On Death and Hairballs


Detail of FLCL episode 3, "Marquis de Carabas".

“If they really wanted to kill us, don’t you think it would have happened?”

Mikel Delgado

Look, I know it’s (ahem!) just a cat but, really, she’s nineteen years old, and do you think maybe, just maybe there might be a better time to talk about how her age peer’s health declined shortly before death, and how awful that other cat looked right before it died, and how we’re going to change the room we’re sitting in after the cat is dead than while you’re holding the cat in your lap?

Yeah, you know, it might be one of those stupidities of capitalist press, but I really did like the suggestion that cats want us dead. There are, after all, days when we shouldn’t wonder why.

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Image note: Meow ― Detail of frame from FLCL, episode 3, “Marquis de Carabas”.

Hanson, Hilary. “No, A Study Did NOT Find That Your Cat Wants To Kill You”. The Huffington Post. 5 November 2015.

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Intervention, or, Never Mind, I’m Ranting


“Maybe you’ve got a little buddy there to help you eat a strawberry three times the size of your body, but we all die alone.”

Huffington Post

No, really. Who writes this shit?

TurtleberrySo, the setup is simply that I have a friend who adores turtles. A life passion sort of thing. Naturally, I am compelled, then, to forward her any turtle-related stuff I encounter in the n’ether*. Such as a HuffPo temptation called, “24 Tiny Turtles Who Need A Reality Check”. And, yes, the pictures run the gamut from cute to fascinating, but perhaps the most striking thing is the open nihilism of the captions for the slide show. No, seriously, it is clearly somebody’s idea of a joke, but come on:

• “Do you think life is a game? It’s time to stop eating that strawberry and get a job.”

• “What could you possibly accomplish with your life? You’re smaller than a banana.”

• “Oh, look at us, we’re three tiny turtles all in a row. Well, NEWSFLASH: life is full of pain.”

• “Not only does this penny show your scale, tiny guy, it’s a reminder that you’ve never earned a penny a day in your life.”

• “Maybe you’ve got a little buddy there to help you eat a strawberry three times the size of your body, but we all die alone.”

Tupenny TurtleThese aren’t jokes. They’re fortune cookies pulled straight from the Devil’s ruddy bum.

And, no, the advice to not attempt to write comedy while hung over and jonesing for a rail has never really worked out well for anyone who has ventured forth from such crossroads.

Really, though: Who writes this shit?
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* That would be “net aether”. No, it’s not some trendy word. I just thought of it. Figured to try it out. I mean, you know. I loathe cutesy words like interwebs, and the intertubes joke gets old after a while.

Oxygen-free is the way to be?


Loriciferan organism, via BBC NewsLife is a fundamental component of the Universe.

Allow me, please, to explain. That statement, sounding mystical as it does, arises in a certain context.

Whether we find ourselves arguing with Creationists or discussing the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, a question arises concerning the odds of life developing in the Universe. There is even the Drake Equation, intended to predict the probability of intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos.

And for some, the numbers prescribe a low possibility. For the Creationists, life is nothing short of miraculous, requiring God’s hand to come about.

XKCD - The Drake EquationBut the Universe is vast, perhaps even infinite in its potential. Which suggests that however we calculate the odds, life becomes nearly an inevitability.

And in recent years, people have started to recognize this. Some look hopefully to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, wondering what surprises might await in or beneath the ice of, for instance, Europa.

Here at home, on Earth, our outlook on life is rapidly changing, and the latest announcement from the Mediterranean will only fuel that transformation. Patrick Jackson explains, for the BBC:

Scientists have found the first animals that can survive and reproduce entirely without oxygen, deep on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea.

The team, led by Roberto Danovaro from Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona, Italy, found three new species from the Loricifera group.

He told BBC World Service they were about a millimetre in size and looked like jellyfish in a protective shell ….

…. One of the three new Loriciferans (so-called because of their protective layer, or lorica) has already been officially named Spinoloricus Cinzia, after the professor’s wife.

The other two, currently designated Rugiloricus and Pliciloricus, have still to be formally described.

They were discovered in the course of three oceanographic expeditions conducted over a decade in order to search for living fauna in the sediment of the Mediterranean’s L’Atalante basin.

The basin, 200km (124m) off the western coast of Crete, is about 3.5km (2.2m) deep and is almost entirely depleted of oxygen, or anoxic.

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A couple of obvious jokes: Bald bespectacled bears


Dolores the bald, bespectacled bear at a zoo in Leipzig.Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy … er … yeah.

Really.

Or, according to the Daily Mail:

You’d have thought a fur coat would have been the ultimate bear necessity.

But not for the unfortunate Dolores who has lost all her body hair and has just been left with a few tufts around her head.

Vets have been left baffled by the condition of the bespectacled bear, who lives at a zoo in Leipzig.

And Dolores isn’t the only one. The sudden hair loss has affected all female bears at the zoo.

Some experts believe it could be due to a genetic defect though the animals do not seem to be suffering from any other affliction.

It’s something of an unfortunate oddity, for certain. While the zoo is enjoying some increased attention for its bald bespectacled bears, the animals themselves are suffering rashes and skin inflammation, as well.

We can only hope for the best, but yeah. Charles Mudede comments that, “A bear without hair looks like something from outer space”. I must disagree. I saw Savage Planet on basic cable, and I know that extraterrestrial giant killer bears have fur.

The ants go marching ….


Okay, so this is like really, really cool. Victoria Gill, writing for BBC, lets us in on the coolness:

Ant and FlowerIn Africa and in the tropics, armies of tiny creatures make the twisting stems of acacia plants their homes.

Aggressive, stinging ants feed on the sugary nectar the plant provides and live in nests protected by its thick bark.

This is the world of “ant guards”.

The acacias might appear overrun by them, but the plants have the ants wrapped around their little stems.

These same plants that provide shelter and produce nourishing nectar to feed the insects also make chemicals that send them into a defensive frenzy, forcing them into retreat.

It is actually a fairly intricate relationship, with the ants territorially protecting a food source, including the swarming of larger herbivores, and the tree being able to chemically prevent the ants from causing too much havoc. Dr. Nigel Raine, at University of London, explained:

“The flowers seem to produce chemicals that are repellent to the ants,” said Dr Raine. “They release these particularly during the time when they’re producing lots of pollen, so the ants are kept off the flowers.”

In recent studies, described in the journal Functional Ecology, Dr Raine and his colleagues found that the plants with the closest relationships with ants – those that provided homes for their miniature guard army – produced the chemicals that were most effective at keeping the ants at bay.

“And that was associated with the flower being open,” he says. “So the chemicals are probably in the pollen” ….

…. The repellent chemicals are specific to the ants. In fact, they attract and repel different groups of insects.

“[The chemicals] don’t repel bees, even though they are quite closely related to ants. And in some cases, the chemicals actually seem to attract the bees,” says Dr Raine.

The researchers think that some of the repellents that acacias produce are chemical “mimics” of signalling pheromones that the ants use to communicate.

“We put flowers into syringes and puffed the scent over the ant to see how they would respond, and they became quite agitated and aggressive” he explained.

“The ants use a pheromone to signal danger; if they’re being attacked by a bird they will release that chemical that will quickly tell the other ants to retreat.”

Dr Raine says this clever evolutionary system shows how the ants and their plants have evolved to protect, control and manipulate each other.

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Two words I didn’t need to hear today: ‘mating plug’


The upside of prudery:

Scientists believe it may be possible to combat malaria by interfering with the sex lives of the mosquitoes which spread the disease.

They have shown that the insects can only mate successfully if the male is able to seal his sperm inside the female using a “mating plug”.

Without the plug, fertilisation cannot occur, and the animals cannot reproduce.

There is a lot in the BBC article about plugs. I haven’t yet decided if that is disquieting. Continue reading

Cool science stuff


So, anyway, I was impressed over the weekend at how many people asked me whether I had heard about the octopus and the coconut. It’s one of those nifty things science brings us from time to time. Dr. Julian Finn, to the one, told BBC’s Rebecca Morelle he “nearly drowned laughing” when he first witnessed the behavior. But I admit I like Brendan Kiley‘s description for Slog:

An octopus goes for a walk.Octopuses continue their long tradition of freaking out human beings—now they’re using tools, excavating buried coconut halves (discarded by humans), tucking them under their … undersides, and “stilt-walking” them away to use as shelter ….

…. They escape from their aquariums, they grab birds from the land and into tidal pools, they solve puzzles, they recognize human faces, they occasionally attack divers, and now they build little houses for themselves.

Maybe the Haida were right all along: Octopuses are the people of the sea.

I just think it’s cool that we can add them to the list of tool-using animals. But, as with the crows, there is something a little unsettling about an animal that both uses tools and remembers who you are.

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