Last week on the 20th of November it was international sloth day. These incredibly interesting and bizarre creatures were a highlight on my visit to Costa Rica. Honestly, they are one of those creatures that you hope you will see, but in reality never think you will be lucky enough to actually spot one. I was so very wrong… we actually saw quite a few. We were also lucky enough to see a couple of them on the move (although they move frustratingly slow, making you wonder how they get anywhere they want). You can imagine that in a world where things move so fast, and increasingly so, that these animals may not have a place in the future without a lot of help from humans. However for now, they always have a smile on their face and are truly happy just hanging around. After spotting a few on our own we decided to go on a guided sloth spotting tour to learn more about these fascinating creatures. The two photographs below were taken on a mobile phone through a telescopic lens that our guide had, so I cannot take credit for them, but they clearly show the differences between the two families of sloths. The first is a three-toed sloth with a darker fur, and the second a two-toed sloth with lighter fur.
We were lucky to have photos with their heads in them, as they mostly sleep all day, and all you often get to see while looking up into the trees is a furry bum. Being Australian, I think of them as the Central/South American cousin of the Koala. Both move quite slowly, live high up in the trees, spend most of their day sleeping (about 15-20 hours a day) and for the few hours a day they are awake they munch on leaves.
The Autumn season is upon us, and many trees in Manhattan are showing signs of changing color. Have you ever wondered how the trees know what season it is? Many trees and plants are photoperiodic, meaning they can detect the hours of darkness in a 24 hour period. In this way, trees and plants can detect the lengthening of nights into winter or shortening of nights heading into summer. This clever ability is achieved through pigments within the leaves called phytochromes, which can trigger a cascade of specific hormones and growth factors which regulate growth, flowering, and changes in leaf color during autumn. Leaves produce chlorophyll throughout most of the year, a green pigment critical for photosynthesis which allows trees and plants to absorb energy from light. Chlorophyll masks other pigments present within the leaf such as carotenes and xanthophyll, which are responsible for orange and yellow coloring, respectively. As the length of night increases during autumn, it triggers a cork-like membrane to form around the base of the leaf stalk called an abscission. The abscission slowly cuts off the supply of nutrients to the leaf, thus limiting the production of chlorophyll and allowing the orange and yellow colors to be visible. Anthocyanin is also produced in autumn, which gives leaves a red and purple coloring. Eventually nutrients to the leaves are completely halted causing the leaves to fall off. After accumulating a certain amount of time in the cold during winter months, which is referred to as the number of chill hours, trees can then respond to the increasingly warmer temperatures and shorter nights of Spring. During this time there is an upregulation of genes responsible for producing antioxidants and vitamin C to rid the tree of hydrogen peroxide which has built up during the winter dormancy. Trees are now able to produce the hormones and growth factors necessary to begin flowering and making new leaves again. Happy Autumn Everyone!
To see my other post on Autumn in New York, please click here.
New England Aster is North American native plant, and is a great way of adding some bright color to your Autumn garden. Another fantastic perk is that these flowers are a great source of nectar for bees and butterflies, which can keep macro photographers busy for hours, and I also discovered that some butterflies have baby blue colored eyes. Not only are these flowers edible for insects, they are also a great way to add some color to your salads. This plant (mostly extract from the roots) has been used by many cultures (including Native Americans and Chinese) as a herbal remedy for fever, inflammation, and gut-related irritations. Planting some New England Aster is not only great for your garden, but can become so much more than just a pretty flower.
Gary I found one!!! Australia definitely doesn’t have such boldly colored leafhoppers, they are mostly a boring green color, making them very hard to spot amongst the leaves. In contrast, this red-banded leafhopper I found in Central Park is incredibly colorful, and doesn’t blend in at all. Native to North and Central America, this insect is so teeny tiny, it makes some ants look big! I wouldn’t have even known what I was looking at if it wasn’t for a post by Gary on his blog called krikitarts showcasing this spectacular insect (click here for post), with a fantastic photo as well. As soon as I spotted it, I was so excited to see one for myself. It was incredibly hard to photograph as the breeze kept moving the leaf, and the little critter wouldn’t stay still at all, and he’s so tiny I kept losing him, so this is as good a photo as I could get. This colorful insect certainly brightened up my overcast and dreary Sunday afternoon.
Life is supposedly based on a simple equation… Work hard and you will be successful. This may be somewhat true, but I believe that a whole heap of luck is also involved. There are many things you can do in life to increase your chances at being lucky – optimism, open mindedness and determination will go far in helping you live the life you consider successful, which of course, is very different for all of us. So today I offer you this lady beetle, which is considered a sign of good luck by many cultures. My grandmother strongly believes in luck, and would tape four-leaf clovers to all of the framed photos she had around the house. When I was a young child I would go hunting in the garden to find shiny red, yellow or orange lady beetles. After returning from the garden with one in my hand, my grandmother used to recite a nursery rhyme in Italian as she was tracing circles around the lady beetle on my palm. I no longer remember the words of the rhyme, but it was telling the lady beetle to fly away and find me a husband. As it turns out, a month after my husband and I started dating he went to Italy with his parents for 2 months. On his return he gifted me a necklace with a beautiful lady beetle charm attached, and 5 years on we were married. So, sometimes in life working hard doesn’t mean anything at all, you just need a little luck and a lady beetle.
No science today, no facts, and no biology, just an adorable little butterfly on a plump dahlia bud. Why? Because todays post is dedicated to a very dear friend of mine. This post marks a moment in time when our friendship became greater than science. We will always find science in our lives because that is what we are trained to do, and biology will continue to exist around us. Friendships however, can sneak up on us gradually without any realization that it is happening, and will truly blossom when we face moments of hardship together. Together we will survive Winter and Spring will always follow.