Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

Quite possibly the coolest thing ever: Mice edition

September 25, 2010 Leave a comment

This is awesome. How do you kill an invasive species of snakes in the Guam? Airdrop a bunch of drug laced mice so that the snakes eat them and die. That is some wicked awesome innovation. Truly the stuff of cartoon super villains.

Categories: Biology

Shouldn't they be poler bears?

July 23, 2010 1 comment

While I’d like to die at the ripe old age of 80 of a massive brain aneurysm in my sleep (you know, painless, quick and the whatnot) I do have another sort of ideal death. You see, I’d like to live with bears, be accepted by them and join on of their families. Kind of like Timothy Treadwell, except instead of those pussy grizzly bears, I’d go for the balls-out king of the fucking bears, the polar bears. I’d make a video journal of my time with them in the hopes that one day the footage would be discovered and Werner Herzog could make a feature length film of my exploits.

Okay, maybe there wouldn’t be enough footage to make it feature length, it would probably be a short film. In fact, I have a pretty good idea of how it would pan out. It would start with me setting up the camera.

Alright, I’m going to try and meet with the polar bears now. Hello Bears! I mean you no harm! I simply want to live with you and become one of you. Possibly eat a seal or two. Please accept me as one of your own!

Oh my gods! He ripped of my arm! Or is that a she? Nope definitely a he! Jesus, now he’s eating my severed arm! There’s so much blood. Oh, gods, now he’s ripped open my stomach and he’s eating my entrails. WHILE I’M STILL ALIVE!!!

Then the credits would start rolling and the one-hit-wonder of the millennium, Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” would play over the sounds of my own screams. It would simply be called Most Awesome Worst Idea Ever! Even so, while I will probably end up dead or dying within five minutes of starting my man/bear endeavour, it will undoubtably the most thrilling five minutes of my life. It would be so much fun to brag things up at the pearly gates. I’d be stuck in the middle of all those schmucks who had massive coronaries while typing away in their cubicles or those poor bastards who were hit by someone who was driving and texting, and they’d be regalling stories of their various deaths, then they’d get to me. “Well, first my arm was torn off by a polar bear and then it started to devour my intestines while I was still alive.” Bam! Instant afterlife fame. Seeing as how I’m not a very good person otherwise, I could use this to my advantage in garnering praise from the more pious uppy ups.

But all of that is neither here nor there, the important thing is that Polar bears are cool. They’re merciless killing machines, but they also appear so cute and cuddly you can’t help but want to hold them. They’ve got an insane sense of smell. According to the all-knowing wikipedia, they can smell seals buried under three feet of snow…from over a mile away. I saw this in action on some sort of random nature documentary. A crew in a helicopter was watching a bear. It had been travelling in one direction, then stopped, sniffed the air for a while and made an abrupt direction change. They helicpoter followed the bear for a mile when it suddenly stopped and started digging at the ice and snow. Lo and behold, there was a seal hiding under the ice at that exact spot. Brown bears just sit in the river and wait for salmon to swim to them. Pussies.

Tauntauns have nothing on polar bears. If you kill a polar bear (which may not actually be possible) and crawl inside of him for warmth, you will die of heat exhaustion.  They’ve got a thick layer of blubber that insulates them from the arctic cold. Not to mention their fur, which isn’t white but actually clear. Combine those together and polar bears are so well insulated that they appear almost invisible on the infrared spectrum. That’s right, polar bears are the only thing that can consistently kill Predators. The insulation and fur works so well that they overheat if it gets above 50 Fahrenheit. They can even over heat during long swims. Let me clarify that. While swimming through frigid, ice covered water polar bears can overheat.

Another thing helping polar bears retain their warmth is their shape. Even though they’re longer than brown bears, they have stockier legs. This is so that the bears are larger, but have less surface area than bears living in warm climates. The less surface area there is, the less heat will escape from the body. This was actually theorized before it was observed and studied. Some guy named Joseph Allen figured that warm-bloodied animals in colder regions would have shorter legs and arms than their warm region counterparts. In 1877 this theory became a rule (I don’t know how something specifically becomes a rule, as if there were some magical animal instruction booklet) and is called (wait for it) Allen’s Rule.

They’re freaking relentless, too. When polar bears hunt seals, they usually camp out around a hole in the ice, and wait for the seals to surface for air. When the seal pops up, the bear swipes the seal out of the water, bites its head and crushes the skull. This uber-morbid version of whack-a-mole is also an instinctive measure to prevent zombie seal attacks, probably. The also will sneak up on seals that are laying on the ice surface. Since polar bears, but their ginormous nature make lousy sneakers, they have to rush at the seals in the last 30 or 40 yards and take the seal by surprise.

Unfortunately, not everything you read or hear about polar bears is true, especially on the internets. Except for this article, which is 100% fact (note: not an actual fact). I’ve seen on numerous lists the “fact” that all polar bears are left handed. I always liked this, because I was left handed and it was something that we had in common. I figured I could use that as my “in” with the bears. Unfortunately, if you talk to bear studying scientist types, they’ll tell you that polar bears don’t seem to have any hand (or paw) preference. Shoot.

Categories: Biology, Nature Tags: , ,

Giant and Colossal Squid are frighteningly awesome

June 9, 2010 Leave a comment

I saw a Discovery channel program this weekend about a group of scientists who would get to study the corpse of a colossal squid that was captured and then instantly frozen. Because of this, it was conisdered the most intact specimen ever captured since it had not begun to decay at all, which apparently happens very rapidly.

The first half of the show dealt with the complicated process involved with slowly thawing the squid so that it could be studied. This involved placing the animal into a bath of saltwater that was kept barely above freezing. It ended up thawing over a few days. To pass the time the scientists practiced studying the colossal squid by dissecting a giant squid under the same conditions. As they went along they revealed a number of balls out fascinating things about both species.

To help keep their orientation in the deep ocean, giant and colossal squid have an organ called the statocyst. This is a small fluid filled sac which contains a number of sensory hairs called setae and a small mineral deposit called a statolith. When the squid moves, the inertia of the statolith changes and bumps into the setae which helps orient the animal. Finding the statolith was a major priority for the scienctists, because they can use it to determine the age of the squid, since the mineral accumulates in small rings, much like the rings of a tree. However, the statolith is so small that the only way to count the rings is by using an electron microscope. When the scientist in the program found it in the giant squid he showed it to the camera and it just looked like a sliver of broken glass, slightly larger than a grain of sand.

The other thing that they were furiously looking for in the squid was its brain. Squid’s brains are rather hard to find, because they only weigh an ounce.  Your brain is about eight pounds, and if my maths are correct you can shove 128 squid brains in that eight pounds. No wonder giant squids are mortal enemies with the sperm whale, arguably the dumbest of the whale species. I mean just look at their name, sperm whale.

Anyways, the other crazy thing about the squids brain is that it is shaped like a deliciously small donut. Why is it donut shaped? Because it surrounds the esophagus. If the squid eats something that’s bigger than it’s brain, it can cause brain damage. If this were true in humans, I can’t tell you how many times I would’ve gone all Forrest Gump on y’all by eating something that was too big for my britches, or brain as it were. There was one noticeably uncomfortable time when I swallowed a whole hard boiled egg because I wondered if a chick would burst from my gut, a la Alien.

The main difference between the giant squid and the colossal squid is that the colossal squid  isn’t so much more colossal in terms of length, but in terms of the girth of the mantle. In other words, colossal squid are the Mr. Creosote of the squid family. Their arms are actually shorter than that of the giant squid, but their larger mantles ensure that they weigh more.

In order to compensate for their shorter arms, colossal squid have one other noticeable difference. Giant squid have the tried and true feature of suckers on their arms. To keep the suckers from being too cliche and boring, most of them are covered by sharp ridges of chitin which act like little serrating teeth. I mean, to have a giant squid grab you with it’s arms and hold you in an icky death grip with it’s suckers is shittastically frightening enough, but to then have those suckers rip into and tear your flesh is beyond the realm of conceivable horror.

So what does the colossal squid have to compare with these tendrils of terror? They have suckers like the giant squid, but they also have three inch fucking long hooks. That’s like the claws of a tiger on on a squid. It’s like a goddamn cosmic joke, except instead of being funny, it’s horrifying. To add more horror to the horror, the hokes can swivel, making them much more effective at gripping, holding and shit inducing. If the giant squids arms inspire Human Centipede levels of fear, than the colossal squids arms are like going through the Human Centipede treatment, and then being forced to watch a Sex and the City 2/Eclipse double feature.

There’s an ad that’s been showing recently where a dad is getting his daughter ready for bed. Instead of telling her a bedtime story, he regales all of the interesting science news from the day. The girls imagination takes over and her bedroom becomes an interactive museum of sorts as she “sees” all of the things that her father is telling her about. What does the father choose to tell her daughter about to get her all snuggled and cozy for bed? A giant squid specimen, of course. What kind of fucked up father would do this? “They found this giant sea monster, with 15 foot tentacles with toothed suckers which they use to subdue and kill their prey, eyes as big a soccer ball, and a giant, birdlike beak. Well, sweet dreams, dear. Daddy has to go and put a night shift in at the office in order to pay for all the therapy that you’re going to need as an adult. I’m not going to bother checking your closet for monsters, because I’ve pretty much just convinced you that they do exist. Piss the bed all you want, that’s why the mattress is covered with that plastic sheeting. G’night.”

I honestly can’t wait to do this to my own daughter.

Categories: Biology Tags: , , ,

Let's talk about sex bay-bee

April 22, 2010 1 comment

I hope you like yourself some good old hymenoptera/asparagales naughtiness, because this article has it in spades. I kinda don’t like orchids after this. Tricking bees and whatnot. That’s just wrong. On the other hand, how stupid are the bees that they can get tricked by a dumb ol’ orchid.  I can only assume that this is all evolutions fault. We should’ve listened to all those Alabama school curriculums outlawing the teaching of evolution. Now evolution has become self aware and is running around teaching orchids how to make bees (which are awesome) into veritable sex slaves for the orchids (which are stupid).  Truly, it is a tragic existence which the bees lead.

Since there are two different kinds of orchids which use pheromones to trick bees into pollination, and cross pollination between those species will spring a new (but sterile) orchid species, it’s only obvious to assume that one of the two types of orchids was the result of cross pollination of the other type.

I mean, knowing next to nothing about plants and pollination, that’s the only conclusion that I can come to.

Now that you’re all turned on by bees humping orchids, let’s move onto the real hot stuff: mice.

Did I mention they’re promiscuous?

So here we’ve got a group of scientists who spent god knows how long at college and graduate school who spend their time gathering semen samples from mice. Then he (they) check out what the sperm are up to. Sounds like an awesome job. I wonder what their title is? I mean, what do you put on your resume? Would ‘Initiating mice gang-bangs’ be under skills or job descriptions?

Still, the findings are quite remarkable. Sperm can recognize each other and will help out other sperm from the same…erm…donor. The best part of the article is when it mentions that the sperm will draft “Lance Armstrong style”. I personally would’ve used Jimmie Johnson style, but only because of the delicious double entendre. Also, as one of my co-workers point out, the irony of the article is that Lance probably can’t produce sperm of his own anymore.  Anyway, with all of the things that work against successful breeding in animals species, it’s cool to finally see something that there is a mechanism that’s there to increase the chances of fertilization.

Categories: Biology Tags: , , ,

Sadly, Octopi does not mean "eight pies"

April 9, 2010 1 comment

I just saw this awesome, awesome video. They attached a freakin camera to a freakin sea lion. It’s almost as cool as freakin sharks with freakin laser beams, but somewhat less deadly. To humans, that is.

After seeing this, I decided that I wanted my own crittercam. My wife put the kybosh and adding a camera to the baby, so I had to settle on trying to glue one to the dog. She wasn’t having it. You could say that things went poorly. I was bitten 17 times. The vet said it was a record.

When I went back to watch the video to see what I may have done wrong, I noticed a link to another video. This one was simply titled “Octopus vs. Shark”. Now if that doesn’t grab your attention, I think you’re reading the wrong freakin blog. As you might guess, the video is of an octopus in combat with a shark. Seems like the shark would have the advantage here, I mean, the sea lion was able to beat the octopus handily, and sharks eat sea lions all the time. As it turns out sea lions, sharks, and octopi form some sort of awesome nature themed game of cowboy/ninja/bear.

I actually felt bad for the shark here. He was just cruising around, not hurting anybody. This is odd because I felt bad for the octopus in the first video. Then I watched it after the shark video and I started rooting for the sea lion. “You can do it! Kick that shark eating bastard’s ass!”

Categories: Biology, Nature, Science Tags: , , ,

Rabies is not so awesome

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

The other day I was talking to someone (since I don’t know his real name we’ll call him Phil. No, wait. Bill. Bill sounds better) who had quite an interesting encounter with a bat. He (Bill, not the bat) had just stepped outside onto his patio with a glass of wine in one had and a newspaper in the other. The bat (the one I was talking about, not the person I was talking to) promptly landed on Bill’s nose. At first, Bill thought he was being attacked by a moth. Probably more than a little startled, Bill grabbed the bat. Upon seeing that he was holding a winged rodent and not a winged caterpillar, Bill somehow had the presence of mind to hold onto it so that it could be checked for rabies.

Unfortunately for Bill, dealing with rabies isn’t very common in the U.S. Add to this the fact that it was a Friday afternoon and even if anyone knew how to test a bat for rabies, it probably wouldn’t be started until Monday morning. So Bill started the rabies vaccination. Upon hearing this, I imagined poor Bill taking jab after jab of painful injections in his belly with some very, very large needles. Luckily for him, the series of injections necessary has been shortened and doesn’t go in the stomach anymore.

Most of the rabies vaccine is injected intramuscularly in four sets. One as soon as possible after the encounter, another three days later, another 7 days later and the final 14 days later. However, one part of the vaccine is injected as close as possible to the contamination site. Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG) is made from the blood of people who have already been given the rabies vaccine. As you can imagine, a vaccine made from the blood another human is fairly expensive and hard to come by. HRIG makes up the bulk of the expenses for the vaccine, which costs several thousand dollars.

The symptoms for rabies (which start with flu symptoms and then progress to cerebral dysfunction, hydrophobia, paranoia, anxiety and delirium) can take months or years to first present themselves, but once they do it’s usually only about ten days before the infected victim dies. There are ways around this though. When rabies infects the brain, it reduces the ability for antiviral medicine and cells to bypass the blood brain barrier. It’s be theorized that by increasing the permeability of the barrier could allow these cells to pass through and would be a way to treat advanced cases. This hasn’t been attempted yet, partly because rabies cases or so rare in America.

One of the other interesting ways that was found to treat rabies is by inducing a coma into the victims. Doctors believe that death and other harmful side effects from rabies results from temporary dysfunctions of the brain. By stopping these processes in the brain, you can stop the effect of rabies and give the body time to fight the virus. In a few cases, this has worked with little or no detrimental effect on the victim.

Testing for rabies is done by taking a tissue sample of the brain. This is why it was so important that Bill brought in the bat, and why it’s rather hard to test and see whether or not humans have caught rabies or not. Generally, the doctors would prefer you to be dead before they extract part of your brain. Even then, I think the doctors would prefer you to be alive and not have to extract part of your brain. Once the brain sucking extraction has taken place, they other perform a viral culture on it, or they test it through something called Polymerase chain reaction, which, if I’m understanding things correctly, extracts a piece of the viral DNA and replicates it numerous, numerous times so that it can be “viewed” and analyzed.

Well, what of poor Bill? He started the vaccinations. Luckily they decided to give him the HRIG in the arm and not administer it directly to the likely infection source, his face. Before the third round of immunizations could be started, it was found that the bat was not rabid. At that point he decided to stop the immunization process. It’s a damn shame, too, because if he had gone through the whole process he could’ve started going Crocodile Hunter on a bunch of wildlife with no fear of catching rabies from them. At least for a year, when the vaccination would wear off.

Categories: Biology Tags: , ,

Eagles of the bald variety

March 27, 2010 1 comment

With spring here, there have been tons and tons of birds showing up around us. I like having them around. They’re fun to watch and to listen to. I’m surprised I’ve only written about birds once before, but it’s become one of my most popular posts. Like with most things, I consider myself a semi-novice birder. My wife, on the other hand, has achieved the rank of novice. The reason that I’m only semi-novice is because my birding skills don’t extend beyond me pointing at something and exclaiming, “That’s a bird!” I consider my wife the novice because she will often correct me. “No, dear. That’s a tree.”

There is, unfortunately, a limit to how much I like birds. To illustrate, I made my first graphjam.

As you can see, I only like birds a) when I’m not sleeping and b) when they’re not crapping on me. Despite how the venn diagram looks, this is actually a large majority of the time. And thank goodness for that. If the diagram was to scale I would spend about 40% of my time sleeping, 10% thinking birds are cool, and the other 40% of my time getting crapped on. Besides the sleeping part that’s a fairly hellish existence.

We live really close the the Mississippi river. Every year during the spring we’re visited by countless bald eagles. They usually arrive when the river is still frozen in most places and there are times when you can see a large convocation of eagles just chilling out on the ice. We’re talking dozens and dozens of them. With all of those eagles just hanging around like so many avian bums, it only stands to reason that I occasionally see them flying around. It’s an arresting thing to behold. They are probably the largest bird that lives around here, and seeing them floating so effortlessly and riding air currents is an entertaining sight. When walking our dog, Cassie, my wife and I will always joke that one of the eagles is going to swoop down and carry her away. Then we laugh at how clever we are for making the joke and having fun at the dog’s oblivious expense.

To prove to you that I’m not lying about this, I took my camera on my last outing with the dog in order to get photographic proof of our flying friends. The conspiracy theorist in me was hoping that none of the pictures would turn out and that they could serve doubly as either proof of an eagle or a U.F.O. Despite my best worst efforts, one of the pictures actually turned out really well.

It won’t win any awards but you can definitely tell that that’s an eagle. I also like the contrast between the blue sky and the little speck of an eagle.

Despite our joking about the dog being spirited away for consumption by an eagle, there is actually a little reason for concern. Bald eagles have been seen flying off with 15 pound mule deer fawns. That’s right around the same weight as Cassie. Her one saving grace is that she gained a bit of weight over the winter and might be too much of a tubbo to successfully carry off. Most of the time, though, when we see the eagles cruising around, they’re probably searching the river for fish to eat. Fish make up their main diet, but when that’s not available, eagles become scavengers and will feed on carrion. They even will steal food from smaller birds.  Not quite the trait I would’ve expected from the national symbol of the United States. On second thought, it is a rather fitting trait.

Though I’ve never seen it in real life, eagles fishing is just awesome to see.  They’ve got little attachments on their claws called spiricules that help them grasp fish.  They also can dive at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. Imagine how precise they have to be in order to fl through the air, spot a fish, dive at 100 miles per hour and grasp the fish from the water. Being terribly, terribly white, I have a hard time connecting on high fives.

Did you see that impressive wingspan? Average is 7 feet long. If an eagle did swoop down to take up my dog, I can’t imagine there’d be much I could do about it. Besides shit myself in abject fear, that is. It’s not like I could really go anywhere to get away from them, though. Bald eagles can be found everywhere in the U.S. except for Hawaii. They can live up to 30 years in the wild and 50 in captivity. Also, unlike Cuttlfish, eagles mate for life. They get bizay in their 30 years too. Most female eagles lay two eggs a year. Young eagles grow to sexual maturity in 4 to 5 years. Until they do, the juveniles are brown with white speckles everywhere. Their heads and tails don’t go white until their 4th or 5th year. I wonder if I’ve seen some juveniles flying about but didn’t realize they were bald eagles.

Until the eagles leave here for better hunting grounds I’ll continue to watch the skis…erm, the skies.

Categories: Biology Tags: , , ,