Tag Archives: darwin

This little fishy went to market

Alright, dear readers, okay. the author has a soapbox to stand on and a bone to pick today: it has to do with fishing ethics and sustainability, and is remarkably un-funny (as opposed to the rest of BV’s posts which are , of course, hi-LAR-ious. ahem) . What does this have to do with the picture above you might ask? well, this photograph was published by the Guardian UK online on Saturday; it depicts a  Somali fisherman hauling his catch to market in Mogadishu.

Quite aside from the sheer visual impact of this photo, with the ruins in the background and  the somewhat blank expression on fisherman’s face, the photo is a visual reminder of the difference between fishing for sustenance–for survival– and for vanity, masking itself as tradition.

Let me backtrack a bit… ah… okay, yes.  Here we go: shark fishing is an important aspect of both commercial and artisanal fishing in Somalia, and studies have not yet shown how dramatically this practice may effect the population of hammerhead, grey, and mako sharks in the area.  Some would like to see even traditional shark fishing banned, in the interest of preservation. Truth be told, the author of BV has not done enough research to say whether she falls into this camp or not.

But she will say this; in comparison to the horrific commercial massacre of sharks that occurred in Somalia in 2008, in which thousands of sharks washed up on shore after having had their fins brutally lopped off by commercial fishermen,  the artisanal practice of going to sea in small outboard-motorized vessels, and hand-carrying one’s catch to market, at least seems to even the playing field a bit.  Would you want to trade places with this man? No. I she a damned sight more respectable than the consumers who like to consume shark fins because.. oh, why was that again? oh, yes, because it helps float their peckers and demonstrates their wealth?

The answer, dear readers, is YES.

Further reading: A grassroots organization in Hong-Kong Boycotts the traditional banquet dish of shark fin soup. HUZZAH for grassroots advocacy.

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Lonomia obliqua caterpillar: prickly little beast

In the rainforests of South America lives a fragile and lovely caterpillar–lonomia obliqua— that will kill you if you let it. Be warned, dear readers, that they are often found–or rather, go unnoticed– on the bark of trees, which provides perfect  camouflage for the nasty, homicidal little  lepidoptera.

There they lurk in unassuming wait for travelers to lean against their trees, and to unknowingly brush against one of their numbers. Scientists will tell you that the powerful anticoagulant venom is a defensive mechanism, but the author of BV knows different. Lean in close to your screen, now: they are in league with evil forces and poise dto take over the world. It’s all very hush hush.

Ahem. On a practical note, symptoms of Lonomia obliqua poisoning include “severe internal bleeding, renal failure and hemolysis.”  A lethal dose of the toxin is minuscule, among the lowest of all known toxins. Brush against two of these villains and you’re meat.

To wit: though the lonomia family is responsible for only .1 % fewer toxin-related deaths than are rattlesnake bites,  should you be injected by the caterpillar, it would only take one one-thousandth volume of venom (versus the average snakebite) to do its work. One shudders to think.

So dear readers, should you find yourself in a Brazilian rainforest, mind the trees, forget the snakes, and beware the caterpillars.

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BV-worthy new exhibit

 

The California Academy of Sciences has long been beloved by the author of BV, figuring in her elementary school field trips, and, more recently, looming large in her consciousness as an example of stunning sustainable architecture. And a friend is employed there, I am proud to say, as a plant taxonomist– though, traitorous wench that she is, she will soon be abandoning us all to pursue a PhD in Chemistry on the east coast.

Pah. stupid PhD in chemistry. Stupid east coast.

In any case, If you would like to see an exact cast of Ida, the  Darwinius masillae that is a distant cousin of all of us today, you can do it at this exhibit. You can also learn about extreme adaptations (neat!) , reproduction (wink wink, nudge nudge) , and extinction (boo!).

Personally, the author of BV is excited to learn that the state fossil of California, Smilodon Fatalis, will be on display. She is also not a little bemused to discover that california *has* a state fossil.

which led the author on a rather amusing little digression into internet research-land, where she discovered the following:

California has the expected emblems, that is, a  state…

BIRD: California Valley Quail
ANIMAL: California Grizzly Bear
TREE: California Redwood

as well as a

 song
 seal
 motto
colors
nickname
flower
and flag (social studies history reports come flooding back to some of us) 

But is also has a state…

FOSSIL: Smilodon Fatalis (sabertooth tiger, see above)
INSECT: California dog-face Butterfly (well, it’s mother thinks it’s beautiful)
FISH: California Golden Trout
MARINE FISH: Garibaldi
MARINE MAMMAL: California Grey whale
REPTILE: the Desert Tortoise

not to mention:

 gemstone
Gold Rush ghost town
 Silver rush ghost town
grass
military museum
mineral
Fife and drum band (very cool)
Prehistoric artifact
rock
soil (SOIL!?!?! we have an official  SOIL. inconceivable)
tall ship
tartan
and theater.

And a poet laureate to write about all of ’em. (Which she doesn’t, at present. She seems to write a lot about love and death and architecture. But that’s a snap judgement)   

Seriously. Don’t believe me about the soil? look here. And expect a California series on BV in the near future.

sick of my rambling and want to read more about the exhibit? Read the articles from SFGATE and/or SFAppeal.

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I dig on Swine… Hackers?

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The author woudl like to draw your attention, dear readers, to these porcine smartypants. Smartypanteses? In any case.  Also note the swingin’ soundtrack.

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Banana Slug: “hard” life.

 

To paraphrase Brittney Spears, this banana slug is not that innocent

To paraphrase Brittney Spears, this banana slug is "not that innocent"

Beloved by alumni of UC Santa Cruz, banana slugs seem to have a pretty good thing going. Sure, they’re slow and eat detritus on the forest floor. But they’re beloved.

 …Just, you know, not by each other. In fact, as one intrepid UCSC PhD candidate put it, slugs

are constantly in an evolutionary arms race where males try to manipulate females into doing what they want them to do (for example, NOT mate with a new male) and females are constantly trying to prevent males from manipulating them.

 This is all a very messy—and uncomfortably familiar—business.  But if, dear readers, you are thinking you have caught the author in a gaffe, and that that banana slugs have developed an interesting solution to the battle of the sexes by evolving into hermaphrodites, problem solved, no muss no fuss… well then you are sadly mistaken. Because as you are by now perfectly aware, the end of the story is almost never the end of the story.

 And Banana slugs are not the nice, neat, nonexistent Barbie-genitalia sporting spontaneous generators we might like to imagine in our PG science textbooks. No, indeed. In fact, slugs are Simultaneous hermaphrodites, which means that they have both male and female primary sex characteristics. And boy, do they ever: an eight-inch slug can have an eight-inch long penis.  

Some of the male readers in the audience are doing some fast math and a little creative visualization in their mirrors, but don’t get overly excited, boys. Because even if the idea that the slugs mutually penetrate souds like a pretty good deal to you, you might be less excited to learn that sometimes a slug will also chew it’s mates member off after the deed is done.

 Chew it right on off. It’s called apophallation. And no, it doesn’t grow back.

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The missing link: Darwinius masillae, Sweet as Apple cider

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The sound of the name “Ida” has suddenly become  sweet sweet music to paleontololical ears.

This is because “Ida,” a 47 million year old fossil hidden in a closet for 20+ years has recently been unveiled. Apparently, a team of amateur fossil hunters discovered the fossil, which was astonishingly intact (even down to stomach contents) in Germany  in 1983, but had no earthly idea—the dummies—what  they had on their hands.

Skip ahead 24 years, and the University of Oslo buys the fossil at auction for around a million dollars. There, Jorn Hurum of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway, names his prize “Ida” after his daughter, and  studies it in secret for two years. Until this month, when he revealed it to the world.  

Hurum believes that little “Ida,” barely the size of an average housecat, may prove to be the bridge between higher primates such as monkeys, apes, and humans. Oh yes, and lemurs.

The author of BV doesn’t know about you, dear readers, but she gets an odd sort of kick out of the notion that she’s distantly but directly descended from a lemur. In fact, several of her cousins have distinctly lemur-like characteristics, so it does not seem all that far fetched.    

According to National Geographic Ida, properly known as Darwinius masillae, “has a unique anatomy. The lemur-like skeleton features primate-like characteristics, including grasping hands, opposable thumbs, clawless digits with nails, and relatively short limbs. But there’s a big gap in the fossil record from this time period….”

Sadly, the author’s dreams of lemus ancestry were shattered a bit when she learned that researchers “are unsure when and where the primate group that includes monkeys, apes, and humans split from the other group of primates that includes lemurs.” And that according to one American  expert, Ida may not be “our grand, grand, grandmother, but perhaps with our grand, grand, grand aunt.”  Sigh. But that’s still pretty darned grand, isn’t it?

Ida’s European origins are intriguing to experts, because her extreme age and advanced evolutionary characteristics prove that “contrary to common assumptions…  the continent was an important area for primate evolution.” In fact, “This specimen is like finding the Lost Ark for archeologists,” Hurum said: “it is the scientific equivalent of the Holy Grail. This fossil will probably be the one that will be pictured in all textbooks for the next 100 years.”

And what does all this science mean for us laypeople? Well, dear readers, it’s really quite simple: you may now commence with Germanic-monkey jokes. At your leisure.

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Bovine rampage in Norway: Revenge of the Beef

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In 2002, a series of bizzare bovine incidents in the Norweigian countryside alarmed residents, and alerted us to the  possibility that cows are beginning to strain at the agricultural tether.

The first victim, 23-year old Stian Skoglund, was “bashed and trampled by a furious cud-chewer” according to one publication.  

The incident occurred when Skoglond noticed that one of the cows he was attempting to gather for milking appeared “uneasy.” Apparently under the delusion that he had psychic animal powers, Skoglond “made eye contact with the animal” and “tried to calm it.” Unsurprisingly, the cow “became provoked:”

 “The cow butted me and I fell,” Skoglund reported. Frightened, our failed animal mesmerist scrambled to his feet and tried to make a dash for it, but the cow, undettered, knocked him to the ground. Pleased with her work, she then began—according to the same  Norwegian  English- language publication—to  “hop and trample him,” ceasing only when her victim gave up the fight and played dead.

Skoglund suffered a shattered leg, several broken ribs, numerous lacerations, and multiple contusions. He later wondered whether the attack was done in retaliation for his part in hauling away the body of a calf that had died days earlier.

“Maybe,” quoth our budding animal psychologist, “it was her motherly instincts being aroused. I’ve also heard that I shouldn’t have made eye contact with her, that only provokes them.”  

No shit, Stian.

Other incidents include a 45-year-old farmer who was hospitalized after a cow charged his wife (The farmer found himself in this unfortunate position after he attempted to wave his arms and distract the cow from its attack on his wife), and a nearby farmer who was trampled to death by rampaging bulls.

But by far the most shocking occurrence, dear readers, was the incident of the cow who fell  from the sky and died, nearly taking a car full of Norwegian travellers with her.

The story begins like a joke, with four men traveling in a car and debating the source of “a large shadow in the sky.” Was it a bird? No. a plane? No. nor was it a caped adventurer. It fell to earth with a mighty thump, mere feet in front of the moving vehicle.

Driver Olav Kjeldstad reported that, having barely managed to avoid hitting the mysterious object, he stopped the car and he and his three passengers looked behind them to where a cow lay in the road; according to one passenger, the fallen bovidae bovinae “only managed a few moos before dying.”

Kjelstad admitted that he “was pretty shaken afterwards” but also admitted– with typical Norse pragmatism and an inborn appreciation for dramatic subgenre–  that “we had a laugh as well;” the entire situation, he said, “was tragicomic.”

Perhaps  Kjelstad should have loaned his well-thumbed Companion to Norse Drama to poor Stian Skoglund,  upon whom the subtleties of tragicomedy were clearly lost.

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Money Might Not, But Barnacle Geese Do (grow on trees)

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 Source: British Library Images Online Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission Manuscript description British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 36r

What medieval-inspired bestiary would be complete without the Barnacle Goose?  According to Sir John Mandeville, who wrote in the 14th century CE, this fantastic creature is–or was– a species of goose that grows on trees. Not in trees, mind you. On trees.

In his Travels, Sir John writes that

 I told them of as great a marvel to them, that is amongst us, and that was of the Bernakes. For I told them that in our country were trees that bear a fruit that become birds flying, and those that fell in the water live, and they that fall on the earth die anon, and they be right good to man’s meat. And hereof had they as great marvel, that some of them trowed it were an impossible thing to be.

We moderns might be inclined to trow it impossible, too. Yet is it possible that the barnacle goose finds its equivalent in recent college graduates, who find themselves suddenly adrift of the parental money tree, and must function on their own or perish?  Indeed, the author sees many subtle similarities. Barnacle goslings grow on trees that overhang bodies of water; the young birds hang from their sprouting-points by their beaks.  When the birds are “ripe,” they fall. The fortuitous ones, which fall into the water, float and find themselves well on their way to healthy, productive adult lives. But those that fall on land– or go to graduate school– face a harder fate. Some die. The 14th century besties apparently all died, as there simply aren’t many tree-growing geese running about these days.

Yet today’s hapless little geese, who unerringly choose graduate studies in something “esoteric” like “Medieval English” or “Philosphy,” may in fact return to the life-giving tree well into adulthood, until the tree at long last shouts:

“Enough already! how long does a dissertation TAKE, anyway?

sigh.

take it from the author of BV, dear readers. major in something useful, like billiards, or graft.

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Guinea Pigs: A Rant

I come to you tonight, dear readers, with a bone to pick. The bone in question bellongs to the common practice of naming that has brought nothing but confusion and misery.Take the guinea pig.

Neither a pig nor from Guinea, the poor little rodents have been subjected to medical testing, have been a food source for the andean people since time immemorial, and have, most recently, been subjected to the most humiliting of indignities: competitive breeding and showing. And they do not look remotely like pigs. Consider the following images :

 

 

 

One is hairy, yes? The other, not so much. One has a pink snout, the other prominant whiskers. 
 …and yet… the cavy family is, structurally speaking, pig-like, with heads large in relation to their bodies,  thick necks, and “rounded rumps with no tail of any consequence”…and they do pierce the ears with unpleasantly porcine squeals….  And anyone who has ever owned and/or known a Guinea pigs knows that they do  spend an inordinate amount of time eating…

…and the Andeans, who keep them in cages next to the stove, claim that they are really quite tasty…

nevertheless. The name is asinine and we should not stand for it.

 But lest you think that the author of BV loves the cuddly cava itself any less than the other members of our natural world, I have an adorable video picked out for you, of Guinea pigs swimming in a bathtub. Entirely adorable. Far more so than a pig would be in the same circumstances.

The author does not know what the folkes in this video are saying, but she sincerely hopes that they aren’t reciting a recipe for guinea pig stew.

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Humanatee: A dying breed

seen here without a school, this humanatee may never find a home

The humanatee is an ancient, intelligent beast, most often found in large “schools,” though members of far-flung schools frequently gather together in large, gregarious groups called “conferences.” During these  sporadic expeditions, humanatees may demonstrate dominance by flashing the “TT” position. These strange creatures then show off to potential mates by uttering strange, unintelligible  sounds in rapid succession.

Infighting and promiscuous behavior is not uncommon in conferences.

But dear readers, the humanatee, contrary to appearances, is not its own worst enemy. The humanatee is among our worlds most endangered species, and though abundant, is seriously threatened by the rough economic waters currently plaguing our shores and those the world over. Worse, funding for conservation programs has recently been cut dramatically, leading some experts to wonders whether there is adequate habitat  in today’s academe for the humanatees.*

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Catobelpas: Head of an Ox, Tail of a snake, Bad dinner date.

To all of the singletons reading this entry: the author of BV would like to caution you about the Catobelpas, for according to Pliny the Elder, this next member of our medieval bestiary series, which is  “of moderate size and inactive with the rest of its limbs, only with a very heavy head which it carries with difficulty and it always hanging down to the ground” is also “deadly to humans, as all who see its eyes expire immediately.”

Others, like Edward Topsell, the 14th century author of The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes, rejected notions that the beastie’s breath was the actual culprit, writing that despte its diet of poisonous herbs, “it is more plausible, that like the cockatrice, he killeth by seeing, than by the breath of his mouth, which is not competible to any other beasts in the world.”

Charming.

It is perhaps not terribly unfortunate that the Catobelpas has gone the way of the DoDo.

…And yet… if the author of BV’s  experience in the dating world is any indication,  there may be a significant subgroup of human descendants of the Catobelpas: individuals who slouch, hang their heads, and eat poisonouos herbs (read: garlic) at the dinner table are in no short supply in today’s dangerous dating tundra.

So,  readers: be forewarned! Should you suspect your dinner companion of being just such a shaggy-haired specimen, then when s/he at long last raises his heavy head and gaze at you with his bloodshot eyes, and ask if you want to split the bill, Do. Not. Make. Eye contact.   

Pay for your food and run.

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Parasitic Wasps, part deux

A friend to BV has alerted the author to the following video, as a follow-up to a recent posting on parasitic wasps. His advice? Not to watch this while eating lunch.

Dear readers, heed this wise man’s advice. But *do* watch. The effects of the “wasp virus” may be among the more bizarre phenomena of the animal world. (And far more innteresting than the swine flu, anyway).

cheers, Isk, for the tip.

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The Ant-lion (lion ant)

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The entire premise of Bestiarum Vocabulum, as some of you might know, rests on the genre of the medieval bestiary ( or bestiarum vocabulum). It is therefore meet that we occasionaly visit the archives for entries, as part of an ongoing medievalist series. 

Take, for example, the Ant-Lion, of whom Adhelm, abbot of Malmesbury (639-730)  once wrote the following riddle:

Dudum compositis ego nomen gesto figuris :
Ut leo, sic formica vocor sermone Pelasgo
Tropica nominibus signans praesagia duplis,
Cum rostris avium nequeam resistere rostro.
Scrutetur sapiens, gemino cur nomine fingar !

I long have borne the name of hybrid form :
Both ant and lion I am called in Greek
A double metaphor, foreboding doom ;
My beak cannot ward off the beaks of birds.
Let wise men search out why my names are twain.

 

And why are the Ant-lion’s names twain? There are two possible answers. In the first, the Ant-lion is a large, fierce insect. This is likely Adhelm’s opinion, one shared by Gregory the Great ( Moralia in Iob, Book V, chapter 20, section 40), and Isidore of Seville (Etymologies, Book 12, 3:10), and other venerable medieval types.

But there is another possibility: that as the result of a mating between a lion and an ant, the Ant-lion has the face of a lion and and the body of an ant.  And this, dear readers, is the interesting answer, made more interesting by its tragic ending.

Because the Ant-lion is at gustatory war with itself.   Belying the Latin dictum “de gustibus non disputatem est,” the lion’s head will only eat meat, while the ant body can only digest grain. The ant-lion, divided against itself, inevitably starves.

Very sad.

… but the author of BV, as you might expect, is having a difficult time getting past the basic premise of this explanation, which is that an ant can mate with a lion. The mind. boggles.  at that visual.

 

 

…and should any reader find him or herself with a bit of free time and a clever pen (ahem), renderings of said illicit act will be gladly posted in a future posting. But *try* to keep it PG13.

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Cane toads just can’t catch a break

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Once upon a time, 101 Cane toads were  deliberately introduced to Australia, under the premise that they would eat the beetles ruining the sugar cane crops, ridding the farmers and population of a costly pest. Yet as we have learned time and again, the road to hell is paved with non-native species.  The population of poisonous cane toads exploded in Australia, the toxic toads started causing deaths of native species, and a variety of measures were sought to mitigate the new-and more obtrusive- problem, including:

1) Golf clubs (the author of BV cannot reccomend this, though she does understand the sentiment)

2)freezing 

3) gassing

 

But now, scientists believe that they may have found “a more natural way” to kill these killers: Meat ants.

…Yes folkes, this is another one of *those* posts.

Meat ants, a carnivorous species native to Australia,  have been observed eating cane toadlets, leaping upon them and devouring them alive. Or dead, however they find them.  Unlike the native toad species, moreover, the cane toads have not evolved defences to meat ants as have their Aussie counterparts. Simply put, “they do not hop away.”

Not one to hook his wagon to just any star, the mayor of Darwin and Frogwatch coordinator, Graeme Sawyer doubts that these ants can come to the rescue, as they “just don’t eat enough toads.”

Who knows whether sending the toads to swallow the beetles, and sending the ants to swallow the toads will end in tragedy… But the author of BV is put in mind of a childhood song …

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The life of the leaf-cutter ant: miss lonelyhearts OR sapphic smithii?

 

Leaf-cutter ants, or so they say, are all female. According to a National Geographic article, these ladies “thrive without sex of any kind—ever.”  As evidence of this essential sexlessness, scientists cite the fact that leafcutters have evolved to the point that they reproduce only when queens clone themselves.

Indeed,  one author of the study explains  that the (typically muscular) reproductive organ of the female leafcutter ant (M. smithii)  “has evolved into a ‘sort of a ghost of an organ at this point,'” and that no male of the species has ever been found. Were a male “theoretically to appear somewhere, we’re not sure they could mate any more,” she said.

The author of BV would like to offer a few observations:

1) Some among us would probably chuckle, quipping  that it will be a fine world when human females develop the same ability.

2) But others- the more sexually driven, certainly- would retort that a life “without sex of any kind– ever”   was not nearly worth the benefit of a life without fighting for the remote or the correct arrangement of the toilet seat.

3) And there the debate might end, with the simple conclusion of “I’m glad I’m not an ant” or “I wish I were an ant,”  but for the third group- the more flexible thinkers and those who swing that way- who might question the scientists’ assumption that the lack of males (and even of internal reproductive organs)  neccesarily means a “lack of any kind of sex-ever.”  

Rather denotes a lack of creativity, from a certain standpoint…

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