Science Art: Ecphora gardnerae, by J.C. McConnell

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A shellfish that was around when megalodons swam and the first crows flew.

It was drawn by J.C. McConnell, a doctor who officially worked as a clerk for the Army Medical Museum, and gained a reputation for his shells, especially prehistoric ones.

If you’re going to be known for anything, I guess, why not that?

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SONG: "Jump, Jump, Jump."

SONG: “Jump, Jump, Jump”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “Fish and Adaptation: Mangrove Fish Jumps into Air in Warming Water”, Nature World News, 21 Oct 2015, as used in the post “Global warming might make the fish jump.”

ABSTRACT: First, let me say that this was done on time, even early. It started as a jokey thing I was singing to my son while he was watching me play guitar on the couch, and I decided what the hell. They call it “playing” music for a reason. (I guess if I spoke …

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SONG: All Praise Black Ice

SONG: “All Praise Black Ice”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “New Horizons Finds Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto”, NASA.gov, 8 Oct 2015, as used in the post “There’s water ice on another planet. Not Mars. Pluto.”


Laryngitis followed by a business trip and here I am, a couple weeks late. I hope the brass section makes up for that.

(Yes, there’s brass in there, somewhere. I really need help mastering these things, but one does what one can in between everything e…

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Science Art: Taf. V: Feuer-Salamander by Bruno Dürigen.


Fire salamanders.

They don’t look so hot.


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Science Art: Chemical Laboratory room. Experimental Research labs, Burroughs Wellcome and Co. Tuckahoe, New York

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Welcome to Wellcome.

They’ve got all kinds of wonderful things in their image gallery, including this marvelous experimenter in an even more marvelous experimental lab.

In 1935, this was where the future was made.

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Love and Fitness

16 September 2015 // 0 Comments

PLOS Biology wants us to know that in a cost/benefit analysis, love comes out ahead: A new study published in PLOS Biology by Malika Ihle, Bart Kempenaers, and Wolfgang Forstmeier attempts to use a model animal in an elegant experiment designed to tease apart the reproductive consequences of mate choice. The authors took advantage of the fact that the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata, a native bird of Australia; Fig 1) shares many characteristics with humans, mating monogamously for life and sharing the burden of parental care. It was already known that the female finches choose mates in a way that is specific to the individual, and there is little consensus among females as to who is the cutest male. Using a population of 160 birds that had recently been isolated from the wild, the authors set up a speed-dating session, leaving groups of 20 females to choose freely between 20 males. Once the birds had […]

Snake vision. We evolved for snake vision.

29 October 2013 // 0 Comments

ScienceDaily keeps an eye out for creepy-crawlies with news that primate vision may have evolved *specifically* to identify snakes: In a paper published Oct. 28 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, [Lynne] Isbell; Hisao Nishijo and Quan Van Le at Toyama University, Japan; and Rafael Maior and Carlos Tomaz at the University of Brasilia, Brazil; and colleagues show that there are specific nerve cells in the brains of rhesus macaque monkeys that respond to images of snakes. The snake-sensitive neurons were more numerous, and responded more strongly and rapidly, than other nerve cells that fired in response to images of macaque faces or hands, or to geometric shapes. Isbell said she was surprised that more neurons responded to snakes than to faces, given that primates are highly social animals. “We’re finding results consistent with the idea that snakes have exerted strong selective pressure on primates,” Isbell said.

Pitchers tell evolution’s story

2 July 2013 // 0 Comments

Nature draws an ancient lesson from America’s favorite pastime, observing how baseball pitchers reveal the evolution of human beings: “Throwing projectiles probably enabled our ancestors to effectively and safely kill big game,” says Neil Roach, a biological anthropologist at George Washington University in Washington DC, who led the work. Eating more calorie-rich meat and fat would have helped early hominins’ brains and bodies to grow, enabling our ancestors to expand into new regions of the world, he suggests. … Although some primates occasionally throw objects, and with a fair degree of accuracy, only humans can routinely hurl projectiles with both speed and accuracy, says Roach. … The researchers used high-speed motion-capture cameras to record the throwing motions of 20 college athletes, including 16 baseball players. They then handicapped the athletes’ throwing abilities to that thought to be more similar to that of our ancestral hominins, using therapeutic braces to constrain the range of motion in […]

Cars shape sparrows’ evolution.

21 March 2013 // 0 Comments

Nature demonstrates how (possibly) our machines are transforming birds’ whole existence: Roadside-nesting cliff swallows have evolved shorter, more manoeuvrable wings, which may have helped them to make hasty retreats from oncoming vehicles, according to a study published in Current Biology1. The study’s authors discovered the trend after noticing that the number of vehicle-killed birds had declined over the past three decades. They suggest that the two findings provide evidence of roadway-related adaptation. … The team discovered that vehicle-killed birds had longer wings than birds that died in nets, and that while the wings of the vehicle-killed birds had lengthened over time, those of net-killed birds — which represented the general population — had shortened. Micro-evolution (changing species within a few generations rather than a few thousand generations) is getting more and more plausible the more pressure we put on the world.

Slow and steady mutations save the species.

28 February 2013 // 0 Comments

Or at least, Astrobiology says, save the species’ descendants. The secret of survival, on an evolutionary scale, isn’t a single lucky mutant, but a whole “relay team” of freaks that turn out to be pretty good at coping (and making babies) in the long run: Now University of Washington biologists using populations of microorganisms have shed light for the first time on a second reason. They found that the mutation that wins the race in the harshest environment is often dependent on a “relay team” of other mutations that came before, mutations that emerge only as conditions worsen at gradual and moderate rates. Without the winners from those first “legs” of the survival race, it’s unlikely there will even be a runner in the anchor position when conditions become extreme. “That’s a problem given the number of factors on the planet being changed with unprecedented rapidity under the banner of climate change and other human-caused […]

Lovecraft report: Proto-organism found in remote lake sludge.

27 April 2012 // 0 Comments

PhysOrg calls it “man’s remotest relative,” a living thing that has no branch on the tree of life. Why can’t they just call a shoggoth a shoggoth, man?: The elusive, single-cell creature evolved about a billion years ago and did not fit in any of the known categories of living organisms — it was not an animal, plant, parasite, fungus or alga, they said. “We have found an unknown branch of the tree of life that lives in this lake. It is unique!” University of Oslo researcher Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi said. “So far we know of no other group of organisms that descends from closer to the roots of the tree of life than this species”, which has been declared a new category of organism called Collodictyon. Scientists believe the discovery may provide insight into what life looked like on earth hundreds of millions of years ago. Collodictyon lives in the sludge of a small lake […]

Robot buddies.

5 May 2011 // 0 Comments

Science Mag produces proof – actual, empirical proof – that nice guys really can finish first and that even killer robots can learn to care for each other: Laurent Keller of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland wondered if he could resolve the debate using a computer simulation. He and roboticists Markus Waibel and Dario Floreano, both from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne, started with real-life robots that are just a couple of centimeters high. The robots have two independently operating wheels and a “nervous system” composed of sensors and a camera, which allow them to detect small discs—a stand in for food. … Once the team was comfortable with the virtual evolution environment it had set up, it added a new twist: It allowed the robots to share food disks with each other. If Hamilton’s hypothesis was correct, “successful” virtual robots were likely to be those that were closely related and shared food […]

Malarial evolution.

21 October 2010 // 0 Comments

Scientific American notices that the mosquitoes that carry malaria seem to be splitting off into their own species: “We can see that mosquitoes are evolving more quickly than we thought,” Mara Lawniczak, of the Division of Cell and Molecular Biology at the Imperial College London and co-author of the first study, said in a prepared statement. She and her colleagues studied the genomes of the two varieties and detected more genetic differences between the two strains than would have been expected given their frequent geographical overlap. This might help researchers figure out how to get the malaria-carriers better, without getting bugs that don’t kill people.

Evolution made us conservative, not smart.

5 March 2010 // 0 Comments

LabSpaces shares some interesting research on the role of novelty in human development: An earlier study by Kanazawa found that more intelligent individuals were more nocturnal, waking up and staying up later than less intelligent individuals. Because our ancestors lacked artificial light, they tended to wake up shortly before dawn and go to sleep shortly after dusk. Being nocturnal is evolutionarily novel. In the current study, Kanazawa argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends, and being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel. So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals. Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa’s hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as “very liberal” have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as […]

Running barefoot.

3 February 2010 // 0 Comments

ScienceDaily keeps up with the latest research into the health benefits of running without shoes: [S]ays Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and co-author of a paper appearing this week in the journal Nature: “By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike. Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world’s hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain. All you need is a few calluses to avoid roughing up the skin of the foot. Further, it might be less injurious than the way some people run in shoes.” … “Running barefoot or in minimal shoes is fun but uses different muscles,” says Lieberman. “If you’ve been a heel-striker all your life you have to transition slowly to build strength in […]

Science Art: “A Pigeon Fancier’s Manual,” by Ruth Padel.

9 January 2010 // 0 Comments

I found this poem among three books of scientific poetry reviewed in Science Magazine, 2 October 2009. It’s from Darwin: A Life in Poems by Ruth Padel, ISBN 9780701183851. There’s a note at the bottom of the poem – all the quotations are from Darwin himself. A Pigeon Fancier’s Manual “This horrid Species thing.” He’s got to write it new – and smaller! Just (just!) summarizing his views. “My rag of a book. It cost me so much labour I almost hate it.” They build a billiard room beside the study. He pots coloured balls like sweets as a rest from work. She protects him from visitors and relatives. No one’s ill – they take a family holiday on the Isle of Wight. He finishes in April. The publisher’s reader says, “Make it a manual on pigeon-breeding! Forget the rest. Everyone loves pigeons – it’d be reviewed by every journal in the land.” John Murray […]

Birdfeeder evolution.

7 December 2009 // 0 Comments

Wired reveals one strange way humans are changing the natural world – by accidentally creating new species: “This is reproductive isolation, the first step of speciation,” said Martin Schaefer, a University of Freiburg evolutionary biologist. Blackcap migration routes are genetically determined, and the population studied by Schaefer has historically wintered in Spain. Those that flew north couldn’t find food in barren winter landscapes, and perished. But during the last half-century, people in the U.K. put so much food out for birds that north-flying blackcaps could survive. About 30 percent of blackcaps from southern Germany and Austria now migrate to the United Kingdom, shaving 360 miles from their traditional, 1,000-mile Mediterranean voyage…. From these groupings, subtle differences are emerging. The U.K. birds tend to have rounded wings, which sacrifice long-distance flying power for increased maneuverability. Now that they don’t need wide bills to eat Mediterranean olives in winter, their bills are becoming narrower and better-suited to […]

The Crocodile Goat of Majorca

19 November 2009 // 0 Comments

Discovery tells the strange story of the island-dwelling goat that was more like a reptile than a mammal: The tiny goat, which stood about 19 inches tall at the shoulder, took on characteristics of cold-blooded reptiles, a first for a mammal, in order to survive life on the island of Majorca, where food sources were few and far between. In doing so, the Plio-Pleistocene goat left behind at least five attributes associated with many warm-blooded mammals: relatively fast movement, high growth rates, keen senses, high metabolism and fairly big brains. “(Myotragus) not only decreased aerobic capacities and behavioral traits, but also flexibly synchronized growth rates and metabolic needs to the prevailing resource conditions as do ectothermic reptiles,” researchers Meike Kohler and Salvador Moya-Sola wrote in a study published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They’ve been extinct for millennia, so I don’t think Alpine mountaineers need to worry about being savagely […]

Walking in the trees.

13 August 2009 // 0 Comments

New Scientist goes out on a limb with a new study that hints that humans may have learned to walk up in the branches before marching on the ground: Kivell thinks the wrist bones of chimpanzees may instead have adapted to stabilise the wrist while standing on one tree branch and holding onto another, with knees and elbows bent…. “When you’re walking on ice, you bend your elbows and knees to make yourself more stable,” says Kivell. “You do the same thing when you’re walking on a branch.” Indeed, modern chimps and bonobos do exactly that. The posture may put more bending strain on the wrist, leading to the kinds of adaptations visible today, Kivell says. She and her colleagues hope to test this idea in the future. Advocates of the knuckle-walking theory are not convinced.

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