The Food Chain..

One thing they teach in school biology is the concept of food chains and food webs – the links that show interdependence of organisms based on the foods they eat. The photo below shows one such food chain starting with the rose (the producer) providing nourishment in the form of sap for aphids. In turn aphids are milked by ants for honeydew, a secretion that aphids produce.  Ants are also known to “farm” aphids storing their eggs over winter and then carrying newly hatched aphids to emerging plant shoots in spring (called a mutualistic relationship).

The Food Chain
A mini food chain. In this picture clusters of aphids can be seen underneath petals of the rose, and ants that farm these aphids. Click on the photo for a larger version on Flickr.
  • Nikon D7000 with a 105mm Sigma f/2.8 macro lens
  • ISO200, f/22, 1/60 with remote slave flash to give a natural black background
  • Processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
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Anatomy of a Hibiscus – Part 2 (Extreme Macro)

Hibiscus is a great flower to photograph. The contrast between the green sepals and bracts, showy red petals (this particular variety), deep red pistils surrounded by bright yellow stamens make a great study in contrast especially against a dark background. You may not enjoy the botany below, but I’m sure you’ll agree that nature truly offers a marvelous spectacle in the microscopic.

Click on any picture to see a larger version!!

A fully open hibiscus flower
A fully open hibiscus flower

We all learned in school botany (well some of us!) about the various parts that make up a flower. Generally, flowers have 3 components –

  • Calyx – made up of sepals that protect the bud in infancy and form the base of the flower
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A hibiscus bud showing bracts and the calyx (which are both modified leaves!)
  • Corolla – made up of showy petals that encase the reproductive organs
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A hibiscus petal
  • Reproductive parts (Corolla, Stamen) that are in turn
Detail of a hibiscus stamen and stigma
Detail of a hibiscus stamen (male) and pistil (female)
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Close-up of the reproductive organs of a Hibiscus flower. The yellow stamens and the red pistils.
  • Stamen – that make up the male reproductive parts – in turn made up of the filament that holds up the pollen sac or anther. The anther releases pollen when open.
Detail of a Hibiscus flower stamen.
Detail of a Hibiscus flower stamen.
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Even closer. Glittering Hibiscus pollen on anthers held up by the filament – forming the stamen of the Hibiscus flower.
    • Pistil – The female reproductive parts of a flower. These are also made up of three components
      • Ovary – that finally forms the seed after fertilization
      • Style – a stalk above the ovary
      • Stigma – the farthest extend of the female part of the flower which receives the pollen for fertilization. This is usually sticky and allows pollen to attach.
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The stigma of a Hibiscus flower, with pollen on them.

The pollen in the above picture look spherical, don’t they? But in the picture below, which is a crop of the above, you can see that the pollen grains are spiky, thereby allowing them to stick to the stigma surface.

100% crop of a stigma showing the real structure of pollen.
100% crop of a stigma showing the real structure of pollen.

Well, that’s my botany lesson! Thanks for stopping by….

Technical Details

  • Nikon D7000
  • Sigma 105mm, f/2.8 macro lens (with extension tubes for the closeups).
  • External remote flash Nikon SB-600 Speedlight
  • Adobe LightRoom 4.3 for adjustments

Camouflage

Camouflage

As far as camouflage go, leaf insects must be one of the true masters. They belong to the genus Phyllidae and are native to South Asia and Australia. Leaf insects are so called because of the colouring and patterns on their wings that resemble leaves (with veins, and even serrations or nodules on some species), making them invisible to predators.

This particular leaf insect was photographed at Chester Zoo, one of five species that the zoo manages.

Roadkill and Daylight Saving

Yawn! The clocks changed in Europe this week to move to summer time. What that meant was that we were all deprived of an hours precious sleep in the morning. 8AM was in reality 7AM! Driving to work this morning, stuck in the usual traffic jams, I go wondering on how changing clocks arbitrarily affects lifeforms that do not wear watches or have a concept of daylight saving time (which includes every known life form other than a small subset of humans that live in parts of Europe, North America, some countries in South America, parts of Australia and New Zealand).

So the question I posed to myself was: is there an increased prevalence of road-kill that correlates with change of clocks? At one level, this may seem a ludicrous question, but it is a logical one nonetheless. Wildlife tend to follow sunlight and sunset to set their circadian rhythms. A part of their eating and roaming habits around human settlements is governed by human activity. Grazing deer and rabbits are common early spring mornings (6-7AM) just before human activity begins, but by 8AM they are all gone into hiding, or away from our sight.  What happens when, suddenly, we decide to change our activity times and begin earlier or later? Is there an increased rate of animals being caught by surprise and getting killed on our roads and highways? How long does this last? Which change of clocks is worse for the creatures, spring or autumn?

It turns out there are others who have asked the same question before? Here are some articles and links that are relevant:

There isn’t much scientific literature to support either argument: that one change of time causes more accidents than the other, or how this affects the rate of animals being killed on the roads. In any case, the effects will be short – at most a day or so before wildlife adapts to changes in human behaviour. Spring certainly does see more road kill (visually). This is potentially directly proportional to the number of animals active on the roads, and the fact that visibility is better now than in October. I would personally believe that the change from summer to standard time probably is more dangerous that the other way around. Suddenly more people are driving in the dark – increasing chances of accidents both between vehicles and with wildlife.

So much for idle thoughts!! 🙂

Reiki or Quackery

A friend of mine recently went on a Reiki course and now swears by this spiritual technique that can apparently solve all ills of the body, mind and soul by channelling and transference of universal spiritual energy through touch. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? As a scientist and a rational thinker I was curious to know more about this branch of spiritual medicine (if I may be allowed to call it so!). This is what I have learnt/understood from reading. Caution: Reiki practitioners and believers may find this deeply upsetting.

For all the ancient wisdom and practices that originate in the mists of time from the orient, Reiki appears to have been developed as recently as the early 20th century (1922 according to Wikipedia)! The spread and appeal of Reiki appears to be linked with the spread of eastern mysticism to the west in the 1970s. The principles of Reiki mention among other things (from http://www.reikiassociation.org.uk)

  • There is no belief system attached to Reiki so anyone can receive or learn to give a Reiki treatment, the only prerequisite is the want to be healed.
  • It is possible to heal at any level of being: physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.
  • Reiki healing can be given anywhere at any time as no special equipment is needed. The practitioner is a channel which the energy is drawn through by the need or imbalance in the recipient. Neither person has to use any effort of will or concentration during this process.

You get the idea….

In order to be cured, you should really want to be cured. Sceptics such as myself will not be healed because we look at the technique dispassionately. I have concerns with the statement that any level of ailment can be cured or helped by Reiki. This must be the magnet for attracting all those people who have chronic illnesses, and are in a position where they are willing to take anything that offers even a glimmer of hope of improvement!!

As such, it sounds brilliant – you go and lie down somewhere for an hour or more, someone places their palms on your body at various places and you get up and feel an improvement. Wow!! Maybe NHS (here in the UK) and doctors around the world trying to find cures for various chronic disorders should just become Reiki practitioners. Of course, I will still not be cured as I will always activate the escape clause (want to be healed one!). The Reiki practitioners are careful to say that rapidly progressing disorders like cancers and terminal illnesses cannot be reversed since the time for treatment is less, but they offer to reduce your pain and discomfort as you lie dying. Well ok! I could accept that in cases of terminal illnesses, anything that alleviates pain, even if it be Reiki is acceptable (if it works, that is!).

Large scientific studies have shown that:

“the evidence is insufficient to suggest that Reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore the value of Reiki remains unproven.” (Link to Article).

However, other scientific publications show that Reiki is effective. Some articles:

2011: The Effects of Reiki Therapy on Pain and Anxiety in Patients Attending a Day Oncology and Infusion Services Unit. (PubMed Link).

And for those of us who think placebo effect, this study showed otherwise.

2011: Immediate effects of Reiki on heart rate variability, cortisol levels, and body temperature in health care professionals with burnout. (PubMed Link).

So the jury is out on Reiki, and like many other things in this world, people who believe will continue to believe and those like me who are sceptical will continue to remain so. It may turn out in the end that Reiki appears to be effective because people want it to work, like Homoeopathy! And there is peer-pressure to show that it worked. After all, if it did not work for you, the argument could be made that you did not really want to be cured. There is no winning this argument, is there?

But to trust in Reiki like therapies at the cost of modern medicine for life-affecting diseases would be a stupid thing to do. I’d probably consider using Reiki if I had back pain or something similar to complement physiotherapy, but not as a treatment for pneumonia or bird flu!