Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Elephant No. 352: Suncatcher

I was out of town for most of the day today, so I needed something fast and easy for today's elephant.

Suncatchers are designed, as the name implies, to catch the rays of the sun and reflect them into a room. Usually placed in a sunny window, suncatchers are most often flat and highly coloured, although they sometimes feature clear sections and faceted crystals as well.

Collection of suncatchers, some of which include crystals and glass pebbles.
Source: http://www.olivebarn.com/sunflakes-suncatchers.html

Most suncatchers are pretty things made with painted glass or leaded glass, but mine was made from a plastic kit I bought at a dollar store, just in case I found myself severely pressed for time someday. Today is definitely that day.

This is the little kit I bought.

And this is what it contained. The box also promises "full instructions", but there was nothing anywhere—unless you count the cover image of a paintbrush touching one of the suncatchers.

Although there's not much to it on the surface—paint the areas in between the raised lines—it was a little more complicated than that. For one thing, the paint goes on quite thin, and if you glop it on too thickly, it collects along the edges, leaving the central part of each section rather poorly covered. As the paint dries, it also changes texture, so it's a bit difficult to add more paint without creating obvious lines.

A few tips if you decide to try this:

1. The paint will contain bubbles when it first goes on. These will disappear on their own.
2. When you first add paint, add a touch more than you think you'll need, starting at the centre of each section. The paint will tend to spread into the rest of the area.
3. Make sure to poke paint into the tighter corners of the design to avoid unsightly white spots when you're finished.
4. You can still add paint for awhile, but there will come a time when the paint becomes jelly-like and will start leaving lines and blobs.
5. You can use more than one colour within each section, as I did in the ear and tip of the trunk. To get the effect of pink, I used a very small amount of red and allowed it to spread to a translucent pink. I then reined it in by surrounding it with purple.

This took me about half an hour, plus a few minutes to tie on a piece of fishing line, with a loop at the top to hook onto the suction cup. Once I hung it up, I noticed how sketchy the black lines looked, so I also touched those up with a permanent marker.

Although I didn't think this was a very good craft for kids when I started, in the end I liked it a lot. In fact, despite not liking that these are plastic, I'm tempted to paint the rest of the animals in the kit, just for fun. And I quite like the paints. Then again, a child will enjoy playing with these more than I, so I'll probably pass them on.

Unfortunately, there's not much sun today for this to catch, but it's kind of cute for what it is.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In August of this year, scientists announced the development of a new DNA-sequencing tool which will help pinpoint exactly where illegal elephant ivory has come from.

Researchers sampled elephants at 22 locations in 13 African countries, seeking to build up a large information bank of mitochondrial elephant DNA. Because this type of DNA is transmitted only by female elephants, and because females don't migrate between herds, it is ideal for tracing the origins of confiscated ivory.

To acquire the DNA, professor Nicholas Georgiadis of Washington State fired a biopsy dart at the elephants. The dart was designed to hit the side of the elephant, scraping off a tiny square of skin before falling to the ground. According to professor Alfred Roca of Urbana University in Illinois, it was similar to a biting insect, and was well tolerated by the elephants. The hardest part was finding the darts after they'd fallen off.

A total of 653 samples were collected, sequenced and analysed. Eight distinct subdivisions of mitochondrial DNA were found, seven of which had specific geographical distributions. The scientists also identified 108 unique DNA sequences that provided clear information about the origins of a given piece of ivory. A full 72 per cent of these were found in only one area, and 84 per cent of them were country-specific.

In the past, it has been difficult to trace the origins of confiscated ivory. For example, although a ship carrying ivory can be traced to its home port, that may not have been the country in which the poaching took place. This new research, however, allows conservationists and other officials to sequence the DNA in ivory and determine where the ivory comes from. This will, at the very least, give a country's wildlife officials additional ammunition in their fight to prevent poaching in the first place.

African elephant in Amboseli National Park, Kenya.
Photo: © Fred Hoogervorst
Source: http://www.fredhoogervorst.com/photo/32567/

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