Tuesday, May 29, 2018

How's our National Bird doing?

For Memorial Day, we’re going to take a look at an endangered species success story – the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)! Who doesn’t love seeing our national symbol (since 1782) flying majestically through the skies? I know that one of the high points of our recent visit to Chincoteague NWR was seeing the beautiful bald eagle fly above us as we biked the island. But views of bald eagles weren’t always so common. According to National Geographic News, there were only 417 nesting pairs in 1963. Many attempts were made to try to protect bald eagles, including the 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act and listing under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, but it was the banning of DDT that really helped the recovery of these birds.

DDT was a commonly used insecticide in the 1950s and 1960s. Insects had the DDT in their systems, and fish then ate the insects. Eagles then ate the fish. As we move up the food chain (insect to fish to eagle), more and more of the insecticide would accumulate in the tissues of each animal (ie. an insect has a little insecticide; fish eat many insects, thus their tissues have more insecticide; eagles eat many fish). This phenomenon is called “bioaccumulation”. DDT caused the eggshells of eagles to soften, so young would not survive. Thanks to the banning of all hunting of eagles and of all use of DDT, we can enjoy seeing our national bird today and everyday!

Bald eagle fun facts:
  • The bald eagle is a large bird, weighing between 10 and 14 pounds. 
  • Bald eagles can live up to thirty years, reaching sexual maturity at around 5 years. 
  • Both males and females share the duty of incubating the eggs (about 35 days)
  • Bald eagles can fly at speeds up to 35 mph

Friday, May 25, 2018

Meat-free Friday -- Falafel

Summertime is a great time for falafel, when you can garnish with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers! I used to cook up the prepared falafel from a local restaurant, but now that I’ve adapted this great recipe (My Favorite Falafel, Epicurious), I like to make my own. I’m providing the version using canned chickpeas. Enjoy!

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  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley (about 1 tblsp dried)
  • 2 tblsp finely chopped fresh cilantro (about 1 tblsp dried)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp dried hot red pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic (or 4 tsp jar garlic)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4-6 tblsp flour
  • canola oil for frying
  • chopped tomato, chopped cucumber for garnish
  • tsatsiki sauce for garnish
  • pita bread
  1. Put chickpeas and onions in a food processor or blender. Add parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin. Blend until mixed, but not pureed.
  2. Sprinkle in the baking powder and about 4 tblsp of flour and continue to blend (If you’re using a blender, I recommend you take the mix out of the blender and begin mixing by hand at this stage). Keep adding flour until dough forms and you can make a little ball without the dough sticking to your hands. 
  3. Place bowl in frig and cool for a few hours (this step is optimal, but not mandatory – it just keeps the falafel from falling apart in the oil. If you don’t refrigerate, just use hot oil and be very gentle.)
  4. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a deep frying pan. Form the falafel into little balls and fry a few minutes on each side, until golden brown. 
  5. Serve in pita with tomatoes, cucumbers, and tsatsiki.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

So you slept though science class -- Coevolution

I love when we get to the topic of "co-evolution" in my biology class.  Hitting that point in the semester means we're going to be leaving organ systems (which can definitely be fascinating -- who doesn't want to know how his or her digestive system or immune system work?) and moving into my favorite topic -- ecology!  Co-evolution occurs when two species evolve together, in the same place and at the same time.  Their interspecific interactions influence the direction of that evolution.  Examples include predator/prey interactions that change the genetic make-up of each species.  This video on the evolution of moths and bats is a great example of co-evolution:
Another example of co-evolution is the development of plants and their pollinators.  In fact, there was a recent surprise in the world of evolutionary science, when researchers found evidence of an insect proboscis occurring long before the presence of the flowers hypothesized to force the evolution of this type of mouthpart.  

So why do we care about co-evolution?  Because the interspecific interactions that have evolved over hundreds, thousands, or millions of years are a very finely choreographed dance.  When one species gets out of step, the entire ecosystem could be affected.  A recent article in Science, reports results that many scientists have expected -- changes in our environment due to climate change will not affect species equally and could very well upset the balance between species that have co-evolved.  Some of the species most hardest hit -- insects.  The insects that pollinate our food supply.  This is yet another reason to get involved in climate change policy at the national, state, and local level.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

5 Endangered Species Myths

Endangered Species Day Logo created by Jennifer Hennessey/USFWS

Friday was Endangered Species Day 2018!  Based on discussions with students in my environmental science classes, there are a few misconceptions about endangered species and the endangered species act.  To celebrate the big day, let's take a look at (and hopefully dispel) these myths:

Misconception #1 -- Species have always gone extinct, so we don’t need to worry right now. True, species have always gone extinct. Scientists are not concerned about the fact of extinction; it’s the rate of extinction that is a concern. The USFWS, in its pamphlet “Why Save Endangered Species?”, states “Biologists estimate that since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, more than 500 species, subspecies, and varieties of our Nation’s plants and animals have become extinct.” Wow! Current estimates of the current rate of species extinctions are 100 to 1000 times the natural rate which is estimated to be between 1 every year to 100 years. That means that we’re living in a time of mass species extinction, comparable to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Scientists refer to this period as the Anthropocene, the only mass extinction believed to be caused primarily by humans.

Misconception #2 -- Losing a species won’t affect humans. Species diversity is a critical element in ecosystem health. “Species diversity” is how many different species are found in a habitat and in what proportion they’re found. Some habitats have greater species diversity than others – think rainforest – but all habitats are healthiest when they contain as many different species as they can sustain. Think of a habitat as a fishing net, with each species being piece of rope that connects to other pieces to form the net. If one of the pieces of rope breaks and leaves a small hole, the net can probably be fixed and reused. But what if half the net is torn? It won’t be very usable. The same thing happens in a natural habitat; remove too many species and the habitat ceases to function. How many species can be lost, before the habitat doesn’t function? No one knows – is it an experiment we’re willing to try? The habitats around us provide many services such as medicinal and agricultural resources, clean water and air, and recreation. Healthy habitats benefit humans – they’re a necessity, not a luxury.

Misconception #3 – Once a species is on the endangered species list, it never comes off. Incorrect! Protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act have led to the recovery of several species or populations of species, including the gray whale, the bald eagle, the brown pelican, and the gray wolf.

Misconception #4 – Pollution is the greatest threat to biodiversity. Actually, habitat loss is the greatest threat to biodiversity. With 7 billion humans on the planet, we take up a lot of space and we’re changing a lot of habitat to new uses.

Misconception #5 – There’s nothing I can do to protect the Earth’s biodiversity. In order to protect biodiversity and endangered species, we all have to make conscious choices about how we use resources. Check out the “low hanging fruit” section as a start. Visit www.myfootprint.org to discover new ways of decreasing your carbon footprint. Get involved in deciding how our country produces energy – research the issue and write to your political representatives. One final thought from famous biologist E.O. Wilson, "A very Faustian choice is upon us: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behavior as the unavoidable price of population and economic growth, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic." (From Brainy Quote: <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/e_o_wilson_2.html#ixzz1i9a6zlii>)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Feta and Spinach Fritatta

Here’s another great recipe from Michael Symon’s 5 in 5 – if you haven’t picked up this cookbook yet, you should! Very easy and very tasty!


  • 2 tblsp butter
  • 4 cups fresh (1 frozen package – be sure to squeeze out excess water) spinach
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese


  1. Preheat broiler to 450 degrees
  2. Heat a large, non-stick, oven-proof skillet on the stove and melt the butter. Add spinach and salt, stirring until the spinach is wilted.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Add egg mixture to spinach and cook, stirring, until eggs are still a little runny, but starting to firm up.
  5. Top with feta (I did half with feta and half without, for our non-feta eaters) and put under broiler for about 2 minutes (allow feta to soften).


Monday, May 14, 2018

Friday, May 11, 2018

Arugula, apple, and date salad

Today’s meat-free Friday recipe comes to us from professional chef, Matt C. I can’t wait to try it!

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup walnut oil
  • 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 8 cups arugula
  • 2 Red Delicious or Fuji apples, unpeeled, cored, thinly sliced
  • 6 ounces Spanish Manchego cheese or sharp white cheddar cheese, shaved
  • 1 1/2 cups pitted dates, sliced
  • 1 cup Caramelized Walnuts
  • 4 large shallots, minced
  1. Boil balsamic vinegar in small saucepan over medium-high heat until syrupy and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 4 minutes.
  2. Whisk oil and Champagne vinegar in bowl. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Keep at room temperature. Rewarm balsamic syrup before using. Rewhisk vinaigrette before using.)
  3. Toss arugula, apples, half of cheese, dates, walnuts, and shallots in large bowl with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season salad with salt and pepper.
  4. Mound salad in center of each plate. Drizzle balsamic syrup around salads. Sprinkle remaining cheese atop salads. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Sharks on the move!

(not too worried about sharks...)

My family loves spending time at Edisto Beach in SC.  The beaches in that area are beautiful and relatively empty -- great places for shell collecting and swimming.  And sharks are an important part of the ecosystem.  We've caught and released sharks right off the coast -- lemon sharks and sharpnose sharks are common.  Now there's news that bull sharks, thanks to warmer waters due to climate change, may be expanding the range of their nursery areas to North Carolina's Outer Banks.  No real danger to humans, because the juvenile sharks don't bite humans and they're in areas that aren't really popular for beachcombers.  But it's still an interesting impact of climate change.  Check out this Washington Post article explaining the change.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mammal Monday -- The Tasmanian Devil

I was lucky enough to see Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) in a captive breeding facility, and they're fascinating creatures.  Currently endangered and very limited in their range, these little guys are the epitome of carnivores -- no meat-free Friday for them!  Take a look at today's Monday mammal:

Want to help out this species?  Check out the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Avocado Quinoa Bowl

Here’s a quick, yet filling salad to try on a busy Friday night! I started with a recipe from Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen, and then just fiddled with the ingredients, based on what I had at home.

  • 1 bunch of fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, cashews, or almonds (I used almonds)
  • 2 avocadoes
  • 2 tblsp lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves (I used 2 tblsp jar garlic)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • 4 cups cooked quinoa (I used the red quinoa)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  1. The cookbook says to “combine basil, walnuts, avocados, lemon juice, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper in a food processor. Process until smooth.” I only combined the chopped basil, lemon juice, garlic, oil, salt, pepper, scallions, and red pepper in a bowl and just whisked the ingredients together.
  2. Pour the sauce on the quinoa and mix well. Top with tomatoes, avocado, nuts, and any other toppings you think look tasty – I added corn and black olives.