Adult Luna Moth Sighting

We have a Luna Moth laying eggs on one of our plants. These organisms are not “rare” in the conventional sense, but they are only adults for 7 days, and in this region, the adults are only active for 1 week in February, then another generation is active for one week in May, and the last generation of the year is active in August, so it is rare to capture an adult in this stage.
Adult Luna Moth
They are nocturnal, so during the day, if you find them, they simply latch, stock still, to the underside of leaves. We were able to pull the leaf upside down and get this incredible shot. It is right in our front yard, and so very beautiful.
They emerge from their cocoons without mouths. They mate, lay eggs, then starve, limiting their lives to one week as adults.
I suspect it will wake up at night and find another place to rest in the morning. I’m really happy my wife is diligent about her plant watering, otherwise we would have missed this.

Spinach Chloroplasts

I was pondering how to get a good look at plant cells with low cost, and I thought about Brad’s work with onion root tips in visualizing mitotic cells. Check out his original post here. The thought occurred to me that the fixative should dissolve inter-cellular connections in leaf tissue the same as root tissue, so I gave a section of grocery store spinach tissue the same 6 minute warm fixative bath. The tissue flattened nicely (more or less), but I couldn’t see much in the way of cell definition. Sticking with the theme, I grabbed the aceto-orcein stain because it was already handy. Here’s what I saw:

Spinach Cells - Aceto-orcein stain
Spinach Cells – Aceto-orcein stain

The remarkable definition in the organelle structure was surprising. Aceto-orcein binds DNA, so what would produce such well-defined structures that contain DNA. How about chloroplasts?

Plagiomnium ellipticum cells with visible chloroplasts.
Plagiomnium ellipticum cells with visible chloroplasts.

Let me know in the comments section:  chloroplasts or not? Alternative explanations?

Kansas Fossil Search

Re-posted from the BioRx blog –

I finally had the chance to evaluate my sediment samples that we collected from the Flint Hills last week (I may or may not have been missing a PD meeting at the time… I was eager).  The beautiful sediment striation made me think that surely there would be some great micro-fossils in the soil.

Checking the samples.
Checking the samples.

Sadly, the dirt in the area is almost entirely eroded rock.  Under the microscope it looks almost like brown sugar.  It is possible to see where water bubbles had formed as the dirt was repacked after the weathering, which would allow some discussion with students, but nothing more substantial.  I was initially disappointed.  Then…

Alas, what yonder lies?
Alas, what yonder lies?

Well that is certainly something!  I cleaned the subject with a small painting brush from which I had cut/plucked most of the bristles for a very fine point.  I used the brush and a wire probe (an inoculation loop with the loop snipped off using metal nips) to center the find and turn it over.  Here is what I saw after the preparation:


I wanted to jump to a trilobite identification, but something was bothering me.  This shape looked too familiar.  I spoke with a couple colleagues in my department, and no one could make a confident identification.  I worried that these remains may be a pill bug carapace that had been sun-bleached.  My department chair suggested that I evaluate the hardness of the sample, because fossilized remains should be harder (due to their replacement of many constituent substances with sediment) while more recent remains should be frail and brittle.  Using forceps I performed this evaluation and found that indeed the sample was highly fragile and was destroyed quickly during manipulation.  Ultimately I was left with one confirmed fossil in the entirety of my new collection.

The lonely spoils: a gastropod impression.

Despite the low density of “keepers”, this exercise would have been great for students.  Acting on an informed prediction, testing a sample with multiple explanations, and ultimately confirming the less desirable explanation but still contributing to the understanding of the location are all a big part of the scientific process.  I will have to look elsewhere for local sources of fossils, but my understanding of the area is more complete now and I had a ton of fun doing some real paleontology.

What the heck are these?

Earlier this week, I was in the field looking for smooth earth snakes with a colleague, and I observed this interesting collection of developing invertebrates on the side of a rock that I flipped.

Here they are a bit closer.

I have seen many things but never something like this.  So, this is a real challenge since I don’t even know what the heck these things are.