarp keeps out sunlight, leaves, and critters all fall, winter, and spring, which makes it easier to get the pool ready for the relatively short (~10 week) swim season here in Albany. Last winter's ice storm, however, broke large branches from the pine tree, which ripped big holes in the cover. In came springtime sunlight, and months of profuse algal growth supported large populations of various waterbugs and squiggly mosquito larvae, which in turn fed loads of toads and frogs. The reproductive appetites of the latter led to the subject of this entry.

No tadpoles were harmed in the making of this blog

Hundreds of tadpoles greeted me as the pool cover was removed. I treasured tadpoles as a boy; it was so amazing to watch them develop in our makeshift aquaria: tiny legs sprout, tails shrink, and eventually they'd hop out onto the kitchen counter. Perhaps that's why I didn't have the heart to chlorinate the pool and kill the little critters. Instead, I scooped them out and let them go in a nearby pond, patting my back for being such a compassionate human being. (Better safe than sorry, I suppose: should a certain reincarnation myth ring true, maybe we're not fishes before birth -- perhaps we're tadpoles!)

Cutting down a huge pine requires skill and a large crane

Once I got the cover off and the tadpoles out, I hired a tree expert to remove the pine. A large crane and a few skilled men had the job finished in a couple of hours. Nothing was put to waste: the trunks are now planks, the branches now mulch.

And the tadpoles are now either fish food or frogs.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stereoscopy and a wet kiss

June has been a monstrously busy month, and it's only half over! Another grant proposal went out the door (er, the internet cable), two research papers were submitted, and the North American Section of the International Society of Protistologists meeting was held in Bristol, Rhode Island, where I gave the Past President's Address.

The title of my talk was "Why Should a Cell Need a Shell?" I won't get into details here, but to illustrate the selective advantage of particle agglutination (i.e., primitive shell-building behavior), I showed three-dimensional SEM images of agglutinated shells from "living fossil" species of Foraminifera. I'm not sure if the audience agreed with my scientific arguments, but it was a hoot to see some of the world's finest scholars wearing goofy spectacles.

Protistologists viewing red/blue anaglyph images

It has also been an unusually wet month, which has not been good for evening walks but has yielded lush lawns and gardens. And lots of toads and frogs. I'm particularly fond of a pair of tree toads inhabiting the back yard. They show up everywhere -- cuddled beneath the lid of the BBQ grill, clinging to windows, snuggled under the pool cover -- and at night they bellow the loudest RIBBETT! you can image. It cracks me up that this pair (I guess they're a couple?) squat next to each other and RIBBETT! full blast into each other's ears all evening. "Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? How about now?"

"Kiss me, you fool!"

Their incessant, booming RIBBETT!s make me want to bend over and kiss one, just to shut them up. Ah, but what if the resulting princess retained her booming voice?