Tag Archives: discovery

SCUBA Diving in Tubbataha Reef for the First Time

I ventured to SCUBA dive in Tubbataha Reefs (in 1993 declared a World Heritage Site) for the first time last April 12, 2015 after a hiatus of almost seven years because of a health condition. My last reef dive was in Middle Rock, a site where the waves meet and cause seasickness among our companions left in the boat in Port Barton, San Vicente on August 8, 2008.

The recent dive in Tubbataha is my 71st and 72nd SCUBA dive sessions. But during the 71st dive, I almost became another victim of a strong undercurrent. Here is my story and some lessons learned.

It was a Sunday, about 9 o’clock in the morning when we started out to Black Rock, a dive spot located northeast of South Atoll of Tubbataha Reef. I attempted to dive the day before but had trouble equalizing so I tried again that day. I had a sinus operation three years back due to a bad case of nose bleeding which could impact on my diving performance. This worries me, but I’d rather try than just guess if I’m fit to dive.

The original plan was for me to hold on to the anchor’s rope of a nearby motor yacht and gradually descend into the bottom while equalizing. While on the dive boat I contemplated the 100 or so meter swim to the rope. Shall I swim and hold on to the rope then gradually descend or descend right there and then in the clear waters?

coral wall diving
Diving next to a wall of corals is unlike diving in a reef flat.
I donned my SCUBA gear a bit anxious of my ears not equalizing underwater. My dive master companion assured me that a protected area ranger will watch me as I descend. That may be comforting but that did not relieve me of my worries.

I held the top portion of my mask and made sure air comes through easily in the second stage of the SCUBA diving regulator. The air flow seems okay. I also made sure that my snorkel is attached firmly to the mask. I tilted my body towards the water and fell backwards at the side of the dive boat, down into the water with a big splash because of the heavy tank.

Seeing my two dive master companions underwater gave me second thought on swimming towards the motor yacht to hang on. I decided to descend directly as time is of the essence.

I have done this before, why not now? I thought.

The beautiful coral reefs and marine life in Tubbataha are just irresistible. It is a rare chance to be in a World Heritage Site known worldwide as one of the best dive spots.

And so, after a few minutes, with occasional pain in my ears as I descend and ascend a little to ease the pain, I landed on the bottom of the sea at a depth of about 65 feet. It seemed my weights have been too heavy as I added two more 2 pound lead weights on my belt aside from the metal integrated in my buoyancy control device (BCD). My buddies came over to check on my gears and I made an OK sign with my thumb and index finger.

Sharks and Strong Undercurrent

We toured the area awhile before I signaled my male buddy (the other one’s a young lady dive master) to take a video of my instant refresher dive. I couldn’t understand his reaction as he motioned to his camera and signaled he is going to ascend. I learned later that he has to set his camera.

My lady buddy placed her two index fingers together, meaning, I will follow or accompany her. She has a GoPro camera around her wrist and I understood as she swam away.

I followed her as she swam towards the edge of the reef. She’s going deeper looking for interesting creatures to document. I followed suit until we encountered a group of sharks, probably white tips, swimming in the opposite direction.

reef shark
A white tip reef shark.

I was just a few meters away from her when suddenly, I felt a sudden tug of current pulling me away from her. I realized that a streaming current is lifting me up towards the surface. I can hear my dive computer emit rapid bursts of beeps indicating I was ascending too fast and I could hear my ear pop. I thought to myself that this could be the end of me. I may be in the news that day as a diver casualty.

Instinctively, knowing that the sudden ascent can cause Nitrogen bubbles in my body and cause decompression sickness or bends and probably unconsciousness, I kicked upwards while pushing the water up a few times in a desperate move to go deep again and prevent disaster. I also have to avoid jerky movements as I know sharks are nearby and I might catch their attention. I don’t want to be mistaken for a struggling fish.

I succeeded as I found myself back underwater so rapidly that my eardrum was so painful. My eardrum would have burst had I dove deeper. I tried to calm myself by breathing slowly to establish neutral buoyancy.

Reunited Divers and Snorkelers

After my successful attempt to swim back to the depths, I saw my lady buddy staring at me about fifty meters away. I was glad to see she was alright.

I motioned with my hand for her to come and join me as the strong current carries us to another spot. I held on to a projecting rock and held on to it until she came right next to me.

Upon closing in, my buddy gave me her camera as she spooled back the string that connects to a surface marker buoy (SMB) oriented parallel to the surface indicating the current is quite strong. She wrapped her arm around mine to prevent us from drifting apart as she gradually released the balloon towards the surface for the dive boat skipper to see. I was breathing so heavily I thought I’d finish off the air in the tank before we reach the surface.

I feel relieved being back to the dive boat after several minutes and seeing our worried team leader get a sigh of relief. I survived!

Our snorkeling companions had likewise troubling stories because of that sudden current sweep underwater. One snorkeler drank seawater and panicked. Luckily, everyone made it to the boat safely.

While on the boat, I halfheartedly resolved not to dive again. But upon my dive buddy’s invitation to dive in the afternoon that day, I could not resist but join the two master divers once again.

The second dive that day released me from my traumatic experience as I dove, also for the first time, along a wall of colorful, thriving corals and reef fishes without the swift current. My health worry is gone and I am able to SCUBA dive again.

Postscript

I learned later that my lady buddy thought I was just behind her while she takes a video of a group of white tip sharks, probably a dozen of them. She was rattled when she saw I was gone but was relieved upon my re-submergence at a distance.

Aloe Vera Benefits: Amazing Cure to Chapped Lips

Do you have chapped lips? Have you tried different medications to no avail? This may be the solution to your problem. Read on and experience the curative benefits of Aloe vera.

At last, I discovered the best cure to my persistent chapped lips problem. It’s a simple fleshy plant called Aloe vera.

I once learned the curative properties of this plant a few years ago, and it just occurred to me to try it. That’s because I have already tried many remedies to my cracked, injured lips which usually happens when the ambient air is dry.

I tried applying to my lips different sorts of remedy. These include lip balm, petroleum jelly, glossy lipstick, olive oil, and even alum (locally called tawas) that made it even worse (of course).

I was so desperate that I thought I had a serious internal condition. But I didn’t have any bodily symptoms except my painful lips. And boy I’m glad I tried Aloe vera.

What is Aloe vera?

Aloe vera is a succulent plant species. Succulent means a tender, juicy, or fleshy plant. This means that if you hold the leaf of the plant, it is plump.

Once you remove the epidermis or outer leaf material of the plant, a gel in between the covering is revealed. I show a picture of the Aloe vera leaf with about an inch of the epidermis removed below.

How I Used Aloe Vera to Treat My Lips

The procedure I used in using Aloe vera to cure my lips is simple. I removed a leaf from the plant, sliced a little of the upper part of the leaf along its width then made another slice lengthwise, about an inch, to show the jelly-like substance inside it (see picture).

aloe vera benefits
How I cut the aloe vera leaf to access the gel.

I placed the gelatinous substance (open, dorsal side of the leaf) onto my lips and spread it all over my upper and lower lips. Subconsciously, I ate a little of the gel and tasted it just for curiosity and thinking it is edible.

It took me only about one to two days to see the results. My lips were healed in just a matter of three days, applying the gel only in the morning before going to work and at night before sleeping. It’s some miraculous cure.

The gel works best if the leaf is first cooled in the refrigerator. You will experience the cool, soothing relief of the gel after cutting through the leaf and applying the substance to your lips.

Healing Properties of Aloe vera

Before writing this article, I read a few lines about Aloe vera and discovered its many uses. Traditionally, people use Aloe vera as herbal medicine in many countries. It is a multi-purpose skin treatment. It is an effective moisturizer.

Even in the ancient times, the plant’s healing properties have been recognized. It even earned the name “a plant of immortality.”

Despite the health benefits of Aloe vera, however, there are apprehensions about its medicinal uses. It can be harmful if ingested in large doses. Topical applications seem to be okay.

There is, therefore, a need to study this plant further to confirm whatever possible complications that may arise from its use. There is a clear research gap along this area. For me, however, Aloe vera has shown its curative effects.

The underlying rule to apply if you worry about the harmful effects of medicinal plants is to use them in moderation. Once you have availed of its benefits, stop using it.

That’s just what I did. My lips got cured fast so there’s no need to use Aloe vera anymore. One thing I need to do to make sure I avoid having chapped lips is to drink more water. That will keep me internally hydrated and prevent drying up my lips again.

© 2014 October 18 P. A. Regoniel

18 Species of Insects from a Ceiling Lamp

This article demonstrates how deviating from a dull routine can lead one towards discovery. Find out how a little shift in one’s behavior can produce unusual information.

One night, I noticed that the ceiling lamp over our dining table got dimmer than usual. When I looked up, I saw that the central part of the lamp had a dark shade of dirt that blocked the light from going through the glass cover. Ah, the pesky insects once again got trapped on the concave part of the round plate of glass.

I got an aluminum ladder and carefully removed the rounded nut of one of the three bolts that pinned the glass covering metal holder. When I held down the glass, the following mass of winged insects attracted by the light at night greeted me.

insects
A mass of insect remains inside the glass cover of the ceiling lamp.

Instinctively, I walked towards the door to get rid of the “dirt” and clean the glass covering. On second thought, however, I paused and contemplated if I can make out something out of this mass of apparently insignificant stuff.

I went out the other door towards the porch and laid the chaotic array of broken wings. As I did so, distinct shapes and sizes of insects came into focus as I ran my fingers through it.

The picture below shows the 18 species of winged insects that I discovered from the messy collection.

insects
Species of insects sorted out from a mass of insect parts taken from the ceiling lamp.

The pile of material consisted of wasps, moths, winged termites and ants, moth, beetles, flies, plant bugs, among others. All of the identifiable stuff are insects except no. 17 which is a shed lizard skin. This indicates that lizards fed on most of the insects attracted by the light as they get trapped inside the glass cover.

Reflections from the Discovery

As we always try to find meaning to what we observe, I posed a question in my mind on the relevance of the things I’ve found. Are the things I’ve found of any value at all?

While this discovery may not be a ground breaking one, I believe that I have supplied information found nowhere else in print or online. This information may be of special significance to an entomologist.

From what I could make out from this discovery, the collection of insects in the glass covering of the ceiling lamp represents the diversity of living organisms next to our place lying next to forested lots. These insects live and die in the often inundated “bangkal” (Nauclea orientalis) forest once marked by termite mounds. These insects compose the forest ecosystem as intermediaries of nutrient cycling. They are agents that transport nutrients all over the place. Without insects, nutrients remain in the soil and will not be made available in the chain of predator and prey interactions. And these interactions influence human life (see the mango weevil story).

How significant are these insects to me? Well, they took my attention that made me climb a ladder, took pictures, and clean the glass cover of the ceiling lamp when I should have been out somewhere. It has sparked a chain of events that changed my usual routine and made online presence through this musing. And I gained enjoyment from my writing activity.

This is an exercise of being unconventional in one’s thinking. I broke a simple routine of just cleaning the “dirt” from the ceiling lamp. Being unconventional leads to discovery.

© 2014 September 21 P. A. Regoniel

Three Simple Facts About Jellyfishes

How long does it take for the jellyfish to stay alive out of sea water? Do jellyfishes melt in the rain? What ecological role do jellyfishes play in the marine ecosystem? These are three questions answered in this article. Read on to find out.

The trip to Kitu-Kito, a tourist destination north of Puerto Princesa, on board a raft made of large PVC tubings, appeared to be uneventful until tiny blobs of jellyfishes of different sizes gained our group’s attention. While a scourge to swimmers, the jellyfishes became a subject of photographic interest for me.

Various sizes of jellyfishes bob out of the water, from 5-inch diameter ones with venomous tentacles to the cute, half-inch juveniles. Here are two of them:

jelly fishes
Two jellyfishes swim about in the food container filled with water.

How Long Can Jellyfishes Stay Out of the Water?

Taken by curiosity and instinctively, our boatman caught one of the jellyfishes and placed it on the front edge of the raft. The transparent jellyfish helplessly throbbed just like a heart on the wooden surface indicating that it is alive. Its gelatinous bell (its head) looks edible.

The taste of nata de coco flashed in my mind. I had that urge to slice and eat the chewy head.

I wonder if it tastes like nata de coco? Are jellyfishes edible? The boatman said, “Yes, it is.”

The jellyfish, in fact, is a delectable delicacy in Asia. These are dried, preserved and shipped to restaurants in Japan, China, and Thailand. But I never had the chance to taste it and will not venture to do so unless everybody is eating it.

jellyfish with tentacles
The jellyfish looks like nata de coco, a chewy, translucent, jelly like foodstuff produced by the fermentation of coconut water.

“How long can jellyfishes survive out of the water?” asked one of my friends. Being a biologist, and, not knowing exactly how long it will take for these animals to stay out of the water, I retorted, “Let’s use a timer to find out.” And so we did.

Glancing once in a while and observing the jellyfish for its tell-tale throb of life somewhere in the middle of its body, we waited until no discernible movement to indicate life is evident. After a while and looking at my watch’s timer, I blurted out to the group: “48 minutes.”

Now we learned that jellyfishes could survive that long out of sea water. If it does not return within that period to the deeper parts of the sea during the rush of sea water towards low tide levels, then it gets isolated and fried under the sun or get dehydrated. Thus, it somehow distributes nutrients along the coastline as it becomes a part of the beach ecosystem food chain.

Do Jellyfishes Melt in the Rain?

Another question sprang up. “Is it true that jellyfishes melt when out of the water and exposed to the rain?”

Honestly, I could not think of a good reason why jellyfishes will melt in the rain. They’re not ice cream or made of ice. I have heard this wrong notion on many occasions. And so I simply said, “I don’t think so,” explaining a bit about the composition of animal tissue.

As if to confirm my point, by sheer coincidence, it rained that afternoon despite the generally fair weather in the morning. The raft shook with every gust of wind that pass our way and alarmed almost everyone. I have been through this situation many times in the field and I feel confident that the wind will settle in a few moments.

The raindrops fell on the jellyfish, washing it through and through. The jellyfish, of course, did not melt. It’s still there.

3. Ecological Value of Jellyfishes

Jellyfishes form part of the marine food chain. They prey mainly on the zooplankton. In turn, they are favorite diets of sea turtles. Thus, they help stabilize the marine ecosystem.

Transparent plastics thrown into sea water sometimes get mistaken for jellyfishes. This is the reason many sea turtles die as plastics block their gut and keep them full when, in reality, they are without food in their stomachs.

© 2014 September 8 P. A. Regoniel

BioBlitz of a Disturbed Mangrove Ecosystem

Can a three-hour Bioblitz yield useful information? This article highlights the results of a quick trip to a coastal fringe. See what flora and fauna could thrive in a disturbed mangrove ecosystem.

The past two weeks had been quite busy for me as I try to keep up with two graduate and two undergraduate subjects in the university. One of those undergraduate subjects is titled marine methodology.

As an initial step in field exploration, I introduced my students to BioBlitz, a survey method where they have to record all living species within a designated area at a given period of time. The laboratory period for the class is only three hours every Friday so I designated a nearby mangrove area as the site for the activity. I intend to conduct the usual 24-hour duration BioBlitz when we go out in the field in the coming months. At best, it is only a taste of field work.

The Water as Convenient Waste Basket

We walked off at around 7:30 in the morning down to the eastern coastal fringes of the university where a clump of mangroves had grown quite well. I cautioned them to apply OFF lotion to ward off pesky mosquitoes and sandflies common in these forests. They also need to wear old shoes, sneakers or boots to keep their foot safe from shards of glass, nails or similar objects that we might step on. Incidentally, the back portion of some buildings had become dumping grounds for waste materials including bottles, old papers, and assortment of things in the office. I wonder if the administration knows about this undesirable practice.

We negotiated a slippery trail down a steep slope and were greeted by lots of floating waste carried by the waters probably from nearby places. An ordinance prohibits indiscriminate throwing of wastes but then the scene shows something is amiss in people’s attitude. The ordinance seems to work only in visible areas but not in the city’s waters.  I thought I’d spearhead a  coastal clean up and massive information campaign to prevent such build up of waste that lowers the quality of the environment.

floating waste
An assortment of floating waste materials consisting of old slippers, biscuit wrappers, shampoo sachets, instant drink pouches, old toys, sando plastic bags, empty lotion bottles, among others.

With BioBlitz in mind, we proceeded to the shallower regions of the mangrove ecosystem to inventory whatever we could find. It was high tide at 8 o’clock so we have to contend with the limited muddy strip where we could walk without fully submerging our waists. Everyone was mindful that they still have to attend their next class at 10:30 am and had to avoid getting wet all over.

Plant and Animal Species in the Narrow Stretch of Mangrove

Xylocarpus flower
Flower of Xylocarpus granatum.

I lectured on some species of mangroves and their peculiar  characteristics. Notable among these mangroves is Xylocarpus granatum, the monkey puzzle mangrove, easily identified by its pomelo-like fruit and chocolate brown petiole. The other mangrove species we found were the common stilt-rooted Rhizophora spp. , Lumnitzera littoreaAvicennia sp., and Sonneratia sp. We also noted mangrove associates like Nypa fruticans, Heritiera littorea, Excoecaria agallocha, Acrostichum aureum, and Pandanus sp. Just next to these mangroves and their associates are large trees of bangkal (Nauclea orientalis) growing at the slopes.

Below are pictures of macroorganisms found in that narrow stretch of mangrove:

marine macroorganisms
Mangrove macroorganisms (clockwise): beetle, marine cockroach and spider, cricket, mudskipper, sea slater, and sea snail.

I saw a crab but this quickly dipped underwater when I approached it. What was left was an indiscernible picture of the crustacean.

Despite the short duration of our quick survey, we had an actual glimpse of the mangrove ecosystem and its component flora and fauna. The students surely have learned to appreciate the mangrove ecosystem and came up with ideas on how they could unravel more information from what they have personally experienced; that learning and enthusiasm showed up in their field report.

© 2014 July 14 P. A. Regoniel

How to Slow Down Your Heart Rate Through Aerobics

Do you have a fast heart rate, i.e., more than 80 beats per minute? Chances are, you are either stressed or not getting enough exercise. Find out how aerobics can slow down your heart rate.

I have this nagging question in mind since I decided to undertake an aerobics program using Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book on aerobics. This is about one’s heart rate getting slower when regularly exercising. Did my heart rate actually slow down because aerobics exercise has become an integral part of my weekly routine?

On page 101 of Dr. Cooper’s book aptly titled “aerobics,” he mentioned that the heart is such a magnificent engine that, when given less work, will work faster and less efficiently. When you make more demands on it through aerobics, it will become more efficient. That means that for a deconditioned man who does not exercise at all, his resting rate is about 80 or more while a conditioned man who exercises regularly, will have a resting heart rate of about 60 beats per minute or less. In 24 hours at rest, a deconditioned man’s heart will have to beat more than a conditioned man. He went on to explain things about the heart and how it becomes stronger and more efficient with training.

While browsing information along this topic, I found out that top athletes have heart rates of less than 30. Miguel Indurain, a top cyclist has a heart rate of 28.

Does Aerobics Slow Down Heart Rate?

I love to do a simple research to test this information although I am aware that there were already studies done to answer this question. I would like to answer the question using myself as the subject of the study and to see my progress. This is my case.

I will deliberately skip the review of literature and go directly to the objective of this experiment. My research question is:

Does aerobics slow down the heart rate through time?

My Method

I decided that I will use the graphical approach to find out if my heart rate indeed is slowing down through time. This is what researchers call a time series analysis. Will the heart rate trend be going down?

I recorded my heart rate each time I check my blood pressure upon waking up in the morning using an OMRON REM-1 wrist blood pressure monitor. So, I have added information that I will include in this article – my blood pressure.

I started recording the BP information and heart rate last August 8, 2013 up to this time. I do this routine before my 6 o’clock am run so it’s basically my resting heart rate after 6-8 hours of sleep. There were no significant changes in my lifestyle (i.e., no changes in diet, medication, workload, among other things) since I embarked on the aerobics program.

I plotted data gathered for eight months although I have done aerobics since January 2013. But then I failed to record heart rate or BP data until August 2013.

Results

I found out interesting information after plotting the data in Excel. This is easily done by plotting the date and corresponding BP values and heart rate in one row. I clicked on the Insert menu then hit the Line graph and selected the cells for date, diastolic, systolic, and heart rate values.

Indeed, my heart rate decreased through time as indicated by the heart rate trend line. However, I noticed that the trend for blood pressure goes towards the opposite direction. Both the systolic and diastolic pressure follow an upward trend (Figure 1).

graph of the heart rate and blood pressure
Fig. 1. Graph of my blood pressure and heart rate from August 19, 2013 to April 19, 2014.

What does this result suggest? This may mean that as the heart grows stronger (low heart beat), the pressure it exerts on the blood vessels also increases. On the other hand, this suggests that my blood vessels become less elastic through time.

This finding requires further reading – a review of literature focused on the relationship between the heart rate of a healthy person and his blood pressure. Is this trend the same for all people who engaged in aerobics and experienced the training effect?

Training effect is the body’s adaptation to a training program manifested by improvement in functional capacity and strength. In my case, this simply means that I am able to run a 6 kilometer stretch of road without stopping to rest. When I started the aerobics program last January 2013, I can barely finish a mile and my legs ached.

Well, whatever the increasing blood pressure means, what is important is that I found out that aerobics does decrease the heart rate through time. On March 4, 2014, I recorded my lowest heart rate ever: 44.  And I confirmed this by manually counting my pulse in one minute. And I also discovered that I can lower it at will by breathing deeply.

Where does this training bring me? An athlete friend invited me to join a 10K run last February 23, 2014. He noticed that I jog regularly and assured me that I will be able to finish the distance. I explained that I have been jogging just to address a health issue and is not that confident to test my performance. On second thought, I said why not?

I realized I can make the distance and gained confidence that I could be a marathoner. In fact, I’ve already joined and finished two 10-kilometer runs clocking 1:05 and 1:00, respectively. And I aim to finish the upcoming 10K run next month in less than an hour. This was made possible through serious self-training and with determination.

Do you have high blood pressure? Or easily feel tired after a few exertions? Try aerobics and take control of your health.

Just a note of caution: before engaging in strenuous exercise, have a medical check up to rule out any heart problem.

© 2014 April 19 P. A. Regoniel

Do Spiders Eat Cockroaches?

Cockroaches are unwanted organisms in the house. Do you know that spiders can help you get rid of them? Here’s evidence that spiders do eat cockroaches.

Seeing things like a house spider preying on a cockroach excites me. I never saw such marvelous predation in my life until just this morning.

decapitated head of cockroach
Decapitated head of the cockroach shows its long antennae.

As I prepare early in the morning, around 4:30 am, and bringing my shoulder bag with me in my favorite writing area, I noticed something unusual at the side of the bag. There it was, a large spider clamping under its body a cockroach or what remained of it after some parts had been removed. Its body measures approximately 1.5 cm long and its legs extend 9 cm across. I noticed that the head of the hapless cockroach was decapitated from its body, indicating that the spider knows where to strike.

My camera is inside the bag, a standard habit I’ve developed through the years as I shoot pictures readily whenever an opportunity like this arises. I have to make sure that I retrieve my camera carefully so as not to disturb the spider, but quickly, because at any moment, I expect the spider will notice my intrusion to its privacy.

spiderfeeding
A spider clutches the cockroach onto its abdomen.

I took a few shots with flash at close up. Indeed, after five pictures and a video, the spider speedily jumped out from the bag into the table. It then dropped off the edge of the table onto the floor at a height of three feet, hid under the table for a while then scampered towards safety in the dark corners of our refrigerator – the cockroach still stuck on its abdomen. I can no longer poke at it and take a shot. It’s an adaptive response to ensure its survival. But I have no intention of swatting it at al.

A Documented Fact

So what does this observation imply? For the layman, this moment is just one of those things that “normally” happen in everyday life. But if you consider yourself an inquisitive person as how a good researcher should behave, this phenomenon means much more. It’s not just an awesome experience that you can forget after a while. It is actually a documented fact — that spiders prey on cockroaches.

Of what use is this observation? This simple observation and documentation spares a researcher trying to establish the fact that spiders do feed on cockroaches. This article, therefore, can be cited as a source that this type of spider do prey on cockroaches. You can see the spider or the cockroach separately but seldom will you find a spider feeding on a cockroach unless you catch a spider, keep it in a glass cage, wait for long hours and see if it will feed on cockroaches that you put inside the same container. Under captivity, the spider might not feed at all.

Ecological Implications

Now that you know that spiders do prey on cockroaches, and you consider cockroaches as pests more than you might consider spiders as pests, too, then this means that if you kill all the spiders, the cockroaches that they prey upon will increase in number. That’s a lot of cockroaches, and possibly lots of diseases. Cockroaches are carriers of 33 kinds of bacteria including E. coli and Salmonella, six parasitic worms, among others (Parada 2012).

Application

This knowledge that spiders (at least the species featured in this article) eat cockroaches can be used to control the number of cockroaches in your home. Catch a spider like the one you see here (a huntsman spider) and breed it to maturity. Then release in your house if it is infested with cockroaches or sell to people who need them. The population of cockroaches will surely be under control. There will be no need of harmful pesticides.

So which one would you like to have in your house – spiders or cockroaches?

Reference

Parada, J. (2012). The truth about cockroaches and health. Retrieved on April 11, 2014 from http://www.pestworld.org/news-and-views/pest-health-hub/posts/the-truth-about-cockroaches-and-health/

Things You Don’t Know About the Black Wasp

Reading this article will help you understand why we should treat the black wasp with respect and appreciation. Black wasps play an important ecological role.

Chances are, when a black wasp enters your home and buzzes its way around, you will try to swat it with anything you can lay your hands on. They are known for their painful sting. In fact, a worker at home once unwittingly disturbed a black wasp’s nest attached to a mango leaf. She sustained three to five stings on her face and had to be hospitalized.

However, after reading this personal discovery about the black wasp’s nest, your behavior towards it will change. Black wasps have important ecological role.

The Mud Nest and Its Contents

Yesterday, when I glanced at the sill of the small screened bathroom window, I noticed a solitary black wasp circling around its nest of mud. I watched it while it makes its way inside the small opening on top of the nest. A few moments later, it flew away.

inside black wasp nest
Fig. 1. The mud nest of black wasp and its contents.

Anticipating that the mud nest will grow in time, I decided to remove it but not after finding out what’s inside that small mound. I carefully removed the nest, starting from the bottom and placed it on a folder to take a picture of its contents.

I was surprised to see that the small mound was full of living creatures. See Figure 1 at right.

There are at least three species of living organisms in the picture. From the left, are two black wasp larvae (the smaller one is yellow-green and the bigger one, light chocolate-brown), a pale red colored caterpillar of an unknown species, and three orange-spotted caterpillars of another species. There’s another one not included in this picture because its life juice was sucked out by the black wasp’s larva; but that one is visible in the video below.

Relationship Between Organisms in the Mud Nest

How do these organism’s interact inside that cramped space of mud? Initially, I thought all of them were developing larvae of the black wasp. But then a question came up in my mind, “how can the larva survive without food in that closed chamber of mud?” Then it dawned to me that the longer ones are actually caterpillars that serve as food for the two plump black wasp larvae.

Also, several months ago, I swatted a wasp and off fell a caterpillar from it. That gave me the idea that the black wasp brought these caterpillars into the mud chamber after laying its egg which then hatches into a larvae. The larva attaches itself to the paralyzed caterpillar and then sucks it dry. That’s a simple hypothesis, and I verified this by bringing the bigger larva close to the caterpillars and see if indeed it will attempt to feed on the caterpillar. The video below shows how it behaved.

[youtube=https://whttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNyKBF84FHQ&rel=0]

The video verified my observation that the wasp larva feeds on the caterpillar until it has enough food ingested for the pupa stage. The proportion seems to be that for each larva in a chamber, two caterpillars were allocated by the mother wasp.

The Black Wasp’s Egg

I peered inside the hole of the unbroken chamber. It is difficult to take a picture through the small hole, so I cut it in half to show a cross-section. Inside is a small egg attached by an almost invisible thread onto the roof of the chamber, hanging there and moving to and fro as I positioned it for a close up picture (see Figure 2). In other descriptions of wasp species, the eggs are laid after food is made available. This species lays the egg first, then finds food in time for the newly hatched larva.

black wasp egg
Fig. 2. The black wasp egg inside a chamber made of mud.

Notice that there is only one egg inside the 1.5 mm thick chamber and there are no other holes anywhere inside it. The top part has a 5 mm opening, enough to squeeze in a caterpillar of specific size, and of course, the black wasp. This means that the wasp chooses a prey with a circumferential size small enough to fit through the hole. This indicates species specificity, meaning, the black wasp is choosy of its prey.

Once the food is deposited, the wasp covers the hole and builds another one to repeat the process until the nest becomes large enough to form a colony. The developing larva inside is safe from ant attack.

Implications of the Findings

This personal encounter draws out many questions that researchers in the biology of the black wasp can explore further:

  1. Which butterfly species do the caterpillar that serve as prey of the black wasp belong? Are they considered pests to farms (since caterpillars are voracious leaf eaters)?
  2. How long will it take for the black wasp’s egg to hatch?
  3. How does the pupa of the black wasp look like?
  4. How long does each stage of the life cycle take?
  5. Why is the black wasp’s egg suspended in the chamber instead of on the floor?
  6. What specific material is the mud nest made up of and how are the materials glued together?

Many more questions can be asked from the observation. These questions arose as gaps in knowledge because the information provided is a one-shot deal. It is akin to a case study. These are exploratory questions based on a single case.

From these questions, the following hypotheses may be tested:

  • The black wasp’s feeding habit can help regulate pest population in farms.
  • The black wasp suspends its egg to give it just the right temperature to allow hatching inside the chamber.
  • The black wasp uses wet mud to build the nest.
  • The life cycle of the black wasp coincides with the life cycle of the prey.

A review of literature will now be more meaningful as you learn things and compare what you have found. In so doing, you can design and carry out a more systematic and rigorous research.

It’s fun discovering and learning things through actual encounter. Using a little wit to deduce relationships between things can help you appreciate how intricate and wonderful life is in this world.

Are all these arrangements a matter of accident or evolution? There must be an Intelligent Being who is responsible for all these wonders.

© 2013 September 17 P. A. Regoniel

Newly Discovered Mammal Species Olinguito vs The Bearcat

Have you heard or read about a new mammal species discovered in Mount Andes in South America? It is called olinguito. The bearcat resembles it. See the difference.

As I browsed the internet for current information on science, I bumped on the Science Daily website featuring olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), a mammal species of mistaken identity. What first struck my attention is that olinguito resembles the mammal I took a shot two weeks ago in a wildlife conservation facility. It is called the Palawan bearcat.

Olinguito vs Bearcat

Examining the picture of the newly discovered mammal species closely, I could not help but compare it with the bearcat (Arctictis binturong whitei) which is found in Palawan. Accordingly, the olinguito looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear.

The Palawan bearcat is similarly described. It is also a cross between a bear and a cat but it neither belongs to the bear nor the cat family. The mammal belongs to the family Viverridae[1].

For copyright reasons, I could not post a picture of the olinguito for comparison here, but this is available in the ABC News website. Indeed, the olinguito looks very much similar to the mammal found in the western part of the Philippines, in the island of Palawan.

You may click the link to the ABC News website to see a picture of olinguito that bears close resemblance to the bearcat I show below.

Palawan bearcat
The Palawan bearcat (Arctictis binturong).

Feeding Habit of the Bearcat vs the Olinguito

The bearcat is sometimes treated as a distinct species although it looks very much like the ones found in Borneo. It has a prehensile tail, meaning, its tail can grasp an object. This is because the bearcat lives in tree canopies to feed on both plant material and other smaller animals like insects, rodents, birds and even fish[2]. Thus, it is omnivorous (animal and plant eater) as opposed to olinguito which is a carnivore (exclusively flesh-eater).

The information on olingo’s feeding habit, however, is a bit confusing because the headline in Science Daily says it is a carnivore. But scrolling down further in the website, it reports that during the three-week expedition of Helgen and Kays, they noted that it is a nocturnal animal and feeds mainly on fruits[3].

This requires further study as the discovery of this new species spurred interest on finding out more about its characteristics, habitat, distribution and conservation. More expeditions are being planned at the moment.

Behavior and Size Comparison

I find the bearcat much cuter than the olinguito. In fact, tourists love to have the tamed bearcat on their shoulders for a quick shot every time they visit the Palawan Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Center (PWRCC) where several of them are kept in captivity. Placing the bearcat on one’s shoulders, however, is a dangerous practice because the bearcat can rip flesh easily just like a bear.

More than a decade ago, I saw someone made the mistake of handling it when it was already big and got slashed by its razor-sharp claws in the process. It is docile when tamed but accidents do happen.

The bearcat grows up to 1.4 meters and weigh more than 20 kilograms as opposed to olinguito’s two pounds. This probably is the reason why olinguito was named so. It is a small olingo.

A Demonstration of Keenness

New findings like this arise from a keen sense of observation which good researchers must possess. For many years, the olinguito was regarded as a species of kinkajou, another mammal living within the same geographic range. But it took a team of scientists headed by Helgen, who noticed olinguito’s smaller teeth and skull in the museum collections, to uncover a feature that everyone overlooked. Keenness is the key.

Reference

1. Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 548–559. Retrieved August 16, 2013, from http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/biology/resources/msw3/browse.asp?id=14000270

2. Widmann, P., De Leon, J. & Duckworth, J.W. 2008. Arctictis binturong. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. . Downloaded on 16 August 2013.

3. Smithsonian Institute (2013, August 15). New species of carnivore looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 16, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2013/08/130815143101.htm

© 2013 August 16 P. A. Regoniel