JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods ±4kms west of Ek Balam Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

March 11, 2018

THE COATI'S SNOUT
At http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/coati.htm on our White-nosed Coati page we have nice pictures of that species, but none showing very well a special feature of the coati -- they're called tejones here -- which is that their snouts are particularly long, slender and upturned. Last Sunday when I biked to Temozón for bananas, a recently run-over coati turned up along the road, so if you don't mind taking a close look at roadkill picture showing no obvious injury, you can see the special feature at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311ct.jpg

Earlier we've seen that here in the Yucatan Long-tailed Weasels and Spotted Skunks both seem to have a season when individuals, presumably hormone-drunk males searching for females, abandon their usual secretiveness and appear in broad daylight running down trails and roads. I'm wondering whether last weekend such days of craziness were going on for White-nosed Coaties. That's because on the same day the above coati was killed, as I'd been biking the forest trail from the rancho to the main road, two large coatis had come bounding over a rise and hadn't veered off the path until they were about ten feet (3m) from me.

*****

EURASIAN COLLARED DOVES IN VALLADOLID
At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/b/colldove.htm we see that Eurasian Collared Doves have been introduced into the Americas, and that they're spreading fast. They were documented in Yucatán state as early as 2010, and even earlier in other Mexican states. A study in Yucatán state in 2011 found them mostly in the northwestern corner of the state, with none reported from the Río Lagartos area, where we documented them in 2015.

Last week in the big central park in Valladolid I heard a certain cooing reminding me of my days in Europe, looked onto the ground behind my bench, and saw the Eurasian Collared Dove shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311dv.jpg

When we were in southwestern Texas some chatting hunters had said that originally in that area there had just been Mourning Doves. When south Texas's citrus plantations were wiped out, White-winged Doves that had nested in the citrus orchards had moved north, somewhat displacing Mourning Doves. And now recently arrived Eurasian Collared Doves were displacing White-winged Doves.

I'm not sure that that's true, though I did see the Eurasian Collared Dove in Valladolid doing something interesting that might fit into the narrative. First, the ones in the park didn't react when I tossed small pieces of tortilla near them, though the resident pigeons eagerly showed them what to do with such a snack. Also, when a White-winged Dove discovered another kind of edible tidbit on the park sidewalk and began pecking at it, an Eurasian Collared Dove flew at it and took the food away.

*****

PIÑUELAS #1 FRUITING
At http://www.backyardnature.net/chiapas/pinuela.htm you can see that last October our commonly occurring Piñuelas, Bromelia karatas, were producing dense clusters of immature fruits. I'd said I was looking forward to the fruits maturing because Piñuelas are closely related to pineapple plants, and the fruits are good tasting. Now five months later fruits of the same plant featured last October are ripe enough to harvest, simply by taking hold of a fruit and pulling on it as you wiggle it back and forth. You can see my hand withdrawing a fruit at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311pn.jpg

A full view of a ripe fruit is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311po.jpg

The fruits often bear stinging hairs, but these didn't. A fruit sliced longitudinally to show numerous hard, black seeds embedded in the succulent flesh appears at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311pm.jpg

If pressure is applied behind a fruit sliced as shown above, the sweet flesh pops out presenting itself for eating, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311pl.jpg

The flesh is sweet and tasty -- sweet-sour, one author writes -- but if you're not thinking "pineapple" you might not notice much similarity with the pineapple flavor. When we were in Chiapas my friends told how Piñuela fruits can be cooked over campfire embers, and that if more than one raw fruit is eaten you might develop burn-blisters. Many people experience mouth-burn even if they eat too much regular pineapple.

Numerous traditional medicinal uses have been documented for this Piñuela's fruit juice. It's used to treat scurvy and diabetes, and an alcoholic tincture of it is used for ulcers. Boiled and mashed seeds sweetened with sugar are said to expel internal parasites.

*****

PIÑUELA #2 FLOWERING
Not far from the fruiting Piñuela featured above, a dense colony of other Piñelas presented the view shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311ba.jpg

Note that, while the plant featured above displays no reddness in its leaves, some of these plants' leaves are completely red. Also, notice the white, slender items arising from the centers of individual plants. A close-up of one is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311bb.jpg

It's a flowering head, as indicated by the clusters of pale lilac corollas arising along the stalk's sides. A close-up of flowers bunched at the inflorescence's top is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311bc.jpg

An individual flower removed from the inflorescence, with its corolla on the right, its papery, sharp-pointed sepals in the middle, and its fuzz-covered inferior ovary on the left, is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311bd.jpg

When the corolla is broken open, you can see the flower's six stamens, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311be.jpg

One last photo of this plant's broad-based, hook-tipped, leaf-tip-pointing spines effectively arranged along each leaf's margins -- so that reaching into the plant's center is a tricky business -- is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180311bf.jpg

B. pinguin vs B. karatas:Though the rosette-forming blades of the two species are very similar, probably with enough field experience the two taxa can be distinguished by their vegetative character. I've seen no red Bromelia karatas blades, while those of Bromelia pinguin usually have at least some color, though occasionally plants turn up with no red color at all. Bromelia karatas normally is the larger of the species. Bromelia pinguin forms large, very dense thickets, while Bromelia karatas plants often have open ground between them.
Here we're looking at a different species from the Bromelia karatas nowadays producing mature fruits in dense clusters in the plants' centers, pie-like, close to the ground. The present plant's flowers obviously are held well above the ground on a conspicuous stalk. The two species' rosette-forming, long, slender, hooked-spine-armored leaves are so similar that at first I didn't recognize that here we have two Piñuela species. Both species commonly occur here in forest that hasn't been cleared for a few years, and they intermingle so indifferently that so far I haven't noticed any difference in habitat preference between them.

Our inflorescence-stalk-forming Piñuela is BROMELIA PINGUIN, native to Mexico and the Caribbean area, south to Brazil. It's reportedly naturalized in Florida. In Jamaica its commonly planted as a fence around pasture lands, on account of its prickly leaves.

I read that here in the Yucatan people treat the whooping cough, tos ferina, with a tea made of this species, brewed with menta, which I assume to be Spearmint, as well as poleo, another kind of mint, and toronjil, which is grapefruit.

*****

ROBIN KIMMERER'S LICHENS
My friend Paul from Florida and Mérida visited Valladolid so we could sit in the park awhile talking. Paul kindly gave me a book he'd read and liked, Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass. I'd never heard of Kimmerer or her book, but the next day when a Danish visitor to the hut saw the book on my table he said his wife was reading it, so maybe it's a popular read nowadays. Kimmerer is a noted environmental scientist and a Potawatomi indigenous American.

To see if the book might qualify for accompanying me on my upcoming visa-renewing trip, I chose a randomly selected page and read a random paragraph. It described how the free-ranging cells of certain species of algae often combine with free-ranging cells of certain species of fungi to form distinct species of lichen. Kimmerer described how scientists wanting to study the lichen-forming phenomenon placed appropriate cells of algae and fungi together in the lab, but at first no lichens formed under a variety of environmental conditions. Finally it was discovered that communities of cells of algae and fungi would indeed form lichens if they were stressed. When conditions were good for both kinds of cells, they preferred to keep living independently, but during a severe environmental crises they cooperated to save themselves.

At that point I slammed the book shut, not wanting to read more, because that single paragraph had set a train of thought going that I wanted to nurture.

For, that one paragraph suggested a message I desperately wanted to believe in: That at some point maybe we humans will reach a point where we start cooperating to save ourselves by stopping our destruction of the Earthly biosphere. And maybe we can even go beyond that and -- like simple algal and fungal cells forming more complex lichens -- create something entirely new and transcendentally worthy of the potentials of human mentality.

But then it occurred to me that, by denying myself further reading and taking the paragraph out of its larger context, possibly I was misunderstanding a higher-level message that Kimmerer had wanted to relate. I was behaving precisely like so many people nowadays who consciously and willfully deny themselves information that might conflict with what they want to believe.

This was a distinct possibility, too, because already I knew facts that seemed to be at odds which what Kimmerer seemed to be saying. My understanding from both ecology and history is that when populations of living things, including humans, come under stress because of limited resources, more likely than the cooperation shown by algae and fungi forming lichens, is wars, and Nature's old standbys, plagues and famine.

After several days of exploring the condition of having found a good-feeling ray of hope for what otherwise seems in nearly every respect a profoundly bleak future for Life on Earth, while at the same time admitting that the hope was rooted in my having chosen ignorance over an open mind, here's what I decided:

  1. Ignorance-based peace of mind is a seductive pleasure hard to abandon.
  2. It's a form of self gratification bought with mental and/or spiritual laziness and willful self deception.
  3. It's an ugly, dangerous condition I don't want anything to do with.

So, I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Braiding Sweetgrass during my upcoming visa trip. I'm eager to flush from my system this brief exposure to a viral, potentially lethal way of managing one's mentality.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

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