Wednesday Wonderment – pt 24

Mighty moose

I expect that all of us have come into contact with creatures in our lives that amaze us and fill us with wonder.  To me the best ones among these are those that don’t have to be contained in a zoo, but, rather, range around freely, as long as we know where to go look for them.

One such animal that always intrigues me and never ceases to fill me wonderment, is the Moose or as it’s known in Eurasia, the Elk.  These majestic beasts are the largest members of the deer family, and roam boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere in temperate to subarctic climates.

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Moose Yearling

Having encountered a number of these magnificent animals up close (within 6 feet), I can attest to how impressive these gentle giants, when a yearling’s withers were just slight above the top of my head (6 feet at the withers).   The yearling in the above image was still with its mother, as they were both browsing along the shoreline of the pond.  As it was early June, the summer coat was still being established, creating a rather unkempt look.

Friday was the only good weather day out of the weekend that I went on this moose photography trip back in 2006; our small group had a fantastic guide, who certainly knew where to find the moose in Baxter State Park in Maine.  On Saturday, rain was torrential, but luckily I was prepared for this weather, so still got some interesting shots, such as this bull moose in the pond…

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Bull Moose in Rain

You can tell how bad the rain was in this image, but the moose was not fazed by the weather at all.  He was busy pulling vegetation up out of the pond and taking a look around from time to time.

Diet

The moose is a herbivore and is capable of consuming many types of plant or fruit. The average adult moose needs to consume 9,770 kcal (40.9 MJ) per day to maintain its body weight.  Much of a moose’s energy is derived from terrestrial vegetation, mainly consisting of forbs and other non-grasses, and fresh shoots from trees such as willow and birch. These plants are rather low in sodium, and moose generally need to consume a good quantity of aquatic plants. While much lower in energy, these plants provide the moose with its sodium requirements, and as much as half of their diet usually consists of aquatic plant life.  In winter, moose are often drawn to roadways, to lick salt that is used as a snow and ice melter.  A typical moose, weighing 360 kg (794 lb), can eat up to 32 kg (71 lb) of food per day.

Moose lack upper front teeth, but have eight sharp incisors on the lower jaw. They also have a tough tongue, lips and gums, which aid in the eating of woody vegetation. Moose have six pairs of large, flat molars and, ahead of those, six pairs of premolars, to grind up their food. A moose’s upper lip is very sensitive, to help distinguish between fresh shoots and harder twigs, and the lip is prehensile, for grasping their food. In the summer, moose may use this prehensile lip for grabbing branches and pulling, stripping the entire branch of leaves in a single mouthful, or for pulling forbs, like dandelions, or aquatic plants up by the base, roots and all.

A moose’s diet often depends on its location, but they seem to prefer the new growths from deciduous trees with a high sugar content, such as white birch, trembling aspen and striped maple, among many others. Many aquatic plants include lilies and pondweed.  To reach high branches, a moose may bend small saplings down, using its prehensile lip, mouth or body. For larger trees a moose may stand erect and walk upright on its hind legs, allowing it to reach branches up to 4.26 metres (14.0 ft) or higher above the ground.

Moose are excellent swimmers and are known to wade into water to eat aquatic plants. This trait serves a second purpose in cooling down the moose on summer days and ridding itself of black flies. Moose are thus attracted to marshes and river banks during warmer months as both provide suitable vegetation to eat and water to wet themselves in. Moose have been known to dive underwater to reach plants on lake bottoms, and the complex snout may assist the moose in this type of feeding. Moose are the only deer that are capable of feeding underwater.  As an adaptation for feeding on plants underwater, the nose is equipped with fatty pads and muscles that close the nostrils when exposed to water pressure, preventing water from entering the nose.  Other species can pluck plants from the water too, but these need to raise their heads in order to swallow.

Hope you enjoyed this little bit about these magnificent animals!

Wednesday Wonderment – pt 23

Universal wonderment!

The Universe is filled with many wonders and forces that we don’t fully understand at this time; in our endeavors to understand and control the world, in which we live, we have acquired much knowledge, but there is still much to be learned.  Some of what is unknown to us at this time fills us with wonder.

As I am a physicist by training, much of my life was dedicated toward gaining as complete an understanding of the universe as I could, with the expectation that there may be a point, at which we can explain and model the universe perfectly.  Of course, that outlook may have been a little naive, so it has been adjusted over the years, particularly after I started practicing yoga and learn more about Eastern philosophies.

At this point, my sense of the universe is that there is much connectivity across many planes of existence and that life’s energy does not merely start/stop at discrete points. This is where today’s image ties in…

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Warfield Ridge

Many locations on the battlefield imbued me with a deep sadness and some filled me with utter dread

Just over six years ago, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club of America had their national event in the Gettysburg area; as I had not been there before, I decided to go out and meet my wife there, so we could spend a couple of days to visit the area.

As I had been photographing another event in Southern Connecticut over the weekend, I drove down to Pennsylvania on Sunday night; as I was driving down a main road pretty close to the exit for our hotel, I spotted what I thought was a hazy human form crossing the road about 100 yards ahead of me, not once, but twice.  These apparitions were paired with a deep sadness that I could just not place.  I found the exit and nothing else unusual happened.

What I hadn’t realized that night is that the apparitions and sense of sadness occurred, as I was passing the battlefield site.

That Monday was filled with agility competition, at the end of which we drove around the battlefield site to plan our next day’s touristing.  Many locations around the battlefield imbued me with a deep sadness, whereas some filled me with sheer dread; it was as if the suffering had left an indelible mark on the landscape, a psychic imprint that could not be ignored.

This is one of the areas that fills me with wonder, as I cannot deny the real effect that I felt there, and several other locations, as well.

Image Details

The scene in this image is Warfield Ridge, aka Seminary Ridge.  I photographed it early in the morning on Tuesday before we went exploring.  It is an HDR image with 5 exposure captured using a Canon EOS 1D Mk III with an EF 17-40mm f/4L lens.  Processing was done with Photomatix Pro, after which some touch work was done in Photoshop.

Wednesday Wonderment – pt 22

Small but powerful

Today, I want to take a look at some of the very small among plants: mosses.  They may be often overlooked, or even maligned, but appreciated when we get to lie down in a soft bed of moss in off-the-beaten-path forest.

Botanically, mosses are non-vascular plants in the land plant division Bryophyta. They are small (a few centimeters tall) herbaceous (non-woody) plants that absorb water and nutrients mainly through their leaves and harvest carbon dioxide and sunlight to create food by photosynthesis.  They differ from vascular plants in lacking water-bearing xylem tracheids or vessels.  As in liverwort  and hornworts, the haploid gametophyte generation is the dominant phase of the life cycle. This contrasts with the pattern in all vascular plants (seed plants and pteridophytes), where the diploid sporophyte generation is dominant. Mosses reproduce using spores, not seeds and have no flowers.

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Mossy Log

Description

Mosses are small flowerless plants that typically grow in dense green clumps or mats, often in damp or shady locations. The individual plants are usually composed of simple, one-cell thick leaves, attached to a stem that may be branched or unbranched and has only a limited role in conducting water and nutrients. Although some species have vascular tissue this is generally poorly developed and structurally different from similar tissue found in other plants.  They do not have seeds and after fertilisation develop sporophytes (unbranched stalks topped with single capsules containing spores). They are typically 0.2–10 cm (0.1–3.9 in) tall, though some species are much larger, like Dawsonia, the tallest moss in the world, which can grow to 50 cm (20 in) in height.

Mosses are commonly confused with lichens, hornworts, and liverworts.  Lichens may superficially look like mosses, and have common names that include the word “moss” (e.g., “reindeer moss” or “iceland moss”), but are not related to mosses.  Mosses, hornworts, and liverworts are collectively called “bryophytes”. Bryophytes share the property of having the haploid gametophyte generation as the dominant phase of the life cycle. This contrasts with the pattern in all “vascular” plants (seed plants and pteridophytes), where the diploid sporophyte generation is dominant.

Mosses are in the phylum (division) Bryophyta, which formerly also included hornworts and liverworts. These other two groups of bryophytes are now placed in their own divisions. There are approximately 12,000 species of moss classified in the Bryophyta.

The main commercial significance of mosses is as the main constituent of peat (mostly the genus Sphagnum), although they are also used for decorative purposes, such as in gardens and in the florist trade. Traditional uses of mosses included as insulation and for the ability to absorb liquids up to 20 times their weight.

Technical Details

This image was captured about 10 years ago in Baxter StateForest in Maine using a Canon EOS 1D Mk III and EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens.  Exposure settings were 1/60 second at f/6.3 at 400 ISO.

Wednesday Wonderment – pt 21

Don’t weed me out!

Many plants are considered weeds, just because they tend to take over the areas, in which they thrive.  On top of that certain weeds have noxious properties that cause skin rashes or worse.

That doesn’t mean that some of these weeds are not beautiful or interesting to behold, such as the Sumac in this image.

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Sumac

Description

Sumacs are shrubs and small trees that can reach a height of 1–10 m (3.3–32.8 ft). The leaves are spirally arranged; they are usually pinnately compound, though some species have trifoliate or simple leaves. The flowers are in dense panicles or spikes 5–30 cm (2.0–11.8 in) long, each flower very small, greenish, creamy white or red, with five petals. The fruits form dense clusters of reddish drupes called sumac bobs. The dried drupes of some species are ground to produce a tangy crimson spice.

Sumacs propagate both by seed (spread by birds and other animals through their droppings), and by new shoots from rhizomes, forming large clonal colonies.

The word ‘sumac’ traces its etymology from Old French sumac (13th century), from Mediaeval Latin sumach, from Arabic summāq (سماق), from Syriac summāq (ܣܡܘܩ)- meaning “red”.

Cultivation and Uses

Species including the fragrant sumac (R. aromatica), the littleleaf sumac (R. microphylla), the skunkbush sumac (R. trilobata), the smooth sumac, and the staghorn sumac are grown for ornament, either as the wild types or as cultivars.

Spice and beverage flavoring

The fruits (drupes) of the genus Rhus are ground into a reddish-purple powder used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a tart, lemony taste to salads or meat.  In Arab cuisine, it is used as a garnish on meze dishes such as hummus and tashi is added to salads in the Levant.  In Iranian (Persian and Kurdish) cuisines, sumac is added to rice or kebab. In Jordanian and Turkish cuisines, it is added to salad-servings of kebab and lahmacunRhus coriaria is used in the spice mixture za’atar.

In North America, the smooth sumac (R. glabra) and the staghorn sumac (R. typhina) are sometimes used to make a beverage termed “sumac-ade”, “Indian lemonade”, or “rhus juice”. This drink is made by soaking the drupes in cool water, rubbing them to extract the essence, straining the liquid through a cotton cloth, and sweetening it. Native Americans also use the leaves and drupes of the smooth and staghorn sumacs combined with tobacco in traditional smoking mixtures.

Dye and tanning agent

The leaves of certain sumacs yield tannin (mostly pyrogallol-type), a substance used in vegetable tanning.  Notable sources include the leaves of R. coriaria, Chinese gall on R. chinensis, and wood and roots of R. pentaphylla.  Leather tanned with sumac is flexible, light in weight, and light in color. One type of leather made with sumac tannins is morocco leather.

The dying property of sumac needed to be considered when it was shipped as a fine floury substance in sacks as a light cargo accompanying heavy cargoes such as marble. Sumac was “especially dangerous” to marble. “When sumac dust settles on white marble, the result is not immediately apparent; but if it once becomes wet, or even damp, it becomes a powerful purple dye, which penetrates the marble to an extraordinary depth.”

Medicinal use

Sumac was used as a treatment for half a dozen different ailments in medieval medicine, primarily in Middle-Eastern countries (where sumac was more readily available than in Europe). An 11th-century shipwreck off the coast of Rhodes, excavated by archeologists in the 1970s, contained commercial quantities of sumac drupes. These could have been intended for use as medicine, as a culinary spice, or as a dye.  Staghorn sumac is a powerful antioxidant, with ORAC rating over 1500 μmol TE/g.

Technical Description

This image was taken with an iPhone 5S using the standard Camera app.

Wednesday Wonderment – pt 20

Turning over leaves

Many readers are undoubtedly aware of my appreciation for trees and all the wonders that they provide.  There are just so many things to admire about trees, such as their endurance across many weather phenomena, their shape in response to their environment, the oxygen that they provide, the list goes on.

One interesting phenomenon of the tree is the leaf.  As we see in this image, there is some variety in shape and color.

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Pondscape

Morphology of the Leaf

A structurally complete leaf of an angiosperm consists of a petiole (leaf stalk), a lamina (leaf blade), and stipules (small structures located to either side of the base of the petiole). Not every species produces leaves with all of these structural components. In certain species, paired stipules are not obvious or are absent altogether. A petiole may be absent, or the blade may not be laminar (flattened). The tremendous variety shown in leaf structure (anatomy) from species to species is presented in detail below under morphology. The petiole mechanically links the leaf to the plant and provides the route for transfer of water and sugars to and from the leaf. The lamina is typically the location of the majority of photosynthesis. The upper (adaxial) angle between a leaf and a stem is known as the axil of the leaf. It is often the location of a bud. Structures located there are called “axillary”.

 External leaf characteristics, such as shape, margin, hairs, the petiole, and the presence of stipules, are important for identifying plant species, and botanists have developed a rich terminology for describing leaf characteristics. Leaves have determinate growth. They grow to a specific pattern and shape and then stop. Other plant parts like stems or roots have non-determinate growth, and will usually continue to grow as long as they have the resources to do so.

The type of leaf is usually characteristic of a species (monomorphic), although some species produce more than one type of leaf (dimorphic or polymorphic). The longest leaves are those of the Raffia palm, R. regalis which may be up to 25 m (82.38 ft) long and 3 m (9.84 ft) wide.  The terminology associated with the description of leaf morphology is presented, in illustrated form, at Wikibooks.

Where leaves are basal, and lie on the ground, they are referred to as prostrate.

Basic leaf types

  • Ferns have fronds
  • Conifer leaves are typically needle- or awl-shaped or scale-like
  • Angiosperm (flowering plant) leaves: the standard form includes stipules, a petiole, and a lamina
  • Lycophytes have microphyll leaves.
  • Sheath leaves (type found in most grasses and many other monocots)
  • Other specialized leaves (such as those of Nepenthes, a pitcher plant)

Arrangement on the Stem

The leaves on this plant are arranged in pairs opposite one another, with successive pairs at right angles to each other (“decussate”) along the red stem. Note the developing buds in the axils of these leaves.

  • Alternate – leaf attachments are singular at nodes, and leaves alternate direction, to a greater or lesser degree, along the stem.
  • Basal – arising from the base of the stem.
  • Cauline – arising from the aerial stem.
  • Opposite – Two structures, one on each opposite side of the stem, typically leaves, branches, or flower parts. Leaf attachments are paired at each node and decussate if, as typical, each successive pair is rotated 90° progressing along the stem.
  • Whorled (Verticillate)  – three or more leaves attach at each point or node on the stem. As with opposite leaves, successive whorls may or may not be decussate, rotated by half the angle between the leaves in the whorl (i.e., successive whorls of three rotated 60°, whorls of four rotated 45°, etc.). Opposite leaves may appear whorled near the tip of the stem. Pseudoverticillate describes an arrangement only appearing whorled, but not actually so.
  • Rosulate – leaves form a rosette
  • Rows – The term “distichous” literally means “two rows”. Leaves in this arrangement may be alternate or opposite in their attachment. The term “2-ranked” is equivalent. The terms tristichous and tetrastichous are sometimes encountered. For example, the “leaves” (actually microphylls) of most species of Selaginella are tetrastichous, but not decussate.

As a stem grows, leaves tend to appear arranged around the stem in a way that optimizes yield of light. In essence, leaves form a helix pattern centered around the stem, either clockwise or counterclockwise, with (depending upon the species) the same angle of divergence. There is a regularity in these angles and they follow the numbers in a Fibonacci sequence: 1/2, 2/3, 3/5, 5/8, 8/13, 13/21, 21/34, 34/55, 55/89. This series tends to a limit close to 360° × 34/89 = 137.52° or 137° 30′, an angle known in mathematics as the golden angle. In the series, the numerator indicates the number of complete turns or “gyres” until a leaf arrives at the initial position and the denominator indicates the number of leaves in the arrangement. This can be demonstrated by the following:

  • alternate leaves have an angle of 180° (or 1/2)
  • 120° (or 1/3) : three leaves in one circle
  • 144° (or 2/5) : five leaves in two gyres
  • 135° (or 3/8) : eight leaves in three gyres.

Hope you enjoyed this short overview of shape and arrangement of leaves.

Technical Details

This shot was taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mk III using an EF 24-105mm f/4L lens.  The exposure settings were 1/60 second at f/6.3 and 400 ISO.

Wednesday Wonderment – pt 19

Winter wonderland

As regular readers may be aware, there is one season of the year that really stands out for me: Winter.  I’ll grant you that in New England, Autumn is considered by many to be the most beautiful, if not their favorite season.  I agree that the colors and smells of Autumn are fantastic, but the silent beauty of Winter, when there is snow on the ground dampening all sounds and the air is crisp, it’s not to be denied.

The other aspect of Winter that I really enjoy is to go out and explore during a cold day, traversing the solitary landscape and taking in its beauty for moments, such as in this image:

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Winter’s Beauty

Ecological Reckoning and Activity

Ecological reckoning of winter differs from calendar-based by avoiding the use of fixed dates. It is one of six seasons recognized by most ecologists who customarily use the term hibernal for this period of the year (the other ecological seasons being prevernal, vernal, estival, serotinal, and autumnal).   The hibernal season coincides with the main period of biological dormancy each year whose dates vary according to local and regional climates in temperate zones of the Earth. The appearance of flowering plants like the crocus can mark the change from ecological winter to the prevernal season as early as late January in mild temperate climates.

To survive the harshness of winter, many animals have developed different behavioral and morphological adaptations for overwintering:

  • Migration is a common effect of winter upon animals, notably birds. However, the majority of birds do not migrate—the cardinal and European robin, for example. Some butterflies also migrate seasonally.
  • Hibernation is a state of reduced metabolic activity during the winter. Some animals “sleep” during winter and only come out when the warm weather returns; e.g., gophers, frogs, snakes, and bats.
  • Some animals store food for the winter and live on it instead of hibernating completely. This is the case for squirrels, beavers, skunks, badgers, and raccoons.
  • Resistance is observed when an animal endures winter but changes in ways such as color and musculature. The color of the fur or plumage changes to white (in order to be confused with snow) and thus retains its cryptic coloration year-round. Examples are the rock ptarmigan, Arctic fox, weasel, white-tailed jackrabbit, and mountain hare.
  • Some fur-coated mammals grow a heavier coat during the winter; this improves the heat-retention qualities of the fur. The coat is then shed following the winter season to allow better cooling. The heavier coat in winter made it a favorite season for trappers, who sought more profitable skins.
  • Snow also affects the ways animals behave; many take advantage of the insulating properties of snow by burrowing in it. Mice and voles typically live under the snow layer.

Some annual plants never survive the winter. Other annual plants require winter cold to complete their life cycle, this is known as vernalization. As for perennials, many small ones profit from the insulating effects of snow by being buried in it. Larger plants, particularly deciduous trees, usually let their upper part go dormant, but their roots are still protected by the snow layer. Few plants bloom in the winter, one exception being the flowering plum, which flowers in time for Chinese New Year. The process by which plants become acclimated to cold weather is called hardening.

Technical Details

This image was captured with an iPhone 5S using the standard Camera app.

Wednesday Wonderment – pt 18

Tall and statuesque

This week appears to have been overtaken by clouds, as a central theme.  Yesterday’s Tuesday Photo Challenge is about clouds, Monday’s response to dreams included a cloud as a central character, and now today.

As I am in Israel this week and lucky enough to be staying at a hotel right at the beach, I have been able to observe some interesting cloud formations develop during the evening.  While I am certainly not an expert on clouds, the particular cloud in the image that I captured the other event made me curious enough to look for more detail.

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Clouds off the Beach

The cloud in the image is recognized by most of us as a cumulonimbus cloud, or a rain cloud, as we have seen enough of them.  What made me curious is the updrafts that were forming to create the top of this cloud, which led me to find out that there are several distinct types of cumulonimbus clouds.

Cumulonimbus calvus is a moderately tall cumulonimbus cloud which is capable of precipitation, but has not yet reached the tropopause, which is the height of stratospheric stability where it forms into a cumulonimbus capillatus (fibrous-top) or cumulonimbus incus (anvil-top). Cumulonimbus calvus clouds develop from cumulus congestus, and its further development under auspicious conditions will result in cumulonimbus incus.

This cloud consists mainly of water droplets. By definition of cumulonimbus cloud, at its top water droplets are transformed into ice crystals, but for cumulonimbus calvus content of ice crystals is small and freezing is in early stage, so cloud top still looks round and puffy.

Cumulonimbus calvus is characterized by distinctive (between other types of cumulonimbus cloud) rounded shape and relatively sharp edges of its top area, unlike cumulonimbus incus or cumulonimbus capillatus, which have cirriform tops. Developing cumulonimbus calvus loses sharp outlines of the top as more water droplets transform into ice crystals. Strong updrafts may form pileus or thin vertical stripes protruding upwards out of the cloud. When upper part of the cloud freezes to greater extent and clearly visible cirriforms appears, cumulonimbus calvus turns into another species of cumulonimbus.

Hope this was interesting to you!

Technical Details

This image was captured at the beach in Herzliya, Israel, using an iPhone 6S with the standard Camera app.

Wednesday Wonderment – pt 17

Pining for the fjords

Although I have extolled the wonders of leaves in a previous post, so I beg your indulgence to take a look at a different expression of the leaf: pine needles.  Pine needles have always amazed me in their unbelievable efficiency; for their size and density, they generate the significant amounts of energy needed by some of the largest trees in the world.

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Pine Needles

Pines have four types of leaf:

  • Seed leaves (cotyledons) on seedlings, born in a whorl of 4–24.
  • Juvenile leaves, which follow immediately on seedlings and young plants, 2–6 cm long, single, green or often blue-green, and arranged spirally on the shoot. These are produced for six months to five years, rarely longer.
  • Scale leaves, similar to bud scales, small, brown and non-photosynthetic, and arranged spirally like the juvenile leaves.
  • Needles, the adult leaves, which are green (photosynthetic), bundled in clusters (fascicles) of 1–6, commonly 2–5, needles together, each fascicle produced from a small bud on a dwarf shoot in the axil of a scale leaf. These bud scales often remain on the fascicle as a basal sheath. The needles persist for 1.5–40 years, depending on species. If a shoot is damaged (e.g. eaten by an animal), the needle fascicles just below the damage will generate a bud which can then replace the lost leaves.

Their simplicity and hardiness are truly amazing!

Technical Details

This image was taken during a recent walk through Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge with a Canon EOS 5D Mk III with an EF 100mm f/2.8 lens.  Exposure settings were 1/200 second at f/11 and 400 ISO.

Wednesday Wonderment – pt 16

Wings to lift us up!

Among the myriad aspects of Nature that fill me with wonderment, there’s always something magical about the birds.  As eathbound humans, many among us have had that dream of flying above a landscape that we know so well, seeing everything from above, feeling utterly free and completely in control of our flight.  Then, we wake up to a reality that necessitates big lumbering sky-buses in order to achieve lift-off from the ground.

As I came across a lost feather a little while back, while I had a camera in hand with a macro lens attached, I thought to present a little bit about the wonder that is the feather.

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Lost Feather

Overview of Feathers

Feathers are epidermal growths that form the distinctive outer covering, or plumage, on birds and some non-avian theropod dinosaurs.

They are considered the most complex integumentary structures found in vertebrates, and indeed a premier example of a complex evolutionary novelty. They are among the characteristics that distinguish the extant Aves from other living groups. Feathers have also been noticed in those Theropoda which have been termed feathered dinosaurs.

Although feathers cover most parts of the body of birds, they arise only from certain well-defined tracts on the skin. They aid in flight, thermal insulation, and waterproofing. In addition, coloration helps in communication and protection.

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Feather Detail

Structure and Characteristics

Feathers are among the most complex integumentary appendages found in vertebrates and are formed in tiny follicles in the epidermis, or outer skin layer, that produce keratin proteins.

The β-keratins in feathers, beaks and claws are composed of protein strands hydrogen-bonded into β-pleated sheets, which are then further twisted and crosslinked by disulfide bridges into structures even tougher than the α-keratins of mammalian hair, horns and hoof.  The exact signals that induce the growth of feathers on the skin are not known, but it has been found that the transcription factor cDermo-1 induces the growth of feathers on skin and scales on the leg.

Lots of interesting technical detail, that doesn’t take away from the pure magic that is a soaring bird, as it glides through the sky without any effort.

Hope you enjoyed this post.

Technical Details of the Image

This image (and its detail) were captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mk III sporting an EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens.  Exposure settings were 1/320 second at f/11 and 640 ISO.

Additional Information on the Evolution of Feathers

The functional view on the evolution of feathers has traditionally focused on insulation, flight and display. Discoveries of non-flying Late Cretaceous feathered dinosaurs in China, however, suggest that flight could not have been the original primary function as the feathers simply would not have been capable of providing any form of lift.  There have been suggestions that feathers may have had their original function in thermoregulation, waterproofing, or even as sinks for metabolic wastes such as sulphur.  Recent discoveries are claimed to support a thermoregulatory function, at least in smaller dinosaurs.  While feathers have been suggested as having evolved from reptilian scales, there are numerous objections to that idea, and more recent explanations have arisen from the paradigm of evolutionary developmental biology.  Theories of the scale-based origins of feathers suggest that the planar scale structure was modified for development into feathers by splitting to form the webbing; however, that developmental process involves a tubular structure arising from a follicle and the tube splitting longitudinally to form the webbing.  The number of feathers per unit area of skin is higher in smaller birds than in larger birds, and this trend points to their important role in thermal insulation, since smaller birds lose more heat due to the relatively larger surface area in proportion to their body weight. The miniaturization of birds also played a role in the evolution of powered flight.  The coloration of feathers is believed to have evolved primarily in response to sexual selection. In one fossil specimen of the Parave Anchiornis huxleyi, the features are so well preserved that the melanosome (pigment cells) structure can be observed. By comparing the shape of the fossil melanosomes to melanosomes from extant birds, the color and pattern of the feathers on Anchiornis could be determined.  Anchiornis was found to have black and white patterned feathers on the forelimbs and hindlimbs, with a reddish brown crest. This pattern is similar to the coloration of many extant bird species, which use plumage coloration for display and communication, including sexual selection and camouflage. It is likely that non-avian dinosaur species utilized plumage patterns for similar functions as modern birds before the origin of flight. In many cases, the physiological condition of the birds (especially males) is indicated by the quality of their feathers, and this is used (by the females) in mate choice.

Feathers and scales are made up of two distinct forms of keratin, and it was long thought that each type of keratin was exclusive to each skin structure (feathers and scales). However, a study published in 2006 confirmed the presence of feather keratin in the early stages of development of American alligator scales. This type of keratin, previously thought to be specific to feathers, is suppressed during embryological development of the alligator and so is not present in the scales of mature alligators. The presence of this homologous keratin in both birds and crocodilians indicates that it was inherited from a common ancestor. This may suggest that crocodilian scales, bird and dinosaur feathers, and pterosaur pycnofibres are all developmental expressions of the same primitive archosaur skin structures; suggesting that feathers and pycnofibers could be homologous.

Wednesday Wonderment – pt 15

Out of a small blossom…

On this Wednesday, l’m focusing on one of my favorite kind of trees: Apple!  As I followed an apple orchard in a past year, it really gave me appreciation for what happens every year.

Apple-Blossom_57A4599
It’s Spring!

These beautiful blossoms will soon wither and start their transformation into what will at first be tiny little nodules, which will grow into full size apples during the Summer season.

What natural processes leave you filled with Wonderment?

Technical Details

This image was shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mk III with an EF 100mm f/2.8 lens.  Exposure settings were 1/200 second at f/11 and 640 ISO.

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