Monthly Archives: December 2009

Merry Christmas!

Time to get drunk and say inappropriate things to each other! Running Ponies might have the most patient readers ever, so thanks for sticking with us. The more you tell us, “Dude, I saw that story on National Geographic like six months ago…” the more punctual we’ll try to be with our content.

Oh and just as a side note, don’t believe anything Nick Howson tells you. They’re lies. All lies!

Here’s your pile of Christmas kittens:

Comic from Married To The Sea.

– bec

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Lose the Coconut Shells, Veined Octopus. You’re Holding Everyone Up!

Researchers from the Museum of Victoria have stumbled across a rare case of invertebrate tool manipulation in Indonesian waters. While studying the delightful mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus), biologists Dr Julian Finn and Dr Mark Norman observed the peculiar and complex behaviour of more than twenty veined octopuses (Amphioctopus marginatus) off the coasts of Northern Sulawesi and Bali. When coconut shell halves are discarded (or rubbish or shells etc), they fall to the ocean floor to be buried by the substrate which gradually settles on top. Using jets of water expelled from their mantle, the veined octopuses would flush the mud and sand away from inside the shells and use them for shelter from lurking predators.

On four occasions the veined octopuses were observed to stack the coconut shell halves inside themselves so they could wrap their tentacles around and awkwardly “stilt-walk” across distances of up to twenty metres with them in tow. “We were blown away,” Dr Norman told National Geographic. “It was hard not to laugh underwater and flood your mask.”

When compared to their usual unencumbered jet-propelled locomotion, this “lumbering octopedal gait” is a noticeably inefficient and risky alternative, the only benefit being the future manipulation of the shells as a safety enclosure from potential predators. That the octopuses are opting to haul these shells around for later use instead of simply darting behind a rock when a threat is detected, together with the fact that the shells need to be manipulated in a certain way in order to make them work signifies that these cephalopods have the heightened cognitive ability required for basic tool use. “I think these sorts of behaviours are everywhere in nature. There’s really complex behaviours that we write off because we think we’re the clever ones.” Dr Norman told ABC News.

Now while everyone might think this is really awesome and ingenious and everything, to me it all seems a bit much. I know Under the Sea isn’t always a bed of roses, but the other sea creatures get by okay without having to cart a couple of coconut shells around with them all the time, so I don’t see why the veined octopus thinks it needs to. Like, they’d all be hanging out, the veined octopus, the weedy pygmy seahorse and the nudibranch, trying to reconstruct the events of last night’s Christmas party whilst battling through their mad hangovers like:

“Um so I hear you landed a coffee date with the GM who looks like Alec Baldwin.”

“Shit. I don’t remember that at all. Isn’t he married?”

When the nudibranch will be all, “Erm guys, my rhinophores just retracted, so you might want to keep your voices down. It’s probably nothing, and I’m hyper-coloured to the shit anyway, so I don’t care.”

And the weedy pygmy seahorse will be all, “Oh okay, yeah that’s coo…”

But the veined octopus, in typical melodramatic fashion, will be stilt-walking back and forth like a madman, cutting them off all, “OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE EVERYONE GET THE FUCK OUT I CAN’T FIT YOU IN HERE YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN OH MY ARGHHHHH!!”

But it turns out to be a false alarm and they’ll all laugh about it afterwards, but the veined octopus will only laugh because everyone else is laughing because he actually thinks it’s a very serious situation and they just got lucky this one time. Then the nudibranch will be like, “So who wants ice cream?” And they’ll all get ice cream but the weedy pygmy seahorse won’t be able to finish hers so she’s like, “It’s cool, I’ll just take it home and put it in the freezer for later. What..?”

Only the veined octopus will slow them down with his awkward coconut-laden stilt-walking and the weedy pygmy seahorse will get all pissy like, “Seriously, veined octopus, hurry up. Lose the fucking shells. Once these flavours melt into each other it’s ruined.”

“JUST THROW IT OUT.”

“NO. IT’S FINE. HURRY UP.”

But then the veined octopus will see the nudibranch’s rhinophores start to retract again and he’ll freak out like, “Shit, Nudibranch, your rhinosphores… OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL IN SO MUCH TROUBLE ESPECIALLY ME BECAUSE I’D MAKE A REALLY AWESOME MEAL LOOK HOW MEATY I AM COMPARED TO YOU GUYS ARGHHHHH…”

And the nudibranch will try to explain that there is no danger, he just wants to mate with the pretty lady nudibranch chilling somewhere nearby, but the veined octopus will throw back a muffled, “Better safe than sorry!!” through his coconut shells. And then he’ll make them wait and hide for another ten or fifteen minutes before he decides it’s safe to move on.

“You know, it’s probably because of me that we’re all still alive. Oh… hey, seahorse, what happened to your ice cream?”

“Fuck off.”

Current Biology paper here. // Visit Microecos for more examples of invertebrate tool use.

More on octopuses:

* Oh Hey, Cephalopod. How Much of That Did You Just Hear…?

* Intelligence Test – You’re Doing It Wrong.

– bec

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Wandering Ponies #2

While my brain eases itself out of the haze of Christmas madness, here are some things that have amused me of late:

It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of Alex Wild’s photography, so I thought I should mention it here. What makes it so special is that the galleries are organised according to taxonomy, region, behaviour and life history, making it a dream to naviagte through. Not to mention the whole thing is just saturated with Wild’s magnificent ability to capture the expression and beauty of each individual ant’s face. From the delicately pretty Oecophylla to the almost dog-like Nothomrymecia, you’ll find it hard not to fall hopelessly in love with the ants after spending some time here.

If you haven’t been following the saga that was Matt Wedel’s involvement with The Discovery Channel’s Clash of the Dinosaurs, it’s well worth a read over at his blog, SV-POW!. One of my pet hates is people/companies who are too lazy and/or stubborn to project accurate science to the public, and this is a classic example. Fortunately Matt’s complaints were heard, and it looks like the mistakes are being rectified.

File this under #alliwantforchristmas. It’s also exactly what I’m like when I’m hungover and someone offers me ginger snaps:

Next up is a site I found (admittedly 500 Internet years late) through their video of Ben “I’m a Doctor!” Goldacre. Rather Good is like a cracked-out journey through the Valley of Bad Music across a bridge made of whiskers on a jittery talking pony named Claus. Personal favourites include Buffy’s Swearing Keyboard – Make Buffy say ‘hymen’ in an arguably sexy tone! – and the dangerously addictive Psycho Techno Hypno Kitten Snake.

And finally, because my love for Jack Bauer will never die, here he is interrogating Santa:

Laters,

– bec

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That’s No Way To Get A Girl, Brawny Dawson’s Bee.

Topping my list of things that stick in my craw about Australian TV right now is that we don’t get BBC’s new documentary series, Life. If we did, we’d know all about the unusual courtship behaviour of one of the largest species of bees in the world, the Australian Dawson’s bee (Amegilla dawsoni). Native to the deserts of Western Australia, the Dawson’s are a winter-active bee whose males typically emerge from their underground brooding cells ahead of the females, the larger, brawnier males staking out the emergence site for potential mates, while the minor males patrol the peripheral zone and nearby flower patches.

When a virgin female emerges from her clay burrow, generally around midday, her scent drives the larger males into a murderous frenzy, biting and stinging each other to death to get to her. Sometimes even the females can find themselves unwittingly caught up in the scuffle, the sheer intensity of the battle rendering them accidental casualties. Approximately 90% of all receptive female bees are mated with immediately upon emergence, the others likely picked up by the minor males on the periphery. This type of cospecific mass killing is an extremely rare occurrence in nature, and on the face of it seems to pose an evolutionary problem, the mating season resulting in an entire generation of males being wiped out, the larger individuals having killed each other off, while the minor ones naturally expire. But for the rest of the year a Dawson’s bee colony is an all-female brooding ground, where a brand new generation of males and virgin females are produced in time for the next mating season. Go here for some incredible footage filmed by the BBC Life crew.

Now listen, brawny Dawson’s Bee, this isn’t the dark ages. This isn’t that bit in Double Dragon where you have to kill the boss and then pummel your brother to death to get that girl with the unrealistic proportions to go home with you. Girls aren’t interested in how many dudes’ faces you can thrust your stinger into and they’re certainly not interested in how many other girls you can accidentally decapitate in the process. But they do kinda like it when you email them pictures of cats reflecting sentiments that are relevant to the minutiae of their daily lives, or sitting up like humans. Sure, they’ll still mate with you in the middle of a freshly laid-out killing field, but they’re not going to like it.Your best bet is to take a leaf out of the minor males’ book, borrow someone’s laptop, and set it up somewhere close to the mouth of some girl’s burrow* (but far enough away from the death match to protect the screen because it’s not yours). Then if the girl manages to get past the murderous throng she’ll be like, “Hey, what are you doing?”

And you’ll be like, “Erm, I don’t know. Just watching some obscure Youtube clips and stuff.”

And she’ll be all, “Oh. Cool.”

Which is more than most of your rivals will get because they’re dead. She’ll like you because you’re not homocidal, so when you promise to send her some stupid cat picture she’ll probably mate with you and won’t even try to run away while you’re doing it.

But if you insist on participating in the death match because you think you’re mad tough and everything, winning the battle and getting the girl will be the least of your problems. You’ll have set a standard you’re going to have to maintain for as long as you two are going out, whether you like it or not. Like, you’ll be out getting nectar for dinner or something some time and some arsehole will cut in front of you, and your lady Dawson’s Bee will give you this look like, “What the fuck? He can’t do that to us!” giving you a pointed nudge to the abdomen.

And you’ll be like, “Seriously? You want me to do that stuff now? Look, work’s been pretty tough lately, I have all these reports due and pretty much everyone in my division has been calling in sick and I really don’t want to have to start something with this guy. Just once I would just like to go out, get some nectar and go home without having to tear some dude’s wings off in the process, okay?”

But she’ll be like, “Ugh, whatever. Hey what’s your name?” And she’ll go home with the other toughest Dawson’s Bee sauntering around that particular plant, but not before they make you wait around for ten more minutes while she decides which flower she wants to pollinate because all of a sudden she’s developed a highly sophisticated palate that you wouldn’t understand because you have no class. So then you’ll have to fight and kill a whole bunch more Dawson’s Bees (if you make it to the next mating season. Which you won’t.) to find another girl who’ll probably make you break a beer glass on some dude’s head for giving her the eye at some bar every time you go out for drinks. Bet those stupid cat pictures don’t seem so stupid now, huh brawny Dawson’s Bee?

* That’s what she said.

Behind the scenes Life footage here // Further reading here.

– bec

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