This tumblr's for all the great men and women of science for whom we owe our current understanding of the natural world; their achievements, their failures, and even their quirks, we celebrate them all.
For Science. For Inquiry. For Humanity.
Skeleton of the Chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus)
Superimposed over the basic form of the fowl, to give a better approximation of how the musculature and feathering of the animal is constructed.
The bird; its form and function. C. William Beebe, 1907.
Can’t a guy parasitize in peace?
Long-time followers of the blog will know that I’m fascinated by parasitism. Here’s a story about insect parasitism that might sound familiar, but has a parasitic twist!
Ophiocordyceps is a species of Cordyceps fungi, notorious as zombifying parasites of insects. As per most infections, ants that have inhaled a fungal spore have their brain hijacked by the fungus. The “zombie” ant is driven to leave the nest, climb high up a tree, permanently grip tight with its pincers, and then serve as the deceased launching pad for a fruiting body of fungal spores, which carry on the cycle. The twist is, the fungus itself isn’t immune to parasitism. In fact, it is preyed on by a hyperparasite (a parasite whose host is other parasites) which essentially castrate the fruiting bodies. The situation offers little relief to the ant; Ophiocordyceps is only infected once the ant is long dead. However, one perk may be that, since a surprisingly small number of Ophiocordyceps produce spores due to hyperparasitism, the second parasite prevents ant armageddon.
(Side note: I got to see a moth infected by cordyceps in the cloudforest in Costa Rica!)
In the Mediterranean, large quantities of bluefin are rounded up with huge purse-seine nets and herded into enclosures, where they are fed to increase their weight before they are harvested. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, European tuna ranching has made it difficult to obtain accurate catch and size composition data, because the fish cannot be accurately sampled until they are harvested—which takes place anywhere from several months to several years after they originally were caught in the wild. The U.S. fishing industry and some conservation scientists say that those problems made it easy for European bluefin fishermen to underreport the number of fish they caught.
Photographs by Brian Skerry
Water Bear – Tardigrades
This microscopic bug, no larger than the head of a pin, is the world’s hardiest muticelled life form. The water bear is found almost anywhere from mountain tops to the bottom of the sea, from the equator to the poles. They are so indestructible that they can survive over 100 years without water, survive temperatures ranging from -273°C to + 151°C and can take 1000 times more radiation than an human. The major contributor to this bugs resilience is that it can literally kill and revive its self on command; meaning that it can stop all metabolic processes in its body and then restart them when conditions become more suitable. Tardigrades have been taken into low Earth orbit and were exposed to the vacuum of space. Upon returning to Earth, many of them survived and laid eggs that hatched normally, making these the only animals shown to be able to survive the vacuum of space – cool!
The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus, Greek for “dog-headed pouched one”) was the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. It is more commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger (because of its striped back). Native to continental Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea, it is thought to have become extinct in the 20th century. It was the last extant member of its family, Thylacinidae, although several related species have been found in the fossil record dating back to the early Miocene.
Intensive hunting encouraged by bounties is generally blamed for its extinction, but other contributing factors may have been disease, the introduction of dogs, and human encroachment into its habitat. Despite its official classification as extinct, sightings are still reported, though none proven.
Analysis of the skeleton suggests that, when hunting, the thylacine relied on stamina rather than speed in the chase.
New illustrations depict how researchers believe dinosaurs mated. Click here for more of these hilarious renderings.
I think we’ve all learned something here.
Previously: All we need to do is find some copulating fossils like these turtles and we’ll know if we’re right!
The tusks of the Babirusa (genus Babyrousa) can, in fact, grow in such a way that they pierce the skull.
The tusks are used for intraspecific fighting. The upper tusks have developed as shielding and the lower tusks are offensive and dagger-like. The Babirusa male actively sharpens his lower tusks on trees.
Unusual Creatures, In Music - “Jesus Christ Lizard”
The common basilisk, also known as the “Jesus Christ Lizard”, has tiny fringes on its feet that it spreads out when in danger. Using this added surface area to its advantage, it can run across the surface of water at distances of over 30 feet! Here’s that, in a video.
Michael Hearst is a composer. He can not run across water (that I know of). But he has penned an album dedicated to unusual creatures like the “Jesus Christ Lizard”, appropriately named Unusual Creatures. The music is inspired by the appearance and behavior of such oddities as the blue footed booby, the honey badger, and the theremin-heavy chinese giant salamander.
You can learn more about these Earthly animal oddities and listen to the rest of the tracks at his website (there’s also a book!)