Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bites and stings

We learned how deadly mosquitos can be to people in the last post, but really the danger they pose is the pathogens they carry, not so much the pain or harm caused by their sting. Yes, I know they itch, but that's usually about it.

While the sting of an uninfected mosquito or tick mainly just itches, other animals can do us serious damage on their own, without the help of killer microbes like Plasmodium (the malaria pathogen carried by mosquitos throughout the tropics) or Borrelia (the Lyme disease pathogen carried by blacklegged or deer ticks in the northern hemisphere).

There are animals that bite and animals that sting - it just depends on where on their body they keep their weapon(s). While neither wakes up in the morning scheming to kill, maim, or even inconvenience us, they definitely can.

Read on for 2 fab videos that show us how they do it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fear the killer beast (it's not what you think!)

Even the mosquitos are big in Alaska
photo: JenBacca blog
What's the world's most dangerous animal?

It doesn't have teeth. It fits on your fingertip. It's the unofficial state bird of several U.S. states (Alaska, Maine, Minnesota, to name three).

Yes, it's the mosquito. And yes, this photo gives it away. Fine. It makes a point.

Mosquitos kill more people than any other animal, even including humans, according to The Gates Foundation's Mosquito Week held in April to help promote its work to wipe out malaria and other mosquito-transmitted illnesses. Technically, it's the multiple diseases that the mosquito carries that do the killing - she's the highly efficient delivery girl (yes, it's the females that bite).

Given that both mosquitos and we humans are effective disease transmitters, wiping out malaria is no easy feat. Now that people are so globally mobile, we have become the FedEx of pathogens, carrying them with us in a matter of hours to places they've never been before (for free!).

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Use that body (weight)!

circuit training on the roof - Bangkok in the background
Yea, summer! It's warm out, even in the northern hemisphere, and you just don't want to be inside, even in the gym. At least I don't!

With longer days, you can more easily get outside and go for a walk, a hike, a bike ride, a swim, or a game.

It's also a great time to learn and try out some new body-weight exercises. There are a ton of suggested routines freely available on line.

Here are just a few sets to try:

50 anywhere exercises by Laura Schwecherl at Greatist

10 quickies taken from CrossFit for those family vacations you might be taking

15 exercises especially for men (build those shoulders & pecs!)

by the pool - that drink tastes better after your workout!
All of these and others require very little space and are typically fast and furious - focusing on intensity and strength, rather than endurance. Some take just 7-8 minutes and assume you'll do several sets (but you don't have to - we won't tell).

Find a space in your backyard, by the pool, in the park, on the running or bike trail, or, if need be, on the roof of your building.

After 20-30 minutes of high-intensity intervals, then head to the pool! Or just go swimming and do your intervals there.

Here are some examples:

body weight strength training

variations on a theme...

another option...


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Weightlifter vs ballerina: how to measure fitness?

Does Fitness = Strength?  Speed?  Agility? Some combination of traits?  Whatever it takes to survive?

In nature, animals can increase their evolutionary fitness, represented by passing on along genes to the next generation, by being strong or fast, large or small, camouflaged or colorful, crafty or a true team player, a great dancer or a great dresser.

polar bears
large, strong, and camouflaged
blue morpho butterfly
dressing for success
wolf pack
team players


Physical fitness has that same variety. Who is more physically fit: a sprinter or a marathoner?  A speed skater or a figure skater? A gymnast or a basketball player?  A weightlifter or a ballerina?

No need to answer, but please watch this video (or at least the second half of it) and tell me that this pair doesn't display the most amazing combination of strength, balance, flexibility and pure grace you've ever seen:


It's Swan Lake, but this scene is half ballet, half Cirque de Soleil acrobatics, and fully awesome!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Night stalkers -- how cats see in the dark

In the case of eyes, size matters, but so does shape.

the perils of blogging
I'm speaking in particular about the eyes of nocturnal animals.

Cats (tigers, leopards, lions, ocelots...), dogs (foxes, wolves, coyotes...), and raccoons and their cousins are mainly nocturnal, i.e. active at night, or crepuscular, active at dawn and dusk.

Either way, they need to be able to find and catch prey and generally get around, without tripping over logs or branches, even when there is little to no light.

And they need to be able to see during the day without being blinded. How do they do it?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Duck! Wind blowing

If you've ever watched little chicks or ducklings walking or swimming around with their mom and wondered how those cute little furballs would fare if the weather turned nasty?

Look no further:


No sound, but picture gusts of wind that send ducklings spinning down the street.

You can compare this wind speed to those that (literally) blow away reporters at this Endless Forms Most Beautiful post.

But wait, you say, ducks can fly (really well), so they should be able to deal with wind, as they do in mid-air.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Vaccinations: some biological fitness for kids...and their friends

Remember getting vaccines (shots, jabs, etc) as a kid?  Ugh, I hated it.

However, I'm glad to be here to think back on it, due to the fact that I didn't get Diptheria, polio, measles, smallpox and a host of other diseases for which modern society has vaccinations.

As you know from reading this blog, avoiding injury and illness helps you survive, and, eventually, reproduce. Biological fitness stems from these two things, which allow your genes to flow to the next generation.


vaccinations don't cause autism and do prevent the spread of serious diseases
image: Public Health Watch

So if you have kids, you should vaccinate them. It will help them survive, thus increasing your and their biological fitness, not to mention that of your friends, neighbors, and relatives and their kids. At a minimum, learn more about the evidence for and against the use of vaccinations.

If you are a parent-to-be, you might want to read about this now, rather than when you are overwhelmed and exhausted with your new larger family.

Think fitness for kids!
  • Vaccines prevent potentially fatal diseases,
  • They have a high degree of safety, and
  • Their safety is constantly evaluated and reevaluated in a system that, at least in the U.S., operates independently from the pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines.


Don't take just my word for it



Monday, June 2, 2014

Gonna hitch a ride...on a duck

image: Deviant Art
What if you lived on a small island, and you were out of food or just felt like finding some companionship?

And there were other islands nearby, but you couldn't swim?

And let's say there were gigantic sea gulls that flew among the islands regularly, so you could just grab onto them and hitch a ride to the next island?

And maybe a few monkeys or dogs did the same thing? Stay with me here -- this is, in fact, how a number of little creatures get around.