Category Archives: Science

Conference poster full of tips for creating conference posters

In case you need a quick guide to making a conference poster, here are two versions of my poster of poster tips. They have content overlap, so just choose the layout that pleases you. More details below the images.

Poster example (Colin Purrington's)Advice on designing scientific posters

Both posters are descendants of a document I created circa 1997 for my evolution students at Swarthmore College. The bottom one is available as a PDF if you want to print an actual poster of it — which I highly recommend if you are assigning a poster project for your class (students don’t like reading the website, below).

My full tips are at “Designing conference posters“. I created the website for my students, too, but eventually made it public in case it might help make the world’s poster sessions more enjoyable and their posters easier to understand. Please share with your friends.

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Pyractomena borealis

Pyractomena borealis (Lampyridae) exploring the surface of trees on a warm winter day in February. The third photograph shows how they can retract their head under the carapace like a turtle. At first I thought they might be foraging — they are highly predaceous, and hunt slugs and earthworms (in packs!) by first injecting them with paralytics. But they might have just been looking for a place to pupate, because it’s time for that. Adults will emerge sometime in early Spring to be the first fireflies in the area. The larvae are bioluminescent, too. The hypothesis about why the larvae glow is that it evolved first as an aposematic trait in larvae, warning mice and toads of the presence of lucibufagins, steroidal toxins in the hemolymph. It’s thought that the adult habit of using flashes is secondarily evolved, millions of years after the larvae evolved the ability to glow. The ability of larvae to glow even predates the origin of the Lampyridae, I gather. For more enlightening details, see Branham and Wezel (2003)Stanger-Hall et al. (2007), and Martin et al. 2017.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Pyractomena larva

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Pyractomena larva

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Pyractomena larva

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Green slime mold

Plasmodial slime molds (class Myxogastria) come in many colors (yellow, purple, orange, blue, red), but rarely in green, so this find at a local park intrigued me. I found it February 23 under the bark of a decaying pine tree in Springfield, Pennsylvania. There were no fruiting bodies. 

I’m curious what species it is (let me know, if you know, please), but would love to know why it’s green. Here are three possibilities (I have more, if they fail): (1) the slime mold has formed an association with an algae or cyanobacteria, (2) the green pigment replaces the yellow pigment under some conditions, and (3) this is a species of slime mold that’s green but not frequently encountered so not part of books and online keys. The latter two are most likely, but the first was interesting to consider … see below if you have a few minutes.

Colin Purrington Photography: Slime molds &emdash; Green slime mold

(1) In regards to algal associations, I looked into this option first because the green appeared so exactly like that of alga. Of course, I’d never, ever heard of algal/myxomycetes symbiosis, so I looked into this possibility very, very quietly so people wouldn’t spew coffee out their noses. But I eventually found an article on the topic (Lazo, W. 1961.Growth of green algae with Myxomycete plasmodia. American Midland Naturalist 65:381-383). Here’s the summary from his abstract:

“Three species of Chlorella were able to enter into full associations with Physarum didermoides and Fuligo cinerea, forming green plasmodia in which the algae multiplied in light.”

The above association was under special laboratory circumstances, however, notably using slime molds that he’d purged of their bacterial partners with antibacterials. But even though the conditions might seem artificial, I suspect slime molds have a built-in ability to purge themselves (and surrounding substrate) of bacteria. And algae are easily found growing in soil and on dead trees, so it’s very likely that slime molds and algae come into contact in the wild regularly. And algae (or at least some species like Chlorella) can grow heterotrophically in the dark (e.g., on sucrose) and still remain green. This latter fact is important because I found this slime mold under rather thick bark, and I doubt it received any appreciable light. 

Indeed, some plasmodial slime molds appear to even specialize on the algal biofilms growing on wood (reviewed in Smith 2007). One mentioned by Smith is Barbeyella minutissima, which I Googled and found this:

“In addition to liverworts, Barbeyella is found socialised with monocellular algae. It is assumed that the protoplasmodium phagocytizes either the algae or the bacteria on their surface.”  — Global Fungal Red List Initiative

Smith also mentions that a Didymium iridis plasmodium harbored an alga (Trebouxia sp.) for months in a laboratory culture (Keller and Braun 1999; I couldn’t obtain to read).

So if the above scenario does occur, perhaps it’s similar to the trick noticed in some Dictyostelium spp. (cellular slime molds, in the class Dictyostelia), which known to carry around bacteria, which they can release onto substrates that are favorable for bacteria (i.e., they farm). 

Anyway, I don’t have a microscope to examine the slime mold for algae or cyanobacteria, so the above is just mere speculation. I suppose I could spray it with a good herbicide, but that’s seems cruel.

(2) The green color might simply be a pigment change. I don’t know much about myxogastrid pigments, but apparently moisture, light, starvation and other environmental factors all cause color changes. But I could find only a few papers discussing a green pigment. Here’s the best line from one of them:

“The yellow pigment of P. polycephalum has been found to be an excellent natural pH indicator (Seifriz & Zetzmann, 1935). In a neutral medium, the natural indicator is yellow, in an alkaline medium it is bright green, and in an acid medium it is deep reddish orange.” Seifriz and Russell (1936) [emphasis added]

[The citation of the referenced paper, which I couldn’t obtain in full, is Seifriz, W., and M. Zetsmann. 1935. A slime mould pigment as indicator of acidity. Protoplasma 23:175-179.]

The above fact is really interesting, but don’t know why a decaying pine log would become alkaline. I couldn’t find any good research on the topic, but perhaps I missed it.

The more interesting scenario is that a pigment gene is mutated. Mutations happen, though it’s rare enough that I don’t think it’s likely. 

(3) It’s of course most likely that there’s a species of green slime mold and I’m simply ignorant of its existence. Maybe it’s not even a slime mold.

(4) Or it could be oobleck


Some more pics:

Colin Purrington Photography: Slime molds &emdash; Green slime mold plasmodia

Colin Purrington Photography: Slime molds &emdash; Green slime mold

 

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Small winter stonefly

I was out looking for the elusive snow fly yesterday but found this, instead: an eastern stonefly (Allocapnia recta), a member of the Capniidae (small winter stoneflies). At least that’s what I think it is. Larvae are active during the winter, and adults can fly and mate even when temperature is in the teens. Pretty incredible to see them flitting around on a cold day when other insects cannot even move. At Hildacy Farm in Media, PA. Probably emerged from the nearby Crum Creek. 

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Eastern stonefly (Allocapnia recta) Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Eastern stonefly (Allocapnia recta)

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Trigger warning for creationist visitors to National Zoo

Here’s a photograph I took several years ago at the National Zoo’s “Think Tank” exhibit on primate cognition. Darwin Day is one week so I thought I’d share.

Colin Purrington Photography: Evolution graphics &emdash; Think Tank warning for creationists

The text is a little hard to read so here’s transcription:

“This exhibit is about animal thinking. It contains some things you may agree with, some you may disagree with, and others that may even trouble you. Come explore and see what you think.” 

The warning sign was crafted by Smithsonian staff to cater to snowflake creationists who complained about the “Changes over millions of years have resulted in today’s humans” panel that covered the age of the earth, human evolution, and how natural selection works. 

The “see what you think” part suggests to visitors that the facts presented within are up for debate and thus shouldn’t undermine somebody’s alternative views about human origins or the age of the earth. But, of course, the warning signage undermines the experience for all visitors. I.e., a curious but uninformed visit might assume that the exhibits are just wild guesses about what might have happened. A shameful use of tax dollars, in my opinion.

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