January 26, 2011
If your Aussie friends seem to have a little bounce in their step it’s because today is Australia Day! Every January 26, all the states and territories of Australia commemorate the first arrival of British settlers. The holiday has evolved into a celebration of Australia’s independence from Britain and its unique diversity.
January 26 (which due to the time difference was actually yesterday in Australia) has only been officially recognized as Australia Day since 1994, but the citizens of that land down under are certainly making up for lost time with parades, concerts and fireworks. Not to be left out are our furry and feathered friends at the National Zoo. So we’ve gathered a few Australian animals that we like to think would be celebrating with their friends back home. Even though the weather outside is pretty brutal, stop by and wish our Australian friends at the National Zoo a happy Australia Day!
The emu has the proud distinction of being the largest bird at the National Zoo. But with great size comes great sacrifice. Emus, as well as ostriches, are ratites, which means flightless birds. With the firework displays celebrating Australia Day, this might actually be a good thing.
Australian Snake-Necked Turtle
What better exemplifies Australia Day’s celebration of a diverse population than the Australian snake-necked turtle? While most turtles retract their neck inside their shell, the Australian snake-necked turtle folds its long neck sideways into its eight-inch shell. You may want to keep your distance at a parade though. It’s musk glands emit a foul odor if they are caught or captured.
Named after a derivative of an Aboriginal language, the laughing Kookaburra will make sure you don’t sleep through Australia Day with its territorial song that resembles laughter. Nicknamed alarmbird, breakfast bird and bushman’s clock, the laughing kookaburra’s, “ha-ha-ha-HA-HA-hoo-hoo-hoo” chuckle is bound to light up any Australia Day party.
The double-wattled cassowary may weigh in at as much as 128 pounds but that doesn’t keep this flightless bird from running at speeds up to 30 miles per hour and jumping as high as five feet. Some native Australian tribes even believe the bird has mystical powers and refuse to hunt them. One look at the dagger-like claw on the inner toe of a cassowary and I wouldn’t hunt them either.
The kangaroo might be Australia’s most famous animal export but the tammar wallaby is essentially a miniature kangaroo, making it by far the cuter of the two. With its 12-inch tail and muscular back legs, the wallaby is built for jumping. They mostly feed on vegetation but have somehow figured out how to survive in places with no fresh water by drinking seawater and eating salty sea plants.
October 5, 2010
If you have no idea what a stinkbug is then consider yourself lucky. As the days become shorter and the air turns cold, hordes of an arrowhead-shaped bug, known as the brown marmorated stinkbug (BMSB), are making their way into homes along the Mid-Atlantic and becoming quite the nuisance. In order to fully understand these creatures, and more importantly how to get rid of them, we asked entomologist Gary Hevel at the Natural History Museum for some tips.
Clearly stinkbugs have been planning their invasion of Mid-Atlantic homes for some time now. Is there any cause for their sudden increase this fall?
Authorities are uncertain on this question. In general, alien pests are able to increase their numbers because there are no natural predators or parasites in the new territory.
As we prepare to do battle with the stinkbugs, what should we arm ourselves with in case they invade our home? Are there any non-caustic remedies?
There are a couple of easy and practical methods of dealing with the critters. Large numbers can be handled by introducing them to a vacuum cleaner. A second way is to place them in a jar of soapy water (where they drown). Tossing them into a toilet bowl is a waste of water.
These seem like pretty rude bugs. Eating produce without paying and then coming inside uninvited. What can we be doing to keep their population down?
Yes, these serious pests are annoying in houses, but suck juices from fruits and vegetables in yards, orchards and farms. Other than vacuums and soapy water, some people have suggested eating them. This is done to some extent in other countries, and they provide two to three times more protein than steaks. Fortunately, research scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture are developing two control methods. 1) The use of pheromones (air chemicals) to attract them to traps where they are chemically killed. 2) The use of a small parasitic wasp that has been imported from their original habitat.
Where did stink bugs come from in the first place?
BMSBs are long known in China, Japan and adjacent countries, but have hitchhiked by some manner to the United States. Their encore appearance was in the late 1990s in Pennsylvania.
Even I like to see the good in everyone. What positive qualities do stinkbugs possess?
In their natural territory, they are part of the biological food chain, where they are primary targets of at least one parasitic wasp. Their other qualities, in the view of humankind, are negative.
If they’re lucky enough not to end up smushed on a rolled-up newspaper, how long do stink bugs typically live?
Eggs hatch in the early part of the year, and these bugs slowly grow through the season, gaining their wings. Adults seek shelter in houses and other human-made structures for overwintering, then emerge in the spring to mate and lay eggs. In the United States, the BMSBs have only one generation per year. Adults most likely die after their first season, and go to Stink Bug Heaven if they’ve been good…and we know that they haven’t. As researchers study these bugs, their life span will become better known.
And when do stinkbugs stink? I’ve stepped on one, but it didn’t stink.
All kinds of stink bugs have holes on the sides of their bodies for the passing of unpleasant gasses to protect them from predators. The smell may be experienced best by holding a BMSB near your nose and squeezing it (the bug, not your nose).
Bedbugs, the previous media darlings of the bug world, enjoy feeding on human blood, should we worry about bodily harm from stinkbugs?
No. The good part of the BMSB story is that they can not bite or sting. Otherwise, they are abundantly more annoying than a lengthy visit from one’s least favorite relative.
September 28, 2010
From just outside the entrance of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the rhythmic Asian-inspired house music pours out into the night welcoming art-lovers to “Asia After Dark.”
Once inside, a video display shown on wall slowly updates with tweets using the hashtag #asiaafterdark. I made a quick stop at the bar for an Asian-infused cocktail—I opted for the “rise and fall melon ball”— and then it was on my way to see Fiona Tan: Rise and Fall.
Once downstairs and into the gallery, I joined a group being led by curator Carol Huh. As I listened to Huh describe the artist Fiona Tan’s work on the wall, I was looking at a bunch of black and white photographs hanging on the wall of the gallery, but then I realized the people in them were moving, the scenery was slowly changing. The best way to describe it would be it’s similar to the paintings in Harry Potter.
The 22-minute, two-channel video installation Rise and Fall, got me thinking. When you walk into the room there are two vertically hanging screens, as Huh said, it’s as if the video screens are the last barriers for Tan to break through. I’m not really sure what that means, but the film focuses on a young and elderly woman with shots of water spliced in throughout, gorgeous shots of Niagra Falls were so real, so aloud I almost felt like I was getting doused with spray. It is a thought-provoking film with intriguing angles and the old woman and the young girl on the two screens seemed to play off of one another at times, doing the same thing, applying make-up, walking in the park. Like I said, it made me think, who are those women? Are they the same person? What does the water signify?
I moved on. Near the Tan exhibit was Gods of Angkor: Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia. The works of art, dating from the prehistoric period to the post-Angkorian period, are in amazing condition and the level of detail is truly something to behold. But the night was slowly came to an end with dancing and cupcakes (Curbside Cupcakes stopped by on Independence Avenue later in the night). Talk of meeting and talking with Zac Holtzman and Senon Williams of Dengue Fever, who were hanging out in crowd, could be heard as the well-dressed assemblage slowly started to disperse. Many were still thrilled with their performance in the Artful Avatars activity where participants could pose in a retro photo booth and create a self-portrait.
This is the fifth Asia After Dark event, the previous one featured DJ Rekha, and offers those 21 and older a chance to enjoy fine art in a way completely different from the usual museum experience. Keep an eye out for the next Asia After Dark sometime in the spring of 2011.
June 23, 2010
Soccer and music blend together to create an atmosphere that is unique only to the beautiful game. For 90 minutes, players are serenaded by supporters who don’t ask for tips in return, just that magical goal that sends them into hysteria.
As you read this, USA supporters in South Africa are almost certainly singing into the night celebrating today’s dramatic, stoppage-time win over Algeria that secures the U.S. Men’s National Team a place in the knockout stages of the FIFA 2010 World Cup for the first time since 2002.
Music is how fans communicate with their team and inspire them to victory. They live and die with every pass and their emotions fill every song and chant. Whether it be drums in South America, the vuvuzela in South Africa or good old fashioned singing in England, music can be heard in stadiums around the world.
Music and soccer are not always a perfect match as Shakira demonstrated with her official FIFA 2010 World Cup song, “Waka Waka – Time for Africa.” Criticism for the song was immediate as South Africans demanded to know why a Colombian singer was chosen to write and perform a song that represents their continent and features African elements throughout and yet, not performed by an African.
What has become synonymous with Africa at this year’s World Cup and has provided the background track to the world’s biggest sporting event is the vuvuzela, the plastic horn South African fans use to cheer on their beloved Bafana Bafana (The Boys, The Boys). Noise levels inside stadiums have reached deafening levels, broadcasters are filtering out the noise as much as possible; even the players have complained. (This editor’s dog hides under the sofa.)
But happily, the buzzing drone of the vuvuzela is not all that South Africa has to offer when it comes to music. To celebrate, we suggest you check out “This Land is Mine: South African Freedom Songs” from Smithsonian Folkways, which features songs that you can sing while sitting on your couch watching the next World Cup match.
Your neighbors will thank you for not breaking out your vuvuzela.