Green bottle flies (Phaenicia sericata or Lucilia sericata) both eat and lay their eggs in decomposing animal matter. Their larvae—or maggots—grow to full size in 2-10 days, then drop into the soil before pupating into adult flies. But some maggots of this fly have helped to save lives, because they can eat dead tissue without harm to living tissue. Hence MDT—maggot debridement therapy. In some places, including hospitals in the U.S., doctors use maggots to separate out and eat the necrotic (dead) tissue in a wound, decreasing the chances of infection and allowing healthy tissue to form more easily. Sound disgusting? Well, yes. But MDT can be an effective way to treat wounds that don’t respond to more conventional methods. Thank you, maggots. […]

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This Tuesday’s guest star is late, late, late for a very important date. He’s overdue. He’s really in a stew. Really? Let’s let him tell you himself—onYouTube. That rabbit is Disney’s version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865. The one pictured here is an illustration in Alice and was modeled after the grey-brown European rabbit introduced to England from southern Europe during the Middle Ages. The rabbit was quickly domesticated as a pet and for food. An invasive species, it bred like, well, a rabbit. European rabbits dig networks of burrows (warrens), where they spend much of their time—whether they are late or not. […]

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These past few days have been mournful ones for a friend and her family whose pony, Peanut, died suddenly. The bond between people and ponies has been a strong and honored one for generations, a bond that, at its best, can help both species to thrive. It’s also a bond that, in the harsh conditions of Scotland’s Shetland Islands a hundred years ago, helped both species to survive. The death of beloved pony is hard to bear. May Peanut’s memory be for a blessing. […]

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Cranes of the erector set variety are common in my neck of the woods. Not so the Sarus Crane (Grus antigone), which is the tallest flying bird in the world. This picture shows one bent in half, feeding next to her chick. According to savingcranes.org, Sarus Cranes can be nearly six feet tall, with an eight-foot wingspan. There are only about 15,000-20,000 left in the wild, most of them in the wetlands of India. They “dance,” by flapping their wings, running, bowing, and tossing sticks in the air. Mated pairs often coordinate complex calls, usually with their beaks arched toward the sky. Piling up reeds and other materials, they build nests six feet wide and nearly three feet high. They can’t erect a six-story building. Still, they are  definitely my kind of crane. […]

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I am posting this Tuesday page early, which reminds me of the old English adage: “The early bird catches (originally “catcheth”) the worm.” When I think of early birds and worms, I often think of robins, like the fellow in this picture. The American Robin (Turdus migratorius), of which there are at least 300 million, is one of the earliest of bird species to lay its eggs in the spring. It feeds its nestlings on soft-bodied creatures, including worms. And it hunts for worms in the morning. However, about 60% of a robin’s diet usually consists of fruits and berries, which the birds hunt for later in the day. One favorite berry is intoxicating. So I’m wondering: Does the late bird catch a headache? […]

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Locomotion doesn’t mean “crazy way to move,” but isn’t kangaroo locomotion a “loco” way to get from one place to another? Not so for the red kangaroo (Macropus rufus), the world’s largest surviving marsupial. When walking, red kangaroos use their forelegs and tail to balance themselves while they swing their hind legs forward. But they are built to hop, with their hind legs spring-loaded with tendons and calf muscles, and 80 percent of their total muscle massed around their pelvis. Unlike other species of kangaroo, red kangaroos head toward the open plain, rather than a forested area, and depend on speed (up to about 35 mph) to avoid predators. They don’t expend as much energy moving this fast as other animals their size would. Way to go, kangas! […]

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In the TV sitcom series, Leave It to Beaver, which first aired in 1957, leaving it to Beaver meant discovering what sort of trouble seven-year-old Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver got into. Beaver the kid then weighed about as much as a large adult North American beaver (Castor canadensis), the third largest rodent in the world. Left alone to build their lodges, beavers cut down trees and dam streams to form ponds and wetlands. Yes, beavers can be pests when they cause flooding in areas people would rather not have flooded. But they are also a keystone species, meaning that they increase the biodiversity in the areas that they inhabit, including, in the long run, more trees. […]

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My dog and I relish our walks under the elm trees in our neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. One of these stately beauties won’t be with us much longer. I suppose it’s a victim of Dutch Elm Disease (DED), which likely started in Europe about a hundred years ago and took hold in the U.S. in the 1930s. The disease comes from a fungus (Ophiostoma ulmi) that hitches a ride on beetles and prevents water from traveling up the tree. The beetles first crossed the Atlantic, we think, on a load of furniture logs from France. DED has wiped out millions of American elms. There is no cure. But Portland’s Save Our Elmsorganization is doing its best to inoculate hundreds of trees to resist DED. […]

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Lupines cropped up in a draft I’m reading of a fantasy for middle-school readers, and I got curious. These plants (their genus isLupinus and there are about 300 species) grow wild in many parts of the world and were first cultivated at least 2,000 years old in the Mediterranean/Middle East region. Lupines are legumes (like lentils and peas) that produce a seed high in protein. Some of the species also have high levels of alkaloids that cause lupin seeds to be toxic, especially to grazing sheep and cattle. Still, it’s a beautiful plant—perfect to fill a meadow with fantasy. […]

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Caenorhabditis elegans is a roundworm that is only about one millimeter long but has given us miles of data.It’s transparent, easy to study, and one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system. The C. elegans brain is composed of many of the same types of neurons and transmitters as the human brain. Scientists have sequenced the worm’s genome and collected an enormous amount of information, which you can access on WormBase. These worms even survived the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia. With a life cycle of about a week to 10 days, the worms that were recovered were likely the great-great grandchildren of those who took off in the shuttle. C. elegans. What’s not to like?

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