Sunday, April 28, 2013

Follow the sun: how to navigate like a monarch

From now until early June, young monarch butterflies are emerging  in the southern U.S. after developing from eggs laid by their moms several weeks ago. They wait a full  4-5 days before mating (can you say precocious?) and then demonstrate for yet another year their species' miraculous ability to find their way north to summer homes, laying their own eggs along the way.

monarch butterfly en route to some thistle nectar
photo credit: Daniel Cook/Monarch Watch

These little orange-and-black tigers fly thousands of kilometers south each autumn to avoid winter cold and then north each spring to provide their offspring with the toxic milkweed (yummy!) they need to maintain their nasty bitter taste that birds avoid.

swallows on the wing
photo credit: Trendsupdates
Unlike larger migratory animals with longer lifespans -- such as birds, wildebeest, or whales -- individual monarchs don't complete the round trip. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are the butterflies that complete the journey, and their own descendants return south the following fall.

So, how do monarchs find their way from breeding to wintering site, or vice versa, if they’ve never been there? They have a built-in solar-driven compass, of course!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How well do you know running?

For all you fellow runners out there, have a go at a little quiz on the history and science of running, courtesy of Outside Magazine online.

I got 4 / 9 -- not too great, but not complete failure either!  (see images at right)

Has anyone succeeded in getting 6+ on this? So far, only one of our Bangkok Runners has... we're feeling a bit unworthy!

Monarchs on the move: making jetting off to unknown faraway places without carrying food or water a survival strategy

In honor of the monarch butterflies, that are currently moving north from their winter homes in California and central Mexico to numerous summer breeding sites in the United States and Canada, this post introduces seasonal migration, an amazing phenomenon you can witness twice each year.

monarchs swarming at their wintering grounds, Mexico
photo credit: Raina Kumra nyc USA

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Commuting canines

When you have to take care of yourself in the urban jungle, a dose of instinct, ingenuity, and teamwork is mighty helpful.

blending in on the train
photo credit: OddityCentral
A motley crew of hundreds of stray dogs live in the suburbs of Moscow but commute into the city on the subway to scavenge and beg for food scraps in the more fruitful (ha ha) downtown districts.

This odd daily migration was the dogs' speedy (and highly adaptive!) response to the demolition of old Soviet warehouses within the city where they'd been sleeping. The dog population keeps growing, so the extra commuting time seems to be a worthwhile investment in their biological fitness.

Dr. Carin Bonder at Biologist with a Twist called the dog commuting phenomenon "amazing, interesting and worrying all at the same time".

Amazing: the dogs have learned which trains to take and how long they need to spend on the train, and they apparently work together to make sure they get off at the right stop.

warm, quiet train cars welcome at the end of a long day
photo credit: English-Russia
Nevertheless, we can all empathize that after a long day of scavenging and begging, some dogs fall asleep and get off at the wrong stop... in other words, they blend right in!

Interesting: in fact, they apparently choose the quietest carriages at the front and back of the train (no mobile phones?).

Worrying: the increased number of stray animals causes suffering for them, for many native critters like birds, mice, and lizards (true, it is mainly cats that kill billions of birds and other animals each year), and for people (all you runners out there who have faced aggressive loose dogs, raise your hands!).

On a more upbeat note, it seems like this group of sharp-witted dogs relies on their cunning and personality, rather than their claws and teeth, to make the best use of their highly urbanized human surroundings.

cuteness will get you everywhere - at least in Moscow!
photo credit: The Voice of Russia

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day!

Do any of you out there do anything special today to celebrate our favorite planet?

Our fitness as individuals, families, and as a species depends on the continued functioning of the only planet we have and the only place we can call home. It is home to all of us, really, and the way we live our lives does affect it.

On Earth Day, some people may plant a tree or ride their bike to work or make a strong effort to recycle. If we can make any of these activities longer-lasting habits, that reduces our individual impacts on the planet.

Easy ways to make every day Earth Day
image: Irene Lee
Our personal actions really do impact the plants, animals, water, soil, and air that we, in turn, hope to use in the future. So maintaining them makes sense.

Reducing the actions that negatively impact the land, water, and air is both more effective and cheaper than trying to return polluted water or degraded lands to their clean, healthy, natural state. That is a bear, even where it is possible.

Exercise is a great way to use up fewer resources and expel fewer chemicals into the air while burning calories and building muscle - a dynamic duo!

There are Earth Day running races in various cities, so if you are able, honor the Earth with your feet!

Or, more generally, click here to see whether there are other Earth Day events near you.

There are many actions you can take to reduce your footprint on the Earth, and maybe even leave your little corner in better shape than when you found it. For some quick and easy ones, try:
  • CNN's list of 22 little ways you can green your home (economically and environmentally)

  • Another 25 tips that you can do outside your home (planting, walking, eating, purchasing) from the Inspired Soul blog.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Keep running

Like so many others, I'm speechless and horrified about the bombs at the Boston Marathon.  Bombs going off at the finish line of a RUNNING EVENT?  Beyond horrible, that is about as pathetic and cowardly an act as I can think of.

These were runners who have trained hard to be the best they can be at a sport that is free and available to nearly everyone. To bring deadly force upon them and the innocent people supporting them is an evil that is beyond my ability to understand. A child and two young adults watching the event were killed.

My heart goes out to the victims and their families. Senseless violence is horrible wherever it happens.  Whether we know the victims or not, their horror at what has happened is equal. Innocent children have been killed by bombs in their homes, in marketplaces, and on streets in towns all over the world, and it sickens me and people everywhere.

For all the runners for whom major running events will now never be the same, I hope we all will keep running. We maintain our fitness by both staying physically fit and sticking together with our fellow runners and fellow human beings.

Those of you who want (need?) to vent frustration and want to help those affected by this horrible attack might want to explore running sites or local activities.

Some of our Bangkok Runners ran to the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok to show support!

Runners World has a page on how to help or show support for the vicitims of the bombing

From - how to send help and avoid scams also has ideas on how to show support, including how to provide any information you may have about the attack.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Some meaty news: be careful what you feed your gut bacteria

Alert: eating red meat supplies your body with protein and minerals, but eating it consistently, even the leaner cuts, increases your risk of heart disease.

Actually, this story has made the news lately, so you've likely already been alerted, but I wanted to post something because of its importance to both physical and biological fitness. Plus, the wide range of opinions on the best diet for people -- from veganism to a more meat-centered "Paleo movement" -- has yet to converge on what is best for us (how crazy is that?).

Back to the study on red meat: The problem lies with certain bacteria in your gut that convert a common nutrient in red meat into a different compound that may "speed up the build-up of plaques in the arteries" and lead to heart attacks, according to a study published Sunday in the journal Nature Medicine.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Agriculture: good for food, but bad for teeth?

a dip in your mouth's bacterial gene pool
image: Mouthville
What's living in your mouth?

Aliens? Yes. Critters of all sorts? Yes.

Seriously.  It turns out that our mouths are really disgusting places. Some 500 to 1,000 species of bacteria are living in your mouth, some good for you, some bad.

Some convert sugars and other carbohydrates into acids and enzymes that break down tooth enamel and lead to tooth decay. Not so nice.

Bacteria live on our teeth, tongue, cheeks, and saliva - our teeth alone contain 100 million microbes, more for those of us that don't brush our teeth frequently. So brush!

Other bacteria in our mouths actually help to fight airborne and saliva-borne germs that cause disease. Some produce acids that destroy certain fungi in the body; others kill organisms that cause intestinal problems.

and in your mouth too!
image: FreeYourMindAndThink
If we have to have a mountain of bacteria in our mouths, we might as well have more of it be the good kind, right?

Apparently, our diets over the last 7,500 years have changed that.

A recent study of the DNA preserved in calcified bacteria on the teeth of ancient skeletons found that changes in human diet from the Stone Age to the Industrial Revolution have affected the critters that occupy your mouth, and not in a good way.

The researchers found that our hunter-gatherer ancestors had a greater variety of bacteria in their mouths, as well as a smaller proportion of disease-causing types, than we do.

Why the change?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Running or Chocolate?

Chocolate as a source of pure energy!

I recognize that chocolate isn't the standard energy-fitness enhancer (though clearly necessary at certain times!), but clearly I haven't tried a Japp chocolate bar!  Go straight to 0:14 to skip the intro...

Japp, pronounced Yapp in its native Swedish, had several ads, so if you liked the first one, here is a whole series of Japp videos with the rastaman. Not as relevant for runners, but still funny!

Top 10 herbivores you want to avoid

The last few posts have focused on herbivores, particularly the large mammalian kind.

Herbivores are vegetarians and are generally peaceful and avoid fighting, but they are large and well-armed. Don't get between them and their food, mates, or kids -- in times of mating competition or when threatened, they are forces to be reckoned with!

Here are some of the herbivores you should avoid bumping into or otherwise annoying:

  • Hippopotamus
  • White-lipped peccary
  • Elephant
  • Cape buffalo
  • Wild boar
  • Rhinoceros
  • Cassowary
  • Gorilla
  • American bison
  • Gelada baboon

gelada baboons, the only primates that eat grass,
bear their teeth when fighting
but not while grazing! They grab the grass with their fingers as we would.

This suspenseful BBC Life of Mammals video, with David Attenborough narrating, shows some of our herbivore heroes in action -- enjoy!

Monday, April 1, 2013

funnies to start your April

Bad jokes, but OK to tell on April Fools Day...

What do you call a penguin in the desert?

LOST!  (fitness fail)
image: PawNation

There are key differences between physical and biological fitness...

Don't mess with the chihuahua

Negotiation skills can be key to maintaining your survival and reproduction success!