Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Looking back 150 million years ago through a fossil plant, the Equisetum or Horsetail

 Once the understorey vegetation of Paleolithic forests where dinosaurs roamed during the Jurassic Period, the Equisetum has virtually remained unchanged, defying the forces of evolution that led to the extinction of countless unknown species and radical change into new forms of those that survived.  Not to the persistent Equisetum. It fact it is the only living fossil said to be of cosmopolitan in distribution today in all continents, except Antarctica. 
Dr Abe V Rotor



Equisetum is a "living fossil" as it is the only living genus in Equisetaceae,  a family of vascular plants that reproduce by spores rather than seeds, and the only living member of the entire class Equisetopsida. It is also called horsetail, snake grass, puzzle grass, scouring-rush, candock, and other local names.  
What makes a living fossil is a puzzle. But extreme adaptability is the general concept of survival through time and space. For the natural gene to be preserved is not only a matter of strict isolation from other genes. In fact the mechanism of gene exchange is the key, only that it is narrowed down - in the case of the horsetails -  within the only surviving genus, belonging to a single family, and a single class.  The proliferation of horsetails did not go stray and lose their genetic identity as to have evolved into indistinguishable species even if there are sub-genera, sub-family and hybrids.  

All horsetails today are distinctly and unmistakably the same morphologically and genetically. (A superficially similar but entirely unrelated flowering plant genus, mare's tail (Hippuris), is occasionally misidentified as "horsetail", and adding to confusion, the name mare's tail is sometimes applied to Equisetum.)
While horsetails grow in swampy places and considered wild, horticulturists have learned to plant them as ornamental purposes, admiring their unique characteristics displaying variations according to sub-types and hybrids. In Japan and Germany, the stems are bundled and used for scouring utensils and metals.  They are used in the final process in woodwork to produce a smoother finish than any sandpaper. 
Horsetails are a nuisance weed, unaffected by many herbicides designed to kill seed plants.  They have the ability to regrow from the rhizome after being pulled out. And because they prefer acidic soil, lime may be used to assist in eradication efforts. They have been declared noxious weeds in Australia, New Zealand, Oregon in the US, and other countries, although they are considered useful as food plant largely as alternative source, and likely influenced by ethnic background.  
Here is a report on horsetail as food. 

"The young plants are eaten cooked or raw. The fertile stems bearing strobili (spore casing) of some species are cooked and eaten like asparagus (a dish called tsukushi) in Japan. The people of ancient Rome would eat meadow horsetail in a similar manner, and they also used it to make tea as well as a thickening powder. Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest eat the young shoots of this plant raw. The plants are used as a dye and give a soft green colour. An extract is often used to provide silica for supplementation. Horsetail was often used by Indians to polish wooden tools. Equisetum species are often used to analyze gold concentrations in an area due to their ability to take up the metal when it is in a solution." (Wikipedia, citations and more data needed)

For its medicinal uses the same source reports.
"Extracts and other preparations of E. arvense have served as herbal remedies, with records dating to ancient Greek and Roman medical sources; its reported uses include treatments to stop bleeding, treat tuberculosis, to heal wounds and ulcerations, and to treat kidney ailments. In modern times, it is typically used as an infusion. Reliable modern alternative medicine sources include cautions with regard to its use. In 2009 the European Food Safety Authority issued a report assessing some specific health claims for E. arvense—e.g., for invigoration, weight control, and skin, hair, and bone health—concluding that none could be substantiated.
There is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions regarding its effectiveness as a medicine for all human conditions described. Even so, E. giganteum preparations are widely used in South America as an orally administered diuretic to reduce swelling caused by excess fluid retention and for urinary infections, bladder and kidney disorders. Horsetail preparations contain silicon, so they are sometimes suggested as a treatment for osteoporosis (brittle bone disorders)
Some Equisetum preparations are reported to have a high content of thiaminase, which may induce edema and cause lack of motor control (e.g., limb coordination), putting a person at risk of injury from fallingbradycardia (slowed heart-rate) and cardiac dysrhythmia are further negative side effects. Since horsetail contains nicotine, it is not recommended for young children." (Wikipedia, with citations and more data needed.)
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Caution: If eaten over a long enough period of time, some species of horsetail can be poisonous to grazing animals, including horses. The toxicity appears to be due to thiaminase enzymes, which can cause thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. 
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Invisible Wall

Dr Abe V Rotor


Fish to butterfly danger in the open
     harmless between a wall; 
Humans behave like friend to friend 
     between an invisible wall.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cranefly or daddy-long-legs

If you can detect a cranefly, you must have a third eye.

Dr Abe V Rotor 
 
 Crane Fly (Tipula sp), Family Tipulidae, Order Diptera 

 This is a rare specimen I caught at home. It is a very curious one, although it is quite familiar; it is a relative of the mosquito. It is also rare because its size is much bigger than the ordinary cranefly we often called daddy-long-legs.*
Compound eye of cranefly, typical of insects which have a pair of multi-facet eyes in addition to a simple eye or two.  Right, closeup of a similar specimen of Tipula sourced from the Internet 

The cranefly undergoes four stages - egg, larva called maggot, pupa and adult. The maggot feeds on crops and pasture grass but it inflicts little damage. The adults emerge and swarm in the evening. They have queer body structure and movement. 

Craneflies are clumsy fliers, mainly because they have only one pair of wings for flying. That is why they are classified Diptera - two wings. The pair of hindwings are reduced into halteres or balancers which look like stubs or knobs.

When at rest, craneflies shake continuously in all directions that they become virtually invisible to their enemies. This unique mechanism has not been fully studied.

Among the Arachnids, members of the Pholcidae family are also called daddy-long-legs spiders. Their presence is known to be worldwide. Here are two species of harvestman spiders. The one at the right appears hazy and blurred as seen when it is in continuous shaking motion. (Acknowledgement: Internet, Wikipedia)  
  

Return of Balloon Frog Symbolizes Nature's Victory

But Nature’s victory does not mean man’s defeat; rather it humbles man to be obedient to Nature’s laws and rules which is the key to his very survival. 

Dr Abe V Rotor




Views of the Balloon Frog - Uperodon globulosus (U. systoma?)

The first time I saw tukak bat’og was when I was a young farmhand. Its name is familiar because bat’og, battog or battobattog, in Ilocano means pot bellied. At that time anyone who exhibited a bulging waistline was associated with this amphibian. But there were very few of this kind then. The war had just ended and people had to work hard.

Hardship tightens the belt automatically, but peacetime and the Good Life opens a new war - the “battle of the bulge.” Today two out of five Americans are obese and Europeans are not far behind. Asians are following the same trend, as more and more people have changed to the Western lifestyle that accompanies overweight condition, whether one is male or female.

But actually Bat’og is all air. It’s like balloon short of taking off. But once it wedges itself in its tight abode not even bird or snake can dislodge it. Not only that. It feigns dead and its attacker would simply walk away to find a live and kicking prey.

Nature’s sweet lies are tools of survival. When it faces danger Bat’og engulfs air and becomes pressurized and distended, reducing the size of its head and appendages to appear like mere rudiments. And with its coloration that blends with the surroundings, and its body spots becoming monstrous eyes, who would dare to attack this master of camouflage.

Not enough to drive away its foe, Bat’og uses another strategy by producing deep booming sounds coming from its hollow body as resonator. I remember the story of Monico and the Giant by Camilo Osias when I was in the grades. The cruel giant got scared and rushed out of his dark hiding when Monico boomed like Bat’og . Actually it was the unique design of the cave’s chamber that created the special sound effect and ventriloquism. The vaults of old churches were similarly designed this way so that the faithful can clearly hear the sermon.

The exhausted Bat’og deflates and returns to its chores, feeding, roaming around and calling for mate – and rain, so old folks say. Well, frogs become noisy when it rains. Biologically, egg laying is induced by rain. Eggs are fertilized in water and hatched into tadpoles that live in water until they become frogs. Bat’og has relatives that live in trees and their tadpoles inhabit trapped water in the axils of bromeliads, bananas and palms. Or it could be a pool inside the hollow of a tree.

After I left the farm for my studies in Manila, I never saw any Tukak Bat’og again. Only a trace of that childhood memory was left of this enigmatic creature.

Then one day, in my disbelief Bat’og resurrected! For a long time it has long been in the requiem list of species, ironically even before it was accorded scientific details of its existence. Well, there are living things that may not even reach the first rung of the research ladder, either they are insignificant or new to science. Who would take a look at Bat’og?

I believe a lot of people now do. People have become environment-conscious after the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, the emergence of Greenpeace movement, and birth of "heroes for the environment". Who is not aware now of global warming, especially after viewing Al Gore's documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth? Who have not experienced calamities brought about by our changing climate? 

What changed the thinking of the world - a revolution in our concept of survival - is that all livings are interconnected and that the world is one systemic order, that the survival of one spells the survival of all creatures and the preservation of the integrity of the biosphere and therefore of Planet Earth, and that there is no living thing that is too small to be insignificant or useless.

Of all places I found Bat’og one early morning in my residence in Quezon City. I would say it instead found me. There in my backyard, ensconced in a gaping crack in the soil covered with a thick layer of dead leaves lay my long lost friend - very much alive.

Hello! And it looked at me motionless with steady eyes. It was aestivating, a state of turpor, which is a biological phenomenon for survival in dry and hot summer, the counterpart of hibernation when organisms sleep in winter and wait for the coming of spring. My friend was waiting nature's clock to signal the Habagat to bring rain from across the Pacific come June to September, a condition necessary for its amphibious life.

Slowly I lifted my friend and cradled it of sort on my palm. And we rolled time back fifty years ago. And before any question was asked, it was already answered. It is like that when two old friends meet after a long time. I remember when journalist Stanley found the great explorer Dr. David Livingstone in the heart of Africa in the 19th century, Stanley simply greeted, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" and the old man lifted his hat and gave Stanley a firm handshake. This became one of the most famous meetings in the world.

You see an event earns a place in history, or in the heart, when it permeates into the primordial reason of existence, which is Reverence of Life.

Reverence – this is the principal bond between man and nature. It is more than friendship. It is the also the bonds of the trilogies of human society – equality, fraternity and liberty. It is the bridge of all relationships in the complex web and pyramid of life. It towers over equations and formulas in science. It links earth and heaven, in fact the whole universe – and finally, the bridge of understanding between creature and Creator.

Bat’og is back. How easy it is to understand a creature however small it is, if it is your friend. Yet how difficult it is to define the role of a friend. The fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’ novel, The Little Prince, warned the little prince, “If you tame me you are responsible to me.” The little prince simply touched the wild beast.

Taming is the ultimate submission to humility. And the greater a person who humbles himself, the truer a friend he is.

How do we relate this principle to our being the only rational creature? The dominant species over millions of species? The God-anointed guardian of the Earth? The custodian of creation?

Allow me to have some time with my long lost friend. Either one of us is the Prodigal Son, but that does not matter now. Let me join Darwin and Linnaeus and Villadolid et al.

That was a long time ago by the pond that had dried in summer. As a kid on the farm I have known the ways of my friend. Bat’og would stake its prey - termites, ants, beetles and other insects. Like all frogs – and toads – the adults and tadpoles are important in controlling pests and diseases.

One of its relatives belonging to genus Kaloula was found to subsist mainly on hoppers and beetles that destroy rice, including leafhoppers that transmit tungro, a viral disease of rice that may lead to total crop failure. Such insectivorous habit though is universal to amphibians, reptiles, birds and other organisms. If only we can protect these Nature’s biological agents we would not be using chemicals on the farm and home, chemicals that pollutes the environment and destroys wildlife.

Bat'og and its kind protect man from hunger and disease. They are an important link in the food chain. No pond or ricefield or forest or grassland is without frogs. There would be no herons and snakes and hawks and eagles. No biological laboratory is without the frog as a blue print of human anatomy. And The Frog and the Princess would certainly vanish in the imagination of children.

Bat’og is a survivor of chemical genocide. It is the timely age of enlightenment of people returning to natural food and the spread of environmental consciousness on all walks of life and ages that came to its rescue in the last minute. So with many threatened species.

Who does not rejoice at finding again native kuhol, martiniko, ulang and gurami in the rice field? Oriole, pandangeratarat and pipit in the trees? Tarsier, mouse deer and pangolin in the wild? And the return of ipil-ipil, kamagong and narra in the forest? And of course, Haribon the symbol of Philippine wildlife and biodiversity.

It is indeed a challenge for us to practice being the Good Shepherd, but this time it is not only a lost lamb that we have to save, it’s the whole flock.

Tukak Bat’og symbolizes the victory of Nature. But Nature’s victory does not mean man’s defeat; rather it is man’s submission and obedience to Nature’s laws and rules and therefore, the restoration of order on Planet Earth - our only spaceship on which we journey into the vastness of the universe and the unknown. x x x

Friday, June 16, 2017

Would you kill a firefly?

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog [avrotor.blogspot.com]

 Closeup of the firefly  (Internet photo)

 Entomology team from UST Graduate School headed by the author.


Man is the insect buster; self proclaimed, strong and bold; he conquers his greatest enemy, wasting no time. He has read enough books, and turned away from the old. He’s Pied Piper now in new adventure in his prime.

To the rescue, he rid the world of aliens and all their kin; "I am Gulliver," he said to the imagined Lilliputians. With gloves and boots, armed with tools of the modern kind, he saw himself riding to the West against the Indians.

Make way for this nemesis, the bugs run for your lives; they dropped dead, crushed, unbearable was the pain. Their shelter stormed, their nests torn, so with their hives. It’s reminiscent of Pompeii where the ruins reign. 


The air is stilled, there’s no more music in the night; the pond is clear, but where have the fishes gone? Plants still bloom, but their flowers are no longer bright. Where are the bees and butterflies that meet the sun?
 

Frogs no longer croak, silent are the fields and the trees; Where’s the cicada shrilling with joy, the cricket at night, the melodious songs and calls of birds that never cease, the mayfly’s visit, or the moth’s over a candlelight?

Suddenly the world became still. Didn't Rachel Carson tell in Silent Spring the birds didn't arrive one spring? Or in biblical times, didn't a cloud of death over a zone killed creatures one by one, the survivors migrating?

Where have all the sweetest sugar and flowing silk gone? Their makers, the busy bee and the the naive worms? They too, have been stilled forever by the same poison that killed the evil ones and their ugly forms. 


Didn't Alexander the Great die on the Euphrates of malaria? Or the Pharaoh Menes of bee venom? Thousands died building the Panama Canal and Suez Canal, and more death blamed to insects still unknown. 


Who would like the fly around? But without it the dead would litter the ground, more so without the Scarabid beetle. Who would eat remnants of an enemy, diseases they spread? For certain man doesn't like to die first? God forbid.

His joy to conquer lies in his genes, even against his kind, much less the lowly crawlers, for revenge or just game. Yes, man is insect buster, self righteous, self-proclaimed - but would he dare to kill a firefly just the same? ~

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Living with Nature - the Lighter Side in 30 Ways (Article in Progress)

Dr Abe V Rotor
Young artists turned environmentalists;
Give them a wall unkempt and empty,
paint brush, splash of sun and breeze; 
how the world rejoices but what a pity.  


Break away from old tradition the classroom;
Yonder free school the mind and spirit roam.


Frolic rough bane freedom best
the coy bold ugly all to the test



A balikbayan wonders at a fruiting tree,
once a sapling the world young and free.
a story forgotten in the land of the free
at sunset in fading sight and memory.,  


Where dreams come from shade and sky
the mind roams boundless and free;
over the stonewall onto the country, 
learning best in the shade of a tree.