Tag Archives: teaching

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under academia, backyard fauna, gender bending, Phobia-inducing, rated NC17, the strange and the beautiful, Uncategorized

The missing link: Darwinius masillae, Sweet as Apple cider

090519-missing-link-found_big

 

 

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under academia, extinct species, Uncategorized

Bovine rampage in Norway: Revenge of the Beef

250px-CH_cow_2

 

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under human behavior, Phobia-inducing, the strange and the beautiful, Uncategorized

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

img4465

 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under academia, baby animals, extinct species, folklore, human behavior, medieval, parasites, Phobia-inducing, the strange and the beautiful, Uncategorized

Interactive Penguin Cam: time waster extraordinaire

050819_penguins1

 

Finaly, dear readers, an un-ironic post. The link below takes you to National geographic’s interactive program, which allows you to build, attach, and follow a “penguin cam’ under the ice in the Antarctic. You can follow this link to other animals as well- enjoy!

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/crittercam/ax/ff_penguin.html

Leave a comment

Filed under academia, exceedingly cute, human behavior, marine life, the strange and the beautiful, Uncategorized

Bushtit

This tiny bushtit is likely a male, as females typically have light eyes. Note the size of the bird in relation to the handler's fingers (shown)

This tiny bushtit is likely a male, as females typically have light eyes. Note the size of the bird in relation to the handler's fingers (shown)

 

Despite its name, the Bushtit (Order  Passeriformes, family aegithalidae) is not a well-endowed member of a prominent American political family but a tiny, insect-eating bird. Once called “Common Bushtits,”* these birds are primarily found in woodland and suburban habitats (ranging from southwest British Colombia, along  the western border of the United States, to Guatemala) where they can be found hanging upside down from foliage scavenging insects. Bushtits typically swoop into an area en mass, bustle around noisily while eating and socializing, and then depart, also en mass, for more insect-rich patches of greenery.

* The birds successfully petitioned for a change-of name when it was brought to their attention that “common” had unsavory connotations, a circumstance made particularly agregious by the fact they already had a reputation as ‘noisy little tits.” **

** A number of grad students and adjuncts were recently disappointed when their petition to change the name of freshman composition students to “Bushtits” was rejected.

Cf. http://homepage.smc.edu/sakai_walter/Species%20Accounts/bushtit.htm
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushtit

Leave a comment

Filed under academia, backyard fauna, Uncategorized

Drones and Worker Bees (a.k.a. “TA”s and “adjuncts”)

New studies on drones in California's University hive system suggest that the bees are exhibiting statistically signifiant increases in depression-like symptoms

New studies on drones in California's University hive system suggest that the bees are exhibiting statistically signifiant increases in depression-like symptoms

 

 Apiologists were surprised to discover University hive system of California, wherein, counter to typical apian behavior,  a body of largely non-productive, post-prime leaders known as  “Regents” live on after their productivity has expired, draining the resources of the entire hive system.  Drones in the University hive system  (sometimes called “TA”s or “adjuncts”) typically spend between five and seven years serving the whims of the regents, though trends in  habitat depletion and toxic environments, including the widely publicized Colony Economy Collapse Disorder, have significantly shortened the normative life expectancy of “TA” bees.

While there have been claims that  “the drone [is] …a canonical example of a worthless member of a society,”* without drone and worker bees, the pupae in the University hives (sometimes called “undergrads”) would go untended, and the hives would collapse. Some apiologists theorize that University bees will soon show signs of rejecting and/or evolving beyond the regent system, while others fear that the Regents’ unswerving self-interest will drive the entire hive system to extinction, taking the hardworking  TAs with them.

 *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drone_(bee)
Cf.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worker_bee

2 Comments

Filed under academia, endangered species