JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort
adjoining Chichén Itzá Ruins in
Yucatán, MÉXICO

April 10, 2016

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UAYCHIVO POOP
Word was going around our Maya staff that a uaychivo had pooped next to a building at the Hacienda. When the news reached me, I had to ask what a uaychivo is.

"They're bad people who at night turn themselves into an animal, then roam around doing bad things," I was told. The story continued that when the uaychivo poops it produces an egglike thing under the ground where the poop falls. The egglike thing then ripens and rises to the ground's surface where it forms the unnatural and terribly stinking thing spotted here. They told me where the uaychivo poop was so I went to photograph it, and it's shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410ua.jpg

The flattish, faded object in the picture's center is an old one, and the reddish one at the lower left is fresher, though it, too, is fading. The dead millipede is the endemic Chichen Itza Bumblebee Millipede we looked at in February, described at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/chichen.htm

The two pinkish, honeycombed things in the pictures aren't mysterious at all and we've encountered them several times. They're mushrooms sometimes called Wiffleball Stinkhorns, Clathrus crispus, and you can see a well-formed one on our Wiffleball Stinkhorn page at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/stinkegg.htm

The stinkhorn's stench attracts flies and other critters looking for putrefied matter, the flies get the fungus's stinky goo on their legs, the goo contains the mushroom's spores, and then the fly flies away disseminating the spores, which is what the stinkhorn wants.

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UAYCHIVOS & WÁAY PEEKS
The name "uaychivo" is interesting. A Maya table-waiter explained to me that of course a chivo is a goat, but it's also a word for the Devil. In fact, the Devil often is illustrated as a goatlike creature. "Uay!" is what people here might exclaim if they encounter something extraordinary, the way a gringo might say "Wow!" Therefore, according to my friend, the word "uaychivo" can more or less be translated as "wow-devil."

However, in last year's October 4th Newsletter written in Yaxunah, Maya villagers told us about wáays, wáays being witch-doctor-type people who change back and forth between certain kinds of animals, usually dogs and cats. Despite my Maya friend's interpretation of "uay" as "wow," I think the words wáay and uaychivo are closely related. Using Spanish rules of spelling, wáay also could be written uáay. I think the Maya of Yaxunah and the Chichén Itzá area are talking about the same thing.

Back in Yaxunah we were told of different kinds of "wáays," each based on a different kind of animal. A dog-wáay is a "wáay peek," and I wrote then that wáay peeks "...usually don't do much except freak people out, the way the big, white dog does in Yaxunah -- though there are stories of wáay peeks who do such mischief as steal food off people's tables, or even crawl up onto beds of pretty girls and lick them all over."

Here in the Chichén Itzá area, uaychivos seem to have a meaner streak to them than Yaxunah's wáays. Also, instead of simply changing back and forth between their human and their animal forms, here the human removes his or her own head and replaces it with that of an animal before more or less becoming that animal until it's time to be human again, when the heads are returned to their normal bodies.

The dead Chichen Itza Bumblebee Millipede possibly died where it is, just coincidentally ending up next to two uaychivo poops. However, also at Yaxunah we saw that sometimes hunters deep inside the forest, if they see a certain unusual cavity in a rock wall, for example, or maybe an oddly formed rock that's obviously natural but seems crafted by human hand, then the hunter may leave there a modest "offering" -- maybe a flower, or a pretty leaf. No one would explain to me why this is done, but intuition told me that it's a gesture of the visitor saying, "I know that this spot belongs to a spirit, and that I am an outsider here, so with this offering I'm recognizing the spirit's presence and right to be here, and I ask that it let me come and go as I must."

This reminds me of something I wrote in October, 1996, in Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, in Tarahumara territory in northwestern Mexico, when I didn't know about these matters:

"... in late afternoon I scout for a camping spot there. Well hidden behind a tangle of briars, eroded into a vertical rock face about five feet above the little stream's floodplain, I find a cavity almost too perfect to be true. Perfectly dry, a little longer than I am, and deep enough for my whole body to fit into, nature could not have provided a better sleeping platform. An egg-size rock lies in the hollow's exact center. The rock is of a curious shape, color, and texture, completely different from the material forming surrounding cliffs and boulders. Clearly, someone has carried this rock from some distance away and left it here on purpose."

That's from my 1996 Mexican Birding Trip book, online at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexbirds/

Whatever the history of that little rock in Chihuahua, I think that here this week one of the workers felt a little less anxious about uaychivo poop on the Hacienda grounds after leaving the dead millipede next to it.

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SLIME MOLD FRUITING BODIES ON THE HUT'S WALL-POLES
In the hut, my computer sits on a table next to a pole wall. On the hottest afternoons nearly always a little breeze passes between the poles, keeping the computer and me cooler than outside. To rest my eyes or to gather thought, often I look between the poles at the world outside. Sometimes birds hop on the ground right below me, or a big iguana rambles through with bulging throat pouches. You can see the wall at my head level at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410sm.jpg

In that picture where light streams in from outside, between some of the poles you can barely see tiny, slender, blackish, little match-stick-like things projecting into the openings perpendicularly from the poles. A close-up of some of those items is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410sn.jpg

They look like very tiny mushrooms, but they're not a kind of fungus at all. They're dried-up slime mold fruiting bodies waiting for wet weather. Slime molds aren't fungi, aren't plants and aren't animals. They belong to a kingdom of organisms called protists. They have complex life cycles that can include an animal-like phase during which it moves around under rotting logs, damp leaves and such, feeding and growing, and a plantlike reproductive phase during which it stays in one place, like those on the hut's pole walls.

Slime molds often are colorful, and always are strange. Around the hut, during the rainy season, we've documented various kinds, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/slime.htm

On that page some white fruiting bodies may be the same as our wall ones, before they dry out and turn black.

Especially back in humid Mississippi, which seems to be slime mold heaven, we've met many kinds of them. You might enjoy reviewing the yellow one attacking mushrooms on a log, nicely pictured at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/x/slimewar.htm

Also in Mississippi we photographed the protagonists in an article entitled "Dog Vomit Eats Wolf's Milk," at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/x/dogvomit.htm

And we saw big, orange heaps of slime on grapevine stems, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/x/orgslime.htm

And slime mold fruiting bodies that were long and slender, not spherical like those on the wall here, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/x/stemonit.htm

That's something nice about Nature study: At a certain point you start recognizing variations on certain natural themes, and that's pleasing, like hearing a musical melody repeated again and again, but each time a little differently, and each time revealing a little more about the basic theme, and maybe the creator of the music.

With slime molds, the basic theme already is mind-boggling, and every new variation just adds a new boggle.

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CRUCILLO'S TRICKY FLOWERS
Along a trail through Hacienda Chichen's woods an eight-ft-tall tree (2.5m) bore familiar-looking leaves, shown glowing in early morning sunlight at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410rd.jpg

The tree's leaves arose in tufts along the branches, and the branches bore pairs of short, straight spines, and occasional black balls that either could have been old, decaying fruits or insect galls resulting from parasitized smaller fruits, all shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410re.jpg

The leaves were familiar but the flowers were unlike anything I'd ever seen. They had "inferior ovaries," meaning that the corolla and sexual parts arose atop the ovary instead of at its base, which is the more common condition, and the stamens' anthers peaked up between crinkly-margined corolla lobes, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410rf.jpg

A front view of the flower better shows the anthers on the rim of the corolla's throat, which either is filled with morning dew, nectar or a combination, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410rg.jpg

This turns out to be Crucillo, Randia obcordata, which we saw flowering last June at the mangroves' edge at Río Lagartos. Our well illustrated page on the species appears at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/randia.htm

The little tree tricked me this time because when fresh the flowers are pure white, their margins aren't crinkled, and their corolla tubes are longer. I lost some Iding time by not recognizing that I was working with an old blossom turning black.

Still, it's good to show different faces of these species because I suspect I won't be the last to spend a lot of time trying to identify a flower looking like the one in this week's pictures.

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GAUMER'S CUPHEA
The unusual small showers that recently we've enjoyed here during the mid dry season have caused the landscape to flush with a little greenness, and certain wildflowers to blossom. It seems that some of these opportunistic bloomers are special, as is the case with the violet-flowered, knee-high herb shown along a shadowy trail through the Hacienda's forest at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410cu.jpg

A close-up shows its distinctive and unusual blossom at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410cv.jpg

Instead of the flower bearing a normal number of five petals, these blossoms have six -- a number usually expected among the monocots (lilies, orchids, etc.), while this plant clearly is a dicot. Instead of the petals arising at the ovary's base along with the calyx and sepals -- the more typical configuration -- these flowers' petals attach to the calyx's rim, between the calyx lobes. And the tubular calyx itself is remarkable, being so strongly ribbed with numerous hair-bearing ribs, and bent, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410cw.jpg

Here we see that not only do the hairs look stiff and broad-based, but also their tips are affixed with sticky glands. Also, the bent calyx tube bulges on one side at its base.

It's hard to forget such an unusual blossom type, and in fact up North we've seen several such blossoms, though of different species. This blossom is typical of the genus Cuphea of the Loosestrife Family, the Lythraceae. Some Cuphea species are fairly common and appreciated wildflowers up north. Their close relatives, the Loosestrifes -- genus Lythrum -- produce similarly structured flowers, except that their calyx tubes are straight, not bent like Cuphea's.

Our plant is CUPHEA GAUMERI, which has no English name because it's endemic only to the Yucatan Peninsula. I don't think anyone will object if here we start calling it Gaumer's Cuphea, however. We've encountered several plants endemic to the Yucatan bearing George Franklin Gaumer's name. You can read why at the bottom of our Gaumer's Skullcap page at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/scutgaum.htm

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WHEATSPIKE SCALY STEM
Another small wildflower blossoming during this unusual flush of shower-inspired greenness during the heart of the dry season is the ankle-high, stemless, white-flowered one shown rooted in very thin soil atop limestone rock along a trail through the shadowy woods at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410el.jpg

Viewed from the front we can see that the flowers' five corolla lobes are notched at their tips, plus only two small stamens are present, and at the top of the corolla tube opening there's some kind of flap or tooth, all shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410en.jpg

A side view of the flower shows that the corolla's slender, almost vertical tube curves outward and enlarges at its mouth, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160410em.jpg

In that picture also we see that the flower's calyx lobes are long with needle-like tips. A further important feature is that each flower is subtended by a stiff, green, conspicuous scale.

At first I thought that with such a corolla the plant had to belong to the Verbena Family, but eventually the importance of the two stamens and conspicuous scale below each flower dawned on me. Then it was clear that we had a member of the Acanthus Family, the Acanthaceae. At that point it became a simple chore of comparing our plant with each species of that family listed for the Yucatan.

Our little wildflower is ELYTRARIA BROMOIDES, sometimes known by the awkward name Wheatspike Scaly Stem. It enjoys an English name because it occurs from southern Texas south through Mexico to about Guatemala.

Some authors say that one way to distinguish Wheatspike Scaly Stem from other scaly stem species -- other species of the genus Elytraria -- is that Wheatspike Scaly Stem's leaves are crinkle-margined, while other species' aren't. You can see that our plant's leaves are smooth. Maybe it's because our plant was in a shady environment on thin soil atop limestone, or maybe it's a variation. The species is so poorly known that it's hard to say.

However, I bet that someday a student of the genus will be tickled to see our pictures and to know that in April it can flower here in the central Yucatan Peninsula, and that at least sometimes the leaves of ours aren't crinkle-margined.

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ON HAVING NOTHING INSIGHTFUL TO SAY
This week I spent a lot of time wrestling with a Newsletter essay that ended up thrown away. It wasn't wasted time, however, because now I see that there's something to say about the struggle, and necessity, of honestly criticizing one's own ideas and works, and maybe giving up on them.

First of all, the experience reminded me of the homely but elemental fact that sometimes what at first seems like a brilliant idea, once it's scrutinized, turns out to be a bad idea. That lesson led to the second one -- that it can be hard to give up on your own idea. An idea is like a mother's child: You really want to believe in it.

We've seen that the Six Miracles of Nature concept outlined at http://www.backyardnature.net/j/6/ makes clear that all things evolve toward greater diversity, with the parts ever more interdependent, and it seems that the trend is for living things to refine themselves. My own limited experience with the refining process is that it seems to lead toward not only a more penetrating mentality, but also a mentality that automatically, naturally, and maybe miraculously, becomes imbued with empathy and other feelings.

The Six Miracles concept serves us well by providing a general outline of what universal reality seems to be doing. However, by itself, it doesn't explain to us, for example, what empathy might look like. Is empathy giving a kid ice cream, or a lecture on how harmful too much sweetness is? Nor does the Six Miracle concept show us how to identify genius. Does being smart mean having only good ideas, or is reality structured so that bad ideas not only are inevitable but also maybe even necessary?

I don't know the answers to these questions but I do know that usually when someone else suggests an essay theme, I do OK developing it by adding my own perspective. However, this week's aborted essay was on a topic I thought up all by myself and wasn't even inspired by something I'd seen in Nature. Therefore, as in Nature where ecosystems composed of many interdependent species are more stable and sustainable than monocultures, now I'm clearer than ever that several minds working on an a idea normally produce better results than just one.

Here's another lesson from this week's failed effort: Refinement comes about by the balanced application of self-criticism and fault-seeking. "Balanced," because too little self-criticism and the refinement doesn't happen but, too much, and you get depressed, and again the refinement doesn't happen.

If ever a community of people should araise believing that the Six Miracles of Nature concept helps us see important basic facts about what's going on in the Universe, maybe the highest calling of that community would be these two goals:

1): For the entire community to contribute to developing good ideas for living sustainably and lovingly on Planet Earth

2): For the entire community to refine those ideas by subjecting them to doubt and criticism, and giving up on them when they prove to be faulty, while putting them into practice if they prove to be sound.

[PS: Sometimes I feel ashamed to write such simple, self-evident opinions as are expressed above, but when I listen to what's being said elsewhere it becomes clear that repeating such mother-to-child elemental facts of life again and again might be appropriate.]

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WANDER TIME AGAIN
My Mexican visa is about to expire so once again I need to leave the country in order to return and get a new one. I'll be leaving Monday, April 11th. On these trips you never know what you'll run into, how much time it'll take, or even if the the visa will be granted. I may be able to issue the Newsletter at the usual time next week, or I may disappear for some weeks. As I have sometimes said, the idea is to stay alert and flexible.

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Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.