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

Code?

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
Organic
Molecules?

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.

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Silurian Hypothesis – Industrial Civilization Long Before Us #science #poem #poetry #research #paleontology #civilization

Doctor Who Silurians

Silurians found by Doctor Who. Promotional material to illustrate the subject in question is fair use, or so says Wikipedia.

Deep within our history,
Four hundred million years ago,
One of the greatest dyings cleared
The Earth for them to grow.

Boney fish with moving jaws
Dodged scorpions in the shallow seas,
Hardly social it would seem,
Yet something walked the land near these.

Calcium
carbonate,
Abundant layers, weirdly thick,
In sandstones
do imply
Industry spewed pollution slicks.

Suggestion of dead ocean zones,
Through turbation
sediments,
Imply farming on
a scale vast.
That’s civilization evidence.

Not to mention oddly high
Concentrations to be found
Of antimony, lead, and chrome,
Rare earths, and gold within the ground.

Sudden population booms
Of crinoids and certain trilobites,
Indicator species these,
Increased to
impressive heights.

Shape of lipids well preserved
In geo-chemistry,
Not mono-chiral indicates
They were made
synthetically.

Until the late Devonian,
When life in deep oceans died,
Anoxia that changed the seas
Sent glaciers south to crush their lives.

No, there are no real facts
Silurians
once industrialized,
But to think of traces
they could have left
May help us search the starry skies.

by Kate Rauner

Silurian fossils

Silurian fossils, but, no, that’s not a Silurian coin. It’s just there to indicate size.

Thanks to theatlantic for their story on this study published in the International Journal of Astrobiology: could we tell if an advanced civilization existed on Earth long before humans, even before mammals?

Such conjecture may help us ponder extraterrestrials. As the authors say, While much idle speculation and late night chatter has been devoted to this question, we are unaware of previous serious treatments of the problem of detectability of prior terrestrial industrial civilizations in the geologic past.” Download the pdf for yourself.

Evolution and One Lost Boy Produce New Species of Bird in Two Generations, and for the first time we absolutely watched it happen #science #biology #evolution #Galapagos

Visit Kate Rauner on WordPress for Science News

Scientists identified the island and species their bird came from – here’s one of his brethren

What’s a species? What separates one species from another? The word may be a handy abstraction but it’s also fuzzy. Our words aren’t as precise as we might hope.

Consider the evolution of a new species of bird, in two generations, from a single lost finch spotted by a graduate student.

The arrival 36 years ago of a strange bird to a remote island in the Galapagos archipelago… mated with a member of another species resident on the island, giving rise to a new species that today consists of roughly 30 individuals.

The newcomer was a male that sang a different song, and was much larger with a larger beak than three finch species living on the island. Because the island was small and intensely studied, researchers were able to collect blood samples of the new male and track his breeding.

A species is a population that interbreeds within its own group but not outside. That doesn’t mean individuals can’t or won’t breed outside their group – and produce offspring that can also breed. Some species are isolated because they because they never bump into each other.

“Reproductive isolation is considered a critical step in the development of a new species.” The new male’s offspring looked different and sang a different song than the fiches around them. Since they had each other, they weren’t as desperate (or lucky? insistent?) as their father, so they mated with each other. That’s why they’ve been awarded the title of species.

Such intense inbreeding can exaggerate genetic diseases and weaknesses, but that isn’t obvious yet for these finches. Who knows? Problems may arise. Perhaps we’ll watch the demise of this new species in coming years.

This new species may say more about people than birds. The Galapagos finches continue to be fascinating birds, utterly unconcerned about human-created concepts, taxonomy, or language.

More at phys.org/news and many other outlets.

This is the Strange Value of the Best Fossil Poo #dinosaurs #fossils #science #evolution #poetry #poem

fossilized poo - resource for science

This legendary fossilized feces specimen is named “Precious”

Brontosaurus is amazing,
And likewise is T Rex,
But what about the beetles
That hold food chains erect?
Fin rays and fish scales
And bits of parasites,
The ins and outs of ecosystems
Found in coprolites.

Ancient relationships
That underlain the world
Of millions of years ago,
Their secrets are unfurled.

Synchrotron
Micro
Toe – mography
Without destroying fossils
Enables us to see

Deep into the past
Of ecology,
To reconstruct
just who ate whom
On life’s ancient tree.

by Kate Rauner

Thanks to phys.org, and read more on wikipedia. More poo poetry here 😀

Your Cat Journeyed for 9000 Years to Arrive at Your Sofa #nature #cat #cats #pet #domestic

Wild cats still roam Europe

This European wildcat would look equally at home on your sofa. Luc Viatour www.lucnix.be

Cats joined humans about the time we started farming – and creating excellent mouse habitats where we stored our grain. Rodents can be a plague in any age – I had to replace $700 worth of mouse-eaten wiring in my pick-up not long ago. So I don’t doubt farmers immediately recognized the value of cats. As wild humans became domesticated so did the animals most able to tolerate us, to travel with us – and, for a special few, to love us.

The cat’s ancestors “lived in Europe as early as the late Pliocene. Fossil remains of the wildcat are common in cave deposits dating from the last ice age and the Holocene.” wikipedia

Accumulating evidence shows us when the cat joined forces with humans.

Researchers extracted mitochondrial DNA (which is passed down the maternal line) from more than 200 ancient cat remains that came from Viking graves, Egyptian mummies and Stone Age sites.

DNA evidence shows cat domestication began about 9,000 years ago in the Near East, where farming started…

A second wave of cat domestication happened in ancient Egypt. Cats spread to Europe during the Roman era and went even further during the Viking period. Egyptian cat DNA was even found in a Viking port. BBC

Some ancestors of our domestic cats escaped us and their lines survive today, still wild, across a wide swath of Earth – Africa, Europe, and Asia. Their domestic cousins have colonized the rest – every island and continent except Antarctica.

It seems odd to me that no one’s smuggled a kitten into an Antarctic research station. Most of us no longer need a cat to manage the mouse population in our barns, no longer need a dog to guard the flock, and no longer need horses, llamas, or any of the animals we keep as pets. But we want them – spend a lot of time and money to acquire and keep them. They comfort us in ways our fellow humans cannot.

Most domestic animals have undergone a lot of conscious selective breeding.

There was very little breeding and selection going on in cats up the

Kate Rauner's cat Harvey

My own tabby waiting for breakfast

19th Century [dang those Victorians! Kate] in contrast with dogs,’ said Dr Geigl. ‘The cat was useful from the very beginning – it didn’t have to be changed.’

But of course.

For all you dog-lovers out there, I haven’t ignored our canine companions, probably the first animals that helped us invent domestication: Humanity belongs to the dogs, a poem.

My orange tabby, Harvey, was the model for the first

The new cover 🙂 How do you like it?

cover of my science ficiton novel, Glory on Mars. But people told me the cover was too quirky, so I’ve got a new one now – hopefully more science fiction-y. What do you think?

Going to Amazon today? Click over there now on my link.

The Ape That Cooks #poem #poetry #nature #evolution #human

Homo erectus - the first cook. Hall of Human Origins in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. (except for the hat)

Homo erectus – the first cook. Hall of Human Origins in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. (except for the hat)

We are the hunting ape,
But other apes do hunt.
We are the speaking ape,
But other apes do grunt.

What set us on the path
To our enormous brain?
And brought us down
From the trees
To walk across the plain?

We are the ape with fire!
There’s evidence to show
Prometheus brought us his gift
A long long time ago.

With fire, sleeping on the ground,
Protected from the lions,
We shed our dense and furry coats,
It warmed us through the nighttime.

While other apes use their day
To chew and chew and chew
Their tubers, leaves, and wild fruits
We cooked the first fast food.

This new step in digestion
Meant more calories,
Cooked out the germs and toxins
Of wild plants and meats.

Tied to our adaption,
We’d never be the same.
“We are the cooking apes,
The creatures of the flame.”

I recently read Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham. I was happily surprised at how fascinating his hypothesis is: that starting as long ago as Homo erectus, humans evolved with fire and cooking. There are lines of evidence I would have never thought about – delightful.

Wrangham is really involved in his subject. He knows how much effort it takes to chew raw wild foods because he’s studied chimpanzees and tried their various foods. With some friends he ran an informal experiment chewing raw goat meat. They found that adding old leaves to their mouths – as chimps do when they eat meat – gave their teeth more “traction” to get the (nasty sounding) mess down.

He also covers a lot of related topics, including raw foodists and modern hunter-gatherers. It’s a great book.

Thanks to Wrangham for the final quote in the poem above.

R&R 3 coversAll my books, including collections of my science-inspired poetry, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. You’ll also find paperbacks at Create Space and all major digital formats at Smashwords. Read one today.

That Which We Call a Wolf #nature #biology #words #wolves #language

Mexican gray wolf - a little guy as wolves go, perhaps because life in desert mountains is hard. Looks a lot like a coyote to me.

Mexican gray wolf – a little guy as wolves go, perhaps because life in desert mountains is hard. Looks more like a coyote than the big wolves of Yellowstone.

Can a word become more important than the thing it names? I’ve thought about this before. We humans stuff nature into neat little categories because it makes a complex world easier on our brains.

We divide living things into species.

But what is a species?

A species is often defined as a group of individuals that actually or potentially interbreed in nature. In this sense, a species is the biggest gene pool possible under natural conditions… That definition of a species might seem cut and dried, but it is not… many plants, and some animals, form hybrids in nature.” berkeley.edu

If you add deep time to your definition, you’ll find “species” come and go on Earth despite the fact that evolution is a continuum.

Like a lot of the labels humans create, a species is a handy way to mostly-categorize and sort-of talk about an important topic. The word is fuzzy, but that doesn’t usually matter.

Until it does.

In America, we have a law (much loved and hated) that requires we spend money and limit certain economic activities to save “threatened and endangered species.”

Most Americans live in urban/suburban areas and never see large predators, but want to protect them. Rural folk like myself actually live with them, lose cattle and pets to them, and sometimes fear for human lives. My urban/suburban friends may get a taste of living with predators because some wolves (and definitely coyotes) live in their parks and backyards.

Total disclosure – I own no cattle, lost two pets to bears, and am willing to protect predators but think the government often handles the projects badly.

That brings me to the American Wolf. If gray wolves, red wolves, eastern wolves, and Mexican grey wolves are four species, they must be protected in all their various ranges. Science tells us something about this question:

  • Eastern and red wolves are genetically coyote/wolf hybrids – Princeton-UCLA study published in Science Advances
  • Mexican grey wolves come from a tiny captive stock (true as far as I know) and have interbred with coyotes and domestic dogs (common assertion here in Mexican grey wolf country – I can’t say, but it seems plausible.)

Researchers analyzed the complete genomes of 12 pure gray wolves (from regions without any coyotes), three pure coyotes (from regions without any gray wolves), 6 eastern wolves, and 3 red wolves. The results showed that eastern wolves are about 75 percent gray wolf and 25 percent coyote, while red wolves are about 25 percent gray wolf and 75 percent coyote – with almost no unique genetic material of their own.”  csmonitor.com

(Too bad my local Mexican grey wolf was not included in the study.)

Pro-wolf and anti-wolf groups have entrenched mutual distrust in my area. Their conflict runs so deep that beating the other guy often seems more important than the wolves.

So choose your side and remember that, in government, a word means whatever the law or the courts say it means. Which will not be what science or common-usage says it means. Remember your opponents are probably nice people with reasonable goals – try to keep an open heart so you can keep an open mind.

Maybe haiku will help:

Coyotes mate wolves
But Danes and Chihuahuas can’t
So what’s a species?