Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Apple #103: Oaks in the Beech Family

A few days ago, I picked up a handful of acorns. I wanted to find out what kind of oak tree they came from, so I consulted one of those tree identification guides. I always have trouble with those books. The leaves or the flowers or whatever in the pictures never seem to look like what I saw. If I find something that looks close and then go read the description of the plant, there's either a bunch of other stuff that doesn't match, or the plant described on the next page could just as well be the one I saw.

So I didn't find out what kind of oak tree the acorns came from. But while I was investigating, I discovered something else puzzling. The book identified oak trees as a member of the beech family. I thought that was pretty bizarre because their leaves look nothing like each other.

Beech leaves

Various types of oak leaves

Also, beech trees make beech nuts, which are fuzzy or prickly, while oak trees make acorns, which are smooth and hard.

Beech nuts


So you would think, based on these easily observable tremendous differences, that oak trees and beech trees would be entirely separate from each other, right?

Nope. Oak trees are firmly entrenched as part of the beech tree family. Here's how the taxonomy breaks down:
  • Kingdom: Plants
  • Division: Spermotophyra (seed-bearing plants with true flowers)
    • Class: Angiospermae (encased seeds)
      • Subclass: Dicotylendonae (seeds with two "leaves"; hardwood trees)
        • Super Order: Amentiferae (catkins or clustered flowers)
          • Order: Fagales
            • Fagales Family 1: Betulaceae (birch, alder, ironwood, musclewood)
            • Fagales Family 2: Fagaceae (beech, oak)
              • Genus: Fagus (beech)
              • Genus: Quercus (oak)
Even after reading all this stuff about oaks and beeches, I still wondered why in the heck the two are part of the same group. The answer comes to you courtesy of Bill Cook, a forester from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. According to his site, the classification was done by Europeans, and in Europe, the beech tree is much more common than the oak.

That explains why the beech trees rule the family, but not why the Europeans put the oaks in the same family. Maybe they thought, since there were fewer oaks, they could get away with jamming them in with the beeches.

There are close to 10,000 species of trees on Earth. More than 1,000 are in the United States. With that many trees to work with, I guess people are bound to make some puzzling classification decisions.

Apparently, people review these classifications all the time and suggest that species should be put into different categories. They have to do a lot of research before people will agree to make the change. According to one in-depth article on the subject, researchers now conduct phylogenetic analysis and they also look at the genomic profile of a plant to help them decide where it belongs. These people are not goofing around. This article notes:

With respect to larger relationships, however, ... those within Quercus have also attracted renewed attention, initially in 1993 ... and again since 1997. ... No single new phylogenetically based scheme has, however, found favor and little resolution below the major groups has been essayed.

So, people are looking into it. Slowly. Maybe the classification will change. Maybe not. Tune in over the next, oh, 50 years or so to see what happens to the oaks and the beeches.

Michigan Forests Forever Teachers Guide, Michigan Tree and Shrub Species
Bill Cook, Michigan State University Extension Forester for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, UP Tree Identification Key, The Oaks
University of Kentucky, Agricultural Communications Service, Scientific Classification of Trees: An Introduction for Wood Workers
St. Louis County Health Pollen and Mold Center, Beech Family (Fagaceae Family) - BEECH
R. Govaerts and D.G. Frodin, "About the Fagales," presentation, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Monday, August 29, 2005

Apple #102: Monarch Butterflies

Photo from Kidzone

The past few days, I've seen all kinds of Monarch butterflies. Their wings are so freakin' orange it's astonishing. I wondered if they were on their way to wherever it is they migrate to, and the more I looked at them, the more I wanted to know about them. They flitter and flutter in such a haphazard looking way, it's hard to believe that they can all get organized about where to fly to, hundreds of miles away.
  • The Monarch's orange wings signal to predators that they are poisonous. As a larva (caterpillar), it eats only milkweed, and this is what makes the butterfly poisonous.
  • Monarchs spend the winter in warm roosting locales, which are actually in tropical climates and which makes the Monarch a tropical butterfly.
  • No other tropical butterfly migrates as far as the Monarch, which may travel up to 3,000 miles.
  • Monarchs are split into two distinct groups, separated by the Rocky Mountains. The groups look the same and act the same on either side of the mountain range, but as far as anybody can tell, the two groups don't interbreed.
  • In late summer and early fall, the cooler air tells the new Monarch it's time to come out of its pupa, or chrysalid. While other butterflies get to the task of mating at this point, the Monarch does not. Instead, the Monarch feeds to build up fat, which gets stored in its abdomen, and then begins the long journey south.
  • While they travel, the Monarchs continue to eat, scooping nectar out of flowers with their long tongues which they unfurl like a tiny yet very long carpet. They actually gain weight as they travel south. Exactly how they're able to keep flying even though they're getting fatter is a mystery to lepidopterists.
  • During the day, they fly by themselves, but at night they gather in clusters and keep flying. It's dangerous for them to stay in groups in daylight because this makes it easier for predators to snag several at a time.
  • Depending on where they've come from, the Monarchs will fly to very specific places in southern California and Mexico and Florida.

Migration map from Queen's University Dept of Psychology

  • The butterflies will go back to the same area each winter, often roosting in the exact same trees. The puzzling thing is, these are not the same butterflies that made the trip the previous fall. These are actually the great-great-grandchildren of the butterflies who left the roosting places the previous spring. No one knows how the butterflies know where to go to.
  • Some researchers think that Monarchs navigate by using an internal sun compass that compensates for differences in time as they travel. As far as I can tell, this means they navigate according to the position of the sun relative to the equator. How in the world the butterflies know where the equator is, I have no idea.
  • However, just this month, researchers also discovered that butterflies have special photoreceptors in their eyes that detect UV light. These UV receptors are connected to the part of the butterfly's brain that tells it when it's time to start flying. Presumably, these two things working in concert help the butterfly stay on course.

This is a ton of monarchs when they get where they're going.

  • Monarchs are now endangered, and if you "molest a Monarch" in Pacific Grove, California, you may be fined $500.
If you want to see where the Monarchs are now, check here. I don't think this map is inclusive by any means, but as we move into fall, you'll be able to get an idea of where the butterflies have traveled.

P.S. The Daily Apple is getting indexed by more and more search engines! Technorati, a search engine that tracks only blogs, has found us! Click here and scroll down quite a ways.

Monarch Watch, Migration & Tagging
Animal Facts, The Monarch Butterfly
Insecta Inspecta World, Monarch Butterfly
Queen's University, Department of Psychology, Animal Navigation, Monarch Butterflies
"How Butteflies Fly Thousands of Miles Without Getting Lost," News@HebrewU, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, August 8, 2005
Journey North, Monarch Butterfly, Help track the monarch migration to Mexico

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Apple #101: Lake Michigan

Quite possibly my favorite place on earth.

Circle Tour of lighthouses around the Lake.
(Map from the Grand Haven Tribune)

  • Of the five Great Lakes, Lake Michigan is the third largest in surface area, which is 22,300 square miles. It is the sixth largest freshwater lake in the world.
  • The Lake is 925 feet deep at is deepest point, with an average depth of 279 feet.
  • Essentially what these numbers mean is that the Lake is large enough that the moon works some small tidal action on it.
  • The lakeshore is lined with the world's largest freshwater dunes. The Sleeping Bear Dunes rise 460 feet above the Lake.
  • The Straits of Mackinac (at the skinny part at the top) join Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Hydrologically speaking, this makes the two lakes actually one lake.
  • The Lake has a cul de sac shape, with water flowing out through the Straits of Mackinac, but first pooling around in the larger belly of the lake. This gives the water in the Lake a long retention time, before it drains out. In fact, it takes water an average of 99 years before it drains from Lake Michigan.
  • Previous names for Lake Michigan include:
    • Michi gami
    • Grand Lac
    • Lake of the Stinking Water
    • Lake of the Puants
    • Lac des Illinois
    • Lac St. Joseph
    • Lac Dauphin
  • Want to know how warm the water is in Lake Michigan? Go to this page, choose an area, and look at how the surface temperature changes 30 degrees or thereabouts as you move away from the shore, or as the lakebed gets deeper.
  • Wherever you stand in the State of Michigan, you will be no more than 85 miles away from one of the Great Lakes.

Photo from the Chicagoland MG Club

By the way, here's an easy way to remember the names of the five Great Lakes:


Together, they spell HOMES.

Great Lakes Information Network, Lake Michigan Facts and Figures, Michigan Facts and Trivia

Monday, August 22, 2005

A Little Maintenance

After the 100th Apple, I thought it was time for a new look. What do you think?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Apple #100: The Results are In


The votes have been tallied (including mine). I've conducted the exit polls (I voted just about how I thought I would, with only a few deviations), analyzed the statistics, and finalized the results.

I had expected that people would tell me they liked pretty much the same three or four entries, with a couple random apples tossed in here and there as well. But the way it worked out, people liked a fairly wide range of entries.

I'm not kidding when I say I analyzed the statistics; I made a pie chart and everything. I wanted to post the pie chart, but I'd have to turn it into an image, and that's just getting out of hand. Basically, the way it worked out is that one entry emerged as the #1 pick, 12 entries came in at second place, and 27 others were voted for at least once.

The 27 apples appreciate that you liked them, and thank you for the notice. For the sake of brevity, I won't list them all here. Anybody who wants to can review the comments posted in previous entries to discover what the 27 notables were.

The 12 entries had to get pared back, because this is, after all, a list of 10. So I had to remove 3 from contention. I eliminated The Tongue (Apple #38) from consideration because, due to some feedback I got immediately after it was posted, I deleted some of the information from the entry. And I suspect that the information I removed was what some people were grossed out/fascinated by. Since it's no longer in its original gross-out/fascinating condition, I didn't think I should include it in the top 10.

Another entry, Yawns (Apple #95) received some unofficial votes. That is, people told me in person or by e-mail that they liked the Yawns entry, but they didn't necessarily Cast a Vote for them. So in deference to those entries that garnered actual votes, I'm not including Yawns.

Three different types of birds made the top 12, so I decided to eliminate one of the birds from the final 10. I removed Mallard Ducks (Apple #77) from contention because, of the three, I remembered the fewest facts about them from my entry. Actually, I really only remember the pictures that I posted.

Okay, so here are THE OFFICIAL TOP 10:

10. Pastrami (Apple #78) How can I ignore a vote that goes like this: "pastrami pastrami pastrami"? And I'm glad to know that pastrami is really corned beef plus yum.

9. Coral Reefs (Apple #66) Because it is such an incredible fact that coral is many animals cemented together. Because I learned what it means when coral "bleaches" and why bleached coral looks so unsettling. Because coral reefs are so freakin' fantastic.

8. Sleep (Apple #86) My goal for this one was to learn facts about sleep that are different from the "you don't get enough sleep" kinds of facts we hear all the time -- and in a sense, to stick out my tongue at those purveyors of the typical admonitory sleep facts. I'm glad to know that the alternate sleep info was appealing to other people, too. My favorite fact in this entry is the last one.

7. Penguins (Apple #63) This one is sort of buried, in that Dark Time that was the Spyware Invasion of my computer. But actually the penguins entry marks my emergence from that serious derailment. I had thought I lost most of my readers, but slowly, people have returned. And the fact that someone remembered the penguins I find additionally affirmative. Plus, penguins hold their flippers away from their bodies in order to cool off.

6. Soap Operas (Apple #54) With a special nod to All My Children, this entry proved -- to me, at least -- that pop culture can be educational as well as entertaining. Every time I tune in to a soap opera, at some point, I notice the backlighting (which I learned about from doing this entry), and I think, "Ah, soap operas."

5. Robins (Apple #43) Writing this entry taught me that when you are excited about something, that excitement can come across in what you write and get your readers excited, too. I've remembered so many facts from this entry, like what is actually happening when robins tilt their heads to the ground, and all the places where they live. And this is still true: "Robins are so common, but I love to hear their good-night songs at the end of the day."

4. The Replacements (Apple #30) They break your heart, you like them, they break your heart again. Of course they make it only as far as number 4.

3. Llamas, Visited (Apple #94) There was an initial entry about llamas (Apple #92), but this one is proof that primary sources of information are always more compelling than secondary sources. That is, I actually saw and met several llamas and their owners, and I learned even more things than I had learned by reading llama websites. Plus, I really really enjoyed the llamas. They hum. They can stomp a coyote to death. What more do you want?

2. Eyeballs (Apple #6) The original gross-out apple, but by accident. I didn't know, when I asked what eyeballs are made of, that I would discover one of the most disturbing facts about our human mortality that I would learn probably in an entire year. Plus, "it yields gelatin on boiling."

1. David Lee Roth (Apple #36) That's right, Diamond Dave tops them all. My teen-aged self would probably be disgusted with me at this moment, but I have since matured. Ahem. I'm delighted that this was a hit because I got the idea for this entry from something my brother used to say. And finally, how can you deny a man who says a thing like this: "Van Halen has always come down the beach with a torch in one hand and a sword in the other. . . and I don't see how people can resist."

This is Not an Apple


Just letting you all know, I plan to post the top 10 tomorrow night. If you've been wanting to vote but haven't yet, now is the time. To vote, click on the comments link below. You don't need to be signed in to Blogger; you can post anonymously.

If there's an apple that hasn't yet been voted for and you think it would be a small crime if it were overlooked, let me know. If you really want to see one entry in particular rise to the top, by all means, vote hard for that apple. I'll tell you this much: right now, David Lee Roth has a slight lead over all other comers. Do you agree with this, or do you think this is a wrong that should be righted? The future is in your hands.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Apple #99: Sapphires


I was given a sapphire recently. I had thought that all sapphires are a deep blue color, but it turns out they come in all sorts of colors. The one I have is a lilac purple, and it's very sparkly and pretty and I like looking at it. The jeweler said it came from Montana.
  • Sapphires are made of a material called corundum, or aluminum oxide. This substance is what makes sapphires very hard stones. They are the second-hardest mineral that exists, behind diamonds.
  • Sapphires have additional trace elements, such as iron or chrome, which turn the otherwise white crystals various colors, including blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, pink, or red.
  • Red sapphires are better known as rubies.
  • The word "corundum" comes from the Sanskrit word kurivinda, which means "ruby."
  • Non-blue sapphires (except for the red ones) are referred to as "fancy" sapphires.
  • One of the fancy colors that people get especially excited about is orange with pinkish undertones. This color has been named padparadsha, which means "lotus flower," and it is very rare.
  • The oldest sapphire mines are in Sri Lanka. Today, sapphires are mined in India, several areas in the Middle East, Southeast Asia including Burma and Sri Lanka, Australia, Brazil, and in the US in Montana and North Carolina.
  • Sapphires were first found in Montana in 1865. Several commercial sapphire mines operated in Montana in the past, but most have ceased operating for one reason or another. Now most sapphire mining in Montana is done by individual hobbyists. (The jeweler said my particular sapphire was found by a guy named Skip who likes to look for sapphires.)
  • Most sapphires from Montana tend to be grayish-lavender or bluish-gray, but as the picture below indicates, other colors of sapphires can also be found in Montana.
  • No matter where they come from or what color they are, sapphires are thought to symbolize faithfulness and loyalty. "Fancy" sapphires are considered to express individualism as well as the loyalty.

These are all sapphires from Montana. They or sapphires like them are available at JS Sapphire Jewelry Store.

This is your last chance to cast your vote for your favorite apples!

US Geological Survey, Gemstones, Sapphires
Amethyst Galleries, Minerals, The Mineral Corundum
Mineral Data, Corundum
Google, eHow, How to Choose High-Quality Sapphires
International Colored Gemstone Association, Sapphire and Sapphires: Beautiful Beyond Blue

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Apple #98: Goose Fact


Just one tidbit for today. I heard this on the radio, on NPR, and I found this fact so astonishing, I had to share it.

A man who specializes in testing bacteria in urban rivers was being interviewed. Actually, his specialty is determining the source of various kinds of bacteria, meaning that, essentially, he tests fecal matter. That's right, he was talking about fecal matter on the radio. And I'm talking about it on this blog.

So here's the fact: he said that an adult goose (I'm assuming he meant a Canada goose) produces in 24 hours the same amount of fecal matter as an adult human.

Quite productive, isn't it?

Photo from the Department of Biology at Clermont College, U of Cincinnati

P.S. Only one more entry to post your favorite apples.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Apple #97: Footage


The other night, Jay Leno made some joke using the word "footage." He said something like, "Think of all the footage they must have of that stuff." The word struck me as strange, maybe because I hadn't heard it in a while. So I decided to find out where the term came from.
  • Various online dictionaries offer a couple definitions, which shed some light on the origin of the word. They don't give an exact picture of the evolution of the word, but I think I've been able to piece it together.
  • Based on the word "foot" as a unit of measurement, "footage" generally refers to the rate by which one charges for the amount of work done.
  • As far as I can tell, the concept of charging by the foot for things published was first used by people who cut leather to cover books. They cut it by the foot, but it was a pretty complicated process because usually the edges of the leather were not nice and straight but curvy and ragged, so measuring had to be pretty precise, and excess had to be trimmed away.
  • When film came along, the term was used to describe a length of film. One defintion from 1916 suggests that a foot's worth of film corresponded to about a scene's worth of action.
  • Now, of course, one scene probably takes up more than a foot of film, which may be why the word "footage" stopped referring to anything mathematically exact, but instead came to mean just about any size chunk of film.
By the way, I think Craig Ferguson is ten times funnier than Jay Leno, especially when it comes to the opening monologues (click for some footage, har har har).

OneLook quick definitions for "footage"
Online Etymology Dictionary "footage" entry
Etherington & Roberts Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, Bookbinding and Conservation of Books, "footage"

Monday, August 8, 2005

Apple #96: Belgium


I'm reading a book in which someone goes to Belgium. I thought, I kind of forget about Belgium. Since I realized I don't know much about it, I thought it would be good to learn a fact or two.
  • Belgium was part of the Netherlands until 1830.
  • The country is about the size of Maryland, with a population of over 10 million. Maryland itself, by the way, has a population of 5.3 million. So by comparison, Belgium is a tad crowded.
  • Belgium is bordered by France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and a bit of the North Sea.

(map from SignWriting in Belgium)

  • The country is split into two groups, primarily split in terms of language. Speaking in broad generalities, there are the Flemish who live in the more industrialized north and speak Dutch, while in the south, the Walloons speak French. Tensions have increased recently between these two groups, so the country has amended its constitution to recognize them as separate, autonomous entities. The capital, Brussels, is in the center of the country and is more or less a neutral zone.
  • Politically, the country is run by a federal parliament, which ultimately answers to a hereditary monarch. So, it's sort of like England. But instead of a House and a Senate, they have two Senates, one in Dutch and one in French.
  • The country has been a meeting-place and a cross-roads for Europeans for centuries. The EU and NATO are both headquartered in Brussels.
  • There are lots of canals criss-crossing the country, some of which flood sometimes. There are also lots of castles.

This is a castle in Ghent. (photo by Christopher Barton)

  • Belgians make a lot of machinery and metal equipment, but another one of their major sources of income is from the diamond trade.
  • Chocolate is also a major export for Belgium, which produces over 172,000 tons of chocolate each year.
  • One city in Belgium is called Spa, and is the origin of the more general word "spa."
  • The inventor of the saxophone, the cartoonist who drew the first Smurfs, surrealist painter Rene Magritte, and Audrey Hepburn, born Edda van Heemstra Hepburn, were all from Belgium.
This is one picture of Belgium (from

It kind of reminds me of the towns in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 movie.

CIA World Factbook entry on Belgium
Belgian Tourist office in the USA
Principia Cybernetica's overview of Belgium

Saturday, August 6, 2005

Apple #95: Yawns

So the other day I was waiting in an office with a good friend of mine. This was fairly early in the morning and we were both tired. It happened three or four times that he yawned, and then I yawned. Or I yawned, and then he yawned. Contagious yawning, right? But I wondered, why are yawns contagious?

(I bet by the time you've finished reading this, you'll have yawned at least twice.)

  • Actually, some scientists say that not everybody is susceptible to the contagious yawn. They estimate that only 40% to 60% of the population will catch a yawn from another person.
  • They think it has to do with a person's ability to empathize with someone else. Actually, they say a person has to be able to do two things: be aware of his or her own mental state, and also be able to see things from another person's point of view.
  • Babies, for example, don't catch yawns from adults. This fits with the theory: babies have no idea who they are, and they sure can't put themselves in an adult's brain.
  • Scientists also say it's rare that people will catch a yawn from a dog or other animal, because you can't really empathize with a dog. But I'm going to beg to differ on both points -- I think I can empathize with a sleepy dog, and I think I have caught a yawn at least once or twice from our dog.
  • Some people have suggested that yawning is contagious because it's a leftover evolutionary trait, designed to signal to other members of the pack that it's time everybody did something -- sleep, presumably. Nobody's proven that chimps catch yawns from each other, or that orangutans can catch yawns from people, or anything like that, so this is still just a major guess.
  • In other words, while researchers have been able to establish that people who are more empathetic tend to yawn more in response to yawning stimuli, they don't really know why yawns are contagious.
  • Okay, so if we don't know why we catch yawns from other people, do we know why we yawn at all? You may have heard, once upon a time, the theory that people yawn to get rid of extra carbon dioxide (CO2) and pull in more necessary oxygen (O2).
  • Well, now, researchers are saying this idea is a bunch of crap. They've done studies where they changed the balance of CO2 and O2 in the room, to see if people yawned more or less, and it didn't have any effect on the yawning rate. So that idea is out.
  • And that's as far as the scientists have gotten, really. They've rejected the dominating theory as implausible, but they haven't found another reason for why we yawn. There's some speculation that maybe it has something to do with slowing the blood flow, and stretching, since we often stretch while yawning (but not always, and not really), but it's not really a strong theory and nobody's running around saying, "Yes! THIS is why we yawn!"
  • To make up for the fact that I don't have the answer, here are a couple more facts about yawns:
    • It's estimated that the first time you ever yawned was before you were born, 11 weeks after you were conceived.
    • Yawns become contagious between year 1 and year 2 of life. (Hmm, this makes me question the empathy part of the equation)
    • The average yawn lasts about 6 seconds.
    • Pandiculation is the term for yawning and stretching.

Have you yawned yet? How about now?

This is Formula One racing champion Michael Schumacher, yawning

And now?

Brooke Shields, yawning
(Photo from an entire blog of celebrities yawning)

Or will you yawn if you listen to the Yawning Song? (2.4 MB download)

Even if it hasn't made you yawn, has this apple made your Top Ten?

Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D., University of Washington, Neurscience for Kids, Contagious Yawning
The Straight Dope, Why are yawns contagious?
Yawningjelle, Yawning: Why do we yawn and why are yawns contagious?
Howstuffworks, What makes us yawn?

Monday, August 1, 2005

Apple #94: Llamas, Visited


Not too long ago, I wrote an entry about llamas. Then the other day, I went to the State Fair and saw probably a hundred of them! I talked to quite a few llama people (okay, llama owners, but I like the phrase "llama people" better), and I learned some new things about llamas, in addition to what I had learned from my online sources.
  • Female llamas can ovulate on demand. That's right, no monthly or yearly or whatever schedule. If a male llama gets her going, she's ovulating.
  • In captivity, llamas can live to be about 25 years old. Female llamas give birth up until they're about 20.
  • Gestation lasts about 11 months. After the baby llama is born, about two weeks elapse, and then the female is usually pregnant again. This means that llamas give birth pretty much every year for 20 years.
  • I met one llama that had blue eyes. Most of the eye was dark, but at the corners, the color sort of speckled out and you could see white, and some of the speckles were dark blue or bright blue. The woman who owned that llama told me that blue eyes in llamas are rare. Most llamas have dark brown or black eyes because, in the wild, a llama with blue eyes will go blind because its eyes would not be protected enough against the harsh light glinting off snow.
  • Llamas are good at leaping. I saw one young llama who was lying next to an adult llama, its legs neatly folded under its body, all of a sudden spring up into the air, getting maybe three feet off the ground, all very suddenly and yet also gracefully.
  • The bottoms of their feet are not hard, like horses' hooves, but more calloused, like a dog's paws. When llamas walk, they make sort of a shuffling sound. Their bottoms also bob up and down when they walk, which made me think of ladies wearing bustle skirts.
  • Their wool is very soft, not like a sheep's wool. One llama lady told me that the inside of a llama wool fiber is hollow, which allows it to trap air and hold warmth. This also makes it very lightweight. In addition, a sheep's wool fiber has all kinds of little barbs all along the shaft, but llama wool fibers are smooth. This means that llama wool next to your skin will not itch. I felt the llama wool for myself, both spun into yarn and on said llamas, and it was delightfully soft.
  • Llamas are sort of shy at first, so if they don't know you, and you want to pet them, approach slowly, and let them sniff your hand, the same as you would with a dog. Then if they're close enough to pet, they'll let you pet their neck. They don't really like to be touched on the body or the face if they don't know you, but they're okay with being touched on the neck.
  • They also like to smell you (again, like dogs do). Several llamas leaned forward slowly, as if drawn forward by their curiosity in spite of their caution. When they got close enough, they all gave my hand a good, sound, sniff with their camel-like noses and almost immediately moved away, satisfied. Yep, that's a girl.
  • Some llamas, if they're feeling particularly friendly, will want to sniff your face. They may touch their nose to your forehead and take a big sniff. Or, I saw one lady greet two llamas in turn, by letting each of them touch their nose to her nose. She found this extremely delightful, and the llamas looked pretty pleased about it, too.
  • If you think llamas are only happy fluffy creatures, listen to this: Lots of people use llamas as guard animals, like for their cattle or whatever livestock they might have. I asked one llama lady how llamas act as guards, like do they make some loud noise or something, and the lady said no, but "They'll stomp a coyote to death." She nodded, dead serious. "Oh yeah, they'll protect the heck out of you."
Update: The Daily Apple is now being indexed by Google! Check it out!
P.S. What are your favorite apples?