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Sorry the blog posts were a bit exiguous this long beautiful June week…to makeup for it, here is a flower: a lovely tiger lily which is in full bloom in my Brooklyn garden, in fact. Lilies are right up there with roses and irises and tulips as the quintessential beautiful garden flowers–and for good reason, look at the amazing glowing orange like magma or a sunset! I love lilies and I need to get some more, but right now we can continue to celebrate the sun and its summer ascendancy with this lovely sunny plant!

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After yesterday’s soul-searching, let’s take a moment to rest and renew our spirits…with a beautiful bright orange-gold dove from Fiji. This is the orange fruit dove (Ptilinopus victor) also known as the flame dove—a lovely small short-tailed dove which lives in the paradisiacal rainforests of Fiji where it eats an omnivorous diet of fruit, larvae, insects, and small arthropods and mollusks. The male birds (pictured here) have bright orange body feathers and shiny olive green heads (AND blue green legs, skin. and beaks). The females are olive colored and don’t call so much attention to themselves.
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I wonder what it would be like if, through some bizarre fluke, rock pigeons (aka pigeons) only lived on a few small islands in Fiji and the orange fruit dove was found in cities everywhere. Would we be oohing and ahing at the rock pigeons subtle grays with iridescent sheen and dismissively wave off the flame pigeons gorgeous orange as vulgar?
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OK, some days, after a long day at work, I am a bit uninspired, but you know who never runs out of endless inventiveness? Nature!  So today, as a run up for next week’s Halloween week of creepy art, here is a gallery of natural expressionism—nudibranch mollusks—some of the most vibrant and exquisitely colored animals in all of the world (you can look at an earlier Ferrebeekeeper gallery of nudibranchs here).

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Now poisonous strange sea slugs are pretty creepy and seasonally appropriate, but to keep this filler post truly Halloween appropriate I have selected all orange, and black, or orange & black slugs (with maybe a fab or purple and white and green here and there).  Behold the glory:

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Aren’t they beautiful! Sometimes I wish I was a toxic gastropod that looked like Liberace and lived in a tropical sea…but alas, like so many of nature’s greatest works, they are vanishing as the oceans change.

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Blackhead Leatherjacket, (Pervagor melanocephalus) Photo by Doug Hoese

Blackhead Leatherjacket, (Pervagor melanocephalus) Photo by Doug Hoese

Filefish (Monacanthidae) are members of the order Tetraodontiformes, a group of fish which also includes sunfish, triggerfish, boxfish, and pufferfish.   I am immensely fond of these sorts of fish because of their personality and appearance.  Today we are going to look at a genus of filefish, the Pervagor, which are remarkable for their beautiful colors.  Pervagor filefish are native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, where they live in shallow coastal waters and reefs.  Like other filefish they feed on small invertebrates and other little animals which they catch.  They evade predators with somewhat armor-like skeletons and with a pop-up spike on the top of their body (which they can use to wedge themselves into crevices—or simply to prevent being easily swallowed. I am writing about them not because of their remarkable lives (indeed I fave found it hard to find out many details about them) but because of their beautiful appearance.  Each species is like a little piece of jewelry or a brilliant abstract painting.  They are exactly what we need to get through the start of this week!

Blackbar Filefish (Pervagor juanthinosoma) Carol A. S. MacDonald

Blackbar Filefish (Pervagor juanthinosoma) Carol A. S. MacDonald

Pervagor melanocephalus from aquariumhome.ru

Pervagor melanocephalus from aquariumhome.ru

Pervagor janthinosoma (by Hiroshi Senoh for the National Museum of Nature and Science, Kanagawa Prefectual Museum of Natural History)

Pervagor janthinosoma (by Hiroshi Senoh for the National Museum of Nature and Science, Kanagawa Prefectual Museum of Natural History)

Pervagor aspricaudus

Pervagor aspricaudus

Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma) | by RCG Maru

Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma) | by RCG Maru

Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma) by Scott Retig

Immature Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma) by Scott Retig

Just look at ’em!  Evolution is such a mad artist that one is never disappointed by its never-ending improvisations, its dazzling palette, and obsessive use of form!

Opah?

Opah?

In all of entertainment, no figure is more beloved than Opah!  Her networks make the most money.  Her endorsements confer instant fame and wealth.  Her personal life is the subject of profound fascination and scrutiny. She is what all Americans aspire to be…a veritable queen who transcends…

Opah!

Opah!

Wait…Opah?  That’s a big orange fish! Also known as moonfish, opahs consist of two species (Lampris guttatus and Lampris immaculates) which are alone in their own small family the Lampridae. Their closest relatives are the magnificent ribbonfishes like the crestfishes and oarfish! They are discoid fish with orange bodies (speckled with white) and with bright vermillion fins.  Opahs do not give away cars or support quack psychiatrists and physicians, but, they are much in the news right now anyway. To the immense surprise of ichthyologists and zoologists, a research team from the NOOA has discovered that Opahs are warm-blooded—in a way.  They are the only endothermic fish known to science.

Lampris guttatus (NOAA)

Lampris guttatus (NOAA)

Being warm-blooded allows animals in the deep ocean to think and move more swiftly than the more ascetic and staid dwellers of the deep (most creatures of the ocean bottom are usually slow and placid in order to conserve energy–like the tripod fish).  Ocean birds and marine mammals have long used this to their advantage.  They gulp air from the surface and then dive deep to catch slower moving fish, squid, and invertebrates from the cold depths.

A stamp from  French Southern and Antarctic Territories showing Lampris immaculatus

A stamp from French Southern and Antarctic Territories showing Lampris immaculatus

Other high-speed predatory fish (certain species of sharks and sportsfish) can warm key muscle groups using heat exchanging blood vessels in order to gain a burst of super speed, but these fish rapidly lose their heat—and the related speed advantages–as their blood circulates through their gills. This is one of the reasons sharks and marlins lunge and then return to slow measured swimming.

The opah appears to produce the majority of its heat by constantly flapping its pectoral fins.  The warmth thus generated is not lost through the opahs’ gills. Critically, these fish possess unique insulated networks of blood vessels between their hearts and gills.  The residual heat is removed from blood headed through the gills and then restored as it goes back through the heart. Their weird circular shape and comparatively large size are additional adaptations to help them conserve this warmth.

An opah near San Clemente Island (Jane J. Lee for National Geographic)

An opah near San Clemente Island (Jane J. Lee for National Geographic)

Marine biologists know surprisingly little about opahs (especially considering that the fish have long been known to fishermen and diners).  Opahs live in the mesopelagic depths 50 to 500 meters (175 to 1650 feet) beneath the surface but it now seems they might make deeper hunting forays into the true depths.  They are solitary hunters which live on shrimp, krill, and small fish. Opahs are approximately the size of vehicle tires.  The smaller species (Lampris immaculatus) is like a big car tire and reaches a maximum of 1.1 m (3.6 ft). The larger species, Lampris guttatus, can become as large as an industrial lorry tire and can attain a length of 2 m (6.6 ft).  the largest opahs weight up to 270 kg (600 lb).

Spotted Opah larva (Lampris guttatus)

Spotted Opah larva (Lampris guttatus)

Larval opahs resemble the larvae of oarfish (they are long and ribbonlike with strange protuberances.  The main predators of Opahs are the great sharks…and humankind.  Because of predation from this latter species which is endlessly hungry the survival of the opahs has grown less certain.  It is believed that they have a low population resilience, but this…like their numbers and their lifestyle is unknown to science.  We only just found they were warm-blooded earlier this month!

Orange-lined Triggerfish (Balistapus undulatus) photo by

Orange-lined Triggerfish (Balistapus undulatus) photo by

Today we bask in the tropical glory of a brilliantly colored (albeit temperamental) fish from my favorite family of fish, the Balistidae. This is the orange-lined triggerfish (Balistapus undulates). This aggressive reef fish is the only member of its genus (possibly because it attacked and destroyed all of its relatives). It lives throughout the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific with all manner of horrifying sharks, marine crocodiles, and fishing humans, but it seems to care little and is noted not just for its extravagant color but also for its brash highly territorial character.

Balistapus undulatus (from fishes of Australia.net)

Balistapus undulatus (from fishes of Australia.net)

The orange-lined triggerfish is an omnivore. It mostly eats invertebrates such as mollusks, sponges, echinoderms, and corals (the fish crunches off the rocklike coral tips with its fearsome beak—which it also uses to bite through mollusk shells) but, when the opportunity arises it also eats marine algae and other fish. When it takes bites out of divers it is probably defending its territory and not expanding its diet. Triggerfish have eyes which move independently of each other so they can keep track of everything going on in their lively reef habitats. For the same reason, they have excellent color vision. They are long-lived and clever. Different individuals have different personalities and habits.

Balistapus undulatus off the Similan Islands of Thailand (photo by Thierry Rakotoarivelo)

Balistapus undulatus off the Similan Islands of Thailand (photo by Thierry Rakotoarivelo)

The fish is green with brilliant orange stripes and orange/yellow translucent fins. It grows to 30 centimeters (1 foot) long. Like other triggerfish, it has a powerful erectile spine in its dorsal fin. This spine lies in a groove in the fish’s body but can be locked in place when the fish is threatened. If the fish is in open water this means that a predator must swallow a nasty spike, but if the triggerfish is near coral or rocks (which it nearly always is) it can wedge itself beneath and then lock itself inextricably in place. A predator must try to pull the triggerfish out while contending with the sharp beak.

The juvenile orange-lined triggerfish is triangular so that it is unpleasant to swallow and even more effective at wedging itself in crevices

The juvenile orange-lined triggerfish is triangular so that it is unpleasant to swallow and even more effective at wedging itself in crevices

Orpheus (Jean Delville, 1893, oil on canvas)

Orpheus (Jean Delville, 1893, oil on canvas)

The constellation Lyra was named after the haunting lyre of Orpheus. After the great musician was killed by maenads, his severed head and his lyre were thrown into the river and then drifted down to the sea. Zeus sent his eagle to pick up the lyre and carry it up into the night sky as an eternal reminder for human creative professionals about the nature of their discipline. The myth of this constellation is entirely different in China—as we have seen—yet it too revolves around star-crossed lovers sundered by circumstance.

The Constellation Lyra

The Constellation Lyra

Meanwhile…the robot observatory Kepler has been scanning the heavens for the subtle signs of exoplanets since 2009. The spacecraft malfunctioned in 2013, and engineers are still arguing about how best to salvage or repurpose it (or whether such a thing is even possible), but the vast treasure troves of data collected by Kepler are still yielding stunning discoveries. One of those discoveries just came to light this past week. In the constellation Lyra, there is an orange star 117 light years away from earth. The star is only 3/4th the size of the sun, but it is much older—dating back to 11.2 billion years ago (the sun, by comparison, is 4.567 billion years old). The universe itself is 13.8 billion years old—so the orange star has been burning through most of the history of creation. Because the orange star is smaller than the sun it has a much longer lifespan and will probably continue to fuse atoms together for another 20 billion years (whereas the dear sun, alas, will use up its fuel in another 4 or 5 billion years).

An artist's conception of 444 Kepler and its planetary system

An artist’s conception of 444 Kepler and its planetary system

This is already heady stuff to think about, but not unprecedented. What is news is that Kepler discovered five small, rocky planets orbiting this ancient star—by far the oldest planets ever discovered. The planets are tiny—smaller than Earth and closer to 444 Kepler than Mercury is to our sun. In light of this discovery, the ancient orange star in Lyra has been designated as 444 Kepler.

The Lament of Orpheus (Alexandre Séon, 1896, oil on canvas)

The Lament of Orpheus (Alexandre Séon, 1896, oil on canvas)

444 Kepler is from one of the first broods of stars to exist. The fact that it has planets at all is something of a surprise. Astronomers are working to explain the genesis of such early planets. Of course this discovery raises other questions as well, about whether life could be much older than imagined. However to such questions there are still no answers. From the heavenly lyre of Orpheus, as from the rest of the firmament we have still heard nothing but silence.

lead-image-halloweenDuring secondary school in rural Ohio the music teacher annually dug out the moth-eaten scores for a bunch of Halloween songs including “Black and Gold,” (the lyrics of which I still somewhat remember). The song was a doggerel hymn about the colors of Halloween season and the lyrics were just a list of black and gold items: jet black cats with golden eyes, golden goblins, pumpkins, and black shadows. Some young wag always said “this should be titled ‘black and orange,’” which I thought was a fair point based on all of the orange and black candy and decorations around.

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Allegedly the seasonal color scheme of black and orange go back to the ancient Celtic traditions which Halloween comes from. Orange (or rich gold/saffron, maybe) is the symbolic color of the harvest, the crops, and the autumn leaves whereas black represents night, death, and winter darkness. It’s a good color combination, but I always wonder whether the seasonal obsession with bright orange and black may be more a result of marketers rather than ancient Celts—or maybe they actually dug out black robes and golden sickles every year for Samhain just like the music teacher got out those smudged Halloween music sheets.

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If it is a marketing tradition, the marketers chose well. Orange and black are beautiful together and perfectly fit the season, but you rarely see people running around wearing this combination other than tigers and baseball players (and tigers aren’t even people). I wonder of there are shopping seasons in the future that likewise will be known by color—like back to school will be aqua and puce. Perhaps the seasonal holiday colors are predetermined by the natural colors season. Do Australians have a creepy death holiday in their fall (our spring) or what? Or is everything just orange, dun, and buff there every season? What are holiday color combinations from other cultures?

Polynesian Halloween?

Polynesian Halloween?

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The carrot (Daucus carota sativus) has been in cultivation at least since classical antiquity (although Roman sources sometimes seemingly confuse the root vegetable with its close cousin, the parsnip). However don’t imagine toga-clad Romans walking around the Forum chewing on bright orange carrots like Bugs Bunny! In Classical antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages, carrots were purple or white. It was not until the 16th century that far-sighted Dutch farmers stumbled upon a mutant orange carrot and hybridized it with other varieties to begin the now-familiar tradition of all orange carrots. It is said that the orange carrots were chosen not just for their patriotic Netherlandish color (the princely Dutch House of Orange was leading a revolt against the Spanish) but also because they were sweeter and milder than the ancient white and purple cultivars.

 

A rainbow of heritage carrots from Burpee seeds

A rainbow of heritage carrots from Burpee seeds

Apparently all humans (with our tastes skewed toward a primate color palate) like the color orange better. Despite the fact that other colors of the tasty root dominated the market for two thousand years, orange carrots have now thoroughly supplanted the old varieties. Even in diverse New York, you would have to go to an esoteric farmer’s market or a specialty shop like Dean & Deluca to maybe dredge up some purple carrots. However seed catalogs still sell them–so if you want to eat like a healthy Roman grandee (assuming grandees even ate carrots), you can always grow your own.  Additionally, it looks like health food aficionados have become convinced that purple carrots contain anti-oxidants, so maybe the color pendulum is about to swing back the other direction…

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Here is a gorgeous warm earth color for Thanksgiving week.  Gamboge is a deep yellow/pale orange color of tremendous antiquity.  By ancient tradition, Theravada monks dye their robes this distinctive color to show their devotion to the middle path.  The color is named after the Latin word for Cambodia, “Gambogia”, which was (and is) a center of Theravada spirituality as well as a major source of milky sap from Gamboge trees (genus Garcinia). Such sap is dried into a brown gum resin which is the main constituent of gamboge dye.

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Because the color plays such a large role in the religious life of South Asia, it is well known throughout the world. Gamboge is a lovely and vibrant color in its own right—a perfect medium between orange and yellow.  All sorts of animals, fruit, and flowers can be described as gamboge.  Although Thanksgiving has no color scheme per say, the fallen autumn leaves usually inspire decorations in some combination of gamboge, sienna, and russet.

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