Monday, July 20, 2009

The blog is dead! Long live the blog!

This blog is no more. I now blog here instead. It's much better! I swear!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

They came from beneath the sea

Humboldt squids - large, aggressive, tentacled and sharp-beaked sea monsters - has started to wash ashore the San Diego coast, repeating their 2005 and 2002 performances. The Humboldt squid is native to the deep waters off the coast of Mexico and Central America, where they are known as being reddish brown mean bastards, nicknamed "red devils".

Now the squids have come north: swarming divers and yanking, hitting, grabbing and tasting them with their tentacles. No one's been hurt seriously yet, though. Still, many divers have been scared ashore - others excited - by the stories of these menacing monsters of the deep. Probably the squids didn't wash ashore chasing divers, rather, the squid were chasing fishier prey moving to shallow waters and got caught in the surf.

Why they have come north in the first place is unknown, but oceanographer Nigella Hillgarth thinks that the Humboldts may have established a year-round poulation outside California. Possibly due to changing enviromental conditions, maybe it's the climate changing, the squid's food lacking or their predators declining.

Some has valiantly tried to throw these watery invaders back in the sea. Alas, their attempts has been to no avail. Is this the prelude to an invasion by the Deep Ones? How do we staunch this incursion before Cthulhu awakens? "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh C'thulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!"

Iä! Iä!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Braaaains, brraaaaaaaaaainnnsssssssss...

This is your brain on zombie (or its scientific name: Ataxic Neurodegeneretive Satiety Deficiency Syndrome, ANSD for short). That link's an i09 article on neuroscientist Dr. Steven Schlozman's take on zombifications.

Lizard swims through sand like Scrooge McDuck through money

For a small, cold blooded creature living in the Saharan desert, like the sandfish do, the ability to quickly burrow into the sand is a useful trait. But the sandfish doesn't just burrow - it swims. The filthy rich Scrooge McDuck notoriously used is wealth to swim through rather than spending it, and how he did it is a mystery, but it probably has something to do with him being in a cartoon. The sandfish, though, is not a cartoon character, so how does it do it?

It was thought that the sandfish paddled through the sand with its legs. To find out, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology watched "burrowing" sandfishes in a bead-filled glass container with a high-speed X-ray imaging system. Physicist and lead reasearcher Daniel Goldman tells LiveScience:

"When started above the surface, the animals dive into the sand within half a second. Once below the surface, they no longer use their limbs for propulsion - instead, they move forward by propagating a traveling wave down their bodies like a snake"

I don't think that's exactly how Scrooge does it, though, so researchers has plenty of work left to do.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wampiric vorms and other pretty parasites

Another New Scientist gallery, this time: parasites! I especially like the first picture, of a hookworm. The hookworm, Necator americanus, is a type of roundworm that infect the small intestines of mammals (like, unfortunately, humans) through contaminated food and drink. The hookworm - the little bastard - feed by attaching itself to the intestinal wall of the host with it's cutting plates and voraciously sucking the host's blood. This can cause a nasty blood disease called anemia which, altough rarley fatal, can stunt the intelectual growth of susceptible children. It's very pretty, though.

(Note: hookworm infection does not cause vampirism!)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Trickster spiders fool predators with their web-design

Spiders of the Cyclosa genus of spiders are, scientists has found, proficient web-designers. They pick up the carcasses of dead insects, bits of plant material and egg sacs and decorate their webs with them. Spider-biologists Ling Tseng and I-Min Tso from Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan wanted to know what purpose this curious behaviour served. Like the spider trickster-god Anansi, these spiders are masters of trickery.

Thinking that it was probably a way for the spider to camouflage itself the spiderologists compared how often Cyclosa spiders (of the confusa species) were attacked with decorated webs and with undecorated webs. Decorations-as-camouflage was not an unreasonable hypothesis, camouflage is a common trick to not get eaten and the decorations were similarly colored to the spiders. Nevertheless they were wrong. Decorated webs were attacked by predatory wasps more often than the undecorated ones. The spiderologists figured that the conspicous webs still provided some kind of advantage to the spiders, like how some lizards sports an eye-catching tail that they drop to distract attacking predators.

To test this, the spiderologists went to Orchid Island off the coast of Taiwan to study another Cyclosa spider, the C. mulmeinensis. This spider assemble detritus into life-like decoys of itself, a habit that seems unique to this specific species. The decoys has the same size, color and general shape as the spiders themselves and to attacking wasps, at least, the decoys appear near-identical to real spiders.

When a spider's web was not fitted with the active anti-predator device, wasps always went straight for the spider. With decoy spiders more often avoided becoming wasp food, outweighing the cost of attracting the predators in the first place. The same goes for non-decoy-building spiders. And they don't even have to sacrifice a limb like the lizards do! Tricksters, indeed.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

When sex-starved monkey-hippies attack

The muriqui monkeys of the rainforests of Brazil are known for their peaceful and egalitarian nature, a nature which has earned them a reputation as "hippy" monkeys. But then primatologists observed how six young muriqui monkeys ganged up on a lone old monkey and started to savagely bite his face, body and genitals, killing him. The reason for this violent attack is believed to be pent-up sexual frustration among the male muriqui.

The muriqui of the north feed on leaves. Leaves are ubiquitous in rainforests and so the group can stay together in one place. When there's time for mating the males patiently take turns knowing the females aren't going anywhere. In the south, however, where the attack took place, the muriqui instead eat fruit. Since fruit is not as readily available as leaves, females sometimes leave the group in search for the fruit. This leaves the males without females to mate with for long periods of time. Periods of time during which they build up their sexual frustration.

The male muriqui tend to form strong bonds with their siblings and relatives; they form the animal-equivalent of gangs. Sex-crazed aggression then causes these gangs to take out their frustrations on weaker individuals.

Maybe they should consider going gay.