Sunday, July 31, 2016

Head, shoulders, trunks and toes: how to tell elephant species apart

Up ahead, you see a massive grey animal. It has very little hair, small eyes and a long trunk for a nose. An elephant, of course. But do you know the difference between African and Asian elephants?

Here are the basics:

They are two different species!
Image credit: Thomson Safaris, Pinterest

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Octopuses take on aqua-jogging

octopus jetting across the ocean floor
An octopus jets across the ocean floor. Fwooosh!
Photo: Albert Kok, Wikimedia
Any injured runners who have tried to "run" in the water know it's hard -- the resistance to movement in water is far greater than in air -- so why would an octopus run?

Especially when they typically move through the water by jet propulsion.

Octopuses (octopi?), like other cephalopods, have both a mouth, which sits in the center of their arms, and a tube-shaped organ called a funnel, or siphon, near their heads, that they use to breathe by bringing oxygenated water to their gills.

They also use the siphon to create their own personal jet propulsion, by filling up their muscular mantle cavity (their body, basically) with water and then quickly expelling the water out of the siphon. Fwoooosh.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunglasses don't just look cool, they protect your eyes and lids

Skin is sensitive to the sun's ultra-violet radiation. Ask Ellie!
Photo: George Powell
Summer's already here unofficially in North America. Time for us all to hit the beach remember to wear sunblock, a hat, and sunglasses.

Sunlight helps us maintain sufficient vitamin D in our systems, historically warding off tuberculosis and ricketts and possibly lowering the risk of some cancers (lung, colon, and breast cancers).

However, exposing our skin to too much ultraviolet (UV) light contributes to a host of health problems, sunburn being just the most immediate and obvious.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How far can you carry your seed?

A North American migrant, the American robin,
is known for catching the worm, but over half its diet is fruit!
photo: Kristof-vt, Wikimedia commons
As we speak, millions of birds from hundreds of species are migrating north from the tropics to their summer breeding areas in Europe, northern Asia, and North America, where new leaves, fruits, seeds, and insects are super-plentiful now but disappear in the winter (when the birds fly south again).

The migration itself is miraculous, given the small size of many of these animals. Not just that they travel so far and so fast, but that some carry seeds between stops along the way, helping plants disperse over larger distances than people realized.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Run for Clarity

Today was a gorgeous day for a run, low humidity, bright green spring leaves, and birds chirping all over. It was a great workout, and I may have grown some new neurons in the process. (One can always hope).

See? Spring!  OK, Christmas. In the City. Not at all what I saw in the park.
Still hoping I gained some neurons, though.

Monday, March 28, 2016

OK, a funny.

Image: The Awkward Yeti
Tyrannosaurus rex was a huge meat-eating dinosaur, with thick, heavy skull and a 4-foot-long (1.2-meter-long) jaw, designed to crush bones.

Scientists think T. rex could eat up to 500 pounds (230 kg) of meat in one bite.

T. rex was not just huge and immensely powerful: s/he could outrun all but the fastest of today's marathoners. Results of several studies suggest that this ferocious predator could run 10 to 25 mph (17 to 40 km/h) in order to catch its dinner.

Catch being the key word here -- its tiny arms were unlikely to seize another animal, and they were too short to reach its mouth.

So T. rex had to catch prey — mainly herbivorous dinosaurs, but could include smaller tyrannosaurs — in its monster jaws. And apparently, it wasn't above scavenging when a carcass was available.

Coincidence?  The largest and most complete T. rex skeleton found to date was nicknamed Sue (after its discoverer, paleontologist Sue Hendrickson).

Sue and her fellow predators had arms about as long as a large human's but had 12 m (40 ft) high, 5,400 kg (11,900 lb) bodies, so the funnies are not exaggerating.

So what did this monster do with its really short forearms?

Scientists think T. rex could use the small but super strong arms to hold a struggling prey animal while killing the animal with what are thought to be the most powerful jaws of any terrestrial animal ever.

The arms might also have helped this giant killer get up from lying down after a nap.

They just weren't good for clapping.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Seed predators break into and eat nutritious foods that others can't

It's not even spring yet, technically, in the northern hemisphere, yet flowers are already starting to blossom. To be followed by fruits. We spoke about leaf-eating (folivory) awhile back, and now for St. Patrick's Day, we'll resume our discussion of eating (green, unripe) seeds.

In an earlier post, we learned how seeds and nuts have particularly high nutritional content, and that they provide us with numerous health benefits, despite their high fat content. Plus they are yummy.

Did someone say Yummy?  Nuts and seeds have a "high fat content"?
Does this mean that sweetened waffles with flavored whipped cream can substitute?
Answer: No. Photo: BridgettBlough