Cicadas and a 17-year Gestation Period…

Their sound is so much a part of an August evening. A gradual hum that breaks out into a roar. They break through the ground and head in groups for the nearest tree. The nymphs remain underground for 17 years feeding on tree roots. Their number is so great that they provide an unending meal for turtles, racoons and birds. Every year a new group emerges in some area of the US, which is the only country where they are found. Only the males are capable of their unique sound which is used to attract females. Eric Day, an entomologist, recommends frying them in sake and garlic because of their high protein content. They are not poisonous and will do no harm to humans. They are a bit clumsy and will slam into you when you least expect it. Cicadas are extremely vulnerable to predators while they are waiting for their wings to dry after they emerge, but in spite of this, billions manage to survive, mate and die off leaving their nymph eggs to settle underground for another 17 years.

Machines That Can Taste Your Food…

Machines are now being trained to be attentive to shape, texture and sweetness. These decisions up to now have been made by experienced workers. Blueberries for example have a standard color palette and are very delicate so they can bruise easily. BBC Technologies of New Zealand has invented machinery that can separate blueberries by color and size which until now was time consuming and done by workers with nimble hands. The software takes from 2400 individual images of what a firm and proper color of a blueberry should look like. The color can also determine the sweetness which is another factor on how they are priced and packaged. Artificial intelligence can distinguish the difference from a stem hole and that which has been pecked by a bird and will soon rot. It can separate fruit that should be eaten within a week as opposed to the berries that can travel longer distances. PepsiCo is teaching machines sensory perception. Lasers are bounced off of potato chips to capture the sound of crunchiness in order to replicate someone biting into a potato chip. I wonder if the day will come when we walk into our home and see a machine sitting on our couch munching on chocolate chip cookies.

The COVID-19 virus and the Environment:

The coronavirus is a global health problem and imposing strict quarantine measures but at the same time has it been good for the environment? What impact is the pandemic having on our atmosphere. Scientists are recording huge reductions in air pollution from greenhouse gases, especially in nations such as China and Italy because of the restrictions placed on industry. Most of their information is from what is being observed from satellites. There has been a substantial drop in nitrogen oxide levels in areas of the world that rely heavily on industry. Concentrations of NO2 are down to 35% from 50-60%, depending on the area, from a year ago at the same time. Working at home has reduced vehicular traffic. It shows how economy and environment are tightly woven. There are reports from Venice that you can actually see through the waters in the canals. Of course, this does not mean that the quality has improved only that debris has been allowed to settle. All this as a result of no boat traffic. How strange that a pandemic is showing us what changes we need to make to live healthier lives.

How do Plants Survive Fire?

Although plants lack a brain and a nervous system, they do possess an “awareness”. Animal and human life have the ability to escape brush fires. Plants had to adapt in order to survive. Fires have actually become important for an ecosystem to function properly. Species such as the Banksia have cones that contain seeds which are then completely sealed in resin. It is only with the heat of a fire that the resin can be melted and the seeds in turn be released. There are certain species of orchids that will only bloom after stimulation by fire. A number of shrubs and annuals require smoke to break seed dormancy. Trees such as the giant sequoias, Australian grass tree and the South African aloes have extremely dense moist tissue layers which provide insulation and are able to withstand heat that would destroy most trees. Eucalyptus have specialized buds that are protected under their barks. Burning exposes these seeds and they quickly emerge as new leaves and branches. Other species have fleshy bulbs, rhizomes and underground stems which lie deep within the soil and are able to wake and sprout after a fire. There is a certain lily the Cyrtanthus known as the fire lily, which will flower immediately after a fire from out of the ash. The ponderosa pine has developed a mechanism of self-pruning that kills off most of the lower branches in turn depriving a fire of fuel. Indigenous populations are aware of how devastating wildfires can be and have for centuries used what they consider controlled fires. They are constantly vigil about overgrowth and keep areas clear of dry shrubs and bushes. What we are seeing in Australia is devasting to both animal and human life. Nature has evolved and has the ability to deal with such disasters. It is amazing to think that nature in spite of such severe devastation, that we have witnessed recently and through the years, has the ability to come alive and regrow afterwards.