First, some housekeeping. We are now on Twitter. That may or may not be a good thing, or anything you care about. You may never even have seen a Tweet, a message no longer than 140 typed characters sent to followers on computers or mobile devices by a Twitter member. Our Twitter name—which you would use to look us up and start following us if you went to Twitter.com—is @naturalistsnote. I haven't Tweeted much yet, so you haven't missed anything. Eventually I'll figure out how to use it. I don't have much choice. I will have to start Tweeting about the London Olympics for Sports Illustrated later this year, and Twitter is an essential 21st-century way to make more people aware of the existence of places like The Naturalist's Notebook. So there you have it. No pressure whatsoever to join Twitter. I'd much rather you go outside for a nature walk than sit and read Tweets. But at least you know we're there.
So Back to that Video at the Top...NASA has a green lab.
It's working on a number of projects, including one to make aviation fuel using salt water, sand, seashore mallow, fish called mollies, salt-tolerant plants such as algae, and other ingredients. Senior scientist Bilal Bomani, who runs the NASA Greenlab, is an enjoyable lecturer, and I think you'll be pleasantly enlightened by his talk (just click on the link at the top of the page). As a sports guy, I was intrigued to learn that biofuel algae is usually grown in what Bomani calls "race tracks"—ovals that the plants move around like race cars, albeit more slowly...and until trouble inevitably strikes in turn four.
Skull on the Beach
Yesterday Pamelia and I were walking Wooster, our dog, on the sandy-beached cove a few hundred yards from our house when we found what appeared—by its orange teeth—to be the jawbone of a beaver, muskrat or porcupine (below). It's unlikely that a beaver would have attempted to dam up the Atlantic Ocean, and the jaw was too big for a muskrat (we have specimens of both beaver and muskrat skulls to consult at the Notebook). Thus by process of elimination, and by knowing that we've seen porcupines regularly around our house, we decided that the bone had come from a porcupine. Biologists and archaeologists face these sorts of identification questions all the time: What is it, and how did it get here? Since porcupines aren't noted beachgoers, our guess is that the bone was either washed down a little rivulet that flows down to the beach or carried there by an animal (a fox? a coyote?) that discovered the dead porcupine along the side of the road about a quarter mile away.
We have many beaver tales to tell some other day. Pamelia and I used to live next to a beaver pond and we loved watching the animals at work, creating an entire ecosystem. I'm going to try to dig out some photos of that memorable place, which also was a haven for birds and small animals such as frogs, turtles, minks, otters and bobcats.
Answers to the Last Puzzlers
1) The most common element in the universe is hydrogen, the primary ingredient in (and fuel for) stars. 2) The animal pictured is a mandrill 3) Bismuth, element number 83 (that is, the element with 83 protons and 83 electrons) is a dense metal that doesn’t have many commercial uses but is the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol.
1) On the map of Africa below, link the number to the country:
b) Democratic Republic of Congo