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.
These are prehistoric animals compared to their modern relatives and, for scale, a human. A human who’s interested in what they’re like… except when…
Look out! HELL PIG!
There are plenty more of the majestic giants (and some terrifying ones) at NPR’s Skunk Bear tumblog.
The New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) snapped this photo of Jupiter’s ring system on February 24, 2007, from a distance of 7.1 million kilometers (4.4 million miles).
This processed image shows a narrow ring, about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) wide, with a fainter sheet of material inside it. The faint glow extending in from the ring is likely caused by fine dust that diffuses in toward Jupiter. This is the outer tip of the “halo,” a cloud of dust …
SOURCE:Based on “NASA Windbots Could Explore Gas Giant Jupiter”, Sky News, 24 July 2015, as used in the post as used in the post “Windbots to explore Jupiter – the bumpier the ride, the better..”
ABSTRACT: The planet Jupiter is 35 light-minutes from Earth (give or take a couple of minutes depending on where in its orbit the planet is).
So a robot floating in the turbulent winds of Jupiter would take that long to send a mes…
Three names for one little fish. And those are just the beginning.
I found this one on the Scientific Illustration tumblog, which quoted Wikipedia on the doree (etc.):
John Dory, St Pierre or Peter’s Fish, refers to fish of the genus Zeus, especially Zeus faber, of widespread distribution. It is an edible benthic coastal marine fish with a laterally compressed olive-yellow body which has a large dark spot, and long spines on the dorsal fin. The dark spot is used to flash an ‘evil ey…
These are ostensibly Cochin chickens, or forerunners of what we’d call Cochins today. They’re a breed with a *lot* of character, and are uniquely suited, temperamentally, for being “pet” chickens moreso than egg factories or walking meat supplies. Despite the name (after a part of India), they’re originally from China.
It’s the most Earth-like planet yet discovered. Kepler 452b sits in the “Goldilocks” zone around its star, not too hot and not too cold, and is about the same size (or is a little larger) and made of something like the same stuff as the planet we’re sitting around on right now. It takes 365 days to orbit around its sun, too. NASA’s calling it ou…
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 […]
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.
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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.
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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.
SONG: “Iguana Rosada” [Download] (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: “Rare, Storied Pink Iguana Discovered”, Popular Science, 5 Jan 2009, as used in the post “Pink Iguana!” ABSTRACT: Subject: More than a week late, another song about Darwin and the Galapagos – and more specifically, another song about things Darwin overlooked. Isopods and polychaetes are easy to not notice. But a pink iguana? Like dinosaurs by Hello, Kitty…. What relict lineage could be so…pretty? Execution: Part of the point of this site is creative limits – a set of arbitrary rules (once a month, must be about science) to make me (and anyone else who cares to join in) make something. This song had additional limits. I know the weakest point of my songs tends to be my vocals, so this, inspired by Petra Haden and Imogen Heap*, is an a capella song. I was also moving this month, limiting my […]