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Vital Element

Water is life. A truth so basic that it is commonplace. Concern about the scarcity of this ''vital element'' is widespread, as many people believe that water will be the detonator of future wars.

These concerns also inundate the Internet. It is not by accident, of course. We already know that life itself originated in water, that water covers three-fourths of the Earth's surface, and that 80 percent of our bodies is simply water.

But the problem with freshwater is perfectly easy to understand: 97.5 percent of the water on Earth is salty, and three-fourths of the remaining 2.5 percent are frozen around the North and South Poles. What is left is just 0.01 percent of this precious resource.

Even so, there is the broad impression that this is enough to supply a very large population. But the truth is that freshwater is not well distributed throughout the world, and in many places it is threatened by problems of contamination, squandering and poor infrastructure, as occurs with the dams that affect the basins of some major rivers.

The standpoint of water scarcity has generated a global mobilization, which has as its axis the United Nations. During the first Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, freshwater comprised an entire chapter in the program of action known as Agenda 21. World Water Day is now an annual event, and currently the UN is preparing a global report on the availability of this life-giving resource.

UNEP: Freshwater - Resources - Agenda 21
UNESCO: World Water Day
Agenda 21: Chapter 18 on Water
The world's largest rivers
24 UN agencies prepare a global report on water

A Prodigious Crop

Corn is planted and harvested in nearly all the Earth's farmland that is suitable for agriculture. But it was not always so. Until 500 years ago, its use was limited to what we now know as the Americas, from Chile to Canada.

Its global popularity began when the first Europeans learned of its existence. The explorers spoke of ''a kind of grain, called 'maize,' that tastes good cooked, dried or ground into flour''.

The cultivation of this plant, from the 'gramineae' family, originated thousands of years ago in the area that is now Mexico and Central America. The oldest vestiges of corn production found in the region are some 7,000 years old. It is here that the word ''maize'' was born, meaning ''sustenance of life''.

Corn served as the basis of the diet, and even the culture, of the ancient civilizations of the Americas.

Across the Western Hemisphere, it is known by different names: corn, maíz, choclo, jojoto, milho, and elote, for example. There are six basic types of corn: dentate, hard, soft (or grainy), sweet, popcorn and sheathed.

Beyond its virtues as a food (where it demonstrates an incredibly capacity to transform itself into flour, pasta, etc.) maize holds other surprises: it is used as the basic ingredient for some industrial processes, such as the production of starch, oil, protein, alcoholic beverages, sweeteners, and fuels.

Reflecting its importance for humanity, the Internet holds seemingly infinite references to corn. There are hundreds of recipes from a wide range of cultures, and numerous sites that explain its uses, or inform us of its basic characteristics.

And if you combine the word ''corn'' or ''maize'' with the term ''transgenic'' in just about any Internet search engine, you'll enter one of the hot debates of today: whether humanity should be producing genetically modified corn, as the consequences for the environment and human health are still relatively unknown.

FAO: Maize in Human Nutrition
The Maize Page
Maize Cooperation in Genetics
CornCam: Watch Corn Grow!

Life of a Coleopteron

Beetles inhabit nearly the entire planet. They have one important thing in common: the hard wing shell that gives them their armored appearance. But beyond that, beetles are one of the most diverse families that exist. One other thing they share is their ''official'' name: they belong to the order ''coleoptera.''

''The beetles are the largest order including more species known to science than any other order not only in the Class of Insecta, but also in the entire animal kingdom (Animalia)... beetles constitute more than a quarter of all known animals,'' reports a website based in St. Petersburg.

Since ancient times beetles have formed a part of human culture. People have studied them and copied them in forming mythology, adornments and even fairytales. Even old Aesop used them in his fables.

Some beetles are famous for their incandescent colors, others for the extraordinary designs that adorn their wings. Some stand out because of their strength, and others due to their ability to survive, often for years, in the most adverse conditions.

One Internet site affirms there are 140 to 173 different species. Their diversity is evident, for example, in size: there are some that measure just 25 millimeters and others that reach more than 10 centimeters.

Their omnipresence on Earth even includes the Internet, where beetles are the stars of digital games, or simply the theme of unassuming directories.

Beetles and coleopterists
Coleoptera site
Aesop's Fables: The eagle, the hare and the beetle
Digital games, 3-D, etc.
Coleoptera, info and photos
Beetles illustrated
Directory of beetle sites
The Bug Page: Beetles

Armored Mammals

To find this unique animal on the Internet, try using some of the different names people have given them: armadillo, mulita, quirquincho, tatú, cachicamo. These words are used in different countries and regions to describe one of the strangest inhabitants of the Americas: an armored mammal.

From the scientific point of view, it has another designation: it forms part of the Edentata order and the Dasypodidae family. There are more than 20 different armadillo species living at different latitudes of North and South America, and exhibiting different habits, though all share the characteristic shell, which is made of a bone and horn.

Armadillos or quirquinchos inhabited South America some 50 million years ago. There are numerous fossil remains that indicate their presence, as well as their now-extinct relatives, like the glyptodont. The animal's strange appearance amazed the first Europeans who saw them, but the armadillo had by then had already enriched the knowledge of indigenous peoples.

This mammal is somewhat elusive. But it is easy to detect them in our culture: in tales and legends from places such as Peru, Mexico and Bolivia. The shell of the quirquincho has been used to create the 'charango,' a stringed instrument originating in Bolivia. And in some areas, this species is considered a delicious main dish.

Today, different armadillo species can be found from southern Chile to the lower half of the United States. Their presence in North America dates back to the mid-1800s, and in some places, such as Texas, they are so abundant that many people consider them a plague.

But in other regions there are armadillo species that are on the verge of extinction, whether from over-hunting or from the destruction of their habitat. That is the problem facing the giant armadillo of Brazil.

Armadillo Online
The World of the Armadillo
Armadillos invade the United States
Armadillos in Texas



Copyright © 2001 Tierramérica. Todos los Derechos Reservados


 Credit Mauricio Ramos
  Credit: Mauricio Ramos












Maize in Michoacán state, Mexico. Credit: Claudio Contreras
Maize in Michoacán state, Mexico. Credit: Claudio Contreras


















Vida de coleópteros














Armadillo for sale in Tixkokob, Yucatan, Mexico. /Credit: Claudio Contreras

Armadillo for sale in Tixkokob, Yucatan, Mexico / Credit: Claudio Contreras