Planthopper Fiber Optics Display

Leafhoppers, treehoppers and planthoppers have the most aerodynamic-shaped body in the insect world. All of them are strong jumpers that can move with equal ease forwards, backwards, or sideways like a crab. The crab-like motion distinguishes hoppers from most other insects.

They also come in many shapes and colors with over 12,500 varities worldwide.

Photo by Robert Oelman
A Heranice miltoglupta treehopper Robert Oelman
Treehopper Membracis mexicana Robert Oelman

The beautiful insect shown below is a planthopper nymph. During the span of time after it hatches and before it becomes fully mature, the planthopper nymph secretes a waxy substance from its abdomen that gives its tail the look of a colorful fiber optic display. It serves as a defense from predators who are somewhat hypnotized by the effect.

Night photograph by Melvyn Yeo

As the planthopper gets ready to do its favorite thing — hop around — it moves the waxy threads into a sleek line.

Waxy protrusion on a planthopper nymph Photo by Melvyn Yeo
Photo by Frank Canon
Walking planthopper nymph found in Colombia Photo by Robert Oelman

It moves ever so slowly before making a great leap, and it can fan the threads back out for an extra boost while it’s in the air.

Treehopper Credit: chinKC/Shutterstock

The final effect is like a dazzling fiber options display.


New King of Air Tankers

California has a new weapon in it’s arsenal for fighting forest fires: The Global Super Tanker. It’s been described as “the largest, fastest, most technologically advanced aerial firefighter in the world”.

The Super Tanker isn’t new. The fire retardant system on the 747 was first used in 2009 to fight fires in Alaska, and it was fully certified by the Interagency Airtanker Board for a Call When Needed contract from the U.S. Forest Service in 2013.

The Global Super Tanker now in use in California was originally a Japanese Boeing 747 passenger jet, but it was converted to fight forest fires. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection put the plane under contract, on August 31, 2017. With 19 fires burning in California, the supertanker was called from Colorado Springs to help. In its first week, the plane made 13 flights and spread 219,000 gallons of fire retardant in 21 separate drops.

Demonstration water drop in Colorado Springs Credit: Global Super Tanker Services LLC/AP
Captain Tom Parsons in front of Global Super Tanker Photo by James Quigg/Daily Press
747 Super Tanker shown dropping water with pink retardant. (Courtesy of Global SuperTanker)

The supertanker isn’t right for every situation, but the plane is unmatched in its ability to get to fires quickly and drop a larger volume of retardant. It comes down like a hurricane rain in real big droplets to prevent damage on the ground. The Global SuperTanker has a system of 18 tanks, 10 for fluids and the rest for pressurized air to help disperse the liquids. It can carry 19,600 gallons of water, retardant or oil dispersant.

It was used for the first time in California for the Ponderosa fire.

A retrofitted Boeing 747 SuperTanker drops retardant while battling the Ponderosa Fire east of Oroville, California, August 30, 2017. Photo by Noah Berger, REUTERS.
Global Super Tanker called the Spirit of John Muir

Based near Sacramento, is even bigger than the DC-10, it costs $16,500 per flight hour any time it’s called into service.   It is without a doubt the most expensive fire-fighting tool in the fleet.

Science Winners

Five gorgeous examples of science photography.

Fluid Mechanics Credit: Stuart Hirth/New Scientist Eureka Prize for Science Photography

The amazing photograph above shows splashes formed from single drops landing in puddles. Captured over several months, they were photographed in darkness using a high-speed flash to preserve their colors and shapes and then brought together in one image.

Liquid Lace Credit: Phred Peterson/New Scientist Eureka Prize for Science Photography.

This winning photograph shows drops of glycerin and water impacting a thin film of ethanol.  The difference in surface tension creates holes in the drop’s surface making it look like lace.

Growth of agaric toadstool mushroom Credit: Phred Petersen/ Royal Photographic Society.

Another image created by Phred Petersen.  This is a time lapse image showing the progress of an agaric toadstool mushroom as it grows.

Phred Petersen is a Senior Lecturer and Coordinator Scientific Photography, School of Media and Communication at RMIT University, a global university of technology and design.

Obelia hydroid Credit: Teresa A. Zgoda

This last photo is a confocal image of a marine organism (obelia hydroid) taken with the 10x objective.  It was a winner from the 2016 International Images for Science competition.

Confocal cross section view of a dandelion showing curved stigma with pollen. Credit: Dr. Robert Markus

Just one more – an honorable mention from 2017 Nikon Small World Competition.



Aunt Jemima Was a Jazz Singer

Quaker Oats Company has had six models of Aunt Jemima for their pancake mix. In the 1940’s it was Edith Wilson.

Born Edith Goodall to a middle class family in Louisville, Kentucky, Edith first performed as part of a blues trio with Lena and Danny Wilson. She recorded 17 songs in 1921 and 1922 with Columbia with Johnny Dunn’s Jazz Hounds. Edith remained a nightclub and theatre singer working for years in New York City.

Edith became a major star in the New York black entertainment world. She was part of the famous “Lew Leslie’s Plantation Review” at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem. Edith also traveled to England where she established herself as an international star. Though she lacked the emotional depth that artists such as Bessie Smith and Ida Cox brought to the classic blues form, Wilson helped introduce the blues to white audiences, both in the U.S. and in Europe

Edith sang with The Hot Chocolates revue performing alongside Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. Edith Wilson would appear with all the greatest names in black show business of the day, including Bill Robinson, Duke Ellington, Alberta Hunter, Cab Calloway, Noble Sissle, and many others.

Credit: Smithsonian Institution

Edith did extensive work as an actress appearing on radio in Amos and Andy playing the part of Kingfish’s mother-in-law and in the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Becall class film “To Have and Have Not”.

After WWII she became the face of Aunt Jemima for the Quaker Oats Company. Some criticized Edith Wilson for playing a black stereotype, but she refused to be intimidated and was proud of what she considered the aura of dignity she brought to the character.

Edith Wilson as Aunt Jemima at personal appearance for the Seattle Kiwanis Club, 1956

Edith Wilson retired from show business in 1963 to work as an executive secretary with Negro Actors Guild and to involve herself with other charitable, religious, and literary activities. She returned from retirement in 1973, her last appearance was at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1980.


Electrifying Match-Ups

I just finished reading The Last Day of Night by Graham Moore and thought it would be fun to look at photographs of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, who, more than a century ago, engaged in a nasty battle over alternating and direct current, known as the “War of Currents.”

Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla Credit: Library of Congress

Edison developed the first practical incandescent light bulb in 1879. Supported by his own direct current electrical system, the rush to build hydroelectric plants to generate DC power in cities across the United States practically guaranteed Edison a fortune in patent royalties.

But there were limitations with DC power so Edison brought Nikola Tesla on to design a more practical form of power transmission. Tesla was a 28 years old mathematician and engineer from Serbia. Tesla told Edison the future was in AC (alternating current). When Edison dismissed his idea Tesla left Edison in 1885 and set out to raise money for his own company.

Enter industrialist George Westinghouse at Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company Westinghouse who made his fortune on an air braking system, which revolutionized rail safety. Westinghouse was a believer in AC power. He bought some of Tesla’s patents and set about commercializing the system to make electric lighting more than an urban luxury service. While Tesla’s ideas and ambitions might be brushed aside, Westinghouse had both ambition and capital, and Edison immediately recognized the threat to his business.

George Westinghouse

Edison and Westinghouse knew there was room for but one American electricity system, and Edison set out to ruin Westinghouse and Tesla in a great political, legal and marketing game. Their battle played out on the front pages of newspapers and in the Supreme Court. Edison’s attempt to smear Westinghouse with the dangers of AC has precisely the opposite effect.

Despite all of Edison’s efforts, and despite his attempts to persuade General Electric otherwise, the superiority of the AC current was too much for Edison and his DC system to overcome.  For his part, Edison later admitted that he regretted not taking Tesla’s advice.

In 1893, Westinghouse was awarded the contract to light the Chicago’s World Fair bringing all the positive publicity he would need to make alternating current the industry standard.

Postcard World’s Columbian Exposition Chicago 1893
Spectators viewing the Columbian Exposition Fair
1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago lit by Westinghouse
Electrical Building at the fair exhibiting both Westinghouse Electric as well as Edison’s General Electric Company

Seeking to make long distance electric power transmission a reality, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla combined their skills and their belief in the new AC technology to build the first hydro-electric power plant in 1895 in Niagara Falls. This achievement was regarded as the unofficial end to the War of the Currents, and AC became dominant in the electric power industry.

Interior of Edward Dean Adams power station at Niagara with ten 5,000-horsepower Tesla/Westinghouse AC generators. Photo credit: The Everett Collection

In 1899 Tesla opened the Experimental Station in Colorado Springs to study the use of high-voltage, high frequency electricity in wireless power transmission. One of Tesla’s goals was to produce artificial lightning.

Tesla shown here with the Tesla spiral coil high voltage transformer, 1896.
Famous photograph of Serbian-American inventor Nicola Tesla in his laboratory in Colorado Springs around 1899. Tesla is supposedly sitting reading next to his giant high voltage generator while the machine produced huge bolts of electricity. The photo was a promotional stunt by photographer Dickenson V. Alley – a double exposure. First the machine’s huge sparks were photographed in the darkened room, then the photographic plate was exposed again with the machine off and Tesla sitting in the chair. In his Colorado Springs Notes Tesla admitted that the photo is false.

Marine Hydroids

The hydroid Ectopleura larynx is a fouling organism usually found attached to sunken ropes, floating buoys, piers, mussel shells, rocks, seaweed and the undersides of boats in the seas surrounding Great Britain and the Americas.  This organism grows in colonies that can tolerate exposed habitats and strong water currents. Sometimes called Common Flowerheads in the fish farming industry this hydroid can cause problems by reducing water flow and quality.

Hydroid Ectopleura larynx Alexander Semenov/

Ectopleura larynx has two distinct rings of tentacles, one around its mouth and the other at the base of the head. In between these two rings, are the gonophores, or the sexual buds.

Colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the hydroid Ectopleura larynx Credit: Jannicke Wilk-Nielsen/Science Photo Library
SEM of sexual buds of hydroid Ectopleura larynx Credit: Jannicke Wilk-Nielsen/Science Photo Library
Ectopleura larynx has tentacles for defense and feeding. The chemically challenged hydroid in this image is using its tentacles to protect the sexual buds, from an external threat.  Credit: Jannicke Wilk-Nielsen/Science Photo Library

The hydroid Tubularia indivisa is also called oaten pipes. This large hydroid is also native to northeastern Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, Norwegian Sea and the English Channel.

Hydroid Tubularia indivisa Photo credit: Derek Haslam/
Hydroid Tubularia indivisa Credit: Buiten-Beeld/Alamy Stock Photo

The solitary polps of Hydroid Tubularia indivisa are found on dull yellow unbranched stems that reach a height of 4-6”.   The pinkish to red polps resemble flowers, having two concentric rings of tentacles, with the outer rings being paler and longer than the inner ring.

Hydroid Tubularia indivisa are preyed upon by nudibranch, another marine animal that looks like a snail without a shell.

Nudibranch feeding on Hydroid Tubularia indivisa Credit: Alexander Semenov/

These flower like hydroids are often considered delicate and soft. But beware. Their delicate looks belie their potent nature. They possess an armament of stinging cells equipped in their tentacles to capture and subdue prey.

(SEM) The harpoon-like nematocyst, darting from hydroid Ectopleura larynx, punctures through the hydroid wall, into the prey and releases a toxin that helps immobilize its prey..
Photo Credit: Jannicke Wilk-Nielsen/Science Photo Library