Courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/kuroha/638778686/Like all ogres, Shrek is a greedy and covetous beast. He has millions of fine, fine goblets, but should you attempt to drink from any one of them, you risk becoming the target of one of his powerful cancer spells.
“But, Shrek,” you say. “You have so many wonderful cups, brought to us by McDonalds and Shrek 4 Eva. Why can’t I drink from just one of them?”
“Because,” Shrek would surely reply, “they’re all mine. All of them! That’s why I put cadmium in them. Ogres are immune to cadmium, but it is a carcinogen in humans.”
“A carcinogen? In your cups?” you ask.
“Yes, a carcinogen. With long term exposure, carcinogens can increase your chances of developing cancer!” says Shrek.
“Cancer?” you say.
“Yes. Cancer,” says Shrek.
And it’s not only Shrek’s goblets that are cursed; drinking from the cups of Princess Fiona will soften your bones, and sipping from the vessels of Puss in Boots will cast the hex of severe kidney damage upon you. And you should never drink out of something called “Donkey,” no matter what it’s made of.
Fortunately, all of the cups are being recalled to Ronald McDonaldland, to become a part of Ronald’s personal collection. Because clowns feed on poison.
Courtesy Thomas HahmannI'm not going to get into the full parasite extravaganza here, because Wired Magazine already laid it out pretty well, but here's the general idea:
What if some worm eggs snuck into your body through something you ate (something gross)? What if one of them lodged itself in your liver, and, after a little while, started producing embryos of its own? What if it packed those embryos into giant, pulsating egg sacks that flopped out of your eye sockets and hung from your head? And what if those pulsating egg sacks looked so delicious to birds that they would flap down and eat them (and your eyes)?
It can all happen. I mean, you'd have to be a snail for it to happen to you, but still... Leucochloridium paradoxum is out there.
Courtesy Etrusko25You could be attacked from above at any second. By a shark. Because they are invisible. And you can’t see invisible things. So they can easily attack you.
I mean, you’re not going to get attacked by just any shark. But, really, if there’s an invisible shark hovering above you, about to attack, does it matter what kind of shark it is? That’s like a squirrel wondering if the car that’s about to force its digestive tract out through its lowermost orifice is a Ford or a Toyota. Let’s be practical here.
If you must know, the shark is called a “velvet bellied lantern shark.” (Coincidentally, if you replace “shark” with “head” you have my childhood nickname.)
But the important part, again, is that it can turn invisible.
It’s not quite up to Harry Potter levels, at least—the shark is only invisible from below, thanks to its velvety lantern belly. See, if you’re a weak little prey species flopping pathetically around the ocean (I assume you are), if you see a dark shadow pass overhead, you want to flop pathetically toward some cover, because dark shadows often come from things that can eat you. Like a shark! The underside of this shark, however, is covered with light-producing organs, called photophores, which shine at the same frequencies as the sunlight that filters through the water. That, of course, tricks the other little fishies (and you) into thinking that the shark isn’t there.
It’s more than a little concerning, isn’t it? Don’t worry, though. I’ve been working on a product for just this sort of problem, and I think it’s about ready. It’s an invisible-shark detecting stick. It actually looks a lot like a wooden yardstick, and you can even use it for measuring things up to one yard long, but it’s really meant for keeping you safe from invisible sharks. You use it by holding it above your head at all times. If you feel a pressure on the stick, just look up. If you see a doorway, or a broken light fixture or ceiling fan, you’re probably safe. But if you look up and see only a familiar comforting glow, you should dive for cover. Or, if you carry a firearm, you should shoot wildly into the air above you. Shark crisis averted.
They’re $30. Email me.
Holy cow, Buzzketeers. The oil spill news just keeps coming! I can hardly keep up READING about it, much less BLOGGING.
So I'm going to leave you this weekend with a series of cool links, and you and I can read together.
Start with this mind-boggling plethora of interactive features and graphics from the NYTimes Gulf of Mexico oil spill multimedia collection.
An interactive map tracking the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, plus: video, graphics, and photos."
"Two weeks ago, the government put out a round estimate of the size of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico: 5,000 barrels a day. Repeated endlessly in news reports, it has become conventional wisdom.
But scientists and environmental groups are raising sharp questions about that estimate, declaring that the leak must be far larger. They also criticize BP for refusing to use well-known scientific techniques that would give a more precise figure."
"Tony Hayward, the beleaguered chief executive of BP, has claimed its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is "relatively tiny" compared with the "very big ocean".
In an bullish interview with the Guardian at BP's crisis centre in Houston, Hayward insisted that the leaked oil and the estimated 400,000 gallons of dispersant that BP has pumped into the sea to try to tackle the slick should be put in context.
"The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume," he said."
"Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots. The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given."
"NEW ORLEANS — After more than three weeks of efforts to stop a gushing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers achieved some success on Sunday when they used a milelong pipe to capture some of the oil and divert it to a drill ship on the surface some 5,000 feet above the wellhead, company officials said."
"Local environmental officials throughout the Gulf Coast are feverishly collecting water, sediment and marine animal tissue samples that will be used in the coming months to help track pollution levels resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, since those readings will be used by the federal government and courts to establish liability claims against BP. But the laboratory that officials have chosen to process virtually all of the samples is part of an oil and gas services company in Texas that counts oil firms, including BP, among its biggest clients."
"GRAND ISLE, La. — Local and state officials here voiced desperation on Thursday as their fears became far more tangible, with oil from the BP spill showing up on shore as tar balls, sheens and gooey slicks.
In Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency said it had told the oil company to immediately select a less toxic dispersant than the one it is now using to break up crude oil gushing from a ruined well in the Gulf of Mexico. Once the agency has signed off on a different product, it said, the company would then have 72 hours to start using it."
"The release of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico could have profound effects for wildlife and aquatic life, and now is threatening to go beyond the Gulf. Midmorning looks at the impact of the spill."
And last, but not least, here's the relevant page on the website of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which has a nice aggregator of oil spill news, along with video from the ocean floor.
Courtesy Dawson via Wikimedia CommonsThe common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) has a strange way of extracting oxygen from its surroundings – it breathes through its tongue. It’s certainly not the strangest way of taking a breath (as you’ll discover if you read further), but it is one scientists weren’t expecting to find.
Turtles have been around since the Late Triassic some 225 million years ago when they first appeared in the fossil record. A lot of the breed’s success has to do with its rigid protective shell (carapace), and being able to protect itself under it. Another is its ability to stay underwater for long periods of time without coming up for air and exposing itself to surface predators. But because the shell develops out of a turtle’s ribcage, limitations are imposed on its ability to breathe in what we consider the “normal way”. So turtles have come up with all kinds of interesting adaptations for extracting oxygen from their surroundings. Some, like the Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) can stay submerged for 4 to 6 months while hibernating. It does this by slowing down its metabolism which subsequently reduces the production of lactic acid in its system. Others can breathe through their skin, others through their rear ends (okay, a major “ewwww” factor here – but of course who are we to judge?). The musk turtle’s ability to breathe through its tongue adds just another bizarre method to the family’s repertoire.
The musk turtle (aka stinkpot turtle – a great name by the way) is so named because of the disagreeable odor it can produce to fend off predators. It spends most of its life underwater, and can live for months at a time submerged without coming up for air. The species doesn’t breath through its skin as some other turtles do. Nor does the stinkpot turtle breathe through its butt like Australia’s Rheodytes leukops does. R. leukops possesses specialized bursae, large sacs in its rear orifice (cloaca) that can draw water in and out to get precious oxygen to its blood in that manner. The cloacal bursae are used to get nearly 70 percent of it oxygen. How bizarre is that?
Anyway, back to the stinkpot turtle. So now scientists have discovered S. odoratus’s breathing secrets. It all has to do with the cells called papillae that line its tiny tongue. As water flows past, the papillae are able to absorb oxygen. (We humans also have papillae on our tongues but they don’t extract oxygen from the atmosphere).
Egon Heiss, a PhD candidate at the University of Vienna in Austria, along with his colleagues, discovered the stinkpot’s secret while studying juveniles of the species. While an adult italicizedSternotherus odoratus tends to spend most of its life underwater, its young offspring do occasionally venture onto land in search of food. The researchers noticed the reptile youngsters wouldn’t eat their food on land but instead dragged it back into the water. This led the researchers to the creature’s tongue and its unique function. The team’s research appears in the journal The Anatomical Record.
Courtesy bradypus courtesy of wikimedia.orgThe famous Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology recently released a new study showing bonobos (Pan paniscus), a species of chimpanzee, communicating their disapproval by shaking their heads side-to-side as if to say NO. This may seem rather simple and uneventful, but until now, there has been no observed behavior in chimps or bonobos that indicates a negative context. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos are known to use other head gestures like bowing and shaking up and down to communicate with group members, but the side-to-side NO gesture is actually considered quite sophisticated and ingrained in human culture. This simple gesture is recognizable in most, but not all cultures.
I recently finished up a semester teaching Evolution and many of my students commented on how interesting they found our ape relative the bonobo. Many had never heard of them and were surprised at how similar they were to humans in behaviors and social structures. We frequently here about how closely related we are to the chimpanzee biologically, but culturally, the bonobo's social structure is actually more human-like than that of our chimp cousin. The bonobos have extremely egalitarian and cooperative societies with a rather unusual “loving” way of diffusing social tensions (suffice to say there is a reason why bonobos are not found in most American zoos!) This new study brings us a little closer to our ape cousins and maybe we can learn a few lessons from them in these times of conflict. Unfortunately, these gentle creatures are endangered and need our help. Check out this website for more on Bonobo Conservation.
Courtesy SitronOf course by “sue for libel,” I mean that the squid intends to lure the scientists into the ocean, and then do something just awful to them with all its colossal tentacles. Something just awful.
But why? Why would the colossal squid take a break from its watercolors, topiary, and Little Mermaid-style undersea musical numbers to mutilate hard-working researchers? Because they did the one thing that the colossal squid cannot abide: they sassed.
The colossal squid can handle getting eaten by sperm whales. It can handle getting mixed up with its effete cousin, the giant squid. But it will not tolerate sass.
What do I mean by sass? This headline, based on the scientists’ research: “Colossal Squid Is No Monster, Study Finds.”
What? If a 40+ foot, 1000+ pound, tentacle-covered (or arm-covered, if you’re going to be a jerk about it), deep sea creature with eyes the size of dinner plates doesn’t qualify as a monster, I don’t know what does. The colossal squid works hard at this stuff, and it doesn’t need scientists yapping at its mighty heels (or its muscular hydrostats).
These scientists are saying, in effect, that if one were to “release the kraken,” if that released kraken were a colossal squid, the kraken wouldn’t really do much except float around, and maybe grab at a sleepy-looking fish every few days. They’re saying that the kraken—I mean the colossal squid—is just a big, lazy, slow-moving ocean blob.
Why would you even say that? It’s so mean!
The scientists are basing these claims on research that compares the metabolism of different squids in the colossal squid’s family to their respective body sizes. A squid the size of the colossal squid, they say, would have an exceptionally slow metabolism. That means that the colossal squid would probably move slowly, and require food infrequently. It would also have a relatively low nutritional value, suggesting that it might not be as important a part of the sperm whale diet as other scientists have guessed.
When the colossal squid would hunt, they say it would likely ambush its prey, instead of actively pursuing it. And, you know, I guess, for a hunting strategy like that, it would make sense to have hook-covered arms and tentacles (which the colossal squid has).
Even so, these are fighting words. I mean, the giant squid seems to be a fairly active hunter… but then again the two species belong to entirely different families.
Also, using similar species as direct analogies isn’t necessarily going to be the best way to learn about a creature. There can be quite a bit of variation within a taxonomic family, even, I’d imagine, with a characteristic like metabolism. Look at bears: you’ve got your extinct short-faced bear, which is thought to have been a relatively speedy hunter, and you’ve got your giant panda, which sits around eating bamboo all day.
Obviously I’m stretching here, but I’m just trying to save those poor researchers from violent squid retaliation. (Assuming it has the energy for that. And that is what I’m assuming.)
Courtesy Mark RyanRemember back a couple years when the Vatican said it was okay to believe in extraterrestrials? Well, now noted physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking says if they do exist - and he figures the odds are pretty good they do - it might not be that great an idea to try to contact them. He points to what happened to the Native Americans who greeted Columbus and figures the same kind of thing could happen to the entire human race if the aliens turn out to be a tad too aggressive and covetous of our planet and its resources.
"We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet." - Stephen Hawking
And let's not forget that delightful Twilight Zone episode where apparently chummy nine-foot tall aliens arrive promising peace and prosperity and a book titled To Serve Man and start shuttling loads of humans back to their planet (supposedly for free vacations) before it's realized the "altruistic" book is actually a cookbook.
With that in mind, Hawking may have a good point. You can read more of what he thinks here. Or do you think he's just being anti-social?
Courtesy planetschwaI only say that because the Count doesn’t seem to have a lot of ambitions beyond counting, which he loves, and because I think vampires and vampire puppets live a really long time, and whoever takes the job I have in mind will need lots of time. Because there’s plenty of counting to be done. Lots and lots.
Everyone is census–crazy these days, marine biologists included. Scientists are working on a Census of Marine Life—an attempt to classify and quantify all the life in the world’s oceans. Counting all the whales and mermaids and fish and things would be hard enough, but most of the life in the sea is much smaller than that, and it has to be counted too. So the Census of Marine Life has four departments focusing on the itty-bitties of the sea; microbes, zooplankton, larvae, and “burrowers in the sea bed” (like little worms and things.)
More than 2,000 scientists have worked on the census over the course of the last ten years. More than 5,000 new forms of marine life have been discovered, and researchers think there may still be several times that number still waiting to be found. The research is also changing the view of the deepest parts of the ocean from a harsh, and nearly lifeless wasteland to the sort of vibrant, living seascape you’d want to send your kids to on an educational field trip (if they didn’t drown and get crushed by the extreme pressure). Thousands of species can live in a very small area, with huge numbers of individuals—one sample found over half a million worms in a square yard of deep-sea mud. 500,000 worms! That’s like the Count’s dream!
Their sheer numbers are what make these organisms so significant to the global ecosystem. Ocean microbes, for instance, often too small to be seen by the naked eye, are estimated to have a population of about one nonillion. A nonillion, as the article puts it, is “1,000 times 1 billion, times 1 billion, times 1 billion.” Or, as I put it, it is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Or, as the Count will put it, “One microbe! Two microbes! Three microbes! Four microbes!” Anyway… That number of microbes weighs about the same as 240 billion African elephants, and each microbe in that mass is decomposing organic material, or creating waste, or photosynthesizing, or getting eaten by other organisms… It’s a highly complex and totally massive system, and life on the planet depends on it, so as strange (or hopeless) as counting it may seem at first, it’s an important job.
Courtesy ziggy freshHello!
You like mushroom! Everyone likes mushroom! But you say, “Why so small in number, mushroom? I am sad for you.”
Don’t be sad for mushroom! Powerful route to new mushroom is within the grasp of your arms! Look through your tears and see lightning!
You say, “Many routes before have wished me great mushroom harvests… all are bringers of sadness. 'Lightning brings mushroom' are the words for children and grandmothers, and they will not bring mushroom!”
Open your home to lightning, it will not bring you unfulfillment! “Lightning brings mushroom” are truly the words of children and grandmothers, but the works of science men and science women make words reality!
Will we will not discard the words of children and grandmothers like lies, say the men and women of science. Let us attempt a lightning spell on the mushroom!
And, with lightning, more mushroom comes! With nearby lightning, an age of mushroom begins!
Why? Don’t ask why!
Why? If you must ask why, I will tell you! The truth of lightning is not known! The guess of science: the mushroom feels great danger in lightning! Defend through growth, is the policy of mushroom!
100,000 volts may increase the number of mushroom twofold!
You have left sadness on the beach, and you eat mushroom on the mountaintop! Lightning has provided!