Monthly Archives: August 2009

My kingdom for a chicken!

I was inspecting the gardens today and discovered grasshoppers nymphs on my sweet potatoes. Admittedly they’re cute at this stage, with their big heads and little bodies, much like a Disney cartoon character. However, they grow up to be voracious herbivores. I’m not sure why the little ones cluster together like this, they were in an even larger cluster on a another leaf before I disturbed them. What I wouldn’t give for a chicken or two right now! I’m not sure how they ended up on plants that have a row cover. Either an adult crawled under, now that the sweet potatoes are pushing out of the cover, or more likely the eggs were laid before the cover went on, while I still had corn in the bed. In any case, we’ll see how long it takes the little buggers to strip the plants. The vines should be growing vigorously enough now to withstand the onslaught, but I’m less hopeful about the winter crops growing in the same bed.

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Very cool!

I was sitting on the swing this morning, petting D’Argo, when I heard the loud drone of a big beetle fly by and then crash into the side of the dogs’ ceramic water bowl. I glanced over to see what had made such an undignified landing, and found something strange. The beetle was on it’s back, but instead of flailing in one place it was pulling itself along, using a horn on the back of it’s head. It was easy enough to capture and I held it by it’s horn until I got my camera. When I let it go, it preened for a few seconds, allowing me to get at least one relatively good shot before it flew away. After a few unsuccessful searches on Google, I hit on the combination of “horned scarab beetle” and came up with it’s identification. It’s called a Rainbow Dung Beetle, and the males are horned. Looking at the photo now, I should have known it was a dung beetle by the shape of the back two sets of legs. They’re adapted for rolling the dung into a ball, that they then roll backwards to their burial site. Very handy beetles to have around. They keep the land clear of poop.

New toys

I’ve recently signed D’Argo up for agility classes again, and finally invested in a couple of obstacles. I saved a lot of money by ordering the needed connectors online, then purchasing the PVC conduit at a local store and assembling it myself. It took me thirty minutes to put together the weave poles and a single jump.

D’Argo’s always nervous around new things, so he was reluctant at first, but good treats will overcome nearly any fear. Soon enough he was leaping over the jump without my asking in hopes of getting extra food (it doesn’t work that way; which he’ll eventually learn).

The weave poles were a different matter, but they are notoriously the most difficult obstacle to teach a dog, and, perhaps no surprise, the most fun to watch in competition. There’s nothing more exciting than watching a well trained dog zipping through the weave poles. D’Argo went through a couple of times led by food, and that was good enough.

Then, to be fair, I brought Odo out to try. Now, a twelve inch high jump is no challenge for Odo, even if he is thirteen years old. He could step over it if he wanted to, but he kept trying to go around instead. I finally convinced him to take the jump which he cleared, then promptly sat on, to await his treat, as the bar and holders slowly sank to the ground. He doesn’t quite have the competitive spirit. Ah well, he’s in it for the treats not the glory.

Stargazing

Peter has had an interest in astronomy for quite some time, and several years ago I bought him a telescope. It turned out to be a little more telescope than we could easily handle, not really knowing what we were doing, but we did get some close views of our nearest neighbors (planets, I mean). Over the last three years we have befriended a number of amateur astronomers here in Norman, and we decided it was high time we got together and had a Star Party.

Last night a few of us gathered just after sunset on the front lawn. Three of us had telescopes, ours, a 6″ refractor, and two Newtonion reflectors. We set ours up before sunset, so I was able to take a picture. I would never be so rude as to use flash photography after we had so painstakingly adapted our eyes to the dark (it takes forty minutes for complete adaptation).

We were worried earlier in the day that clouds would obscure the sky, but the high clouds cleared around sunset and stayed away until about 1:30AM. The views of Jupiter were spectacular, with 4 moons clearly visible, Ganymede, Io, Callisto and Europa, the cloud bands and perhaps a storm. We also viewed Neptune and Uranus. Among the stars we viewed three nebulae, ring, lagoon and swan, a globular star cluster in Hercules, comparing it to a diffuse star cluster (no name), the galaxy Andromeda, a couple of binary stars, and the Double Double (binary binaries). The evening was topped off with the remnants of the Perseids meteor shower.

We practiced using our telescope on Jupiter, then later I managed to find Andromeda on my own. We gained a lot of confidence with our underutilized telescope. We had great fun, good company, and learned a lot. We’ll be doing it again, although not too soon. I’m not used to going to bed at 3AM, then getting up at 7:30 to walk the dogs.