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Posts Tagged ‘zoology

“Does wisdom perhaps appear on the earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion?…”*

 

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…

Hoatzins on the Rio Napo in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photograph by Jared Hobbs, All Canada Photos/Getty Images

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

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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.

A waxen Hannah, at the Slaters’ Mill Museum in Pawtucket, RI

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Names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field…

 

A murder of crows

From E.O. Wilson’s Encyclopedia of Life, via the TED Blog, a collection of very amusing (and altogether appropriate) animal group names: “Animals that travel in schools, towers, bloats and more.”

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As we noodle on nomenclature, we might send dynamically-evolved birthday greetings to Stephen Jay Gould; he was born on this date in 1941.  One of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science in his generation (e.g., Ever Since Darwin, The Panda’s Thumb), Gould was a highly-respected academic paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science.  With Niles Eldridge, he developed the theory of “punctuated equilibrium,” an explanation of evolution that suggests (in contrast with the gradualism that was prevalent until then) that most evolution is marked by long periods of evolutionary stability, which are interrupted– “punctuated”– by rare instances of branching evolution (c.f., the Burgess Shale).

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Welcome, new members!…

Spongebob Squarepants Mushroom: Like its cartoon counterpart, the Malaysian Spongiforma squarepantsii is endlessly resilient, condensing when squeezed then returning to its normal size. It also has a fruity smell, reminiscent to the discoverers of Spongebob’s “pineapple under the sea” home.

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.

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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.

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“Are you feeling nostalgic?” asked Tom in passing….

In 1914, American chemist John J. Porter produced the first line of chemistry sets, “Chemcraft.”  It was such a hit that a few years later, science fanatic A.C. Gilbert, maker of Erector Sets and, later, American Flyer model trains, put out his own. At the time, it was understood these kits were not just amusements but tools to groom young men– and at the time, it was “young men“– for careers in science.

Since then, budding scientists have found other encouragement on toy store shelves as well:  The Atomic Energy Lab, The Ant Farm, The Visible Man (and finally, Woman)…

But neither Porter nor Gilbert could even imagine the prospect of basement meth labs or terrorist bomb factories, nor for that matter, the explosion of product liability suits… Indeed, since the days of those earliest offers– which featured all sorts of dangerous, thus entertaining, substances– chemistry sets have been progressively denatured…  leading Collectors Weekly to ask: which are better: science toys of the past or those of the present?  (Includes a nifty shout out to our Friends at Make…)

…If you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word: “dentistry.”
– P.J. O’Rourke

As we slip on our protective goggles, we might wish a bite-free birthday to zoologist Marston Bates; he was born on this date in 1906.  An expert on mosquitoes, his fieldwork in Albania, Egypt, and Columbia led to the development of the effective diagnoses, treatments, and ultimately prevention of Yellow Fever.

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The Art of Drawing Science…

Horse Anatomy
From: Anatomia del cavallo, infermità e suoi rimedi by Carlo Ruini, Published in Venice, 1618.

Many more lovely lessons at Scientific Illustration.

As we sharpen our pencils, we might wish a feathery farewell to zoologist Alfred Newton; he died on this date in 1907.  One of the foremost ornithologists of his day, he was appointed (in 1866) the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at Cambridge University. Though he suffered from injured hip joints and walked with the aid of two sticks, he traveled throughout Lapland, Iceland, the West Indies, and North America 1854-63.  During these expeditions he became particularly interested in the great auk– and was instrumental in having the first Acts of Parliament passed for the protection of birds.  He wrote extensively, including a four-volume Dictionary of Birds, and the articles on Ornithology in several 19th century editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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Life imitating Art…

… imitating life (readers will recall Thurber’s “cast-iron lawn dog”).

Your correspondent’s daughter, exercising caution

Officers in Independence [MO], a Kansas City suburb, responded to a call on a Saturday evening about a large alligator lurking on the embankment of a pond, police spokesman Tom Gentry said Thursday.

An officer called a state conservation agent, who advised him to shoot the alligator because there was little that conservation officials could do at that time, Gentry said.

As instructed an officer shot the alligator, not once but twice, but both times the bullets bounced off — because the alligator was made of cement.

[Reuters, June 3, 2011]

As we get in touch with our inner Pygmalion, we might light animal-shaped birthday candles for zoologist and ecologist Warder Clyde Allee; he was born on this date in 1885.  Allee is best remembered for his research on animal behavior, protocooperation– he’s considered by many to be the “Father of Animal Ecology”– and for identifying what is now known as “the Allee effect”: a positive correlation between population density and the per capita population growth rate in very small populations… an effect that might well impact the seemingly-frozen alligator population in Missouri.

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