Butterfly Sage: bees love it, too!

Hmm...Let's see whether there's any nectar in this here Cordia globosa flower.

Birds love it.

Bees love it.

Maybe even educated fleas love it.

But butterflies probably love it the most.

What is it? Why, butterfly sage, of course. I’ve written before about the merits of this plant variously known as butterfly sage, blood berry, bonbon rond, guérit-tout, gout tea, Curaçao bush, and more. All these names, and many more, according to Dan Austin, refer to this Florida-native shrub with the shaggy leaves, white flower heads, and red fruits, Cordia globosa.

Mockingbirds are so partial to the abundant red berries and its densely branching habit that pairs will stake them out as nesting places and defend them against all comers. (The berries aren’t particularly ornamental, though, because they’re so small.)

Cordia globosa. Boca Raton, FL, September 6, 2015.

Cordia globosa. Boca Raton, FL, September 6, 2015.

Honeybees are on the flowers from dawn till dusk.

And even though it’s not a larval host plant for any butterfly that I know of, it’s one of the best butterfly nectar plants around, particularly for the smaller butterflies like the Fiery Skipper and the smaller blues and hairstreaks. In my yard, the following species have been seen on it (hit the links to recent photos for some species; the other species listed are ones for which I’m confident that I had photos before the hard-drive crash of Thanksgiving 2014):

  • Atala Blue (Eumaeus atala)
  • Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon istapa)
  • Martial Scrub-Hairstreak (S. martialis)
  • Cassius Blue (Leptotes cassius)
  • Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus)
  • Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius)
  • Fiery Skipper (Hylephila philaeus)
  • Monk Skipper (Asbolis capucinus)
  • Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
  • Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia)
  • Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
  • Queen (Danaus gallipus)
  • Great Southern White (Ascia monuste)

In addition to the ones listed above, I’m fairly certain that several other butterflies who frequent the yard also enjoy it, to wit:

  • Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa)
  • Barred Yellow (Eurema daira)
  • Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole)
  • Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

Heck, even dragonflies love it:

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Boca Raton, FL, March 19, 2015.

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Boca Raton, FL, March 19, 2015.

One of the reasons it’s such a good butterfly (and bird) plant is that the leaves and branches are stiff enough to support the weight of larger butterflies, but its flower clusters (inflorescences, to be technical) are shallow enough to allow short-tongued species to reach in:

Cassius Blue butterfly with a face full of Cordia globosa flower. Boca Raton, FL, September 3, 2015.

Cassius Blue butterfly with a face full of Cordia globosa flower. Boca Raton, FL, September 3, 2015.

In fact, the flowers are so small and so inviting that they also attract the tiny halictid bees in the genus Lasioglossum chalcid wasps in the family Chalcidae, which seem to enjoy crawling around inside small flowers like Richardia, Lantana, and Cordia. Of course, when butterfly meets wasp, there’s sometimes a bit of a standoff.

And that’s what I found just the other day in the photo sequence below. In this first shot, the butterfly (a Cassius Blue) has just landed on the flower head and hasn’t yet probed it. The wasp appears to be playing a game of hide and seek, or perhaps peekaboo:

Hmm...Let's see whether there's any nectar in this here Cordia globes flower.

Butterfly: Hmm… Let’s see whether there’s any nectar in this here flower. Wasp: Hmm… Let’s see whether I can scare the nectar out of that butterfly!

Yup. But I'm not sure I want it now!

Butterfly: Better unfurl that proboscis and find out! Wasp: Better not!

Better unfurl that proboscis and find out!

Butterfly: Yipe! You can keep your nectar! There’s plenty of other flowers on this bush! Wasp: You’re darn tootin’!

The first shot was taken about two seconds before the second and third ones, which were taken at “the same time” according to my camera’s info. If you look closely at the sequence of photos, you can see the butterfly backing away between the second and third shot after almost getting a proboscis full of wasp! I didn’t get close enough to verify through the lens, but I’m pretty sure the wasp has a self-satisfied smirk on its face.

And, in case you were wondering about the Cole Porter reference that started this post, here’s a picture of a pair of Cassius Blues enjoying the convenience of the butterfly sage plant in one of the most fundamental of ways:

Cassius Blue pair enjoying the butterfly sage. Boca Raton, FL, August 30, 2015.

Cassius Blue pair enjoying the butterfly sage. Boca Raton, FL, August 30, 2015.


Austin, D. 2006. Florida Ethnobotany. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis.

Osorio, R. 2001. A Gardener’s Guide to Florida’s Native Plants. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Millipede season


It’s millipede season again here in Boca, although down in the Keys, it started back in August. Don’t worry, though; they’re no threat to your health or safety. From the UF/IFAS factsheet ENY-221/IG093 (available on their website):

Centipedes and millipedes are commonly seen in yards and occasionally enter homes. Neither centipedes nor millipedes damage furnishings, homes, or food. Their only importance is that of annoying or frightening individuals.

That may be true, but they are certainly good at annoying me this time of year. And this year in particular we seem to be experiencing a bumper crop of them. Here’s a closeup of a particularly striking one that Eric pointed out to me the other day:

Whenever the kids see one, the reaction is pretty intense:

First, some taxonomy: centipedes and millipedes are not insects. Both belong to taxonomic groups named after their most prominent features: their many, many legs. Centipedes have one pair of legs per body segment and belong to the class Chilopoda (from the Greek chilios, “thousand”); millipedes have two pairs of legs per body segment and belong to the class Diplopoda (from the Greek diplo, twofold). Both taxonomic classes are subsumed into the subphyllum Myriapoda. Thus, they can be called chilopods, diplopods, or myriapods with equal accuracy (but not equal specificity). However, if you clicked the “taxonomy” link above, you’d have discovered that nobody really knows what they’re talking about, taxonomically, with regard to the millipede.

Next, some anatomy. Millipedes (centipedes too) consist of two basic regions: a head and a trunk. The trunk is made up of a series of body segments bearing legs (remember, one pair of legs = centipede, two pairs = millipede) on all but the first four thoracic body segments. As a very convenient website puts it.

Most of the trunk segments carry two pairs of legs (hence the name ‘diplo’- two ‘poda’ – feet). This is because the apparent trunk ringed segments are actually ‘diplosegments’ formed by the fusion of two trunk segments. The first ring after the head (collum) is legless and the following three rings carry one leg pair each.

This fusion of body segments in millipedes explains why their cousins the centipedes are much more flexible, capable of winding around and over objects and bending in more than one segment at a time, while millipedes proceed more, as Thomas Eisner writes, “bulldozer fashion.” This is because the body segments of millipedes are actually fused together, rather than individual articulating segments. So while a millipede can curl up, it can’t really bend in too many directions at once.

If you’d like to read more about their fascinating method of locomotion, click on the image below (by Julia Molnar, PhD student at the Royal Veterinary College and paleoartist extraordinaire).

Myriapods are detritivores, which means that they feed on decaying plant material and organic matter; they don’t damage living plants. They also don’t bite. They do emit chemical secretions that could, possibly, bother someone, but in quantities so small that it’s rarely a problem unless a curious researcher (usually a child) gets too close to the wrong species.

While there are many species native to Florida, there are also many introduced species. The two species most commonly seen at our house are the native Chicobolus spinigerus, the Florida Ivory Millipede, and (I’m fairly sure; millipede ID is not my specialty) the introduced Trigoniulus corallinus, Rusty Millipede.

Here’s one that Daniel and Eric enjoyed pointing out to me:

I believe it to be the Rusty Millipede, but the only resource I know of that even lists all the Florida species (Shelley 2000) does not include photos. There are only 51 species according to this source, though, so it wouldn’t be outrageously hard to try a Google image search for each one; it’s just time-consuming.  There might be a native look-alike, for all I know. There’s another introduced species, Rhinotus purpureus, that looks quite a bit like T. corallinus; far too similar for a nonspecialist like me to tell, at least without a key.


The chemical defenses of several Florida millipedes have been studied by the late Thomas Eisner, who used to visit the Florida scrub up at Archbold Biological Station on research summers when he wasn’t teaching at Cornell. One species, Floridobolus penneri, the Florida Scrub Millipede (and endemic to that habitat), emits a mixture of benzoquinones that completely deters all insect predators, except for the larvae of one beetle, specially adapted to prey on these millipedes. These larvae have their own chemical offense (the gut fluid) that preempts the millipedes’ defense by paralyzing the millipede completely, so that the defensive glands of the millipede never get a chance to come into play. You can read all about it here., although I read about it first in Eisner’s book for the layperson, Secret Weapons.

In fact, monkeys and grackles appear to use the secretion of one Caribbean species now found in Florida (the yellow-banded millipede, Anadenobolus monilicornis) for its insect-repellant qualities. At least, both primates and birds have been documented rubbing this “bug” on their bodies or under their wings. Here’s one of the many that frequent our outside walls and, sadly, our inside ones as well (They dry up pretty quickly indoors, so it’s best to just leave them alone and then sweep up the detritus):

I’ve seen a similar millipede referred to on bugguide.net as “Eurhinocricus,” so perhaps there are two species, or there is taxonomic confusion/”updation” at work.

Etymology/Usage Note

Many scientific articles “misspell” millipedes as millipeds. That’s not a misspelling; that’s just the way scientists like to refer to things. Presumably the practice arose from the much more common practice of “inventing” a quasivernacular name from the Latin name for an animal. For example, members of the gull family, Laridae, are often referred to as larids; the Bromeliacaea are often called bromeliads. Thus, I imagine, from “millipede” we get “milliped.”

For example, the most recent annotated checklist of Florida’s millipedes (sans images, sadly), follows this practice:

The milliped fauna of Florida consists of 8 orders, 18 families, 34 genera, and 51 species and subspecies; it comprises six elements: widespread species occurring widely in Florida, northern species reaching their southern limits in north Florida, neotropical species occurring naturally in Florida or adventive there, oriental adventives, Florida endemics, and southeastern endemics.

As you can see, the analogy is imperfect: the quasivernacular name (if that’s what it is) milliped is just a shortening of the already vernacular name, rather than the presumably unwieldy latinate name for millipede (which, you recall, is Diplopoda). If authors called them “diplopods,” I’d understand. I’m still flummoxed by “milliped,” but I’ve seen it often enough to know that it’s not a “mistake.”

Another possibility is that milliped is just the adjectival form of the noun millipede. That is, when describing the attributes of millipedes, one simply drops the final e: milliped fauna. I’m not convinced. After all, the “aberrant” form milliped is used both as noun and adjective.

When you run out of reasoned argument, try the dictionaries.

First, the standard dictionary in American book publishing: Merriam-Webster’s 1th Collegiate. MW11 lists the “normal” spelling, millipede, no variant spellings, a reasonable definition, and gives a date of 1601 for the first usage in its records.

The next resource in my method is the American Heritage Dictionary, now in its 5th edition. It lists “millipede, also millepede,” gives no date, and defines the animal more or less straightforwardly.

Next, the entomologist’s favorite dictionary, no longer in print but available online: the Century Dictionary, which is often very helpful in providing meanings for taxonomic names. That resource lists millipede as “same as milleped,” and under that entry (milleped, milliped) defines the animal more or less straightforwardly.

Not much help explaining the variations in spelling, unfortunately.

Time to bring out the really big guns: the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists milliped as a variant of millepede. Under that main entry, the OED lists even more variants, some less and some more familiar: millipeed, millepide, milleped, and, last and apparently least, our version, millipede.

So the “new” spelling is the one we Americans are used to: millipede. The OED, lovely resource, dates the 1601 spelling as “millipeed” (from a translation of Pliny), a 1706 millepeda, and gives two resources (1835 [Kirby] and 1877 [Huxley]) for the modern American spelling, millipede.

Conclusion? Usage is mixed. Go with whatever your journal editor recommends, if you’re publishing. Go with whatever pleases you, if you’re blogging.


Eisner, T. 2005. Secret Weapons. Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures. Cambridge, MA: Belknap (Harvard UP).

Shelley, R. M. 2000. Annotated checklist of the millipeds of Florida (Arthropoda: Diplopoda). Insecta Mundi.Paper 316.htp://digitalcommons.unl.edu/insectamundi/316

Happy Leap Day 2012!

Today is the day that, according to our modern (Gregorian) calendar, we insert an extra day in every year evenly divisible by four, except for centennial years unless divisible by 400. We do this because the earth’s revolution around the sun and its rotation on its axis are independent (the solar system didn’t require that they be linked so that when we’ve reached the end of x number of axial rotations we would simultaneously have completed one orbital revolution. That would be coincidence indeed.); in fact, they’re slightly out of sync.

That is, when we’ve completed one orbit around the sun, we’ve completed roughly 365.25 rotations on our axis, thus necessitating the insertion of an extra day every fourth year to keep our calendar aligned with the seasons.

That an intercalary day is required is an accident of nature.

That our extra day (an intercalated day) takes place at the end of February is a historical accident occasioned by the fact that February is already a mutilated month, having lost several of its days to the required prestige of Julius and Augustus Caesar, and it just makes sense, if you’re adding a day to a year, you add it to the shortest month you’ve got (unless you just call it “extra day” and stick it at the end, or close to one of the solstices or equinoxes, or some other radical idea).

That it’s called a leap year is a result of the 1604 Anglican prayer book , which supposedly says that “On every fourth year, the Sunday Letter leapeth.” I’ve yet to find this phrase in that book, though, finding it instead in numerous 19th-century sources, like this paragraph from Whatly:

When the years of our Lord (i. e. when the number of years from the birth of Christ) may he divided into four even parts, which is every fourth year, then the Sunday letter leapeth; and that year the Psalms and Lessons, which serve for the twenty-third day of February, shall be read again the day following, except it be Sunday, which hath proper Lessons from the Old Testament appointed in the table to serve to that purpose.

You’ll notice that the “leap day” in the Anglican book is scheduled for the 24th of February, rather than the 28th. This matched Roman Catholic practice until 1662, when the Anglicans decided to move the intercalary day to the day after the 28th (ie the 29th) instead of inserting it between two days of the same month. It doesn’t affect much, except the timing of certain feast days (like that of Saint Matthias) in late February that are celebrated on different days between the two churches in leap years.

Whatever you celebrate, and however you do it, enjoy this extra day!


More action on the passionvine: Zebra heliconian


Florida’s state butterfly is supposed to be the Zebra Longwing:

So designated by the 1996 Florida Legislature, it was written into the Florida statutes under the Executive Branch (Title IV), Secretary of State section (Section 15) as follows:

15.0382 Official state butterfly.—The Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius) is designated the official state butterfly. History.—s. 1, ch. 96-153.

Section 15 also designates other key state symbols established over the years, including the state pie (Key Lime, of course), state soil (Myakka fine sand), and state beverage (“The juice obtained from mature oranges of the species Citrus sinensis and hybrids thereof is hereby adopted as the official beverage of Florida. History.—s. 1, ch. 67-4.”). (And since Gatorade was developed at UF, it is most definitely NOT the official “Florida State” beverage.)

I’ve written elsewhere about the problems with statutes like these, particularly in Section 15.031, which designates as our official state tree an organism that is more closely related to grasses than it is to trees.

Problems like this seem to creep up whenever we try to legislate organisms. Just as our state tree doesn’t really exist, neither does our state butterfly, at least according to our most recent and (presumably) accurate descriptions. Although the taxonomic name was incorrect even in 1996 when the Florida statute was adopted, the common name as legislated in 1996 became obsolete in 2001, when  NABA (the North American Butterfly Association), the organization that maintains both common and taxonomic names for North American butterflies, ruled on both the common and the scientific name in its checklist. They changed the common name from Zebra Longwing to Zebra Heliconian, and, following Brower (1994) they clarified the spelling of the taxonomic name as H. charithonia, not H. charitonius.

The Florida Legislature wasn’t just wrong once about the taxonomic name, though—it was wrong twice over! The “correct” spelling, established in 1994 with great clarity by Andrew Brower, of Cornell in 1993 when the article was written, at the American Museum of Natural History in 1994 when it was published, and now at Middle Tennessee State University, is Heliconius charithonia. That is, the specific epithet ends in –a, not –us; furthermore it is spelled with a –th-, not just a –t-. Got that, y’all?

Brower explains that it was some early- and mid-20th century revision that created the confusion over the spelling. Carolus Linnaeus described the species originally in 1767 as Papilio Heliconius charithonia (not charithonius). This name is invalid by today’s naming rules, though, since butterflies don’t all belong to the same genus (Papilio), despite what Linnaeus thought. (Smackdown!)

However, when Francis Hemming tried to create a valid type species for the group in 1933, he published a description under one name (H. charithonia L., whose type specimen would have been described by Fabr.), but soon discovered that this name too was invalid, so he quickly published another description with a slightly different spelling and different type specimen: H. charitonia L—with just a -t- instead of the correct -th-. A year later, he realized his mistake, but it’s not clear whether he stated his refound preference for the “h” until 1967, when he published his magnum opus, The generic names of the butterflies and their type-species.  OK, everyone still with me? We’re not done with the story…

It seems that a second set of revisers, W.P. Comstock and F.M. Brown, went to work in 1950 without awareness of Hemming’s vanishing-but-reappearing h.  Trouble is, they seem to have made a hash of it, despite being among the most respected names in the field (Comstock, after all! Comstock! Of course, this was William Phillips Comstock, not the famous John Henry Comstock of Cornell, but W.P. has a good publication history as well). Their argument, as summarized by Brower, relies on the fact that the index to Linnaeus’s description of the species has a typo in it as well!

[Despite Linnaeus’s original published description of the species as charithonia with a –th-,] the index of the 12th edition of Systema Naturae (1767) makes reference to charitonia, as does the 13th edition (1790). [Further,…] the name is etymologically derived from charites, Latinized from the Greek name for the Graces, and thus logically not containing the “h.” They [Comstock and Brown 1950] claimed that since the two spellings are of equal age, and since no other revisers had addressed the issue, they could choose charitonia as the proper spelling. Amazingly, in their next paragraph, they coined yet another version of the name, charitonius, to produce gender agreement between the genus and the species.

This argument depends on spelling in an index, rather than in the main text of a publication, and on an etymology that isn’t necessarily correct. And they were certainly wrong, by the rules of species-naming, to revise the latinate name for “correct” grammar. Dudes! Nomenclature rules!

Despite Brower’s article appearing in 1994, the Florida legislature’s act in 1996 designated the animal by not just the outdated taxonomic name, -us instead of -a, but by the wrong spelling of it, -t- instead of -th! To be fair, the legislature can’t really be blamed for not keeping current with butterfly taxonomy. (… Or can it?) As Brower notes in his article, “every major guide to butterflies published since. . .Comstock and Brown (1950) [lists] the species as ‘charitonia,’ (or even ‘charitonius,’ employing their demonstrably incorrect masculinization).” And of course, it’s not the legislature’s job to keep current on taxonomic names. I’m even reasonably certain that whatever handbook they (or their aides) referred to (perhaps even more than one) used the erroneous charitonius instead of the correct charithonia. After all, the bug book I go to most frequently (Marshall 2006) assigns it the same wrong name (H. charitonius), despite having a lovely photo of the correct butterfly.

And if our legislature can’t reasonably be blamed for the error in the scientific name in 1996, they certainly can’t be blamed for not predicting the future—the common name change in 2001 nullified their 1996 designation of Zebra Longwing. The common name according to NABA is now Zebra Heliconian, to comply with a name change for this entire family of butterflies. After all, according to the committee’s commentary, the name “longwing” was neither the exclusive property of this group, nor did it apply to all members of the group!

[N]umbers of other groups of butterflies also have “long” wings. Ithomiines, widespread in the American tropics have wings shaped liked heliconians. The wings of African actinotes, of mimic-whites (pierids in the subfamily Dismorphinae), and of skippers in the genus Panoquina are all long. And, not all heliconians have long wings.

So the common name now more clearly expresses this butterfly’s relation to other butterflies in the heliconian group. What does all this have to do with the passionvine in my backyard?

Well, this morning I noticed a yellow-barred heliconian (if you put it in initial caps, that would be the common name for this species as it appears in the 1931 Butterfly Book by W.J. Holland) fluttering over the tender growing tips of the vine. As usual with this species, I had a hard time photographing it, but here’s my best shot from today:

As you can see, it appears to be inspecting these tender plant parts for their suitability as egg hosts. If you click on the picture to get the larger version, you can probably see the eggs that it has already laid, as usual for this species, in clusters (unlike the usual one egg-per-leaf arrangement of the related heliconian species, Agraulis vanillae, commonly known as the Gulf Fritillary).

Since eggs don’t fly away when you approach them, I was able to get some reasonably good shots of the egg clusters she left behind:

And, at long last, here is one of the single eggs, miraculously in decent focus:

I think what this episode really shows is the truth of that obvious truism that our names for these creatures are nearly as ephemeral as our sightings of them. By the time I got my camera on the bug, it had already done most of its business. Before I was done with mine, it was long gone.

We should probably remember that the names we use for organisms, whether common names or scientific ones, are only signifiers, not signifieds. Sue Hubbell describes this problem quite nicely, so I’ll let her have the next-to-last words:

[These names, these taxa] are sorting words that we humans use to group a dizzying array of individual bugs that otherwise we would find too many and too confusing to think about. Because of the way we have evolved, we have sorting kinds of brains and feel more comfortable if we put what we see in the world into various piles and categories so that we can get a handle on them. But this says more about us and our brains than it does about the world outside our heads, and we shouldn’t mix up these categories—these taxa—with reality.

Whether you put this yellow-barred heliconian in the Longwing pile or the Heliconian pile; whether you call it a butterfly or a moth  (the distinction between day-flying clubbed-antennaed butterflies and night-flying feathery-antennaed moths is fraught with exceptions, exclusions, and in-betweens),  the animal doesn’t really care. It just wants to pass on its genes. Ironically, as I went out to take pictures of this yellow-barred heliconian, it was going about that business with gusto: it seemed to be chasing away another heliconian species, the Gulf Fritillary, which, had it been allowed to lay eggs on the plant as well, would have put its brood in competition with the young of our state butterfly. And no matter what we call the beast, it can’t allow that.


Brower, A.V.Z. 1994. The case of the missing H: Heliconius charithonia (L., 1767) not “Heliconius charitonia (L., 1767)” J. Lep. Soc. 48: 166–168.

Comstock, W. P., Brown, F. M. 1950. Geographical variation and subspeciation in Heliconius charitonius Linnaeus (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae). Am. Mus. Novit. 1467:1–21.

Hubbell, S. 1993. Broadsides from the Other Orders: A Book of Bugs. New York: Random House.

Marshall. S. A. 2006. Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity. Buffalo, NY: Firefly.

NABA Names Committee (Cassie, B., Glassberg, J., Swengel, A., Tudor, G.). 2004. North American Butterfly Association (NABA) Checklist & English Names of North American Butterflies. Second Edition. Morristown, NJ: North American Butterfly Association.

Remington, C. J. 1959. William Phillips Comstock (1880–1956). J. Lep. Soc. 13:30.

You say you want a revolution?

If your New Year’s Resolution had anything to do with precision in language, and you have any interest in astronomy, please try to remember the difference between the terms revolution and rotation.

The Earth revolves around the Sun:

Revolution around the Sun

It takes a year to do this. In fact, the Copernican Revolution made famous by historian of science Thomas Kuhn, was a well-reasoned and mathematically coherent description of this astronomical fact. The seasons are caused by the 23.5° tilt of its axis. When we’re on one side of our orbit, one hemisphere is tilted closer to the sun; when we’re in the opposite part of the orbit, the other hemisphere faces the sun. The axis is always tilted the same way; it’s just that we’re on different sides of the sun at different times of the year, due to the Earth’s revolution around the Sun.

The Earth rotates on its axis:

It takes a day (and a night) to do this. We rotate from west to east, which makes the sun appear to rise in the east and set in the west. That is, the eastern horizon, where the sun “rises” is the leading edge of our rotation, while the western horizon, where the sun “sets,” is the trailing edge.

Got it?

Another darner from a couple of years ago

Going through my old photo files has been fun for me; last night I found a slightly better photo of Coryphaeschna ingens, the Regal Darner [UPDATE:Gynacantha nervosa, Twilight Darner] who visited us during Tropical Storm Fay. I also ran across a couple of untagged photos of other species that I knew I’d seen, but couldn’t find in my files (lesson: ALWAYS apply photo tags). One of the untagged photos that I found is this Common Green Darner (Anax junius) that I saw on one of my lunchtime walks at Fern Forest:

I knew I’d seen these guys before, but I’d completely forgotten that I had taken a picture of one. I think the reason I didn’t tag it is that I was disappointed by the foreground palmetto string running through the image, so it wasn’t a “perfect” shot of the Common Green Darner. As the vernacular name implies, these dragonflies in the family Aeshnidae are quite common. Yesterday’s Regal Darner was also an aeshnid, but in a different genus.
The generic name of the Common Green Darner is Anax, which means king, lord, chief, master in Greek. Junius, I’m not so sure about, since it’s not in my go-to source (Brown, 1956), but it looks like a straightforward nominative form of Iunius, which is Latin for June: that would mean this species name translates to “June ruler,” presumably because it is so common in that month. It was described by Dru Drury in his 1773 Illustrations of Natural History.
According to Cannings and Stuart (cited in a natural history report from the Royal British Columbia Museum, which I found in the Wikipedia article on the name Aeshna), the family name Aeshnidae comes from a misprint of the Danish entomologist Fabricius’s original name for the genus, Aechma, from the Greek word meaning “spear.” That would mean the genus of yesterday’s dragonfly, Coryphaeschna, is a compound word, formed from this word and another Greek word, corypho, “head, top”: “spearhead.” The French entomologist Jules Pierre Rambur described that species, the type specimen for the entire genus, in his 1842 Histoire naturelle des insectes, part of the Suites à Buffon.
I’ve not yet found any source to corroborate my speculations above, so if anyone knows where I can find out more, I’d appreciate hearing about it!
Brown, R.W. (1956). Composition of Scientific Words: A Manual of Methods and a Lexicon of Materials for the Practice of Logotechnics. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Cannings, R.A. & Stuart K.M. (1977). The Dragonflies of British Columbia. British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook No. 35, Victoria, B.C.
Catalogue of the Odonata of the world.

Florida Word of the Day: Ligule

In writing the post on hastula, I found out that a hastula is like a ligule. Which  I guess is fine, as far as that goes, but really, it doesn’t go very far with me. I, after all, am neither agrostologist nor graminologist, so I had no idea what a ligule might be. According to MW, ligule, or tongue, is from New Latin ligula, from Latin for small tongue or strap, fr. lingere, to lick. They define it as “a thin appendage of a foliage leaf and esp. of the sheath of a blade of grass.”

By coincidence, I just happened to have Walter Kingsley Taylor’s Guide to Florida Grasses checked out of the library (yet another lovely field guide that this father of a 2-year-old hasn’t been able to afford yet), so I was able to dig a little deeper. It’s always good to review the specialized literature when you’re dealing with an unfamiliar technical term. Dr. Taylor tells us that a ligule is a structure that appears

inside the leaf, on the side facing the stem and at or near the blade-sheath-junction.

[The ligule is] an appendage that consists of hairs, a membrane, or a combination of the two. The ligule apparently keeps debris and water from getting between the sheath and stem. The ligule’s length, condition of hairs, and texture of the membrane (leathery, papery, thin) varies with the species. Most grasses have ligules of about one millimeter or less in length, which require magnification to see. In some grass species, notably barnyardgrasses (Echinocloa), the ligule is lacking. Nongrass rushes also lack a ligule, but sedges have them. Bamboos have two membranous ligules: inner and outer.

Here is a picture from Wikipedia of the ligule:

Ligule of Marsh Fox-tail grass (Alopecurus geniculatus, image by Christian Fischer from Wikipedia)

So it looks like Read and Hickey were right—the hastula, being a membranous structure that appears at the leafstalk tip where the segments of a palmate or costapalmate palm leaf join, is somewhat like a ligule. On the other hand, it’s a lot NOT like a ligule. For one thing, a ligule is tiny, usually requiring magnification to see, whereas a hastula is quite a bit larger:

For another thing, the ligule, it is speculated, helps the grass blade grow by keeping the sheath and the stem free of contaminants; the hastula doesn’t really keep the leafstalk of a palm frond clean. I’m not entirely sure what function the structure plays in the palm leaf.

Moral of story? Analogy only gets you so far. And when the things you’re comparing are anatomical structures of plants, they don’t really take you very far at all. At least, as far as I know.

Florida word of the day: psammophyte

Psammophyte. This seems to be a fancy way of saying seaweed. Since this word is too hifalutin’ for the American Heritage or even Merriam-Webster teams to take on, here’s a definition of the term from Dawes and Mathieson (Seaweeds of Florida, U of Florida P 2008):

A plant that grows in unconsolidated sediments or on rocky subtrata that is impacted by sand scouring; these plants show specialized morphological and/or reproductive adaptations.

“Unconsolidated sediments” sounds to me like sand; not sure what else it could be (gravel or crushed shells, I suppose). And since psammo is Greek for sand, I’m going to say that it’s sand.

As far as seaweeds go, there are apparently all kinds of ways of classifying them. One is the various types of “attached macroalgae”: Psammophytic and lithophytic (lithos is rock) appear to be the binary categories here. The opposite of attached macroalgae would presumably be planktonic. As Dawes says, “most seaweeds are lithophytes that grow attached to hard substrata and form some of the most productive communities in the world” (17).

So what seaweeds are psammophytic? Well, to answer that question, I’d have to go back to the library, request an interlibrary loan, and reobtain my copy of Dawes and Mathieson. That sounds like a lot of work. What about a Google search?

Turns out that you don’t have to be a marine plant or algal growth to be a psammophyte. Any of those plants you see on sandy soil can be called psammophytic. So dune plants, like these lovely sea oats, would qualify:

Sea oats (Uniola paniculata)

Turns out it’s hard to see the sandy substrate in the shot above, so here’s a shot of a neighboring plant even closer to the water than that:

Beachstar (Cyperus pedunculatus)

And, just in case you need some color with your sand-loving plants, here’s a beautiful, and endangered, psammophyte of south Florida: Beach Peanut (Okenia hypogaea)

Beach peanut (Okenia hypogaea)

I saw all three of these psammophytes on a field trip with the Florida Master Naturalist program back in 2008. But I hadn’t known the hard word that describes them all until I ran across it in research on the seaweeds of Florida. Now I have a fairly long agenda of photos to take when I get to the beach again…

Word of the Day: Fomite

The word of the day is fo·mite \ˈfō-ˌmīt\ n, pl fo·mites \-ˌmīts; ˈfäm-ə-ˌtēz, ˈfōm-\, which, according to Merriam-Webster’s online medical dictionary, is

an inanimate object (as a dish, toy, book, doorknob, or clothing) that may be contaminated with infectious organisms and serve in their transmission <the much maligned toilet seat is a remarkably ineffective fomite—M. F. Rein> <what are the most common fomites for rotavirus in day-care settings—Pediatric Report’s Child Health Newsletter>

My trusty MW Collegiate provides some interesting etymology: “back-formation fr. fomites, fr. NL [that’s New Latin], pl. of fomit-, fomes, fr. L., kindling wood; akin to L fovēre to heat — more at FOMENT.”

Foment, of course, means to promote the growth or development of; fomites, then, would be the substrate upon which this growth or development would occur. The link between foment and fomite is spurious, however. Rebellions are fomented; bacteria are cultured.

Or is that link spurious? Saturday night sure felt like my body was rebelling… I’m not entirely sure what fomite was responsible for the transmission of my most recent illness:

  • Was it the lovely cotton handkerchiefs with which we lovingly wiped the lad’s little nose-y during his weeklong hiatus from school?
  • Was it the vomitus with which he so liberally graced me as I stayed home to tend him at the midpoint of the aforementioned week?
  • Could it have been the dirty dirty hands that he lays so liberally on my face?
  • The bathwater that he splashes on me? The towels we dry him with? The cute little clothes he wears?

I’m just glad that the forces of my immune system were able to quell the disruption with only minimal loss of sleep and comfort.

Whatever may have been the transmission  method, it was successful, despite the hygiene regimen so strictly enforced by the lad’s loving mother. She always does her best to disrupt the fomites’ plans. She launders, she washes hands, she enforces personal hygiene.

When she’s not around, do these standards slip? Is that what happened?

It’s possible. But Dad doesn’t like dirty hands any more than Mom, and while he doesn’t launder as frequently, he does take what he considers reasonable precautions against disease transmission. Personally, my money’s on the bath of hot, greasy vomit that Dad enjoyed while tending the lad last week. Not something a reasonable hygiene regimen could avoid. Give those beasties a few days to ripen:

  • lag phase (high metabolic activity but no cell division)
  • log phase (rapid–logarithmic–bacterial cell division)
  • stationary phase (bacterial growth rate equals bacterial death rate)
  • death phase (nutrient sources exhausted, bacteria population collapses)

There you have the arc of a neat little rebellion. And it would have worked, too, if it weren’t for those meddling immune responses.

Had I been of a more scientific bent (and had a few petri dishes and a supply of nutrient agar lying around), I could have tried this nifty little experiment to see what kind of cultures I could have grown…

Day 20 moon

The last week of the lunation is turning into a test of endurance. Waking at 3 a.m. to get moon shots is not ideal for those of us who have day jobs. On the plus side, though, I have upgraded to CS4 and am able to annotate the photos; I’m working on the backlog and will post updates as time permits.

This morning’s moon turned out fairly well, despite the vibrations from the passing train and the clouds I had to dodge now and then (fortunately it wasn’t the other way around; dodging trains is one thing, but vibrating clouds would really make we worry!):

This moon’s seas are rapidly disappearing. Crisium disappeared into darkness days ago; Mare Nectaris joins it in obscurity today, and Mare Tranquillitatis is so far gone (though still visible) that I didn’t even label it. You can still make out the eastern fringes of Mare Serenitatis, but you can tell that it’s next on the chopping block. A prominent system of wrinkle ridges (dorsa; singular dorsum) runs for nearly 500 km down the entire eastern side of Serenitatis. Formerly known (informally) as the Serpentine Ridge, this prominent feature of the third quarter moon has been subdivided and given individual names (who knew that real estate investors and lunar nomenclaturists had the same idea about subdivisions?). From south to north the components of the serpentine ridge are: Dorsum Nicol, after a Scottish physicist from the 18th Century, William Nicol (he invented the first device for obtaining plane-polarized light, the Nicol Prism); Dorsa Lister, after Martin Lister, the 17th-century British zoologist, and the first to propose a modern geologic survey; and the largest system of wrinkle ridges in the chain, Dorsa Smirnov, after a prominent naturalist from the former Soviet Union, Sergei S. Smirnov, about whom even Wikipedia knows very little.

One of the craters featured last night, Posidonius, is just barely visible today. Last night its eastern rim wall was shining in the sunset; today it’s the western wall that is being highlighed by the setting sun. At the southern end of Serenitatis, on the border with the Sea of Tranquility is the prominent crater Plinius, named after Pliny the Elder, author of the first-century encyclopedia Historia Naturalis.

Continuing south along the terminator we meet again with the prominent trio Theophilus, Cyrillus, and Catharina, and then the quartet Zagut, Lindenau, Rabbi Levi, and Riccius in the cratered highlands of the moon’s southern hemisphere. It’s easy for the astronomer at the eyepiece to get lost in this rugged terrain, which is part of the reason I’m taking the trouble to hand label each of these images. I figure after a month of this, I should be able to find my way around a little bit better!

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