Category Archives: Nature

Oxford Rhyming Dictionary vs. Busta Rhymes

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Ever heard a guy complaining about his lady friend?  She wants him to do the laundry, make dinner, change the oil in her car, grocery shop.  She’s a real drag.  It’s true that some men shoulder more than their fair share…or is it?

Imagine if men had to build a house with their bare hands (no tools!) in order to attract a lady friend.  Not only that, but when the wood got a little weathered, they had to tear their house down because no woman in her right mind would date a guy with an old house.  That’s the life of a male Weaver bird.  Homosapien men have it easy.  There are women willing to date you even if you have poor coordination, poor vision, poor genetics, and atrocious taste in home decorating.  Not so with the lady Weavers.  They choose a mate based on his ability to weave thousands of grass blades into an intricate domicile, fit for child rearing.

Encyclopedia.com says that, “weaverbird is the name for a family of Old World seed-eating birds closely resembling finches. ”

Encyclopedia.com goes on to include a link to the Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes, which pointed out that ‘weaver’ rhymes with ‘cadaver, halva, balaclava, carver, Costa Brava, endeavour, never never, whosoever, semiquaver, achiever, reliever, and beaver.’  Which leads me to a non-sequator that I feel deserves one moment of our time.  Who writes the entries for the Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes?  I could do it better.  I will be the first one to tell you that I appreciate a good ‘almost rhyme’ when used for lyrical flavor.  Busta Rhymes says it best,

“You really need to check your criteria
Violating the world, annihilate your whole area.”

But come on Oxford.  You’re telling me that weaver rhymes with semiquaver?  If Busta Rhymes ain’t done it, it cain’t be done.

Back on topic.  I found a pretty sweet video on weaver birds:  Click this to watch the sweet video on weaver birds.

I almost fell out of my chair laughing while watching the above video.  Don’t watch it expecting a laugh…I have a weird sense of humor.  I’m not sure I can explain why I found it so amusing that some weaver birds are terrible at making nests – and so never get a lady, but I’ll try.  I was cackling like count Dracula when I saw one of the younger male birds fall over backwards because he accidentally tied his security knot around his own foot.  I was delighted.  This is a species that will not accept anything but excellence.  Lame weavers, lazy weavers…they’re selected out.  No one will give them the time of day.  You might be thinking that I’m cold hearted, but hear me out.  We all know one schmuck who sits on the couch all day playing video games and mooching off of his girlfriend or guy friends right?  And that’s fine for him I guess.  But, somehow this guy convinces someone that he’s worth starting a family with.

What??
I just can’t get behind this.  Some might ask, “Where is the line?”   Selecting out unfavorable traits gets touchy because people jump to genetic cleansing..but  I’m talking about something different.  What delights me about the Weaver bird is that mating is based on respect and ability.  Lady weavers have high standards and they stick to them.  They don’t settle for crappy workmanship.  If the males don’t impress them, they don’t hang around.  Lady weavers are like auditors.  Really serious, professional auditors.  They show up when called (the males flap their wings to attract an inspection), and then take a close look at the nest.  Some weavers spend a few moments tearing apart shoddy work, but others just fly away, leaving the male determined to improve his techniques.

 

I’m not saying we as women should boycott all men who leave the toilet seat up, but we sure as hell should be boycotting abusers, liars, cheats, and a lot of the other selfish, self serving traits that some men have.  And men…you should boycott women who are overall poor human beings too!  Stop settling!  Our lives are too short to waste on people who don’t value their own lives and the lives of the people around them.

All of this said…if I were a lady weaver, I would probably watch to see which of the males was trying really hard…and even if his nest wasn’t perfect, I’d give him a break.  No one is perfect.

Why Do Men Have Nipples?

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Because they grow them!

More specifically, because nipples appear to be a sexually unlinked gene. Nipples develop around week 3-4 in the womb while sex hormones begin to assert themselves several weeks later.  While doing my customary three minute internet search for the answer to this query, I stumbled upon something called Galactorrhea.  It may sound like a zero gravity digestive malefaction, but trust me, it’s even better.  (I don’t know if ‘better’ is the right word…maybe more interesting)  especially when it occurs in infants.

Picture yourself in the 1700’s.  I don’t really care what you’re doing there.  Maybe you’re a blacksmith or a housewife wearing one of those cute bonnets.  Then imagine how terrified you are of witches. (trust me..this is going somewhere).  You’re really terrified of witches.  They stir pots full of blood and frogs and hair.  They cackle and have gross warts on their faces.  They’re mean and like to abduct children.

Ok.  The scene is set for me to introduce Galactorrhea.  Some children, both male and female, (approximately 5%) are born with enough of their mother’s hormones in their bodies to have fully functioning milk glands and ducts.  Milk seeps from their nipples at the moment of birth (and can for several months after)  It is not so fondly referred to, as witch’s milk.  Believed to be the sustenance craved by the familiars of witches.  As a 1700’s citizen, you’re probably pretty nervous that your son’s nipple seepage is in high demand by creepy ladies with imaginary friends.   Right?

Just keep in mind, it’s totally normal.  It’s also medically inadvisable to ‘manually express’ the milk. Don’t laugh.  In some cultures it is still thought that if parents don’t manually express (aka ‘milk their babies’) daily, that witches will find their children and suckle them, leaving a curse.  Interesting article summary : Here.

If you’re disappointed with the lack of real information regarding male nipples contained within this blog post, I recommend visiting this Scientific America article.

Case no. 002 – The Bone in the Box

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Thats right!  We’ve got our second mystery to solve.  One of my readers has some questions that need answering.

This story begins two nights ago.  Nathan came home carrying a box with a golden bow on top.  My friend, Sarah* was visiting at the time.  She saw him get out of his car with a “present” under his arm, and began giggling about how he was the sweetest man.  Something didn’t smell right to me (literally), so I kept my excitement in check.  Nathan put his things down, casually walked to the counter where we were both stationed, cutting vegetables for a salad, and handed me the box.  The expression on his face did not say ‘I got you a present’.  It said, ‘You’re going to love this’.

Inside the box, tucked in blood-red tissue paper, was a bone.  Nathan explained, “What animal is it?  Where did it come from on the animal body?  One of your readers wants to know.”  I should include here that Sarah is a vegan, an animal lover, and grew up in the city.   She doesn’t read my blog, so there was no contextual understanding.  I could tell that she was trying to decide whether country folk really thought that giving pieces of dead animals was considered sweet, or whether Nathan was playing a gruesome prank on one, or both of us.  I was thrilled.

“Excellent!  We’ll have to get started on this right away!”  I shouted.  Sarah put down her vegetable cutting knife and walked out of the kitchen.

The bone looks like this:

Before delving into my investigation, I would like to beef up my credentials in regards to this particular mystery.  I am a fan of the tv show Bones, which, for those of you who don’t know, makes me very qualified to complete a forensic anthropological examination of this bone.  If actors can figure out how a guy died based on the striations on his pinky finger bone (distal phalanx), I should have no problem solving this mystery.  So, I will go above and beyond my reader’s expectations.  Instead of just determining the species and providing a bone identification, I will determine cause of death.

With careful imprecision, I measured the bone’s length and width.  I don’t have a ruler, but I do have a very keen eye^.  Three inches long, 3/8 inches wide**.  It’s obvious isn’t it?  Opossum**.  The best part?  It’s the humorus** bone!

Things become a little more complicated when trying to suss out the cause of death.  As you can see by the faint kerf marks in the photo above, and the… (This bone really stinks.  I’m having a difficult time concentrating.  For future reference, always soak a bone in bleach before you send it to me.) …and the teeth marks, this bone has been gnawed by a rodent.  I checked into the dentition of squirrels, their teeth would have left much larger scrapes, which leaves mice.

I have personally done battle with an opossum.  I know for a fact that they cannot be taken down by a mouse.  I had to use Argon gas, a trashcan, and a machete to best one of these things (don’t ask).  An opossum would rip the face from a mouse in about two seconds, then go back to eating garbage like nothing ever happened.  So how did it die?

Osteoporosis, followed by tail failure.  Sure, this degenerative bone disease is treatable in humans, but when an opossum falls ill with weak bones, there’s little that can be done.  Judging by the slight bone bruising, I would say that this opossum fell from six to eight feet, probably when it’s tail failed (releasing it from it’s upside-down perch), struck it’s degenerating skull and humorus bone on a rock, and never woke again.

If I have contracted some kind of communicable disease from handling this bone, I am not going to be happy about it.  But, I would like to thank my reader for participating.

*All names have been changed to disguise the innocent

^fact

**Wild speculation.

Are You a Slacker Rat?

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A recent article in the Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology has interesting implications for us coffee drinkers.  A study lead by Jay Hosking of the University of British Columbia (abstract) cleverly separated worker rats from slacker rats using a novel, effort based reward system.  For rats willing to put in the extra effort, which involved paying closer attention to a flashing light, the sugar pellet reward was doubled.  For slacker rats, who were happy doing the bare minimum, a single sugar pellet was given.

Slacker rats are the equivalent to those doofs in your office who check Facebook every three minutes, take fifteen minute bathroom breaks, and disappear on ‘errands’ for two hours in the mid afternoon.  We all know they’re napping in their car, or in the case of one of my ex-coworkers, napping on the smooth tiles of the second floor bathroom.  Yeah.  It happened.

Worker rats, well..these are the equivalent of go-getters, busy bodies, people willing to put in extra effort for the potential of a promotion, or other big pay off.

The study found that worker rats and slacker rats reacted differently when given caffeine and amphetamines.  I don’t know how many of you are popping amphetamines, but I’m guessing most of you are chugging your morning coffee.  The study showed that caffeine stimulated both kinds of rats.  It increased their motor impulsivity (a fancy phrase for ‘made them jumpy’), but interestingly, caffeine did NOT help worker rats work harder.  In fact, it turned them into slackers.  It didn’t help slacker rats work harder either, but since they’re already lazy, there was no change in their behavior.

Caffeine made worker rats slackers!  So, if you consider yourself a worker rat, you might want to cut back on the coffee chugging..unless you’ve read the study headed by Gary Arendash, claiming that caffeine “Reverses Cognitive Impairment in Aged Alzheimer’s Disease Mice“-in which case…you might need to kick up your consumption to 6 cups a day.

The take away here, at least as far as I’m concerned, is that it is important to pay attention to how you feel.  The slacker rat study proves that not all of us react in the same way to stimulants.  For some of us they help us focus, work harder, and feel better.  For others, they may be bad habits, dragging us down.  I consider myself a worker rat.  I’m drinking coffee as I write this, because I drink coffee every morning-but maybe tomorrow…maybe, I’ll try water.

Woodpecker Eyes, The Haw-ful Truth

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I had a good friend tell me over a game of bingo last night, that if woodpeckers don’t close their eyes when they crack their beaks against a tree, their eyeballs pop out, from the force of the impact.  Yes, I went to a bar and played bingo.  To be clear, ‘good friend’ is not a euphemism for the ninety year old man sitting next to me, nor is ‘bar’ a euphemism for retirement home.  Back to the birds-I don’t know about you, but I thought the image was reminiscent of a Woody the Woodpecker reel.  I had to investigate.

I learned of the nictitating membrane, aka the haw.  A quick dictionary.com visit revealed that the word nictitate means to wink.  Maybe some of you knew this already.  If so, why haven’t you mentioned it?

Woodpeckers, like many other creatures (beavers, manatees, sharks, polar bears, lemurs, dogs..to name a few) have a nictitating membrane-a third eyelid that moves horizontally across the eye, to protect it.  The claim that this membrane prevents woodpecker eyes from popping out of their heads…well, that I found no evidence to support.  Granted, I don’t have more than a google toolbar at my disposal, so my research isn’t top notch work.

What I did discover, was that the woodpecker is a hot topic in the evolution vs. creationism argument.  I can’t tell you how many forums exist out there-where totally uninformed individuals (on both sides) call each other names, insult each other’s mothers, and insinuate each other’s reproductive habits with other members of the animal kingdom, while arguing whether the woodpecker could have ever evolved.  Creationists think they’re too complicated.  I haven’t yet mentioned the woodpecker tongue, which is pretty amazing.  Instead of being a muscular organ, like it is in humans, it is supported by a bone and cartilage structure, that has its anchors deep within the skull.  Cool!  Also, the woodpecker’s brain is small, and very carefully situated, to minimize damage from the jarring of the peckity peck peck.

But-back to the eyeball issue.  The woodpecker’s nictitating membrane does protect its eyes. It protects them from flying debris, and from the potential for retinal damage from the jarring of the peckity peck peck.  Have you noticed that I like the sound of “jarring of the peckity peck peck”?  I really do.

The haw protects polar bears from snow blindness.  In sea lions, it helps remove sand and other beach debris.  In hawks, it protects the parents’ eyes from the beaks of their young while they feed them.  In humans, the vestigial haw can be found in the corner of your eyeball, (that little red triangle of flesh).

I’d like to make clear, this post is not meant to argue one way or the other..evolution or creation.  I personally don’t see why both can’t be true.  Natural selection and creation.  We’re all entitled to our own beliefs and opinions.  I’m not going to insult anyone’s mother to prove a point.

If you have a research paper, written by an actual scientist, from an accredited organization or university, that gives evidence of woodpecker eyes popping out, I would love to read it.  Who knows, maybe it exists.  Nictitate, Nictitate.