Hey Zebra, Why Those Stripes?


By definition science strives to provide answers arrived at by systematic analysis of nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe. Since the dawn of biological science, mystery of Zebra stripes have confounded science. Enter Tim Caro of University of California at Davis.

Tim Caro visited Hill Livery in England, a stable that keeps zebra alongside horses. Keen observation of zebra, horses and horses cloaked in zebra stripes revealed a simple explanation of why zebras are stripped – stripes confound hoards of biting flies. Apparently optics matter in the horsefly world. Swarms of horseflies hover without discrimination above horse and zebra, but stripes screw with horsefly minds, they can’t land on a striped hide.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/02/why-do-zebras-have-stripes-flies/583114/

229 Species


What do 120 wasps, 34 sea slugs, 28 ants, 19 fish, 7 flowering plants, 7 spiders, 4 eels, 3 sharks, 2 water bears, 1 frog, 1 snake, 1 seahorse, 1 moss, and 1 liverwort plant have in common? All reside on a list of 229 new species identified in 2018 by the California Academy of Science.

Shannon Bennett, Academy chief of science said –

Biodiversity scientists estimate that less than 10 percent of species on Earth have been discovered. Academy scientists tirelessly explore near and far, from the familiar forests in our backyards to remote locations as deep as 500 feet beneath the ocean surface. Each species discovery may hold the key to groundbreaking innovations in science, technology, or society and helps us better understand the diversity of life that makes up thriving ecosystems. These new discoveries also highlight the critical role we play as stewards of our one, precious planet.”

The “Japan pig” seahorse is the size of a jelly bean. Cryptic in coloration, the new species blends perfectly into the algae-covered reefs of southeastern Japan where it clings tightly via tail to soft corals, feeding on plankton passersby. It sports a pair of wing-like protrusions on its neck, but unlike the half dozen other pygmy seahorses in the world, the Japan pig has just one pair rather than two. The function of these wing-like structures remains a mystery. Image via Calacademy.

Spiders with the fastest spin on Earth! Spiders from the Selenopidae family were recently discovered to have the fastest leg-driven turn of any animal on the planet. This year, 3 new species join the fast-spinning group, including one from Egypt. This species was originally collected in the 1800s but only recently recognized as new to science when a team of sicnetists discovered it deep in the collection of the Oxford Museum. Image via Calacademy.

Along the Samana Norte River in the Colombian Andes, where canyon walls angle so steeply to the water that humans rarely frequent the region, a flowering plant produces sky-blue berries each year. This new-to-science species thrives near fast-moving rivers that experience frequent flooding. How the plant is pollinated and its fruit dispersed remains a mystery, but the discoverers suspect the mature berry, which is spongy, might drop into the water, float downriver, and lodge into a new rocky crevice to sprout a new plant. The plant is already endangered given its small, fragmented range. A proposed hydroelectric dam also threatens to flood the region and fully submerge one of the few localities where this species grows. Image via Calacademy/

https://earthsky.org/earth/new-species-2018?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=69ba9c94d7-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_02_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-69ba9c94d7-393970565

Smart Bug


Left field might be the place my pondering mind landed; suddenly I’m in search of the world’s smartest insect. Without a lick of research, I’m certain there are many species of surprisingly astute creepy crawlers. Naming the ant, bee or termite lacks imagination – invading colonies might as well be Mongrel hordes yet a single ant or bee is nothing without the collective to back it up. I’m looking for outstanding individuals, bugs serving no master but themselves.

Portia Labiata is a “jumping spider” found in southeast Asia – this is one smart bug. This guy is straight out of Starship Troopers – ponder an adaptive predator who excels at trickery and problem solving  –  Portia Labiata at your service. This smarty pants lures other spiders into it’s web with reconnaissance and adaptive learning. Patiently waiting, motionless and alert, legs tucked in to avoid detection – watching other insects come and go – Portia Labiata “plucks” at the web of  her targeted prey. Tricking unsuspecting spiders into thinking something is caught in their web.

Known as problem solvers, they learn through trial and error, remembering routines of other insects. Portia Labiata can even swim – laboratory experiments liken Portia to raptors in Jurassic Park – creatures able to employ tactics based on experience. Remarkable for an insect with a brain the size of a pin head. Portia’s sesame seed sized eyes are larger than it’s brain; explaining why it has ten times the visual acuity of a cat.

I’m sorry I ever pondered smart bugs. Knowing an adaptive little spider ranks as one of the brightest creatures in the world –  sits like greasy pork chops when I have the flu. Portia is no larger than my thumbnail and lives half a world away. Knowing a smart ass bug is out there, capable of strategy and problem solving gives me the willies.

http://arthropodagroupc.wikispaces.com/Portia+Labiata

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Portia Labiata

Sneaky Basement Widow


Black Widow Spider number eight – I applaud your sneaky antics. You’ve been strutting your stuff in the laundry room; assuming perhaps that I hadn’t noticed. Dessicated insects litter the windowsill, your presence sensed for ages – visual confirmation eluding me until tonight. You are craftier than your seven predecessors; waiting until the light bulb burnt out – waiting for me to fumble about in darkness before making a move. Kudos number eight; you almost got away with it, but I saw you – the jigs up.

Black Widow number eight concerns me a little more than the others. Once I was able to wrap my head around a Vancouver basement alive with Black Widows, avoidance was easy. The other spiders stayed put, discovered under the broom or in a corner, it was easy to dispatch them. Common sense dictated a few precautions – we managed under the same roof without incident. Number eight is different; by far the largest, certainly the fastest and without question the sneakiest.

Until number eight tried pulling a fast one on me – I’d just about forgotten about basement Widows. On some level I knew I still had a Black Widow problem; never occurring to me I would have to do something about it in late October. Still pondering why seven Widows never bothered me, yet sneaky number eight crossed the line.

You have no one to blame but yourself number eight – we could have stayed the course, continued along the path of mutual respect and tolerance. You had to strut your stuff, get in my face and rock the boat. Now I have to hire an exterminator; at the very least, purchase your death in a spray can, insecticidal bomb or nasty trap. I wish you could understand how this breaks my heart – almost all Black Widows one – seven were captured and released outside. My sincerest apologies to number five or maybe six – you caught me at a bad moment – your stomping was merely a reflex. Number one was forced to live in a jar for far too long simply because you are handsome arachnids.

Prior to this evenings encounter with number eight I was prepared to share my house; the last thing I wanted was a spider war. You forced my hand number eight; I’m sorry to inform you – I know where you live, I saw you sneaking into the wall socket when you thought I was otherwise occupied. You’ve ruined things for everyone – why did you have to be so sneaky?

http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=f3dacb8c-84bc-412f-a82f-812bf3584ec8

Flat Rat


My childhood was spent on a farm; quiet, secluded, well away from the city limits. Gophers a common sight, occasionally a skunk , sometimes a deer nibbling on the fruit trees. Coyotes high on the hills punctuated summer evenings with their unmistakeable wails, though I can’t recall ever seeing one. There were frogs, rabbits, and the owl nesting in a crab apple tree – once a bear followed us home from our school bus.

Other than in a pet store I had never seen a rat. There was the story of the Piper of Hamlin, I knew they carried fleas responsible for “the plague” in medieval Europe, I suppose if pressed I would have said they could be found in garbage dumps or slums.

Within a few days of moving to Vancouver I saw my first rat; not at the docks – running along a telephone wire in a swanky part of town. I quickly realized; where there were people and garbage, rats would come. They cared little for demographics – rats were equal opportunity vermin. Discouraging rats is common sense – contain your garbage, don’t leave piles of brush or garden clippings around to encourage nesting, and in my case a dog – one who’s caught a rat or two doesn’t hurt.

Well used to the notion of rats in the city, I thought nothing of leaving the back door open on a hot muggy day. My son, home sick from school lay on my bed as we watched a movie together. I caught sight of the behemoth from the corner of my eye; I swear this rat was the size of a cat. Perhaps momentary hysterics embellished the girth of my intruder. I leapt for the phone, calling my husband at work to report a rat in the bedroom – “what am I supposed to do about it?” he replied. He had a valid point – it was entirely up to me.

The commotion forced rat into a defensive position beneath the morning paper at the side of the bed. Snapping into “rat slayer” mode I ordered my son not to take his eyes off it as I ran out to the garden. Unsure what I was even looking for, all became clear when a cement cinder block was carried back to the bedroom. Screaming like a ninny, I gauged an appropriate distance for my one shot at a fatal blow.

Never in my life have I been so pleased with myself  making that second call to my husband’s office. I assured him the problem was taken care of, and asked only that he clean up the flat rat when he got home.

Snakes or Spiders?


Spiders don’t bother me; for decades I’ve been the designated spider slayer in my home. Naturally the designation doesn’t thrill me – those substantial arachnid intruders; the ones you can almost hear as they tip tap across the floor give me pause for a second – then it’s down to business, people are counting on me. To the dismay of the family, if at all possible I capture and release them outside. Assurances they aren’t hit men, have no vendetta, and are unlikely to make their way back inside do little to soothe the phobic nerves of my family.

Spiders are a fact of life, most are harmless, or at least not life threatening. Even the seven black widow spiders I’ve spotted, captured, or killed over the last year in my basement, don’t bother me as long as they stay downstairs.

Snakes are a completely different story; I’m incapable of applying the same rational thoughts when a snake is involved. Living in the heart of a major city in British Columbia, a snake should be the last thing to worry about. Or so I thought – “Daddy, please catch a snake for us” was the plea from our young children. We were on Vancouver Island, garter snakes were everywhere, and before I could scream “are you out of your mind”, we’re on the ferry home with a snake in a pail. The kids have already named it Mrs. Slithers.

Telling myself “hysteria” was a poor example for the kids, I made myself scarce as my husband set Mrs. Slithers up in an old aquarium. I even took the high ground when he assured me it couldn’t get out, and I was being silly. I didn’t “freak out” in front of the kids, I didn’t tell him he could deal with house spiders from now on, I even attempted interest. The next day Mrs. Slithers had 11 babies.

Kids love playing with baby snakes – kids love having all their friends over to play with baby snakes. Within a few days we were down to 7 or 8 babies. Attempts to convince myself the missing snakes were outside lasted about as long as a snowball in July. It was time for the Slithers family to move out – we made a day out of delivering them to the shore of Beaver Lake in Stanley Park.

What is it about phobias that make us lose our minds? Why is it that we trivialize the phobia of others as “silly”? Some studies suggest we are programmed to fear spiders and snakes as they could cause harm, while others contend these phobias are a learned behaviour – passed on by phobic parents. I grew up in a place where we were taught from a early age to watch out for rattlesnakes and black widow spiders yet snakes are the only thing that makes my skin crawl. When I think about it – I can’t come up with a single person I know who fears both snakes and spiders. Go figure.

Vanity


It occurred to me that vanity should perhaps be the test by which we gauge human evolution. Rather than constructing a timeline of civilization based on flints, tools, and the written word – ponder the evolution of vanity. At what point did early man begin to care about his appearance? Sticking a pin in that moment will solve the riddle of when our known history began.

We became truly “human” when we caught sight of our reflection, and frowned. That frown was the stepping stone to separate mankind from all the other species in our world. Animals groom, humans improve, embellish, and alter. Some animals developed outlandish characteristics to show off during mating season, they never looked in a mirror to see whether they looked fat or silly. The evolutionary leap for mankind was that critical eye, and with it an awareness of trend and opinion. Characteristics that plague us to this day.

Ancient Roman practices of lightening hair with pigeon poop, applying bear grease to stop baldness, wearing a paste of ground herbs and worms to cover gray hair, rinsing your mouth with imported urine from Portugal – Botox injections, Retin A Lap Bands, white strips…..

The moment “keeping up appearances  took hold, we were human. Find the first mirror and you’ll find the cradle of civilization.

http://blogs.static.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/20058.html