The Secret Lives of Lobsters

Last week my daughter & I visited the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, a nonprofit marine science center located right in the heart of Portland’s harbor.

My daughter’s 5th grade class had been invited to participate in a special program called Lobster: Untold Tales and I was tagging along as a chaperone.  I’d never thought much about lobsters before – apart from how tasty they are – so I was interested to see what I’d been missing. After being briefed in the lobby, we were led into a state-of-the-art interactive exhibit room for our LabVenture!

As someone easily impressed by things like salt free food and wild turkeys, you can imagine how taken in I was by the (nearly) $2.5 million facility above.  With its gigantic screens and its dark lighting and shiny metal kiosks, I felt like I’d stepped right onto the set of CSI!  But instead of being ordered to stand behind the camera, the LabVenture! program is all ACTION!  Not only were we set loose in the “lab” to investigate, but we got to (hold your breath) TOUCH LOBSTERS.

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Interview with a Roller Girl

This inaugural post of 2011 is dedicated to everyone who loves Flat Track Roller Derby.  As a woman who longs to don skates, hot pants and an alter ego, I wanted to do an interview with someone who knows the ins & outs of the sport.  Longtime friend, Kim – aka Supersonik! – a REAL LIFE ROLLER GIRL (!!) has graciously agreed to spill her derby beans via this blog.  If you’re curious about roller derby, have wondered what it’s like to be a roller girl, or think you have what it takes to kick ass and be kicked in return, then Friend, this one’s for YOU.

Kim – I mean, Supersonik!  Thanks so much for being a part of The Daily Dish.  Before we get started, first things first.  What team do you play for?  What’s your name & number and do they have any significance?

Photo Credit: Lucas Saugen Photography 2008

I am Supersonik! and I play on the Atomic Bombshells, one of the 4 home teams of the Minnesota RollerGirls. My number is 7 of 9, which comes from the Star Trek Voyager character.  My name Supersonik! was part of an inside joke around the song Elektronik Supersonik by Zlad, a fake rock star from a fake former Eastern Bloc country. Some people get excited thinking that I got my name from the JJ Fad song “Supersonic” and start singing it to me.  In reality, I’m just a big sci-fi dork.  Growing up during the 80s, with my formative years during the Cold War, the Zlad song was extra funny.

What’s your position? Can you briefly describe what that entails?

At home, I play the blocker position. Basically my job is to keep the other team’s
jammer (the person who scores the points for the team) from getting through the pack while clearing a path for our own jammer.  This is where you see a lot of the big hits. When I’ve played on other pick-up type games (i.e. RollerCon) where derby players come from all over the world and theme teams galore spring up, I play all positions.  For instance, I’ve played the pivot (who often sets the pace of the pack and acts as the last line of defense) or the jammer.  These pick-up games have themes, like Star Trek vs Star Wars, Vegetarians vs Meat Eaters (I think we were officially called Lentilly Deranged vs. Meat Curtains), cats vs dogs, diapers vs depends (under 30/ over 30), things like that.  These are just-for-fun games that don’t count for anything.  Last summer, I even played in a clockwise bout!  That was a lot of fun because we always play counterclockwise.

How long have you been involved with roller derby?  How did you get started?  Did you know the rules when you started or did you learn by doing?

I started the second season of our league. That was in 2005.  I’d won tickets to
the first MNRG bout and had remembered watching roller derby on TV when I was a kid, but the event I was at had these girls on roller skates with these
awesome names on their shirts, and I was like, Wow, this seems really cool.  It was NOTHING like what I saw on TV growing up.  For one thing, they were skating on a flat track and not a banked track like in the old days.  And the uniforms were all unique, there was awesome music; it was just a bit mind blowing!  I’d always hated the idea of team sports, partly because the uniforms were so awful.  In roller derby there were women of all shapes and sizes and skating level.  I knew I would be back.  I ran into a friend [at that first bout] and we decided to go roller skating (cuz heck, we both grew up on roller skates) and then came to future bouts.  When we heard they were having tryouts, we both went and made it; it was the hardest 4 hours I have ever been through.

Photo Credit: Peter Worth Dec 2010

I really had no idea what was going on on the track when I first started watching, I just knew that I wanted to be involved. When I started there were only about 5
pages of rules. Leagues around the country (there were only about 10 at the
time) were making it up as they went along. The rules have since been
standardized, as the sport has grown exponentially and playing inter-league games with different rule sets did not really work out too well.  There are over 40
pages of rules now!  And yes, we are tested on them.  If you are interested in learning more about the rules, this is the place to go.  The rules definitely needed to change to ensure the game was safe for all players, with the sorts of scenarios coming up and increased skill level of the skaters.

How much time do you spend practicing? Have you always been a great skater?

We have practice generally 3 times a week, 2 hours at a time.  All-stars have extra
time.  I grew up on ice skates and roller skates so I was okay with making the
transition.

What’s the worst injury you’ve sustained during play?

A few weeks into derby, we learned to do shoulder hits and then were sent out
to play Queen of the Rink [basically a derby version of Last Man Standing, with one remaining player skating in bounds.]  I got hit by a vet skater and landed on my shoulder. The result was a shoulder impingement. I didn’t get it treated right away and it still flares up a bit to this day. In subsequent years we have figured out ways to make it safer for new skaters.  Like I said earlier, in the beginning we were just making things up as we went along, because the re-emergence of the sport was so new.  Today our rookies go through a summer of boot camp to build up skills before they get to be put on a home team. This has been a wonderful way for them to bond and build up the confidence and skills before they get drafted.

Photo Credit: Peter Worth Nov 2010

What’s the best thing about playing roller derby?

I don’t know if I can say just one thing. It’s been awesome for me to learn to
play a team sport, get regular exercise, and meet really fabulous women.  We have a ton of awesome volunteers who keep us running smoothly and fans who support us.  I love the kids who are so excited to be at the bouts.  We now have co-ed junior derby in the twin cities for youngsters interested in becoming future players. It melts my heart when they want my autograph.  It’s strange to have these kids look up to us; I mean I get it, but I never thought I would be in that position.  Playing has also given me the opportunity to develop leadership skills, as our organization is owned and run by the skaters, for the skaters.

What’s the worst thing (if any) about playing roller derby?

I wish we had more public bouts. 🙂

How does your team travel? Are you sponsored? Do you get paid for playing or is it strictly volunteer?

We have a travel team called the All-Stars. They are comprised of skaters from
all 4 home teams. They are the ones that do the inter-league travel and
tournaments that count towards our rankings. This year though, our home teams have had opportunities to travel in the region to play other teams. It’s always a lot of fun to play new and unfamiliar people.  We are very fortunate to have a lot of support with awesome sponsors like PBR.  But we are unpaid athletes. We donate proceeds to charity.

How would you describe yourself? Age? Occupation? What else do you enjoy outside the arena?

I’m 38 and have historically earned my income in the non-profit/government/health care/education sectors. Currently I’m back in school through a great program made to retrain folks in “green” careers.  I’m now involved with starting a Transition Town in my neighborhood, something that’s been really exciting for me.  I tend to have a lot of interests that are all over the board. Off the bat, I can say I’m crazy about cats, organic gardening, low-impact living, science fiction, antiques and traveling. I also like to play tennis and ride my bike, and I want to learn how to sew.

So there you have it, folks.  Roller derby – one of the most empowering sports for women EVER, is growing exponentially and is only getting better.  A sport played by women, with teams owned by the players themselves, who – rather than capitalize on the proceeds, donate it all to charity.  Could it get any better??  My sincere thanks to Supersonik! for allowing me to do this interview, and to both Lucas Saugen & Peter Worth for kindly allowing me to reprint their photographs.

Think you’ve got what it takes?
Watch Supersonik! in MNRG’s 2009 Season Trailer: Bad Mother Rollers.

The Giant Puffball Mushroom

Nature is FASCINATING. Especially for someone like me who loves food. Although I’ve never been daring enough to collect and consume wild mushrooms – mostly b/c I have no idea what I’m doing and would likely wind up dead or whacked out of my mind – I still enjoy discovering the abundance of fungi out there. Just look at this one I found in Vermont, which looks quite egg-y to me:

mushroom

Or this one, also from VT, which resembles a giant puffy pancake.

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My husband recently introduced me to this online program – a mushroom catalog, detailing which are edible and which lethal. I particularly like the little emoticon faces – from happy to ill, and worse.

I visit a local nature refuge several times a week.  This fall has brought forth several remarkable mushrooms, each the size of a soccer ball.  I was FLOORED the first time I saw one. WOW! Look at the SIZE OF THAT THING!  Of course my husband and I – being the way we are – immediately grabbed one and began kicking it back and forth to each other.  After a few kicks…BAM! it exploded, and we were left with large white chunks.  We realized the whole mushroom had been solid, rather than hollow.  It struck me as so remarkable that I decided to take a few photographs and do a little research.

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When I got home, I googled “GIANT PUFFBALL” and Whaddaya know?! CHA-CHING! The Giant Puffball Mushroom, or Calvatia gigantea

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Giant puffballs resemble the white button mushrooms you find in every supermarket, but are smooth solid white globes, lacking gills of any sort. The ones we’ve found have been no more than 12 inches in diameter, but puffballs can be as small as golf balls or as large as medicine balls – some weighing up to 40 POUNDS. The young, all-white mushrooms are edible and said to be quite tasty, w/ a flavor akin to tofu or melted cheese. For more detailed information on consuming giant puffballs, see the following RecipeTips entry.

As the Giant Puffballs age, they eventually split and turn yellow, and then brown, as they begin to spore.  I found a specimen at Tinicum which had opened and begun the process.

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puffball4

Once they reach this stage, giants puffballs are INEDIBLE. (Not that anyone in their right mind would be interested in gobbling that mess up.. But still. I offer the warning.)

For more information on Giant Puffballs, check out the following websites:

Tom Volk’s entry w/ FUNNY PHOTOS is definitely worth a click.
Wikipedia entry on Calvatia gigantea
Wildman Steve Brill’s entry on the Giant Puffball
David Fischer’s American Mushrooms entry on BEST EDIBLE WILD MUSHROOMS: Giant Puffball

Mantid Love.

We have a large butterfly bush in our front yard which attracts a huge variety of insects.  Butterflies (of course), as well as all types of bees, flies, – this year we even had a hummingbird!  Pretty darn rare in the city.  Anyway. b/c of the number of butterflies, this bush is also home to a large cadre of praying mantises.  Mantids LOVE butterflies.  Their tender juicy middles in particular.  After gobbling them up, they drop the butterflies’ colorful but otherwise unappealing wings to the floor below.  So all summer long, while I’m weeding the garden, my daughters are gathering up the wings like so many discarded petals.

When I was a kid I never saw a praying mantis.  But I clearly remember people saying they were endangered, and telling me never to kill one.  I believe it was illegal at the time (the 1980s), but I haven’t been able to confirm or deny that.  All I know for certain is that mantids are thriving in 2008 – at least in our yard.  If a postage-sized stamp of a garden in the middle of a city is any indication of the greater picture, I’d say they’re doing fine.

And yet each time we find a praying mantis, you’d think it was the very first time.  We drop everything.  Holla to each other.  COME QUICK!  B/c we all want to see.  Their thoughtful eyes and slender grace are fascinating.  My daughters found a small one several weeks ago – of all places, beneath a checkout in Trader Joes.  They scooped him up, and carried him out of the store.  He seemed happy to be free.  But rather than hop off outside the exit, he rode for blocks on my older daughter’s hand.  Only once we reached the Market Street bridge did he fly off, soaring stories into the sky.

We’ve been fortunate enough to capture several others over the years.  Not in any box, but on film.  My skillful husband took these photos a couple weeks ago of a pair mating, and I just had to share them.  They are beautiful.  The text is excerpted from the North Forty News.  Many thanks for sharing.

PS: We now have a large egg case on one of the branches.  Here’s to next year’s offspring!

This brings us to the delicate subject of mantid love – or, more precisely, mantid sexual behavior.

Slender adult male mantids, smaller than the female, usually feature brown tones in contrast to the female’s greens. They display rather slow, deliberate care around prospective mates, often approaching from the rear and leaping on the female’s ample back when close enough. Females warrant this caution, even though their substantial weight keeps them grounded while males can fly, because a female may hunger for a substantial meal more than sex.

Sometimes she wants both.

Even attached and fully engaged, a male may literally lose his head servicing his chosen female. The female can swivel her head in a disconcertingly human-like gesture and decapitate her suitor. This may not even interrupt the act at hand. One author states that “removal of the male’s head, the bit which the female eats first, releases the male’s genitalia from nervous inhibition from the brain and leads to incessant copulatory movements.”

The smartest–or the luckiest–males avoid this circumstance, however, leap off their temporarily groggy paramour and run quickly away. Such mortal danger may insure that only the smartest males live to mate again.

Once inseminated, a female searches for a plant stem or fence post suitable for making an egg case and laying her eggs. Usually she selects a location 1 to 4 feet off the ground and constructs a case that resembles tan foam with the texture of a roasted marshmallow. Chinese mantids build round cases; the Europeans flatten theirs on one side.

Differences between butterflies and moths

I took the ladies to the Academy of Natural Sciences last week, and one of our very favorite exhibits there is called BUTTERFLIES! I like it almost as much as the stuffed bird room on the third floor, and the super sweet Cowbird in the Children’s room who absolutely loves my older daughter and always talks to her when we visit. Cowie, Cowie, he calls, and puts his head down for a scratch. ANYWAY. At the Buttterflies! exhibit, we spoke w/ a friendly & highly knowledgeable staff person who explained to us the difference between moths & butterflies, something I had always wondered about but never quite knew.

Three easy ways of identifying a MOTH vs. BUTTERFLY:

1) Moths are mostly nocturnal, i.e., they’re active at night and rest during the day. Butterflies are the opposite – awake during the day, at rest during the night.

2) Moths, when they rest, spread their wings out to each side, wide open. Butterflies, on the other hand, close their wings together & keep them upright. They may gently beat them up and down while feeding, but mostly keep them closed rather than spread to each side.

3) Moths have short, feathery antennae, while butterflies have long, thin antennae w/ a “club” (nub-like doo-da) at the tip.

Some other interesting facts (excerpted from National Geographic Kids magazine):

Atlas Moths are the largest moths in the world, some w/ a wingspan of 12 inches. But they live for only three days. Sad.

Monarch Butterflies eat poisonous milkweed plants, rendering them toxic to other animals. Other types of Butterflies, such as the Viceroy, mimic the Monarchs coloring to fool predators into avoiding them as well.

Butterflies have sensory organs on their legs which act as tastebuds — so they can literally “taste” how ripe fruit is just by landing on it. PRETTY COOL.

When butterflies emerge from their chrysalis cocoons, their wings are crumpled and wet. If they don’t unfurl them properly and let them dry, their wings will stay wrinkled and they won’t be able to fly.

Caterpillars are eating machines. Some may grow to 100 times their original size.

Click HERE to read about the Four Stages of Butterfly & Moth Metamorphosis: Egg, Larva (Caterpillar), Pupa and Adult.

Lastly, my younger daughter & I very much enjoyed a picture book about Butterflies called Gotta Go! Gotta Go! by Sam Swope & Sue Riddle. I dare you to read it and NOT have the catchline stuck in your head for weeks.

gottago