Done and Back!

Well, not “done” exactly– there are those hundred illustrations and permissions (kill, kill!)– but I have just finished the first (pretty solid) draft of the eagle book well ahead of deadline, and can HAVE A LIFE (and a blog) again. Don’t expect too much today, but expect regular comment, links, and a lot of photo blogging soon…

Adelie Penguin Diet Change

The NY Times today tells us of research on Adelie penguins in Antarctica by Dr. Steven Emslie of the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. For years Emslie has been studying Adelie penguin mummies (like the one pictured) that are preserved for tens of thousands of years in the cold dry climate of Antarctica.

Lately his research has turned to studying trends in their diet, based upon isotopic analysis of eggshell. According to the article, these studies show that about 200 years ago, Adelie diet switched from a focus on fish, to their current diet of krill and other organisms lower on the food chain. From the article:

“The timing of the shift corresponds to the rise of human hunting of fur seals in the Southern Ocean, followed later by whale hunting. Whales and seals are major consumers of krill, so some scientists have suggested that their depletion led to a surplus of the tiny crustaceans.

Dr. Emslie said his work appears to validate this hypothesis.”

I’ll be very interested to hear John Carlson’s opinions on this.

Another full disclosure: Steve Emslie and I went to graduate school together at the University of Colorado. Steve started out in archaeology and worked for me at the excavation of 5MT(UMR)2785 near Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado. From the beginning, Steve specialized in faunal analysis and he was always bringing stinky road-kill to the offices we shared for his comparative collection. After finishing his MA in Boulder, he became so interested in the biological aspects of faunal analysis that he switched fields and went on to get a PhD in biology from the University of Florida.

Steve has gone on to have a stellar career. His work with fossil California condors in the Grand Canyon area forms much of the scientific underpinning for the recent reintroduction of condors there. I also recently saw that work he has done with fossil remains from Sandia and Marmot Caves in New Mexico has documented California condor and passenger pigeon populations there in the Late Pleistocene.

My goodness, two old friends in the papers in two days!

Forest Fires and Archaeological Sites

The LA Times has a piece this morning on cooperative efforts between Forest Service and California Department of Forestry archaeologists and local tribes to reduce the damage that firefighting efforts can inflict on archaeological sites. Having knowledgeable people in the field who can direct bulldozers constructing firebreaks away from site locations can make all the difference in the world.

Full disclosure: Doug McKay, pictured above with some bedrock mortars and quoted in the article, is an old friend. We worked together on projects in six states (Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Arizona and California) more years ago than either one of us wants to admit.

Indonesian Coelacanth

Most of us have at least a passing familiarity with the story of the coelacanth, often referred to as a “living fossil”, a fish thought to have been extinct for 70 million years until one was caught in the western Indian Ocean in the late 1930s. Apparently many more have been caught there off the Comoros Islands since then, but it wasn’t until I saw this BBC story that I heard a new species of coelacanth was discovered thousands of miles away off an Indonesian island in 1998.

The picture above shows only the second individual of this new species ever seen, that was recently caught in the same area. A battery of DNA tests and other studies lies ahead for its frozen carcass.

The Ghost Pepper

The Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University has made it official: the bhut jolokia, or “ghost pepper” from Assam state in India is the world’s hottest chile pepper. The spiciness of a chile pepper is measured by its capsaicin content, expressed in Scoville units. For example, your average jalapeno measures in the range of 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville units.

The bhut jolokia tested at 1,001,304 Scoville units, roughly twice the heat of the previous champion, the Red Savina habanero.