The Dinos And The Bees
How did the “terrible lizards” make the beast with two backs?
Robert Krulwich takes an entertaining look at the current theories of dinosaur reproduction at his blog, with help from Brian Switek’s great new book My Beloved Brontosaurus and some hilarious illustrations by Robert himself (one borrowed above). Do check out his write-up.
From the smallest, chickenesque raptors to the largest, long-necked sauropods to the armored, spiny stegosaurs to the violent and fearsome tyrannosaurs, one things for sure: It took a mommy and daddy dinosaur to make a baby dinosaur.
What is less clear is precisely how that worked. Modern birds descended from dinosaurs, and they provide some hints. For instance, most birds don’t have external baby-making accessories. Instead they have “everything holes” called cloacas (like these amorous penguins) that house their reproductive machinery inside. Dino reproduction would have involved a lot of careful alignment and what could only be described as “frisky friction”.
But not all birds are limited to the cloacal kiss. Ducks have famously corkscrewed screwcorks (which evolved to help females be more selective about mates). Crocodiles are also quipped with a snake of sorts, as are the older lineages of lizards and birds. So when it came down to doing the deed, it’s likely that some sort of external equipment would have been involved. Sadly, that’s a “bone” that doesn’t fossilize.
And that doesn’t even begin to address how a sauropod the size of a house or a spiky stegosaur could have gotten within docking range without risking life and limb.
It’s an amazing set of questions. And you thought your love life was complicated …
Stroke, Stroke, Stroke — The Atlantic Ocean’s Dazzling Oarsmen
“At night, in the ocean, they look like little Broadway billboards with dazzling trills of rainbow colored light. They have eight little runways on their bodies for light display. What are they?”
At NPR, Robert Krulwich introduces you to the comb jelly, a tiny creature that is not a jellyfish at all. It’s got rows of flapping cilia that it uses to flit about in the water, a Viking longboat that doubles as marquee lights.
Bonus:Want to dive deeper into the world of tiny, glowing sea creatures? Feast your eyes on TED Ed’s Secret Life of Plankton, it’s an aquatic masterpiece full of delicate drifters.
Ed. note: The comb jelly is actually a member of the phylum Ctenophora, which is another example of someone putting a “c” next to a “t” at the beginning of a word. Please stop doing that, because really, how are you supposed to say that?
In a letter dated October 1, 1861, Charles Darwin wrote to Charles Lyell:
"But I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything."
It’s nice to know that even the most brilliant among us have bad days, surly days, downer days doubtful days, and days they just hate it all. It’s part of the human process.
It’s one of those classic questions that have tickled the human brain for ages. Let’s take something whose scale we have no way of reconciling, like the number of stars, and compare it to something else whose scale is completely neuron-warping, like the number of grains of sand on every beach.
Which is bigger?
This likely isn’t the first time you’ve heard this mind-bender. So I won’t be spoiling it by telling you that stars win … big-time. The universe is a very large place.
But we don’t have to go big to beat the stars. You’ll never guess how little of a certain common liquid it takes to beat both of those numbers … I’ll leave that to Robert.
Relating animal behaviors to human behaviors? Exercise caution.
Birds Hold Funerals For Their Dead, trying to draw the link between birds and humans at Discovery News:
The “funerals” therefore serve, at least in part, as a lesson. Since the birds don’t necessarily know what bumped off their feathered friend, they seem to focus more on the area, associating it temporarily with danger.
The researchers noted that the living birds tended to avoid foraging in the place where they found the deceased bird for a period of at least 24 hours.
Prior research suggests giraffes and elephants might also hold ceremonies for their dead. If so, perhaps there are shared factors with humans and birds. Solidifying group togetherness and social bonding appear to be key benefits, along with learning how to avoid (if possible) whatever did in the deceased.
See that bolded part? It’s not incorrect to say that both humans and birds are dependent on social bonding, but funerals serve the same purpose as birds gathered around their dead? Scratching my chin there. Then there’s this …
"Do Birds Hold Funerals?", discussing whether the word is appropriate at NPR:
For instance, they presented the birds with a novel object made of wood, approximating the form of a dead scrub-jay, and some days later presented them instead with the actual skins (plus feathers) of dead jays. The birds never called or formed cacophonous aggregations in response to the wood object, but they always called at the skins, and almost always these callings escalated into noisy gatherings.
In other words, the birds tell each other about a dead companion, and so individually and collectively the scrub-jays may learn something about predation risks. By calling in others (the cacophonous aggregations), they may be more likely to drive a predator away or to warn relatives and mates of danger.
Where is the funeral promised in the title?
I know some people may think this is splitting hairs, but the way that a story like this is delivered, down to the words chosen to explain it, are crucial to what lesson gets taught. So birds gathering around the remains of their dead is important, biologically. In fact, it’s an awesome story on its own. It shows that evolution has provided them a way to learn from what killed their relatives, strengthening their social structure and improving their odds for survival. But does it have anything to do with the emotional, elaborately ceremonial funeral customs practiced by myriad human societies?
That idea’s dead on arrival.
… the technology is advancing about four times faster than Moore’s law is taking computer technology forward, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Basically, the ability to read and write genomes is improving about eight fold every year now. That means going down in cost, up in smarts and up and up in sophistication. The techniques are keeping up with the technology. They’re taking on more and more interesting challenges. Many of them will affect human health obviously, and that tends to bring in money and maybe as a byproduct, we can … restore natural systems with some of the species that we usually were responsible for removing from those systems.
Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, speaking about his new project “Revive and Restore”.
His team plans on tackling the ethical, environmental and technical aspects of working to bring extinct species back to life, and making sure that habitats and humanity are ready for them.
More, and a full audio interview: Reviving Extinct Species May Not Be Science Fiction - NPR