Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Talk Nerdy to Me

Being The Nature Geek, there's a lot of nature subjects that I love to talk and write about. But there are some cases where just a single word deserves its own special mention. Whether they're an obscure term for something, highly technical, or just plain fun to say, these words are some of my all-time favorites.

Crepuscular (Kra-pus-q-lar)
This one always makes me think of a medical term for a cut or pimple that has become infected. "Eeew, that thing has gone crepuscular!" But far from being disgusting, crepuscular refers to an animal that is mainly active at sunrise and sunset. Deer, armadillos, and fireflies are all crepuscular animals.

Rhamphotheca (Ram-po-thee-ka)
Being the bird nerd that I am, of course I am going to throw in an ornithology term here. The rhamphotheca is the keratin sheath that covers the bone part of a bird's beak. It gives the beak its color and can add some extra shape as well, such as the hook on an eagle's beak, or the serrated edges on the beak of a merganser.  

Ootheca (Oo-thee-ka)
Ootheca, what an awesome term for an insect egg case! An ootheca is a special kind of insect egg, in which a group of eggs is encased by a layer of protein, which can sometimes be foamy, as in the praying mantis eggs in the photo on the left. I first learned of the term ootheca when working with Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Aren't you glad I didn't post a photo of cockroach laying a big ol' ootheca? I figure after last week's creepy post I'd be nice and give you all a break.

Some of my favorite geek terms aren't actually vocabulary, but are scientific names. Here are the two scientific names that I love to say over and over.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Arc-to-staff-a-lus uva-ur-see)
The only thing just as fun as this plant's scientific name is its common name, kinnikinnick! (That one is pronounced "kin-nick-a-nick") Kinnikinnick, also called bearberry, is a woody groundcover plant found around the world in northern areas and in high altitudes in warmer regions. With its evergreen leaves and red berries, I might give it another fun name and call it "mountain mini holly," even though it has no relation, or connection to Christmas, or really even a resemblance, to holly.
Oncorhynchus mykiss (On-ko-rine-kiss my-kiss)
An appropriate name for a fish so pretty you just wanna kiss it! Oncorhynchus mykiss is the scientific name for the rainbow trout, found in streams and river across the United States. This smooch-tacular latin name refers to the fish's hook snout (Oncorhynchus) and its Kamchatkan name (Mykiss). 

There are certainly some fun words in science out there. When you learn them not only do you have something new and fun to pronounce in your vocabulary, but you also up your geek cred! Today I'm going to end with a Google challenge. A bunch of my geeky friends have submitted some of their favorite words to share with you. I challenge you to find out what they mean...you just might add a favorite word or two to your own repertoire! 

Nethergeek: Somnambulism
Engineering Geek: Tuberculated
Painter Geek: Bioluminescence
Pigeon Geek: Synanthrope

Carcass Geek: Kleptoparasitism
Ram Geek: Nutlets
Bio1 Geek: Rhinorhea
Weasel Geek: Thigmotactic
Squirrel Geek: Marcescent

SCUBA Geek: Chemotaxis
Rescue Geek: Ophiophagus
Moo Geek: Coprophagy (you can look that one up here!)
Grackle Geek: Rictal bristles

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Nope with 30 Legs: the House Centipede

A couple months ago, this photo appeared in my Facebook news feed thanks to my friend the Cephalopod Geek. A short time later, another friend, the Turtle Geek, shared a story about one of these creatures crawling on her arm. In both posts, the responses of horror, revolt, and outright terror came in rapid fashion. I have no doubt that some of you by now are no longer reading this, having flung your computer (laptop or desktop) across the room.

The creature above is called a house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata) and it Freaks. People. Out. Why? Well let's start with its appearance. It has 15 long pairs of thin, wiggly legs, and on females, the last pair are longer than the body. Combine those legs with fast zig-zag movements, and you've got a recipe for nightmares.

But house centipedes don't have to be a source of stress, they can be something rather interesting and even beneficial! Let's take those things that creep you out and put a new spin on them, shall we?

1. Leeeeegs! So many leeeeeegs!
It's true, house centipedes do have quite a few legs, 15 pairs in fact. But when they first hatch as wee babies, they only have 4 pairs of legs. Yup, they're born pretending to be arachnids with those 8 legs of theirs. As house centipedes grow, they gain more legs each time they shed their skin. They go from 4 pairs to 5, then 7 pairs, then 9, 11, 13, and finally 15 legs once fully grown. Each time the house centipede grows, it only has more legs to hug you with.
House centipedes have the ability to break off some of their legs when caught by a predator, which then keep wiggling on the ground to serve as a distraction. This is the same strategy employed by many lizard species, which can break off their tails in response to predators.

2. They run so fast, it creeps me out!
They do run fast, and when you look at the numbers, it should make you marvel instead of cower. These guys can clock in at 1.3 feet per second! Now let's take that into consideration of the house centipede's body size, which is between 1 to 1.5 inches. This means the house centipede can run a distance 12 times its body length in just over one second. If my 5'3" self were crawling on the ground, it would be the equivalent of skittering 63 feet in the same amount of time. Why do they have to run so fast? That's a nice transition into #3...

3. What are they even doing in my house?
House centipedes, like their other centipede relatives, are predators. No, don't worry, you or any part of you are not on the menu.
These centipedes eat silverfish, spiders, bed bugs, termites, and cockroaches. These guys are like a live-in Orkin man, an Orkin man that needs a jacket with 30 sleeves. This is why house centipedes have such amazing speed, to catch quick invertebrates they have to be even faster.

4. Get them out! Get them out!
Ok, so maybe even after reading these cool facts about house centipedes you still don't want them in your house. How do you go about getting rid of them?
This might not be a good idea. 

If you remember in factoid #3 up there, the house centipede is in your house because it has found a reliable source of food. Get rid of the food, and the predator will move on. Try to find the places where insects and other invertebrates are getting into your house. Do you have cracks in your foundation or walls? Holes or gaps in your window screens? These home fixes will not only reduce the amount of unwelcome house guests, but are probably good ideas to do for preventative house maintenance anyway.

If nothing else in this blog entry about house centipedes gives you any relief, consider this: at least the house centipedes running around in your house aren't as big as this cave-dwelling relative from China.

You're welcome.