Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tardigrades: little beasts found inside vol 125 issue 1

I'm thinking of highlighting one or a couple of articles in each new issue of CFN.  Depending on how ambitious I get, I might even have a Q&A session with some of the authors to give the "story behind the story" on how they did their research and why.  These are just ideas right now - don't hold me to them.  But I will at least discuss one article in 125-1 that deals with a very cool subject: Tardigrades (also known as water bears because they kinda sorta look a little like bears under the microscope).

Grothman, Gary.(2011) Tardigrades of Fish Creek Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada: A Preliminary Survey. The Canadian Field-Naturalist 125(1): 22-26.

My friend Matt Boeckner (who published a 2005 article on tardigrades in CFN) first introduced me to tardigrades a few years ago in Newfoundland.  "THEY ARE AWESOME!" he told me, but I was skeptical.  I studied Daphnia zooplankton at the time, and everyone knows nothing can be more awesome than Daphnia [citation needed to support my unreasonable opinion].  But the more he told me about tardigrades, and the more I learned about them since then, the more I realized that they truly are amazing because of how tough they are.  They can withstand conditions too extreme for almost any other animal, including desiccation, extreme heat, extreme cold, radiation, and even outer space.  They make cockroaches look dainty by comparison.

Gary Grothman surveyed the tardigrades of Fish Creek Provincial Park, Alberta.  Considering most tardigrades are too small to see with the naked eye (almost always smaller than one mm long), this isn't exactly birdwatching, or even butterfly collecting.  This takes patience.  Basically, he took tardigrate-inhabited material (e.g., moss) and dried it, then soaked it in water and poured the water through very fine screens to collect tardigrades, then he examined the tardigrades under a microscope to identify them.  He found a number of species, including eight new to Alberta and two new to Canada.  People seldom have affection for little invertebrates, but biodiversity isn't just charismatic polar bears and falcons; it includes the full diversity of life.  It is nice to know people like Gary are investigating the diversity of charismatic but tiny nature in Canada.

Say hello to Diphascon granifer, one of two species reported new to Canada by Gary Grothman in The Canadian Field-Naturalist.  Image courtesy of Gary Grothman.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Little tiny owl spotted on CFN website (and it's spotting you too)

You know those mini-icons that appear in your web browser's tabs and Favourites bookmarks?  For example, there should be an orange-background "B" (for Blogger) mini-logo on your tab for this website.  These are called favicons (because they appear in your Favourites list).  They are not really essential for anything, but they look kinda purdy and give an extra opportunity to brand your website.

I figured out how to make a favicon for the CFN site.  I did this after my Mozilla Firefox browser updated to the latest version this week, and now any website without a favicon has a blank dotted box where the favicon should be.  The blank box reminds me of when I circle a missing answer on students' tests; it draws attention to the absence of a contribution.  So I did some Googling to figure out what these logos are called, how I can make one, and how to add one to my site.  Favicons are only 16 pixels x 16 pixels in dimension.  That's pretty small!  You can't be very elaborate with 16x16 dots.

I started by making the letters "CFN" in 16x16 dimension.  It looked budget.  My son could've done a better job, and he eats crayons.  So I found a site where you can upload images and convert them into 16x16 favicons.  Obviously you can't expect Mona Lisas on such a small canvas, but I was pleasantly surprised at the detail it could achieve.  So I decided to make a favicon for the OFNC's owl logo.  Now when you go to the CFN site the owl head will be staring out at you from your web browser's tab.  Watching you like a haw... like an owl.  I don't think people would peg it as an owl if they looked at it in isolation, but considering the large version of the image appears at the top of all CFN web pages I hope people will make the link.  Or at least I hope they won't misconstrue the favicon as something crude and boycott our journal.

If you're interested favicons for your site, here are the resources I used.
http://www.favicon.cc/ - favicon creator.
http://pkp.sfu.ca/support/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=7663 - forum discussion with instructions on how to add a favicon to journal websites using Open Journal Systems software (which CFN uses).
http://www.scientificillustrator.com/illustration/favicons.html - has some nice nature-related favicons for free, as long as you give credit to their website.  I didn't use any, but I was tempted to.