This unexpected beauty from Gooty, a town in Central Southern India, certainly doesn’t have a shortage of names. It’s most commonly referred to as the Gooty Sapphire Ornamental Tree Spider.
The extraordinary coloration of this tarantula comes from what are referred to as nanostructures, incredibly small structures on the hairs of the tarantulas which reflect light. In this case, these tarantulas aren’t producing a blue color, rather their hairs are bending and reflecting blue light. This means that depending on the angle that you are looking at the Gooty from, it may appear a different color, a trait called iridescence. You may have seen this same trait in peacocks and/or dragonflies.
The Gooty Sapphire is a tree-dwelling tarantula that lives in the holes of trees where they construct funnel webs. Occasionally, they have been found living somewhat communally when territories are limited (ie, holes in trees). Unlike many types of spiders, the Gooty doesn’t rely on its webs to catch their prey, which are usually all types of flying insects. Instead, they ambush their prey with a paralyzing bite. Don’t worry though; no humans have ever died from the potent-peck of the Gooty Sapphire. That’s not to say that the bite itself isn’t harmless. In fact, a bite from their 3/4 inch fangs can be incredibly painful, though it isn’t common. Gooty venom causes increased heart-rate, sweating, headaches, and all sorts of fun stuff, lasting up to a week.
Again, the Gooty Sapphire gets its name from the town Gooty in Central Southern India where they live. In fact, their entire natural range is less than 39 square miles in an area designated as a forest reserve. Despite this designation, it continues to be an area that is highly exploited for its resources. Logging and firewood harvesting are rapidly degrading the only natural habitat of the Gooty Sapphire. This combined with the pressures of the international pet trade have already put this arachnid on the Endangered Species list as Critically Endangered- thus making it even more of a gem than is is biologically.
The truth is, the concept of a plant or animals purpose isn’t as cut and dry as many would like. This makes sense. People are always trying to determine their purpose, their deeper meaning, and trying to answer age old questions like “What’s the meaning of life?”. When we start looking outward, we start trying to apply that same thought logic, but that’s just not how life really works. This is a topic I will be sure to explore more in-depth in a future podcast episode devoted to this idea of purpose.
That being said, everything plays a role in its ecosystem. Yes, even ticks. So what are those roles? I’ll explain!
Many animals will eat ticks. Virtually any insect eating bird will eat ticks if they are available. Ground dwelling birds like turkeys, chickens, and other will also eat ticks. Fire ants, another notorious creature, can clear whole fields of ticks. But for every tick eaten, there are more that will hitchhike on those same birds, mammals, and even humans. The problem is that nothing eats ticks exclusively. If there was, that’d just be bad evolution. So, if ticks disappeared it is unlikely that any living creature would suddenly face a major starvation crisis. Even the possum, which can potentially eat 5,000 ticks per season, have little impact considering they only eat ticks which have made their way onto their bodies and the fact that a single tick can lay 2,000 to 18,000 eggs in a lifetime.
Don’t worry, ticks get a taste of their own medicine…sorta. Ticks may use bigger creatures as host, but ticks themselves are bigger creatures compared to some, serving as host to a diverse range of microorganisms. Yes, many of those bacteria, viruses, and other organisms are the very source of many tick-borne illnesses, but if we are going to try and look at the purpose of ticks then we need to look at purpose from all angles. To these microorganisms, a ticks purpose is a place to call home. Like all living things, we exist because we can. We exist to survive and to further our own species. Microorganisms use ticks as a home to survive and spread, just like ticks use host to survive and spread. Simple, right?
The truth is, research on this is difficult, impractical, and well, difficult. Ticks do spread diseases. They are what are known as a vector, an avenue for diseases to spread. Using what we know and a little bit of logic, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that ticks could play this role in a pretty straight forward way. Ticks require a host, meaning the higher the host population, the higher the possible tick population. With high tick populations comes higher incidence of tick-borne illnesses. Secondly, if there are a high number of host available, that means that ticks can spread more easily over a geographic range. Disease works this way in populations. The higher the population and the more contact between individuals, the more disease can spread. You could suggest then that higher host populations will eventually see higher levels of diseases which, in combination with other factors (predators, habitat, food availability) may help level off or reduce rising populations of some animals.
So, as far as purpose is concerned, the answer is that they don’t have any. As far as role is concerned, we have to not think about “role” in a human centered context because doing so won’t give you a good answer. At least not a satisfying one. Either way, ticks are here to stay.
Here is something to think about: ticks don’t necessarily want to bite you. Ticks rely on being able to pick a host, feed, drop off, and repeat. When a tick latches onto a human, odds are that they are going to be found, killed, or end up dropping off on some concrete or indoors where they can’t survive. As humans venture more and more into tick habitat, and as humans continue to spread our own habitat with residential developments, we will continue to have run-ins with ticks. That said, when you go hiking or into potential tick habitat, always be sure to have at least two forms of tick protection to prevent tick-borne illnesses. Use bug spray, where long socks with your pants fashionably tucked in, purchase tick-gaiters, or treat your clothing with permethrin to keep yourself protected and to keep ticks in the woods and grasses where they should, and want, to be.
27 years ago, Alan Emtage, a student at McGill University in Montreal, developed Archie, the very first search engine. That was just the beginning. Somewhere along the way, a symbiotic relationship developed between these continually developing search engines, advertisers, and users which has blossomed into something like we’ve never seen before. Search engines, marketing, and the lives of every day people have become incredibly interconnected and interdependent, like a virtual ecosystem. This human connection in a virtual context has people looking more and more for their internet experience to connect with them in a way that is both socially and environmentally meaningful and responsible. The internet and our culture are continually evolving. Ecosia is the next link in that chain.
A trip around the world, bearing witness to the problems of deforestation, inspired Christian Kroll to found Ecosia.org in 2009. Since then, Ecosia has grown quickly, winning several awards, becoming the first German B Corp, and hitting the milestone of funding its one-millionth tree in 2014. Since then, the team has funded over six-million more, quicly approaching eight-million in total. Now, they have set their sites on a new, ambitious milestone of one-billion trees by 2020, and they can only do it with your help.
Here’s how it works:
Search the web using Ecosia and 80% of the ad revenue generated is used to plant trees through various tree planting projects around the globe. That’s it. Search the web, plant trees. Presently, Ecosia funds tree planting projects in Madagascar, Burkina Faso, Peru, and Indonesia.
The search engine is powered by Bing’s technology and enhanced with Ecosia’s own algorithms. A tree counter sits on the top right of your browser tracking how many trees you have helped fund through your browsing activity, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly it can add up.
Ecosia’s positive impact is growing rapidly. Around 5 million users have already switched to Ecosia and are helping finance a new tree every 5 seconds (that’s one tree every 50 searches)
Trees are critical in their role of absorbing greenhouse gases, acting as a filtering-sponge for the air we breathe. Deforestation and the agriculture that typically follows are major drivers of global climate change by not only expelling tons of carbon dioxide, but removing earths natural filtering system. Tree canopies also provide shade and insulatory cooling for life below. In their absence, the ground can reach inhospitable temperatures and fluctuate drastically in ways that can be harmful to plant and animal life. The soils can quickly dry out and once lush ecosystems can quickly become barren deserts.
Around 80 percent of earths land animals live in the forest. Most of these species live in rainforest near the equator, which is also where a majority of deforestation occurs. Deforestation is a real and present danger for the biodiversity of life around the globe.
Want to learn more about Ecosia? Read about the team, their core values, the programs they fund, and more here.
On April 1st, I hosted a neighborhood clean-up, though the hosting bit was rather difficult considering that I was the only attendee. The schedule was set for two hours on the nicest Saturday of 2017, so far. 60 degrees, sunny, without a cloud in sight. I don’t blame people for not showing up. In fact, my original thought process was that if no one showed up I’d skip out on participating and hit up a local park with the family instead. Eventually, I decided to follow through with the original plan and spend two hours picking up litter from around my neighborhood and the nearby creek. 2 hours later, I finished up, having picked up 200 lbs of garbage.
I shared my story on April 3rd, and made this commitment:
“By now, you’ve probably figured out that I am on a mission to become a person who truly practices what they preach. So, here’s my challenge to myself for the month of April: whenever I go out on a walk or hike, I will bring a bag so that I can help in the fight against litter. Here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m going to keep weighing what I pick up and tally it up over the course of the rest of the month to see just how much waste I can tackle.” Devon Bowker- I Organized a Neighborhood Clean-Up and Here’s What Happened, April 3, 2017
Well, it’s been a month now and I did exactly what I promised. Day after day, hike after hike, I carried a bag with me and casually picked up litter that I came across. I didn’t seek it out. I didn’t dedicate a multi-hour block of time to pick up litter and nothing else. I didn’t allow it to become an inconvenience and I certainly didn’t pick up everything that I came across. All I did was carry a bag with me, either in my hiking bag or the bottom of the stroller, and pick things up as I came across them. It was purely casual.
I brought my scale with me, keeping it in the trunk and weighing things in the same manner I had on April 1st, keeping tally on my phones notepad. All-in-all, I managed to pick-up 276 pounds of litter over 13 different sessions. Add that to the totals from clean-up day, and that’s nearly 500 pounds.
Think about this for a moment. Forget the first clean-up. 200 pounds in two hours isn’t realistic to expect from everyone. Let’s focus only on the rest of April. I was able to pick up 276 pounds of litter without even trying. If I could do that each month that was seasonally possible, we’re looking at over 2 thousand pounds of waste removed from the environment on an annual basis. If each household in America were to do this, that adds up to 250 billion pounds of garbage. That’s unbelievable.
As extraordinary as that is, what I discovered during this mission was actually quite eerie. A majority, and I’m not talking the just-over-50% kind, of the litter I picked up was recyclable material. All types of paper, soda cans, gas station fountain drink cups, cardboard, plastic bottles, all things that could have been recycled into new products and materials. Now, because of the way I was going about picking things up, recyclables were mixed with garbage and it was difficult to sort them at the bin every time. Regrettably, this means that much of what I picked up, though it was removed from the environment, was destined for a landfill.
Residential waste accounts for 55% of the national waste stream (JouleBug). Much of what is thrown away can be recycled. Assuming you recycle just 90% of the your recyclable materials, you’ll be diverting 245 pounds of waste from landfills, saving 816 pounds of CO2 annually (JouleBug). Add in all of that litter to the equation and consider that most of its contents could avoid a landfill all together if only we showed more individual and social responsibility.
April has ended, but this mission and my invitation for your participation has not. I plan to continue this eco-challenge just as before but with one adjustment: I will sort out recyclables from garbage, keeping a separate tally, and update you all at the end of May with the totals.
Many people think of composting as something that you can only do with a big outdoor bin in your yard or garden, but truthfully you don’t need all of that space. For those just getting into composting, apartment dwellers, those who live in harsh environments, and those without a yard, indoor vermicomposting is the answer for you!
In one to four months, you can covert your kitchen scraps into highly nutritious fertilizer to be used, sold, donated, whatever! Plus, you are diverting all of that waste from landfills.
The first step to starting your new compost bin is to, well, pick your bin. You can purchase indoor composting bins commercially, use a wooden garden box, or use an opaque plastic storage bin. Personally, I prefer the plastic storage bin approach for its affordability and simplicity. Be sure that the container is opaque. Worms are not fans of the light.
No matter how many people will be using the bin, you’ll want to aim for a deep bin rather than shallow. More depth means more layering, which is key when composting. Start with a standard 25 gallon (4 cubic feet) storage bin. This will be just fine for 1 to 2 people. You’ll need about 1 to 2 additional cubic feet of space for each individual in your home.
Using a drill, screwdriver, or really anything that can make holes in the bin without causing larger cracks, start 4 inches from the bottom of the bin and make a hole every 2 to 4 inches along the sides and lid. The diameter of the holes should be small and no larger than about half the width of a pencil. Make a few holes in the bottom of the bin for drainage of the compost “tea” that can puddle in the bottom. This is what the boot tray is for. That will work to catch any drainage that does occur. Red worms thrive in a moist environment, the happy place between wet and dry. If you have a lot of drainage then you need to add more dry material to compensate.
Worms like to have nice bedding, too. In fact,the bedding is essential to the health of your worms and the effectiveness of the bin. The bedding needs to be a high carbon material such as shredded leaves, shredded newspaper, nutshells, moist peat moss, or something similar. Moisten the bedding and mix in a few scoops of soil, placing it in the bin until it is about 3/4 of the way full.
One of the species most commonly used is the Red Wiggler (Eisenia fetida or Eisenia andrei). This is what I use personally and recommend for anyone living within the Great Lakes region. There are no native species of earthworm in the Great Lakes region. Any that are here are non-native, invasive, ecosystem damage causing pest. Red Wigglers are a safe choice because they can not tolerate below freezing temperatures and will not survive a winter. I recommend freezing compost you plan to use for about a week to ensure it kills any worms or eggs that may hitch a ride outdoors as an extra precautionary measure. I purchase mine from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm on Amazon. You should only need a pound of worms (250) for this sized bin.
Fruits, vegetables, peels, egg shells (crushed), tea and tea bags, coffee and filters, and leaves.
Meat, dairy, oils, plastic, animal waste, citrus, and bones.
Each time you add scraps, add a little bit more bedding or dirt. Speed along the process but cutting the food into smaller pieces before adding it to the bin.
Compost bins are all about balance. If there is an odor, there’s an imbalance. If it is too dry or too wet, there’s an imbalance. If it gets too dry, add more moist paper or scraps. If it’s too wet, add dry bedding.
When the compost looks brown, crumbly, and uniformly so, it’s ready to be harvested. This will take 1 to 4 months depending on how much it is used. Divide your bin in two by shifting the finished compost to one side and adding fresh new bedding to the other side. Wait a few days, continuing to add scraps as normal to the new bedding side. The worms will leave the finished compost side in search for food. Remove the lid for a few hours so that they will burrow deep and scoop out your ready-to-use compost. Use it to garden or give it to someone else who could use it. Then, the cycle starts over!
Have any composting tips you’d like to share? Comment below with your own tips and tricks.
Chrissy Bowker of Texas asks, “What’s this animal?”
COMMON NAME: Yellow-crowned Night Heron
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Nyctanassa violacea; ORDER, Pelecaniformes
DIET: Mainly crustaceans, insects, and some types of fish. Occasionally, it may feed on small lizards, rodents, or other small birds.
SIZE: Average height, 25 inches; Wingspan, 44 inches
WEIGHT: Average weight, 1.65 pounds
HABITAT: Wetlands, marshes, bayous, shallow lake shores, mangroves, and seasonally flooded locations.
The bird in the picture above is none other than the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron. They roost in trees during the day and do most of their hunting nocturnally, specializing on crustaceans. While at rest, their neck is short, stout, and tucked-in. When extended, their necks are long and slim. Because they are a wading bird, their legs are quite long, even extending beyond the tail while in flight. Its most notable characteristics are its glossy black head, standing in stark contrast to the pale-yellow horizontal stripes which wrap the cheeks and extend from the bill to the back of the head, running between the eyes, giving it the yellow crown for which it is named. It has a large, heavy, black-bill, perfect for breaking through the shells of crab and crayfish. Their eyes are a striking red-orange. Their body, in contrast to their head and legs, is a blue-grey color which appears in an almost scale-like pattern due to the small white edges.
Listen to their flight call here: