Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Gun is a Coward's Weapon

I'm at the hospital right now where we are all scrambling because of a shooting spree, possibly at two locations. There is a lot of hearsay and rumors about what happened, and what is happening right now. Schools are all on lockdown as well as most government offices.
Saipan is peaceful and safe most of the time. But too many idiots can and own guns. Guns make killing easy. It is a coward's weapon.

This is all too familiar to me, and too close to my heart as an issue. I am sure today will be a day that we will all mourn about and one that will not be easily forgotten.

Be safe. Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

Update: One of the first details here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Friday the 13th has a creepy connotation to some people who may believe it to be a day of bad luck. I’ll just use it as a day to talk stories about something else that some people think is creepy: Arachnids!

Arachnids are a class of invertebrates that have jointed legs. Arachnids look like insects, but a major difference is that the former has eight legs and the latter, six. This class includes spiders, scorpions, harvestmen, ticks, and mites. If you have a fear of spiders or other arachnids also known as arachnophobia, then do not proceed! I want to talk stories about some discoveries that I personally think are cool!
Crab spiders
I was admiring the beauty and appreciating the sweet smell of the oleander flowers one day. I always think about how deadly this plant is because of the cardiac glycosides, oleandrin and neriine, that they contain. Ingesting any part of the plant can be deadly to people, especially children. A closer look at the beautiful yet deadly flowers yielded another deadly agent at work! Well, deadly to other bugs, that is.

Can you see the crab spider hidden within the flowers? It is easy to miss her at first glace.
Crab spiders (Thomisidae family) are called that because they look like crabs and like crabs, they can move sideways or backwards. Their two front pairs of legs angle out and are always ready to grab their prey. They usually have flattened bodies that are often angular.
Crab spiders do not build webs to trap prey, but are hunters. Some species sit on or among flowers, bark, fruit or leaves where they ambush visiting insects by grabbing them. Some are even able to change colors to match the flower on which they're waiting.
I can't identify what type of crab spider this is. I've seen at least two kinds here. Another kind is half the size of this one with a white body and green legs. This one is ready to strike any insect seeking the oleander's sweet nectar.
I owe this next discovery to DJ. A few nights ago, he asked me if we had any scorpions on Saipan. I said, "yes we do" but have only seen them in pictures. DJ then told me where he could find some, and even though it was already dusk, we grabbed a flashlight and headed to the field behind his house.

He showed me where to collect them in the loose bark of a guava tree, and they were tiny! The body is about 1.5mm! Ashley, DJ's older sister remembered finding these as well when she was in grade school at Mount Carmel.
Here's a closer view where you can see the segmented body. Pseudoscorpions or false scorpions are called that because they lack the stinging tail found in real scorpions. I am sorry that I can't identify these little guys, but there are at least 5 types of pseudoscorpions in the Marianas.
Pseudoscorpions aren't dangerous to humans. They are actually beneficial since they eat a lot of other insects that we consider as pests. In fact, some of them live in books and eat book eating insects like silverfish and moths (some people call them book scorpions because of this). Because they don't have stinging tails their poison can be delivered by their pincers to kill or paralyze their prey. Some pseudoscorpions even hitch rides on flying insects, like flies, to get from one place to another!
We returned our friend back to his home soon after taking these pictures. We will now have to find some real scorpions now that we have an idea how to find them. I read somewhere that you can find them in Causarina or ironwood bark.

Well, I hope that all this talking about arachnids wasn't too creepy to you all. Until the next discovery:

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

UPDATE November 19, 2009: A list of NMI pseudoscorpions on record can be found in the Washington Museum website. It lists 12 kinds here. The one DJ found is most likely Geogarypus longidigitatus (Rainbow, 1897). The crab spider is most likely Misumena vatia (Clerck, 1757), which is also commonly called the Goldenrod Spider or Flower Spider.

Monday, November 9, 2009

7724: Too late or Too early

A few friends have sent me pictures of their autumn season this year and a couple like Mai and Sean have blogged about theirs. I envy them this because I have never experienced the turning of the season and have never seen the leaves turn colors.

It was too early too see any of the Fall colors when I visited Atlanta in August. There were some colors in the trees that caught my eyes here and there and made me excited thinking that I am catching a glimpse. But no- it was just too early.

It is pretty clear from this Maple tree that it was too early.

Even this Japanese Maple said the same thing. There is a hint of color.
Or is that just me seeing things?

These young sycamore fruits caught my eyes though! Close, but no.
Then, there was this dying branch that turned its leaves all red! Pretty exciting huh?
I saw some color in these trees. I believe they were crab apple trees and the few people I asked didn’t seem to know whether these colors are “normal” for that time of the year. These were at the parking lot of the DeKalb Farmers Market.

Not sure what's going on here with these colors,
but I was pretty excited to see them, none the less.
The market is a huge 140,000-square-foot building that boasts foods from all over the world. It began humbly as a produce stand in 1977 and the market expanded in 1986 to its current dimensions.
One of the things I listed in my “2009 To Do List” was to eat a Georgia peach. They had fruits from all over the world but to my dismay- No Georgia peaches! It was too late in the season! I did eat some from Oregon and sampled a few kinds of plums and nectarines. I also tried some exotics from Latin America like guineps, mameys and pluots. Of course, who from Saipan can resist strawberries that's less than $4.00?

This is a Mamey sapote (Pouteria sapota) and it is related to our local chiko or Sapodilla (Manilkara achras). Too bad it wasn’t ripe enough for me to eat.
It is more aromatic than the chiko; the flesh more orange than brown.
Check out the huge seed. Doesn’t it look like a beetle?
I also had "Smell a Magnolia flower" in my 2009 To Do List, but again, I was too late. I only saw full blooms on route to the airport and I couldn't get to them without lugging my luggage with me. Oh, well. Maybe next year. Here is a Magnolia bud I saw unopened.
Enjoy Autumn, wherever you are.

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good Bye, My Gaogao

The Gaogao will die out on Saipan. Gaogao (Erythrina variegata var. orientalis), also known as the Cat's Claw or Coral Tree, is being attacked by the Erythrina gall wasp (Quadrastichus erythrinae) or EGW .

INFECTION AND INFESTATIONThe tiny wasps (females are 1.5mm; males are 1.0mm) lay their eggs in the young leaves and stem tissue of the Gaogao. The eggs then develop into larvae that feed upon the Gaogao as they mature.
The leaves develop damaging galls (abnormal tumors and outgrowths) and fall off. Petioles and shoots swell up and curl growing in an ineffectual manner. These pictures are of the young Gaogao trees planted across the Hyatt Hotel, Garapan on Coral Tree Road. I took these picture on October 2007. Many of the trees there are dying two years later. There is a loss of growth and vigor for the trees, and heavy infestations can cause attacks from other pests and diseases more easily. Ultimately, the trees will die. I started noticing familiar and well established Gaogao trees on my outings and hikes. Check out this leafless and lifeless giant. I found this dead tree at the Laderan Tanke Trail this year. March was supposed to be the height of this tree's blooming season. Notice the rotting bark on the trunk.The Eythrina gall wasp was first described (Kim et al. 2004) from specimens infecting trees in Singapore, Mauritius, and Reunion. The next two years saw its spread to China, India, Taiwan, Philippines, Florida, American Samoa, Hawai’i and Guam. EGW started showing up on Saipan in 2007. It is uncertain if the wasps originated from Africa according to the discoverers. Our agriculturists believe that Saipan’s pests came from Tinian and Rota. Here is a picture of the wasp's life cycle from Fleming Arboretum:

Former Glory
The Gaogao is one of my favorite native trees in the CNMI. It is also for the native fauna (birds, Marianas Fruit Bat, insects, etc.). It is a tree that can match the beauty and flamboyance of the Flame Tree as I try to convince people to plant more natives. Traditional medicine also utilizes the Gaogao.

A hike through the Laderan Tanke' Trail this past March yielded some evidence in the leaf litter that some Gaogao trees survived to flower another season.

Crafters here also bead together the purplish seeds for necklaces and Bojogo dolls that are marketed to the tourists. Here, the seeds represent the doll's hands and feet.

Erythrina trees have a variety of functions in other locations as well. The flowering of the red flowers (erythros is Latin for red) is highly associated with farming and fishing activities in Taiwan. The flowering is a working calendar by tribal peoples as sign of the arrival of spring. It is a sign for the coastal tribes to start catching flying fish, and for the Puyama tribe to plant sweet potatoes. In American Samoa, the blooming trees signal the return of whales in their waters.

The following pictures are from July 2006 at the American Memorial Park, Garapan.
These are from February 2008 in San Roque at the Park Hotel Parking lot. It was one of the better sites to watch the birds that came out to celebrate the blooming of the Gaogao.

Can you see the Egigi or Cardinal honeyeater (Myzomela cardinalis saffordi) in the picture below? This endemic subspecies of the honeyeaters found in Micronesia is a fervent nectar eater and loves the Gaogao.
There's the Egigi! The Nosa or Bridled white-eye (Zosterops conspicillatus) is usually seen as a hungry insectivore foraging on leaves and twigs. It does not shy away from the delicious nectar brought on by the Gaogao blooms though. Can you see the tiny fella in the picture below? I must have counted more than 20 birds in these trees. I am sorry for not having a camera with a nice zoom feature.
This tree is probably more than 100 ft (30.48m) tall and found in Chalan Kanoa during the 2009 bloom also in February.
These are what the seeds look like as well as the seed pod and flower bracts. These are from the trees of the CNMI Retirement Building, Capitol Hill from February of last year.

In Hawai’i, the wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis) another species of Gaogao is a revered native and indigenous tree. It is used as an ornamental as well as for functional landscaping (windbreaks, hedges, erosion control). The soft mature wood has been used for booms and floats for single hull canoes and long surfboards. The seeds are collected and beaded for leis that can fetch up to $500 each. Since the EGW infestation, Hawai’i has tried physical (cutting down or remove and replace), chemical and biological controls to save the wiliwili. . Some people feel that the best way to preserve the wiliwili is to collect and bank as many seeds as they can before they are all gone.

The following images of the wiliwili is from Forest and Kim Starr. The Maui based biologists work for the Univesity of Hawai'i and have an environmental consulting firm for conservation involved in protecting the wiliwili.
The beautiful wiliwili bloom.APPARENT DAMAGE
It is also unfortunate that some people in agriculture and forestry limited the planting of the Gaogao in recent years. They believed that more Gaogao trees would help host and propagate more fruit piercing moths that could eventually infect fruit crops. There is a delicate balance to nature especially in our small islands that is why we should be careful as to what is introduced in our land and waters.

We will eventually see all of the Gaogao trees die in Saipan. An article in the Marianas Variety reports that our entomologists and agriculturists will let them all die thinking that their extinction will lead to the starvation and the eventual elimination of the EGW and fruit piercing moths. In a few years, the Gaogao can be reintroduced free of pests.

This well established tree in Middle Road, San Jose across the Taste of India Restaurant withered and died this year.
I usually look forward to the Gaogao blooms in March. I enjoy watching the full crown of the trees in red and the creatures that come out for the food providing flowers. I also try to show the blooms to as many people as I can so that they are aware of the importance of CNMI’s native trees. Many of the trees that I visit for the flowers are now dead. I will miss the Gaogao sorely.
My heart breaks for you
I will miss seeing you bloom
Good bye, my Gaogao

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber