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Earth Dr Reese Halter's Blog


Category Archives: Nature

Imagine taking a deep breath of crisp Sierra Nevada forest-filtered air!

Story ran on Malibu Times blog, August 9, 2013

The human nose is miraculous. It is a complex organ of smell. In fact, one percent of human genes are devoted to olfaction; smell was central to our evolution over the past seven million years.

The main role of smell is to protect humans from decaying foods and poisons. Foods that are indigestible tend to smell woody or musky and are made up of large molecules. Edible foods, on the other hand, have low molecular weights, which can be processed by our digestive enzymes.

The primary role of scent is not about sex.

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Joshua trees

Often used by Hollywood, this bizarre looking member of the mostly subtropical agave family provides a striking silhouette standing tall with rigid arms extending in every direction against the orange Mojave Desert sky.

Named by 18th century Mormons after the biblical prophet Joshua, the plant also known as a yucca had special meaning for those wandering across the parched high desert in search of the Promised Lands. Its arms pointing towards heaven, as the story goes, confirmed that they were on course.

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Story ran on Malibu Times blog February 8, 2013

The first milk or colostrum produced by a mammal for its offspring is crucial for its survival. Moreover, cow or bovine colostrum offers a potent remedy to millions afflicted with diseases and cancers.

Mammals evolved to breastfeed their young. Breastfeeding for humans is natural and critical to ensure essential nutrients, antibodies and immune system enhancers necessary for a healthy life.

Children who are breastfed have higher IQs and less neurological dysfunctions compared to children who are not breast-fed.

Infants who are breastfed are one-fifth to one-third less likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome.

And the more breast milk an infant receives during the first six months of their life, the less likely they will suffer from the two most common and troublesome childhood disorders: diarrhea and/or ear infections.

Mother’s who breastfeed have significantly lower rates of developing breast-, ovarian-, and endometrial-cancers and osteoporosis.

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Giant Squid filmed in Pacific, January 8, 2013

Giant squids measuring in excess of 60 feet and weighing a whopping 1,275 pounds are the most mysterious and the least known gigantic critter on Earth.

Cephalopods – from the Greek “head-footed” – have at least eight arms, and this includes all octopuses; cuttlefishes and squids have two additional tentacles that they can shoot out to capture prey. Chambered nautilus – the most primitive of all living Cephalopods have as many as 90 arms.

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Dragonflies and their ancestors have survived on Earth for over 300 million years. Fossils show that ancient dragonflies had wing-spans of over 28 inches (70 centimeters). Today there are more than 80 different species that occur throughout the West.

The name dragonfly comes from the Greek word for tooth, likely because of their very impressive chewing mouthparts. Dragonflies are harmless to humans. They have an unwarranted reputation that has instilled fear into people.

There are about 5,500 different species of dragonflies worldwide. Some are as colorful as birds and butterflies with iridescent, metallic green and crimsons.

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California Lutheran University Climate Change student assessment of Earth Dr Reese Halter's class

Story in the Malibu Times Jan 18, 2013

Microorganisms are the most predominant creatures on our planet. Although technology has made great inroads in saving lives, nature’s medicine chest has a proven antidote just waiting to be unleashed.

In the 1940s improved sanitation and nutrition and the rise of antibiotics significantly reduced deaths occurring from: cholera, diphtheria, tuberculosis, small pox, typhus, hepatitis and amoebic dysentery.

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Fish Lake, UT

Spring is in the air and a marvelous plant known as skunk cabbage, or yellow lantern, is already in bloom throughout much of Pacific Northwest. This remarkable plant is able to flower when the temperature still hovers around freezing.

Its habitat and physical characteristics make skunk cabbage easy to recognize. Found in mid- to low elevations, this native Pacific Northwest plant thrives in mucky, wet swamps near red alder, Sitka spruce and western redcedar.

The physical and chemical features of skunk cabbage – a member of the arum family – distinguish it from all other native plants. It has large green leaves with a yellow, erect column, about 8 inches high, surrounded by a bright yellow sheath.

It’s a precocious spring bloomer and has an eloquent sequence of events leading to flowering. Often the flower is 86 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding air, enabling it to punch through snow cover. These high temperatures occur because the plant oxidizes vast amounts of stored food, mainly fat, sometimes consuming in one day as much as a quarter of the total weight of the erect floral column.

Some lilies, like the Easter lily, are very fragrant. Others are fetid. What’s so important about how a flower smells?  Scent determines which insects will partner with plants and assist with pollination. Sweet smelling flowers attract bees and wasps while foul smelling flowers mimic carrion and entice flies and some beetles to act as pollinators.

Skunk cabbage, as the name implies, stinks. And in the Pacific Northwest it relies on rove beetles to assist with its pollination. The beetles are attracted to the smell and when they land on the flower, they gorge themselves with pollen and other flower parts. After feasting and before leaving, some beetles even indulge in mating. When they land on the next skunk cabbage, inadvertently they brush against the new flower and pass pollen from one plant to the next.

These highly evolved relationships within nature constantly remind scientists how important and exquisite all life within forests are.

Skunk cabbage berries are an important spring food source for ground squirrels and particularly black and grizzly bears. The First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest ate steamed parts of skunk cabbage, but only sparingly. The plant contains a form of calcium that has sharp crystals which cause irritation and burning sensations. The leaves were used as a “wax paper” for lining berry baskets and steaming pits.

The sight of this magical yellow lantern-like plant makes it official – spring has sprung in the Pacific Northwest.

Australia, Radio 1, National: Ockham’s Razor

Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist, educator and author of The Incomparable Honeybee and The Economics of Pollination.

Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2014. All rights reserved.

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