A Little Light Reading


I’m researching topics on the history of electricity and electromagnetism for several encyclopedia and textbook articles that I’m writing. You might say that I’m doing a little light reading (insert groan here). Okay, it’s a bad pun, but it’s 12:42 a.m., so what do you expect? The summer and fall have been marginally successful for me as a writer, but this year I opted to skip NaNoWriMo because I needed to focus on some nonfiction projects and get my research mojo back.

On the other hand, workouts have been good: I’ve managed to get myself into a fairly regular exercise routine as far as cardio goes, although November I sort of slacked off. Going to the regular gym for weight workouts has been a bust, and I blame having to drive up there. The reality is that I don’t have a routine or really know what I should be doing, so I go and do a few things and accomplish very little. The cardio I get from fitness studio classes, and I’ve been taking spin and belly dance classes that are lots of fun. I’m also working on season one of Zombies, Run! after finishing a virtual 5K race early last month (that means I ran on my treadmill, using a running app to keep my race time).

For this month, I want to finish at least two of my articles. I’d love to finish three, but the holidays and work commitments are already shaping up to make this a short month and I find my available writing time being gobbled up. And maybe, just maybe, I can find some time for fiction.

Robins-to-be

A robin built her nest on this roll of electrical wire.
This is the nest that the robin built on a roll of electrical wire. Last weekend the nest was empty, and by Monday there was one egg. Tuesday there were two eggs, and by Thursday there were three. I took the photo of the eggs then. By the end of the week, the robin had laid another egg, for a grand total of four.

She’s been afraid to enter her nest when we’re out on the porch, but she’s going to have to get used to us being there. Yesterday we moved the box away from the corner of the porch so that it’s almost underneath the bathroom window. I thought I could be clever and take photos of the robin and her brood from inside the house. I went into the bathroom and looked through the venetian blinds. I don’t know if she heard me, or else she has really, really good eyesight, but the robin immediately looked up at me when I got near the window. And I thought I was being quiet!

I looked up some robin information, and found out that the Latin name for them is Turdus migratorius. No, that isn’t a joke! The Latin word turdus means “thrush,” and the American Robin is actually a species of thrush rather than a separate species.

Three robin eggs in a nest built on a roll of electrical wire.

Robins will eat fruit as well as insects and worms, but they’re frequently seen hopping through the grass looking for earthworms. It’s a common misconception that robins can hear worms moving about underneath the ground. When they stand with their head inclined to the side, they are actually just looking at the ground.

Because their eyes are on the side of their heads, robins have a very wide range of vision, but they don’t see very well directly in front of them. Their binocular vision is limited — unlike humans, cats, or owls — which have eyes on the front of their faces rather than off to the side. The robins can’t move their eyes the way we can, either, so they have to move their whole head. It’s just easier for them to look at the ground with one eye, and this is why they tilt their heads.

Year of the Frog

Three White\'s Tree Frogs, sitting on a stone
A behind-the-scenes visit to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. allowed us to come face to face with these White’s Tree Frogs, which are housed in the zoo’s Reptile Discovery Center. They look a little bit like buddha statues, and when I saw three of them sitting all together like this, I laughed.

Photo copyright Bennett S. Garvin.

But there’s not a lot of reason to laugh about frogs these days, because many of the world’s amphibians are threatened species. For the last thirty years or so, scientists have noticed a drastic decline in frog populations worldwide. During that time period, as many as 122 species of frogs may have become extinct.

The causes of the extinctions and population declines were considered to be loss of habitat due to human development, pollution, invasive plant and animal species that crowded out the native frogs, and climate change. But in the 1990s, scientists discovered a fungus that may be repsonsible. This Chytrid Fungus, and it causes a disease called chytridiomycosis in amphibians. In short, many of the animals are dying because they’re sick.

Some scientists think that the chytrid fungus originated in Southern Africa and was transmitted unknowingly by the frog trade. Since the 1930s, frogs such as the African clawed frog have been used in biomedical research and testing. Frogs were collected in the wild and shipped to laboratories around the world. And they took the chytrid fungus with them. Some of these frogs escaped from captivity and infected the local amphibian populations, which had little or no resistance to the fungus.

This is not to say that habitat loss and pollution issues aren’t issues. Animals such as frogs are often viewed as environmental indicators; that is, anything that is wrong with the environment will show up first in frogs and other small animals. Water pollution is thought to be one factor responsible for a number of frog mutations found in recent years. Scientists don’t know the whole story yet; they think that high levels of UV radiation and parasites may also be causal factors.

Zoos and aquariums around the world are attempting to address the problem of amphibian decline by breeding many of the frog species in captivity. Frogs aren’t the only animals affected — so are salamanders, newts, and caecilians, animals that resemble large worms. One of the species currently being bred in captivity is thePanamanian Golden Frog. If you are so inclined, you may help the conservation effort of the National Zoo by adopting a Panamanian Golden Frog.