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

June 11, 2017

*****

RED-THROATED ANT-TANAGERS
At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170611at.jpg you can see a Red-throated Ant-Tanager, HABIA FUSCICAUDA, a fairly common species in this area wherever the forest is mature enough to produce heavy shade. These birds like to stay close to the ground and often appear where army ants are moving. Commonly they're seen in pairs or small groups, and typically are spotted only after they've brought attention to themselves by their call, a low, rasping shehh-shehh-shehh, or by their song, a variable, rhythmic chu ree-choo often repeated tirelessly.

Red-throated Ant-Tanagers are real tanagers, closely related to the North's Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, so it's not surprising that they should display bright red throats.

*****

YUCATAN SPINY LIZARD
We already have a page introducing the Yucatan Spiny Lizard, at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/yuc-liz.htm

That page only shows a frontal view, however. Lately a young one has taken up the habit of visiting the hut porch's wooden floor, where he perches at the floor's edge looking out over the deep pit yawning below. You can see him at the abyss's edge, displaying very nicely the bold black and white lines down his back, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170611ly.jpg

A closer shot showing him looking up at me is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170611lz.jpg

*****

KISSING-BUGS AND CHAGAS DISEASE
Sometimes on the walls of little family stores, doctors' offices and public buildings in this area you see a blown-up picture of a Triatomine Bug, sometimes known as a Kissing Bug. That explains why when the other day a Kissing Bug showed up on the hut's floor, I recognized him. I'd been waiting for him, and you can meet him at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170611kb.jpg

That's TRIATOMA DIMIDIATA, one of several species of "Triatomine Bug." Triatoma dimidiata is distributed from central Mexico south through all of Central America into northern South America. The reason Kissing Bug pictures are posted in so many public places around here is that they spread Chagas Disease, which is a problem in the Yucatan. In the warmer US states, Chagas Disease also is spread by bugs of this genus, but not by our species. In the US eleven different species of kissing bugs have been documented. Over half the Kissing Bugs submitted to researchers in Texas were found to be infected with the Chagus Disease parasite.

Chagas Disease can kill by causing heart failure, but it takes years to develop to its final stages. For years during the disease's early phases the patient suffers vague, hard-to-diagnose symptoms often shared with many other diseases, including fever, headache, enlarged lymph glands, muscle pain, etc. More information on its signs and symptoms are provided on a World Health Organization page at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs340/en/

That page tells us that Chagas Disease affects 6-7,000,000 people worldwide, mostly in Latin America. Triatomine Bugs like our Triatoma dimidiata carry the microscopic parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes the disease. A 2007 study by Guzman-Tapia and others found our Triatoma dimidiata Kissing Bug to be fairly common in the Yucatan's capital city Mérida, and surrounding villages. Nearly half the bugs collected for that study carried the Chagas Disease organism.

The bugs, which normally are active at night, usually bite exposed skin, and then defecate close to the bite. The parasites enter the body when the person unthinkingly smears the bug's feces or urine into the bite, the eyes, the mouth, or any break in the skin.

The disease is easily treated with almost 100% recovery, if attended to soon after the infection. However, its vague symptoms are so hard to diagnose that often infected people suffer for years, and maybe die, without knowing what they have.

I always sleep beneath a mosquito net, but sometimes I awaken to find that in the night an elbow, foot or my butt has been pressed against the net's side, where an itching sore has developed. The Kissing Bug is always the first thing I think of then. However, I'm hoping that the net keeps the Kissing Bugs from pooping onto my skin, and it's the poop that's the main problem, not the bite.

*****

CRAPE-MYRTLES FLOWERING
Next to the garden, during the dry season from about February to the end of May, a 15-ft-tall bush stood leafless and scraggly looking. With the advent of the rainy season, the bush leafed out quickly, panicles of pea-sized, spherical flower buds formed, and now the plant is in full flower. The flowers surprised me because one of the Maya guys had told me the leafless tree was a Pomegranate, and also to me its leaves looked like those of a Pomegranate, but the flowers turned out to not even be close close to Pomegranate flowers. You can see them at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170611lg.jpg

A close-up of a blossom shot from behind, showing crinkled petals' extending from a cup-like calyx on slender "claws," is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170611lh.jpg

A frontal close-up showing a flower's many stamens clustered around the base of a single slender, curved style -- the style being a "neck" atop the stamen-hidden ovary and tipped with the stigma -- is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170611li.jpg

I'd seen this unusual flower structure back in the southern US, where it's seen on one of the most frequently planted ornamental bushes. However, up there I'm used to the petals being pink, and normally the US shrubs grow more compactly than our rangy looking ones. It's the Crape-Myrtle, LAGERSTROEMIA INDICA, originally from Asia and northern Australia but now cultivated and sometimes going wild in the American tropics and the Southern US.

White Crape-Myrtles are commonly seen here in little Maya villages and along the road, but so far I've not seen pink ones like those up North. Up North Crape-Myrtles are regarded as exceptionally handsome plants, and they are, but down here they hardly stand out in a landscape thick with Bougainvilleas, Royal Poincianas and other such majestic presences.

*****

FALLEN FLOWERS ON A MORNING JOG
Each morning as soon as it's light enough to see the ground, the dogs and I jog along the little trail shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170611hn.jpg

That trail leads goes for about a kilometer before connecting with the main north/south highway between Río Lagartos on the coast and Valladolid about 24kms south of us. You can imagine what fun the dogs have sniffing scents left by critters following the trail the previous night, and always there are things I need to stop a moment and sniff or look at myself. One morning what caught my attention was the cluster of egg-size, funnel-shaped, white corollas littering the path as seen in the above photo.

The blossoms were falling from a woody vine thick as my wrist where it wrapped around the trunk of the tree on the above picture's right side. Up in the tree, the stem branched and one offshoot snaked out over the trail and continued wandering through the forest's canopy on the other side of the road for as far as I could see. Standing on the trail and looking straight up I could see the flowers shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170611ho.jpg

Notice how this vine's leaves cluster at the tips of the tstem's side branches. Also, the corollas display eight or so lobes instead of the more normal five or six. A view into a flower's mouth reveals several long, white, slender stamens, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170611hp.jpg

This woody vine with opposite leaves, flowers with inferior ovaries, and stems with triangular stipules connecting opposite petiole bases, was clearly a member of the big Coffee or Madder Family, the Rubiaceae. Its woody stem and twig-tip-clustered leaves reminded me of the commonly occurring genus Randia. However, the flowers were all wrong for Randia. This was something new for me -- a fine way to begin a day!

It turned out to be HINTONIA OCTOMERA, a southern Mexico, northern Central American specialty with no established English name, so we'll just call it Hintonia. There's another Hintonia species in Mexico but its flowers display six corolla lobes, not this one's eight. This one's eight lobes are something special, a little unusual and unexpected.

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ONE THING, ON A NICE DAY
Here's the first sentence of an essay I almost wrote this week:

"Approaching age 70 I've just about decided that throughout the whole Universe and in all dimensions of reality there must be just One Thing -- the Everything, the evolving Universal Creative Impulse."

However, after writing that, I put the pen down and looked around.

For, the above insight came with baggage. That baggage was the growing feeling that once you come to terms with the One Thing concept, there's little more to say about the matter.

That day, with the One Thing thought in the back of my mind, it seemed that what really should be written about was the very nice day in progress.

All week a large low pressure/ zone of disturbance had been stewing in the Bay of Campeche off the Yucatan's western coast, kicking up afternoon storms here in the interior. On the afternoon when I wrote the above sentence, deep, rumbling thunder rolled across the lowlands from a slate-gray smudge on the horizon. There was a fine breeze, and it felt good sitting on the hut's porch wearing nothing but shorts, and sweating.

The forest all around was deep and green, a world of lush, soft herbage densely populated with caterpillars of every color and pattern, some of which dangled on silk threads at the hut's entrance, swaying back and forth in the wind. Others were falling victim to about 20 baby Musovy Ducks here at the rancho, all following various mothers around, learning not only how good caterpillars taste, but also how to snatch ticks off leaf blades, and how to distinguish soft, new, edible sprouts from crusty, old ones that might wedge in a duckling's throat. Nothing looks more earnest than a little yellow duckling trying to keep up with mom, and figure things out along the way, and nothing is more concerned looking and protective than an old mama duck.

That day birds sang and as many butterflies animated the landscape as could be wanted. In fact, that very morning I'd taken a picture of yellow butterflies gathered on moist, compost-rich soil where I'd just watered emerging muskmelon seedlings. You can see the butterflies -- imagine what it was like when they all exploded into the hot, super-humid air -- at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170611bf.jpg

Also that day, a couple of old dogs looked especially grateful for any pats on the head they might receive. Down in the Papaya orchard, doves left pigeon-toed tracks in the dust, and that morning a little before dawn's first light a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl had called right beside the hut, and he'd been there at the same time the previous morning, and would be there the morning after. And Royal Poinciana trees and Bougainvilleas were at their peaks of gaudiness, almost too much concentrated, explosive redness for an otherwise profoundly self-absorbed, deep-dark-green landscape.

But, see, that was all just One Thing. And the thought that's been growing these days is that every distinct-seeming thing in the Universe, including ducklings, Bougainvilleas and myself, is analogous to the color displayed on a computer screen's pixel. The color of a computer screen's pixel is determined by the precise combination of red, green and blue that pixel displays. If the pixel appears green, then it is displaying light in which red and blue are missing. Add some red to the green, and you get yellow. Colors we think of as individualistic, as sovereign, intrinsic features of things, turn out to be definable in terms of what they're lacking, and I'm thinking it may be the same with all us other "individual entities" in the Universe.

In other words, we entities, thinking we're different and apart from everything else, are defined by that part of the One Thing's oneness hidden from us. Filter out the greater part of the One Thing's infinite omnipresence, infinite omniscience, and infinite creative impulse, and you get an entity feeling different from everything else, and apart, like myself all these years when I thought I was a packet of awareness surrounded by other packets of is-ness in an ocean of nothingness.

These days as I walk around with the One Thing insight humming in my mind, with the landscape's green augmented by the Bougainvilleas' red and the sky's blue, I most definitely behold on a spiritual level exactly what my computer screen shows when all its pixels display red, green and blue light in equal measure at high intensity:

No color separation at all, just pure, glorious radiance.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

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