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Oct 14

A wee little shrew poem

Posted on Wednesday, October 14, 2009 in humor, random science

In Borneo there is a shrew.
(A magazine says this story’s true.)
of how he is a shrewd collector
of the pitcher plant’s sweetest nectar.

(Nothing yet unusual to see,
but what about when he’s got to pee?)

Now nature calls the large and small.
Some seek a hole and some a stall.
The shrew just pauses in his meal
to take a break and do his deal.

He makes his poo deposit
in a fauna water closet.
The greenish climbing pitcher
is with nutrients all the richer.

The Nepenthes lowii
’tis not a flower showy.
It’ll never make the table’s vase
but  for everything there is a place.

Just remember…

If you need to use its facilities
you’re asked to fertilize the stamen please.

Pitcher Plant Doubles as Toilet

Sep 10

Fears: Part two

Posted on Thursday, September 10, 2009 in fears, humor, Me, random science

I’m currently afraid that the fly the cats can’t seem to catch is going to land on my face while I sleep. Then it’s going to crawl up to the corner of my eye and take a drink. Like they do to horses.

Thanks to a friend who educated me about these things, I’m also scared of dermoid cysts and teratomas. These are tumors with hair or teeth in them. According to Wikipedia — which I may have to stop reading — teratomas have even been know to have an eyeball inside. This is seriously screwed up biology. I want to know exactly where I have hair, teeth, and eyeballs. But I can’t help but wonder if if did have a dermoid cycst (and maybe I do, how would I know?), would the hair be gray or still brown?

I fear that Wikipedia will soon be authored only by men who think it’s fun to include photos of things like dermoid cysts to their entries.

I worry that the seas will rise and while we look pretty safe here in Minnesota, people from Miami and Virginia Beach might come knocking. Or people from the West Coast.

On a related note, I fear that not only will a warmer climate make life harder for polar bears and birds in the Amazon, it will all mean soggy and pale pork chops. I love pork chops.

I could cry tears of blood. Now that’s a pretty cool thing for a vampire to do in a movie, but can you image what that would do to your makeup?

I have anxiety about my wardrobe. I could be wearing the wrong color and people are judging me for it. I’m not referring to my fashion sense, but to how your brain is wired. I guess I better start wearing red to job interviews. I wonder if red cowboy boots are enough red.

I fear that I might be average. Luckily I don’t think I ever received a “C” while in school. And my personality type (INTP) is a very small percentage of the population. I worry more about becoming a typical old lady and somehow acquiring the three chronic health conditions that most senior insured women have. Really I’d prefer to have no chronic conditions. I’ve hit middle age without any so keep your fingers crossed for me. Unless you have chronic arthritis.

I think I share this fear with many others. I fear that I married a mutant. I think it would be OK if I was the mutant. Then there would be no way I could be average. But I don’t want to be sleeping next to one. I mean the guy might have teeth growing somewhere in his abdomen.

I’m also afraid that I might be reading too many stories about science.

Aug 12

Deadly serious plants

Posted on Wednesday, August 12, 2009 in random science

Whenever I’m pulling deadly nightshade out of the garden I get terribly curious about how the fruit of this plant must taste. I’m thankful that I never had this urge while I was a child. I also get to thinking about how I could try a witch’s flying potion with ingredients from my garden: nightshade, monkshood (aconite) and poppy being right at hand.

So I turned my curiosity towards other poisonous plants. And there are many.


For example, my beloved daffodils are poisonous. Or, at least, the bulbs are. I’ve read that Roman soldiers carried the bulbs to be used as a sort of cyanide pill (0r in this case an alkaloid  pill) to commit suicide rather than die of painful sword or spear injuries. informs us that “an extract of the bulbs, when applied to open wounds, has produced staggering, numbness of the whole nervous system and paralysis of the heart.” No recipe for the extract is provided, thankfully.

daffodil bulbs

Not onions

Students at Gorseland Primary School in Martlsham, Suffolk, didn’t need a recipe. They created one of their own after accidentally using a daffodil bulb instead of an onion in a soup. [Source: BBC]

At least the squirrels are smart enough not to eat daffodil bulbs. (Although they’ll still dig them up for the fun of it.)


What could be safer than an apple? I recall the Alar and apple scare back in the 1980s, but we’ve all been eating an apple a day since then, right? I think I’m still safe in doing so. But not those lazy or thrifty people who eat the entire apple. If you eat enough of the seeds, apples can kill you. The pips hide cyanide within. Luckily we can detoxify small quantities in our own bodies, so you’d have to swallow a lot of the seeds before succumbing to the poison. Still, it’s a little disconcerting to see the ubiquitous fruit listed in Poisonous Plants of North Carolina.

La ngong and yellow oleander

If you don’t want to commit suicide with some common plant like lily-of-the-valley or rhubarb, you could go the route of folks in Vietnam or Sre Lanka.  I found a report on la ngong (Gelsemium elegans) being used for suicides in Vietnam in 2007. It’s a very lovely vine with yellow flowers. It must be hard to pass by. Six people died after drinking wine in which the roots of the plant had been soaked.

Sri Lankans prefer to use the  yellow orleander. It sounds rather romantic and dramatic. And for a while, it was quite the thing to do. “Yellow Oleander Plants Fuels Suicide Rates In Sri Lanka” reads a headline from 2006. You can also find all sorts of medical reports on the problem.

Mallow and puffins

Plants don’t just cause us harm; they go after cute fluffy animals, too. And in cruel and weedy ways. Consider the mallow which most gardeners curse themselves for ever planting. It’s evil enough. But another variety of the mallow, the tree mallow, is after the puffin. It covers the ground so thickly that the puffins can’t make nests.

‘The puffin only makes things worse for itself,’ added van der Wal. ‘It breaks up the ground, providing a perfect place for tree mallow seeds to take root. The birds provide homes for tree mallow which then prevents them breeding. Nature can be cruel.’
[source: The Guardian]

If you’re curious about other poisonous plants, there’s a quirky little site written by the Poison Garden Warden. After checking it out, go watch the video at the Alnwick Gardens site.  I HAVE to go visit the garden. They grow cannabis in a cage!

May 11

Tick magnet

Posted on Monday, May 11, 2009 in random science

After hiking with my husband at St. Croix State Park, I now suspect him of having met a genie or other wish-granting entity and mumbling while asking to become a chick magnet. The genie or other entity heard him say “tick magnet” instead and immediately granted the wish. He couldn’t get three feet without finding a tick on him. He must have removed 50 ticks during our walk. I had maybe a dozen. I’m taking him with me everywhere now, but I think I might stop riding with him in the car. A man cannot safely drive while trying to pull a tick off of his leg.

I learned something else on this trip. I’ve always wondered why we grow hair on our legs and elsewhere as adults. I now believe that it is in order to track the movement of insects and blood-sucking creatures that might be on our body. Even though HabMoo had far more ticks on him during our hike, I found more on me when we stripped down at our campsite. They had crawled up my clean shaven legs without my knowledge. I’m never shaving from April to June again. Better make that July just to be safe.

Naturally this experience has me thinking. For one thing, how deadly are these hard-shelled little bastards that want my blood? I see ticks and I think of Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Both have occurred too frequently in Minnesota. Over 400 cases per year are to be expected for Lyme disease; we’re safer from Rocky Mountain Spotter Fever. But whenever you investigate something like this you always find out something you didn’t want to know. Deer ticks can also spread granulocytic ehrlichiosis and babesiosis. I can’t pronounce these things but I understand that if you have them it means you’re sick.

But there’s good news, too. “The frequency of reported cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever is highest among males, Caucasians, and children,” the CDC reports. I only qualify for one out of three of those. HabMoo is male and Caucasian. Maybe that’s part of his magnetism.

The fact that children are more susceptible supports my theory about body hair. Children don’t need it because adults can easily check them for creepy crawlies. They’re always being inspected for dirt and cuts and such. Adults are less inclined to do such checking for each other. You never see someone at a campsite walking over to the next tent, mooning the occupants, and asking to be looked over.

When I was young we always spent Mother’s Day hunting for morel mushrooms and ticks. The two went together. Mom and Dad used the old match treatment whenever they found a tick holding tight to my skin: light a match, let it burn a bit, then blow it out and touch it to the tick. This was supposed to make the tick drop off or cauterize the wound or something. The CDC warns that it can actually cause the tick to regurgitate its gut contents into the bite area. That’s much more frightening than the red ember of a match. HabMoo and I used a tweezers. I also took a shower and long bath to be sure I drowned anything hiding out somewhere I hadn’t checked.

I don’t understand why the horror genre of fiction and film hasn’t made better use of the tick. They are the worst of the blood suckers. They have four stages in their life cycle and after the buggers hatch they must feed once in each stage in order to molt and develop to the next stage. They become infected from feeding upon the blood of an infected host. They just pass along the fun while feeding on the next one.

Not all ticks are infected, and studies suggest it may take several hours or even days for infected ticks to transmit infection. For some reason, it’s mostly the females that are responsible for transmitting diseases. I guess females are just better at sharing. Oh, and they lay from 2,000 to 18,000 eggs. There’s a picture of a tick laying eggs on the Internet, and you can thank me for not linking to it.

When you’re walking along trying not to freak out and invent new dance moves to shake off ticks, your mind tries to focus on other things. About as far as you can focus is on other victims. I mean you’re out where there’s a path, yes, but you haven’t seen another human or a deer or rodent or anything but birds all day. What do ticks feed on when you’re not there for them? Are there enough deer in the entire state to feed all the ticks you’ve removed from your body in one day? Well the CDC reports that the American dog tick feeds mostly on dogs and medium sized mammals. It’s really not all that comforting that you’re a meal more like Brussels sprouts than like pizza. Most ticks must starve. Czech parasitologists are working on a vaccine that will make them do just that after feeding. It involves poisoning them with too much iron or something. I wish them great success.

Just to prove that the creator has a sense of balance, bats also battle ticks. They have their own soft variety called the Carios kelleyi by someone who must have had a really bad breakup with a girl named Kelley. I feel that I must warn you that if you have a bat infestation in your attic and then get rid of it, these ticks will probably linger in your home. It takes them a long time to starve and they’ll feed on humans if they have to. If you feel the need to read more about this there’s more info at the Iowa State site on bat ticks.

So my friends, stay out of the grass and timber lands, or at least be sure to check yourself over every few hours. And I’m terribly sorry if you now feel phantom ticks crawling all over you. I didn’t mean to pass that syndrome along. I don’t know how you can avoid it since the literature is strangley silent about it. We all know it happens though. So don’t feel shy about asking your office mate to just take a brief scan of your body. Once you tell them why you’re asking they’ll be feeling the same itchy sensations, too.

Apr 24

Body accessories

Posted on Friday, April 24, 2009 in random science

I’m not writing about clothing or shoes. Sorry. But while looking up information about my husband’s Becker’s nevus (a patch of thicker-than-normal hair on his arm) I discovered that there’s a rare association of Becker’s nevus and accessory scrotum in the genital region. Yes, you read that correctly. Accessory scrotum. Conjures up images of a safe place to hide your spare car key, doesn’t it? I think it’s sort of comforting to know that this accessory is always found in the genital region and not hanging off one’s neck or elbow. Honest. You can read it for yourself at And just so you know, HabMoo doesn’t have this particular feature and has to find another way to carry his phone and keys while biking.

The standard definition of an accessory organ is any organ that assists with the functioning of some other organ. But apparently accessory in the context of other body parts just means additional or unnecessary. So what other body accessories could you possibly have, maybe without even knowing it? What might you want to show off at the next holiday party?

A quick search through leads to the following:

  • accessory tendon [in ankle]
  • accessory ribs
  • accessory lung bud (Probably not appropriate for your crystal bud vase.)
  • accessory lung lobe (For those who want a bit more bling than a bud, I guess.)
  • ostia (This just means opening or orifice. So if you’re always finding coffee stains where you don’t expect them, maybe you should check for an unnoticed ostia. But I only read about it showing up in the fallopian tubes.)
  • accessory urethra
  • residual accessory ovary (Residual, or left over, from what? I find this a little disturbing. God sometimes has extra inventory of ovaries and so throws one in as a bonus?)
  • accessory spleens (Perhaps a source of income on the black market for organs.)
  • accessory mammary tissue (Would this qualify you for a discount on your boob job?)
  • accessory thymus body along the line of embryonic descent (I read that up to 25 percent of us might have this. So if you know how to follow that line, you might want to check.)
  • accessory lateral collateral ligament (ALCL) [in elbow]

Just as an aside: You can get “Special body accessories” with the Sweet Escape Package at LE DAUPHIN HOTEL & SUITES. I don’t have any idea what they mean by this. I just thought you might want to know.

Apr 21

Gamekeeper’s Thumb?

Posted on Tuesday, April 21, 2009 in random science

I knew about tennis elbow, but had never heard of gamekeeper’s thumb. I mean how many gamekeepers are there these days that they warrant having a condition named after them? I assumed it has something to do with getting your thumb caught in the gate latch or bit by an elk. But forever in pursuit of knowledge, I looked it up. Actually the “condition was most commonly associated with Scottish gamekeepers, especially rabbit keepers, in whom the injury was work related. The injury occurred as the men sacrificed game such as rabbits; the animals’ necks were broken between the ground and the gamekeeper’s thumb and index fingers.” (source) I also read that it’s very similar to skier’s thumb. Such an obvious connection once you think about it, I’m sure.

I discovered that tennis elbow is now called lateral epicondylitis by people who can pronounce that last word.

Other injuries I found named after a sport are skier’s thumb, jumper’s knee, swimmer’s shoulder, Little League elbow, and female athlete triad. The last one is not really an injury, but rather a collection of disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis associated with female athletes.

I’ve also heard of runner’s knee, which is really Iliotibial Band Syndrome and really hard to find a rhyme for.

Trigger finger seems to be a more common ailment for knitters, gardeners, and cello players than it is for gun owners.

Shouldn’t there be a dancer’s toe pentad for bunions, ingrown toenails, sesamoiditis, and general ugliness? And maybe rodeo rider’s groin?

I eventually found reference to millipeders’ back and birders’ neck. I’m probably more likely to get one of those. Or gamer’s fingers. Playing video games and coloring at too young an age will deform your fingers says Mike Tomich who has a Web site that somewhat resembles malformed fingers: