anthropometaphors

translating biophilia into a love of life

Posts Tagged ‘biology

Happy (belated) world pangolin day!

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World pangolin day was 21 February 2015.  I dedicate this post to all pangolins and those who love, protect, and conserve them.

Adorable pangolin friend

What IS a pangolin, you might ask?

Also known as a “scaly anteater”, our buddy the pangolin is a burrowing mammal, with the singular characteristic of being covered in large overlapping scales.

While I typically favor carnivores with dangerous dentition, I adore this creature even though pangolins have no teeth.   Pangolins are carnivorous in that they eat ants, using their enormous front claws to dig into ant colonies, and incredibly long, sticky tongue to retrieve ants from within their labyrinthine underground tunnels.

Check out this video to see a pangolin (literally) digging into it’s dinner:

Sadly, the pangolin is the most trafficked mammal in the world.  While pangolins are adapted to fend off ant attacks with their scaly plates and ability to close off their ears and eyes to invasion, when they encounter a predator their defense is to roll up into a ball.  In fact, the name pangolin comes from the Malay word pengguling, meaning “something that rolls up”.

The pangolin ball

The pangolin defense posture. A ball.

While this defense works well against predators like lions, it does not protect pangolins from poachers.  Poachers easily capture pangolins, which are used in traditional medicine and as fashion accessories, or illegally traded internationally for their scales, skins, and meat.

dead pangolins

Too many dead pangolins.

You can help pangolins by (1) supporting conservation efforts that protect these delightful creatures, and (2) avoiding pangolin products.

Baby pangolins actually ride on their mothers this way.  It's true.

Baby pangolins actually ride on their mothers this way. It’s true.

Here is a list of organizations with pangolin conservation programs:

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Written by morethangray

February 23, 2015 at 8:03 pm

Is the pangolin your spirit animal?

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Answer yes or no to these four questions:

  1. You sleep all day and party all night. (Partying may or may not include swinging from trees by your tail and/or eating ants).
  2. When confronted with an awkward situation, you run away and hide.
  3. You’re not so sure about that whole “pairing off” thing. #solitarylife
  4. You get so stressed out that sometimes you could just, I mean, like, die.

If you answered yes to any of these questions then — congratulations! — you might just be a pangolin person.

O hai!

(Originally from John D. Sutter’s post for CNN, “The most trafficked mammal you’ve never heard of”)

Written by morethangray

February 23, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Posted in thoughts, wildlife

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Carnivores caught on camera

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Carnivore nerds, have I got news for you.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has shared access to their 2014 Ecoregion Biodiversity Monitoring (EBM) data for the Northern Sierra Nevada Ecoregion!  This means we can now go online and view occurrence locations on a web-based viewer (called BIOS). 

About the EBM:

EBM is a wildlife monitoring project, which annually surveys over 100 species of birds and mammals. The project area covers twenty percent of California and fifty percent of its total forested area. Funding is provided through US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) grants. Data collected from this project is used by researchers to assess habitat conditions and wildlife population trends.

Thankfully, CDFW has also shared some charismatic images on their Facebook page.  My personal favorites are of the carnivores.  Please note, baiting wildlife is not legal except in approved scientific studies such as this.

puma

gray fox

bobcat

baby bear

What this means is I can easily look up animal locations.  Right now I’m curious about gray fox land use, so with a few clicks I was able to create this map, with each hexagon indicating a gray fox detection on their camera array.Gray fox locations

But wait, there’s more!  Metadata for each polygon, including camera coordinates, are available for geospatial analysis.

metadata!

Written by morethangray

February 3, 2015 at 2:51 pm

From paper to pangolins

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Awhile ago I came across this fantastic paper sculpture of a human torso, complete with removable organs, built by Horst Kiechle.  The anatomical detail is spectacular, considering Kiechle constructed the sculpture entirely from 200gms/sqm white card.  You can even build your own organs, using instructions found here.

Paper torso, by Horst Kiechle (link)

I soon found that the internet abounds with paper art crafted by science geeks, much of which is origami.  Below are some of the more interesting creations out there.

Origami is derived from the Japanese words “ori” meaning “fold” and “kami” meaning paper.  The traditional concept of origami is folding paper to create objects using only one piece of paper with no cuts or glue.

The Long-Term Effect of an MIT Education, by Brian Chan. Folded from an uncut paper square (link)

DNA (Double Helix) via Instructables (link)

And, while not officially origami (the use of two paperclips and several staples is involved), the Origami Embryo is probably the most clever tutorial on embryonic development I’ve seen.  Using three sheets of paper, Dr. Diana Darnell demonstrates how the ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm fold upon one another to create embryonic organs.  Working through this tutorial would likely help countless biology undergrads who are primarily tactile or visual learners get a better grasp (har har) on early organogenesis.

The Origami Embryo (link)

Finally, an origami post would be incomplete without at least one Eric Joisel (1956-2010) creation.  Here’s to you, beloved pangolin:

Pangolin, by Eric Joisel (link)

Gratuitous pangolin (link)

Written by morethangray

March 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

My handsome seahorse

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Short-snouted seahorse (via LTR Photography)

Let’s face it, we can never see too many stories about male animals that gestate their young and give birth. — Catherine de Lange

The handsome fellow pictured above is a short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus).  In addition to his good looks, this guy will carry and birth hundreds of babies on the behalf of his mate.

Male seahorse giving birth (via SeaPics.com)

Unfortunately, our handsome seahorse is endangered due to pollution, fishing, and use in eastern medicine.  The number of adults is dwindling, as are the number of surviving babies that once maintained the population.  H. hippocampus reproductive success is relatively low — of the 1000 young released by male seahorses, less than 0.06% survive.  Like almost all other fish species, seahorses don’t care for their young after birth.  Instead, infants are susceptible to predators or ocean currents which wash them away from feeding grounds or into temperatures too extreme for their delicate bodies.  Given the new threats the animals face, this reproductive strategy has left the short-snouted seahorse at a disadvantage.

One approach to bolster the numbers of endangered animals is captive breeding with subsequent release into the wild.  Scientists are doing just that for H. hippocampus, with some amount of success: a record-breaking 918 baby short-snouted sea horses were born at London Zoo’s Aquarium in 2010.  You can watch a video about the seahorses and the captive rearing program at New Scientist.  Next step for science: successful release of the wee-horses.

Written by morethangray

March 15, 2012 at 11:49 am

Microscopy as art

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Every year the Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition shares mind-blowing images captured through microscopes.  Not only are the winning images beautiful, they offer a pleasant summary of novel research taking place in today’s life science research labs.

Below are a my favorites from the 2010 winning entries.  The entire gallery of winning entries and runners up can be seen here.

Tribulus spp. flower bud, by Reza Dadpour

Longhorn beetle leg, by Jan Michels

Assorted wildflower seeds, by Yanping Wand

Written by morethangray

November 18, 2010 at 5:26 pm

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Science in motion

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The results are in for the September photo competition at New Scientist!  The theme was Science in Motion, a topic interpreted in so many ways the posted gallery is a wonderfully diverse collection of images.

The winning entry was from Andrea Gabrieli for his photo of Genovese snow adding a rare visual element to air turbulence.

Turbulence, courtesy of Andrea Gabrieli (Italy)

My favorite is an entry submitted by Mario Cirillo of Italy.  Cirillo’s entry overlays the reflection of trees with fish swimming in a pool, suggesting the fish are floating through the misty air between the trees.  Beautiful.

Fishes is a sign of air, courtesy of Mario Cirillo (Italy)

Written by morethangray

October 6, 2010 at 11:43 am

Posted in photography

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