Rainbow lorikeet (trichoglossus haematodus). Image by fir0002flagstaffotos, licensed under Creative Commons.
I’ll be taking 4 weeks holiday from tomorrow, so the blog may be a bit quieter than usual. But hopefully I’ll be back on deck in January, and in the meantime you may get some posts from other writers.
In other news, it’s cricket season, and today is the second day of the Ashes (for non-cricketing readers, the Ashes is a Test cricket series – the name comes from a satirical obituary written on the victory of Australia over England in 1882. The obituary stated that this marked the death of English cricket, and the body would be cremated and sent to Australia).
So all of Adelaide is either at the cricket or watching or listening to it. Since our group lives on the top of the tallest and ugliest building in the University, we can see Adelaide oval from our windows, although it’s hugely disappointing that we can’t see much of the action. My consolation is that the birds are out: I saw a couple of rosellas in a bottlebrush on the way in to work, the rainbow lorikeets are flitting about in large numbers, and the kookaburras that live around the campus are laughing from the trees and the rooftops.
So enjoy yourselves and check out some of our past posts, and hopefully you’ll hear from me again in January.
Humpback whale breaching. Image by Whit Welles Wwelles14, licensed under GNU FDL
There aren’t too many good stories around these days, so it’s nice to find one when it happens.
Crew members of a whale-watching vessel spotted a regular visitor to the local waters around Long Island in trouble: the humpback, nicknamed Foggy, had rope wrapped around her head and tail, dragging a mass of old lobster traps beneath her.
But Foggy wasn’t alone Continue reading
Bird beaks evolved for different purposes. Image by L. Shyamal, licensed under Creative Commons 2.5
Sunday was the anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (first published on 24th November 1859 – you can find his collected works here), so it’s a perfect time to talk about evolution.
Evolution can be a difficult concept to grasp. So I was delighted to find the Stated Clearly series of short, simple animations by Jon Perry that aims to explain random mutation, natural selection, DNA, and many other aspects of evolution.
Simple explanations like this are incredibly valuable for biology teachers, as well as for others who have an interest in the field but have never studied biology. And making a series of short animations about individual aspects of evolution works far better than one long, tedious, serious film because you can pick the bits you’re interested in.
Perry and his team have produced 3 animations already, and aim to create a total of 21: for this they’ll need your help, so please consider making a contribution to help them produce more animations, and you can pat yourself on the back for helping to make evolution more widely understood. And in these days, when there seems to be so much backlash against science, that’s a very good thing.
The octopus that stole Victor’s camera, joyriding on his speargun. Screen grab from the video.
It’s not often that you get to say “an octopus
ate my homework stole my camera”, but diver Victor Huang got to say just that. While diving off the coast of Wellington, New Zealand, an octopus stole his camera and swam off with it.
Victor gave chase, managed to catch up with it, and ended up taking the octopus on a joyride while it was wrapped around his speargun (which he’d waved as a distraction to get his camera back). Here’s the video of the event.
New Zealand – it’s not just about the hobbits.
Scorpion under UV light. Photographer: Alan Henderson. Source: Museum Victoria
I’m pretty sure that almost no-one loves scorpions – they’re not far behind spiders in the ‘primal nightmare’ stakes, given the whole scuttling thing and the poisonous sting. But they are fascinating for at least one reason: they glow under UV light.
You might wonder why this happens – after all, you’d think a glowing scorpion would be easy prey to any aerial predator on the hunt for something crunchy. But it seems that they use this facility to hide from predators. Continue reading
Atlas moth. Image: © Nevit Dilmen, found at Wikimedia commons
Taking a break from the wonderful world of octopods, but still within the “amazing creatures” realm, I’d like to introduce you to some interesting mimicry and other colouration in the insect world.
Many insects can’t credibly threaten most predators, so they rely on protective colouration to escape detection or, failing that, to pretend to be something else that might pose a threat to the predator. A very common form of protection is camouflage, Continue reading
Blanket octopus. Image by Steve Hamedl
I’ve been off for a week with bronchitis, curled up at home coughing violently and generally feeling sorry for myself, so apologies for the posting hiatus. Normal service will now be resumed, and with one of my favourite topics – the octopus.
Octopods come in a wide and wild variety of shapes, colours, and abilities. In a recent post (cephalopod magic), I included a couple of links to short videos of octopods showing off their amazing camouflage skills. The Antarctic octopus can modify its own RNA to allow their nervous system to perform in the incredibly cold environment. There’s an octopus that walks on Continue reading
Lion cub with mother in the Serengeti. Image by David Dennis, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0
African lion populations are declining, due to poaching, habitat loss, and poisoning. But there is hope, thanks to the Ewaso Lions organisation created by wildlife conservation researcher Shivani Bhalla. She is working with the Samburu tribe to collect data on lion populations, educate kids, and report poaching.
The main problem is habitat fragmentation: lions need a large area for survival, which includes sufficient prey and places to hide and rest during the day. As the habitat becomes lost or fragmented, their needs drive them into areas Continue reading
Bonobo (pygmy chimp). Because I’m too squeamish to post a picture of a tick. Image by Kabir Bakie, licensed under Creative Commons 2.5
Yes, you read that right. Professor Tony Goldberg, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, returned from a research trip to Africa to discover ‘an arachnid stowaway‘ in his nasal cavity.
Turned out to be a tick (rather an unpleasant creature to find hiding up your nose), and, after removing it ever-so-carefully, Professor Goldberg sent it to be DNA sequenced and compared to other species at the US National Tick Collection at Georgia University. There were no matching records, meaning that either it’s a species that’s known but not yet sequenced, or it’s a completely new species. Continue reading
Green bloom on Rymill Park pond
All images courtesy of Robert Baldock, Honorary Research Associate at the State Herbarium of South Australia.
There’s been some concern this week about the large, bright green bloom in the pond in Rymill Park – some fear it might be toxic, either to the ducks which frequent the pond, or to humans.
But rest easy – Professor Michelle Waycott, Chief Botanist of the State Herbarium of South Australia, Continue reading