Monday, March 31, 2014

Penguin fitness, despite fails and falls

I've just arrived from Southeast Asia to North America, and in honor of (yet more) snow falling in the mid-Atlantic region of the US at the end of March, here are some great clips showing how even snow and ice specialists slip up sometimes.

What was amazing to me about these clips is the utter lack of serious damage these falling penguins sustained. They bang themselves on rocks and get right back up and carry on with just a shake of the head.

Resilience must be crucial for those living in harsh environments, but only if the body is naturally adapted to it.

Those same short, squat, dense-feathered, high-fat birds wouldn't last a day waddling across the hot sands of a desert. For one, they hold in heat through dense, overlapping feathers and a layer of fat underneath. They are speedy only in the water, so for this guy, progress would be too slow to even find shade in the dunes.

But, happily, natural selection means that penguins are found in cold wet places, not deserts. And for this they are superbly adapted and biologically fit.

Below is some BBC footage of the treacherous world that penguins navigate every day, just to survive. No sand dunes, but they face harsh rock, tempestuous seas, and predators.

Watch here as they rocket through the water, out-maneuver sea lions, and show their sure-footedness climbing up near vertical rocks. That short, squat body and low center of gravity help the climb!

P.S. Penguins aren't the only cold-weather rock stars: here are a few more

Saturday, March 29, 2014

More than one way to grow a tree

eventually, redwood seeds really do reach the sky
Think small and picture yourself as a tree seed, but one with big dreams of growing up to reach the sky and the stars. But there are other trees around you, so how will you get up there?

You can be a hare or a tortoise, so to speak.

Some trees have genes that enable them to start growing quickly and grow tall very fast.

They also have genes that allow them to thrive in areas with lots of light and even shade out other trees. These trees live fast and die young.

They are called pioneer species because they are usually the first plants to establish themselves in areas where forest has been cleared, burned, or otherwise opened up, such as in abandoned agricultural areas where native vegetation is growing back.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thriving with people but caught by furniture

Domestic dogs and cats are the epitome of animals that have prospered around people, but sometimes even they get confused and caught unaware by the human landscape:

Please. Help.
photo: ViralNova

just wanted to look outside...
photo: ViralNova

hammocks are a cruel joke
photo: ViralNova

Here's the link to see the rest of them!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Really complex carbs

image: Gemma Correll

For anyone not laughing, some more serious links:

Helpful carbohydrate information and eating recommendations.
Even more helpful info, including "good" and "bad" carbs.

Happy (and Healthy) Eating!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Beyond waist-hip ratio: weight, culture, and biological fitness

how we see weight – image: Glamour
Although we found out last time that a woman's waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is a key component of her attractiveness and possibly indicative of her biological fitness, an even more important component of attraction is simply her weight.

(It's the other way around for men: a man's shape, more than his weight, makes him more attractive to women - and gay men).

Ideal body weight in both men and women has varied over time and place as much as WHR and, particularly for women, has been an important indication of their ability to conceive and deliver healthy kids (i.e. their biological fitness).

Today, a slim figure is considered more attractive among both men and women in increasingly more societies, though this is not uniform, and hasn't always been the case in many places.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Waist not, want not?

In the previous post, I waxed on about the body shapes of the gods and goddesses at the Hindu temple in Madurai, India and wondered how the ideas of sexual selection (when features evolve because they help attract a mate) proposed by scientists such as Charles Darwin might apply to body shape in humans.

gets embarrassed discussing sexual selection
photo: DailyMail
Skin color and facial features, such as eye shape or nose size, affect people's attractiveness, but they don't give information about their reproductive capability the way body size and shape do. A woman's waist size is an easily-measured indicator of levels of the sex hormone estrogen for any man wanting to size up her reproductive potential (and pregnancy status).

Remember, we are all here because our distant ancestors were biologically fit enough to survive long enough to find a mate, successfully find that mate, and have kids healthy enough to do the same, so reproductive capability is no laughing matter.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Curves of steel: beauty ideals set in stone

visitors and salespeople around the Meenakshi temple
Madurai, India
I've just visited a fantastic and enormous Hindu temple in the city of Madurai, in south-central India, a country of 1.4 billion people, most of whom are poor. Poor, as in they need to worry about tomorrow's food supply.

Most poor people live in rural villages and depend almost entirely on their ability to plan for and negotiate the monsoon rains that dominate life here. It's dry for months at a time, then suddenly things are drenched for several months (usually May-August).

I'm wasn't in a rural village, and, in fact, many people I saw there were overweight. That growing (sigh) problem across the globe.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The wolves of Main Street and the recovery of a famous ecosystem

This is Yellowstone National Park in the US, famous as the world's first national park that conserves one of the world's few intact temperate zone ecosystems.

Yellowstone mountain meadow. image: Billy Hathorn, Wikimedia
These are elk, one of western North America's largest herbivores, a big relative of deer
photo: Anayst, Wikimedia
These are wolves, Top Dog of the Yellowstone ecosystem and, historically across North America
photo: BecomeAnEx

This is a story of their interaction.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Third-hand smoke: how to harm other people's health even after you die

it's like peeing and leaving the pool - the damage remains
image: Smoke-free Forsyth
OK, that's a little harsh. Third-hand smoke is how a smoker can harm other people's health while still living, even after she or he moves to a new house, changes job, leaves a bar, or even quits smoking.

I'd never heard of third-hand smoke until I read this release of a recent study, but it's scary. It starts:

"Do not smoke and do not allow yourself to be exposed to smoke because second-hand smoke and third-hand smoke are just as deadly as first-hand smoke, says a scientist at the University of California, Riverside who, along with colleagues, conducted the first animal study of the effects of third-hand smoke."

Yikes!  I learned several things from reading it, and they matter even if you don't smoke.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Baboons don't handle their liquor

Nor do antelope or elephants, apparently.

For all those buried in snow and ice, or after a long day at the office, here's a silly video from the Okavango Delta, a lush wetland within the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, demonstrating the perils of drinking alcohol.

Animals getting drunk on fermenting marula fruit....enjoy!

Video from BigGeekDaddy

Monday, March 3, 2014

Wanna avoid a muffin top? Choose the right muffins!

years of dedicated saturated fat consumption at work here
photo: Syonix
"In conclusion, overeating [saturated fat] promotes hepatic and visceral fat storage whereas excess energy from [polyunsaturated fat] may instead promote lean tissue in healthy humans."

This is how a recent scientific paper abstract concludes. Swedish researchers found that eating more saturated fat led to gaining more fat, and eating more polyunsaturated fat led to gaining more lean muscle.

That is powerful information for athletes and anyone interested in losing weight.

How did they discover this?