Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Structure of a Spider Web

It is a well known biomimicry meme that ounce for ounce, spider silk is stronger than steel or Kevlar.  But what is it about the structure of a spider silk that makes it so strong?   Is it the nano scale makeup of the silk?  Is it the pattern?  Do the patterns indicate function?  Over the summer, I've collected a couple images of spider webs as I've seen them and tried to learn a little more about what makes them so special and how we can learn from them.
Spiral orb web in the forest

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Life in and Around a Tree

We sometimes think of trees as solitary objects - lone specimens standing in a field of green.  Or we think of them in clusters of a forest, one indistinguishable from another.  But trees, like everything else, are interconnected and linked with all life around them.  I thought about this when looking at the tree in my backyard yesterday.  What life does this tree support along its vertical axis?  And what relationships do these life forms have with each other?  What can we learn from these connections?
The pride of my backyard - our Norway Maple

Monday, September 12, 2011

Studying a Flower - the Plumeless Thistle

Here is the problem with a novice naturalist walking through a restored prairie and seeing pretty flowers - I assume they all should be there!  It turns out that the pretty pinkish purple flowers I saw on a walk I did way back in July (how summer flew by!) were actually Plumeless Thistle, an invasive weed, and it was everywhere, at least near the walking path I was on.
One invasive species on another - a Japanese beetle on a Plumeless Thistle bud.  From Prairie Flowers in July. 
While walking through the prairie on bright July day, I wanted to observe the prairie species mix to see if I would find any patterns.  The main pattern I found was centered around water availability.  The highlands where there was no standing water found home for yellow coneflower, wild carrot, thistle, some milkweed, and turf grass gone to seed.  The lower areas where the creek ran through hosted cattails, grass, a spiky purple plant that looks like salvia, and some strange broadleaf species that seemed like it would be more at home on the forest floor.  Near the paths in higher elevations, I was taken by a pretty purple flower that I found and thought I could learn a little more about it.