What the heck! Let’s look at funny fish #nature #fish #marine #ocean

I was going to be serious – but lets look at funny fish.

I found this interesting article on prehistoric crocodiles that were vegetarians. I was going to post about a comparison of carnivorous and herbivorous teeth, and how research can quantify the complexity of each tooth…

Shoot. I spent yesterday hauling sixty-pound batteries up the side of a cliff for the radio repeater for our volunteer fire department – we have a solar powered system. Today, I just wanna have fun. How about we look at weird marine life?

I really do have an excuse for the coffinfish. “A new study has revealed another coffinfish adaptation—massive, inflatable gill chambers that expand the animal’s body with seawater, allowing them to take up more oxygen and hold their breath for up to four minutes.

Why would a fish want to hold it’s breath underwater? We can be a bit more serious about the coffinfish if you want:

Enjoy your day 🙂


You Know About Cow Farts, but How About Tree Farts? #nature #biology #climatechange #forest #trees

Over 100 years ago, a chemist in Kansas documented that cottonwood sap contained methane bubbles. He could light escaping gas and watch a blue flame flicker. Others discovered that not only cottonwoods produce the gas.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and today, thanks to global warming, we need to understand the ins and outs of methane in the atmosphere. New studies show:

Many instances in which trees produce their own methane—sometimes from microbes in the heartwood or other tissues and in other cases from a remarkable direct photochemical reaction thought to be driven by the ultraviolet wavelengths in sunlight. NatGeo

Measuring methane emissions from tundra

Measuring methane and CO2 emisisons from arctic tundra

Life writes its name with methane, which is why methane on Mars is so exciting. On Earth, methane is released from fossil fuels, microbes in soggy soil like bogs and rice paddies, and (as you know) cattle. Human activities accelerate emissions – sometimes, we do in a year what nature does in centuries.

Methanotroph microbes also break down methane. The life expectancy of an average methane molecule is a few decades.

Trees emit methane and break it down by hosting the wily microbes and also on their own. The balance depends on the tree and soil conditions, but there are “forests where similar trees in similar soils have been measured with a fiftyfold difference in methane emissions… [Forests] in wet soils uniformly were net emitters of methane but those in drier conditions in some regions actually were net absorbers of the gas.”

One scientists said that what we know today is a third grader’s cartoon drawing of a forest.”

None of this means trees are bad! Trees good. Forests good. But learning more about Earth’s methane cycle will improve our models and, if we’re smart enough, help us hand a beautiful world to our progeny.

Life Always Surprises, Won’t Stay in Your Categories #biology #genetics #poem #poetry

Yoruba twin statues

The Yoruba have the highest twinning rate in the world, as reflected in this art, but still no sesquizygotic twins as far as western science knows.

Sesqui – zygotic
Makes babies most exotic.
Rarest people you could meet,
Their genes are quite quixotic.

Buckets you put words in
Are only there as stand-ins.
Cling to them
and fool yourself,
The word is not the thing.

Nature’s not confined
By what is in your mind.
When shadows dance in Plato’s cave,
Escape the chains that bind.

You’ll never force reality
Into the form you want to see.
The world is bigger,
Than claimed by you and me.

Kate Rauner

We humans are so invested in language, we sometimes forget that words are imperfect representations of reality. Like the words “male” and “female.”

The twins in Australia are 4 years old now… the second known case [of] ‘sesquizygotic twins’: not identical, but not fraternal either. They’re somewhere in between.

The twins are actually chimeras, meaning they both have a mix of XX and XY cells in their body, but in different proportions. The one who looks like a boy has an XX:XY mix of 47:53; the girl has a mix of 90:10. In the 2007 case [the first reported occurence], one of the twins actually had ambiguous genitalia, which is what tipped doctors off to something previously unknown about the twins. The Atlantic

Juliet may save Romeo and their whole species – last chance battle with extinction #extinction #nature #environment

A related species, not quite as lonesome yet. Attribution: José Grau de Puerto Montt at en.wikipedia

Romeo, known as the world’s loneliest frog, has spent 10 years in isolation at an aquarium in Bolivia. Scientists say they have found him a Juliet after an expedition to a remote Bolivian cloud forest. BBC

I seem to be finding a number of stories on recent, current, and near extinctions lately. The loneliest frog still has hope, though I have no idea how difficult it is to breed Sehuencas water frogs in captivity. Even if scientists can fill their aquariums (aquaria?) with frogs, will there be any wild land to release them into?

Charismatic species like tigers and elephants do more than frogs to grab the public’s attention. Saving them means saving habitat, and that benefits many vulnerable species that never go viral on the internet. Good luck, Romeo and Juliet. Good luck ecosystems. Good luck Earth – because that would be good luck for us humans too.

Most Basic to Life #biology #science #poem #poetry #whatislife


Are you alive?
How do you know?
What do you look at
To see if it’s so?

Is it because
You oxidize food?
Consume and create

Or the homeostasis
That you maintain?
Do you need cells
To be in the game?

What if the planets
Hold a surprise?
Organized data
May say you’re alive.

Kate Rauner

Thanks to sciworthy.com for raising the question, even if there’s no consensus answer. For you and me, “I think therefore I am” may work as well as any other answer.

You’re a Mutant and it Gets Worse Every Day – Here’s How #biology #gene #radioactive #DNA #Asimov

DNA structure

DNA, just peppered with carbon atoms

Does the thought of mutations in your DNA (and other bits of your body’s cells) scare you? Do you worry about toxins, or GMOs, or species-hopping viruses? Cancer, or growing a second head? Here’s something that may terrify you. Or, since it happens every day and you’re not dead yet, maybe comfort you.

Here’s how you mutate. Your body contains a lot of carbon. This is such a basic fact that to say a chemical is organic means it contains carbon atoms in its molecules. Your DNA, the genetic blueprint that pilots your cells through life, contains carbon atoms.

Not likely!

Carbon, like many elements, exists in different forms called isotopes. Mostly we have carbon-12, but a fraction of all carbon is carbon-14, which is radioactive. When it decays (that is, releases a sub-atomic particle or energy from its nucleus), it transmogrifies into a different element, nitrogen.

Isaac Asimov once estimated that this transmogrification happens roughly six times a second somewhere in the DNA in your body, every second of every day, throughout your life. I’m way too lazy to check his figures, but whatever the rate, it happens. Every one of these events mutates the DNA where it occurred. A lot of the mutations will be in body cells, and some will be in sperm or eggs (reproductive cells.) A mutation might kill the cell, cause cancer, get passed on to offspring, or do nothing discernable.

So, you are a mutant. So am I. And we’re still alive. Do you feel better? Or worse?

BTW: Carbon-14 is created in Earth’s atmosphere every day by a natural process. Cosmic radiation strikes our planet from every direction, and it includes sub-atomic particles known as neutrons. Occasionally a neutron strikes a nitrogen atom. Our atmosphere is roughly 75% nitrogen, so this is no surprise.

The neutron reshuffles nitrogen’s nucleus and transforms it to carbon-14, which is radioactive and so decays back to nitrogen. It takes 5,700 years for half of a given amount of C-14 to decay, but it happens at a steady rate. The entire process happens at a steady rate and the C-14 way up high mixes into the air down low that we breathe, so the amount of C-14 in the body of any living organism stays constant until it stops breathing (or otherwise respiring). Then radioactive decay depletes the body of C-14. This is the basis of carbon-14 dating, which you may have heard of.

BTW2: Asimov’s book is old – published in 1988 – but still worth reading. He covers a lot of history and basic science. New discoveries seldom change what we know about the basics, like radioactive decay.

Horrible Creatures Have a Place in the World – How Revolting #poem #poetry #biology #nature

Kate Raune rhymes parasites :O

Tick fossilized in amber – they’ve been around a long time

My dog is scratching at his fleas,
There’s mistletoe throughout my trees.
Can climate change be all bad
If it kills a few of these?

Egg to larva to adult,
From fish to foul they catapult
Their complex lives to realize,
Or from seeds and spores result.

Successful parasites don’t kill,
They want their hosts to thrive, yet still
Niches open when they die
To creatures worse that will.

Some are horrible, it’s true,
We won’t miss River Blindness soon.
Next time your tummy’s sick, just know
They’re part of Mother Nature’s glue.

by Kate Rauner

Thanks to a study published in the journal Science Advances, completed with the help of the U.S. National Parasite Collection, as well as specialized databases of ticks, fleas, bee mites, and feather mites; and to techtimes Many thanks to the

Carter Center, because some parasites simply have to go. But it’s interesting to think about the little nasties we’ve adapted to live with – and them with us.

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