February 25, 2018
SHORT-FACED SNAIL-EATER SNAKE
During my Sunday bikeride to Temozón to buy bananas I came upon the foot-long snake shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180225se.jpg
It was dead, either roadkill, or someone with a machete chopping weeds along the road had killed it, and posed it on the asphalt exactly where bikers would have to swerve to miss it. Lots of farmers bike that road, going to their isolated ranchos.
We've seen that species before, in 2008 near Yokdzonot just west of Chichén Itzá. That snake's pale bands were slightly orange-hued so, to show the variation, I'm adding our current snake to our Short-faced Snail-eater page at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/snaileat.htm
Interestingly, last July in about the same spot along the road to Temozón we also came upon a dead, possibly posed, and similar looking Ringed Snail-eater, whom you can compare with our current Short-faced Snail-eater at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/snaileat.htm
It's tempting to wonder whether these may not be just variations of a single species, but the experts say they're different, even assign them to different genera, the Ringed species being the genus Sibon while the Short-faced is in Dipsas.
Our present Short-faced species is endemic just to the northern Yucatán Peninsula, including east-central Belize, and inhabits tropical dry forest habitats.
Jonathan Campbell in his Amphibians and Reptiles of Northern Guatemala, the Yucatán, and Belize remarks that the species is nocturnal and is most active on rainy nights. We haven't had rain for weeks, so I'm guessing that our recent heavy morning dews have encouraged snails to roam about, with snail-eaters after them.
Campbell also points out that the Short-faced Snail-eater displays many adaptations associated with arboreal snakes, including a laterally compressed and elongated body, an abrupt narrowing of the neck behind the head, and enlarged and protruding eyes, yet it's often found on the ground.
When this snake eats a snail, it first extracts it from its shell before swallowing it.
A BRISTLING CLUSTER OF THORN BUGS
A wildflower's smooth stem overarching the shadowy dirt trail leading into the rancho caught my attention because it appeared to bear a compact cluster of brown, broad-based spines of the kind on blackberry canes. Spines don't cluster like this, so I took a closer look, and saw what's shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180225hp.jpg
They're insects in the "True Bug Order," the Hemiptera, with sucking mouthparts, like cicadas, aphids and leafhoppers. Happily, I have a friend in Quebec with a special interest in this group, so I sent the picture to him. You might enjoy viewing some of my friend's exceptionally good extreme close-ups of insects at https://www.flickr.com/photos/gillesarbour/
Gilles thought that our spinelike bugs belonged to the Treehopper Family, the Membracidae, most likely the subfamily Membracinae. Treehoppers shaped like our bugs are called thorn bugs. About 3200 species of treehoppers in over 400 genera are known, so we're still far from having a name for the species in the picture. However, working just with a photo taken in heavy shade, narrowing it down to "probably Membracinae" is pretty good. Maybe eventually an expert doing a Web search on the keywords "Yucatan Membracinae" will be glad to see our picture, and maybe help us get it to genus or even species.
Bugs in this family pierce plant stems with their beaks and feed on sap. Excess sap taken into their bodies becomes concentrated as honeydew, which attracts ants, which may help provide protection to the bugs from predators. This kind of relationship where both parties benefit is known as mutualism.
AN HERBACEOUS BAMBOO'S HANDSOME SEEDS
At http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/olyra.htm we look at a shade-loving, herbaceous bamboo, Olyra glabrrima, frequently found along trails through shadowy forests in this area. Our pictures and the images of many others show the grass's leaves and flowers, but on the Internet I find no good close-ups of the caryopsis-type fruit. Therefore, when I stumbled upon a good fruiting plant this week I was tickled. You can see the fruiting head at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180225ol.jpg
One of the main field marks of Olyra glaberrima is the petiole-like "pseudopetiole" with which the blade attaches to the sheath around the stem, so I photographed it, too, seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180225om.jpg
And the remarkably large, handsome caryopsis-type fruits are shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180225on.jpg
Olyra glabrrima is monoecious, meaning that each plant bears both male and female unisexual flowers. In this species the unisexual flowers are segregated on inflorescence branches that may bear only flowers of one sex, or have them mixed together.
A RANGY CELOSIA
Take a look at a stem of the 7-ft-tall (2m) herb extracted from a dense tangle of weeds next to the rancho's chicken pen, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180225cl.jpg
The slender clusters at the sprig's outermost points are flowering spikes, as you can see in a close-up at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180225cp.jpg
In that picture, note the open flower at the tip of the middle spike. A flower closeup is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180225co.jpg
In the Amaranth Family flower petals are lacking, so the green, sharply pointed items looking like green petals are "tepals," tepal being the term used when in a flower there's no distinction between a calyx and corolla. Otherwise, the blossom's stigma, style, ovary and stamens all look fairly normal, except for the stamens' filament bases merging to form a shallow bowl at the spherical ovary's bottom. That's a good field mark.
And good field marks are needed, because several species in different genera of the Amaranth Family at first glance can be confused with this species. For example, our plant looks a good bit like large, tropical specimens in the genus Iresine diffusa. However, in the genus Iresine leaves arise opposite one another on the stems, not alternate as on our plant. A bug-eaten leaf of our plant is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180225cm.jpg
Our plant also could be easily mistaken as a large, tropical example of the Smooth Amaranth, or Smooth Pigweed, Amaranthus hybridus. However, the tiny, bladder-like fruits -- known as "utricles" -- produced by amaranth species, genus Amaranthus, contain just one seed per utricle, while if you look closely at split-open fruits of our chicken-pen plant, it looks like several black seeds can be seen inside, as you might be able to see at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180225cq.jpg
Actually, the best way to determine how may seeds one of these plant's fruits contain is to pick a single fruit, crush it between your thumb and finger, and see how many tiny black seeds pop out. When I did that with our plant, I got three to five, so our plant isn't an amaranth.
Leaves one per stem node (alternate), and more than one seed per utricle... In our area that brings you to the genus Celosia. Usually when we think of Celosia we visualize colorful cockscomb garden plants such as the variously colored ones on our Plumed Cockscomb page at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/h/celosia.htm
However, Celosia embraces about 65 mostly tropical species, and some of them are gangling weeds like our chicken-pen one. Our plant is CELOSIA VIRGATA, apparently with no good English name, but just calling it Celosia is good enough. It's distributed here and there in Mexico and the Caribbean south through Central America into northern South America. Pictures on the Internet usually show smaller, more compact plants, so apparently ours is an exceptionally robust one, which might be explained by its having all that good chicken manure nearby, fertilizing it.
BLOSSOMS SUNLIGHT FURY SPIRITUALITY
This precise moment during the dry season is too exotically beautiful and too gravid with messages from the evolving Universe to ignore.
In general, this is when soil water from the rainy season no longer sustains the herbaceous layer, which now turns brown and crisp, and deciduous trees no longer can hold on to their water-evaporating leaves. The forest starts looking wintry, now, despite the blistering heat and glare flooding through it.
Here are this season's main indicators:
1) Sunlight-engorged blossoms on dry-season-leafless tree branches, most conspicuously the following:
2) Intense sunlight cutting through very dry air stinging skin, filling eyes with raw glare and colors too dazzling and shadows too black to deal with.
3) The feeling of it all.
The feeling... Each human carries a different neural network and a differently programmed mentality, so I can only tell you how it feels to me.
Just wearing shorts with afternoon sunlight slamming full force from crown to toe, dusty breezes of parched air smelling of orange blossoms and ornamented with birdsong ripple across my body. Colors, patterns, physical sensations and abstract textural juxtapositions are so intense and disharmonious with one another that they disorient, especially because, taken as a whole, it feels as if, really, I'm experiencing something intensely harmonious within itself. I feel like I am myself a spaceship, and in that way I identify with Spaceship Earth plunging through a furiously agitated, gorgeously hanging-together universe that makes sense only from the viewpoints of aesthetics and feelings but, from those perspectives, it does make sense, and the sense is exquisite.
But, of course, I am not a spaceship nor, really, is the Earth. I'm using the term "spaceship" as a simile meant to conjure the image of a vehicle on a voyage through a hostile but beautiful environment, conducting mentalities sensitive to the experience, and that's me walking around looking and feeling, and the Earth on its own voyage. But, what's the value of using such a simile during this time of orange-blossom fragrance mingling with scorched dust, and a Spaceship Earth with its life-support systems collapsing as the result of human behavior?
One value of the simile is that it's a thought-tool that helps raise to higher levels the spirituality of alert mentalities being conducted in and protected by the spaceship. One's spirituality grows as one's knowledge and experience of the Universe's majesty increases.
And nowadays it's a good idea, when bringing up the matter of one's spirituality, to keep straight the difference between spirituality and religion, and the spaceship simile helps with that. Spirituality is what spontaneously blossoms inside the receptive during transcendental moments such as those when you look from a spaceship's window -- look into the sky at night -- while religiosity is a set of teachings often based on ancient sacred text regarded as unchanging and unchangeable.
Recognizing the difference between the two is important because religions, at least Western ones, insist that a divine presence watches over each of us, and might protect us from the consequences of our follies, if only we behave and believe a certain way. A mentality in a spaceship plunging through hostile open space thinks otherwise. On a spaceship, you know that what's protecting you is the ship itself, and it's up to you to take care of it.
Therefore, here in dry-season, mid-afternoon Yucatan dazzled by the aesthetics and feeling of it all, instead of lifting my head toward the too-blue sky with its too-white cumulus clouds and thanking a paternalistic deity for having provided me such a fine day, I find myself feeling more than ever the urgency to do what I can to keep Spaceship Earth running smoothly, to nurture it.
And to me, that's the most honest form of spirituality, and the most heart-felt and life-affirming manner of expressing reverence for the Universal Creative Impulse that has created the Universe and continues evolving it in such a mind-blowing manner.
Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,