When authorities last week released 433 moths in Palm Beach County's Jonathan Dickinson State Park, there was barely a whisper in the local or national press. Yet the act may prove even more significant to the Florida Everglades -- one of the world's most diverse ecosystems -- than the multibillion dollar federal restoration now under way.
The moths, technically called Austromusotima camptonozale, live only a few weeks and are but three-quarters-of-an-inch wide. They don't appear unique. Yet research scientists -- including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bob Pemberton -- scavenged the world, spent seven years in research and permitting, and forked out more than a million dollars leading up to Monday's effort.
The bugs, which hail from the other side of the world -- including Asia and Australia -- dine on Japanese climbing fern, a weed that poses a grave threat to the River of Grass, according to John Volin, a Florida Atlantic University professor. Volin has spent years studying the fern -- also called Lygodium microphyllum -- which scales to the top of Everglades trees, covers them, and kills everything beneath. The plant was likely introduced in the 1950s and in just a few decades has blanketed the giant swamp. "The scary thing about this one," Volin says, "is that it has spread so fast here."
Indeed, this season's busy hurricane season may have distributed the fern's spores -- which number in the trillions -- farther than scientists can know.
Pemberton's moths breed quickly, laying 100 eggs at a time. They eat nothing but the fern. Authorities have been particularly careful to check that, the entomologist says. "It's a specialist feeder," he adds. "It's very finicky."
Next, authorities plan to spread many more of the bugs. And in the Tailpipeline are two other creatures that munch on Lygodium: a tiny mite and another moth. "We'll need a complex of agents to subdue this plant," Pemberton comments. "And that we'll have."
Questions for Real
Starting next month, the college-entrance Scholastic Aptitude Test is ditching analogies, adding some more complex math, and adding an essay portion that, to quote a report in the Sun-Sentinel, will match what students are learning in high school and need to know for college. Tailpipe says its about time the test-writing wonks tap into what kids are really learning. The Pipe recommends the following questions:
You have two girlfriends: One puts out in the back of your Civic, but the other one has clearer skin and is less clingy. Which do you break up with and how?
Your new boyfriend refuses to wear a condom. How do you justify continuing to sleep with him? Show your work.
Is it morally acceptable to sell weed or strip to pay your way through college? Why? Is stripping to just your underwear OK?
Choose two items from fig. 2 that you can find in your average Circle-K from which you can fashion a crack pipe with a budget of $4.
What up with that crazy bitch Sarah on The Real World?
Thou Shalt Not Be an Eyesore
A blue-eyed Korean War vet named Jim Cabaniss rolled into town last week in a Cadillac El Dorado with Texas plates. His wife of 52 years, Pat, was riding shotgun, and an eight-ton, 35-foot flatbed truck followed close behind. On the truck bed was a 5,200-pound stone block engraved with, among other things, an image of the two tablets the Lord hewed his word upon. The Ten Commandments had come to town.
The old Decalogue has been through the ringer (so to speak) recently, though it looked none the worse for wear, with its polished granite pedestal, the size of an industrial oven. But then, the rock has taken a beating from a race of beings that has -- like Tailpipe -- been known more for breaking the holy rules than abiding by them. (When Louis Armstrong was a struggling young musician, he once complained: "I'm broker than the Ten Commandments." Now, that's broke.)
"This is a heavy responsibility," Cabaniss said. He had accepted the commandments from former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who in 2003 was removed from office for refusing to remove his monument from the state's Supreme Court building. Fort Lauderdale marked the 130th stop in a national tour. Cabaniss brought them to the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church for a conference of evangelicals dubbed "Reclaiming America."
But where to store the monumental tchotchke? When the church's security head, Al Bunker, suggested unloading the block, Cabaniss warned, "It's too dangerous." The massive monument was fixed to the flatbed, but the truck was clogging the driveway. The decision was made to steer the truck onto the church sidewalk and pray.
"Do you think the concrete will take it?" Bunker barked into a Motorola phone. No one had a better idea, so the truck's driver, Thomas Matlock, identifiable by the name etched on his golden belt buckle, eased the vehicle one wheel at a time onto the sidewalk. Praise Allah, it held.
News photographers snapped shots as Cabaniss calmly removed the slab's cover and the four-inch straps that held it fast. One of the first spectators on the scene was Joy Bartlett, in town with her husband, Arthur, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the conference.
"I'll tell you, this is one of the thrills of my life," she said. "To think that people are fighting for the right to display this."
Tailpipe's rusty heart sputtered a bit, but the emotion just wouldn't flow. Let's face it, folks, this is one heavyweight eyesore. Maybe Jim and Pat would like to set up the damned thing in their backyard in Texas?
You remember the tale of the missing advertising tabloid dispensers owned by Milton Weiss, publisher of the South Florida Real Estate Guide. He doggedly hunted down his dispensers on New Year's weekend, he says, finding them in Polk County -- appropriated, he insisted, by his former business partner, William Keeler, of Port Orange.
Not so, says Keeler, who has now filed a restraining order claiming it's Weiss who has the sticky fingers. Keeler sold franchises to Weiss and two other men to publish the Digest of Homes in late 2002. But the three men severed the contract in 2004, a case that's still in litigation. Keeler claims the renegade franchisers made off with many of his boxes at that point, and he says they have been damaging and stealing others ever since. It's he who is the victim here, he argues.
The worst assault came on November 23, Keeler asserts, when he and his business partner were investigating damaged boxes in Broward County. "I got a call on my cell phone," he says, claiming an unidentified man told him, "You have 12 hours to return to Daytona or we'll kill your family and start with your 14-year-old son." He immediately headed north for the rest of the weekend.
Weiss says he's guilty of nothing but declined to elaborate on specific allegations. "This will all be settled soon in court," he declared.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.