Monday, December 25, 2023

Butterfly of the Week: Madyes Swallowtail

Merry Christmas, Gentle Readers! This post was of course written earlier in December and posted in our usual weekly schedule. Same with next week's New Year's Day butterfly post.

Battus madyes, the Madyes Swallowtail, has scalloped hind wings that may or may not include an extra-long projection suggesting some effort to grow "swallowtail" appendages. It is in the Swallowtail family because the structure of its wings is like the structure of the wings of butterflies that always have those "tails." The upperside of the wings is black, sometimes iridescent blue or green, sometimes faded to greenish gray or brown, usually with some yellow or white markings. The underside can be black, yellow, brown, or gray and may have colored spots, depending on the subspecies. The top side of the body is black all over if female, black with yellow or white on the abdominal section if male. The underside of the body may have colored spots. There's a lot of individual variation that forms somewhat distinct regional variations, some of which are reliable enough to be classified as subspecies.

Photo by Andrew Neild. 

A Google search for madyes brings up lots of web pages. Unfortunately most of them are about this butterfly in folk art or in taxidermy, and the more scientific ones tend to focus on identifying the differences among almost a dozen subspecies of this madly variable South American species. Beyond its many different looks, little seems to be known about this butterfly. And, although some nice pictures of living butterflies are available online, the ones that have been positively identified by subspecies are all badly faded museum specimens. Inaturalist is trying to sort the group's pretty pictures by subspecies, but has yet to do so. My Google search pulled up only one, not very clear, photo of a living butterfly that had been authoritatively identified as subspecies tucumanus.

The butterfly is not very big, with a wingspread usually between 2.5 and 3 inches. It is very popular. As documentation that the study of the world's butterflies is trending, there are multiple pages for pictures of Battus madyes at US Walmart-com. In South America, each subspecies is or could be a souvenir for a different tourist market. 
But, since it is most often found at elevations between 3,300 and 6,700 feet, in the Andes, many tourists don't actually try to see or photograph the butterfly. If they bought T-shirts in aid of conservation sites, all would be well. Unfortunately, many are still willing to pay for dead bodies, which we should never do. If you need to study the chemicals found in butterflies' bodies, their lives are short enough that you can rear a few in captivity and have bodies that died of old age to study before the end of the school term. Buying dead bodies could encourage desperate people to wipe out a local population. 

If you want to collect butterflies, do it the modern way, with digital photos.and videos. Butterflies' appeal is their tiny, alien lives, the wings that flutter so fast they blur, the hearts that beat so fast we can't see or feel them at all. Butterfly carcasses are a lot of nasty old dead bodies that attract tiresome flesh-eating beetles into the building. Why hold onto what is least pleasant about butterflies now that it's so easy to preserve what is loveliest about them?

Since the different wing markings of the subspecies are most of the scientific information available about this species, let's consider the subspecies, some of which are distinctive enough to have been listed as separate species in the past. I don't want to clutter your browsers with copies of the Butterflies of America reference specimens, which consist of very small pictures of faded dead butterflies that were then magnified to a degree of blurriness I find downright morbid. I think the only way to deal with this situation is to leave the subspecies list incomplete and update this post, in a year or two, when Inaturalist may have recognizable pictures of each subspecies. Wikipedia currently lists:

Adloni: Found in Ecuador, this subspecies is smaller and lighter-colored than others. The name probably comes from a family name, Adloni or Adlon.

Buechei: Found in Peru. Google doesn't even have an explanation of the name, though it's probably from the family name Buche or Bueche.

Callangaensis: Found in Peru. The family name Callanga is also found in Peru.

Chlorodamas: Found in Peru, sometimes ranked as the most appealing to artists and illustrators, this one has wide bands of white of yellow across the upper surface of the wings. Females are more likely to look white, males yellow. The first part of the name is Greek and means "green," but Google offers no explanation for the second part that makes sense as a description of the butterfly. Greek lexicons show dama, a deer, damaris, a heifer, damazo, to break or tame an animal or defeat an enemy tribe, and adamas, diamond, but adamas was not used for a diamond shape and the butterfly's markings don't really form one. 

Frankenbachi: Found in Peru, recognized as a subspecies only since 2001. The name honors someone whose family name was Frankenbach but Google shows no information about this person.

Lojaensis: Found in Ecuador, probably near the city of Loja.

Madyes: Found in Bolivia. The older names given to Swallowtail butterflies commemorated heroes of ancient literature. According to Herodotus, Madyes or Madius was a barbarian king.

Magnimacula: Found in Peru.. The name means "big spot" in Latin.

Montebanus:  Found in Peru. Monteban is a family name, although Google tries to define it as the trade name for an antibiotic, narasin, that is routinely dumped into chicken feed in hopes of preventing coccidiosis and/or breeding super-resistant strains of coccidia bacteria.

Philetas: Found in Ecuador. Philetas was the name of a Greek poet; a few fragments of poems thought to be his still survive.

Plinius: Found in Peru. Plinius or Pliny was the name of a Greek author.

Tucumanus: Found in Argentina, presumably in the province called Tucuman. The underwings are shades of brown with black veins. 

Photo by Walter Liriel Gomez Umpierro.

Any studies of this butterfly's life cycle that may have been made are not available online yet. The caterpillar is said to live on vines in the genus (you may have guessed) Aristolochia. How many generations there are in a year, nobody seems to know. The species is not thought to be endangered.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Friday Freebie Book Review: A Gifted Christmas

Title: A Gifted Christmas

Author: Lucy Winton

Date: 2023

Publisher: Lucy Winton

Quote: "You can be either Gifted or Giftless, meaning you either have a power or you don't."

Book reviewers love to rave over new books. Unfortunately, some days that's not possible. Sometimes writers need to be rapped on the wrists. This is one of the times.

A Gifted Christmas is advertised as a "short story" that's meant to promote Secret Angels, a full-length novel I'm also reading (without prejudice, I hope). Sorry, it's not, and it doesn't. "Hello, my name is Louisa, I have some cousins who have telekinetic powers, and I seem to have no magical powers at all, and my cousins and I did something interesting at Christmas break" is a story. "Hello, my name is Louisa, I have some cousins who have telekinetic powers, and I seem to have no magical powers at all, but I'm trying to be grown-up about it" is not a story; it's an invitation to a response like "Well I don't believe you, and even if I did, I wouldn't care."

Well...when I was in school the slang word "freebie" had another slang meaning. It meant something you didn't want at all, something you felt you'd been cheated out of the time and trouble you invested in taking it as a gift. It acquired the meaning at our school (well publicized by my brother, I admit) of what was claimed as a "free" whack, not always landing on the throat but aimed in that direction, followed by fast, "free" footwork on the part of the whacker, who was quite likely to be the best long-distance runner in grade five. In that sense this book is truly a Friday Freebie.

Secret Angels does, however, show indications of having a plot. If you like stories about schools where students are developing magical powers along with the usual signs of adolescence, my advice would be to go ahead and order the actual book. It's terse, with hints of mysteries to solve. 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Book Review: Christmas Calamity

Title: Christmas Calamity

Author: M.K. Scott

Date: 2016

Publisher: Sleeping Dragon

Quote: "Whose idea had it been to have an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas? Oh yeah, right, hers." 

This is a re-issue from a series published in an earlier era of the Internet, when people were still surprised that Stephen King had bothered to write an e-book and even his e-book wasn't really selling. If you like the characters (and you probably will) you'll want to collect the whole series, and now you can, in e-book form. 

This cozy Christmas murder mystery doesn't contain a lot of overt references to the Bible, though a character does pull one out, but the main character struck me as one big secularized reference to "Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things..." Donna is a Martha-type. Promoted to head nurse, she almost immediately cut back to part-time nursing in order to devote more time to the country inn where she's trying to boost trade through the slow season with that big Victorian Christmas. 

Page one finds her wrestling a monster tree through the door, with the help of her snarky, lovable twenty-something assistant. You may need to share the baby-boomer's view of the rising generation to appreciate the characterization of Tennyson (Ten), but let's just say that he's designed to be lovable partly by giving aunts and grandparents that delicious feeling that The Nephews, or their grandchildren, or whoever, are much more competent than he is. Still, Tennyson's not too bad, even if he does freak out at the sight of a clown doll. At some point in this series some young woman will probably find him attractive.

Soon, of course, being an amateur detective with a mild middle-aged crush on a professional one, Donna will be solving a mystery. Part of her Victorian Christmas was having a singer with a sweet, wholesome image entertain her guests. When the singer doesn't show or send an excuse, Donna stays in character and grumbles about the people who leap online to say mean things and make her small town look unfriendly. Then word comes in that the singer died in an accident, on a road that's later described as a death trap--but was it only an accident? Maybe a hunting accident? Or...was Little Miss Wholesome really the sort of person Donna's been valiantly resisting the temptation to call her? Donna's inquiring mind just has to know.

There's a lot going on in this novel--lots of atmosphere, lots of stage-setting for past and future mysteries in the charming little town of Legacy on the Carolina coast. (Donna complains that people don't go there in winter. Well, yes, part of the fun of staying at a really Victorian place on the Carolina coast is having the windows open to catch the cool sea breeze, er, mist...but let's just say that warm weather and wintering birds are found on the Carolina and Georgia coast as well as in Florida, and so are bargain prices at Victorian ocean-view hotels.) You might enjoy Donna's bossy Southern belle of a mother, or the man she's glad she never married, or the realistic rather than romantic interpersonal dramas at the hospital, as much as you enjoy solving the mystery with Donna and Mark. (Donna and Mark are having a long slow romance. At some point in the series they might marry each other, although it's more likely to be for caretaking than parenting purposes.)

Hemileuca Eglanterina (Warning: 20+ Photos)

Hemileuca eglanterina was presumably so called because it looked like a smaller version of Hemileuca eglanteriae. Eglanteriae has not been counted as a species for a long time. I thought about writing a post about what the moths called that are called now. The Internet didn't cooperate. Likely eglanteriae was determined to be a variant of H. hera, because H. eglanterina are good-sized moths, with a wingspan typically about three inches, and hera have similar markings and are even bigger. Hera are, however, mostly black and white, where as eglanterina...are sometimes black and white, on the forewings, and sometimes colorful.

This photo appears in different places around the internet, including a Tumblr account called Onenicebugperday. The moth might qualify as nice, though it's certainly not a bug, after it's grown its wings. Last summer, as a caterpillar, it was about as nasty as the Lepidopterae can be. 

But eglanterina is still recognized as a species, usually called the Common Sheep Moth because it's found in fields where sheep pasture, but sometimes called the Elegant Day Moth. It flies in the daytime; some might think the subtle gray and white or dramatic black and white Hemileucas looked more elegant, but in the 1850s, when this moth was first written about, bright aniline-dyed colors were the newest thing.. It is large, in no danger of extinction, and hard to overlook. It is well documented on the Internet. Instead of asking whether there are any good clear images of living specimens to show you, while writing this post I wondered how many pictures of these moths anyone wanted to look at. These moths inspire artists as well as photographers; since this is a science post I've made an arbitrary decision not to show pictures of moth postcards or moth-shaped stuffed toys.

Most of the big silk moths, for instance, rest with their wings out to the sides. Hemileucas, like most of the smaller moths, usually fold their wings in and make themselves look a little smaller and less conspicuous. But occasionally they hold their wings straight up, like butterflies, showing the undersides of the wings: 

Birds usually learn to avoid bright colors when looking for insects to eat, but eglanterina has an additional trick to surprise birds. 

Photo donated to Wikipedia by Gillian Bowser.

These moths are found in the Western States and Canada. They are reported from the Rocky Mountains to the coast, but not in Texas. Eglanterina has not been found in Iowa, but Iowa State University has posted a bibliography of books and important articles about it: 

The base color is yellowish brown with darker brown markings. Museum specimens fade to drab yellowish brown. Living moths can look downright psychedelic in bright light, with orange, pink, and green highlights of almost Day-Glo intensity, making the dark markings look black by contrast. Bodies are often orange or yellow with black stripes like bees, but can be pink with black dots over the spiracles (breathing pores) on the sides, or pink with black stripes. Thus, while tropical countries have butterflies whose normally red coloring can fade to pink, Hemileuca eglanterina is the closest thing North America has to a pink butterfly. Males tend to show more and darker brown markings than females, though not consistently enough to establish a rule for identifying the sex of an individual. Variations are observed. 

Photo from Bart Jones on Flickr.

A variation called denudata, sometimes listed as a separate species, has fewer colored scales on its wings, altogether, than it seems to need, and almost all the scales are yellow or yellowish. A variation called shastaensis, also sometimes counted as a separate species, can be almost all black. 

Denudata from The brighter yellow patches on the forewings show where Hemileucas of most, if not all, species and subspecies seem to be prone to having translucent, thinly scaled patches. 

Shastaensis, snogging. Only a few moths seem to feel physical affection for each other. Hemileucas are among the few. Siblings, immune to each other's stinging spines, cling together in a group hug regularly; adults canoodle before, during, and after mating.

Photo by Mary Hunter.

There has been much discussion of how many subspecies of eglanterina should be counted and whether things like Hemileuca annulata, discussed earlier in this series, should be considered subspecies of eglanterina. The confusion about which of the Hemileucas are separate species comes from the fact that these moths defy our ideas of what makes a species. 

We learn in school that if lifeforms will readily crossbreed or cross-pollinate with each other and produce viable offspring, those lifeforms are different variants within one species; if they can be crossbred or cross-pollinated with human interference, and produce sterile or otherwise biologically disadvantaged offspring, they are different species within one genus; if they can't be crossbred simply by pollination or insemination, they belong to different genera. The Hemileucas all have a sort of family resemblance to one another, and their different looks seem to be produced by eating different food. Individuals classified as belonging to different species and subspecies may be mutually attracted, choose each other as mates, and produce offspring--but the eggs may not hatch, or the caterpillars may not be able to survive. Eglanterina eat different plants and have different looks--and the variations produced by their eating different plants can be enough to prevent a pair of moths producing viable offspring. The latest big authoritative book on the subject reaches the conclusion that at most six of the fifty apparent speies of Hemileuca are truly distinct species, rather than variations produced by environmental factors at least as much as hereditary factors.

We've looked at some scientific studies of other Hemileucas' ability to crossbreed; here's one that features eglanterina

Photo anonymously donated to by someone who noted that it was taken in British Columbia.

Like all the Hemileucas it's a right old nuisance. The caterpillars can eat different plants but are often found on fruit trees and rosebushes. Like all the big silk moth caterpillars they are clumsy and can fall out of trees, often curling into a ball with all their venomous branching bristles turned out. The venom produces relatively mild skin irritation relative to some other creatures in this region, more lasting than cactus spines, less serious than rattlesnake bites.

Though inactive for most of each year, some of these moths seem typically to have a two-year life cycle. Eggs laid in summer hatch next spring. Caterpillars crawl all through the next summer, pupate the next winter, and finally emerge as moths almost two years after their appearance as eggs. 

People have posted not only photos but videos of moths laying eggs:

Like other Hemileucas, the young caterpillars live in clusters. They don't spin webs to form nests but do cuddle together to regulate body heat during the chill of the night and the heat of the day. This extreme gregariousness lasts through their first three skins. After the third molt they separate and explore the world. 

The close-knit family, photographed by Weflybye in Washington state.

Caterpillars are basically black with increasing amounts of white speckles, forming lengthwise stripes in shades of black, white, and gray, as they grow bigger. In some individuals some or all of the lighter specks, and the bristles, may show color. The most typical and recognizable caterpillars have yellow bristles at least on the back, but some have blackish gray bristles. Some have pink strips on the skin. These bright colors can be present in baby caterpillars, still living in a clump.

Photo by Scott Burgess in California.

This one looks positively purple in my browser. Since nobody else describes the caterpillars as purple, violet, or periwinkle I'm guessing that that's a browser issue. Everyone does agree about the striped patterns on the skin and the tendency for only the bristles on the upper back to be yellow (sometimes even orange) while other bristles are still gray. 

Photo from GCSnelling, taken in San Bernardino county, California.

This photo from Lanalee in Canada shows the pink striping sometimes reported in the caterpillars' skins.

In a thorough, informative photo essay, Caitlin LaBar reports that a brood of eglanterina she reared moved readily among different food plants. Possibly that movement produced the variations she saw in her caterpillars. Even in the early stages, some started to show black bristles and some to show yellow bristles. Some had greenish yellow bristles and blackish gray skins; some had blackish gray bristles and skins; and, before pupating, the final caterpillar skins turned orange. As the animals went into pupation, black bristly skins fell away from yellow-orange pupae.

The pupal skin has no bristles. There may or may not be some attempt in the direction of a cocoon; for silk moths the Hemileucas produce very little silk. Pupation is a vulnerable time for these moths. They burrow a little way into the sand and hope nothing finds them for months when they're not able to  move much. Then one warm day a furry, intense-looking moth with stubby wings crawls up from the ground onto a plant stalk and starts the process, which lasts a few hours, of expanding its wings. During these hours the moth is also releasing a scent that humans don't notice, but other moths do. Males recognize the scent of a female and gather around to wait for her to decide she's an adult and mate. Usually she chooses a mate as soon as her wings reach their full size. 

Not very pretty without her wings, she looks fat because she's full of egg material. Hemileucas live on fat they've stored up while they were very hungry caterpillars, but they don't store much or live long. Photo by Sidnetaske in Oregon.

Tanya snapped a whole photo essay showing the dowdy-looking moth slowly spreading its wings:

Exactly what this crawling egg sac--that's not really fair, she looks like an adult moth by the time the males find her--does to attract males has been scientifically studied, too. While moth blood, or haemolymph, is pumping into her wing veins and expanding her wings, it's still pumping through the rest of her, perfuming the air at every microscopic heartbeat with her species-specific scent. Humans don't smell it, but that has not stopped chemists trying to collect and analyze it. 

Variations among local populations have been realize the chemists have to consult male moths to have any idea what they're studying. But they are motivated. If humans knew what attracts the male moths we might be able to attract all of them to traps and prevent these wretched moths reproducing in the vicinity of farms, towns, or nature parks. 

When possible, the Hemileucas mate face to face. To do this they use most of their legs to hold on to a twig, but they usually spend some time snuggling--unlike most of the more lovable (to humans) moths and butterflies, whose focus seems to be on protecting their wings from touching while they get the eggs fertilized as fast as possible. 

Those two's variations are gender-typical, but there are no solid rules with Hemileucas except that males don't have that egg-stuffed body shape. (When crawling up away from their pupae they look about as grotesque as the females, only thinner.) Females eclose from the pupal shell fully loaded with egg material, but then they get rid of it as quickly as possible. Male moths usually have more luxuriantly plumy antennae than females; as shown, with Hemileucas that's not guaranteed either. Both sexes' long abdominal sections are flexible enough that they can mate while standing side by side if they can't find a suitable twig right away.

Basically, when we observe these animals without a microscope, the ones that act like males are the males, and the ones that act like females are the females. (Or, more helpfully: males fly around looking for females, who usually attract crowds of males while waiting for their wings to expand after emerging from their pupae, and then females fly around laying eggs.) They may fly at any time in June, July, or August, but are most often found in July.

Someone posted a photo of an over-eager female mating back to back before her wings were half their eventual size. Oh, what moral lessons might be drawn. Being impatient cost her the chance to cuddle and may have caused or correlated with something wrong with the timing and viability of her eggs. But I thought that picture might be too explicit for this site's contract (moth porn!) and would probably be too ugly for most readers, because the impatient girl moth was unable to cover her tail end.. 

Incredible to me, or confirming the stereotypes some people have about Californians, there are people who want these moths to reproduce successfully. My own feeling is that the picture of the mating pair is useful to show people what to whack with something solid, at once, to spare others from having to deal with a few dozen more stingingworms next year. (A pair will normally produce up to a hundred eggs; most eggs don't become moths.) Nevertheless there are people who, in places where they see Monarchs and Viceroys, Vanessas, Tiger Swallowtails, Giant Swallowtails, California Tortoiseshells, Lunas, Antiopas, Melissas, Sphinxes, Polyphemuses, Fritillaries, Zebra Longwings, Skippers, and California's own peculiar kinds of giant silk moths, claim this nuisance species as a favorite:

California can't be blamed for this one. I think confusion can. Person says person has seen only a few dying caterpillars. Still...the first time I ever saw a stingingworm, age fifteen, I could see that it was something that needed killing. I'd heard so many harmless caterpillars misidentified as stingingworms and I just intuitively knew the real thing when I saw it. How is it possible not to see...?

One reason may be that the family Hemileucinae includes some harmless mimics--caterpillars who may be as big as the Hemileucas or bigger, live in the same territory, even get their colors from the same food plants, and have branching bristles whose blunt tips don't contain venom. This one has crosswise rather than lengthwise stripes, the bristles are yellow all the way around, and both the body and bristles are skinnier than on the stingingworms above. I don't know, but I think it's possible that this one is tickling the human hand harmlessly because it's a harmless mimic. If not, somebody's likely to be sorry this picture was taken.

All stingingworms are overprotected and seldom preyed on by birds or mice. They are vulnerable to predators that are smaller than they are, able to slip in between their barbs. Stingingworms are often parasitized by tiny wasps.

The caterpillars often survive being parasitized until the wasp larvae dig their way out through the caterpillar's skin and pupate in tiny egglike cocoons stuck to its body. However, they won't become moths. 

The brachonid wasps attack tomato hornworms, too. They're sometimes sold to farmers who want to get rid of these two nuisance species. Both brachonid pictures from Bugguide.

In 2003 Paul Severns reported on exactly how stingingworms adapt to survive even California wildfires. Fires usually destroy eggs, but enough female moths typically survive, and female moths are strongly enough attracted to scorched twigs, that populations rebound next year. The mother moths seem instinctively to sense that a place that has had one big fire isn't likely to have another big fire that year, so the eggs will be safe, and next year the native plants will grow faster in soil freshly fertilized by mineral-rich ashes. They probably have no way to observe this and report it to one another; most likely scorched wood just smells good to them. 

From her own kind's point of view, anyway, a symbol of hope.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

New Book Review: A Pickled Wedding

Title: A Pickled Wedding 

Author: Ember Mae

Date: 2021

Publisher: E.B. Business Writing Service

Quote: "[Y]ou're marrying Kourtney, so I have no idea how it's possible for you to be so relaxed."

This is the short comedy prequel to the murder mystery. In Pickled Wedding, shoe designer Veronica Swift is opening her boutique. Her brother Teddy refuses to admit that he's about to marry a horrorcow. Kourtney has to rub her fundamental awfulness into every other character's face, by ones, and finally rub it into Teddy's face that she's cheating on him, to get him to dump her. Teddy and Roni are so nice that, even when Teddy agrees with everyone else that they want Kourtney to go away, they'll still be surprised when in the next volume she's found dead, and they'll have to prove they didn't do it by finding out who did.

Meanwhile, the "mystery" of who stole the shoes Kourtney "stole" from Roni, first, then accused Roni of stealing from her, is a short and simple story. 

The way Teddy, Roni, and friends celebrate Teddy's break-up involves getting drunk and destroying some property. This is not the kind of Christmas story that works as a Sunday School book, although snow, carols, Grinch movies, gifts, cocoa, and bright red and green shoes are mentioned frequently. If you like to laugh at characters behaving badly, you will enjoy this book, probably enough to buy it if you missed the free offer. And you'll buy the other shoe-related mysteries, too, because these characters are funny even when they're behaving well.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

New Book Review: The Present Predicament

Title: The Present Predicament 

Author: Brook Peterson

Date: 2020

Publisher: GS Publishing

Quote: "Her and my parents. The same three people I always bought presents for."

Chloe is not feeling as festive as her grandmother is about spending Christmas with her grandmother. Having someone else to buy presents for might help. No points for guessing that, although a holiday is supposed to be a break in the routine and this holiday story does not provide Chloe with a murder to solve, she'll have a small puzzle to work on, a crime will occur, and she'll have a chance to build her bond with the professional crime fighter who's helped her solve a couple of murders in previous books in this series. 

What some readers won't like: The "mystery" that puzzles Chloe in this mini-book is pretty obvious. But it's the kind of sweetly obvious story that people who like Christmas stories will probably enjoy, anyway.

What readers will like: Chloe, her grandmother, her favorite policeman, their country inn, and the little town of Jericho Falls, Nevada, are all that cozy mystery fans could ask for. And they have a cat and a dog.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Web Log for 12.18.23

Grumble, grumble, grumble. I took the laptop home and curled up by the (electric) fire to read and review Christmas fiction. And then guess what happened? No, repairs to the transformer in town did not restore my Internet connection. Instead, Libre Office stopped working! In addition to no Kindle and no Book Funnel, I had no word processing function on this laptop. I could read the minority of my e-books it was possible to download as PDF, but I couldn't type reviews into the computer! 

The problem with Libre Office may have been one specific downloaded document. Word and Open Office were programmed to lock down specific documents that contained things they couldn't process; Libre seems programmed to lock down altogether. One more way the Internet is being "updated" beyond all usefulness, programmed not to change the world in any useful way but to self-destruct in a huge expensive mess, if people don't unite and get a grip on the corporate greed.

Book reviews for the 14th, 15th, and 16th of December will be rewritten from memory on the next trip into town, if there is one, this week, unless I'm able to type them into the laptop at home, so that I can get to the e-mail and blog reading list, and perhaps find a few good links. Books for those days were read. And reviewed. On the "vintage" computer that has no Internet access and is actually useful for any purpose but the Internet.

Fun Stuff 

Do we have readers in South Africa? Planning to be there? For US readers, this wildlife place should at least be an entertaining read, a chance to imagine the winter holidays taking place in summer...

Glyphosate Awareness 

This is on a bit of a tangent from glyphosate. Glyphosate is in the Impossible Burger. The "pesticide" that's in "animal-free milk" or "animal-free whey," which is made from genetically modified yeast, is classified as a fungicide, which have been less often used on food and have been associated with only peanut allergies. Still...There were relatively natural and wholesome vegan protein analogs made from natural foods like nuts, peanuts, grains, soy, peas, and, yes, even yeast. Those are still relatively healthy apart from the glyphosate in the wheat. The new vegan foods, which may look and taste more like the animal proteins they mimic? If people knew what was in them, I doubt that anybody would even want to look at them.

Twitter, RIP 

Saving Twitter is only one step away. To keep X going, Elon Musk needs to do this: Block all access from countries that have called for censorship. All people should see, when trying to log on to X from Europe, should be "X is based in a democratic civilized country that regards its citizens as adults. You are in a country that regards you as a child, therefore you may not log in." And no amount of money should get them around it. If Twitter had remained what it was, leaving it up to individuals to censor what they see on their own pages, that simple step would bring the heads of European states around, crawling on their knees, begging for access to Twitter; it would have put Musk in a position to force them to end censorship, and would have been a good thing for humankind. 

Meanwhile, what's left for web site hosts? Say goodbye to "global." Much as we'll miss our friends in foreign lands, there's a lot to be said for keeping the naive, infantilized residents of totalitarian countries out of conversations among responsible adults. 

The alternative? Say goodbye to social media. A censored web site is a worthless web site. Until the United States recognizes the Internet as a form of "press" and upholds the right of every Internet user to post anything that would be covered by our historic understanding of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of association, the Internet won't be worth anyone's trust. Or respect. Or investment. I think a lot of Americans were better off, financially, with typewriters, copiers, and pre-digital printing presses. 

Book Review for 12.13: Blocked (Issue 6)

Title: Blocked (e-magazine)

Editor: Neil of Uknitted Kingdom

What is Blocked, and does it interest you? You've not seen this magazine in bookstores or wool shops, so I probably need to introduce the whole zine...

Right. Once upon a time, was the knitting site. I visited a few times, downloaded a few free patterns, appreciated that favorite patterns from some favorite designers' books were there, and then made little time to visit Ravelry. I don't usually knit while online, unless the connection is down. And I've never felt a need to join a knitting circle, either. Many knitters do; knitting can be done as meditation to help give the verbal part of the brain a rest, or as an anchor to keep us awake while the verbal brain is reading or listening or watching something else, and some knitters prefer that that "something else" be someone who can help them figure out when they've made mistakes. I never formed the habit of talking about my knitting and have to prod myself even to mention it online, having figured out that, without good quality photos, it's unlikely to sell online.

But I was not pleased by recent news from that site. Knitting is one of the things that can serve the purpose, for women, that spectator sports serve for men: giving almost any two women a common interest they can discuss, regardless of age, background, politics, religion, nationality, even language.  Well, it can. We all know how men can be sitting around, commuting, waiting for things, not very happy about being where they are, and a "good," clean, close game comes on the radio or TV. Instantly they forget that they're not friends and not happy about being where they are, and start cheering, joking, slapping fives. If they do happen to favor the same team, and that team wins, a whole train lights up like a fireplace! How'bout them Dawgs! Women could use knitting to fill that same social need...

...But at Ravelry they didn't. Someone whose knitting was acceptable was blocked for posting pro-Trump comments. Well, a lot of knitters did really like Hillary Rodham Clinton. I liked her, myself--not enough actually to vote for her, because no matter how iconic she is her politics do not represent mine, but enough not to pick fights with her fanatical fans; enough to respect the fact that many knitting circles are Hillary fan clubs. But of course I don't hate Trump either. I dislike him, as most Washingtonians did when he was a Democrat and was merely a tacky new neighbor spoiling favorite views with ugly new buildings, but I do recognize that he's a human being who's done bad things and good things like everyone else. Some knitters appear to be unable to break out of that mindset of judging and hating other women who are different from themselves. I find that very sad. 

So the pro-Trump knitters stormed away from Ravelry and swirled around various social media sites during the more-than-a-year when "reliable Internet access" was an oxymoron in my town. When I came back, most of those sites were dead or dying. There was a handcrafts site devoted specifically to craft items with Religious Right motifs, as having been down-rated at Etsy, and there was a social forum for knitters. I joined the forum. One of its active members was Cezanne Pellett, who tipped me off to, an edgy knitting zine that's for all sorts of people who have been treated like outsiders, at Ravelry or wherever else. 

Compared with Knitty, Blocked Raw. It reminded me, first, of some of those pulp-paper crafts magazines that lasted a year or less. On closer consideration, and in view of the fact that Blocked has already outlasted the pulp-paper mags, it reminds me more of those rare collectible early issues of Knitter's Magazine. Knitter's would soon become the leader of its field, but it too went through a raw, new, obscure stage when, although each project was professionally photographed, it still printed rather too high a proportion of articles to projects. 

It's a zine not a mag. Projects are credited by screen names rather than real names. Despite several nice, normal ads for yarns and shops, which make it free to read if you print it yourself, there are still appeals for donations. Content is on the edges of several people's boundaries--not so much pro-Religious-Right as anti-censorship, generally, with awareness that the people being censored these days often are Religious Right. 

Issue #6 is Christmasy, with the crocheted Santa Claus hat on the cover and a half-dozen Christmas-themed coasters to knit inside. Projects are small and simple. If you download it today, you can knit or crochet something cute before Christmas morning. In addition to the hat and coasters, other projects are also easy to knit, in Christmas colors, all-winter-long colors, or whatever colors you like. There's a bulky cowl, a pair of long slouchy socks to knit in thicker than usual sock yarn, a scarf and two shawls to crochet, an historic hat design (as easy to knit as crochet, but it may work better in crochet), and stash-busting coffee mug holders (I would only ever knit a coffee mug holder in brown). One article offers the helpful suggestion that knitting or crocheting super-bulky projects will help make the stash of leftover yarn disappear faster. Another rants about a less than satisfactory online store; another rants about COVID vaccines. Another article discusses the "Brexit" controversy and the current state of British import and export taxes. There are helpful directories of pattern testers and craft videos, and an obnoxious cartoon featuring bare navels and decapitation. There is NOT ONE SINGLE SWEATER PATTERN IN THE MAGAZINE! That's the way today's young and cheeky knitters knit. Only cute little accessories! They're still moving too fast to feel cold!

There's a claim that someone has whined that Blocked is racist. That one invites a whole paragraph of elaboration on the general theme of "Bah humbug." Knitting is not racist, exactly--it has North African roots, and is practiced on every continent--but the revival of knitting as a craft and fashion, in the 1980s, was indeed a rich White arty liberal baby-boomer thing. Diversity meant that an occasional older or younger knitter (Elizabeth Zimmerman, Lily Chin) or a man ("gay" like Fassett or Xenakis, or knitting in solidarity with a wife and/or daughters like Huber, Jones, Rutt, Bourgeois, et al.) slipped in, and er um yes "Chin" is a Chinese name and, oh, er, wait, the Bourgeois were Canadian weren't they? So knitting was international, right? The knitting universe wanted diversity, but it was well into the 1990s when Melanie Falick's Knitting in America irked me by featuring exactly two older women in the crowd of rich White arty liberal baby-boomer women. "I want to write a big glossy coffee-table book," I growled, "about Shirley Paden and the Hubers and Elaine Rowley and all the other knitters who do not fit into Falick's little mold!" But at Stitches Fair we just didn't meet enough of them. Knitter's was actively working to help the knitting universe diversify, bringing in visiting knitters from different countries...but they were all fairly rich, even if some of them had quaint exotic accents, and the ones who really became known in the US and UK had to stay, at least no further away than Canada. Too bad. But let's be very clear: Nobody discriminated against Shirley Paden, or Lily Chin, or Kaffe Fassett. Far from it. The knitting universe saw their first few brilliant designs and bowed at their feet. Most knitters are still rich White arty liberal baby-boomer women but they love the fact that knitting, itself, is global and cross-pollinates itself continually by bringing in fresh influences from faraway places. When African or South American knitters have brought in their wares, what happens is that they tend to sell out fast and go home, rather than stay and try to sell another big glossy coffee-table book of knitting patterns that will probably lose money.  

Oh, well. Nobody bought Knitter's for the articles, clever and informative though some of those were. What made Knitter's were the patterns, and Blocked offers some good patterns for the whimsical little projects the young are knitting and crocheting today. If you want to be a trendy knitter, read it. If you want to be a Real Liberal, send the Free Speech Union some money. 

Book Review: A Chocolate Box Christmas Wish

Title: A Chocolate Box Christmas Wish

Author:  Josie Riviera

Date: 2020

Publisher: Josie Riviera

Quote: "Now she was sorry for the argument because she'd raised her voice to her own father. He was right."

He was right about her e-boyfriend being a scam. Now Cora's wary of other men, so much so that when an attractive one notices her and starts pursuing her, she flees. This couple will never know peace unless, and until, she takes him to meet her father at Christmas.

It's a sweet romance, so you know what will happen. As a bonus there's a recipe for cookies that sound like elaborate, rolled, chilled, jam-filled labors of love but are actually absurdly easy to make.

Yes, there's a family bakery in this story. Yes, there are warnings about the perils of emotional eating as well as lots of suggestions for sweet and savory holiday menus. This is a short, fun read.

Butterfly of the Week: Lycidas, the Blue Swallowtail

Battus lycidas has at least four non-Latin names; Lycidas Swallowtail, from its Latin name; Cramer's Swallowtail, for the naturalist who first described it; Yellow Trailed Swallowtail, from its markings; and, in Spanish, Mariposa cola de golondrina azul, the Blue Swallowtail, from its color. The wings are dark but, when they catch the light just right, they iridesce brilliant blue.

Photo donated to Inaturalist by Jmmelendez, who notes that it was taken in September, in Mexico. 

The species is not really rare so much as sparse. It likes a lot of space. It's found from Mexico to Brazil, but not very often, nor in great numbers. It seems to have multiple generations in a year, but the greatest number of butterflies fly in May and June. Nature parks' and naturalists' web sites celebrate its occasionally being found as far east as Trinidad island, once even as far north as Niagara Falls (where it might have stowed away on a ship or escaped from a zoo). Lise Winer's Dictionary of the English-Creole of Trinidad & Tobago mentions that, although the butterfly is rarely seen, it's well enough remembered that some Trinidadians familiarly call it "lycidas" with a lower-case l.

Photo by Douwe de Boer, documenting that an individual visited Costa Rica in June 2016. The species is known in Costa Rica, but very rarely found there.

It is found in art around the world, and is kept in captivity in some nature parks. People love to snap, draw, and paint pictures of it. Readers who have looked for our "Save the Butterflies" designs on Zazzle know how many Zazzle designers are inspired by these broad-winged beauties--or by the gigantic Blue Morphos; it's not always easy to be sure which species some designers are trying to paint, but they love the bright blue color these large and extra-extra-large species have in common.

It is one of the butterflies that are classified as Swallowtails because of the structure of their wings but do not, in fact, have real "swallow tails" on their hand wings, The edges of the hind wings are deeply scalloped and may look, as on the individual above, as if they had tried to grow tails but not quite succeeded. 

Why are they called Battus lycidas? Among North American butterflies this genus most closely resembles the Asian genus Atrophaneura, sometimes called Batwings. However, before the English name "Batwings" had become widespread, it was traditional to name Swallowtail butterflies after heroes of ancient literature. In mythology Battus, a shepherd boy who reported thieves to his employer, wasn't much of a hero, but in history there was a King Battus of Cyrene who came a little closer to being one. At least the historical Battus was a war chief. The name may mean "combative, warlike." In ancient literature Lycidas was the name of another shepherd. In more recent literature, "Lycidas" was revived as a fictional name for John Milton's school friend, Edward King, who was drowned in a shipwreck in 1637. Vergil had not portrayed his Lycidas as a hero, but Milton portrayed his friend as a hero-to-be whose good qualities the world lost.

Upper wing color patterns show the gender in this species. Cramer, who first described and named this species in 1777, thought they were two different species; he named the female Papilio lycidas and the male P. erymanthus. Females have bands of white or yellow spots across the wings, as shown above. Males have very conspicuous scent folds that make the "trailing edge" of each hind wing look white or yellow. Body colors are also different: males' abdominal segments are yellow above and black with white spots below, while females are black all over.

Photo donated to Inaturalist by Agonzalo, who notes that it was taken in July, in Panama.

Even females show scent folds. The scent is not a conspicuous figure to human observers but probably smells very strong and distinctive to the butterflies.

Wingspans are typically about four inches, sometimes more, often less.

Photo donated to Inaturalist by Samantha320. Note how translucent the wings are. 

In some lights the upper surface of the wings looks more green than blue:

Photo donated to Inaturalist by Paulako, who captured this lovely lady in Colombia, in January.

The undersides of the wings usually look black or brown, with a border of red spots around the hind wings and the male's "trail" stripes visible. As in the Atrophaneuras, the scales that give the wings their color can be thin, and especially the upper wings can look pale and translucent in between their black veins. 

Photo donated to Inaturalist by Bio_Omar, who snapped the dapper fellow in Mexico in July. '

As shown, the butterflies drink a lot of water from sandy banks and muddy puddles, but also pollinate some wild flowers. They are found at fairly low elevations, always below 3000 feet, often near rivers. Like the Asian Batwings, they fly high, and the females spend much of their time flying around big fast-growing vines that climb up tall trees, but they are often seen when they come out to stream and river banks to sip water. 

They have appeared on postage stamps.

Their life cycle remains to be fully documented.

Caterpillars eat Aristolochia leaves and show the usual mix of black and red pigments that diet provides. In their final caterpillar skin they are described as bright gray with reddish-brown tubercles, some of which develop into rose-colored tentacles.

The pupa is described as pale green, 

Sunday, December 17, 2023

New Book Review: An Inconvenient Christmas

Title: An Inconvenient Christmas 

Author: Sara R. Turnquist

Date: 2017

Quote: "How had she become so blessed?"

Brandon, who'd rather be a rancher than a lawyer, and Amanda, who needed a good stepfather for her little boy, fell in love in another book in this series. As the holiday season approaches, they're living happily ever after. Then Brandon's parents come out for a visit--a surprise to them, but not to the uncle from whom Brandon got the idea of ranching--and Christmas is almost ruined. But of course this is a sweet Christian romance; True Love and True Faith will prevail. 

While some of the expressions the characters use sound more like 2023's than like 1923's, the story of reconciliation between young people and their parents is timeless. I can tell that I'm reading a modern historical novel rather than something by Kathleen Norris (the early twentieth century one) or Edna Ferber. But I never was either of those authors' biggest fan, so I don't mind. Probably you won't either.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Book Review: The Goat and the Robot

Title: The Goat and the Robot 

Author: S.H. Steele

Date: 2023

Publisher: Dream Write

This book contains neither goats nor robots. It's about "supernaturals," people with special abilities that have been defined as supernatural although one character's special power consists of feeling stressed in the presence of other supernaturals. Verity, the narrator, has the more impressive power of dematerializing herself to become invisible or walk through walls. She and two other supernaturals work in Project Chimera, a semi-secret agency that sends them out to help supernaturals in distress. This book doesn't say that these people are genetic chimeras, but now that each of them has been assigned a normal human partner, the three teams are code-named Goat, Lion, and Serpent. 

Verity drops lots of little extrovert-to-introvert put-downs about her computer-geek colleague's "robot stare" and so on. What the story has in the way of comic irony is that geeky Reva answers some of the team's questions before Verity does. 

I find the main premise of this extensive series--a future where none of today's hot science topics is still interesting to anybody, where computers work just as they do today, where global government and "trans-humanism" and gene splicing and artificial intelligence and gender confusion have all been forgotten--more interesting than the author seems to find it. I would have enjoyed the explanation of how the future came out this way, but it's not in this book, if it's been written at all.

When people are nice enough to send me advance copies of new books, I like to rave. In this book's case, unfortunately...It's acceptable as a sort of hybrid, or chimera, of science fiction, mystery, adventure, fantasy, young-adult novel, and ghost story. It's not likely to be regarded as a classic of any of these genres. It is likely to entertain readers of the genres during commuting or waiting time. The purpose of The Goat and the Robot, specifically, is to attract readers to buy the whole series, and it fails to make me want the whole series, but your mileage might vary. 

New Book Review for 12.12: Melody's Christmas

Title: Melody's Christmas 

Author: I.D. Johnson

Publisher: I.D. Johnson

Quote: "Even though it had been nearly two years since her father had passed away, there wasn’t a day that went by that she didn’t miss him."

Melody came back from Chicago to live with her mother in Charles Town, West Virginia, "so they could be sad together." Being surrounded by mementos of her father, who loved Christmas decorations, music, and the Christmas program at the First Baptist Church, is overkill. She's at risk of having a miserable Christmas alone with grief, and maybe even opposition to her mother's having a merrier social life, when she meets the son she didn't know she'd always wanted.

As regular readers know, I believe teenagers do not need and should not have to live with step-parents, step-siblings, even half-siblings of the opposite sex. The Bible and history show us that that's hazardous to the mental health of all involved. But six-year-olds whose mothers died or moved out when they were only a few months old, who are actively soliciting for stepmothers, might be a different thing. Though paperback romance publishers used to have a policy that stepchildren were anti-romantic, "Single Dads" are now a popular theme for Kindle and Book Funnel romances. Some women who can't have children dream of falling in love with a child first, then finding it possible to love the perfect child's father.

So Melody meets sweet, somewhat spoiled and manipulative, little Michael who has noticed that after-school day care is full of babies and Nickelodeon, and goes around inviting himself to the homes of attractive single women and saying things like "I asked Santa Claus to bring me a new mother." Michael's father is even warier of Melody because his six-year-old son fell in love with her first. This is, however, a sweet holiday romance, so Melody's and Reid's mutual wariness, based in a healthy desire not to let Michael lose another mother, only proves that they're perfect for each other and for Michael. You knew that. There is no suspense about the main plot in a sweet holiday romance. The fun lies in watching the characters approach and avoid, misunderstand and reconcile, and Johnson delivers plenty of that kind of fun.

Isn't it fun when Book Funnel writers reach a consensus on which of the Booktober Blitz books deserve to be printed and stocked in public libraries? This web site saw them first--Tara and Her Grumpy Second Chance, Rekindled Hearts, Murder 101, Rural Retreat to Die For, and (wait for it!) Second Chance at Sugarplums are genre fiction, but they're good genre fiction! In the past two days, four writers who didn't order advance review copies have e-mailed to rave about Tara and Timmy. If you like sweet romances and cozy mysteries, you will like these. I will be reading more in other genres after Christmas.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Hemileuca Dyari

In 2013, someone paid me--considerably more than the standard five dollars per post--to write a blog post summarizing what was known about the moth genus Hemileuca. In 2013 it was possible to read all that Google found, about 23 species in the genus, in one day, and summarize it all in one blog post with a half-dozen free photos. There was no photo for H. dyari. Now Google offers a selection--of sad, dead museum pieces, mostly. 'This one is stored in a Florida museum with the note that it was found in Belize. 

They live their whole adult lives on fat stored up from their time as caterpillars, and they don't store up much. Females, who are full of eggs, aren't as thin-ended as males, but once their eggs are laid females aren't very thick either. 

Hemileuca dyari image

Here's what I wrote about Hemileuca dyari in 2013: 


Hemileuca dyari (Draudt, 1930)

Another species that's under-documented on the Internet.

Over ten years, the post quoted has been one of the most often viewed on this web site. This is getting embarrassing. In 2013, it seems, the scientists who study these things were reluctant to put information about the Hemileucas online because the study of this genus is one of the most dynamic and controversial things going on in the study of moths and butterflies. These moths really challenge the traditional understanding of what a species is.

If two lifeforms that look different can mate (without human help) and produce offspring, they're different varieties of one species...

is indeed a relative of

("Wild" rose image from Javier Martin, Wikipedia. Cultivated rose image from

Crossbreeds between different species within a genus may look different from either parent, and may be born sterile or have other features that don't offer survival advantages. In honor of the best known example, such crossbreeds are sometimes called "mules." 

If two lifeforms will not crossbreed naturally, they belong to different genera. (Horses, being a prey species that find safety in numbers, will join a herd of cows rather than isolate themselves--but there are no crossbreeds between horses and cows.) 

But in the genus Hemileuca we find moths that look alike and may try to crossbreed, but not succeed, and moths that look different but produce healthy offspring. As a result some "species" have remained under-documented because, on close observation, scientists agreed that they were not really different species. Google shows almost nothing for Hemileuca clio, which is still found on some lists, because clio seems biologically to be just an exuberantly colored variety of H. electra.

Other Hemileucas, like dyari, are not well documented in English because they happen not to live in an English-speaking country. H. dyari live in Mexico and, if anyone has been studying their life history and habits, the study has yet to be published on the Internet. The Mexican government has published some documents, in the past ten years, acknowledging that dyari exists, but much remains to be learned.

For example, in the course of studying the water levels of a stream, Mexican scientists noted that several kinds of plants and animals lived along its banks, including  Hemileuca dyari

Another Mexican source notes that Hemileuca dyari is associated with the area described as the Eje Volcanico Transmexicano. The book is available from Google, which notes that the name Hemileuca dyari appears three times in the book, once on a map, once on a table identifying it with the region shown on the map, and once on a page Google expects people to buy the book to read. If anyone did want to buy Componentes Bioticos Principales de la Entomofauna Mexicana by J.J. Morrone, the link is 

Another site notes that a specimen in the UNAM library was collected in Ayala, Morelos, but adds no more to the world's knowledge than that. We already knew that moths are insects, insects are arthropods, and arthropods are invertebrate animals. It is relevant to the study of the moth, and I for one wouldn't have known without looking it up, that Ayala is about 1200 meters above sea level and is located on the globe at Latitude: 18.764° | Longitude: -98.983°.

Counting all the Hemileucinae (Hemileuca and related genera like Automeris and Coloradia), Manuel A. Balcazar Lara asserts that over 550 species have been named, and 110 species and subspecies, in 15 genera, are found in Mexico. But then he does not go on to say which species those are, which ones he has observed, or anything he's observed about Hemileuca dyari.

One of several sites that have pages for H. dyari but have not filled them in mentions that a group called COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, think the Hemileucas are endangered. Hoot! People wish. The Hemileucinae may fill some sort of ecological niche, and in fundamentalist Christianity they are easily recognized as one of the manifestations of the curse placed on the ground for Adam's sake, but in some parts of North America local populations of Hemileucas hav gone extinct, and never been mssed. They were extinct in my town when I was a child, and came back in my late teen years, and everyone was happier without them.