Saturday, June 30, 2012

Acacia and Drynaria - More than Commensalism

Acacia and Drynaria - More than Commensalism
Dr Abe V Rotor
Epiphytic Drynaria Fern on Acacia (Samanea saman) tree, a case of commensalism

In nature the success of organisms in evolution and in keeping a stable place or niche in the ecosystem, is traced to two conditions: dominance over other organisms, and cooperation with certain organisms.  The latter is a give-and-take relationship. 

But where does commensalism belong?  This is a relationship between a host and a commensal - the rider, so to speak.  In the animl kingdom a good example is the shark and the Remora.  The shark is the host on which the tiny Remora hitches on and shares with its host's morsel.  Benevolence of the host is compensated by practically nothing at all - except companionship and the fact that it does no harm to the host.    

Between ther acacia and the fern, the commensal is the fern.  It lives in its entire life on the upper limbs of the tree. At the onset of monsoon or rainy season the fern wakes up from a state of turpor called aestivation, a biological phenomenon that characterizes many organisms - plants, animals and protists - to survive the harsh condition during the hot dry months which may last for half of the year, particularly in the tropics. 

On the other hand, it is in the dry months that the acacia is active - its crown become luxuriant and full, because it has large secondary roots, and tap roots that can reach deep and wide for water and nutrients. It loves plenty of sunshine low relative humidity, while other plants - including the Drynaria - are in a state of dormancy.

When the rains come in May, the acacia begins to shed its leaves and being deciduous, loses its crown temporarily, allowing the sun and rain to nourish the Drynaria in its bed.  In no time it  grows two types of leaves.  One kind is cup-like to capture and store organic matter and water, and to cover its fleshy corm. (The corm is likened to the underground rhizome of ginger to store manufactured food and water, and to grow new shoots.) The other type of leaves is staghorn-like, long and upright and carries mainly the job of food manufacturing through photosynthesis.

But commensalism is not restricted to the classical explanation. Nature has her own discreet ways and intentions.  Birds like the Martines or black bird reside in the acacia because of the presence of Drynaria.  Here the birds - as well as other tenants, like the gecko lizard and tree frog -  find food and water trapped in between the fern leaves like miniature ponds .  They find shelter, and even permanent home.  They construct nests and rear their young. Droppings which are rich in organic mater and plant nutrients pay for the tenants' board and lodging, so with their predatory habit which keep the plants and the surroundings free from many pests. Because fog and mist condense on the Drynaria, both the host and tenants are greatly benefited. It is not unusual however that the fern's biomass may become too much of a burden of the branch they grow on, sending it to the ground specially during typhoon. With or without the extra load, sooner or later a limb may become oversized and fall off.  It is nature's way of pruning and streaming the tree in the right size and proper shape. 

The key to the return of threatened species like the Martines bird may be in building an alternative habitat for them in the absence of natural habitats which man in many ways has altered or destroyed. Here wildlife is brought closer to man's attention and domicile. The centuries-old acacia trees shown in this post are found growing in the front yard of St. Agustine Church in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. Providence must have created this little corner of Eden where unity and harmony of living things reigns with man as guardian. ~ 

 Martines or black birds build their nest on th Drynaria fern growing on an acacia tree

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Case of the Goat that Ate Plastic

 Dr Abe V Rotor

s.



 No digestive enzyme – not even gastric acid – is powerful to break down plastics, no matter how long the material is subjected to this natural solvent.

The goat was pregnant for too long and was getting thin the owner sent for the butcher.

Guess what we discovered?  The bloated stomach was stuffed with plastics – pieces of containers, wrapping materials and grocery bags. One cannot imagine why the animal devoured plastics instead of grass other than due to hunger. After all, goats are not choosy when it comes to food.  Outside the wide range of plant species they can eat, since they are omnivorous, they yearn for almost anything sweet, salty, oily or spicy.

Curiously, an inventory was made from the animal’s stomach. Found in it there were cellophane used for sweets like bocayo, peanut butter, and candies, thin plastic bags for retailing bagoong alamang, patis, toyo, cooking oil, ice drop and the like. The largest are grocery convenient bags for meats, fish, soft drinks, fruit juices and cooked food. Some of these materials still bear traces of the product trade names, indicating recent ingestion. Plastics earlier ingested were discolored, but nonetheless are undissolved and intact. As the stomach twists and turns, the larger plastic materials envelop the smaller ones, forming a mass stuck up in the rumen (or large first compartment of the stomach) like clothes in a overloaded washing machine. 

The stomach of ruminants is designed to store large amounts of food. The food is consumed rapidly with a minimum of chewing, before it is swallowed. This reduces grazing time while it enhances large intake. Then when the animal is resting, the raw ingesta is brought out for re-mastication. At this time, digestive enzymes are mixed in with food before final digestion.

The stomach muscles incessantly contracting and squeezing, in a process called peristalsis (successive waves of involuntary contraction along the walls of the intestine, forcing the contents onward). Digestive enzymes dissolve solid materials into pulp (chyme), which is a thick soup material which later goes to the small intestine. Here, the nutrients are assimilated by tiny and numerous, tiny finger-like protrusions called villi.  The remaining contents then move to the large intestines, where they are retained for a while before being excreted as feces.
  
Why does the stomach retain the plastic materials?

We know that goats and other ruminant animals like sheep, cattle, zebra and gazelle, have very efficient digestive systems. This is needed for them to subsist on more than just high-fiber food such as grass and roughage. Their chambered stomachs retain food much longer than man can, or fowls, and pigs. This explains why the excreta of ruminants yields well digested fiber.  This is not the case with the excreta of animals with simple digestive systems such as pigs.  Birds and chicken although they break down shells and stones in their gizzards, cannot fully digest cellulose. Perhaps the only creature, superior to ruminants in cellulose digestion, is the termite.  Termites have living protozoa in their stomachs that break down wood cellulose even in its tough form, lignin. Without this symbiont, termites will certainly starve and die. There has been no known successful experiment, however, to determine whether termites can digest plastics.  

The implication is that no digestive enzyme, not even gastric acid, is powerful enough to break down the cellulose in plastics.  This is classical proof of the non-biodegradability of plastics.

The question is asked: Can’t ruminants eliminate unwanted materials in their digestive system either by regurgitation or excretion?  The answer is no. In the first place the movement of the stomach and its chambers (rumen, reticulum and omasum) are not governed by the central nervous system. The mechanism of rumination is involuntary. It is the coarseness of the feed that stimulates the walls of the rumen to contract so that the material is brought out for re-mastication. Animals, which feed on soft and non-fibrous diet like alfalfa, ruminate less than those that depend on roughage.
  
Plastics Camouflage Appetite

It is likely that the plastic materials line the surface of the rumen in a way that produces insufficient stimulation to expel the ingesta for re-mastication. Another effect is that the animal experiences false fullness, camouflaging true appetite. This means that because the animal is not hungry, it eats less, consequently, becoming malnourished. Thus, the goat that ate plastic was emaciated, yet had a bloated stomach.  Yet this does not discount the possibility of slow poisoning due to the slow disintegration of secondary metabolites.
       
The other reason why goats cannot eliminate the plastics through excretion is obvious. Unlike large livestock, their feces are dry and nodular (small and round-shaped), barely the size of coffee beans.


The first completely synthetic man-made plastic, Bakelite, does not burn, melt or dissolve under ordinary solvents. As an additive, it makes almost any material strong, durable and light.
_____________________________________________________________

What is plastic?  How are plastics differentiated?

1. The first plastic was made by Alexander Parkes in 1862, after whom it was named: Parkesine.  Actually it was an organic material derived from cellulose. Once heated, it could be molded, retaining its shape when cooled.
Because of its high cost of production it was shelved until the later part of the 19th century when celluloid made a debut as replacement for ivory in making of billiard balls.  To prevent the explosion of the highly volatile celluloid, camphor was added leading to the development of thermoplastics.

2. Soon, the first completely synthetic man-made plastic was formulated by a New York chemist, Leo Baekeland, hence the name Bakelite. This material does not burn, boil, melt, or dissolve under any commonly available acid or solvent. It also retains its shape. Bakelite could be added to almost any material, making the new substance more durable, light, heat-resistant and shatterproof.  War machinery and automobile manufacturing made use of this new product to great advantage.

3. Other forms of plastics were then discovered.  These include rayon (man-made silk), and cellophane (the first glass-clear, flexible and waterproof plastic). These materials have many uses today.

4. By 1920, the “plastic craze” spread out. Du Pont, one of the leaders of the industry developed nylon, replacing animal hair in toothbrushes.  By 1940, the world saw the development of acrylic, polyethylene, and many more polymers, which replaced natural materials such as cotton, fiber, wood and steel.

5. DuPont later introduced Teflon, favored for lining cooking utensils for its acid and heat resistant while its non-stick properties make the utensils easy to clean.

6. Dow, another plastic manufacturer, on the other hand, came up with polyvinylidene chloride, better known as “Saran”, a perfect material for food packaging and storage.

7. Polyethylene, introduced in 1933,  is currently the largest volume plastic in the world for making soda and milk bottles, grocery bags, and plastic food storage containers. This is the kind of plastic the goat ate and which made her sick.

8. There is virtually no end to the discovery of other forms of plastics.  We have plastic putty developed by Velcro.  This material is similar to rubber, but has a 25 percent higher rebound power. Its property of not being able to maintain a constant shape is compensated by its high flexibility, stretching many times its length without tearing. Initially, it was used in the manufacture of toys, but now many potential uses are seen.

A World Without Plastics?

Today’s world is incomprehensible without plastics.  Plastics contribute to our health, safety and peace of mind.  They are part of our dwellings, cars, toys, appliances, even body parts such as heart valves and prosthetics. There are countless uses in all aspects of our lives.

On the other hand, the biggest dilemma with plastics is its proper disposal. It has become a major waste handling challenge all over the world. While we see its virtually endless uses, we are also witness to its accumulation exacerbated by its inability to biodegrade.  As a result, its rate of accumulation is alarmingly enhanced, creating an issue of concern to environmentalists, and citizens of the world.

 Plastic Garbage

In a recent field trip along the coast of Morong, Bataan, in the Philippines, students from the UST College of Pharmacy were surprised to see plastic material strewn by waves along the shore.  A cursory examination revealed the following materials:

1.     Plastic sack which has replaced the jute or gummy sack
2.     Nylon rope and filament, which have replaced Manila hemp and cotton threads. Filament is used for fish net.
3.     Plastic simulated leather used in shoes, canvas and bags. There are other kinds of artificial leather.
4.     Styropore for packing and containers, replacing banana leaves, straw and paper.
5.     Foam mattresses, slippers and furniture. Natural sponge is now a rare commodity. Foam has replaced coconut coir and kapok.
6.     Plastic bottles, jars and containers.  Glass is still the best material when it comes to food storage.
7.     Plastic sachets, bags and wrappers have largely taken over the use of paper and cardboard.

These plastic materials are familiar to us.  We see them at home and on store shelves. They are evidences of our modern, throw-away culture.
  
Trapped Fish Fry in Plastic

While gathering the garbage to help clean up the shore, the author’s students found trapped fish fry in plastic bags. Wanting to find out how this happened, we looked for clues.  The plastic bags, flushed down the river, or thrown by unscrupulous residents and promenaders became homes for young, marine species. Since these materials are not edible seaweeds or seagrass, they become entrapments to the fry. Causing their death through starvation and asphyxiation.

We have seen plastic materials stuck at the bottom of reefs preventing juvenile seaweeds from developing.  Plastics also trap the polyps of corals, and microsopic zooplankton eliminating a major food source for marine life.

That evening, along the shores of Morong, we asked ourselves what each can do to rid the shores of plastics. While we reflected in silence, the tranquil waves washed ashore a plastic bottle.

Here are things we can do with plastics.

1.     Re-use plastic bags and bottles at home.  Remember that plastics are durable. Be sure to clean them properly before using.
2.     Gather plastic bottles and unserviceable plastic wares for recycling. Arrange with cart pushers, or your nearest junk shop for their regular collection. Do not attempt to re-melt plastics.  The process is not as simple as you think.  Don’t burn to dispose them, either.  Burning plastics emits smoke and fumes deleterious to health.
3.     Do not use plastic if you can help it.  Use paper or glass containers. This is also advantageous to your health.  Do not use plastic containers for soft drinks, vinegar, salt, patis, toyo.  Strong solvents tend to chemically alter in the presence of plastics. Studies that show that some plastics that are carcinogenic.
4.     Keep plastic materials away from your bedroom.  As plastics age, they emit gaseous substances which may cause allergy, asthma and other ailments when inhaled. 
5.     Patronize products that use non-plastic containers, wrappers, bags and utensils.
6.     Be part of a community environmental project.  Attend seminars and workshops that talk about the environment.  Read about ecology; learn to be a leader in this area; know about re-cycling, values formation, and the like. Be an ecologist yourself.
    
 Nata Laminate – Potential Plastic Substitute

Now, this one is for the Guinness Book of Records.  Shoes now are made from nata de coco. At St. Paul College QC, Dr. Anselmo S. Cabigan and his advisee Amparo Arambulo developed shoes made from nata laminate.  The laminate is actually compressed nata de coco, dried and layered into ply, then subjected to the usual tanning procedure. It is cut and made into shoe soles, actually worn by students quality test. Nata laminate is stronger than leather. It gives a good finish and it looks like leather.

In another research, nata was made into surgical thread.  Since nata is a natural product (a capsule of the bacterium, Leuconostoc mesenteroides), it is soluble.  It may be a good substitute for expensive commercial absorbable surgical threads.

Nata laminate is also a potential substitute for special paper, such as sheepskin, and an exotic material in making wallets, bags and belts.  Unlike plastic, nata laminate is biodegradable. It also offers to save endangered animals from being butchered for skin.

The case of the goat that ate plastic, and fish fry trapped in a plastic bag can spur us to develop a second generation of biodegradable plastics. This is the essence of good stewarship of this planet, for our own good, as well as for those who will follow us.

x     x     x

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Self-Administered Test on Bilmoko and The Customer is Always Right (True or False, 25 Items)



Are you getting your money's worth?
Dr Abe V Rotor

The customer is always right. Is it? Let's find out.

1. You need a Utility Vehicle but you want a limousine – that’s how you differentiate the need from want. Needs are based on necessity; want on luxury. Most often we go for things beyond necessity. What you want is more expensive in most cases than what you need. Needs are bare, wants are elaborate.

2. Need is easier to satisfy; want satisfies appeal – and appeal is subjective; it is infinite.

3. New products are aggressively introduced into the market. Slow moving items must go. Expired goods (or about to) are virtually useless, and they are dangerous to use or consume. And here you are - a fish ready to bite. Don’t.

4. Bilmoko is a syndrome created by our capitalistic world. It thrives on young people from kinder to teenagers. They are the agents of consumerism, and consumerism is the main pillar or capitalism.

5. We place high confidence on computers because they are fail-safe; they are accurate, prompt and up-to-date.

6. Computerized receipts are supposed to be BIR registered. Demand this kind of receipt for the item you bought or service you paid for. Conventional receipts should be likewise BIR registered.

7. Don’t be too trusting. Don’t become unwilling victim of opportunists and rogues. Don’t be in a hurry to buy anything. This is where you are most vulnerable.

8. Initial deposits may turn out non-refundable. Don’t fall into this tender trap.

9. Memorandum of Agreement must be bilateral. Don’t be an underdog. Consult an expert, a lawyer, before you sign.

10. Utang, Puro Utang: Avoid Credit, cash it. Don’t use credit card unless it is very necessary.

11. There are possessions that are better to give as gifts or donations, than to convert them into cash. Remember the victims of calamities, poor children around and specially this Christmas.

12. They say only 50 percent (even less) is true in advertisement. There are advertisements though that are genuine and sincere, in fact educational. But a great many merely paints a rosy garden.

13. Advertising appeals to the weakness of human nature – emotion. It thrives on conditioned learning (psychological thirst). Advertisement is applied aesthetics, you are captive of your own desires.

14. Don’t allow yourself the "guinea pig" of new products and services.

15. Geniuses wanted – geniuses discovered. The first person to get rich, in fact multi-billionaire, through intellectual property is Bill Gates (Microsoft).

16. Cyber age brought a new concept of freedom: Digital Democracy. It brought to the masses science and technology, education and entertainment. Make a movie, publish a book, compose a opera with your PC.

17. Printers are cheaper than ink; photocopying machines are cheaper than the ink powder and electromagnetic drum.

18. Managers are paid less than consultants. CEOs receive many times (17 times) more that the average worker in their organizations, according to a US survey.

19. Open University allows you to enter school in your workplace, in your home, even in your sick bed.

20. What makes food expensive is the sophisticated culinary art - the aesthetics of food in restaurants and hotels. Learn the art and trade. Bring it home. Share with your spouse and children, the kitchen and dining room can be transformed into restaurant or hotel of sort.

21. Before buying any fruit juice, powdered or ready to drink, read the label. Be sure it does not contain aspartame or any artificial sugar. Before buying noodles or both mix, read the label of ingredients – be sure there is no MSG Monosodium Glutamate or vetsin.

22. Do not buy seeds and propagules of plants you are not familiar with; don’t be sold to the beautiful label. For all you know these plants are not suitable to local conditions. Consult local farmers or your nearest agriculturist.

23. Customer service is becoming more sophisticated. Customers are pampered, spoiled. More call centers, more waiters and sales ladies, bank tellers, nurses. Personalized service is part of red carpet treatment.

24. Be austere (austerity), be wise and cautious, trust your senses (not emotion and psyche) when buying anything. Packaging will not improve quality, increase value or guarantee your safety.

25. The reason for the series of lessons on food, agriculture, home gardening, pesticide-free vegetables and the like in Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid - is to bring into consciousness the reality of life that is simple, self-sufficient, healthy and happy – at our finger tips, at our command. Indeed it is liberation, the road to freedom from extreme consumerism which is the precursor of abusive capitalism.~









NOTE: Answers are True, except Nos. 5 and 23 (False)

Lighting increases work efficiency - or does it?

Dr Abe V Rotor


Management noticed the low output of the workers to which it attributed to poor lighting condition.


So a consultant was hired, and he agreed to the observation that indeed the assembly line needed more illumination. To which additional lighting was immediately installed.


Result: output significantly increased.


Inspired by the result, lighting was further increased. Surprisingly work output continued to rise. Which proved definitely that lighting increases efficiency.


The consultant continued with his innovation.(Actually he just maintained the new lighting level).   Still the output of the workers increased.  


How could it be when the light level hasn't increased any further? It was a puzzle.


Then the consultant returned the lighting to its previous level.


Expectedly work output would surely fall back, too. But it did not. In fact it remained high.


What do you think increased work efficiency. Is it really lighting? ~


Please send your answer to the Comments on this blog.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bringing up smart kids

Bringing up smart kids
Dr Abe V Rotor
 Give them early education, but don't push them too hard. Don't expect your kids to bring home stars everyday. 
 Bonding reinforces self-confidence.  Don't allow your kids to become loners, however intelligent they are.
 Surprise, surprise! This is a result of curiosity.  Your kids may discover things which to us are common and  familiar.  
 Enjoy the seasons, particularly summer - vacation and time for hobbies and learning skills like making kites and flying them. 
 Home gardening is a healthy and educational workshop.  It translates to real what they read in books.  They learn early in life how nature works, acquiring in the process values of work, appreciation and cooperation.    
 Community work such as Clean and Green, wall mural competition, and the like, develop values and skills in the arts, discovering and honing their talents. 
Live, play, enjoy nature to develop natural immunity and resistance, awe and wonder of creation, and integration with the kids in the community, particularly on the grassroots. 
Parents become children too, to be understood by their children. Join them in parties, outings, school activities, games, and whatever interests them  
Aesthetics leads to appreciation of things beautiful and adorable, develops social intelligence.  Let them become angels, princesses, flower girls,stage actors and actresses. 
Learning things older people do - why not? Saling pusa, that's how we encourage prodigy, particularly in the arts.  Expression of talents does not always keep with chronology.  
Computer literary is important, but parental guidance is needed for balanced programming and moderation.  Balance your kids' time and study, indoor and outdoor life. Remember the "magic box" has no feeling at all - iut's like a robot. 
Breastfeeding, weaning on time, early training.  Don't pamper your kids by babying them too long.  Don't let them fall into the tender trap of consumerism. Parents, specially the mother, are your kids first teachers. 
Leisure.  Give your children regular break from school, assignments, household chores.  Let them enjoy weekends with the family in the park or countryside.  
Teach your kids to conquer fear, to develop natural resistance, to have confidence in you are parents or guardians.  
Faith and spirituality, above  religiosity, is what kids need as they grow.  This is very important foundation in their adult life.   
 There is no substitute to outdoor adventure.  Take your kids to nature regulalrly. Teach them the needed skills lik swimming, hunting, fishing, boating, etc.
 Tradition and culture must preserve with your kids, such as indigenous games and sports as those shown in this mural (Philippine Children's Hospital lobby, Diliman QC) 
 Art workshop. Encourage your kids to participate.  It is a wholesome way to spend summer. (National library, and Museo ng Maynila, respectively)
  
If your kid is exceptionally talented, be his talent scout. Exhibit his work.  Accompany him to competitions.  


 Take your kids to the museum.  The museum is a capsule of history, events, arts - space and time. 

 Make-believe once in a while. Masks make them feel different, they learn what it means to be not themselves. 
 Pets are a must to kids.  They teach them a lot of lessons.  Loving often starts with pets.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Practical Hydroponics: A Kitchen Garden

Dr Abe V Rotor


Three-week old kitchen garden

You can grow kamote or sweet potato tops in the kitchen. It also serves as a greenery of sort on the window sill.

Fill to three-fourth a convenient glass jar with tap water. Place a healthy tuber on the mouth of the jar. To keep it steady, stick three pieces of toothpick like a tripod. Add water daily as roots develop. Be sure to replace water weekly to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the jar.

In a week's time or two you can start harvesting. At first allow the tops to extend. Just clip the leaves you need in your cooking. Rotate the position of the tuber towards the source of light, so that you will have more shoots, and greener and bigger leaves.

Now you have a dish garden for a whole month or longer. You can grow fresh onion leaves with this technique. Try it on garlic.

You see, this is simple hydroponics - soil-less gardening. It is introduction to the science of hydroponics and aeroponics. For school childre, why don't you try this as your project?

Read more about hydroponics and aeroponics. Happy gardening!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Insects, insects everywhere, and not a place to hide

Photographed and Edited by Dr Abe V Rotor


These are some insect collections of the Museum of Natural History. They represent but a trickle in the bucket, so to speak, considering that insects are the most diversified and most populous creatures on earth, among invertebrates and vertebrates combined. 

Insects are the most diversified and populous members of sub-kingdom Animalia.  There is an estimated number of 20, 940 species in the Philippines with more discoveries ahead. The biggest Order is Coleoptera - the beetles, followed by Lepiodoptera (butterflies and moth), Hymenoptera (bees and wasp), Diptera (flies, mosquitoes and midges), Hemiptera (bugs), and Homoptera (aphis and mealybugs)
.
 Superlatives of insects: loudest, fastest, most tolerant, strongest, above all, most populous. 
 Grasshoppers and locusts. Passive as in Aesop fable (he Ant and the Grasshopper), and Apocalyptic as in biblical records of insects causing civilization to fall. (plagues of Egypt in Moses' time). 

 Dragonflies and damselflies are among the most primitive creatures, preceding the dinosaurs millions of years.Once giants in the air they have shrunk into harmless fliers, but still retain their remarkable predatory prowess to hunt other insect in mid air. Left, Walking stick, leaf insect are queer looking creatures, masters of the art of camouflage  
 Butterflies, moths and skippers  
 
 Beetles: miniature Volkswagens and Tanks

Friday, June 22, 2012

Have you seen a kugtong or giant lapu-lapu?

Dr Abe V Rotor

"If there is a Coelacanth long thought to have been extinct that lives in the craggy bottom of Madagascar Sea, we have our own kugtong, the biggest coral dwelling fish." (AVR) 



 In the craggy depth of the sea lies a monster - the giant lapu-lapu or grouper. Fishermen in the area respect the niche of this benthic creature. They tell stories of missing pets and fishermen, of mysterious encounters that turn the sea inside out, a battle between a kugtong and a giant squid or whale. These are stories of fishermen and are often exaggerated. 


At SEAFDEC (Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center) along the coast of Iloilo, lapulapu is cultured and studied in captivity.  The making of a giant is evident in one of these photos. The longivity of the fish may be the same as that of man, and a full grown has a mouth so huge it can engulf its prey whole and alive.  


I saw two giant lapu-lapu (kugtong) in Sablayan Occidental Mindoro caught by local fishermen sometime in 1982. I had been hearing kugtong since childhood, a threat to fishermen and picnickers because it could swallow a whole human being, and here with my own eyes the kugtong in Lola Basiang’s story is true after all. So huge are these overgrown lapu-lapu that two men could hardly carry one of them with a bamboo pole on their shoulders.  A third man had to lift its tail from the ground as they inched their way to a waiting vehicle. I examined the fish; its body is coarse and shaggy, covered with seaweeds and barnacles, and had lost all semblance of the favorite lapulapu on our dining table. But this makes a perfect camouflage that suits the predatory habit of this benthic fish.  By the way, it is the female lapu-lapu that attains this enormous size.  The male is a diminutive partner permanently attached to her body, indeed a very special kind of relationship in the animal world.    


There is a story about a kugtong that lived under the old pier of San Fernando, La Union. For a long time the strange fish was feared by the residents and many animals around had mysteriously disappeared.  Then the local fishermen decided to catch it with a big hook luring the fish with a live piglet as bait.  The fish took it and struggled until it was finally subdued.  It was hauled by many men and if the story is accurate it took a six-by-six truck to transport it.


There are giants in the deep.  After the tsunami in 2004 that hit the Indian Ocean, by coincidence I saw giant squids measuring 3 feet long being sold at the SM Fairview supermarket. I surmise that these were flushed out from their deep dwellings and landed in the fisherman’s net when the calamity struck. I remember the giant squid that almost sank Captain Nemo’s submarine in Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”  




There is mystery in the biology of lapu-lapu- or grouper, as it is known worldwide. Groupers are hermaphroditic, which means that sex switch from male to female and vice versa. The young are predominantly female but transform into males as they grow to about a kilogram in a year, remaining adolescent until they reach three kilos. From here they become females. But wait. When they are about 10 to 12 kg they turn to males and grow very, very big. Lengths over a meter and weights up to 100 kg are not uncommon.


A newspaper reported a 396.8 pound grouper caught off the waters near Pulau Sembilan in the Straits of Malacca in 2008. Shenzhen newspaper reported that a 1.8 meter grouper swallowed a 1.0 meter whitetip reef shark at the Fuzhou Sea World aquarium.


I asked my friend Dr. Anselmo S Cabigan, a fellow biologist. “What is really the sex of a full grown kugtong, such as those I found in Mindoro?”


In my research it is male. The male is larger and wilder than the female, and I use as analogy the bull to the cow, rooster to hen, peacock to peahen, lion to lioness. 


Dr Cabigan thinks it otherwise. The female is larger, in fact much larger, that the male is virtually a remora-size creature attached to the female. I imagine the huge size of the queen termite as compared to the tiny king termite. The enigma of the grouper, considering its diversity, and worldwide distribution could yet reveal other amazing facts about the kugtong. Among the institutions working on the kugtong is SEAFDEC, which admits its biology and ecology remain a mystery.   


 At least we are sure the kugtong does exist. ~

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How lonely can you get?


Dr Abe V Rotor

Lesson:  Learn to conquer loneliness and fear through the creative art of photography and poetry.

Sunken Pier, Sto Domingo, Ilocos Sur

A giant its teeth in gruesome stain!
Where have all the children gone?
the old folks and the fishermen?
The sweep of wind answers none.


UST, Manila 


Empty bench is all that sunrise greets
save the earthworm in its burrow,
after a full night's grind fulfilled,
earned its day's rest through,
and oh, that man should learn
to keep the clock holy and true,
his niche in his Creator's view. 

 Sacred Heart Novitiate, QC

As shy as the frangipani's bloom,
whispers in the air a fountain;
the lawn breathes after its groom,
waiting for the monsoon rain.


Canossa Retreat Center, QC 


Empty benches as the sun rises;  
and no soul around to find;
Empty benches hide in darkness,     
save some tears left behind.

 UST Botanical Garden


The artist works all by his thought,
and builds a world his own;
alone his art slowly comes forth,
like the coming of dawn.


Avilon Zoo, San Mateo, Rizal



What bleed your hearts, oh, pigeons two!
Having found one another, and lo!
Life! must it be the way of love to hurt
and leave an imprimatur in the heart?   


Sacred Heart Novitiate, QC


Someone is knocking on my window pane,
dreary like the spirit I often dream;
it must be a raven or some naughty children,
wanting me to join in their game.