Saturday, April 16, 2011

Some Fauna amidst all the Flora

Next to the Rice Geology building and abutting against the Biology building is a tiny garden. Recently some milkweed was planted there. Houston's Big Freeze killed a lot of the previous plants - it was sad to see the big paddles of the cactus fall off and wither :-( Anyway, these new milkweed plants flourished for maybe a week or two. Then a really hot day came and they started to wilt a bit. Then came the final deathblow... an army of Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Big, fat, jailhouse striped ones. The last time I saw a Monarch butterfly caterpillar, believe it or not, was in kindergarten when we raised Monarchs from caterpillars in this concerted effort to increase the overall population. (Of course, since that time I've seen lots of monarch butterflies... but I always miss the caterpillars).

And here's a green anole that was there too:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pressed Flowers

Over the weekend, I found a little time to do something with a bunch of flowers I've had pressed in my field notebooks. I've realized some interesting qualities about certain flowers after they're pressed. Lantanas tend to not press well - the vibrant color fades quickly, and not to a paler version of the original brilliance but to ugly browns :-( Pink evening primrose petals are even more delicate and thin after weeks of pressing, but the color stays good (as long as you pick the "youngest" flowers to press - the younger the pinker, the older the whiter). I tore several while trying to lay them down on a thin layer of glue but thankfully I collected MANY. Asteraceae holds up well after pressing and it's easy to glue down because the petals remain robust. I was surprised how well Indian paintbrush held up, given that it squelched and screeched when I pressed it (but it pressed beautifully!).

The top one includes 2 plants collected in the Sierras, some kind of Indian paintbrush and a Gray's Lupine. The rest are Texas wildflowers (collected last and this spring). The bottom one are all Texas wildflowers, collected this spring.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Monstrous Strawberry

Check out this monstrosity of a strawberry I found at the bottom of the pack:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Exploratory electron microprobing, Big Thicket carnivorous plants

It's been a busy, fun-filled, but intense past several days. On Friday, Rice EEB and ESCI hosted our 5th annual crawfish boil, which was a big success. Then, on Sunday Chris and went on a spontaneous drive out to the Big Thicket in hopes of some spring wildflower viewing, as well as a (pretty futile) hope of finding the small butterwort, Pinguicula pumila. See link with some info here: I was reminded of this fascinating carnivorous plant when I was flipping through my old botany notebook where I scribbled some notes on one of Steven Darwin's Tulane botany class field trips out to the pine savannas, where you can find weird plants like Pinguicula and Drosera (Sundews). Darwin took us through a thorn-infested traipse through brambly woods in search of the notoriously elusive Pinguicula, but we didn't find any, and he came back after another fruitless search with a torn and bloody white field shirt. These plants thrive in nutrient-poor, alkaline soils - they exploit insects as a protein source to survive in such environments. Well, we didn't find any small butterworts, but I did spot lots of sundews (see pics below), as well as tons of Sarracenia (pitcher plants), which were JUST starting to bloom! And on the drive out, the roadsides and highways were lined with spring wildflowers - Indian paintbrush, pink evening primroses, daisies, verbena, solidago... it was beautiful.

Sundews. The leaves have sticky mucilaginous stalks that entrap tiny insects.

This is how big the sundews are - tiny!

More Big Thicket photos, including the ephemeral blooms of Sarracenia to come later...

In other news, I just came back from an intense 2-day electron microprobe session up at TAMU, where I got a better idea of the mineralogy in these weird Sierran metasediments. One thing that was really interesting was seeing one of my quartzite samples in its entirety under crossed polarizers. The sample is so coarse grained that under the microscope lowest mag you gain little appreciation of the macroscopic qualities. If you look at the composite image below, where the top picture is plane-polarized and the bottom is cross-polarized, you can see how huge the quartz grain size is! Is it really a few huge quartz grains, centimeters in diameter, with incipient subgrains... or what? Hmmm... Anyway, I'm so tired right now I can't really think harder on it at the moment. But I have a few ideas..(Note the scale in the images below is an entire standard thin section)

Among the many other things I did up there, I also managed to CL image ~20 detrital zircon grains. Here are two of the more interesting ones. The bottom one was the biggest one I found - and it looks quite complex, possibly even being more than one zircon.

Isn't that wild? OK... I'm TIRED! Drove 400 miles in 2 days... and still have to go to the airport in half an hour to pick up a prospective Rice undergrad (friend from back home) who is staying with me for one night and attending "Owl Days." Keep looking back soon for more Big Thicket pics, and maybe a monarch butterfly caterpillar devouring a milkweed stalk.