Tag Archives: wildlife

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.

Eating Insects as Food: A Practical Solution to World Hunger

Have you ever thought of eating little, crunchy, yummy insects such as grasshoppers and cockroaches? What will be your response when someone asks you to have  ‘cricketty-cricketty crickets’ or ‘buzzerry-buzzery buggies’ dinner? Hmm… Quite weird huh! But, if it becomes a solution for the world hunger after 50 years, what will your response be? Oh well, let us see what’s so good about insects and why it is considered as that.

Consumption of edible insects has been part of human history for many cultures. These insects played an important role as part of human nutrition in many regions worldwide like Africa, Latin America and Asia. Rural areas in these regions suffer from malnutrition, especially protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) (Siriamornpun and Thammapat, 2008).

Communities of Thailand for instance, have a long cultural history of eating insects. They have become well-known for their exotic food like cockroaches, beetles, grasshoppers and other insects; it is one of the countries which have the most registered species that make their way into man’s digestive system.

insects as food
Insects served as part of regular food in a restaurant (Photo by Richard Allaway@Flicker.com)

Over decades, edible insects are used for other products like canned goods or snacks on a commercial-scale. Its use as a sustainable and secure source for human diet has continued to increase (FAO, 2010; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Survival Strategy of Edible Insects

The unpredictable changes in the environment causes many organisms to develop adaptation strategies to survive. One of the strategies is to increase in number of offspring that need little energy investment. The underlying reason is that even if there are unpredictable forces of nature, still there will be some left to live, to reproduce, age and pass on future generation just by mere numbers. Many invertebrates follow this strategy – lots of eggs are produced and larvae are formed but only a few survive to maturity (FAO, 2013; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Insects place an emphasis on high growth rate which typically exploit less-crowded ecological niches and produce many offspring quickly. The exponential growth curve by Malthus applies in this selection where the population at the beginning is not very high but grows independently at a very fast rate. Nonetheless, these organisms have relatively low chance of surviving to adult stage. Creatures belong under this strategy are called r-strategists (Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Most of the organisms classified as r-strategists are pests. They damage crops or bother human beings. However, the traditional use of insects as food continues to expand around the world and it gives significant socio-economic and environmental values for the communities (FAO, 2010).

Potential Source of Alternative Food – Solution to World Hunger

It was projected that by 2050, the world will be having 9 billion people. To support the food needs of this number, the present food production will need to almost double. Arable land, however, has become scarce due to rapid development. Oceans are over fished and climate change and other related shortages can have direct or indirect implications to food production. To meet these problems, production and consumption should be re-evaluated. New strategies of producing food are needed (FAO, 2013).

worm as food
Barbecue flavored worm crisps (Photo by Flavio Ensiki@Flicker.com)

There has been a growing realization that insects can meet the scarcity in food especially in the many protein challenged regions. The works of Raksakantong et al. (2010) as stated by Siriamornpun and Thammapat (2008) concluded that one of the cheapest sources of animal protein are insects.

Consumption of insects is continuously encouraged by many people due to financial issues. Many of the poorest populations in the world such as Africa and Asia eat insects as part of their diet (Shockley and Dossey, 2014). It has the potential of supporting many rural dwellers including also those street traders in urban areas, where some of these insects are popular among those who want to try alternative food (FAO, 2013; West Africa Trends Team, 2014).

The efficiency and biodiversity benefits provided by insects are potential for food supplies and sustainability of a region. Insects contain higher nutritional quality than animal protein as well as produced more sustainable and with much smaller ecological footprint than most livestock such as pigs and cows (FAO, 2013; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Furthermore, since insects are r-strategists, they tend to produce quickly compared to livestock, thus, have greater efficiency and biodiversity for they can contribute to human food ingredients even within a short period. There are more than 1 million species of edible insects described and still more than 4-30 million species are estimated to exist on earth, living in every niche inhabited by humans and beyond. For instance, house crickets can lay 1,200 – 1,500 eggs in just a matter of 3-4 weeks (Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Gathering and farming of insects can also offer employment and more source of income. In developing countries like in Asia, demand for edible insects becomes common. It is relatively easy to bring insects to market. Gathering, rearing and processing into street foods, just like the sale of chicken or fish, are within the reach of small-scale enterprises (FAO, 2013).

Finally, the combined force of traditional knowledge and new technologies in gathering, rearing, processing or producing edible insects is a potential solution for world hunger problems.

Yummy, crunchy cockroach meal, anyone?

References:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2010). Edible forest insect: humans bite back! Rome, Italy: Publishing Policy and Support Branch.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2013). Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. Rome, Italy: Publishing Policy and Support Branch.

Shockley M. and A. T. Dossey (2014). Insects for Human Consumption. In Mass Production of Beneficial Organisms Invertebrates and Entomopathogens. J. A. Morales-Ramos, M. G. Rojas and D. I. Shapiro-Ilan (Eds.). Chapter 18. Pp/ 617-652.

Siriamornpun, S. and P. Thammapat (2008). Insects as a Delicacy and a Nutritious Food in Thailand.  Thailand: International Union of Food Science and Technology. p. 1-9.

West Africa Trends Team (2014). Bushmeat and the future of protein in West Africa. West Africa Trends Newsletter, Issue 9. African Center for Economic Transformation. p. 8-13.

©2014 November 27 Shellemai A. Roa

Facts About the Goliath Grouper

Have you ever encountered a Goliath grouper while snorkeling or SCUBA diving? How does it look like? How do these magnificent fishes reproduce? Are they really big as their name “Goliath” suggest? Are they aggressive? This article answers these questions. Read on and learn about the Goliath grouper.

During one of my SCUBA diving spree in Apulit Island, a popular tourist destination north of Palawan Island in the municipality of Taytay, I met the Goliath grouper. I learned about it from a buddy diver who excitedly told me to go diving with him upon a prompt from a classmate in high school who happened to be the mayor of that town. That day actually was our high school reunion day in that isolated, white-beach a few nautical miles from the town proper.

Probably, I am lucky that the Goliath grouper (Epinephelus quinquefasciatus) I encountered several minutes when I plunged into the water was still a juvenile.  But it’s already unusually bigger than the common reef fish I see.

Behavior of Goliath Grouper

I brought with me my automatic Nikon camera encased in a plastic casing to make it water-resistant as taking pictures is a pleasure for me each time I travel. I grabbed the camera hanging by a tough nylon string around my wrist, and took a video of the Goliath grouper following my buddy. Midway the video, a grouper swam by my side then approached me with another one. You can see it below:

How big can Goliath groupers get? The ones above are just juveniles or young ones that could grow to as long as six feet. And they could weigh more than 300 kilograms! The one I saw was about two feet long.

Despite the huge size of the Goliath grouper, they seem to be docile fishes although there are reports that they do attack humans. I saw one video that says so but analyzing the situation, I thought the reason was mainly to feed, not really to attack. Here’s the video of that alleged Goliath grouper attack:

Do you agree with my observation? The moving fins attracted the grouper thinking probably that it was its prey and snapped on it. The prey was the speared fish, not the SCUBA diver who is holding the spear with the fish. It is also possible that the Goliath grouper thought the man as its competitor thus snapped on the competitor’s “tail” and swam away with its booty.

What is the life cycle of the Goliath grouper?

Goliath groupers rely on the protection of the mangrove forests because after their eggs hatch, they settle in the mangrove litter and roots. Thus, the mangroves are crucial in their survival because mangroves serve as microhabitats that prevent predators from eating the very young juveniles. When the juveniles are older, they migrate to the coral reefs and stay there for more than 40 years. When they are old enough to reproduce, the Goliath groupers migrate and spawn into the deeper water column, fertilize the eggs which then are carried by the current, hatch then drift in the currents for 30 to 80 days (Fig. 1).

Goliath grouper
Fig. 1. Life cycle of the Goliath grouper (Illustration by Jane Hawkey, IAN Image Library (ian.umces.edu/imagelibrary/)

The cycle shows that everything is connected to everything else. If something disastrous like oil spill that kills the larvae of fish like the Goliath grouper or makes the mangroves unfit for habitat to fish, then there will be lesser fish available for people to see and enjoy (if they are SCUBA diving or snorkeling tourists) and consume. I wouldn’t have seen the Goliath grouper at all.

The nearshore environment is a fragile one that should be protected or conserved considering the highly complex life that intertwine in mangrove ecosystems. The Goliath grouper is only one of the rich diversity of life that support man.

©2014 November 26 Patrick 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

Balabac Mousedeer: Is it a Mouse or a Deer?

Have you heard about or seen the Balabac mouse deer lately? How does it look like? Is it really a mouse or a deer? For those who are not familiar with this unique species of animal, this article is for you. Read on to find out answers to these questions.

In one of the remote islands of the Philippines, there exists an animal called pilandok or the Palawan mouse deer. Pilandok looks like a deer, but its small size at birth approximates that of a mouse. This may be the reason people call it a mouse deer. When mature, however, it’s way too large to be called a mouse. It can grow to 50 cm from the head to the base of the tail, five times bigger than the biggest mouse.

The term “mouse deer” is a misnomer because, in reality, this mammal belongs to the Chevrotain family. In French, chevrotain literally means “little goat.” Thus, it is neither a mouse nor a deer although the latter gains more semblance.

Judge by yourself where this animal should be classified by the way it looks below.

mouse deer
A mouse deer in captivity shown with its food, a fig species locally called tubog. The owner said the animal was captured while browsing for food near the coast. Photo © 2014 P. A. Regoniel

Do you agree that it looks more like a goat than a deer? Or would you rather call it a mouse?

Notice that the pupil of eye of the mouse deer is oriented horizontally. This feature characterizes goats, hence, confirming the observation that it should not be classified as a deer but to another family, i.e., the Chevrotain. This eye orientation indicates that the animal is active at night.

The mouse deer in the picture was captured way back in 2006 in Balabac Island. Allegedly, a group of locals cornered the confused mouse deer while trying to find food along the seashore amidst large stands of the firefly mangrove, Sonneratia alba. Its favorite food is a species of fig called tubog shown in the picture above.

The animal was difficult to find even while some people say it is commonly encountered along the road. In fact, the  International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the Palawan mouse deer as an endangered species. Being endemic to islands of Balabac, Bugsuk and Ramos Islands at the southwest part of Palawan Island (see map below), its remaining population is threatened by encroachment to its habitat as well as human consumption of its delicious meat.

mouse deer distribution
Population distribution range of the Balabac mouse deer in the Province of Palawan.

Another threat is that nobody has done a population study yet as far as I am concerned. Nobody exactly know how many of these animals are still in the wild. Further, according to IUCN, research is needed on its habitat requirements, threats and conservation needs.

A comforting fact is that the mouse deer are r-strategists, meaning, they reproduce fast once allowed to do so. By the time I get back to Balabac Island again, I hope to see more of them and take better pictures and videos.

Do you have additional information you want to share about the Balabac mouse deer? Write me and I’ll feature your contribution.

Reference

Oliver, W., Matillano, J. & Widmann, P. 2008. Tragulus nigricans. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. . Downloaded on 10 September 2014.

© 2014 September 10 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

Solution to World Hunger: Eat the r Strategists

How can world hunger be resolved? The answer: through eating the r strategists! What are r-strategists and how can these animals help relieve pressure on animal populations that traditionally serve as human food? This article explores the possibility of consuming alternative food sources. 

The increasing demand for food of 7.2 billion people in the world puts pressure on conventional food sources. Thus, there is a need to explore alternative food sources. Scientists recommend the consumption of animals called r-strategists.

What are r strategists?

The so-called r-strategists are animals that reproduce so fast that chances for their populations to get depleted is much lower compared to other animals. These animals can live in unstable environments, meaning, situations and conditions where animal populations are under threat. The adaptive evolution is to have so many of their own kind. Thus saith the r/K theory that became popular in the 1970s.

For better understanding, let me define the r and the K in the r/K theory.

The r/K Theory

The r in the theory refers or comes from the word “rate.” This word reminds us to think about the rate of reproduction by which animals of this group propagate. These animals rapidly reproduce to compensate for their small size which easily become prey to other animals in the higher echelon of the food chain. And each of the offspring get less or no parental care. They can also easily adjust to environments that fluctuate. This adaptation strategy increases their chance to survive as a species.

aphids and ants
Ants and aphids are r-strategists because they rapidly reproduce and are small. These two organisms exhibit mutualism: the aphids provide the sugary honeydew they obtain from the guava to the ants while the ants provide them protection from their predators like the ladybugs (see an interesting ant defense here: http://www.pbase.com/antjes/lady_bug)

Meanwhile, the K in the theory refers to “carrying capacity.” In contrast to the r-strategists, animals that belong to this category undertake controls to their population by remaining close to the carrying capacity of their habitat. They adopt efficiency in resource use to maintain sustenance or adequate resources for each of the individuals in the face of scarce resources.

The carrying capacity of the habitat must not be exceeded to ensure the survival of these species. Thus, the K-strategists reproduce slowly, nurture their young, have larger bodies, and smaller in number compared to the r-strategists. These animals lie belong to the higher rung of the food chain, serving as “pools of nutrients” that can live in a stable habitat for a long time.

binturong
The bearcat Arctictis binturong is a K-strategist because gestation takes about 90 days and the average number of offspring per year is only two.

While recent theories like the Life History Theory supplanted the r/K theory, the terms r– and K-strategists are still used by scientists as this theory appears to be a necessary step in the study of animal adaptation to their environment. If you try to apply this theory by looking at the way animals propagate, it just makes sense. Small animals tend to produce more of their kind while the large animals reproduce slowly.

There are , however, always exceptions to any rule. For example, the bivalve Icelandic quahog (also known as black clam, Islandic cyprine, or black quahog) can live for more than 400 years! Also, the relatively small fish called orange roughy reproduce only upon reaching 20 years of age. And these fishes are estimated to live 149 years! This is the reason these fishes were not able to easily regain their population when their populations were subjected to intense fishing pressure in New Zealand, Australia and Namibia because of their popularity as food.

r-Strategists as Food?

hen and chicks
A free-ranging mother hen provides protection to its chicks.

Generally, the animals that are found acceptable by society to eat today are essentially K-strategists. These include meat coming from cows, swine, goat, chicken, among others. The last one, however, appears to lean on the r-strategists because of their short life span. Besides, these birds are domesticated and their growth is hastened to serve increasing fast food consumption demands.

We do eat fishes that are mostly r-strategists although we tend to consume too much of the wild populations. Thus, controls towards sustaining the population of these marine organisms are instituted in most countries  with intense fishing efforts.

Other r-strategists that are considered pests because of their great numbers may be considered as general food sources. For example, places like Thailand have exotic foods or foods that are generally regarded bizarre by people from other countries. These include fried crickets, earthworms, scorpions, steamed bugs, cockroaches, ant eggs and all sorts of bugs. These are all r-strategists since they reproduce rapidly but many find unpalatable despite their respectable nutritional value.

These pests are abundant in areas where people suffer malnutrition and lack of food. Is it time that these animals become a normal part of the diet? This may be the solution to world hunger. That is, if hungry people have the guts to fill their stomachs with such wiggly, wriggly and critty creatures.

Anyone ready to eat a crunchy and creamy cockroach?

References

Reznick, D.; Bryant, M. J.; and Bashey, F. ,2002. r-and K-selection revisited: the role of population regulation in life-history evolution. Ecology, 83 (6): 1509–1520. doi:10.1890/0012-9658(2002)083[1509:RAKSRT]2.0.CO;2

Schleif, M. 2013. “Arctictis binturong” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 01, 2014 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Arctictis_binturong/

© 2014 September  2 P. A. Regoniel

A Rare Swarm of Bees

Why do bees swarm in one place, usually a plant? Here is my little bee story of a recent experience and some facts about bee stings.

One morning, I noticed something unusual is happening in our garden. There seems to be a clump of insects flying about in one of the breast high potted plants in the lawn just beneath  a stunted coconut tree. I cautiously approached what I suspected to be a swarm of wild bees … and indeed, it is.

Instinctively, I hurried up back inside the house to get my camera. A few seconds later, I’m back ready to take shots of a rare event.

Thinking I am at a safe distance away from the wild bees and mindful that I might disturb them and get bitten, I gradually approached the swarm and held my breath.  This approach seemed to work in my past encounters with wild bees. Besides, I am confident that they will not sting unless they are threatened or harmed. My bee culture experience for the past several years also helped.

I aimed my camera and got the picture below showing bees clumped together on the leaves of a fern next to the plant where the other bees alighted.

bees swarm
A swarm of bees on the leaves of a potted plant.

I wondered why these bees stayed on the leaves when no flower is in sight where they could gather their usual supply of nectar to be stored in their honeycombs. What could be the reason for their stay there?

I searched the internet and found out that these gathering of bees must be transient in nature. I’ve read an article that says these honeybees are on the move to find their new home. And this could be true because after the day I saw the swarm of bees, they are gone the next day.

bee on skin
A curious bee landed on my skin.

At left is a picture of a bee that curiously landed on my skin. It didn’t prick me with its rear end sting but just stayed there. I held my breath once again and took a close-up shot. Had I swatted this bee, I might be inviting other bees to come because of its alarm pheromone. Crushing the bee will alarm the other bees and invite disaster.

According to Dylan Voeller and James Nieh of the University of California San Diego, honeybees are stimulated to attack once the alarm pheromone is released. This can be made worse if the victim wears dark clothes, releases carbon dioxide and moves jerkily. If this is assumed to be an evolutionary behavior, the response increases the survival of the colony as predators are warded off the hive. However, honeybees die once they let go of their sting. Once their sting got stuck on the skin of their victim, they are emboweled once they fly away. Further, the bee distracts the victim by flying about (as if intending to sting) for awhile until it finally dies.

So holding my breath and wearing light clothes would have worked. No bee from the swarm stung me at all. If they did, I will hose them out with water to drive them away.

Any interesting bee story you can share?

© 2014 August 11 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

Palawan Greater Coucal: Three Roles in the Forest Ecosystem

What is the role of a bird such as the greater coucal, a species of cuckoo, in the forest ecosystem? How will removal of its forest habitat compromise the other components of the ecosystem? This article explains how displacement and possible extinction of a bird species can impact on their habitat as well as human society.

Barry Commoner’s first Law of Ecology in his book The Closing Circle states that everything is connected to everything else. What affects one organism affects all.

If applied at ecosystem level, this means that the ecosystem’s integrity and resilience is compromised if one or more of the component parts is lost. Whatever animal or plant you find in an ecosystem will have some special role, function or influence on the other components in that ecosystem. The ecosystem works like a clock, where removal of one apparently insignificant part may prevent it from working properly or diminish the clock’s features or function.

This ecosystem principle made me ponder about the fate of the Palawan greater coucal, a bird associated with many omens in other places, that frequent the remnant forest found at the back of our house.

I took a picture of the bird this morning and feature it below. It looks as if it has just awakened from sleep as it sluggishly clambers on a branch of a tree. It cannot sustain flight just like the other birds.

greater coucal
Palawan greater coucal Centropus sinensis.

Since the land that we now occupy is classified as commercial land, in due time, the forested lot will be gone. These birds will no longer have their special place to roost and food to feed on once the remaining patches of trees that bear fruit and sustain them are cut down to make way for housing.

Do the greater coucals and other birds matter at all? What will probably happen once they are gone?

To find out how removal of the remaining forest will impact on the bird’s population, if indeed they still exist in great numbers, I will enumerate three roles that these wild birds play in the ecosystem.

Three Roles of the Greater Coucal

The greater coucal plays an important role in the ecosystem within which they live and reproduce. They serve many purposes among which are the following specific roles:

1. Seed dispersants

The greater coucals, just like the other birds, disperse the seeds of plants from fruits that they feed on. Their feeding behavior allows the distribution of plant species across a range of habitat. As a result, the plants have a greater chance to propagate their kind.

2. Aid in nutrient cycling

As the greater coucals move or fly with effort from one place to another, the birds are able to transfer nutrients that they bring with them, i. e., in their bodies. These are nutrients derived from their food. After absorbing the necessary food elements for their metabolic needs, the birds dispose of their organic waste somewhere. Their manure serves as fertilizer to plants thus starting off once again the circulation of nutrients.

Once these birds die, dead organic matter is acted upon by the decomposers. Organic matter is broken down into humus, consisting of minerals and other compounds that are available for plant use. Thus, with the aid of birds, poor nutrient areas are enriched.

3. Pest control

The greater coucals also feed on insects and even snails. Such feeding behavior help control their prey which in large numbers become pests. Economic problems can arise due to a lack of natural predator to prevent its propagation in large numbers (see the case of the mango pulp weevil).

This list enumerates at best a limited description of the role of the greater coucal in the ecosystem. A deeper investigation into its biology and behavior may uncover something that we cannot afford to lose.

What if these birds have genes that can cure an incurable illness? We will never know if we drive them out into extinction.

References

Natarajan,V (1993). Food and feeding habits of the Southern Crow-Pheasant Centropus sinensis parroti Stresemann (Aves : Cuculidae) at Pt. Calimere, Tamil Nadu. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 90 (1): 11–16.

Payne, RB (2005). The Cuckoos. Oxford University Press. pp. 238–242. ISBN 0-19-850213-3.

© 2014 June 3 P. A. Regoniel