A Female Nephila from Zhaotong

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I took this picture of a female Nephila sp. near Zhaotong, north-eastern Yunnan, on August 10, only about two hours before a 5.6 earthquake hit Zhaotong. The Chinese have studied watching animal behavior to predict big earthquakes, but if this Nephila knew the earthquake was coming, she didn't tell me. The genus Nephila is common to tropical regions around the world, and I had a species where I lived (1985-1995) on the Colombian Llanos. They were the biggest web-spider that we had there. The web spun by Nephila is the strongest fiber occuring in nature. It is much stronger than a piece of steel of equal weight. The Nephila webs are sometimes built across trails in the jungle. I have been walking down a trail and suddenly walked face-first into a Nephila web. The first few times, it shook me up, but then I learned to watch for them, and they became one of my favorite spiders. I also saw many Nephila at a Buddhist temple near Dali, in far western Yunnan.

Posted by Brian at 3:24 PM 0 comments  

Oak galls of Central California

A couple of days ago, I promised pictures of the wasp galls that cover the leaves of the oak tree in my back yard. However, after a rain, fog and cold weather, I was unable to find much to take pictures of as I was raking leaves today. Even two or three weeks ago, there were several different kinds of galls to see. Fortunately, I have a friend who already has a complete set of photographs on the web. About seven miles (11 kilometers) from my house is the Kaweah Oaks Nature Preserve. My friend Irene Lindsey has spent several years developing an excellent web collection of photographs an text describing the plants and animals of the Kaweah Oaks Preserve. The main page can be found at http://kaweahoaks.com/
The site has many interesting pages, but pictures of the oaks galls can be found directly at

Another link on Irene’s site describes the spiders that live in our area, and at Kaweah Oaks Nature Preserve. I gave Irene a little help with that section, and another friend of mine, Dr. Marjorie Moody, gave her a lot of help. The spider section begins at http://kaweahoaks.com/html/spiders.html Go to the "Spider Checklist" for the part I worked on.

Posted by Brian at 2:27 PM 0 comments  

The Lac Insect

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The other insect that Bruce had in the greenhouse to show me was the lac insect, which produces the waxy threads that these are hiding inside of. The bodies can also be processed to produce a red die that can be used in things like lipstick. They are most famous for producing lac, which can be used for making lacquer or for the coverings of pharmaceutical capsules, or many other uses. I don't know how interesting the rest of you find this, but it was very high on the list of things I wanted to see in Yunnan. I thought I would have to go farther south to see them, but it turns out that in the area around Simao, where they are grown commercially, the season is in April, so the best place to see them in August was in this greenhouse in Kunming.

Posted by Brian at 9:02 PM 0 comments  

Chinese Gall Nuts

These are Chinese gall-nuts from the collection that Bruce keeps in a green house. These galls grow on several kinds of trees, and begin when a wasp injures the tissues of the tree to lay an egg. The egg developes inside the gall as the gall grows. The gall also produces valuable chemicals that can be processed out of it. One of these days, I will take a picture of an oak tree in my back yard, here in California, and several different kinds of wasp galls that grow on it. We don't do anything with our galls that I know of.

Posted by Brian at 8:48 PM 0 comments  

The Research Institute for Insect Resources, Kunming

I need to introduce Bruce to the members of the class. When Solomon and I were in Kunming, I wanted to visit the Research Institute for Insect Resources. I had found an address on the web, but the Institute had moved, so it took us a few days to locate it. It is attached to the Forestry University. We arrived on a Saturday, and walking around in a big empty building, we found Bruce, who is a graduate student at RIIR. Bruce was very kind to us. Here he is showing me pictures of his work with Chinese gall-nuts, something I had read about, but never seen. Later, he introduced me to Dr. Chen, the director of the institute. We went back a second day and Bruce gave us a tour of a green house where I saw live gall-nuts and lac insects. I have been an amateur entomologist for 30 years, but this was one of the best entomology weekends of my whole life. One of the interesting things about RIIR is that most professional entomologists spend most of their time working on how to keep insects from causing economic problems for people. RIIR is working to find ways that insects can produce valuable products for people. Bruce and I have kept in touch, and he is also interested in improving his English, so he will fit in very well in this blog community.

Posted by Brian at 8:31 PM 0 comments  

Our English Class in Beibei

This doesn't have all of us, but it's as close as we ever came to getting the whole class in one picture. I have tried to e-mail this to several of you, but it is too big to be accepted by some of your in-boxes. I think you can probably copy it from this blog, but if you want me to send any of these pictures to you by e-mail, delete as much as you can, to make room, and then tell me which picture you want.

Posted by Brian at 8:01 PM 0 comments  

Ghost of Jacob Marley

We took this picture in Los Angeles, with the Ghost of Jacob Marley.

One of the most famous stories in English literature is "A Christmas Carol," by the British author Charles Dickens, written in 1843. The main character is Ebenezer Scrooge, a very stingy and unhappy man. Now, in English, the name Scrooge has become an adjective to describe someone who hoards all their money for themselves, and never shares with anyone else. The story begins on Christmas eve, when everyone else is happy and greeting friends and neighbors with shouts of “Merry Christmas,” but when anyone wishes Scrooge a "Merry Christmas," he mutters, "Bah, humbug!" He is rich, but he never spends his money, or shares it.

Jacob Marley was Scrooge’s business partner, but he has been dead for many years. But at midnight, the night before Christmas, the Ghost of Jacob Marley comes to warn Scrooge. The ghost tells Scrooge that because Marley was stingy, his ghost is being tortured to walk the earth and never rest. This will happen to Scrooge, too, if he does not change the way he is living. Three more ghosts will also visit him. The Ghost of Christmas Past will show Scrooge how many mistakes he has made in the past, because money was so important, when what should be more important are other people. The Ghost of Christmas Present will show him how many people need his help now. For example, Scrooge has an employee named Bob Cratchet who has a crippled son, named Tiny Tim, who will die if he does not get medical care, but the Cratchets are too poor to get the help for Tiny Tim. Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Future will show him the bad things that will happen if Scrooge does not change. At the end, Scrooge does change, Tint Tim gets well, and everyone is happy. This story has been turned into a play many times, and our son Timothy played both the Ghost of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future, when the play was put on at Biola University, where Timothy is a student. Here we are, after the play.

I probably need to explain that, although this is a Christmas play, the idea that ghosts of the dead can communicate to living people is not a part of Christian beliefs. What is Christian is the idea of generosity, and that people are more important than money. Although Christmas began as a Christian holiday, it is sometimes hard to find what is still Christian in the way Christmas is celebrated. To me, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. Santa Clause, and all the other extra stuff just gets in the way. It is almost like there are two different holidays on the same day. I got several very nice e-card Christmas greetings from my friends in China, with Santa Clauses, and reindeer. I enjoyed each one. It very much fits the AMERICAN Christmas holiday, and I am an American. But I am also a Christian, and the CHRISTIAN Christmas holiday is only about Jesus. If that is confusing to you, don’t worry about it. Looking around me, I think most Americans are confused about it as well. But for me, it is important to understand the difference.

Posted by Brian at 5:14 PM 0 comments  

Chinese Wax Insect

Saturday, December 25, 2004

This is the Chinese Wax Insect. Those of you in Beibei may remember that I talked about looking for them in Yunnan. Well, I found this branch in Kunming. The insects make the hard, crusty wax coating, and trap themselves inside it. The things that look like red berries are actually the empty shells of females that have exploded to release their eggs.

Posted by Brian at 10:38 PM 0 comments