Thursday, July 31, 2014

Crash Bandicoot's Eponymous Ancestor

I am interested in cases in which organisms, and particularly extinct organisms, are given non-typical scientific names.  Mostly I concentrate on prehistoric animals named after rock stars (and I have a few of those still to blog about).  But today it came to my attention that paleontologists have named an extinct bandicoot from the Miocene of Australia after the video game character Crash Bandicoot, under the binomial Crash bandicoot—yes, that's right, genus Crash, species bandicoot.  (For the record, I have never played that game, as it came out at a point in my life when I had mostly stopped playing video games.)

What is really surprising to me is not that an extinct animal was named after a video game character, but that the name was used in an entirely unaltered form. Normally when scientists name a species after someone or something from pop culture, they make some effort to Latinize . . . or, um . . . Greekify the name.  For example, a pterosaur from China was recently named in honor of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but the name was rendered using Greek roots as Kryptodrakon

And thus we are left with the irony that Crash Bandicoot himself is not a Crash bandicoot, but (according to his Wikipedia page) an Eastern Barred Bandicoot (Perameles gunnii).

I will note that, if I wanted to, I could update the Crash Bandicoot Wikipedia page, which as of today does not reflect that a prehistoric species has been named after the character, but I just don't have the energy.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Mystery Goose of Old Town

On Saturday I saw a goose that I couldn't identify among the Mallards and Canada Geese in the Potomac River at Founders Park in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia.  I got a few pictures, including the one above. 

I later consulted my Peterson guide and found that the bird resembles a Greater White-Fronted Goose (Anser albifrons). This was unexpected (although not as unexpected as the announcement that Pink Floyd will be releasing a new album in October), since the Greater White-Fronted Goose is not a resident of the mid-Atlantic states; it spends its summers in Canada and its winters in the Gulf of Mexico region.

I did some checking on the internet, and found that this individual bird has been seen in the area last year (pictures here, discussion here and here).  The speculation is that the mystery goose is not  a pure Greater White-Fronted Goose, but a hybrid with some other species.  If if is a hybrid, it doesn't show much physical input from the other species, having just about all the characteristics of a Greater White-Fronted Goose with the exception of the white line on the sides (which doesn't occur in juveniles).

(I sometimes think about starting a separate blog to document my wildlife observations here in Alexandria, but since I don't even have the energy to update Scaly Distractions more than twice a month, I don't know if I should be undertaking any new blogging projects.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mosquito Hopes and Theories Are Dashed

The Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is an introduced species of day-biting mosquito which has been making summers unbearable in parts of the Washington area for the last fifteen years or so.  The adults die off during the winter in temperate climates; populations survive via eggs.  

   Much of the country experienced an abnormally cold winter in 2014, which, I thought, might have had an effect on this obnoxious species. A recent study discovered that Aedes albopictus eggs will suffer 100% mortality after being exposed to temperature of 10° F (-12° C) for four hours, or 5° F (-15° C) for one hour.  On January 7, the low temperature at Reagan National Airport was 6° F; on this day the temperature may possibly have met the condition of four hours at 10° F or lower.  For most of the spring I held out hope that the cold might have locally eliminated the Asian Tiger Mosquito (until it could recolonize from warmer areas, which one hopes would take a few years).

   But then on May 21, I received the first Asian Tiger Mosquito bite of the year.  Asian Tiger Mosquitoes are still here, bringing another summer of misery.  I assume that ultimately it was a problem of microclimate. Members of the species lay their eggs in holes in trees and other cavities where rainwater accumulates.  These cavities presumably created sheltered environments in which the temperature was significantly warmer than that of the surrounding air.