Monthly Archives: July 2009

It’s Not All Mindless Sex With Beautiful Women, Placoderm

Dunkleosteus_BW

A team led by Australian palaeontologist, Dr John Long, have discovered one of the oldest reproductive organs to date, potentially shedding light on the sexual evolution of vertebrate organisms. Belonging to a 400 million-year-old Devonian armoured placoderm from the Gogo region of Western Australia, this long bone clasper with a knobbly end was attached to the pelvic organ and used to grip inside the female mate to assist with fertilisation.

According to study author and palaeontologist, Dr Kate Trinajstic, “It penetrates the female, and acts like a funnel, allowing the transfer of sperm.” Originally passed off in 2001 as just part of the pelvic girdle, Trinajstic reports that closer inspection revealed its true function, “We were surprised because it’s so big. We were expecting something smaller.”

The discovery, which will be published in the upcoming edition of Nature, follows on from the previous report by the Museum Victoria team revealing the first evidence for internal fertilisation with the discovery of a 380 million-year-old pregnant female placoderm fossil.

Now you might think this is all pretty awesome, Placoderm, being one of the first vertebrates to have a (surprisingly large) working penis, because it kind of means that all the ladies will have no choice but to sleep with you until the rest of the vertebrates hurry up and evolve. But I bet real soon you’re going to get pretty sick of being known as the only whore in town. Like sometimes you’re just going to want to go out for ice cream with some Coccosteus you might have accidentally had sex with this one time when you were both really drunk, but she’ll fully get the wrong idea and turn up to the gelato stand wearing her best clingy scales, and you’re like, “Well shit, I kind of just wanted to get ice cream and talk about the stock market with you, but we’re going to have to have sex after this aren’t we?”

And then you’ll get a text from some Rolfosteus being all, “Hey, what’s up? Haven’t seen you in ages!” and you’re like, “Yeah I’ve been busy. Work and whatever. How’s your weekend looking?” and she’ll be like, “Not bad, what are you doing Friday night?” And then you’ll accidentally invite her for drinks at the Sand Bar because you were going there anyway and you’d feel kind of rude if you didn’t, but then she turns up and you’re like, “Where are all your friends? Did you think this was a date? Oh…” And you’ll fully have to avoid her the whole time and tell your friends that you kind of hooked up with her like two years ago and you think she might still like you and it’s all really awkward. But of course your friends will think it’s totally hilarious and do their best to make things even more awkward for you by always going to the bathroom or the bar en masse, so you’ll end up doing a heap of shots and accidentally go home with some Pseudopetalichthys you just met instead.

Bet you miss the old days when it was all uncomplicated external fertilisation, now don’t you, Placoderm?

– bec

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Filed under Fossils, Museum Stuff, Science, Sea Creatures

You Can’t Hide Forever, Chevrotain

mouse deer underwater

As recently reported by the BBC, Asian and African chevrotain species have been discovered to readily favour water as a method of escape when startled or threatened by predators. Also known as the mouse-deer, these nimble, cat-sized creatures have been long regarded as solely dry-land animals, but two separate incidents of spooked chevrotains submerging themselves underwater proves this is certainly not the case.

In Borneo last year, a chevrotain remained submerged for over an hour after having dashed into a pond to escape its observers, momentarily surfacing for air only five or six times before it was caught and deemed unharmed by its bizarre behaviour. Following that, observers in Sri Lanka watched a mountain chevrotain dive into a pond and submerge itself when pursued by a ravenous brown mongoose, making its underwater escape by gracefully paddling out of its enemy’s reach. Here’s how it’s done:

In their report, the BBC linked this behaviour to that of today’s whales, but Laelaps’ Brian Switek has his doubts.

So okay, Chevrotain, as clever as this idea obviously is, you have to admit that it’s little more than a glorified bandaid solution. Sure, it may help you evade the grabby talons of the Crowned Eagle time and time again, but do you really want to spend your entire diminutive Cervidae life forever running away? Even Jason Bourne got sick of that lifestyle, Chevrotain, and it’s not like you can rely on your close-range hand-to-hand combat skills every time you find yourself cornered by something that wants to unceremonously tear you limb from limb with nary a body of water in sight. Perhaps if you just made an effort to get to know the Crowned Eagle instead of submerging yourself like a soggy coward every time you think he’s eyeballing you, you could find that you’re actually not that different, he and you. Everyone gets hungry, Chevrotain, and everyone gets angry when they’re hungry. And when you’re a keen-eyed predatory bird with enormous talons, hangry means grabby.

But here’s the thing, Chevrotain, I doubt the Crowned Eagle particularly cares if he ends up eating you or a couple of tuna salad sandwiches for lunch. You’re both equally delicious, I’d imagine, so how about you trade that pond of yours for a well-stocked kitchen. Don an apron and ditch that bathing suit, and you might just make a valuable new friend. Just don’t go overboard and make too many sandwiches, mind, or your little plan will backfire and you’ll be submerged forever waiting for a that cranky Crowned Eagle’s stomach ache to subside. Because there’s nothing more terrifying than Africa’s most fiercest eagle with a serious case of the bread bloats, nimble Chevrotain.

– bec

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Filed under Animals, Science, Video

Thanks To Snowboarding…

Ra Stall

I didn’t grow up as a Milo kid skiing or snowboarding every weekend, I don’t do back-to-back seasons and I’m not a particularly skilled or ‘stylish’ rider. However, none of this detracts from the fact that I am one hundred per cent completely addicted to the shred. I could spend hours watching videos, reading magazines, trawling through photos and blogs, talking about and thinking about snowboarding. As an aside, the only other thing I could possibly spend more time being as unproductive on is football, but I support a sinking ship that shall only be referred to as Titanic United for want of saving myself from the taunts of supporters of other rather more successful clubs, so no one really wants to listen to my rants about that.

My boss once asked me if the only reason I came to work was to have enough money to go snowboarding and, as much as I hate to admit it, even to myself, when I think about where I have been over the past few years, the answer is probably, no definitely, yes.

Remarks Mist Nay

Holidays, by definition, should be time of rest. Kick your shoes off, grab a cocktail and lounge by the pool for a couple of weeks. I haven’t taken one of these relaxing, summer type holidays in years, and given the choice between four weeks on an isolated beach with non-stop mojitos, sunshine and blue waters or a frenzied ten days of driving hundreds of kilometres, early starts, late nights, freezing cold weather and incredibly sore muscles*, I know what I would choose. And one of the main reasons I love it so, apart from the fact that goggle tans are far more attractive then full-body tans, is the places snowboarding has taken me and the people I have met.

Now, I am no sybarite, but seasons and even extended trips really make you appreciate the comparative luxuries of home. If you don’t live in a two-bedroom apartment with five other people, count yourself lucky. And if you have your own room – win! Sharing confined car spaces, hotel rooms, beds and sometimes, even toothbrushes, brings you very close together, very quickly. And although I may only see some of these people once every couple of months, or every six months or once a year if I’m lucky, they are my family. The bond created is pretty unique. It is a crazy love we share for something that drives you ever closer to the poverty line and that is probably causing some irreparable damage to your knees and back, not to mention your liver, that can only be understood by those who have experienced it in one way or another. It’s amazing how you can pick right up where you left off with someone you may have met a few years ago and not seen since. Or how random, repeated brief encounters can eventually lead to life-long friendships.

Sakka

It is not just the people that snowboarding has introduced me to that deepens my love for it, but also the places I have been because of it. I recently spent some (very limited) time in Japan and it is one of, if not the, most fantastic places I have visited. You can read about a country and study the language and listen to stories from people who have been there, but you can only really gain a deeper understanding and respect for the mores of another culture by being a part of it. My childhood was spent all over South-East Asia but everything about Japan was completely different from anywhere I have been to. The language, the art, the fashion, the people, the food, the way of life. But it is not just a clashing culture that you can learn something from. Somewhere like Canada or the US, which on the surface does not appear to be that different from Australia, is resplendent with cultural gems, if you are willing to take the time to look. Immersing yourself in the culture – whether that means sake with a dinner dish that you’re not quite sure of, but you eat anyway despite the disturbing moving flesh-looking bits on the top, or downing beer after beer in some dive of a bar while watching hockey, a sport you know nothing about, but yell at the TV when everyone else does anyway – this, to me, is what travelling is about. And if it is snowboarding that has got you there, maybe it’s time to take a sec and say thanks.

So, thank you snowboarding. Thanks to you, I have: two bung knees, a never-ending snow debt with the Bank of Mum and Dad, sent a thirteen year old boy to hospital for stitches, hung out with snow monkeys in onsens, fallen in love (or maybe just lust), had my heart broken, taken $80k rental cars for spins in the icy car park, an ever-recovering coccyx, had ridiculous fights about powder day etiquette, learnt how to converse with a Japanese doctor while my delirious and broken sister yelled for painkillers, a family that spans the globe and a million memories, good and bad, that I wouldn’t exchange for anything.**

*I use this word quite loosely when referring to myself.

**This is negotiable. What have you got to offer?

Ra  xxx

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Time To Put That Thumb-Sized Body to Use, Aellen’s Long-Fingered Bats

bat-moth-thumb-picture

A team headed by Manuel Ruedi, the curator at the Natural History Museum in Geneva, Switzerland, discovered just two weeks ago a new species of bat (in the throes of clumsy reproduction, no less), in a cave on a volcanic island of Comoros, Africa, north of Madagascar. Weighing in at just five grams (0.2 ounce), the diminutive Aellen’s long-fingered bat is, remarkably, no bigger than a moth or the average human thumb. Ruedi remarked that the discovery of bats mating in the wild was a rare occurrence, “especially when it involves an unknown species!”

Aww. So tiny Aellen’s long-fingered bats, this is really awkward. One minute you don’t exist, and the next you’re doing sex to each other while a bunch of scientists watch and marvel and take heaps of photos and maybe even some DNA when you’re not looking. And not only that, now that you’ve been well and truly discovered, there will be no end to to the wisecracks about your weeny rodent stature. Everyone’ll be like, “You look like you could accidentally fall in my soup and I probably wouldn’t even notice before it’s too late. LOL.” And it might never be too late, tiny Aellen’s long-fingered bats – that’s how small you are.

Oh but don’t fret too much, little ones, I’m not going to have a go at you for getting caught mating in public like I did the trilobites, because, unlike those giant arthropodal reprobates, you look like you’re doing it the way God intended – with just one male, and one female. Hear that, trilobites? One male. And one female. Take your sordid orgy some place else. See those tiny Aellen’s long-fingered bats? They even thought to cover up their genitals while the scientists are visiting, which is far more than I can say for you lot.

Now then, long-fingered bats, here’s the part where I level with you and confess that I’m not just here for a pleasant chat. I’ve got a proposition for you, so listen up. You know how scientists have also recently discovered that the Tadarida brasiliensis and Myotis velifer bats might potentially hold the secret to ultimate longevity? Well just imagine for a moment, if you will, what it would be like to combine your impossibly tiny proportions with their rare and highly sought-after life-prolonging protein-folding techniques. Well yes, tiny Aellen’s long-fingered bats, I guess it would kind of make you a bit like Jesus. But I was actually thinking more along the lines of Navi. All you’d need to do is make sex with a few Tadarida brasiliensis and Myotis velifer (yes, yes, I know you’re in love, but whatever, it’s just sex) and then teach your offspring to emit a powerful luminous glow like all the time, and in return we’ll let them follow us around, offering advice and pointing out vital clues and hidden caves and stuff that we would otherwise have missed. Sometimes we’ll have to catch them in a bottle and carry them around in our knapsacks till we need an extra burst of lifesource, but I’m sure they won’t mind too much. You’ve got my email address, tiny Aellen’s long-fingered bats, let me know what you think, okay?

– bec

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Filed under Animals, Museum Stuff, New Species!, Science