Tuesday, May 16, 2006

'The Simpsons' features evolution/creationism debate


Last night's episode of The Simpsons was about the debate over teaching evolution and creationism in schools, the basic plot was that Lisa was protesting creationism and they ended up staging a trial (although it was much more analogous to the Scopes trial than the recent Dover trials).

The jokes were hilarious, although I did disagree with how much Lisa seemed to emphasize that you MUST choose between religion and evolution because they're mutually exclusive. The take-home message she delivered in the end was definitely important, though: Regardless of what you believe or disbelieve, you shouldn't be allowed to insist on keeping others ignorant about the facts.
Definitely worth watching, and if you missed the episode on TV last night you can watch it tonight.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Something to make you thankful for YOUR mother...

Today is Mother's Day, a holiday set aside for everyone to show their appreciation for their mothers. I happen to have a great relationship with my mom, but in case there are readers out there that struggle to get along with their own mothers, I thought it would be fun, in honor of the holiday, to highlight some of the animal world's WORST mothers. No matter what kind of mom you have, these cases show that it could be worse!



First up: rabbits. The look cute, cuddly, and loving right? Unfortunately, not so.
A pregnant rabbit will build a nest within the burrow, even using fur from her own body as bedding. When the litter is born, however, the mother leaves them, covers the hole, and visits for nursing sessions less than five minutes a day. This lasts for 25 days, after which she stops even returning to feed them, and the youngsters have to crawl out of the burrows and 'seek their fortunes' in the wide world.
That's the story Beatrix Potter didn't tell you. ;)

Next: while pandas are notoriously fickle breeders and the birth of a captive cub is widely celebrated, in the wild each infant bear is not quite as celebrated. Pandas frequently give birth to twins, but rarely raise both cubs, effectively abandoning the weaker of the two in order to focus their resources on the one more likely to survive. It makes perfect sense from an evolutionary standpoint, but the fact that it's logical doesn't make things any less unpleasant for the discarded runt...

Third, egret mothers stand by casually as their chicks gang up on their weaker siblings and peck them to death in the nest. Sibling rivalry is apparently NOT limited to kids bickering in mini-vans...

Finally, the winners of the Bad Mothers contest: ants belonging to the genus Adetomyrma. According to Dr. Scott Forbes of the University of Winnipeg, "queens chew holes in their larvae and then consume the oozing fluid." Amazingly, these larva survive and can develop into adults, although they always bear scars from their mother's "snacking".

So there you go, feeling more appreciative of your own mother yet? ;)

If you're in the mood to see some extremely good pictures of animal mothers and babies, National Geographic has a great Mother's Day themed photo gallery posted.


(Disclaimer: this entry is meant to be light-hearted, I am fully aware that most maternal behaviors are adapted to specific life styles and the concept of "bad" animal mothers is misguided from a scientific standpoint. Just a little attempt at humor after a very long weekend.)

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Alternate mechanism for diversity of cnidarians?

This week it was announced in the journal Current Biology that researchers in Hanover have discovered that Cnidarians, an animal phylum including jellyfish and sea anemones, lack the homeobox (aka Hox) gene system that guides development of body form in other animals.
It is known that Cnidarians (part of the Radiata) diverged from the lineage leading to bilateral animals extremely early in the history of life, and this new finding shows that the split may have predated the development of Hox genes.
What makes this news significant is that Hox gene duplications are often credited with the diversification of animal body types/forms, so the astonishing diversity of Cnidarians has occured with a separate, previously unstudied mechanism. It will definitely be interesting to track the follow up studies on this!

"ID Code"

Today PZ Meyers has a funny, evolutionary biology spoof on The DaVinci Code, it's a little cheesy but pretty creative also. He doesn't say where he got it from, I'd be interested to know who wrote it, someone with a sense of humor and just a tad too much free time on their hands. :)

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

New crustacean discovered

This discovery was announced a few weeks ago, and now that I am procrastinating studying for my final exams I am finally getting around to posting about it. It's pretty fascinating, its name is Kiwa hirsuta and they've giving it not only its own genus but its own family as well, showing how different it is from any previously known animal.
It was discovered in the South Pacific, about 900 miles south of Easter Island, and apparently thrives near hydrothermal vents.
It looks like a blonde, furry lobster, and its hairs have specialized bacteria living in them. Makes you wonder what else is out there waiting to be discovered!