Friday, December 23, 2011

Archeology Dig

I have always been interested in archeology and history especially the people who lived before the Europeans came to the Americas. I experienced the Mayan culture and their ancient pyramids while we were living in Belize. When we were going across country, we visited the Effigy Mounds in Iowa which were build by the Mississippian Culture about 1000 years ago. Last summer we visited the Florida Natural History Museum in Gainesville. We learned about the history of the Calusa people and saw many of their artifacts. There was a woodpecker carving that caught my imagination. I also wondered what it would be like to be an archeologist.

I wanted to know what it would be like to help dig on at an archeological site. The museum in Gainesville had a dig that people could help out with on Pine Island. It’s only about 20 miles from our house as the bird flies but unfortunately cars can’t swim across the bay, so we had to go the long way around Charlotte Harbor which took about an hour and a half. Pine Island has a very artsy and crafsy village, and a lot of mangrove trees. There was only one stop sign that we saw on the whole tranquil island.

We arrived at the parking lot of the Randell Museum fairly early in the morning. We walked into their main office which was an old house that was destroyed by Hurricane Charley and had been recently renovated. The house had pine paneling and flooring which fits with the name of the island quite well. We met some very nice people and about five minutes later, I was sifting away. There were two huge pile of dirt. One had already been sifted through and the other had not. We took scoops of unsifted dirt and poured them onto the sifting table. Since the sifters had a mesh bottom, all the dirt fell out leaving chunks of cracked shells, pottery shards, bones and many other Calusa artifacts. When we shook the tables, a mushroom cloud of dust rose into the air and made everybody run away or get dusted out.

I helped a really nice lady named Pat and we found some bones. These bones were probably from a fish or small mammal. We put them in a collection tray for cleaning and sorting. Next, I found an otolith which is the hearing bone of a fish. I identified that otolith to be from a catfish because of its shape. The principle of an otolith is that when sound vibrations travel through the water and hit the otolith, it vibrates inside a nerve lined sac of tissue. The nerves around the otolith then sends a signal to the brain which the fish senses as a sound. As I sifted some more, I found some pottery shards which were two different colors. There was terra cotta color clay and dark brown color clay. The Calusa had to trade to get the terra cotta color clay which was a better quality. I found a shark tooth tool which is apparently pretty uncommon at this site. My Dad also found a shark tooth.

The find of the day was a carved piece of either deer bone or shell that confused everybody before we realized what it was. Some people thought it was plastic, but I took a piece of shell and tapped it, and I didn’t think it sounded like plastic at all. Later we found out that it was a rattlesnake carving and it was the first piece of art found on the site which has been worked since 2006. The rattlesnake carving probably came from the Mississippian Culture and had been traded from as far away as Ohio which has its own Serpent Mound. This is not a big surprise since both cultures built large mounds. All and all, we spent about 5 hours of cleaning, sorting, shoveling, shaking, sieving, coughing from dust, and discarding the waste shells and rocks.

We then explored the nearby Calusa mounds and walked all over the site. We found a nice napping area because of the shards of chert. There were some trails that led us up the mounds which had a good view of the bay and the other mounds. There was a little similarity to the Mayan pyramids but the mounds were a little less grand. I was wondering what it would be like to be a Calusa before the Spanish invaded. I thought it was really cool to do archeology and I want to do it again. That’s all for now from the Nudibranch Network.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Keeping Worms in the Tropics

Why should I keep worms? We started our worm keeping after a visit to Echo Farms in Ft Myers, FL. We took workshops about worm keeping and learned enough to know to get started. Earth worms recycle food waste into good vermicompost and save energy and money. They produce good garden manure which provides house plants and garden with nutrients and good bacteria. Soils in the tropics tend to be sandy and low in nutrients, so worms will help you with this. Worms are good bait for freshwater fishing, so you can also save some money. This blog is a step by step guide for the worm keeper.

Worm Housing

Step 1. What things do you need to make a worm bin? You need at least two containers such as 5 gallon buckets or plastic totes which are at least 12 inches deep. You also need one lid. They must be opaque to keep out the sun. You will also need a drill with 1/8 inch and 1/4 inch drill bits. All these can be purchased at a hardware store.

Step 2. Drill holes in the sides of one bucket with the 1/8 inch drill bit and drill holes on the bottom with the 1/4 inch drill bit. Drill all holes about an inch apart. These holes help let fresh air in and the old air out. This is important so that the worm compost does not turn anaerobic. The holes on the bottom allow moisture or leachate to drain out. The leachate can be used as liquid fertilizer. Now stack the buckets and put the bucket with the holes onto of the bucket with no holes. Make sure not to drill holes in the lid to keep the worms from drying out.

Moving In

Step 3. Now that the house is built it is worm time. Make sure you buy red wiggles since other worms like night crawlers will burrow deep. When you are buying the worms, make sure to buy your worms from a local supplier because worms from Maine might not acclimate well to the tropics. You might have friends with an established worm bin who will share with you. We got some from our friends Greg and Evelyn from The Open Studio.

Step 4. Now your worms need bedding! Bedding can be made from coconut husk, shredded newspaper or other paper with soy based ink, and corrugated cardboard. Do not use shiny magazine paper! Make sure paper is shredded in strips. Bedding should be as wet as a wrung sponge but not soggy. Fill container with at least a few inches of this bedding. Also add a couple of sand or dirt for the worms.

Step 5. What to feed the worms? Here are some worm feeding basics with some do’s and don’ts. Worms love most kitchen and plant waste from cantaloupes to pumpkins to organic yard waste. They also love coffee grounds and tea bags but leave out the staples. Now here are some of the no no’s. Worms don’t like too much citrus because they are too acidic. If you give the worms too much citrus give them crushed egg shells to balance the pH back. Avoid meat, dairy, hot peppers, spicy food, onions and garlic. A pound of worms can eat a half a pound of kitchen waste per 24 hours.

General care

Keep your bin in your porch, garage or lanai so you have an overhang. This keeps out direct sunlight and rain. Make sure to keep worm food and compost moist but not soaking. When food is put in the worm bin, make sure to cover it with bedding. Add new bedding when worms have eaten in all. This is an important food for them since worms need lots of carbon. Also keep an eye on your leachate because worms do not like to be soaked. Keep out all fire ants, centipedes and maggots! Please give me feedback on how your worm bins are doing. Vermiculture is a very good thing to help the environment. See you next time on the Nudibranch Network.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Horst's Treasure Trove

Horst Kohlem is an amazing free form artist from Germany and we are good friends with him and his wonderful family. When we were in Miami Beach, FL a couple of months ago, and we stayed a few days at his art treasure trove of a home. His house is filled with excellent paintings and amazing mixed media sculptures of his own doing.

Horst’s paintings have a beautiful mix of colors and patterns. He paints images of bridges and buildings that I wouldn’t think to do. His paintings have interesting textures and layering. He builds up the paint so it is three dimensional. I think he applies the paint with drizzles and drops and adds tree leaves with makes unique textures. However, his secret recipe is unknown. His work is very large and can be up to 5 feet wide and tall.

Horst’s sculptures can be very small or very large; some were even bigger than me. They are made out of recycled metals which usually come from airplanes and other machines. These metal pieces can be welded together and are sometimes mixed with stones such as marble to make interesting patterns. I have photos of some of the amazing Horstean sculptures and paintings below. The big harp I’m standing next to was actually played in an orchestra performance.

We had a gynormously good time visiting with Horst and his wife Jacqueline. I thought it was really cool to have another artist to talk to. If you ever need some inspiring art, Horst sells his work in galleries and would be happy to talk to you. See you next time on the Nudebranch Network. I was on vacation but now I’m back...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pollination Video

This is a really cool video clip that I think you will enjoy. It is about the pollination nation of bats, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Clink on the link below and have fun watching it!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Art Opening at 7-7 Gallery

Sophie prepares for her first 'official' art opening at the Seven Minus Seven Gallery on Friday April 29th at 7 pm.

Her Biosketch for the show: Sophia Barimo is a resident of St. Thomas whose interests in the natural sciences is often expressed through her art.
Sophia has enjoyed extensive travel across North and Central America as a facet of her homeschooling experiences. During these travels, she has observed a wide variety of bird species which are captured in her current series. Sophia is an 11-year-old native of Miami, FL and often contemplates a profession in ornithology.

VI Sea Turtles

Sophie Barimo

Sea Turtles are fascinating reptiles. They glide through the water so gracefully and have a super ability of being able to stay underwater long lengths time. Just imagine what it would be like if were a you are a mature six foot long, 1300 lb. Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) cruising through the blue oceans. You are the largest living species of sea turtle. You see some jelly fish and open your large delicate, scissor like jaws designed for eating these soft bodied cnidarians. As you swallow the jelly fish, the papillae (spines pointed backward in your throat) help to force the soft slippery food down.

You are a world traveler and can be found throughout the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, from Labrador and Alaska to the Cape of Good Hope. Your species is found further north than any other reptile, and you can handle the cold because you are a gigantotherme. What does that mean? It means big heat, it means you are so large you can keep a warm core temperature and still be cold blooded.

You migrate long distances as much as 3,000 miles from your nesting beaches. You then will have to travel back to your nesting beach by using your excellent homing mechanisms. This homing device is made from a bit of crystal magnetite in your brain. It makes you sensitive to the earths magnetic poles and gives you a kind of turtle GPS. You have to get back because success in reproducing is very important, there are only estimated to be only around 50,000 female leatherbacks worldwide.

I thought it would be fun to talk to someone who studies sea turtles professionally. Luckily I found Dr. Paul Jobsis at the University of the Virgin Islands. Dr. Paul Jobsis is a professor of biology at UVI and is tracking the movement and population size of sea turtles in Brewers Bay on St. Thomas. Dr Jobsis did give us some good news about Leatherbacks. He said through extreme beach protection measures on Sandy Point in St.Croix, they went from 9 nesting sea turtles in 1981 to 300 in 2010. We used to have a nesting beach on St Thomas for Loggerheads, Caret Bay. It is named for Caretta caretta the scientific name for Loggerhead, not Dutch for carrot.

There are four other types of sea turtles that visit the Virgin islands. Green (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and an occasional Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) or Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea). Dr Jobsis surveyed Brewers Bay in 2007 and estimates there were between 40-60 Greens and 10-15 Hawksbills. He said turtles are hard to count and identify. I guess they just won’t do roll call and you have to swim to get close and look at their details to identify them. He said the best way to ID them is by where they hang out. Hawksbills eat sponges, so they are likely to be on the reef, and Greens eat sea grass and algae so they are likely to be in the sea grass beds.

Now imagine you are a Green Turtle living in Brewers Bay, St. Thomas.
You would cruise the sea grass beds eating sea grass and algae with finely serrated jaws (yum). You could grow up to be 40 inches long and weigh around 300-350 pounds. You could rest underwater for up five hours by slowing your heart rate down to conserve oxygen and nine minutes may elapse between heartbeats. You would only come on land if you were a female and can nest through out the year but mostly in the summer.

Now if you were a Hawksbill Sea Turtle you would be swimming the reefs looking for sponges, tunicates, shrimps, and squids. You would have a narrow head with jaws meeting at an acute angle, which would help you get at food in the crevices on the reef. Your jaws are tough, made for grinding and crushing. You are a smaller than the Green Turtles and only reach lengths of 31-36 inches and 100-200 lbs. You must not like being counted because there is little data on your populations.

I hope you enjoyed learning about sea turtles by imagining to be one. If you want to help turtle populations to grow here are a few things you can do.
- Remember to help your parents bring their own re-usable bag to the grocery store. Turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, and can choke to death.
- Turtles lay their eggs on the beach in the sand, so don’t drive on the beach it could pack down the sand and the babies can’t dig out, also be careful where you have fires you could cook the eggs.
- Encourage people not to point lights at the beach, turtles go towards the lights and could go the wrong way.
- Best of all support turtle conservation efforts in your community.
Sources-Sea Turtles- A Sea World Publication 2005

4H Homeschooling Newsletter Spring 2011

With Thanks to the Parrotfish

By Sophie Barimo

Have you ever wondered where all those nice tropical and sub-tropical beaches we love to play on come from? Other than rock erosion from storms and some sea plants like Halimeda algae, a good majority comes from Parrotfish . What did you just say? Parrotfish make sand?!

Yes, these beautiful fish use their parrot-like beaks to chomp and graze upon red algae, coral polyps and old coral skeletons called limestone. In this limestone, although we can’t see it, is a protein-rich algae living in the pores. They chew this algae up and ingest it to extract the nutrients, and this they poop out as our beautiful white sand.

Did you know that the parrotfish play an important role in the health of the coral reefs?
When they eat away the algae, they leave a place for crustos coroline algae to settle. Coral in turn needs this hard red alga to settle. In other words, the parrotfish create new real estate for coral to live and grow on.

St Thomas Hummingbirds

By Sophie Barimo

We all know hummingbirds as thrumming, humming, nectar-sucking birds.
Have you ever wondered about the different kinds of species here on St Thomas? With these descriptions, you can look out for these hummers and know who’s who.

The Antillean Crested Hummingbird
The Antillean Crested hummer is the most common hummingbird on the island.
They are also the smallest-sized hummers at around 3.25-3.75 inches long.
The male has an iridescent green, flat crest of feathers that starts at the base of its bill, goes up between the eyes and sticks out the back of his head. His back is iridescent green but the rest of him is a dark brownish grey.
The females have no crest, but still have the iridescent green backside and have a beige- grey underside. The females have distinct white patches at the ends of their tail feathers.

Green Throated Carib Hummingbird
This flashy hummer is a bit larger than the Antillean hummer at 4.5-4.75 inches long.
Males and females look a lot alike. They have beautiful iridescent green throats with a little fringe of tindal blue feathers like a necklace just at the bottom of their throats.
The rest of their chest is black, ending at a beautiful indigo and green tail.
Their bills are long and slightly curved, and their heads and back are iridescent green.

The Antillean Mango Hummingbird
The Antillean Mango hummer is the largest of the three hummingbirds, at 4.5-5 inches long.
They resemble the Carib with their green heads and throats, the difference being that they do not have the fringe of blue feathers and their black chest gives way to a beautiful iridescent violet under tail.
The female has a green back and head, and her front is whitish. She also has white patches on the underside of her tail tips.
The juveniles go through a distinct phase during which they have a black stripe down their whitish heads and chest .

These island Hummingbirds are very territorial. They will chase away intruders twice their size to defend their floral dominions. I recently observed an Antillean hummer buzz bomb a Bannaquit while defending it’s flowering Noni tree. The Bananaquit quickly left the hummers territory.

I hope these descriptions help you identify these beautiful jewel colored birds, and that you enjoy watching them as much as I do.

News of the Absurd

By Sophie Barimo

News Flash
Scientist’s are debating whether the 50 lb hermit crab sited near the WAPA (West Antilles Power Association) plant, is a new species, a sub species, or just a scary mutation. The hermit crab was described as wearing an upside-down barnacle encrusted marine toilet. It was last seen eating from a overturned garbage can at around 2:30 this Friday near the school lunch program building.

Oddly, yesterday, in the vicinity of WAPA ,in Crum Bay. A zodiac dinghy owned by a Mr. Bart Sidebottom was reported shredded and his toy poodle was missing. Police are investigating and have issued a warning to the boat community and WAPA employees. There has also been a traffic advisory issued because of the tourist safaris stopping to look.

Crum Bay fisherman and life time island resident, Liston Gumb, while net fishing for sprat this afternoon said, he heard a tremendous snapping and loud rustling in the tam tams. He said he spotted the creature and commented dryly, “Dat be a mighty big soldier crab.”

One WAPA employee who asked to remain anonymous, gave a frightful account of his run in with the beast. “Last night I was out inspecting some severed power cords for suspected vandalism, when I saw some sparking. I pointed my flashlight , and there was the beast. It had glowing googley eyes and was chewing on a power cord. Before I ran I noticed it was wearing a toilet and was being ridden by a toy poodle.

Police are patrolling the area. If you see this creature, don’t approach it, call 911.