Friday, March 24, 2017

Hantik! (Green Tree Ant)

By Dr Abe V Rotor

Nest of Green Tree Ants

Go to the ant sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” (Proverbs, Chapter 6, 6-8)

“Hantik!” my friend cried in panic and pain as he hurriedly abandoned the fruit laden mango tree fighting off dozens of golden brown ants clinging on his skin and clothes. He had trespassed into a nest of green tree ants, Oecophylla smaragdina, and now the colony had broken into a swarm. I had my share of the bites and stings as I helped my friend repel the insects. Well, boys are boys, but this gave us a lasting lesson, and for me it opened a door to my career as an entomologist.

Years after when I put up residence in a middle-class subdivision in Quezon City I came across the world of this enigmatic organism once more. This time it came to live with my family. It built nests on two towering trees, ilang-ilang (Cananga odorata) and talisay (Terminalia catappa) which stand on the front yard and across the fence on the sidewalk, their long and thick branches virtually forming one huge crown. There is no escape from the ants; not the garden, the pond, clotheslines and pathways.

No one likes to live with a pest anyway. So I hired a woodcutter who claimed to have been responsible for cutting down some of the oldest balete trees (Ficus benjamina) on ghostly Balete Drive. (Remember the white lady stories?) Armed with bolo and salt allegedly to drive evil spirits, he climbed the talisay tree. Hardly had he began cutting a main branch when the colony of ants broke loose. It was exactly a repeat performance of that incident which happened forty years ago. My plan was abandoned, and I realized my intention was carrying a residue of revenge.

In the study of insects (entomology), insects are classified into beneficial and destructive species. Honeybees and silkworm are classical examples of the good insects, while the plant-eating and parasitic ones are considered as bad ones. But to ecologists without insects there can be no true balance in the biosphere. What that suggests is the universal idea that every living thing has a place and purpose in this planet. But where does the hantik belong?

It is difficult to pass judgment unless the facts about this insect are presented. Ants are among the most successful evolutionary creatures. They did not only survive millions of years as groups but have, in fact, together with bees, reached the highest evolutionary level - Order Hymenoptera of the largest phylum of animals (Arthropoda). The secret of this success is closely linked with their social life which has fascinated man. Insects inspired autocratic societies, such as those founded on feudalism and dictatorship. Definitely, the caste system where members are categorized according to function, was structured following that of ants, bees and termites.

Social scientists and biologists believe that social behavior among living things have a biological basis. The genes which carry the double helix deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA) control social behavior. That is why social life models somehow follow that of other species. To sociobiologists, led by EO Wilson of Harvard, this is also true with humans. A proof of this is that our history is rich with autocratic cultures and civilizations, among which are the great Egyptian civilization, Roman Empire, Chinese Civilization and other civilizations of the Aztecs, Mayans, and American Indians.

In our age of biotechnology, scientists are looking at the possibility of isolating the gene that controls social behavior in insects which can be spliced into the genes of other organisms in order to make them socially cohesive or adaptable to specific cultural conditions. The same gene may be responsible for dictating the sex of individual organisms and even populations. The basis of this thesis is that worker ants and bees are infertile females, predetermined in their immature stage. With this knowledge, genetic engineering may be able to develop techniques of mass extermination of destructive insects by modifying their sex. Already, in the case of tilapia (plapla), sex reversal (hormonal change) has been the key for preventing overpopulation and competition, and in improving weight gain.

On the practical side, ants are natural predators. They kill other insects, even those much bigger than themselves, as food. Their presence in our yard has caused the disappearance of most garden pest: caterpillars, termites and even other kinds of ants like the red fire ants (Solenopsis geminata rufa) which herd and milk aphids and mealybugs. No, the hantik is not a symbiont of destructive insects of any kind. They are nature’s sweepers and janitors. They carry off morsels and leftovers which would otherwise attract flies and other vermin.

What triggers swarming other than perceived assault? I have seen members coming to the rescue of wounded members, or to carry their dead while the rest is alerted for defense or assault. I have observed advance parties exploring new territories, ants that tap the nest to warn the colony of danger, and those which weave nests by clamping the edges of leaves together, and fastened with a sticky secretion of larvae.

When the prey is big, an army is set in place to tear it down in due time. In peaceful times members form a column toward a food source, each carrying a bit to their granary. But always, there is the courteous “kissing”, their antennae tapping and touching, mandible-to-mandible, or head-to-hind, and all in some kind of frenzy and spontaneity. Pheromone, the chemical that binds members and the royalty (queen) together, is transferred and shared this way.

According to Klaus Dumpart of JW Goethe University, several substances work together in raising alarm. One alarm triggering secretion comes from the mandible gland which includes hexanol. Just the scent of this complex substance can be picked up and interpreted by the members. Apart from this secretion, formic acid is secreted by the Dufour gland found at the posterior part of the abdomen. It serves both as pheromone and poison. The ant injects this poison into the victim when it stings. To paralyze a prey or fight an enemy, an ant bites tenaciously with a pair of huge mandibles, while at the same time, injecting poison with a retractable needle at its posterior end.

Extracts from the glands of ants and bees are useful in medicine for the cure of arthritis and rheumatism. Although induced stinging on affected area of the skin and joints of people suffering of acute arthritis is not new, the growing popularity of alternative medicine has even made the practice available in a number of US hospitals and clinics.

It is interesting to know that the eggs and larvae of hantik are gathered for food (it is cooked adobo style), and it is claimed to be an aphrodisiac, according to barrio folks in Abra. This is also a common practice in tropical rainforests in Asia and in the savannahs of Africa where these ants abound.

I look back at the nest of the hantik ants without culinary desire nor a residue of a past painful experience, and I think of them now as good neighbors. If, for any reason I receive a sting or two, I complain not, for I believe that sting is good for the heart. Hantik ants prove to be very friendly and cooperative. Pavlov is right after all. ~

Hairy caterpillar (higad) writhes as soldier hantik ants drive their razor-sharp mandibles spiked with immobilizing poison. Soon this fleshy Goliath will be reduced into shreds and tidbits which will be carried off to be served as food to the colony's nursery.

Here is a case of poison against poison. The wasp tucks in a dagger that injects bee venom, while the ants have formic acid. Here too, a giant is pitted against Lilliputians, but what spells victory is number - the strategy of ants. An ant colony is made up of thousands of active members working in precise coordination.

Morning in the Forest

At the edge of the forest, there’s a new beginning.
Dr Abe V Rotor 
Morning in the Forest in acrylic, AVR 2010

Weaned from his cradle and forebears’ bastion,
He ventured onto the plains yearning to be free;
And built the road to civilization -
Now he, Homo sapiens, ruled the plain and sea.

This self anointed king and conqueror,
Built temples and worshiped the Golden Calf;
Raped the land, sowed poison and terror,
Then sought divine grace on his behalf.

At the edge of the forest, there’s a new dawn,
The remnant of his abode long forlorn;
And he, survivor of the Armageddon
Comes home - the Prodigal Son reborn. ~

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Prism in a Forest

If colors were sounds
then I hear music,
harmonious and pure
of the Eden I seek.
If prism makes a gown
regal and queenly,
it's woven by an unseen
no other but Thee.~

Acknowledgement: photo from Internet

Stained Glass Windows - Revival of an Old Art

Dr Abe V Rotor

Nativity, Mt Carmel Church, Gilmore Ave, QC

Boy Jesus with scribes, Mt Carmel Church, Gilmore Ave, QC

Christ in his mission

Our Lady of Mt Carmel

Composite stained glass, Mt Carmel Church, Gilmore Ave, QC

Girl Therese: stirrings of a religious vocation.

Therese takes vow of religious life.

Commitment to a religious vocation.

Last days of a short but fulfilled life.

St Therese of the Child Jesus
Mother and Child, James Reuter SJ Theater, St Paul University QC

Death of St Paul, St Paul of Chartres Vigil House chapel, Antipolo, Rizal 

Jerusalem, St Paul of Chartres Vigil House chapel, Antipolo, Rizal

Acknowledgment: Selected stained glass windows of Mt Carmel Church QC, St Therese Church, The Fort, St Paul University QC, and Vigil House SPC, Antipolo.

Captured Moments of joy in Photographs

Dr Abe V Rotor

Moments of joy, moments of sadness;
they come like a moving wheel
every day, all the time in our lives,
on the road of trial and will.

Moments of joy, moments of loneliness,
they come like a rolling cloud
in light and shadow, bright and gray,
fall as rain and clear the shroud.

Moments of joy, moments of suffering,
they come together in ease and strain;
nostalgia the happiest state of mind,
sweet is sweeter after pain. ~
Posing with a baby elephant, Thailand
Wild pigeon (bato-bato), pangaw (Ilk)

Philippine Hawk, Avilon Zoo San Mateo

Taking pride of ones craft.

Apple mangoes, Don Antopnio Subd, Diliman QC

Floating lotus flowers, Thailand

Baby rabbits

Bronze sea lion, Thailand

Prize catch to market - siriw

Fruit cart, Darwin, Australia

Vegetable market, MM
Fish sauce (patis) for sale in a wet market, MM

First to see dragon fruit. Origin: Vietnam

Friendly owl. Avilon Zoo, San Mateo, Rizal

Bunny at home, QC

Garland of Dioscorea, relative of the ubi, at home QC

Listening to the sea with tambuli shell, MM

Friday, March 17, 2017

Red Hot Summer in Paintings

 Red Hot Summer in Paintings
Dr Abe V Rotor 
Fire tree in acrylic, on-the-spot painting AVR, 
Jamboree Site, UPLB Laguna

Burn in the summer sun,
your cinders on the ground,
and i shall walk on carpet,
a prince to kingdom bound.  
Erythrina by a stream, painting in acrylic AVR, 2009
UST Publishing House     

Flow gently sweet stream
among fiery petals strewn, 
 down the river flowing 
and never to return.
Mutant Red, painting in acrylic, by AVR 

Whatever happened to the tree Erythrina, 
lost in the madness of science and fancy,  
transplanted gene in her bosom dear,
forever coveted her beauty.  

An Arch of Fire Trees, painting in acrylic AVR 2009

An arch over a mountain stream, 
strewing confetti from its bow,
drifting down stream to where I dream,   
an honor to be simple and low.

A Field of Flowering Weeds, mural by AVR 2010

Dare to step on these lowly flowering weeds,
denied of decent place and defiled;
Save the deities by their magic wands succeed  
in bringing out Nature's hidden pride, 

Survival in extreme hot and dry environment

Dr Abe V Rotor
Flowering bamboo - threatened by severe drought.
"Take heed of the flowering bamboo," old folks warn.  It foretells El NiƱo, a cyclical climatic phenomenon every seven to ten years characterized by extreme hot and dry climate. The biblical story of Joseph interpreting the pharaoh's dream of "seven years of plenty followed by seven years of want," is most likely based on this phenomenon. (Note: The inflorescence of bamboo does not develop in open, thus certain species are threatened, so with the animals depending on them such as the Panda in China.)   

Porcupine ensconced in a log to beat summer heat 

Organisms become dormant (aestivate to many animals), their metabolism slows down, they stop reproducing temporarily, and they become less visible.  These are part of survival mechanism until normal environmental conditions are restored. Organisms are attuned to the march of seasons as well as the vagaries of weather and harsh effect of force majeure. These are tests of evolution and the basis of Darwin's "survival of the fittest."  

Dwarf frangipani (kalachuchi) stores water in its bulbous stem. 
Many plants, especially cacti, store water for the dry season. Water and nutrients are stored in special cells  that swell when filled up and shrink as the supply gets low. The principle involved is even more complex in the camel, whose humps are the storage organ.     Before embarking for journey, travelers make certain that the humps of this "ship in the desert" is solid and firm. 

Beat Summer with Calamba Water

Water remains cool in earthen pot (calamba or caramba) even in hot weather.
Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog

Centerpiece of Calamba, Laguna, the birthplace of Dr Jose Rizal. The town is named after the traditional calamba (caramba Ilk) or claypot for storing drinking water. Lower photo, original calamba still being used in rural areas. Claypots are universal, They are among the first inventions of man.  They have many domestic uses from cooking, to storing grains and other goods.  Claypots are indispensable in primitive and traditional rituals and ceremonies.  

Notice that the earthen pot “perspires” because it is porous. Like sweat it keeps the body cool. Cooling is the after effect of evaporation. Fanning increases the rate of evaporation, so with cooling.
Keep your savings from bottled mineral water and refrigeration in a safebox.  It's a fortune at the end of every month. And most important, you and your family are healthier.
Why don't you keep a calamba of cool water at home? It will entice you to drink plenty of water everyday which is good to health. One thing good with calamba water is that it's just cool enough to be refreshing, unlike refrigerated water. Sometimes the water is too cool, its bad to teeth and stomach.

Notice too, calamba water has a tinge of sweetness. It is because green algae grow on the perspiring pores. Even under indirect sunlight, algae photosynthesize and deposit simple sugar on the pot which then leaks slowly into the water. This is something old folk enjoy - cool and sweet drinking water. Compare it with plastic flavored mineral water. Or chlorinated "Nawasa juice," as some people jokingly call water from the faucet.
Note the double function of the claypot placed on this window tunnel: ventilation helps cool the water in the claypot, while the claypot cools air that passes through (air-conditioning principle)
There's one reminder though. Scrub off the algae - in and out - now and then to renew their growth and to keep the pores of the pot open. Don't allow crust to form. And if the calamba has long been in use, it's time to replace it with a new one. You may use the old one in the garden.

Enjoy calamba water. There is no brand in the market you can compare its unique quality. Move over mineral water. ~

Acknowledgement: Photos from Internet

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bring home the waterfalls

 Dr Abe V Rotor
Art Workshop for Children before a wall mural by the author in
his family residence in San Vicente Ilocos Sur, 2017, The author 
who served as instructor is fondly called by the kids Lolo Abe.
Bring home the waterfalls
to make it cool and green, 
and grow ferns and mosses
on the wall like screen.

To deaden the roar of cars
with sweet hissing sound,
break away the stillness 
where its water is bound.

Shower the scorched earth
but make the summer longer
for the kids to play around
until the season is over.

Lend beauty to the arts,
in painting, verse and song, 
in solace and meditation
from the maddening throng. ~

Monday, March 13, 2017

Selected quotations about our environment

Compiled Dr Abe V Rotor 

1. "Pollution should never be the price of prosperity."
— Al Gore, in a 2000 presidential-campaign speech

2. Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he's been given. But up to now he hasn't been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life's become extinct, the climate's ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day. 
Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya, 1897
3. Warning to heed: When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man we call him a vandal. When he destroys one of the works of god we call him a sportsman. ~Joseph Wood Krutch

4. Only when the last tree has been cut down,
Only when the last river has been poisoned,
Only when the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.
— Cree Indian Prophecy

5. "Eventually we'll realize that if we destroy the ecosystem, we destroy ourselves."
— Jonas Salk , American physician and microbiologist, 1914-95

7. "A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people."
— Franklin Delano Roosevelt

8. "Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans."
— Jacques Cousteau

9. Philosophies to live by   

"If you want one year of prosperity, plant corn.
If you want ten years of prosperity, plant trees.
If you want one hundred years of prosperity, educate people."

— Chinese proverb

10.  When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. John Muir

11. Man must feel the earth to know himself and recognize his values.... God made life simple. It is man who complicates it.
Charles A. Lindbergh, Reader's Digest, July 1972

12. The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology.
E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, 1973

13. Now I truly believe that we in this generation must come to terms with nature, and I think we're challenged, as mankind has never been challenged before, to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature but of ourselves."   Rachel Carson, author, Silent Spring 

14. To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one's own in the midst of abundance.

15. Hope and Reflection: There is hope if people will begin to awaken that spiritual part of themselves, that heartfelt knowledge that we are caretakers of this planet.
Brooke Medicine Eagle

16. When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.
David Orr

17. Take care of the earth and she will take care of you.
Author Unknown

18. "The good news is we know what to do. The good news is, we have everything we need now to respond to the challenge of global warming. We have all the technologies we need; more are being developed. And as they become available and become more affordable when produced in scale, they will make it easier to respond. But we should not wait, we cannot wait, we must not wait." 
Al Gore

19. You must be the change you wish to see in the world." 
Mahatma Gandhi

20. "We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls." 
Mother Teresa 

21. We find ourselves ethically destitute just when, for the first time, we are faced with ultimacy, the irreversible closing down of the earth's functioning in its major life systems. Our ethical traditions know how to deal with suicide, homicide and even genocide, but these traditions collapse entirely when confronted with biocide, the killing of the life systems of the earth, and geocide, the devastation of the earth itself."

 Father Thomas Berry 
22. "Peasant people ... don't have a chance to share in the riches that the planet can offer because some people are taking off so much of the pleasures of this world, and there's only so much to go around."  Sister Dorothy Stang, an eco-activist nun from Dayton, Ohio, who in 2005 was murdered in the Brazilian Amazon

23. "Those who develop the technologies, who promote them and stand to profit most from them, are not those who suffer their risks. The analysis of technologies is biased toward their use because the technology promoters generally lack the expertise and the incentive to analyze the risks of the technologies for human health and the environment." 
H. Patricia Hynes, "The Recurring Silent Spring" [1989]

24. I do not intend that our natural resources shall be exploited by the few against the interests of the many." 
President Theodore Roosevelt

25. Our environmental problems originate in the hubris of imagining ourselves as the central nervous system or the brain of nature. We're not the brain, we are a cancer on nature.
Dave Foreman, Harper's, April 1990

26. This is a beautiful planet and not at all fragile. Earth can withstand significant volcanic eruptions, tectonic cataclysms, and ice ages. But this canny, intelligent, prolific, and extremely self-centered human creature had proven himself capable of more destruction of life than Mother Nature herself.... We've got to be stopped. 
Michael L. Fischer, Harper's, July 1990

27. "It is good to realize that if love and peace can prevail on earth, and if we can teach our children to honor nature's gifts, the joys and beauties of the outdoors will be here forever."
Jimmy Carter

28. Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
Albert Einstein 

29. Nature is the art of God. 
Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, 1635

30. Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. Chief Seattle, 1855

We must not be forced to explore the universe in search of a new home because we have made the Earth inhospitable, even uninhabitable.  For if we do not solve the environmental and related social problems that beset us on Earth - pollution, toxic contamination, resource depletion, prejudice, poverty, hunger - those problems will surely accompany us to other worlds.  Donald G. Kaufman and Cecilia M. Franz, Biosphere 2000:  Protecting Our Global Environment, 1996

“Every day is Earth Day!”