Pondering Cetacean Menopause


Of all living things in all the world only 5 species experience menopause – Humans, beluga whales, narwhal, killer whales and short finned pilot whales. Who knew the hot flash clubhouse restricted entry to all but women and a smattering of cetaceans?

http://earthsky.org/earth/beluga-whales-narwhals-go-through-menopause?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=973760ff5a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_02_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-973760ff5a-393970565

Sam Ellis of the University of Exeter, lead author of a study published August 27, 2018 in the journal Scientific Reports wrote –

For menopause to make sense in evolutionary terms, a species needs both a reason to stop reproducing and a reason to live on afterwards.

In killer whales, the reason to stop comes because both male and female offspring stay with their mothers for life – so as a female ages, her group contains more and more of her children and grandchildren.

This increasing relatedness means that, if she keeps having young, they compete with her own direct descendants for resources such as food.

The reason to continue living is that older females are of great benefit to their offspring and grand-offspring. For example, their knowledge of where to find food helps groups survive.

Prior to publication 3 menopausal species were known to science, Ellis made it 5 by adding belugas and narwhal. Humans and 4 whale species, period.

 

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Uncle Fester


In 2016 the Vancouver Parks Board acquired a botanical oddity native to Sumatra, Indonesia. On June 21, 2018 horticulturalists at Vancouver’s Bloedel Conservatory spotted a 28 centimetre bud on titan arum, the world’s largest and rarest flowering plant. commonly known as corpse or carrion flower. Over a 40 year lifespan this prehistoric behemoth might bloom 3 times for 24-48 hours. Bloom characterized by the stench of rotting meat, mother nature’s ruse to trick carrion eating beetle and insect pollinators. Gardeners at Bloedel dubbed their prize Uncle Fester.

Barely 6 years old, Uncle Fester wasn’t supposed to bloom for several years. Fester’s petals started to open Sunday, for 2 days public frenzy to catch a whiff of Fester meant waiting in line for several hours. A five minute walk from home, I considered joining the queue last night. A co-worker’s text – “waited an hour and fifteen, petals closed, no smell” – kept me home. All the same, putrid or not, Fester is a natural wonder.

The lineup to see (and smell) the flower, which is expected to emit its stench for up to 48 hours, stretched out front of the Bloedel Conservatory on Monday morning. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/corpse-flower-begins-emitting-putrid-smell-1.4748375

Lux Caeli


Lux Caeli, Latin for “sky light” (loose translation) is a timelapse photography project by Adrien Mauduit. In his words –

“Summer is often synonymous with light, warmth, sun, vacation and ultimately night outings. As the latter generally has a social connotation, it can also mean something else for more and more people. Summer is also the host of a wide variety of celestial events that more than one can enjoy. Amateur photographers, professionals, backyard astronomers, star gazers, you, me, we all tend to linger outside longer to gaze at the sky’s impressive displays while it is not too cold. But what is so special about them at this particular time of the year? Probably the possibility of watching several phenomena occur at the same time! In my latest project called ‘LUX CÆLI’ (from Latin, ‘sky light’), I wanted to focus on these events and show their mesmerizing nature in a time-lapse series. It is merely a celebration of the summer time night sky phenomena in high resolution, and my goal was to show them in a bit different way. Whether you are talking about a sunset, northern light, meteor showers or eclipse, these displays are all breath-taking by essence. However the pinnacle of celestial awesomeness is to witness several of these natural phenomena happen at once.”

Ponder Lux Caeli –

 

Insect Digesting Proof of Evolution


Regardless of determination to dismiss, avoid or walk away from slippery slopes leading to fundamentalist Christian jibber-jabber, every so often it pays to have an arsenal of politely dispatched counterpoints up your sleeve.Scientific proof of insect digesting genomes lingering in the soup of our current gene pool serves the purpose nicely.

Ancient mammal ancestors of all animal species, including humans, were insect eaters. 66 million years ago small insect digesting mammals darted between dinosaur toes. Able to escape asteroid induced dinosaur apocalypse by burrowing underground, formerly inconsequential bug eaters gave rise to life as we know it. Fickle as evolution may be, it saw no reason to deny humans chitinases markers, genetic enzymes capable of breaking down chitin, the hard outer shells of ingested insects.

Research published by Christopher Emerling of UC Berkeley in the journal Science Advances, based analysis of 107 different animal species genomes to conclude –

“One of the coolest things is, if you look at humans, at Fido your dog, Whiskers your cat, your horse, your cow; pick any animal, generally speaking, they have remnants in their genomes of a time when mammals were small, probably insectivorous and running around when dinosaurs were still roaming Earth,” said postdoctoral fellow Christopher Emerling. “It is a signature in your genome that says, once upon a time you were not the dominant group of organisms on Earth. By looking at our genomes, we are looking at this ancestral past and a lifestyle that we don’t even live with anymore.”

Evolution is why millions of people around the world digest insects. God unleashed a plague of locusts to punish humanity, evolution shrugged and sat down at the dinner table.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-05-inherited-bug-eating-ancestors.html#jCp

Image result for gene inherited from bug eating ancestors

A spectral tarsier (Tarsius tarsier) feeding on a grasshopper in Tangkoko National Park, Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia. Tarsiers have five chitinase genes to digest the high amount of chitin in their insectivorous diet, which likely …more

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-05-inherited-bug-eating-ancestors.html#jCp

Ponder Degrees Of Acuity


New research by Eleanor Caves at Duke University suggests most species view the world in less detail than us Comparison of visual acuity in 600 species of animals, birds, fish and insects conclude humans see fine detail elusive to most species. Based on spacing and density of light sensing structure in eye anatomy, the study measured acuity in terms of cycles per degree, translation – how many pairs of black and white parallel lines a species can discern within one degree of the field of vision before they turn into a smear of gray.

Average human eyes resolve 60 black/white cycles per degree of acuity. Anyone with less than 10 cycles per degree of acuity is legally blind. Most insects can’t see more than one degree of acuity. Fish and birds hover around half the visual acuity of humans. (One exception birds of prey – Australian web tailed eagles boast 140 cycles per degree )) Cats and dogs perceive 7 times less visual detail, slightly more than goldfish, significantly more than rodents.

Evolutionary perfection compensates lack of visual acuity with species specific tweaks of survival fancy. Sight as we know it is not the measure of life on Earth.

 

Image result for kitchen as seen by different animals

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/humans-see-world-100-times-more-detail-mice-fruit-flies-180969240/

 

The image on the left shows the wings of a map butterfly as they might look to a jay looking for a snack, and on the right, to another member of its kind, such as a rival or potential mate. Image courtesy of Eleanor Caves

The image on the left shows the wings of a map butterfly as they might look to a jay looking for a snack, and on the right, to another member of its kind, such as a rival or potential mate. Image courtesy of Eleanor Caves

Image result for eleanor caves acuity

A spider web as seen in bird vision (left), and fly vision (right). The zigzags on the spider’s web send a secret message to birds that their insect prey can’t see, even from less than a foot away. Image via Eleanor Caves.

Catch And Release


A few minutes ago youngest son presented a wad of toilet paper. “Hey Mom, does this look like a black widow?” Before I could say “pretty sure it was before you squashed it to smithereens”, youngest son apologetically explained his act of arachnid annihilation. “Sitting on the toilet when it ran towards me, squashed it before I had time to think”. Trust me it wasn’t after you, went unspoken. Youngest son knew how I felt about killing spiders.

giphy (72)

Spider bites are extremely rare, truth is they want nothing to do with us. Spiders exist to control insect populations. House spiders control flies, snag mosquitoes, sideline beetles and trounce moths. Garden spiders feast on aphids ,control grubs and beetles, dissuade spider mites and crop destroying grasshoppers. But for spiders, ours would be a unrecognizable world. Like it or not, spiders matter.

It’s no secret I have a thing for spiders. Truth be told, the first thing I did after youngest son dispatched bathroom widow was check on kitchen widow. The sight of kitchen window widow’s shellacked body eased regret over bathroom widow’s demise. Well behaved spiders are welcome in my house, uppity ones are caught and released.

Catch and release contradicts human nature. Instinct commands our imperative to eradicate arachnid invaders. I get it, house spiders terrify most people. That said, next time a spider surprises you on the toilet, muster the fortitude to catch and release. All it takes is a glass and sheet of paper. Spiders aren’t after us, they mean us no harm. Trust me, catch and release feels great.

 

 

Death Of Our Oldest Spider, Zombie Caterpillars And Masquerading Ant Butt Beetles


Fellow Worpresser Peter ( https://ppazucha.wordpress.com/ ) sent word of a tragic arachnid death. The world’s oldest spider, a female Australian trapdoor spider known only as Number 16 was found dead in her burrow at age 43. Number 16 didn’t succumb to old age, her death is credited to a parasitic wasp attack. Wasps enter burrows laying eggs in or on the spider. When eggs hatch, larvae eat the spider from outside in or inside out. Number 16 was identified in 1973 by Barbara York Main, the University of Western Australia arachnologist known as “the spider lady”, part of Main’s trapdoor spider population study in the central wheat-belt of Western Australia. Before Number 16, a 28-year-old captive Mexican tarantula held the title of oldest known spider. Curse you parasitic wasp, RIP Number 16.

Image result for number 16 dies burrow

Image result for number 16 dies burrow

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-monday-edition-1.4641540/the-world-s-oldest-spider-was-killed-by-a-parasitic-wasp-1.4641544

It’s impossible to Google death of world’s oldest spider without stumbling upon a plethora of insect peculiarities.

Chris Miller, project manager of the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, England discovered a lethal virus that turns caterpillars into zombies. Baculovirus affects how caterpillars’ brains react to sunlight and forces them to make a death march towards treetops in the middle of the day. Zombie caterpillars march to the treetops and die. Their bodies liquefy, the virus bursts out of their corpses and drips onto victims below.

What remains of an oak eggar moth caterpillar after it climbed to the top of a tree and liquefied. (Chris Miller)

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-wednesday-edition-1.4232025/a-virus-in-england-is-turning-caterpillars-into-exploding-zombies-1.4232030

Hats off to Nymphister Kronaueri, a new species of beetle identified by Christoph Von Beeren, an ecologist at Germany’s Technische Universitaet Darmstadt while studying army ants with his colleague Daniel Kronauer in the Costa Rica rainforest, spring 2014. Camped in the jungle, watching army ants by lamplight, they noticed ants with double butts. Closer inspection revealed another example of specialized adaptation in the natural world. Evolutionary whimsy decreed army ants wouldn’t notice a stowaway beetle masquerading as an ant ass. Army ants are apex predators, voracious marauders stinging, dismembering and devouring unfortunate spiders, birds, snakes and small animals along the way. Over 300 insect species shadow ant armies feeding on scraps. Science doesn’t know why, but for what must be a very good reason nature insists a piggy-backing ant butt beetle gets first crack at the buffet.

From above, it’s hard to tell this army ant has a beetle attached to its rear. (M. Maruyama)

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-wednesday-edition-1.3984065/is-it-a-butt-or-a-bug-newly-discovered-beetle-masquerades-as-ant-s-backside-1.3984071