JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods near Ek Balam Ruins north of Valladolid in
Yucatán, MÉXICO

May 21, 2017

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TREEFROG IN THE GARBAGE DUMP
Last weekend the dry season ended with 67mm of rainfall (2.6inches) over two days. On a blissfully soggy Monday morning as I slogged toward the garden frogs were calling, and I followed their sound to our garbage dump. There, in a broken basket filled with shattered glass, splintered plastic sheets, moldering cardboard and mosquito-larvae-infested water I found two frogs mating, a gaudily yellow-green, little one atop a much larger, brownish one. Before the camera could be focused, the male hopped off the female, who quickly disappeared into the mess. The male, however, struck the pose shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170521cq.jpg

With its small size and the large, round pads at toe tips, this is clearly a treefrog. I've not seen many treefrogs in the Yucatan, and certainly none of such a flashy chartreuse color.

However, once the image was on my screen so that those heavy bony ridges showed up between the eyes, and I noticed how the whole top of the head seemed to be of a different texture from the skin, I felt sure that this was just a color variation of the Yucatan Casqueheaded Treefrog we saw at Hacienda Chichen back in 2010, profiled at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/caskhead.htm

On that page you can see that that frog, found in a water tank, displayed very different coloration. Maybe it was a brownish female like the one our colorful male had been atop.

It'd be valuable to fieldworkers if I could provide a good description of this frog's call. However, the calls that attracted me to the garbage dump wasn't being made by our treefrog. That junky old box must have contained several frogs of different species.

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"TOO MANY TOADS" UPDATE #3
At http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/gulftoad.htm we're following a little pond at the rancho overpopulated with Gulf Coast Toad tadpoles. Last week the first tadpoles began appearing with tiny, spindly legs. This week, those individuals are more toad than tadpole, their legs much enlarged as their tails seem to shrink, and already they're spending considerable time outside the water, like the one shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170521t4.jpg

Probably this is the last "Too Many Toads" update because for irrigation the pond has been mostly drained and refilled, the vast majority of tadpoles seen earlier being poured with the water onto crops. Also, last weekend the dry season ended with 67mm of rainfall (2.6inches), after which another orgy took place, this time with other species besides Gulf Coast Toads participating.

This second orgy may have been even more rambunctious than the first, the number of eggs being produced really impressive, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170521t5.jpg

In that picture, the slender strands of black, beadlike items are gelatinous strings of toad eggs. A close-up showing individual eggs embedded in gelatin is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170521t6.jpg

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SILK COTTONTREE IN FRUIT
In this area as the dry season draws to an end, mostly in March and April, one of the most eye-catching presences along roads and in old cornfields that have been abandoned for a few years is a leafless, smallish tree with thick stems, at the tips of which large, golden-yellow flowers appear. This is the Silk Cottontree, profiled at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/cochlosp.htm

Nowaday the tree's spectacular flowers have produced baseball-size fruits that are splitting open to release seeds attached to white, cottony hairs, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170521cc.jpg

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SWEETSOP/ SARAMUYO FLOWERING
At http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/sweetsop.htm we meet the cultivated tree producing a succulent, sweetly delicious fruit variously known as Sweetsop, Sugar-Apple, or Saramuyo. Until now we've only looked at the Sweetsop's fruits, but nowadays its branches bear flowers, one of which is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170521ao.jpg

A close-up shows the inch-long (2.5cm) flower's greenish-yellow petals, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170521an.jpg

In that picture at first we notice only three petals, but if you look very close you can see that in the sinuses between the three yellowish petals, at the very bottom, there are tiny, flange-like projections. These are vestigial petals. The blossom's center is occupied by many yellowish, grainy objects, the larger on the area's periphery being pollen-producing stamens, while the more compact center is occupied with immature, hardly formed pistils consisting of stigma, style and ovary.

Four members of the genus Annona often are found planted here, and they can be confusing. You might like to review the four species. Besides the Sweetsop/Saramuyo considered here, there are:

The Cherimoya, Annona cherimola, often displaying small "finger-print depressions" over the fruit's surface, as shown on our Cherimoya page at http://www.backyardnature.net/chiapas/anona.htm

Soursop, or Guanábana, Annona muricata, whose large fruits bear numerous short, soft spines, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/soursop.htm

The Custard-Apple or Bullocks-Heart, Annona reticulata, with smooth, heart-shaped or spherical fruits, profiled at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/anona.htm

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NEMATODE PROBLEMS
At http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/nematode.htm we look at a nematode problem that destroyed my tomato crop at Hacienda Chichen in the central Yucatan several years ago. There you can see that nematodes are microscopic, wormlike creatures that cause plants to develop knotty growths on their roots, messing up the roots' plumbing, so that the plants lose much of their productivity or die. On the above page you can see classic nematode-caused root-knot disease on some tomato plants.

If you compare those root-knots on tomatoes with knots on a withering chili pepper plant I pulled up this week in my garden, you'll see that they're the same. This week's diseased Chili pepper roots are shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170521nm.jpg

In fact, this week I may have made a major breakthrough with regard to gardening on the Yucatan's thin, limestone-based soil, at least during the dry season. For, once I realized that my chili peppers had nematodes, I began pulling up my runty, wilting Zucchini, my dying cucumber vines, and other cultivars of poorly producing pepper plants, and they all displayed nematode-caused root-knots.

The breakthrough is in discovering that this nematode problem is not limited to the Chichén Itzá area, nor just to tomato plants, but possibly it's an endemic problem throughout the Yucatan affecting many cultivars. My Zucchini germinated very well, grew into robust plants, began producing flowers, and then suddenly fizzled, stopped growing, the flowers fell off... and then I pulled them up and found nematode-caused root-knots.

I'm growing about five different pepper cultivars. Only one is thriving, and that's the one the local Maya traditionally grow. It's a kind of sweet bell pepper that is smaller and with more numerous ribs than those we know in the North. It's not nearly as good tasting and attractive as what we grow in the North, but at least it's not affected by nematode-caused root-knots. I suspect that many Northern cultivars that are tried and which fail in the Yucatan are succumbing to nematodes.

Of course there are chemicals for controlling nematodes, but here we're organic. I read that the best approach to controlling nematodes is to enrich a soil and develop good soil structure. All soils have nematodes in them but usually naturally occurring soil organisms prey on them, keeping them under control. When soils are abused -- as ours was by cattle ranching proceeding our gardening efforts -- nematode populations can get out of hand. Therefore, I'm enriching the soil with livestock manure and compost, building up the soil's organic matter, and hoping that eventually our soil ecology will get back in line, and the nematode population will decline to acceptable levels.

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DISAPPEARING JOBS
On shortwave the BBC recently presented a week-long series about how computers and robots at this moment in history will start taking paying jobs from humans at a rate faster than society may be able to cope. Until now the consensus has been that technology may indeed make certain jobs obsolete, but at the same time it opens up whole new fields needing more workers than those who lost their jobs. From now on, it looks like that will no longer be the case. Computers and robots will just be too good.

It's not all bad news for humans. In fact, if people stay alert, flexible and keep up their spirits, the coming extinction of paying jobs can be nothing less than liberating for individuals, and healthy for society in general.

For, never before in the history of humankind has so much work desperately needed to be done as now. Think of all the effort needed to redirect overall planetary human behavior away from its current biosphere-destroying practices, to biosphere-restoring and maintaining ones. Think of all the mental exertion, investment in time, and love needed to save our young people from their current downward spiral. Well, you know the state of things better than I. The point being made is that for most of this critical work needing to be done, because of collapsing governments and economic realities, in the near future there may be no one offering humans paying jobs to do the work.

I can think of two courses of action that individuals can take as the "jobless" world approaches, and these two ideas can be implemented at the same time.

First, we can choose to live enriched, healthy, sustainable and inexpensive lives based on "voluntary simplicity," as discussed in last week's Newsletter, that essay being online at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/p/170514.htm

Second, we can step outside our societies based on people having jobs and spending money to keep things going.

For example, there's the possibility of forming or joining an intentional community consisting of people wanting to simplify, be self-sufficient, and not be bothered by the rest of the world. An Internet search on the key words "intentional communities" brings up information on many such communities; several websites provide descriptions and contact information for hundreds.

Otherwise, there's always the potential for organizing neighbors, friends or family along these lines, or you can do as I do, just simplify and keep simplifying, and on a day by day basis do what you think is right, no matter what others around you do, say or think.

In fact, throughout most of human history, doing work you're passionate about, or at least able to see the need for -- even when no one was paying to get the job done -- has fulfilled people and made them happy, enabled communities to thrive, and has been very largely what dignified us as humans.

And one fine fact about this approach to life is that -- especially compared to how things are now -- it's Nature friendly, and sustainable. That's because, to be self sufficient, at some point you have to cooperate with Nature to get your food. And once you're into Nature, you change in life-affirming ways.

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Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

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