November 30, 2010

Bear with Me

I got a tablet to help me with my Beatrice-type drawings. Up until now, I have been drawing them in pencil and scanning them.  This works relatively well, but there are times that the pencil doesn't scan well, and I/you end up with drawings that are a little fuzzy and/or terrible. But with a tablet, I can do colorful, sophisticated drawings unlike anything you have ever seen.

Yeah, well. All sarcasm aside, I've never used one of these tablet thingies, and it's going to take some practice.

I appreciate your patience while I work out the kinks of tablet-i-ness.

I didn't begin this post intending to discuss bears. I really didn't. But now that it's clearly about bears, and I want to practice drawing with a tablet, allow me to tell a (now) relevant story about bears.

This past summer, I went camping--you know, with the mountains, trees, tents, hiking socks, etc. As is customary, we built a fire when it got dark and sat around it and inhaled smoke. This is what you do when you're camping. 

Everyone's favorite part of camping is s'more-making, so we commenced this camping tradition, and set out the s'more paraphernalia on the picnic table, just a few feet away from the fire. (You see where this is going, right?) After we made a round of s'mores, 2 people from our party took a walk to bathroom land. Notice there are missing circles in the diagram below.
So these two bathroom-goers had been gone for about 10 minutes when we heard someone making themselves another s'more: rustling with the graham cracker packaging, getting some marshmallows, etc. Now, the light from the camp fire didn't illuminate the picnic table much. We could see that there was a table, but not much of what was on it or who was behind it. We assumed that our bathroom-using friends had returned and were hungry from the bathroomy journey.

Yes, the bear took all our graham crackers and made a run for it. After the bear-instigated anarchy subsided, we noticed he also took the marshmallows. For this, I will never forgive him.

I made a video for you of the other wildlife we saw on the trip. Behold, the wilderness!

For the record, when you are camping in a place with bears, you should never have food out unless it's within reach. When you see a black bear, you are supposed to make lots of noise to scare them away. This is NOT, however, the protocol when dealing with brown bears. If you see a brown bear, play dead face down, protect your neck, and try not to die.

November 24, 2010

Turkey Randomness

Turkeys are native to North America and were first domesticated by the Mayans. They are pretty awkward looking, and they have stuff dangling from their faces.
They also just generally look strange.

But this is the domesticated, hyper-farmed turkey. This sort of turkey has only been around since the 1940s, when it was selectively bred for white feathers, big breasts (if you giggled, you're immature but awesome), and extra awkwardness. The real/wild turkey looks much more robust and is notably un-weird.
It actually looks rather majestic, if not a little pompous. I suppose that's why Benny Franklin wanted it to be the national bird, instead of the bald eagle.

If he had succeeded, we wouldn't see stuff like this:
We'd have this:
Thanksgiving became an official holiday in 1863 (thanks, Abe!), but turkey didn't become the cornerstone of the Thanksgiving meal until the 1940s when the National Turkey Foundation started a tradition of presenting the sitting president with one each year. Future presidents would pardon turkeys and send them to Disneyland, where turkey legs are served at kiosks. It really makes no sense to me.

This year, President Obama pardoned two turkeys named Apple and Cider. Did Gwyneth Paltrow name these turkeys, or something? I mean, seriously. Apple and Cider? What are you trying to prove, turkey-namer-person?

These turkeys are going to live out their turkey days at Mt. Vernon, instead of Disneyland. With hipster names like Apple and Cider, they probably think they're too cool for Disneyland anyway. Whatever, you arrogant, post-modern turkeys. I don't care.

If you want to feel presidential and awesome, you can pardon a turkey too by donating $30 or so to the Adopt a Turkey Project:

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 19, 2010

Convergent Evolution

I have a really bad headache. Have had it for a while now.

I just took some Advil, but it will take anywhere from 15 minutes to never to kick in. Rather than wait until the pain has subsided, I'm just going to run with this and see how it affects my bioblogging. Think of it as a psychological experiment: will my posting abilities suffer if I'm distracted by crippling head pain? I will note the effects in italics throughout the post.

Subject seems to think that having a headache is some sort of excuse for inventing nonsensical words like "bioblogging." Subject also finds this word amusing and useful despite its obvious idiocy.

Convergent evolution is this... thing... where two species that take completely different evolutionary paths wind up in a similar evolutionary destination. That. Made. Almost no sense.

Subject has difficulty providing a definition for an evolutionary concept that should be relatively straight forward and is quickly reduced to a state of intense self-loathing.

Let's try that again. Convergent evolution is when two species (or groups) evolve similar structures or abilities completely independently. Consider a bat, a bird, and a butterfly: they all have wings and can fly, but they evolved completely differently.
They have a few things in common, but it's an evolutionary coincidence. It doesn't mean that they're closely related.

Shared Characteristics

Subject finally arrived at a concise definition and explanation of the topic, but now is more worried about the schizophrenic nature of the post in general, since she is critiquing every paragraph from a third-person perspective.

Do you need another example of convergent evolution? Of course you do! The other examples I happen to be quite fond of are the North American mammals and Australian marsupials.

They share a distant common ancestor, but have been evolving separately for millions of years. But despite this, we end up with some corresponding species that look surprisingly similar.

For example, the Tasmanian Tiger (also known as the thylacine or Tasmanian wolf) looks and acts a lot like the North American wolf-y species. And remember,  it's no more related to a timber wolf of coyote than a koala is. They evolved completely independently.

Subject reports being "in the zone" despite debilitating pain and asks not to be interrupted quite so often.

Convergent evolution like this happens when animals evolve in similar environments and assume the same niche, or ecological role. In this case, these two areas both were in need, so to speak, of a top predator--although, I'm sure a mouse would beg to differ.

It had to be a bit bigger than other animals, be pretty fast, have big teeth, and so on. And because of all this, through millions of years and thousands of miles of difference, we find something very similar. Blamo! Converge! Evolution! Excitement!

Subject is fairly certain the Advil is starting to kick in and no longer needs this italicized service.

November 12, 2010

Bacteria Don't Have Faces

I had a horrible nightmare that I was the author of a blog full of horrible scientific inaccuracies such as bacteria with faces that can talk.

Then I woke up to find that it was no nightmare.

It seems that some dark backwater of my subconscious feels that I'm doing a disservice to science by making it palatable through egregious scientific falsehoods and is now rebelling.

So now what do I do with this information? Should I issue a Beatrice the Apologist letter?

Dear Readers and My Subconscious,

I am deeply and unendingly sorry for the surely crippling confusion I may have caused you with respect to the debate currently being waged in the bowels of the internet concerning whether or not bacteria can or should be portrayed with various humanesque features such as eyes and mouths and how this may or may not relate to your ability to sleep at night.

Warmest regards,

But that wasn't the real apology. I just really wanted to write an unnecessarily long sentence.

Here is the real apology:

Dear Yous Guys,

I want to apologize if I have confused anyone about the physical appearance of bacteria. I mostly want to emphasize their lack of anything remotely resembling a face or face area. Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled, and most definitely faceless.

In my attempt to familiarize you with them and make them seem less menacing, I have given them faces. This is not accurate. I should have known that lying is not the appropriate way to get anyone interested in science.

Okay, subconscious. You win. I should know that the real way to do this is to tell the truth. The whole truth. Nothing but.

Bacteria do not have faces.

They do not have hats.

They do not have shoes.

They do not have mustaches or monacles or manpurses.

They do not know how to operate a toaster.

But despite all of this, they are your friends.

That is the truth. Now leave me alone, brain.

November 05, 2010


When two or more species evolve together, we ("we" as in biology dorks) call it coevolution--the same way that two or more people working together are called coworkers, and the way that two people that are awesome together are called cobadasses. All the same. It could not be more clear.

For coevolution to be coevolution (and not just two species hanging out whilst they evolve) the species have to influence each other's evolutionary journeys.
See, this is just polite interest in another species' evolution. They are not affecting each other's progress in the slightest. They're really just wasting time. It's actually kind of pathetic. Get a life, trees.

But rather than bore you with definitions and examples of what isn't coevolution, I'll give you an example of what is. The best example I know: bees and flowers.

But before I get into that, here's a rare glimpse into my creative process:

Flowering plants are a relatively recent evolutionary invention. They started to evolve around 140 million years ago, and really started being super awesome and flowery just 60 million years ago. Okay, it sounds like a long time, but it's only 3% of earth's history.
And, since dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, that means they never got to see the really cool flowers. If that's not depressing, I don't know what is.
So back to the actual subject of this post, which is definitely not sad brontosauruses.

Flowering plants have evolved the brightly colored, lovely-smelling flowers that we happen to like because these traits attract bees. The flowers that attracted the most bees were more successful reproductively because, as we all learned in 1st grade or something, bees assist flowers by distributing their pollen. In other words, they act as a plant sex mediator. 
Some flowers have evolved to actually resemble bees. A bee then comes along with the hopes of reproducing with its own species, only to discover he is actually playing into the flower's reproductive plan. The poor, confused, sexually frustrated bee is just the flower's pawn.
You can see why the bee might be confused.

So if it weren't for bees and their flower-pollinating behaviors, there wouldn't be any pretty flowers for us to look at. Thank you, bees, but please stay away from me because I don't want to get stung again.