Monday, January 31, 2011

Doctor Fish Go Commercial

Photo courtesy: appyfeet

Garra Rufa, also known as doctor fish, nibble fish, little dermatologists, kangal fish or reddish log sucker, have nibbled their way into modern medicine one dead skin cell at a time. Doctor fish first caught the attention of the medical field when the overwhelming rate of improvement experienced by psoriasis sufferers who frequented these Turkish spas was brought to light.

These native fish have been used as a traditional medicine for over 400 years in Turkey. Garra Rufa normally occur in the river basins of the Northern and Central Middle East with Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran having the majority of the population.

The traditional Turkish spas have bathes big enough to submerge one's entire body; and, bathers have no problem with the communal bathes whose water is filled with these little flesh eaters. The toothless Garra Rufa gently chew away only dead and/or diseased tissue leaving healthy tissue totally untouched. The removal of the dead flesh is accomplished with the help of a powerful enzyme, diathranol, in its saliva to help compensate for the lack of teeth. Some even think there is a curative power in the fishes' saliva.

Ms. Barbara Grayston spent several hours a day in a pool with the "doctor fish" hoping for a miracle cure for her psoriasis. Photo courtesy: bbcnews

The spas are filled with locally-occurring, selenium-rich water in an open-air venue. Locals believe that the clients benefit from the time spent in the open, fresh air; exposing the skin to the selenium-rich water; and, opening the skin below the lesions to allow the healing waters to penetrate to that skin as well. Selenium is a natural skin-healing mineral.

A side-by-side comparison shot of Ms Grayson's back - before and after treatment. The results look phenomenal to me. Photo courtesy: bbcnews

Many Garra Rufa now live and breed in the outdoor pools of Turkish spas where they feed mainly on the skin of patients with psoriasis. Among frequenters of these spas, 87.5% said they experienced great relief from both pain and redness or lesions; but, note they must come back to the spas every few months to keep their skin disease in remission. However, there are people who say their psoriasis or other skin disease has been completely cured by the tender ministrations of these tiny toothless doctors; and, all sufferers hope they may be the next cure.

Photo courtesy: appyfeet

These fish are capable of doing so much good for so many people. I immediately think of burn victims that must have burnt skin agonizingly removed before treatment can commence. I can't help thinking that this a gentler, kinder way of debriding the area affected.

While visions of fairies, sugar plums; and, lessening pain worldwide danced in my head; corporate greed has found yet another way to exploit our planet and its inhabitants.

These hardy little workers are now legally protected from commercial exploitation in Turkey due to concerns of overharvesting for export. The beauty treatment centres have run amok. They are importing these fish to perform pedicures on clients.

For keeners of this treatment it should be noted that while Garra Rufa can be kept in an aquarium at home; aquarium specimens are not well suited for home applications as the skin-feeding behavior fully manifests only under conditions where the food supply is somewhat scarce and unpredictable.

They are banned in several states in the USA based on health and sanitation concerns; and, animal rights groups are worried about the Garra Rufas' future well-being, treatment and handling.

Photo courtesy: appyfeet

Animal rights groups have also voiced alarm over the conditions in which the fish are kept. "We do have concerns about the welfare of any fish involved in this practice," a spokeswoman for the RSPCA told the Observer.
"Fish are covered by the Animal Welfare Act. They need a stable environment, with the correct water quality and temperature range. Sudden changes in temperature should be avoided as they can severely compromise welfare and even kill the animals. Water quality is of paramount importance in maintaining healthy fish. Having people bathe in the water with the fish is likely to affect quality, particularly if they are wearing any lotions or other toiletries that could leach into the water. Similarly, chemicals used to disinfect tanks and to clean patients' feet beforehand would have to be non-toxic to the fish."
A short video showing a spa in Turkey.

Weigh in - environmental issue or not.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Did You Know That...

Most people might think that lighters are the modern way to light a fire. The truth is, lighters were invented before matches. The first lighters were used in the sixteenth centure and the flame was produced with gunpowder.

The next time you go fishing or have a fish dinner, think of this: the refuse dumped into the seas annually is more than three times heavier than the weight of the fish caught each year.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Rainwater Collection Design For Yemen Wins Award

A street scene in Zabid, Yemen. Photo: Franco Pecchio / Creative Commons via TreeHugger.

Approximately, one year ago, I blogged about the water crisis in the nation of Yemen resulting in water riots with fatalities; and, threat that Sana'a, Yemen would become the first capital city to die of thirst.

Of all the thirsty countries in the arid Middle East, perhaps the worst off is Yemen, where the mountainous capital city of Sana'a is rapidly running out of water altogether. What water there is in the country's cities is often heavily polluted, causing illnesses for people who drink it because they are too poor to buy bottled water. What's the solution? According to the recent winner of an international prize for urban innovation, Yemenis need to look to their rural past to protect their future of their cities.

Sabrina Faber, a longtime resident of Yemen, noticed while trekking in the countryside that rural residents still employed a traditional way of coping with the country's frequent water shortages: collecting rainwater on mountaintop cisterns. She proposed a variation on this idea for Yemen's cities in her winning entry for the Phillips Livable Cities Award:
Today, many of Yemen's cisterns are in a state of disrepair, or in areas of the country that are now uninhabited. However, Sabrina's RAINS proposal revisits the traditional Yemeni technique of harvesting rainwater from flat rooftops. Her scheme proposes the modification of the existing structures in Sana'a to capture, filter, and store rainwater. Each modified cistern would be capable of generating 10,000 to 50,000 liters of clean, dependable water for domestic use annually.
Here is a short video describing the winning idea submitted by Sabrina Faber.

Launched in May 2010, the Philips Livable Cities Award seeks to "generate practical, achievable ideas for improving the health and well-being of people living in cities." This year's contest drew 450 ideas from 29 countries, eight of which were selected as finalists. A public vote and judging by an expert panel crowned Faber's "Rainwater Aggregation for Yemen" the overall winner at a ceremony this week in Amsterdam, granting her €75,000 (about $125,000) to start working with local contractors and associations to begin implementing the idea on Sana'a buildings.

Second-place winner Manuel Rapoport's project will create safe, portable recreational areas in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by closing streets to motorized traffic on weekends and during public holidays. Other finalists with an environmental bent proposed hosting a competition for designs to transform neglected spaces in Binghamton, New York, and powering streetlights with wind and solar energy.

Via TreeHugger

Friday, January 28, 2011

Haggis: As if The Real Thing Isn't Bad Enough

Sweet success: Natalia Ellingham, 9, from Edinburgh, prepares to tuck in to one of her mother Nadia's haggis chocolates. Photograph: Phil Wilkinson via

Nadia Ellingham, an artisan chocolate maker from Edinburgh, originally created the chocolates for a Burns supper. They proved so popular among guests that she has now started selling them commercially.

"Most people screw their faces up or look a bit horrified when I tell them I make haggis chocolates, but once I explain how I make them they understand that it does actually make sense," said Ellingham.

Ellingham does not use actual haggis in the chocolate truffles, but instead blends spices including nutmeg, mace and black pepper, as well as oatmeal, in order to recreate the distinctive flavour of haggis.

Ellingham, 43, has also made a number of other unusual-tasting chocolates for her company, Thinking Chocolate, including sundried tomato and basil, cranberry and chestnut, and thyme and orange truffles. She is also in the midst of creating a box of chocolates that tells the story of what goes into a single cask malt whisky – with each chocolate representing a different stage of the process – in collaboration with the Scottish Malt Whisky Society.

Ellingham set up her business two years ago while on maternity leave after the birth of her second child. She works alone in a baker's kitchen near her Edinburgh home, and makes all of her chocolates to order.

"I'm always thinking about chocolate," she says. "It doesn't matter where I am, I'm always thinking about new ideas and flavours. Chefs like Heston Blumenthal are a real source of inspiration when I'm looking at what to put into a truffle."

Joe McGirr, of the Scottish Malt Whisky Society, which has arranged a number of tastings involving Ellingham's chocolates, said: "Nadia has this amazing flair for getting a picture in her head of these experimental ideas that she wants to push.

"The haggis chocolate was amazing. It really takes a risk – you're expecting it to be awful, but then you put it in your mouth and you get all these fantastic spice flavours that make up a haggis."

Gaby Soutar, the Scotsman's food critic, said: "The initial flavour is very un-haggis-like – sweet, with strong notes of pepper, honey and banana. But it only takes a couple of seconds before – ta-da – you can clearly taste something that's reminiscent of MacSween's finest".


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fish 'n Chips

Cod and chips prepared in Horseshoe Bay, British Columbia, Canada. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Fish and chips became a stock meal among the working classes in Great Britain as a consequence of the rapid development of trawl fishing in the North Sea, and development of railways connecting ports to cities during the second half of the 19th century.

Fish and chips, an icon of British culture (and, one of my personal favourites), celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2010. Douglas Roxburgh is president of the National Federation of Fish Friers, which represents 8,500 fish and chip shops in Britain. He says the idea of pairing deep-fried battered fish with deep-fried potatoes (chips) originated in 1860 with the Malin family of London.

In 1860, the first fish and chip shop was opened in London by Jewish proprietor Joseph Malin who combined "fish fried in the Jewish fashion" with chips. British chips are thicker than American french fries; and, therefore absorb less fat.

Then...out of the mouths of babes, Joseph Malin, 13, suggested his family sell the combo on the streets; and, the idea spread like wildfire.

There are conflicting views about the origins of this tasty treat with some saying the idea goes as far back as the late 1700s; but, Joseph Malin is recognized as the first restauranteer to combine the two - fish and chips.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nepal's Rhino Population Increases 20% in Two Years

Photo courtesy: Steve Hicks/Creative Commons via TreeHugger

There are still a small number of rhinos in Nepal; but, there's some good news: A new census of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornus) shows the population there now stands at 534, an increase of 99 individuals since the last time the census was conducted, in 2008. Another way of looking at it is that the Indian Rhino population has increased 20% in the last two years. What a magnificent improvement. In a fight to prevent this species from becoming extinct, where every single life is precious, an increase of 99 individuals is definitely worth reporting.

As WWF (World Wildlife Federation) reports, 503 of Nepal's rhinos are found in Chitwan National Park, 24 in Bardia National Park, and 7 in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve. The 7 found in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve may seem low until you realize that in 2008 there were just 2 there.

This latest rhino census was conducted by Nepal's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, WWF Nepal, and the National Trust for Nature Conservation.

The pink area is the historical range of Rhinoceros unicornus; the small red dots are where Indian rhinos currently live. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia via TreeHugger

As is the case with rhino populations across the border in India, as well as across Africa and Southeast Asia, the main threats to rhinos come from poaching for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Even though rhino horn has been removed from the official TCM (traditional chinese medicine) pharmacopeia with alternatives encouraged; and, trade in rhino horn banned under international law, demand for rhino horn remains high. Habitat loss due to expansion of areas under human settlement is also a concern, especially in South and Southeast Asia. Very few rhinos survive outside reserves and national parks.

Via TreeHugger

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Make Pesticides a Thing of the Past

Photo courtesy:

Canada, where I live, is home to over 500 species listed at some level of risk -- extinct, extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern. At risk species are found worldwide; and, can cause environmentally-concerned persons to feel helpless and hopeless. It's hard enough to enact changes locally; but, how can a person possibly affect the health and safety of a species halfway around the world?

Just look to your backyard or balcony for inspiration. Your backyard or balcony is more influential to the world around it than you think; and, they are totally under your control. Making your back yard or balcony an oasis for all living things either passing through or setting up home will greatly benefit wildlife no matter where on earth you live.

The first, and possibly the most important, step is to make a pledge to yourself; and, the inhabitants of your yard, that this will be a chemical-free zone. This is just as important for balcony owners as well. Well-planted balconies are favourite haunts of winged pollinators, birds and other visitors. Lawns and gardens doused in toxic chemicals may ward off weeds and pests; but, they can also harm or even kill at-risk insects, such as the Monarch butterfly; and, reptiles, amphibians and mammals that may live in your yard.

Pesticides and herbicides can also harm aquatic species whether you have a yard or a balcony. The "harm" potential for balcony owners is not as great as for yard owners; but, there is a threat nonetheless. Pesticides can drain into sewers, streams and lakes by your home or cottage, which filter out into rivers; and, eventually straight into our oceans.

Just because you have chosen a pesticide-free yard or balcony doesn't mean your can't have the oasis of your dreams. There are plenty of ways to keep your garden healthy while avoiding the use of harmful chemicals.

1. Do choose plants native to your area because they have evolved with local wildlife; and, have developed natural defences against it.

2. Do keep you soil healthy by adding compost and well-aged manure. These are better than chemical additives.

3. Don't stick to the same old plants in the same old locations. Many pests eat only certain plants. Growing a diversity of plants minimizes your garden's susceptibility to any pest invasion. Also, different plants require different elements from the soil. By growing the same old thing, in the same old place, year after year, soil can become prematurely drained of certain elements that could have been replenished naturally by rotating the plantings. Obviously, trees and shrubs are permanent; but, all other plantings benefit from the occasional new location.

4. Do use non-chemical methods, such as hand picking pests, using plant barriers or setting insect traps.

5. Do welcome insect predators, such as birds, toads, snakes, spiders, bats, or ladybugs to your garden by providing shelter, water and supplemental food sources.

6. Do your research. Take advantage of the natural aversion of pests to certain plants by adding them to your garden. Mint, garlic, cloves, nasturtiums, lavender, sage and thyme repel many pest insects.

7. Don't water in the evening. Damp leaves in the evening can lead to fungus and other diseases.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tapping Multi-Family Dwellings For Solar Power

Multi-family rooftop solar for low-income housing as multi-problem solution. Photos courtesy: R Cruger via TreeHugger.

Unfortunately, it isn't often that you hear of a city trying to make environmental changes in a big way. Los Angeles, California, is doing just that. Their plan to use solar panels on multi-family, affordable housing is the type of commitment we need from more politicians. Read on to find out lots more about this marvelous initiative.

At a Sustainability Summit in Los Angeles, CA, a group of academic, business and political leaders gathered to unveil plans for "Integrating our Energy Housing and Community Needs." Henry Cisneros, the former head of the Housing and Urban Development for the Clinton Administration spoke on a panel along with Mercedes Marquez from the current department to discuss plans for green HUD projects and a proposal for rooftop solar on low-income housing in Los Angeles. The Mayor stopped by and everyone praised his support of the Solar Feed-in Tariff program which the City Council is expected to vote "yes" on. Will it work?

University of Southern California's Dr. Manuel Pastor and J.R. DeShazo of the Luskin Center for Innovation presented compelling details of their collaboration with HUD and the LA Business Council to determine the advantages of a solar energy program to economically disadvantaged neighborhoods of the city. Among many issues the USC/UCLA study points out, including the production of jobs, is the case for renewable energy from apartment building roofs (as opposed to industry or deserts), as a equitable solution that benefits residents.

LA's City Council President Jan Perry, chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, announced she'd bring a motion to implement a pilot program of 75 megawatts for a Solar Feed-In-Tariff project. "This will provide benefits to the environment, to low income residents and to non-profits that can apply energy savings to social service programs."

The LA proposal, the largest solar feed-in tariff program in the US, would develop 500 megawatts of solar-generated electricity over the next decade -- about 3% of the city's power needs - and hopes to directly reduce energy costs for consumers. With 100,000 multifamily rental apartment buildings in the city accounting for about one-half of the residents, there's a tremendous untapped resource for capturing the sun.

>Cisneros and Marquez of past and current HUD department weigh in on sustainable housing. Photo courtesy: TreeHugger.

"The program will create jobs and enable low-income residents in participating buildings to benefit from rebates or reduced utility costs," said Kelly Boyer with HUD. "And that's before you talk about clean air benefits." Besides the department's green took kit, HUD is greening 157,000 units nationwide and 2,500 in LA.

The successful feed-in tariff solar project in Gainsville, Florida met its goal for first-year participation within a week. Many are anxious to access the Federal tax credits available through 2016, providing up to $300 million to Los Angeles property owners to install solar power. A rate agreement offered by the Department of Water and Power is another incentive for investors.

The savings in utilities also greatly benefits seniors. David Grunwald of Affordable Living for the Aging admitted he wasn't a believer a few years ago, fearing it was too expensive. But after saving up to $14,000 in utilities annually, he said, "I'm a poster child for sustainability. It's an ideal blending of social, economic and environmental goals." Mary Silverstein Director of the LA Housing Partnership's 7 Maple Senior Housing Development said, "This allows us to funnel those savings into our resident programs."

At another panel moderated by Mary Nichols of the California Air Resources Board, representatives from local utilities addressed the changes to California's now renewable energy mandate and listed the retrofitting goals they've already accomplished. Some admitted rebates are slow in coming, which was confirmed by a disgruntled owner of a solar installation firm I spoke with at the break, who said his contractor has been waiting for hundreds of thousands of dollars in rebates for months. "The suits can all pat themselves on the back, but ironically, this makes my business unsustainable."

Via TreeHugger

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mystery Knitter

Katelyn Mccormick (back), who recently moved across from the park, thinks the knitted art adds to the vibe of the community. Mysterious knitted cozies have been appearing around trees and lamp posts at Wilbraham Park in West Cape May since the end of February. Photo courtesy:

In a town that holds annual festivals celebrating the lima bean and the tomato, West Cape May residents pride themselves on being part of a quirky, artsy community.
So when colorful knitted scarves mysteriously started popping up around trees in Wilbraham Park in January, folks there were more amused than surprised at this latest artistic expression.

They call it the case of the Mystery Knitter, and these homemade works have taken on a life of their own, attracting international attention to this tiny Jersey Shore community and brightening an otherwise long, drab winter.

"It’s just something nice, something fun, something light,’’ said Mayor Pam Kaithern. ‘‘It’s not war, political fights, health care discussion. It’s a nice diversion.’’

Susan Longacre, a resident of Victorian Towers in Cape May, thinks the knitted work around the park is wonderful. Photo courtesy:

Kaithern said she’s talked to newspapers and radio stations as far as the United Kingdom about the scarves that come in all colors and widths, transforming the dull tree trunks into rainbows.

It started with a couple of scarves wrapped around a few tree trunks in the park. Then another. Then another. Soon residents looked forward to searching for the latest additions. And they weren’t disappointed.

Susan Longacre, a resident of Victorian Towers in Cape May, thinks the knitted work around the park is wonderful.The scarves recently started appearing on the poles of traffic signs in downtown West Cape May.

Diane Flanegan, a local artist who owns a framing shop and art gallery on Broadway, suspects the notoriety drove the Mystery Knitter out of the park to avoid being spotted. One of the scarves is on a pole about half a block from her shop, not far from the park.

Police Capt. Rob Sheehan showed up at Flanegan’s shop Thursday to ask her and her husband to reveal the identity of the Mystery Knitter if they know it.

"We don’t know the identity and we don’t want to know," she said. "We’ve had such a hard winter here. To me, it’s just delightful. I love it," Flanegan said.

Sheehan said he’s not looking to get the Mystery Knitter in trouble. He just wants the person (or people) to get the appropriate permits from borough officials to adorn public spaces.

"We’re not anti-art. We don’t want it getting out of hand where the park will get all junked up," he said. "We’re not going to be arresting anyone for knitting."

Some residents have taken to erecting signs in front of their homes urging the Mystery Knitter to "keep on knitting." But not everyone in this town of about 1,100 people embraces the scarves.

Kaithern said a few residents have expressed concern the wrappings could harm the trees and that they could become an eyesore as they become weather worn.

The mayor wondered whether scraps of the yarn might eventually be used by birds to line nests around town.

She mused, "Wouldn’t that be a cool kind of recycling?"


Saturday, January 22, 2011

And You Think Your Phone Bill is High?

Wine bottles are seen in a restaurant in Paris 2009. The manager of a French distillery was sent a bill large enough to pop anyone's cork. Photo courtesy: Yahoo!News

..The manager of a French distillery in the renowned Burgundy wine-making district was sent a sobering phone bill for 716,414,273 euros (1.02 billion dollars).

"It's so enormous when you see it written down, you can't believe it, so several of us had a look," said Gerard Chaussee, who runs the Maison Vedrenne making various luxury spirits in Nuits-Saint-Georges in eastern France.

"At first I thought it was a forgery, what with all the things you can do with a computer these days. I looked at the bill from every angle," he said.

Phone operator Orange said that "there was a computer glitch when the bill was being printed."

"The figure inside the computer is correct. If the client hadn't looked at his bill, which happens sometimes, he obviously wouldn't have had that amount taken out of his account."

"We're having a close look at what might have happened. Fortunately, it's more of a fright than harm done to this customer."

Via Yahoo!News

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fact or Fiction: Aliens Have Been Found in Siberia

Two walkers have claimed to have found a dead body of an alien in frozen wastes of Siberia and posted the video on the Internet.

On its side with its mouth slightly agape, the slender, badly-damage body lies half-buried in snow close to Irkutsk, Russia.

The area is a known UFO hotspot and video of the alien's corpse has become a massive worldwide hit with hundreds of thousands of followers after being posted on the Internet.

The corpse of the badly-damaged creature which resembles ET is 2ft high. Part of the right leg is missing and there are deep holes for eyes and a mouth in a skull-like head.

UFO fans believe the body could have been left behind by ET visitors after an accident, or missed by Russian military alien experts clearing up after a crash.

It follows reports of a UFO hurtling towards Earth in the nearby Irkutsk region of Siberia one month ago.

"We couldn't believe it when we saw it. And what was spooky is that there was no sign of the spaceship. Perhaps that was taken away and the body overlooked," the Daily Mail quoted Igor Molovic, one of the pair that uploaded the video, as saying.

Nearly 700,000 people have now seen the clip within a few days.

Cynics, however, claim the video is a fake using a carefully staged model for the alien's body.

This the video that has been causing all the fuss. There is a box of "info" when the video starts. Mouse over to it and hit the close button.

Anyone care to leave a comment?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gum Wrapper Creativity

Photo courtesy:

While most young ladies are begging their parents for prom dresses that cost more than the original down payment on the house, one young lady in Iowa was busy reusing and recycling for her prom dress. Not only that; but, she spared her parents the cost of having to buy a dress that would only be worn once (probably).

In Garner, Elizabeth Rasmuson learned of people making clothing from duct tape. She became inspired to make her prom dress and vest for her boyfriend out of a non-traditional material. She wanted to make hers and his outfits out of a creative, previously-untried material that would spark attention. Apparently, Elizabeth was successful in her attempt. She and her date, Jordan Weaver, made quite an entrance and garnered a great deal of attention (and, yes even publicity) in their prom outfits. That could be because Elizabeth had made her dress and a matching vest for her boyfriend out of gum wrappers.

She used more than 200 blue and white wrappers from Wrigley's "5" gum to craft the outfits; then, applied a vinyl topcoat to protect the somewhat fragile wrappers. It took the couple 8 months to have enough material to work with.

No word on the chewing strategies involved or whether they did all the chewing themselves.

However, I applaud their individuality and the courage to be themselves.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dr. Frankenstein is Still Hard at Work Building Yet Another Monster

A human egg is manipulated during IVF treatment. The two experimental techniques scientists want to try are maternal spindle transfer and pronuclear transfer. Photograph: Getty Images/Science Photo Library

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen...the thin edge of the wedge. Leading research organisations and patient groups are asking the government to change the law to allow scientists to implant embryos that have genetic material from three different parents into a select group of women. This group of women will be women with specific defects in their mitochondrial DNA.

Call me a pessimist; but, I see a world of legal problems opening up here. What rights does the third parent have surrounding custody, visitation, financial responsibilities; and, a host of other previously unexplored moral, ethical and legal dilemmas? How will the DNA necessary from this third party be harvested? Who will supply the demand?

So far, the procedure has only been tried in the lab using animal embryos. However, if the three-parent technique proves safe and successful in the lab, scientists expect that it could prevent several hundred babies being born with genetic defects every year when used with human embryos.

Mitochondrial DNA diseases can include many symptoms: poor growth, loss of muscle coordination, muscle weakness, visual problems, hearing problems, learning disabilities, mental retardation, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory disorders, neurological problems, autonomic dysfunction, and dementia. Many babies die as a result of these genetic defects.

Mitochondrial DNA is found only in the egg of the mother. Mitochondria are located in every human cell and act as "power houses" to provide the energy for cells to function. Yet mitochondrial DNA is not present in the nucleus of a fertilised egg, meaning scientists could extract the nucleus and place it into another egg from a donor.

The resulting embryo would have almost 100% inherited genetic material from its mother and father; but, would still have some DNA from the donor egg no matter how tiny an amount.

British scientists have led efforts to find ways to prevent inherited disorders being passed on and causing babies to die or be disabled. The call for a law change comes in a letter sent to Andrew Lansley, the health secretary. The letter, from the Wellcome Trust, Academy of Medical Sciences, Medical Research Council and Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, among others, was dispatched as a group of experts published a review commissioned by Lansley into the safety and effectiveness of scientific procedures attempted so far.

Two separate techniques have been explored by scientists, both of which involve mixing the DNA of the parents with a small amount of mitochondrial DNA from a donor egg.

This is not, however, "three-parent IVF", said Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, one of the authors of the review which has now gone to the government. "It is not a term we have used once in this report and it is not a term that should be used," he said. "This is a tiny, tiny bit of DNA. It is not carrying any characteristics except that you have normally functioning mitochondria."

I don't see how this can be called anything other than "three-parent IVF". The DNA of a couple wanting to have a child is mixed with some of the mitochondrial DNA of another woman. A child that is a product of this technique can not be brought about without the help of the DNA of a third person. In my mind, this gives the child three parents.

The scientists involved contend that the DNA contribution from the egg with normal mitochondria is tiny compared to the DNA from the two main parents. I contend that no matter how tiny the third-party DNA is still present.

Dr Evan Harris, the former Lib Dem MP who has taken a close interest in embryo research, likened it to "changing the battery on the laptop, but not affecting the information on the hard disk". A rather callous opinion, in my opinion.

The review (pdf), under the auspices of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, found that the scientific procedures appeared to be safe and effective; but, recommended that three further experiments should take place.

"Some people seem to be taking our report as negative and hesitant - it wasn't meant to be at all," said Lovell-Badge. "It was meant to say, just gather a little bit more information."

One of the two experimental techniques is called maternal spindle transfer (I just love these large attention-shifting euphemisms) and involves removing the genetic material from the would-be mother's unfertilised egg and fusing it into a donor egg from which the nucleus has been removed. Fertilisation with the partner's sperm takes place afterwards.

"It's been done in various animals and seems to be both efficient and safe," said Lovell-Badge. The scientists would now like to try it out on human volunteers. But what if something goes wrong? If during the pregnancy, birth or early days something is discovered to be drastically - possibly irreparably - amiss. What then? Do we abort or euthanize this innocent and move on to attempt #469?

The other method is pronuclear transfer, which has been researched by the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University. This involves the transfer of both parents' DNA from a fertilised egg into a fertilised donor egg which has had its nucleus removed. Depending on your stand surrounding the beginning of life - conception or birth - this could prove to be a Pandora's box of moral, ethical and spiritual wranglings.

This was successfully carried out in mice as early as the 1980s; and, in Newcastle experiments have also been done with abnormal human eggs.

The further experiments should not take much more than a year. Scientists and patient groups are now pressing the government to consider the legal and ethical issues involved, so that the necessary regulatory changes can be made to move the experimental work into the clinic as soon as possible.

In the meantime, has anyone given any thought to the lives we are creating on an experimental basis. Animals are not humans and should not be used for experimentation because the statistics are based on animal physiology not human. What is the plan if a life is created using this method and health issues - possibly extremely painful or life-threatening - become apparent in middle-age or later life?

I don't think we have the right to take these kinds of chances with other peoples' lives. OK...soapbox back under the bed. I'm ready for the cards and letters.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ancient Language Just Two Seniors Away From Extinction

Like many of the other irreplaceable treasures lost to extinction, the ancient Mexican language of Ayapaneco is dying. There are just two people left in the world who still speak it - and - they're not speaking. At least, not to each other.

Ayapaneco is one of just 68 surviving indigenous languages (with 364 sub-variations) in a land where the majority of the population speak Spanish. The two speakers are Manuel Segovia (pictured right in the photo below), 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69.

Unbelievably, the two men live only 500 m (546.2 yd or .3 mi)apart in the village of Ayapa in the tropical lowlands of the southern state of Tabasco.

No one is quite sure what has caused the two men to refuse to talk; although, there are hints that there may be a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance. Segovia says he bears no ill will towards his neighbour; but, others say they have never enjoyed spending time together.

"They don't have a lot in common," says Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist from Indiana University, who is involved with a project to produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco. Segovia, he says, can be "a little prickly" and Velazquez, who is "more stoic," rarely likes to leave his home.

(Photo courtesy of The National Indigenous Language Institute/YouTube).

So, it would appear that the language of Ayapaneco which has survived the Spanish conquest, seen off wars, revolutions, famines and floods will not survive the lack of communication between two old men.

Manuel Segovia still speaks Ayapaneco to his wife and son who understand him but speak only a few words themselves. Photograph: Jaime Avalos/EPA. Photo courtesy: The Guardian

Segovia, retained his fluency in his native Ayapaneco by speaking with his brother also fluent in the ancient language. Unfortunately, his brother passed on about a decade ago; but, Segovia still speaks to his wife and son in Ayapaneco.

Unfortunately, neither of them can speak more a few words themselves; and Velasquez reportedly barely speaks his native tongue anymore.

Suslak says Ayapaneco has always been a "linguistic island" surrounded by much stronger indigenous languages.

Its apparent approaching demise was sealed by the advent of education in Spanish in the mid 20th century, which for several decades included the explicit prohibition on indigenous children speaking anything other than Spanish. Much the same thing happened in Canada when Native children were rounded up and sent to the reservation schools. There they were forbidden to speak their native language; and, essentially were taught how to be white.

Urbanisation and migration from the 1970s then ensured the break-up of the core group of speakers concentrated in the village.

"It's a sad story," says Suslak, "but you have to be really impressed by how long it has hung around."

Suslak is working to preserve the language in dictionary form before its last surviving speakers pass away; and, since the last two speakers are 75 & 69, the dictionary is part of a race against time to revitalise the language before it is definitively too late.

"When I was a boy everybody spoke it," Segovia told the Guardian by phone. "It's disappeared little by little, and now I suppose it might die with me."

The name Ayapaneco is an imposition by outsiders, and Segovia and Velazquez call their language Nuumte Oote, which means the True Voice. They speak different versions of this truth; and, tend to disagree over details which doesn't help their relationship. In fact, this may be the entire problem; but, who can tell.

The dictionary, which is due out later this year, will contain both versions. Suslak says the language is particularly rich in what he calls sound symbolic expressions that often take their inspiration from nature, such as kolo-golo-nay, translated as "to gobble like a turkey".

The National Indigenous Language Institute is also planning a last attempt to get classes going in which the last two surviving speakers can pass their knowledge on to other locals. Previous efforts have failed to take hold due to lack of funding and limited enthusiasm.

Let's hope that the True Voice can be saved from extinction.

Via YahooNews and

Monday, January 17, 2011

Did You Know That...

A good diet pays off for every body especially if you are a criminal. Criminals that eat a lot of processed foods leave clearer fingerprints on things such as guns because the salt in their diet makes their sweat more salty. The salty secretion burns a much clearer impression onto the gun metal than the secretions of a person eating a healthy diet.

The human body loses almost one-third of its bones from birth to adulthood. This happens because, over time, many different bones will join together as one as the body ages. This results in the adult human body having 206 bones rather than the 300 they are born with.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Electric Cars in Ethiopia

Everyone would agree that electric cars are a good, environmentally-friendly idea; but, some people wonder if it's a good idea to launch them in Ethiopia. What's the problem with launching an electric car in Ethiopia? It's a country with a very erratic power supply. However, infrequent electricity is not going to stop Freestyle PLC, the company producing two models of the Solaris Elettra at a plant in Addis Ababa. Carlo Pironti, general manager, says the country will have lots of power in the future; and, in the meantime, the cars can be recharged by generator and by solar power. He also mentioned that the company will develop a credit system so the less affluent customers in the country can afford the $12,000 - $15,000 car.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Pigeons are most widely known for making a mess of statues and buildings; and, are considered a nuisance. Some people even think of them as winged rats; but, they are intelligent and have been taught to distinguish, among other things, between cubist and impressionist paintings.

Pigeons also have excellent eyesight and are known for their ability to see great distances. During the 1980's, the US Coast Guard experimented with training pigeons to recognize objects floating in the water. The idea was that these pigeons could be used in search and rescue. The birds proved to be 93% accurate in tests, compared with 38% for humans. Unfortunately, the research was discontinued in 1983 due to federal budget cuts.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Shipping Containers as Homes?

Container City, a shipping-container apartment building on the docks of London, England. Photo courtesy:

Alternate housing has long been the holy grail sought to abolish homelessness. If only sufficent materials for cheap, green housing could be found, then everyone could have their own home. Pie in the sky? Maybe not.

Vancouver, BC., Canada is conducting a social experiment in alternate housing. Although this is not the first such endeavour in the world, it is the first in Canada. Vancouver will soon see a new type of social housing for disadvantaged women — an apartment complex made out of shipping containers.

Cheaply produced shipping containers, designed to transport cargo in 12-metre bites, are increasingly being used to house people in need of temporary accommodation. There has been some resistance to the use of "containers" as housing; but, personally, I see very little difference between a shipping container and a mobile home (trailer).

One such refitted eight-room shipping container has sheltered homeless people in Chilliwack, BC (not far from Vancouver) while women’s advocates say they are close to winning approval from Vancouver to erect a cluster of 12 apartments at a vacant Downtown Eastside lot.

“We will be able to provide 12 units of housing for young women on otherwise vacant land. It will be full,” says Janice Abbott, executive director of the non-profit Atira Women’s Resource Society which provides housing for disadvantaged women.

Example of how delightful the inside of a shipping container can become with some ingenuity and creative thinking. Photo courtesy:

The structure — the first of its kind in Canada — will occupy a currently empty lot at Jackson Avenue and Alexander Street in the Downtown Eastside.

Suites made from the containers will cost about $85,000 per unit, a fraction of the cost of constructing a new apartment unit in a standard building.

The container development will consist of six self-contained suites, each with a kitchen and full bathroom. The units will be fully insulated and will each have a floor-to-ceiling window.

"They'll be stylized and they'll definitely be funky but we didn't want to disguise them," said Janice Abbott, of the Atira Women's Resources Society, which is managing the project.

There will be two units per floor, and each unit will be about 320 square feet in size.

Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang, a proponent of modular housing, said he supports the project, as long as the units are liveable.

"This is an issue I've been very concerned about [is] liveability," said Jang. "I mean, as soon as you say the word 'container,' people think you're just warehousing people."

Despite the concept, residents won't feel boxed in, said project supervisor James Weldon.

"We're putting two containers next to each other and then splitting them down the middle to create a more traditional layout for a small bachelor suite," Weldon said. "So once you're inside the unit, you won't know its a container."

The housing units are expected to be ready for occupancy by Sept. 1, 2011.

In my opinion, renovated shipping containers are an extremely viable alternative to conventional housing.

Check out this video to see these containers change from a discarded container to someone's home. Fascinating to watch, the green features of a container home are discussed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New York City Overreacts

New York City lawyer Joseph Rosenthal says his client is suing the police and education department for one million dollars in order to send a message about overreacting to misbehaviour. When Alexa Gonzales, 12, was caught writing a harmless comment on her desk with a marker, she was sent to the dean's office.

Police arrived, arrested and handcuffed the student. "I was crying a lot," she said adding being put in handcuffs and arresting her were excessive. New York City officials agree, saying everyone could have used better judgement. Alexa was eventually required to complete eight hours of community service and ordered to write an essay about what she has learned from her experience.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Did You Know That...

The word "quarantine" comes from the Italian word "quaranta", meaning a 40-day period. During the Black Death of the 14th century, 40 days became the standard length of time for the ship's crew to be "quarantined".

The saying "going to the dogs" originated in ancient China. Dogs weren't allowed inside city walls; and, when undesirables and criminals were thrown out of the cities, it was said that they'd "gone to the dogs".

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When It Just Has to be More and More and More...

Dining room of the new Ritz-Carlton on the 118th floor of the International Commerce Centre. Photo courtesy: Yahoo!News

The world's highest hotel is located in Hong Kong; and, is housed in the city's tallest skyscraper offering unrivalled panoramic views of the world-famous Victoria Harbour. However; as you continue reading, it will soon become apparent that the people involved have no concept of "less is more". In fact, the fight is on to see who can imagine the most luxury to be made available.

Towering some 490m (1,600 ft) above the bustling, chaotic streets of the Southern Chinese city, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel is making a grand comeback after temporarily closing in 2008.

Visitors peered out of the floor-to-ceiling windows of the 118th floor of the International Commerce Centre, which houses the hotel, for a 360 degree view of the glitzy financial hub and the South China Sea.

"We're opening an iconic hotel which took us about 10 years to build," president and chief operations officer Herve Humler told reporters.

"We are taking luxury to new heights in every sense," he added.

The Ritz-Carlton may very well lose the world's highest hotel title in 2014, according to media reports, when the J-Hotel opens near the top of the over 600m(1968.5 ft) Shanghai Tower in mainland China.

"People compete all around the world about everything -- I'm sure someone somewhere is building an even taller building as we speak," Humler said. "We emphasise service."

The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong also will be one of the most expensive places to stay in a city already packed with luxury hotels, with the rack rate starting at HK $6,000 (US$770) a night for a deluxe room. The rack rate is the rate the hotel charges for that room before any discounts, etc. are taken into consideration.

A presidential suite is going for HK $100,000 (US $12,834.21).

Rooms offer a panoramic view of Victoria Harbour. Photo courtesy: Yahoo!News

So...what can I expect for my money?

Inside, the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong exudes a chic, modern vibe in the restaurants and lobby areas, with a lot of sparkling decor and chandeliers, the main colour themes being black, brown and beige.

Visitors can expect to find facilities that include the highest bar in the world, and a top-floor pool that will feature a 19m (62.34 ft) ceiling-mounted LCD screen which swimmers can watch while enjoying the warmth of the heated water.

With 312 guest rooms, the hotel also has one of the largest ballrooms in the city at 930 sq m (10,010.436 sq ft).

Humler said mainland Chinese customers account for about 35% of the hotel group's market, up from just 3%-4% 14 years ago.

"This number is expected to rise. Mainland China is a key market for us. Asia as a region has bounced back significantly in the past year, with business going up about 20% in 2010," said Humler.

"In China, everything that is created has to have the "wow" factor to attract the top echelons of society. They want quality service and efficiency," the president added.

Humler said occupancy rates at Ritz-Carlton Tokyo had plunged from 80% to 15% since the Japan nuclear crisis began; but. he expected it to have little impact on the Hong Kong hotel.

Via Yahoo!News

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Lungs of the Earth Need Immediate Pulmonary Assistance

Original (unaltered) photo: Ivan Mlinaric / cc

If the billion acres of Amazon rainforest are 'the lungs of the Earth', then our planet had better get in to see a pulmonary specialist immediately. According to research conducted with the help of satellite imagery, the typically lush Amazon is losing its greenness -- with an astonishing 618 million acres looking a bit on the brown and wilted side. Scientists studying the phenomenon say that last year's strangling drought is behind the change. There's just one problem though -- the rain's returned, but the green has not.

In the months following the break of the Amazon drought, an international team of researchers, led by Boston University's Liang Xu, pored over recent satellite data and arrived at a troubling conclusion: the word's largest rainforest is in failing health, and the implications of this are planet-wide. While the Amazon is an important source of the Earth's oxygen, it also serves a vital role as a carbon sink. And, let's not forget that an untold number of unique species (both animal and plant life) live there, too, making it one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world.

"The greenness levels of Amazonian vegetation -- a measure of its health -- decreased dramatically over an area more than three and one-half times the size of Texas and did not recover to normal levels, even after the drought ended in late October 2010," Liang Xu said in a statement, as reported by The International Business Times.

Areas in brown show indicate where greenness levels have dropped. Image courtesy:

Last year's drought in the Amazon rainforest is considered one of the worst on record, reducing major river-ways into sun-baked plains of mud and clay. As might be expected from the lack of rainfall, huge swathes of pristine vegetation in the region bore the brunt of the impact -- but what worries researchers is the fact that the forest has yet to rebound, even though precipitation levels returned to normal in October 2010.

Scientists have long warned of the dangers facing forest ecosystems, like in the Amazon, from the devastating impact of climate change -- potentially transforming once lush zones into areas of savannas or deserts.

Perhaps it is only by tackling issues such as the unrelenting release of carbon emissions on a global scale can the world -- quite literally -- breath a little easier.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Long Overdue

The New York Society Library has lots of books that haven't been returned by their due date; and, a couple checked out by President George Washington, nearly 221 years ago, are among them.

"The city's oldest library isn't asking for the American government to pay any late fees," says head librarian Mark Bartlett. Still, they wouldn't mind getting the books back. One is Law of Nations while the other is a volume of debates from Britain's House of Commons. The entry recording the loan, dated Nov. 2, 1789, simply states the borrower as "George Washington, President."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

You've Come a Llama Way, Baby!

Just taking it easy. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Llamas are very versatile animals and used for a great variety of tasks in many parts of the world: pack animals, meat source, provider of wool, protector of flocks. They are generally very territorial; and, vigorously protect their territory and the rest of the animals in it. Several cultures have used them as guard animals for centuries for just this reason.

And now, a nature reserve in England is trying what ranchers in North America have discovered. Llamas have already proven themselves as excellent caretakers of sheep, goats, and other livestock. Why not a nature reserve?

A nature reserve in Southport, England plans to take advantage of this desire to protect their territory and all the inhabitants within. The park warden has hired two llamas to work as security guards. Marshside Reserve, run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, is now home to two new employees, Willy and Jack.

Llamas are relatively easy to maintain. Give them access to grass or hay with a clean source of water nearby; and, they become practically maintenance free. Not to mention, they are environmentally friendly and their dropping are a great nitrogen source for plant growth. The only time they become a bit rambuctious is when they are defending their own; and, their aggressive behaviour is expected to keep predators at bay.

Warden Graham Clarkson says the hope is that the llamas will chase away animals, such as foxes, that might eat the eggs and chicks in the nature reserve. He is hoping for success as some of the breeding birds in the park are threatened in the United Kingdom.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Cows Modified to Produce Human Milk

Photo courtesy: Tambako the Jaguar/Creative Commons.

This one belongs in the "Are you kidding me?" category. There are a few levels on which I find this morally repugnant.

First, I find interfering with the genetic coding of any member of any species is wrong. We should not put ourselves in the position of playing God when we are unaware of the effects our tinkering will bring in the years to come. It is unfair to the animals we are altering.

Second, this milk will not provide the benefits that real breast milk provides the infants. Many mothers may chose not to breast feed due to a misguided belief that this "human-like" milk can do the same job that human breast milk can. No matter how much tinkering with or altering of genes is done, nothing will cause real human milk to be available from a cow. The only place real human milk is available is at the lactating breasts of a human woman.

Unfortunately, reports from Times of India are that researchers in China have genetically modified some 200 cows so that the milk they produce is similar to human milk.

The director of the State Key Laboratories for Agrobiotechnology at China Agricultural University says:
The scientists have successfully created a herd of more than 200 cows that is capable of producing milk that contains the characteristics of human milk. The milk tastes stronger than [cow or goat] milk. Within ten years, people will be able to pick up these human milk-like products at the supermarket ... [the] healthy protein contained in human milk [will be] affordable for ordinary consumers.

The ToI article points out that when children drink human milk it helps improve their immune systems and central nervous systems. Indeed, breast feeding has been shown to have many benefits for children. However, many (if not all) of these benefits would be lost if the children were being fed the genetically-modified milk.

Wet nurses have saved uncountable children over the ages they have been practising. Wet nurses are women who are still lactating; and, capable of feeding an infant. In fact, in some cultures nursing the babies of women who are unable to is so common the children of both families are referred to as "milk" siblings. Perhaps it's time to resurrect an old tradition. It certainly would be healthier for the babies.

If factory-farmed dairy weren't bad enough, now someone really thought it was a good idea to genetically modify the cows to produce a substance similar to something that humans already produce naturally. Duh?

I see a marvelous opportunity for wet nursing to take a foothold once more. Feeding a child that the mother can't could earn poor women worldwide a few extra dollars. Being a wet nurse has long been considered an honourable profession. The babies would most certainly be healthier than if they were fed the genetically-altered, sort of human-like milk obtained from cows. Given the choice, I'll take the human wet nurse every time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Want to be a Bee Whisperer?

Orchard mason bee. Photo courtesy: BC Gov't Agricultural site.

As many people are becoming aware, the winged pollinators of the world are in need of help. These industrious flying insects are so important to our food chain that if they were to die off entirely, mankind would soon follow.

Mason bees. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Colony Collapse Disorder has become one of the biggest problems of the 21st century. Entire hives of honeybees are dying off for no apparent reason. The extensive use of pesticides is suspected as one of the major causes; but, has not yet been proven to be the entire or main problem. Meanwhile, winged pollinators are still on the decline.

Short of taking up bee raising in the back yard or on the balcony, what can the average citizen do to help the failing bee population? Raise mason bees instead.

Mason bees are a solitary species of bee that are gregarious. This means they like to hang out together; but, they don't cooperate in any way. One mason bee choosing a nesting tube (in the nest you put out) will attract others to select your site, too.

The docile and gentle nature of the mason bee makes them an ideal study for families with children.

Native throughout continental USA and southern Canada, Blue Orchard Mason bees are super-efficient, hard-working spring crop pollinators. A single female mason bee will visit nearly 2,000 blossoms a day. A smaller orchard or planted area can be adequately pollinated by 40-50 bees. Ten mason bees will pollinate thousands of blossoms.

The mason bee is smaller than the honeybee with a metallic blue body and two pairs of wings. The males have longer antennae than the females and have white tufts of hair on their foreheads. Females are larger and have specialized hairs on the underside for carrying pollen. Mason bees have the ability to fly in our weather conditions and at lower temperatures than other bees. They are relatively easy to stage and care for.

A homemade Mason bee dwelling. Holes have been drilled into the block; and, the block is fully occupied. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Setting up nesting sites for these beneficial insects is fascinating, fun and good for our local environment. Creating a haven for mason bees at home is a wonderful educational opportunity for children of all ages. Kids can get up close and personal with the bees during their flying season and during their winter hibernation, when their nests are dismantled and their cocoons are cared for. Learning about their life cycles is a great first step in understanding garden ecology.

The wonderful thing about mason bees is that they don't sting. They are the most harmless bee you will ever encounter. They can sting like any other bee - but it has never been heard of happening. If you block the nest with your hand, they will stay away until you move your hand away. Don't try this with Yellow Jackets.

Mason bees do not produce honey or beeswax; so, they have no need of big nests. A small nest with 10 straws (room for 10 females) will adequately pollinate a well-planted balcony and surrounding areas.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Did You Know That...

Wales is home to the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. No, this is not the result of my cat helping me. The name has 58 letters and in English means "Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of Saint Tysilio near the red cave." How descriptive is that?! Local people have decided to call their town simply Llanfair.

A cowlick is the word used used to describe an area of a persons hair that sticks up at an angle. This is caused because the hair is growing in a spiral pattern. The term cowlick comes from the way cows lick their calves that makes the calf's hair curl.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


The common yet cunning raccoon. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

The raccoon sometimes spelled as racoon is also known as the common raccoon, North American raccoon, northern raccoon and colloquially as coon. It is a medium-sized mammal native to North America. The raccoon usually grows to a body length of 40 to 70 cm (16 to 28 in) and a body weight of 3.5 to 9 kg (8 to 20 lb). The raccoon is usually nocturnal and is omnivorous, with a diet consisting of about 40% invertebrates, 33% plant foods, and 27% vertebrates. It has a grayish coat, of which almost 90% is dense underfur, which insulates against cold weather. Two of its most distinctive features are its extremely dexterous front paws and its facial mask, which are themes in the mythology of several Native American tribes. Raccoons can be very aggressive and extremely dangerous when cornered.

The fun fact about raccoons is that they are noted for their intelligence, with studies showing that they are able to remember the solution to tasks up to three years later.

One hundred years ago, "Just how smart are raccoons?" was a serious academic question. Key figures in the debate were University of Oklahoma Psychologist Lawrence Cole and Herbert Burnham Davis, a grad student at Clark University in Massachusetts. Both researchers developed experiments based on puzzle boxes from which their test subjects had to escape by undoing a series of latches. Working independently, they came to similar conclusions: raccoons are indeed cunning.

They are smarter than cats and dogs; and, closest to monkeys in their mental abilities.

Heck...all they had to do was ask any gardener who has tried to outwit a raccoon how smart they are.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Goat Contraception and The Great Orme

A Kashmir Goat

The city of Llankudno, Wales, is dwarfed by a huge hill called the Great Orme. Over a century ago, Queen Victoria released a pair of Kashmir goats, a gift from the Shah of Persia onto the Great Orme. They soon started reproducing; and, 100 years later, the goat population was getting out of control. The Great Orme eventually was eventually unable to totally support this number of goats and they started wandering down the hill into the city to graze in peoples' gardens.

The situation is now stabilized thanks to goat contraception. Great Orme warden Sally Pidcock says a vaccine seems to have worked. She says fewer than 10% of the goats that were treated had kids.

The Great Orme goat dilemma had to be handled delicately as the hills and cliffs are host to a variety of rare and endangered plants and wildlife. The resident herd of feral goats is not the only point of interest in the small area.

A view of the Great Orme cliffs taken from the former lighthouse.

The Great Orme is run as a nature reserve by the Conwy County Borough Countryside Service, with a number of protective designations (including Special Area of Conservation, Heritage Coast, Country Park, and Site of Special Scientific Interest), being an area two miles (3.2 km) long by one mile (1.6 km) wide. There are numerous paths for walking on the summit, including a section of the North Wales Path, a long distance route. About half the Great Orme is in use as farmland, mostly for sheep grazing.

The geology of the Great Orme is limestone and the surface is particularly noted for the limestone pavements covering several headland areas. There are also rich seams of Dolomite-hosted copper ore.

The Great Orme has a very rich flora, including most notably, the only known site of the critically endangered Wild Cotoneaster cambricus, of which only six wild plants are known.

Many of the flowers growing in shallow lime-rich earth on the headland have developed from the alpine sub-arctic species that developed following the last ice-age.

Spring and early summer flowers include Bloody Cranesbill, Thrift and Sea Campion, clinging to the sheer rock face, while Pyramidal Orchid, Common Rockrose and Wild Thyme carpet the grassland. The old mines and quarries also provide suitable habitat for species of plants including Spring Squill growing on the old copper workings.

The White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), which is found growing on the western-most slopes of the Orme is said to have been used, and perhaps cultivated, by fourteenth century monks, no doubt to make herbal remedies including cough mixtures. The rare Horehound Plume Moth (Pterophorus spilodactylus) lays her eggs amongst the silky leaves and its caterpillars rely for food solely upon this one plant.

The headland is the habitat of several endangered species of butterflies and moths, including the Silky Wave, the Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus subsp. caernesis) and the Grayling (Hipparchia semele thyone) These last two have adapted to the Great Orme by appearing earlier in the year to take advantage of the limestone flowers and grasses. Also they are smaller than in other parts of the country and are recognised as a definite subspecies.

The Great Orme is reported as the northernmost known habitat within Britain for several ‘southern’ species of spider notably: Segestria bavarica, Episinus truncatus, Micrargus laudatus, Drassyllus praeficus, Liocranum rupicola and Ozyptila scabricula.

The caves and abandoned mine workings are home to large colonies of the rare Horseshoe bat. This small flying mammal navigates the caves and tunnels by using echo location to obtain a mental picture of its surroundings. During the daytime, Horseshoe bats are found suspended from the roof of tunnels and caves, with their wings tightly wrapped around their bodies. Only at dusk do the bats leave the caves and mine shafts to feed on beetles and moths.

The cliffs are host to colonies of seabirds (such as Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Razorbills and even Fulmars as well as Gulls). The Great Orme is also home to many resident and migrant land birds including Ravens, Little Owls and Peregrine Falcons.

Below the cliffs, the rock-pools around the headland are a rich and varied habitat for aquatic plants and animals including barnacles, red beadlet anemones and hermit crabs.

A habitat worth saving.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Quotable Quotes

"It is our collective and individual responsibility to protect and nurture the global family, to support its weaker members and to preserve and tend to the environment in which we all live."

- Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual leader.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Quotable Quotes

"The Buddha teaches this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity."

- Buddha.