Thursday, December 04, 2014

3996 Suicidal Caterpillar explained

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Our elected officials put a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution.
They don't put a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.
I think some forget that.


A few years ago I wrote a few posts about a plant the Hairless Hunk had given me.  Becs identified it as Jimson weed (Datura stramonium).  Several respected sources informed me that the plant is very dangerous, that every part of the plant is poisonous, and that no animal or insect is known to eat Jimson weed.  But then I found a huge tomato hornworm caterpillar eating it.  The caterpillar was covered with cocoons of the sphinx moth.  (That post is here.  scroll down to the photo of the caterpillar.)  The sphinx moth lays eggs under the caterpillar's skin, the moth larvae eat its insides, and then emerge to pupate on its back.  (Bleck.  How was that moth still alive and moving?  A question still to be answered.)  I wondered if the caterpillar was trying to commit suicide.

Well, the past few days I've been watching a lot of documentary videos on YouTube about plants, how they communicate with each other, how they protect themselves, and so on.  Some people are saying that plants are intelligent and aware, others say no, it's just genes and chemical and electrical, just the way they're built, and so on.  But, uh, look at us and animals.  It's just genes and chemicals and electrical with us, too, but we consider ourselves and animals as having intelligence.  Maybe we need to look deeper into plants and expand that definition a bit.

There was a drought somewhere in Africa, and Kudu antelopes in a preserve were reduced to eating acacia leaves.  Kudus eat acacia leaves normally, no big deal.  But the kudus started dying.  They were poisoned.  It turned out that the acacia leaves being eaten were extraordinarily high in tannins. 

It wasn't  because of the drought - trees well outside the reserve had normal levels. Scientists figured that predation had caused the trees to react by producing more tannins to discourage munching.  Then it got more interesting.  Trees just outside the fence, that had not been chewed, were also high.  So -- it's not being chewed that causes the tannin in those trees.

Turns out that the trees under attack had put out a chemical signal into the air that alerted other nearby trees of the danger, and they, too, upped the tannin in their leaves, even if they had not yet been chewed, and also spread the signal.  

That's called communication.

Back to the caterpillar.  Another video mentioned the wild tobacco plant (which is related to the Jimson weed) and how it produces poison such that no insects eat it.  EXCEPT the hornworm caterpillar!  Hornworms are immune to the poison!  Wow!  Confusion cleared.  That explains the hornworm on my Jimson.

But then it gets weird.  When it feels itself getting munched, the tobacco plant (and, I assume, Jimson weed) puts out a chemical signal into the air that attracts (ta rah!) braconid wasps.  Who (slowly) kill the caterpillar.

Then it gets even weirder.  The wild tobacco plant normaly has flowers that bloom in the evening, and are pollinated by moths.  But if too many of those moths are sphinx moths who are laying eggs and threatening the plant, the plant puts out another signal, and all the tobacco plants in the area switch their flowers to day-blooming long-throated blossoms that attract hummingbirds, not moths.

(Actually, back when the plants "called" the braconid wasps, maybe they should have called a big bird, or some lizards, who'd eat the caterpillars right off.  Those wasp larvae are too slow.)

I often tease people who smugly say they never eat anything with a face with "No, you'd rather tear the arms off a living broccoli just because you can't hear them scream".  Turns out they DO scream.  We are simply not equipped to "hear" them.

Monday, December 01, 2014

3995 Life is ... well, it just is.

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Most people would rather be certain they're miserable than risk being happy."
 --Robert Anthony--


I went up to the old house Saturday morning, November 15, just for the day, just to make sure the furnace was on and that it was running well.  It was 40 degrees in the house when I arrived and turned the furnace on.  I spent the next five hours sorting papers in the big filing cabinets, while the house warmed up.

I found a lot of neat stuff.  Once upon a time, in the old days, people wrote letters - actual penmanship, on real paper.  I had always kept personal letters and cards.  I found letters from my mother, letters from my youngest sister, copies of letters I had written to Jay's family when he was sick, and a few old love letters from suitors, including a love letter from Jay from before we were married.  

I set most of those aside to bring down here. I read the one from Jay several times up there before adding it to the "keep" pile; I'll read the others some day. I brought back with me a large box of paper for recycling, thinking I'd bring the "keep" letters back on the next trip, which was supposed to be later that next week.  

I stayed only until evening.  By 5 pm the house was up to 65 degrees, but I'd had enough.  I was freezing!  Shivering.  My hands were shaking so badly I was having difficulty handling papers.  We forget that it's not just the air in the house that's cold and needs to be warmed, but everything in the house. Walls, floors, furniture, appliances - they all suck heat out of the air (and out of me) until they get up to air temp.  That takes a long time.  So I set the thermostat back to 60 degrees, went to the diner in the village for dinner, and came on home.  I intended to return the next Thursday, the 20th, then stay until Saturday, and sort and pack up some more.

That Thursday morning I woke up and couldn't bend my left knee without a lot of pain, and it wouldn't support any weight bent.  It was fine straight, I just couldn't bend it.  There was no swelling, no heat or redness, no lumps, no tender spots, nothing.  I suspect I'd slept on it funny and sprained or strained something.  The main problem was the knee, but my hip was complaining, too.  (I notice stuff like this happening more as I get older. Side effect of increased wisdom, I guess.)  I was walking like a pirate swinging a wooden leg.  Stairs were interesting, and I couldn't drive because I couldn't use the clutch, so I wasn't going north.

By Sunday it seemed a bit better, but I didn't really trust it until like Tuesday, but with Thanksgiving on Thursday, there was no way I'd be on the highways until ... well ... today at the earliest.  Sigh.

So much for my determination to get moving on that house.  I hadn't been up there since early summer, for various reasons that now sound like excuses, but were really valid at the time - like Hal being in the shop and waiting for parts several times, and a very bad cold followed by a sinus infection, and commitments made to Daughter and to Nugget, and so on.  Not to mention that IRS thing and some other businessy garbage that took time and attention.


Speaking of the IRS thing, I am going to have to have a serious talk with Piper.  He is in charge of my investments, and he moves money around too much in my estimation.  He's always buying this and selling that.  I can't complain that he has lost money for me, but he seems to consider it a game to "beat the market".  He's starting to look like a damn day-trader, with MY MONEY!  Having no particular expertise in that area, it's difficult for me to rein him in.  Well, he was proud that he had increased my holdings by something like 22% in 2013.  Then I got the annual statements from my 401K and my IRAs, which I control, not him.  My strategy is to find the best place to put the money, put it there, and LEAVE it there.  

My 401K and three IRAs all had gains over 33% in 2013.  That's 33%.  If 22% is pretty damn good, then 33% is fantastic!

So next time I see him, I'm going to tell him to find the best place to put the money, put it there, and LEAVE it there. I don't want to see more than three trades a year.  Period.  I'll spoil his fun, and he's going to have fits, but that's it.  I've had it.  Every trade he makes costs me money in processing fees, and I see no advantage in "playing" the market.  My IRAs are in no-load low-fee index-based mutual funds, and they are growing just fine, thank you.  They dipped a little in 2007-8ish, but they more than recovered just fine.  

Actually, I know what's going on.  He dearly loves everything Wall Street.  I don't think he has any other hobbies.  The Market IS his hobby.  His daughter has joined him in his business, and over the past five years she has gradually taken over most of his accounts, the largest of which are large union and business retirement funds.  He has retained his private accounts.  Like mine.  We are all he has left to indulge his passion.  

The other problem is that his buddies are all gloom-and-doom Wall Street Republicans who can't see anything ahead but recession and depression from Democrats (especially when led by a brown one), so he takes their advice and panics and sells off everything before every election.  I could strangle him for that.  Is anyone aware that the economy is just fine?  33% growth in index accounts in 2013?  Yeah, the middle class isn't recovering very quickly, but that fabled 1% is doing just fine.  The rich are getting richer.  Corporations are doing just fine.  

I hope I can convince him to settle down.  I hope I don't have to fire him.  I will if I have to, but it would cost a small fortune to pull out, and I don't know where I'd put it then.  I've met a few investment counselors in the past decade (remember The Ditz, for example?  That's what she does) and I don't trust any of them.  At least I can trust Piper - trust is not the problem with him.  He really thinks he's doing the best for me.  I just don't agree with his political philosophy and management methods. 


Oh, almost forgot.  There was a big storm at the old house the day before Thanksgiving, and a huge tree fell across the top of the driveway.  One of those that pulled the root ball out of the ground.  The Hairless Hunk sent me a text msg plus photo this morning. His wife's mother had died last week, too, so he apologized that today was the first time he'd checked the house since the storm. (Sheesh.  Yeah, take care of your family first, Hunk.  Don't apologize for that.)  He has been rotating his excess vehicles at the top of my drive so it looks like there's activity at the house, and from the tiny photo it looks like maybe his car got hit by the tree.  His note didn't say anything about that.  So, anyway, until he clears the tree out, I don't think I'll be going up there.  I hope It doesn't snow before then, or it will be a real mess!

Why are things so complicated?