Friday, October 18, 2019

Cause and Effect

Thought for the day: We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results. [Herman Melville]

Are you familiar with the butterfly effect? I took that picture on the left when we were at a butterfly festival, where a monarch butterfly took up residence on the top of my head for a good while. It was actually very cool, but the effect that particular butterfly had on me after doing his itty bitty business on my head is... when we got home, I washed my hair.

But um, that isn't a bona fide example of the butterfly effect. In essence, the actual effect, or principle, says that a tiny change within a complex system may have a huge effect. Originally, the phenomenon was ascribed largely to weather, in which American mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz, who established the chaos theory, as well as theories regarding weather and climate predictability, offered the metaphorical example of how the specifics of a tornado's path could be influenced by something as minor as the flapping of a butterfly's wings.

It speaks to our larger expectation that the world should be comprehensible... that everything happens for a reason, and that we can pinpoint all those reasons, however small they may be. [Peter Dizikes, journalist]

[image courtesy of wikipedia]
Just to be different, I'm going to go in the opposite direction. Instead of moving from a tiny cause leading to a huge effect... I'm going the other way. I'm going to start with a mastodon. 

Can't get much bigger than that!

Would you believe that something these behemoths did back in prehistoric times contributed to the survival of a tiny butterfly still living in Georgia today?

[image courtesy of wikipedia]

The paw paw tree is fairly common here in Georgia. In the springtime, its flowers are quite lovely, but they, um... STINK. Literally. Kinda like dead fish or rotting meat. Matter of fact, the leaves and bark have the same distinctive stench.

But these trees also produce a fruit, as shown in this picture, and it's the largest edible fruit indigenous to the U.S. They range in color from a yellowish-green to brown, and their insides are creamy and similar in taste to banana custard. Or so I've been told. I've never eaten one.

[image courtesy of wikipedia]
But lots of animals devour them. But they only eat the sweet fleshy part.

See, the seeds range in size from 1/2 to 1 inch, which is too large for any living animal to swallow whole.

Not a problem for our ol' pal the mastodon.


Mastodons gobbled 'em up, seeds and all... and then they continued their meanderings around the state. What goes up must come down, and what went in had to come out.

Meaning, as these mastodons wandered around the state, they um, sowed these undigested seeds wherever they went, and thus assured the spread of this species. The diet and excretion of these creatures from eleven thousand years ago directly led to the paw paw patches that are still seen around the state today. But how about that... tiny effect I mentioned earlier?

[image courtesy of wikipedia]

Meet the zebra swallowtail. Yep, a butterfly.

The only thing its caterpillar will eat is the foliage from a paw paw tree. So, no mastodon poop containing paw paw seeds, possibly no paw paw trees today, and no zebra swallowtails.

One thing kinda interesting about these butterflies. The stink I mentioned from the trees? It comes from a chemical, a naturally-occurring insecticide called acetogenins, and after eating the stinky foliage while in the caterpillar stage, the butterflies retain a trace amount of the substance for the rest of their lives, which provides an effective protection from predators, who evidently, don't like smelly food.



So, in essence, this lovely little butterfly, which we saw at the festival, owes its existence, in part, to the eating and pooping habits of a creature which lived in the very distant past.


Cool huh?


There is a deep interconnectedness of all life on earth, from the tiniest organism to the largest ecosystem, and absolutely each person. [Bryant McGill]

The moment you realize your bones are made from the same dust as the planets, your lungs breathing the air of migrating butterflies, and your blood is pumping because of the love and care of thousands is when you realize you're not as broken or alone as you think you are. You are full of the world. [source unknown]

Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Cosmos is a Greek word for the order of the universe. It is, in a way, the opposite of chaos. It implies the deep interconnectedness of all things. It conveys awe for the intricate and subtle way in which the universe is put together. [Carl Sagan]

                                                Another kind of paw paw flower...

[image courtesy of unsplash]


                                 Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

54 comments:

  1. The mastadon poop/zebra swallowtail link is very, very cool.
    Thank you.
    And best wishes (today and every day) to you and Smarticus.

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    1. Thanks. I think it's very cool, too. :)

      Thank you. Today is Day Three and we're hanging in there.

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  2. Very interesting article, well written and a great way to 'digest' facts. Have a great weekend, hugs, Valerie

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    1. Thanks. Clever use of "digest." :)

      You have a great weekend, too. Hugs back atcha.

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  3. That's the miracle of nature. No matter how small, it's all interconnected.

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  4. Your Thought of the Day seems particularly apt for the message of this post. It reminded me of a beautiful early Don McLean song - Tapestry (not the Carole King song):
    "Every thread of creation is held in position
    By still other strands of things living.
    In an earthly tapestry hung from the skyline
    Of smoldering cities so gray and so vulgar,
    As not to be satisfied with their own negativity
    But needing to touch all the living as well."
    CLICK HERE for Bazza’s ultimately unthinkable Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

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  5. it is amazing how everything is connected. And the goal is keep it all positive. Take care and have a good weekend.

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    1. It is amazing, isn't it? An you're right. If we think of everything as being connected, one bit of negativity can have lots of ripple effects.

      You have a super weekend, too. I'm so tired right now, I feel like I could sleep the whole darned thing away. :)

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  6. Your thought of the day gives me enough to think of for a week or two or three.
    I enjoyed your post and how we are all connected. Sometimes we see and marvel at the big effect. We are amazed how plants and animals can cause massive change. But we might forget how a small action or word of our own can do the same.

    We must say what we want to say and do what we want to do. But we are a thinking reasoning creature. I will try to think and reason before I speak or act. (emphasis on the TRY .... lol)

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. (Sometimes I get a little carried away...) But I find the concept of interconnectivity both fascination and comforting.

      The ol' "engage brain before opening mouth" ideal, eh? We all need to do a little more of that.

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  7. Your picture of the butterfly is just beautiful.

    What some scientists would take a book to write about, you so easily explained in a post and you did it so well. Poop connects us all and is the beginning of so much life. And here we were giving all the credit to Adam and Eve and a snake.

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    1. Thanks. :) The butterflies were pretty much posing for me... when they weren't sitting on my head.

      Ah yes, poop. Years ago, a friend of mine got super excited about a tomato plant that miraculously sprung up in her yard. She said it produced the best-tasting tomatoes ever. She didn't believe me when I told her some bird probably pooped the seeds out. HA

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  8. The topic of cause and effect is a fascinating one, friend Sue. Super simple and /or super complicated. Love, cat.

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    1. I reckon it's only as complicated as we choose to make it. :)

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    2. 1700hrs MST here. Reporting to you, friend Sue, and thinking of you and your loved one:) Always, cat.

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  9. Maybe it's a good thing that butterflies aren't smart enough to develop religion or science. It was hard enough for us to cope with discovering evolution and realizing we're actually apes. Just imagine finding out that your species owes its very existence to giant animal turds.

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  10. Sure shows how everything is connected indeed. Owing your existence to another's poop one may not want to spread around though lol Interesting how they keep the same stench when they evolve. Not sure I'd ever want to eat such a fruit though if the trees smell that bad.

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    1. Yeah, it's icky enough to think about our existence being the result of the fastest "swimmer." :)

      I'm with you. Well, maybe if I had a bad cold, I could get close enough to snatch one of those fruits...

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  11. Which came first, the Paw paw tree or giant elephant poop?

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  12. Everything is connected, through space and time. Thanks, Susan, for explaining this through such a beautiful, unique example.

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  13. I have to admit I never gave any thought to the Mastodon-tree connection before now. Another reason to like Mastodons. And trees too.

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    1. Yeah, I guess it takes a certain kind of "weirdness" to think about things like mastadon poop. (Uh-huh. I admit it. I'm a tad on the weird side.) :) I like mastadons, too, as long as they aren't pooping in MY yard.

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  14. Love the mastodon/butterfly connection! I've heard various versions of the butterfly/weather cause and effect, but did you know that planets' orbits are chaotic too? They seem so regular and dependable, but that's only true over relatively small spans of time (a few million years) because the interactions are so complex.

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    1. To tell the truth, I'd never given much thought to the planetary orbits, but it makes sense. If the entire universe is expanding, it would surely manifest itself in many ways. Lots of things that appear regular are anything but when viewed under a microscope. (or macroscope, if there were such a thing...)

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  15. I do believe sea are all connected. Brothers and sister all are we... and I believe all things happen for a reason too. I have heard of paw paws,, but never new they were a friuit that could be eaten. Very good post today. Have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. Your comment reminds me of the song "Let There Be Peace on Earth." :)

      You have a wonderful weekend, too.

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  16. Beautiful quote and thoughts. While it is true that we're individuals, we're also part of a collective. :-)

    Greetings from London.

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    1. Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. I love the idea of connectivity and being part of something larger than myself, but when you use the word "collective," I get a teeny chill. Makes me think of the BORG from Sci-fi. :)

      Greetings back atcha.

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  17. We are all connected too many people (?) don't seem to understand this.
    Have a nice weekend.
    parsnip

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    1. You're right. Too many people are so focused on the differences, they fail to see our similarities and connections.

      You have a nice weekend, too!

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  18. How I wish my teachers' lessons were half as interesting as this!
    High time we start appreciating our ties that bind.

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    1. HA Thanks. Maybe I missed my calling.

      YES! "Blessed be the ties that bind..."

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  19. Awesome and interesting information, thank you!

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  20. All I can say is, we take ample amounts of food for granted because I can't imagine too many Americans get hungry enough to try to eat something that smells like rotting meat.

    I do believe we are all connected and what we send out into the world comes back to us. You should have great blessings because you're such a blessing. Hugs to you and Smarticus. You guys are in my prayers!

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    1. You're right. Most of us do take the availability of ample food for granted, but some of us still choose to eat smelly stuff. Like limburger cheese. My grandfather loved it, but it smelled so bad, my grandmother made him eat it outside. I ate it with him, not because I loved the taste of cheese that smelled kinda like fish past its prime, but because I loved my grandfather... :)

      Thanks, sweetie. Hugs back atcha.

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  21. Love this (of course) and I had no idea the paw paw tree was so stinky! I've just given Dog her fish and tripe breakfast so I can clearly imagine it :-/
    Big hugs xx

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    1. Fish and tripe, eh? Yep, I betcha that smells a lot like those trees. :)

      Big hugs back atcha.

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  22. It is quite incredible how we all of us are connected to everything around us. Great post!

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    1. I find that sense of connectivity to be very comforting. (Yeah, I sing "Kumbaya", too...) :)

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  23. Funny how it all comes full circle, isn't it?

    I saw a Mastodon remake in the University of Nebraska History Museum. They had fossil rhinos and huge ancient camels too. Pretty amazing stuff to see. :)

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    1. Yeah, it is funny. And fascinating.

      Nothing like seeing a mastodon face-to-face to get an idea of how huge they were, huh? The one at the Smithsonian is a real eye-popper.

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  24. Hi Susan - I love papaya ... I'd probably love paw-paw. It's amazing how animals are essential to so many aspects of our world - and we treat them with so much disrespect. Elephants do the same eat, digest and disgorge ... birds do too ... poop has its good points - except on me when I'm standing at a bus stop ... still waiting for the luck to come along! Cheers and take care - Hilary

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    1. Hi-ya, Hilary. (My, you have been busy today!)

      Yes, animal and bird poop serves a higher purpose... as long as it isn't served on top of our heads. :)

      Cheers back atcha.

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  25. Oh wow...just wow. I'm in awe of nature.

    The paw paw fruit looks a bit like mango (which I love). I can't believe you've never eaten it, if they are so common in Georgia. I'd never heard of it before today. Now I'll have to look for it...surely some place in Florida would sell this fruit, wouldn't you think?

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    1. I don't know if anyone sells them or not. I don't think there's much demand for them...:)

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