All posts by Clifton P. Dowell

Mason Bee Experiment – 2014 – Post #1

Mason Bee House
Bamboo canes, trimmed and packed into a cider block.

Pack the tubes into your container as tightly as you can. It may take a little effort to work in the final few.
Read about a simple way to make a bee hotel yourself.
During the winter we looked at an easy way to build a “bee hotel” to attract solitary bees to your garden. Solitary bees — mason bees are the most well known — do a super job pollinating fruits, vegetables and flowers and don’t like to sting. They build nests in long narrow holes that they find already made in their environment. These holes could be hollow plant stems or holes drilled by woodpeckers and insects in wood. The bees use mud to build chambers in the holes, then lay an egg in each chamber. Before sealing up the chamber, they leave a dab of pollen and nectar in each for the larva to eat when it hatches.

Now that spring has finally arrived, we’re going to put out a simple bee hotel and see if we can, in fact, get bees to move into it. If they do, we’ll follow their progress and see what we can learn as we go. If they don’t we’ll go back to the drawing board and see if we can figure out where we went wrong.

First things first. We wanted to make our bee hotel stable, so we went with a very stable and simple design that should be easy enough for anyone to replicate. We used the round collection of canes we made in the winter and placed it in one side of a cinder block, then filled around with additional canes. We filled the second side, which took a lot more time without the head start. As you can see from the picture above, it’s hard to fill all the space because the canes jam on each other when you try to slide them in. You can buy cardboard tubes that are uniform, but we like to use supplies we find around the garage when we can.

We’ll put our bee hotel out tomorrow and document it in its southeast-facing location. Then we’ll wait…

Inside the Bridges of the Roman Empire

lasar and radar
What is it? The world’s most technical lawn mower? A mobile battery cart for really intense computing on the go? The latest exercise craze? Nope. Read on to find out a little about using the latest technology to see into the hidden past.
Researchers at the University of Vigo in Spain have studied more than 80 Roman and medieval bridges to learn how they are put together. Historians and engineers alike are interested to learn what the bridge-builders of old knew. Conservationists also want to know about any flaws so they can make sure the structures last far into the future.

Since taking apart a stone bridge that has been standing for more than a thousand years would be a bad idea, they needed another way to see inside.

They were able to do that with the help of ground-penetrating radar.

A ground-penetrating radar unit is made up of an antenna that emits and receives short pulses, a control unit and a computer. The ensemble can be set up in a type of cart (pictured above), in which the system is installed or in a mobile survey vehicle to collect data along the road of the bridge.

“The information from this system is combined with the information provided by the LiDAR or terrestrial laser scanner, whose beam sweeps over the whole bridge and in a few minutes takes the XYZ coordinates of millions of points of the monument,” says Dr. Mercedes Solla, one of the authors and current professor at the Defence Academy (Marín, Pontevedra).

The result is a mathematical computer model called a “point cloud,” from which detailed plans and 3D models of the bridge can be obtained.

3D Roman Bridge Model
3D model of the roman bridge of Segura, on the border between Spain and Portugal.

This sort of approach is perfectly in line with the latest trends in archaeology. Whenever possible, researchers want to learn as much as they can without digging up, taking apart, or otherwise destroying the thing they are studying.

Not only does this preserve cultural heritage for its own sake, it means that far into the future even more advanced techniques can be used to learn about the past.


Photo credits: Grupo de Geotecnologías Aplicadas (UVigo)

Press Release: http://www.agenciasinc.es/en/News/Laser-and-radar-unveil-the-secrets-of-roman-bridges

Backyard Science — Counting Birds at the Feeder

In the 1970s, the Eurasian collared dove was introduced to the Bahamas. The Great Backyard Bird Count has helped track its spread across North America. (Photo: lruka under a Creative Commons license)
In the 1970s, the Eurasian collared dove was introduced to the Bahamas. The Great Backyard Bird Count has helped track its spread across North America. (Photo: lruka under a Creative Commons license)

Science is based on observation, so it makes sense that sometimes the scientific community needs a few extra pairs of eyes and ears. The Great Backyard Bird Count is one of the largest “citizen science” projects in the world.

Citizen Science projects allow researchers to organize interested people around the world to help with some sort of research project. They are normally organized online. One example is a project that asks volunteers to look at pictures of distant galaxies and click a button if they recognize patterns of star distribution, such as a spiral pattern. Telescopes photograph hundreds of thousands of galaxies and it turns out that humans can recognize their patterns much faster than computers!

The Great Backyard Bird Count is different in that instead of asking volunteers to look at professionally-collected data, it asks volunteers around the world to make their own observations and report them back to the project. It takes place each February and asks volunteers to watch their bird feeders for at least 15 minutes sometime during a particular four-day period.

Scientists use the reports to calculate worldwide distributions of bird populations. In 2013, Great Backyard Bird Count participants in more than 100 countries counted 17,748,756 birds on 144,109 checklists, documenting 4,296 species. You can be sure that the researchers are glad they weren’t expected to count that many birds without help!

Another great thing about the Great Backyard Bird Count is that it is easy for kids to participate, either at home or as a school project. The project dates for 2015 are already set, but you don’t have to wait until then to roll up your sleeves and pitch in. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society has launched a great web site where you can set up an account and start honing your bird-watcher skills right now.

Check it out at eBird.org: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/

On eBird, your family or school can keep lists of all the birds seen throughout the year, as well as learn what birds other folks are seeing. There are great resources to help you identify birds and learn more about them. Your observations will be added to the observations of thousands of other birdwatchers and will make up part of the ever-expanding data set being used by researchers to understand how birds move around.

Use eBird to develop your bird-watching muscles, and you’ll be more than ready to go next February when the next Great Backyard Bird Count takes place.

Can't tell a sparrow from a thrush? No problem. Build your knowledge with help from the experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by using their All About Birds web site.
Can’t tell a sparrow from a thrush? No problem. Build your knowledge with help from the experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by using their All About Birds web site.
Check Out the Great Backyard Bird Count's listing of Top Tens. This site show you the ten most commonly observed bird species using pictures submitted by GBBC participants.
Check Out the Great Backyard Bird Count’s listing of Top Tens. This site show you the ten most commonly observed bird species using pictures submitted by GBBC participants.

Study: Bees using manmade materials to build nests

Megachile rotundata, an alfalfa leafcutting bee. (Photo by Peggy Greb / USDA Agricultural Research Service)
Megachile rotundata, an alfalfa leafcutting bee. (Photo by Peggy Greb / USDA Agricultural Research Service)
It’s no excuse to litter, but a new study has found that some bees use bits of plastic bags and plastic building materials to construct their nests. It’s an important discovery because it shows bees’ resourcefulness and flexibility in adapting to a human-dominated world, says Scott MacIvor, the study’s lead author. “Plastic waste pervades the global landscape,” said MacIvor. Although researchers have shown adverse impacts of the material on species and the ecosystem, few scientists have observed insects adapting to a plastic-rich environment, he said.

Figuring out that the bees were using plastics in place of natural materials took some detective work by Andrew Moore, of the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada. Moore analyzed a grey “goo” that MacIvor discovered in the nests of one kind of bee, Megachile campanulae, which uses plant resins to build its nests, “Scott thought it might be chewing gum originally,” Moore said. Turns out that M. campanulae was occasionally replacing plant resins with polyurethane-based exterior building sealant, such as caulking, in its brood cells–created in a nest to rear larva.

The researchers also discovered another kind of bee, Megachile rotundata, an alfalfa leafcutter, was using pieces of polyethylene-based plastic bags to construct its brood cells. The glossy plastic replaced almost one-quarter of the cut leaves normally used to build each cell. Markings showed that the bees chewed the plastic differently than they did leaves, suggesting that the insects had not incidentally collected plastic. Nor were leaves hard to find for the bees in the study. “The plastic materials had been gathered by the bees, and then worked — chewed up and spit out like gum — to form something new that they could use,” Moore said.

“The novel use of plastics in the nests of bees could reflect the ecologically adaptive traits necessary for survival in an increasingly human-dominated environment,” MacIvor said.


SOURCES: Press Release

DinoNews: First Fossils from Saudi Arabia

Near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Baptiste Marcel, via Wikimedia Commons).
Near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Baptiste Marcel, via Wikimedia Commons).
Most people think of desert sand when they envision Saudi Arabia. The country’s geography is dominated by the Arabian Desert. There are virtually no rivers or lakes, and daytime temperatures can reach 129 degrees. Dinosaur fossils are rare there. Only a handful a fossilized bones have ever been found.

This isolated tooth evidences the first identifiable carnivorous theropod dinosaur from the Arabian Peninsula. Abelisaurids like this specimen have been found in the ancient Gondwanan landmasses of North Africa, Madagascar and South America. (Maxim Leonov -- Palaeontological Institute, Moscow).
This isolated tooth evidences the first identifiable carnivorous theropod dinosaur from the Arabian Peninsula. Abelisaurids like this specimen have been found in the ancient Gondwanan landmasses of North Africa, Madagascar and South America. (Maxim Leonov — Palaeontological Institute, Moscow).
But an international team of scientists has just announced the first formally identified dinosaur fossils from Saudi Arabia. Several bones from the tail of a huge Brontosaurus-like sauropod dinosaur have been identified. Judging from the size of the bones, the animal may have been up to 20 meters in length.

The paleontologists (the scientists who study prehistoric life) have also identified a tooth from a meat-eating theropod dinosaur. Although distantly related to big Tyrannosaurus Rex, the tooth probably came from a type of dinosaur only about six meters long. The team found the bones in the northwestern part of the country along the coast of the Red Sea.

The teeth and bones are approximately 72 million years old. Now that paleontologists know where to look, future discoveries are more more likely. “The hardest fossil to find is the first one,” said Dr. Tom Rich, of Australia’s Museum Victoria.

One of the exceptionally rare tail vertebrae from Saudi Arabia’s first described giant titanosaurid sauropod. This dinosaur was probably in excess of 20 meters long when alive. (Tim Holland -- Kronosaurus Korner, Richmond).
One of the exceptionally rare tail vertebrae from Saudi Arabia’s first described giant titanosaurid sauropod. This dinosaur was probably in excess of 20 meters long when alive. (Tim Holland — Kronosaurus Korner, Richmond).
It’s All in the Lingo
Understanding the classification of different dinosaurs can be confusing, but for budding paleontologists who want to “dig in” a little bit, the fossils finds discussed in this article are a great place to start.

To get a handle on where the extinct animals discussed above fit in, envision a dinosaur family tree that develops two main divisions.

One of the two main divisions is termed Saurischian. All the dinosaurs in the saurischian line developed from a common ancestor and share the same kind of hip structure. In fact, the word “saurischian” actually means “lizard-hipped.”

Within the Saurischian line, there are two major groups.

One of these groups is called the Theropods and includes predators such as the famous T-Rex.

The other group is called the Sauropods and includes plant-eaters like Brontosaurus.

So, when scientists say they have found a tooth from a theropod, or tail bones from a sauropod, they are being specific. They could have said the tooth came from a saurischian or simply from a dinosaur and still have been correct. But those terms are less specific.


Source: Press Release, Uppsala University, Sweden