Saturday, July 30, 2005

A Great Sign!
Thought I needed to share this photo of the sign placed at the Glades and Hills Creek Falls by the US Forest Service. Sad commentary but it makes the point. This photo taken at the Falls of Hills Creek.

The Falls of Hills Creek Scenic Area consists of a 114 acre scenic site located within the Monongahelia National Forest .

The geology of the Falls of Hills Creek Scenic Area consists of exposed layers of hard sandstone over much softer layers of red shale. As water ran down these alternating hard and soft layers, it began to rapidly cut away the soft shale. As a result, the shale was eroded from underneath the sandstone, causing blocks of stone to break away when there was no shale left to support them. As the stream coursed over one of these breaks, a waterfall was born.

Three waterfalls of increasing height are found along the ¾ mile trail that makes the steep descent into the Hills Creek Gorge.

The first falls is a 25 foot cascade. The middle falls measures 45 feet and is the widest of the three falls. The final falls plummets 63 feet over a sandstone break. The lower falls is the second largest in West Virginia. (The highest is Blackwater Falls and Sandstone Falls on the New River is the largest.)

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Cranberry Glades
I was thinking this evening of special places that are close to this biologist’s heart. The Cranberry Glades is one of those special areas. Cranberry Glades (750 acres) was designated as a Natural Area within the Monongahelia National Forest on November 7, 1949. At an elevation of 3375 feet, the Cranberry Natural site is the most extensive bog area in West Virginia. Because of it’s unique conditions, some unusual plants (including insectivorous plants) and animals live here and this is the southern-most point in North America for some of these life forms. Many of these unique plants are descended from seeds that took root here over 10,000 years ago. Following are pictures of the bloom of the insectivorous pitcher plant.

The Cranberry Glades consists of four bogs whose plant and animal life is similar to that found in the bogs or “muskegs” of the north.
Big Glade – 60 acres
Flag Glade – 28 acres
Long Glade – 20 acres
Round Glade – 8 acres

The ½ mile boardwalk extends through Round and Flag Glades.

The Glades takes their name from the cranberries, both Large (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and Small (V. oxycoccus), that thrive here.

Although much of the glades is underlain by peat- up to 10 feet thick in places- the peat is in is in turn underlain by algal ooze and the ooze by marl. (H.C Darlington, 1943) This is the headwaters of the Cranberry River.

Take Route 39/55 East from Richwood, WV to the Cranberry Glades. Take a picnic lunch and enjoy the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center located nearby.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Cicada Killers!

While visiting my Mom, her neighbors, David and Maria, called me over to look at strange mounds in their newly graded yard. It was obvious by the U-shaped dirt around the hole that these were the nests of one of our largest wasps – the Cicada Killers. Cicada Killers are seen in early summer. After mating, the female wasp digs a burrow about six inches deep in the soil. Inside the burrow, she will make several cells, or small oval-shaped chambers.

This wasp lives at the edges of forests, in gardens, and in waste places. Adult Cicada Killers eat very little, getting their energy from flower nectar. Larvae eat cicadas.

As we were looking at the neat mounds of dirt, a female Cicada Killer arrived with her prey. The wasp is able to carry a cicada that may weigh three times her own weight! One of the Cicada Killers landed about a foot from the opening into her nesting chambers. It was amazing to see the persistence of this insect in getting the cicada into her burrow. Other female would land at the opening and quickly ship the cicada into her burrow.

The usual story is that, once the female finds a cicada, she will sting it and paralyze the insect. Then the wasp carrys the cicada back to the burrow. She will then put the cicada in one of the cells and lay an egg on it. The female wasp will continue hunting cicadas until she has filled the cells of her burrow. Each cicada body gets its own egg.
In two or three days, a wasp larva will hatch from the egg. The larva immediately begins eating the cicada. When the larva finishes the cicada, leaving only the outer shell (about two weeks), it will then spin a cocoon and hibernate until the following spring. In the spring, the larva will leave its cocoon and become a pupae (resting stage). From the pupa, an adult Cicada Killer will hatch. It will dig its way out of the ground and look for a mate.

Male wasps die shortly after mating. Females die after laying all of their eggs.
Predators of Cicada Killers are the same as those of other wasps, including birds, shrews, and mantids.

Here are a few shots of David and Maria’s Cicada Killer nests. David has counted 13 nests in the small area by their driveway.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

My Snake Adventure! - Part Four (The Conclusion)

During the past three entries, I have been telling the story of the escaped reptile. Yep, finally extracted the snake from the freezer cavity, cleaned up the mess, and now.....

Now it is around 7 AM. I am beat, but I am on a final mission before I can get ready for the Genetics class in an hour. I MUST find the missing and essential part to the male reproductive model. Had I thrown it away in the garbage bag that the good janitor had taken down stairs? Immediately I ran down the stairs to search through this full bag of assorted trash.... She finds me and asks..”Mr. Meads, what are you looking for - can I help?” “NO ..just checking to see if I threw something away”, I responded. Why was I not comfortable in explaining that I was looking for a lost penis? I felt a little like Mr. Bobbitt at the local 7-11 store. Not found! OK, it has to be someplace where it fell. After a detailed inspection, THERE IT WAS... behind a cabinet. Quickly I restored the piece to the appropriate place on the model. All is now well!

I calmly strolled into Genetics class and discussed mutations and DNA translocation. Now you folks know the rest of the story.

PS. By the way... the snake decided that the bunny study skin was not appropriate for his digestive system. He regurgitated the study skin. Guess the ole snake is back to normal.

Postscript – Wrong again! The snake died of wire damage and 20 mule team borax poisoning!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

My Snake Adventure! - Part Three

The saga contines from the previous two postings.

I cleaned up the musk and found on the floor under a cabinet a dead bird and a rat. Where in the world did they come from? At once I realized the stark truth. That stupid snake had eaten the study skins that the Vertebrate Zoology kids in my class had prepared as part of their requirements. (Remember - study skins when completed are skins stuffed with cotton - wires inside for support- and borax as a dehydrating agent.) A closer inspection had revealed that these specimens were at one time in the snake’s tummy.

The python obviously had regurgitated them (slimy appearance of study skins proved my theory correct.). I was amazed as he was able to expel them as they have thick wires sticking out of the skins. The vertebrate students had positioned about twenty skins on a board for drying in that room - we are now down to 18 study skins.

After a closer inspection, I realized the wonderful study skin of a rabbit was missing. (Now down to 17 study skins!!) Yesterday, the student had done such a wonderful job of completing the task that I commented, “Wow, it really is good! Looks so natural.” Right! Obviously the snake thought so too. At this time, the snake has a cotton tail rabbit (and cotton inside) in his belly. I am not running him off to the zoo emergency room, but will see if the stomach acids are as strong as everyone says. If not, is anyone looking for snake check covers? OK, now I’m getting a bit depressed... not only have my students’ projects been swallowed, partially digested, and then thrown up - but one is still in the snake! Snake is still looking happy - can not see a look of constipation of his face.

(Tomorrow the conclusion of My Snake Adventure!)

Monday, July 25, 2005

My Snake Adventure! - Part Two

My first part of this tale described my Burmese python escaping from his habitat in the Vertebrate Zoology lab. The story now continues. Another installment tomorrow!

I immediately went to the task of cleaning. It is now 6:00 A.M. (Genetics class at 8:00 ) and I may have time for a fast coffee and a MacDonald’s biscuit if all goes well. The lady custodian left and said she would find something to put the glass in. After she left, I decided this was the time to place this twelve-foot python in his cage. Should be an easy job - have done it before - millions of times - yep, a snap!

I moved the freezer from the wall and grabbed the snake’s tail. At a speed of 120 miles per hour that durn snake took off and before I knew what had happened it was crawling into the FREEZER. Yes, you say how could this be? Well. friends, let me tell you there was an opening in the back of the freezer that led to a chamber that held the compressor, wires, etc. Snake disappeared into this dark recess. Now I have a snake in the freezer.

I have to take the freezer apart – certainly can not leave him in there. Jean appears at the door. She is returning with the box for disposing of the broken glass. She says “Where is the snake?” I said calmly, “Oh, I put the critter in a bag until I get the cage cleaned.” Oh no!! I lied - again! It, however, is not good to have a snake stuck in a hole three inches from her leg and tell her the truth. She smiled secure in the knowledge that all was well and went off to do her work.

Not known as a master carpenter, I tackled the job with screwdriver in hand. Carefully removing the panels, I discovered the snake. One might say he was really ‘pissed off” (The good wife hates that expression but thought it may be appropriate here.) I was now dealing with a snake from Hell! I grabbed my snake stick and poked at the sucker until he decided to extract himself from the compressor. As he slithered out, I managed to grab his tail.

As most of you know a snake has a wonderful defense mechanism. They expel a vile liquid from their rear end called MUSK. Yep, it smells- and this snake was upset. How do I know?? A quantity (perhaps five gallons!! I may be exaggerating a bit.) of musk was ejected from his cloaca effectively covering my ventral side. It is now 6:34 A.M. and I am smelling like quality musk and have a very angry snake - biting anything that moved. No problem!

I wrestled the beast -(Jungle Jim Fowler would have been proud of me and even Marlin Perkins!) pulling on his muscular body in an unarthritic­-like manner. The snake is trying to get his body under anything that was near. Finally I arrived, by some miracle, at the cage’s door. I threw the long reptile up in the air and body slammed him into the cage. (Physically have no idea how I did this since this guy is heavy. ) The door closed. Heart poundin! Do I call 911? No, guess not - no chest pains! OK, I now have things under control. Right? (WRONG!!!!)

(Read more of this adventure in tomorrow's posting.)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

My Snake Adventure!- Part One

There are many stories in one's teaching experience that need to be shared. I have several books in me and ,hopefully, may get to the writing and publishing in my other life! In the next few days, I will post a story that should be included in my book of biology teaching stories. Hope you enjoy this adventure. (This a request from my tech. buddy, Lee.)

It was in the Spring of 1997. I went to bed at the normal time. The good wife was in Parkersburg that night visiting her mother. I was sleeping soundly when the phone rings at 5:20A.M. Well of course the first thought is who died? Another possibility - perhaps the emergency team is calling to evacuate the town from incoming meteor showers from the Hale-Bopp comet. No, that was not the case!

It was Jean, the lady custodian from the college. She is in charge of cleaning the Science Hall. “Mr. Meads, I hate to wake you, but there is a problem with your big python. It has escaped and made a huge mess in the storage room”. I said untruthfully, Oh, no problem. I just stepped out of the shower". At once I realized how the snake got out... I LEFT THE DURN CAGE OPEN!! “Have no fear?” I said, “Snake catcher Jim is on his way.” As some of my readers realize that this has happened once before. It is becoming more difficult to remember since reaching 50 years and brain cells started dying! Yep, I was feeding the twelve-foot Burmese python and I just forgot to lock the cage door.

After a fast shower (amazing for an arthritic fellow) and a quick donning of my clothes, I was off on THE MISSION. Arriving at the Science Hall, I saw Bud, the other Science Hall custodial staff person, holding a big club. He heard glass breaking and thought the science building was being robbed. He was ready for them and was going to thump them on the anterior end with this large piece of xylem (tree stem)! Jean, however, discovered that the snake was missing from the cage and was pushing off a plethora of glass jars onto the floor as the ole reptile slithered across the shelves. TIME 5:35 A.M.

I quickly inspected the scene. The python had not only made a mess with broken glass, but had also thrown on the ground a stuffed owl and a model of the male reproductive system. After close inspection of the model, I realized that all was fine except for one important part was absent - THE PENIS!! No time to look for the penis now! I have to clean up broken glass. I found the snake behind the freezer just seemingly enjoying all of the activity. My thought was to leave the sucker there until the cleanup job is completed.

(Story will be continued on the next posting.)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Milkweed and Butterflies!

I have talked previously of the uniqueness and marvelous adventures we have experienced in the Dolly Sods Recreational Area and Red Creek. As you enter Laneville, WV on the way up the mounatin to Dolly Sods, you will first cross Red Creek and see the Forest Service Cabin on your left. If the milkweeds are blooming to the right of the cabin, stop and smell the blossoms! What a great, wonderful smell from a poisonous plant. As you know the milkweeds contain glycosides that are very toxic! The famous case of an insect using these toxins for protection is the Monarch Butterfly above. The caterpillar's first meal is its own eggshell. After that, Monarch caterpillars eat the poisonous milkweed leaves to incorporate the milkweed toxins into their bodies in order to poison their predators. Some groups of Monarchs migrate for over 2,000 miles during August-October, flying from Canada and the USA to overwinter in coastal southern California to the transvolcanic mountains of central Mexico.
During one day at Laneville, I photographed the following butterflies feeding on milkweed blossoms. Hope you not only have the opportunity of smelling the flowers, but to see these great butterflies personally!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Beam Scotty Up!
Yes, one of my science fiction heros died today! James Doohan played Montgomery Scott on Gene Roddenberry's TV series "Star Trek". Scotty was the burly chief engineer on the USS Star Ship Enterprise.
As I was growing up, I was enthralled as the characters traveled to strange new worlds. Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Scotty used amazing technology that was fiction in the 60's but now is common place. James Doohan was made famous with Captain Kirk's famous command "Beam me up, Scotty". The series concluded it's final year in 1969.
James Doohan died this morning at age 85 of pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease. Doohan's ashes will be sent into space according to his wishes. Like Gene Roddenberry before him, his ashes will be transported to space by a company called Space Services Inc. The Houston-based company teams with commercial launch organizations in offering memorial services. For a fee, they will transport the ashes of your loved ones into orbit, to the lunar surface, or even into deep space.
Space is not for me. When I pass, I can not think of anything more beautiful than my final resting place being under a flagged red spruce on Dolly Sods -surrounded by blueberries, trailing ground pine, and boulders of Pottsville conglomerate.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Red Creek
There are always special places in a person's life. Red Creek located along Red Creek Trail in the Dolly Sods Scenic Area (Monongahelia National Forest) is one of these for our family. Throughout our lives Red Creek has been a sanctuary that our family has shared. Dolly Sods Red Creek Trail is 8.2 miles in length. The upper portions of this trail lead through a sub-alpine tundra with vegetation (reindeer moss in abundance) otherwise only found in Canada and arctic areas. The trail leads downward through some boggy areas passing beaver dams, expansive meadows, and aspen and spruce groves. As the trail closes in on Red Creek you will have a couple of minor stream crossings. Descending into the Red Creek canyon, the terrain changes dramatically to the more typical eastern forests, marked by abundant firs, oaks, and maples. There are plenty of swimming holes and waterfalls.
It is in these swimming holes that our girls played in the stream and learned important nature and life's lessons. Camping along Red Creek in Laneville was an annual event and was always a gift as our gals grew and matured into the special gals they are today.
I guess this hot and humid weather that we have been having has emphasized the need to feel once again the cool and healing waters of this marvelous stream.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Ok- Harry and Birds!
I am certain you folks were wanting to know if shipped our copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on time. Yes, indeed, the lasted installment of Harry Potter arrived in fine shape. The new Potter book toppled U.S. sales records with 6.9 million copies sold in first 24 hours, more than 250,000 per hour! I guess J.K. Rowling can now afford her high definition plasma television!
Off to feed the birds. Thought it is time for a quiz for you nature lovers. I am including a few photos of birds taken around our house. You will notice the ruby-throated hummingbird. What are the other two birds pictured here? The first ones who answer correctly will get an autographed copy of my invoice from

Friday, July 15, 2005

Harry, Harry! Wherefore Art Thou Harry?
Yes, this morning is a reference to William Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is lamenting Romeo's name, alluding to the feud between the two families. It always amazes me the feuds that folks have over the sillest things. Remember the Hatfield and McCoys feud in Southern West Virginia. (Over a pig!) So goes with the continual conflict with one of my favorite literary characters, Harry Potter.
At 12:01 A.M. in the morning, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Price goes on sale. This is the sixth installment of J. K. Rawlings best-selling series. The best-selling books of all time are: #1 - The Bible, #2- Mao's Little Red Book, and #3 (You guessed it!) the Harry Potter series. has promised delivery of our copy tomorrow. As in the past, the wife and I love the adventures that Rawlings creates. We usually take turns reading the chapters aloud. The current edition will be no different.
Now to the Harry Potter feud! This is where you folks who think reading Harry Potter will turn your children into sinful and satan-loving warlocks and witches. The opposition to Potter is the belief that the books corrupt the hearts of the young, preventing them from developing a properly ordered sense of good and evil, thus harming their relationship with God while that relationship is still in its infancy. It seems that even Pope Benedict is in this field of opposition.
My comment is, for heavens sake, these are stories and great ones! These books are responsible for creating a unique reading environment. If you are worried about the hearts and morals of your childen; talk with them, hug them often, and treat them with respect. Parents must spend quality time with their kids if they wish to teach them the time-honored virtues of trust, responsibility, sense of good and evil, civility, religious values, and caring.
As my friend, Diana Frank says "The End!" She is the one who stops us when we are on our soap box.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Reading the paper today, I noticed the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh will be the first museum in the United States and only museum in the eastern part of the country to exhibit The Mysterious Bog People. It will be at the museum July 9, 2005 through January 23, 2006. My wife had an early desire to be an archeologist, but her path in life led her into the teaching of English, Communications, and Drama. I am certain that we will be traveling to Pittsburg to see this exhibit.
One day several years ago, the good wife wanted to go to Phillipi to see the mummies of Barbour County. Housed in the Barbour County Historical Museum (which is in the renovated train station), the mummies reside in a separate room that was obviously a restroom.
Newspaper articles taped to the tile walls tell the story of these two unclaimed bodies from the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, which were given to a local man who wanted to demonstrate an embalming recipe he discovered in the Bible. The recipe consisted of water, saltpeter, and absorbable fumes that arise from the combustion of sublimed sulfur. In the late 1800s, the mummies toured Europe with P.T. Barnum.
Mummy owner "Bigfoot" Byer donated the mummies to the museum and now a quarter of the $3-4,000 dollars collected each year goes to a football scholarship. Bigfoot's brother was a football coach. Avanelle W. Myers, who started the museum, refused to let the mummies in, but they were on display a week after she died.
Yes, we had one of those wonderful mini-vacation adventures that we enjoy so much. Here are a few shots of the mummies of Barbour County for your perusal!

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Revisited
Yesterday I discussed the exciting news that the US woodpecker that was thought to be extinct was still existing in Arkansas. Published in the journal Science on its Science Express Web site (April 28, 2005), the findings include multiple sightings of the elusive woodpecker and frame-by-frame analyses of brief video footage. The evidence was gathered during an intensive year-long search in the Cache River and White River national wildlife refuges involving more than 50 experts and field biologists working together as part of the Big Woods Conservation Partnership, led by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University and The Nature Conservancy.

I mentioned the great field biologist, Arthur Allen. Allen was the first professor of ornithology in the United States and came to Cornell as an undergraduate in 1903.

I would like to tell a story that is documented in the Cornell University archives. In the spring of 1924, Cornell ornithologist Arthur Allen and his wife Elsa were traveling in Florida when they decided to check out an alleged sighting of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Ivory-bills had not been seen for several years. The Allens managed to find a pair and decided to study the birds by observing them but elected not to camp nearby for fear of disturbing what might be the last nesting pair. Much to their dismay, a pair of local taxidermists got a permit and shot the birds legally while the Allens were away.

What can I say?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

There are Woodpeckers and There Is THE Woodpecker!

Every morning I do my "bird chore". I fill the feeder with sunflower seeds and place quality suet in the holes of the feeder logs. The suet is made of oats, peanut butter, sugar, corn meal, flour, and lard. It is a wonderful mixture that the birds love.

As I watch, a parade of wrens, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, morning doves, and sparrows visit the feeders. I especially enjoy the constant visits of the woodpeckers. Everyday we see Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, and the magnificent Pileated woodpeckers.

Watching the crow-sized Pileated woodpeckers makes one appreciate the news that the rarest of the US woodpeckers were rediscovered this spring. The sketch above is of the Ivory-billed woodpecker which had not been seen since 1946. After 60 years the Ivory-billed was rediscovered living in the Big Woods of Eastern Arkansas. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is the second-largest woodpecker in the world, slightly smaller than the closely related Imperial Woodpecker of western Mexico. It measures from 48–53 cm (19 to 21 in) in length and 450–570 g weight, with short legs and feet ending in large, curved claws.

I thought you would enjoy these photos of Ivory-billed woodpeckers taken by Arthur Allen and Peter Paul Kellogg. Cornell University professors Arthur Allen and Peter Paul Kellogg led the Brand-Cornell University-American Museum of Natural History Ornithological Expedition in Northern Louisana in 1935.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Monster Rattlesnake!
I have recently posted some nature photos and photos of area festivals. One can not help note the Clay County, West Virginia, rattlesnake that has been in the news recently. In my 34 years of teaching biology, I have had students bring in photos of hugh snakes that definitely were hoaxes. I have even had folks kill a rattlesnake and then stretch it across the hot radiator of the car. After hours of driving, the poor reptile will greatly increased it's length. The Clay County snake is, indeed, another classic case of a hoax. (Reptiles always make good fodder for great exaggerated stories!)The Clay County article stated that this WV reptile weighed 50 pounds and another stated it was 118 pounds (I like the exactness of scientific measurement). It was 8 feet in length. Well, dear hearts, notice how close the snake is to the camera lens in comparison to the brave souls who have killed this massive reptile! By using this technique, one can get great photos of monster minnows. You will also note that the fellow holding this 50 pound snake at the end of the stick has Herculean strength. Try connecting a 50 pound bag of flour to a five foot stick and holding it out in front of your body!! Well, we all realize that the length and weight of this animal are not realistic. The really great thing about this Clay County, WV, reptile is that this species does not live in our state. The photo is of a Western Diamondback rattlesnake. The only rattlesnake in our region is the Eastern Timber Rattlesnake.
I need a photo of a 25 pound Luna moth! Please send photo as soon as possible. (Chuckle)

2005 Folk Festival Quilt Show
Thimbles and Threads Guild

Friday, July 08, 2005

Fall Scenes
Canaan Valley/Blackwater Falls
October, 2004