Robot Records Fish Farts

I’m sorry. I really am. I try not to do puerile, sophomoric material too often. I do try to raise the tone of the joint as best I can. But, seriously… how can you NOT want to hear about a story that reads…

Robot Records Fish Farts!

You HAVE to look. It’s like driving by an accident. Even though you’ve been kvetching and complaining about the dozens of boneheads in front of you slowing down to gawk at the collision, when it’s your turn to drive by… you slow down and rubberneck just like everyone else.

(Fish Fart)

So… here goes!

Researchers hoping to better understand fish distributions by recording the sounds they make have picked up something unusual: barely-audible, cricket-like noises they think could be nighttime fish farts. The team programmed a torpedo-shaped robot called a glider to head out to sea from Tampa Bay and back, running up and down the water column in a saw-tooth pattern, sampling ocean sounds for 25 seconds every 5 minutes. The glider also recorded location data and measured seawater temperature, salinity, and depth over the course of 1 week. By comparing the grunts and whistles on their recordings to known fish calls, University of South Florida researchers found red grouper (shown, Epinephelus morio) and toadfishes (Opsanus spp.) were the most frequent fish sounds recorded, the team reports this month in Marine Ecology Progress Series. These fish produced sounds throughout the day and night, mostly deeper than 40 meters. The probable farts were recorded shallower than 40 meters, and were most likely a group of fish, including menhaden and herring, releasing gas from an internal buoyancy organ called a swim bladder. By mapping these sounds, the researchers hope to get a better picture of species distributions and likely spawning areas—important information for management and conservation efforts.

There.

I don’t know about you but I feel much better now that I got that one out of my system… as it were.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: I Love Rock N’ Roll

Monday and Tuesday morning, I woke up with this tune playing in my mind…

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts ‘I Love Rock N’ Roll.’

Last week marked the 30th anniversary of this song hitting the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. It stayed No. 1 from March 20 to May 1, 1982.

The tune has stayed with me, on and off, for over for almost 40 hours now.

In an attempt to exorcise the song from my head, I am putting it down in this blog.

For those around in the early 80’s, this will remind you of those interesting times and, hopefully, bring back a few good memories.

For those who weren’t… then it is a tiny glimpse into that world with an encouragement to start building your own memories now.

Why I Hate Almost Everyone (Part 14): The Humourless

I like to think of myself as a rational, even-minded person, I really do.

However, every once in a while (and far more often than necessary), I run into certain types of people who drive me to distraction… to the point where I hate them and, as a result, almost everyone.

The ‘jerks du jour’ I’d like to discuss are the humourless.

People with NO sense of humour. They don’t laugh. They don’t smile. They take everything seriously. Nothing is funny to them. Even when they know something is meant as a joke, they take an almost perverse pleasure in pretending it was said seriously. They meet every punchline with a blank stare, every rim-shot with a derisive sneer.

(Professor Severus Snape – Patron Saint of the Humourless)

When presented with the type of person who wears frivolity like an impenetrable shield, they shake their heads mournfully.

They sap the fun and pleasure out of life.

Not content with being humourless themselves, their mission is to drain the cheerfulness from everyone around them. When they walk into a room, you can almost feel the energy waning. People hang their heads and sigh or groan.

I have no idea why humourless people are the way they are and, frankly, I could not care less.

Someone near and dear to me married a humourless person. When I met the spouse-to-be, I was immediately struck by the fact that the person never smiled, let alone laughed. What kind of person never cracks a smile? The marriage did not last. No one was the least bit surprised.

Humourlessness is, to my way of thinking, a sign of an unhealthy mind and a sick spirit.

Deep inside, I know that this type of person is more to be pitied than censured… but I can’t help it.

I do not feel compassion for them. I do not sympathize with their predicament. My heart does not bleed for them. I do not say to myself, “There, but for the grace of G-d, go I.”

I just hate them.

Thinking about them makes my hair hurt.

Game of Thrones (Review)

The other day, on the recommendation of my dear friend, DD (a former museum curator, history buff and general all ’round font of information about things medieval), I purchased the DVD box set of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season One.

It stars Sean Bean in medieval costume. I didn’t need much convincing. [1]

(Game of Thrones: You Lose… You Die!)

One thing I have to say right at the start is that Game of Thrones is visually stunning. Sets, costumes, lighting, props, cinematography, effects… everything about the look and feel of this production is absolute perfection.

The visuals are matched by the casting, script, acting and direction.

I have to admit that stories involving royal intrigue, crafty aristocratic schemes and political plotting often leave me confused. I don’t like being baffled by movies or television shows. It took me a while before I had a firm grip on who was who, which ‘house’ was which and how everything fit together in this fictional, mythical world. But before long, I had a fairly good mental map of the Game of Thrones world… much like I have in my mind a good map of Middle Earth… and the major family and political groups that inhabit it.

It would be far too complicated to get into the machinations of which royal house was fighting and plotting against which other royal house.

Suffice it to say that it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Lots of swordplay, duplicitous plots within plots and an army of delicious characters… some you love, some you hate and some you just love to hate.

Watch it. Love it. Live it!

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[1] Sean Bean played Boromir in Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, as well as Ulrich in Black Death.

Australian Crocs Strongest Biters!

Well, as if there was much doubt in any of our minds, but still… it is sometimes up to the geeks and nerdlings over at ScienceDaily.com to confirm the obvious.

Australian Saltwater Crocodiles Are World’s Most Powerful Biters

As the article sets out, Greg Erickson, a Florida State University biology professor, and along with several colleagues, including Florida State biology professors Scott Steppan and Brian Inouye, and graduate student Paul Gignac have been pondering a particularly painful-sounding question: How hard do alligators and crocodiles bite?

(All crocodilians have essentially the same musculoskeletal design… just different snouts and teeth. [1])

“The answer is a bite force value of 3,700 pounds for a 17-foot saltwater crocodile (as well as tooth pressures of 350,000 pounds per square inch). That’s the highest bite force ever recorded — beating a 2,980-pound value for a 13-foot wild American alligator Erickson’s lab measured in 2005. They estimate that the largest extinct crocodilians, 35- to 40-foot animals, bit at forces as high as 23,100 pounds.”

Erickson and his colleagues reported their findings in the journal PLoS One.

Over the 11 years that his current study took place in both the United States and Australia, Erickson and his team roped 83 adult alligators and crocodiles, strapped them down, placed a bite-force device between their back teeth and recorded the bite force. An engineering calculation was then used to estimate the force generated simultaneously by the teeth nearest the front of the jaws. The team molded the teeth with dentist’s dental putty, made casts and figured out the contact areas.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… or at least I know what I was thinking when I read the article. “These guys are nuts!”

As Erickson describes it: “I have to admit, the first time I placed our meter into the maw of an adult crocodile, I was nervous. It was all over in the blink of an eye. When it struck, it nearly wrested my grip from the handle. The noise of the jaws coming together was like a gunshot. The power of the animal was astounding, and the violence of the event frightening.”

“If you can bench-press a pickup truck, then you can escape a croc’s jaws,” Erickson warned. “It is a one-way street between the teeth and stomach of a large croc.”

Yeah, nuttiness confirmed, all right.

Thank goodness for such adventuresome science nerds. Without them, our world would be a less rich, less fact-filled place.

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[1] Credit: Image courtesy of Florida State University.

More Zombie-like Behaviour in Insects!

As a noted zombie expert, people ask me all the time, “Are zombies real?”

My initial reaction is to say, “What are you, retarded?”

What I actually say is, “Not yet… but… it’s possible.”

Why? Because while there is no such thing (yet) as zombie behaviour in humans or apes, or in other mammals, birds, fish or lizards… (I usually pause here for effect)… there are several cases of zombie-like behaviour in the insect world.

I’ve written about how wasps use ladybugs to act as zombie bodyguards for their larvae.

Over at the Kosher Samurai blog, we learned about zombie-like honeyees infested by fly parasites.

And here is yet another disturbing display of zombie-like behavior in the insect world… the parasitic hairworm. Like the above-mentioned cases (wasp/ladybug and fly/honeybee) the hairworm plants its young inside crickets.

The hairworm develops to maturity inside an unsuspecting cricket on land, but must live its adult life in water.

And this is where the zombie aspect enters the picture. You see, to make this transition from inside the cricket on land to living in the water, it takes control of the cricket’s brain and forces it to commit suicide by leaping into any available pool or pond. Once in the water the cricket quickly drowns, allowing the hairworm to emerge and swim away in search of a mate.

This is by no means a ‘new’ phenomenon. In September 2005, a National Geographic article reported that a team of French biologists discovered that hairworms, living inside grasshoppers, pump the host insects with a cocktail of chemicals that makes them commit suicide by leaping into water. The parasites then swim away from their drowning hosts to continue their life cycle.

(I think I speak for all of us when I say, “Eeww!”)

As reported at Squidoo.com, “Inside the entire body cavity of the grasshopper except its legs and head, squirms a tiny hairworm. Upon arrival in its grasshopper host, the worm secretes a chemical cocktail that wreaks havoc on the grasshoppers central nervous system causing it to eventually take the final plunge. When the grasshopper hits the water, the hairworm, now three or four times longer than the grasshopper, can swim away and join its fellow hairworms in a giant writhing mass where it will breed.”

Gross.

So next time someone asks, “Are zombies real?”, don’t say “No”…

Say “Not Yet!”

An Entirely New ‘Species’ of Human Discovered?

First we discovered the Neanderthals (in Germany 150 years ago), then the Denisovians (in Siberian caves in 2010). Now the ‘Red Deer People’, the remains of which were recently discovered in caves in China, dating back to 14,500 and 11,500 years ago.

OK… before my little geeks and nerdlings jump all over me for the misuse of the word ‘species’, let me admit right off the bat that it is a bit of a misnomer. [1] I’m simply using it for the sake of convenience.

Now, back to the Red Deer People!

(Red Deer People skull – a weird mix of ancient and modern traits)

According to an article at io9.com

“These and other remains recovered from China’s Red Deer Cave, or Maludong, are the first bones found in mainland East Asia that are less than 100,000 years old, and not clearly Homo sapiens. This had led some anthropologists to conclude that all non-human hominans had gone extinct by the time our ancestors reached this region.

This new find seriously reverses that view. Not only did the Red Deer People share East Asia with ancient humans, they did so for far longer than Neanderthals lasted in Europe. Based on the age of this skull, the Red Deer People survived until the very end of the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago before they finally went extinct — compared to 30,000 years ago for Neanderthals.”

(How a Red Deer man may have looked 11,000 years ago)

As archaeologist Darren Curnoe of Australia’s University of New South Wales explains, the Red Deer People were still around just as humans in China were making the move towards agriculture and a more complex civilization, a bit like if the Neanderthals had survived to see the dawn of Mesopotamian culture.

Scientists are trying to extract DNA from the remains to try to get a better picture of how the Red Deer People fit in genetically to the overall evolutionary family tree of modern man.

(Darren Curnoe and Ji Xueping of China’s Yunnan Institute)

Scientists are being cautious in declaring this find a definite new species. It’s possible that they were simply one of the very first Homo sapiens populations to reach East Asia, and that’s why they preserved so many strangely archaic features. In that scenario, however, they went extinct without contributing to the current gene pool, enduring for tens of thousands of years as a completely isolated population.

What is much more intriguing and exciting is the possibility that the Red Deer People evolved separately from Homo sapiens. That means they are descended from one of the hominan species that had already reached Asia, much like Neanderthals likely claim descent from Homo heidelbergensis.

Whatever their true place in the Homo family tree, the Red Deer People are an important find simply because of the dearth of well dated, well described specimens from this part of the world.

I, for one, welcome this long lost cousin back to our extended family.

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[1] The classical definition of species, which splits groups apart based on whether or not they can interbreed, doesn’t really fit with what we know of Neanderthals and Denisovans, both of whom contributed to the human genome and thus were perfectly capable of reproducing with humans. There’s no evidence to suggest the Red Deer People also interbred with other groups, but they likely belong in the same category as Neanderthals and Denisovans. Whether that grouping is species, subspecies, or something else is a grey area, and best left for another day.