The description says: "Internal surface of the peridium of the rare myxomycete Tubifera dudkae is covered with folds resembling sea waves. Among them oval shaped reticulate spores occur."
In other words, the blue waves and brown beads are part of the same organism, a slime mold called Tubifera dudkae. It is a rare member of the Myxomycete class. I don't know if it occurs in North America but I do know it lives in Crimea (thanks to the photos from Wikimedia Commons) and in Tasmania, Australia (thanks to the Myxomycetes website by Sarah Lloyd, an expert in slime molds).
In the photo, the blue waves are the inner surface of the protective layer that holds the spores until they're ready to release. This layer is called the peridium.
The brown beads with squiggly lines on them (i.e. reticulated) are the spores.
Here's what this slime mold looks like from the outside at normal size, sitting in a matchbox.
And here's the amazing thing: Are slime molds plants or animals?
In their reproductive stage, slime molds release spores.
When the spores settle down they become one-celled organisms similar to amoebas that move around looking for food. They don't need to swim in water to do this.
At some point in their life cycle, the amoeba-like individuals are drawn to each other and meld into one big cell with millions of nuclei. Yes, there's only one cell wall. This cell is called a plasmodium and it's slimy.
The plasmodium can move! In fact it oozes across the forest looking for food: bacteria, fungi, other slime molds. Some slime molds can stretch 10 feet.
Reports from the Great Lakes to Chesapeake Bay indicate this may be a great winter for seeing snowy owls (Bubo scandiacus). Tony Bruno traveled to Ohio last weekend and found this one at Headlands Beach.
There are clusters of snowies this month along the Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast as shown in purple on this eBird map. The screenshot shows only December 1-8, 2017 data. Click it to see the latest snowy owl eBird map for December 2017.
Is it time for a road trip? Or will the owls come south to Pittsburgh? Rumor has it they already have.
Though the ocean will never flood Pittsburgh, I'm still fascinated by the rising sea. (*)
Back in October I wrote about sea level fingerprints, the pattern of tiny elevation changes in sea level caused by uneven gravitational forces around the globe. The highest ocean peaks are in the tropics, the deepest valleys are near melting glaciers. As the land loses mass (ice) its gravitational pull decreases and it stops hugging the ocean to its shore. The water has to go somewhere so it goes to the tropics.
This means that glacial melt affects sea level rise in two ways: (1) It adds water to the ocean that used to be sequestered on land and (2) it alters the sea level fingerprint, lowering the ocean nearby and raising it far away.
If you do the complicated math, you can find out how individual melting glaciers will affect sea level at specific locations.
Last month, scientists at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab did just that when they published a paper in Science Advances and an online tool that illustrates how glaciers will affect 293 coastal cities. Let's take a look at Miami.
Almost half the sea level rise in Miami will be caused by glaciers (47.4% of total sea level rise) and almost half of that will be Greenland's fault (20% of total sea level rise). That's why Greenland is so red in the screenshot above.
The next highest glacial contributor in Miami will be Antarctica (12% of total sea level rise). In the screenshot below you can see that South American glaciers help, too.
In fact, the entire northern hemisphere is endangered by Antarctica's melting ice because it's so far away. Ironically the safest place to be is right next to a melting glacier. Sea level will go down at those sites.
(*) Pittsburgh's Point is 711 feet above sea level. My immediate family lives 10 to 25 feet above sea level in Virginia and Florida.
(screenshots of glacial contribution to sea level rise in Miami from the online tool at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. On the first screenshot I added a pink circle to highlight Miami. Click on the images to use the online tool.)
Five years ago a wildlife camera at Griffith Park, Los Angeles photographed an unexpected animal -- a mountain lion! Also called a puma or cougar, the big male cat had crossed two 10-lane freeways to make his home in the park that houses the HOLLYWOOD sign.
P-22 is very shy of humans and stays away from busy areas yet he's garnered a fan club anyway. His presence has taught Angelenos about the dangers wildlife face and prompted his fans to help him.
Because of the freeways P-22 is stuck inside 8 squares miles instead of the 200 square miles that mountain lions prefer, so his supporters are raising $50 million to build the largest ever wildlife bridge. When it's completed P-22 will be able to roam and find a mate.
It's an ambitious project inspired by a mountain lion.
"One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn't belong."
This little chant from Sesame Street is a reminder that large flocks of ring-billed gulls can contain one or two rare birds. You just have to look for them.
On Sunday afternoon December 3, Geoff Malosh was taking photographs of a black-headed gull (Rare Bird #1) among a flock of 500 ring-billed gulls at Moraine State Park. When he looked at the birds on a nearby roof he found a California gull among them. Rare Bird #2!
As the name implies, California gulls (Larus californicus) are common in California but not here. They breed from Great Slave Lake in Canada to the Great Plains and the Great Basin, and spend the winter on the West Coast, especially in California. They rarely travel east of the Mississippi so this bird is a great find for Butler County, Pennsylvania.
The California gull has a dark iris (ring-billed adults have yellow eyes), a red-orange spot on its lower mandible behind the black ring (missing on ring-billed), and is slightly larger and darker than the ring-billed gulls.
The eye and bill colors are diagnostic. Here's a closer look.
If Geoff hadn't traveled to see Rare Bird #1 he wouldn't have found Rare Bird #2.
Here's the black-headed gull that sparked Geoff's trip, beautiful in its own right.
Would I have identified the California gull if I'd been birding alone? I wish my answer was "yes," but I forget to look closely at gulls. I probably would have called this one a lesser black-backed gull and stopped looking.
"One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn't belong."
When it comes to gulls you have to look for needles in the haystack.
I'm sure you've seen starlings fly away to avoid a predator. Have you heard their warning signal?
Over the years I've noticed that European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) make a spitting sound just before they flee. Sometimes only one or two birds call the alarm, a sharp note repeated three or more times. It sounds like this.
When I look for the reason they're making the sound, I always see a hawk in the air. I've learned to look for a raptor when I hear that sound.
The starlings must be saying, "Danger From The Air!"
(photo of starling flock by Pat Gaines on Flickr; click on the image to see the original. Recording of common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) by Toon Jansen at xeno-canto #XC393749)
Tonight is the night of the Supermoon, a full moon at perigee that looks 14% bigger and 30% brighter than normal.
What will you see by moonlight on Pitt's campus tonight, clustered at the treetops like large black leaves?
Thousands of crows.
Despite the weird scarecrow sounds played from the buildings, Pittsburgh's winter crow flock continues to roost in the mature trees surrounding the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel.
On Friday I tried to count them by the light of the moon. They were clustered in 30 trees and on the roof of Carnegie Museum. The densest trees held 300 crows.
Could there really be 9,000 crows in the area of Forbes, Fifth, Bellefield and Bigelow Avenues? Maybe I over counted. Last year I estimated 230 crows per tree making this total 6,900 crows on December 1 at 6:15pm.
What is their fascination with the University of Pittsburgh? It isn't the buildings. It isn't the lawn. It's the well lit trees.
Crows prefer to roost where they can see danger coming. The campus is well lit for our protection. The crows like it, too.
Alumni Hall is a good vantage point for watching crows and the moon rise next to Heinz Chapel.
Stop by this evening to see it all by the light of the supermoon.