Posts Tagged ‘biology’
Animals have evolved a variety of defensive techniques– camouflage, tough skins, fierce looks. But as National Geographic explains, olfactory defenses are among the most effective. Consider the hoatzin…
Hold your nose and meet the hoatzin, a bird with a number of distinctions, not the least of which is that it smells like fresh cow manure. The animal mostly eats leaves, which it digests in its crop, a pouch some birds have high up in their alimentary canal. It’s the only bird known to digest by fermentation, like a cow. This process is what causes its odor and has earned it the nickname the “stink bird.”
Don’t knock it, though. That stink means that even people don’t want to eat the hoatzin…
More on feral fragrance at “5 Animals With Stinky Defenses.”
* Friedrich Nietzsche
As we hold our noses, we might spare a thought for Hannah Wilkinson Slater; she died on this date in 1812. The daughter and the wife of mill owners, Ms. Slater was the first woman to be issued a patent in the United States (1793)– for a process using spinning wheels to twist fine Surinam cotton yarn, that created a No. 20 two-ply thread that was an improvement on the linen thread previously in use for sewing cloth.
Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have discovered ”olfactory white,” the nasal equivalent of white noise, Live Science reports:
Almost any given smell in the real world comes from a mixture of compounds. Humans are good at telling these mixtures apart (it’s hard to mix up the smell of coffee with the smell of roses, for example), but we’re bad at picking individual components out of those mixtures…
Mixing multiple wavelegths that span the human visual range equally makes white light; mixing multiple frequencies that span the range of human hearing equally makes the whooshing hum of white noise. Neurobiologist Noam Sobel from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and his colleagues wanted to find out whether a similar phenomenon happens with smelling…
Spoiler alert: it does. Find out how– and learn more about the most mysterious of our senses at Live Science. (And download the paper from the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.)
As we reach for our hankies, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that Philadelphia tinsmith John Landis Mason received the patent for Mason Jars. With it’s threaded mouth, metal lid, rubber gasket ring– and the hermetic seal that they can form– the Mason Jar quickly became a staple for food preservation (usually, and ironically, called “canning”). While they are still used to that end, they have more lately flourished as collectables.
If you’re going to be responsible for determining scientific classification, you may as well have fun with it. From BuzzFeed, some of the strangest and most amusing binomial names (Genus species) in all of taxonomy…
Fifteen more humorous handles at “17 Awesome, Nerdy Examples Of Taxonomy Humor.”
As we wonder what’s in a name, we might spare a taxonomical thought for Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson CB FRS FRSE; he died on this date in 1948. The Scottish biologist, mathematician, and classics scholar was the father of mathematical biologist. Starting from the simple premise that “everything is the way it is because it got that way,” Thompson wrote On Growth and Form (1917)– a profound meditation the shapes of living things that has been called by Nobel Laureate Peter Medawar “the finest work of literature in all the annals of science that have been recorded in the English tongue.”
Each year, on May 23 (the birthday of Carl Linnaeus), Arizona State University releases its annual list of the top 10 new species found in the last 12 months. As PopSci reports,
The father of classification would no doubt be pleased with some of the names on this list — they include a mushroom named for a cartoon character, a worm named for the Devil and a jellyfish named “Oh Boy,” because that’s what people should exclaim when they behold it. The list also includes a terrifyingly skull-looking sneezing monkey; a blue tarantula; a sausage-sized millipede; a night-blooming orchid; and much more…
The rest of the story, and photos of each winner, here.
As we delight in diversity, we might spare oa thought for Charles Atwood Kofoid; he died on this date in 1947. Kofoid, a founding staff member at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, classified many new species of marine protozoans– and in the process, helped establish systematic marine biology.
Reproductive biologist David Bainbridge writes that with the onset of wrinkles, love handles, and failing eyesight we are used to dismissing our fifth and sixth decades as a negative chapter in our lives. However recent scientific findings show just how crucial middle age has been to the success of our species and that with the probable existence of lots of prehistoric middle-aged people, natural selection had plenty to work on. “We lead an energy-intensive, communication-driven, information-rich way of life, and it was the evolution of middle age that supported this,” writes Bainbridge, adding that middle age is a controlled and preprogrammed process, not of decline, but of development. “When we think of human development, we usually think of the growth of a fetus or the maturation of a child into an adult. Yet the tightly choreographed transition into middle age is a later but equally important stage in which we are each recast into yet another novel form” — resilient, healthy, energy-efficient and productive. “The middle aged may not have been able to outrun the prey, but they were really good at working out where it might be hiding and dividing up the spoils afterwards.” Although some critics say that middle age is a construct of the middle aged, Bainbridge asserts that one key role of middle age is the propagation of information. “All animals inherit a great deal of information in their genes; some also learn more as they grow up. Humans have taken this second form of information transfer to a new level. We are born knowing and being able to do almost nothing. Each of us depends on a continuous infusion of skills, knowledge and customs, collectively known as culture, if we are to survive. And the main route by which culture is transferred is by middle-aged people showing and telling their children — as well as the young adults with whom they hunt and gather — what to do.”
As we feel our self-esteem ascend, we might spare a thought for St. Zita of Lucca, whose feast day this is (as she died on this date in 1272). She is invoked against losing keys (or to find lost keys); she is also the patron saint of bakers, butlers, domestic servants, homemakers, housemaids, maids, people ridiculed for their piety, rape victims, servants, single laywomen, waiters, and waitresses.