Tag Archives: University

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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You’d be Prickly, too

A rare Prickly shark ( Echinorhinus cookei) was recently “found” and displayed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, quite the coup for the eager grad student type who “found” the shark.

The shark was  “collected” in an area where the Monterey Bay Aquarium Supported research, by the unnamed graduate student (sorry, chum), who was documenting  daily migrations of prickly sharks from the deep waters of the canyon to the shallows of the canyon head where the specimen in question was… “collected” and quickly put on display at the aquarium.  

But as of the writing of this post, the Prickly predator has been returned to the wild, because after a mere 15 hours in captivity, staff scientists at the Monterey Bay aquarium noticed that the shark “appeared too bouyant to swim easily.”

The scientists tagged the prickly (and, apparently, gassy) shark, normally seen only in very deep waters,  before releasing him in waters about 250 ft deep.  They watched him swim off, clearly headed back for the deeper waters of the pacific rim.

Reports have yet to be confirmed, but some witnesses swear that they saw the shark flipping those scientists the bird as he swam out into deeper waters.*  

 

*please note: the author of BV is in favor of any and all humane efforts to learn more about the life in our oceans, and understands that the scientists’ intentions were pure. Nevertheless, she empathizes with the shark, who was kidnapped, stuck in a  tank, made a mini-media spectacle, and sent home all in the span of a day. As the title suggests, after this kind of Wednesday, you’d probably be prickly, too.

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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

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.

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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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Undead Spiders Survive Mass Drowning.

The author of BV, dear readers, is not happy. She is, in fact, deeply, deeply troubled. And all because what she is about to report confirms her deepest suspicions about order Araneae; spiders are, in fact, evil minions of  the undead sent to take over the world.  And let’s face it, with all due respect to the arachnophiles in the author’s aquaintence, they’re  just pretty damn creepy.

 

 

A reporter for National Geographic News  reported yesterday that spiders “drowned” in a lab “twitched back to life hours after ‘drowning.'” Yes indeed, dear readers (both of you), you read right.  The wolf spiders involved in the study “twitched back to life after drowning.”

 The researchers had only intended to see how long it would take spiders whose nests were subject to frequent seasonal flooding to drown, then leave the eight icky- little- legged corpses out to dry, so as to weigh them post-mortem. And so they did… but that, according to Nat Geo, “is when things began to get weird.”

Because once they had dried out, the spiders began twitching where they lay, eventually struggling effortfully back onto their eight icky little feet.

Researchers believe that these spiders instinctually enter comas in order to survive. The author of BV believes that they actually enter an alternate dimension in which they commune with the spirits of evil dead spiders, particularly those who have been variously flushed, washed, and hosed down drains in the human world, leading them to hold a grudge against the entire human species.

…But the spiders are not the only ghouls in this story: we should remember the University of Rennes (France) scientists (who from a certain angle resemble nothing so much as textbook sociopathic schoolboys)  immersed 120 spiders in water, “jostling the spiders with brushes every two hours to see if they responded.” All with the express purpose of seeing how long it took these spiders to die.  Just, you know, because they were curious.

Perhaps-just perhaps, and excluding the author of BV-some of us deserve to be bitten by evil undead spiders.

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Sloth

Is sloth a) the creature pictured above or b) the author of BV's fatal flaw?

Is Sloth a) the creature pictured above or b) the author of BV's fatal flaw?

 Sloths once lived both on the ground and in trees, but ground sloths, too slow to outmaeuver enemies, are now extinct, leaving only the familiar upside-down tree dwelling variety.* The surviving species belong to families Megalonychidae (two toed sloths) and Bradypodidae (three toed sloths); only one species (Bradypus torquatus) is currently listed as endangered, though the deforestation of South America’s rainforests may spell trouble for the rest as well. 

Tree dwelling sloths have highly specialized adaptations: for instance, sloths’  outer coats grow “upside down.” Typically, a mammal’s outer hairs  grow “downwards,” but sloth hair has adapted to sloth behavior; because they spend a significant percentage of their time ass-over-elbows, their hair grows away from their extremities, providing added protection from the elements in the inverted position, and creating a flattering “fauxhawk” when upright.
 In addition, their long, curved claws allow them to easily hang upside-down from branches, even to eat, sleep, give birth upside down. The sloth’s  “hands” and “feet” are so efficient that sloths sometimes remain hanging from branches after death, even when shot by poachers. This is  adegree of lethargy truly unmatched outside of my own livingroom.

 These animals are slow moving, low in muscle mass for their size, and the stomach of well-fed adult can make up 2/3 of it’s body weight. They are not, in other words, so very different from many of the grad students at major universities, who have likewise adapted coping mechanisms (including slow progress and binge eating)  to compensate for their diminishing habitat, and for the scarceness and unpalatable nature of available resources,  (particularly once they have remained in their doctoral programs past normative time). ** 

 

*Until the arrival of humans on the North and South American continents, they were poplulated with ground sloths, now extinct. Human hunting of these slow-moving targets likely had a large part in their extinction, though the concommitant Ice age probably helped.

Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sloth

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