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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

August 17, 2001

Air Date: August 17, 2001


(stream/download) as an MP3 file


Mad Tagger / Deirdre Kennedy

(stream / mp3)

Deirdre Kennedy reports from San Francisco on one man's unusual campaign against gas-guzzling SUVs. (05:20)

Ira's Emissions

(stream / mp3)

A new website lets anyone compute his own contribution to global emissions. Host Steve Curwood talks with This American Life's Ira Glass about his pollution profile. (05:40)

Health Note

(stream / mp3)

Living On Earth's Diane Toomey reports that stress may diminish the effectiveness of certain vaccines. (00:59)

Almanac: Insect Thermometers

(stream / mp3)

This week, facts about insect thermometers. The behavior of bugs and other critters make for good weather forecasting. (01:30)

Hiking / Bonnie Auslander

(stream / mp3)

Ithaca, New York writer Bonnie Auslander remembers that her move from the city to the country brought some personal as well as physical changes. (03:40)

Fish Songs / Angela Swafford

(stream / mp3)

You might not think of most undersea creatures as a noisy lot, but one fish researcher in Florida studies his subjects with the use of hydro-phones. And what he hears may surprise you. Angela Swafford reports. (09:00)

Thirsty Bees / Jeff Rice

(stream / mp3)

When Jeff Rice went camping in Arizona's Sonoran Desert this summer, he discovered that he and the Africanized bees that surrounded him had something in common: a quenchless thirst. (03:20)

Animal Note

(stream / mp3)

Living on Earth's Maggie Villiger reports on a study that finds bees can be farmers' helpers when it comes to delivering fungicides. ()


(stream / mp3)

Host Steve Curwood talks with paleontologist Richard Fortey, from London's Natural History Museum about his life-long passion for the beetles of the Paleozoic -- trilobites. (10:00)

Amazing Moe / Matthew Algeo

(stream / mp3)

It's said that a dog is man's best friend. But in Portland, Maine, a man, whose turtle has been with him through thick and thin for 36 years, may beg to differ. Maine Public Radio's Matthew Algeo has the story. (04:30)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

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Mad Tagger

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood with an encore edition of Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Many environmental activists work with lobbying and political groups, but some prefer a more direct approach. Consider Robert Lind. Mr. Lind is a one-man campaign to make people who drive sport utility vehicles in the San Francisco area feel guilty about their gasoline consumption. His targets find a bumper sticker on their SUVs that reads, "I'm Changing the Climate. Ask Me How." Deirdre Kennedy caught up with the mad tagger on an expedition in the San Francisco suburb of Corte Madera.


KENNEDY: On any weekend of the year you can find Robert Lind stalking luxury sport utility vehicles on the streets of San Francisco. On this particular Saturday he's staked out a spot in the parking lot of an upscale shopping center in Marin County, armed with a backpack full of "Changing the Climate" bumper stickers.

LIND: The first thing is peel. (Peels, crumples) You can get the bumper sticker all ready to go. I stalk my prey. Here we have a large V8 land cruiser. And very simply, stoop [peels] and tag.

KENNEDY: Although he aggressively pounces on land rovers, land cruisers, and pickup trucks camouflaged as family vehicles, Lind leaves the small fry alone. No Jeeps or RAV4s. In fact, he's kept himself to a fairly narrow diet.

LIND: I don't tag commercial vehicles. I only tag the largest SUVs. I call them the super-predators. The big Expeditions, Excursions. I don't do Explorers or anything with a V-6. I don't re-tag. If I know that an SUV has been tagged, I don't tag it a second time. You know, I want to be somewhat civilized about this.

KENNEDY: Surprisingly, Lind doesn't consider himself to be an environmentalist. In fact, he's been a car buff since childhood. And he himself drives a 1988 BMW 320-I. He objects to what he sees as SUV drivers' ignorance that they're polluting more than other cars.

LIND: When they passed the Clean Air Act, they exempted pickups and commercial-type vehicles. They had much lower standards to meet. Because there weren't that many of them on the road and they figured, well, we'll help business out a little bit by not having them have to equip the cars with the latest technology. But now that the SUVs have come along, half of the cars fall in this category and are exempt from normal emissions and fuel economy standards. So, that is the problem. If the SUVs got good mileage and didn't pollute, I don't care if they drive them.

KENNEDY: Lind and a friend came up with the bumper sticker idea when they noticed that more and more SUVs were turning up on the streets.

LIND: When we were thinking of slogans to put on the bumper sticker, we were thinking at first "Screw the Environment" or, you know, something kind of very obvious. But we decided on, "I'm Changing the Climate." You know, there is a little bit of humor in there, which I think makes people scratch their head and chuckle.

KENNEDY: But SUV owners don't usually appreciate the humor in Lind's message. While we were in the parking lot, a driver and his father returned to their Toyota Land Cruiser to find one of Lind's stickers securely fastened to the bumper.

MAN 1: I consider it vandalism.

MAN 2: Yes.

MAN 1: Absolutely. This is private property. I was not asked whether I wanted that on my car or not, and clearly I don't. So, I mean, I choose to drive this. I made that choice. And someone shouldn't be messing with my private property.

KENNEDY: Does it make you think about gasoline consumption?

MAN 1: No, not really.

MAN 2: No.

MAN 1: It makes me think about people who --

MAN 2: Makes me angry.

MAN 1: Makes me angry is what it makes me.

MAN 2: Why would you worry about gasoline consumption? It's not changing the environment.

KENNEDY: You don't think so?

MAN 2: Not at all. There's plenty of evidence to show that it's not. Just look at the figures on Greenland in the year 845, and then later on in 1350. The changes in the climate at that time. I don't think we were burning much coal or oil then, were we?

KENNEDY: Lind has never been cited or arrested for his tagging activities, though he says he'd like to be, to draw attention to his cause. And he invites his victims to contact him directly.

LIND: I have the website on the bumper sticker. So when a person gets tagged they can e-mail me in person and complain about the fact that I defaced their private property. [Kennedy laughs] And I will tell them, "You've defaced the public air supply, so there, we're even."

KENNEDY: The entire time we're talking, he's peeling and sticking tags on vehicles with all the confidence and authority of a parking enforcement official. Inside of about a half an hour, he's tagged more than 20 cars.

LIND: Ah, here's an Insight hybrid by Honda. He is changing the climate, but he's doing it in a positive way. So I'm leaving a bumper sticker under his windshield wiper. Hopefully he'll enjoy that.

KENNEDY: So far, Lind has been spending his free hours trying to change the minds of individual drivers. But I asked him, why doesn't he go after the really big game, the car manufacturers?

LIND: I'll wait till they contact me. When things get so painful and their profits are plummeting because my campaign has reduced SUV purchases by 80 percent, they'll be crawling out to me, begging. Yeah, maybe.

KENNEDY: For Living on Earth, I'm Deirdre Kennedy in San Francisco.

LIND: There's a black one, a black Suburban. The Darth Vader of GM products.

(Music up and under: John Williams "Imperial Death March" STAR WARS)

Related link:
Changing the Climate">

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Ira's Emissions

CURWOOD: As the world's nations debate the ways and means to reduce carbon emissions on a global scale, what about your share? Ever wonder how much pollution you create? Well, a new Web site called airhead.org can help you answer that very question. Just plug in the numbers like your own monthly mileage and the size of your electric bill, and out comes your own emissions profile. The site was created by the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago. So we thought we'd ask a typical Chicagoan to plug in his data. Ira Glass is taking a break from hosting Public Radio's This American Life to lift the curtain on his own personal pollution profile. Hey, thanks for joining us, Ira.

GLASS: Glad to be here.

CURWOOD: First things first. How'd you do, Ira? Can we hold you personally to blame for warming this lovely planet?

GLASS: Yes. You can. I was stunned at my actual pollution contribution. I mean, I commute to work, and in the month that I did, which was last month, I flew three times for the radio show.

CURWOOD: Mmm hmm.

GLASS: Flew three times. And my total pollution emission was, it says here, 3,457 pounds of pollutants, versus an average American apparently is 1,600 pounds of pollution.

CURWOOD: Yes, and most of that's carbon dioxide. Now, but if you took out the airplane, Ira, you don't do so bad compared to the national average.

GLASS: Nah, then I'm way below the national average, actually, only 970 pounds. Though I have to say, is this real? Saying that, like, even on a month where I don't fly, it's like a thousand pounds of pollution a person? What does that even mean? A thousand pounds, like, of stuff in the air? It is just ... so it's carbon dioxide. So what?

CURWOOD: Well, that's the stuff that warms the planet. It's what climate change is all about. Carbon dioxide helps trap the infrared radiation from the heat. When it tries to get back off the planet, it gets caught by the carbon dioxide, and that's why the planet's heating up.

GLASS: So, so, what am I supposed to do?

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Walk me through what you do. What are your activities? Let's figure out a way that we can make some cuts so that you can start to feel better about your performance in this area.

GLASS: I (laughs) -- I wake up in the morning. I drive seven miles to work. I park the car. I'm in the radio station all day. At some point in the evening I drive home.

CURWOOD: Okay, wait a second. Tell me about this car. What is it? Is it, like, a 50-foot-long SUV, or is it, you know, something really pretty small?

GLASS: It's a Honda Accord.

CURWOOD: That's a pretty good car by today's standards.

GLASS: It gets good mileage.

CURWOOD: Now, I'm wondering if one day a week or two, maybe, you could leave it home and take the El. Is that possible?

GLASS: It is possible. I mean, for me to get to work through the El it's an El an two buses. And you know, I've done it when the car's been busted.

CURWOOD: Do you live along the lake? Could you bike up and down the great paths?

GLASS: I could during the six months when it's possible to bike. I've done that, I've biked. But, you know, March really wasn't -- (laughs) I mean, Chicago this year really wasn't the most hospitable biking weather, for me, anyway.

CURWOOD: So there you go, though, Ira. You figure, all right, only six months out of the year you can bike. So if you were willing to bike two days a week in those six months, you could cut your overall car commuting pollution account by 20 percent.

GLASS: Right. But if you look at that, the car is only contributing 250 pounds to this. So you cut 20 percent, that's only 50 pounds out of a 3,500 pound per month amount of pollution. And I just feel like, so I'm going to have to, like, bike to work twice a week to cut 50 pounds out of this massive amount? I could bike to work for the rest of my life, and you know, if I take one plane trip a month I'd be outweighing it.

CURWOOD: Well, that's right, but the fact is that if you want to get engaged and cut, you need to cut where you can cut. And besides, if you just do this by yourself and nobody else pays attention, you're absolutely right. Nothing's going to happen as a function of that. But the idea is that it becomes contagious. I mean, I think this is what these Web site folks were trying to do.

GLASS: I think when you're talking about this, Steve, there is a sense of, like, well if we all just, like, do our little part, like it's World War II and we're each going to plant a victory garden or something, we're going to, you know, lick the carbon dioxide problem. And I don't know. Like, maybe you're right, but --

CURWOOD: It's not much fun, is it?

GLASS: No. And I don't have a problem, like, sacrificing for something I believe in. But I think that when one feels that one is the only person in the country, you know, cutting back on their driving to work, you know, and taking -- it's hard to feel like it's going to have much effect.

CURWOOD: So, how do you feel about this at this point? Are you now concerned, or is this something that, hey, after this conversation you can safely forget about?

GLASS: No. You know what's going to happen, is that this is going to be one of these things that it's now going to gnaw at me. Like the same way that before I stopped eating meat, like, there was like a period of about three years where there was like a series of things that finally, you know, kind of built up and built up and built up, and finally I stopped. And I felt like this is very first time I've ever really given this a second thought. But I don't know, I just -- how many different kinds of nerd can a person be in one lifetime? (Curwood laughs) Like, how much of a do-gooder are we expected to be? Like, I'm supposed to take into account, like, my contribution to the greenhouse effect in addition to everything else? I just -- I just don't know if I can take it. And I think most people feel that way, too.

CURWOOD: Ira Glass (laughs) -- Ira Glass hosts public radio's This American Life from WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks, Ira.

GLASS: Thanks, Steve. Thanks for asking me.

(Music up and under: Nightmares On Wax, "You're Not Alone")

Related link:
Emissions Calculator
This American Life">

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Health Note

CURWOOD: Coming up, listening to fish in South Florida. Stay tuned to Living on Earth. Now this environmental health note with Diane Toomey.

(Music up and under)

TOOMEY: We know that stress can make us sick. Now it appears that stress can even affect our immune system so much that vaccines don't work. Scientists gave the pneumonia vaccination to two groups of people. One group was in the high-stress position of taking care of spouses suffering from dementia. The other group consisted of former caregivers. Following the vaccination, researchers measured blood levels of the antibodies that fend off the pneumonia bacteria. Both groups showed a strong initial response to the vaccine, but after six months the immune response of the highly-stressed group dropped off 30 percent. But the group of former caregivers held steady. A few years ago, similar research showed stress produced an immediate weakening of response to the flu vaccine. So researchers in this study advise people to consider putting off vaccinations until they're not so stressed out. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under: Orb "Toxygene")

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under: Jonathon Richman: "Hey, There, Little Insect" RADIO ON)

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Almanac: Insect Thermometers

CURWOOD: Summer temperatures are rising and you want to know exactly how much but you don't have a thermometer handy. Don't worry. You can get a lot of information from some very little creatures. For instance, if you're seeing ants, it's at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit. And if a honeybee stings you without provocation, chances are it's below 70 degrees. If that's not accurate enough, look for grasshoppers. If they're hopping it's at least 37 degrees, and if they're chirping it's above 62. Then there's the katydid, which gets the award for most indecisive insect when it comes to temperature reporting. When the mercury tops 80 degrees it's call sounds like "katy did it." But when the temperature drops, so apparently does the katydid's certainty. At 4 degree intervals, the call changes first to "katy didn't," then to "katy did," and from there to "she didn't," and "she did." Below 60 degrees the call is just, "Kate." The most accurate forecaster of all is the white tree cricket. It chirps exactly 4 times a minute for every degree the thermometer reads above 40 degrees. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

(Music fade)

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CURWOOD: Clashes over country living don't always take place between homeowners and farmers, or in courtrooms and town meeting halls. They can also happen on a more intimate level. That's what commentator Bonnie Auslander discovered soon after moving from the city to New York State's bucolic Finger Lakes region.

AUSLANDER: When I moved to the country a few years ago, I started dating an outdoorsy guy. You know the type. He wore hiking boots everywhere he went, even to his sister's wedding. This man took me hiking not for fun, but to improve my mind. So, we would stand in front of a ridge next to a pond or alongside a tree, and he would point out a stalled low-pressure system, a lacustrine community, and a prime example of floral pedoturbation, whatever that is.

I wanted to keep the conversation going, to respond somehow to this incredible barrage of eco-info. But my lack of expertise in the natural world left me speechless. It's no surprise. I grew up in the suburbs, and my family was too busy reading the New York Times or eating leftover Chinese food from cartons to care much about going outdoors. My mother wanted to move to an apartment where she wouldn't have to mow our lawn. A lawn, by the way, approximately the size of a throw rug.

Despite my family's indifference to nature, I grew fond of hiking as I got older. I enjoyed the light taps my feet made on the trail and how rugged clothes made my body feel longer and leggier. But mostly I liked how being outside made going back inside more piquant. There would be hot tea. There would be a cozy fire. There would be very slow kissing.

Even so, the boyfriend's habit of talking about the outdoors while already being outdoors struck me as redundant, not to mention pedantic. It got so bad that I decided to look for a hiking partner who knew even less about the natural world than I did. The new guy stumbled gamely down the trail, the tassels of his loafers bobbing up and down. He'd pause now and then to make sure his cell phone was still in range. We argued about which cafe made cappuccino with the deepest foam, and played matchmaker for our single friends. But when we got to my favorite spot by the river, the place where the dappled trees remind me of a painting by Corot, he didn't even seem to notice.

"Hey," I said, "look at those sycamores. They're so gorgeous."

"Sycamores?" he said. "What are you, a Girl Scout?"

"Uh, don't worry," I said. "Sycamores are the only trees I can identify. Really. The rest all look the same to me."

What had just happened? Had I gone over to the other side? What exactly was gained by calling a sycamore a sycamore, and was it the same thing that motivated my former boyfriend to call a pile of dirt by an upturned tree an example of floral pedoturbation? Is naming the natural world, classifying it, really that pedantic after all?

Well, gradually, I found middle ground, a sort of Zen spot along the trail. I've come to realize that nature isn't something I have to be bad at in order to appease someone else. Nor is it something I have to be good at in order to please myself. The sycamores don't care if I don't know their name, but they also don't mind listening to lectures about their preferred habitat. I've learned that what I appreciate most about nature is nature's generous indifference to who's doing the appreciation. So maybe the first boyfriend was right after all: hiking has improved my mind.

CURWOOD: Commentator Bonnie Auslander lives and writes in Ithaca, New York.

(Music up and under: Saint Saens, "Carnival of the Animals")

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Fish Songs

CURWOOD: You may have heard the songs of the humpback whales and the energetic clicks of dolphins. But if you think those are the only voices of the sea, think again. Grant Gilmore studies fish by eavesdropping on their chatter. Mr. Gilmore does his listening at the Canaveral National Seashore, a wildlife refuge that's part of the NASA complex in southern Florida. Angela Swafford reports.

(Water against boat hull)

SWAFFORD: There's a full moon tonight over Mosquito Lagoon, a 45-mile-long estuary surrounded by a thick mangrove forest. Look to the south and you'll see that the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center is also in full glow. At daybreak tomorrow, the shuttle Atlantis will blast off. In the meantime, marine biologist Grant Gilmore is preparing his own mission.

GILMORE: Thank you. We're in the basin opposite marker 19, and the time is 7:55.

SWAFFORD: A towering man with striking white hair and beard, Dr. Gilmore is collecting some last-minute data from the deck of an 18-foot skiff. He and his team prepare to launch an underwater microphone. The three-inch device is already on as it hits the water, so it records the

sounds as it plunges down.

(Scraping, various sounds)

GILMORE: That pupupupupupupuk sound is a silver perch. Sounds like chickens cackling. The boom, boom is a black drum. The ruur, ruur, ruur is a spotted sea trout. So we have three species of scianidaes, drums and croakers produce these sounds at the same location here.

SWAFFORD: These are the voices of the nocturnal sea. And Dr. Gilmore is one of the few scientists in the world who studies their meaning.

GILMORE: This is one very large black drum.

(More booms)

SWAFFORD: More than two decades ago, Dr. Gilmore discovered this cacophony is actually the sounds of spawning. Males do most of the serenading. It's their way of convincing the females to release their eggs. These sounds reach full crescendo on full moon nights. That's when the high tide is likely to prevent the eggs from being carried out to sea, where they would have little chance of surviving.

(An engine starts up)

SWAFFORD: Dr. Gilmore and his assistants are making their monthly rounds tonight. Twenty metal markers scattered throughout the lagoon identify the sites where they'll hunt for sound. The team stops at one.

(Engine cuts)

GILMORE: We're about 200 meters from the bridge. Time's about 6:20 PM.

(Microphone plunks into water; crackling)

GILMORE: You hear the crackling sound. Those are snapping shrimp; they're only about an inch long. And they have one enlarged claw. It sounds like frying bacon in a pan.

SWAFFORD: They produce this frying bacon sound by snapping that claw. The humming in the distance comes from toad fish that like most fish produce sound by vibrating an air bladder in their body. It is played like a drum by a set of strong muscles. Dr. Gilmore calls them sonic

muscles, and he found that females almost never have them. But that doesn't mean Dr. Gilmore is not interested in female fish. He's trying to find a way to figure out how they react to these love calls.

GILMORE: That male could be calling for three hours and no one will pay any attention to him. We wouldn't know that because we don't know which sounds the female, or how the female's reacting, because she's not producing sound.

SWAFFORD: Dr. Gilmore's fascination with fish sounds began with a little bit of professional jealousy.

GILMORE: Well, I had a friend who studied birds. And he could walk through a forest and tell me which birds were in that forest. And I was impressed with that. I had another colleague who stuck a hydrophone in the water one day at my laboratory, listening to large-mouthed bass, and

I put it all together. I wanted to see if there was anything producing sound out here that you could identify like the birds.

(Sounds fade to chimes)

SWAFFORD: Dr. Gilmore's passion for fish even influences his home decorating scheme. A fish chime hangs from his front door. Fish swim on his kitchen dishes and over his bathroom towels. And while his study is crammed with a quarter century's worth of fish recordings, Grant Gilmore

does appreciate their non-auditory qualities.


SWAFFORD: He also sketches the fish he studies

GILMORE: When you preserve a fish in chemicals, which fix the fish for hundreds of years, first things that go are the reds and the yellows. You never can get those colors back again. So, these are the very important colors for me and my work. Quite often these fish are new species, or at least the first time we've seen this color pattern. So we try to record those colors.

(Sketching, fading to water sounds)

SWAFFORD: Back on the lagoon, a drama is about to unfold.

GILMORE: There you go. Here you go, that's a dolphin.


SWAFFORD: Under the tapping sound coming from the perch, you can faintly hear what sounds like a creaking door or something like a fishing rod being reeled in. Let's listen again.

(Dolphin sounds)

GILMORE: Here you go. So when the dolphin produces that sonar, the fish pick it up apparently, detect it, and they're quiet. Right now we don't hear the bardial right now. The dolphin is probably right in the middle of this group of silver perch underneath our boat.

And it's very possible the dolphin took a fish down there; we can't tell. Everything's quiet and serene up here. (Laughs) But there's a big drama going on down there. The fish are being terrorized and eaten by this dolphin.

SWAFFORD: Dr. Gilmore and his team are thinking of heading home.

GILMORE: See, everything's quiet right now.

SWAFFORD: It's midnight, and the only creature still sounding off is a toad fish. Well, almost the only one.

GILMORE: Ah, there's one last silver perch. (Laughs) Now, that's the last male silver perch calling. Why do you think he's calling now?

MAN: The last guy left in the bar at the end of the night.

GILMORE: (Laughs) Yeah. He's still trying. (Laughs) Maybe he'll have

more luck tomorrow night.

SWAFFORD: Ever since he first plopped a hydrophone in the water, Grant Gilmore has been convinced of the power of sound as a tool to study marine life. He plans to install an array of permanent hydrophones in this lagoon so he can monitor the fish from his lab. Dr. Gilmore

believes that hydrophones can also be used to protect marine sanctuaries from trespassers, alerting patrols when fishing boats are in the area. The 54-year-old also hopes to rig a submarine with hydrophones, to listen to the sounds of the deep ocean. He's logged over 300 dives in

submersibles all over the world and identified a dozen species of fish, including one named for his wife. But Gilmore says the water still holds mystery for him.

GILMORE: Here I am where they launch rockets to deep space. Just a few miles from here man went to the moon. Left Earth right here and went to the moon. More men walked on the surface of the moon than went to the deepest point of the ocean. We have not explored the ocean yet.

SWAFFORD: Even NASA is now working with sound. The agency is collaborating with Dr. Gilmore to develop more sophisticated listening equipment. Initially it will be used to explore the Earth's oceans, but one day NASA might use this equipment on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Researchers believe that polar ice caps there could harbor a hidden ocean. If this idea pans out, NASA will have Grant Gilmore and his fascination with the sounds of fish to thank. For Living on Earth, I'm Angela Swafford on Mosquito Lagoon.

CURWOOD: Thanks to Esther San Pedro for her help with the underwater recordings used in our story.

(Music up and under: S. Rawcliff "Aquanots")

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Thirsty Bees

CURWOOD: If you apply heat to an object, it can move around more quickly, but sometimes it does just the opposite. Just ask Jeff Rice, who tested the intense heat while camping along El Camino del Diablo, the Street of the Devil, in Arizona's Sonoran Desert. He says when the thermometer heads into the triple digits, you don't do much more than sweat and think. And, as he tells us in this reporter's notebook, thoughts can range from fish to killer bees.


RICE: Even though our fishy ancestors flopped out onto the land about 400 million years ago, we never really left the water. We just took it with us. That's what I'm thinking as the thermometer reads 118 degrees in the shade. Sixty percent of the human body is water, and the water that I've taken with me in the form of muscle and fat and brain and blood is gradually draining out as sweat. In this heat, I'm forced to pour quart after quart of liquid down my throat to keep the balance. Water is best, but a couple cans of warm beer probably won't hurt, either.

(Bird calls)

RICE: The sweat cools my body, and this is a good thing. It's what keeps me alive. But there's a complication. This year at this spot the rain has been little more than a rumor. And as I sit here amidst the sagebrush and cactus, I suddenly realize that I am one of the few sources of water to be found. My body, me. The insects know this. The bees, in particular, search me out and sip from my leaking pores as if they were limpid pools of Evian. These aren't just any bees, mind you. These are probably Africanized bees, so-called killer bees. The kind that inspire low-budget horror movies with names like "The Swarm." A while back they were imported to Brazil as part of a failed breeding experiment, and they've been working their way north, passing on their dominant traits to bees in South America, Central America, Mexico. Now they make up about 90 percent of the bees in this part of Arizona.

I spend much of the afternoon nervously swiping at them as they try to drink my sweat. I'm told that if one of these bees stings me, it might release a chemical that will tell the other bees to come over and sting me, too. And that would be a very bad thing. I can see the headlines now: Sweaty Camper Hospitalized After Attack in the Desert. I continue to brush the bees away.


RICE: I look forward to the evening and the fading of the light, when the bees will go back to their hive and wait for tomorrow. At night, and only at night, will I allow myself the luxury of a makeshift shower from a plastic gallon jug. I can't help but think that pouring water over myself during the day would be like covering myself in marmalade and lying on an anthill. That's probably an exaggeration. The bees are not likely to sting me if I give them what they want.

But the imagination is a powerful thing, and the last thing I want to imagine is a beard of bees. So I sit here as the thermometer approaches 120 and wait for the day to transform. I take another swig from my water bottle. The water is about room temperature, as the saying goes, which means it's probably 20 degrees hotter than my body. But by the time the bees get it in the form of my sweat, I will have cooled it to a pleasant 98.6 degrees: a nice sip of morning dew in comparison.

I have to admit, it's strange to be the equivalent of a drinking fountain. But then, I guess it's also pretty strange to be camping in the middle of the desert in the hot August sun and trying not to sweat.

(Buzzing up and under)

CURWOOD: Reporter Jeff Rice lives in Tucson, Arizona.

(Music up and under: Anonymous, "Drum Rhythms")

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Animal Note

CURWOOD: Coming up, a look at Jurassic Park through a magnifying glass. Stay tuned to Living on Earth. First, this animal note with Maggie Villiger.

(Music up and under)

VILLIGER: Farmers may soon have some new beasts of burden buzzing around the fields: bees. Researchers discovered that bees can deliver fungicide to growing crops more efficiently than traditional mechanical sprayers. They found out by forcing bees to walk through a tiny foot bath of an organic fungicide as they left the hive. Then, while the bees foraged in strawberry blossoms for pollen, they would inadvertently leave behind the anti-mold particles. By the end of the growing season, strawberries targeted by the bees were almost half as likely to be afflicted by gray mold than their mechanically-sprayed neighbors. The bee-treated fruit was substantially bigger, too. And the bees didn't seem to mind being put to work, though honeybees were said to be prone to work stoppages on cool or rainy days. That's this week's environmental update. I'm Maggie Villiger.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under: Ofaria: "Big Bang")

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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. Think of fossils and you'll likely think of dinosaurs, unless you're a kindred spirit of Richard Fortey. Mr. Fortey's passion is the trilobite. These comparatively small fossilized animals offer a more complete panorama of the prehistoric world than the mega-beasts and go back even further in time. Richard Fortey is a senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London. And in homage to the creature he's devoted his life's work to, he's written a book called Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution. Mr. Fortey says trilobites were prehistoric beetles, and compared to the beetles of today they were large.

FORTEY: Well, you'd notice something that was probably about as big as the palm of your hand, with a hard shell. And it would be divided along its length into three lobes, hence its name. And as you looked at it, it would probably be crawling along, because underneath the carapace, which is the part you usually get preserved as fossils, there are lots of little legs. And those legs are jointed like the legs of a crab or a lobster. You would look at it, and it would look back at you because rather prominently on its head there would be two eyes. And the trilobites are remarkable, because they have the first really well-preserved eyes in the fossil record. So, this was a complex animal, in spite of the fact that they go back hundreds of millions of years.

CURWOOD: Now, I have to ask you, Richard Fortey, how is it that you first became interested in these strange creatures?

FORTEY: Well, I suppose you could say it was a case of love at first sight. I was on holiday as a child in a part of west Wales, and posted on the wall in the hotel was a geological map. And on the geological map there was some writing that said trilobites can be found here. And it sounded mysterious and exciting to me, and I spent most of that holiday breaking up rock with a coal hammer. And eventually I was lucky.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering if you could read an excerpt from your book that describes when you first discovered a trilobite.

FORTEY: Yes, I'd be pleased to. (Reads) The rock simply parted around the animal like some sort of revelation. The truth is that the fossil itself had rendered the rock weaker. It was predisposed to reveal itself, almost as if it desired disclosure. I was left holding two pieces of rock. In my left hand, the positive impression of the creature itself. In my right hand, the negative mold, which had once comprised its other half. The two together snuggled up to survive the vicissitudes of millions of years of entombment. There was a brownish stain on the fossil, but to me it was no disfigurement. Surely, what I held was the textbook come alive. Drawings and photographs could not compare with the joy of actually touching a find which seemed, in the egotistical glow of boyhood, dedicated to yourself alone. This was my first discovery of the animals that would change my life. The long, thin eyes of the trilobite regarded me, and I returned the gaze. More compelling than any pair of blue eyes, there was a shiver of recognition across 500 million years.

CURWOOD: Now, why did you pick trilobites? Paleontologists get a lot of press and interest from dinosaurs and big things like that. This kind of looks like a bug, a beetle.

FORTEY: I don't know. I mean, the child's usual attraction is towards the dinosaur, isn't it? Simply because they were enormous and fierce and spectacular. But I wanted to redress the balance in a way, from the rule of the dinosaurs, to show you how real paleontologists infer things about the past, using these smaller and you might say humbler animals. But of course, when you look at them, you see that there's much more beauty and variety than you would have at first thought. You know, these were fantastically varied creatures. Some of them are as prickly as porcupines. Some of them had enormous goggly eyes. Wrapped up in that single word trilobite, there is a metaphor for the variety of life throughout geological time.

CURWOOD: Now, how did a trilobite make its living as a creature?

FORTEY: The first thing to say is, they were exclusively marine. But within the seas, they did almost everything that crustaceans -- crabs, lobsters, and their allies -- do today. I mean, some of them were ocean swimmers. They swam freely in the open ocean, rather like krill. There were others that crawled on the sea floor, more or less eating mud, about the lowliest existence you can have as a marine animal. But there were others, again, including some monsters, trilobite standard, of course, perhaps three feet long, which were predators. And then there were others that were filter feeders. So they exploited a wide variety of ecological niches. In fact, had you been around, let's say, in the Cambrian period 500 million years ago, you would have encountered trilobites everywhere from the shallow shore to the deep sea. The world would have been swarming with them.

CURWOOD: Now, I understand that the horseshoe crab is just about the closest living relative of the trilobite. You write that maybe it's a second cousin. You also wrote that you had done some informal research on this crab. What was that about?

FORTEY: Well, I was doing field work in Thailand, and at the end of the day, you know, we always retreated to a rather nice restaurant. And one evening, looking in the fish tank -- you know, where they have the live fish that can be brought to your table --

CURWOOD: Oh, yes.

FORTEY: I was astonished to see a close relative of Limulus wandering about in the bottom of the tank. So I thought to myself, this is my only chance to find out what a trilobite actually tasted like. Well, I discovered when it was brought to my table that the horseshoe crab has, at this time of year, only -- so I was very lucky -- a brood of extremely yolky eggs. And that was the edible bit of the horseshoe crab. I have to say it tasted rather like rancid fish. The curious thing is, this is an example of how imagination or luck suggests things in your scientific life, I'd been puzzled why certain trilobites had a great balloon on the front of their heads. There seemed to be no functional explanation for it. After I'd finished eating my horseshoe crab eggs, I suddenly realized that the place that the horseshoe crabs carried their yolky eggs was, well, analogous certainly and probably homologous with where these trilobite bulbs were. So, it occurred to me that maybe these were, after all, brood pouches that carried the eggs in just the same way as the horseshoe crab. It's an appealing idea.

CURWOOD: Even if it's not an appealing meal.

FORTEY: Even if it's not an appealing meal, yes.

CURWOOD: Richard Fortey, how do you do describe what you do to others?

FORTEY: With some difficulty. (Curwood laughs) I think I've only ever received one rude remark by somebody who said, and this was not from the man in the street, this was a rather well-paid barrister, who said, "And does the taxpayer subsidize this work you do?" And when I explained that he did, he said, "How tremendously arcane." But apart from that, most people seem to find it a rather thrilling way to spend your life.

CURWOOD: What's an average day in the field like for you when you go looking for trilobites?

FORTEY: Well, you have to find the right rock section to hit, first of all. Then really it is a matter of hard labor. You know, in the old days, criminals used to be, I believe, sentenced to breaking up stones. Well, that's what I have to do for a living when I'm in the field. And one of the joys of paleontology, of course, is that there is this strong element of serendipity. You never know what the next hammer blow is going to bring. So, quite often it's frustrating, you don't find much, and then maybe suddenly you will open a page on history that has never been seen before. I can recall occasions, for example, where I found within the space of half an hour perhaps half a dozen animals previously, as they used to say, unknown to science. And that's quite a thrill.

CURWOOD: Is there something that separates the study of trilobites from the rest of paleontology?

FORTEY: No. No. The kind of things I explain in my book apply to other kinds of fossils as well. What I wanted to show was, you know, by studying something apparently arcane, you can actually open windows on things which everybody can understand is important. By studying trilobites, you can actually reconstruct the vanished geographies of ancient worlds.

CURWOOD: In your book you compare the extinction of the trilobites with

Franz Joseph Haydn's "Farewell Symphony." How's that?

FORTEY: Well, you know, the symphony begins with a lot of bustle, the orchestra all playing together. And now I think it was a protest that Haydn made on the behalf of the poor pay of his orchestra. He got progressive members of the orchestra to pack up and leave the stage, until only, I think it was the first violin alone remained fiddling. Well, so it is with the decline of the trilobites. There was a glorious variety of them in the Ordovician Period, and indeed in the Silurian Period. And then gradually, gradually, the variety dwindled, until at the end of their history there were just a few left. And then of course the rest is silence.

(Haydn up and under)

CURWOOD: Richard Fortey is senior paleontologist at the Natural History

Museum in London and author of the book Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution. Mr. Fortey, thanks for joining us.

FORTEY: It's been my pleasure.

(Music up and under: Haydn's "Farewell Symphony")

CURWOOD: Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line anytime at 800-218-9988. Or write to 8 Story St., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. Our e-mail address is letters.loe.org. And visit our webpage at www . loe . org That's www . loe . org. CDs, tapes and transcripts are $15 dollars.

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Amazing Moe

CURWOOD: The state of Maine is famous for its lobster and its moose, but not necessarily for its turtles. But at least one turtle is making a name for himself in Maine. His name is Moe. And like countless other pet turtles, he was purchased in a department store in the 1960s. But unlike most of his fellow reptiles, Moe has survived for almost 40 years now. Maine Public Radio's Matthew Algeo visited Moe and his owner in Portland.

ALGEO: Every night Michael Lotfey feeds his pet turtle Moe.

LOTFEY: It'll last in his bowl about 14 seconds.

ALGEO: Lotfey has been feeding Moe for a long time, 36 years to be exact. Lotfey was six years old when he bought Moe and another red-eared slider turtle named Minnie at a W.T. Grant store in 1965. Minnie was dead within weeks, but Moe is still kicking -- or crawling, as the case may be.

LOTFEY: He's been a really good pet, you know? He's got his own personality. It's really funny. He's tough. I guess he's been through a lot of things, you know?

ALGEO: Lotfey and Moe have been together since the Johnson administration, and Lotfey says he knows Moe pretty well. He describes him as nosy.

LOTFEY: He seems to, like, follow you around. Like, even when he's out of the bowl, if I say to him, "You better not be coming over here," he comes over.

ALGEO: Lotfey says he doesn't know the secret to Moe's longevity. But he says he has survived a couple of close calls. Twice, once in 1978 and again in 1983, Lotfey's mom accidentally left Moe outside on a cold day, and he froze solid inside his bowl.

LOTFEY: We came out one day and there was the two, three inches of water frozen. Moe just like a turtle cube, if you will. And she thought for sure he was gone. But she brought him in the house, and next thing you know he just kind of woke up, and said where's my food?

ALGEO: Moe is definitely a creature of habit, says Lotfey. A typical day includes plenty of lounging in the sun and lots of crawling around the house, albeit very slowly.


ALGEO: Lotfey says Moe also enjoys sleeping and listening to music.

(Music plays: Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love")

LOTFEY: He likes everything from Patsy Cline to Led Zeppelin, you know? Anything in between.

(Zeppelin continues)

LOTFEY: He'll stay busy in the aquarium or whatever, but when a certain song comes on he just sort of lolly-lags around. And so I just kind of feel that he likes it.

ALGEO: Moe is about four inches across, but he wasn't much bigger than a quarter when Lotfey bought him, much too small to be legally sold today. The FDA banned the sale of turtle hatchlings in 1975 because they carry bacteria, such as salmonella. As for his age, Moe is believed to be between 38 and 40 years old. Not bad for a common red-eared slider turtle.

McCURDY: It's actually pretty amazing.

ALGEO: Dean McCurdy teaches biology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

McCURDY: There are really millions of these turtles sold in the United States. And of all these turtles that are sold, very few of them actually survive to adulthood, let alone 40 or 50 years, which is probably the maximum range of lifespan for that species.

ALGEO: Red-eared slider turtles have long been popular pets, sometimes too popular, McCurdy says. He says owners who get tired of their pets have been known to release them into the wild, and that can make life more difficult for a region's indigenous turtles.

McCURDY: They carry diseases, some of which they pick up in captivity, which could harm native turtles. And in the case of the red-eared slider, in places like Florida, it's actually invading in certain areas and competing with native species.

ALGEO: But Michael Lotfey has no intention of releasing Moe into the wild. He says he hopes they have many more years happy together.

LOTFEY: He's been kind of a ninth wonder of the world. I mean, nobody ever expected Moe -- most people go, "Do you still have that turtle?" I don't know, he's just -- through romaine lettuce and tuna fish and fish sticks and sunlight and good music, I guess he's happy.

ALGEO: For Living on Earth, I'm Matthew Algeo in Portland, Maine.

(Music up and under: The Turtles, "So Happy Together")

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week, Survivor, Maine style. Researchers live on an isolated island to study marine life.

MAN: There are things we all miss about the mainland - regular showers, mail everyday, or the ability to run to the convenience store.

CURWOOD: Life on Mt. Desert Rock, next time on Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: Before we go, a quick trip to the sonically rich and aurally chaotic wooded swamps of northern Venezuela. Jean Roche recorded this mixed community of beings that he calls Wonder Frogs.

(SOUNDSCAPE: Jean Roche, "Wonder Frogs" THE DREAMS OF GAIA)

CURWOOD: We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Milisa Muniz, and Bunny Lester. Jesse Wegman produced this week's program.

We had help this week from Marie Jayasekera, Katy Saunders, and Gernot Wagner. Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of Earth Ear. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor, Diane Toomey is our science editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include: the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supporting reporting on western issues. The Oak Foundation for coverage of marine issues. The W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity. www dot wajones dot org. The National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education. The Educational Foundation of America for reporting on energy and climate change. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change. The Town Creek Foundation. And the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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