Frontyard Sense/Backyard Science


Getting in Touch:
From time to time when it gets a bit boring, we’re going to explore what’s just outside the door. This is one of those times.

Have ya ever pondered what goes on outside your back door? Do ya ever wonder why that boulder is over there and why this tree grows over here? Once you observe and learn a bit about nature, without doubt, you will learn more in turn about yourself.

Nature is an amazing entity. It not only surrounds us, but courses through us. We are not above or separate from it but constitute a part of it and that’s all there is to it. Mother Nature does not favor nor does she direct misgivings to any forms of life under her dictates; it’s just a thing known as life…ebbs of favor and disfavor comes and goes for a species.

When mankind moves into and sets up camp in flood plains, hurricane prone coastlines, beneath smoldering volcanoes and earthquake zones, when the ultimate finally occurs, we curse nature as cruel if not as unkind. Nature simply is what it is and that is not for our divine convenience. We follow her guidelines of checks and balances as any other good species does.     

Through natural selection, she guilelessly allows an evolving course to be driven through geological and climatic events. She even allows her little ones in life to aid her big ones.

Bacterial types
We live today, because of bacteria. They are in our mouths and gut as an essential component necessary in our digestion and inhabit every inch of our outside body. On average, the total body weight of a human consists of three kilograms or 6.6 pounds of bacteria. Land, sea, subterranean and air, bacteria are everywhere. Of the seven groups comprising bacterium phyla, there is an estimated five million trillion trillion bacteria here on Earth. This simply mind boggling number is a five followed by thirty zeroes.

In fact, we still evolutionarily carry on the components to life as a single-celled organism through our cellular structure and functions. Our original ancestor to life was bacteria. Though we are a very complicated arrangement of cellular multiple tasking and concerted functionality, multicellular organisms first arose from unicellular organisms.

Micro World:
Plant & animal cells (Eukaryotes)
Prokaryote vs. eukaryote cell

The cell is the fundamental structural aspect to all life period. ‘Karyose’ originates from a Greek word and means kernel as in a corn kernel. In biology studies this ‘karyose’ root word is combined with ‘pro’ meaning before and ‘eu’ meaning true. So, prokaryote means before a nucleus and eukaryote means a nucleus proper. Both these refer to the internal elements in a cell. Therefore, prokaryotic cells contain no nucleus where eukaryotic cells do. Eukaryote cells evolved from prokaryote organisms giving leverage to multicellular evolvement and activity within one organism by having organelles enclosed in membranes separated from the plasma membrane and an enclosed nucleus containing the DNA. This, so to speak caging of the DNA and organelles (specialized structures within a cell) allowed cell activity to specialize in one single organism. Certain cells became task specific, such as in the development of internal organs as specialized cells assigned only to develop the liver or heart or the neural senses as in sight and feeling. This complexity in cellular assignment led to the eukaryote organism that eventually, through a whole slew of evolutionary routes, came up with the human design. We still carry through this long path, ancestral genetic traits of the single celled organism, fish, the notochord bearing tunicate, amphibians, reptiles, and the hominids Neanderthal and Denisovan.

Current day stromatolites 
Fossilized stromatolite
Although we think of bacteria as a single celled organism (unicellular) and as only prokaryotic, it was bacteria that first ventured forth in advancing life into the realm of multicellular specialization and eukaryotic cell structure. Cyanobacteria, cyan referring to a greenish blue color, are an ancient phylum of bacteria that perform oxygenic photosynthesis converting Earth’s early reducing atmosphere into an oxidizing state. Cyanobacteria have lived on Earth for over 2 billion and 800 million years. Stromatolites,   laminated accretionary limestone formed by the growth of cyanobacteria colonies, comprise some of the oldest known fossils.

Besides being responsible for producing the major volume of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere today that molded eukaryotic biodiversity (aerobic), while almost extinguishing oxygen intolerant (anaerobic) organisms in the process, cyanobacteria also produced the first fossil multicellular organism we know of. Therefore in sequence, they produced the first germ cell for reproduction. By this, they evolved sex leading to the first sexual organisms of soft bodied sponge-like tubular organisms more than 565 million years ago. In redneck dictionary slang…yepper, there’s been sex carrying on for a long time now.

In first developing photosynthesis, cyanobacteria utilized carbon compounds to create sugars for energy. This further led to cellular specializations in containing an organelle called mitochondrion. Mitochondria (for plural) are essential in all higher life forms in converting sugars and oxygen into energy. Every cell in our body contains mitochondria. Without it, we surely would die, for as in addition to creating cellular energy it also performs in the metabolizing of toxins in our liver.                     

We normally equate bacteria as bad germs, but bacterium is indispensible to our daily lives. The bacterial breakdown of chemicals is critical to all life. They are the only known organism that can fixate nitrogen in the soils for plants to utilize in their metabolic processes. They are the major contributor in decomposing dead organisms freeing up the molecules and atoms to be reused by the living. For centuries on end they’ve been used by people to manufacture our foods, turning grape juice into wine, wine into vinegar and milk into cheese and yogurt. They’re presently used in biotechnology in creating key proteins.

If one eats, then one must poop. Bacteria that lead to human pathogens, are not necessarily due to the bacteria themselves, but are indirectly due to bacteria proliferation and directly due to all that resultant bacterial pile-up of excrement. It is the waste products produced by a healthy population of bacteria that causes the onslaught of bacterial diseases.

There is a process known as endosymbiosis. An obligate endosymbiont organism is one that lives within the body or cells of another organism while providing mutual benefit. Examples of obligate endosymbiotic relationships are the bacteria that live inside animal guts and in payment for renting out a live home, aid the landlord in digesting nutrients and breaking down otherwise toxic compounds into harmless compositions. Rhizobia, nitrogen fixing bacteria that live inside the nodules of legume plants, constructs nitrogen into beneficial nitrogen compounds for the plant, while in the gutless marine worm, riftia that houses bacteria, in return receives predigested nutrition back from the bacteria. Single celled algae with the ridiculously tongue tied twisted name of zooxanthellae live inside corals, whereby, in cleaning house, take up the metabolic waste of the coral and take in the carbon dioxide produced from coral respiration reverting it back into oxygen for coral use.

Now the kicker to all this endosymbiotic relationship stuff going on is that it is not just associated with organisms, but also with the components within eukaryotic cells. Now please refer back to what was earlier mentioned; an organism is an organism if it is a cell or has cells. But to further add, a cell component may itself behave endosymbiotically with another cell.

Remember mitochondria that lifesaving organelle for organisms and their cells? Well, it turns out this particular organelle is currently displaying obligate endosymbiosis. How can this be; a part of a cell behaving as if it’s a full cell organism? To solve the mystery we have to go back in evolutionary history in cellular development. Today, mitochondrion may only comprise a certain component of a cell, but its origins foretell a different story. Mitochondria originally were a small bacterium; an independent organism. The story goes like this…

Anaerobic prokaryote cells once ingested aerobic trending bacteria, but for whatever reason could not digest it. In this new environment the aerobic leaning bacteria were able to flourish due to the larger prokaryote cell’s cytoplasm being available with an abundance of undigested food molecules. The entrapped bacteria digested these molecules with oxygen in such efficiency it gained a great amount of energy. The excessive energy spilled over as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) into the anaerobic cell’s cytoplasm. ATP is the transporter of chemical energy for metabolism within all eukaryotic cells. The anaerobic cell benefitted, for it now could process energy with oxygen aerobically. Eventually the ingested aerobic bacteria became totally dependent upon the anaerobic cell, thus devolving from an independent organism into just one part of another organism…the mitochondrion.

There have been multiple examples of endosymbiosis tracks taken from a once independent organism throughout evolution. Another example is in plant cell organelles called plastids. One particular plastid is chloroplast and its origins are very similar to mitochondria. Some prokaryote large cell enveloped and engulfed a cyanobacterium. Not being digested, the cyanobacterium thrived within the larger cell in the same manner as mitochondria’s original bacteria did. In both benefitting, the cyanobacterium eventually evolved into the larger host cell’s chloroplast.

Mitochondrion & Chloroplast
We know of this for mitochondria and chloroplasts contain distinct tidbits of DNA unrelated to the organism’s DNA it resides in. True aerobic respiration is determinedly clear in its evolution from anaerobic origins, for it is essentially anaerobic respiration with a dash of added chemical sequences on the tail end of the respiratory process in utilizing oxygen. Mitochondria and chloroplast independently of the eukaryote cell that houses them, divide by binary fission characteristic of prokaryote cell division. In cellular respiration, a cell converts nutrients into biological energy. Anaerobic organisms can get along quite nicely in non-oxygenated energy environments, but aerobic respiration, due to oxygen’s oxidative state has a much higher energy yield, thus with cyanobacteria filling the atmosphere with free oxygen, multicellular eukaryotic life forms could begin to proliferate.

A pondering calculus to propose to ya…

If mitochondria and chloroplasts are original descendants of an independent ancestral prokaryote cell or organism still carrying its own distinct DNA, are they then now merely a component of another cell, or a dependent organism within another organism or, an independent organism living in a new environment that happens to be inside the confines of a host cell? Ponder a bit on that would ya, then get back with me. I’d surely like to know.

Just to compound the complexity of what is life and in essence what is human, I’m gonna sling just a bit more at ya. Retroviruses only possess RNA and only while in a host cell. Further, it utilizes a reverse transcriptase enzyme to convert its single stranded RNA into double stranded DNA eventually forming the renowned double helix. This DNA is then introduced and incorporated into the host’s genome by an enzyme known as intergrase. Lastly, the virus replicates this DNA into the host’s DNA sequence. Endogenous retroviruses are viruses that once infected our earliest ancestors, but throughout the multitudes of ascending generations, today, we still carry these viral DNA sequences as part of our own encoded genomic make-up. 8% of the human genome originated from viruses genetically coded with ours as integrated with primate evolution for the past 40 million years. However, unlike their original infection, they are harmless to us today due to inactivating mutations. But, these mutations are thought to have played a major role in our evolutionary climb. So to a certain extent, to be human also may mean to be viral as well.

Ending the above discussion leads us into another similar one, but with a eukaryotic multicellular organism. We’re going to quip here on the odd life of the anglerfish. The anglerfish is a benthic and pelagic deep sea fish and is known for a spiny appendage terminating into a fleshy lobe seated at the front of the head containing luminescent bacteria. It wiggles this filament as baited lure essentially fishing as an angler would. Making its home in the deepest depths of the oceans, encounters with a male and female for mating purposes can be rare in the vastness of oceanic fathoms. This is problematic and to solve this dilemma, the male anglerfish in the Ceratioid group evolved in a much different way than the female.
Female anlerfish with attached male

The male, being only a fraction of the size of the female, is hatched without a digestive tract. His first urgent need therefore, is not to find food, but a female. Once he does, he sinks his teeth into her body. While holding on with the bite, he secretes an enzyme that begins to digest his mouth and the bite area on her fusing the two together down to the blood vessel layers. The male then begins to slowly experience atrophic measures, first wilting away his brain, heart and eyes finally winding up as nothing but a set of gonads. He sequentially has given up being a distinct organism becoming nothing more than the female’s attached male sex organ. Now, once she becomes gravid and ready to lay her eggs, she has her sperm bank conveniently handy for the exact moment.

When scientists first began seriously studying the anglerfish, although they noted a lump on her thinking it a parasite, they thought that there were only female anglerfish. It was later with newer techniques for dissection and identification methods that they finally realized that the lump was a sperm bank with vestigial remnants of the male.

Now I know full well the anglerfish is nowhere near a front or backyard to observe, but I do hope you concur, as in a convergent role played out similar to mitochondria, the male anglerfish as a far more complex eukaryotic multicellular organism is a strange one indeed morphing out from an individual being, to only a component of another…life in reverse…          

We call it the earthworm because that is where it makes it home; in the earth, but I call it worldworm due to the fact it is virtually found on every continent except for Antarctica. They are exempt in Antarctica due to the fact that they are cold blooded. Even though they can survive a quick freeze if the freezing is gradual, long term freezing as in Antarctica would kill them. In fact, most native American species were wiped out by the last ice age. Whether intentionally or not species in North America today came as immigrants in pots of dirt from Europe. In temperate cold zones, earthworms will tunnel down six feet to avoid the soil’s frozen zone.

There are around 6,000 species of earthworm about the world with approximately 182 species taking up residence in American and Canadian soils. They cannot tolerate direct sunlight for too long, for once it dries up their mucous lining they will die. The mucous is composed of nitrogen and is multifunctional for the animal. As earthworms exchange respiration gases through their skin, it assists in breathing, retains moisture in keeping the worm from dehydrating and aids in their locomotion lubricating their tunneling. Many people have heard the gurgling sound emanating from the mucus as the earthworm hurriedly burrows.

Michrochateus rappi
Earthworms are in the phylum Annelida for ringed worm, simply because their segments appear as ring-like around the body. The average length is 35.56 centimeters (14 inches) with the largest species, Michrochateus rappi having a record length of 6.7 meters or 22 feet. The smallest species size belongs to Chaetogaster annandalli  in barely reaching a mere length of 0.05 centimeters (0.8 inches).

Their form of locomotion is by means of sinusoidal wave actions produced by longitudinal body muscles contracting alternately, thus shortening and lengthening the body propelling it forward. For grip, except for the very first and very last segments and the clitellum, each body segment hosts minuscule claw-like bristles known as setae. In propelling with a push on the shortened end these setae anchor to the surrounding soil.

Castings - earthworm feces
The body plan is basically a tube within a tube, with the inner tube being the digestive tract. Earthworms have no teeth, so use a muscular pharynx to suck in whatever is in front of them. They ingest everything from decaying organic matter, soil and stone grit, insect parts, bacteria and small soil nematodes. They will also come to the surface at times and grab fallen leaves to either immediately graze on or munch on later underneath the ground where they store it in their burrows or line their tunnels with it. Once the worm digests all the nutrients it excretes the rest out as castings, clusters of little round seemingly soil looking material. Initially, castings are wet for the earthworm has no rectum to reclaim water content, just an exit hole or anus.  

Earthworm cocoons
In producing offspring, earthworms have separate processes for copulation and reproduction. The worms are hermaphrodites containing both male and female sex organs. The clitellum, located nearest the anterior end or head, houses the female components while seminal vesicles produce, store and release sperm via male pores. In copulation, the mating pair overlaps each other and exchange sperm. Over time after copulation, the clitellum secretes a cocoon around the worm, whereupon the worm begins backing out of the cocoon. While shimming out of the cocoon, an egg and stored sperm from the former copulating partner is injected into the cocoon. As the worm finally slips out of the cocoon with its precious cargo inside, the ends of the cocoon seal, forming an incubator where the embryo will develop. Upon hatching and exiting the cocoon, the young earthworm emerges fully formed minus a clitellum in which will develop sixty to ninety days later. Some earthworm species though, are parthenogenetic where a female is asexual and in not needing male sperm for chromosomal contribution, develops clones of her own self.
As any organic gardener will attest, the earthworm ecologically is indispensible to healthy soils. Their constant tunneling and burrowing aerates the soil, while the earthworm is constantly as well, mixing organic material with minerals making very fertile humus for vegetative growth.

All earthworms have the power to regenerate body parts, while several species even possess the ability to regenerate a new head, if the original was amputated. Imagine…if man had this ability, guillotine manufacturers would have been out of business long before they even started. But then again, if we had that regenerative ability, just like a hat, if we didn’t like the old head, lop it off and try on a new one.

Seven Times the Fun:
Tetrahymena magnified
There is a single celled organism, common in pond water that has seven different sexes. As a ciliated protozoan, Tetrahymena thermophilia has the ability to have sex with six other different sex members of the species. Though it cannot have sex with another individual of its own sex, since nature dictates a sex of a species cannot reproduce with itself, it can reproduce sexually with the other six sex members of its species, leading to twenty-one possible couplings. This diversity in sex surely leads to maximizing the chances in finding sex partners. Humans only have two sexes to copulate, with only one sex variant for reproduction.

Though there are other organisms, like slime mold that has far more than seven mating types, they are not all sexual and mostly asexual. Tetrahymena rocks…

To Reflect or Not, That Is the Deflection:
Whenever a ray of light travels through one medium into another (for instance through air then into water), a portion of the incoming light is reflected at the interface of the two mediums. To prove this for yourself, in clear still waters, you can see your reflection on the surface of the water. This is strictly due to the reflection of light. But is this always the case…pretty much, until you consider night moths.

The eyes of night moths are so efficient in absorbing all the light that it comes into contact with that there is no light reflected back. This is good for the moth well-nigh for two reasons. All the available night light is utilized for vision and by the retina not reflecting back out a certain color of the light spectrum as most animal’s eyes do, the moth is undetected by predators during his nightly forays. Of course though, the bat could care less, for he’ll get his moth meal through sonar and not by sight.

Moth eye magnified to reveal bumps
Being one of the deepest black surfaces known in nature, the night moth’s eye lens consist of a hexagonal arrangement of bumps no larger than 200 nanometers spaced on 300 nanometer centers. If ya might recall a nanometer being a unit of length of only one billionth of a meter, then you might also realize this is one small pattern. The moth’s eyes are so antireflective due to this film coating of bumps being smaller than light’s wavelengths. This creates a continuous refractive gradient index between the air and the moth eye lens that it effectively cancels out the interface of the two mediums. So light proceeds as normal as if it never passed through a variant medium.

Could this be something handy for man to biomimic? Of course it is
. To biomimic the moth’s eye lens pattern for solar cells would make them far more efficient in absorbing the sun’s total light energy. Already in biomimicry, engineers have duplicated an antireflective film based on the night moth’s eye lens pattern and size.

Ya know, in pondering I always wondered why nocturnal moths in preferring the dark are always attracted to a light source. We’ve all seen them banging on our window screens attracted to the indoor light or fluttering around while continuously encircling an outdoor light. If they are attracted to light so much, then why are they nocturnal? Don’t they know that during daytime, there is the biggest light bulb of all…the sun?

Honey Bee Social:
We all know pretty much about honey bees along with their social characteristics and as of late their rapid decline due to colony collapse disorder (CCD). This definitely was cause for concern for the honey bee pollinates around thirty percent of our food. So, I’m going to attempt in relaying here a few items most may not have been aware of concerning the humble honey bee.

Although, there is evidence that honey bees were once indigenous to North America due to one sole fossil find of a honey bee in Nevada fourteen million years old, citizens living on North American shores enjoy local honey today due strictly to the importation of European honey bees. Honey bees were first imported to the New World in England’s American colonies during the early 1600s. Until 1751, when the first sugar importation into a Louisiana port occurred, honey served as the only sweet for Americans. By the early 1850s, honey bees had finally been brought to California.

Honey bee ball encircling 2 wasps 
Apparently in knowing that their stinger cannot penetrate the chitinous exoskeleton of other predaceous hymenopterans, when hornets or wasps invade their nests, honey bees instead resort to forming a ball around the intruders. The body heat trapped by the honey bee ball will overheat then eventually kill the interlopers.   

Honey bee venom contains several biologically active toxic compounds with two being mass cell degranulating (MCD) cationic peptides that stimulate the release of the victims own body histamines producing the associated pain and dilation of blood vessels. Also, if enough of the nerve toxin called apamin is injected, muscle spasms and even convulsions may occur in more sensitive victims. 

African honey bees’ reputation as a killer bee holds out, but not because of their sting…it is due to their extreme aggressive behavior. An African honey bee sting is only as painful as the other honey bee species and all honey bees can sting just once. After the sting and injection of venom, they die and here’s why. When looking at a honey bee stinger under a strong magnifying glass, you will note tiny barbs up and down the stem that slant and are pointed in one direction back towards the base of the stem. It is fashioned much like the tip of a whale harpoon. Unlike a hornet or wasp that is equipped with a stinger designed like a hypodermic needle that can be utilized for multiple injections and ejections, a honey bee’s stinging design is not.

The ovipositor stinger of a social honey bee is composed of three parts surrounding the poison duct, which are the director that guides two lancets. Once entering the wound site and embedded in flesh, the stinger cannot be retracted due to the holdfast of the one way barbs. The poison gland is then squeezed by up and down motions of the lancets from muscular action, thus pumping and forcing venom into the wound. The firm barbing attachment retains the whole venom apparatus in the wound area. Once the insect is swatted off, or the bee itself attempts to fly off, the venom gear is ripped from the insect and remains in situ with the muscular poison gland still pumping away. In either scenario the honey bee soon dies from getting its guts ripped out, but if you try and pull the stinger out, the squeezing action of your finger and thumb grip will only inject more venom into the wound. The best approach is to scrape the venom apparatus off with a pocket knife or fingernail.

Now, let’s go back to the African honey bee with two personal African stories. When I was conducting seismic surveys in central Sudan, there was an observer (one who records seismic data) that he and some local laborers had somehow disturbed an African honey bee nest. Remember now, it is not the sting that gives these bees the alias killer bee name tag, but their aggression and were the bees ever upholding their reputation that day. After being stung several times, the men began running, but no matter the path they took the bees were swarming and stinging them. All but one managed to reach a vehicle and once the bees that followed them in were killed, they were safe from the others swarming the outside of the land rover. But at 108° F, it got warm in a hurry inside the vehicle. Lowering the windows just an inch more for some fresh air allowed more bees to enter and attack. They had to keep the windows up and suffer through the heat.

Meanwhile, the observer was the unfortunate one that in his haste had run in the opposite direction of the vehicle. He had come across a shallow body of water and jumped in. Every time though when he came up for a breath, the swarm of bees hovering just above would instantly land on his head and face stinging him. This occurred over and over.

Becoming late in the evening, the bees at the vehicle had finally given up and retreated. So the men exited the vehicle and went searching for the observer, who had the only set of keys to the vehicle. Due to the swarm of bees still hovering above his prostrate body in the water, they’d finally found the observer. Risking more stings, they retrieved the semi-unconscious man and took him back to the vehicle and raced to the field camp, where he had to be life flighted back to Khartoum, then once stabilized, to England for further treatment. The amount of stings, in particular on the face and head were uncountable due to the multitudes of stings and his disfiguring swelling.

Fortunately, he indeed pulled through, but never did we see him again in the Sudan. He had stated his attempts to even breathe through some hollow grass reeds failed. This is due to the fact that bees sense the heat and smell of breath and were constantly trying to crawl through the reed clogging it up, but with a couple successfully going through stinging his mouth and tongue.

In the jungles of Anambra State in south eastern Nigeria, we were conducting seismic data recordings by detonating explosives buried in the ground. The observers were working on a fashioned platform holding the recording equipment, while native labor were working up and down the gridline rolling equipment from shot point to shot point. This was along the Omambala River, a tributary of the River Niger.

At some point a discharge had disturbed a big African honey bee nest. Working on the platform, we first saw a few local natives flailing their arms while running past the platform, then a few more, then a lot more. Still not knowing what was going on, thinking perhaps this was some form of ju-ju (an original form of voodoo) ritual, we were ordering them to get back on the lines. In just a few more minutes though, we had joined them flailing and running ourselves, for the bees had reached the platform and were in no mood for pleasantries.

Those bees were on one single-minded mission and that was to sting the vernacular out of our contents. So running through the jungle we did, pursued by the bees persistent aggression.

Have you ever tried running through a jungle? Well, I’ll tell ya right now, if ya haven’t, it is no small feat I tell ya what. If one ran solely down the lines we had cut, you were not only an instant target but an easy one at that. Laborers who had never swum before were jumping into the river and floating away. Men were getting punctured by jungle growth as they ran through the dense and sharp vegetation.

Finally, the bees were dispersed enough, so that we could start retrieving and fishing out victims. All total, thirty-two people required medical attention. The local laborers there called the remaining stinging apparatus embedded in their skins the bullets of the bees. Waiting for medical attention, they would try counting the number of bullets on each other to see which one had been shot most by the bees. A tad funny now, but was a bit harrowing then.

Suicide is usually an emotional end to all things, but not necessarily so to the insect world and in particular to honey bees. In fact in this final story you’ll see that suicide is actually the start of a new beginning.

An adult virgin winged queen bee who has survived the wrath of her contemporary rivals will leave the nest accompanied by half a dozen or so male winged drones. These male drones were the finalist in a bid among thousands of other drones in the colony to mate with the new queen. The drones will then compete to mate with the queen in midair. The first one to do so though, is also the first one to die.

Once the successful drone’s extended penis apparatus called an endophallus is tightly in place, plugging up the sting chamber of the receptive queen, the drone explosively ejaculates. This immediate and powerful ejaculation ruptures his everted penis propelling semen into the queen’s oviduct. The forceful ejaculation of semen in blowing up the penis, also thrusts the terminal bulb (located at the tip of the outward turned endophallus) into the queen, permanently plugging her vaginal cavity.

After the forceful ejaculation and explosion of his male genitals, the drone in minutes soon dies. So why do this? Well for two reasons to derive at a final one. A queen honey bee may live up to fifty years and lays a ship load of eggs in that time span. The permanent plug, if lodged properly, will ensure that his reservoir of semen injected into the queen will never leak out and the plug effectively thwarts any other drones from successfully inseminating the queen. Therefore all the generations of honey bees to come from the queen will be his progeny. In other words, he genetically lives on at the behest of his own death.         

Why the Autumn Foliage:
Oh, that favorite time of autumn year when the fall foliage is in its full glory, ablaze with color. But why do leaves change color? I never did for a long time, understand why trees would decide to undress and go naked during the coldest months of the year only to fully dress up during the warmest months. Actually, it’s to conserve energy for the harshest months and to go into low metabolic gear. Then when spring arrives, trees setup camp to start the busy process of photosynthesis, generating energy in sugar production that will once again, satisfy the long dormant winter months. But back to why leaves change color.

There are just three pigments involved in leaf color transformations. The three are: chlorophyll, carotenoids and anthocyanins. A pigment is any material that changes the color of transmitted light due to its reflective wavelength absorption. Many materials selectively absorb certain wavelengths of light, but further, pigments have a high tinting strength effecting color of other materials.

Chlorophyll, located in the chloroplast, is the dominant green pigment found naturally in almost every plant and cyanobacteria and is critical in the photosynthetic process in that it absorbs light and transfers that light energy.

Carotenoids are organic pigments that are also contained in the chloroplast of leaf cells. Besides carrying the α-carotene, β-carotene and lycopene antioxidants invaluable to mammal diets, carotenoid pigments due to structure, reflect out orange hues, yellows and browns.

Anthocyanins are water soluble pigments found in vacuoles which are an organelle found in all plants, some bacteria and protists. Vacuoles are an enclosed compartment filled with water and other organic compounds including anthocyanin. Anthocyanins are responsible for all things red, crimson and purple.

Fall foliage at the homestead
While all three pigments are all present during the growing season, chlorophyll is continually being produced and being the dominant color, the leaves appear green. When the autumn days begin to shorten bringing on less sunlight and with the lengthening night time, chlorophyll production begins to slow down until the tree completely halts production. Being easily destroyed, the remaining chlorophyll quickly breaks down and the other colors, in particular the carotenoid tinted hues are unveiled and begin to show up.

The tree carries out this process by the gradual cutting off of the veins to the leaf until at the base, it finally pinches it off. If a lot of sugar is left in the leaf, anthocyanin will appear along with the more prevalent carotenoid hues.
Changing seasons

Falling leaves
Weather does not play a part in the changing colors per say, but it does have a dramatic effect on the brilliance. A succession of warm sunny autumn days, with cool, but not freezing nights brings out the full in depth spectrum of carotenoid colors. If there are lots of sugars trapped in the leaves under numerous days of bright sunlight, the anthocyanins will broadcast its colors. The differences in timing of temperatures and daylight seem to be genetically inherited by each tree species, for if a species is located in varying latitudes and altitudes, if receiving similar conditions, the leaves will perform the same.   

Water Snuff:
We all know water is very effective in putting out fire, but yeah, why does water put out fires? To start a fire three things are essential…fuel, oxygen and heat. Take any of those three ingredients out of the equation and you have no fire.

Guess which one, or ones water takes out…if you guessed all three you are correct.

Water takes two items out of the equation wholly, which is oxygen and heat and partially does fuel as well. An atom of an element cannot stand alone and writing one down with merely its symbol is misrepresentation. Any element in order to exist holds two of its atoms together. To clarify allow me to display…Oxygen is represented by its symbol: O. In representing an atom of oxygen, one does not simply write O, but more appropriately writes O2 showing two free atoms.

Water snuffs out fires by displacing these two free atoms in oxygen molecules rendering it as unavailable to participate in any further burning. Secondly, have you ever put your hand just above a pot of boiling water…it’s hot isn’t it? That is steam rising from the boil as heated water vapor. The vapor is taking heat away with it from the pot. The same thing occurs in a fire. When water hits the fire it immediately reaches its boiling point and turns to steam. The rising water vapor is taking heat away with it from the fire, thus reducing the necessary heat to maintain the fire.

Lastly on a partial scale, water dilutes the fuel. If the fuel is a gas or liquid, whether the fuel is insoluble or not, the dilution factor can be great enough to disperse the fuel interfering with its total input for ignition. Even solid fuel like wood or paper absorbs water in a diluting manner and can make an effective barrier from the other two fire components, heat and O. Ought oh, I mean O2.

Fire Formula:
I once inquired to a high school physics teacher, “What is the formula for fire?” He quickly snapped back, “F-I-R-E.” Lesson learned.

Literally, fire is combustion and combustion is a chemical reaction between the fuel and oxygen releasing potential energy as heat. As explained in the last segment, of course there won’t be a fire between oxygen in the air and a bit of wood; heat has to be a factor too. For the combustion reaction to occur, the piece of wood would first have to be heated to its ignition point.

For fuel, we’ll stick with wood to develop the picture. When wood is heated to around 150° C (300° F) the heat begins decomposing cellulose in the wood into volatile gases of, among others, compounds of hydrogen, carbon, hydrocarbons and oxygen. These volatiles can be seen and we call it smoke. Smoke also has particulate matter that has mass and size ranging in size from 2.5 nanometers to micrometer range. The smoke solids are created from the pyrolysis of lignin and levoglucosan, compounds found in wood. The other material remaining in the wood is essentially carbon known as char and ash composed of the unburnable materials in wood such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, carbonate, lime and a few trace elements.

Char is commonly used in cookouts as charcoal. Charcoal is simply wood that was heated enough to volatilize all the gases out leaving behind the carbon or char. That is why charcoal is the choice for grills because the smoke or volatile gases have already been emitted. The charcoal burns virtually smoke free.

In burning wood, two reactions occur. One is rapid while one is slow. When the volatile gases in the burning wood have heated up to 260° C (500° F) the compounds’ molecules in the wood break up with the atoms then recombining with oxygen to form water vapor, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other  gases. This creates the burning process. The slower reaction is from the purer carbon combining with oxygen. This slower burn creates the char. That is another benefit to charcoal grilling it burns very slowly, so lasts awhile longer than wood would. I like that…would wood…

Fuels that burn rapidly are normally as a liquid or gas and burn in one step, or in the primary volatile stage. Take for instance gasoline or benzene. Heat vaporizes these fuels low ignition points and they both burn apace. No char remaining from this type fire. Like char, a manmade candle gives a slow burn because there is a slow vaporizing rate in wax, therefore a slow burn ensues.

The chemical reactions from a fire are the cause for the resultant heat that basically self perpetuates the extension of the fire. The heat of the flame keeps the fuel at its ignition point and will continue to burn due to the heat as long as oxygen and fuel sources are available. The fire will spread as long as nearby fuel sources reach ignition temperatures from the heat of the flames.

Light is the direct result from heat and flame. There is one big fireball in the sky due to heat and flame from nuclear fusion reactions of atoms that give us our daylight. In a much smaller scale, the same concept is going on in a fire. As they are heated up in a fire, atoms from the fuel’s material begin rising producing and emitting light. This production of light from heat is called incandescence. This incandescence process is also what causes the flame. Flame color varies from what particular fuel source is under ignition, but a general flame detects its color ranges from temperature variables. The hottest part of the flame is at the base and it will burn blue. The cooler regions in the flame from the midsection to the tip will burn in orange and yellow hues.
Gravity affecting flames in a candle & in microgravity

Believe it or not, but gravity plays a big part in influencing a flame. Naturally all the rising hot gases in a flame are hotter and less dense than the surrounding air. Being less dense the hot gases move upwards towards lower pressures. This is why fire typically travels upwards and the flames are pointed with tips. All this is due to Earth’s gravity. If you were to make a flame in a low gravity environment, or as it’s called, microgravity, the flame would not be tipped on top with a broader base, but would resemble the shape of a sphere totally enveloping the fuel source.

Mag’s Net:
Perhaps we all know magnetism, but how many of us can describe it, or how even fewer of us could define it? If ya can’t, don’t feel too ashamed, for the best of physicists cannot either. Why does magnetism have poles and no matter how much you cut in half a magnet the tinier pieces will still display a north and south pole? Why does Earth’s magnetic north and south poles reverse? We’re figuring out its mechanics, but we still have no clue as to why the poles switch.

Electromagnetism can be even more complexing. When metal wire is wrapped tightly into loops around a metal core that we term as a solenoid and then an electric current is passed through it, why does it create a magnetic field? We can control this magnetic field to put to use, but we cannot explain it.

Even the common rock, lodestone, otherwise known as magnetite, we know not how it derived its magnetism.  Good guesses are through electromagnetism, when lightning strikes hit iron-rich rock or minerals, or that it was simply here as molten oxides of iron when the earth first formed in being flexible to alignment from the get go.

Here is what we do know. When physicists speak of electron spin that is a misnomer; electrons do not spin. ‘Spin’ is just a term used to describe the magnetic north and south poles stamped in all electrons. The orientation of poles defines the direction of an electron’s supposed ‘spin’ or rotation.

Within all atoms, each electron is normally paired with another opposite orientated electron thereby cancelling out each other’s magnetic tug. There is always an exception and hence in referring to electrons, the exception to the rule bears fruit as well. Not all electrons are paired in an atom and these electrons move around, which induces the abilities of lining up their poles, thus creating a magnetic field. The arrangement of electrons in most metal atoms makes metallic elements prone to magnetism.

In fact you can make a decent magnet with a piece of iron. Heat the metal piece until it is too hot to touch. While heated as safe as can be, expose the hot metal to a magnet. This will align the excited electrons. As the metal cools it will freeze the atoms in place aligning a polar arrangement and voilà…you just made yourself a new magnet. If you don’t want to be so daring, you can make a temporary magnet out of a needle. Simply rub the needle vigorously with a magnet for a bit and you just made the needle temporarily magnetic.

Both these situations work due to torque from the introduced magnetic field of your original magnet. Here’s what happened in both cases. Once exposed to the magnetic field the hot metal and needle’s electrons initially experience hysteresis, a slight delay between the application of the external field and the changing in the electron’s domains. In but a few moments though, the field has its effect and the electrons begin to move.

The magnetic domains begin to rotate or ‘spin’ inducing a north-south aligning of the magnetic field. Domains in our hot metal and needle that already had north-south alignment directions now get reinforced, while other domains get reduced. To extrapolate further, simply, the domain walls in our two magnetizing objects are physically torn down between neighboring domains. This allows freedom of movement for other domains to accommodate the growth of the north-south domain literally intensifying its strength.

In the magnet produced from the hot metal, it will retain permanence in magnetism because the domains were influenced to strengthen the north-south polar domain while they were in an excited state (hot) and once cooled they in a sense froze in place.

The needle’s magnetism was more temporary, due to the initial excitement wearing off from the inaugural magnetic field itself and the weaker friction heat from the rubbing not capable enough to keep the electrons in place. Once the heat and magnetic field were removed, the electrons started disassembling the new arrangement and began migrating back to their original domains of net neutrality.
Earth's magnetic field shielding 

Speaking of magnets, we sit atop one big one; it’s called Earth. Our world’s magnetism is a result of electric currents flowing through a vast amount of molten iron in its outer core. That is what sets up the magnetic north-south poles of Earth and they are what shield us by deflecting damaging solar winds away from directly slamming into Earth’s surface.

Magnetic poles only come in pairs
Magnetic north-south poles reverse. Currently, the south magnetic pole resides in the North Pole, while of course the north magnetic pole is currently at the South Pole. So in effect, the north pointing needle in your compass is actually pointing to the south magnetic pole since opposites attract. Geographically, the true south magnetic pole is not even located at the North Pole. It’s nestled in the Arctic Ocean near Canada while migrating westwards toward Siberia at up to thirty-five miles per year due to the electric currents’ drifts.

Even though electromagnetism is one of the four universal forces in nature, we still don’t know much about it. But there is a magnetic sense of reasoning in some animals. Certain microbes, migrating birds, bats, salamanders, Elasmobranch fish and loggerhead sea turtles have the ability to detect magnetic fields. They do this in various ways as through mechanical and chemical reception and electric induction. This allows the loggerhead to navigate 8,000 miles of open ocean it has never been to before, whereas for man, we get lost while shopping in a local mall.

In Magnetically Navigating,
B.J. A. 


  1. "it was bacteria that first ventured forth in advancing life into the realm of multicellular specialization" I didn't know that!

  2. Yepper, Ms. Shtick, bacteria was and what's even more interesting is that it was a combination of two uniclellular organisms with one being eaten that came up with our cell structure, though through of course, a few years of evolvement. So I presuppose all bacteria aren't so bad after all.